Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
I also posted this video largely in response to this thread. It seems to me -- though I'm willing to look at it from another, more sympathetic angle -- that the Boomer narcissism that is being denounced by Cohen is powerfully (and ironically) exemplified by the view of "evolution" that he is promoting.
I may be a little late to this discussion, but I just discovered it through another post about Andrew Cohen's new publication: Evolutionary Enlightenment. Over the past year, I've engaged in discussions with the EnlightenNext community, attended a few meetings and made some friends with some nice people. Overall, I've kept my distance with stepping on board as a member, because I remain uneasy with Cohen's philosophy, teachings, and even a gut-sense that something about him is "off." A generous friend from this community offered me his copy of the new book before it was published. I've read a little over half the book so far, jotting down notes in the margins and filling the book with notes of my own. Joseph, I have to say that your astute reflections on this subject hit the nail on the head and left me with quite a lot to think about. I ended up writing some spiritual reflections on mysticism and evolution, but I'll save that for the end of this post.
First I wanted to share a few reflections concerning spiritual violence: now I am not a "monist" per se, even though I am at least intellectually appreciating non-dualism. My understanding of non-dualism, however, is not that the self must be annihilated, but that it is a unique expression of the infinite, or Godhead. Perhaps this is more of a Western, Jungian, or alchemical idea, but for me the ego is the tip of the ice berg, of which the Self is the deeper dimension and the individuation process an important part of the transcendent realization. This is probably equating metaphors terribly, but there is a Zen Koan that says: before I saw mountains, then there were no mountains, now there are mountains. The self doesn't get squished. If anything, for me a healthy realization only enhances the unique experience of being embodied, with a unique take on life, a personality, and individual experience. For me, true non-duality is not the loss of the personal in favor of the impersonal. But I realize this can often be a challenge, especially with a powerful mystical experience, we are tempted to "bliss out" into the infinite. The true challenge is integrating this universal dimension back into everyday life.
Many spiritual traditions bring up this issue, in Zen it is the "stink of enlightenment." Like Alan Kazlev points out by referencing Sri Aurobindo's "intermediate zone" guru, mystical transformation is a messy process and is not necessarily easy. There can be many spiritual snags, where the initiate or practitioner can get stuck and end up inflating their ego. In a time where spiritual traditions are being rediscovered in a materialistic age, and where many people are desperate for meaning and transcendence, the danger of spiritually-sick Gurus is prevalent. I wonder how prevalent this might be in the Integral community's teachers, especially in light of the recent events.
Concerning biological evolution and cultural evolution - I'd add there are many other theories besides Spiral Dynamics, or Wilber's developmental framework. Marshal McLuhan is one more mainstream example, but then there is also William Irwin Thompson's work with the Lindisfarne Association that is often un-mentioned, despite there being a sophisticated theory of cultural evolution which is more in line with the life and mind sciences than developmental psychology (as in Wilber's case). I'm referring to Thompson's work with Ralph Abraham, a mathematician, Francisco Varela, Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock. Personally, I am studying these folks and find their insights to be quite rewarding, and perhaps more accessible to mainstream dialogue (though ironically talked about less) than Wilber's work. But perhaps that's comparing apples and oranges. (I'm a student in the Goddard Consciousness Studies program researching many different theorists, including Wilber).
You're right that it is probably easier to see that human societies undergo large-scale transformations over big stretches of time. But to equate these multi-generational transitions with individual growth is dangerous, and often gives way to ideology (WE can change the world immediately through our actions!) Cultural evolution has always taken generations. I'm open to the possibility that in this time period, where so much is happening at once, single individuals may be able to contribute a lot more than ever before. Sure. But let's not forget the big picture. It keeps us humble, patient, and in it for the long haul where the transformation is going on.
Anyhow, here's that piece I wrote reflecting on spirituality and personal evolution:
More so than appropriating new "memes" or "genes" - the story of social transformation is genuinely coming from within, a shift in our orientation. Jean Gebser regarded them as "mutations," but a mutation is a turbulent and difficult thing. It cannot be mastered by the conscious ego, ideology or rationalization. Rather than seeing us as purely self-evolving beings climbing a ladder of evolution, does it not make more sense to understand individual growth as a movement towards the center - towards wholeness? If we are constantly oriented towards the position of "constant evolution," or an infinite "growth to goodness," ironically, we may miss out on the life at hand. If you are an esotericist, you might recognize that the only way for human consciousness to evolve is to clear the way for that which is hidden to sprout up in ourselves. To let the "soul" more actively participate in all facets of life, consciously. As we clear a path in ourselves, we allow these so-called higher worlds to participate in this one: making coffee, going to work, raising a family, inventing and innovation, good works and conscious living. You might call that participation an "evolution," and perhaps in the long haul it is, but let's not fetishize the term and collapse it into an idea, nor conflate it with what we know about biological evolution.
This is just an observation about the individualized use of the term "evolution." It's easier to understand socio-cultural evolution because it is stretched out across history, observable in the transformation of ideas, mythologies and the orientation of human consciousness over time.
Frank Visser at Integral World liked my essay & has kindly reposted it on his site. Hot damn! Does this mean I'm 2nd tier?