A River Outside of Time

September 5, 2009 1 comment

In the world that exists just outside of time, Spirit is a single river, flowing from a single mountain with a million cloud-covered peaks, carving channels deep into the soul and soil of the earth.  It bubbles forth from unseen springs, tenderly gnashing through history with sublime patience and tenacity.   It has been called countless names—some of which endure to this very day, while many others have been forever lost to the whispers of time’s passing.  Spirit is a single river, reminding us all of our own inherent wetness, leading us back to the Source of being.

In the world that exists just outside of time, Spirit is a single river—but we do not live outside of time.  We live within the belly of time, swallowed at birth by a demiurge that separates us from our own eternal providence.  From within time, Spirit is not a single river, but a confusing latticework of streams, brooks, and tributaries—each suggesting a universal Source, but leading to a million different springs atop a million different mountains.  Within the world of time, Spirit has been broken up into a million pieces, a million different moments, and is made to dance with itself for all eternity.

If the single river of Spirit has been split into so many seemingly disconnected streams, decoupled from the single Source, then the information age represents the mighty delta of spiritual consciousness.  It is this fragile moment in history where all these streams may eventually converge once again, where the waters from the East lick the waves of the West, and faint echoes of timeless unity can be heard in the playful spray of ancient liquid.

We are standing in the middle of this convergence, this digitally-defined delta, in which more of the world’s knowledge, culture, and wisdom has flowed together than ever before possible.  The mid-to-late 20th century saw an unprecedented influx of Eastern traditions into the Western mind, most notably through the work of scholars like Alan Watts, D.T. Suzuki, and Aldous Huxley, as well as through influential (and controversial) teachers like Chogyam Trungpa, Krishnamurti, and Adi Da.  While we might regard some of these individuals as being relatively flawed in comparison to the perfection they attempted to embody, we cannot confuse these vehicles for the rivers they skim across, or we run the danger of distrusting the water for fear of a leaky boat.

This inundation of Eastern and Western traditions into the modern and postmodern worlds has yielded a rich pool of perspectives, principles, and practices—a sort of primordial ooze of spiritual consciousness that has become the habitat of an entirely new generation of Integral thinkers and practitioners who are now emerging from the muck of history, and using the tools and technologies of the 21st century to trace the countless streams back to their singular Source.  These new pioneers are beginning to recognize the ripples on the water’s surface as eternal patterns dancing behind the veil of time, and are once again seeing Spirit for what it is: a single river, flowing from a single mountain with a million cloud-covered peaks.

Categories: Spirituality

What Would Kohlberg Do?

September 1, 2009 1 comment

T-shirt concept: W.W.K.D. (What Would Kohlberg Do?)

Would you wear this?

Categories: Humor Tags:


September 1, 2009 10 comments

I am starting a new internet meme. I’m calling it LOLsaints LOLsages. Here’s the first installation:

*I’ve been informed that LOLsaints has already been taken. Damn my impulsive lust for novelty; i didn’t do my homework first.

NOTE: LOLsages is inspired by LOLcats, and essentially represents a post-post-modern mashup of the incredibly brilliant and the incredibly stupid.  If you are not already familiar with the LOLcats phenomenon, i suggest that you try googling the term.  Or you can simply refer to the cartoon below, which sums it up pretty well.

Broken Expectations: How to Deal with Disappointment in Our Spiritual Teachers

August 31, 2009 5 comments

Note: This piece was originally written to summarize a dialogue between Ken Wilber and Tami Simon (which you can download and listen to for free by clicking here.) But i wanted to share it with the general community, as it is my hope that it can help frame the difficult emotions that inevitably surround people’s disappointment with spiritual teachers. It should be noted that this piece is not intended to help people emotionally process this disappointment, but rather to find some sort of theoretical grounding for their emotions, so that they may better relate to their own emotional intensity in a somewhat energetically hygienic way. This is the only way we can possibly hope to invoke the tremendous clarity, compassion, and resolve that is required to make sense of the impossible heart-ache of our teachers’ failings, and even find a way to use the disappointment as yet another opportunity for growth for student and teacher alike.

How to Deal with Disappointment in Our Spiritual Teachers

By virtue of running a business like Sounds True, which has produced a litany of audio interviews with a staggering amount of today’s heaviest-hitting spiritual teachers, Tami has had plenty of opportunities to get to know many of the world’s most extraordinary teachers in very deep and profound ways. As she mentions in the interview, when there is a business contract sitting on the table between herself and some of these teachers, she is often exposed to a side of them that many of their own students aren’t—a side that occasionally appears to be incongruous with the lofty perceptions that surround them. Rather than being the perfect vehicles of liberation they are often made out to be, Tami has found many of these teachers to be anything but perfect. She has been exposed to their full humanness, and finds that they possess many of the same relative foibles, flaws, and idiosyncrasies that so many of us are subject to. Sometimes this experience can be endearing, but many times it is painfully disappointing—especially when the teachers seem to be so unaware of their limitations, parading their spiritual realization in such a way that tries to mask their own human twistedness.

“Even though I’ve been exposed to Integral theory for a few years, it hasn’t prevented me from feeling disappointed again and again in teachers when a new aspect of their twisted humanness is uncovered in the course of working with them….” -Tami Simon

This sort of disappointment has been felt by a great number of people somewhere along their spiritual path, who have at some point become suddenly aware of their own teacher’s imperfections, in ways that can violently undercut the reverence and spiritual connection they feel with them. Sometimes students are disappointed when they hold on to the naive belief that spirituality is some sort of magical elixir, which, when done right, promises to make us happy all the time and cure all of our life’s ailments. And when flaws in our spiritual teachers are inevitably discovered, it must be because they are doing something wrong, and are therefore in no position to teach us anything. Other times, this disillusionment is simply a result of the quixotic projections many students unfairly impose upon their teachers—expectations that, since spiritual teachers are here as representatives of absolute perfection, they must themselves be absolutely perfect. And when it is discovered that these teachers still eat, use the bathroom, and have sex, they are immediately stripped of their demi-god status and cast out of our idealized heavens.

Much more difficult, however, is the disappointment that comes with recognizing very real pathologies within some of our most cherished spiritual teachers. Often these manifest as insatiable drives toward money, sex, and power—drives which are typically expected to be transcended as a result of spiritual practice. These pathologies can often be devastating to a student, who at best expects the teacher to simply “know better,” or who has at worst fallen victim to a teacher’s abusive dynamics, whether physically, sexually, or psychologically. Perhaps the most tragic consequence of these incidents is when disappointment and disillusionment begin to slowly devour the student’s faith in Absolute perfection itself, becoming lost in the wilderness of suffering and ignorance.

As we can see, there is a wide range of disappointment we can experience around any given spiritual teacher—from naive projection, to authentic pathology, to egregious abuse. In all cases, the student must follow the same general process: identify the problem, understand the problem, and modify—or sever—the relationship accordingly.

There are many times when, despite the disappointment we might feel toward a particular teacher, we continue to recognize in her or him something extraordinarily valuable to our own spiritual path, and wish to maintain the relationship. Unfortunately there is no universal formula for these difficult cases, as the circumstances are often unique to each student/teacher relationship. There are, however, at least three very broad concepts that can really assist our understanding of the dynamics at play, thus helping us to make a more informed decision on how to move forward with the teacher.

Multiple Intelligences

All human beings possess what are often called “multiple intelligences,” all of which grow through different levels of development, often quite independent of each other. Examples of these different sorts of intelligences are: cognitive, moral, spiritual, interpersonal, kinesthetic, musical, etc. It is therefore quite possible to have people with very advanced spiritual lines, but less advanced moral or interpersonal lines, essentially making them “enlightened assholes.”

States and Stages

Much of the emphasis of the world’s spiritual traditions has been placed upon cultivating and stabilizing states of consciousness, ranging from gross (waking) states, to subtle (dream) states, to causal (deep dreamless sleep) states, to ever-present Witness states, to radically unqualifiable Nondual states. While most spiritual teachers are capable of embodying and transmitting these states at different degrees of competency, it is extremely important to take into consideration that all of these states are available at every stage of psychological and spiritual growth. For example, using Jean Gebser’s developmental scheme, people are able to evolve through magical, mythical, rational, pluralistic, and integral stages of development—and states of spiritual enlightenment can be experienced from any of these stages of development. Enlightened Zen masters, therefore, can still remain strongly racist or fundamentalist in their beliefs, while having successfully stabilized some very advanced states of consciousness.

The Two Truths Doctrine

As we continue to deepen our spiritual practices, we are able to notice both the Absolute perfection at the center of this and every moment, as well as the twisted, flawed, deeply imperfect manifestation of the entire relative world—an insight commonly referred to as the “Two Truths Doctrine.” Only through contemplative practice can we fully understand the difference between the relative and the Absolute, slowly dislodging us from our expectations that our spiritual teachers be perfect in every way. After all—sometimes Absolute perfection can only be seen through a dirty bathroom mirror, through the grease and grime of human perception and ambition.


By taking these important concepts into careful consideration, we are able to more accurately triangulate the source of our disappointment, and decide whether we will maintain the relationship, or perhaps move on to another one. Often the relationship can be salvaged, indeed improved upon, by this understanding—by acknowledging the limitations of the teacher, we can actually free the teaching, and more fully submit ourselves to the Absolute truth reflected therein. In fact, the disappointment itself can have the remarkable power to transform, as it brings into powerful contrast all that we already know to be true—a stinging reminder of the inherent perfection that lies at the heart of every experience we have ever had.

Categories: Spirituality Tags:

Fully Human, Fully Divine: Integrating the Work of James Fowler and Evelyn Underhill

August 25, 2009 2 comments

In this piece I will outline two concepts that lie at the core of the religious, spiritual, and mystical dialogue: the notion of “vertical development” through the major stages of consciousness studied by the world’s great developmental psychologists, and of “horizontal development” through the major states of consciousness that are found in virtually all the world’s religious traditions.  States and stages, fullness and freedom, human and divine—these are the two axes of personal and spiritual development, two vectors of human potential that intersect deep in our hearts, tracing an outline of Christianity’s most sacred symbol with each and every breath.

Here we will explore this notion of states and stages of consciousness by taking a closer look at two of the world’s foremost Christian thinkers, theologian James Fowler and mystical writer Evelyn Underhill, exploring ways to integrate these two pioneers into a more comprehensive view of the Christian experience.

Fully Human: James Fowler’s Stages of Faith

Dr. James W. Fowler III is Professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University, and was director of both the Center for Research on Faith and Moral Development and the Center for Ethics until he retired in 2005. He is a minister in the United Methodist Church, and is best known for his book Stages of Faith, published in 1981, in which he sought to develop the idea of a developmental process in faith.

“Faith may be characterized as an integral, centering process underlying the formation of beliefs, values and meanings that (1) gives coherence and direction to persons’ lives, (2) links them in shared trusts and loyalties with others, (3) grounds their personal stances and communal loyalties in the sense of relatedness to a larger frame of reference, and (4) enables them to face and deal with the limit conditions of human life, relying upon that which has the quality of ultimacy in their lives . . .The stages aim to describe patterned operations of knowing and valuing that underlie our consciousness.” – James Fowler

Here is a synopsis of Fowler’s stages of faith, in his own words:

Primal Faith (stage 0): “If we start with infancy-the time from birth to two years-we have what we call undifferentiated faith. It’s a time before language and conceptual thought are possible. The infant is forming a basic sense of trust, of being at home in the world. The infant is also forming what I call pre-images of God or the Holy, and of the kind of world we live in. On this foundation of basic trust or mistrust is built all that comes later in terms of faith. Future religious experience will either have to confirm or reground that basic trust.”

Intuitive-Projective Faith: “The first stage we call intuitive/projective faith. It characterizes the child of two to six or seven. It’s a changing and growing and dynamic faith. It’s marked by the rise of imagination. The child doesn’t have the kind of logic that makes possible or necessary the questioning of perceptions or fantasies. Therefore the child’s mind is “religiously pregnant,” one might say. It is striking how many times in our interviews we find that experiences and images that occur and take form before the child is six have powerful and long-lasting effects on the life of faith both positive and negative.”

Mythic-Literal Faith: “The second stage we call mythic/literal faith. Here the child develops a way of dealing with the world and making meaning that now criticizes and evaluates the previous stage of imagination and fantasy. The gift of this stage is narrative. The child now can really form and re-tell powerful stories that grasp his or her experiences of meaning. There is a quality of literalness about this. The child is not yet ready to step outside the stories and reflect upon their meanings. The child takes symbols and myths at pretty much face value, though they may touch or move him or her at a deeper level.”

Synthetic-Conventional Faith: “There is a third stage we call synthetic/conventional faith which typically has its rise beginning around age 12 or 13. It’s marked by the beginning of what Piaget calls formal operational thinking. That simply means that we now can think about our own thinking. It’s a time when a person is typically concerned about forming an identity, and is deeply concerned about the evaluations and feedback from significant other people in his or her life. We call this a synthetic/conventional stage; synthetic, not in the sense that it’s artificial, but in the sense that it’s a pulling together of one’s valued images and values, the pulling together of a sense of self or identity.

One of the hallmarks of this stage is that it tends to compose its images of God as extensions of interpersonal relationships. God is often experienced as Friend, Companion, and Personal Reality, in relationship to which I’m known deeply and valued. I think the true religious hunger of adolescence is to have a God who knows me and values me deeply, and can be a kind of guarantor of my identity and worth in a world where I’m struggling to find who I can be.

At any of the stages from two on you can find adults who are best described by these stages. Stage Three, thus, can be an adult stage. We do find many persons, in churches and out, who are best described by faith that essentially took form when they were adolescents.”

Individuative-Reflective Faith: “Stage Four, for those who develop it, is a time in which the person is pushed out of, or steps out of, the circle of interpersonal relationships that have sustained his life to that point. Now comes the burden of reflecting upon the self as separate from the groups and the shared world that defines one’s life. I sometimes quote Santayana who said that we don’t know who discovered water but we know it wasn’t fish. The person in Stage Three is like the fish sustained by the water. To enter Stage Four means to spring out of the fish tank and to begin to reflect upon the water. Many people don’t complete this transition, but get caught between three and four. The transition to Stage Four can begin as early as 17, but it’s usually not completed until the mid-20s, and often doesn’t even begin until around 20. It comes most naturally in young adulthood. Some people, however, don’t make the transition until their late 30s. It becomes a more traumatic thing then, because they have already built an adult life. Their relationships have to be reworked in light of the stage change.

Stage Four is concerned about boundaries: where I stop and you begin; where the group that I can belong to with conviction and authenticity ends and other groups begin. It’s very much concerned about authenticity and a fit between the self I feel myself to be in a group and the ideological commitments that I’m attached to.”

Conjunctive Faith: “Sometime around 35 or 40 or beyond some people undergo a change to what we call conjunctive faith, which is a kind of midlife way of being in faith. What Stage Four works so hard to get clear and clean in terms of boundaries and identity, Stage Five makes more permeable and more porous. As one moves into Stage Five one begins to recognize that the conscious self is not all there is of me. I have an unconscious. Much of my behavior and response to things is shaped by dimensions of self that I’m not fully aware of. There is a deepened readiness for a relationship to God that includes God’s mystery and unavailability and strangeness as well as God’s closeness and clarity.

Stage Five is a time when a person is also ready to look deeply into the social unconscious—those myths and taboos and standards that we took in with our mother’s milk and that powerfully shape our behavior and responses. We really do examine those, which means we’re ready for a new kind of intimacy with persons and groups that are different from ourselves. We are ready for allegiances beyond our tribal gods and our tribal taboos. Stage Five is a period when one is alive to paradox. One understands that truth has many dimensions which have to be held together in paradoxical tension.”

Universalizing Faith: “Some few persons we find move into Stage Six, which we call universalizing faith. In a sense I think we can describe this stage as one in which persons begin radically to live as though what Christians and Jews call the “kingdom of God” were already a fact. I don’t want to confine it to Christian and Jewish images of the kingdom. It’s more than that. I’m saying these people experience a shift from the self as the center of experience. Now their center becomes a participation in God or ultimate reality. There’s a reversal of figure and ground. They’re at home with what I call a commonwealth of being. We experience these people on the one hand as being more lucid and simple than we are, and on the other hand as intensely liberating people, sometimes even subversive in their liberating qualities. I think of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the last years of his life. I think of Thomas Merton. I think of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I think of Dag Hammerskjold and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the last years of his imprisonment. These are persons who in a sense have negated the self for the sake of affirming God. And yet in affirming God they became vibrant and powerful selves in our experience. They have a quality of what I call relevant irrelevance. Their ‘subversiveness’ makes our compromises show up as what they are.”


These stages of faith map quite well against the many other models of human development suggested by the great developmental psychologists of the world, including Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, Abraham Maslow, Clare Graves, Jean Gebser, etc.  Each of these models focus upon a particular aspect of intelligence or psychological growth (e.g. cognition, values, drives, emotional and psychosexual development, etc.) and unfold in a strictly sequential fashion—meaning that while an individual can be “higher” in some developmental lines and “lower” in others, he or she needs to progress through one stage before moving on to the next.  In other words, there is no skipping of developmental stages—you cannot, for example, move from Fowler’s stage 2 (Mythic-Literal Faith) to stage 6 (Universalizing faith) without first developing through the three major stages that lie between them—a process that can often take adults years, if not decades, to accomplish.

Click image to enlarge

Taken together, these psychological models offer a comprehensive map of human growth and development in all its multifarious dimensions. Each successive stage of consciousness adds more complexity and more understanding of the world around us, as well as more capacity for love, compassion, and connection.  By ascending the spire of psychological development to higher and higher altitudes of consciousness, humanity becomes increasingly more human with each and every step.

Fully Divine: Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) was an Anglican writer known for her numerous works on religion and spiritual practice, drawing upon hundreds of different sources to formulate her own version of a universal scheme of spiritual experience.  Her groundbreaking book Mysticism (a term defined by Underhill as “the direct intuition or experience of God”) is still held as a classic treatise exploring the individual’s journey to God, second only to Aldous Huxley’s 1946 classic The Perennial Philosophy in terms of its impact and influence upon early 20th-century thinkers.

Underhill characterizes the spiritual path as unfolding through five broad states of consciousness—awakening, purgation/purification, illumination, dark night, and unification:

Awakening: One begins to have some consciousness of absolute or divine reality for the first time and the spiritual identity begins to emerge.  This experience is often abrupt and fairly dramatic, and is typically preceded by a period of existential crisis or sense of longing.

“That which the Servitor saw had no form neither any manner of being; yet he had of it a joy such as he might have known in the seeing of shapes and substances of all joyful things. His heart was hungry, yet satisfied, his soul was full of contentment and joy: his prayers and his hopes were fulfilled.” – Henry Suso (disciple of Meister Eckhart)

Purgation: Conscious for the first time of the Divine reality and the immeasurable distance separating it from finite existence, one attempts to bridge the gap with focused discipline and practice—purifying the mortal self to prepare for the emergence of the spiritual Self.

“We must cast all things from us and strip ourselves of them and refrain from claiming anything for our own.” – Theologia Germanica (14th-century mystical treatise, often attributed to Meister Eckhart)

Illumination: Intimate knowledge of Reality, a certain apprehension of the Absolute—but not a true union with it; awareness of a transcendent order and a vision of a universe infused with the love of God.

“Everything in temporal nature is descended out that which is eternal, and stands as a palpable visible outbirth of it, so when we know how to separate out the grossness, death, and darkness of time from it, we find what it is it in its eternal state…. In Eternal Nature, or the Kingdom of Heaven, materiality stands in life and light; it is the light’s glorious Body, or that garment wherewith light is clothed, and therefore has all the properties of light in it, and only differs from light as it is its brightness and beauty, as the holder and displayer of all its colours, powers, and virtues.” – William Law (English cleric and theologian)

Dark Night of the Soul: Borrowing the language of John of the Cross, this state is one of final and complete purification and is often marked by confusion, helplessness, stagnation of the will, and a sense of the withdrawal of God’s presence. It is the period of final “unselfing” and the surrender to the hidden purposes of the divine will.

“Lord, since Thou hast taken from me all that I had of Thee, yet of Thy grace leave me the gift which every dog has by nature: that of being true to Thee in my distress, when I am deprived of all consolation. This I desire more fervently than Thy heavenly Kingdom.” Mechthild of Magdeburg (medieval mystic and Cistercian nun)

Unification: Nondual union with God, the timeless beloved, Absolute Reality—the spiritual Self has been permanently realized, and the finite self liberated for a new purpose. Filled with the Divine Will, it immerses itself in the world of appearances in order to incarnate the eternal within time, becoming the mediator between humanity and eternity.

“When love has carried us above all things into the Divine Dark, there we are transformed by the Eternal Word Who is the image of the Father; and as the air is penetrated by the sun, thus we receive in peace the Incomprehensible Light, enfolding us, and penetrating us.” – John of Ruysbroeck (13th-century Flemish mystic)

“Further, these mystics see in the historic life of Christ an epitome—or if you will, an exhibition—of the essentials of all spiritual life. There they see dramatized not only the cosmic process of the Divine Wisdom, but also the inward experience of every soul on her way to union with that Absolute ‘to which the whole Creation moves.’ This is why the expressions which they use to describe the evolution of the mystical consciousness from the birth of the divine in the spark of the soul to its final unification with the Absolute Life are so constantly chosen from the Drama of Faith. In this drama they see described under the veils the necessary adventures of the spirit. Its obscure and humble birth, its education in poverty, its temptation, mortification and solitude, its ‘illuminated life‘ of service and contemplation, the desolation of that ‘dark night of the soul‘ in which it seems abandoned by the Divine: the painful death of the self, its resurrection to the glorified existence of the Unitive Way, its final re-absorption in its Source – all these, they say, were lived once in a supreme degree in the flesh. Moreover, the degree of closeness with which the individual experience adheres to this Pattern is always taken by them as a standard of the healthiness, ardor, and success of its transcendental activities.” -Evelyn Underhill

A remarkable synthesis of almost two thousand years of Christian mysticism, Underhill’s classification of awakened spiritual states can be seen reflected in the esoteric teachings of almost all the world’s religious traditions.  There is an abundance of deep-rooted similarities found in the writings and teachings of history’s most profoundly realized mystics, East and West.  Though the texture, tone, symbolism, and general flavor of these spiritual states vary greatly from culture to culture, when these similarities are taken as a whole, they reveal a remarkable snapshot of the heavenly estate—describing spiritual realities that mirror the broad states of consciousness we experience every single day.  Though we can certainly classify these states with much more granularity than we shall use here, we can group the wide variety of state experiences into a minimum of four categories:

Purgation is largely concerned with the fleshy instincts and compulsions found in gross states of everyday waking consciousness

Illumination reflects the inner light and visions found in subtle states of dreaming consciousness

The Dark Night of the Soul is a silent echo in the empty causal state of deep dreamless sleep

Unification symbolizes the somewhat more elusive—but never eclipsed—nondual state, recognizing emptiness as form, form as emptiness, and the radical “not-two-ness” of all things.

Fully Human, Fully Divine:
The Wilber-Combs Lattice

Underhill continues: “The mystic cannot wholly do without symbol and image, inadequate to his vision though they must always be: for his experience must be expressed if it is to be communicated, and its actuality is inexpressible except in some hint or parallel which will stimulate the dormant intuition of the reader.”

It is not enough to have direct and immediate experiences of spiritual realities, powerful and life-changing as they are, as these experiences must then be properly interpreted and internalized before it can be communicated to the rest of the world.  After all, what would Moses’ fabled encounter with the burning bush have amounted to much if he had not returned from the mountaintop with the Ten Commandments, carving the Divine Will into stone, sculpting the interpretive foundation upon which thousands of years of Western history are built?  What good would St. Teresa of Avila’s experiences of the “Interior Castle” have done for the world if she hadn’t translated her transcendent visions into the viscera of language, unveiling the blueprints to the Heavenly Kingdom for all to see?  Would we even be having this discussion if Christ had left his revelations in the desert, lost forever to the scorched sands, without ever coming back to the world to become one of history’s greatest exemplars of divine Love?  Our interior states need to be interpreted and communicated to the rest of the world, burning in our hearts and haunting our dreams until we somehow find a way to express them—and this process of expression and communication is almost entirely determined by one’s vertical stage of consciousness

These vertical stages of development act as containers of consciousness—unseen structures that pattern our knowledge and mold our interpretations of the world around and within us. Horizontal states, on the other hand, are the stuff of experience itself—gross physical and emotional experiences; subtle visions, inspirations, and revelations; causal glimpses of transcendence, clarity, and emptiness; nondual states of radical union, flow, and Atonement.

Although spiritual practice such as meditation or contemplative prayer typically work to transform temporary states into permanent traits by stabilizing gross, subtle, causal, and nondual states in succession, we do not experience these horizontal states in a rigidly sequential way like we do vertical stages of development. States are ever-present, meaning they are accessible to all people at all times—“peak experiences” that punctuate our personal narratives with moments of catharsis, epiphany, clarity, and unity.  This is true regardless of our psychological and spiritual growth—a person can experience a subtle state of divine Illumination early in life at Fowler’s stage 2 (Mythic-Literal), and then again decades later, after developing to stage 6 (Universalizing).  Though the actual phenomenological state may be similar, the interpretations of the experience would differ drastically from different altitudes of consciousness, with an immense chasm of meaning, context, and sense of personal duty separating the two experiences.

Even those who have realized permanent or semi-permanent nondual awareness—the integrative dissolution of self and other, form and emptiness, the temporal and the eternal—even these people need to continue exercising their vertical growth.  To be fully enlightened in today’s world is to be both fully human and fully divine, which means developing vertically through all the developmental stages currently available to us as well as mastering the many horizontal states, and continuing to inch closer and closer to the unreachable horizon of human development—or else we miss out on a substantial part of a world that remains “over our heads,” limiting the amount of reality we can become one with.  While states of consciousness teach us why we should love, stages of consciousness determine who, what, where, when, and how we love, increasing the heart’s capacity for love with every stetp.  Full enlightenment, of course, can never be attained, in much the same way that we could never say that we were “fully educated.”  We are again asked to love beyond our means, to open our hearts as wide as we possibly can, to the point of breaking forever.  We are asked to simply love, and more often than not, we simply say no.  And yet we are always loved exactly as we are, broken, flawed, and perfect.

Only by taking a truly comprehensive approach to psychological and spiritual life can we begin to make sense of the full complexity of the human condition.  Knee-deep in the information age, we are watching every conflicting worldview, interpretation, and experience from every possible coordinate of the Wilber-Combs lattice coming into contact for the very first time—different worlds, realities, and perspectives all struggling to coexist upon the same planet. Friction and dissonance proliferate within the developmental gaps, giving rise to just about every religious conflict we can think of: moral absolutism versus moral relativism; exoteric religion versus esoteric religion; “New Atheism” and the war against religion; culture wars between traditional, modern, and postmodern worldviews; unthinkable violence in the name of God; religious fundamentalism and persecution; terrorism and the desperation of suicide bombings, etc.

It takes this sort of comprehensive approach to appreciate the role religion has played as history’s greatest source of suffering and liberation alike, and to help us to update our spiritual traditions so that they can offer a path beyond religious fundamentalism and ideological zealotry—carrying people vertically through magic, mythic, rational, pluralistic, and integral stages of consciousness, as well as horizontally through gross, subtle, causal, and nondual states, and onward into the limitless heart of human potential.

By understanding and embodying these two directions of human growth and spiritual revelation, our mortal and immortal hearts are able to truly become one, following the path Christ laid down for us two thousand years ago, and fulfilling our evolutionary heritage, billions of years in the making—fully human, fully divine, feeling the blissful union of two hearts beating as one.


Panentheism: The One and the Many

Gratitude and God in 2nd-Person

Simply Love

Here Be Dragons. Part 2: MGM + MSM = Faux News(peak)

August 24, 2009 2 comments

In case you forgot your secret integral decoder ring:

MGM = the “Mean Green Meme”
MSM = Mainstream Media
Faux News = the brutal disembowelment of journalistic integrity

Brent Simpson has written a great followup to his discussion about conspiracy theory over on Integral Life, and i thought i would post my latest response here.

Brent, you are doing an exquisite job with this, allowing yourself access to so many perspectives–even those teetering precariously on the fringe–while keeping your own approach as grounded as possible, which can be very difficult to do when dealing with this sort of material.  Keep up the great work; you have obviously hit on a topic that i am rabidly fascinated with.

I think that as long as we can keep just a few parameters in mind, this conversation can go a long way toward identifying some of the major obstacles that stand in the path of implementing any of our visions of an “Integral World Federation”  And i personally agree that there is no greater obstacle to this newly-emerging potential than the power elite.

Just a few things i like to keep in mind:

– One of the greatest weaknesses in conspiracy theory is the temptation to wrap over-simplified mythologies around extremely complex realities, often framing the struggle as one between classic conceptions of good vs. evil, oppressed vs. oppressor, Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader.  Most conspiracy theory does not take into account the full range of human motivation, even among the power elite themselves.

– Conversely, many conspiracy theorists prefer needlessly complex and convoluted narratives over more straight-forward interpretations, in desperate need of an appointment at Occam’s Barber Shop.  (See, for example, the supposed “moon landing hoax” conspiracies. Much simpler to just go there and simply cover up what you found, than it is to hoax the whole damn thing ^_^)

– A great preponderance of conspiracy theory is fueled by green anti-modernist sentiments, which often undermine both their perceptions and conclusions about life in the 21st century.  These are the people who use the internet to protest anti-globalization, or who fancy themselves revolutionaries because they wear Che Guevera t-shirts that were actually made in China.  It’s important for us to find a way to have a conversation about the New World Order set in a worldview that frames our growth toward globalization in a positive light.  Which brings us to….

– Eros, baby.  Not even the power elite can escape its grasp.  Whether they know it or not, they are part of the story of our mutual becoming, just as much as anyone else.  And they are playing their role precisely as they should be, creating exactly the sort of evolutionary tension we need to propel ourselves to the next level of self-organization.

I have a few comments about the examples you cite of conspiracy within military, economic, industrial, and entertainment complexes, which is exactly where you would want to begin when trying to determine the influence of the power elite on American (and, by effect, global) society.  But unfortunately, i don’t have as much time to respond as i would like, so i will just touch on one piece i have been thinking about lately, which is around the corporate-controlled mainstream media and the 24-hour news cycle.

The other night Chuck Todd was on Bill Maher’s show, and he was expressing his own consternation that he has to share the arena of “media” (i think he was specifically referring to “journalism”) with people like Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh, who make a career out of distorting truth, fabricating reality, and espousing traditional values rather than offering an objective view of the facts and allowing the viewer to draw their own conclusions.  A couple decades ago, these people would have never have even been invited to the grown-up table on Thanksgiving.  But now, it seems, you can use something like Fox News to carpet bomb American society with partial truths and propaganda, leaving it to the other networks to clean up the mess, while knowing that the lies will “stick” with enough of the pre-rational fringe to disrupt our most important media cycles.  This is why when you turn on the TV hoping for a reasonable debate about health care, one that presents the facts on both sides of the argument in a cool and rational way, but instead find images of gun-toting protesters, hanging effigies of congressmen, and posters of Obama with a Hitler mustache (which i imagine must be hideously insulting to holocaust survivors and their decendants…).

Many people point the finger at Rupert Murdoch, and consider him a direct conspirator behind the artificially-stoked culture wars that are preventing any real solutions from being surfaced.  But i think he is just playing his role as a capitalist, following the money wherever it takes him.  Our current journalistic malaise is not (solely) due to corporate conspiracy to keep us down by keeping us dumb, but is an inevitable result of liberal media itself, coupled with the exponential growth of information technology.  Having only three network channels to choose from forced us into a sort of journalistic objectivity, and someone like Walter Cronkite was able to report across ideological lines and be heard by multiple values at once.

But as communications technology continued to accelerate, our viewing options continued to increase, and postmodernist criticism of objectivity itself continued to saturate academia,the entire milieu of journalism began to change right before our eyes until we found ourselves exactly where we are–a plurality of news sources, each uniquely customized to various values propositions up and down the spectrum of development, each catering to its own (usually mutually exclusive) audience demographic.  As a result, it is now almost completely impossible to send a single message to all of America–or for a single lie to be debunked for all of America–a reality that many politicians have already begun using to their advantage (I’m looking at you, Palin…).

I don’t actually think all of this unfolded according to some secret Illuminati plan, as the technologies involved (especially the internet) were largely disruptive technologies–meaning they were innovations no one could have really seen coming, with consequences no one could have fully predicted.  But it did create fresh and fertile soil for corporate opportunism, especially as the expansion of news media became more and more dependent upon Neilson ratings and advertising sponsorships.

Of course, news media now has way too much span for way too little depth, and has already begun collapsing under its own weight.  Journalism is beginning to eat itself–anchormen are being replaced by entertainers, journalists replaced by commentators, and investigative reporters replaced by stay-at-home bloggers.  We no longer report facts, we report values.  We no longer search for objective truth, we search for ways to reinforce the things we already believe.  As a result, the power elite now has an entirely new place to hide their skeletons: right in plain sight for all to see (and none to notice).

Anyway, i think it is a delicious twist of irony that the only reason that people like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck can find a spotlight in the mainstream media is because of the high-minded pluralistic values that have emerged in the past 50 years, which has simultaneously raised the bar for journalistic sophistication, while almost entirely deconstructing our collective need for journalistic objectivity (or even integrity).

“There is no objective truth, just endless interpretations of truth. And no single interpretation can be any better or any worse than any other interpretation.  Therefore, there is no essential difference between Sean Hannity’s truth and Rachel Maddow’s truth.” -Extreme Postmodern Strawman

“Take your aperspectival nihilism and shove it up your mean green ass.” -Extreme Integral Strawman


Here Be Dragons: Conspiracy Theory and the Power Elite

Here Be Dragons: Conspiracy Theory and the Power Elite

August 21, 2009 8 comments

Someone recently posted a blog in the Integral Life community titled “Perhaps There is a Big Elephant in the Integral Room,” in which Brent Simpson asks:

“Over the last few months I have come across Alex Jones. His views to say the least are radical. He is positing that the government (at the highest levels)… is already non-left/right (Something Wilber pushes for & I believe could be wonderfully powerful if just people run the show). Jones’ view is that however, the left/right paradigm is a hoax it is used as a means to rile people into partisan thought. Where in reality the control is really coming from banking elite. Wacky right? I agree… it sounds/is far out. But, the far out-ness of it does not on its own negate its possibility of truth. As truth claims must be empirically looked into right?

Here’s the scary thing… he in my view provides some real suggestive evidence that there may well be some real truths to what he has to say. The stuff is far out no doubt… but it requires personal inquiry to ascertain if such important info is or isn’t true.

Look for yourself: http://www.infowars.com & http://www.prisonplanet.com”

Brian Oconnell responded by saying:

“Too much reality might make Integral’s and Ken’s Vision have to be revised. The LR would look much different with the truths your pointing to…. Integral thinks it has a grasp of the LR. But does not understanding banking 101. Integral needs a LR awakening and quick before the Elite blob takes over Integral hopes.”

Here was my response.

As a life-long enthusiast of conspiracy theory, i’ve kept an eye on everything from Alex Jones to the Masons, to the Bilderbergers, and all the way to glass domes on the moon, structures on Mars, ancient astronauts, and various forms of (occasionally illicit) extraterrestrial liaison.  Not only is it wildly entertaining to wrap interesting mythologies around the complexity of modern life, it’s also a great way to remind myself of everything i don’t know—and i personally think that it is extremely important for even our best maps of reality to acknowledge the mind boggling mystery at the periphery of understanding, dark seas of incomprehension scribed with warnings that plainly read: “Here Be Dragons.”

The problem with most conspiracy theory is that, when followed through to the end with a critical eye, any particular theory ends up appearing hopelessly naive.  However, it is equally naive to think that, in a world with as dramatically imbalanced a distribution of wealth as ours, there are no conspiracy theories at all.  American and European history has been decidedly influenced by a plethora of secret societies, each with its own sphere of influence, control, and power.  Let’s be clear—those with the most wealth and power will almost always manipulate the system so they can maintain that power.  And they use tactics that have been in play since at least the Roman Empire—even the Babylonian, if you listen to Alex Jones.  But, outside the world of comic books and caped crusaders (the Guild of Calamitous Intent notwithstanding), it is hard to imagine any single room of people powerful enough (or competent enough with their power) to successfully manipulate and control the thoughts and values of over six billion individual agents around the world.

Conspiracies certainly exist, but no prison is strong enough to confine Eros.

Much of the confusion, i believe, is due to an unnecessary personification of the “nexus-agency” of the lower right quadrant—e.g. Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand”—there is a very real “intelligence” to the LR quadrant, a self-organizing force that we have begun to intuit, but have found difficult to account for (at least before Ken Wilber’s four-quadrant map made it explicit)—and while looking for some way to “ground” this LR intelligence in the real world, we naturally project it onto the power elite.  After all, if there anyone who could influence the political, industrial, military, and entertainment worlds, it would certainly be the top .0001% of the wealthiest people in the world.  But to think that any of them would be capable of subverting more than 500 years of individual liberty, enslaving the free-thinkers of the world under some sort of monolithic New World Order aegis of global totalitarianism (as Alex Jones suggests) is hopelessly naive, and radically overestimates our own sway on the forces of evolution in this lonely pocket of the galaxy.

It reminds me of my favorite argument against those who believe the Bush administration was responsible for 9/11*—do you really think that those responsible for the FEMA, Guantanamo Bay, and Iraqi WMD fiascos could really carry out an operation as incomprehensibly complex as a 9/11 coverup?**

As to Brian’s comment that “the LR would look much different with the truths you’re pointing to”—would it really?  Isn’t this thirst for wealth and power pretty much covered by the “Red” stage of development?  And isn’t it made pretty explicit that any level of cognition can be hijacked by ego-centric values, and that these power-hungry values can even be dressed up (double-speak style) with the language of pretty much any other stage of values?  While i agree that the integral treatment of political science has remained highly abstract and conceptual, and its real-world implementation needs to take into account the fact that the power elite and the developmental elite seem to share almost no overlap whatsoever, i don’t think our distribution of wealth and power does anything to “break” the integral model.  I also think it can accommodate the concept of “esoteric” and “exoteric” power dynamics as they exist today and throughout history, which is what most political conspiracy theory concerns itself with.

Again, i think it is foolish to believe any given conspiracy theory, on it’s own merit.  The truth is too big, too complex, and most likely too compartmentalized for even the conspirators themselves to fully understand.  And it is easy to become seduced by the sorts of generalizations people like Alex Jones throw around so easily, such as the idea that distinctions between the American Right and Left are mere Illuminati illusions—one only needs to look at the deeply-embedded culture wars of America to see that, on an ideological level, the Left and the Right represent some very real distinctions of modern political thought.  That is, even if the American political system has been manipulated on a structural level by the power elite, it is still inhabited by a plurality of different perspectives—some red, some amber, some orange, some green, some teal, and some turquoise.  Some valuing individualist libertarianism, some collectivist socialism.  Some emphasizing interior values, some emphasizing exterior conditions.  Some socially liberal, some socially conservative; some fiscally liberal, some fiscally conservative.  Again, although i agree that the integral community still needs to find more pragmatic interpretations of real-world power dynamics, we already have all the conceptual tools we need to do so—we just need to continue unfolding the map and unpacking some of these insights.

Personally, i have noticed that i have grown far less interested in conspiracies of imprisonment, and more interested in conspiracies of jailbreak—that is, if any one of the thousands of possible conspiracies was actually true, it would be extraterrestrial contact that would have the potential of radically reconfiguring our integral maps.  Nothing would stretch our definitions of the word “integral” more than interplanetary contact.  Just a couple weeks ago at Ken’s loft, he said something along the lines of “right now in history, we have the biggest opportunity we will ever have to integrate all the world’s knowledge and to get a real sense of the universal—until we make extraterrestrial contact, when we will have to compare our integrated world-truth with all the other integrated world-truths that are out there.”  But we don’t even need to be so visionary—i think that even finding a single microorganism in the seas of Europa would be enough to galvanize a massive upswell of human consciousness, as we would have a new symbolic “other” by which to contrast a new global sense of “us.”

You can almost smell the pot fumes with this sort of dorm-room philosophizing ^_^

* Which is an entirely different group of people than those who believe the Bush administration wasn’t directly responsible for executing the 9/11 attacks, but knew it was going to happen and allowed it to, precipitated by Cheney’s confession that we “need” a “new Pearl Harbor”—which i find to be a far more believable accusation.

** Just so i don’t come off as a typical liberal Bush-basher (though it can sometimes seem like shooting whales in a barrel) i will say in self-defense that i am horribly disappointed that the media has been ignoring the admirable success of his AIDS work in Africa, as it’s been recently estimated that his actions are responsible for saving the lives of over one million people.  It was a shining diamond in the eight-year rough that should receive far more acknowledgment than it does.  For some reason i doubt very much that Dick Cheney was closely involved in that one.  (Yes, i am a typical liberal Cheney basher.)

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