Evolving Collective Spiritual Practice
Why We Need the “We” – Part Two
Last week we explored the shift from shoulder-to-shoulder to heart-to-heart, focusing specifically on practice with just one other person. This week we’re going to broaden that out to a community context. Not only do we need to expand our spiritual practice beyond the confines of individualism, but we desperately need to evolve how we gather and practice together.
We also emphasized the importance of the need to further reflect oneness in our spiritual practice. If we seek the experience of oneness with all, and with one other person, what would it look like to seek this experience in a group? And wouldn’t such a group practice be reflective of a more evolved approach to our spiritual gatherings?
How do we get there?
Let’s start with a very simple picture. Imagine a group of people sitting in rows of chairs (or pews) looking up at a person on a stage. Now picture a circle of chairs with people sitting, facing one another. What difference do you feel? Where in your body do you feel it? Stay there for a moment.
Now picture a glowing heart radiating from each person in the circle. See the spiritual energy and love flowing out of them. As the waves expand out, everyone’s spiritual energy fields are overlapping and engaging with one other, creating a palpable collective field where love, wisdom, encouragement, and much more can emerge. Is this a spiritual reality?
At this point, perhaps your mind starts to raise some objections. Why is that? Where are those objections coming from? Or perhaps you feel a quiet ache of longing in your heart for that experience.
You may think that experience isn’t possible, but have you ever been a part of a group that has tried? Most spiritual practice doesn’t even attempt to go there. Why is that?
However we gather in a spiritual setting, it’s always important to pay attention to both the exterior (form & structure) and interior (spiritual/energetic/etc. dynamics) of our collective spaces. It can be helpful to ask questions like: Why are things set up the way they are? What is the emphasis? What are the values? What are the power dynamics? What are we trying to do here?
Valuing the Collective
First there has to be an understanding and valuing of the collective. For far too long there has been a sort of combination of heroism and deferment to the spiritual leader, to the guru, to the priest. They do the work, like paid professionals, and everyone else participates like students, foot soldiers, or perhaps even customers. Isn’t it time to find better ways to gather together spiritually?
I’m not saying there are not experts and people who have grown more in their spiritual life than others, or that we shouldn’t learn from them. The best spiritual teachers don’t just instruct, they empower. They call for responsibility and engagement for every person who has chosen to be present to seek deeper truth and reality.
But even more, this “expert model” is bound to the capacities and limitations of the singular person, which always express themselves in one way or another—some more harmfully than others. Is it possible that the wisdom and experience of the collective would be healthier and more complete?
We are discovering that there is a rich, vibrant emergence that comes from collective engagement empowered by deep love, participatory trust, and expectant hope.
Practicing with the Mind but not the Heart
Even when gatherings emphasize everyone practicing, we still most often see a functional individualism. Our interior experiences are almost completely independent from anyone else in the room—even if we’re facing each other in a circle. We may have a similar experience, but that came from a similarity of method, not the other’s experienced reality in that moment. We aren’t dependent on one another like that.
Or so we think.
So many of our “group” practices have been framed to be experiences of being in the same physical space while we’re alone with God and our individual practice. Not all of course, but a lot of meditation, centering prayer, and other practice groups tend to reinforce this individualism of practice through their structure and emphasis.
When there is engagement with one another, it is often focused either on reflection of experience, or more commonly on learning ideas, asking questions, and perhaps a little discussion. All of these forms (and often the practice too) almost always stay in the realm of the mind. That’s because the structure has been set up, consciously or unconsciously, to keep things primarily in a mental space.
Mental space is mostly abstract, 3rd person egoic reflections—which are important. The problem is that we fail to also integrate a vibrant, compelling 2nd person engagement with one another and spiritual guides. This is relational, mystical spiritual practice. And it happens primarily in the heart.
When our collective spiritual practices fail to cultivate heart engagement with one another in a mystical way, we leave our heart consciousness and spiritual capacity under-developed.
Moving into the heart space doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all about getting warm and fuzzy (and perhaps messy!) with our emotions. That is a sharing of our sensitive selves, which is the primary dynamic of some we-space and healing groups. This is important work that is also often lacking in our collective spiritual practice (outside of therapy environments).
Engaging in collective heart practice on a mystical level is a sharing of our higher selves—a higher state of consciousness than our ordinary operating system. It’s tuning into the frequency of shared heart energy. It’s sensing deeper realities with one another, often through seeing inner pictures as metaphors for spiritual truth, or intuitions felt in our bodies or emotions. It’s strengthening, encouraging, and comforting one another. And it’s sometimes discovering the emergence of deeper truth, higher wisdom, and greater consciousness.
This is new practice for many people, again because we’ve mostly neglected to develop our deeper heart consciousness in our collective spiritual settings. We approach it with a beginner’s heart, but also might find our hearts surprisingly receptive and attuned. There is usually much less resistance in our hearts than our minds, if we can learn to let ourselves leave our head for a little while!
Spiritual Practice: WeSpace for Mystical Heart Practitioners
This is the approach and value set behind Integral Christian Network WeSpace groups. You can read more about our current form of practice here.
This practice has evolved through the emergence of the experiences of the groups thus far. There are more forms to come. More expressions of engagement and empowerment. Further ways to seek oneness and deeper spiritual reality and identity. These will emerge through each person who chooses to engage deeply in this process. If that stirs something in you, please offer your gift to your local community, and/or to Integral Christian Network in one of our WeSpace groups.
Next week we will explore more of how collective spiritual practice through WeSpace and other expressions is crucial to the future of spirituality, consciousness development, and social transformation.