Evolution beyond the exclusive identification with ego

Enlightenment is not evolution beyond ego, but evolution beyond the EXCLUSIVE IDENTIFICATION with ego. And by “enlightenment,” I mean the process of identifying with All-That-Is, the Absolute Reality that calls to us and obligates us to be one with — in all dimensions, states and stages*

When we are ready to say, “I AM ___” and fill in the blank with something outside of our comfort zone, then we are evolving.

No wonder that the great liberation movements of modernity and post-modernity — anti-slavery, anti-colonial, feminism, gay liberation, and so on — are stepping stones towards enlightenment. They strip our individual and collective egos of exclusive identification with that which is dominant.

And having won a measure of success, there is the danger of identifying exclusively with that which was once repressed or oppressed.

In attempting to consciously evolve beyond exclusive identification with ego, it’s understandable that we seek out new attachments: more embracing and inclusive philosophies (such as Integral theory) or spiritual paths (such as an evolutionary or world spirituality). While there’s always the risk of re-identifying our ego with such attachments, it is also possible to enjoy new philosophies and spiritual movements which feed not the ego, but the Self beyond ego.

Identification such such philosophies and spiritual paths strengthens the Unique Self, so that every time you go deeper you are solidfying your identification with the Self and weakening your identification with ego.

* In other words, AQAL: All Quadrants (individual and collective dimensions, interior and exterior aspects), All Levels, All Lines, All States, All Types. See the work of Ken Wilber and others.

Photo Credit: Peter Cartwright

Bridge of Light: Dec. 31, 2006











By Joe Perez

At this time of year, major religions from throughout the world celebrate holidays designed to signal the warmth of family and community amid the winter gloom. These celebrations often use the symbol of Light to represent hope, unity, and spirituality. Other seasonal holidays mark the arrival of the new year and provide an opportunity for introspection and setting visions for the year ahead.

Until recently there have only been two sorts of winter holidays: on the one hand, traditional religious ceremonies grounded in one particular faith; on the other hand, secular traditions devoid of any recognition of common spiritual bonds capable of uniting people in a higher purpose. However, three years ago a new twist emerged: Bridge of Light (BOL), a new winter celebration intended to stress the shared threads that unite people of all faiths and philosophies.

Continue reading “Bridge of Light: Dec. 31, 2006”

Politics, elitism, and when to throw punches

In a comment on this blog, Nagarjuna said…

You say that second-tier Democrats might “begin to lose their arrogance and elitism, because they are able to see the irreducible value and merit of the entire spectrum of development, and to contextualize their own place in a cycle of development where there is no peak.” I like the sound of this, but I wonder just how much “merit” there really is to a “lower” or less inclusive “greed is good” or “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” level of development in today’s world, and how and how much one at a more inclusive level can respect and effectively work with someone at a less inclusive level. I agree that someone at a more inclusive level should not feel or display the kind of arrogance that alienates people at less inclusive levels. But I wonder how exactly this translates into how this person should interact personally and politically with others at “lower” levels.

My response (mostly unedited and still quite rough):

Since you are familiar with the color scheme of Spiral Dynamics, permit me to answer by reference to these colors.I wish that SDi hadn’t given the pluralistic level the color green and integral level the color yellow. The level of relativistic pluralism is really already symbolized quite well by the Rainbow Flag. Yes, it’s particular to the GLBT community. However, it’s also the symbol of Multiculturalism (e.g., Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition). The flat, unidimensional Rainbow is really the symbol par excellence of pluralism.

Integral shouldn’t be thought of as a separate color. Integral is a further extension of pluralism, from relativistic pluralism to universal pluralism. It’s the Rainbow turned from flat to multi-dimensional. It’s what I call the Bridge of Light, a spiral-shaped, dynamic rainbow of colors.

So in essence one doesn’t get to the integral level, look around at all the pathetic losers at lower levels of development, and start ringing your hands. First off, you’ve done the hard work at the pluralistic level of multicultural sensitivity training, expansion of awareness, deepening of feelings and capacity for intimacy, you’ve grown in appreciation for feminism and other modern liberation movements not only as abstract notions but as an expansion in your own being. Becoming more tolerant and sensitive to others is hard work, and if you’ve put in your time as a pluralist, you’re well on your way to getting there. Problem is: you may get Democratitis, you may get soft in the head, indecisive, you lose the killer instinct, the fire in the belly has gone out, and you start losing every argument because you see so many contexts and perspectives you’re paralyzed. You start to look for what might help, but you look to what you’ve seen before–attitudes and philosophies and religions at past levels of development–and you go, no thanks.

What happens as pluralists turn integral is that they look around and they see all the colors of the rainbow within themselves and the world around them arranged as a dynamic spiral of hierarchical development. They stop feeling separate from the “lower” levels of development, because they can see those levels within themselves. They begin to appreciate that the levels are a permanent aspect of the human condition, and cannot be by-passed. Every child starts at zero, and every child always will. So integral (yellow) properly understood is basically an extension of pluralism (green): it’s a deepening of compassion and love to encompass previously under-appreciated areas of self, culture, and nature.

Simultaneously, as one expands one’s awareness that the stages/levels are aspects of one’s own being, paradoxically, one transcends exclusive association with any of those aspects. One’s sense of self gets too wide to encompass any of those. It becomes impossible, then, to spout simple political slogans. Politics becomes the work of compassion and love, done in the thick of a world that demands compromise, negotiation, and skillful communications.

That said, personally the thing that’s most helpful to me in the writing I do on integral and politics is to bear in mind that there are healthy and unhealthy expressions of every level/stage. When I go on the attack, it’s against unhealthy expressions at any level. And I don’t feel a need to hold back on the punches. This is very confusing to some people to see me rather stridently attack people on both the left and the right, secularists and religionists, hedonists and moralists alike. On the other hand, if I simply want to criticize a perspective for being limited, I see no need for a frontal assault. My rhetoric and tone reflect a gentler approach. If I see somebody expressing a basically healthy attitude at a lower level of consciousness, I try to find someone at the same level who’s expressing himself with unhealthy, pathological ways, and then I contrast the two (here’s the good cop, there’s the bad cop). If I see somebody stretching beyond the green level towards yellow, I encourage them along their path, usually by something as simple as a blessing or encouraging tone. If I see somebody at orange stretching towards yellow, I try to push them back down to green, because you can’t skip levels (I realize some people want that to be a controversial proposition, but it really isn’t. That’s my firm opinion at this time). Orange’s desire to be more like yellow is often just misplaced revulsion at green; they need to to be encouraged to work on their aversion to green.

Orange moving to yellow is very tricky, because if you’re smart enough to read Wilber’s work and engage it critically then you’re pretty much at yellow on the cognitive line of development… but still have rationalism as your “center of gravity.” In politics, reason, debate, and dialogue dominate your ways of thinking and acting. Everything’s about who has the best arguments wins the debate. This basic attitude is the dominant approach among the “intellectual titans” of our political magazines and even in the blogosphere. This sort of condition isn’t hard to spot, for these individuals generally haven’t learned the developmental lessons of green. In the integral community, I’ve encountered this most often among self-described “integral neo-conservatives,” to be frank. One fellow I know who lives in the Northwest calls himself an “integral conservative” and writes nasty things about gay marriage, feminism, liberals, and the wickedness of polyamory on his weblog. That’s not even close to integral, if you ask me. That’s delusional. If you engage these folks in political discussion, you’ll find that they’re still basically pretty partisan or attached to right/wrong views of whatever their positions are. It calls itself “integral,” but if it talks and walks like a very different animal, it’s integral in name only.

P.S.: Integral politics isn’t pacifistic or lovey dovey. It’s okay, and it is sometimes absolutely essential, to go on the attack and throw hard punches. An excellent sign your writing on politics has reached an integral level is that you’re attacking unhealthy/pathological expressions of all the various levels/stages, and not focusing unduly on just some of them. In my writing, I notice a tendency to go a little light on the egocentric/hedonistic stage, and a little harsh on the traditionalist stage. And that’s just a bias that I am (somewhat) aware of. Part of the benefit of writing is its ability to help us to spot our own blind spots and shadows, so we can better integrate those aspects into our being.

Gnosticism, integral theory, and elitism

Elitism is a frequent complaint against both Gnostics and integral theorists. On Pop Occulture, Tim Boucher compares Gnosticism and orthodox Christianity on the topic of elitism (thanks to Integral Practice for the link). Boucher explains that he frequently hears complaints from mainstream Christians that Gnosticism is elitist. This is so, they say, because Gnosticism teaches that secret knowledge is required for access the highest levels of salvation. Not everybody has that knowledge, therefore Gnosticism is derided as inegalitarian. Boucher says not so fast. Of course there’s a basic truth to this criticism, he says: “[T]here are certain experiences of God which are only accessible to certain people…. According to this gnostic method of thinking, everybody starts out at the same place and has the same options before them. The difference comes in according to the choices and level of effort that people put into realizing their potential.”

It’s orthodox Christianity that’s really inegalitarian, because orthodox beliefs damn all those who have not accepted Jesus to hell. Only a religion of Universalism—holding that everyone is saved, no matter what—is truly egalitarian.

Boucher only concedes that the “barrier to entry” may be lower in orthodox Christianity than in Gnosticism, though he seems doubtful of even that much.

Elitism is a tricky charge to answer. All excellence is elitist. All knowledge is elitist. Even the knowledge that 2 + 2 = 4 is elitist if you’re a child who hasn’t learned your numbers yet. It’s all a matter of perspective. Ken Wilber’s frequently cited response to integral critics is a good beginning. Yes, integral is elitist, but it’s an elitism to which all are called. Boucher’s response to orthodox Christian critics is also a good beginning. Yes, Gnosticism is elitst, but so are all religions. So, one might suppose, let’s just count how easy it is to get into heaven and whosever religion has the lowest barrier to entry wins. Wilber responds to the elitism charge by bringing forth the egalitarianism in his philosophy, whereas Boucher responds to the elitism charge by bringing forth the elitism in the philosophy of his opponents.

In general, my response to integral critics is to say that both responses may be appropriate. Life contains both equality and inequality; an adequate philosophy must be able to accommodate both aspects. Because all belief systems have egalitarian and unequal aspects, it’s possible to level charges of elitism against all religions and philosophies. Even a religion that preached Universalism is basically attempting to establish new hierarchy of flatness: everyone is equal in God’s eyes, and therefore excellence, virtue, knowledge, and beauty are meaningless. Rather than attack and defend integral theory or any other belief system against charges of elitism, I would try to focus my energy on discussing what the appropriate balance should be between egalitarianism and inegalitarianism. Does Gnosticism have an acceptable balance? Or is the balance in orthodox Christianity more wise? Is it acceptable that integral theory appeals most strongly to the most educated members of society? Should this be a source of concern?

Both Gnosticism and integral theory frequently face a common charge of elitism, but otherwise there is much that separates the two. One is an esoteric religious philosophy based on a pre-modern religion; the other is a postmodern philosophical theory based on a cross-cultural comparison and analysis of processes of development across many disciplines and domains of knowledge. With integral there is not some philosophy “outside” yourself, but a map of potentials that are already possessed and can, perhaps, be more fully expressed. It’s worth stressing this point, because integral philosophy is not a sub-set of Gnostic belief, and vice versa. However, it would certainly be fair to talk about more or less integral forms of Gnosticism, and for integrally informed interreligious dialogue to address Gnosticism as one of the “conveyor belts” of consciousness that can allow adherents to more fully express their true nature.