This draft paper considers current we-spaces as a proto-movement and sketches how such a movement might recognize itself and how it might be helped along and strengthened.
Each of us develops through predictable stages as we grow into adulthood. What many of us don’t notice is that that development can continue throughout adulthood into greater (or higher) levels of maturity and capacity. To riff off the developmental scientists whose work this is, development is like a series of “nested hierarchies,” with each new development having capacity the former level didn’t have. And each new development “transcends and includes” what came before. Transcend and include means that a new level of capacity has been come into being while what was before is contained within it.
Each of the “Russian dolls” in the nested hierarchy is a “holon,” a self-organized coherent platform of development. At any given time we’re developmentally between two holons; we’re in the act of graduating from one and entering another. However, overwhelmingly up to this point in human evolution, the habit has been to notice the contents of the holon we’re leaving behind, because that’s the one that, finally, we can see. The one we’re “backing into,” as it were, we’re generally not aware of at all.
This is true at all the levels, whether we’re traditional people of the book at the pre-modern stage, or whether we’re scientific rationalists (moderns), or post-modern / greens who view all values as relative and equal, erasing hierarchies between them. For each of us, our focus and attention goes into the stage we can see and are comfortable with. We can control or manipulate the content of that level, at least to some degree. We “know” about it consciously and devote our attention there. We feel in control there.
As mentioned, we’re also connected to a holon that is above us, one that we aren’t very aware of and that is mostly unknown. We’re “small” in this latter holon and we have little control in it. We’re “big” in the former and have at least the illusion of control.
Our position between these two holons might be represented thus:
This in-betweenness is always the case. Here I’m talking specifically of the movement from post-modern to integral since we’re considering we-spaces, and the integral level is the first level that can relate to the we-space as an object of attention. The first one, that is, that can see it
We-spaces are places where enough of the need of people for emotional safety and secure belonging are taken care of so that something beyond those needs can be done. The space becomes available for what we-spaces are so good at, what we might call generative imagination. We-spaces share a dynamic characteristic that they’re more than the sum of their parts and participants in them partake of that more. Individuals have access both to the greater resource in the whole and, simultaneously, to a heightened sense of their own uniqueness.
The evolutionary tendency in human development to date has overwhelmingly been to prioritize the lower holon where we’ve come from. We “come from” it, in our speech and actions, all the time. Relative to the available “communion” in the we-space, the level below, like all the others below, has been the domain of the solitary self.
Huge gains have come from the relative mastery of this prioritization of the solitary self and we don’t want to devalue this prioritization or lose its gifts. However, as those who have experienced it attest, the we-space stage has a vastly greater capacity than the one below. The we-space stage is connected to and is a host for collective intelligence. All members are able to draw from the collected wisdom it embodies.
That we be able to reach this is not just a “nice thing.” It’s crucially important that we achieve it for a simple reason you’re likely familiar with: The problems that we’re facing now are system-wide, problems of the world system itself. They include climate change, devastating nuclear war, biosphere-threatening species loss, resource depletion and environmental collapse. But dire as these are, at the developmental levels that most of the populace worldwide are living, these system-level threats are not visible. Most of us haven’t yet developed the capacity to be aware of or work with the system depth where the depth of the problems lie. We may have some partial cognitive awareness of the issues while remaining functionally largely in the clutches of the problem.
The integral level, on the other hand, is defined by being system aware and aware of the system dynamics, at least aware enough to start working with them.
I’m thinking of we-spaces as the community that is collectively embodying integral consciousness, at least to the degree that members can stay in the room.
How can we strengthen and grow the we-space community?
More specifically and intentionally, how could we support it in being much more widely available and inspiring to more people, a movement?
This paper came out of a conversation with Bill Kauth, a notorious movement maker, in which we sensed this possibility. Bill is one of the originators of the Mankind Project, an initiatory men’s process which some 80 thousand men have gone through and which continues to serve men worldwide in consolidating their brotherhood. With his wife Zoe Alowan he heads Time to Tribe, fostering the growth of local resilient communities. (Bill, whom I’ve known slightly for many years, resonated deeply with my book Evolutionary YOU, and is excited about how the book’s clarity around we-spaces and how these could inform his own networks.)
What was exciting about this for me is recognizing Bill’s strength as a witness to and guide through Rite of Passage, as well as his interest in we-spaces. This led to us starting to co-imagine what a Rite of Passage to we-spaces might look like. And how this Rite of Passage might have a viral aspect built into it as part of its basic structure.
Please bear with these early speculative thoughts on this.
The shift to we-space as a rite of passage
The word movement has two related social meanings. On the one hand, it’s an assemblage of many individual social currents that care about a single cause (as, for example, the civil rights movement). On the other it could mean a directional re-orientation within individuals and small groups as they go through a rite of passage.
We’re considering both of these here.
People have always graduated through developmental levels as far as they could but these movements, with one notable exception, have not been formally acknowledged as a “rite.” A rite, for our purposes, is a ceremony or ritual that consolidates a spiritual truth. (The word “rite” and “ritual” are etymologically related.) The one notable exception that often is acknowledged is the rite of passage that marks the shift from childhood to adulthood. This has been recognized in virtually all societies to some extent and in many or most it is (or has been) a formal event and often one of the most significant markers in an individual’s life.
But we-spaces are significantly different from the movement to adulthood. Whereas every child imagines adulthood and fantasizes about it and sees the adults around him or her, even among those who are “backing into” the we-space, we have only a rudimentary awareness that this is happening. For the most part, we literally don’t imagine it at all.
But what would a rite of passage between developmental levels look like, or what might it look like, because any number of options are possible. Perhaps we can do more of what’s working and help the process accelerate.
Transcend and include: All the voices must be heard
We say about a new level of development that it “transcends and includes” what came before. But how do transcendence and inclusion come about, practically speaking?
The short answer is: through increased inclusion of all points of view. Most readers will recognize the truth of this from their own personal experience, both intra- and inter-psychically. Whether within ourselves, or within an organization, all the perspectives must be represented for a shift in understanding to occur. When all the voices are represented a relaxation comes into the system that we call healing, or settling, or presencing. This relaxation is a harmony or “higher octave” and it carries the energy of transcendence. It’s greater than all the conflicted voices. Making room for all the perspectives, hearing all the voices, is at the heart of effective social and individual process work and is the key to good therapy and coaching, including integral coaching. It’s certainly integral to successful we-spaces.
Currently, at all but the highest developmental levels, individual voices are not fully heard, especially not consistently. But they’re heard and seen enough so that after a great deal of time, the perception of the new octave is noticed. And so developmental evolution progresses, very slowly, one step at a time.
One thing to notice is that inclusion precedes transcendence. That’s both an observation and a proscription. If there’s to be a “method,” the method is, in large part, increasing inclusion.
(A side note: The emphasis on inclusion here is not post-modern or green-meme inclusion which deeply resists certain points of view, particularly any that smell of hierarchy. We are explicitly naming and celebrating the hierarchical greater capacity of the higher developmental levels. We’re seeking more hierarchy, not less.)
The presence of inclusion is what allows the transcendent imaginative qualities that we-spaces have to come alive. (And speaking of presence, the awareness of presence is the opening to the whole that comes from the relaxation into full inclusion.) If we’re to construct a rite of passage toward we-spaces, we should build in the “inclusion” piece centrally and continue to maintain and check that it’s truly working well. The inclusion would need to be visible, explicit, and “checked for,” in order to counteract the fact that it’s usually either not there at all, or else it’s implicit and invisible. If it’s invisible, then no one is taking care of it, and it’s likely to be lost.
At the heart of the rite of passage is a movement away from what is familiar and safe to a confrontation with the unknown, followed by a return. This is the hero’s journey, for example, and the structure of the native “vision quest” too. All rites of passage we know about include this general shape. Indeed, story itself follows this general form. A journey with a high level of risk, participation and engagement may be “good medicine” for what so many are feeling now. Desperate times invite us to raise the bar for what’s possible and what we’re willing to do to achieve it.
Even this article follows the form of the hero’s journey story, inviting us to go beyond the safety of what we think is possible in collective explorations. Currently I see collective explorations as personal safe havens for the unheard and unrecognized parts of us to come to the fore. They’re a visit to higher consciousness to receive a gift from the collective intelligence. This visit is a good thing in itself and much realignment of inner priorities comes about secondarily because of the “higher spectrum ” of light or understanding that is often noticed in the we-space. Such visits are healing.
But this understanding and visiting have relatively little traction with our activities in the holon below, our projects, our money-making, our work.
Relating this to the structure of the rite of passage and the hero’s journey, we don’t return with the gifts to the world below.
Core elements of the we-space rite of passage
One core element that stands out is the return just mentioned. And, if we-spaces are going to be widely available and socially transformative, important because of the need of the time, replicability is another.
It may be that these two are closely related, aspects of each other that meet in a synergy or even synchronicity.
Each potential rite of passage member is extraordinarily connected. In addition to being a seeker or learner trying to “get” something when they come to a we-space, they’re also carrying the gifts that the community needs. Their resources are the community’s resources. Each person has experience in many other communities, often other we-space communities, other teachers for example.
They are likely in several of these categories: professional organizations, therapeutic-community groups, women’s or men’s groups, holistic centres, activist and advocacy groups (particularly in the era or Trump), and so on.
Almost all of these communities are not built on high engagement, certainly not the “higher spectrum” engagement that we-spaces are so good at. These communities typically ask us, for example, to engage as volunteers in pre-selected tasks, to give money, to buy into a political viewpoint that we may have very mixed feelings about. And they certainly don’t invite us to transform, or even look at, their assumptions. They don’t make room for the us of us because that is not where the mainstream community is at. Rather they invite us into activities that have little of the richness that the we-space conversation is so good at.
So the challenge is for the rite of passage to expressly make room for members to open access or entry points for the “higher spectrum” of resources that are available in the we-space.
Elements of the return and of replicability are both in there.
Some “initiates” (I dislike the word because it smacks of an old-fashioned occultism but it’s simpler than “person in a rite of passage”) are in we-space groups exploring new consciousness and some, but not all, are members of other communities. The return for each would be different. In fact the return for each individual would be very different and would need to be handled with the care, support and individual attention that characterize we-spaces at their best.
It’s not for an essay to detail what this looks like. Suffice it to say that a great deal of listening, care and “incubation” would need to be taken here. The person in the rite of passage is not returning as a missionary. She’s trying to connect up different parts of herself. She stands in the middle between two parts of herself
As we pointed out at the beginning of this essay, each we-space practitioner is “big” in the holon below them and “small” in the one above. In general, for each of us as individuals, this larger movement as a rite of passage could mean intentionally inviting others from a community we’re part of into a we-space that is above all the members. Each member would be “small” in it and facing the unknown.
She could a) invite members from a community she is part of or b) invite individuasl from a number of different communities to explore together.
Option a) is perhaps not so difficult, though unfamiliar.
For example, I, as a member of an international organization for people interested in Systemic Constellations, initiated a series of regular we-space calls that helped catalyze change and movement within the organization. Individual practitioners in multiple countries were now connected face-to-face and a community we-space was strongly increased. (The cost to me was nothing compared to the huge personal reward.)
Both a) and b) would benefit from an awesome foundational methodology. We have that, in my opinion. It’s the Small Group practice pioneered by Peter Block. I and many others have used it in a number of settings. It’s simple and effective for many situations. It’s not the only thing, but it provides the foundational methodology. (Subscribe at the We-Space Lab andrewcartermacdonald.com for opportunities to practice this.)
Even so, taking this initiatory leap feels like a big leap for many people, even though the benefits are very real. If people are to jump in and go there, they need a lot of social support, which could look like encouragement, buddying up, celebration – and help with the nuts and bolts of process.
The benefit, as mentioned earlier, is that the person willing to undergo the rite of passage will powerfully accelerate their own future evolution.
Something like this replicable rite of passage work will happen eventually. There are different communities that are not yet in dynamic connection with each other and they will find each other – we’re trying to speed this up. These communities include knowledgeable we-space workers, concerned citizens wanting to do something but not knowing what, isolated practitioners of various separate arts that can benefit from “broader spectrum” of light and smarts available to them.
A network of we-spaces
Two dynamically opposite poles are at play in a network of we-spaces. These are always there like yin and yang, like women and men. On the one hand, we’d need a series of ritual or structural pieces so that the tribe is visible anywhere and it’s still recognizably the same – this so the different parts of the tribe can help each other.
On the other hand, it would need full room for individual and cultural expression.
Possibilities abound for how we might weave our worlds together to make this happen.
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