Saturday, October 29, 2005

Meditation Is Necessary But Not Sufficient For Global Meme Change in the Individual

On the first day of SDi Level II certification, physicist and erstwhile politician Dr. John Hagelin spoke to the group via livewire on his favorite topic, transcendental meditation (TM). He argued persuasively for the many ways TM can improve the lives of criminals, children, and spiritual seekers.

However, Hagelin stated repeatedly that one can attain "enlightenment" via regular practice of TM. I can't disprove his statements, but I can suggest that the evidence doesn't support such assertions. Buddhists and Hindus have been practicing meditation for centuries, and in fact TM is based on Vedantic principles. If it were possible to attain enlightenment so easily, I doubt that so many practitioners in both traditions would be working so hard to end their attachment to samsara.

Hagelin mentioned at other times that TM can produce nondual consciousness, which I surmise is what he considers enlightenment. The problem is that he is confusing a state with a stage. Nondual consciousness is available to all sentient beings as a state of consciousness, although it isn't as easy as it might seem to engage that experience. As a stage of consciousness, however, few people have ever reached that level of development -- those who did are considered Buddhas and bodhisattvas.

In order for a person to be considered enlightened, s/he must live from the level of nondual consciousness, which amounts to having a continual awareness of that state as an aspect of consciousness. Obviously, one cannot function while in a state of blissful nonduality, but that awareness can be the foundation of all other consciousness. This is a stage conception of enlightenment as opposed to a state conception. [Ken Wilber discusses states and stages in this sidebar to Boomeritis.]

The question that is worth exploring is this: Can regular but transient exposure to nondual consciousness change brain structure and personality structure sufficiently to spark global meme change in an individual?

Using an integral model, meditation or spiritual development is simply one developmental line among many. It is generally assumed that the status of one line is not enough to change the status of all the other lines. In Wilber-speak, elevation of the spiritual line is necessary but not sufficient to promote change among the other lines.

A secondary problem is that when one has a peak experience of a higher state of consciousness, it will necessarily be interpreted through the dominant lens (i.e., vMeme or developmental level). When one returns to everyday consciousness, the peak state, no matter how spectacular, can only be understood within the context of the current worldview. So, for example, when a person whose center of gravity is in the Blue vMeme (e.g., a devout Catholic) has an experience of nondual consciousness during a session of centering prayer, s/he will almost certainly experience that state of consciousness as a union with his/her notion of God (think Saint Theresa of Avila).

From Wilber:

You can have an altered state or temporary peak experience of any of the three great realms of being--gross, subtle, and causal--and you can do so at virtually any stage or level of development. Why? Because even an infant wakes, dreams, and sleeps. And because the infant has access to these three great states (waking, dreaming, sleeping), the infant has access to the three great realms of being (gross, subtle, causal)-- and that can happen at any stage of development (because at every stage, infants and children and adults all wake, dream, and sleep). But as for the levels or stages themselves, they unfold and develop over time; that is the very meaning of a stage of development. Thus, although the infant has access to the three great states, the infant does not have access to all the levels or stages that can occur in those states, because those have to develop and unfold in its own case. Is that clear? Yes?

For example, using this simple 3-state, 5-stage model, a human being can be at 'level/stage/sheath 2'--that is, their general center of gravity is at the emotional-sexual wave of development (in early childhood)--and they can still have a temporary peak experience of the subtle and the causal realms--because they have perfect access to dream and deep-sleep states, and thus they can 'peek' experience them. But they--the child at level 2, in this case--will not be able to experience all the stages of the mind level, such as formal operational thinking, because those have not yet emerged and developed.

Precisely because the basic levels or stages have not yet emerged and stabilized, the altered states of a subtle or causal nature are not permanent. They are merely peak experiences; they come and they go quickly; they cannot be permanently contained--there is, so to speak, nothing to hold them in place, no structures or stable patterns in the psyche that can maintain access to these higher states, which are therefore always temporary and passing. So anybody at virtually any stage can have a profound, authentic, genuine state-experience of a subtle or causal realm, but they will not be able to experience those subtle or causal realms in a permanent fashion--the peak experience or altered state will come and go.

What is needed to make these peak experiences a permanent part of consciousness is that all blocks to moving up the Spiral be removed. This entails what has been termed "regression in service of transcendence." It's worth noting that Michael Washburn's version of this process violates the pre/trans fallacy in that he views infantile undifferentiated consciousness as the same as nondual completely differentiated consciousness.

Washburn, in his own words:

When it is very young, the emerging ego finds itself both attracted to the Dynamic Ground and fearfully dependent on it. This relationship is mirrored in the young toddler's external reliance upon the mother as both the primary source of love and the primary source of frustration when the child is not fed, held or otherwise cared for. In order to achieve some measure of independence from these prodigious, awesome experiences, the young ego inevitably seeks to buffer or separate itself. It does that by reducing both its interpersonal intimacy with the mother (or primary caregiver) and its acceptance of the internal flows of feeling that I call the Dynamic Ground. It creates a Primal (or Original) Repression. Repression is not a sin when committed at this age. It is a necessary part of the development of the ego. It adds something positive to our overall development. It gives the ego an independent space in which to grow. It's not a crime, it is a developmental necessity.

Washburn argues that his "regression in service of transcendence" is needed to regain the "Dynamic Ground" that we were born into but that ego development pushed us away from. Classic Jungian pre/trans confusion.

A more appropriate approach is to use therapy as way to go back and heal the inevitable wounds of childhood that have blocked development in certain areas of our lives. Various approaches work quite well, though I am fond of psychosynthesis and its work with subpersonalities. The most common hindrance to development is emotional blockage -- these blockages, which are often a form of wounding, must be addressed for movement up the Spiral to be possible.

The best overall approach to elevating vMemes is to engage in some form of a unified program of development. Integral Transformative Practice, which incorporates body, heart, mind, and soul into a single program, fits that agenda.

Meditation practice is good -- and necessary -- but it is not sufficient to achieving global vMeme change or enlightenment.

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