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 reality. Here, the creation of more complex mutual agreements reveal the workings of a collective co-creation 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 uniform clarity or critical attention paid to the specific question of whether the context of We-Space is intrinsic or not. Again, depending on who’s talking, one might hear a casual reference to a pre-existing (absolute) condition–something already true–in which every human or, for that matter, sentient relationship is “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 some pre-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 increasing individualization. The sense of a separate 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 is actively suppressed. Collectivism in any form is anathema to libertarian and corporate ideologies.
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, which 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 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 into inter-subjectivity, 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?
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.– Sean Wilkinson, 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.