Sex, Ecology, Spirituality-Predicted to be Classic in Consciousness Literature

Jan Thatcher Adams

About the author. Jan Thatcher Adams, M.D., has been in active Family Practice for 22 years. In addition, she is Clinical Professor in the Department of Family Practice and Community Medicine, University of Minnesota Medical School.

Ken Wilber, "one of the greatest thinkers of our time," (Roger Walsh, M.D.), has devoted his publishing life to exploring the maps of human life and endeavor. Traveling the byroads of mind and consciousness and spirituality, he follows those traces without and within that compel and propel us upon our way, often blindly, along those vapor trails. His many books, taken in total, offer a steadily increasing understanding of how these roads get built, and how we, as a species, have traveled them, and how, in the future, we may fly upon our own separate, but interwoven trajectories.

His most recent book, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution, Shambhala, 1995, has been called "One of the most significant books ever published," (Larry Dossey, M.D.). Jean Houston says that with this book "Wilber might likely do for consciousness what Freud did for psychology." And Catherine Ingram, in Yoga Journal says "(Wilber) has been compared to Freud, Jung, William James, and Einstein. His work is seen by colleagues as a breathtaking tour de force in its scope and scholarship."

One does not read Ken Wilber's books in an evening. They contain large concepts--examined in scholarly detail, then painstakingly and lovingly constructed--which require total-mind attention. These books are serious reading, and, for the effort, result in new layers of understanding. I've always preferred reading Wilber's books in the morning bathtub, almost as a meditation, at the rate of five pages a day, so that the ideas and concepts could percolate throughout the day, allowing understanding to flower.

Sex, Ecology, Spirituality at 831 pages, even challenges the concept of bathtub reading--hard to keep such a heavy book out of the water. Though the last 300 pages are notes, this book is daunting, but well worth the effort. The first of three volumes, to be titled The Kosmos Trilogy, is "a cheerful parable of your being and your becoming, and apologue of that Emptiness which forever issues forth, unfolding and enfolding, evolving and involving, creating worlds and dissolving them, with each and every breath you take. This is a chronicle of what you have done, a tale of what you have seen, a measure of what we all might yet become."

This book is a detailed answer to Schelling's burning question, "Why is there something rather than nothing?" Rather than settle for "the philosophy of 'oops,' the universe just occurs, there is nothing behind it, it just happens," Wilber, in these pages, probes the more palpable idea that "something else is going on, the universe is not what it appears. There is a Deeper Order."

To explore what that Deeper Order might be, and how it works, Wilber follows the evolution and elucidation of three themes--sex and gender, ecology, and spirituality--and weaves this clear information into the broader fabric of evolving matter, life, and consciousness or mind. What this amounts to is a history of everything, from the Big Bang through the present, set in the context of Spirituality.

Using a concept he calls "orienting generalizations," Wilber manages to create a smoothly joined synthesis of all that is, through various branches of human knowledge, including physics, biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, art, literature, and religion. He creates a broad orienting map of the place of humans in relation to Universe, Life, and Spirit.

After reviewing the characteristics of evolution in all these realms, Wilber isolated 20 "tenets" that are true for evolution wherever it occurs, from matter to life to mind. Each "tenet" is a revelation in itself, but the sum result of the action of the tenets is that evolution of anything is a process of "self-transcendence or self-realization."

"Evolution is in part a wildly self-transcending process: it has the utterly amazing capacity to go beyond what went before. Evolution is a process of transcendence, which incorporates what went before and then adds incredibly novel components. So the drive to self-transcendence is built into the very fabric of the universe. The self-transcending drive produces life out of matter, and mind out of life."

In clarifying this point, Wilber refers to "the dialectic of progress." This is "the idea that every stage of evolution eventually runs into its own inherent limitations, and these act as triggers for the self-transcending drive. The inherent limitations create a type of turmoil, even chaos, and the system escapes this chaos by evolving to a higher degree of order--so-called order out of chaos. This new and higher order escapes the limitations of its predecessor, but then introduces its own limitations and problems that cannot be solved on its own level."

"In other words, there is a price to be paid for every evolutionary step forward. Old problems are solved or defused, only to introduce new and sometimes more complex difficulties. No epoch is finally privileged. We are all tomorrow's food. The process continues. And Spirit is found in the process itself, not in any particular epoch or time or place."

An important theme of this book involves the eco-crises, its origins, and some solutions. Wilber comments that humans, through ignorance, have always damaged their environment, and points to the ancient Mayan destruction of the rain forest--"ignorance destroys the biosphere. But ignorance backed by industry is capable of killing the entire world. So we have to separate those two--the ignorance and the means of inflicting that ignorance, because with modernity and science we have, for the first time in history, a way to overcome our ignorance, at precisely the same time that we have created the means to make this ignorance absolutely genocidal on the global scale."

In addition, we are offered a way out of many of our human and global problems by reestablishing a balance between "Ascending" and "Descending" spirituality. Ascending spirituality is defined as movement from the Many to the One, otherworldly, transcendental--the Path of Wisdom. "Wisdom sees that behind all the multifarious forms and phenomena there lies the One, the Good, the unqualifiable Emptiness, against which all forms are seen to be illusory, fleeting, impermanent. Wisdom, the pursuit of the Good, penetrates beneath the surfaces to find the eternal One, radiant, empty, shining." Descending spirituality is defined as movement from the One to the Many, "whereby the One empties itself into all creation, gives itself to all forms, so that all of creation itself is a perfect manifestation of Spirit." This is the Path of Compassion, so "all forms are to be treated equally with kindness, compassion, mercy. Compassion is the very mechanism of manifestation itself."

Wilber lucidly points out the disastrous results of imbalance and war between these two aspects of spirituality, and helps us to understand this imbalance in terms of ourselves and our culture. The ultimate understandings we may take from all this is that "the entire evolutionary process itself is Spirit-in-action. It is God-in-the-making. It is our embrace of this entire process, and not the championing of any one epoch, or any favorite period, or any special ideology--it is in that entire embrace that we find infinite delight in every finite unfolding. God brings forth, the Goddess embraces. Spirit touches each and all with fierce compassion, wild abandon, mysterious fire, unqualifiable love."

Rollo May, author of Love and Will, writes, "Wilber's writings awaken and stimulate the mind and imagination of whoever is fortunate enough to read him." It might be further said that all of those riches and more await the hardy, adventuring soul who accepts the challenge to read Wilber. Five pages a day bring exponential reward.