We-Space: Wired Together

Otto Scharmer’s Theory U (and Presencing Institute) shed further light on how We-Space is a presencing activity and a practice for the demands of our times. According to Scharmer (though he does not use the term itself), the cultivation of We-Space is not simply adding another app, another bauble to horizontalize your home page. It represents a full operating system upgrade. Developing versatility in We-Space is a vertical awakening of courage, compassion and curiosity, aligning the personal system to address and reverse the systemic absencing characterized by the current atmosphere of extreme, increasingly sophisticated and corrupt sowing of doubt, fear, hatred, fanaticism and polarization for the aggrandizement of a few.

Scharmer’s model moves from presencing to crystallization (of principles) to co-creating….from imagination to testing to codification. In such a process, the internal work of Circling and all the different models of We-Space promoting presencing must eventually coalesce and turn outward either by deliberately propagating the principles of We-Space in larger social contexts such as schools, workplaces and deliberative bodies or by depending on individuals to act ad hoc, taking their personal practices into  collective settings with other like-minded individuals.

Cultivating, or presencing in Self, is to descend into our deeper capacities, creative gifts, and at the same time soften the boundaries of identity, building a capacity to live in the zone of a more diffuse, transitional and fluid self. Exploring such deeper personal capacities by presencing in Self is to connect more directly with the natural context, the collective intelligence of the natural systems in which we live and grow.

Now, whenever I turn my attention to my internal space, and particularly in collective settings, I take for granted that however I feel inside is to some degree an experience of the collective field. Thus, “knowing” oneself, reinforcing or improving a distinct and separate identity, is only half of the learning process. The other half is to then look beyond that identity. We-Space practice takes me into a rich realm in which I can observe the micro-field of self in a dynamic flow with the macro field of the collective. In so doing, I become more acutely aware of the paradox of self, the ambiguity of my boundaries, where transitory concerns such as idiosyncratic waves of sensory and emotional activity can temporarily yield to a deeper experience of the ocean of energy in which we are all immersed.

As Rick Hanson noted in Buddha’s Brain, neurophysiology tells us “Neurons that fire together wire together.” In an individual brain, patterns of identical responses to identical stimuli literally become like x-country tracks in snow. We want to follow them because someone has been there before. Studies on the long term effects of contemplative practice indicate we can literally interrupt and re-program our responses by the deliberate practice of mindfulness, deepening and smoothing tracks in the brain that form the material analog of equanimity, generosity, compassion, gratitude, even courage.

The reverse is also true: neurons that are wired together will fire together in response patterns. The most common and obvious are the autonomic responses of fight or flight—a tried and true survival mechanism—but also the more nuanced long-term subtle regeneration of responses to the messaging of scarcity, nativism, tribalism, ego and ethno-centrism. Since we are now (in the nick of time?) gradually embodying the reality of individuals co-extensive with each other and all life, the existence of a group field, quantum phenomena, collective intelligence, the influence of culture in programming the brain function of the individual becomes as plausible as a belief in the role of nature.

In that regard, we might well acknowledge the influence of generations of ancestors, both human and non-human, being present in our immediate communications. Our ancestors are part of our bodies. We are endowed with their consciousness and their karma and must assimilate it all, digest it–experiencing our multi-generational patterns–to fully experience who we are and what is our path.

From the standpoint of collective experience, going all the way back to tribal society, what was assumed and learned and passed on from one generation to the next was our place in the group. One’s personal ego was at times subsumed to the group ethic. Under these conditions, responses, and thus brain patterning, would follow the community rules superimposed on the natural substrate. One’s relations would be to the earth, the tribe and the family. When the rule-setters, leaders and those who mediated the seen and the unseen, form and the formless, acted to enforce the rules, everyone followed because they were already patterned (wired?) to respond within a limited field of options.

Likewise, in a post-tribal world fractured and dissolved, patterning continues to undergo transformation. Now, in a post-modern, post-industrial world, family, cultural and, to an extent, tribal patterning remains. Individual and collective efforts to overcome largely unconscious patterning at the familial and tribal level bring us up against powerful primitive and deep patterning at the individual level as well as the remains of group-triggers that govern collective memory, intelligence and response patterns.

We live and function in an impossibly complex neural soup of ideologies, allegiances, survival mechanisms, structures of authority, reciprocity and group consciousness. While social media functions to connect people, spontaneously forming and assuming tribal identities, it is also the medium of pandemic attention-seeking behavior, a narcissistic inversion of belonging. All of it together is The Story of Us, however we may define Us (either as a microcosmic “particle” or as a macrocosmic “wave”). But it’s not just an idea or mere mythology. It is Us, which is a clue to how difficult it is to change the Story, regardless of the scale of one’s attention/intention.

We-Space, as a “direct, distributed and dialogic” practice, is an evolutionary response to both the psychic need for belonging and a discovery of the fundamental nature of our relationship. It is a vehicle of transition from, in Scharmer’s words, ego- to eco-consciousness. Since the human body is co-extensive with the earth body, the more we examine and integrate emotional experience, sensation, thought and action, the more we connect with a universal view. The more the boundaries between inner and outer experience become transparent, fall away or dissolve into a unitary non-dual view, the more we feel our way into the subtle body we all inhabit.

Becoming conversant in the micro-evolutionary flow from purely subjective experience to the communion of We-Space, with occasional healing bursts of actually feeling others from the inside, what Michael Brabant calls “collective somatic intuition,” is the essence of what Scharmer calls vertical literacy.

 

We-Space: Fearlessness

If we have no fear, we have no thinking. No conceptual mind. And vice versa. No thinking, no fear.                             —Tsoknyi Rinpoche.

Fearlessness, like equanimity, compassion, surrender, is another quality of presence. It may be cultivated or arise spontaneously. Either way it is a gift.

How one gets there may not even be the most important issue. The context and nature of fearlessness, how it manifests in action and how it propagates as a gift may be more important. True fearlessness as a quality of presence lies at the nexus of empathy, enlightened action, equanimity and the softening of ego. It is where uncertainty meets trust, where structure meets chaos and doesn’t flinch, where empowerment, joy and compassion intersect. Taken together, these qualities naturally and spontaneously subvert the dominant fear-based, self-denying zero-sum paradigm of modern culture, politics and economics.

To be fearless, to be so fully embodied is to operate outside the upside-down subversion of presence characterizing the narratives of inverted totalitarianism. It is a revolutionary condition. In fact, fearlessness is also lawless, at least in the sense of social convention being a set of unwritten laws governing or limiting acceptable parameters of human interaction. But let me be clear. I am talking about the absence of fear, not boundless courage in the face of fear.

The context of fear is large. We have built-in neuro-patterning functioning for survival, mediating threats, needs and self-protective options. All those mechanisms are subject to conditioning. The neural gain can be set to increasingly high levels of sensitivity, winding us up to hair-trigger reactivity to the proper stimuli. This is the neuro-chemical level at which fear is primal, instinctual, including the biological mechanisms mediating perception, emotion and internal states.

Fear is also rooted in emotional, especially traumatic memory, motor patterning and mediated (obscured) by numerous defense mechanisms. There is also the socio-economic context, deep familial, tribal and cultural conditioning operating to establish and enforce social cohesion. Social conditioning is coercive. The dominant paradigm exploits fear to manipulate and to condition behavior, more so now than ever because the messaging has become so sophisticated.

The origins and mechanisms of fear in our lives all serve a purpose. At the same time, we have the capacity to reflect on our habitual ways of thinking, our beliefs and reflexive responses to everyday events, appetites, preferences and needs such that we can consciously explore alternative strategies to such responses. Extending these resilient and adaptive practices to the collective context–such as We-Space–encounters exponentially increased complexity. But this is the cutting edge of transformative group practice now, in which the presence of fear can be exposed and defused.

Each of us intrinsically holds the same potentials as Buddha.  What prevents us from fulfilling that potential is much deeper than garden variety cognitive confusion. The activity of the confused (aka human) mind fixes our attention on dividing, categorizing and simplifying our experience into binaries. Arriving at pure awareness involves unwinding all the triggers and layers of fear we have accumulated since birth–or even before—including, if we are skillful, illuminating what we most fear about ourselves. We must bring fear out of the shadows.

The clarity we build through this type of practice and the resulting behavioral changes eventually becoming more automatic may be called by many names. I call it the Buddhist long game: the transformation of mind. Every such path of inquiry is a journey into the heart of suffering. As separate as we may feel, this is one thing we all share. Ultimately, all of this practice is directed toward one simple truth: the emotional (not instinctual) fears that drive us are, in essence, illusory. When we examine them closely, we find no substance there. They have no objective source. Which is not to say that fear can merely be dismissed. Not at all. The outcome of inquiry, however, depends a great deal on the method and the context.

Compassion, both situational and pervasive, is closely related to fearlessness. In the first, we express empathy and respond to the suffering of others in a direct way, either emotionally, materially or both. The pervasive form is an encompassing awareness of the profound common nature of human experience, addressing the suffering and bewilderment at the heart of being human as well as confusion about the difference between what we believe is real and what is actually true. Holding such a perspective while surrounded by an ocean of fear without being affected by it is nearly unimaginable. Yet fearlessness grows with compassion. And vice versa. They are inseparable.

In stepping through the gateway of compassion, we step into fearlessness. All emotions are without substance in their essence nature. That does not mean they are without importance. Of course they are. Judgments about our experience are also without substance. Compassion cannot fully manifest without knowing that all phenomena exist in an supremely expansive state of equal-ness beyond any characterization. Actions arising from that state regard all experience as the same positive condition of equal-ness. In this sense, any words such as “pure,” “un-obscured,” and even “fearless” are redundant expressions of a uniform state of clarity and enlightened intent.

In this state, there is no distinction between what is fearful or not—or, for that matter, what we hope for. We can learn to befriend emotion—including what has been ignored or repressed. There is no distinction between the mundane, the sublime or the threatening. Being present in this state requires enormous devotion. The ultimate reality is that there is no real distinction between enlightened fearlessness and compassionate intent or any other way of being.

In what is called the awakened mind, there is no duality of sensory appearances and what the mind imputes about them. Within enlightenment — awareness without transition or change — the universe of appearance and possibilities — whether samsara or nirvana — arises with nothing to renounce or attain.
The Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena, Longchenpa (14th century)

Many of our fears are variations on denial—a self-imposed disempowerment. They are responses to threats that have become so familiar–and to which the nervous system has become so habituated–that they become comforting costumes layered upon core reality. Over time they assume an increasingly reified identity, as if abiding fear has become a way of confirming our most reassuring view of ourselves. But our fears are subject to causes and conditions and therefore can be reviewed by cognitive mind. Their reality can be disproven and, with some effort, uprooted.

In this sense, we might well assume that fearlessness is a matter of will. But in saying so, we may confuse conceptual knowledge for wisdom. Knowing more will never take us to the truth of enlightened fearless intent. Wisdom does come with the practice of inquiring ever more closely and deeply — with a bottomless compassion for oneself — into the sources and nature of our fears; whereas, exercising will is more like counter-phobia, throwing a cover over those sources and burying them further from sight.

The spontaneous and captivating activity of mind is often described as an untamed mustang. It is attractive, seductive and wild. Fearlessness is the ability to recognize the beauty and spontaneity of that wildness without being seduced by it. The fearless one sustains an unflinching gaze into her own suffering, compromise, self-limiting beliefs and behaviors–and empowers others to do the same. The fearless one acts with a compassionate intent that holds fear, hope and separation as having no substance, no traceable origin or destination, no firm ground at all.

The fearless one is willing to sustain the consequences of living beyond convention, even if it means putting one’s own safety at risk, not solely to place a spotlight on the entrenched and reactionary nature of the dominant paradigm, but to engage with it,  transmitting a highly contagious view of the possible: a world in which there is no true enemy.  The fearless one affirms there is enough for all, there is unbroken relationship with all, there is infinite choice and nothing to do but create.

This is a power by which we glimpse our true nature. It can shake our world, arousing awareness of our own fears and the sway they hold over us. The fearless one even evokes our fear of fearlessness with a gentleness that melts our defenses, our vulnerability and the artifice of our times. The fearless one opens possibility for something new, a vast, spacious and timeless freedom we know in our hearts is possible, yet which, without the support of others, we are barely strong enough to sustain more than a few moments for ourselves.

What might such support look like? What might a culture of fearlessness or fearless collective action look like? There are surely many examples (here, here and the classic here), some deliberate and some spontaneous. Can all political actions be about dismantling the mechanisms and structures of fear? Many of them are.

These are also the essence qualities of We-Space, in which we explore pathways to transcend our pre-occupation with individual identity and survival, with our personal histories and individual emotions. Unfolding into fearlessness is to embody compassion,  breaking through the familiar into a new territory of freedom–and inviting others to do the same.

We-Space: Locating Self

In the midst of Circling, the ethic of immersion into a deepening group process, cycling more and more into the present moment, the boundaries of Self get murky and less defined–whether we like it or not.  Expressions from any individual are often tentative, as if venturing forth from the safety of one’s personal domain carries unknown risks. Clinging to separate identities in an atmosphere of implied intentional dissolution turns out to be more or less slippery, at times even counterproductive. But that’s the idea. Let go of your preoccupation with Self and feel your way into the collective dynamic. Tricky. Challenging. Murky. Also an invitation to unearth what for some may be a profound discomfort.

The true nature of our relations to each other and the world emerge in toppled assumptions, unexpected curves along the path of unwinding layers of personality, guarding, looking for a “true” self in relationship or imagining there is anything solid to “conclusions” or even “lessons.” One is faced with realizing that while we might have momentary or even tenacious fantasies of being in the center of our own worlds, the truth is that everyone else is also in their own center…or at least wrestling with its unique parameters, its anchors, imputing its indelible nature.

Yet the fantasy of a center is just that, an illusion.

Everything is moving. Nothing is truly resolved, despite reflexive reification to satisfy our longing for certainty. Trying to pin anything down is a fool’s errand, certain to lead to confusion and dissatisfaction. We are perpetually in the middle. Yet also, at any moment, the truth of Self, hovering like a condor on warm updrafts, swoops to the front of awareness, perhaps even unexpectedly erupting into familiar, old or even novel emotional states including fear, uncertainty, self-criticism or a delightful and playful freedom.

At the same time, beyond collective awareness, the unforeseen and mostly unpredictable dynamics of We-Space, there are further nuances of Self and selflessness in the reciprocation of the interpersonal exchanges, the interpenetration, shifting connections, the levels of permission, the sheer dependent co-arising of it all, which is to say, “relationship.”

That this is occurring in a context assuming the exploration of We-Space to be the cutting edge of human evolution (or at least spiritual evolution) makes it all the more portentous and at the same time even dubious.  Whereas some insist Circling is a deliberate cultivation of a supportive atmosphere in which individuals elevate and clarify the level of mutual permission to access and share deep personal process, it is also just as likely that sooner or later its more challenging transformative potential is realized in the deliberate or unexpected discard of the vestments of ego to expose a more raw and real, even purified, identity. Is such a condition a result of “support?”– or, more likely, the erosion of every notion of “support?”

Individuals undertaking a traditional practice of mindfulness (shamatha meditation) eventually understand that peering through the blizzard of spontaneous mental activity isn’t necessarily a direct path to blue-sky clarity. One meets persistent and deeply rooted patterns, the shadow self, demons and false states masquerading as truth.  Likewise, a Circle, or for that matter any group, deliberate or otherwise, populated with the same personalities over time (a family?), might be regarded as a group mindfulness practice,  exploring and sharing transient emotional and mental reality, slowly evolving to more intimate and authentic qualities of relationship. It could be said that any group eventually learns to cut through and discern internal process to a consciousness of field process/phenomena. Circling is merely a more deliberate and accelerated path. If I am in a Circle, I am sharply focusing on my internal process and I also want to notice the collective field (the activity of “group mind”). And I want to distinguish the two.

However, just as in solitary practice, there is nothing linear about entering “group mind.” We cannot automatically identify or regard any single expression as an expression of the field. More likely, what is an expression of self (or discursive mind) is constantly shifting as each participant moves back and forth into and out of mindful space. Responding to or being reactive to someone else in a Circle is not equivalent to an emanation of group mindfulness. Sooner or later, personality (a regression into ego) interrupts every drop into the deep silence of authentic connection.

When we are able to cut through the personal need for support, looking for reinforcement for what are in essence our personal constructs (projections) about ourselves and others, the naked reality starkly revealed is that none of us is here to please, to connect, to support, to fix or give others what we imagine they want. Yes, we do all of these things as if they are our true mission, or at least we try. But the Circle can also be a hot context in which we examine our motives (or have them reflected back to us), thus refining our capacity for fearless compassion.

As I once witnessed in a blazing Kali-esque exquisite moment of liberating truth, one person in a Circle, at least within the limited time-frame of that meeting, embodied the profound and most painful paradox of Self: the non-dual nature of appearance and reality, the simultaneous truth of selflessness and how each of us is helplessly clinging to our identities as if there really is some materiality to our existence.

She appeared to be in a (silent) state full of both crystalline clarity and inexpressible grief, a momentary deconstruction of everyone else feeling their own unmet needs reflected back to them. For that brief period, her piercing brilliance caused considerable discomfort in some others as they appeared to struggle with ego boundaries, differentiating between Self and the field, bias about what a Circle is, a role they may have chosen or their own projections about themselves and what they want from Circling.

And ironically, of course, all of this is simply my personal projection. It is certainly my own dance with Self, mindfulness practice, assumptions I have about extending solitary practice into a group setting. But I will continue to test and test and assess and learn. I will throw open the doors and windows, just in case, one day, someone shows up to set fire to everything and burn down my house of straw.

We-Space III: Eros and Evolution

Eros and Psyche

What is increasingly common among a global sampling of practitioners is that ingenuity, skill, intelligence, fearlessness and chance are conspiring in group settings to dissolve psychological barriers, heal social isolation, conditioning and the colonizing effect of modern society to access ever deeper levels of authenticity. Here, the creation of more complex mutual agreements reveal the workings of collective intelligence and push the frontier of inter-subjectivity. This is growing up.

The working definitions of We-Space and its relationship to psychological development, group process or “spiritual evolution” differ depending on who’s talking. These differences seem to depend on the complexity and depth of psychological and linguistic agreements arising among participants or whether the inter-subjective space moves from the relative space of familiar psychological content into an entirely different (absolute) spiritual or philosophical context.

So far I have not encountered a uniform clarity or critical attention paid to the specific question of whether the spiritual context of We-Space is intrinsic or not. Again, depending on who’s talking, one might hear a casual reference to it as a pre-existing (absolute) condition–already true–in which every human or, for that matter, sentient relationship is already “cooking.” Others might make equally casual use of the term as a general reference to deliberately fine tuned qualities of attention, presence and consciousness in group situations creating something not previously existent. This is what I would call “improving samsara.” It’s important to examine the language we use and carefully choose words to describe what we mean by the term We-Space as it is language itself that keeps us in the linguistic prison of separation. The question is, what is it about these inter-subjective experiences that advances human consciousness or evolution? Is it recovering existing nature or is it something new?

Why does this even matter? In pre-egoic primitive or tribal cultures, the social matrix in which subjects with limited interiority (sense of self or individuality) lived was already inter-subjective. Today’s mass culture both demands and facilitates that we become increasingly individualized. That sense of self is perpetually reinforced; we are driven to satisfy the appetites of individuality (whether artificially induced, useful or even healthy) to such a degree that the inter-subjective matrix has been actively suppressed. Collectivism in any form is anathema to libertarian and corporate ideologues.

To be conscious meant that two or more people were privy to some item of knowledge not available to others outside the privileged circle. In this sense, “consciousness” is similar to “conspire” (to “breathe with” others).  ——De Quincey, p. 149

Inter-subjectivity in its simplest form is an agreement between people, from the most superficial to the most profound, even to the metaphysical–or even to ignore it altogether. The very term implies interaction from the position of one’s own subjective experience with the subjective experience of another. In a sense, inter-subjective presupposes a mutual affirmation of each other as “others,” as objects separate from one’s self.

That we can now refer casually, after a century, to the metaphysical potentials of the inter-subjective field is evidence of an evolutionary turn toward re-acquaintance with the root definition of consciousness: “knowing with” or “breathing together.” In exploring the full depth of group agreements, I am not regarding We-Space as a synonym for generic inter-subjectivity. At a neuro-psychological level, entering inter-subjective space may activate mirror neurons as simulations are formed in our own minds about what is being simulated in other’s minds. Further on, engaging in dyadic or small group simulations bring us to higher levels and more complex agreements about reality, coherence, what phenomena are important and why.

I am applying the term We-Space to a more specific quality of inter-subjectivity in which the context shifts from psychological to spiritual or philosophical, waking up. This is the inter-subjective frontier (entering absolute space in which “I” is less defined), bearing fruit either by plodding steps or great leaps toward non-conceptual, unitary awareness. We are not creating a field of collective intelligence. We are discovering it anew; it is the true context of the agreements by which we live.

Spirit is not in the I, but between I and You– Martin Buber, 1970, I and Thou, p. 89).

In a growing number of circumstances, with an increasing number of adept leaders, it is apparent that still deeper, trans-egoic levels of engagement (a temporary abatement of the super-ego) are possible and, as we assimilate their meaning and potential, learning how to access them is increasingly necessary. To suggest that these qualities of attention are inherent is an easy reach.

This also matters because the momentum of communal engagement is pushing the frontier of the definition of “human nature.” Evoking We-Space is not a quirk, an easily dismissed popular phenomenon artfully constructed by self-interested entrepreneurs. It is a blossoming, increasingly elaborate and significant deep-dive into our true nature in parallel with the solitary orientation and practices of contemplative traditions.

Practitioners in this field may be tempted to say that I am jumping the gun, that practice precedes theory. Perhaps they are justified. Yet ironically, suggesting the exploration of inter-subjective space is a practice lacking a fully formed theoretical foundation is to overlook myth, psychology and modern philosophy.

At the mythic level, cultivating inter-subjective space is an entirely erotic adventure in the most comprehensive sense. Eros is an impulse to move toward, to unite, create and discover. It is ongoing, never absent. It is not conceptual, rational, linear, exclusive or limited. One might say it’s a universal character of sentience, a longing for connection and belonging. It’s not solely a human trait or source of action. It is life living itself, driven by a uniform and unchanging principle. Eros doesn’t know about ego or practicality, about individual conditioning, trauma, psychological or physical wounds. It can be denied and ignored, but it cannot be turned off. It is adaptable to every circumstance and always creatively responding to any limits being placed upon it.

The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.—Thomas Berry

The perpetual longing for union arises from an equally perpetual differentiation of matter and consciousness. From that differentiation arises subjectivity.  Thomas Berry defined differentiation, subjectivity (“differentiation-integration”-Wilbur) and communion (“transcendence and inclusion”-Wilbur) as the constant and cyclic primordial intentions of evolution, infinite spontaneous acts of creation, the continuous distinctive separation of entities: the erotic principle, longing for creation and longing for union.

If we were taking about human beings, we would be calling differentiation the assumption (reification) of unique identity, followed by a self-awareness and orientation (interiority) that characterizes subjectivity, the realization of self, self as distinct from other. In Buddhism this is regarded as a fundamental confusion: the root of suffering. When we engage in We-Space practices, we are addressing and unraveling  human suffering. By assisting each other in eliminating successive filters from our view, we approach a collective version of the absolute view.

People initially entering group process, whether it is Circling, HeartIQ, the Evolutionary Collective or perhaps especially the space of Surrendered Leadership, may have no clue what to expect. What may initially happen, a first stage, is the revelation of differentiation in the deep dive into one’s own interiority, the elaboration of the diversity of individuals engaged in the process. But as the character of the process cycles deeper and further toward We-Space, the dynamic of differentiation can become exquisitely poignant in moments of dissolution. The evolutionary process itself emerges and participants may find themselves both completely present (in a trans-egoic state) as well as being in awe of that presence in self and others.

We-Space then becomes a condition of standing fully within the paradox of differentiation and subjectivity, experiencing a unique creation of one’s own identity, while simultaneously having a transcendent experience of all “others” as subjects, virtually undifferentiated from and fully connected with oneself. For a group of diverse subjects initially experiencing others as objects to undergo a transformation of group consciousness such that all objects disappear into a continuum of subjects is what Thomas Berry would call communion.

According to De Quincey’s most radical definition of intersubjectivity, the mutual structural coupling of already existing experiencing subjects, where the interiorities of the participating subjects are interdependently shaped by their interaction, the co-creation of the space is based on the relationships of the participants, co-emergence and co-arising move into a condition of inter-subjectivity preceding subjectivity.

We-Space communion is a shift from the psychological context of co-creating subjects to one in which the primary relationship is with the group. Interiority emerges from group process, not vice versa. The group becomes an organism. —shifting from “I am creating you” to “you are creating me” to an entirely different context: an agreement that neither is creating the other, that both are in creation in a context yet to be named, fully plumbed or understood.

The primordially erotic nature of such differentiation, subjectivity and communion never abates. Dissonance, conflict or irritation might precipitate a temporary (and necessary) recapitulation of “self” as a conscious or unconscious act of differentiation. The quality of leadership—or surrendered leadership—in this context determines how the condition of  union evolves further.

Does inter-subjectivity actually create individual subjectivities, is it ontologically primary, or does inter-subjectivity presuppose already existing centers of subjectivity?

–De Quincey

As I inferred above, Quincey is postulating that the most advanced states of inter-subjectivity call into question whether subjects come before or after the inter-subjective experience. In this state, there is no clarity about the ontological relationship between the whole and the part (Am I creating you? Are you creating me? Are we both being created by something that is neither you nor me?).

In Vajrayana Buddhism, there is no uncertainty about this question. All subjects appear spontaneously from the primary (erotic?) communion of dependent co-arising within a timeless ground that arises without cause and has no characteristics. It is neither subjective nor inter-subjective, nor indeed, anything at all. This is a somewhat modified definition of the Basic Space of Phenomena — the substrate of consciousness underlying the entire matrix of dependent co-emergence. Here, inter-subjectivity pre-exists all subjects. Things do not “exist” on their own.

The magic of discovering something new always trumps the security of existing knowledge.– SeanWilkinson, Circling Europe

Thus, We-Space is (becoming) a practical definition we may apply to a shift from subjects cultivating a high degree of agreement based on physical and linguistic signals to a shared (non-conceptual) condition in which the ontological relationship between subjects and the inter-subjective space is much less clear. In this communal space, subjects inevitably do experience interiority, yet it becomes a much less reified condition, arising and disappearing more spontaneously as one’s attachment to the idea of a distinct–and fixed–identity softens. In this space, reification/interiority appears with increasing subtlety, as subjectivity enters a natural and organic ongoing flow of differentiation, in which releasing into a less differentiated communal experience becomes far more accessible.

Similarly, the primary (erotic) motivations of evolution are all operating in this condition of We-Space in simultaneous, integral non-linear fashion, each moment a transition into and through the other conditions. We-Space could be called a primary experience of evolution. Its unitary character is its spiritual dimension.

There is something about the nature of consciousness, it seems, that requires the presence of the “other” as another subject that can acknowledge my being. (When I experience myself being experienced by you, my experience of myself—and of you—is profoundly enriched, and, in some encounters, even “transformed.”) Quincey, p.148

Everything exists in relationship. Consciousness is the communal experience of “knowing with” others. Inter-subjectivity exists independent of and precedes subjectivity. We-Space is a (still emerging) collective version of reality sought by individual spiritual practitioners for centuries, the emptiness of self. In that sense, perhaps we can be clear: “we” comes before “I.” We is already true.

 

 

Trusting the precipice II…

When I was a teenager, I was fortunate to witness the diversity of life outside my culture and receive the benefits of travel at a time when the impression had a deep and lasting impact, obliterating my US-centrism and changing my view of normal forever. I gained a perspective on my native culture, about some of the attitudes and social pressures I encountered later. I found myself unimpressed and not very responsive to the conventions of the time. It wasn’t until recently that this radical turn re-occurred, the opportunity for a fresh and extended immersion in a foreign culture. It just whet my appetite for more.

What other motivation is there? On some level, I am meeting myself, redefining the difference between preference and need, living a little more elementally and immediately. Here, what others might find challenging have become routine; but initially, every facet of daily life becomes an opportunity to peel away existing bias and thus some degree of separation between myself and others, to experience a basic and true identity more directly, to regenerate and reveal the essential that I share in common with all places and all people.

Second, the Borg-like complexity and assimilative power of day-to-day life in America, particularly under current circumstances, with its ever-thickening layers of lies and delusion, eroding a sense of agency. All stirrings of hope are undermined by the massive tech-driven inertia and propaganda of the post-industrial world. Indifference and even hopelessness are all too accessible. The multiplicity of connective possibilities to the global brain, combined with the exponential expansion and coordination of grass roots action-oriented groups are a powerful mitigating force.

Accessing that global brain from a different vantage point permits connecting in a different way to the whole. Have I been substituting the freshness of exotic adventure for the challenge of relationship? Maybe. In moments of greater clarity, I am buoyed by remembering that neither hope nor hopelessness are real. Neither has any substance. Neither is true and neither is false. I await revelation.

Paul Kingsnorth, echoing Rilke, writes this in an essay called “The Witness” in Tricycle Magazine recently:

I’m not a scholar, but I can say…. that if you make nature your witness, and if you act as a witness for nature too, there is a truth to be found. It even means, perhaps, that the ultimate witness to who we are comes from the earth itself. When you sit with the earth, when you make it your witness and when you act as a witness for it—what do you see? What are you compelled to do? These are questions that take us beyond political stances, beyond principles, beyond arguments about engagement or detachment. They are questions, it seems to me, that can never be answered in any way other than the strictly personal. Sitting or acting; engagement or retreat; perhaps there need be no contradiction. 

What he is getting at is that we each have a personal path to discovering the inner force that will drive our actions in the world. Each of us must examine and define an integrity of our own liberation and the liberation of all—because there is really no such thing as “my” solitary liberation anyway. At the most personal level, that journey is one of remembering that nothing exists outside of relationship, of waking up to relationship with the entire natural world and being willing to take the leap into the uncertain outcome of our actions. We may call it an open hearted awareness, a commitment to allowing an uncompromising compassion to envelop and drive us.

A decision to break open and trust helps us reconcile being a solution while also seeking a solution without mindlessly recapitulating our projections on a world that ultimately, subtly and perpetually resists our categorization. We have and may use the scientific view to provide us a measure of understanding of what we do, yet it also diverts us from realizing that we cannot fully know–that we must treasure all of creation and each other in the moment, and not be deceived into thinking we can manipulate it all, that we can bend creation, including other humans, into our own image.

The sweep of this time is an initiation, a severance from all that we know, all we take for granted. Let it go.

Trust The Precipice

It doesn’t matter when they appear, these thresholds, these footpaths that again and again end, drop into a chasm. We shift out of a phase that lingered too long on a broken horizon.

We resist the fall with all our being, holding on like tenacious weeds to the cliff where meaning faltered, slipping from the place we made for it.

Now life’s change waits like a stepchild at the doorstep of the house where it may belong. As it gets darker you are afraid of the next step’s blind touch.

What can you now rely upon? Nothing to do about the encroaching fact of gravity, a hint of vertigo, anonymity.

The precipice is the resistance to the next moment, its unveiling, its miracle.

Nothing to do but wait for a visualisation, a vague shape of a memory that provides a theory of where you stand at this moment.

No other way, but to study the light inside you.

Abide in it as threshold, as prayer or as somebody who thinks about you as God. Abide in that courage that arrives as trust.

Rich Meyers

    

Trusting the precipice….

How surely gravity’s law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing–
each stone, blossom, child–
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we tangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again
to learn from things,
because they are in God’s heart;
they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

Reiner Maria Rilke, Book of Hours, II, 16.

What is the ground? Where is the ground? Is there a ground?

These past few months, more like the past few years, are a slow turning toward Rilke’s elusive essence, shifting circumstances and frame of mind, perpetually straddling multiple worlds.

Disappearing into an deliberate pursuit of an imagined solitary personal salvation is barely conceivable as it is too superficial, though unsteady is the balancing act between pushing forward with an undefined agenda (or no agenda), attending to what appears in front of me, patiently imagining a more obvious emergence will strike me between the eyes….and that I will recognize it.

I will more likely edge tentatively into love than dive, whether it is for a person, an idea, an entire gestalt. Meanwhile, it’s tantalizingly easy, as if having quickly fallen back to sleep after a moment of meditation, to become lost in the conceptual.

I miss not being engaged in a collective effort with its conflicts, dissonance and resolutions. I would feel better furthering tangible benefits on behalf of the whole. But who is to say I am not already doing that, perhaps in a small but no less integral way. I imagine a shorter lag between effort and fruition, a more linear continuum between concept and outcome, like “closure,” resting in the illusory security of active beginnings and definitive endings. My course over the past couple of years may resist definition, but at least it’s been driven by indelible truth.

I care, as if caring itself is the license permitting the softening of personal boundaries, entertaining a profound and limitless permeability, as if caring alone is enough to become transparent and to invite others to do the same, softening into the restless and the sublime tumult of living.

Being a solo traveler has reached the peak of its appeal. It’s difficult to fully accept how much this is true. The primary obstacle to entering a promising relationship is that I am only beginning to trust again being able to recognize one when I see it. Becoming aware of my blindness too late in the last one was a hard blow. So I imagine it is easier to settle for less… for limited companionship without an expectation of anything more substantial. But then what?

The superficial path of least resistance appears easier, as if it frees me from having to confront the main issue. What is it I could not see? What was it I wanted to be true that was not true? Every time I contemplate extending myself into a more substantial alliance, I recoil. I don’t recall ever feeling this way. I don’t know if there is a way through.

I imagine simple refuge, that someone or something will magically make it all clear and easy. I conceive of relationship without attachment, as if commitment implies ownership, or even monogamy. I am free to have any relationship at any time, with anyone, with no obligations, loving fully, equally and without restraint….even if only temporarily. But I am 70 now and the prospect of not progressing beyond this is real. Could I accept such compromise?

Now, after accumulating more than a year’s time in Chiang Mai, I wonder  what could be inadequate about remaining in familiar surroundings? Why forego the comforts of an American home, community and convenience, the deepening groove and safety of perennially soothing routines that connect one to a single place, except for the prospect of continuing to be solitary.

Being in one place reinforces the illusion of permanence while attuning one to less obvious change. At “home,” the passage of time is reflected in my surroundings and thus in myself. I’ve come to rely on a change of scenery from time to time to recognize where I’ve been. There is an ongoing urge to explore beyond the familiar. Diversity is the soul of creation. For me, the diversification of life and culture drives conscious creativity in one’s own view and in life. The creative impulse, the drive toward communion, eros, is the evolutionary process itself completely encapsulated in a single word. It is optimism, consciousness and dissolution all rolled into one.

It’s a partial re-boot, a belief in the next moment without having to know what is next. A longer-term encounter with predispositions, personal bias, expectations and habits allows eros to manifest anew, freshening perspective and opening transformative possibilities.

 

We-Space II: Supernormal States

Signs of intersubjective entry into the We-Space Sangha.

The yoga of intersubjectivity in all its forms is yielding information and learning at new levels of consciousness and in new configurations of field phenomena. If an individual awakening process is any guide to the nature of collective awakening experience, we would have to consider including the possibility that the nature of intersubjective space mirrors and eventually yields phenomena and capacities similar to those arising from concentrated and prolonged personal practice. The recognition and interpretation of such phenomena as nyams or even supernormal perceptual states might well also yield a database of experience, though great care must be taken to avoid regarding these states themselves as fruition.

First, so much of the lingo of We-Space exploration is about presence: mindful presence, radical presence, etc. The moment we assign a label to presence as a state, as soon as “presence” becomes a capacity or skill, it is reified. Any concept of presence (referencing  time) that doesn’t regard time as merely another form of perception or that presumes the existence of an identifiable basic unit is flawed, or is at least a captive of flawed linguistics.

There is no such thing as a unit of time in any absolute sense. Since that is the case, we must define “presence” as resembling something more like absence. That is, an un-reified vastly spacious awareness that has loosened attachment to and is no longer in the tight grip of a specific identity: one so expansive that “embodiment” implies a limitation, so permeable that emotional states, the ambient phenomena of a group process, no longer  impede the flow of authentic connection. Temporarily at least, one is so completely “here” that time stands still. At the same time, no one is home. Similar to the conditions of advanced meditative practice, the ego has been rendered quiescent. One remains in a non-conceptual state. There is nothing to reify.

Woody Allen once famously said, “Time is nature’s way of preventing everything from happening all at once.” From the dualistic view in which subject and object exist, we can only imagine “everything” as discrete events, jumbled together without order, arising in random fashion, crowding each other out, competing for “space” in the arising and disappearing chaos of phenomena, all competing for attention. The dualistic view is  that this competition appears as the constant arising of sense perception, the evaluation of that perception, becoming thoughts in relation to the timing of “events” that we perceive or imagine to exist.

But awakened mind is not just another unconventional and unfamiliar form of time in which “events” occur. There is no sequence of events. There are no events. It is time-less. There are no discrete moments. There is no present, no past, no future; no procession from one thing to another. There is only what is-now-which is changing constantly.

The term beginningless time is a conception arising from within our limited view of reality, our conditioned view, intrinsically based in time. Normally, we are not capable of another view. The reality of awakening mind lives outside of time. It permeates the construction we call time and it is not time bound at all. Then again, neither is it other than time. Wherever you are standing, you do not do so for “moments”—or for any single moment. You are standing there in and with your entire life, without beginning or end; you may imagine yourself to be in a discrete “event,” yet you are not separate from any other event.

The discipline we apply to the development of attention, to resting in a quality of effortlessness in our daily existence and to the attention we bring to the activity of mind all seems to be limited by the reality of samsara itself, the fundamental limitations to which we are helplessly subject. That limitation is time. And…it is also timeless.

The more we awaken, the more we learn about the terms of samsara and our condition, the more we might come to regard our predicament as a perpetual purgatory, which is in every instant both timeless, with all events happening simultaneously, and a time bound condition over which we seem to have little if any control. Any collective process identifying as a vehicle of awakening, in particular the Surrendered Leadership experience of Circling Europe, will, if the right conditions are cultivated, eventually test the grip of the conventional experience of time. To the extent that a group might experience an altered experience of time, it would have to be regarded as a supernormal state.

A second feature of supernormal collective activity might manifest as transient clairvoyance (sensing a future event) or clairsentience (experiencing someone else’s reality in the past, present or future). Functional telepathy might also be a general way of categorizing supernormal phenomena arising from long-term intentional co-creative practice. Knowing what someone else is thinking, anticipating an appearance, a communication, an unusual ideation, simultaneous events or any phenomena occurring between participants separated by great distance

These states might appear to individuals or small groups, anything up to and including the entire group having a common experience, simultaneously experiencing an emotion or sharing a vision, a visitation, a premonition or gaining intuitive insight into the nature and process of an individual or the group as a whole. Such events might appear as dreams, waking images, bodily sensations or powerful emotions. Recognizing such possibilities will be important conditioning mitigating reflexive discounting or disregard for transient states. Sharing information about such phenomena has the potential to further elevate the level of coherence that is already emerging.

Progress resulting from collective We-Space practices may appear in many and unexpected forms. Cultivating the subtle capacities of our interior life that relate to our mental, emotional, intuitive and spiritual landscape and how we perceive one another—cultivating a grounded and rooted relational capacity is the foundation of every viable We-Space. But it all comes fraught with the same caveats that might apply to the results of any solitary practice. Any group declaring its purpose to be a group awakening beyond the existing limits of grip process is already inciting perceptual bias and unwarranted expectations that will may guarantee failure or at least delay.

There will be a natural tendency of any group detecting signs of collective “awakening,” however they may have arisen, to conceptualize the incubation process, codifying the pathway and limiting the essential open curiosity that probably led to such events in the first place. Such efforts can also become conceptual digressions from what may have been an entirely spontaneous process that may require much more investigation before adopting a formula for its reproduction. In short, there is no linear formula. The more trying, the less arrival. The more looking, the less finding.  Experiences of group opening, especially supernormal states, are created by resonance, not by conceptual practice.

 

The proper response to the emergence of unusual collective phenomena is to remain on the path that got you where you are, not to digress or fall into conceptual traps with it, focusing on a future that doesn’t exist. Focus must remain in the present, which also doesn’t exist, but it’s all we’ve got. These admonitions would apply to individual practice as much as to a group.
The fact that episodes of unexpected collective non-dual consciousness have occurred is a sign that something unusual can indeed happen among groups of people who have sufficiently whittled away at the influence of ego-centered control strategies and entered into powerful practices to sharpen their perceptual skills, feeling everything and rejecting nothing with an attentive and open and exploratory mind.
The technologies that serve as a platform for such collective emergence are gathering quickly. They appear to converge toward traditional tantric practice that regards the present moment as the engine of awakening. Everything becomes a doorway into deeper connection and an enhancement of We-Space. The transcendent is always intrinsic to the prosaic, however ecstatic or painful it may be. It is there in every moment, whether in the experience of deep feeling, exposing the root of suffering, acknowledging the presence and inevitability of death, struggling with resistance or guarding or transparency.
The evolved We-Space is not only one in which the individuals can give presence to the transcendent but also one in which all the barriers and and blocks that individuals construct can be named and seen and forgiven. Learning to recognize the glimmers of fruition in every bump, ever obstacle, every personal and interpersonal challenge is to realize the unity of ground, path and fruition ever more skillfully and completely, bringing us closer to the full expression of the We-Space Sangha.

We-Space: The Next Buddha

We-Space is a term for the deepening experience of collective field phenomena occurring in groups. It may be called collective intelligence, an energetic manifestation of the resonance occurring among the participants in an increasingly intimate group process. Whether “we-space” pre-exists or is evoked by a group process, is psychological or spiritual or evolutionary in nature depends on who you talk to. There are numerous processes included under the generic term and there are numerous purposes to which We-Space is being developed and directed. Based on what I have learned so far, the full potential of We-Space remains unexplored and virtually unlimited.

The vision of We-Space expressed here will not reflect a very deep comprehension of formal Integral theory or reference its hierarchies of evolutionary development. Like Michael Brabant, for example, I may diverge from the existing framework to explore the potential of We-Space to facilitate direct non-conceptual experience, to manifest supernormal states, to function as a matrix connecting diverse collective awakening practices, to highlight the limits of-if not overthrow-the dominant paradigm of scientific materialism. But that is the grand design, is it not? Based on personal study and practice, intuition, direct experience and contemplating the implications of what is described by many participants in the recent We-Space Summit, I think it’s possible to outline a few characteristics of this intelligence.

The threads of We-Space development and interpretations are analogous to the proliferation of long-term generative practices of different lineages of spiritual practice or to the parallel development of religious or sacred philosophies. But particularly now, they seem to be exploding out of a rapidly growing knowledge base resulting from deep and creative explorations that began five decades ago in the earliest explorations of group process.

We can easily acknowledge the contributions made by each of these lineages over a considerable period of time to the evolution of the whole. We can select personal practices from the buffet or immerse ourselves deeply in a single path. But developing a common understanding of the context in which all these processes are arising and flowering also serves and energizes the whole in ways that are already bearing magnificent and unexpected fruit.

Evolutionary Spirituality identifies itself as generic, stripped of jargon, cultural trappings and formal rituals of organized religion. It identifies as evolutionary as if it is unveiling and accelerating the evolution of human consciousness into a  universal embodiment of We-Space. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of the long-term enjoyed by similar inquiries taking place over the past 1200 years, for example, within Mahayana Buddhism alone (or much longer in the case of other religious traditions), which to my knowledge is the most extensive documented inquiry into the science of mind. We are facing a far greater urgency, a looming existential condition characterized by overpopulation,  planetary resource depletion and climate change, combined with rapidly evolving and energizing cross-pollination of sacred philosophies in search of keys to advancing human evolution, changing the course of human development from its current self-destructive path.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s well known declaration, “The next buddha will be a sangha” applies here. His vision may have been driven by the perfusion of evolutionary philosophies across global culture concurrent with a struggle to redefine governance, economics and spirituality in humanist terms. To apply this vision to the ongoing development of We-Space is probably not novel. Considering its implied parameters in greater detail might seem ambitious, yet to do so is an acknowledgement of an obvious and natural objective: organic openings such as the Patricia Albere’s Evolutionary Collective, even going beyond powerful preliminaries such as Tej Steiner’s Core Life Skills, Circling, Christian Pankhurst’s HeartIQ, Thomas Hubl’s Transparent Communication, Surrendered Leadership and other approaches to recognizing interpersonal field phenomena and the development of authentic relationship and radical presence as preparation for and enhancement of We-Space. These do contribute to widespread and growing evidence of collective efforts to embody critical evolutionary change, leveraging the impulse to evolve to a widening audience.

Since there’s plenty of room for interpretation, I will try to be clear about Hanh’s references to Buddha and sangha. Referring to the “next Buddha” is not a reference to a historical figure. “Buddha” refers to a state of awareness, not to an individual. That state of awareness may be called Buddha nature, primordial awareness, non-dual consciousness, spontaneous presence, the ground of reality or rigpa. Further, all phenomena arise spontaneously from the primordial (non-dual) ground. The essence nature of all appearance is not other than this non-conceptual, empty and supremely spacious presence that has no beginning, no end, is unconditioned and utterly insubstantial. In fact, to say this “condition” is the ground of reality is an oxymoron. Reality is not conditional. Its essence is nothing at all.

So, how can the next Buddha be nothing at all? A sangha is a community of practice. Superficially, the next Buddha will be a community of awakening individuals, as Dustin Diperna suggests, sufficiently capable of subsuming personal ego concerns and propagating the nature of collective reality such as to be regarded as leaders with a common vision and an approach to awakening. Imagine the simultaneous poly-centric emergence of key learnings that together comprise a distributed yet wholly coherent network of awareness. Each taken separately might not fit the criteria of true non-conceptual awareness, yet together they might well express something far more powerful.

The members of such a sangha needn’t be in geographic proximity or deliberately in coordinated action. They may not even need to know each other, though identifying and naming such a sangha would be a significant moment of progress. Imagining a community redefining authentic Buddha-nature as a field of collective influence is an explosive suggestion that a world-view growing from a spirituality of the near-future, if we are to survive, will be leaderless in the conventional sense, manifesting as a shared non-conceptual unconditioned conscious transmission and propagation of the essence of its liberating nature.

At the deepest level, however, identifying a sangha as a “Buddha” implies that it will embody elements of collective awakening closely aligning with or even identical to the state of awakening achieved by the historical Buddha, which is to say a collective experience of directly embodied non-dual pure awareness in which barriers between subject and object effectively dissolve into a common experience of unitary consciousness. Such a state implies a capacity to transcend apparent paradox: the conceptual and the non-conceptual, duality and non-duality, personal agency versus being a “channel” of some extra-corporeal intelligence, accepting “what is” versus having an agenda for change, realizing the truth of appearance as well as the insubstantial nature of all appearance.

It’s also important to differentiate the unique and rapidly fluctuating time-bound and conceptual We-Space created by any group from an absolute timeless and non-conceptual essence of We-Space that exists regardless of who is engaged, yet not identified with anyone in particular. The journey of any group (sangha) deliberately exploring We-Space will eventually be to transition from its relative forms to a realization of its absolute qualities. This process will require intensive, prolonged and coherent practice, timely and creative exploration of inner space never before navigated. At some point, however, two things will become evident: 1) it very much matters who is present as individuals in the process cannot simply be randomly interchanged with an expectation of arriving at identical results; and 2) the inward turning of the group to the intersubjective space must eventually turn outward toward service.

Such a collective achievement might also model a natural integration of requisite components of an awakened state; specifically, both absolute and relative bodhicitta and the development of a collective version of bodhisattva expression in the world. This is analogous to saying that the next Buddha (Sangha) will achieve an integral state of Being and Doing, demonstrating that neither are seen as opposite sides of an hypothetical coin, but that each becomes indistinguishable from the other.

What is traditionally represented in some branches of Buddhism as an ultimate state of consciousness requiring numberless lifetimes of arduous karmic resolution to achieve is, according to Dzogchen practices of the Great Perfection, within reach in a single lifetime. There is no timeline attached to Thich Nhat Hanh’s vision; let’s just say that, for those who wish to see the human experiment continue, and assuming the conditions for such a transition, even if only on the smallest of scales, can be created, there’s no time to waste.

The following is a partial list of potential characteristics of authentic non-dual We-Space:

  • Absolute We-Space is present whether it is realized or not. It already exists whether one believes in it, has experienced it or not. It is always here. It is never not here. It is implicit in every moment. Absolute We-Space is not a product of me or of you. It arises as us yet is also inherently something greater. It does not belong to any one, any group or any thing. We belong to it.
  • We-space is not an object to be cultivated. Talking about it as if it is a separate phenomenon or as something that is either here or not here only reinforces the dualistic thinking that makes it more difficult for us to recognize and enter authentic non-dual (absolute) We-Space.
  • In relative (dualistic) We-Space, objects (“others”) appear to be real, yet are entirely projections according to our individual experience and conditioning. At all times, I am creating “you.” “You” are creating me. The objective of an evolutionary process of revealing We-Space is to unravel the projections until they either dissolve or become transparent.
  • Individualism/personal autonomy/personal agency are illusions, rooted in conceptual mind. They all refer to presumed boundaries between one identity and another. The We-Space Sangha is a deliberate creation of conditions in which boundaries, erected according to conditioning, experience, religious norms and economic assumptions, can be reconsidered. This is partly a matter of neurophysiology and partly of cultural and economic colonization. The authentic Sangha of We-Space challenges every social, religious, ideological and economic structure. In order to realize full communion and full autonomy of every individual, decolonization must be teased away from neurophysiology.
  • An enhanced emotional connection between separate individuals, i.e. an improvement of samsara, is a valid objective of We-Space inquiry, but is not the ultimate objective. We-Space may be accessed by cognitive decisions to enter into a mutuality of increased permission between two or more identities, but if we are to enter the Sangha of We-Space, we do not drop deeper into our identities. We drop out of them more completely; we commit acts of release beyond any we may have previously imagined, literally cutting through the grip of the separate time-based karmic identity, perhaps not absolutely and not permanently, but at least enough for us to see the totality and potential of our co-creation.
  • We do have to come into a personal We-Space before entering collective We-Space. We have to be comfortable with recognizing our essential poverty, experiencing ourselves as naked; becoming more comfortable and secure in our own nakedness before we are able to share naked reality with each other. The field quality that awakens such a degree of safety is the act of dropping our attachment to a separate identity. This might be compared to a personal mindfulness practice that precedes our capacity to enter a group mindfulness practice.
  • In We-space, all feelings, conditioning, reticence and emotional guarding are viewed from a more neutral, less ego-invested quality of presence. We cultivate together the capacity to reduce our need to protect our selves; that need itself becomes just another thread of the interactional dynamics that might be experienced, shared and examined. We sense a greater access to and a reduced influence of emotional material that reinforces tendencies to regard our selves as separate identities. In We-Space, with intelligence and a shared willingness to be more vulnerable, we can assist one another to come closer to our core conditioning that represents a barrier to entry into We-Space in the first place.
  • Leadership is a transitional identification of a single or group of individuals whose reliable inquiry into collective We-Space shows evidence of fruition. If this occurs, the essence nature of We-Space empowers others to examine and reflect on their own participation and become empowered to model We-Space as well. In other words, a “leader” is identified as a transmitter, perhaps as a gateway for the group into non-conceptual mind. The objective of the process is the propagation of that transmission, making everyone a leader. The more people can become this, the more we accelerate toward a critical mass of humanity realizing and becoming empowered to recognize and enter relative We-Space, to engage in We-Space communication with others, realizing that ultimately, We-Space is not about following single leaders or becoming a leader, but in sharing an empowering vision that facilitates confident expression of temporary and progressive integrative leadership emerging as the We-Space Sangha.
  • Inasmuch as “leaders” identifying with specific traditions or philosophies exert influence within a matrix of diverse approaches to awakening, the force that supports the integrity of that matrix is their own integrity and momentum toward diversification within their chosen traditions. Holding a particular approach to awakened knowledge combined with the gravitational influence provided by similar figures operating in their own orbits both retains the integrity of their knowledge base as well as contributes to the creation of new information driving the evolution of the matrix as a whole.
  • We-Space is part of an evolutionary move away from post-modern culture driven by individualism and toward enhanced collective consciousness and collective action. We shouldn’t be naive about the economic, political and religious forces arrayed against such a movement. We are in an increasingly intense confrontation with powerful forces of libertarian individualism, self-interested Austrian economic theory and radical Calvinist religious ideologies. As a corollary to Thich Nhat Hanh’s vision, the transition to Sangha implies this critical shift toward revealing the nature of collective mind, collective development and action. In Buddhist terms, We-Space is, by inspiring an intention to awaken collectively, shifting from “me” to “we.” If it is authentic, it will inspire the awakening of compassion, generosity and action characteristic of the bodhisattva spirit.

The next Buddha may not be an exclusive or isolated sangha, a group of awakening beings from different traditions and different cultures, but an inclusive, possibly  distributed Sangha, holding the collective space for awakening by its coherence and the integrity of inherent confidence. The “we” is (or can be) the cracking of the egg in which we all exist, from which leaders/teachers will emerge, the awakened ones or the ones on their way who have previously been isolated from each other by sectarian and economic structures that isolate us and incentivize individualism.

The magic that cuts through the proliferation of approaches to realizing and engaging in We-Space and the increasing differentiation of individuals engaged in those processes is surely in part the acceptance of our individual uniqueness, but is also the revelation of what we share: our common human suffering. The unique nature of each individual’s version of dealing with suffering is what both keeps us apart and also what binds us together. We-Space is a hugely promising emerging vehicle for realizing Buddha’s Third Noble Truth, that there is a way out of suffering. To the degree that groups can mid-wife, witness, honor, share and resolve the common nature of our individual paths through life, enhancing the collective field in which we exist and evolve, We-Space moves ever closer to becoming Thich Nhat Hanh’s next Buddha.

 

Equanimity

equanimity-1-1170x666

Equanimity means stability or composure, an evenness of mind and attitude. In the Buddhist sense, this means an imperturbable vision in which nothing stands out, all phenomena being regarded as literally equal. No phenomena distinguishes itself from any other. There are no extremes. One dwells in the vast depths of the ocean of phenomena, undisturbed by the turbulence of the surface. In the absolute sense, equanimity is thus another way of referring to true nature, as it is the quality of Buddha nature that is the capacity to remain in such perfect repose.

Such an infinite and sustained evenness implies a profound freedom. We think of it as freedom from the essence of samsaric existence, the continuous flowing into our selves, the core of the Second Noble Truth, the perpetual attachment to and search for what is ultimately a superficial and illusory happiness. In equanimity, authentic happiness resides in the freedom from the search, though not in separation from the reality of the search or from other beings consumed by it. If I cannot be ruffled by the routine zigs and zags that life takes, even and especially by the extremes (old age, sickness and death) that we can all expect sooner or later, I have achieved some grace, have I not?

Equanimity might be mistaken as dullness or vacuity, a smoothing over, even a suppression of natural human response. But no, authentic equanimity is not a flattening of responsiveness. Neither is it a dulling of perception. Quite the opposite. It is based on a heightened awareness of the forces and beliefs luring the mind away from balance, yet remaining in unity with all.

Each of us lives in a personal world of relative equanimity, a continuously fluctuating continuum. We ourselves and everyone we know or will ever encounter, in their own way, is moving back and forth on that continuum and, we hope, generally toward greater equanimity. That may seem a bold statement. And it is surely slow process. But even the most tortured among us have some awareness of their own suffering and are likely making whatever progress they can manage toward being less driven by their emotions, which is not to say they are becoming more effective in repression, but rather more effective in looking beneath to the essence of disruptive mental habits.

Some days we are able to maintain both engagement and a bemused balance of mind. On others, we’re deer in the headlights–engagement and balance completely escape us. We are well aware of our own flaws, the times when stress is overwhelming, when anger or sadness, helplessness or loneliness burst forth either without considering the consequences or even despite having considered them. These are moments of reverting to the attachment to self and misunderstanding the origins of thoughts. At such moments, authentic (absolute) equanimity,  the infinitely even quality of awakened mind, is nothing more than a distant dream.

The implication of true equanimity, the absolute state (Brahman), is that the effects of ego have been quieted. If there is an “I” which can be differentiated from others, then the inner experience of “I,” the super Disney E-ride emotional roller coaster will always be drawing us into differentiation of experience into extremes of good and bad. As the Four Immeasurables prayer says, ” May all beings be free of attraction, aversion and partiality and rest in great equanimity.”

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche says in Courtland Dahl’s Entrance to the Great Perfection: A Guide to Dzogchen Preliminary Practices, “What would you do if there was no you? If there were no ‘you’ and no ‘I,’ then just imagine, what would become of passion? What would you do with it?”

On one level, he is asking what would become of the inborn tendency to make judgments, the relative passion of falling into partiality and attachment, deciding something is good or bad and wanting it to change. He goes on to remind us that emotions, in essence, are not other than emptiness. True equanimity is being able to recognize and observe emotion without being drawn into the drama. This does not mean we can deny emotions or act as if they are not real. Equanimity is the refined capacity to experience emotion fully and to transform it into its true nature.

The Latin origin of the word passion is passio, “to suffer.” The crudest form of passion, deeply rooted in illusion of the separate self, accompanied by only a rudimentary capacity for equanimity, does indeed imply great suffering. The self-oriented kind of passion that thrives on confrontation, competition, the zero-sum passion, is never fully satisfying because the outcome will always be temporary and superficial.

To paraphrase Dzongsar Khyentse further, we might regard the relative form of passion  as the opposite of equanimity. It involves fabrication, like constructing ornaments on the original tree of an emotion. Such adornments quickly become a personal agenda, which doesn’t coexist well with equanimity.

But what of inspiration, the passion to benefit beings? What of the generous impulse to contribute to a better world? What happens to passion as the capacity for equanimity grows and matures? Does it disappear? Or does it transform into love, into com-passion, the motivation to benefit others? The com-passion seeking definition here, derived from the latin “to suffer with,” is what arises with authentic equanimity. It is not the passion of attachment and fabrication of the self; it is the dawning of wisdom. That is an altogether different quality of passion than how we would normally think of it, a passion that is not grounded in attachment.

How do we know the difference?

There is clearly such a thing as relative equanimity, just as there is relative compassion or relative bodhicitta. This is conditioned equanimity, still subject to cause, still residing in a dualistic frame. Duality has not been dissolved. A personal agenda coexists with this version of equanimity. It is still possible to alleviate suffering effectively because we are cultivating a capacity to respond to immediate conditions with grace instead of with grasping, with selfless generosity instead of aversion.

While we experience the temporary bliss of relative equanimity, the accompanying relative compassion can indeed be very effective…temporarily. If we aren’t checking and noticing our personal agenda and how it is intruding, then the outcome of our efforts will likely descend into exhaustion, confusion and disappointment.

This is how Narayan Helen Liebenson ( a teacher at Cambridge Insight Meditation Center) spoke  recently:

Ultimately, we are trying to cultivate a passion for life rather than for the things of life, a passion that expands our heart and our sense of what is possible in this world. This kind of passion is love, not just for a select few, but for all. In this way, [com]passion and equanimity come together in love and in wisdom.

As equanimity grows, so also does wisdom. As strong motivation (passion) becomes less oriented to the solitary self and more so to the collective, so compassion grows. And along with that, service. Cultivating equanimity increases our capacity to love in a more universal way. We make a transition from “me” to “we”. Our passion for our selves opens to an active loving passion for the benefit of all.

Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche said it well:

You can be open and love someone and not be attached. One might call it passionate, but it is open—and that is what makes the difference between love [passionate service] that benefits and love that causes us to suffer. Our equanimity comes from open awareness itself. Each time you let go of your attachment, you reconnect with open awareness. This is what is known as the path. 


 

The Last Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

Tenzin Gyatso, the “holder of the ocean of Dharma,” IVth Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, the embodiment of Chenrezig, Buddha of Compassion, leader of the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism, Nobel Prize winner and possibly the most widely known and admired person on earth (except in China), has said that he will be the last Dalai Lama.

Such a decision can only be the result of much contemplation over a long period of time. For westerners, for most Buddhists the world over, it may appear that this decision is made primarily to prevent Tibetan Buddhism from being subsumed or split by the Government of China, to preserve whatever remains of the independence of traditional Tibetan spiritual and monastic culture from becoming an appendage of the Chinese State. Yet the price of terminating the lineage may be high, as a stateless people will have to grapple with the loss of their most important institution providing a cultural glue between the past and the future.

At one time, monastic culture in Tibet was the State. Throughout the troubled history of the succession of Dalai Lamas, centuries of shifting relations with Mongols and multiple Chinese dynasties, Tibet managed to retain a tenuous (even debatable) independence from China based on the spiritual accomplishments of its multiple lineages…until 1950. Now, after the systematic destruction wreaked by the Cultural Revolution and the limited restoration of monastic culture since, China has declared that they will name the next Dalai Lama by drawing lots.

This may appear to be a radical shift in their relations with the Gelugpa in particular, but it isn’t really. Their interference with the succession of the lineage, and the Gelugpa tolerance of it, goes back to the 16th century. But in declaring their intention, they would presume to subjugate the spiritual hierarchy of Tibet to the interests of secular political control. This is surely a major consideration for whatever decision His Holiness makes.

I’m not about to claim historical authority, but there are a few points to make about China’s relationship with Tibet. In the west, we tend to regard the relationship between China and Tibet as a black and white issue. China invaded Tibet in 1950, effectively ending Tibetan independence. That’s just about the limit of popular knowledge. Yet China’s relationship with Tibet goes back at least as far as 640 CE, when a daughter of the Chinese Tang Emperor married the Tibetan Emperor, Songsten Gampo.

A stone outside the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa is inscribed with the language of the treaty of 821 between a later Tibetan Emperor, Trisung Detsen Ralpachen, and the Tang Emperor Mu-Zong:

‘Both Tibet and China shall keep the country and frontiers of which they now are in possession. The whole region to the east of that being the country of Great China and the whole region to the west being assuredly the country of Great Tibet, from either side of that frontier there shall be no warfare, no hostile invasions, and no seizure of territory.’

So began a long and complicated relationship for the next 1300 years.

Since the beginning of the Yarlung Dynasty of Tibet (7th C), the language and culture of Tibet was infused with Chinese influence, including literature, astrology and medicine. During the Mongol period of China (13th-14th C), emperors sent caravans of gold westward to the Lamas of Tibet in support of their message and their monasteries. As political power shifted in China away from the Mongols, the clarity of Tibetan independence from China muddied, even as internal political influence was an ongoing topic of jealousy and conflict between monastic systems and schools.

It was the Mongols who bestowed the title of Dalai Lama upon a succession of abbotts of Drepung Monastery. Later, it was the Great Fifth Dalai Lama who invited the Chinese armies to subdue their Red Hat enemies. Thus, the Gelugpa lineage of Panchen Lamas and Dalai Lamas and the political influence of the Yellow Hats was secured by a foreign army, a favor unlikely to be forgotten by any subsequent ruler.

Ongoing rivalry between the Mongol and Chinese royalty was played out in Tibet well into the 18th C. During this time, several Dalai Lamas met suspiciously early deaths, opening the way for the Chinese to maintain control and resist further Mongol influence. The Gelugpas maintained spiritual and political primacy, but were also isolated from the outside world in exchange for peace and domestic tranquility at the behest of their Chinese patrons and occupiers.

In the late 19th century, Russia and Britain were battling for control of Central Asia. In 1904 the British sent thousands of troops to Tibet. Hundreds, if not thousands of civilians were killed. Shortly afterwards the British took control. In 1906 Britain and China entered into an agreement: the Chinese agreed to pay Britain two million rupees for Tibet (!).  In exchange, London recognized China’s right to annex the country, which they said had always belonged to them anyway. To this day, the conventional reason China invaded Tibet is its belief that it rightfully belongs to the mainland.

In 1912, the XIIIth Dalai Lama made his return to the country after years in exile. During this period, China was in chaos as the Qing dynasty had collapsed. The few Chinese troops that were stationed in Tibet where easily defeated. The Dalai Lama proclaimed independence which lasted until 1949.

In 1949, under Mao Zedong, China launched its invasion of Tibet. In October, 1950, the Chinese Army took over the country, starting at Chamdo. A year later the Dalai Lama through his representatives, signed a treaty with the Chinese. In it they recognized the authority of China over their country. When looking at the reasons why China invaded Tibet, the importance of this agreement (the 17 Point Treaty) cannot be overlooked. While the Chinese say it verifies their claim, the Dalai Lama and Tibetans in exile have long claimed it was a treaty signed under threat of force (and without the Dalai Lama’s review) and is therefore invalid.

Under Chinese rule and with the steady infusion of Chinese into the territory of Tibet, the local population has been subjected to economic, social and racial inequities. According to the exile community, over half a million Tibetans have died due to starvation, disease and imprisonment since the Chinese occupation. They also point out that the entire country is being inexorably assimilated into mainland China, turning it into a home for its own people. With the development of a transportation infrastructure, massive and rapid urban development and the gradual marginalization of traditional Tibetan culture, the time will come when Tibet and its culture will disappear as it is subsumed into the Chinese culture.

Of course, the PRC disputes these claims. Beijing says that from 1912 to 1949, the economic situation in the country had deteriorated. What the Chinese Army did was to liberate the people from suffering, inept leadership and a feudal economy controlled by the monastics.  With help from the mainland, the say, the economic and individual status of the people has improved. The government also releases statistics saying GDP figures have risen tremendously since the occupation. They also point out that workers there are paid highly (although many jobs are not available to those for whom Chinese is not the primary language) and infrastructure has improved. The Chinese also claim they have embarked on a mission to preserve historical sites.

The decision the Dalai Lama has to make is whether to remain passive in the face of probable assimilation of the Buddhist hierarchy into the influence of the State or whether to stand for the independence of monasticism from the state. Regardless, monastic communities within greater China have had to reconsider and redefine their economies according to Chinese political restrictions, avoiding the economic structures for which the Land of Snows was originally invaded in 1950.

What effect would the disappearance of the Dalai Lama have on dharma in the West? Will Western Mahayana Buddhism gradually dissect out the cultural associations with Tibet while preserving the essence of the teachings unencumbered by 1200 years of tradition, including the bad habits, sectarianism and faulty thinking of the very people who have brought it to us?

When the Dalai Lama says he will be the last, does he mean the last Tibetan Dalai Lama? What if the Dalai Lama were to reincarnate (and be recognized) outside of Tibet? Could he assume the traditional responsibilities as head of the Gelugpas? What if he were to reincarnate as a non-Tibetan? Or as a woman? What of Tibetans bereft of leadership? How will the Tibetan people, both in exile and in Tibet, already in profound pain, react to a selection of the next Dalai Lama by the government of China? For that matter, would they follow a non-Tibetan, or a woman? Would such a loss incite mass suicidal rebellion or deepen existing hopelessness?

What if he does not reincarnate at all? What happens to the drama of discovery and selection that has endured the centuries and sustained an unbroken lineage? The only clarity among all of this uncertainty is that we will still live in a world on the brink, a world just as much in need of Tenzin Gyatso’s religion of kindness, with him or without him. We will still be in need of the blessings of Chenrezig, the further proliferation and flowering of global efforts devoted to collective awakening. To whatever degree His Holiness has inspired devotion, generosity, compassion, the application of the principles of dharma, his loss will undoubtedly inspire an even deeper commitment if not also a greater sense of urgency.