Human Herd Meditation

How to stay Awake in the Crowd?

A totally different kind of meditation for groups

The Human Herd Meditation is an exercise for our overpopulated world and our presence in it. It is a meditation on oneness and individuality. Few people like to be called cows or sheep. Which for some people makes the name of this meditation practice a bit off putting. But if fact this meditation practice is on how to stay alert in a crowd, while feeling all warm and comfy. The meditation helps build presence in situations where you easily are tempted to lose it. It is about coming, being and staying alive in love and presence together. It builds trust and acceptance for the group as well.

This practice is especially designed for larger groups. I advise from 12 +. Time anything between 25 minutes to an hour including build up and ending.

To be Herd or not to be Herd

Can you stay alert and present when the situation is so nice, warm, loving and safe? (at Yip, Sweden) pic by Floris

So, how not to be a compliant sleeper in a world that moves around you, with all kinds of temptations to do exactly that?

People don’t like to be seen as a herd. But in many ways we are and often love to dissolve in the safety of the group or numbers. This meditation plays with this paradoxical like and dislike of being one of many. This both activating and calming form of meditation helps become aware how we can be present, but not lost, in our human herd. Helps to become aware and free from social pressure, while at the same time become more contributing to the whole. It grows community presence and confronts you with you basic inclinations to fall asleep, hide or dissolve in the group and trains presence and awareness.
And sometimes it helps to calm down, relax and feel one of many, for, at times, there is also gain in that or turns into close connected dancing. The method induces release of Oxytocin in all participants, which makes them softer, more loving and optimistic.

Human Herd meditation in Action (Open Up gathering, Amsterdam, Netherlands) photo by Elles de vries

Practical Principles

How does it work? A group of people, anything from 8 tot more than a 1000 stand, for about 20 minutes, very closely together and even may lean, carefully, on each other. You may shift with any dislike of present arm, elbow, smell, etc. Seek your own comfort, as this seeking helps others to not fall asleep. So even though there may be moments when everyone seems settled, little shifts will wake you up, poking will happen, etc. In this meditation you calmly move with them, while observing it, see them as help to stay awake, rather than either feel irritation or ignoring it. The little movements, perhaps a smelly sweaty neighbor, and your caring awareness make you a breathing part of the whole, and at the same time an independent entity within it. This is the paradox of the human kind.

It’s in full alertness on minimal movements and expression that other senses get sharpened. Any shift that bothers you is a wake up call. The demand is to stay in that paradox and embrace it consciously. You may also get bored or play with possibility in the smallest ways possible, so not to disturb or panic the herd. This will train your most aware senses of how shifts in contact happen, what makes you get pushed away or received more. The closeness makes you feel accepted, and any not being accepted will mostly be your own doing. And this is the difficult extra part, where the group is as alive as the individual: if those around you fall away, start sleeping, lose presence, you may seek to offer the tiniest of contributions to their wakefulness, without bothering or pestering them. You’ll also find that too much ego, thinking, helping or wanting (this person is soo nice to be close to) will diminish your contact with those around you. Thus the whole practice helps you to experience the most essential ways in which you can be an awake and contributing member of the crowd.

Expansions of the method are music, body, wolves and environment.

Human Herd Meditation at Change Makers Festival in Sweden, photo by Floris Koot

Life music works best. Music can create senses of flow, development and different kinds of awareness. It can invoke calmness en kindness, alertness and aliveness, playfulness and guarding personal borders. It can turn the whole meditation into a conscious wave with different theme’s at play or in the focus on the participants. It may even end with a wild dance, when fitting and not taking away the attention or presence of the participants.

Wolves are helping participants that stay awake in the herd. A few participants can step out of the herd and become wolves. They help to keep everyone present, just like in some forms of Zen meditation a guy with a stick will keep you alert. These helpers walk around like wolves looking for a bite within the group. As long as the group keeps alert as a herd of buffalos, and turn their faces towards the wolves, they cannot attack. So consciousness attention on the outside of the group, keeps the group safe. Here panic, aggression and rumor are all counter productive. For the wolves growling, perhaps make a playful jump towards less attentive participants without touching may be enough to keep everyone alert and present. So it’s not ever about attack, it’s about keeping people alert and awake in the safety.

Physical touch is impossible to avoid, although with certain groups or topics there might be special rules, like minimal touch, no touch or separate men form women. The way of touching, or surrender to touch, to shift on purpose for a nicer position can all be emphasized as special layers of attention. Improper touching, heavily leaning, joking, pestering are all unwanted. Here the introduction and building the herd up asks careful facilitation. The more subtle all contact is, the smaller each interaction is, which at the same time improves presence and enjoyment for you yourself and those around you the better. At the same time, pushing unwanted hands away is totally fine too. Self protection comes before going before bending to social pressure. That too is a lesson in staying awake and present in the herd.

Open Up Festival Spring Gathering with workshops and a Human Herd meditation (Amsterdam) Photo Elles de Vries

Environment is always (a) present. This meditation can be done on beaches, in forests, big factory halls, during large demonstrations against aggressive opponents or in any suitable room. Aspect of the environment may either be taken into the experience, (slowly wave as one with the tide) or counter it (the more the noise around you the more you move in present slow motion). In the last example alienation within a pressured situation may calm down everyone within and those outside the group.

Sweet Alternative: The Puppy Basket

(Though I invented this one, many others did too. It’s somehow a very inviting and natural way to feel basic again)

Ever seen a group of puppies lay in a basket? They don’t lie orderly at all. They mold themselves around and in between to others. For this meditation you invite the group to lay down as a group of puppies. The same as above applies. Poke, move, resettle until you’re totally fine and shift again when needed. Then relax. Sometimes you can even allow talking. I did some beautiful ‘sharings’ in puppy baskets. In the puppy basket alertness is not a thing. It’s about a very deep relaxing of feeling very safe and close to all others. And still shifting will make you’ll not fall totally asleep. I found it does so many positive things to people on a unconscious level, that I sometimes even use it as a gift or reward to groups. It’s not a good starter and should not be used when force feeling safe on groups.

My favorite song to play with this meditation is ‘Complete Faith’ by Carrie Tree. Als0 ‘Kothbiro’ by Ayub Ogada or any super sweet song or music will do.