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.