GROUP RITUAL DYNAMICS
On Asocial Intent, The Function of Shock & Soulwork
©1977 Antero Alli
ASOCIAL INTENT SOCIAL INTENT
Why do people meet for rituals? People usually only disrupt their daily routines and get out of the house for good reasons. Often enough, this amounts to meeting specific needs, whether we are cognizant of these needs or not! In more primitive times, people left their homes to assure their survival or their happiness or appease the gods of their religion. They left the hearth to hunt game, gather grain, and/or roam the elysian fields for exotic fungi and midnight visions. I perceive two primary motives for people to leave their homes and do rituals together and I call these:
As ritual intents, each produces different results. Social intentions create social rituals; asocial intentions, asocial rituals. Both social and asocial rites can mingle to produce hybrids of group activity; part social, part asocial. Social and asocial intentions can also be isolated for the purpose of exploring and distilling their distinct functions, expressions and rewards.
Social rituals involve any activity satisfying personal and social needs: security needs, self-importance and status needs, flirtation and courtship needs, emotional support needs, needs for belonging to a community. Social rituals are important to the socialization process, as well as, the development, integration and stabilization of ego. As an end in itself, however, social rituals are a spiritual cul-de-sac where consciousness conforms and narrows to the reality tunnels of local consensus maps, dogmas, and status criteria. When social rituals can be seen in context to the asocial, their purpose undergoes a transformation. More on this later.
Asocial (not to be confused with antisocial) rituals refer to any group dynamics that bypass socialization processes in lieu of realizing asocial goals such as No-Form and Source Relations; monasteries and nunneries offer classic examples of asocial rituals and lifestyles. Though many religious traditions have designed elaborate social rituals and moral systems, these are generally not meant as pathways to mystical experience. They have, more likely, been developed to integrate the ego more firmly into daily community life so as to better endure the shocks and upheavals of authentic transpersonal experiences such as acts of God, death of family members, evictions, marriages, and births. The social fabric of ones life can be much smaller without losing personal relevance. Two or three friends with a common vision can start their own community as a rocknroll band, a midnight poetry salon or a theatre troupe.
This paratheatrical medium requires an asocial intent to work, one that elevates individual integrity and autonomy above the satisfaction of common social needs. By cultivating an asocial climate or spirit, group interaction and group unity can evolve from deepening tolerance and respect for differences, for each individual truth, no matter what its nature (see Paratheatrical Orientation). Reflecting on these dual ritual intents asocial and social helps determine which rituals might be possible for any given group, despite what that group wants, fantasizes about, or expects to happen. Some groups are simply more inclined towards the social, while others are more inclined to the asocial. Its an important distinction to make.
MORE ON ASOCIAL GROUP DYNAMICS
Regardless of script, choreography or paraphernalia, what authenticates any paratheatrical ritual is an awareness and acceptance of its existing elements: the specific people involved, the limitations and talents each brings along and the real-time state(s) they are in when they arrive. To ignore these vital properties is to overlook the innate conditions of the experiment and flail about in self-imposed agendas. Though theres nothing inherently wrong or bad about self-imposed agendas, they obscure the perception of existing group dynamics with projections and expectations of preconceived outcomes.
Asocial ritual bypasses social considerations such as politeness and small talk, to better develop receptivity to the autonomous archetypal forces governing existence as we know it and as we dont know it. These archetypal dynamics can be genuinely perplexing to the social ego and its literalist conceptual mind. They are autonomous in that they come and go as they will. Archetypes are not subject to our attempts to manipulate their powers, let alone comprehend them. An asocial climate can be fueled by continual and conscious intimacy with void. In this ritual medium, this potential state is accessed in a Zazen method of No-Form which acts as a bridge between the internal landscape of archetypal material (Masculine and Feminine, the Four Elements, Death and Rebirth, Chaos and Order,...ad infinitum) and external expression through action and interaction.
MORE ON THE NO-FORM METHOD
SHOCK and SOULWORK
Successful social rituals satisfy our most basic personality needs, whereas effective asocial rituals subject this same ego to repeated annihilation. Why? Continual confrontations with the Self always act as a defeat for the ego. Reality distorts our ideals. The defense mechanisms of self-denial naturally grow brittle in the face of greater truths. With repeated exposure to these truths, mechanistic defensiveness dissolves. If and when the ego learns to relax, we experience less resistance to change.
With enough transformation, the personal becomes the political. One begins transmitting power -- from the changes and/or shocks one has personally absorbed -- out to the world beyond ourselves. If we fail to approach our own changes with an awareness of others, we human "shock absorbers" can run the risk of turning into obnoxious agents of change -- transformation junkies -- heralding change! Change! Change for the sake of change! How redundant. Theres a fine line between being right and being toxic. If you can respect the mystery of vertical sources your own and others it may be possible to absorb, integrate and transmit lifes shocks with greater respect for each other.
Soulwork amounts to a kind of growing-up or maturing process of claiming responsibility for your survival needs: security (food, home and a job) emotions (status, support, bonding), intellect (solving your own problems, using your head to survive) and social/community (friendship, love, ethics, belonging.) A fulfilled and nurtured ego is more willing to endure the shocks of repeat vertical contact, not to mention the unexpected shocks real life delivers. When approaching ritual as a means to trigger shocks, we become aware of a kind of intentional suffering towards enduring and bearing the existing conditions of our lives. With this kind of "bearing up", self- compassion develops as a basic for showing more compassion to others. When we are ready to live in ways that show more tolerance to the souls needs, our manifestations grow more tolerable to the souls of others.
When the reality structures we have taken for granted no longer suit us, a spiritual discontent erupts from the very core of our being. The chaotic nature of these internal emergency states demand outlets: any creative, physical, emotional, intellectual mediums that allow expression of the emerging core of our being. To minimize ego-inflation, be attentive to self-centered motives such as advancing your own survival, gratification or well being. To keep the ego in check, look to transpersonal causes to serve that can circulate the heat, light and vision of your molting new self. A transpersonal cause can manifest as any organization or group or mission that acts as a vehicle for benefitting and serving something greater than just yourself.
ON SELF-DELUSION & OTHER PITFALLS IN PARATHEATRE
The cultivation of the personality for transpersonal causes reflects what poet/mystic W.B. Yeats called the animamundi, or planetary soul. This notion of planetary soul is no ephemeral entity that merely inhabits a physical body. The animamundi refers to a universal cohering substance interconnecting self and cosmos as one; soul as connecting fiber. When personal growth can serve a higher end than itself, ego becomes a candidate for creative (conscious) sacrifice and its status elevated to that of an offering to Source. Mystics die many times every day.
As personality develops, we sometimes outgrow previously cherished interpersonal connections friends, the community, the world at large as a part of a molting, or crisis in consciousness. When we find ourselves frustrated by obsolete need structures, friendships, community niches and public images, we may begin to wonder if there is something wrong with us. Or if we are going crazy. If we can begin releasing our attachments to self-images, social forms and need structures that are currently immobilizing us with inertia, we may be fortunate enough to make meaningful changes where we live and avoid uprooting our lives to start over somewhere else.
Successful social rituals support the nurturance and development of a strong (not big) ego. A strong ego is not defined by itself; anybody can become a legend in his or her own mind. An ego grows strong by the flexibility and resilience it develops through bridging inner and outer worlds, through interaction and participation with those sharing common-unity, or community. A strong and flexible ego develops through ongoing commitment to meaningful connections with others and the world at large. Unless these connections are maintained, the ego can grow fragile and become easily overwhelmed by its own alienation.
Any ego convinced of its own importance, without meaningful interpersonal connections to support that notion, must continue convincing itself to maintain the fantasy. You can begin self-correcting, or healing, this sad malady by making an effort to get your attention off yourself and onto the space around you. The opportunity to practice this discipline of outward-directed attention avails itself anytime in life and at the start of each and every lab session though the cultivation and maintenance of a rare area. This starts with relating to the space itself as a value: space as sacred.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What if, when I enter one side of a polarity, I dont want to move to the other side?
Stay in that side until you meet your needs. Sometimes our lives are more one-sided than we think. Given the chance to gain access to a side of your nature you might normally avoid can be a little like finding drinking water in a desert. If theres an honest thirst for an experience, drink. Stay with it; find out what youve been missing.
What if, after stepping inside, I dont feel anything and I am not moved at all?
Feeling nothing and not being moved cna be legitimate states since they actually exist. Stay with these states, no matter how discomforting, and see for yourself. That they emerge at all may signal their denial in a previous nonritualistic setting, i.e., your life outside the lab. The key here is follow-through. Stick with whatever comes up no matter what its nature and no matter how it appears; stay with it. With enough self-commitment, your integrity as an individual develops and that integrity is what makes for scrupulous ritual.
What if I cant stop thinking? What if Im deluged by my concepts and opinions of the polarity, rather than connecting with the living forces?
All of these images may not belong to you in the first place. If they dont go away and insist on buffering you from a more direct experience, do something unexpected. Temporarily become the image or stereotype in question; take time to personify it. Make a fool of yourself. Be superficial; who said ritual has to be dead serious? Give it physical and vocal expression. Accept the image and try it on for size, in other words. Resisting the residue of monkey mind has never made the residue go away. By releasing some of the charge around images, maybe a more open quality can emerge. Its that openness and receptivity which allow us to be impressed; the deeper the receptivity, the deeper the impression.
excerpted from "Towards an Archeology of the Soul"
(VERTICAL POOL PUBLISHING, 2003)