Finding the group mind

Initially, I was angered by her.

It was the lead up to Y2K and some people at Twin Oaks were worried about what might happen with the change over from 1999 to 2000. We had a series of discussions and community meetings and Tree (who lived at Acorn at the time) came over to facilitate the largest meeting we had on the topic.

Ari was an annoying, alcoholic, older member. (His clever thinking included explaining to a much younger woman that because she was polyamorous there was no reason she could not have sex with him, despite a complete absence of desire on her part.) Ari came to the big Y2K discussion.

Tree was adeptly facilitating this contentious meeting. Moving through the long stack of people who wanted to speak. She isolated issues we could discuss and make decisions about from the endless editorials about the imminent end of the world and our lack of preparedness.  She called on Ari (who was likely at least slightly intoxicated) and he babbled for five minutes in an inchoate haze until she gently cut him off and said,

Tree is a bit of a Luddite and thus there are few images of her to grab.

“So what I hear you saying is A, B and C.” I forget her exact points but she presented them crisply and clearly. Ari and the rest of us were stunned.  Ari quickly agreed that this was what he had meant to say and then shut up. I was angry because instead of validating my (and the group) experience that there was nothing of value in what this man had said, she had managed to translate his incomprehensible babbling to actual suggestions and concerns.

It was only later when I was complaining to another member that I got an alternate perspective on it. “Tree did not make up her summary of his points,” said this member.  “Rather she listened deeply to him, cut away the nonsense, reached into his mind and distilled his muddled thinking down to his useful thoughts.” My upset moved to respect.

I started flirting with Tree who had already decided I was not a safe person to be dancing with, despite our both being activists, poly, networkers and into group decision making. Not long afterwards, she left Acorn and moved to Eugene, OR.

Tree at work.

NASCO is the North American Student Cooperative Organization.  It has a big conference every year in the fall in Ann Arbor which it calls “Institute.”  NASCO is the association of student co-ops, which are logical feeders for intentional communities. In 2000, Tree and I both attended. We flirted some more. With 3,000 miles between us, she thought I was a safe distance away, but after the event I kept contacting her and visiting Eugene.  My relationship with Tree, which was supposed to be a short affair, ended up being one of the more important relationships in my life.

As a networking revolutionary, my job is to find people with extraordinary gifts and get them in service of the transformative collective good. Tree has a boat load of gifts, perhaps the most important is her ability to facilitate the coalescing of the group mind. She serves as teacher, facilitator, process designer, event convener, peacemaker, and more. Helping groups discover not only what they can do together, but also what they will love doing together is where her power is.  It’s also partly why I think she is so sexy.  She does not need my help to find places to be useful, but I am flattered when she seeks my advice

The eco-system of services Tree provides.

Tree uses a gifting-based fee model for her consulting practices.  Meaning, she does her work and then leaves it to the group to decide what they should pay her.  She has done this for years.  She jokes, “I do the work, and the Goddess works out the money.”  The nice thing about this arrangement is deities work for free.  She also does not advertise her services, though she does have a website.  Instead she leaves the marketing to her previous clients, to word of mouth.   Her results are so powerful and her services in such demand, she has the luxury of selecting who to work for based on geographics and other factors.

For years we acted as each others adviser, talking irregularly but deeply on the phone, and visiting occasionally when our transcontinental journeys permitted. We built a deep connection. At one point we were struggling and I wanted to break up.  My other lovers, including Hawina, did an intervention and stopped me from ending our connection because our relationship was so important and my reasons for splitting up were so weak.

But I am a very tricky person to be romantically involved with. I am inconsistent, endlessly distracted, unreliable. Bringing me into your life means putting up with tremendous turbulence. A couple of years back I could not handle the pain our connection was causing Tree and my own feelings of guilt about it, mostly from us being disconnected for so long.  While she wanted to find something that would work better for both of us, I just walked away, exhausted and frustrated.


With a group in LA, but Tree’s work is more locally focused now..

I looked her up on a recent visit to Eugene; we talked about her work with the very cool pattern language process cards and how she is developing her process consulting practice, shifting to more local gigs, doing things with small businesses and non-profits – breaking away some from the alternative culture world, despite her roots in it.  We talk about her other efforts in gift and non-monetary economy. She introduced me to the latest social network in the field of gifting called She continues to write for Communities Magazine, despite living alone in her own charming little house. She advised me (in her sage manner) on various options for economic engines for Chubby Squirrels.

A card from Tree’s pattern language deck.

And I realized that I have never stopped loving her and still want her in my life. I need her – We need us.