These writings are my opportunity to share thoughts and tools for the spiritual journey. These letters are my personal insights and opinions. If you wish to share this letter with others, please feel free to do so; the material is © 2007 - 08 by David Spangler.
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The article below is #11 in the David's Desk series. For all of the current series go to the Lorian Assoc link above (www.lorian.org)
The other day I heard a woman say, “I have to get rid of my ego.” She said it in much the same way that President Bush says we have to get rid of terrorists. In her life, she is a loving, inclusive person, dedicated to spiritual development. Given her general orientation towards creating wholeness around her, I wondered why she didn’t say, “There is that in me that gets in my way of being as loving and free as I would like. I need to understand why this is so and what this is. Perhaps I can discover how to partner with it to create wholeness within me.”
However, like many of us, her language of spirituality tends towards words and images better suited for a military campaign. We learn this from our culture. Thus, she talks about “overcoming” and “defeating” the parts of her she dislikes or has been told are bad for her. She “surrenders” to spirit as if it were an invading army before whom she must wave a white flag. Dedicated to a holistic outlook in her work and relationships, she abandons it in favor of a “divide and conquer” mentality when it comes to herself and her own spirituality.
This is unfortunate. Language shapes how we think and how we act. It also influences what we think is possible. If I think of myself as divided into good and bad parts, “friends” and “enemies,” and of inner work as a battle to protect the former and get rid of or destroy the latter, then I make myself a divided being, one whose energy is consumed by inner conflict. Spiritual progress becomes seen as a series of conquests over myself. But who is the victor and who the defeated?
Here’s another example. Many years ago I heard a lecturer say that the relationship of the soul to the personality and body was like that of a driver to a car. This is certainly a compelling image and a common one. It draws its power from its simplicity; it is metaphorically appealing. On the other hand, it also has the effect of dividing us into at least two parts, soul and personality or spirit and body and making one subordinate to the other. After all, a car is an unthinking thing that we use, not a partner or part of our wholeness. If this is the basis of our thinking about ourselves, then it creates a foundation for the kind of inner conflict I mentioned above.
Let’s call this the language of separation. It’s pervasive throughout human culture. It is the language of “us” vs. “them,” at the root of so much violence and suffering in our world today, and not just between people. It colors much of our thinking about our relationship to the environment was well. Not that all separative language and thinking is bad. There are times when the ability to draw clear distinctions and boundaries is important. To say that all separative thinking is wrong is itself an example of separative thinking. But there is no doubt that when such language and thinking are carried to an extreme and are not balanced by equally compelling images of our unity and connectedness, we end up with horrors like the Holocaust.
When I began my work as a spiritual teacher in 1965, I also began an association with a group of inner beings who ever since have been my colleagues. They are part of a much larger attempt within the spiritual worlds to give us a new language, one more in keeping with the needs of the world that is emerging. I remember my principle mentor at that time, a being whom I called “John,” saying that the way human beings thought and spoke about themselves and spirit was itself a barrier to closer collaboration and co-creation between the physical and non-physical worlds. “You either don’t believe in us or you believe too much in us, putting us on a pedestal and diminishing yourselves in the process,” John said. “We seek partnership, but partnership cannot be based on one side telling the other what to do or the other submitting because it feels unworthy and unspiritual.” We had a good language for discernment and separation, but we didn’t have a good language for connectedness and wholeness.
This began to change in the Sixties and Seventies. Science, mathematics, and environmental research began giving us a new language to talk about ourselves and the world around us. It is a language of concepts like “holism,” “systems,” “interconnectedness,” “interdependency,” and “ecology.” It is a language that sees ourselves and the world as emergent wholes.
My friend the cultural historian and poet, William Irwin Thompson, calls the holistic thinking that understands and uses such a language a “Gaian way of knowing.” It represents a significant shift in the perspectives and attitudes that prevail in our civilization, even in civilization in general. Though there have been societies in the past that have certainly honored nature and the planet, we have not had a culture that sees humanity and the world as spiritual and physical co-creators, partners, and collaborators in shaping wholeness. We have not had a civilization that teaches us to “think like a planet,” which is to say, in systemic, holistic and ecological ways. To imagine the possibility that such a civilization can develop and that we can be agents of its emergence and actually begin creating it is the calling of our time.
This is so because there is no question that the language of division is insufficient as we confront planetary challenges such as climate change and a global economy, terrorism and war. We need a language of wholeness. We need a language for holopoiesis, the art of “wholeness-making.”
What has been interesting to me is to see where this language has been emerging and where it lagged. Over the past thirty years, some of the most pioneering thinking and experimentation in what might be called ‘Gaian consciousness” has been in business, economics, in organizational development and new theories of governance, as well as in the sciences, particularly biology, ecology and systems theory. For some examples, see the books of Harrison Owen on Open Space Technology (one of many websites is http://openspaceworld.com), Margaret Wheatley’s classic book Leadership and the New Science (http://www.margaretwheatley.com/), the techniques of non-violent communication taught by Marshall Rosenberg (http://www.cnvc.org/), Arnold Mindell’s process psychology (http://www.aamindell.net/), or Mark Satin’s political blog on the Radical Middle (http://www.radicalmiddle.com/). Where, it seems to me, it has been slowest to take hold is in the spiritual field (a notable exception to this has been the work of William Bloom—check out his website, http://www.williambloom.com/ or his book Soulutions.)
It’s not that concepts of wholeness aren’t found in spiritual teachings and traditions; they are. But it’s more common, I think, to find ideas of unity than of wholeness. These are not identical concepts, and the two can be turned against each other in curious ways. Thus the woman I mentioned at the beginning felt that to achieve a state of unity, she had to become less whole, dividing herself into bits, getting rid of some while keeping the others. What she lacked was a way of thinking and speaking about herself as a whole being. Her spiritual language didn’t give her tools for holopoiesis.
We need such tools. It is hard to be agents of creating wholeness in the world if we cannot create it in ourselves, and it’s hard to create it in ourselves if we believe that it’s fundamentally lacking in us, that the very nature of who and what we are arises from separation and division. Yet when we speak of our incarnations as journeys away from God and spirit, when we think of life as a kind of exile from our real home, when we think of ourselves as divided into souls and personalities, when we think of the physical world as simply an illusion from which we must awaken, we may well be speaking (and thinking) in a language of separation rather than connection and wholeness-making.
It was for this reason, I believe, that a number of years ago the inner beings with whom I work suggested I focus my attention on incarnation itself. What I call incarnational spirituality has grown out of that research, which is ongoing. I’ve gained numerous insights in this process, but one of the most important has been to see incarnation itself as an act of wholeness-making.
Various traditions and schools of spirituality identify different reasons why we may come to this world: to work out past karma, to learn lessons, to evolve, to perform some specific task, and so on. But deeper than any of these reasons, we are gifts of love to enhance the connections between the physical and non-physical dimensions and to build the wholeness of the earth.
We cannot build wholeness if we do not feel whole within ourselves, but we cannot feel whole in ourselves if we cannot speak of who we are in a language of connection and wholeness. It’s this language that is striving to develop and unfold in our midst. It’s not an easy birth, even when we desire it, for we have spoken for so long in languages of separation and conflict that they insinuate themselves into our thinking even when we are talking about wholeness. “My ego is the source of my problems; I must get rid of it to be whole.” But once we get rid of it—if we can get rid of it—then what takes its place? What new part of ourselves shall we identify as the new culprit and the next target for removal? How much self-division and self-amputation does wholeness demand? The correct answer is none at all, but to understand that, we must learn to see, to think, and to speak in a different way, in the language of Gaia rather than the language of a fragmented—and fragmenting--humanity.
The elements of this language are emerging. This is the most exciting thing about our time. It is a language that has the power to create a new world because it can enable us to see a new us. Incarnational spirituality is part of this language, the part that focuses on incarnation, self, sovereignty, generativity, relationships and even boundaries as elements and acts of wholeness-making. But other parts are emerging as well, in holistic spirituality itself and in science, business, politics, indeed in many walks of life as individuals respond to the possibilities of a new world and a new vision.
Is this possible? Can we learn a new language to heal our world and heal ourselves? I believe so. It’s why I do what I do and teach what I teach. It’s why Lorian exists. More importantly, I believe it’s why we’re all here, to make this shift. The language of wholeness may be new in some ways but in reality it is our native tongue. It may not be a matter of learning something new but of remembering something basic within us, the deep language of our souls, the grammar of love and the vocabulary of being human.
In my next David’s Desk, I will explore more fully what a new language of wholeness-making might sound like in the context of dealing with ego. If “ego” is something we need to confront, then how might we do so in a holistic and not a separative way?