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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber



A Brief Inquiry Into The Ongoing Degradation
Of Any And All Indications Of Depth

David Jon Peckinpaugh

[Note: This essay has been written in response to Paul Salamone's reply to the essay 'Looking Forward…']

In The Hope Of Tying Up A Few Loose Camels

Thank you so much Paul for taking the time to respond to the essay, 'Looking Forward.' I found your obvious sense of humour to be quite wonderful and refreshing—as well as offering some needed leaven to what can often be the exceedingly dry-nature of intellectual discourse, discussion, and debate. I bet you have a way of keeping your friends in stitches.

Anywho… as for the serious concerns that you have raised, please allow me to try responding to them as simply as I can, just by mentioning a fairly prevalent reminder that I am sure we have all heard at one time or another. Namely, to 'hope for the best, while still preparing for the worst.'

So we ought to pray to Allah, while still tying our camels up.

Hope, then, is utter nonsense if we don't take the time to prepare for the worst of all possible eventualities. We certainly don't want our camel to run off on us, i.e., it is not something we wish for or intend. Yet, given the nature of the beast, if you will, we prepare for what might happen—for the potential that exists for certain unfortunate consequences to arise.

So we pray to God… and also make sure that our insurance premiums are paid up.

Integral Hope and Dread

Relative to the Integral Movement—a gross generalization, of course—is my sense that the unfolding direction of said movement has been towards a whole lotta 'hoping for the best,' and yet not nearly so much 'preparation for the worst.' Call me a 'worry-wart' Paul. Tell me I am unnecessarily 'fretting' over non-sense; merely over-exaggerating my concerns; all worked up about what is no more nor less than my own self-generated 'straw-men' of either Integral-dress or 20-something-ness… or perhaps even both!

And if you were to do so Paul (or have already done so) you would be totally and completely right. You would have pinned the tail on the donkey that is David. You would have hit the nail on the head.

Correct you are, Paul, in assuming that I am a 'worry wart.' That while I do have hope in the Eternal and the

Transcendent—the Unbegotten One—I also gather that as far as the nature of finitude goes one ought to spend at least some time preparing for what is the eventual and inevitable 'break-down' and 'degeneration' of whatever is born—the created.

Also, considering the tendencies that exist for accidents bourne of unconsciousness—as well as the imposition of Coyote, Hermes, the archetypal Trickster—it seems only reasonable that we would prepare ourselves spiritually for the tragedies that will visit us materially. Tragedies no mortal avoids. Tragedies that make Hamlet's of us all.

The High-Tides of Rising Hope

You see Paul, my primary inspiration in sharing what I have is the result of directly realizing—personally, passionately, purposefully, and even painfully—how very easy it is to become swept up into the fury of hopes that are bourne of what appears to be 'new' and 'novel.'[1] I have seen—and experienced first-hand—the results of seeking salvation in a million and one guises. The thirst for release from what ails us—whether spiritual emptiness or existential despair, nihilism or meaninglessness—cannot be underestimated. I feel, deeply, that it is the chief motivation experienced and expressed by sentient beings: this longing for release.

And what can provide this release from the dukkha's seeming death-grip? Sex? Drugs? Rock-and-roll? More sex? More drugs? More rock-and-roll? :o )

What about a woman or a man? What about the romantic love of a lifetime? What about a career? Didn't you think it was going to be easier once you were out of college (provided you now are, of course)? Aren't these illusions that span sex, gender, ethnicity, and inherited dogma?

I grew up under the banner 'Jesus Saves.' Everytime I was born again—and believe me, I confessed my sins and was born again enough to save a small African Nation!—I had this expectation of a 'light' or 'vision' or some deep and abiding sensation of 'peace.' But what I was left with was… well, a feeling of, 'That's it! That's all. No psychological fireworks. No 'music of the spheres.' No song and dance. No angels. No P.T. Barnum. No story of saving grace to tell my grandkids about someday.'

Yeah, Jesus … he friggin' ripped me off man!

Seriously, though, I had these expectations due to the stories I had heard from others. I thought there must be something wrong with me because I didn't get the 'cascading shower of Love and Light' to wash over me and wipe all my sins away. Hell, I didn't even get a splash of cold spirit-water in the face!

My hopes were dashed early on like that. It meant that metanoia… and later on… satori… would become a tough-slog through mud and filth—the mud and filth of my own selfishness and pride, arrogance and spiritual stupidity; the mud and filth of me wanting an 'easy way out;' the mud and filth of me secretly wanting Jesus… and later on, Extra-Terrestrials… to do all the bone-crushing work for me.

Now I know that Ken Wilber of all people has not condoned any quick-fixes when it comes to the urgency of psycho-spiritual transformations. At the same time, I am also aware that the tendency to wish for the easy way—a way that requires the 'least expenditure of energy,' as an evolutionary scientist might remind us—is seemingly ever-present. It explains the presence of diet-pills vs. the long-term benefits of diet and exercise. Just take a pill, yeah. Simple, right?

In spiritual terms, just take a weekend retreat with the latest Dr. Wayne Dyer imitator. Or pipe away with an affirmation. Or change your paradigm. Or be the 100th monkey. 'Here, just for you… and for a limited time only, I am making available my brand-new, totally updated, no-sweat way to Enlightenment for just $19.95… or your money-back.'

For less than $20 you will never suffer again.

Again, just in case I need to reiterate this point, I am not suggesting that Ken Wilber, the Integral Institute, the members of I-I, or any of the affiliated groups, are condoning such practices as those satired above. All I am saying is that there are certain deep-seated human tendencies that will arise in damn near any setting… institutional or otherwise. I am saying that there are persons, young and old, who have transference issues with Ken Wilber and I-I. Idealizing transferences. Maybe not you Paul. Maybe not any of your close friends either. But I can pretty much guarantee you that such 'idealizing transferences' do indeed exist—both in the center, as well as at periphery, of the Integral Movement.

The human hunger for a 'saving figure' or 'redemptive methodology'—whether technological, ala gene therapy, or spiritual, ala yoga—is simply huge. I suspect that these 'transference' issues will only become more crucial to address over time. Anything that smacks of the 'new' or the 'novel' is bound to be the object of various projections—both pro and con.

Preparation For The Worst

A cursory glance at History forewarns us that the intense rush of a seemingly 'new' or 'novel' movement can easily result in the quick dismissal, if not outright denial, of previously existing actualities as little more than 'old news.' Here is Ken Wilber's 'baby being thrown out with the bathwater.' It is both Freud's and Marx's dismissal of 'religion' vis-à-vis psychoanalysis and historical materialism respectively. With the seemingly 'new' and 'novel,' then (as was also suggested in the aforementioned essay 'Looking Forward…'), there is very much a tendency towards hubris; coupled together with a swelling naivete' that can so easily presume the whole-scale dismemberment of the old in the service of the 'emergent.' It is how our 'elders' can become thrown aside—onto the scrap heap of progress, if you will—simply because they are seen as standing in the way of an emerging generation's dreams.

But my question, Paul, is this: 'What are the trans-generational dreams of Humanity?'

What are the dreams and hopes of sentient beings spanning all generations and epochs—hopes and dreams that do not change precisely because they are indicative of the Unborn? Is it to be free? Is it to be released from the toils of ignorance and unconsciousness? Is it to know a Love that doesn't wither with the passing of seasons and cycles? Is it to escape what we sense as an un-natural… and needless… state of affairs?

If we have to constantly throw whole generations aside in order to make way for our march into the future, then how skillful are our means really? If we cater to youth and have no place in our Integralism for a 90-plus your old Matriarch, then how 'integral' are we really?

Or: What of a single mother with three young kids, trying to get a degree, working her ass off for a retail conglomerate that pays her enough so that after day-care costs she is making about 40 cents/hour? What of the aging middle-aged man who begins to represent increasing health-care costs to a multi-national that he has worked for so tirelessly, such that he is now being deemed a 'negative factor' in that multi-national's cost-benefit analysis, i.e., expendable, just more 'corporate fat' that needs to be trimmed?

You are right, Paul, there is a virtue to our having 'hope'… even as we are well aware of the 'worst' that humanity is capable of—if not the worst that Maya is given to perpetuate. ¨

Obviously, if nothing of the sort that I suggested in 'Looking Forward…' is actually taking place with regards to broader 'Integral Movement,' then all the questions and concerns raised therein are nothing but a collection of smoke and mirrors. In all honesty, I wish that this were actually the case, Paul. I wish I were just blowing smoke up your butt (well, not literally 'blowing smoke up your butt!'). I wish I didn't feel such a need… such a necessity compelling me to 'prepare for the worst.' I wish I could sing my lungs out with Bobby McFerrin. 'Don't worry. Be happy.'

And there are times when I can, Paul. There are times when I can sing that aloud during days when the winds are calm and the light of the Sun shines through the dissipating overcast up above. Then there are those days when the winds howl through the forest, off in the distance, approaching, and I feel the stirring in my bones, as all that my Ancestors have prepared me for comes to the fore. In such moments I am moved from within to 'do what must be done' in light of my sense that there is a coming storm. So, the call goes heeded. The duty is taken up with purpose. What must be done gets done.

Isn't this how it is in 'preparing for the worst?' There is a sense of urgency--mind you, not like a chicken running around with its head cleaved from the rest of its feathered body, though! It is, rather, not unlike the urgency felt by a parent realizing that his or her child is about to come into harm's way. It is the urgency of rushing to a friend whom you know is sick and could use a benevolent presence. It is the urgency of the Medic and the Everyday Hero. It is the urgency of 'allaying suffering' before it is too late. It is the urgency of compassion. It is the urgency of bodhi-citta. It is the urgency of the Awakened Heart. The urgency of Ken Wilber writing for three years in utter solitude in order to give shape and substance to a masterpiece entitled Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. The urgency of Sri Aurobindo's monumental efforts in conveying an 'Integral Yoga.' The urgency of one who feels the desperate nature of the human predicament, such that he or she desires nothing other than to be placed in the position of Greatest Service. How can 'I' be of benefit to others? How can 'I' assist the Divine in the plan for salvation for all sentient beings, in all worlds and realms, for all time?

Only the Awakened Heart could ever ask such a question. Only bodhi-citta speaks that kind of language.

Personally speaking, there has been a sense of urgency felt within me upon being exposed to certain conditions that have elicited in me a desire to respond as quickly as possible. I have perused the literature and essays here at, and elsewhere, that have led me to ponder exactly what 'vital voices' might be on the verge of exclusion from an ongoing 'integral discourse.'[2] I have wondered what 'brilliant insight'—that could 'allay suffering'—might be denied a voice because the impression has been given that 'they are not to be included in the circle of integral importance.' I have worried that certain stances taken and statements made could be (mis)interpreted to indicate that people ought not share their Treasure with others, simply because they are not considered significant enough by those in the know.

I have worried that the 'hermeneutic circle' might be closed too soon… prematurely. After all, one never knows where a certain 'bliss-bestowing jewel' is going to come from. Often it issues forth from the person or place that one might least expect it to. Albert Einstein formulating revolutionary equations and theories in an unsuspecting patent office. A young Ken Wilber washes dishes in a restaurant, while those around him can hardly suspect what might be transpiring within—as the 'spectrum of consciousness' begins to take shape. Who among us would suspect that a Samurai, able to annihilate his opponent in an instant, could be capable of such exquisite poetry and aesthetic magnificence? Who would think that the beastly and the angelic could be consciously and voluntarily unified in one? Who would suspect one could be capable of such a seemingly wide-array of potentialities? Who but those sympathetic with the Integral.

We might wonder how a Samurai on the battlefield can be the same man that we sit across from in the midst of the delicacies of a Tea Ceremony? The man who is a Tsunami in War and such a Still Presence at Home.

Specialists Vis-à-vis Integralists

In our most recent eras—modern and post-modern—the considered emphasis has been on 'increasing specialization'[3] as the way to the good life. The unfortunate result is that the 'integrated, well-rounded, ass-kicking aesthete'—for lack of a better term—has become a slave to the dictates of the specialists. The growing tendency towards specialization has eclipsed the Renaissance, the class of Samurai, the Japanese Zen Sage's adeptness with the staff and the tea-cup alike—as well as the ever-present Integral Intuition that says to us from within that 'we are more than just a single cog in a (post) industrial machine'

The message that (post)modern society has sent out to all posts and colonies alike is this: 'You cannot be a Whole Man or Woman—an integrated dance of the strange attraction between the beastly and the angelic, the demonic and the divine, form and formlessness. Instead, you must choose a mere portion or snippet of your Totality and focus on becoming that to the exclusion of all else. You must become not just a cog in the machine… but a single tooth on that cog.' Translation: Your wide array of potentialties—your intrinsic capacity for Wholeness—must be aborted for the sake of the machine. Be a part… just a part… a specialized function in the network of post-industrial relations. Live that partness. Breathe that partness. Be that partness. Eat and sleep that partness. Now and forevermore.

Oh… and then secretly grieve the loss of what the socio-economic straitjacket has made of your Totality—by cramming it all into a tiny little compartment that suffocates in the name of progress and success. Yes, so successful in your role that you can't even breathe now.

Familiar with this presently enforced nature of the prevailing system, Paul—the infrastructure of society, if you will? Specialize at all costs. In other words, be a partial, imbalanced, half-cocked being—one who is prone to ongoing unconciousness and pernicious pathology precisely because the forced mode of being is so damn partial! Like trying to function happily when half of your organs have been forced to shut-down!

True. I am a cog. But the partialness of this truth is killing me. The partialness of this truth is robbing me of the will to live.

So I drink and drug myself to sleep every night. Then I wake up and drink and drug myself to work. Then I do it all over again. And someone said this was the 'American Dream.' More like an American Nightmare, though.

[Note to developing nations: Beware the bitter fruits of (post) industrialization.]

A Profoundly Sad State Of Worldly Affairs

From a Marxian perspective we could say that currently the predominant 'modes of production' are such that the truly Integral Human is not a widespread possibility. And if it is not even a widespread possibility, then how can it even be considered probable?

Such is the tragedy I bemoan variously in all of the work that I take part in. It permeates everything I do.

The Question: What frustrates… blocks… diminishes… obscures… obstructs the emergence of the truly Integral Human?

This is fully considered with a sense of urgency on my part, Paul. Because I fully realize that the extreme partialness of specialization (the predominant modes of production presently empowered) is wholly at odds with the vision—as well as prior existing potentiality—of the Integral Human… as well as the Integral Society… and the integral World-Culture that you and I share a hope in, along with others—most notably Ken Wilber. And why the growing 'Integral Sensibility' among us if not for the fact that there has already been a deep and pervading realization of the 'problematic nature of partiality.' That:

partiality is the breeding ground of pathology

Could I suggest the above as a teensy-weensy, little aphoristic reminder of the problematic nature of partiality in all of its many guises? In the guise of apparent 'expertise' and 'specialization;' in the guise of 'elitism' and 'cultic group-think;' in the guise of 'denying the presence of demonic potentialities in humanity,' and doing so in favour of the sole focus on ascendance and the angelic, the pure and the unpolluted, ala Islamic Fundamentalists like the Taliban, not to mention Conservative Christian Fundamentalists like those whose 'partiality' is so indebted to a sort of Mormon Theocracy, but one state west of you Paul.

Partiality breeds pathology. Like the pathology of the peur aeternus that arises when such goes unbalanced by the valid views of the saturnine senex, suggesting that we ought to take our hopes and dreams with a touch of salt.

Partiality breeds pathology. Like the pathology of the emergent, the new and the novel when these are taken as 'ends' in and of themselves, wholly separated and divorced from all prior precedents. Not, what was the Face of the new and novel before its parents were even born; but, what is the Face of the new and novel sans parents altogether!

Partiality breeds pathology. Like the pathology of an age where increasing specialization and expertise generates the illusion of a fragmented Cosmos scattered to pieces; pieces that are deludedly mis-apprehended as totally un-related to one another—maybe even to the point where few are able to even realize any longer the 'patterns that connect,' or the 'threads of continuity that unite,' ala Buddhist Tantra.

Partiality breeds pathology. Like shutting the 'Old Man' out of one's heart now, because he is so unlike who we are… so 'other' than ourselves… so 'outdated' and 'archaic.' Poor old bastard. Sorry old son-of-a-bitch that he is. What a pity.

Partiality breeds pathology. Like the young woman who is all about the curvature of her taut ass and perky tits; who is so disgusted by the Old Crone who has cleavage that fast approaches her waistline; who by virtue of cosmetic surgery will never have to suffer the fate of such a sorry old hag as that.

But what is lost in our partial efforts that serve surfaces to the detriment of Depth? Or, is it better to say, what is cheapened about our Humanity? Is it our ability to allow Compassionate Rivers to flow through us when we see ourselves as now being able to outwit and outlast the Common Destiny shared by our Ancestors since time immemorial? Do we verge on sliding down that slippery slope where we have 'pity' for our aged elders, but no compassion? That, yes, we definitely do 'feel sorry for them,' but we are not able to realize our Self in their liver-spotted face, or gnarled knuckles, or creaky knees, or gout-riddled toes, or brittle, yellowing teeth.

You might be well aware of all of this Paul. So I apologize if I am 'preaching to the choir' here.

Nonetheless, my hunch tells me—informed by direct exposure to numerous well-meaning Integral Sympathizers—that there are quite a few hidden assumptions that have gone under-examined in the ways that I have endeavoured to share here with others in those two recent essays—'Shut-Ins' and 'Looking Forward'—that you so thoughtfully have responded to. That said, the attempt on my part has not been to empty anyone of their dreams… but to merely raise the relevance, before each of us, of not only 'hoping for the best,' but of also 'preparing for the worst.' Because as every well-traveled senex knows… the worst most certainly does come around to pay us a visit. And sometimes when we least expect it to, i.e., when we are not expecting any such visitors. Like a thief in the night. Like a hurricane on our honeymoon. Like a tornado two minutes after our greatest triumph.

Pop Culture's Not So Subtle Evasions

When I look at 'Popular Culture,' what I see are the many efforts to evade certain inevitabilities—which means efforts to evade those persons and places that re-mind us of those certain inevitabilities; which means efforts towards not so subtly encouraging various forms of partiality; which means efforts that well-intentionedly end up breeding various forms of pathology.

The one omission that concerned me the most in your response Paul, was the seeming underestimation of the 'youth-obsessed nature of Popular Culture.' There seems to me to be such an extreme imbalance towards the valuation of surfaces over and above all else. This to me is completely synonymous with the 'degradation of Depth.' For example, just take a look at a picture of Neem Karoli Baba—with that toothless grin stretched wide across his beaming face. Then take a look at a botoxed-blonde from Beverly Hills—or maybe even Boulder, as you don't have to look far now for those who are but seeming slaves to surfaces. Now, you tell me, Paul, who of these is Radiant from the Depths… and who has forsaken all such Depths in trade for allegiance to mere surfaces—which is but allegiance to that which is least real/most ephemeral?

Perhaps these are matters that those you mentioned in your piece—like Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi or Father Thomas Keating—have commented upon in some detail. Especially how it is that the Radiance issuing forth from the Ever-Bright Depths of the Self is made to literally 'Outshine'[4] the mere surfaces themselves. Wrinkles and all. In spite of the toothless countenance. Sagging breasts notwithstanding.

Outshined the decaying body-mind. Outshined the youthful fascination. Outshined the novel obsessions. Outshined brother… Outshined!

I should include here the caveat that a 'youth-obsessed culture' is also going to tend to be a 'surface-obsessed culture;' perhaps verging on a culture that, in Integral terms, will be one that equates the obsession with the preservation and maintenance of surfaces with something that is akin to honest devotion to Depth.

But, before we take that leap… let us consider whether or not surfaces can be made to shine of their own accord or not. Doesn't illumination come from within—from On Deep, if you will? As such, the best we can say about surfaces is that they are merely rendered transparent or opaque. Either allowing for the thorough permeation and penetration[5] of the Unbegotten Brilliance, or a disconcerting lack thereof.

To summarize, my contention is that a 'youth-obsessed culture' will tend to be a culture that is chronically predisposed to the preservation of surfaces vis-à-vis the denial of Depth; such that a clear fixation is developed around the need to constantly perpetuate 'novelty' (note the fascination with all manner of fads) in order to distract one's self from the consequences that are owed to an outright denial, dismissal, denigration, and denouncement of the supreme virtue of Depth itSelf.

And I state this fairly unequivocally, only because all apparent forms and appearances are ultimately Outshined in a Resplendent Glory… but… but, I emphasize here, only to the exact extent that we have this matter of 'surfaces and depth' firmly resolved. Which is recognizing the hierarchical nature of 'surfaces and depth' in what is their proper and fitting ontological order: that our Being resides in Depth; while our becoming washes on surfaces. With only True Rest found in one of these: an unshakable Hope in Being.

There can be no true and lasting hope in the arena of becoming[6], though, as becoming has no… knows no… nor can attain no 'end' of its own. Apart from Being there is no other End. Hence, no hope any longer for the waxing, nor dread in the waning. These surfaces are but the empty movements playing out their seeming tragedies on the Unshakable Ground of Being—the Unbegotten Brilliance that will forever Outshine the lipoed hips, the tucked up tits or the artificially generated serenity of a botoxed brow.

No hope for surfaces. Still I smile toothless and wide. Radiant through decaying flesh and faltering joints. Radiant in spite of so much to say farewell to. Radiant still, while the reveler prepares to play 'Taps' at my funeral held yesterday.

David Jon Peckinpaugh is the authour of Buddha & Shakespeare: Eastern Dharma, Western Drama(2004); Naked Guide To Life And Death: Experts, Extremism, Evolution, Education(2002); and Framing The Postmodern: Language, Culture, Commerce, Consciousness(2000).


[1] Perhaps it is also relevant to consider the instances of 'positive transference' that can occur in and around a movment or methodology, as well as a movement's or methodology's apparent leader or outstanding figure: that we have such 'high hopes' because of the persistent and chronic nature of 'dukkha,' and that it may follow that we can end up projecting our hope for release from dukkha onto persons, movements, ideologies, and idols rather than the Unbegotten Source and Suchness to which no hint of suffering adheres. At the same time, I should also mention that the beneficial aspect of this same sort of ' positive transference,' once it is realized—just as in the psychoanalytic setting—allows it to be brought to awareness and worked through. We may need certain 'objects of hopeful worship.' The point seems to be our not reducing hope to a single object, person, place, or condition, such that we can use the object, person, place, or condition to generate hope, and then allow that hope to spread beyond the initial object of our transference.

[2] One of these 'voices' could be that of the Traditionalist movement that contends we are in the midst of the 'end of an age,' a 'growing epoch of darkness'—the Kali Yuga. Here, according to this voice, there is not even any 'dialectic of progress.' The only saving Grace is to be found in an 'unconditional transcendence' of all that is 'of this-world.'(See, although not for the faint of heart, Marty Glass's Yuga: An Anatomy Of Our Fate, Sophia Perennis, 2001.)

Another 'voice,' similar to the above would be that of the Gnostics—whose cosmology is along the lines of that portrayed in the series of movies known as the Matrix Trilogy. According to Gnosticism, the world we posit as 'real'—and thereby seek 'improvement' and 'progress' for as a result—is but a collective dream with no underlying substance to it. (For more on this, see, A Course In Miracles 1975, as well as the work of science fiction authour Philip K. Dick—most especially, his non-fiction essays and articles centering on theological concerns and metaphysical issues.)

[3] This matter of 'specialization,' and its often tragic flaws, is discussed in greater breadth and depth in Naked Guide To Life And Death: Experts, Extremism, Evolution, Education (2002).

[4] 'Outshine' is a term that is borrowed from the work of the controversial spiritual savant Adi Da. In Dawn Horse Testament Da writes that, 'The Unique Characteristic and Capability Of Man Is The Evolution Of Consciousness, Or The Realization Of Enlightened or Self-Radiant Consciousness Through The Progressive Transcendence and Ultimate Outshining Of the body-mind (or the Totality Of conditional Existence).' P. 530.

[5] Uh-uh… Beavis said, 'penetration!'

[6] Wasn't the Buddha's Dharma related to the 'cessation of becoming?' How does that exactly fit into the models of 'global progressivism' and 'integral-evolutionary spirituality?' Is there a gulf between the Buddha and Darwin—one that can or can't be resolved?

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