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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Joe Corbett has been living in Shanghai and Beijing since 2001. He has taught at American and Chinese universities using the AQAL model as an analytical tool in Western Literature, Sociology and Anthropology, Environmental Science, and Communications. He has a BA in Philosophy and Religion as well as an MA in Interdisciplinary Social Science, and did his PhD work on modern and postmodern discourses of self-development, all at public universities in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at [email protected].
Is Love The Answer?
Perhaps it is time for us to put down our metaphysical projections, and to understand the world and the universe as it really is.
In my last essay (AQAL Musings) I said that the Empty Witness experience that many mystics have had and describe as Awareness, Consciousness, or the Ground of Being, otherwise known as God, is a first person experience of a third person process that I describe as Kosmic Dynamics. The attribution of a Divine Self (God) to such an experience is a metaphysical second person description of the objective reality and experience of our Source, the quantum vacuum from which we arise and into which we fall from moment to moment.
The reason why we humans describe this experience as “becoming one with God” or “uniting with the Divine Being” (whatever form it may take) is that understanding the world in second person, as a relation to a personal and intimate other, is deeply rooted in how we experience and relate to the world as highly social primates, with a prolonged period of dependency on caretakers and a lifelong dependency on our group. Humans have evolved and adapted to experience and describe their world primarily in terms of second person human relations, which is why we are always projecting anthropomorphic images, relations, and understandings onto the world.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that Oneness with the Universe is wrong or somehow illusory. The first person experience of union with the universe that the mystic has is real, as that is a phenomenal experience of an objective process from which we emerge moment to moment, and from which we have evolved over billions of years in the context of the evolution of the universe as a whole. What I am saying is that the second person description that has often been used to describe the mystical experience (Awareness, Consciousness, God) has been limited by our objective pre-scientific understanding of the world, and by the tendency for second person relations to dominate the way we humans have interpreted reality for most of our history.
Perhaps it is time for us to put down our metaphysical projections, and to understand the world and the universe as it really is, not necessarily by abandoning these metaphysical projections but simply by recognizing that our experiences of Divinity up to now have been generating second person descriptions for something we have not had the language to describe until now, something that is essentially an objective process, the arising and falling of existence from the ocean of the implicate order (the quantum vacuum), and instead we have introduced second person interpretations of this process by using metaphysical descriptions that are merely anthropomorphic projections. In other words, perhaps we have some spiritual growing up to do.
Moreover, when we experience union with the cosmos or whatever god we attribute to this experience, what we often experience is the feeling of Love, or simply of being at One in the experience of our Source, and this is what often captivates us about the mystical experience, mystifying us even further within a second person framing. This could be the oceanic feeling of oneness in the Womb, the embrace with our Beloved, the intimacy of union with the Source of our Being, with our past lives, our ancestors, or with those in whom we have a deep connection from the past.
All of these experiences of oneness with our source provide the existential grounding for the “demeanor of love”, a persistent readiness to engage with others in loving kindness, care, and compassion in recognition of their essential oneness with us and everything else. Those for whom this experience of unity persists or becomes attached and fixed to their habitual experience of the world also often have a calm and peaceful nature about them (who doesn't feel calm and peaceful in the womb of our ancestral past?), and we sometimes identify this as a sign of their “enlightenment”.
This experience of Oneness and its associated feeling of Love and Compassion has been touted as the answer to solving many of our human problems, locally and globally. If only everyone or at least a goodly percentage of people would have this experience and its emotional counterpart, it is thought, then surely our problems could be solved. Unfortunately, this belief is quite naïve, and quite common in new age spirituality circles.
First of all, relying on second person interpretations of the Source always leads to conflicts in interpretation—is it Awareness that is the ground of Being, or Consciousness? Is it the Self, or God? My god, or your god? The limitation of using second person interpretations should be clear enough for those with clarity of thought. We therefore need a third person interpretation of our first person experience of Oneness within the Empty Witness, without necessarily abandoning our second person interpretations, but becoming more construct aware of them. Second, attributing human qualities like Consciousness to a process we barely understand is simply lacking in the kind of self-awareness we need as a species to get over ourselves as the center of the universe, and instead introduce a Copernican revolution within the field of spiritual knowledge. That the universe is Aware or Conscious or has a supreme Being at the helm is clearly a humanly attributed quality to the universe about a process that until now we have only been able to understand in a way that humans have evolved to understand things, namely, through second person relational descriptions of the world (Mother-Earth, Father-Sky, Sibling-Creatures, and Child-Self).
But c'mon now. Is the universe so simple and insignificant as to be reducible to a primate relation? Is the Mystery of existence to be found in how we humans perceive and understand our little corner of the universe? If it is, then surely we are but a pale shadow of what it truly is.
Without decentering the interpretation of spiritual experience from a second to a proper third person understanding, we will only be left with the cultural biases and divisions of an all-too-human understanding of the universe and our place in it. It could indeed be useful to harness the love and compassion that often comes from the experience of union with our source, but without universalizing the experience with a third person interpretation we are likely to continue within a 'love for our people and our gods, but not for those heathens' second person framework. And that won't be any answer to our problems, at all.