Shared-Inscendence: Climbing into Life Together

By Toni Monsey, PhD

The We ONEing (TWO) is a community of people exploring subjective and intersubjective spaces through partnered practices. These types of practices, done with others rather than solo as we generally do with meditation, are also sometimes called WeSpace practices, co-meditation, co-contemplation, collective presencing, among others.

People have become very interested in intersubjective space because we exist within it, yet we do so largely unconsciously. Most of us are aware of subjective space which is our own inner experience. Intersubjective space is the shared interior of the collective or culture. It is space shared between two or more minds - the space of relationality. We are all conditioned and shaped by this space.

Interestingly, it is relatively easy to consciously enter intersubjective space. For example, each time we read a book, news article or blog, we are entering into the consciousness of the author and residing there with them. In that exchange, we are together inside of intersubjective space. Even now, as you read the words that I’m writing, I invite you to consciously sense the space where we are together.

When we’re physically with another person, we can consciously enter into intersubjective space together by intentionally opening our awareness into originary presence at the center of our being. Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk, mystic, and theologian defined this place as “ ….. the center of our being, at the point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and illusion, that point which belongs entirely to Source, from which we incarnate into our lives …. and into this moment. This place is in everybody, so here we are naturally together with Others as Self, and as Source.” When we do this consciously and reciprocally with one or more people, we can consciously open our awareness to intersubjective space.

It takes practice to hone our skills to consciously enter intersubjective space with others. Yet, as we continue to practice we get more skillful at deepening into this place where we are flowing into existence in every moment. It is in this place that we are naturally together in both our individuality and our collectivity. We recognize that we are part of a whole that is greater than either of us. This is what I’m calling “shared-inscendence” and what I hope to make more tangible through this blog.

Jean Gebser, a philosopher, linguist and poet who described the structures of human consciousness, was clear that the “how,” the manner of our approach to the opening of the new consciousness itself, and it’s opening in us, is a key to the outcome of the new consciousness. In order for it to be manifest, it must come through us in our everyday lives.

What is this “new consciousness”? First, let me say something about the word “new.” Like most words, it has many meanings. It can mean of recent origin, e.g. a new book; or having but lately come into knowledge, e.g. a new chemical element; or unfamiliar or strange, e.g. a new idea to us. Books, the chemical element or the strange were in existence before however they were latent, unseen by us, not known by us.

The same is true for this consciousness that we are awakening into - it exists, yet for most of us it’s latent and just coming into our awareness, our direct experience and our lived lives, so it’s new to us in that way. Humanity has not been living in this way en masse, yet it is always and already possible. Our conscious participation is making it manifest.

For Gebser, the spiritual is the way we live, how we actually behave: How we trust, care, are curious, creative, patient, receptive and attuning to one another and life itself. Spiritual transparency, what we’re moving into, is essentially a-waring and acting a-temporally, i.e., free from time and space. In our practice sessions we’ve called this “momenting,” where process and effect happen together, where everything is in process - unfolding, infolding and enfolding.

Perhaps rather than a journey of transcendence, a better descriptor of what we are awakening into is inscendence, a term that Thomas Berry, a cultural historian and scholar of world religions, coined.

Let’s play with this concept of “inscendence” here. According to Berry, inscendence is the desire to climb into life and the world, not the impulse to rise above it (transcendence). Berry says “We must invent, or reinvent, a sustainable human culture by a descent into our pre-rational, our instinctive, resources. Our cultural resources have lost their integrity. They cannot be trusted. What is needed is not transcendence but “inscendence,” not brain but the gene.” (In Dream of the Earth, p. 207) Here Berry is pointing out the cultural conditioning of much religion and spirituality to rise above the physical as if our bodies, and embodiment itself, is bad.

In her interpretation of what Berry is pointing to, G.M. Kaytlyn Creutzberg says of inscendence, “What is needed is that we descend into our most primal selves, which I understand as getting out of our heads and back into our bodies, and coming to know and accept how our lower brain tends to respond instead of our observer brain. With this awareness, we can become creatures of creativity rather than creatures of reactivity.” (in Inscendence and Re-awakening to the Ecological Self with Thomas Berry). In other words, now that humanity has learned how to reflect, to take things apart, and to witness ourselves, what is needed is to build our capacity to fully inhabit our bodies, to host our aliveness to the fullest.

In order to understand the consciousness emerging in humans - this inscendence, Gebser looked at how artists, philosophers and scientists were representing it. If we have eyes to see it, and the ears to hear it, it shows itself in many places.

In our partnered practices in The We ONEing (TWO), we are discovering that the words we use to describe our experience are themselves artistic expressions. Words become part of the whole unfolding and enfolding of the shared experience and of the emerging consciousness. Words aren’t used in a linear way. Often it feels like poetics in action or that we’re painting our experience with the words.

Like Gebser did, let’s use a piece of art to explore inscendence. In her series of paintings called a Question of Inscendence, Cami Davis, a senior lecturer in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Vermont, says: “The painting practice offers a framework for making sense of a perceived immersion within the presence of a living world and universe. Transcendence, though felt, can pull us out of the sensuous, the embodied. Inscendence explores the notion that the sacred is right here throughout the Earthly human and more-than-human experience.”

Let’s gaze together at this painting that Davis calls Memorial Magnolias. Soften your gaze and enter into the painting. Sense ….. see, hear, feel, touch, taste the worlds within worlds within worlds. Linger here with this image. Give it time, and receive its vitality. Let it enter you, as you enter it. Be the living opening that you are and allow this image to move in and through you, as you. Notice the ephemeral and inherent qualities that are here -- some you may sense, others may yet be invisible to you. Allow this painting to inscend in you, as you do with it. ONEing with and as the living, shared-relational field.

Now imagine a beloved person in front of you (or find an actual partner!). Gaze into their eyes just as you have been gazing into this painting. Sense the relational field that your partner is and that you are as your fields come together into a zone of inter-being. Use all of your senses, and more to sense and touch the interpenetration, the shared-inscendence.

What qualities are here? What qualities are latent and just coming into your awareness? How are they entering your awareness and leaving it? How are you being influenced and changed because you are together, because you are ONEing? Is there trust, care, communion, terror, curiosity, fear, shame, warmth, coldness, patience, understanding? Notice what’s here, and how it’s moving and changing and transforming. Let the field work you. We are living openings for this energy to inscend, and through our partnered practices we can enter shared-inscendence. We can climb into life and the world together!

As you re-enter your day, carry this practice with you. Gaze into the livingness of all that is around you. Climb into life and the world as it climbs into you. Notice what it’s like to inscend, and enter life fully, rather than transcend and rise above it. With this awareness, we can truly become creatures of creativity rather than creatures of reactivity. Our conscious participation is what allows this way of being to manifest. Humanity has not been living in this way en masse, yet it is always and already possible, and together we can bring this way of being together into existence.

If you are interested in learning more about partnered practices, please explore these websites: The We ONEing, Sacred Ground, and We - Partnered Meditation