Wednesday, July 11, 2012

P2P Foundation - Participatory and Relational Spirituality: Ending the Guru Age

The P2P Foundation has a wiki that offers a lot of useful material on the variations of participatory and relational spirituality that are emerging as an alternative to the traditional guru model of spiritual teaching.

If the ideas of P2P (peer-to-peer) are not familiar, check out the Manifesto: Peer to Peer and Human Evolution.

I've been following Michel Bauwens' work in the P2P realm for several years. More recently, as I have become familiar with Robert Stolorow's Intersubjective Systems Theory in psychoanalysis, a model he has developed in association with George Atwood, Donna Orange, and Bernard Brandchaft (among others) - see The Intersubjective Perspective for a nice collection of essays introducing the topic).

In Notes on Spiritual Leadership and Relational Spirituality, selections of text by John Heron, there is a good definition of the guru phenomenon and why its dominance is coming to an end. [See also an entry on Spiritual Authoritarianism.]

The guru phenomenon

The traditional oriental guru represents a form of spiritual leadership in which so-called advanced spiritual states of being are transmitted from guru to disciple. This requires the disciple to be present with the guru, physically or psychically, to project onto the guru the disciple’s latent divine nature, to be obedient and devoted to the guru, and to practise the disciplines he prescribes. There is a hierarchical, charismatic relationship to effect the disciple’s shift from an ordinary to an extraordinary state of being ‘enlightened’. A favourite candidate for ‘enlightenment’ is the so-called nondual state, in which spirit and any kind of form are known to be not two.

There seem to have been four phases of the guru phenomenon in the West.

(1) In the late decades of the nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth century, there was just a small guru-invasion from the East with key players like Vivekananda and the spread of the Vedanta movement in the West.

(2) Then post-war from 1945 with the publication of Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy, there started a major guru-invasion from the East including the dramatic spread through the 60s and the 70s of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism in the USA and Europe.

(3) In the third phase, over the last thirty years or so, alongside the guru-invasion from the East there has been the growing phenomenon of home-grown Western gurus and spiritual teachers claiming the special status of 'enlightenment'.

(4) The fourth phase is just getting under way. It seems to be distinguished by four features.
(a) The erosion of guru status as a result of a continuous stream of sexual and financial abuse and bullying scandals among both Eastern and home-grown Western gurus and spiritual teachers.

(b) The erosion of 'enlightenment' claims by the proliferation of the number of people, especially in the West, making the claim: the more people who make the claim, the more its narcissistic inflation stands revealed. For the 'enlightenment' claim is also an authority-claim to have followers, a recruiting drive to gather in spiritual projections. The more claims that are made, the stronger the competition among claimants in the market-place for attention.

(c) A growing awareness that spiritual authority is within and that to project it outward onto teacher, tradition or text is an early, adolescent phase of spiritual development in the one projecting, and counter-spiritual manipulative abuse in any guru/teacher who seeks to elicit, to appropriate and to sustain the projection.

(d) The emergence of peer to peer spirituality, which democratizes charismatic, enlightened leadership, and realizes that it is a role which different persons assume at different times, either in the initiation of a peer group or in the continuous unfolding of its process. 
In a section called The fallacy of nondual individualism, Heron dismantles Ken Wilber's version of nondual enlightenment that is based on individual development of lines (kinds of knowing, such as cognitive, psychosexuality, socio-emotional capacity, communicative competence, creativity, and many others) through stages (from pre-personal, through personal, to transpersonal). Heron concludes:
Wilber tries to argue that the basic categories for integrating all the lines in higher unfoldment have been uncovered on a single line that has no experience whatsoever of such multi-line integration. The way out of this tangle is gently and radically to propose that the contemplative line is not a spirituality line, that spirituality is not about states, however remarkable and extraordinary, that people get into by a lifetime of individual meditation. 
As an alternative, Heron offers Relational Spirituality:

Relational spirituality

A more convincing account of spirituality is that it is about multi-line integral development explored by persons in relation. This is because many basic developmental lines - e.g. those to do with gender, psychosexuality, emotional and interpersonal skills, communicative competence, morality, to name but a few - unfold through engagement with other people. A person cannot develop these lines on their own, but through mutual co-inquiry. The spirituality that is the highest development of these lines can only be achieved through relational forms of practice that unveil the spirituality implicit in them (Heron 1998, 2005).

In short, the spirituality of persons is developed and revealed primarily in their relations with other persons. If you regard spirituality primarily as the fruit of individual meditative attainment, then you can have the gross anomaly of a "spiritual" person who is an interpersonal oppressor, and the possibility of "spiritual" traditions that are oppression-prone (Heron, 1998; Kramer and Alstad, 1993; Trimondi and Trimondi, 2003). If you regard spirituality as centrally about liberating relations between people, then a new era of participative religion opens up, and this calls for a radical restructuring and reappraisal of traditional spiritual maps and routes.

Certainly there are important individualistic developmental lines that do not necessarily directly involve engagement with other people, such as contemplative development, and physical fitness. But these are secondary and supportive of those that do, and are in turn enhanced by co-inquiry with others.

On this overall view, spirituality is located in the interpersonal heart of the human condition where people co-operate to explore meaning, build relationship and manifest creativity through collaborative action inquiry into multi-line integration and consummation. I propose one possible model of such collegial applied spirituality with at least eight distinguishing characteristics.

(1) It is developmentally holistic, involving diverse major lines of human development; and the holism is both within each line and as between the lines. Prime value is put on relational lines, such as gender, psychosexuality, emotional and interpersonal skills, communicative competence, peer communion, morality, human ecology, supported by the individualistic, such as contemplative competence, physical fitness.

(2) It is psychosomatically holistic, embracing a fully embodied and vitalized expression of spirit. Spirituality is found not just at the ‘top end’ of a developmental line, but in the ground, the living root of its embodied form, in the relational heart of its current level of unfolding, and in the transcendent awareness embracing it.

(3) It is epistemologically holistic, embracing many ways of knowing: knowing by presence with, by intuiting significant form and process, by conceptualizing, by practising. Such holistic knowing is intrinsically dialogic, action- and inquiry-oriented. It is fulfilled in peer-to-peer participative inquiry, and the participation is both epistemic and political.

(4) It is ontologically holistic, open to the manifest as nature, culture and the subtle, and to spirit as immanent life, the situational present, and transcendent mind. It sees our relational, social process in this present situation as the immediate locus of the unfolding integration of immanent and transcendent spirit (Heron, 1998, 2004, 2005).

(5) It is focused on worthwhile practical purposes that promote a flourishing humanity-cum-ecosystem; that is, it is rooted in an extended doctrine of rights with regard to social and ecological liberation.

(6) It embraces peer-to-peer relations and participatory forms of decision-making. The latter in particular can be seen as a radical discipline in relational spirituality, burning up a lot of the privatized ego.

(7) It honours the gradual emergence and development of peer-to-peer forms of association and practice.

(8) It affirms the role of both initiating hierarchy, and spontaneously surfacing and rotating hierarchy among the peers, in such emergence.
In a separate P2P Wiki entry on Relational Spirituality, there are two additional definitions of this topic offered by John Heron in his various writings.
Relational spirituality as primary in dipolar spiritual development By John Heron: (Adapted from pp. 99-101 of Heron, J. Sacred Science: Person-centred Inquiry into the Spiritual and the Subtle, Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books, 1998.)
“My own view of spiritual development is:

(1) That it is dipolar, to do (a) with moral life committed to the empowerment of ourselves and other people in relationship, to the full flowering of our immanent life, in community embracing diversity in free unity, and (b) with the inner transformation of consciousness.

(2) That (a) is primary and the consummation of (b).

The tendency of the eastern mystic has been to reduce his involvement with other people to directing the vertical transformation of their consciousness. His commitment to his own transformation as an end-in-itself overflows into guiding other people to do the same. His moral goal has been to enable the unenlightened to become enlightened and so attain moksha, release from the treadmill of reincarnation in the phenomenal world, regarded for the most part as an illusion grounded on ignorance, want of discrimination. However, I regard the phenomenal world as an innovative process of divine becoming, within which we humans are co-creators of global transformation, a planetary civilization.

On this view, my spiritual development has these two interdependent aspects, primary and secondary. The secondary and supportive aspect is that it works to foster and facilitate, with others, the inner transformation of human consciousness, so that we may celebrate the integrated fullness of creation in its physical, subtle and spiritual dimensions (not so that we can get release from it all).

The primary aspect is that it works to release the life-potential of persons-in-relation, to facilitate social empowerment and social justice in every sphere of human activity. For persons to become full co-creators of a planetary civilization, each one has an all-pervasive right to participate in any decision that affects the fulfilment of their needs and interests, the expression of their preferences and values. This universal right has a claim not only within political institutions, but in every sphere of human association where decisions are being taken: in industry, education, ecology, medicine, the family, and, of course, in research and in religion . The fulfilment of this claim throughout our planet in all these spheres has hardly begun. Moreover, the fact that there is so much spiritual authoritarianism in the world, in creeds and cults both old and new, creates a deep attitudinal warp in people which makes them susceptible to oppression by many other kinds of external authority. In reviewing criticisms of the traditional hierarchical model of spiritual reality, promoted by current adherents of the perennial philosophy, Donald Rothberg writes:
Hierarchical ontologies are commonly ideological expressions of social and psychological relations involving domination and exploitation - of most humans (especially women, workers, and tribal people), of nature, and of certain parts of the self. Such domination limits drastically the autonomy and potential of most of the inhabitants of the human and natural worlds, justifying material inequalities and preventing that free and open discourse which is the end of a free society. It distorts psychological life by repressing, albeit in the name of wisdom and sanctity, aspects of ourselves whose full expression is necessary to full psychological health and well-being (Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1986, 18(1): 1-34). 
My spiritual development, then, cannot be measured simply in terms of hours of meditation or number of extended retreats or stabilized attainment of some inner, transcendent state of mind, as I ascend the hierarchical spiritual ladder. On its own, this is vertical flight from full spiritual development, which I believe finds its primary consummation in the unfolding of my immanent spiritual life. And this, fully followed through, involves attention to social change and social justice through promoting participative forms of decision-making in every kind of human association with which I am involved, including the religious.

To summarize and restate the above: spiritual transformation of human beings has two complementary forms. The first form is about how persons realize in their exterior daily lives their immanent spiritual life and its potential. I believe this means developing the fulness of relational living, of expressive personal autonomy-in-connectedness, in terms of:

· Emotional and interpersonal competence: empowering self, the other and the relationship.
· The exercise of self-determination and co-operation in every situation of decision-making.
· The external expression of imaginative, creative skills .
· Commitment to social and planetary transformation.
· The grounding of life-style management in a co-creating relation with immanent spiritual life.

The second form is about how people open to a progressive interior transfiguration by a transcendent spiritual consciousness interdependent with immanent spiritual life. I believe this is secondary to, supportive of, and consummated in, the first form.

The following extract from my keynote talk at an international conference on “Living Spirit – New Dimensions in Work and Learning" at the University of Surrey, UK, in 2002, elaborates further the immanent relational pole of dipolar spiritual development.

Living spirit in the dawn of the age of immanence What I believe all this really shows is the newly emerging power of the human spirit, the dawning age of divine immanence, of the indwelling spirit that is the ground of human motivation. I think that living spirit is active within us, the very deep source of all human aspiration, both the will to live as a distinct individual, and the will to live as a universal participant – the will to be one of the creative Many and to be engaged with the creative One. These profound impulses have for the past 3,000 years been predominantly subordinate to the authoritative control of religious traditions, teachers and texts which have promoted spirit as primarily transcendent. And where these impulses have been emancipated from such control they have been reduced to secular status. Secular modernity has delivered huge gains in terms of relatively autonomous ethics, politics, science, knowledge generally, and art.

Yet it has championed the autonomy of the isolated Cartesian ego, separated off from the world it seeks to categorize, codify and manage. I do think this is the century of the spirit that is living deep within: the self-actualizing tendency of Rogers (1959, 1980), Maslow (1970), Gendlin (1981), embedded within the body-mind; the bio-spiritual experience of grace in the body of McMahon and Campbell (1991); Jean Houston’s entelechy self, the ground of one’s being, the root self whence all our possibilities emerge (Houston, 1987); Washburn’s dynamic ground of libido, psychic energy, numinous power or spirit (Washburn, 1995); Wilber’s ground unconscious, Eros, spirit-in-action (Wilber, 2000a).

Instead of appealing to the spiritual authority of teacher, tradition and text, an increasing number of people respond co-creatively with this divine dynamic moving within. Spiritual authority is found in the exercise of a deep kind of inner discrimination, where human autonomy and divine animation marry.

Nikolai Berdyaev (1874-1948), in the great tradition of European personalism, with which I align myself, was on to it with his affirmation of human personhood as manifesting the creative process of spirit. For he defined spirit as self-determining human subjectivity engaged in the realization of value and achieved in true community. He used the excellent Russian word sobornost to name such a community: it means diversity in free unity. Berdyaev also had a wonderful vision of the impending era, which he called the third epoch. The third epoch is the epoch of divine-human co-creation of a transformed planet, transformed persons, transformed social relationships (Berdyaev, 1937). Translated into my conceptual system, Berdyaev’s account means that living spirit manifests as a dynamic interplay between autonomy, hierarchy and co-operation. It emerges through autonomous people each of whom who can identify their own idiosyncratic true needs and interests; each of whom can also think hierarchically in terms of what values promote the true needs and interests of the whole community; and each of whom can co-operate with – that is, listen to, engage with, and negotiate agreed decisions with - their peers, celebrating diversity and difference as integral to genuine unity. Hierarchy here is the creative leadership which seeks to promote the values of autonomy and co-operation in a peer to peer association. Such leadership, as in the free software movement mentioned earlier, is exercised in two ways. First, by the one or more people who take initiatives to set up such an association. And second, once the association is up and running, as spontaneous rotating leadership among the peers, when anyone takes initiatives that further enhance the autonomy and co-operation of other participating members. The autonomy of participants is not that of the old Cartesian ego, isolated and cut off from the world. Descartes sat inside a big stove to get at his cogito, ergo sum - I think, therefore I am – and while his exclusively subjective self provided a necessary leverage against traditional dogmatisms to help found the modern worldview, it left the modern self alienated from the separated world it commands. The autonomy of those who flourish within sobornost, by contrast, is an autonomy that is rounded and enriched by a profound kind of inner animation, that develops and flourishes only in felt interconnectedness, participative engagement, with other persons, and with the biodiversity and integral ecology of our planet (Spretnak, 1995). This is the participatory worldview, expressed also in the extended epistemology I mentioned earlier on: our conceptual knowing of the world is grounded in our experiential knowing – a felt resonance with the world and imaginal participation in it. This epistemic participation is the ground for political participation in social processes that integrate autonomy, hierarchy and co-operation. What we are now about is a whole collaborative regeneration of our world through co-creative engagement with the spirit that animates it and us.

For just a few of the many contributors to the participatory worldview see: Abram (1996); Bateson, 1979; Berman, 1981; Ferrer (2001); Heron, 1992, 1996a, 1998; Merleau-Ponty, 1962; Skolimowski (1994); Spretnak, 1991; Reason, 1994; Reason and Rowan, 1981; Tarnas (1991); Varela, Thompson and Rosch, (1991).
See the original entry for a list of references.

There is another excellent entry at the P2P Wiki on Participatory Spirituality, which opens with an excellent definition from Jorge Ferrer, author of Revisioning Transpersonal Theory : A Participatory Vision of Human Spirituality and co-editor of The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, Religious Studies.
As defined by Jorge Ferrer: Spiritual knowing is a participatory process. What do I mean by "participatory"? First, "participatory" alludes to the fact that spiritual knowing is not objective, neutral, or merely cognitive. On the contrary, spiritual knowing engages us in a connected, often passionate, activity that can involve not only the opening of the mind, but also of the body, the heart, and the soul. Although particular spiritual events may involve only certain dimensions of our nature, all of them can potentially come into play in the act of spiritual knowing, from somatic transfiguration to the awakening of the heart, from erotic communion to visionary co-creation, and from contemplative knowing to moral insight, to mention only a few (see also Ferrer, 2000a, 2002).

Second, the participatory nature of spiritual knowing refers to the role that our individual consciousness plays during most spiritual and transpersonal events. This relation is not one of appropriation, possession, or passive representation of knowledge, but of communion and co-creative participation.
Finally, "participatory" also refers to the fundamental ontological predicament of human beings in relation to spiritual energies and realities. Human beings are - whether we know it or not - always participating in the self-disclosure of Spirit. This participatory predicament is not only the ontological foundation of the other forms of participation, but also the epistemic anchor of spiritual knowledge claims and the moral source of responsible action.

Spiritual phenomena involve participatory ways of knowing that are presential, enactive, and transformative:

1. Spiritual knowing is presential: Spiritual knowing is knowing by presence or by identity. In other words, in most spiritual events, knowing occurs by virtue of being. Spiritual knowing can be lived as the emergence of an embodied presence pregnant with meaning that transforms both self and world. Subject and object, knowing and being, epistemology and ontology are brought together in the very act of spiritual knowing.

2. Spiritual knowing is enactive: Following the groundbreaking work of Varela, Thompson, and Rosch (1991), my understanding of spiritual knowing embraces an enactive paradigm of cognition: Spiritual knowing is not a mental representation of pregiven, independent spiritual objects, but an enaction, the bringing forth of a world or domain of distinctions co-created by the different elements involved in the participatory event. Some central elements of spiritual participatory events include individual intentions and dispositions; cultural, religious, and historical horizons; archetypal and subtle energies; and, most importantly, a dynamic and indeterminate spiritual power of inexhaustible creativity.

3. Spiritual knowing is transformative: Participatory knowing is transformative at least in the following two senses. First, the participation in a spiritual event brings forth the transformation of self and world. Second, a transformation of self is usually necessary to be able to participate in spiritual knowing, and this knowing, in turn, draws forth the self through its transformative process in order to make possible this participation. (
There is also a definition from John Heron:

"The parties involved in a co-creative, enactive, transformative relation reciprocally and dynamically shape and reshape - in and through the process of meeting – how they understand each other, the regard they have for each other, and how they act and interact in relation with each other.

This definition is framed to apply to the central person-to-person relations. It can, with appropriate modifications, be applied to relations between ways of knowing, to relations between persons and their worlds, and, including and transcending all these, to the relation between persons and the divine.

Person-to-person relations are central because they are a precondition for setting the scene for divine self-disclosure and for persons to participate in it. In previous epochs this precondition was met by teacher-disciple hierarchical relations. Today divine self-disclosure can manifest through person-to-person peer relations, serviced from time to time by temporary hierarchical initiatives rotating among the peers.

Person-to-person peer relations are central, in my view, because of the intimate relation between epistemic participation and political participation. Epistemic participation is about the participative relation between the knower and the known. Political participation in this context is to do with participative decision-making among those involved about how we know and what we know. If participative knowing between persons is consummated in fully reciprocal encounter, then co-operative decision-making, both about how to engage in such reciprocal knowing and about what it reveals, is necessary for authentic interpersonal knowing - the realm of the between where divine self-disclosure can manifest."

Spiritual practice: A primary ground for the practice of participatory-relational spirituality can be cultivated by collaborative peer-to-peer relations between persons engaged in fully embodied, multidimensional, transformative flourishing in and with their worlds. See [1]

Finally, here is a Discussion section that presents a brief summary of exchanges between Heron and Ferrer on their slightly differing definitions:

John Heron's critique on the relation between participatory and Relational Spirituality

Ferrer's account of participatory spirituality - in the passage quoted above – fails, from my point of view, to bring out the centrality of co-creative/collaborative relations between persons as central to the meaning and the practice of participatory spirituality. If you read the whole passage very carefully you will find that this is indeed the case. Thus, and crucially, person-to-person collaboration is absent from his account of "some central elements of spiritual participatory events". Elsewhere he refers to "self and world", and nowhere to self and other selves. I think he would argue that person-to-person co-operation is implicit in phrases like "other forms of participation" and "responsible action", but, if so, this buries it in unstated implications and makes it appear very subsidiary - instead of central. A few pages earlier in his book he writes of transpersonal events as multilocal, including the interpersonal and the communal, yet makes no explicit reference to any of this when he comes on to the passage quoted above."

The Relational Dimension of Participatory Spirituality: Reflections by Jorge Ferrer on John Heron’s Critique

1. Although my theorizing has always been grounded in collaborative interpersonal spiritual practice (plus my own personal spiritual inquiry, extensive reading, and dialogue with others), John is correct stating that the relational or interpersonal dimension of participation is not emphasized in Revisioning Transpersonal Theory (RTT, 2002). I see RTT and Sacred Science very complementary in this respect.

2. I stress the importance of relational spiritual work in later writings that deal with more practical, less philosophical issues than RTT. See, for example, my essay on "Integral Transformative Practice: A Participatory Perspective," published in The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology (2003), my co-authored essay on "Integral Tranformative Education: A Participatory Proposal,‿ published in The Journal of Transformative Education (2005), and, to a lesser extent, my recent essay on “Embodied Spirituality: Now and Then,‿ published in Tikkun. Of related interest, I wrote another essay on spirituality and intimate relationships, whose shorter version will be published in the next issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, and the complete one in Tikkun a few months later.

3. In my talks and conferences, I have found very helpful to introduce the notion of participatory spirituality in terms of three forms of co-creation: (1) intrapersonal co-creation, i.e., of the various human dimensions working together creatively as a team; (2) interpersonal co-creation, i.e., of human beings working together as peers in solidarity and mutual respect; and (3) transpersonal co-creation, i.e., of both human dimensions and collaborative human beings interacting with the Mystery in the co-creation of spiritual insights, practices, expanded forms of liberation, and spiritual worlds.

4. On a practical level, many of my courses at the California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, and the integral transformative work I facilitate, are deeply relational and stress the centrality of interactive embodied meditations, interpersonal and group dynamics, collaborative spiritual inquiry, among other dimensions.

In sum, though I don't see the contrast between my participatory approach and relational approaches to spirituality as sharp as John paints it, it is accurate to say that the presentation of participatory spirituality in RTT did not stress the practical, and strongly relational, dimension of my participatory perspective.

John Heron's account of the relation between participatory spirituality and relational spirituality

The simplest provisional account I can give of this relation is as follows:

Participatory spirituality is inherently relational in four ways:

1. It involves a co-creative, enactive, transformative relation between persons and the divine.

2. This relation transcends and includes the relations between multiple ways of knowing within the person.

3. And centrally the relations between persons and other persons.

4. And the relations between persons and their worlds.

In one sentence:

Participatory spirituality involves a co-creative, enactive, transformative relation between persons and the divine, a relation which transcends and includes: the relations between multiple ways of knowing within the person, centrally the relations between persons and other persons, and the relations between persons and their worlds.
Again, there are links and references at the post.

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