World Spirituality Music: A Journey Through the Song of Songs

The Center for Integral Wisdom is proud to offer you a collection of World Spirituality Music--starting here with these beautiful variations on the Song of Songs.

A Journey Through the Song of Songs

The Song of Songs – has always been  Marc Gafni’s favorite biblical book. In his book Mystery of Love he unpacks what might be called the Commandments of Love. There is an old Hebrew mystical teaching which that if the Torah of Law had not been revealed then the Torah of the Song of Songs with its commandments would be enough to guide us.

Shefa Gold, a song writer, chantress and teacher affiliated with the Jewish Renewal movement wrote a number of beautiful chants to the words of the Song of Songs. Shefa came to Israel at Marc’s invitation and spent a week with Dr. Marc’s Israeli students teaching the art of Chant.

Dr. Marc fell in love with the chants and decided {contractually bought the rights} to use the Chants in a CD of his Mystery of Love teachings on the Songs of Songs.

For clarity’s sake it is worth noting that this CD is however not a joint initiative; It is Marc Gafni’s CD owned exclusively by him using Shefa’s songs which he formally acquired in a limited fashion. Limited because the songs are fully Shefa’s creation and owned by her. Marc bought only the right to use them freely as he saw fit on these two CDs, which would be owned by him.

R. Marc recorded an English and Hebrew CD of these teachings in the summer of 2005. You can stream both versions below.


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Unique Self, World Spirituality and Evolutionary We Space: Wake Up, Grow Up, Lighten Up, Show Up, Open Up

By Dr. Marc Gafni

Your Unique Self is radically singular, gorgeous, and special in the world. But it is even more than that. Your Unique Self is a puzzle piece that is utterly necessary to complete a much larger puzzle. The Unique contours of your puzzle piece are what allow you to connect with and offer your gift to all-that-is. Giving your puzzle piece unto the world adds an irreducible dimension to the completedness of the kosmos. Paradoxically, uniqueness is the currency of connection. It is the portal to the larger evolutionary context that needs your service.

But it is even more than that. Your Unique Self is evolution waking up as you. Your Unique Self is animated by its puzzle piece nature. As such it is naturally connected to a larger context that it uniquely completes. It is paradoxically through the unique contours of your Unique Self nature that the alienation of separation is overcome. Unique Self is the source code of all authentic relationships; and it is only through a fraternity and sisterhood of Unique Selves that we can begin to bring profound and loving transformation into the world.

As the great connector, Unique Self is the only technology that can create the evolutionary We space necessary to affect the evolution of consciousness. Ego cannot form evolutionary We space. At best, ego can cooperate in limited ways for the greater good. Conscious collaboration, while better then mindless competition, lacks the necessary Eros and imagination to change the world. Unique Self is drenched in Eros and imagination.

One might assume that in order to foster an authentic We space, we must simply emerge into our True Selves. This is the teaching of the classical enlightenment traditions. Yet we know that True Selves cannot create a We space. For the total number of True Selves is one. In the grand impersonal realm of True Self, there is only one and not two and therefore not relationship and certainly not evolutionary We space. It is only our Unique Selves that have trance-ended separateness and entered the larger field of We as unique emanations of the all-that-is. Only through the profound and dynamic expression of our enlightened Unique Selves can we create the evolutionary we space necessary to heal the planet. Enlightened We space in which individuals and individual systems realize enlightened consciousness beyond ego is the essential technology of transformation for tomorrow.

It is a technology we must master today for enlightened consciousness that is essential if we are to find a way to heal suffering and ameliorate needless brutality and pain. Normal consciousness produces suffering. And if you think this is but a spiritual aphorism then you have only to inquire from the hundred million people brutally tortured and murdered in the last century — all as a direct result of the mad delusions of the grasping ego. The ego of normal consciousness is insane. Enlightenment is simply sanity. In enlightened space you realize that you are part of the one. You realize that you are not alone so there is no reason to desperately grasp. You realize that you are not limited to the power, healing or fulfillment available only to your separate self. But rather you know that all of the healing, goodness, power and depth of all- that- is lives in you, as you and through you.

Not to know this is not to know whom you are. It is to be essentially confused about your identity. The confusion between ego and Unique Self is far more substantive then a person who simply thinks she is someone else. This is a minor confusion of identity and hence a minor insanity when compared with the sheer madness of mistaking your ego for Your Unique Self as your essential identity.

Why is Enlightenment Rejected by Mainstream Society?

Given the power of enlightened consciousness, which I just described, how could it possibly be that mainstream culture, both east and west has rejected the attainment of enlightenment as the essential human goal? Should not this transformation of consciousness — which can do more then any other force to heal our planet — not be the essential and even passionately yearned for goal, of both every individual and every collective. And it is not. Enlightenment is simply not part of the mainstream discourse. Enlightenment is often mocked and at best relegated to the sidelines and not treated as a genuine option for fully normal people. Why not?

The answer is simple. It is woven into the essential teaching of Unique Self enlightenment. And it is as follows. Classical enlightenment says: to attain realization you must overcome your sense of being special and realize your True Identity as part of the one. This instruction is resisted by virtually everyone, for no one wants to give up their specialness. When the price of enlightenment seems to be to give up one’s innate sense of being unique and special, enlightenment is rejected by the intelligent mainstream because at his or her core virtually everyone in the world feels special. The reigning assumption is that to be special you must be a separate self, which is the core intuition of the western enlightenment. So it emerges that the core intuition of western enlightenment — that you are separate and therefore special — contradicts the core intuition of the eastern enlightenment which says you are not separate and therefore not special. For the west the affirmation of the special separate self is seen as the key to healing suffering while for the east overcoming a false sense of separate self and specialness is the key to transcending suffering.

When a person takes their nagging sense of absolute specialness to their spiritual teacher the usual instruction is: you must leave beyond this feeling of being special for the desire and experience of specialness is a function of the unenlightened ego. This instruction — while it speaks a great truth, is at its core not fully true. It is true but partial. For it fails to make two essential discernments. Those are the distinctions between separateness and uniqueness and between Unique Self and ego. At the level of ego you are separate and you are not special. This is the core and correct intuition of eastern enlightenment. And for this reason you must get over your sense of being a special separate self. But at the level of Unique Self — beyond your separateness — as a unique expression of the one you are absolutely and ultimately special. This affirms the special dignity of the special individual, which is the core intuition of western enlightenment. But it realizes that you are special not at the level of separate self-ego but at a much higher level of consciousness, the level of Unique Self.

When you realize your enlightenment you give up the small games of your ego seeking to reify its specialness. You move beyond the alienation of separate self to realize the joy of uniqueness. You give up the small self-sense of being special as you begin playing an infinitely larger game in the widest context, the game of your Unique Perspective, which is ultimately unique and special and has singular gifts to give the world, which can and must be given only by Your Unique Self.

The Democratization of Enlightenment

This evolution of the enlightenment teaching paves the way for the democratization of enlightenment. As long as enlightenment seems to demand abandoning the essential specialness of every human being and of every human collective of persons or system of knowing, it will intuitively be rejected by the masses. This is not because the masses are merely clinging to ego as enlightenment teachers often suggest, but because they have an intuition — even if inarticulate — of Unique Self. Once this essential flaw in the dharma is healed and evolved — with distinctions drawn between separateness and uniqueness, ego and Unique Self, the road is open for the democratization of enlightenment. Every human being is in essence not apart and not separate. Rather the human being is both part of the great collective consciousness, the creative force of evolutionary Eros that animates and drives all that is — even as she is also a unique incarnation of evolutionary creativity and Eros. Each human being is an irreducible personal expression of the process incarnating infinite dignity and adequacy as well as a being a singular expression of creativity and Unique Gift. Since every human being is unique every human being is an irreplaceable and ultimately necessary expression of the enlightened consciousness.

And it is only through communities built on this We space, which emerge from the democratization of enlightenment generated by the Unique Self teaching, that we can foster the genuine global commons that is the next necessary and glorious step in our evolution. It is our very uniqueness that is the key to our communion with the world as a whole. Each individual and each unique collective expressed in any religion or great body of knowledge is a puzzle piece in the emergent wholeness that is waiting to be evolved by us. Spirit waits our unpacking. This is the evolutionary impulse manifesting as Spirit-in-Action.

Each and every tradition functions as a sort of macro Unique Self holding a particular medicine that is crucial to the health of the whole. And that is one of the essential reasons that as we are being called to become our Unique Selves we are also being called to a World Spirituality that speaks compellingly to the hundreds of millions of people who have moved beyond the religions or beyond exclusive identification with any one tradition. World Spirituality is nothing less than the grand and dynamic gathering of micro and macro Unique Selves who gift the world with their Unique Perspectives, their Unique Gifts, in a way that evolves the one and the whole. It is only from this kind of communion, in which all gifts from all traditions are taken into account and woven into a higher integral evolutionary embrace, that we have the ability to heal our world.

The Why of World Spirituality

Below are a few preliminary thoughts I would like to share in regard to why evolving World Spirituality is an urgent need and great adventure of our time. This is not a finished essay; it is rather a set of framing insights, which have emerged through my own process of thought and in deep conversation with Ken Wilber and other leading partners. All of us are working together closely in catalyzing, articulating, and serving the emergence of an authentic World Spirituality based on integral principles that has the potential to provide a context of meaning for hundreds of millions of people.

Let me begin with a bold and audacious statement: not merely a personal statement but on behalf of this an incredible group of committed leaders from around the world who are coming together to catalyze and incarnate a new movement of spirit: World Spirituality. We believe that we are being called to articulate a vision of World Spirituality that speaks compellingly to the hundreds of millions of people who have moved beyond the religions or beyond exclusive identification with any one tradition. We believe that this may be one of the vital next moves in the evolution of consciousness.

We believe that World Spirituality is a desperately needed integral framework in the source code of the next millennium. Before we go any further, let us state clearly and unequivocally that World Spirituality is emphatically not, in any sense or form, a totalizing or homogenizing World Religion. But it is a World Religion in the sense that it is a shared grammar of universal value that serves as a context for our diversity.

World Spirituality is more like a symphony. In the symphony there are many instruments. Each one is sacred. Each one has its unique music. Each contributes a particular texture and depth of sound to the symphony. But all of the instruments are playing music. No instrument can claim to be the music itself. Each one bows before the lord of music. Each instrument plays a unique and gorgeous sound. Each often has a unique medicine or insight.

World Spirituality engages all the instruments of knowing including the ancient traditions of pre-modernity, as well as modern and post-modern wisdom streams.

By ancient traditions I refer primarily to the great systems of religion and philosophy. By modern traditions I might refer, for example, to neuroscience, or to the various schools of psychology. By post-modern traditions I refer to the insights of deconstructionist writers, phenomenology, historical criticism, structuralism, ethnography and more. Each great tradition has insights in a particular area.

Each has a particular medicine that we need. Each also sometimes overreaches in its claim that its particular insight is the whole story. The part pretends to be a whole and needs to be rightly critiqued for its overreach. World Spirituality seeks to be in dialogue with all of the great traditions and articulate a framework in which all of the traditions have an honored place at the table and can benefit from the insights of each other woven together in a higher integral embrace. The job of World Spirituality is to try and cogently articulate a Big Picture in which a person might be able to locates himself or herself in a context of meaning and purpose.

The Who of World Spirituality

In the current situation, many people at the leading edge of culture and creativity who are born into the post-modern world, unconsciously assimilate its critiques of the great religious traditions. As a result religion and sometimes spirit itself never becomes a genuine option in their lives. If they remain at all with the wish to engage spirit they often meander along, trying to find their way. They are confused and unable to orient themselves to a genuine worldview of meaning that compels, delights, and infuses their every day life with meaning and direction.

World Spirituality speaks equally to the hundreds of millions of these leading edge cultural creatives around the world who feel that they cannot locate themselves in a tradition at all well as to those firmly ensconced in a tradition who might feel that their identify and hunger is not exhausted by that tradition. They experience themselves as dual citizens — deeply involved in their tradition but at the same time feel themselves to be part of the broader global community of spirit.

In World Spirituality one of our key goals is to create a series of writings that might help seekers feel like they have some direction and guidance on the way, which helps them to identify: What are the issues that need addressing? What are the general forms or types of practice that need to be engaged in order to live an integrated life on the spiritual path of life? In a sense, the job of a world spirituality framework is to help people cultivate discernment as they seek to find their way grounded in spirit on a genuine path of obligation and freedom.

New World Conditions Catalyze the Evolution of New World Spirituality

There are seven new conditions, which make World Spirituality both possible and necessary today in way that it was never was before in history:

1) To begin with, global challenges require a global response. For the first time in history, the core challenges to survival that we face today are not local to a particular religion, country or region. They are global challenges ranging from the very real threats to the ground we walk on and the air we breathe, to world hunger, to the danger of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of a rogue state, to the most pressing issues of social and economic justice. There is no place left to hide in the word, and the old spiritual truths of the essential oneness of everything, the interconnectivity of it all, is no longer a hidden teaching but an obvious truth for all to see.

2) Whenever new life conditions come to pass, a new evolutionary leap in consciousness and culture is required to meet them. The global challenges WE face require the evolution of a new spiritual consciousness which fosters an evolutionary We space of collective intelligence which has the erotic imagination necessary to chart the paths necessary for the next stage in our evolution.

Whenever there is an evolutionary shift in the nature of the challenge there is a commensurate evolution shift in the level of spirit’s response. In a time when the threats are world threats, then the spirituality much be World Spirituality. The world is in turmoil on virtually every level of reality even as it is pregnant with possibility and promise. The world faces world problems. Gone is the era where local kings, seers, and shamans dealt with their local issues. There are no more exclusively local issues. Everything affects everything else. Everything is interconnected and interdependent.

Of course, from a spiritual perspective, viewed through the eye of the heart and the eye of the spirit, this was always the case. However, the essential interconnectedness of all of reality was not apparent. The King of Burma had no felt sense or evidence that his actions and decision would affect the ancient indigenous populations who populated the Americas. Now, however, the underlying wholeness of all of reality, the inextricable interpenetration of all of its parts, is becoming visible to the naked eye. One needs to look only at environmental and ecological issues to realize the essential wholeness, interconnectivity and indivisibility of it all.

New world conditions are always precisely what catalyze the next evolutionary leap. As we realize that the challenges that confront us are world challenges, we realize that we must evolve World Spirituality to meet those challenges. But not only to meet those challenges.

3) World spirituality is not just a solution to problems; it is also the delighted expression of the evolving Eros of consciousness realizing its potential to dance in the dialectical tension between unity and diversity. We are unique and autonomous as people and faith systems. We are also One in communion and even union with each other. Both are true. Autonomy and communion, diversity and plurality, the One and the many dance together in higher integration as World Spirituality begins to emerge.

Paradoxically it is our very uniqueness which is the key to our communion. The realization of World Spirituality is that Uniqueness, not merely sameness, is the currency of connection. Each individual and each unique collective expressed in a religion or great body of knowledge is a puzzle piece in the emergent wholeness that is waiting to be evolved by us. Spirit waits our unpacking. This is the evolutionary impulse manifesting as Spirit in Action. Each tradition, pre-modern modern and post modern, has a particular medicine, which is crucial to the health of the whole.

4) Fourth, we desperately need to recover memory, not only the memory of the past but the memory of the future. Without that there is little hope for healing and transformation that our individual and collective consciousness so urgently needs. And what is hope but a memory of the future.

What exactly is it that we need to remember? Said simply, we need to re-member and recover the story. Post modernity was built on the rejection of any grand narrative. Metaphysics of any kind was deemed the enemy. Any sense of a canon, a worldview, or big picture was reviled and rejected as a violation of postmodern integrity. Paradoxically however the grand narrative of postmodernity became that there is no grand narrative. All contexts of meaning that could in any sense guide or even obligate were undermined.

World Spirituality accepts in part the rejection of metaphysics and grand narratives. It recognizes and affirms that core intuition of postmodernity that contexts matter enormously and that no knowledge exists independently of its context. It is furthermore clear to all of us that the grand stories of metaphysics each claming to hold exclusive truth, which were virtually all hijacked by various religions of both the spiritual and secular variety as tools of domination, need to be re-constructed for the sake of the evolution of love. World Spirituality based on Integral principles is a reconstructive project.

No longer can we allow dominating grand narratives to crush the subject, the personal and the intimate. And yet all of that does not mean there is no story. All of the not knowing does not mean that we do not know. All of the metaphysical uncertainty does not mean that there is not post metaphysical certainty.

Nor can we allow for the deconstruction of spirit and what the Lewis Mumford called the disqualification of the universe and its reduction to insipid flatland. Even as we bow before the mystery of unknowing and recognize the postmetaphysical evolving nature of our gnosis, we need to “story up” and reclaim our world view. We need to once again begin to engage in meta-theory and big picture thinking. For the truth be told, there is much that we know in every discipline. We do have deep knowledge which have been arrived at through carefully engaging double blind experiments enacted in the realms of the both the physical and spiritual sciences. We do have shared depth structures of knowledge and meaning, which have been arrived at independently and virtually unanimously by the leading researches of mind, heart, body and spirit. We have — for the first time in history — been able to gather their data and reveal the profound shared depth structures of knowledge that they all share in common. These sturdy knowings form the basis of a powerfully effective and inspired human user manual.

And when we string together these solid beads of knowledge a truly stunning integral worldview begins to emerge. This is the world view of a World Spirituality. But in the mad rush to deconstruct all knowing, we have forgotten. We have forgotten that we know. But even more then that . . . we have forgotten that we have forgotten.

It is precisely a prescient sense of this situation that moved W. B. Yeats in his famous lines:

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The deconstructions of meaning motivated initially by the desire to liberate the human spirit from the shackles of tyranny have run amok and cut the roots of the great universe story that is the of eros and ethos of the all that is sacred and the all that is meaningful. So a World Spirituality must be bold, audacious, and rigorous as it weaves together the deepest structures of shared meaning upon which the story is based that we must pass on to our children. It is utterly necessary to re-story and re-enchant the universe in order to create a context for life that is the absolute birthright of billions of people around the globe that have been cut adrift by overzealous waves of deconstruction that sought to de-story the universe.

5) For the first time in history there is a critical mass of people who have reached World-Centric consciousness. These people have expanded their circle of caring and concern beyond their ethnocentric affiliations. They are at home in the world and feel responsible for the world as whole and not merely for their country or religion. They cannot be served by ethnocentric religion. For the first time in history there are hundreds of millions of well-educated people who, although they cannot find their homes in the traditional religions, are searching for a compelling universal set of spiritual principles by which they can live their lives. They are only addressed by a world spirituality.

6) For the first time in history the notion of what we are calling a dual citizen of spirit is readily understood and available. Not only can one be a dual citizen of two countries, but also it is possible to remain committed to one’s native or chosen spiritual tradition while at the same time being a citizen of World Spirituality.

7) For the first time in history the most profound teachings, as well as living teachers from all the great systems of spirit are readily available in non-coercive and open hearted form, not only to people of that particular religion, but to all who would come to study and practice.

The What of World Spirituality

At this point it is essential to locate Unique Self in the larger global context in which it lives. Stated simply, Unique Self enlightenment is one of the core principles and practices in the emerging movement for World Spirituality. So at this point it seems imperative to locate Unique Self enlightenment in its proper place, as the lodestone of an emergence World Spirituality. What are the core Practices of a World Spirituality? World Spirituality has five essential practices. All of them are fulfilled in the awakened realization of Unique Self enlightenment.

Showing Up: Unique Self

The core practice of World Spirituality is the Unique Self awakening or enlightenment of every individual. This democratization of enlightenment in turns fosters the evolutionary We space of collective intelligence and creativity which is essential for the healing and transformation of our world. This is the next necessary step in the evolution of consciousness, which is the evolution of love, which is the evolution of God.

This first practice is called in the terminology of World Spirituality, Showing Up. To show up as your Unique Self and give your Unique Gifts is to awaken as evolution — as the personal face of the evolutionary process.

Waking Up: States of Consciousness and Unique Self

Waking up means to move from Separate Self to True Self. To wake up is to awaken to your true nature. To know that you are not merely a skin encapsulated ego but that you are essence. Waking up is the continual movement from ego to essence. In waking up you realize your true identity; you are the indivisible strand of the seamless coat of the Universe.

In the world of the pre-modern classical traditions it was assumed that the non-dual experience of awakening was that of a True Self which was assumed to be the same for all people. For in the pre-modern world the centrality of perspectives had not yet come on line.

In the modern and especially postmodern world in which perspectives are front and center, we begin to understand that enlightenment is not unqualified as the ancients believed. Rather, enlightenment always has a perspective. The perspective of Your Unique Self. Not by accident we find seeds of the new enlightenment model in the western enlightenment tradition, with its profound emphasis on the God voice in sacred text, which reveals its intent through the unique perspective of the reader. This proto post-modern view is fully unpacked in the Unique Self-teaching which instructs us that full awakening does not end with True Self. In postmodernity we realize that everything — including enlightenment — has a perspective. As the last vestiges of sleep are wiped from your eyes you drop in deeper realizing that you are not only essence but also the personal face of essence. You are part of the seamless coat of the universe, which is seamless but not featureless. In a word you realize that True Self always sees through a unique set of eyes. You awaken to the knowing that enlightenment always has perspective. Your Perspective. To wake up therefore means to awaken to the full realization of Your Unique True Self.

Your Unique Self is the highest expression of your awakened self. Unique Self is not your typology but your fully awake unique expression, which is always formed by your Unique Perspective. True Self + Perspective = Unique Self. Waking up means waking up to your True Nature. Your true nature is that you are not separate but a part of all that is. Moreover you are an infinitely unique expression of all that is. You wake up, as the personal face of essence whose heart is a unique expression of the infinity of intimacy that is the heart of kosmos. This democratic realization transcends and includes all of the traditions. It is an essential shared practice of World Spirituality.

Growing up: Levels of Consciousness and Unique Self

To grow up means to up level your consciousness. You grow up to higher and higher levels of consciousness. Your level of consciousness is the set of implicit organizing principles which create your worldview. These ascending levels or structures of consciousness have been mapped by extensive cross-cultural researches done by leading ego-developmental scientists over the past fifty years. For example, it has been shown that the human beings in healthy development evolve from egocentric to ethnocentric to world-centric to cosmos-centric consciousness. Each level expands your felt sense of love and empathy to wider and wider circles of caring.

At first you’re caring and concern is limited to you and your immediate circle. In the second level, ethnocentric, your identity expands to a felt sense of empathy and connections with your larger communal context. In the third level, worldcentric your identity shifts to a felt empathy with all living humanity. In the fourth level you move beyond mere humanity and experience a felt sense of responsibility and empathy for all sentient beings throughout all of time backwards and forwards. This last evolution of consciousness has also been described as the move from first-tier to second-tier consciousness. One of the key findings of developmental research is that as you up-level to ever-higher stages of second-tier consciousness, your Unique Perspective becomes readily available. Said simply according to leading developmental theorists, the more you grow up, the more your Unique Self comes on line. Indeed realizing Your Unique Self is what it means to be a grown up.

Lighten Up: Unique Self

Lighten Up up is simply a catch phrase for shadow work, which is an essential component of any integral world spirituality. The full recognition of the necessity for formal and ongoing shadow work is a modern and postmodern realization, which is implicit but not fully developed in the great traditions. It remained to Freud and Jung and their respective students to make shadow work and essential dimension of full human development and health. In Unique Self teaching, the meaning of shadow work is significantly evolved.

Shadow is finally realized to be a Unique Self distortion. Shadow is a function of gifts ungiven and life unlived. To clean up is to identify your Unique Shadow and follow it back to your Unique Self, to your unique wavelength of light. It is only in light of this Unique Self understanding that it makes sense to actually integrate your shadow for you are integrating your own displaced Unique Self. This is the essential World Spirituality process of cleaning up which we call Shadow Integration.

Opening Up: Unique Self and Love

Opening up means opening up to and incarnating love. From the perspective of Unique Self teaching love has three essential components. Love is at its base not an emotion but a Unique Self perception. To love is recognize other. The lover has eyes to see the personal essence of the beloved and to identify him or her with that essence.

Love is a Unique Self perception. More succinctly love is a Unique Self perception-identification process. To love is not only to perceive the uniquely beautiful essence of the beloved but to identify them with that essence.

Second, to love is to stay open through the pain. To love is to open up to the full depth of life despite hurt, which seduces us to close and contract. You can only stay open as your Unique Self. The ego can never stay open when if feels under attack.

Third, to love is to give. To love is to be committed to suspend your ego and give deeply to another for the sake of their higher good whatever that may be. Once again you can only stop using another to support your existence and truly give to other, after you have evolved beyond identification with your ego and realized your Unique Self.

Showing Up: Unique Self and Unique Gift

It is the matrix of waking up, growing up, cleaning up and opening up that allows you to show up as Your Unique Self. It your Unique Self that gives birth to Unique Gift. As mentioned earlier in the book, Your Unique Gifts are what enable you to address a Unique Need that needs to be filled.

The core realization of a world spirituality is that every human being is both part of the whole and at the same time a high priest or priestess in their religion of one. The core obligation, joy, and responsibility of the Unique Self is to give its Unique Gift which fills a unique need in the kosmos that can be met by them and them alone.

World Spirituality is not the shared Truth of Premodern Religions

As we have already alluded to, it is not only the premodern religions that we turn to create world spirituality. Each great system of knowing, premodern, modern, and postmodern, participates in the forging of World Spirituality. The emergence in modernity of science, of the evolution of the social sphere expressed in the rise of democracy, human rights, and the ascension of the feminine, are all key components in the formation of a World Spirituality.

Can you imagine today a serious World Spirituality without taking into account the implications of neuroscience, what I call Neuro-dharma, on our understandings of ritual and spiritual practice? Can you imagine today a World Spirituality without the emergent insights of postmodernity with its manifestations as multiculturalism and pluralism, without its profound understanding of the distinction between surface structures and depth structures and the role of interpretation and hermeneutics in creating all forms of spiritual and social culture?

Particularly can one imagine World Spirituality without the evolutions that have taken place in our understanding of Evolution? More important than anything, can one imagine a World Spirituality without a profound embrace of the evolutionary context within which we live and which depends on us? The evolutionary context— the realization that consciousness is evolving, and that every generation is responsible for giving its own unique gift to the evolution of consciousness — is the animating Eros in our attempt to give voice and language to the emergence of a World Spirituality that is already happening all over the globe.

World Spirituality is Not Interfaith

World Spirituality is not interfaith. It is a major step beyond interfaith that transcends and includes the evolutionary strides made and still being made by that great movement of spirit. If one were to map the stages of spirit’s evolution from the premodern religions to the contemporary emergence of a World Spirituality in which we are participating, the map might look something like the following:

1. In the first stage, when the classical religions reigned supreme, in the age before the western Enlightenment, each religion believed that it was supreme or, at the very least, superior to all the other religions. Much was beautiful and noble and civilizing in these great traditions. And yet their sense of ethnocentric superiority fostered significant shadow. This superiority created in its wake a sense of entitlement, the rationalization for massive oppression, and more often than not, a license to kill. This stage of religious development has been called mythic religion.

2. The second stage emerged with the advent of modernity. Modernity came along and appropriately weakened the authority of the mythic religions by demanding evidence. Moreover, modernity pointed out that many of the propositions which religions had held to be dogmatic truths were in fact, factually wrong. These ranged from the view of the universe — that the church held as dogma — which placed the earth at the center of all things (and was later falsified by Galileo’s telescope), to a dogmatically held belief regarding the structure of the human body (which was falsified by the dissections and autopsies of renaissance science), to the belief in the divine right of kings (which was undermined by the rise of the western Enlightenment). Mythic conceptions of religion substantively weakened. Secularization began its creeping annexations of the world mind. Within the old mythic religions, more progressive voices emerged. However, those voices often sought to remake the religions in the image of modernity, and generally lost their authentic mooring in the core lineage mind of the religion. At the same time, there were those who both opened to modernity and maintained a strong and authentic connection to their core religion without formally working out the contradiction between the two commitments. This stage in the development of spirit has been called rational religion.

3. The third stage is perhaps characterized by the interfaith movement and has been called pluralistic religion. The Interfaith movement made a beautiful contribution to spirit’s evolution by getting people talking to each other from the different faith traditions. This movement itself has two distinct expressions. In one expression, what I will call the humanistic expression, the implicit assumption is that the religions cannot be genuinely reconciled at a deep theological level, but if people could just get along at a human level beyond doctrinal difference, this itself would create a mutuality of respect and recognition which would serve to deepen love and lessen religious conflict of all forms.

In a second expression of Interfaith, what I will call the shared truth or perennial expression, the core issues that separated the religions mattered less because the leaers of Interfaith dialogues did not truly take the unique teachings of each of the great traditions, including their own, seriously. In this version of interfaith the Unique Self of the traditions was often effaced and reduced to some very banal expressions of liberal spirit. Someone once said that the early interfaith dialogues was between Jews who did not believe in Judaism and Christians who did not believe in Christianity — who got together and discovered they had a lot in common. However, this search for shared understanding in the Interfaith movement had a more profound expression as well. The crucial developmental insight was that the shared truths in all the religions are their essential teaching. This shared truth in this version of interfaith both overrides and undercuts what are seen to be the far less important doctrinal, theological, and value distinctions between the religions. This understanding made a highly significant contribution to the realization that what we have in common is far greater than that which divides us.

One of the core matrices of this highly intelligent and profound interfaith work are the key insights of perennial philosophy. The perennialists, led by the like of Fritzof Schuon and his circle of students, and championed effectively and eloquently by Huston Smith, pointed to the essential shared depth structures, which existed in all the traditions. And let it be said clearly. The perennnialist camp and its highly critical insights have made a pivotal contribution towards the evolution of consciousness. And let it be said clearly. The perennial insights are an important part of the emergent World Spirituality. However, let it be understood no less clearly that the shared perennial truths found in all or most of the great religions are only the first step in the emergence of World Spirituality. Perennial Philosophy is a part, but in no way the whole, of World Spirituality.

The Evolutionary Context of World Spirituality

Why? Because the Perennialists made one huge mistake. They intentionally ignored the evolutionary context. Schoun and Smith not only ignore it, they identified and rejected evolution as being the enemy of eternity. In their understandable desire to re-locate modern man in the stable ground of eternity, they intuitively viewed the dynamic emergence of evolution as a threat. This was a huge mistake. Evolution and Eternity are not enemies. Rather, Evolution is the nature of Eternity. Or at least evolution, or what Alfred North Whitehead called Becoming, is One taste of Eternity. Evolution is a mechanism of eternity’s emergent properties as eternity chooses to manifest in the world of time. Evolution is no less than the chosen mechanism of the mystery. We now realize that everything is evolving, including consciousness itself. In the language of Hebrew msytic Abraham Kuk, heavily influenced by the old evolutionary teachings of Luria and the Zohar:

The theory of evolution, which is presently conquering the world, is aligned with the most profound secrets of Spirit, more than with any other philosophical theory.

Evolution, which proceeds on an ascending trajectory, provides an optimistic base for the world, for how is it possible to despair when one sees that everything is evolving and ascending?

And when I penetrate the very center of the principle of ascending evolution, I discover that it is the divine principle, which is enlightened with absolute clarity. For it is Infinity-in-realization which realized itself through bringing infinity from infinite potentiality to infinite actuality.

Evolution enlightens all dimensions of reality, all of God’s manifestations.

All of reality evolves and ascends, as is evident in its parts, and this ascension is general as well as particular. It rises to the highest peaks of absolute good.

What we now realize, as Kuk, Bergson, Aurobindo, de Chardin, Gebser and so many others have shown, is that “all dimensions of reality” are evolving. We realize that consciousness itself is developing. Evolution is not the enemy of the mystery. Evolution is the mechanism of the mystery. This is the great paradox and lived koan of evolution and eternity.The enlightened realization of the Kabbalists, who realized that consciousness itself evolves through us, dramatically influenced Fichte, Schelling, and the other German Idealists who are the modern founders of Evolutionary Spirituality.

But what was an esoteric realization held by an elite few has itself dramatically evolved. We now realize that evolution takes place in the biosphere itself. And the evolution taking place in the biosphere is an expression of the evolution, which is the very nature of all levels of reality. Moreover What Kuk understood about all levels of reality evolving, we are now able to ground in empirical cross-cultural research — called structuralism — which reveals the unfolding stages of consciousness through human history. I am able today to identify distinct levels in the evolution of Consciousness, as revealed by the cross-cultural research of contemporary developmental theorists including Jean Gebser, Clare Graves, Jean Piaget, Jane Loevinger, Suzanne Cook-Greuter and many more.

Religion and Spirituality are expressions of consciousness. If consciousness is evolving in distinct stages, then it is obvious and readily apparent that religion must be evolving in those very same stages. So it is clear as day that when I say “religion” I need to identify what kind of religion I am talking about. I am talking about what Jean Gebser called Mythic Religion, or about Rational Religion, Pluralistic Religion, or Integral Religion. Each one of these levels, or stages of development — mythic, rational, pluralistic, and Integral — refracts the core and profound insights of religion through its own particular level of consciousness. Each one transcends and includes the previous level of consciousness. Okay, you ask, what does that mean in practical terms?

Let me give you on example of why this matters so much. For the religions at all of these levels, kindness is a core value. There is a clear spiritual obligation to kindness that is expressed at all four of these evolutionary levels of consciousness. But what kindness means differs substantively at each level. The simplest expression of this distinction is that at the mythic level of religion the primary obligation to kindness is limited to those of one’s own faith community. And while it may be extended to others through this or that method of hermeneutic expansion, the core community of concern to which one is obligated to be kind remains the particular faith community of which one is a part.

A second example: In a wonderfully made home movie on ancient China, which was ruled by mythic religious consciousness, the hero is an enlightened Chinese patriarch who is in a deep love relationship with his consort. At some point in the plot his consort disobeys him. He beats her with a cane, all the while shedding tears but realizing that this is what he must do. When he finishes, she thanks him for his “kindness.” At the mythic level of consciousness, the violation of masculine authority by the feminine was understood to require beating as an appropriate response. And such beating was understood to be an expression of kindness.

At the level of rational religion — when the consciousness of western Enlightenment comes online, kindness extends beyond the particular faith community. And because the first wave of proto-feminism began to show its head as one of the expressions of deepening human rights, the notion that a man would beat his wife for disobedience, as an act of kindness, slowly becomes not only absurd but also abusive, illegal, and actionable. However, at the level of rational religion, sharp distinctions between the genders remain in place, and women are still not equal in any sense. Kindness to the feminine does not include, for example, equal pay for equal time or a host of other basic rights.

At the pluralistic level of religious consciousness the obligation to personal kindness extends both beyond narrow faith communities and transcends gender distinctions and all sexual orientations. Kindness itself has evolved. However, the pluralistic level of religion, to a large extent, lost the ability to make discernments and penetrating judgments to reflect natural hierarchies between values, lifestyles, moral choices, or forms of government. All forms of rankings are considered, by definition, unkind or worse. This resulted in a liberal abandonment of values. The tragic upshot is that the religious right per se hijacked values. Moreover, the sense of spiritual and religious obligation to kindness, and to specific sets of actions that support personal acts of kindness, was undermined initially in rational religion, and most dramatically in pluralistic levels of spirituality and consciousness. The result again is that self-help and community-based welfare organizations, as part and parcel of an organized community, abound on the religious right, which holds a premodern, largely mythic view of religion. These are almost entirely absent in the fragmented and diffuse community structures of the liberal left, which is rooted, if at all, in rational or pluralistic modes of religion.

It is only at the Integral level of consciousness that kindness evolves once again in a way, which transcends both gender discrimination, and all the limitations of ethnocentric mythic religion. Moreover, at the Integral level of consciousness the obligation to kindness, both as a general virtue and as it relates to specific acts of kindness, is reclaimed. Indeed it is only at the Integral level of consciousness that a significant post-mythic and post-rational notion of genuine obligation is reclaimed at all.

World Spirituality Transcends and Includes the Perennial Philosophy

Said slightly differently, World Spirituality = Perennial Philosophy in an Evolutionary Context, with all that this implies. To spell out all of the implications would take more space than I have available in this communication. But let us at least make some key points on this utterly essential issue.

Now do not misunderstand this point. The premodern traditions of Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and other great religions including Islam, are wildly deep on many levels. The premodern traditions are radically profound at a level of interior understanding, which is most likely beyond anything we know today in our interior reaches. The radical inner focus on spirit in the premodern age, some would say, the receptivity to the graces of revelation, yielded a depth of interior vision and knowing which is virtually beyond imagination. At this same time the mainstream of all these traditions remained premodern in many essential ways which includes ethnocentricity, various forms of the marginalization of the feminine, a lack of historical consciousness, a profound disparity between the elite and the common person, an underdeveloped sense of human rights and much more. Each system at its core believed that its truth was primary, if not exclusive, and that in time history would validate its truth claim as the only authentic truth claim. And it is precisely that form of premodern religion that is once again spreading around the globe with disastrous results, as evidenced in the meteoric rise of fundamentalisms world over. So to develop a World Spirituality, which shares the best of the pre-modern traditions while a correct evolutionary step in the right direction is certainly not the goal of an emergent and evolving world spirituality.

Rather, as we have already insisted, we want a world Spirituality that shared the best of premodern, modern, and post modern insight. That would be an enormous leap in the evolution of consciousness. Let’s bring on board in World Spirituality the deepest insights of all the great traditions including all of the great modern and postmodern traditions. This would include the best insights of psychology and psychoanalysis not least of which would recognize and actively engaging what Freud called the unconscious and Jung called the shadow. It would also include fantastic advances in family systems, economics, law, the healing arts, negotiation theory and conflict resolution as well as the best insights of systems and chaos theory. It would naturally embrace all of the best insights of modern science. It would include critical advances in health care, forms of governances, and human rights. It would include the leading edge understandings in the postmodern disciplines of hermeneutics, phenomenology, metrics and developmental thought. This understanding of World Spirituality as embracing the best of premodern and postmodern traditions brings online the evolutionary emergent of Unique Self as a core element in an emergent World Spirituality.

The Evolutionary Emergence of Unique Self and World Spirituality

Unique Self, as we have said, is an essential lodestone of World Spirituality. Like World Spirituality, Unique Self is an evolutionary emergent which transcends and includes all that comes before it. Unique Self emerges from an integration of a number of distinct streams of knowing. Unique Self transcends any particular lineage tradition even as it is uniquely anticipated in key lineage and cultural traditions that preceded it. Unique Self emerges from the deepest insights of premodern enlightenment teaching. Unique Self emerges from modern ideas of individuality, the rights of man and the democratization of power and a growing awareness of the centrality of evolutionary idea in all realms of thought. Unique Self emerges as well as from the postmodern notions of context, evolutionary context and Unique Perspective as essential components in the post-metaphysical ontology of all meaning making. The personal life project of Unique Self which invites and obligates individuals in the name of spirit to live their Unique Story and give their Unique Gifts for the sake of the All. It is an ultimate expression of Spirit, which cuts across lineage and cultural lines. Unique Self offers a simple yet profound shared spiritual language of World Spirituality that is both accessible and compelling. It addresses the deepest yearning of the human being: to live a life that matters.

World Spirituality: An Urgent Need

World Spirituality of this kind is urgently needed today to heal the fragmentation that lies at the very core of the world’s heart. It is only this kind of leading-edge evolutionary emergent which will have a wide enough embrace to catalyze a shared world commons. It is only from the space of shared world commons that we can write a new source code of human culture rooted in ever-higher levels of mutuality, recognition, union and embrace. It is only such a World Spirituality rooted in such a source code, which will be powerful enough to catalyze this urgently vital evolution of love. It is only through the evolution of love, which is the evolution of consciousness, which is the evolution of God that we will be able to inspire and write a new Cosmic Scroll. An evolving great story which will provide a framework of meaning, obligation and joy for hundreds of millions of people who are currently cast adrift on the shores of relativism and the implicitly deconstructions of all worlds views and big pictures.

It is only such a new Cosmic Scroll which allows us a glimpse at the pattern that connects and makes meaning of our lives inviting us to higher joy and responsibility It is only in a new Cosmic Scroll that all the great religions and all the great systems of knowing and doing will have a place and will therefore no longer seek to usurp the place of an other. It is only in the context of such a Cosmic Scroll that every unique human being will have a dignified, honored and beloved place. It is only the democratization of enlightenment as the core teaching of that new Scroll which will send ripples of healing presence and peace across the globe.

Evolving World Spirituality is the urgent need and great adventure of our time.

The yearning to articulate World Spirituality is rippling across the globe in the hearts and minds of tens of millions of people. For some people, the classical religions have lost their power. They seek a path of practice and commitment that transcends the traditions. For others, their intuitive desire is to transcend and include the traditions. They seek to live as dual citizens, rooted in their tradition, even as they locate themselves as citizens in the broader community of World Spirituality.

A World Spirituality based on Integral Evolutionary principles, rooted in the shared truths held to be self-evident by all great systems of spirit and gnosis across historical time, is urgently needed at this moment in history. Evolving an authentic life rooted in commitment and freedom articulated and lived in the principles and practices of World Spirituality is the next great step in spirit’s unfolding.

The Center for Integral Wisdom is writing a series of groundbreaking books and creating new templates for spiritual practice, education, and community. The templates are at once rooted in the past, present, and future. Emerging from an integration of the leading-edge emergent evolutionary insights taught by spirituality, psychology, and the sciences, World Spirituality paves the way for the next stage of evolution, seeding the ground of hope that is our collective memory of the future.

In day to day practice, the Center for Integral Wisdom functions primarily as an academic and public policy action think-tank. Its aim is to catalyze, host, and evolve the trans-lineage conversation within the Integral, Evolutionary and broader spiritual and cultural communities with the clear intent of humbly and audaciously participating in the evolution of consciousness. I believe World Spirituality is necessary for the next stage of humanity’s evolution. Let it be so!

1 Ken Wilber and I just has an awesome and spirited discussion about this precise point, a few days ago during one of a series of regular private dialogues which humbly and tentatively seek to lay the foundation of an emergent World Spirituality. All of the insights that emerge from these dialogues are evolving a vision of a World Spirituality based on Integral Principles. Ken is both a co-catalyst and active leading intellectual force and inspiration and in the emergence of this movement. We are currently preparing a book to formally outline the theoretical underpinning of a World Spirituality based on Integral principles.

Loving Your Way to Enlightenment

Dr. Marc Gafniby Annie Lalla & Marc Gafni

We have killed all the Gods except for Aphrodite. Aphrodite is the goddess of True Love. True Love is the altar before most of us still worship. Our new sacred credo is “I love you.” Our true sacred credo is usually revealed when the stakes are the highest—at our moment of death. When planes hit the World Trade Center and people had a few seconds to live, they called home and recited the credo, I love you.

And yet somehow our spiritual world of practice has become separated from our world of love. Our enlightenment studies seem to often point us beyond personal love, which is viewed as the realm of attachment and separate self.

It is for that reason that we want to invite you to a new spiritual path: The path of Loving Your Way to Enlightenment.

Enlightenment is knowing your true nature. Your true nature however is not just one taste as some are wont to say. It is two tastes. In Yoga terms we might say that your true nature is Shiva and Shakti. Shiva is being. Shakti is becoming. Shiva is your deep sense of being. It is the deep impersonal unchanging essence that lives in and as your deepest identity. Your Shakti nature is more connected to the dynamic dance of becoming. Shakti is the love intelligence that lives awake in you and as you. The impersonal enlightenment of Shiva may be available sitting in meditation alone. But if you awake to the realization that your true nature is personal Shakti love, then just sitting meditation will not get you there. This is not the personal before the impersonal but the personal beyond the impersonal. You will have to awaken to your true nature as personal love. Or said differently you have to “love your way to enlightenment.”

One of the great paths to “loving your way to enlightenment” is no less than falling in love.

To love your way to enlightenment is not only more courageous, but as the Zen master Ikkyu wrote, it is also more effective just “sterile sitting meditation.” To love your way to enlightenment is to allow yourself to fall fully in love and use your relationship as a crucible for spiritual development. To love your way to enlightenment is to not to bypass your wounds in spacious meditation but to enter your hurts and transform them into healing, health and heroism.

All our wounds happen in relationship and so they’re best healed in relationship. Falling in love—with your True Love—is the most profound & rigorous transformational workshop going on the planet. It’s the one place you get reflected back in all your glory and all your darkness. Your lover is the shiniest mirror and your most profound teacher. The best sacred shortcut to enlightenment is falling in love, because it forces you to wake up and take responsibility for all the ways you aren’t present to what’s so. Suffering after all is being in an argument with reality.

What is True Love?

First we want to clarify—we are not talking about just any kind of falling in love—we are talking about True Love. You have to believe in True Love before you can know it in your life. We’ve heard about True Love in fairytales, epic sagas, poetry, opera & Shakespeare. It seems fantastical and larger than life. Indeed, it is. John Perry Barlow said to us once: “The difference between love and true love is the difference between a very large number & infinity.”

Infinity—as inspiring as it can be—is also terrifying. The vast unknown is hard to wrap your head around, it cannot be controlled or managed… the only true response is awakened surrender.

All of our fears, neuroses and shadow issues come up in True Love relationships. No matter how much transformational work you’ve done, True Love is where the deepest darkest stuff comes out. Couples in True Love fight the big fights. It is part of the courting dance. It is often called the ‘power struggle.’ No relationship worth its salt avoids this inevitable initiation and testing ground. True Love conflict can either be alchemized into intimacy or it alienates you from your partner. What allows conflict to move fluidly into resolution is each partner’s willingness to look inside, facing everything and avoiding nothing. Each partner must ask for how & where they participated in the disconnect, the misunderstanding, the heartbreak—which lies at the root of all arguments. This is the stage many couples do not survive. When the agonizing reflections of our defended self are forced into our attention, everything in us wants to run.

The reason it’s important to distinguish True Love from ordinary love, is because it is the only force strong enough to keep you in the game. It is True Love that calls you to do the work, roll up your sleeves for whatever it takes to transcend your crazies and find your way back to your lover’s heart.

True Love provides the necessary gymnasium or dojo for your emotional training & actualization. Until you’ve surrendered fully to your relationship (no quitting, no exits, no threats of leaving; you’re in for life) you cannot get the evolutionary benefits of deep personal & spiritual transformation.

But here is the secret. Our love lists are too short. True Love shows up not only in romantic relationship. True Love can also show up in relation to close friends, brothers and sisters, parents, our life partners of varying kinds. We have exiled falling in love to the romantic. But this is the subject for another column.

A quick and dirty test to distinguish True Love: If you’re wondering whether or not you’re in love…then you’re not. It’s unmistakable when it happens, there’s no confusion; you just know. And once you find it you’ll do whatever it takes to make it work.

In particular, you have to be willing to die for it. Yes… die.

When you fall in love, your “contracted coiled separate self” dies into an “US” and that alone can be terrifying. Ironically however, once you dive off the cliff, you’re soon handed back a stronger, more profound sense of self than you could ever have created on your own. We use the word US in two ways. US is you and me together who form the miracle of We. But we are also using US as an acronym for Unique Self. In True Love relationship you do not disappear but rather appear as the most epic version of your Unique Self.

Love is not merely an emotion. Love is a perception that births an emotion. Love is a perception of the infinite specialness and radiance that lives in the face of the other. Love is God meeting God. When we fall in love with another person two beloveds appear in full radiance. We don’t only fall in love with the other person. We also fall in love with ourselves. We fall in love with how we’re seen by them & who we get to be in their presence. We fall in love with a possibility, the possibility that inspires us the most. And inspiration is what pulls us in to our highest selves.

When you think about it for a moment falling in love and spiritual development really start to sound very similar, don’t they?

Many of the ancient religions & wisdom traditions share one thing in common, they encourage us to be more loving, aware, awake and present. The first core practice is to realize that you are part of something bigger than yourself. You come from an eternal oneness. This is often called your True Self. In the evolution of this tradition we teach that You are not only a True Self but a “Unique Self” that lives beyond space, time & matter. And that “Unique Self”, happening once-and-for-all-and-never-again is divine; it’s one of the many faces of god. That of course is precisely the identity that shows up as you when you fall in love.

A second core practice is what we like to call “Nowing:” participating in the now—as it stretches endlessly out from this moment across space-time. Of course that is also the practice of falling in love. When you are in love—just being present with your partner is the greatest bliss and delight.

To practice falling in love over time is no less than simply bringing more of your consciousness into the now. You step into the fullness of presence with your romantic partner. The only place an “US” can live is in the now. When we are caught up in our neuroses, defensive patterns or disconnected form our own emotions, some of our consciousness has left the room. We have left the now.

“Nowing” may be the most powerful spiritual practice there is. Nowing in the context of True Love calls up all our obsolete strategies born from historical wounds, but it also forces us into the now. For that is the place from which we can see our patterns and observe how they keep us out of relationship & separate from our partner. When you’re in your blind spot issues—you’ve left your lover. They’re alone & afraid and they need you to wake up and come back—here, now… where True Love lives.

True Love offers a way out of the insidious obsession with our alienated and wounded separate self. Loving your way to enlightenment is a powerful crucible for self-realization & growth.

Your lover is your ultimate guru and their stand for your greatest self is your access to a whole new kind of enlightenment. One where you get to be the God you are, while your lover does the same.

This article is part of the book Loving Your Way to Enlightenment (Chahat Corten) which organizes Marc Gafni’s World Spirituality teachings on love as both the path and goal of spirituality.

Open Up: The Practices of Love

The practices of Opening Up are the practices of 2nd person love, relationship and we-space as well as the practice of being held by and praying to the Divine in 2nd person.

Let’s start with a meditation you can practise in every moment of your life:

“Open, Not Closed” Meditation

We are going to practice opening.

Feel your heart, beating deep in your body, and relax open as if you are offering your heartbeat to the world. And, let this be the opening that you make again and again every day, opening your heartbeat to the world. Conjure up, bring to mind, who do you love, with your heart open, and how deeply do you love? And what are your plans for tomorrow? Are they open as the Unique Self outrageous lover?

And know that in some “now moment,” which is just as real as this moment right here and right now—just as real as this present moment—in some “now moment” your life will end. Are you ready for your death? Did you love outrageously? And if you loved outrageously, then you can start right now. Because when you love outrageously, you re-weave all of the past, you reconfigure everything that has happened. When you love outrageously, you fearlessly walk into the portal of transition which we call death, and right now, in this very moment, you are either opening or closing. You are either living as a gift to all, or you are closed, cut off from the all.

Listen to the meditation from the Awakening Your Unique Self Telecourse and read further below:

Right now in this moment, you are opening as a gift to all, or you are closing. It’s a choice in every moment. How does the choice feel? Relax your muscles, open your senses, and feel into the world around you, as if you are feeling light from a dream. And in this classical mystical practice, breathe this light in, breath it in to your body, and then exhale. And from your deep heart and soft belly offer love outward in all directions as far as you can open to feel.

Your true destiny unfolds freely when you live every moment open as Unique Self and shine as your unique offering of outrageous love. And, go deeper. Feel the tension in your muscles, the clenching in your jaw, the hardening around your heart. Feel the fear that shapes your muscles, that armors your body, your emotions, and your life choices, and then open. Breathe in, and open as you breathe in, and breathe past the shape of the fear. And as you inhale, expand your belly more fully, filling your deep gut with love’s light and energy.

Feel other people. Feel their hearts longing in joy, and breathe their aliveness in and out of your heart in this very moment. And when fear returns, which it always does, and then again in this moment, feel the shape of your closure. Feel your fear. Let it in. Feel everyone’s fear and darkness. But then feel everyone and your own fear so openly that as you feel, as everyone, you feel the shape of their fear, the shape of your fear, your deep-heart love expands.

Breathe this open as the shape of the entire infinite moment with its infinite invitation. Breathe open as outrageous love, and feel your heart melt the fear, because where outrageous love lives, there is no fear. Feel yourself opening in every moment and as every moment. In the practice of full bliss, identify with the emerging consciousness, the nowness of all things, and know that you are that moment, and in being that moment, I’m me, and I’m you, and I am the space between every breath.

And, yes, pain is ever possible, my friends. And, your lover betrays you, and your heart is crushed. And, your effort to avoid pain is as natural as pain itself. Most of life is an effort to avoid the pain, to experience pleasure, and to pretend that everything is ok. But the only way to move beyond the pain is to open fully with your heart radically expanded as outrageous love, and when you fully open in and as any moment, in that moment, you are complete.

So, feel the practice of opening. Release and untie every knot and every closure. And remember, friends, you can be doing separateness and suffering even if you are in a hot tub with your sexy lover. And you can surrender open if you are digging a ditch in the hot open sun. Your heart knows the truth of openness and suffers the tense lie of your closure. Practice openness, the truth of who you—True Self, Unique Self—by feeling the infinite eternity in this moment right now with its invitation that holds you and heals you, right here, right now. And even though you have habit of closure, right now, in this moment, you can always practice opening to feel, open to feel what you are feeling, whatever it is, and when you open to it, your heart opens and melts away that which is in the way.

You can practice opening in a midst of an orgasm. You can be in the midst of an orgasm and collapse closed. You can practice opening in the midst of car accident, staying open. Openness is your natural, divine state. No contraction, no knot. As each moment unfolds, pain and all, you open fully. And, in that opening, you are born. And, that, my friends, that’s the practice of seeing with God’s eyes. The practice of opening to let God see with your eyes is the practice of open, not closed. And, it’s the question you ask yourself in every single moment. Am I open, or am I closed?

Meditation on Being Held and Loved by Reality

from the Awakening Your Unique Self Telecourse

Lighten Up: Integrate Your Shadow

“INTEGRATE YOUR SHADOW” has become the battle cry of spiritual growth. Shadow integration is now seen as essential to personal development, success, and fulfillment. The centrality of shadow integration in these areas is most certainly a welcome evolution of enormous significance.

The only problem is that people, teachers included, often throw around highly charged words like “darkness” and “shadow” without actually explaining them or having a genuine understanding of what the words actually mean.

The reason the shadow conversation works at all, even without clear understanding, is that people have some natural idea of what “shadow” means. The word “shadow” automatically associates certain images, feelings, and ideas. When Shakespeare talks about “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine,” you understand he is talking about shadow, even if you can’t fully articulate it.

Download this Excerpt from Your Unique Self:


Read the book for more on Unique Shadow.

Try this little practice:

Write a letter to someone you dislike or are angry at. Then, read the letter to yourself but change their name to your name.

See how this resonates.

How does this address your own issues?

How are you the same as this person?

How are you the exact opposite?

Is there something in what the person is doing that is exactly what you would like to be doing but for whatever reason don’t?

How does this point to an unlived dimension of Your Unique Self?

What is it that keeps you from living it?

What first step could you take today to overcome this obstacle and start living this aspect of Your Unique Self?

Show Up: Answering the Call

Showing up is a practice that we practise in our everyday life when we choose to show up as our Unique Self in our life. It means giving our Unique Gifts and answering the call of our lives that only we can answer.

What does it mean to answer the call?

To answer the call is to respond to the call that lives in you, as you, and through you, of your Unique Self. The unique individualized expression of essence that is you calls you, invites you to find your vocation—the claiming of your unique voice in the world. To find a voice that is yours, not imitative, you have to inhabit your Unique Perspective.

Your Unique Perspective is your particularized way of looking at the world, the angle at which you look at reality that opens a space of insight open only to you alone. There are shared spaces of insight; we can all look at the same book or bush, but ultimately we are all looking at it from a different angle. We have a common language. Your perspective is inescapable; it is the prism through which you experience reality.

What emerges from your Unique Self / Unique Perspective is a set of pleasures, unique skills that you have in the world, unique proclivities, capacities, all of which come together to reveal Your Unique Gift. It is available to the world through no one else but you. To know that you have a Unique Gift which is desperately needed by All That Is. No one else has the capacity to give that gift. This is a realization that changes everything.

That realization of your Unique Gift—which flows from your Unique Perspective, which is an expression of your Unique Self—creates your Unique Obligation. Obligation is a word that has gotten lost. We think of it as something that is imposed on us by our parents or a church or a culture that we don’t fully identify with. We think of it as imposed by external persons, variables. But at its core it is the unique expression of the love-beauty and love-intelligence that is you…

Obligation is the expression of you fulfilling the gift that is only yours to give, meeting the need that can only be met by you. That’s the joy of enacting your unique obligation. It’s not heavy or burdensome. It can be difficult or challenging, but it creates in you a sense of joy. Joy is a by-product of living your Unique Self.

A First Practice to Get a Sense of Your Unique Gifts:

Sit down with a pen and paper in front of you:

Start by getting a feeling for yourself, for the quality of your uniqueness, the special taste of your essence.

Make a list with 5 columns. List:

  • three unique pleasures
  • three things I would do today even if I was not paid for them
  • three things I enjoyed doing when I was young that I forgot because they didn’t fit in (if you can’t remember, ask a couple of friends who knew you back then)
  • three unique talents you possess in your own view
  • three unique needs in my circle of influence that are real and substantive

Recognize the connections: Your Unique Self is precisely where your unique pleasures, your unique talents, your unique gifts meet the world’s needs.

Listen to this audio interview of Marc Gafni this exercise is taken from to Unleash the Symphonic Creativity of Your Unique Self.

And sign up for our Free Awakening Your Unique Self Mini-Course.

To Deepen your Understanding Listen to this Excerpt of a Dialogue with Junpo Roshi and Marc Gafni:

Grow Up: Principles of Growing Up & Life as the Evolution of Tears

Listen to Dr. Marc Gafni in Session 1 from the 2013 Telecourse Wake Up, Grow Up, Show Up, Participate in the Evolution of Love while he dives into the first 7 principles of Growth.

Below, we will give you an assignment from the same course that guides you through your own evolution of tears, from egocentric through ethnocentric and worldcentric to cosmocentric tears. Participants of the course have reported how potent this practice is. So, use it for the sake of your own evolution and the evolution of love.

Download a pdf-version of the transcript of the session here.


Consider this sentence: Life is the evolution of Tears.

Identify two or three different levels of consciousness in your tears. For example, your tears might reflect egocentric, ethnocentric, worldcentric, and cosmocentric levels of consciousness.

Or, said differently — using a slightly different map of levels of consciousness for those of your who have studied Unique Self teaching — your tears might be pre-personal, separate self, false self, true self or unique self tears. (Pre-personal means pre-separate self, or it might refer to a moment in life – good or bad – which is primal. Raw survival is a pre-personal drive, for example.)

Begin with the crying of a baby, and identify the nature of a baby’s crying, including your own. (Although you may not be able to remember back that far, you can reflect on it.) If you access and give voice to your tears, are they all the same? Or do the tears, in their interiority, grow?

Create a tears line of development in your life: Identify and find the major crying stories in your life. Try and pick at least one, if possible two, and preferably three crying stories.

See if you can detect and discern a developmental trajectory in the nature of your crying. As you go through life, do your tears reflect different levels of consciousness?

As the first part of the practice, share with us a story of tears. Look for a story when you were young. Then give voice to the tears. Share with yourself and with us the language of your tears.

Then in part two if you are up for it, find a second tears story and do the same. Feel the difference between the stories.

Finally if you are up for a home run – find a third tears story. Do the same with the third story.

Then try and see a trajectory. Is there an emergence? Have your tears evolved? Remember – evolution does not move in a straight line. So it is highly possible that while your tears have evolved – you still cry – and still should cry – at this stage in your life, tears from different levels of consciousness.

Hint: the tears of the sage or the yogini are not quite the same as the tears of the baby. Why? What has emerged?

Download a pdf-version of the assignment here.

Wake Up: Chant as a Practice of Fullness

A very potent practice for Waking Up is Chanting.

In this short introductory video, Dr. Marc Gafni introduces us to the ways that chant is a practice that enacts, invokes, and accesses the Enlightenment of Fullness. The Enlightenment of Fullness is a term he coined in 2009-2010 to describe an emergent property of World Spirituality. Here, he introduces chant by describing the parallels between it and classical silent meditative forms. Meditation is a practice of emptiness that frees us from the conceptual mind, liberates us from ego, and grounds us in True Self. The Enlightenment of Fullness—accessed through chant—emerges out of the ground of emptiness and the ground of being. However, in the end, as Marc says here, both the emptiness and fullness are one.

Watch the video and read the partial transcript:

Read the partial transcript and start practicing here>>>

And here is another practice:

Integral Religion

by Marc Gafni

This article was born in conversations with Ken Wilber in late 2005 and early 2006. I sent him an earlier version of it and appreciate his feedback, which was in part incorporated in the article.

This short piece attempts to get a grip and offer a more integral framework on the spirituality vs. religion dilemma which seems so pivotal in contemporary conversation of both religion and spirituality.

Nine out of ten people who read this article probably label themselves as spiritual and not religious. Book after book is published extolling the virtues of spirituality while dismissing religion as the relic of a past age which needs to be discarded and the sooner the better. Religion evokes in us images of Al Quadea, Taliban and various other forms verbally, doctrinally and physically violent fundamentalism. Spirituality evokes images, even if they are somewhat blurred images, of warm and gentle embrace.

However we rarely get beyond these primal evocations and actually examine these two expression of spirit in a more conscious and therefore profound manner.

This rather uncritical preference of spirituality over religion contains within it great danger to authentic spiritual growth and to the evolution of human consciousness on both the personal and Kosmic levels. That is bad news. The good news is that in this article we are going to try and look how we got here, which once understood, might well open us to new and deeper ways of thinking about the relationship between Spirituality and Religion and allows us to make conscious choices about their respective roles in our lives.

There are three core factors that gave birth to this preference for spirituality over religion. First, a misunderstanding of what religion means, the second a misunderstanding of the deeper implications of spirituality as it is popularly understood, and the third the powerful and correct critique of the classical forms in which religion actually appeared in Western Civilization. The result of these misunderstandings and the highly devastating critique of religion however is the implicit and explicit contemporary preference for a loosely defined and more loosely practiced spirituality. This kind of spirituality is often primarily focused on spiritual “experiences” and is for the most part devoid of the matrix of both classical religion and organized and committed practice which is rooted in a sense of core obligation to either a personal God or a transpersonal self. Personal preference replaces obligation. Indeed this preference itself is but a reflection of the underlying narcissism which lays at the heart of the both the modern and postmodern quests for meaning. This is a narcissism that must be transcended both by society and by every individual if we are to evolve to the next level spirit’s realization- an evolution that is essential for our very survival on this planet.

But as my kind reader may have been thinking to him or herself –we need to do more then make dramatic assertions about the underlying narcissistic core which is at the root of the ostensible modern preference for the spiritual over the religious; we do well to go back to the beginning and unfold both matrix of this narcissism and it’s antidotes step by careful step.

So here we go!

One of the core revelations of most of the great empirical researchers of human development over the past hundred years or so has been the validation of what is perhaps the most important single teaching of classical renaissance Kabbalah – the understanding that spirit is not static, rather it develops; it evolves stage by stage with each stage adopting the great truths of the stage before it while discarding it’s dross, even as it reaches for the next and higher level of spirit’s unfolding. So in order to get a clear sense of the relationship of spirituality to religion let’s follow, in very broad brushstrokes, the evolving stages of our relationship to spirit in the last few thousand years or so.

Stage one is unmediated spirituality or what I will term level one spirituality; This is the first meeting of the group or individual with spirit.

Stage two is the first expression of the institutionalization of level one spirituality. which is magical pagan and animistic religions.

Stage Three, more evolved then it’s previous stage, is also in direct response to the unmediated experience of spirit. Spirit yields a set of understandings about the world which are far more evolved then the early pagan intuitions about reality.

Stage Four is the concretization of these intuitions into a formal religious system. This religious system is far more universal then the previous expression in pagan and magical totem religion; its orientation is based on a more holistic sense of the underlying unity to the world. Stage Four then is the emergence of the great religions- religion being at its core the institutionalization of spirituality; The classical religions have at their core some sense of rules and some sort of unified field theories, there are based on the profound intuition that we are part of a great system that has both interior depth ad exterior expression; you did not need to placate local gods – rather you need to align yourself with the universe by aligning yourself with the universal system and all will be all right with you.

Stage Five is the devastating and in part very correct and necessary critique of the great religions leveled by both modernity and post modernity.

Stage Six which emerges in response to this critique of religion, is the sincerely seeking but profoundly dilettantish nature of contemporary spirituality. I will refer to this as level two spirituality. Level one spirituality is pre-religion level two spirituality experiences itself as being post – religion.

Stage Seven which has various manifestations is rooted in a deep critique and pervasive dissatisfaction with contemporary spirituality. Stage six is presently giving birth to three different movement of spirit.

The first movements are the manifold forms of pre-modern fundamentalism. Modernity did not fulfill it promises, progress did not yield the end of anxiety, and the spirituality which replaced religion did not make the grade, so many folks are making the fundamentalist pre-modern move and adopting some form of pre- modern religious belief. The second movement is the fostering of a genuine and committed post modern generic spirituality. That is happening in some places, there is a great desire for it to succeed, but it is very difficult to accomplish for reasons we will outline below, as so while occasionally achieving great depth, it is very limited in it’s span. The third movement which may well be the most vital of the three for the very survival of our plant, is the engagement in the spiritual renewal of the religions themselves.

Stage One: The Hills Are Alive

In the first stage of spirit’s unfolding there is an unmediated encounter with pure spirit manifested as a local God or Goddess. Spirituality level one is local spirituality.

In local spirituality the experience is that every bend of the river, every rock and every tree is alive with spirits that must be placated. This is the animistic magical or pagan stage. The spirits are for the most part localized expressions of the divine force and each one must be propitiated and placated separately. {This is a pre-personal, pre–rational and pre-personal level of spirit not to be confused with post modern and transrational, and transpersonal Gaia spirit consciousness with usually takes as it’s assumption a kind of systems theory in which all the local Gods are part of an underlying one, as well the implicit if often inchoate assumption of the goods of rational and personal consciousness which as we shall see below are the hallmarks of modernity.}

Stage Two: Pagan Consciousness and Human Sacrifice

The stage one meeting with spirit produces stage two which is magical animistic and pagan religion. For all of it’s glory – after all paganism is correct as far as it goes, indeed the hills are alive with the experiences of spirit – the refraction of spirit through the pagan lens yielded, what we now realize at our more evolved stage of spirit’s unfolding – are ethical and moral travesties. The world of witch craft and voodoo religion also yielded mass human sacrifice within one’s own tribe and mass murder of the neighboring tribe, a historical fact that seems to have been overlooked in the manifold modern idealizations of ancient pagan and magical culture and religion so especially popular in New Age teachings.

Stage Three: Insights of the Great Religions- The Perennial Spirituality

At a later stage a more evolved response to the meeting with pure unmediated spirit emerged. In this unfolding highly evolved individuals and occasionally also groups had unmediated experiences of spirit usually generated by intense spiritual practice. These experiences – which took place across the planet – in what we might term in modernity – double blind conditions – all yielded similar understandings at their deepest core.

These understandings which emerged from level one spirituality were of two distinct kinds. First they spoke to the very fundamental nature of reality. They invited the human being to a higher level of sanity. To be insane is to be disconnected from or misunderstand reality. To be sane is to understand and to be connected to reality. Spirituality then at its core is not for the flaky, unstable non-realistic types. Rather it for those who passionately pursue the discernment of the deepest core of reality. Spirituality one might say is a profoundly realistic enterprise.

Including in these understandings were the notion of the interconnectivity of the all and the all, what we might term the very wholeness and unity of reality. It was understood that all of reality was part of a unified field of spirit that had both telos and depth. And that in order to divine that telos one needed to enter that depth – which could only be done by consistent and ongoing spiritual practice. Second they spoke of this spirit which course through reality as being –at its ultimate core – a force for goodness, for the healing and transformation of reality. Third they understood that just as the divine force is good so to the human being is called to goodness, to compassion, to right and just action in the world. These similar understanding yielded world over across the aeons and in every part of the world are what has often been termed the Perennial philosophy.

Stage Four: Religion The institutionalization of Spirituality born of love

Now these spiritual insights by these highly evolved individuals world over were most assuredly sufficient to guide the lives of those who had the insights themselves.

The translation of those insights into formal religion however meant the transcending of their natural narcissistic inclination to be live in the luxuriant aura of their own revelations of spirit. This transcendence required the developing of systems whereby these great revelations of Eros and Ethos might be transmitted to wider and ever wider circles. It might indeed be fairly said that while the core motive of the pagan spiritual systems was to get right with the Kosmos for the purpose of self protection and power, the core motive force in the forming of the great religions was love. A profound love which sought to transmit at the greatest possible depth of the goods of enlightenment to the largest possible number of people.

We are reminded as we unfold this map of ascending spirit that religions are at their core are various forms of institutionalized spirituality. Moreover they are institutions which were conceived in love – welling from desire to transmit both the community beyond the mystic him or herself and to the ensuing generations.

The primary tool for this transmission is religious teaching and ritual. On a revealed, exoteric level, teaching and ritual transmitted values, attitudes and evolved understandings of the nature of reality which resulted from the unmediated encounter. The transmission of religion was directed both to the great majority who did not have access to these experiences and to the minority who wanted a way to remain connected to these experiences even after they had returned to normal states consciousness.

The teaching. the law, and the ritual became the vessels that carried the light of spirit in history. Moreover on a somewhat esoteric level, religions understood law, ceremony and ritual as ways of evoking the original unmediated experiences of spirit that gave birth to them in the first place.

Stage Five: The Devastating Critique of Religion

Now if that was the whole story then the old religions in their original forms might never have fallen into their well deserved contemporary disrepute. Stage five however is the powerful critique of classical religion first by modernity and then by post modernity.

The first critique is simply that religion over stepped it’s bounds made claims of knowledge, authority, power and dogma which far exceeded it legitimate rights. Thus the unified field intuition of most classical religions almost always degenerated into a chauvinistic and triumphalist moment in which, at least the popular understanding taught that all the non believers where dammed to eternal perdition.

Augustine speaks for this moment in all religions in his classic formulation; “there is no Redemption outside of the church.”

The second fissure in the edifice of classical religion lay in a very significant evolution in our understanding of the idea of authority. While classical religion was almost always based on heteronomy – that is a benevolent commanding other to whom one must be obedient in order to achieve redemption, modernity shifted the locus of authority to the individual and to the democratic stage, twin moves commonly known as autonomy and democracy. Autonomy was classically understood as move away from the authority structures of religion.

Both of these classic features of religion gave birth to a third feature of religion which did not survive the spiritual crusade of spirit unfettered in the form of modernity. This is the dimension of dogma based on pre-rational faith which is a core feature of much classical religion. Freed from the demand for evidence the church, as Habermas has pointed out, essential asserted it’s relatively arbitrary authority over what was good or evil, proper or improper in all fields of human endeavor including, government, science, the healing arts, economic and moral thought. The result was the total fettering of each of these arenas. A fettering that was not released until the critiques of religion rooted in modernity became so powerful that they assured religions downfall.

This third feature of religion gives birth to the fourth feature of religion which insured its downfall, that is murder and untold cruelty in the name of God. It is not unimportant that enlightenment philosopher Voltaire’s battle cry against religion was “remember the cruelties. “Or as Crosby Stills Nash and Young Sang it, “How many people died in the name of Christ I can’t believe it all.”

Stage Six: The Theology of Scientism

In light of these critiques, there is an attempt by modern man to turn to science and it’s handmaidens for an all embracing theology and redemptive worldview. This dogmatizing of science and it’s methodologies of inquiry which we will discuss in a moment is commonly referred to as scientism. Scientism however does not succeed in addressing the deepest and most authentic human intuitions of depth and meaning. Specifically it attempts to reduce the most profound human experiences of interior consciousness to their physical correlates. Love becomes serotonin secretion, consciousness becomes brain waves and meaning becomes behaviorism. Deeper human understanding realizes however that there are different realms of knowledge of which the scientific is only one and that each realm of knowledge has it’s systems of validation and it’s own hierarchies of authenticity. Not every claim of love is the same for example even though the method of examining the depth of a love does not involved a microscope. The collapse of scientism then yields in it’s wake two major movements; a return to pre-modern fundamentalism and a post modern spirituality of the modern new age variety which is long on vision and scope and short on commitment, depth, rigor or practice.

Stage Seven: Pre Modern Fundamentalism and Post Modern Spirituality

About the premodern fundamentalism nothing much needs be said – it suffers from all the weaknesses of the old classical religions in their xenophobic and chauvinistic versions. However we need to articulate the important critique of post modern spirituality as it is precisely this brand of spirituality that people refer to when they declare themselves to be spiritual and not religious.

The most important critique from which all other flow is a radical lack of obligation and Commitment. There is no sense of what Hebrew wisdom would call Mitzvah. Mitzvah which literally means commandment and is mistakenly translated as good deed speaks to the sense that something must be done. It speaks to the questions of why am I here? How must I live? What am I called to do? Obsessed with the why question; why should I do it – the essential imperative to clear and decisive action – goes for the most part unheard in the din of modernity and post modernity. The still voice of the call to action in this moment, in the here and know cannot be discerned, blocked as it is by the deafening deadness of a society whose true Gods are comfort and not pleasure. If my goal is truly pleasure – the pleasure of spirit which his growth, then I will be willing to engage the pain of committed service. But if my core goal is comfort then I will avoid pain at all costs. The definition of modern spiritual decadence is the linguistic assumption that the opposite of pleasure is pain. Indeed all pleasure includes the pain. The opposite of pain is not pleasure but comfort. Hence modern spiritual seekers anesthetized by the comfort of their pallid “spiritual search” remain at their depths comfortably numb. In all the great religions there is an overwhelming sense of urgency and seriousness to these questions even as they fill the human being with joy, clarity of intent, purpose and direction. There is something to be done. There is a destiny to be fulfilled. And not to do it would not be just to miss another “experience” but it would be to miss life itself. Contemporary spirituality is almost entirely lacking in this quality. The goal often seems to be to have “spiritual experiences,” virtually all of which are optional, few of which make demands on the very essence of the human soul or the way life is actually lived in the world. Spirituality has become a sophisticated form of leisure activity, another variety of the many therapies we apply in modernity in the worship at the altar of our selves.

The sense of obligation to either a personal God or a transpersonal self – and the two may be more closely identified then we might have otherwise thought – is entirely lacking. It is only from that place of obligation that the radical commitment to practice emerges. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of spiritual consumers in the western world flit from seminar to seminar, teacher to teacher, book to book and rarely buckle down to the real work of spiritual practice. There is a sense that to grow spiritually would be a nice extra if one could but schedule it in to one’s busy schedule. There is not the sense that the core obligation in living is to grow and that to grow means that I must act decisively. Instead of autonomy being an internal source of authority, modern and post modern freedom has come to mean free from the core obligation to grow; free to ignore the call of spirit to committed and consistent action.

A Corollary of the contemporary spirituality’s is the belief that people are born naturally good and hence our cultures obsession with babies who are thought to the be paragons of natural goodness. A deeper view however yield the simple truth that Babies while very cute are not necessarily good. Indeed they are often tyrants who completely ignore the fact that mommy and daddy have not slept through the night for six months, let alone the fact that they have been to tired to make love since before the baby was born. No amount of human evil shakes the modern spiritual seekers core belief that people are naturally good. This belief however is more then a naïve mistake. It is destructive at its very core. For several simple reasons. If people are naturally good then evil that does take place must come from causes outside of people. Those causes might be handguns, oppression, trauma suffered by real or imagined abuse, big government, or whoever. The important point is that once I locate the problem on the outside I can work to change the world but am free from the core obligation to work to change myself. If people are naturally good then we do not need to teach goodness or to be committed to a lifelong process of becoming good.

Of course it is true that the ultimate goal of deep mystical knowledge is the realization that “I am already there” – this however is a hard won realization of grace and not the default program of contemporary laziness masquerading as spirituality.

For all of the above reasons contemporary spirituality has not way of creating a system of normative practices, teachings and beliefs that can be shared and transmitted in a coherent way to the next generation. Indeed everyone is concerned with “my truth” and “my experience.” Thus our modern spirituality has become narcissistic at its very core. It is concerned only with itself. It by its self-chosen definition cannot be transmitted. It lacks religion which is born from the institutionalization of spirituality born in love and in the overwhelming sense of desire and obligation which was once a given in culture – that we owe it to the next generation to transmit to them the essential goods and insights of spirit. Narcissism is precisely that; the virtually obsessive involvement in one’s own subjective experience and truth at the expense of care concern and attention to others and to wider contexts.

In order to unfold the next level in the evolution of spirit we need to transcend the narcissism of contemporary spirituality for deeper and wider space of spirit.

Stage Eight: Committed Spirituality and Post Autonomous Religion

At this point there are two possible movement that need to emerge in response to the radical inadequacy of modern spirit. The first is the emergence of a committed generic spirituality, which while not committed to a specific tradition is committed to serious practice, teaching, study and ritual. What the contour of such a spirituality might look like is beyond the contours of our present conversation; however I hope to return to in a future article. The second movement involves the renewal of the religions themselves. This also is larger topic then the space remaining in this essay so let me conclude with but a few allusions as to the direction we need to be going.

At their core of all the great religions are not merely the popular understanding of their teaching. All the great religions have at their core profoundly evolved levels of universal care, practice and consciousness. All of them have a profound sense of what I have called in other writings a “level three trans-autonomous ethic.” To say it very simply in the language of my own tradition of Kabbalah and Hebrew Wisdom.

At level one Abraham {the biblical hero of he book of Genesis who is the father of all three theistic faiths} cannot see; he does not know how to reach the land of his destiny. God sees, Abraham his blind. Abraham must follow God – what is classically referred to in religious discourse as heteronomy. At level two – Abraham has gained vision. He can see himself. He knows – by himself – without reference to divine vision- how to reach the place of his destiny. This is commonly referred to in religious discourse as autonomy. However this is not the end of the journey. Level two by itself does not hold; it leaves on profoundly empty, lonely disassociated and alienated. At level three God’s vision is once again introduced. It is God and not Abraham that sees. But wait!

A closer read of the relevant texts seem to talk about Abraham seeing as well. Confusion, contradiction, how to read the text of spirit? Respond the Kabbalists-at Stage three Abraham sees with the eyes of God. This is a post or trans-autonomous ethics in which human freedom and authority emerges not from the flight from spirit but from the widening and deepening of personal identity in which man realizes that he is in some profound sense- one with spirit. It is the move from the personal to the transpersonal in which the personal with all of it’s values of choice responsibility and integrity is not negated but rather transcended and included as we move to the higher human identity with the transpersonal self.

Now – since as Ken Wilber has often reminded us – in his writing – seventy percent of the world is deeply enmeshed in the great religions of the east and west – it would seem that this second movement of renewing the religions in a way that their post triumphalist gorgeous mystical center become not peripheral but central to their teaching and popular understanding would seem to be a terribly important modern and post modern engagement. Indeed one upon which the future of humanity may well depend.

Presented by Marc Gafni