The Shift to We-spaces as a Rite of Passage and Movement

This draft paper (December 16, 2017) 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. Comments are welcome!

Background

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 as in the sketch here:

 

This in-betweenness is always the case. In this paper 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.

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 them 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. Both the individual and collective wisdom of group members is more available to other members and the more coherent the group is, the more this is so.

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 see the system depth where the depth of the problems lies. We may have some cognitive awareness of the issues while remaining functionally 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.

We can think of we-spaces as, collectively, the community that is embodying integral.

How can we strengthen and grow the we-space community? Can the we-space component, specifically, become a movement?

This paper came out of a conversation with Bill Kauth who is a notorious movement maker, where 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 worldwide and which continues to serve men in consolidating their brotherhood. With his wife Zoe Alowyn he heads Time for Tribe, fostering the growth of local resilient communities.

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 such a Rite of Passage might look like.

These are first thoughts on this.

The word movement has two related 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 from the holon they’re presently in toward the holon above.

Putting these two together they start to have some of the characteristics of a rite of passage.

Let’s consider this for a moment.

The shift to We-space as a Rite of Passage

People have always graduated through developmental levels as far as they could. But in western cultures at least, 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 instantiates a spiritual truth. 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 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 single markers in an individual’s life.

But the movement to we-spaces is fundamentally different from the movement to adulthood. Whereas every child imagines adulthood and fantasizes about it and sees it in the adults around “him,” children and adults have only a rudimentary conscious awareness of we-space. For the most part, we literally don’t imagine it and so it’s not real for us.

Let’s look at the process by which new developmental levels, and new worlds of understanding generally, emerge. Perhaps we can do more of what’s working and help the process accelerate. Following Wilber we say about an emerging developmental level that it “transcends and includes” what came before.

But how does transcendence and inclusion come about, practically speaking?

All the Voices Must Be Heard

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 evolution proceeds because they’re heard and seen enough, after a great deal of time, to allow the perception of the new octave to be noticed. And so evolution progresses, in the past at least, 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, practical inclusion.

We-spaces already include inclusion, of course. The presence of inclusion is what allows the transcendent imaginative qualities that we-spaces have to come alive. 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. 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.

(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 hint at hierarchy. We are explicitly naming and celebrating the greater capacity of the higher developmental levels. In fact, full inclusion, the inclusion of our full humanity, can happen only within a hierarchy.

The crutch of the rite of passage is a movement away from what’s familiar and safe to a confrontation with what’s as yet unknown. After it, the initiate is in a new place. Think of native vision quest  ceremonies, in which adolescents become adults after  undergoing a difficult ordeal.

But whereas native adults landed in a known world, the tribal system, initiates into the emerging future of the we-space are initiated into an world where there are no certainties.

Although this may seem to present a barrier, it’s actually “good medicine” for what many are feeling now: People want a challenge that matches the need they’re feeling. In “interesting times” such as the one we’re in, it only makes sense to raise the bar for what is expected of people. In other words, if they’re feeling a global pull (or a global despair), give them a space to connect globally.

That call could well be into an evolutionary we-space.

Possible Elements of the We-space Rite of Passage

It’s good to bring up “raising the bar” because we are going to raise it now in having a look at replicability.  Here we move beyond what we already know how to do.

A central requirement for we-spaces, if they’re to be part of a movement or a rite of passage, is that they be replicable.

Collectively, we know quite a bit about how to host we-spaces that are alive and energetic. (Peter Block’s work and its offshoots are one effective template for this.) What we know much less about is how to make them replicable. Partly that’s because we have a limited ability to fully see we-spaces from the outside as objects of consideration.

There are two related natural processes for creating generations – for replication in other words –  that we could mimic or adopt. One is cross-pollination and the other is giving birth. For the moment let’s consider them as part of a larger single thing.

Each we-space person is extraordinarily connected. They have experience in many other communities, often other we-space communities. But in addition to these, they may be connected in professional organizations, corporate training circles, oneworld visioning enclaves, therapeutic-community groups, women’s or men’s groups, holistic centres, activist and advocacy groups, and so on. In each community they’re part of, they are “small,” just one of many people. The great value comes from cross-pollinating between the different groups. This in itself would create  huge momentum – if not actual viral-ness – within the we-space world.

If the member was not connected to a group with a we-space component, this could be her challenge: to inaugurate (or invite at least) some members of another group she is in into a we-space exploration.

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.

This not, usually, an easy place to be. If people are to volunteer to go there, they need a lot of social support, which could look like encouragement, buddying up, celebration.

One way or another, the key would be to make the inauguration or cross-pollination process highly valued within the we-space community.

This is not so hard to do so the reward of success would be in many people’s grasp.

For example, Andrew, 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 reward.)

I’m suggesting that as a Rite of Passage that such an invitation to inaugurate a we-space be offered to all. The wider we-space community could then learn from the experience of each who accepted.

And not just learn after the fact. A cross-pollination with individuals having simultaneous membership in more than one such we-space group means that each learns from the other in real time what is working well and what is working less well.

Socially it would mean delegating some part of each  tribe (a group member) “upward” into a larger common system, a we-space of we-spaces.

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. On the other hand, it would need full room for individual and cultural expression.

I in no way want to be prescriptive here and these possibilities are here only to prompt the imagination:

  • In addition to work within natural tribes of interest, have a virtual tribe meeting somewhere in the world every day that anyone could join. Start this off small (like one or two a week) and let others join.
  • Give a designation to one who has initiated a we-space group.
  • Give a designation to one who is a link between two or more groups.
  • Create a common protocol for we-space groups that can be updated from within.
  • As part of the protocol, recognize that we’re consciously growing because of the evolutionarily inherited tendency to stay in the comfort zone of the holon below rather than, as here, open to “the world” represented by the holon above.
  • As part of the protocol, make explicit recognition for dissent so that unique and new energies can be incorporated.
  • As part of the protocol, state a commitment to presence or “radical self-care” which means that each individual is in charge of their own development.
  • As part of the protocol, replace advice giving, helping or rescuing of any kind with curiosity about the others’ experience.
  • As part of the protocol, have an imagination-opening invocation at the beginning that celebrates the deep participation. Deep participation includes the option to pass at any moment.
  • Have some designated roles, e.g., caller, host, also have one designated “link-person” in each group designated to connect with others. Link persons from different groups would get together and, bringing back ideas to the local groups.
  • As part of the protocol, state that the purpose is to open to the world to practice being present and truthful with new people internationally
  • Include regular reporting to people interested in this experiment.

Possible next step

A possible next step would be to discuss and explore this in rough conversation, emails and notes, and then in an invited we-space.