The Unique Self Education & Somatic Embodiment

A Somatic Perspective of the Unique Self Teaching

White Paper by Lawrence Gold, Hanna somatic educator

Abstract:

Too often, people get entangled or confused by the whirl of words and abstractions of spiritual teachings not familiarly connected to personal experience.  Zen Buddhist practitioners know this pitfall — confusing the “finger pointing at the moon” with “the moon”, itself.

The solution to this problem lies not in the mind, but in the body-sense, which includes feeling and movement, mind and intuition, and which is the living matrix of all expressions of consciousness available to humans.

This is not reductionism of everything to the body-sense; it’s recognition that “mind” IS the interiority of “body”, two perspectives of, “soma”.

This piece integrates the teachings of Unique Self and of Somatic Educationlinking the languages of spirituality, science and philosophy to immediately accessible and recognizable personal experiences.

Also watch and listen to this beautiful meditation by Lawrence Gold:

The Awareness of Totality is Here-ness

White Paper on Unique Self & Education

From Deconstruction to Reconstruction: Marc Gafni and the ‘Unique Self’

by Kathy Brownback, Instructor in Religion and Philosophy, Phillips Exeter Academy January, 2014

Introduction

As practices promoting mindfulness become more prevalent in contemporary society, a question naturally emerges:

What role should “mind-body” or contemplative practices play in education and academic life?

What do they have to do with the study of science, or the humanities and the arts?

What place do they have in the curriculum?

For much of the modern era, the answer to that question was none whatsoever. Any mind-body practice was understood to lie outside the objective goals of the academy, because such practice involved subjective internal states often linked to particular religious traditions. In fact, a good part of modern Western intellectual history has been a rebellion against, or at least a differentiation from, the dogmas of religion and coercive (yet unprovable) metaphysical claims. Every subject from science to art has had to disentangle itself from such claims, including the study of religion itself.

But the last 40 years or so have brought a new understanding of contemplative practice as a kind of embodied self-awareness. Such practices involve the movement of the mind and body in ways that are not primarily cognitive, and incorporate the use of the breath and the stilling of the “monkey mind.” Their primary goal is to draw the practitioner into direct awareness and experience of the present. They include meditation, yoga, chant, contemplation of nature, contemplative prayer, poetry, dance, or even methods for listening, playing an instrument, or shooting an arrow.

These are separate from dogma, even from the entire religious matrix itself. There is a growing body of practitioners who choose this direction not as an expression of loyalty to a particular tradition or to fulfill an external obligation. Rather, they practice to gain knowledge. They ask, “How can I live differently?” and “How can I know more deeply and fully?” They may think of themselves as religious or secular, or “spiritual but not religious,” or they may disavow labels altogether, but this is the direction of their quest.

These are also the very questions that many students ask. If you are a student, you know there is nothing abstract about these issues. These are questions of the heart—questions about human nature and direction. They are intellectual, emotional, and spiritual—and always personal. Most likely you’ve asked yourself some of the same questions I’ve been asked by other students:

  • “People keep telling me to be myself, but I don’t really know who that is. I feel pulled in so many directions.”
  • Do we have free will, at all? Or are we totally determined by our genes, and conditioned by our environment?”
  • “Why, in the midst of all they have, are so many people angry and dissatisfied? Can I hope to avoid this? Why is there so much addiction? Why depression, among people who have so much to offer?”
  • “I haven’t found any kind of God I can believe in, yet I somehow feel there is something more to life. Your thoughts?”
  • “Are science and religion looking at the same world? They seem so contradictory. Your husband is a physicist. Do you argue about this?”
  • “Is there such a thing as truth? Is there anything I can be certain of?”
  • “Do you think life has some kind of point, or meaning? Or is it, as Shakespeare said, ‘a tale told by an idiot’? It really feels that way. Then all of sudden, even though I have no real answers, the feeling goes away.”

These are more than a series of isolated questions. When you pose them, you are asking if there is some kind of map you can trust, one that might give you a reliable sense of direction.

The old maps that your parents and grandparents grew up with are not enough, and there don’t seem to be others around that really describe the territory. Your liberal arts education has taught you critical analysis and fluency in different ways of thinking, but hasn’t equipped you with a reliable “inner GPS” that can navigate contradictions and find its way. You might sense that such a thing is possible, but you observe that many in the world around you seem to lack both compass and map—and you do not want to be among them.

How can contemplative practice help you discern such a map?

First, there is the practical level. Contemplative practice can encourage the ability to focus and enter into a subject with minimal distraction and interruption. It can help a great deal with stress reduction. Moving more deeply, it can foster the capacity to hold apparent contradictions in tension with each other without immediate dismissal of one side. It can encourage you to listen to and help develop the ideas of others from a less egoic perspective—and to see connections between disciplines that infuse their understanding of each other. It helps provide the space for deeper creativity and inspiration. At its most profound level, contemplative practice has the potential to help you reconnect with a deeper sense of purpose, meaning, and value in your life.

This goal is at the heart of the work of philosopher Marc Gafni, director of the Center for Integral Wisdom, a think tank dedicated to evolving and articulating a shared global framework of meaning and responsibility. Gafni, who holds a Ph.D. from Oxford, is classically trained in the study of the Kabbalah, as well as in modern and postmodern schools of epistemology (the study of knowledge, or how we know what we know).

His work brings significant developmental insights of modern psychology and science together with spiritual practice and the study of world religions. Along with philosopher Ken Wilber and other scholars, Gafni is working on the articulation of an Integral world spirituality.

Its first principle is what Gafni has termed “Unique Self”—a theory of self and contemplative practice that he has likened to a puzzle piece. The unique self has all the idiosyncrasies—the many-formed edges—of an individual life, and yet it is also profoundly committed to the larger whole.

This article is an introduction to Gafni’s theory of the unique self, and to the making of maps and the solving of puzzles.

We’ll begin by exploring three meta-questions that underlie Gafni’s theory:

What do we know?

How do we know it?

And what does it mean to be a self?

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Unique Self Health & Medicine

Read this White Paper by Board Members Venodhar Rao Julapalli, M.D. and Vinay Rao Julapalli, M.D., F.A.C.C.

There is a dire need for the integration of the art, science, and morality of medicine. This paper explores the deep implications of the Unique Self in integrating medicine. Co-authors and physicians Venu and Vinay Julapalli call on their extensive understanding of the promises and pitfalls of modern health care to reconceive the practice of medicine. The paper provides the framework to evolve medicine through the emergent Unique Self insight. At stake is no less than the future of how we care for ourselves and each other.

Unique Self and the Future of Medicine

Abstract:

Medicine is at a critical crossroads in its evolution from antiquity to our modern age. This article aims to reconceive the future of medicine. Key to this conception is an understanding of the evolution of individual development. To this end, the discussion will first outline the stations of the selves, on the path to what has been termed the Unique Self by spiritual thinker Marc Gafni. Next, the discussion will distinguish between two poles of development and outlook, in order to understand how the insight of Unique Self integrates these dualities. It will then view the Unique Self from three perspectives, or four quadrants, of reality and also illustrate how Unique Self appreciates the balance between part and whole. The discussion will subsequently correlate the stations of the selves with the history of medicine and further examine dualities in medicine that parallel those of the self . It will then elucidate how an understanding of Unique Self fundamentally shifts our envisioning of the practice of medicine. This shift renews the unique calling that is the art and science of healing.

Introduction

Universal to the human experience is care of our health. Medicine is defined as “the science and art dealing with the maintenance of health and the prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease.” The topic of medicine is therefore relevant to all of humanity.

In the United States, the practice of medicine has reached a critical crossroads. National spending on health care has been estimated to total $2.8 trillion in 2012, which is 18% of the gross domestic product (GDP). It is projected to increase to about 25% of GDP and 40% of total federal spending by 2037. Few dispute that this trajectory is unsustainable.

The dispute begins in how to alter this trajectory. The debate has raged on from multiple perspectives. Some have focused on the structures of payment for health care, while others have investigated the sources of health care pricing. Some have proposed the standardization of health care delivery with an emphasis on maximizing value through evidence-based medicine, while others have highlighted the role of the social determinants of health in influencing the rising costs of medical care. The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in March 2010, expanded health insurance coverage for Americans and introduced programs designed to slow spending on health care. However, there is no clear consensus on its ultimate effect in bending the health care cost curve down.

Most of the recent discussions on the practice of medicine have preferentially approached health care as an object. Evidence-based guidelines, quality measures, value-based metrics, and pay-for-performance programs presuppose an objective perspective on medicine. The increasingly acknowledged urgency of controlling spiraling health care costs has certainly advantaged this perspective, along with desires to improve patient safety and even out regional variations in health care delivery.

Somewhat drowned out in the recent movements in medicine is the voice of medical humanism. This voice presents medicine from a subjective perspective, as it highlights the individual values, goals, and preferences of a patient with respect to clinical decision making. From this perspective, paramount are factors such as honoring the dignity of patients and their families, acknowledging their cultural and ethical sensitivities, sharing clinical decision making between the patient and the physician, and upholding the autonomy of the patient in making medical decisions. Physicians voicing humanism in medicine feel that the subjective aspect is crucial in maintaining medical professionalism, demonstrating good clinical judgment, and caring for patients near the end of life. They question the effectiveness of health care based merely on utilitarian medical decision analyses, rather than nuanced conversations between the patient and physician on the patient’s perception of his/her illness and its treatment.

The two perspectives, medicine as an objective science and medicine as a subjective art, are often diametrically opposed to each other. Health care objectivists regret that “Our current health care system is essentially a cottage industry of noninteg rated, dedicated artisans who eschew standardization.” They criticize the current system as one that “overvalues local autonomy and undervalues disciplined science.” In subjective medicine, “‘Good doctors’ are celebrated for their unwavering dedication to doing whatever it takes to care for their individual patients.” In their view, this leads to excessive tests and procedures, a fragmentation of care, limited oversight of such care, and ultimately wasteful and unreliable medicine.

Health care subjectivists, on the other hand, lament that “Reducing medicine to economics makes a mockery of the bond between the healer and the sick.” They eschew the replacement of terms such as “doctors” and “nurses” with “providers,” and “patients” with “customers” or “consumers.” They feel these terms are “reductionist; they ignore the essential psychological, spiritual, and humanistic dimens ions of the relationship – the aspects that traditionally made medicine a ‘calling,’ in which altruism overshadowed personal gain.” In objective medicine, the “discourse shifts the focus from the good of the individual to the exigencies of the system and its costs.” In their view, this results in diminished independent and creative decision making, dehumanization of the patient and professional, destruction of the trust so crucial to the patient-doctor relationship, and ultimately a demeaning of medicine.

How best can we reconcile these two positions in a way that includes and transcends them both? Is there another perspective that honors medicine both as a science and as an art, without congealing the two sides into a muddled compromise that satisfies neither?

Acknowledging the instability of the current system, can we evolve medicine to a practice of greater value, efficiency, meaning, and purpose?

In the rest of this discussion, we aim to reconceive the future of medicine. Key to this conception is an understanding of the evolution of individual development. To this end, we will first outline the stations of the selves, on the path to what has been termed the Unique Self by spiritual thinker Marc Gafni. Next, we will distinguish between two poles of development and outlook, in order to understand how the insight of Unique Self integrates these dualities. We will then discuss the Unique Self from three perspectives, or four quadrants, of reality and also see how Unique Self appreciates the balance between part and whole. We will subsequently correlate the stations of the selves with the history of medicine and further examine dualities in medicine that parallel those of the self. We will finally outline how an understanding of Unique Self fundamentally shifts our envisioning of the practice of medicine. Our discussion will highlight the physician as the exemplar of the medical professional but can apply to any professional involved in caring for patients. All are included in the future of medicine.

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