"Let your love be like the wasp and the orchid". - Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
Introduction- Trevor Malkinson
This past August I joined about fifty others at Sunrise Ranch in Colorado for a Community Seminar hosted by Next Step Integral. For more background on this seminar see my blog post Movements of the Multitude- Integral Community Seminar 2012, and Juma's article Next Step in Community Formation. The following is a potpourri of writings, reflections and other materials that came out of this year's seminar (both during and after). Some of it might only really make full sense to those who were there submersed in the work, but hopefully a flavor of it all is able to come through.
Before moving into the materials below, I think it's worth first asking the question- why a community seminar, and why now? I can begin by repeating the quote from seminar hosts Stephan and Miriam Martineau that began Juma's article:
We feel it's time to evolve the 'we'. Humanity has spent the past couple hundred years evolving the individual. And now some of us have come to a place where the individual act has limits. There's a place you get to in your own development that the potency of people coming together has so much more potential, where you can feel within yourself that there is a limitation to being an individual.
This is one core context. Many of us are what I like to call 'recovering individualists', trying to move beyond the grip of a societal setting that promotes aggressive individualism and consumption as the good life. A second core context is one of global crisis; ranging from climate change and ecosystem deterioration to financial collapse and widespread revolt, we live in a time of substantial turbulence. Troy Wiley refers to this in his video series as 'the Supreme Ordeal', and Joanna Macy has called it The Great Turning. However we want to label it, we're clearly in a major transitional time, and for this to go well we need new levels of personal commitment and collective cooperation to guide things towards a future worth living in. As Chris Hedges wrote in his article Welcome to the Asylum:
As we race toward the collapse of the planet’s ecosystems we must restore this older vision of life if we are to survive…Rebuilding this older vision of community, one based on cooperation rather than exploitation, will be as important to our survival as changing our patterns of consumption, growing food locally and ending our dependence on fossil fuels.
Fortunately for us this ability to cooperate is a deep part of our inherited nature (1), but the goal now is to find out how to activate this capacity at a new octave, one that integrates the autonomous individual within the collective experience (2). To this end, the seminar explored a number of collective practices for bringing forth this experience in our conversations and inquiries. Different we-space methods were explored, introducing everyone to collective communication practices where individual experience is deepened through a powerful group field, which facilitates new forms of communicating through an emergent intelligence beyond the scope of any single individual. The business world has scooped up these practices as they can facilitate spaces of potent innovation and creativity, and our colleague at Beams Olen Gunnlaugson (who presented at the seminar) teaches these techniques in the business department at Laval University.
We did a fair bit of this work at the seminar and it didn't always go well. There were rocky times, times of collapse, and some beautiful times too. But that's all part of the learning, part of stumbling and bumbling towards this new future. But despite these difficult trials, it was a heartening experience to be with a diverse group of individuals who feel the pull of this time and the call of the future, and were willing to lean in to a variety of practices despite some uncomfortable times.
Finally, before turning to the material below, I want to say a word about the title of this post, "There's Gonna Be a Twister". One of the things I've noticed while doing these collective practices is that people seem to be able to pick up on subtle fields more easily (as you settle in and get silent and listen). These fields might be within the group itself, or it can be outside of that immediate sphere too. And with this subtle awareness seems to come images, and I was interested to notice at the seminar a certain image that kept coming up within various different collective circle contexts (both big and small). It was an image of a whirlwind, or a storm, or tornado or twister. Whether this was picking up on what was in the space between us, or whether it portends the future, I have no idea. But I was reminded of the lyrics from Bruce Springsteen's song Promised Land, which I'll finish my introduction with now, as they somehow seem appropriate both to what was arising and to the greater times we live in:
Well there's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain't got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted
Recovery and Transmutation- Phillip Corkill (Sept, 15, 2012)
I see the human family as both a family in recovery, AND, a family in trans-mutation (if I may). Both endeavours require our very best efforts at compassionate, respectful, and challenging community, in some similar, but also in some very different ways. The Next Step Team managed that outlandish stretch better than anyone I've had the honor to be guided by in this. Hence, this seminar was an incredible host for both processes to happen. And they did both happen, in healing, nourishing, promising and challenging ways, right before and right behind our eyes. But we also had some difficulties navigating the stretch, the interplay of the two processes, and I think we need to look into the conditions needed for the second process more closely. Personally in need of recovery, at the time of the event, I felt and continue to feel, deeply cared for and held by the in person community that we cultivated at Sunrise Ranch. I honestly don't think it can be done much better. Most intensely in our integration group, we quickly experienced a deeply nourishing, caring at-home-ness. On that side of the work, I feel gratitude that couldn't ask for more...
Yet on the metamorphosis front - which I'm perhaps even more deeply called to - I feel that we only scratched the surface of what "wants to happen". That is both exciting and a little sad because we have to respond to this possibility even more fiercely now than ever. At least I want to. No, we HAVE to!! Here's one difficulty I observed that we had with that. Integral Theory, and the forms of integral leadership (and hierarchy) that extend from it, serve mainly in the process of recovery, in becoming whole again, from the unfortunate and no longer necessary, splits within our own nature. Whereas, most of these structures, do not really serve at all in what we are becoming, which might be described as, a new emergent, convergent interbeing, that arises from wholeness, as wholeness, into a deeper, more magnificent substantiation of wholeness.
So, in that process of attending to our emergent becoming, everything we knew became only minutely relevant, and in some cases, some of our cases, became a hindrance. Particularly where ideas and impulses that seem useful in the first process, were carried over into the second. This interbeing did not seem concerned at all with any of our ideas - integral or otherwise - as to how it should function, nor did it give a shit about who we previously thought we were. This new interbeing that I suspect we are all noticing, leaves each of us, as speechless as the next one of us. We are the unknowing infant limbs of a presence, making it's first, fresh moves, in unpredictable directions, and in many dimensions. This of course, is where many of those that were first in the split/recovery world, are no longer first, but simply brothers and sisters under the same sky as allofus. Here it is no longer our roles that qualify us, but our qualities. Wisdom comes from wherever it wants to come from, through whoever it wants to speak through. Trusting and respecting that are some conditions for the metamorphosis process that I would put my money on. Ageless role-less qualities. There was a young man with us, for instance, who clearly had a deep respect for our interbeing. Sure enough, he was spoken through, as if he had been born for it. Also notable is that the healing effects from the trans-mutation, spilled out all over the recovery process too... which brings up potentially uncomfortable questions about our priorities and such...
So, I walk on in deep gratitude for being so wonderfully met and be-held as I am, especially in my need for recovery. Yet yearning even more strongly to gather to hear the call of the emerging, converging whole interbeing, again and again, more and more deeply, with anyone willing to leave all roles aside and listen with trust and respect for the wisdom, wherever it wants to emerge. May we all uncover our willingness for that, towards the blessed future of sacred gatherings like this...
Every morning there was some sort of collective practice before breakfast, and one of those was a collective poetry writing exercise done on a walk in the countryside. Here are two poems that came out of that process.
Twenty-six life-drenched Beloveds
Stand & sit in contemplation
Of this moment’s birdsong-golden-light-scented-breeze-call to awaken!
Awaken! A moment’s awareness
In ever-expanding circles,
How wonderful to be right here
Life of all times
Ever present in the eternal now
Touched, felt, seen, smelled and tasted.
Evoked through the loving touch of our senses.
Alive in me
Ever teaching and bending my branches
Reaching, seeking, aching for the light.
Born from toil, desire and a hope
in the power to grow.
Aching for love, light, inclusion
Being more than me
Being deep within you
Being strong within we
I am now.
We are always.
Bringing the Village to Life
Every afternoon there was village hour, a time of play and embodiment, a break from the intense processes, a time to move and make music and be together in a different way. Video courtesy of Geoff Fitch.
The following is an excerpt that Geoff Fitch wrote shortly after returning from the seminar. Geoff is one of the core staff at Pacific Integral and presented at the seminar both years, this time along with co-faculty member Terri O' Fallon.
Geoff- "A week after the seminar, what I'm left with is the sense that the question of the "new we" remained as a container for the deep connections that were held in the seminar so beautifully, and the way our spiritual longings and higher intentions for life and the world came forth with each other and were weaved together in our collective. It was a beautiful, heart opening experience. I'm continually touched in these spaces by the hearts of each one, each on their own spiritual and developmental path, reaching for something greater, a deeper realization of self, together. The question of the "new we" remained elusive, with each making their own sense of it (or not). My sense is that there's always a new we, and a new I, emerging, I birthing we, we birthing I. Each passage is no more or less remarkable than any other, as we co-create the whole evolutionary spectrum, with more diversity and unity than we can imagine".
Fully Present, Beyond Story- Working With Thomas Hubl
For the second straight year we were joined by the Austrian spiritual teacher Thomas Hubl via satellite. I always appreciate getting a chance to work with Thomas' subtle but revealing interpersonal practices, and his session this year was a good one again. Chris has written a lot at the site about Thomas' work, and if you're new to it (or even if not, it seems to have that ever receding horizon quality to it) check out his posts Logging on to the Cosmic Internet, Downloading the Future and Shadow Work in Evolutionary Spirituality. The video below was shot by the filmmaker Ian MacKenzie on one of Thomas' recent trips to Vancouver.
An Absolute Still Point of No Expectation- Karen De Looze (September 21, 2012)
What I've been noticing as I've been digesting some of the experiences I was blessed to live at the Integral Next Step Community seminar, is to what extent the success of we-space practice is dependent on the group reaching an absolute still-point of no-expectation. This, in turn, seems to tie in with how each and every one of us is able to be in a space of absolute abundance on a personal level, a space where the centripetal movement came to rest and the self is still. In this mode, there's nothing to take from other or group: the physical, emotional and mental bodies are fully at ease and as the personality is integrated there is a momentum of waiting – of being totally open to the mystery beyond ‘the known.’ We're in a passive state of eager openness to receive.
This passive state is, however, oh-so active, as there's also an active calling in of something that's larger than our selves; a readiness to fully manifest what's flowing through one’s ‘self.’ Yet in that calling in – that place where the breath is held – we also de-center our beings into a spacious field, where the group becomes the locus of uniqueness, while for the individual self, there's nothing to prove. What gets spoken by one member are our all words; these words are a function of the frequency on which we as a group are vibrating in this very moment of tuning-in together.
It then seems that the crucial invitation is one to hold the tensed space of contemplation. Yet, to do this skillfully can be a difficult balancing act – what do we know together that none of us knows all by him- or herself? However, what's even more challenging, how do we speak this ‘in-sight’ that we're touching and feeling, when welcoming it into manifestation through words that are individualized, that come out of individual mouths and that are expressed by individuated bodies; that require the artistic performance by the integrated personalities of each and every one of us?
This brought up for me what seems to be the vital, and a seemingly paradoxical, question:
-How, in descending from our collective experience, do we do justice to the fullness of this experience, while expressing ourselves through individual bodies – expressing, however, that which no individual can hold on his or her own? -
Are the bubbles the fish is producing the medium by which we can tell what the water he's swimming in is like? How do we live constantly on the margins of self and other, self and group, in the border-linking zone of transition? How do we make up language as we experience what's happening right here right now, as a vocalization arising from our collective throat vortex? Is there a way for us to keep the expression collective – a way beyond language maybe? Post-mental?
As a context to this intentional we-space experimentation, as we were residing on the Sunrise Ranch, I saw indeed a steady sun rising. I saw a community, a ‘we-space’, of people giving their best and making real yet spontaneous efforts to live life as wonderfully as they could imagine in their wildest dreams, at any given moment. In the most daily of actions I saw the splendor of hosting, of sharing a loving space in which in-sight could be transferred in multiple directions, while witnessing the sky, sharing food, talking as well as practicing together. I felt in this context that permeated all of our activities, as well as the ‘overt’ we-space practice, a genuine arrival of collective intelligence; an embodiment of new horizons of ‘being in community’ that are manifesting as part of a shift in humanity that's larger than the efforts or impulses that drive each and every one of us.
That field in which we're experimenting with the way in which we hold space for ourselves, others, and the world, in the midst of daily challenges; where we both cry and celebrate as two faces of the same Godhead, and strive to sit with and embrace the experience of feeling 1001 things at once. And still be ‘cool.’ In the midst of it all, we shake into awareness our divinity as we dance together. In this sense, the fact of the seminar offered itself as a solid expression of something we're leaning into collectively. It offered a place to hold space to sit comfortably in the midst of transition and with awareness of being transitional beings.
This itself is one central “language” in which I've found our collective intelligence to speak today - a language that possesses us with an inspiration as well as motivation that exceeds our individuated reflections of it, that transcends generations, and that calls us to move in deep unison with life. Where resonance is so deep that this movement, indeed, transcends our highest visions and expectations. Surprise, I have felt, stepping into this Wonderland of touching and being touched by those already dearest friends that we're only just getting to know, yet seem to have known in the deepest vibrations of collective (un)consciousness. The seeing and being seen that makes us blossom from the core of our being as our hearts open to the mystery of Life in its full, radiant glory.
Finding My Religion- Sonja Lindgren (August 20, 2012)
So many of us have rejected organized religion but can detect at our core, if we're honest, a buried longing for spiritual direction. Not to mention a spiritual home. I found both, if briefly, at the Next Step Integral “Evolving the We” conference in Loveland, Colorado, last week.
In the Protestant church where I spent untold hours of childhood, my experience was profound. Profound boredom, that is. There were no weird practices. I didn’t encounter crushing judgment or hypocrisy. No, it was just hour after hour of the bland and the dull. The Church of Boredom. At least that’s how I remember it. And so, in my adult life, I have only entered designated sacred spaces for weddings and funerals. Or to see the gargoyles at Notre Dame and the George Nakashima-designed chapel at the Christ in the Desert Benedictine monastery in New Mexico, for instance. Because, you know, churches are aesthetically beautiful. I have to add that part of the problem with my childhood church was that the rugs in the sanctuary were garnet and the choir robes were garnet (a color of the rainbow I find grating), and the meeting rooms were all in the basement, where you could look out the ground-level windows at the parking lot or the edge of the front lawn. The place did not uplift me with its beauty, in other words.
Every Sunday, and at other times as well, I made a trip to the water fountain in the stairwell. Above the fountain was a bulletin board with notices about upcoming events alongside a black and white photograph of the child our church sponsored in Quito, Ecuador. In the picture, the boy stood shyly in a dusty schoolyard, dressed in a uniform of short-sleeved buttoned-down shirt and khaki shorts. Each month he sent a letter addressed to “Dear Mother and Father” in a neat script that described his activities and accomplishments in formal, stilted language. Everything about him was hard to grasp because it was unfamiliar. Despite this, I felt a kinship with him that belied the facts of our lives. I waited for his monthly letters (though I found it sad that he didn't understand he was writing to a church, not a family).
My actual religious experiences have been few. The “Evolving the We” conference was one of them. We sat in dyads and groups of five and circles of fifty, with eyes closed or in extended eye contact. We sat in silence until distractions fell away. We spoke to each other in ways that you usually speak only to your lover or therapist. We practiced surrendering to witnessing until we experienced the humming field of spirit between us. There was a tangible “thou” beyond our individual or collective selves, something we came upon in a conscious effort to connect and listen. And, as good as that felt, there was a stage beyond it, yet another place we could go, that others were aware of but remains elusive to me. I take it on faith that it’s there.
In a breakout session on the states and stages of human development, facilitator Terri O’Fallon described her days of Tibetan Buddhist practice, which included a ritual of moving rice from bowl to bowl to bowl to bowl. This seemingly absurd activity, as Terri demonstrated, included opening the bent arm, as if to offer something. In its repetition, this required the body to display a gesture of generosity again and again and again and again. Until generosity became second nature. I was reminded of the repetition of half bows and full bows that we performed at my husband’s Zen Buddhist Sangha on a Sunday morning last month. I had understood that it was a gesture of humility but had missed that bowing over and over was actual training in humility. So too the practice of bringing the hands together with a slight bow that's become popular among practitioners of yoga, myself included, all over the world. Every religion and tradition has its rituals. And every ritual has its reasons. Catholics say the Rosary while fingering the beads. Muslims answer the daily calls to prayer. Christians say grace before a meal, as my family always did.
It hit me toward the end of the seminar that the congregation in my childhood church intoning “Our father in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, here as it is in heaven” in imperfect unison, was one such ritual. As was the opening of hymnals and raising our voices to some presence up by the ceiling (I imagined that the God I only partly believed in existed in the recessed lights over the choir pews, hanging out in one or more of those concave spaces). And bowing our heads in prayer. Even the minister raising his arms and inviting us to “Please rise” had a point. It all clicked into place, how even my rejected religion included rituals designed to elicit gratitude, humility, generosity. Values I do believe in, after all. Values I might even owe to the church I remember with such a lack of fondness.
Now that I have a deeper understanding of the whys of singing the doxology and taking Communion (it will not surprise you that the symbolic body of Christ in my childhood consisted of cubes of grocery-store white bread and thimble-sized glasses of grape juice), I still have no desire to return to those practices. Perhaps too many associations with boredom and alienation. But I’m grateful for those mini pilgrimages to the water fountain, the formative practice in my bastardized religion of respect for and connection to all beings. I’m beginning to realize, however, that I need some new rituals. I need to keep bowing until my neck hurts and perhaps moving rice around from bowl to bowl until I stop hoarding my own particular bowl of rice. Maybe I need to accompany my husband to his Sangha more than once a year. And not only that. I need to continue to gather with other souls in dyads or groups of five or circles of fifty in silence and in conversation to see what happens.
Rotating My Reality- Robert P. Schmidt Jr. (August 16, 2012)
Every once in awhile I need to rotate my reality. Within the last 48 hours at Next Step Integral's community seminar, I’ve hiked to a place aptly called “Moon Rocks” with a great view of the valley and where I could do a Chi Kung exercise; got up at dawn to sing songs in Sanskrit and Latin; listened to a Austrian spiritual teacher via Skype; pondered how much “shadow” I still carry around being “bad” and “wrong” from 50 years ago; gave a wedding gift of a blue lapis bowl to fellow participants; listened as others shared emotional stories of their lives; walked a labyrinth; pondered the personal loss of mythic religion; and banged on a tambourine with a percussion group. A pretty good couple of days. It's like Summer Camp for Integralists. Can't do that back in my other reality.
All original photos in this post (except for pictures of Karen, Sonja and Robert) are courtesy of multimedia artist Thomas Arthur, a core faculty member of Next Step Integral. To check out more of Thomas' work, see his website at earthanima.net)
(1) For more on this point cf. my article with Troy Wiley Neotribal Zeitgeist (+Companion Notes), in particular the final section entitled Retrieving Our Cooperative Past.
(2) The political theorists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have encapsulated this both/and integration of the individual and the collective in their concept of "the multitude", which they define as "singularities that act in common" (Multitude, p. 105). For more on this notion of the singularity:
"Kierkegaard's genius was to convert the coin of his own secret life into the currency of a philosophical concept- the category of the 'single individual', 'that single one', which contemporary philosophers call, under his influence, 'singularity'- the unrepeatable, the unique, the secret, something uniquely itself and not a specimen of a kind. This has struck a postmodern chord where modernity affirms the rule of the same and the universal while postmodernity stresses individual differences". John D. Caputo. How to Read Kierkegaard. p. 16
Also: "There is overwhelming evidence that human consciousness is evolving, moving from collective tribal living, where the individual was totally embedded in the life patterns of the collective; through a gradual, often painful, process of individuation, with the emphasis on the will and sovereignty of the individual; to what is emerging in our time: a conscious return to collectivism where individuated, or self-actualised, individuals voluntarily—sometimes temporarily—pool their consciousness in a search for the elusive collective intelligence that can help us to overcome the stupendous challenges now facing us as a species as a consequence of how our developmental trajectory has manifested on the physical plane thus far". http://www.kosmosjournal.org/articles/collective-presencing-a-new-human-capacity