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The Unique Self


What do you think of when you hear the words “Unique Self”? Childhood memories of gold stars and “I am special, look at me” nursery rhymes? Stacks of self-help books intended to help bolster and reinforce the ego? The latest New Age The Secret-type fads that place the self at the center of the universe, instead of the universe at the center of the self? A particular constellation of Jungian personality types, Enneagram typologies, astrological signs, and countless “Which Battlestar Galactica character are you” quizzes on Facebook?

The Unique Self is much more than a Myers-Briggs test with a spiritual overlay. It does not refer to any of these ornaments of the self—though it is immanent to the trials and tribulations of the ego, it utterly transcends the ego, remaining forever untouched by the appetites of identity. The Unique Self represents the deepest possible expression of consciousness, a subject that can never be made object, the union of ever-present consciousness and individual perspective at a radically fundamental level.

Imagine four people sitting in a room, each looking at each other. All four of these people are “fully” enlightened; that is, as enlightened as a person can be at this point in history. Gazing upon one another, they see the very same Oneness staring back at them, recognizing the effortless awareness behind each set of eyes. There is an immediate recognition of primordial consciousness, of the radical singularity of being—the singular to which there is no plural. In each other’s eyes, they see their own Original Face, echoes of ubiquity emanating from an unmentionable Source. They can all see the radical and universal sameness of reality, each understanding that there is only one single Witness behind every set of experiences. In each other’s eyes they see only themselves, recognizing the very same effortless awareness that looks out from behind their own.

Now let’s imagine that these four enlightened masters are sitting in a circle, each looking at a globe that sits on a table between them. Although they all share the same direct apprehension of Oneness, they each retain a particular perspective of the globe, and therefore each see the world in a completely different way. There is something markedly unique about each of their experiences, from their physical orientation in time/space to their individual experience of the universal. Within each of them lies a fundamental thread of perspective, stretching all the way to the darkest depths of the Mystery—a bottomless drop of the Heart that is unique to each and every one of us.

There is only one universal “I AMness” in existence, and as many unique experiences of “I AMness” as there are perspectives in the universe. If we allow ourselves to think of consciousness as “a sphere whose center is everywhere, and whose perimeter is nowhere,” we see that, although we all share the same existential center, my center is not your center—my “bottomless drop” is not your “bottomless drop,” even if they are laced together in the Heart of the world. There is a seamless union of the universal and the unique that is completely and inextricably your own. It is the very last inch of you—an inch that can never be duplicated, can never be imitated, and can never be taken away.

In a certain sense, the Unique Self represents an end to the spiritual journey, the final realization of enlightenment.  But here again we begin chasing our own hermeneutic tails, words bouncing off the face of the Mystery like photons off a mirror. This nondual unification of self and no-self—”final” in it’s own right—is as unattainable as it is inescapable. It has no beginning and no end, as it never enters the stream of space/time to begin with—and yet it permeates all space and all time, never separate from the kaleidoscopic carnival of the manifest world.

The Unique Self is the substrate of our 1st-person experience, the subtlest patterns of perspective, flavors of love, and textures of spirit that make you exclusively you in this ecology of souls. With our deepest recognition of our Original and Unique Face, we begin to feel the evolutionary imperative surging though our veins—an insatiable drive to simply be ourselves, as freely and fully as we possibly can.

This is both the Alpha and the Omega of the Integral Spiritual experience, the first and final step toward our own awakening, while guiding our hearts and minds at every point along the way.

Originally published on IntegralLife.com: Defining the Unique Self: A Trans-Lineage Exploration (w/ Lama Surya Das, Marc Gafni, and Sally Kempton)

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