9:50 pm, Tuesday, August 9th, 2011
I left the house this morning at 11am in Vancouver, and (after picking up our new B&S business cards) headed south. Accompanied by multiple episodes of Entitled Opinions and Robert Harrison’s dreamy voice, I arrived three hours later at the Whidbey Island ferry terminal.
I’d felt and heard a familiar voice on the way down here. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to open up to people in the way I know I’ll have to. I’m tired. This sucks. Resistance, contraction, avoidance. It’s a voice worth giving notice to here; I’m sure most of us know the one. In the course that Evolutionary Spirituality teacher Craig Hamilton teaches (or at least in the version I took), recognizing this voice was one of the core teachings. Craig noted that this voice only gets stronger and louder as we lean into periods of growth and transformation. He called it the “psychic civil war”. One part of us wants to grow and unfold and become, and the other isn’t interested at all. When we start to really push into the former, the latter amps up its protest.
But of course you learn to not listen to that voice, to recognize it for what it is and not follow it. In fact, we can even come see that voice as a signal that we’re exactly where we need to be. Growing. But it’s an inner phenomenon that’s important to point out, as this is a seminar that’s exploring the collective and new possibilities of being together, and I for one got a big massive voice inside me saying it doesn’t want any part of it. It’s hard to build a collective with that voice running the show. But no matter, that voice was not going to rule the day. I parked the car when I arrived at the Whidbey Institute, took a deep breath, and walked inside.
It was great to see some familiar faces. The various cycles of events in the extended integral-evolutionary community(s) over the past five years has created several spaces where people (from all walks of life, and from many countries) can come together and connect. It was great to see big Bill, an educator from Chicago, or Robert who works for the US state department in Afghanistan. To me this has been one of the greatest boons of attending these events, the ability to connect to such a diverse group of people who share many of the same values, intentions and passions. Over the past couple of years a great network of these folks has formed on Facebook, and their findings and interests make for great riches in my FB news feed.
As people mingled before the event officially got underway, there was a mixture of the usual nerves and slightly awkward introductions and the joyous reunions of people coming together again. After a meal we gathered in the main hall together, an intimate group of about fifty people from all age groups. What follows is a quick account of some things I noted in a potent first two hours together.
I think what stuck out for me the most was the context that was set by Next Step Integral’s Stephan Martineau. This was going to be no ordinary seminar in that it was up to all of us to truly make it happen. This was not about coming and hearing some teachings and doing some private practice- although there of course will be that too- but it’s an experiment, a practice in opening up to what’s possible within a collective (or a “we-space” as it’s often called). And the only way we’ll find out what those possibilities are is if we all show up to do the work, if all attendees and faculty engage fully, dive in, and open to what might emerge. The attempt of the gathering, as set out explicitly by Stephan, was to try and move into new territory, to push something forward, to see what’s possible in the evolution of collective consciousness. But it might be that nothing much happens at all, that it’s all a bust, and this is the unique context at the beginning of this seminar, and I thought it was a brave invitation from Stephan. What lies ahead in the next five days is impossible to say. As this realization dawned on the group, it built a concoction of curious, anticipatory and slightly nervous energy, a palpable felt sense in the room that several spoke to. It should be an interesting few days.
I was surprised to see how quickly the inquiry around future human community started to open up a fertile space in my mind as I sat in the field of the hall during the opening speeches. I saw that the future human community must be embedded in an Earth community. Plants, animals, trees et al. must be intimately woven with our human communities, that the man-nature dichotomy inherited from modernity will slowly dissolve into a whole Earth house-hold. While still maintaining the local and the diverse, the future might see the further intertwining of all nations, into a global human family that lives or fails as a global whole, what Edgar Morin calls the ‘Declaration of Inter-dependence’. In all the days pondering community leading up to the seminar, never did my mind explode in this way, already a testament to the power of the collective field.
But there’s a lot of work to do of course, both personal and collective. Stephan asked what it’s going to take for people to come together, to support one another, and help each other flourish. How do we learn to better build bridges between organizations and disparate groups? How do we learn to participate in something beyond ourselves? These are all good questions, and with any luck this week will cough out some answers.
We finished the evening session with a forty-minute or so collective dialogue practice led by Terry Patten. Sitting in groups of five, and practicing the listening technique of suspension (beginner’s mind, fully receptive) we began to practice speaking and listening together. I’ve learned the technique of suspension before; in fact I did this listening practice with a group every Sunday for over a year. But in this moment I was surprised by how often I forget it. In no time, with sincere effort, we built a field of intense connection and presence between us, and I was reminded how powerful this can be for building a collective space, but how easily I can fall back into my default patterns.
It got me thinking about a dialogue with Thomas Hubl I heard recently, where he was talking about habits. He said that if we greet/meet any person, especially the ones we know the best and are closest to us, like we already know who we are meeting- we are asleep and in habit. We close the door for the new to emerge. But if we greet them with openness and curiosity, we open the way for new possibilities of being together, of deepening and evolving our intimacy with one another. In that moment it occurred to me that building a different kind of community might be as simple as the right kind of attention and effort applied as consistently as possible. It’s a practice to be sure, and we have deep habits to overcome, but in that moment it occurred to me in that the next step in human community might be closer than we think.
Well, I’m off to get a bit of shut-eye before the first full day tomorrow. It’ll be interesting to see what unfolds.