Notes & Reflections on our recent We-retreat at Morning Star, Next Step Integral headquarters in British Columbia, Canada, August 15-20, 2013
The emergence of a higher We is a fertile field. As tempting as it may be to claim, “This is my idea!” or “I wrote / discovered that first!” or any other variation of ownership, such claims are in their very essence contrary to what this higher We is all about. Anyone who has experienced the higher We knows this.
One of the core “ingredients” needed in us to contribute to its emergence is a profound humility, a “leaving the ego at the door” and showing up as fully as possible in authentic Presence. Those who write articles or present about this next step in human consciousness are doing important work. Let’s acknowledge their contributions generously and accurately. Let’s reference the trail of articulations as well as we can. We build upon the attentive listening of so many others, alive now and before us.
And, let’s also remember that those who articulate are not the only ones doing this work. Many work silently, and some of these individuals and groups have more practice at the practice, the embodiment of what is being spoken about.
Let’s hold this delicate, sacred, and much-needed emergence with all the humility, care, integrity, and sincerity we can muster. Let’s not side-track it or water it down. Let’s not claim it or own, and inflate any personal sense of self through our efforts, but instead: let’s water the seed, each in the most authentic way we are able and called to do. Let’s delight in and celebrate every flicker, glimmer, spark and flame happening across the globe that is helping the emergence of the higher WE take a next step. It is holy work.
Having run two integral community seminars on “Evolving the We” (2011 & 2012) with much larger groups of about 70 people each time, which were dedicated to the exploration of Collective Wisdom & Intelligence and the emergence of higher levels of collective consciousness, the focus of which originated in our decade-long exploration and experiences in community living here at our Next Step Integral headquarters in the Slocan Valley, BC, Canada, this retreat with a small group provided a meaningful integration / deepening of past efforts to evolve the higher WE and work our capacity for collective wisdom & insight, as well as a weaving of myriad current threads, and stepping onward and up.
Our time together, therefore, contained both elements of a retreat (curling inward, being together) and an advance (listening for, stretching, and taking next steps).
We came together to:
1) explore the evolution of the WE and how can we best serve this emergence, specifically looking at the various “ingredients” that bring forth this potential in groups;
2) compare notes / cross-reference on our understanding and experiences of this phenomenon in order to clarify whether we are actually speaking about the same thing (our impression over the past two years as this emergence is gaining ground and popularity is that differing interests, capacities, shared experiences and expectations are all being referred to as one and the same when talking about such relatively new terms as “Evolving the We”, “Higher We”, “Collective Intelligence”, “Collective Insight”);
3) practice together; make use of collective intelligence-heart to discover new ways of seeing, understanding and insight.
We did all three. It was grand. That’s the short report
The days were filled to the brim and overflowing with laughter – Adonia, our daughter, noted how “this group adores laughing!” From sober and serious to deep-belly laughter and warm companionship we sailed through these days, feeling both held by and connected to the land here, and our dear friends & colleagues walking a similar exploration in their nodes of being and doing across the world. We skyped some of them in, experiencing the distance-less quality of shared care, insight and excitement around this topic of “Evolving the WE”.
The days were also filled with deep and rich conversations ranging from the theoretical to the practical, from the relevance of this exploration and practice of evolving the WE for the world at large to what stages of growth the WE moves through on its evolutionary trajectory, from where we find ourselves presently along this trajectory to how we might best serve and nudge its progression along.
We collected, articulated and worked with injunctions (implementing them as invitations & invocations) that could help a group become present to, and express the higher WE. We tried them out. The result was profound and very moving. If you are interested in a copy, send us an email email@example.com with “Injunctions” in the subject line.
Above all, we practiced. These “evolving-WE muscles” need to get used and strengthened!
The practice wove itself throughout the 5 days together, allowing and challenging us to be attentive to the various layers of what nurturing the higher WE requires.
In addition to co-creating warm companionship and shared Heartedness, we utilized conversations as a vehicle to explore what speaking from the WE and being attentive to authentic dialogue really looks like, and what insights emerge from this kind of transpersonal collective inquiry.
And we came together each day for a few hours of highly focused practice, sitting in a circle, experimenting with:
- The “weave practice” from the We-practice group in the Bay Area;
- A devotional approach that included toning, prayer and collective invocation;
- Conversation built upon deep listening, following the thread of truth as we perceived it expressed, allowing for silence and authentic presence to inform us;
- Ritual, and an inspired deep dive into uttering what arises in sacred we-space, as well as inquiry into:
- A key koan of our time “How can we “be” the great needed change?”
- What is the next step we can take?
- What is the soul nature of this particular configuration’s unique assignment?
To give you a taste of the field co-created, here synopses from a couple of participants:
What a rich enjoyable week we shared! As expected we spent time exploring the “We” philosophically and through deep practice, but also via the informal family feeling that came from sharing wonderful meals and mealtime conversations, swimming, dancing, picking berries, and gathering around the fire. In our theoretical discussions, we acknowledged that experiences of a “Higher We” depend on very human trust and agape. We deepened that field so that what arose was organic, authentic, and healing in both intimately personal and profoundly transpersonal terms. I miss you all already! –Terry Patten
Reflecting on our time together, so many sweet memories come to mind. The land, the food, the people. Working, playing, practicing – together. Truly co-creating a space overflowing with our divinity and our humanity. Such a sweet taste of what’s possible. I feel blessed to have participated in such an experience, and looking back on it I am extra grateful to know how much more there is to look forward to. –Michael R. Stern
What do I take away from this retreat? Overall: Inspiration, remembrance, and new insights, some of which I will share below. To go into all the depths and explorations of this retreat would go far beyond the scope of this report, but I hope that sharing some of the experiences, insights and post-retreat reflections helps us all gather together more fully along the path of evolving the WE.
So, in no particular order, here some main “take-aways”:
- Because some individuals who have done a lot of work and research on the emergence and evolution of a higher WE were not able to be present in person, we brought them in via skype for focused conversation. Takeaway: The We-space over skype can be profound. As more and more of us are experiencing, we can truly connect over the distance with the available technology at hand, as well as with attentiveness to the subtleties shared via this channel. This is important to note, as many of us interested in this particular exploration don’t live close to each other, geographically speaking.
- During the We-retreat, we hosted an evening talk with Terry Patten in Nelson, BC. In this talk, Terry spoke about How Can We Have Truly Radical Conversations in a Time of Global Crisis? The receptivity and the resonance experienced by the audience was both reflective of the kind of people who live in this area as well as of Terry’s eloquent, impassioned inquiry and embodied presence. Takeaway: More and more people are open to and interested in this topic. It is worth sharing about more widely than we have to date. Expand the circle, there is work to be done at all levels and layers for this higher-We emergence.
- At Next Step Integral we focus specifically on the practical, on the “how to”, on the embodiment piece of the puzzle. Thus, a couple of our practical takeaways are:
- Both the in-depth, more intimate We-retreat and the larger seminar format are valid and important as Next Step Integral offerings. The former allows us to deepen the practice and lean into the emergent, discover and co-create new grooves in this field, push the edge. The latter enables the circles of those drawn to this effort to keep widening, a warm sincere extended embrace for all to discover what is possible, and to celebrate all levels of the WE.
- We will compile the many We-practice injunctions into one spot on our website for anyone interested in experimenting, and to have this evolving journey documented.
- The practice sessions reminded us how incredibly potent this work is. How powerful. And how possible: we truly can get better at this. Our collective “muscle” (which is dependent on individual development, developing Presence and ego-awareness/essence-awareness) needs flexing, use, and strengthening. Discernment lies at the very center of this work – both intrapersonal & interpersonal discernment. This is key to learn how to listen for the thread of truth, for what rings as that which needs to be uttered in any given moment, to build upon what resonates with our essential core self, to bring out authentic self forward with courage, give it air-time, and allow the small self to take a back seat. Heart-fullness also lies at the very center. Big, wide, open, soft, willing, alive Heart. Active listening. The fully engaged (body-mind-spirit) act of listening for what is beckoning from the precipice of the Unknown is incredibly moving, evoking tears-of-awe-giant-heart-smile-upliftedness-deepening-sincerity, and the distinct sense that this is the way forward. This is possible. What hope springs forth! If we can get better at this, if we can actually live into the potential of collective inquiry, collective sensing & listening, and collective articulation of response and insight from the higher We to some of the most pressing dilemmas and challenges of our time, and perhaps, perhaps we can then find a way forward and spiral up, rather than circle round or down.
- The practice sessions also allowed us to be embraced, swept up in, cradled in the overflowing experience that there is the Other: When two or three are gathered in my name, I am amongst them. The Fullness with which we are invited, demanded to the table, is breathtaking and abundantly generous. So much of the conversation around the topic of the We, or the higher We, circles around many selves coming together to form a We. There is more, much more. When we drop into Self, leave the ego/small self at the door, and come together with the intention to serve, to contribute and give with courage and generosity, we are gifted and blessed with the Over-Fullness of what is Presenced. It bathes us, and abundantly sanctifies us, coaxes us, corrects us, and delights in the fact that we actually are taking baby-steps toward It. In our first practice session at this retreat, there was a distinct sense of gratitude from the We… that we are making time for It, however stumbling, bumbling we may be. The act of trying it out, the gesture of attempting is amplified a thousand-fold through the generosity of this We, this Other, that is made of us, and more.
- Stephan and I have focused over the past two decades especially on exploring and practicing what we perceive as higher reaches of the WE, graced and motivated both by a compelling vision Stephan had about this potential in 1991, as well as some transformative state experiences during our ten years of living in community where this was one of the explicit aims of our community life. In conversations before and throughout this retreat, we discussed the evolutionary trajectory of the We – the earlier stages as well as the later stages, and how the timing on when the later stages become fully manifest and “normal” and thus also practical needs to be held within a long time frame… it will take many years for what seems like such an immediate promise when sitting in the midst of it. Patience. Humility. Long-term vision. A step at a time. And a regard for how each sincere step taken is connected with the overarching potential of an awakened collective in action.
- In our retreat days it was so clear that the daily living, cooking, eating, swimming, cleaning, sharing, wondering, crying, laughing, thinking and feeling… all helped build a foundation of love, transparency and trust, that are hugely helpful to navigating any further reaches of the We. Building fertile earth. We make a clear point of doing so in our seminars on Evolving the We, but this insight connected that effort more clearly with the practices sessions where we explicitly explore collective listening, communication & insight.
And to close, a couple to takeaways from some wonderfully rich and compelling conversations:
Relevance: As we sat together for five days, the question of relevance was voiced a few times: How and whether this particular practice and effort are relevant for what is going on around the world? Would we better be putting time and effort into supporting those working in the trenches, rolling up our sleeves and helping evolve collectives “in the field”, be this in the myriad pockets of activism spread across the globe, in board-rooms, community engagement etc.? Or does this kind of retreat have a true purpose and service, making it relevant for the greater whole?
Our conversations led to the clarity that it really is a both/and. Some are called to one form, other to another, and again others to both the “trenches” and the “retreat”. Stephan, for as long as I have known him, has explicitly maintained that if those of us blessed with the time, energy, and capacity to push the growing edge of consciousness in this area engage fully in this way, and truly manage to help push that edge, this creates both evolutionary “space” and “momentum” that can only help invigorate the entire unfolding Spiral. Hoping he gets round to writing more on this one day, I find it an intriguing way of looking at evolution and getting us off our theoretical “butts”, challenging us not to point fingers and say “Well, if only those others would evolve and catch up to ‘us’, all would be well”. Instead it puts the onus right back on us: the more aware we are, the greater our responsibility to do everything we can to grow in consciousness , not the less. And the more we know, the more we are responsible for the global mess. Heavy stuff, but also lighting a fire where stagnation can creep in.
Our conversation also touched on the example of Christ – this very fine model of doing both: engaging in pushing the edge with a small group and also being fully present to everyone… young, old, poor, rich, sick and seeking – dancing with the vertical and the horizontal gestures so eloquently and whole-heartedly. Christ as embodiment of Integral.
A final takeaway from our group inquiry and collective insight practices, was on the topic of Integrity. This conversation felt like blast of fresh air, cutting through cobwebs of fuzziness and mediocrity. It was a call for those who call themselves Integral, and especially those who step up as spiritual teachers, to match their influential power with humility. Our conversation involved recognition that discernment around integrity is sorely lacking in the integral movement. The track record is dismal, even amongst the so-called spiritual advanced. And why? In individual cases there are surely a multitude of factors that play into the lack of discernment. Here a few of our reflections…
Discernment of others (interpersonal) mirrors our capacity for intrapersonal discernment. Intellectual/ theoretical discernment can only go so far. To be able to discern if someone is coming from their small self or their deeper essential Nature in any given moment, we need to be able to discern the very same in our own selves. We can have lengthy discussions about what ego is and isn’t. But it is only when we actually perceive ego at work in us, as well as Self, that we can discern this in another. In this regard, the integral community is still quite young. Whether and how the integral movement has a beneficial impact on the globe hinges on this capacity evolving and bringing forward greater discernment, integrity, humility. What if we spoke frankly, kindly, clearly about these things? What if this could all be put on the table, and considered with big heart and a willingness to align more fully with the thread of Truth that runs in & through us and others?
What did we not do that we could have done, or done more of? Given we had five days together, time was a limiting factor and, of course, this is an ongoing journey, so there is always more to evolve, and grow up in to! We could have done more interpersonal transparent feedback. Although whether that was necessary in our time together, I am not sure. We certainly can always show up more. Beautiful to live into that edge, kindly, compassionately, as well as fiercely. And it was heartening to witness the growth even in just the 5 days, the deepening of practice and of our discernment capacity. So much more to be done. Onward and upward, we look forward to hosting another similar retreat, and taking this further.
And on a closing note of “takeaways”, here a few of my recently favorite articulations:
Andrew Venezia: “We are reality jolting itself awake”.
Terry Patten: This kind of conversation asks of us to place “truth-listening” on a co-equal status with “truth-telling”.
Dustin DiPerna: “Speak freshly, from a place of discovery” and “This is not a fad. Many are feeling this. There is a Kosmic Anticipation into this next level of Life in this part of the Universe”.
Thank you so much to each of you who were present, for showing up with such integrity and fullness! Thank you to all of you who sent us good wishes, who were linked with us in thoughts, presence and care!
Image: John Gruber, William Walker, Trevor Malkinson, Michael Stern, Terry Patten, Stephan Martineau, Miriam M. Martineau. Not in pic: Adonia Martineau (who took the photo), and Andrew Venezia, Olen Gunnlaugson & Dustin DiPerna (present via skype from Belgium, Montreal and Switzerland respectively).
I feel reinvigorated and reinforced in this work.
It is sacred work. It is deeply relevant. It takes patience. It rests upon each of our individual growth and awakening. We are not alone. The “We” is here to help us each step of the way. The “We” is made up of all of us, and more. This work is so worth the while. It takes us stepping out of the way. It takes discernment. It moves us in new and exciting ways.
The land here still reverberates with the presence of the group.
I am left with gratitude for Holy Presence among kindred spirits. We will be sharing our next concrete steps soon – stay tuned!
~ View from the deck that hosted many evening conversations during the retreat ~