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.

 

 

Equanimity

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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. 


 

We Will Dance With Mountains III

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After partaking of the first two in 2015 and 2016, I am about to enter the third iteration of a “writing” course with my Nigerian brother, Bayo Akomolafe.  He calls writing a “tool of emergence,” but for those of us fortunate … Continue reading