Friday, August 12
“One of the zones that has taken forever to get going is the lower left quadrant and the connections people have. In a way we’re talking about collective intelligence and thinking in terms of pre-personal and post-personal. So we had collective intelligence back in the caves, but that was pre-personal. We got through individuality and now maybe we’re now ready to have collective intelligence in a post-personal context?” -Allan Coombs in conversation with Andrew Cohen
The morning session started off with a session entitled “Growing Up and Waking Up” by Pacific Integral’s Terry O’ Fallon. Terry presented a complex but clear overview of levels of human development, perspectives and states, and how they all dynamical interact in the evolutionary unfolding of the human species. Terry is a leading researcher in the field, and it was a lot to absorb in a short period of time (it’s a summary of years of work and research), but everyone I talked to seemed to take at least one important nugget out that crystallized something important for them; so even within that tight time format the talk seemed to be a useful and clarifying meta-view of human individual and collective development, setting another overall context for the work and practice of the week.
Stephan Martineau took the second half of the morning, setting the stage for the Collective Intelligence Lab that we’d be undertaking in the afternoon. He noted that if we concentrated our intentions and efforts in the final days, we could perhaps push through our current ways of being together and create something new in our cellular memory, something we could take back into our own communities. In the grand scheme of things the outcomes of the seminar would likely be modest ones, but we could possibly forge the beginnings of a new emergent field to be the built upon in the future.
On that note, Stephan noted how much human development is actually speeding up over time. If we follow something like a rough mix between the work of Spiral Dynamics and Jean Gebser, we can see that the emergence of new human structures of consciousness is dramatically speeding up over time. I’ve spent the last couple years reading into the actual historical record, trying to get a sense if it confirms the existence of these epochal transformations in human consciousness and culture, and my research tells me it does. Without getting into too fine a debate over the particulars, lets just get a feel for this speeding up of human development. Archaic consciousness goes back 1,000,000 yrs or so. Magic/Hunter-Gatherer begins approx. 200,000 yrs ago. Warrior consciousness (red-meme) is a tricky one, but let’s give put its emergence about 50,000 yrs ago, with it’s peak emergence about 5,000 yrs. Traditional consciousness (blue-meme) begins about 10,000 yrs ago, with the full outpouring beginning approx. 5,000 yrs. ago. Modern consciousness has its roots in the ancient world (2500 yrs. ago), with its flowering about 500 yrs. ago. Postmodern consciousness had its beginning in an immediate reaction to the modern, but really comes into full form about 60 yrs. ago. Post-postmodern stages has its precursors sprinkled within the last 200 yrs, but has come on-line in a significant way in the last 30 yrs. or so (1).
The obvious point here is that human transformation/evolution is taking place at a continuously sped up pace, and thus it’s entirely possible that we can push into something new with the right kind of efforts and intention at something as short as this seminar. Or to put it in the Canadian vernacular- just give’er, new worlds are awaiting.
The afternoon was filled with three different collective practices. We were split into three groups and went to different practice areas for each exercise, each one lasting about for about twenty minutess. Before we started Stephan laid down a series of guidelines/principles that are helpful for deepening collective communication (and communication in general really). Before listing those it’s worth noting that the development of these sorts of practices has a modern lineage, including the work of David Bohm; the EnlightenNext community, who’ve been developing their own practice for over a decade, out of which spawned a now seminal article on collective intelligence by Craig Hamilton for EnlightenNext Magazine; and Otto Scharmer’s work on the Four Fields of Conversation (among others).
The principles that Stephan laid out, based on a lot of his own experience and surely some of the above work, are as follows:
1) Create A Conducive Environment- this could be things like making a nicely formed circle; coming to presence together to begin; putting something at the center of the group (on the floor or a small table or whathaveyou; we used a nice big round rock at the seminar). Much like the classic wisdom about doing psychedelics that came out of sixties- make sure you put attention to “set and setting”.
2) Shared Intention- make the intention to come together and practice these new forms of communication explicit.
3) Inviting the Sacred- make an explicit intention to invite in the unknown, the mystery. This helps open up the field to the possibility of emergence.
4) Suspending the “Known”- this one is key. Also known as ‘beginner’s mind’ in the Zen Buddhist tradition, it is a listening for and leaning into the unknown. We try and suspend all that we already know when we enter the conversation. If we come with the answer, nothing will be able to emerge. As it says in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few".
5) Speak Authentically- be present; connect our mind with our heart; sit up with a straight back, engaged; listen to what’s arising in our depths.
6) Listen Deeply for the Authentic- listen in, listen through, focus on the essential; listen to what resonates for you in what's being said by any speaker and follow up on that; be inquisitive, curious, open.
7) Be Engaged- your presence is outside of yourself, not listening to the chattering mind, or becoming fascinated by our own thoughts and feelings about what others are saying.
8) Simplicity Beyond Complexity- often when we contact and speak from an authentic place, there’s a certain simplicity and clarity to what we say. There’s something natural in the process, an ease.
10) Find the Balance Between Ease and Alertness- we want to be alert to the process so that our intention feeds the field, but we don’t want to get so uptight either that clamp up, we need to also be somewhat at ease so that we flow with the process, opening ourselves up.
11) Keep the Greater Context Alive- remember that we are doing this to create a more immediately conducive environment for group communication, and to advance our capacities as humans for communication in the long run. This broader context opens up space in the conversation, and can bring energy to our intention.
In my group the two dialogue practices had some moments of potency and even emergence, but we struggled also, as did all the groups by the sounds of it. When we met again as a large group and shared our experience, a few folks mentioned that “there was not enough listening”, that “we’re not ready to listen like that as post/modern individuals” and that it “was going to take more practice”. It’ll take more practice indeed. As I said in a previous journal, I’ve been doing this practice every Sunday for over a year now, and it’s a subtle one that does take time to develop in. If we dip back into ego or our separate-self, and start speaking from there, it almost immediately collapses any field that's been built (quite a fascinating thing to observe). This happened a few times in our group, and that’s understandable enough, it was a brand new practice to many. But it was good for folks to get a glimpse of its possibilities, and there are many resources out there for people to bring the practices home into their communities.
The third practice was a collective meditation practice led by Miriam Martineau in the Whidbey Institute’s sanctuary, a lovely building with great energy. The twelve of us sat in a circle and Miriam first led us through a guided meditation with our eyes closed. We then went through a guided meditation as we gazed in the eyes of the person directly across the floor from us (creating a crisscrossing dynamic). After some time (and resting in a great present stillness) we were asked to sense into the middle of the circle and speak what was arising for us. Something had obviously been formed in the space, as many odes to love and other sacred utterances were offered with authenticity. I had the distinct feeling that if we'd let that go on and deepen for a while we’d have broke out into some sort of ecstatic Eleusian Mystery School ritual or something! Something ancient and primordial seemed to be making its way into the room. Both of the other groups spoke of the deep and meaningful experience they’d had in the sanctuary too, so I believe that practice will be a keeper for the next seminar.
After the afternoon sessions there was a twenty-minute session of Zumba- a Latin-inspired fitness dance- as there was everyday, making sure we stayed fresh and embodied while we were doing all this challenging work. Zumba was followed as always by our daily Integration Groups, a small group of five with a faculty leader, where we processed what was arising for us and engaged in some more practice. Our group became quite close, and I was struck by the extent to which our emotional and psychic systems had been opened up by the seminar. Doing this kind of serious spiritual/interpersonal work is no joke; it can unleash aspects of ourselves that had been unconscious or suppressed. We definitely needed to hold each other as we grew and struggled and molted on the spot. Everyone in our group also contacted a part of themselves that wanted to evolve, and felt poised on the edge of our next incarnation. There were fears and pains and hard choics to be made for sure, but the inner fire(s) had been lit. I wish the best of luck to my partners in the times to come, and will try to support them in this journey via virtual community. The evolutionary impulse had been ignited for all of us during the seminar, and I wish everyone the deepest courage as we each try and give it form in our lives.
The evening first saw two breakout sessions- one led by Terry O’Fallon on Virtual Community, and one by Stephan Martineau on The Nuts and Bolts of Community. It then finished with a performance entitled Elemental Embodiment by the moving and original artist Thomas Arthur, a member of the Next Step Integral team. I was writing so I was unfortunately unable to attend, but I’ve seen Thomas perform at a previous seminar, and had no doubt that the show was as powerful as those returning to my cabin house told me it was. To finish this journal entry, here’s a video of Thomas from his Earthanima website.
The journal entries for Saturday and Sunday at the seminar will be added to the bottom of this post when time permits. For now, enjoy this video, an invitation to embrace the Earth community around us as our own.
(1) A great resource for researching these epochal transformations over vast periods of time is the work of those in the field of Big History. They have read a substantial amount of the primary resources, all of which are in their bibliography, a prime resource for further investigation. cf. Stokes Brown, Cynthia. Big History: From the Big Bang to the Present. New York: The New Press, 2007.