CHAPTER THREE

FUTURE PARTICIPATION

 

Having explored original participation and the development of unconscious participation, what can be said about of future participation? It is here that Barfield's framework of original participation, the loss of participation in modern consciousness and final participation, which was a useful starting point, presents problems, in particular its emphasis on a linear developmental sequence. The proposition that human consciousness moves from original participation through a loss of participation to final participation cannot be sustained. As we have seen from feminist and indigenous accounts, this is only a part of the whole story, since a sense of deep participation has always been carried in muted fashion as an undercurrent to the Western patriarchal consciousness; as Polanyi and Heron argue, participation must continually underlie any differentiated and articulated form of consciousness however much we try to shut it out; and as Swimme and Berry point out, all humans continue to participate in the great mystery of creation as a centre of consciousness within the cosmos.

The linear account also tempts us to idealize original participation and deprecate the potential of autonomous discriminating human consciousness. So the question arises whether it is possible to envision a form of consciousness based on future participation without idealizing and thus trivializing? And is it possible to evoke the experience of future participation rather than simply conceptualize it, for as Barfield writes, "merely grasping the concept will not take mankind very far" (p. 137)—although articulating a new vision with imaginative passion may help us take the first steps into new possibilities. In this chapter I attempt to do this, and to show how collaborative human inquiry can be seen as a practice or discipline through which the consciousness of future participation can be developed.

Rather than define future participation as one form of consciousness, I find it more helpful to see it as a range of possible moments within a dialectic, emerging from the contradiction of original participation and unconscious participation. Dialectical thinking is based on the realization that contradiction is inseparable from human consciousness, and that this contradiction has the curious and paradoxical quality that it encompasses both opposition and unity. We may experience love as the opposite of hate, yet when we look a little deeper we realize that there is often a little love in the middle of our hate—and if we are honest a little hatred in the middle of our love. It is also evident that love and hate come together as aspects of fiercely passionate relationship. Opposites co-define each other, stand against each other, yet also co-exist as two sides of the same coin. Original participation and future participation are clearly oppositional, in that the qualities of the one deny the qualities of the other. Yet in the very manner in which they are in opposition they are deeply similar: two forms of consciousness that absorb the human mind in one perspective, with minimal reflexivity or capacity to establish a self-reflexive "meta" position.

In a dialectical perspective, future participation moves beyond the polarization of original participation and alienated unconscious participation, of masculine and feminine consciousness, into the dance between them. Every thesis calls forth in some sense its antithesis, and the play between these is a flowing, changing, interactive pattern that arises, moment to moment, as a dynamic process that grows out of the tension of contradiction. This "in between" is usually much more interesting and important than the static structures of polarized extremes (Watts, 1963).

Hampden-Turner borrows from ancient myth to illustrate this point:

In early Greek mythology those sailors who tried to navigate the straights of Messina were said to encounter a rock and a whirlpool. If you were too intent upon avoiding the rock you could be sucked into the whirlpool. If you skirted the whirlpool by too wide a margin you could strike the rock. These twin perils had markedly contrasting natures: the first was hard, solid, static, visible, definite, asymmetrical and an object; the second was soft, liquid, dynamic, hidden, indefinite, symmetrical and a process (Hampden-Turner, 1990, p. 24).

Anyone steering the boat with a bias to seeing either peril as more important puts the ship into danger. If they see the rock as the main danger because it is so hard and solid, they are likely to steer too close to the whirlpool; if they are fearful of the insidious pull of the whirlpool they may steer too close to the rock. The "correct" course to steer is not predetermined, but rather continually adjusts to the wind and waves. This is a self-correcting cybernetic process: to be "right" you have to take action which, if carried to an extreme, will be "wrong"; every action brings forth a reaction and thus corrective feedback. As Hampden-Turner shows, steering the ship involves leading in order to learn and learning in order to lead; the ship is erring so that it must be corrected; and steering the ship involves maintaining continuity in the midst of change (p. 16–17). Similarly, in the process of developing human inquiry, too much concern for participative identity among co-researchers will lead loss of perspective; too much concern for perspective will leave co-researchers alienated from each other and from their experience. The dialectic involves both a movement between the two poles and a simultaneous articulation of the two poles.

Future participation arises as a possibility from the contradiction between the immersion of original participation and the alienation of unconscious participation—if humankind were not deeply familiar with both, the emergence of this third possibility would not be possible (and in this sense future participation is a part of a developmental evolution). As I have shown in Chapter Two, original participation, with its deep sense of identity between self and other, prevents the development of a distinctly human consciousness, a development that takes place through differentiation and discrimination. While it would appear that the project to gain the freedom of a discriminating human consciousness has resulted not simply in the development of perspective, but in a loss of participation and an alarming alienation, in this has created a most powerful dialectic. As Colgrave writes, the loss of identity with the Great Mother that arose with the development of human consciousness is followed by "a struggle between the desire for freedom and the knowledge and longing for wholeness and peace" (1979, p. 198). She argues that this peace can be discovered through androgynous consciousness, a harmony arising from an integration of the masculine and feminine principles within the human psyche. While Colgrave's argument is at the level of the individual psyche, Tarnas has recently taken the argument onto a wider stage, portraying the whole history of western mind and spirit is a masculine project driven by a heroic impulse to forge an autonomous rational human self. This gives rise to a longing for reunion with that which has been lost, and at the same time, Tarnas argues, prepares the ground for that reunion, in what is essentially one side of vast dialectical process:

the West's restless inner development and incessantly innovative masculine ordering of reality has been gradually leading, in a an immensely long dialectical movement, toward a reconciliation with the lost feminine unity, toward a profound and many-levelled marriage of masculine and feminine, a triumphant and healing reunion. (1991, p. 444)

So it may well be that future participation will take many forms, according to the route through which it is reached. A future participation which has evolved from an indigenous tribal perspective (Colorado, 1988) may continue to emphasise the living inter-connectedness of all beings; one emerging through feminism will continue to honour muted voices; while one that has evolved through the cauldron of the Western heroic adventure may carry more critical questioning. It will be through a dialectical dance between many different ways of knowing, rather than as one new story, that a new quality of epistemological robustness will emerge. Different aspects of participation may then co-exist in an individual and in a culture, dancing together in different patterns at different times and in different places. Certainly in modern cultures the specialization of gender roles has lead to a situation in which women are more likely to hold the experience of deep participation and communion while men articulate agency and separateness (Marshall, 1984). The problem has been not so much that we have separated gender roles but that we have devalued the feminine qualities and interpreted them solely in terms of the masculine. Similarly within an individual, different subpersonalities (Rowan, 1989) can be expected to hold different consciousness.

Another way of seeing the different aspects of participation is as phases of a cycle. In shorter cycles of experience we might, for example, be drawn through the window in direct experience of liquid sound; label the sound as the song of a thrush; notice the labelling; and choose to allow ourselves to sink back down into identity with the immediate experience. Something akin to this happens in meditation, as we learn to notice the mind drawn away into thoughts, and gently draw it back to our breath, to the sitting, to the immediate present.

Longer cycles can be seen in the development of a human life as the individual emphasises individualistic and participative aspects of being in turn, developing more subtle syntheses as life progresses. And the development phases of a group can be seen in terms of a dialectic between seeking membership and asserting individual identity. Even longer cycles can be seen in human cultures. We might very schematically sketch the development of European civilization as starting from the deep participation of early Greek culture immersed in a participative and mythological experience of the world. At some point a more reflective consciousness emerged in the glory of Classical Greece which first flowered, and was later taken over, developed and to some extent brutalized in the Roman Empire. This over-reached itself and was overwhelmed by the so-called Dark Ages, a period of co-existence of deep participation in a shamanic worldview (Bates, 1983) and a culture devoted to the glorification of God on earth. The Renaissance then emerged as a time of new illumination, a new perspective (literally, see Romanyshyn, 1989) which was developed and over-reached itself in the modern age. (Skolimowski, 1986; 1994).

Qualities of a future participation

So future participation may take many forms in the process of emerging dialectically from the tension between original and unconscious participation. However, I suggest that there will be a unity within this diversity and that all forms of future participation will share certain qualities, albeit expressed in different ways. In this section I reach toward an articulation of these qualities, covering a lot of ground rather fast, sketching some possibilities. As I see future participation it is a form of consciousness rooted in concrete experience and grounded in the body; characterized by self-awareness and self reflection; experience is ordered through a sense of pattern and form rather than by discrete objects; there is a much deeper appreciation of the alienating power of conceptual language and more active and aware use of imagination and metaphor.

First of all, future participation will be self-aware and self-reflective. Neither submerged in unaware union with other nor seduced by the brilliant promise of a completely autonomous rational consciousness, the mind in future participation will learn to attend to its own processes. Torbert has shown how in earlier stages of ego development the mind is preoccupied by particular aspects of internal or external reality, seeing the world entirely through the limited perspective of personal needs, social conditioning, or technical competence. In this sense the mind is trapped in its frames. At later stages of ego development a reframing mind emerges: rather than allowing experience to be framed, and so limited, by any particular attentional warp, the person actively exercises attention to the process of framing itself:

A reframing mind continually overcomes itself, divesting itself of its own presuppositions... (engaging in) ongoing jousting, at one and the same time, with one's attention and with the outside world. (Torbert, 1987, pp. 211–213)

It is difficult for an individual to develop such a reframing mind alone, or indeed in a culture which encourages only the development of autonomy; it is more likely to emerge in a community setting designed to encourage such a development. As I shall argue, an inquiry community may be one such setting.

Of course, this is not new. Maybe the most ancient and intensive study of the way the human mind attaches itself to constricting frameworks, and the most developed processes for developing a reflective, re-framing mind, comes to us through Buddhist practice. Buddhist teaching holds that behind the everyday mind which creates a sense of duality, which get attached to its desires, its plans, its perspectives, is a mind which is able to see through this attachment and is open to the ways in which we create ourselves and our world moment to moment (Sogyal Rinpoche, 1992; Spretnak, 1991). This mind becomes available to us through the disciplines of meditation practice.

A second quality of future participation is that the mind will move beyond the world in which all is immersed in a seamless web, and beyond the world of separate objects, into a world of pattern and form, of relationships within an interdependent whole. Gregory Bateson's work in developing an "ecology of mind" takes us toward an understanding of "the pattern which connects". He uses the example of a man cutting down a tree to illustrate his point. From the a materialist perspective we would understand this in terms of the physical impacts and forces of the axe on the tree. The action is seen as causal and linear; the tree is a thing to be acted upon. But as Berman points out, if the tree is reified, so is the mind, "for since the self acted upon the axe, which then acted upon the tree… the self must also be a thing" (1981, pp 244-5)

But if we enter Bateson's cybernetic world of mind, effects are brought about not by forces but by information, by differences travelling in a circuit. As he points out, the letter that you fail to write can carry as much information as one you do write—and can result in grievous consequences. So to explain the man-axe-tree

we shall be concerned with differences in the cut face of the tree, differences in the retina of the man, differences in his central nervous system, differences in his efferent neural messages, differences in the behaviour of his muscles, differences in the way the axe flies, to the differences which the axe then makes on the face of the tree. (Bateson, 1972, p. 459)

Bateson asks us to look not so much as what is in the mind but at how things are held in the mind. He is concerned to point out the gross errors that emerge from a materialist epistemology: as he points out, there are no cows, pigs, or other objects in the mind, only patterns of difference. This makes for difficulties in the way we usually described experience, for

… while I can know nothing about any individual thing by itself, I can know something about relations between things… I can only know something about relations between things. If I say the table is "hard", I am going beyond what my experience would testify. What I know is that the interaction or relationship between the table and some sense organ or instruments has a differential hardness for which I have no ordinary vocabulary, alas, but which I distort by referring the special character of the relationship entirely to one of the components of it. I distort what I could know about the relationship into a statement about a "thing" which I cannot know. (Bateson and Bateson, 1987, p. 157)

What, Bateson, asks is the pattern which connects all living creatures, and how do we know this pattern? He asserts that this is an aesthetic question, since the pattern emerges as we encounter experience, not through measurement and quantity, but through recognition and empathy with repetition, modulation, rhythm and form (Bateson, 1979, pp. 8–10)

Another illuminating expression of understanding based on pattern comes from Chinese medicine (Kaptchuk, 1983). While Western medicine seeks explanations in terms of cause and effect,

Oriental diagnostic technique renders an almost poetic, yet workable, description of the whole person. The question of cause and effect is always secondary to the overall pattern… The Chinese are interested in discerning the relationships among bodily events occurring at the same time… The total configurations, the patterns of disharmony, provide the framework for treatment. (Kaptchuk, 1983, p. 4)

A third quality of future participation is the active and conscious use of imagination. Heron argues that the human psyche, through its imaginative capacity, creates a world of form out of our original experience of embeddedness and deep participation. This imaginative world evolves through sensation, image, dream, story (Heron, 1992), and is one of immense possibilities. One of the tragedies of the fundamentalism of unconscious participation and the positivist mindset is that this multiplicity is cut down to one empirical reality, one truth, one way of seeing things. The world defined by conceptual language, categorising, pruning and pinning down, reduces this vast range of imaginative possibility to a world of fixed things. Among those who have helped us re-value the imaginal world are the archetypal psychologists, telling us again that "imagination is reality" (Avens, 1980) They suggest that what we tell ourselves about reality, our concepts and theories, are "guiding fictions" that we can learn to "see through". For example

One beauty of mythic metaphors is that they elude literalism. We know at the outset that they are impossible truths. Like metaphor itself, the power of which cannot be satisfactorily explained, a myth also speaks with two tongues at once, amusing yet terrifying, serious and ironic, sublimely imaginative and yet with the scattered detail of ridiculous fantasy. (Hillman, 1975, p. 155)

This process of seeing through, of relativising, leads us to a central aspect of future participation, that it is less attached to conceptual language and to paradigmatic knowing than is consciousness based on unconscious participation. Since the process of classifying and labelling separates us from our experience, conceptual language can be a powerful source of alienation from awareness of participation: we become subjects in an alienated world of objects. Maurice Ash argues that through this process of reification we make "things with words where otherwise nothing is… fabricating things of which the senses have no experience" (p. 24). Drawing in Wittgenstein and the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna (2nd Century CE) he asserts that the task is "to struggle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by language" (p. 24). In particular, Ash rejects the notion of a substantive self which inevitably becomes placed over and above environment, leading to all the problems of loss of participation which we have explored above.

Of course the deconstructive school of post-modernism makes a similar point, drawing attention to the way in which language constructs reality. However, the deconstructive solution takes us further into loss of participation:

It overcomes the modern worldview through an anti-worldview: it deconstructs or eliminates the ingredients necessary for a worldview, such as God, self, purpose, meaning, a real world, and truth as correspondence. While motivated in some cases by the ethical concern to forestall totalitarian systems, this type of postmodern thought issues in relativism, even nihilism. It could be called ultramodernism, in that its eliminations result from carrying modern premises to their logical conclusions (Griffin, 1989, p. xii; emphasis in original).

The perspective I am developing here is more congruent with "constructive" postmodernism which is equally critical of the modernity with its loss of participation. The deconstructive position is in the end is nihilistic because it argues that there is no ground on which we can stand to construct a worldview; in contrast the constructive perspective urges us to continually inquire into what that ground might be. As Berman points out, the problem of radical relativism disappears once participation is acknowledged as a component of all perception and all knowledge (1981, p. 136). Constructive postmodernism requires the kind of developed, self-reflexive consciousness that is one hallmark of future participation. (Griffin, Beardslee and Holland, 1989; Spretnak, 1991; Falk, 1992).

Ash suggests that we might cultivate the ability to see objects as "but conveniences of speech" (1992, p. 38). Heron goes further, arguing the possibility of developing a "post-linguistic" use of concepts and language, which attempts to heal the splitting effects of the ordinary use of language. He argues that once we allow ourselves to return to a direct experience of feeling the presence of the world, we can re-vision our way of thinking and thus change our experience of perception. To do this we need to implant in our minds a "new conceptual layer" which continually reminds us that what we see has no ultimate independent reality, but arises out of a dance between the primal process of the cosmos and the forms projected out of the depths of the imaginal mind. In other words we learn to stop confusing the map of our language and concepts with the territory of experience (Berman, 1981, p. 141). So future participation will be to use language and concepts as a way of re-visioning our experience without setting it in a new form of concrete. One very down-to-earth way of accomplishing this is used by my colleague Judi Marshall who often encourages students to "hold an idea lightly"—in other words as a potential, a possibility, a plaything which if permitted will illuminate experience without rigidifying it.

If in future participation we are less attached to a reality created by language we will also be less attached to cognitive, paradigmatic knowing. In his exploration of logical categories of learning, Bateson (1972) differentiates between learning how to operate within a conceptual structure, which he calls Learning I; and learning to move between conceptual structures, or paradigm change, which he calls Learning II . But beyond Learning II, he suggests the possibility of Learning III, in which the mind, not dependent on any one world view, is able to peer over the edges of different frameworks, to reflect on and chose the premises of understanding and action. The reframing mind is able to leap between mindsets (with greater or lesser agility) in a manner that confuses minds firmly attached to rational frameworks.

Berman (1989) makes a brave attempt to explore a way of knowing beyond paradigms in his book Coming to Our Senses. He explores our socialization in the west, suggesting that a yawning gap develops in experience as we create an identity that divorces us from our physical selves: we lose our somatic anchoring. Alienation arises when a constructed identity and way of knowing is imposed upon an immediately felt one. The history of the West is characterised by the emergence of ideologies and worldviews that promise to fill this gap and heal the alienation; they attract passionate adherents because of the power of this promise. But of course these ideologies always fail to fulfil their promise because the alienation is somatic, prior to language and concept. He argues that far more important than developing a "new paradigm" is learning to live without one, since all paradigms and belief systems do no more than fill the yearning gap of our alienation:

The minute anything—science, feminism, Buddhism, holism, whatever—starts to take on the characteristics of a cosmology, it should be discarded. How things are held in the mind is infinitely more important than what is held in the mind. An idea is something you have; an ideology, something that has you (1989, p. 312).

Rather than the certainty of a new world view, which will fade, we need the vulnerability of openness, self-remembering, in my terms, experiential inquiry. This requires a return to experience as the fundamental base for inquiry, a return to the concrete and kinaesthetic knowing of the body, and also to the conscious use of imagination in inquiry. Learning to live without paradigms means learning to reclaim the body, to live in the body rather than using it as a tool to carry around the mind. It means learning to use words and concepts as tools of consciousness, rather than as consciousness themselves. Reclaiming the body means that research will need to be based on physical disciplines—T'ai Chi, yoga, breathing, Reichian exercises, and so on, as well as on spoken and written word.

Finally, I have several times suggested that a future participation will mean a very different experience of the self, an ecological self distinct yet not separate, a self rooted in environment and in community. Bookchin also offers us a vision of future participation in an "ecological society", based on the argument that human nature arises out of participation:

what we call "human nature" is a biologically rooted process of consociation, a process in which cooperation, mutual support, and love are natural as well as cultural attributes (1991, p. 317).

This is most strongly argued: co-operation is not merely an actual or potential attribute of human nature, but constitutes human nature; we are not human without the extended socialization of the young and the mother-child relationship. Strangely, to grow "up" in our culture is to grow away from this original socialization into civilization and into the loss of participation. What differentiates Bookchin's vision of a future ecological society from the earlier organic societies he describes is the notion of a universal humanitas; strong emphasis on human autonomy rooted in community; and the replacement of hierarchy by interdependence.

The organic society is so immersed in itself that it does not have the perspective required to be self-critical, and is thus vulnerable. The development of notions of justice and freedom provide the possibility a more reflective relationship to humanity as a whole: he argues that "civilization" has given us—"in spite of itself"—the recognition that the ancient values of deep complementarity, the "equality of non-equals", must be extended from the kin group to the whole of humanity.

The notion of the independent individual is essential for the development of this ethic of freedom, but Bookchin goes to great lengths to contrast the individual strongly rooted in a community with

the self in the form of homo economicus, a wriggling and struggling monad, literally possessed by egotism and an amoral commitment to survival (p. 161).

Bookchin describes this as decadent individualism, whose "roots have begun to wither and the community base by which it is truly nourished has begun to disappear" (p. 164)—we may be reminded of Margaret Thatcher's infamous remark that there is no such thing as society. In contrast he notes that

The great individuals of history… are rooted psychologically in viable and vibrant communities (p. 164 footnote).

Civilization has tragically associated the strong self with control, domination, and hierarchy; Bookchin argues that it can more appropriately be associated with imagination and creativity and with service to the community, just as Torbert (1992) more recently has argued the need for transforming leadership in creating communities of inquiry. Thus Bookchin's perspective again is one in which a more developed form of participative consciousness may arise out of the estrangement of civilization:

Mutualism, self-organization, freedom, and subjectivity, cohered by… principles of unity in diversity, spontaneity, and non-hierarchical relationships, are thus ends in themselves. Aside from the ecological responsibilities they confer on our species as the self-reflexive voice of nature, they literally define us… (p. 365–6).

In this section I have touched, often all too briefly, on some of the writers who have pointed toward worldviews based a on radically different consciousness. My intention has been to offer some hints, some directions, to indicate some potential openings. Those readers wishing to pursue these ideas in more detail need to engage directly with the authors involved. While many good ideas carry an immediate sense of validity, they also merit dwelling with and exploring in depth. Bateson, Hillman, Ash and the others point toward a very different presence in the world. I have also argued that the emergence of future participation is not simply cognitive, that it will draw on meditation practice, on a return to the physical self, and on the cultivation of imagination. This book is not the place to explore the educational processes and developmental disciplines required for this, for many specialist resources are now available. Rather I wish to turn to the main topic of this book, the practice of participative human inquiry and show how it can be seen as a discipline for the cultivation of future participation.