The End of the Mental Age: an article in German “evolve” magazine.

I have been meaning to post this for a little while–an article that the German magazine ‘evolve’ asked me to write a short summary of my thesis for an edition on We Space practices. Here’s my original copy in English– I feel like it’s a pretty good two-page introduction to what I find most important today in terms of We Space and the Integral Age, at least as it relates to my research project. Enjoy! (And if you’re interesed, here’s their website and Facebook fanpage. Give them a Like!)

 

“In a surreally familiar moment of revelation, it became clear: I was sitting with a person, a radical center of intelligent experience—of life! A person with their own unique experience entirely separate from mine, and yet who was also wholly this same living, this same sentience that I was—something which also became clarified at that moment. We were awareness, and we were awake to that. Obvious, perfectly so: this awareness, this sentience, this intelligence, this living—this was the very stuff that everything was made of—this was all that there was, had been, or would ever be—and we were that.

So began my exploration into We Space and the radical potentials of intersubjectivity. This was about six years ago now, right about the time when We Space was becoming something of a buzzword in Integral/Evolutionary circles. That term ‘We Space’ reflected so clearly that experience. And yet the term was also being used for all kinds of apparently qualitatively different experiences of intersubjectivity, many of which with no apparent relation to the profound and total transparency of the self-other boundary, and the creation of the sense of a collective beingness that I had experienced as sacred. At one extreme, it was being used to mean simply a heart-felt gathering—like a Christmas party for a yoga studio. Was there any connection here? Just what had I experienced? Was there anyone else who had experienced this—or who were actually practicing it?

I was in the first year of a Master’s program in Integral Theory at JFK University in California, and as I began to think about the final project that would be due at the end of the third and final year, it slowly dawned on me that I would undertake a research project on We Space. And so I began a two-year long research project to try and clarify this question and articulate a response to it: What is We Space? I read, I thought, I interviewed participants and especially facilitators of We Space practices formally and informally, and I threw myself into practice—moving to the Bay Area in California to be closer to several practice groups, joining different groups, even undergoing a half-year training in one particularly foundational method. I wrote up my findings as I, We, All: Intersubjectivity and We Space, Post-Metaphysics, and Human Becoming. To my knowledge this is still the only formal research of its type.

One of my core findings was that We Spaces can be thought of as existing on a spectrum. In short: Subtle We Spaces primarily involve practices of personal interconnection, exploring personal self-construction, healing, development, and purpose, as well as creating and deepening relationship. Causal We Space, while engaging the above, is focused more on ‘deep listening,’ ‘the space in-between,’ an exploration of awareness itself, rather than the objects of awareness, and the beginnings of a transpersonal group identity. Awakened We Space occurs as an inflection point, where a group identification with the living, unique We of the constellation of individuals present moves from an implicit felt-sense into an awake, self-reflexive identity. It was a glimpse of this space that triggered my own pursuit of We Space. If stable in the group, this We Being can even speak through the individuals’ voices, and place its attention on practical and organizational concerns in the act of world-making, world-dreaming. This is not an exclusive way to think about We Spaces, but is helpful, I find, in clarifying group and individual experience and intention in what can otherwise be a rather amorphous and dissonant experience, which can lead to a greater understanding and the cohesion fundamental for exploration of the deeper levels of this.

But the real heart of what came out of the project—and how this understanding has continued to develop in the past two years, is the following: We Space cannot be understood in its radical potential apart from the emergence of what Jean Gebser called the Integral phase of human consciousness—something separate, though related, to the emergence of the higher stages of personal ego development, those with a causal self-sense (in Integralese, Turquoise and above). We Space is potentially genuinely radical, and difficult to understand through abstraction, as it involves the transparency of our ability to organize reality abstractly, and the de-coupling of our abstract objects of cognition from our locating reality in these objects. The most basic of these reality-locations, the differences between I and You (or more generally, I and not-I), what is real and what is not, and between nothingness, infinitude, and unity, become our creative tools in this Integral space, rather than delineating (and so limiting) the possibilities of our world-making.

These boundaries, or what I call reality-locations, underly the very senses of self that we take to be basic, and so constitute our world-making: our being-as-the-world-together arises from these identifications prior to conceptual thought and experience. Our crises today, external crises of systemic collapse, and internal crises of meaning-making, themselves stem from this underlying way of organizing human reality which Gebser called the Mental. Our resolutions to these crises can therefore not be limited to the Mental, and We Space is what we call the capacity that is emerging as we realize the wholeness of human and universal identity, something beyond the Mental—tracing the same movement of the realization of the emptiness, of the creative nature of these boundaries, in post-conventional relationship.

I have only seen the following in small pockets, and yet am aware of both the possibility and necessity of it: as we are awakening to an identity as creativity, as wholeness, as living, as intelligence, we are taking into our own hands a collective capacity for world-making that has its closest analog in lucid dreaming. While this can all seem serious, and it certainly is felt with an unmatched urgency—this is not only about our survival, about our managing our current existential collective crises. It is about harnessing the greatest tool that we have, the pinnacle of our evolution—our ability to abstract—and liberating it from attachment to its source: our identity as individual egos. We are cutting the umbilical cord: the dynamic potential of our minds, our ability to intentionally create a world, we have only ever seen up to today as a fetus.”

Table of Contents for I, We, All, Pointers for Reading

Started sending my thesis out yesterday, as you likely know if you are reading this. (You can DL it here: Venezia-I-We-All).

It is long, and not everything is relevant for every reader, so I decided to to a “Table of Contents” with recommendations for reading for what I imagine most people are interested in who’d be interested in the thesis in the first place. It takes a hundred-page document down to around 40-50, some of which can also be skimmed.

I also, in reading through my thesis yesterday, realized that several sections could use some heavy editing, (especially in the first person section), and I’m not entirely sure when or if I will do that.

Here’s a Table of Contents. “Most Relevant” sections for We Space practitioners are in bold:

1: Quotes: some quotes to set the mood. 
2: Introduction: 
Overview of the paper, themes, reasons for writing, etc.
5: Methods. This introduces the methods that I used to generate data. Likely only interesting for theory-heads.
10: Second-Person Results: What is We Space? The meat of the paper. I suggest that if squeezed for time (or if you find the format repetitive) you scan through checking the italicized section titles, reading any sections that are interesting.
48: Discussion of Second-Person
51: First Person Results: Introduction and discussion of the psychometric data.
56: Results and Discussion: Intuitive Inquiry: This section contains a final set of ‘assumptions’ or ‘lenses’ through which I now (or at least, in June) understand We Space practice.
62: Third-Person Results and Discussion: a (very) short discussion of the survey I conducted.
64: Conclusion: A New Way of Being As The World Together: A summary of themes and learnings from the project.
68: Appendix A: Development, Post-Dialectics, and Post-Metaphysics: A roughshod explanation of some of the background/implicit psychological dynamics of development that I am drawing on, and how these effect our notions of what is real, and the resulting worlds we inhabit. Helpful to get a sense of what I mean by “metaphysical boundaries,” for one thing.
76: Appendix B: Practical examples of ‘boundary emptiness,’ along with write-ups of some experiences of interpersonal emptiness.
84: Appendix C: Subtle, Causal, Development, State, and Vantage Point: A discussion of the frameworks applied to the practice experiences.
87: Appendix D: Examples of We Space Practice: Helpful for one not familiar with “We Space.”
91: Appendix E: Original Intuitive Inquiry Lenses, used to compare with final lenses to track changes in my own understanding.
93: Appendix F: My Interviewees, and their associated groups. Helpful for those looking for practices and groups.
95: Appendix G: Interview Questions: The list of guiding questions that I used to guide the Second-Person In Depth Interviews.
96: Appendix H: List of Themes from In-Depth Interviews: The Bare-bones answer to “What are We Spaces,” as emerged in my coding of interviews, presented without explanation.

Rhizomatic Mind-Mapping

Rhizomatic Mind-Mapping is a technique/ method that I use to organize thought, and generate connections between sometimes seemingly disparate but intuitively related items. It’s simple, and I’ve found it to be quite effective, and have used it in organizing things as different as how I’m feeling on a particular day, to themes in my thesis.

Here’s a snapshot of one of the mind-maps that I did make while writing my thesis:

IMG_4263

To do: first comes the brainstorm. Take the subject material, and simply write every relevant associated word down that you can think of on paper. What’s “relevant?” It depends, but you use your judgment for this, and can also relax: the process leads towards slimming what is not-relevant, and gives lots of opportunities for including what might be and was left out. The subject material, as noted, could be “things that I want to do this year,” “reactions to a movie I just watched,” or “themes from the interview I just conducted” or any other million things that it might be relevant to do a mind-map for.

Step two, which can partially be done while brainstorming, is to draw connections between different elements of the mind-map. If my subject was “things I need to do to learn Dutch,” two elements might be “Read De Morgen (a newspaper) for five minutes every day,” and “Keep a notebook on me with words I see around me that I don’t know.” One possible “connection” or “relationship” between these two elements might be “circle words in De Morgen I don’t recognize and put into notebook.” This can help open up possibilities that I hadn’t at first seen, and can help clarify the overall project or thought-patterning being mapped out.

With a full mess of a page, the third step is to locate which ‘nodes’ (words or phrases) are more and less central, and re-drafting the map to organize them (more) clearly. For a simple map like “Learning Dutch,” there may only be two or three levels of ‘nodes.’ Perhaps “Practice Dutch Everyday” becomes the central node, the new ‘subject’ of the mind-map, while “translate a complete children’s story” becomes a minor node around this major node.

There may be different kinds of nodes that come out as well, which I usually color-code. For example, “buy a Dutch dictionary” (something totally irrelevant today but what the hell) is a discrete and single actionable step, while “memorize verb forms” might have several repeatable actions associated with it, but is nonetheless a completable goal, and further “read De Morgen five minutes a day” is open-ended.

This is a pretty simple example, and the power of doing this may not be apparent with “learning Dutch.” Try to do a mind-map for “what do I want to be doing in a typical week?” “what does Love mean to me?” or “what are the major themes of War and Peace?” and it becomes more apparent, I think.

Why “Rhizomatic?” 

Rhizomes are root systems (ginger is a common example) that grow in a rather interesting, networked way. I am kind of mashing the idea of a rhizome together with mycorrhizae, which are (typically) symbiotic fungi that grow with roots.

What I am most interested in is a pattern of networktivity: think a view of the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. from space at night: (de)centralized hubs, whose connections are composed of the same material as the hubs themselves. (What connects a city to another city, especially in these dense areas, is not only a highway, but other cities.)

Here’s a fascinating article that shares a lot of the same thinking.

What this allows for, as a mind map, is a relationality between the separate elements of the map that is not merely hierarchical, or categorical (like a 6th grade history outline). While verticality (category size) and horizontality (degree) are one-dimensional in a traditional mind-map, a rhizomatic mind-map allows for these important dimensions to be fluid: relationships can be multi-directional, networked connections between one or two nodes can become their own node, and relationships can simultaneously become horizontal and vertical. This process, then, allows for a much more surprising and dynamic creativity than traditional mind-maps, at least in my experience. (Though I do not think that I am the only one to experience mind as cluttered and also unproblematic.)

And trees can still grow from the roots.