Part I: Thursday, August 12th
The first hour of the morning session was led by Geoff Fitch of Pacific Integral, and it was entitled "Stepping into Relationship". We were put in groups of five, formed in a tight circle, and led through a series of communication practices using a 'sentence stem completion' technique, where the first part of a sentence is given and then each person in turn must complete that sentence with what's arising for them. The particular focus was to be attentive to polarities- in this case the self-collective polarity- and to start to be aware of the subtle interplay at work in the group.
Geoff humorously had us start off by having everyone speak at once, and then no one speaking at all, which brought home the basic point that regular group communication is always an ongoing admixture and interplay of listening and speaking. The first practice was to be present to what was possible in this new group, what was being allowed, to feel into how the space was being negotiated as we completed our first round of sentences. This was essentially a practice in becoming more and more subtly aware of what's happening in a group communication process, something many of us (or at least I) probably most often do instinctually or unconsciously. But to really be present and attentive to how a collective field is being forged and negotiated is a useful practice for the evolution of collectives.
Next we moved past the initial negotiation of the I-and-We to a both/and situation, where we experimented with the relationship between trust and fear. The sentence to complete was "Something you don't know about me is"- a great choice to force that razor's edge between fear and intimacy/trust. What would happen when we felt our fear but also trusted the group anyway and shared something dangerous or intimate? I was surprised by how quickly the group field deepened and strangers could become intimate and as we worked with and through the fear and into connection. The both/and paradox was that there will always be an element of fear even as we trust, but if we move through our fear and take a risk it somehow deepened the trust within the group.
The next stage was to work with the practice of interpenetration, to listen to the other as though it was you who was speaking. I found this practice quite profound. The sentence stem was "My secret vision for my future self is..." As I listened to each person speak, and tried in earnest to listen as though it was me speaking, I could honestly identify with ever single thing that was said. I actually had wished I could've been writing it down (not quite appropriate!), it would've a pithy clarifying document I could've posted on my closet door as a daily reminder. But it seemed to me that there was something else deeper happening here too. I was reminded of one the core teachings of Andrew Cohen, his Fourth tenet The Truth of Impersonality that I've encountered as a practitioner student. I can't say I necessarily understand it very well, but one thing I've taken away from it (or maybe interpreted it) is that there are human developmental processes that are universal in nature, by which I mean taking place in the human race as a whole. They are not localizable in any one single person, therefore not strictly 'personal', but rather taking place on a broader more 'impersonal' level. When I heard everyone speak their passion for their future self, I couldn't help but feel that something broader than any one of us is actually developing. The future selves were so similar- to love more and be more open hearted, to be compassionate, to fulfill one's potential, to be a leader, to be of greater service- that I couldn't help but feel that something else was speaking through us, or using our vessels to achieve it's ultimate goal. I might be nuts, but this is what I sensed.
The last practice was to speak from the unknown, to bring the mystery out into manifestation and back into mystery. This is deepest of the group dialogues practices that I've experienced, and it's not unrelated to what I've just said above. But we're now learning to be still and to listen and to be a channel through which the unmanifest can enter time. The practice requires much stillness and relaxation and letting go, but what starts to arise, and how energetically intertwined and pregnant the field in the group can become, is quite remarkable. (To hear spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen describe this process, cf. the endnote.)
And after all that practice was done, it was still only 10am in the morning!
The second half of the morning was a two-hour session with the spiritual teacher Thomas Hubl, who was Skyping in via Tel Aviv. Wow, it's hard to know what to say about Thomas Hubl, trying to describe the man with words- his presence, his vibe- is fairly futile. So what I'll do instead is ask my fellow Beams colleague Br. Chris Dierkes- who has been diligently posting these journals for me- to select a short video clip of Thomas to play before I go on and describe a bit of what happened in the great session with Thomas. I would also really recommend at some point checking out Chris' own Beams essay on Thomas Hubl's visit to Vancouver; it's an excellent summary of Thomas' core teachings, and gives a great flavor of what Thomas and his work is all about.
Part II Coming....
The session with Thomas was a potent one, and it breathed another level of life into the seminar. It’s hard not to be inspired by the example of someone so present, lucid and committed to awakening and transformation. I want to share my experience of just one of Thomas’ practices, because I did it when he was in Vancouver too, and each time I found the outcome to be rather surprising and illuminating. The practice is to get into pairs while seated and facing each other; you are to sit present eye gazing with the other, and you are to sense into core of the whole person, and answer three questions- 1) does this person say a yes to life, or a maybe, or a no; 2) is this person intuitive, is their intuition open and active; 3) how are they when they first meet new people, is it easy for them or difficult or somewhere in between.
Both times I did the practice my partners read me right on all three questions. Not only that, the nuance they were able to offer me was rather, uh, shocking really, and both times they actually revealed behaviors/aspects of myself that were there but I wasn’t consciously aware of (although I recognized it as true as soon as they said it). I was also accurate with the assessment of my partners too. And all that in ten minutes! So what are we doing most of the time then? I’m not sure, I guess we probably pick up on a lot that kind of information but are not processing it at a conscious level, and the rest of the time we’re either caught in our own heads or engaging at a superficial level. The takeaway for me was that there are quickly accessible ways that we can be much more present and in tune with another person, and we can begin to understand each other at much more intimate levels. As Thomas pointed out, the separate-individual became powerfully developed in modern societies, and now it will take new practices and intentions to move to the next stages beyond that evolutionary moment.
After the Thomas Hubl session it was lunch, and after chomping down my food, I scrambled off to hide away in a corner of my cabin house and write. I’ve been using every single non-session minute (minus food entry) to write, so I finished what writing I could in the hour plus I had left before the next session. At close to 2pm, I ripped down to the main hall, cruised in the door, sat in a seat, and waited to see what the next practices were. Two hours more of intense eye gazing?! Sweet, more separate-self busting practices to dive into, ahhhhhhhhhh, let’s get it on!
Who came up with this eye gazing stuff anyway? What a pain in the ass. I did it for the first time about four years ago, and at that time it was probably the single most uncomfortable thing I’d ever done. It was truly torturous. But by now I can more or less settle into it comfortably, although it’s still very intense and deep and meaningful. Geoff Fitch was leading this session again, and on the first round we were trying to speak to the other person while being present to the field of our heart. We were instructed to speak in both an inauthentic and authentic manner and to be present to how this felt.
After this we changed partners two more times, and for the next two partners we were asked to sit with the other and to try to see into the Divine presence within the other, a literal namaste in action. I love this practice, and find it really profound. I had done it at this past year’s Integral Spiritual Experience 2, and had been witness to that infinite light within my partner. It takes time, but as you gaze and gaze, and settle and settle, and open and open, something starts to emerge between and within the two. I intentionally wrote about it my fifth and final journal for that ISE, because I had the feeling that it might be a state that didn’t last permanently, and I wanted to be reminded for the rest of my days that every single person is the divine in human form. In that journal I wrote about my experience on Cannery Row after I’d left the conference- “Can I look at everyone in this room and see through to the divine within them? At the moment I can. I spontaneously cry as I realize this, at this change in my heart and perception, and uncontrollable founts well up and whirl within me. A few folks must be wondering who the gushing nut job typing away on the computer over there is”.
This perception and its memory largely went away over the past eight months, although at times I was able to recall it and bring forth that type of awareness in short bursts, and it almost always transformed my relations with those around me, but for the most part a glimpse was all I’d gotten. This time I was plunged back in to that awareness. With my final partner I at one point suddenly said to myself “Oh Holy one” as I started to see the presence of spirit-in-all-things come forth in him in my awareness, and I started to worship it in its presence. I don’t know what I have to do this year to deepen my abiding awareness of this truth, but I’m going to make every effort after this seminar. I’ll start by doing the practice with my wife, and maybe I can also bring it into a small sangha of willing folks in Vancouver too. Something tells me there are few things more important than this awareness.
The evening session was a group circle, something done at the halfway point of all the Next Step seminars according to Stefan. We found presence and stillness, and waited through the initial silences as things started to emerge and people began to speak. At this point in the conference, things were blown wide open. Some folks started to express their grief and other pain that had been opened up through the work, and it was at times a gritty space together. But hearts were wide open too, and those in need were both held when needed, and left to be with themselves when appropriate. I was grateful to witness the kinds of things that will be needed in order to build new and deeper forms of community in the future. Pain and grief must be acknowledged, and we must hold those that are in need with generous hearts. Growing pains will be real, and emergence is delicate in the human realm. At the same time, I witnessed a field of communion quite unlike any other I’d experienced, and as the sun slowly set and cast its shadows throughout the room, I felt a certain inner peace that humans will indeed find a way to evolve beyond our current predicament, and that the Earth will one day find the salvation it deserves.
"When two or more individuals who have awakened to what I call the Evolutionary Impulse, or Authentic Self, come together in deep dialogue and focused conversation, the experience is something akin to thinking aloud with yourself. Why? Because there is only one Authentic Self. The ego can only have a relationship with other separate individuals, but the Authentic Self can only have a relationship with itself. If you awaken to the Authentic Self and another also becomes illuminated by that same Self, you will find that you both experience a strong pull to be together, but what you are drawn to is not the other individual's unique personality. The Authentic Self isn't interested in other individuals. It is always only seeking itself in others. When people who have shared absolutely no personal history come together in this higher state of consciousness, they experience an ecstatic intimacy that infinitely transcends any kind of closeness or connectedness that can be experienced in a more familiar or personal context. Carried on the wings of the Authentic Self, our self-consciousness falls away, and an intoxicating sweetness envelops us. Here, where there is no other, we all awaken to a radiant transparency, fueled by egoless passion. Here, conflict and competition disappear. We are not separate individuals coming together; we are one Self experiencing sheer delight in being with itself".