It might seem like a no-brainer to intergralists that we've got to engage the collective mind, that is, swim in it and move in it, as well as do whatever practices we do. But in fact, almost none of us do. I make a case for what that might feel like here:
Communal life - our
tribal past - valued the group over the individual. We left our communal
past to put the individual's benefit (and especially material benefit)
before the common good, in the process losing much of our memory of
In this time of rapidly approaching limits we need the gifts of both community and individuality
to deal with what we're facing. There's a taboo against experiencing
this, one that consciousness rapidly surmounts.
An artist friend of mine was telling me today about the struggles he'd had over the long winter to finish a
major work. He lives alone in the bush. Some things weren't going well
and what should have taken a few months was hard and took too many
months to complete. He felt alone.
I know the feeling well, and I
know the hunger, the sometimes hour-by-hour trek to the north pole of
human connection. I'm sure you know it too!
We humans didn't
evolve and become who we are alone. The solitary individual was an
anomaly, often one on the way to becoming a fatality. We evolved in
groups for our survival and betterment. The vast periods of our
collective history spent in kinship and tribal groups created what we
might call an architecture of "groupness" in our psyches. We feel whole
and good when connected to a group in which we belong. We feel complete
that way. There's a part of our soul that needs company for us to feel
alive and well. (My friend Michael O'Connor coined the "groupness" word
years ago, referring to the mysterious sense of being in a group. Dumb
as it sounds, no other word since has said it quite so well.)
animals are communitarians as well. The lone wolf is a human metaphor
for something that doesn't actually exist in nature. Wolves like to be
in packs, and dog behaviour, including dog's behavior with humans, is
the behavior of the pack. "You can take the creature out of the pack but
you can't take the pack out of the creature."
Like dogs, humans
have spent overwhelmingly most of our time in "packs", in communities
with strong shared values. We moved across the land, made our decisions,
and formed our identities and our place in the world within that group.
For untold millennia we lived close to nature - right in it in what we
now call "outside". We moved about and were continually seeing and being
seen by our tribe or kinship group. Our common ancient past was an
eternal camping trip in which everyone tracked where everyone else was
and what they were doing, all the time. We lived and breathed in that
communal web for hundreds of thousands of years. We did it long before
we were recognizably human and almost all the time since. It's there!
we've forgotten. We forget that we know about being part of a
community, a tribe, in a deep and visceral, all-the-time way. Even
though it's part of who we are and even though it resides deep in our
experience, it moves with us invisibly, like a ghost. It's not noticed.
Yet whatever else we are, we still are that.
There's a reason we
left the tribe though, those of us who did. Tribal community had a
serious downside: it emphasized group survival and health at the expense
of the individual. We can make a pretty sure bet that within the tribe
individuals felt a pressure to leave the group and strike out on their
own - to individuate - but that this was suppressed for long periods. We
can guess this because when the group's material and survival needs
finally were well met, when the opening was unequivocally there, the
movement toward individuality emerged quickly and strongly. The power of
its emergence indicates that it was deeply wanted and ready.
the modern era what we notice and value and explore is our
individuality. We live inside our individual ego-identities and see the
world from there. This is true for me and for my friends. There's a
maturation and deepening that's come to us as we've become individuated.
It's a step up from submergence in group mind. But there's a
non-trivial downside to our individuality too. It's that our individual
good, especially our material good, is valued over the needs of the
group to the extent that we're oblivious to our group nature.
individuated individuals move back consciously into a group they can
become aware of a group mind, a collective intelligence. The traditional
tribe doesn't commonly experience this, I don't think. They are in the
group mind but they aren't noticing it because the individuated
consciousness that can step outside as witness is needed to do so. The
individuated consciousness can interact with the collective
intelligence, can nurture and feed it, be fed by it. But the tribal
person is submerged in the group mind and identified with it. The
collective intelligence is implicit with the tribal person but not
Why we need the competencies of both the individual and
the group But here's the thing: we need the competencies of both the
individual and the group to respond to the converging crises we're
Peak oil, climate change, competition for other resources
and food are the realities that challenge and will challenge us
mightily; for much of the world, that challenge is well under way. The
certainty of more worse is - more or less - certain. But collectively
we're not seeing the coming storm except in a dreamy intellectual way,
entirely out of sync with its immediacy. We're isolated in an
Not only individuals are stuck. Tribal
thinking is powerless before this challenge too because it can't step
outside it to get a better view; it's limited to past experience. Both
the tribal and the individual perspectives are automatic and
conditioned; what's needed is an integrated consciousness made up of
both. This isn't given by evolution but by a conscious choice.
noticed that this integrated consciousness is able to see the problem
in a powerful way.
Not just me. People who come together in
groups in which they can suspend the exclusivity of their individual
focus routinely see the looming problem of our future matter-of-factly
as part of what's around them. They tend to see it as a self-evident
feature of our common life. It's directly evident, obvious. It's our
common existential problem, all around us but not always directly
evident. As individuals we overlook it. It's part of the cost of
becoming an individual that we screen it out.
However literate we
are about the crisis facing the planet, we can't really get it it when
we're isolated and individual-only.
Why is this? But why can't we see the problem in a powerful way when we're on our own?
is that the crisis we're facing is a crisis in identity and
relationship. It's an aspect of the the way we're together socially and
as part of a greater family than ourselves alone. We don't remember it
It takes the community to grasp its plight.
Individuals operating as individuals think it's about them or their
families. And while that's true as far as it goes, there's no power
there. Both the threat and the solution present themselves to the
collective, not just to individuals. There's no strategy at the level of
the individual that can alter our fate; recycling only makes sense when
we all do it. It's not about us or our families . . . or rather, it is
but that's not enough. It's up to us individually AND collectively, and
neither one of these alone will be enough.
What's needed is the
mutual conscious recognition of our common situation - our collective
We need others we can communicate with fully
because that's part of how we deeply know things we need to know. We
need them because it's with them we approach our full strength and
clarity. In just the same way that we're not quite all there yet without
a family to back us up, we're not quite all there without a depth
family-like connection to a group of others who know our insides as well
as our out. We're richer in all the human ways with this in place, and
Much poorer! A physician friend tells me that
fully 3/4 or his patients are on psychoactive medication for depression,
anxiety, or inability to sleep. I suspect our collective unease about
what's happening is part of what these individuals are feeling and
responding too, part of what we're "out of touch" with. The more
vulnerable canaries, those more in touch with being out of touch, aren't
There's no way back to the tribe which submerges
individuality. Groupness, if it's to be, now needs to offer the
individual an opportunity to better grow his or her self within a group
setting. The group needs to make room for the diversity and uniqueness
of the individuals at every turn. It can do this splendidly but we don't
usually give it a chance.
taboo That's because there's a small but definite taboo
against reacquainting ourselves with this part of our nature. We defend
our own individuality and we respect the individuality of others, with
the same deference and discretion we display toward each other in pubic
washrooms. Raising the possibility of groupness, or moving toward it
seems to violate a taboo that protects our identity as
individuals-alone. This taboo doesn't serve us.
individual is invited into the group or is exposed to it for a short
time, if the group has some inner coherence and energy, he or she
recognizes what's happening right away and relaxes. The social veneer is
quick to be stripped away.
The threat that we're up against is a
threat to the common good. It threatens us all. Of course it threatens
us as individuals too, but we can't address it inside ourselves when we
think it's just us. We think it's impolite or it can't be true since no
one else is talking about it. Everything seems normal.
understand and validate our response on our own, or hardly. We need to
witness someone else's struggle with it to validate our own. It's like
when someone says something that you never knew you knew til they said
it. It's like that. Groupness is something that you don't notice changes
everything untill you experience it deeply. Then you realize that you
always knew that. Somehow knowing it again now makes it different.
like forgetting how much you love your partner (perhaps she's been mad
at you) and then remembering again as you look in her eyes.
like forgetting what was important till you realize you have cancer and
now this moment with this person counts.
What it's like when
people sense a group mind around them Groupness has a sensuous
quality. Things soften and get warmer. We become less watchful and more
seeing. Bodies relax. There may be a sense of presence that we suddenly
realize others are noticing too. We have no way of checking this but it
appears self-evident. We directly apprehend it. There's an impression
that ideas or impressions are coming more rapidly and coming out of the
group, not just from this or that individual. Things emerge within the
one and the many of the group.
The group is broadcaster and
receiver both. Something like presence is unmistakeable though the word
may not be there. The groupness can crumple and fall in a moment and
flutter fully back to life in a rising instant. Nothing you can do makes
it come or stay a bit longer though lots you can do can make it go.
It's mysterious and it's mysteriousness is an essential part of what it
is. It's more than just not-known-yet. It can be lived but not
Feeling it we're happy and satisfied. It's all we
want then and we are content. We know there will be other times that are
not like this but right now, it's good.
When an individual
speaks it's as if they speak for all since part of the context is that
we're participating in a common story we're curious to know more about.
We might notice that story is central to how things are and at the same
time, that the content of the story doesn't matter. The story is
beautiful and meaningful but mostly because it's shared. Untold, it
fades into the past, like a forgotten teddy bear. It's a story that
needs telling to come alive. It needs the resonance of the group. We
emerge as individuals, together, each of us, stepping into this undreamt
of arena, realizing as we do that many more like this must await.
(some thoughts on how such a group might actually be constituted here.)
Thanks for the thanks' James and Dave. Sorry I didn't make it easier to read, pasted it in from my website and it formatted awkwardly
Re Quinn, I read most of Ishmael a while back but found it looking back. I think the way forward isn't just embracing our tribal past but bringing something new and valuable to it. (I didn't look at the vid yet, but shall). And maybe I'm missing some of what he's saying, will look!
Dave Gerdes said:
Thanks, Andrew, for addressing this view. A very important topic for dialogue! Have you heard of Daniel Quinn's, Beyond Civilization?
What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?
This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.
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