Authentic Self? Unique Self? Maybe a flavor which is an admixture of the two as Chris Dierkes once proposed? Some of the most prominent spiritual teachings in the Integral community in the past decade have been channeling very old ideas which put the Self (with a capital S) at the center of the spiritual life in contrast to the self (with a little s) or ego or false self.
The self rises to prominence at the Seat of Structure in the yang movement of The Month of the Golden Egg in The Kalendar. The self is the structure which enfolds the goals appropriate to this Kosmic Address. Such goals include awareness of the plurality and complexity of systems and cultural conditioning (Cook-Greuter), the fulfillment of the need for self-actualization (Maslow), or self-authoring (Kegan).
In Lingua-U, the letter S (⚍⚊) corresponds to the first third of The Golden Egg. The /s/ is a voiceless sound made by directing a stream of air with the tongue close to the alveolar ridge towards the sharp edge of the teeth. As the linguist Margaret Magnus writes poetically:
S is the Serpent, what the Indians call the Kundaini, the force of life. It is so strong, so smooth, so suave, so slippery, so sexy. It is linear and dangerous and fast and stoic.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. (I won’t be talking much about Lingua-U until next year when I hope to put out the book.)
Nothing that I’ve said means that there was no “self” prior to the emergence of this structure, or that the self is “invented” in postmodernism, of course. All the Months of The Kalendar represent processes that are constantly interacting with each other; their tokens or archetypes are like bank accounts in which knowledge and skills are stored.
In terms of the self, we might say that an individual has been putting coins and bills into the bank since birth, but it’s only at The Golden Egg that she or he checks the balance. Noticing that they’ve got a positive balance in the “self ledger”, and noticing furthermore around the same moment that the “society ledger” also has a positive balance, they are changed. Now they know they’ve got possessions that they never knew they had.
It’s like sitting in a stadium watching a football game and getting totally engrossed. Three quarters pass by, and you know exactly what’s going on. You’ve been following every play. You sorta know who’s up and who’s down vaguely, who’s on the field and who’s on the bench, and then you get a sense that you’ve forgotten something. You’ve forgotten to check the score. Looking at the scoreboard for the first time, you put a value to the performance of both the home team and the away team. Now you are more “aware” of the self/society axis. You have checked the account balance.
The self and society axis is the Big Thing at The Golden Egg, but in a specific way. Individuals have known themselves as individuals for some time in their life’s story, but when The Golden Egg arrives they are noticing the systems within the self and the systems within the society, and eventually they become more aware of how these are interrelated in powerful and often problematic ways.
In spiritual terms, The Golden Egg brings the rise of “soulfulness” and a concern with “sin” and “salvation” through a “Savior” in Christianity or “samsara” and “satori” and “Sangha” in Buddhism. The archetype of The Evolutionary feels like it “owns” spirituality and all truly important things are fundamentally either individual or social and relate back to the self or society. There are different styles of walking through The Golden Egg, some more yang and some more yin and some more yung, but eventually the very importance of self/society must be challenged in order to progress to the “next level”.
Hence it’s easy to understand why some prominent Integral teachers have focused on the concerns of the self and its spiritual needs for “authentic self enlightenment” or “unique self enlightenment” (yes, given that I’ve spent the last decade in conversation with the Integral scene, I’m including Marc Gafni and Andrew Cohen in this group). From The Atman Project in the mid-1990s to A Sociable God in the mid-2000s, Ken Wilber frequently focused his attention on the self and society axis and weaving a new narrative for them in which evolution takes a prominent role.
Hence, as the archetype of The Evolutionary rises into prominence in The Kalendar at the Fourth Month, the evolutionary process is seen as needing both a spiritual and secular treatment. Unfortunately, as a rule, The Evolutionary can become fixated on the self/society dichotomy, even when it articulates the goal of enlightenment or abandoning the little-s self for the big-S Self (think of the thrice-repeated reflexive /s/ symbolism of the word “solipsism” or “narcissism”, depicting an unhealthy stuckness in the concerns of the S that lead to a regression into the concerns of /z/).
You heard me correctly. Even when the goal of Integral work is up-leveled from work on the self (ego) to work on the soul or spirit or Self (True Self), it is still caught in the subtle dynamics related to a reflexive occupation with the self/society axis. One might say it’s the “don’t think of an elephant, so try thinking of Elephant instead, a larger beast in which elephant with a little-e is sublimated” problem.
To be fair, these integral enlightenment teachers are changing the concept of the self when they speak of authentic self (dissolving self into nothingness or True Self) or Unique Self (discovering the self’s nondual unity with God or the principle of creativity). They can change the concept, but they aren’t changing the sound symbolism of the /s/, and therefore on a subtle level, they are reinforcing the very thing that they are trying to overcome.
To put it another way, they are treating the Integral project as one of evolution in stages in which the self gets more and more authentic, more and more unique, more and more “nondual”, from stage 4.0 to 5.0 to 6.0 and so on. One really must question how it is that the self or lack thereof or the specialness or not thereof seems such an enduring preoccupation even after the stage 4.0 in which it first rose to preeminence has long past. I am objecting to this focus; it’s an objection of semantics and sound symbolism and emphasis, and somewhat also one of substance.
I think it is a mistake for individual integralists to imagine, from the standpoint of the archetype of The Evolutionary, that all the future stations of life, if attained, will continue to produce more and more “expansive” and “evolved” versions of the philosophy of selfhood. We don’t become self-actualized at 4.0 and then expect to see the rest of our spiritual path as an adventure of getting better, new, and improved versions of the same set of concerns, like iPhone users upgrading their phones to the newest model every year. What happens instead is that as The Kalendar progresses beyond The Golden Egg, the self is eclipsed as a concern; the self is de-centered as new and different concerns arise. Metaphorically speaking, and sometimes literally, we rid ourselves of our iPhones or at least remember to look up from the screen.
I would guess that the average integralist might envison a conveyor belt of a hypothetical 9 stages of human development as leading from a “pre-self” or “false self” at the earliest stages to an “actualized self” at level 4.0 and ultimately getting “enlightened” at level 9.0. According to the story that I’m telling in The Kalendar, there’s a mix of truth and falsehood to this picture. On the truth side, the words “Atman” and “Authentic” and “Unique” are all located at the Ninth Month of The Kalendar, the Silver Stars, suggesting that these words could fruitfully be used as mantras or effective sacred sound symbols for realizing the Objects to which they are pointing. On the falsehood side, the terms “self” and “Self” and “soul” and “enlightenment” and “salvation” and “satori” are all located at level 4.0, The Golden Egg, suggesting that to a certain extent the Object of this language actually resides as a good (or Treasuring) attainable at that level. The words “authenticity” and “uniqueness” invoke the subtle-sense of The Silver Stars; the word “Self” adds the subtle-sense of The Golden Egg.
I realize that I am asking you to consider a poorly understood and imperfectly theorized aspect of language while looking at these topics and admittedly experimental theories originating from the intuitions of meta-mental cognition. I am asking you to think beyond the concepts to which words refer and put your attention upon the sacred sound-meanings.
From a vantage point which includes the enactments of words like “self/Self” in the subtle realm as mapped by the Lingua-U construct, we can now posit that approaches to the Integral project that have focused on “personal enlightenment” or “personal authenticity” were not so much wrong as partial. They have, to varying degrees, made the concerns of the Month of the Golden Egg paramount over all other sets of concerns; but there are Nine Months, not just one, all of which are important and require much attention, love, and care.
We could do worse than to start with the concerns of the Ninth Month, The Silver Stars, which is correlated to “post-dual” spirituality or the Sephirot of Realization in the Integral Tree of Life. Reforming Reality, Life and Light and Love, and Yoga and Unitive Consciousness rise to the forefront. Life is about much more than the self, even the self’s preoccupation with enlightenment. The problem with philosophies of selfhood/Selfhood is that they weren’t enough focused on Life, Reality, and Unitive Consciousness; they may have tried to be, but we may imagine that they were betrayed by the trickery of that serpent, S.
There is a very old word which appears in the Month of the Silver Stars related to selfhood: it is the word Atman, the ancient Hindu word for self/soul, and it appears at the Seat of Outwardness in the climax of the yang movement at the Letter of Righting/Writing. One could do worse than substituting words like “Atman” or “authenticity” or “uniqueness” for Self, if one is concerned to imitate through language the sound-meaning of an Object associated with “post-dual” (a.k.a. nondual) spirituality.
Long ago in India, the sages knew the beauty and magnificence of the Atman and some held it up to equivalence with Brahman, the transcendent and immanent ultimate reality, through sacred utterance. This philosophical assertion has an artistic mirror in The Kalendar with the linkage of the Element of Stars (? holding Atman) with the Element of Space (⚌ holding Brahman) at the December solstice, a holiday known as the Yule (??⚋), which occurs on the final day of the year.
My critique today is basically about the nature of spiritual teaching, and the occupation of teachers of enlightenment. If they have a proper developmental or integral orientation and yet stay focused on the psychological language of the self/Self, they will be tempted to project the dynamics of the self-system up and higher into future levels of consciousness. Instead, when our concerns move beyond those of The Golden Egg to earlier or later stations of life, we ought to allow the language of selfhood to recede in our attention. Let us treat every station of life as replete with its own important concerns, its own precious set of Sacred Words, and its own methodologies for progress.
- Note: Integral theorists will correctly note that analysts have identified a “self line” which in theory goes up and up and up to the highest altitudes as we evolve. Without denying this or implying we ought not look into self-development or ego-maturity, let me just say that theorists who want to focus on the self/ego line do so at an opportunity cost. Every theorist must decide for herself how much she wants to emphasize self-development over the concerns of all the important other stations of life.