Part 1 of a multi-part article about Integral consciousness. See Resources below for links to the other parts.
This post is a first attempt at evoking the role that consciousness might be playing in the Era Shift, and the part that our practice of Collective Alchemy could play in that.
Let me say up front that my approach to exploring consciousness has been a path of both study and practice, years of voracious reading paired with contemplation and digestion through experience. Part of what I bring to the field of Collective Alchemy is therefore 30 years of intellectual exploration.
The notion of “Integral consciousness” first came into the field of Collective Alchemy because I was reading Jean Gebser‘s book The Ever-Present Origin at the time when Sarah and I were making sense of the harvest from two years of Collective Alchemy action research, and we saw the many remarkable coincidences between what we were seeing in our ‘data’ and experiencing in our practice and Gebser’s descriptions of Integral consciousness. We trust the synchronicity of this and wish to invite you, fellow practitioner, to share in the insights that awareness of Integral consciousness can offer.
Health warning: However, translating the phenomenon of Integral consciousness from the nest of Gebser’s rigorous scholarship perched on a high intellectual peak into patterns of everyday speech and thinking is really stretching me! It has been a challenge to write something clear and comprehensible, so you might not find this an easy read. You might even give up in despair…
Let me reassure you from the outset, then, dear reader, that you don’t need understand this stuff, or even to be interested in it, to be a practitioner of Collective Alchemy! But for those of you who enjoy a bit of a cognitive work out…
welcome on the journey!
Among the questions we wish to explore in our practice of Collective Alchemy are:
What becomes possible if a new quality of consciousness is infusing humanity,
one that can apprehend more layers and facets of reality than anything we have known so far?
How might we anchor this consciousness more deeply in ourselves
in order to live in closer alignment with a deeper sense of reality?
This post seeks to offer an introduction to what Sarah and I have learnt and intuit of Integral consciousness at this time, through both study of Gebser’s discoveries and our intensive practice of Collective Alchemy over the past few years. Our chosen portal into the topic is the story of how this inquiry has been unfolding in our Collective Alchemy practice circles so far.
What’s the big deal about Truth?
On Friday 8 May 2020, in the context of an invitation to practice (and an introduction to the practice of) Collective Alchemy, 24 individuals circled up in two different calls around the question: “in these times of breakdown and breakthrough, how do we develop our individual and collective ability to discern what is true in the moment?”
The inquiry included quite some pushing and pulling around the whole notion of ‘truth’: What truth are we talking about: ultimate or relative truth? What’s the difference between “what is true?” and “What Is?” What is our relationship to the truth and why does that matter? How can there be any truth in an ever changing cosmos? Surely truth is a social construct? Is not seeking to pin down the truth a form of control? Might it not be more fruitful to inquire into possibility than into truth?
Some of the apparent confusion arose because we brought the question to the group from a perspective which was not transparently framed beforehand. This notion of ‘discerning what is true’ did not just emerge like a rabbit from a hat in our preparation for the 8 May calls. It has a lineage, one which I have been procrastinating unpacking because it is subtle, complex and hard to get the head around. Those who have read the Collective Alchemy Practice Guide will perhaps recognise the term “verition” (cognate with veritas, the Latin for truth)—a hallmark of the newly emerging Integral consciousness— which literally means:
“seeing things as they really are.”
Our inquiry into how we can ‘develop our individual and collective ability to discern what is true in the moment’ was our first foray into the question “What the fuck is verition?!” Much of what transpired in our calls on 8 May shed light on this murky concept, because the question invited us to access and articulate our own lived experience of this nascent Integral consciousness which is bursting into bud in humanity at this time.
Of course, the term ‘consciousness’, too, begs definition, and it’s safest to stick to the simplest possible one: the ‘wakeful presence’ with which sentient beings experience and engage in “reality” (whatever that turns out to be!). But consciousness as we humans believe we know it today is not the same as it was back when homo habilis first started playing with fire, nor when shamans first served their tribes, nor when Homer first told the tale of Ulysses, nor when Leonardo da Vinci wrote his treatise on perspective. There has been an accrual of new capacities or modes of responsiveness; a “progression away” from the simplicity of Origin, the Whole.
Ultimately, it all comes down to ‘Origin‘: the Whole-that-has-been-since-before-the-beginning (if ever a beginning there was); the latent potential for everything that ever has and ever will spring forth into being through the exuberant unfurling of creation throughout all the dimensions of existence, including but not restricted to the Space and Time that hold our own lives. And not just the external instance of physical matter, from quarks to nebulae to puppies to hang gliders, but also the luminous interior dimension of spirit or subjectivity immanent as an inalienable aspect of all matter. It has all been present, since forever, as potential not accessible to consciousness: latent but not transparent.
Back in the 1950’s, Gebser started laying out evidence that human consciousness had undergone a series of mutations since humanity’s earliest recorded appearance on the scene. By examining changes in art, literature, music, design and architecture through history, he demonstrated how our consciousness has undergone successive mutations (about which more later), one of which, he posited, is currently under way, but by no means complete.
This latest mutation is the Integral consciousness that is the subject of this writing. In describing Integral consciousness, Gebser was at pains to stress that its emergence is not an evolution or refinement of our currently dominant structure of consciousness. This latter, he called ‘mental-rational’, declaring it to have been in a ‘deficient’ condition since the Renaissance, because we have been using our reason exclusively, to the detriment of other, earlier structures of consciousness.
Gebser argues that consciousness does not complexify continually over time, but proceeds by inexplicable qualitative shifts or leaps—what complexity scientists would perhaps call a ‘phase change’. In his words: “every consciousness mutation is apparently a sudden and acute manifestation of latent possibilities present since origin.” Of course, ‘sudden’ is a relative notion, since these mutations have obviously emerged over time, the earlier ones taking hundreds of millennia, the most recent ones hundreds of years.
Accordingly, what is currently unfolding in the collective consciousness of humanity should be understood not as an evolution but as a mutation, the emergence out of ‘ever-present Origin’ of the “originally present spiritual content” that has always been latent in consciousness and is now becoming evident, a bit like a fresh flow of molten lava gushing up from the centre of the earth and covering the layer laid down by the previous eruption. This structural mutation is not something we are creating or performing, intentionally or otherwise; rather, it is emerging involuntarily within the consciousness of humanity… and not a moment too soon. As Gebser put it: “there are powers arising from within ourselves that are already at work overcoming the deficiency and dubious nature of our rational ego-consciousness via the new [Integral] awareness whose manifestations are surging forth everywhere.”
(Explanatory aside about the meaning of the word ‘deficiency’ here: according to Gebser, the spiritual Origin exerts a continuous pressure on space-time, which we humans experience as an intensification of consciousness—a fundamental tension within the brain-mind system which demands to be resolved. This resolution can happen either ‘effectively’ (by transcending to a yet higher intensification and establishing a new state of tension) or ‘deficiently’ (through avoidance or reactive regression to a lower-level intensity or more primitive structure). Each structure of consciousness has an efficient and a deficient mode; Gebser identifies ‘rational consciousness’ as the deficient mode of the mental structure of consciousness.)
This transcendent intensification of consciousness is an important aspect of the maturation of our species that is so desperately needed if we are to navigate our way through the great rite of passage that is this era shift, fraught with the dangers of impending societal collapse, climate disorder and, ultimately, extinction. Our work in these times, therefore, is to find ways of awakening into this dawning structure of consciousness and learning to master its gifts.
Our question for 8 May was an invitation to dip our toes into the waters of Integral consciousness. If “seeing things as they really are” is a hallmark of this new consciousness which is currently arising in and through us, then what can we learn about it by examining our own living relationship with the truth?
In the next parts of this article, we will be tracing the journey of unfolding consciousness in the human tribe, seeking to get a taste of the earlier structures of consciousness, bringing us up to the present. The final part will unpack what we intuit about Integral consciousness.