Today’s “none” and “spiritual, but not religious” lifestyles have made positive contributions but have also given rise to an unhealthy individualism. Arising in the midst of a narcissistic and escapist culture, Integral World Evolutionary spirituality takes a giant leap forward in the direction of deep authenticity, social engagement, and planetary consciousness. WE spirituality insists that enlightenment can be a goal for everyone, and no one can get there alone.
World Evolutionary spirituality is a movement grounded in the realization of Unique Essence with All-That-Is. It transcends spiritual individualism in favor of an Integral humanism in which the Divine is joyously discovered. The result is an emerging Integral worldview which is gaining ground wherever the false “I” gives way to the WE. The focus is not on “my feelings” and “my desires” or “my experiences” but on the arising field of Divinity in the midst of a world needful of our awakeness, aliveness, and awareness. This worldview is sometimes called “Integral” because it makes room for more truth, more reality, than any other life philosophy. It even makes room for anyone who resists or rejects this evolutionary calling.
It’s an exciting time. As Integral Life says:
We live in a fascinating time, bearing witness to the intersection of several great eras, like massive tectonic plates colliding: a 5000-year bedrock of traditional values, 500-year era of modernity and rationalism, a 50-year run of postmodernism and pluralism, and now the rise of an entirely new era, yet to be named (though we might like to think of it as “integral”). And in the middle of this historic collision emerges, for the very first time in human history, a new kind of planetary civilization that operates with real-time awareness of every corner of the globe.
Storytellers for a Planetary Civilization
Let me tell you a story about the Way Things Are from my point-of-view. It’s a unique perspective informed by my own spiritual autobiography which was published as Soulfully Gay. To expand upon my personal philosophy, the mystery of existence is a Divine Comedy in which the Source of All reveals its essence in the course of time. Evolution is the way in which human beings become aware that human nature is part of the Divinity of reality — that is, its wholeness. Involution is the way in which the Divine becomes Self-aware of its nature as humanity — that is, its partiality. Evolution and involution are complementary forces, movements of the Divine itself, and together they are the driving forces of Spirit.
There is room for many stories and many storytellers in the world — an infinite number, in fact, counting all sentient beings whose stories are sometimes told only in the faintest whispers or imperceptible wisps of prehension. But some stories are simpler and more memorable than others and told more often. The great Wisdom Traditions of the East and West have many differences, but there is a remarkable similarity in many of their teachings. Exoteric teachings differ, but esoteric teachings reveal a hidden unity. In other words, we don’t all pray to God or encounter Spirit or I AM-ness in the same way, but there is unity of I AM-ness as the first-person face of the Divine (“I”), God/Goddess as the second-person face of the Divine (“You”), and Spirit as the third-person face of the Divine (“It”).
In the last part of the 20th century and early 21st century, a growing consensus emerged among the most subtle and gifted comprehensive thinkers that it was time to take a serious look at the “patterns that connect”. They started with the perennial philosophy which holds that within each of the world’s religious traditions there is a singular, universal truth on which all religious claims to truth is based. Then they added knowledge from the human sciences (especially developmental psychology) which stressed the importance of evolution in understanding human nature. What’s more, some of these thinkers recognized that postmodern philosophy needed to be included and transcended, and so they stressed the culturally and socially constructed nature of all things.
The result of these philosophical investigations and formulations was the emergence of new storytellers. These wise men and women did not usually align themselves with religious fundamentalism or secular atheism or simplistic forms of New Age spirituality. They sought a philosophy of life which made room for truth wherever it could be found, radically inclusive and catholic and comprehensive. They sought a way of being human that allowed them to be spiritual and religion-honoring. They realized they could not do this alone, and why should they? They stood on the shoulders of giants — thinkers and poets and mystics who they loved and learned to appreciate in a whole new way.
Not all of the people who came to a new consciousness immediately discovered community. Some shed their old style of religionism or secularism or spiritualism and continued to wander unfulfilled in the flatlands of modernity or the wastelands of postmodernity. But others found their way into a movement of individuals who shared a common set of understandings about the nature of the Scheme of Things. The Integral World Evolutionary Spirituality movement was born (given a variety of different names). Disagreements among participants in the field were sometimes fierce but usually friendly. What is so remarkable is that the stories they told about reality harmonized at a fundamental level in an elegant and powerful way. Standing in the shoes of this new WE, some felt that they were inhabiting a second-tier of consciousness looking down upon a first-tier world which didn’t understand them and had to be at least a little off-kilter.
Getting Over Spiritual Individualism
In our contemporary world, the new WE of the World Evolutionary movement has not yet been seen in its fullness. Ken Wilber, the foremost Integral theorist, was described by Slate magazine as maybe “the most important living philosopher you’ve never heard of.” Unfortunately, the movement is not rich with superstar publicists. But there are other reasons the world hasn’t transformed overnight. The sophistication of the philosophical underpinnings of the movement has been good in some ways, but a serious problem in others. Many people who sympathize with the ideas and sensibility and goals of the movement don’t want to study tomes of scholarly literature. And too often Integral writers have eschewed popular writing in an effort to be taken seriously by academia. World Evolutionary spirituality is here, however slowly and imperfectly the fireworks are happening.
Perhaps the single greatest obstacle to the rise of WE spirituality is an often unrecognized personalism in our culture. Personalism in spirituality means that one takes one’s own egoic self as the ultimate arbitrator of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Values and beliefs are relative to the egoic self, too. The egoic self is not something made up. It is something real, analyzed and measured by psychologists. It develops over our lifetime as a structure of consciousness first appearing in childhood as the child emerges from a magical pre-personal sense to something more personal. The mind is capable of a range of structures over time such as concrete operational, formal operational, vision-logic, and beyond. When the egoic self recognizes no higher arbiter of value and meaning other than itself, it becomes a god of one. Spiritual individualism is for “seekers” whose self-perpetrated game of “hide and seek” never ends.
Many spiritual seekers today are ready to put aside the game of “hide and seek” and find their true nature. They are willing to stop listening to their egoic self and start listening to their Higher Self or True Self. They are willing to open their eyes to their nature in ways similar to those described by the mystical traditions of the East. As the egoic self wakes up from the veils over its eyes, it begins to see that there is no separation between itself and All-That-Is. One’s sense of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful is expanded to include an absolute and unconditioned view as well as the partial perspective from one’s personal self. Values and beliefs are rooted in a timeless reality and not merely relative to one’s ego or public opinion. At last, one’s journey of evolution comes to rest at a place of balance which is both moving and still, creative and appreciative, loving and compassionate. Eros and Agape unite in a fertile dance.
As your True Self comes alive, the false self begins to die. Regardless of your stage of ego maturity, you begin to shake off your spiritual individualism. Spiritual individualism is always rooted in the separate self, not the True Self. It may say “everything is perfect exactly as it is” when it really means “I’m not going to try to perfect myself because I’m tired of trying and there’s really no point”. It may say “all paths lead up the same mountain” when it really means “I have an opinion about religion which I want to be true because having a more tolerant world would be nice”. It may say “The present moment is all that matters” when it means “I’m just going to sit back right now and rest in my separate self and try to believe that that’s all that matters”. The lies of the false self disappear and the ego is broken wide open to the Eye of Spirit.
The Unique Essence and the Great WE
The falling away of the egoic self does not erase personal traits or quirks. Instead, a new sense of identity emerges concurrently with one’s evolving enlightenment: Unique Essence. The essence of one’s being is irreducibly unique and particular and distinctive and qualitative, but it is not separate or discrete. When the Unique Essence appears in an individual, we call it the Unique Self. Marc Gafni, author of Your Unique Self, writes:
Your Unique Self is evolution waking up as you. Your Unique Self is animated by its puzzle piece nature. As such it is naturally connected to a larger context that it uniquely completes. It is paradoxically through the unique contours of your Unique Self nature that the alienation of separation is overcome. Unique Self is the source code of all authentic relationships; and it is only through a fraternity and sisterhood of Unique Selves that we can begin to bring profound and loving transformation into the world.
As the great connector, Unique Self is the only technology that can create the evolutionary We space necessary to affect the evolution of consciousness. Ego cannot form evolutionary We space. At best, ego can cooperate in limited ways for the greater good. Conscious collaboration, while better then mindless competition, lacks the necessary Eros and imagination to change the world. Unique Self is drenched in Eros and imagination.
In Gafni’s formulation, Unique Self is “the currency of connection” and the creator of “evolutionary We space”. This is true, but it may also be said that evolutionary We space is the creator of the Unique Self, and that We space is the currency of individuation. Neither self nor collective have an exclusive claim to Unique Essence, which is bringing about a wonderful transformation in the world. Unique Essence is a Unique We, which we may also call a WE. WE can be described in many ways: as Spirit, as Divinity, as Source, as God or Godhead, as Allah, as Buddha consciousness, as All-That-Is, and more. It is truly Great, Magnificent, Mighty, Powerful, Awesome, Beneficent, and other superlatives as well. Sounding a little less lofty, it is also All-of-Us (as we are when we take off the goggles of spiritual individualism). The Great WE is bringing about a movement of World Evolutionary self and community in our time.
I have said that evolution brings about the awareness in human beings that we are part of the Divinity of reality. Likewise, the Divine becomes Self-aware through unfolding or uncoiling or involving. Evolution and involution are the Two Prime Directions of Essence. And they are also manifest as the Two Prime Directions of Love: Heterophilia, the love of Creation for Source, and Homophilia, the love of Source for Creation. This primordial distinction in the Way Things Are from my point-of-view is informed by my life experience and mystical realizations as a gay man. I believe that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals have much to teach everyone because their/our ways of loving reveal one of the two primordial forces of Love … and we gays have much to learn about ourselves. Thousands of years of homophobia have darkened this light of knowledge, but it is through grasping the nature of “gayness” that greater wisdom is coming to heterosexuals, homosexuals, and all sexuals alike.
Much more could be said about WE spirituality, but the core message is that the Integral movement (by whatever name) stands as our best chance for transforming spiritual individualism into an enlightened community capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century. We are all growing up and waking up together. We have global problems which require a higher level of consciousness. The Earth itself is crying out for humanity to become more responsible. We recognize that the consequences of our thoughts and actions are paradoxically both priceless and free. What we do and say and think matters so much in this wonderful and odd world of ours because we matter that much—and we all need each other so very much.