Community as Surrender
In one of Ken Wilber’s early books, No Boundary, he describes the process of personal growth through the different levels of consciousness, . . .
At each stage, until the last, there is resistance that has to be overcome in order to move to the next stage. The persona resists the shadow, the ego resists the body, the centaur resists the here and now, and in the various transpersonal levels we resist the acceptance of wider and wider boundaries to what we know as "I." Awareness of these resistances is the insight that frees us from their bonds. Unity consciousness comes when all resistance falls away—total surrender to what is. That’s what the Buddhists and others call "enlightenment" or "awakening." Suddenly everything is clear.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Western psychology was beginning to grasp this process, at least at its lower levels. (The great religious traditions, in their mystical expressions, have grasped it at its most profound levels for thousands of years, although their insights have not translated very well down to everyday "worship.") Through the work of such psychologists as Carl Rogers, Frederick Perls and Abraham Maslow, the development of transpersonal psychology took the next step from "humanistic" psychologies. And it was in this phase of theoretical development that "community building" insights came forth. As long as "I" am seen as separate and different from you, not only can we not connect intimately, I cannot develop further in my process. The "New Age," the "Age of Aquarius," was precisely the effort to see individual humans as somehow connected to each other. The concept of "community" as more than a collection of individuals grew out of a growing awareness of what is more than out of simple-minded idealism.
The "T-Group" experiments of the 1950s produced remarkable insights into how people are when they are together without the artificial constrictions of traditional organizations. From these experiments, both M. Scott Peck (the Road Less Traveled, and A Different Drum) and Jack R. Gibb (Trust, The Passionate Path, The Magic of Self-Regulation, and Touching the Universe) worked out systems of community building. Peck described the usual process as going from "pseudo community" to "chaos" to "emptying" to "true community." How similar this process is to what Ken Wilber describes in No Boundary, as the transformation from persona (denying shadow) to crisis as resistance is exposed, to surrender and acceptance of the whole self! Gibb described the characteristics of "community" as a state of being, possessing the qualities of trust, openness, realization (making real) and interdependence—qualities that further the process of personal growth, as well as the coming together of individuals into community.
Particularly relevant is Peck’s emptying stage, which occurs when the individuals in a group, full of despair in the face of chaos, simply let go—surrender—to what is, and by that very act, enable the walls that separate them to crumble.
When I go into a group, as long as I feel I have to defend myself, as long as I present a façade to the group and/or to myself, there is little chance for others to know me, little chance for intimacy. While we all present our personas rather than our true selves, we will remain in pseudo community, a perhaps pleasant but unfulfilling cocktail-party superficiality with each other. I must first accept myself, warts and all, and then trust the environment enough to be real—open—with others before we can truly relate to each other as members of a singular body. True community is surrendering to our mutual identity. It is a higher level of collective consciousness. That doesn’t deny our individual characteristics; it merely relegates them to their appropriate place.
Real community, as we have described it here, requires a level of individual development that permits the dropping of pretense, the acceptance of our shadow. It also needs at least some insight into higher levels of being, some recognition that there is more to life than "I" and "me" and "mine." Perhaps a better way to express that is the need to recognize a larger "I" than just the ego, the small "self." I might go into a group "knowing" this only conceptually, but at least that knowing prepares me for the real thing, the emptying of my resistance, when that becomes possible.
Wilber says that transformation, at each level, requires certain conditions in order to occur—the technique of free association used in psychoanalysis, the singular focus on the present moment as used in gestalt therapy, the hours of "mindfulness" on the meditation cushion. All are characterized by the process: resistance . . . to insight . . . to transformation. In a group, overcoming resistance seems to require a looseness, an absence of rules, a willingness to experiment. When transformation happens, either individually or as a group, it seems not just possible but inevitable. One might wonder why it took so long.
As Wilber puts it, it’s not like getting a college degree, grinding through the acquisition of facts and perspectives in order to graduate to the next stage. Rather, it’s a letting go of resistance to our true selves, the surrendering of obstacles we ourselves have constructed to protect what is merely familiar to us, dysfunctional as they may be, to realizing (making real) our Original Face.
September 19, 2002