Recently Marc Gafni and Sally Kempton led a celebration of spiritual teaching and Unique Self Dharma at the 5th annual World Spirituality Retreat at Esalen. Kerstin Zohar Tuschik is providing a paraphrased summary of some of the teachings on the blog of the Center for Integral Wisdom. Part 3 of 4 includes these offerings:
Marc Gafni: “There is not only a covenant between God and the children of Israel but also a covenant between the children of Israel and their children and their children… a covenant between the generations. Israel are ‘those who wrestle with God.’ That is us. Every generation is responsible for the evolution of consciousness. It is our turn now.”
The transformation of the all includes our own transformation: If you work your issues just for yourself, transformation is difficult to achieve. If you work your issues for the sake of the evolution of love, that changes the entire game. The energy you now have available for your own transformation is huge. It is fueled by the evolutionary impulse itself that is living in you, as you, and through you.
But it doesn’t stop there. Seeing someone living their Unique Self, we cannot help but fall in love with them. That doesn’t mean we will engage them in a romantic sense, but it will inspire us and others to live their Unique Self as well.
That is what creates what Marc calls a “Unique Self symphony.”
And he reminds us: “I am not supposed to heal the whole thing. I am here to play my instrument.”
And that is exactly what closes the gap between “our ability to feel and our ability to heal.” This gap is what all too often causes us to close our hearts, feel paralyzed, and continue “business as usual” instead of doing what we need to do to heal the corner of the world that is ours to heal.
If we trust our ability to heal a dissonance or pain, we can allow ourselves to fully feel it. We can keep our hearts open, give the gifts of our Unique Self, and engage in the Sacred Activism that is ours to engage in.
Our family and our home, the human family and its civilization, are at risk. There are too many concerns which plague us as a planet and global collective which are too serious to ignore and too complex for our present level of consciousness to handle. It is a dangerous time, and we need to face it with courage and insight and the spirit of a genuinely new world philosophy.
Fortunately it isn’t necessary to create a worldview out of thin air. There is already a potential candidate at hand: Integral World Spirituality (by whatever name finally emerges). As Marc Gafni so eloquently said in “Spirit’s Next Move”:
For the first time in the history of planet earth, in the history of consciousness, a world spirituality is utterly possible and utterly necessary. A world spirituality is one that transcends, ends the trance of any particular religion and nationality, that weaves together the best medicines of every great system of spirit and knowing into a larger whol,e in which we understand that that which unites us is far greater than that which divides us, in which we understand and live the common truths and calls and obligations that are laid out by all the great systems of spirit and we also experience and benefit from the unique gifts of the different systems of spirit woven together into a larger, gorgeous tapestry that gives us a system to live by, and that all peoples of earth can find themselves as citizens of a world spirituality. That is a possibility that exists today in a way that never did before in the history of planet earth. This vision is a necessity today and was never possible at any other time in the history of the planet.
This blog will spend lots of time discussing integral spirituality (including contributions by its pioneering thinker Ken Wilber) and there is no need to introduce the topic today in a comprehensive fashion. Let me just say three things:
First, that an integral world spirituality is not a pipe dream, but a substantive reality which is already here. I have what may be called an integral spirituality and many thousands of people do (I know; they’re my Facebook friends; they congregate in conferences and conventions and meetups; sometimes they come over for dinner). When Marc Gafni says world spirituality is already possible, he might also have said is already happening.
Second, an integral spirituality will probably not become a new religion, even if sociologists eventually categorize it as such in order to track its observable features. Instead it is most likely to flourish as a “common language” which unites people from around the world regardless of their religious belief or lack thereof based on a shared way of talking about and thinking about the realities of spirit.
Third, world spirituality cherishes the uniqueness of persons — our unique selves — and it honors the distinctiveness of each religion and system of knowing. It does not like to divide people up into “more developed” and “lesser developed” as if those things mattered to Spirit. They don’t, though developmental thought is honored for its contribution to helping us understand our individuality and commonalities better.
And so there you have it. We are here. We are learning to see beyond the boundaries of conventional religions and spiritual systems which haven’t been able to hold us. There are common truths to be known and felt, truly catholic openness to Truth itself, knocking on our door. We don’t know the Truth perfectly, but we are sure that you don’t either but we all have enough truth between us that we ought to be able to solve the problems we face as a civilization.
Get Religion may get a lot about religion and they may get a lot about the media, but only at a level of consciousness which numbs the mind of an Integral journalist such as myself. I’ve been reading the Terry Mattingly-helmed publication on and off since its very debut, mostly off in recent years to speak the truth. But that’s about to change if my latest experiment in the blogosphere, World Spirituality Post, becomes the blog that it could be.
After one season in which I could hardly find a Get Religion post to praise, Terry himself once called me a “heckler.” So now I heckle again, though I prefer to call it harmless criticism and praise. The reason I praise is simple: when I want to learn who is saying what about an important occasion in world spirituality — say, Rick Warren returning to preaching for the first time after the death of his 27-year-old son from suicide — I turn to them.
Get Religion has a schtick, and I use the term lovingly because it’s appropriate. I said so in my 2007 blog post on Ken-Wilber.com on religious journalism. They analyze news media to find the religious ghosts. And by “ghosts” they don’t mean Holy Ghost, they mean the ways in which religion isn’t being portrayed quite the way religious conservatives would like to see it portrayed: as a system of meaning with doctrinal truths which because they are believed have real life consequences and therefore the doctrines must be faithfully represented and explained theologically order to ascertain the real significance of the news event. “The media just doesn’t get religion!” they say; it’s their signature.
There will be much more time to comment on Get Religion. It’s just disappointing to me to come back to their site and see that their schtick hasn’t changed in a decade. “Results vary as media follows Rick Warren’s return” by Bobby Ross Jr. is rote for them, and judging from their links to other coverage it’s also rote for the rest of the media covering Rick Warren. For one thing, nobody asks the parent of a suicide victim “why?”, even if they are a world famous preacher with fire in the belly, especially not the mainstream media or Get Religion. No ghosts there.
About Rick Warren, the story about his son’s suicide moves me more deeply than I can say at this time. My heart goes out to him and his family at this time of unbelievable heartache. I pray that Pastor Warren’s teaching is moved in transformational ways.
Joe: Where is the World Spirituality movement today?
Marc: The World Spirituality movement has many expressions in the world. There are many people practicing World Spirituality not in an organized way, not in a theoretically consistent way, often not in a dharmically completely sound way, but they have this core intuition and they are grasping and looking for ways to express it. At some point, we are looking to develop means to allow this grassroots world movement expression, and the book you’re working on, The Rise of World Spirituality, I hope will at least in part, the way you described it to me which sounds really exciting, you’ll be able to point to this, that it’s already happening.
The leading institution in the movement is the Center for World Spirituality. We just finished our second annual board meeting. I want to give you a sense of where we are because it’s really exciting. We’ve decided that our mission, our mantle, is to shift something in the source code of consciousness. The evolution of the source code of consciousness is our core mission statement. Some of our board members, Tom Goddard and Kathleen Brownback, are heading a group to work on this. It’s a fantastic board of people from around the world.
What we’ve done is identify what we’re going to do. We identified two things at the meeting. One, what is the theoretical framework of World Sprituality? And two, what are the action items? The theoretical framework is different, so I’ll talk about the action items.
Joe: So by “action items,” just so my readers are clear, you’re talking about this organization, called the Center for World Spirituality, you’re talking about what this organization has in store for the near future. Is that right?
Marc: That’s correct. The Center is one I founded a few years ago with Mariana Caplan and Sally Kempton, and Ken Wilber was involved as a very important member on the Council, and any number of fantastic leaders and teachers from around the world. We’re partnering with our friends who have a Global Spirituality website and we will be integrating that into the Center in a very deep way.
The center is both a lower-left and lower-right expression, actually an all-four-quadrant expression now that I think about it, whose prime purpose is to articulate the dharma of a World Spirituality and to evolve the dharma of a World Spirituality. That’s the job of the Center. The job of World Spirituality itself is to evolve the source code of consciousness.
What are the methods for doing this mission? We’re focusing on three major areas.
First, the Center has decided to focus on acting as a think tank / publishing concern. We actually chartered approximately 12 – 15 major projects of different natures.
Joe: I’m glad you were able to keep track of them. There were about 25 different people in attendance, and just about all of them committed to some sort of project or other key way of supporting World Spirituality. That’s more than I expected. I heard that too from some of the other board members, the newer ones who didn’t know quite what to expect. Once we engaged with the rest of the board, we got a feel for the caliber of the people in attendance, our expectations were exceeded, and we ended up feeling more optimistic than when we sat in our first meeting.
Marc: That’s great feedback to receive. Even though I knew going into the meeting all of the different pieces, but just hearing all the pieces spoken aloud into the room, hearing the interaction of the board community. Of the 20 projects, if the top 10 happen, we’re in really good shape. The top 10 include a book on The Rise of World Spirituality, a collection of essays on the Enlightenment of Fullness. There will be a major book on World Spirituality based on Integral Principles with Ken Wilber. There will be a book on shadow work – Lighten Up. There will be a World Spirituality practice book. Without going down the entire list, there’s … people like yourself, to Kathy Brownback, to Ken Wilber, to Warren Farrell, Wyatt Woodsmall, Helen, Tom, Mariana. And there were some board members who weren’t there who all have fantastic contributions to make. So we’re very excited about the think tank / publishing dimension.
The second dimension is training. We’re working on creating a new series of trainings which are rooted in World Spirituality and Unique Self technology.
And third we are calling “community lab.” Instead of creating one big World Spirituality Center or Church, there will be smaller circles meeting around the world, circles of people. That’s a big deal, that’s exciting, that’s good. At least at first, those circles will be circles of study – whether in Holland at Venwoude or Shalom Mountain or San Francisco, perhaps in Seattle something will emerge.
And finally a very strong Web presence which we are going to be working on in the next six months. I hope by six months from now the Web presence will reflect this vision of World Spirituality, its five-part theoretical framework – which we won’t get into on this phone call – but which is a beautiful, modular way of understanding the core principles, which you can understand on a popular level and a deep mystical level, will appear as the core of the website as the core module of all the books. It’s a lot.
Joe: We’re running out of time today. On this topic, we could drill into detail on all of these and talk much longer, so we’ll need to look for updates on the CWS website, watching for news as it develops. I know there’s a lot of information coming in the future. But if somebody wants to get started today practicing World Spirituality in Toledo, Ohio, or the jungles of the Amazon, what are they to do?
Marc: We’re not completely yet prepared to fully receive that question, meaning, the framework is not yet completely articulated. I would say, go to the website, go to the teaching tab – “Core Teachings” – and they’ll be able to read the basic principles of World Spirituality, which will give someone a framework for practice which they can immediately implement.
Joe: What about the book Unique Self which we’re all waiting for?
Marc: I don’t have a final word. But the last word I have as of a few days ago is that it’s supposed to come out in mid-June or July. The latest it would come out is the fall. We’ve just completed the transactional pieces of that book. We’re very excited that Your Unique Self: the Democratization of Enlightenment, will be out by the summer. And there’s already some key pieces on the Web. On our website, there’s a keynote address I gave at J.F.K. on Unique Self, and there’s the Journal of Integral Theory & Practice, Vol. 6, 1, on Unique Self. There’s a core article there, a 40 or 50 page article there, which gives you the core of the teaching, which is already available and will be fully fleshed out over the book. We hope over the next 18 months there will be about 5 volumes coming out covering these dimensions even as we’re writing the next stage for the library.
Awake, Aware & Alive will be featuring short dialogues with some of the leaders of the World Spirituality movement. Our first dialogue is with Marc Gafni, Director of the Center for World Spirituality.
Joe: Let’s limit our dialogue today to about 10 minutes so it won’t overwhelm readers of my blog. I sent you a few questions earlier to get us started. With that in mind, let’s begin by talking about your vision of World Spirituality and go from there.
Marc: Fantastic. It’s great to be with you on the phone, as always. You sent me three different questions: What is World Spirituality? Is World Spiritualilty a new religion? And what’s the difference between World Spirituality and the interfaith movement? Those are awesome questions and I understand why you limited it to 10 minutes; we could easily talk for eight hours on just these three questions.
World Spirituality is not a new religion. A new world religion is exactly what we don’t need.
Particularly in the World Spirituality framework where Unique Self is a key lodestone, we have a realization, not only a belief, but a realization, that every human being has a Unique Self. And that every religion has a Unique Self. Every great system of knowing, pre-modern, modern, and post-modern, is a unique epistemological expression of Knowing.
We use a number of images to describe this. One is a symphony in which each instrument is playing its own music, recognizing that the essence is not the instrument but the music, but the uniqueness of the instrument is irreducible and each reveals a different dimension of the music. In that sense, the great systems of knowing in the world are music. Each great system of knowing is approaching the knowing asking different questions, using different methodologies, enacting different inquiries, and those different instruments produce different faces, dimensions, notes in the music.
Joe: Are you suggesting, Marc, that each of the world religions is like a musical instrument or a band, and somehow World Spirituality steps into play like an orchestra conductor might?
Marc: Exactly. That’s right. … Each system of knowing is a unique instrument in the symphony of gnosis. The job of World Spirituality is to act precisely as the conductor and help these different instruments find their right tone, find their right relationship to the other instruments, and ensure that each instrument is listening to the others, so that what emerges is not noise but music. That’s what World Spirituality is. Not heaps, but wholes. Not noise, but music. It’s a grand symphony with enormous texture and depth in which the integrity of every instrument is honored and yet a larger whole emerges from it.
Joe: That’s fine, Marc, but you know there are people who don’t want that. They would say that if every religion is like an instrument, then each individual is his or her own symphony conductor and they don’t want some holistic framework or universalizing narrative to enter the scene which can become another competing instrument. They want every individual to be her or his own orchestra conductor, not to look to some outside authority. How would you respond to that?
Marc: That is green [post-modern] thinking, classical green thinking. Green thinking says there is no canon, no authority, and so everyone does it in their own way and they’re all equal. That’s not true. It’s impossible for even the wisest person to swallow whole all the great systems of knowing, and be able to independently navigate them, find the right weight of each one, etc We need an operating system. An elegant operating system to allow us to get what we need from each, establish right relationship, etc.
Now that doesn’t mean that the operating system is the one eternal authoritative voice. It’s an evolving operating system. You could have open source code. People could participate, share their insights, and more deeply evolving what World Spirituality is. But at its core, it’s a “framework/symphony” in which the job of World Spirituality is to create an ability for people to see the patterns that connect the dots. An individual is practically and epistemologically usually unable to do. It’s an evolving system.
One last point. To take issue with one word you said: you referred to the world religions. As you know, when we talk about great systems of knowing, we aren’t just talking about world religions. They are almost exclusively pre-modern, with exceptions for Mormonism and a couple of small exceptions. We are talking about a framework which includes modern: for example, science and psychology, which come out of modernity; and post-modernity, which is this deep understanding that context is essential, the crucial recognition of development and finally the great insight that everything arises and develops within an evolutionary context.
We want to take all the great systems of knowing, give them all an appropriate place at the table, and then show the patterns that connect. What are the deeper structural understandings that will allow us to live in a context of meaning? That’s what World Spirituality is. It’s to create a shared framework of meaning in which an individual can realize the full gorgeousness of their Unique Self, in which every great system of knowing can be honored, reverentially received … and evolved.
Joe: I think you’ve begun to answer my question about interfaith. At least one way that World Spirituality differs from the interfaith movement is that interfaith leaves out of the picture science and post-modernity. They’re interested in inter-religious dialogue. What are some of the other distinctions?
Marc: That’s an important distinction. That’s distinction one. First off, interfaith has made an important contribution. We bow to it. It’s critical and necessary.
There are two versions of interfaith: version one — what I call “soft interfaith” — says, “Hey we’ve been killing each other. We need to respect each other. That’s not helpful. We need to respect that we’re all doing our best, we have good intentions, we are all engaged in spirit in some sense, so let’s respect each other and love each other if possible. And so we need dialogue.” Clearly important.
A second, what I would call a “hard interfaith” says that the depth structures are identical, even though the rituals and other surface structures may be different. The same core practices and core understandings are shared. Another name that has been given for what I’m calling hard interfaith is perennial philosophy.
Perennial philosophy is a version of hard interfaith. World spirituality transcends and includes. It negates the problematic elements of each one of these, to borrow Hegel’s phrase, including both soft interfaith and hard interfaith. In that, clearly we need to respect each other.
Clearly there are shared depth sstructures. But the next step is to recognize that actually there are evolving depth structures. The cosmos is evolving and everything is evolving at the same time. Everyone is tetra-evolving. All four quadrants of reality. Everything Spirit is evolving. We don’t want to reify what we know today and freeze it. We wan to recognize that in a thousand years from now these depth structures will have evolved.
World Spirituality is perennial philosophy in an evolutionary context.
Joe: We’re out of time. I think that’s going to have to be the end of part 1 of our conversation. Let’s continue next with a discussion of where we are at today in the development of World Spirituality as a distinct movement.
Today I’ll begin a regular series of posts discussing my own views of the Story of Enlightenment, an important theme in the thought of Marc Gafni, one of the world’s brightest lights in terms of awakened consciousness.
Gafni’s pioneering work on the Enlightenment of Fullness — a vision to be set forth more fully in upcoming books and workshops and trainings — has the potential to revolutionize the world’s view of enlightenment. It is already catalyzing a World Spirituality movement based on integral and evolutionary principles. One of its core ideas, a teaching extended from the Kabbalah tradition, is about understanding the distinction between separateness and uniqueness.
Here’s a quote from one section near the middle of the talk:
The great [religious] traditions are beautiful, they’re holy, stunning, they’re deep. But they’re pre-modern. So if we are going to actually be guided by the shared depths structures of pre-modernity, we’ve made a regressive move. We’ve gone backwards.
So a World Spirituality has to integrate the best and deepest insights of the pre-modern, the modern, and the postmodern. We have to weave those together in a vision that actually allows for a shared story that we can actually transmit and hold and live in.
It’s not that the story knows everything. There’s so much we don’t know. We hold the uncertainty, we dance in the mystery. But there’s also that which we know. That which we can feel. We know it not because of faith. We’re not interested in faith. We know it not because it’s a dogma someone has told us. We know it because we have first-hand, first-hand experience after having done experiments in Spirit. Having done them in double-blind structures all over the years for thousands of years. We’ve gathered the results. We’ve checked them with the community of the adequate, which is precisely the scientific method, and we have revealed using the faculty of the Eye of the Spirit a shared story, which actually is one which can unite us.
Marc’s first point is that the great traditions are pre-modern. Straightforward enough. Or is it?
Look around at the traditions called “World Religions,” we see that at around 2000 BCE, there were was Judaism and religions in Greece, Rome, and Egypt, and Brahmanism; Theravada Buddhism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism emerged close to 500 BCE, Christianity and Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Shintoism, around 0 CE, give or take a few hundred years. The last great tradition was the founding of Islam around 610 CE, to say nothing today of the important faiths to emerge in the last 200 years.
World Spirituality as I understand it includes a practice of right livelihood, conscious business. The overarching perspective gives us the framework in which we recognize that the ethical center at the heart of work is Love, the force of evolution itself. It is from this capacity that our own individual work lives have an ethical livelihood and from the collective ethos of an organization that it has (or fails to have) an ethical brand.
The world may be evolving better, more ethical, businesses. How, specifically? One possible future: the Internet will empower consumer to hold brands responsible to ethical standards by punishing those which do not deliver. Businesses, anticipating a shift in power in relationship to consumers, will begin to act with greater responsibility rather than be punished.
Martin Lindstrom, once named one of the “World’s 100 Most Influential People,” by Time Magazine, tells us that the world of product branding is changing. In an article in Fast Company, he says that he predicts that Wikileaks sorts of organizations will emerge in the future which are focused on keeping brands honest. Smart people in business today have to realize the importance of putting ethics first. He writes:
Last year, I began a study of 2,000 consumers in which I asked for their ethical perspectives [on branding]. Their advice proved invaluable. We would be wise to take note of it:
Don’t do anything to kids and consumers that you would not do to your own children, friends, and family.
Every time you launch a campaign, a new product, or a service, secure an “ethical” sign-off from your target group. Develop your own independent consumer panel (a representative target audience) and disclose the perception of the product, as well as the reality. Let the consumers make the final call.
Align perception with reality. Your talents might very well lie in brilliantly creating convincing perceptions, but how do they stack up against the reality? If there’s a mismatch, one or the other must be adjusted in order for them to be in sync.
Be 100% transparent. Nothing less. The consumer needs to know what you know about them. Furthermore, they must be told exactly how you intend to use the information. If they don’t like what they see, they need a fair and easy way to opt out.
Almost any product or service has a downside, so don’t hide it. Tell it as it is. Be open and frank, and communicate the negatives in a simple and straightforward way.
SR.JOSE PEREZ; Es la primera vez que leo esto que usted propone la espiritualidad ,como algo muy importante ,yo siempre estuve en la busqueda de esa espiritualidad ,y de los diez ,pasos que usted da , creo que en todos me encuentro yo de alguna manera ,Y ademas estan interesante que me gustaria conocer mas , sobre este tema ,para mi la espiritualidad es como estud la presenta ,y yo busco eso el bienestar ,para el futuro de los que vendran a esta tiera que el mismo hombre esta destruyendo ,es por eso que me intereso muchisimo , le agradeceria que si tiene mas informacion ,poder tenerla o copiarla ,o no se , pero me encuentro en cada uno de esas 10 señales . muchisimas gracias .
Thank you, Maria. I read Spanish a bit better than I write Spanish (and with Google Translate I get even better!), so please forgive the English in this reply. I understand that this may be the first time you came across the sort of proposed vision of spirituality that I wrote about, and you would like to study more on the topic. You are moved by a deep concern for the world and the destruction of the planet, and want to learn more about the 10 signs specifically.
Let me tell you about the two labels that I use to situate my spirituality, so you can better see where I am coming from. Those two labels are “Integral” and “World Spirituality.” I believe that if you identify at least in part with many of those 10 signs, then your spirituality is probably already in harmony with “Integral” and “World Spirituality” as I understand them. That’s what I think, but it’s up for you to decide if those labels are helpful to you or not.
Yesterday I shared an academic paper by a scholar named Sean Esbjörn-Hargens. Esbjörn-Hargens describes the philosophical framework upon which people today throughout the world are talking about a World Spirituality based on Integral principles. Specifically, he outlines the major features of the AQAL model of consciousness, which is one of the chief tools that spiritual practitioners have found helpful.
In this paragraph, Sean talks about how the word “Integral,” which was originally used by the esteemed philosopher of Vedanta, Sri Aurobindo, became connected to an American philosopher in the late 1990s. The American philosopher, Ken Wilber, is no ordinary scholar. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Wilber or not, so I’ll say a few words.
Called by some admirers the “Einstein of Consciousness,” by the turn of the Millennium, he had created a philosophical system which reconciled (possibly for the first time) how the Enlightenment thinkers of the East and the psychoanalytical thinkers of the West were all talking about consciousness.
In the mid-1990s, Wilber advanced a vision for a genuine World Philosophy for the 21st century which could usher in an era in which religion, science, and postmodern thinkers could forge deeper connections to heal the planet and overcome obstacles to the full liberation of all people (indeed, all sentient beings). Here’s how Sean describes Wilber’s adoption of “Integral”:
Wilber first began to use the word “integral” to refer to his approach after the publication of his seminal book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality in 1995. It was in this book that he introduced the quadrant model, which has since become iconic of his work in general and integral theory in particular. Wilber’s quadrant model is often referred to as the AQAL model, with AQAL (pronounced ah-qwal) standing for all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, and all types. These five elements signify some of the most basic repeating patterns of reality. Thus, by including all of these patterns you “cover the bases” well, ensuring that no major part of any solution is left out or neglected. Each of these five elements can be used to “look at” reality and at the same time they represent the basic aspects of your own awareness in this and every moment.
Today, Ken Wilber is the most widely translated scholarly writer in the world today, with his books appearing in 24 languages. The goal of AQAL, as Esbjörn-Hargens suggests, is to allow people to carry a vision of the world they live in that is radically inclusive and holistic. What Wilber shows is that such a vision of the world is not merely a look at something happening “out there” somewhere else, but also something that is right in your own awareness right now, if you just open your eyes to look.
Ultimately, Wilber’s philosophy is a smokescreen (that is, a pretense or fiction). He does not want people to stop eating and bathing themselves, caring for their children, going to work, and doing good things in their community…just to sit alone reading philosophy books and staring off into the distance. He wants people to enter fully into life by becoming more aware of what is really going on within themselves and in everything they encounter.
As people become more aware, he shows, they know that they are not separate beings but connected to all things. As we wake up, we know we are not in this world alone, and we become more compassionate and loving. Out of the greater compassion and love flows a higher awareness that instinctively helps us to show up more fully in our relationships and work and spirituality.
This is a long way of beginning to answer your question, I know. You don’t need to read Ken Wilber’s books, though I highly recommend them because they can help to quiet the questioning mind while simultaneously arousing a passion for learning more about spirituality. Ken’s books are a good place for many people to continue their study of an Integral framework (though they aren’t for everyone).
Ken’s works have been one influence in creating international movements called the Integral Spirituality or Evolutionary Spirituality or World Spirituality movement. I don’t want to give you the impression that he’s the head honcho behind the whole thing; there are many people doing many things and he’s one very important part of it. The World Spirituality movement is increasingly today where I find my home, because it recognizes that the Integral Philosophy can be useful intellectually, but it is just the beginning.
World Spirituality, as Marc Gafni conceives it, isn’t a new religion or even really an interfaith religious movement. It is friendly to religion in general, and welcomes people of all faiths, and it doesn’t ask of them to give up their scriptures, rituals, prayers, and relationships that they hold valuable. It doesn’t ask them to shed their particular beliefs in favor of very general beliefs that everyone has in common. It asks us to find God in the world in ourselves, other people, and all things.
World Spirituality gives religious people a “trans-path path,” a way of being in the world as a “dual citizen” of their own faith (if they have one) and as a citizen of World Spirituality. It gives people without a faith an intellectually rigorous way of embracing the best wisdom of mystics of every religion while also embracing science and postmodern insights into the historically conditioned and socio-culturally constructed nature of understanding.
And one of World Spirituality’s core beliefs — which I share and find very exciting — is that enlightenment isn’t only for a rarefied, elite few. It’s for everyone, and it’s very important that everyone raise their consciousness, because our world desperately needs people who are more awake, alive, and aware.
I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to have had a good education in philosophy, theology, comparative religion, psychology and sociology of religion, and so on. This has given me the chance to see how the brightest minds, past and present, have addressed the fundamental question in philosophy: “How am I to live?”
Those smart people haven’t always agreed. In fact, the study of these subjects in college is pretty much an exercise in learning the different schools of thought and how to argue one side against another. In ethics, there are consequentialists and Kantians. In psychoanalysis, there are Freudians and Jungians. And then there are about a million different views of religion.
It wasn’t really until over a decade after I finished my formal study of religion that I encountered the work of the philosopher, psychological theorist, and mystic Ken Wilber. His work was remarkably different because he didn’t care less how exactly one thinker disagreed with another thinker. He was only really interested in what they had in common. How were they looking at the world in such a way that he could understand that in a way they weren’t really disagreeing? He saw that they were only talking past each other, comparing apples to oranges.
For Ken Wilber, there really is something that you might as well call Truth with a capital “T,” to distinguish it from all of the various perspectives that people have about truth. He doesn’t think we ever really are able to talk about Truth or grasp it intellectually without diminishing it to truth with the lower-case “t.” There is Truth. And then there are perspectives on Truth. And we are always, everywhere, taking a perspective.
The most important thing Wilber helped me to realize is that just because we can’t know Truth without taking a perspective doesn’t mean we can’t know Truth fully and absolutely. We absolutely can know Truth, he assures us…and I believed him…because it was something I already knew. The Truth we know fully and completely and confidently is the Truth of our real nature. Ken Wilber sometimes calls this our Ultimate Identity, drawing on an important term from the Hindu spiritual masters and people they’ve influenced. Another important integral thinker, Marc Gafni, drawing on the Hebrew enlightenment tradition, calls this our True Self.
And one thing Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, other integral thinkers, and the entire lineage of mystics and enlightened sages, points us to is the same Truth, each putting that Truth into perspectives…turning that Truth into truths. Because that Truth is something we know with our whole being integrally — body, mind, soul, and spirit — not just intellectually. And we can’t express Truth without taking a perspective because that Truth is always communicated with language in societies that are evolving — biologically, culturally, socially, spiritually — and so every religion and philosophy colors that truth in different and interesting and unique ways.
The Truth of enlightenment is that there is a True Self — our Ultimate Identity or Absolute Spirit — and that there is only one.
So it’s no wonder that Wilber’s integral worldview lacked an interest in dividing the world according to methodologies, philosophies, religions, ideologies, and so on. From the integral vantage point, such divisions could only tell us relative, partial truths…disguising the path to Truth. He saw that the deeper you looked at all of these divisions in thought, the more their boundaries began to blur and hidden patterns of unity began to emerge. Constructing a map of those common threads became his dharma, a pandit’s work that has already produced over 20 major books.
In 1977 American philosopher Ken Wilber published his first book, The Spectrum of Consciousness. This groundbreaking book integrated the major schools of psychology along a continuum of increasing complexity, with different schools focused on various levels within that spectrum. Over the next 30 years he continued with this integrative impulse, writing books in areas such as cultural anthropology, philosophy, sociology of religion, physics, healthcare, environmental studies, science and religion, and postmodernism. To date, Wilber has published over two dozen books and in the process has created integral theory. Wilber’s books have been translated into more than 24 languages, which gives you an idea as to the global reach and utility of integral theory. Since its inception by Wilber, integral theory has become one of the foremost approaches within the larger fields of integral studies and meta-theory. This prominent role is in large part the result of the wide range of applications that integral theory has proven itself efficacious in as well as the work of many scholar-practitioners who have and are contributing to the further development of integral theory.
(For a great concise overview of Integral Theory, see this paper.)
There are many potential uses of Integral theory in academic studies and practical applications for people working in a variety of fields (business, law, organizational development, coaching, psychotherapy, etc.) But what concerns me most in Awake, Aware & Alive is the application of integral principles in the realm of World Spirituality.
It is far too dangerous for our world to ignore the many difficult issues we face together. We’re all in this life, this world together…because we are all ultimately one. The root of the problems we face, I believe, is that far too few people know this truth, believe this, and put it into practice. We act as if we are separate beings, when the truth is that we are not.
As Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, and many other people have taught me, an authentic World Spirituality needs to grow out of an integral worldview because no other worldview can do better the task that most needs to be done: show us how we are all really, truly connected and one at a time when vast billions of people act blindly as if we weren’t.
We are all trapped in a self-image a set of ideas that we identify with as who we are. If you want to discover radical freedom then you have to look closely at what choices you are making that are causing you to have the identity that you are experiencing right now. It has been my experience that the key to discovering the mechanism of self-construction is recognizing that there are two kinds of thoughts….
Consider these two thoughts, I could have Mexican food. vs. I want Mexican food. The second is much more laden with identity. It is infused with selfhood. The first one we simply relate to as a thought to be considered. The second one we relate to as a statement about ourselves, from ourselves, telling us who we are. If you examine how we construct our sense of self you will find that it is constructed with thoughts just like, I want Mexican food. I am a mother. I am a good person. I am a person who does this and not that.. and on and on and on. Our self is constructed by a never-ending string of conclusions that appear in our minds as statements directed toward us telling us who we are and who we are not.
True. And behind “I want…” and “I could have…” constructions is the same pronoun, I, which exerts its power over all language speakers (i.e., the first-person pronoun in whatever language).
This realization [of linguistic conditioning] is part of the dawning of enlightenment. It is the realization that there is a whole classification of thought that we have unknowingly and blindly accepted as accurate descriptions of who we are. This is what spiritual ignorance is the unconscious belief that a certain set of unexamined ideas defines the limit of who we are.
Indeed, coming into greater awareness of linguistic conditioning is the essence of a certain sort of enlightenment: a lifting of one’s exclusive identification of self with the ego. In terms of World Spirituality, it’s the raising of consciousness from personal self to True Self.
And yet there is a further realization, in the work of Marc Gafni, in which language is not seen as a barrier to enlightenment but a gateway. At a higher plane of awareness than True Self, there is Unique Self: the True Self as embodied through a particular (linguistic) perspective.
From the Unique Self view, “I want Mexican food” can be a full and completely enlightened utterance, if the “I” refers not the personal self but to the Unique Self, a non-dual way of being in the world in which the Self is fully inhabited at its most expansive point.