Sacred Activism

Maybe this is the moment I’ve been waiting for without realizing it–the approaching object in my rear view mirror that’s much closer than it looks.

I’ve spent time in the past couple of years in the company of others mulling the limits of language, not merely the occasional futility in finding words for experience, but to feel through the subtle and tenacious bonds by which language as a function of consciousness, shapes and expresses default beliefs about the world. I require not merely new words, but a path beyond limiting structures. This is a descent into the substrate, a journey into the interstices of the existential. Haha. That journey invites a new consciousness, new thinking….or…perhaps no thinking. Whatever it is, it’s part of a critical decolonization process underway as we reconnect with self, other and the earth.

That phrase, “self, other and the earth,” is a core principle in a recent collaboration between Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker titled, “Savage Grace.” Their definition of decolonization tracks Derrick Jenson very closely, about which he writes:

Decolonization is the process of breaking your identity with and loyalty to this culture–industrial capitalism, and more broadly civilization–and remembering your identification with an loyalty to the real physical world…It means seeing the harm the dominant culture does to other cultures and to the planet….It means recognizing that the luxuries of the dominant culture do not come free, but rather are paid for by other humans, by non-humans….It means recognizing that we do not live in a democracy, but rather a corporate plutocracy, a government by, for and of corporations. It means remembering that the real world is more important than this social system. Without a real world we don’t have a social system.

Derrick Jenson

The colonizing power of language is also a manifest tool of conquest and domination. This has been most true of English in particular, but also French, Spanish and Portuguese. And that’s only in the past four hundred years. The dominant narrative of the human story has been so deeply buried in language it’s hardly noticed. Along the way, as has been broadly noted elsewhere, our relationship to the natural world and to death have been denied, pushed away and/or buried. Along the way, a relentless barrage of linguistic bullets has mowed down nearly every alternative world view, redirecting (and destroying) every un-dammed river of shamanic consciousness standing in its way. The bill for this error, and all the hubris accompanying it, is coming due.

Just as surely as those once colonized still struggle against the multiplicities of zombie neocolonialism, such as disaster capitalism, the rest of the world remains in the grip of neocolonial ideology couched in the narrative of mass culture, the interlocution of establishment media, organized religion, finance and the multi-national juggernaut of extractive capital perpetuating its myth of “progress,” and “growth.” In subtle and not so subtle ways, we are constantly told, as Margaret Thatcher famously said, “There is no alternative.” The great extinction unfolding before us is noted and shrugged off.

To be sure, slipping the inertia of the neural substrate is no simple task. This is also not a new idea and there is no shortage of places to start. Just take the term “sacred activism,” for example. It’s been an evolving topic for decades. The meaning of these two words has been under perpetual construction and deconstruction, constantly shifting depending on whom you ask. Books are written about it. It’s jargon for some, a source of inspiration for others. It’s a guideline, a goal, a handy slogan whose meaning is debated, abused, misunderstood and celebrated.

A long time ago (haha), back in the 70s, one could be involved in politics OR spirituality. The two could not coexist in the same person. There was no bridge. You could either be on the front lines of “resistance” or back in your hutch sitting silently, doing “nothing.” Or so we thought. The traditional activist pitted herself against the inertia of the Industrial Growth Society. The spiritualist dropped out. Since then, the journey into politics AND spirituality (like the converging journey of spirituality and physics) has been leading to the same quantum location, which means everywhere, but mostly into creative institutions marrying the two.

Spirituality and politics were two separate pursuits. We could not envision acting simultaneously in both realms. The term itself embodies a powerful dualistic view of reality, a linguistic field from which we now seek escape velocity. Nevertheless, the confrontational nature of traditional activism and the perpetuation of that dualism eventually felt like a dead end. Activism isolated from its sacred roots became part of the problem, not part of the solution. The realization that all politics is personal and that the personal is political worked its way deeper into awareness, sending us on long journeys of “personal growth,” which not only ignited deepening inquiries into spirituality, but more complex inquiries into the politics of interactive dynamics.

Gradually, we come to know that “politics” is rooted far more deeply than we ever imagined, far beneath the silted and nutrient-poor everyday channels of discursive thought, all the way into the primary beliefs we hold about reality such as the (un)conscious division between subject and object, I and It, Human and Nature. Along the way, those “beliefs” have been informed by, supported by and also undermined by science and philosophy. What are we to think?

Language is the carrier of our separation. Language will never overcome its self-perpetuating confusion and grasp the singularity of sacred activism without inventing new words for it. I now have difficulty saying these two words together. They have become baggage from the Old Story. The words no longer make sense together because, ultimately, (finally?) what they describe are mirror images of that singularity, as if I’m seeing confusion as the inextricable four bodies of Buddha. There is no longer any daylight between them. No distinction between the essential meaning of either.  And there’s no time left to even debate the issue.

The only way one can fully understand what they mean is to realize, spoken together, they are redundant. They have become the Tao or the Two Truths (which are really One). The very fact that we must still refer to something called “sacred activism” is testament to how far we have yet to go in eliminating the artificial boundary between the realities they embody together.

How can true activism, the pursuit of justice, not be rooted in the sacred unity of self, other and earth? How can sacred practices, seeking and restoring that Unity, not become the pursuit of justice? How can spiritual practice not also become the soul of activism? This is an evolution. Living your activism becomes the materialization of your practice. There is no longer any way to leave the cushion, the ritual, the river of shamanic consciousness behind. Nor is there any way to say that unleashing the colonized and controlled rivers of my consciousness and continuously informing and purifying my intentions is not the pursuit of justice. There is no other way. We can no longer even speak of activism without understanding that now the only true activism arises from the sacred heart of the earth, the soul of nature, the consciousness of the planet as Self, acting within the ethos of trans-corporeality, the only matrix in which we have ever lived.

The cognitive discontinuity introduced during the Neolithic was the beginning of straightening the channels of our perception and… placing the dams of hierarchical thought along these new, linear constrictions. The monoliths of politics, economics, organized religion and warfare were imbedded in these straightened channels to control the flow even further. Perceptual stagnation set in – not only unnoticed for what it was, but pursued as a charismatic ideal of perfection – becoming the sine qua non of the human species….Awareness had been civilized…The rivers [of perception] had been channeled, the flow multiply dammed.

The celebration of pluralities, the seeing of one/ness in all/ness and all/ness in one/ness, and the renewal of ex-stasis intrinsic to the previous two hundred thousand years of human cognition was deemed unnecessary. What was necessary was to straighten ever more cognitive channels, build more cognitive dams. Those populations of humans who persisted in the primal, unregulated cycle of cognition and ecstasy were driven out, marginalized or killed.

John Salskov-Iverson

The evolution parallel to a personal experience of overflowing the artificial channeling of cognition is in transforming the collective dynamics of this journey into wholeness. The agency we have imagined as humans, manifest in a broken relationship with the natural world, is a false version of our true condition.

In increasing numbers and in diverse places, this awakening is propagating itself, manifesting personal versions of an incipient mass spiritual breakthrough. We are igniting nothing less than global shamanic network–prophesied by Tibetan Bonpo shamans–by manifesting the true meaning of sacred activism, exhibiting conscious attention in ways that dissolve the collective mind control we call the liberal order of the Western world.

We are bringing the dervish mentality, the Shambhala warrior mentality–the energy of transformation, making peace with the demons inside while curing instead of killing outside, taking the cushion with them into every “being” while turning every moment on the cushion into “doing” justice. The tools of the true sacred justice warrior are, as Andrew Harvey would say, none other than those of the divine Shakti goddesses of Hinduism: Kali, the Dancer of destruction; Parvati, the messenger of love and devotion; Durga the Invincible; and Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity who restores us to the true  source of all bounty, the earth itself.

To channel energies such as these is to learn to stand in the eye of the storm, surrounded by profound spiritual and moral corruption, economic and ecological injustice with unwavering courage and integrity, performing mass healing ceremony, restoring eco-guardianship with unyielding dignity, fueled by illuminated compassion.

Wages for Facebook?

This page, Wages for Facebook, appeared in my feed the other day. Strange. Besides being entirely anonymous, no links, no credits, nothing to indicate its source, in blaring all-caps, it gives the reader less freedom from information than Facebook itself, scrolling away beyond my control, feeding me the prescribed dose of rhetoric embedded hip deep in rigid ideology. Is it art? Or what?

Turns out this scrolling iPad page was part of an art exhibit at UC-San Diego, an installation called How Are We Feeling Today  mounted in part by Lauren Ptak, a curator and faculty member at Parsons. She had been incubating it for a year, discussing it with students. After all that effort, how did she manage to be so off target?

OK. So the concept is interesting. What Facebook is extracting from us is unpaid labor. And we should be compensated. Marxism 101. It’s unclear whether she expects actual payment, merely a change in consciousness or some in-kind contribution.

What this polemic gets wrong is 1) the presumption that we have no choice and 2) that being surveilled is equivalent to unpaid labor. Perhaps, yes, we were duped to believe that signing on (clocking in?) meant we would get something of value in return, something more than friends and likes and community, the chance to create a personal “brand” or gain a following.

Well, yes, we do get something in return, but it’s not necessarily so obvious what that is, especially if all we do is hang out in a limited circle of intermittent activity and believe it’s all about “social presence.” In time, however, it has become increasingly clear what we are getting in return. What we are getting is distorted, bizarre, violent, myth-busting and soul-gutting. Ptak suggests we come to our senses and demand something more real in return, like….what, money?

What we are getting is hollowed out. Facebook has become an open-pit mine, an offshore oil-rig, a clear-cut forest. Our interiors, our sacred internal wilderness, is being harvested and sold off just as surely as Utah’s Grand Escalante is being cut up for oil leases. And the worst part of it is that we are doing this willingly. If what we give Facebook is labor, then we are all unpaid sub-contractors….the new gig economy, with no benefits.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO RECOGNIZE THAT WHEN WE SPEAK OF FACEBOOK WE ARE NOT SPEAKING OF A JOB AS OTHER JOBS, BUT WE ARE SPEAKING OF THE MOST PERVASIVE MANIPULATION, THE MOST SUBTLE AND MYSTIFIED VIOLENCE THAT CAPITALISM HAS RECENTLY PERPETRATED AGAINST US.

In a normal world and in micro circumstances, it might have been true and acceptable that Facebook is selling a chance to be seen and possibly create community. Maybe it even started with that lofty intention and looked that way for some years. But then something happened. It’s still a space in which advocacy can flourish (if not immediately smothered by trolls and bots), but since it went public, it became the toy of venture capitalists and the revenue mechanisms (algorithms to harvest your personal information) became ever more precise and surgically invasive, bulldozing everything in their way.

Now is not normal. Facebook has become both one of the reasons now is not normal and the perfect reflection of that abnormality. Facebook is no more normal than the culture in which it is immersed and reflects/exhibits all the aberrations we now see everywhere we look, including and especially the cracking of the social order. Thanks to Trump, the corporate state and an irresponsible media, the socio-political space is fast becoming a playground for the rich with no rules and no ethical boundaries. Who benefits from that?

OK, there is a certain “aha” about this polemic. But it’s stuck in the perception that we are workers and that our participation and value is “labor.” Something crucial is being missed here. To Facebook we are not labor. What is being extracted from us has no value until it is repackaged and sold back to us. And if this factor/perspective is fully considered, it forces a redefinition of what Ptak means when she says “wages.”

That missing view is extractive capitalism, which, as we see everywhere, always externalizes as much of the real costs of extraction as possible. The “cost” to me and to the culture (that Facebook is not paying) of my participation in Facebook and Facebook’s continued success in convincing me that it’s something I need, is incalculable, particularly now as “news” is weaponized, as “truth,” the 4th Amendment and democracy circle the drain. Ptak makes no reference to this view. The only figure associated with the art installation at UC-San Diego who mentions extraction is the curator herself, Michelle Hyun.

If I, a sentient being, were to attempt a calculation of the cost to me and to the larger culture perpetrated by the extraction of my personal preferences for anything, the cost that is being externalized, massaged, traded and sold back to me, even if it could be calculated and returned as compensation, will never right the socio-political ecosystem because those wages do not address or promote any recovery from what Facebook takes.

To suggest that the true cost to me of the extraction and trading of my personal preferences can be equalized in the form of some imaginary direct payment, as wagesforfacebook suggests, would indeed be a hit to Facebook’s bottom line. A truer representation of a “repayment” for trading in my personal information would be some as yet undefined reparation–such as agency, for example–that could RESTORE what has been lost, rebuild what is broken, which is not material and cannot be converted into money. The agency of a clearcut forest cannot be restored by showering it with money, any more than the social contract or ethical standards or responsible governance can be restored the same way. Democracy cannot be rebuilt from the ground up by handing out money or merely by declining to be someone else’s strip mine.

If FB were to survive in an enlightened world, it would have to replow its profits into the promotion of restorative cultural activity that would be completely free of, and an antidote to, the primary extractive nature of its business model: a new economy– which is a reference to the original meaning of the word economy, oikos, care of the home. In other words, Facebook would have to be directly undermining its own business model with one hand while harvesting your personal data with the other. How likely is that?

But in this sense, Facebook is no different from CNN in that it has abdicated a crucial responsibility of journalism and offloaded the task (and cost) of differentiating between truth and falsehood to the viewer. It is no different from Exxon-Mobil in the sense that it has many corporate faces and stories, ones that play to the masses, others that play to investors and still others that play to legislators. As long as the externalized costs continue, a corporate system that knows no national boundaries, has no allegiance to anything but profit and remains rigidly opaque is not taking care of the planet or the culture.

They are extracting an immeasurably valuable resource, exploiting it, trading in it, and dumping the consequences on someone else. This will continue until there is nothing left to take, unless we do something about it. Like, for starters, ending online anonymity, restoring and preserving actual privacy controls, permitting a complete opt-out of personal data sharing, fostering true competition in social media and bringing transparency and regulation to the data traders.

 

Emptiness Dancing

I’ve been very distressed lately. A thread running through much of what I do is to either seek approval from an outside source or aimlessly follow an illusion of enlightened purpose, commitment, responsibility, idealism or creativity. Who I “am” becomes a shifting mirage, subject to changing conditions at any moment, like a passing vehicle temporarily catching the attention a sleeping dog. We all know what happens next. I become the dog, obsessively running after every model passing my way. Sometimes the distractions even look new. But on closer examination, none of them really are.

Then I realized, suddenly, to my great surprise and relief, that all of it, the emotional attachments to certain “favorable” outcomes, the appealing appearance of shiny new objects, the desire embedded in each decision to engage with them, or people, or to see conditions in a self-affirming way, even the moment by moment play of deciding if I am happy or not, being myself…or not…being “good,” being responsible, or ejecting myself from all of it, is all one thing and one thing only—that is not really a thing at all:  Emptiness dancing.

Not merely a dance of awareness or the dance of mind, but something within, the primary dance. Emptiness dancing is the name I give it. It covers any moment, every illumination, rabbit hole of awareness, every black hole of despair, every experience, whether of union, alienation, desperation, every blissful connecting embodiment, every ecstatic dream of pure detachment, including true non-duality, the Great Abiding in supreme Equanimity.

Emptiness dancing softens every edge, completes every unfinished aspiration, rounds every corner of uncertainty or disappointment, even lifts up every tragedy. It’s the poetry in every moment, the inexplicable, the paradoxical, the ineffable, the laughing/crying never-alone reality of being alone. It’s the expanding heart of meditation. The dance with emptiness dancing is the drama of every life, every death and everything in between.

No, it’s not necessarily so simple to understand either term, emptiness or dancing. Their essence is not obvious. The expression covers the entire profound simplicity of the two truths, the artificiality of conceptualizing the relative and absolute as separable, and the truth that they are not “inseparable” either because even that implies two.  They are always and only one. Emptiness dancing is the effortlessness at the heart of every effort, the perfusion of every achievement. Emptiness dancing is the center of every arduous journey helplessly conceptualized by the materially-oriented mind. Emptiness dancing is the propellant, the inexhaustible fuel of all beings and all phenomena.

We may form intentions; we may pledge to follow a certain path. We may try to be mindful, compassionate, engaged, empathic, generous and follow every precept of the paramitas. We may believe in merit and diligently pursue opportunities to “collect” or generate merit. But merit is not that. It is not a thing. Merit as a thing merely perpetuates delusion. The banking of merit (as a thing) is thus also illusion, the accumulation of a karmic account can only be for one thing; and it’s not about the future. It is the capacity,…no, the surrender to falling apart now. It is the planting and the replanting of the seed of realization.  It is the realization of emptiness dancing, becoming the capacity to dissolve into that realization in every moment.

Such a realization cannot be bought or “brought.” It is not discovered through analysis. It cannot be engineered into awareness. It is not a realization to “have” or give or find. It is the inherent space beneath shamatha. It is the antithesis of analytical vipashyana. It doesn’t belong to anything. It doesn’t come from anything. The paramitas may become mere objects of awareness, but they too are emptiness dancing. Everything, all pleasure, all pain, all tragedy, violence, ecstacy, every loss and every gain are all the same….emptiness dancing.

Falling into emptiness is a relief. Every time. It’s a lesson relearned with amazement that the lesson can never be learned too many times, because every relearning is fresh, as if it is for the first time. And what comes with that relearning is expanding forgiveness and compassion for everything and everyone lost in the illusion of something. The something that I strive to be, the something in every moment that gives it–and me–substance. The something I can sink my teeth into, that becomes a new or deepening furrow in my gray matter.

I want to keep every one of those grooves, every memory, however fragile or remote. I want to feel it all again and again, as many times as possible, file it away indefinitely, bring it out again at the perfect moment, savor the pleasure and the pain, the entire luminous and terrifying journey, the impermanence of it, the death in every moment of it, the innocence of it, thanking emptiness dancing for all of it until poof! I disappear. That is the most confounding, confusing, maddening and astounding part of all. The disappearing, being subsumed into everything, connected but not bound. The humor of it, the throw your head back and laugh at the sky of it.

It seems Adyashanti has written a book by this title, which I did not know…or recall…when I started this. But let it fall open here, at random, repeating these words:

This tremendous innocence produces the feeling of an ever-present newness in life. Since the awakening, the brain no longer holds and compares, so every moment is experienced as new, just as it would be in the mind of a young child.

Oh. That distress. What was that about?

So…So You Think You Can Tell

Heaven from Hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail
A smile from a veil
Do you think you can tell?

 Everything changes….and there is no end. Everything seems to have a beginning, a middle and an end. But the end? An illusion. Sure, we are created, grow, mature, decline and die. No exceptions. The cycle is repeated in every life form, every material creation, everywhere in the physical world. Ideas, social movements, artistic expression are all born, develop and morph into maturity and decline, ever to be overtaken by something new. Nothing endures. Only the form and the venue change. What exists now could not be possible without all that came before.

It is, no doubt, these realities of life that spur our view of heaven, the nature of human existence, of ultimate fruition or any other supra-mundane vision. Human frailty is another matter. From the narrowest view of our individual (and separate) lives, we have all suffered (or will suffer) in some way, more or less. There is no such thing as perfection. No one is severed from the network of relationship, from the infinite ongoing web of events. Within that matrix, we are forever exploring and seeking a novel expression of human potential.

At the collective level, our magnificence and flaws are all amplified. We are violent, messy, conflicted, paradoxical, and interminably so–which stimulates curiosity and inquiry and reasoning, psychological and social theory and experimentation and testing and innumerable forms of remedy for imperfection and suffering.

Conventional wisdom, including prevailing spiritual wisdom, refers to healing as if it might represent resolution, completion. We even speak of enlightenment, like all other aspects of life, as a developmental process that has a beginning, a middle and an end. What is that end?–presumably eternal unchanging omniscient bliss. We talk about personal and collective spiritual evolution as an ongoing linear process happening for each individual and for the collective as a whole, leading to “higher” consciousness, which, in the language of integral dynamics, transcends and includes all previous levels of attainment.

This process is not described as one that is never completed. Rather, with the proper intention and discipline, the right effort, the right teachers, the right view and given enough time, something is achieved in a distant future; namely, the cessation of the cycle of beginning, middle and end. To suggest that this bias may be false or doesn’t serve us would be to threaten the entire superstructure of personal-even collective-spiritual achievement.

To a large degree, the ideology of healing depends on the existence of a separate self and assumes that a full cleansing and reintegration of every shred of separation from the core self can occur, that the unconscious can be plumbed, interpreted and redirected, that all “parts” are either fully discharged of their accumulated energy of dissociation or that whatever drives self-defeating behavior, whatever perpetuates suffering can be exhausted to the point at which the root of suffering itself, wanting things to stay the same, dissolves. That, after all, is the point of needing to choose between heaven and hell, between blue skies and pain, when actually, if we were really “here,” there would be no distinction between samsara and nirvana. They would be regarded as ultimately the same…and also as nothing whatsoever.

The path “to” enlightenment is different from one tradition to another and also within different Buddhist traditions. Some paths are all about the individual, as if everyone is on a solitary path. Others are about each individual realizing an intrinsic and unbreakable relationship with all beings such that their personal accomplishments are a contribution to the enlightenment of the whole and also derive from the actions and contributions of uncounted others.

Even in We-Space dialogue, the intention may be to access a moment of collective consciousness, whether through alignment or dissonance, and thereby advance the development of the whole. But we rarely imagine that the wounds of the individual cannot be “healed” until all wounds are healed.

And now it’s time to declare-via the Resonance Path Institute-that such wounds are themselves the fuel of connection itself. The healer is perpetually wounded, lives in and with the wound and never loses the perspective that the wound is the connection to all things, not a personal black hole, a soul-anchor drawing energy and light, the atomic dimension of being, one’s “freedom” into its deep invisible mass. It is a portal.

I cannot truly heal “myself” because, as we are coming to know more fully every day,  everything is a transpersonal phenomenon. What and who is being healed, however that may look to us on any given day, is greater than we know or imagine. We “know” this, but most of us still think and act as if it’s not so. What can be healed may feel like it has something to do with me-and it does-but it is also about relationship. What is made whole is not merely me, but also my relationship with the whole. What we call “healing” might be a new realization of continuity, an expanding complexity of relationship between the individual and the whole. And not solely to the intra-species whole, but to the full trans-species matrix of existence.

Healing is necessary for the evolution of consciousness and especially for an eventual resolution of all grasping, all unhealthy desire and aversion, all duality dissolving into the perfect unchanging non-dual bliss of absolute presence. But no one gets there alone. “My” problems will never be healed until all problems are healed. And for that matter, no collective problem can be isolated either. “You” are a flickering of my imagination. And in a trans-corporeal world of viscous porosities, the same could be said of “me.” We are all fully connected to the matrix. All wounds, the currency of our individuality, are portals to the network of collective consciousness…directly, without mediation.

Our hurts, our conditioning, the flawed beliefs that drive us, the sources of our dissonance, our reactivity, alienation and loss of agency are not what separate us from each other so much as the belief that they are ours alone to be suffered in silence or only to be shared with shame, regret or judgment. They are the essence of relationship. This idea pierces through the conditioning and the increasingly antiquated cultural ideology that says we are each alone in our dungeons of secret pain.

Whoever embodies this truth, who manages to be sufficiently present with whatever arises, as the Dzogchen teachers say, is then “spontaneously liberated.” There is no loss of feeling, and no lingering emotion remains to reinforce attachment to any remaining shred of embedded trauma, which means, again, awakening is not an isolated event, but instead is an expanding realization of connection with everything.

How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
And how we found
The same old fears
Wish you were here. 

—–Pink Floyd “Wish You Were Here”             

 

 

 

 

 

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: 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

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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 … Continue reading

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.