Intercentricity (Part 2a): Examples – from activism to love and spirituality

In my last post I introduced basic principles of intercentricity – a dynamic worldview of reciprocal aliveness. In this post and the next, I explore how that worldview plays out in a number of diverse realms. It’s a bit long, so I’ve divided it into two parts to make it more accessible.

This post – Part 2a – explores the manifestation of intercentricity in the realms of activism, love, spirituality & religion, greetings, and countries & cultures. In Part 2b tomorrow, I’ll explore intercentricity in networks, pluralism & self-actualization, education, power, and deep & wise democracy.

Each exploration in this list is a semi-independent meditation which can be read by itself. You can pick which ones most interest you to read in whatever order you like. Or you can read the whole list at one sitting to get a better “feel” for what intercentricity is all about.

I’m interested in any comments you have about it.

More than 80% of what’s written here is the same as what I wrote 30 years ago. The other 20% is updated and enhanced. Enjoy.

– Tom


When I first thought of intercentricity, my primary self-identification was as an activist. So it is no surprise that one of my first applications of the intercentric perspective was to activism.

Social change activists and groups frequently struggle with problems of focus and identity. We ask: “Are we [or should we be] peace activists or environmentalists?”. We feel a need to establish our boundaries and channel our energies. But if we look at ourselves honestly, holistically and intercentrically, most of us who are peace activists would realize that we might be more accurately called peace-CENTERED activists. Although we are most concerned with issues of peace, war, conflict resolution, and so on, we are ALSO concerned with many other issues.

The intercentric viewpoint reassures us that we don’t have to put up identity-borders to exclude other issues in order to maintain our focus. We can define ourselves by the heart or CENTER of our concern instead of by the (usually artificial) LIMITS of our concern. Suddenly we are freed to be interested in other things without losing our focus. Even more exciting is the fact that for a peace-centered activist, every other issue becomes magically transformed into a potential path to peace, and peace itself becomes a broad channel into which every other issue can flow. The sense of isolation, competition and contradiction between issues evaporates.

As peace-centered activists we concern ourselves with how other issues relate to peace and how peace relates to other issues. Hidden in these relationships we will discover not only possibilities for coalitions, but also a fuller understanding of peace and a hundred new ways to nurture its development. We find it natural to build bridges to activists who are “poverty-centered” or “justice-centered” or “spiritually-centered” and so on. If those other activists are likewise intercentrically aware, they will be looking for how peace relates to their central issue or strategy and how their central issue or strategy relates to peace. Open to each other, reaching out from the centers of our respective interests and passions, we step onto common ground we never saw before, with a thrill of recognition and inspiration.

Although life is seldom so poetic, much of this kind of linkage is already underway – manifested, for example, by coalitions seeking to reinvest military and police budgets into human, community and environmental welfare and broader security and to empower women and young people into positions of influence. An intercentric approach makes such coalition building so much easier.

In the end, it becomes less a matter of whether some issue is or is not “ours” and more a matter of how clear we are about our own central concern and how well we understand and utilize the connections between that central concern and the concerns of others.

This approach is very appropriate in a world where new connections between issues are showing up every day. Such connections have always been there. What’s new is that they are becoming more obvious and urgent. Intercentricity gives us a way to hold on to those important interconnections and never lose them again.

In fact, intercentricity is the worldview of choice for people trying to survive in and contribute to a world where everything is interconnected.


Love is perhaps the clearest example of life’s native intercentricity. An intense, clean relationship between the core of my being and the core of yours is the essence of intimacy and the common denominator of all forms of loving.

On the other hand, lust, infatuation and objectification seem more connected to the world of subjectivity and objectivity, more tangled up in appearances, causes and effects: “She was a knockout.” “Do it to me.” “Head over heels.”

Loving can be rich and sustainable to the extent you and I are deeply connected, heart-to-heart, mind-to-mind, spirit-to-spirit, body-to-body, space-to-space, together linked to the vast interconnectedness of Life, itself, in all the ways it shows up in our shared lives. In such linked uniqueness, any Otherness becomes a cause for continually renewed curiosity, learning, deepening, and enjoyment – a resource for mutually enhancing aliveness, once we get beneath the appearances and assumptions.

To the extent we can grow into that awareness and practice in all our relations – in our human world AND in the larger living world – the cliche that “all you need is love” expands into an ever more realized web of reciprocal aliveness.


I see spirituality as sublimely intercentric. It deals with the essence-center of ourselves, of the world and of life, and the relations between these essential centers.

Unfortunately religion often objectifies and even commodifies spirituality, making it into an object which can be sold – literally or figuratively. Ethical thought and sensitivity — which can help us respond newly and creatively to each new situation — are crystallized into fixed moral codes to be followed in a prescribed way. Personal experience of spiritual dimensions and entities may be replaced with the orchestrated symbolism of mass ritual, even though Christ advised followers to go to their closets to pray. Uplifting wisdoms which spontaneously blossom for individuals out of the rich loam of their compassion and explorations of philosophy and consciousness can be replaced with prefabricated catechisms designed for belief, recitation, and conformity. Collected into comprehensive packages, these elements can be marketed and sold as religions, and most are.

Of course human spirituality is a strong force and continually breaks through the forms imposed on it, welling up strongly from the hearts of people who prefer direct spiritual search and experience. Some religions (like the Quakers, with whom I grew up) have allocated a central position for personal intercentric spirituality. Quakers – who call themselves The Society of Friends – believe primarily in “that of God in every person” — a postulate that invites creative, compassionate attention to human beings and relationships. The same idea exists, in some form, in every religious tradition. In Buddhism it embraces “all sentient beings”. In many indigenous cultures it embraces not only all organic life, but the aliveness of mountains, rivers, wind, sun, moon, stars, and “all my relations”. And Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of the “beloved community” of people deeply connected to spirit, each other, and the needs of the world around them.

Many spiritual traditions, although replete with many of the formal religious trappings described above, contain a core of pure intercentricity. Zen Buddhism, for example, speaks of “ego loss.” Our egos are the objectification of our core eternal selfhood that has no form or boundaries. “We look out from a center we cannot see” (says Alan Watts), and that center is our core self, our real self which, being boundless, is as much everywhere as here.

But as egos we are not satisfied to just be our center and look out from it. We have to name and describe a personality for ourselves, with which we then identify, transferring our allegiance away from the nameless radiant center of our being and seeing. That act — that transfer of identity from our core self to a symbol of it – the ego, the separate self — is the prototype of all alienation. To re-identify with the nameless center, to undo that alienation, is to “lose one’s ego”. It is to suddenly be in and of the world again, borderless, embraced by a seamless, intense relationship with the shared heart of all things, unique in and with each one.

As we return to the center of our experience, the distinction between us and what we experience fades, leaving the wholeness and intensity of experiencing, itself. The more thoroughly we find our center, the more our world becomes transformed into a living fabric of relationship, process, experience. Boundaries, definitions, categories — “things” — take their proper place as useful, agreed-upon appearances, not the implacable realities that the illusion of objectivity leads us to believe they are.

We become intercentricity itself.


In the context of this intercentric spiritual reality I find the Hindu greeting “namaste” becomes particularly meaningful: it means “the sacred center of me greets the sacred center in you” or, as some would have it, “God in me greets God in you.” It is done with hands facing palms together, prayer-like, with the greeters bowing to each other. Compare that to the West’s firm handshake or slap on the back, which establishes boundaries and the momentary wedding of surfaces between two very separate entities.

Halfway between namaste (acknowledging the relationship between centers) and handshakes (the meeting of separate object-entities) is the earthy emotional act of embracing. Here, as two separate object-entities enfold each other’s centers (almost yin-yang-like), physical boundaries seem to dissolve themselves in relationship. This can be experienced even more intensely in intimate, loving sexual union, where arms and legs sometimes lose their objective body-orientation and become a formless, organic, sensation-filled meeting-place for two radiant centers.


The difference between objective and intercentric approaches to identity is clearly illustrated by the behavior of nation states and cultures.

For a nation state, boundaries are supreme, necessary virtually by definition. Everything outside is “them” – even “alien”. Everything inside is “us”.

In some cases, nation states use functional, natural borders like mountains and waterways to define themselves. These natural features aren’t, themselves, borders, of course. After all, the vast majority of mountains and waterways are not used as national borders. Few countries can be distinguished when the earth is viewed from space. Out there, geographic features are seen in their natural relationships. Astronauts, raised from childhood on globes of clearly-printed countries, have remarked on how different the real world looks from that man-made one. Sometimes state borders are simply established out of arbitrary colonial arrogance, self-interested manipulation, or international agreement, often with little understanding of the underlying history or the natural and cultural interconnectedness.

In any case, whether people or things are inside or outside the national border is considered far more important than the essence of those people, things or countries, or how they fit into the world around them. Countries are objects, thoroughly bounded, maintained by separate sovereignty, assertion and defense. By their shape shall ye know them.

Cultures, on the other hand, can be viewed either objectively or intercentrically. Cultural forms and appearances can, of course, be used to establish cultural boundaries by which to identify insiders and outsiders. In some parts of the world you can be shot for wearing the cultural “colors” of the enemy – or for crossing forbidden cultural boundaries. And you can be expelled or shunned if you don’t follow tribal rituals – even in the “developed world”.

On the other hand, it is possible to take pride in the spirit-heart of one’s culture, to use its forms to relate to other cultures (as in “cultural exchanges”), and, while relishing the colors and practices of other cultures, to see through those appearances into their cultural spirit-heart, and to appreciate and greet that, from the center of your own culture.

This suggests a new direction for those who seek to replace violent, hierarchical nation-states with sustainable cultural-bioregions. Usually people try to establish boundaries for such regions. But what would the world be like if regions were defined by their centers and relationships and if their loosely defined borders were totally porous? I suspect this arrangement would impede alienated hierarchy and centralization while encouraging localities to thrive without becoming small-minded and oppressive.

More tomorrow….


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Tom Atlee, The Co-Intelligence Institute, POB 493, Eugene, OR 97440

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