Saturday, November 05, 2005

Further Observations on the Ego

A while a back I posted a piece on working with the ego and promised a follow-up -- this isn't it. But what I am posting is a nice excerpt from Spectrum of Ecstasy: Embracing the Five Wisdom Emotions of Vajrayana Buddhism, by Ngakpa Chogyam and Khandro Dechen. [Punctuation is as it is in the book -- apologies for any difficulty this presents.]
Ego can be said to be a condition of duality; a false sense of separateness. But the words "ego" and "egolessness" have developed too many connotations to be of any real use in a Buddhist context; so, instead, we will use the term "distracted-being" for "ego"; and "liberated-being" for the even more confusing term "egolessness". The term "distracted-being" carries the idea that our enlightenment and "unenlightenment" are not separate. They are not heaven and hell. They are not God and Devil. We have never been separated from enlightenment -- we only seem to be separated. But this apparent separation is what we ourselves have fabricated through our dualistic perspective. It is this dualistic perspective which causes us to generate obsessive attempts to divide our experience into perception and field of perception. However, because it is not possible to divide experience in this way, we put ourselves in an impossible situation, in which we imagine that this division occurs naturally. This is what is known as illusion or indirect experience -- living in a waking dream world that is loosely based on direct experience.

In western psychology, ego arises as a necessary process of child development. Before ego develops (between the ages of 12 and 36 months), the child lives in an undifferentiated world where there is no distinction between self and other -- this is the essence of the narcissistic state. A true narcissist never develops the distinction that allows an understanding that what he feels, wants, and thinks isn't what everyone else in the room feels, wants, and thinks.

In healthy ego development, however, the sense of self becomes distinct from the environment. As the child grows older, the sense of self becomes more and more concrete, capable of making endless distinctions about self and the world. This is necessary and healthy. At the higher stages of adult development, especially if one undertakes a spiritual path, the goal then becomes the lessening of ego's grip on the world.

Buddhism often doesn't acknowledge the necessity of a healthy ego. Most Buddhist writings detail ways to undo the ego, which is great if one has developed a healthy ego without any glitches at any of the developmental levels. Few of us have made it to adulthood without some damage to our egos.

So the attempt to break down or transcend the ego should not be undertaken until and unless one has a reasonably healthy ego structure with which to begin. Those who are lacking in this area should be advised to enter into therapy as a prerequisite for higher-order work.

That said, the point of this whole rambling post is that many people read the statement "we have never been separated from enlightenment" as suggesting that any effort to reduce the ego's clinging to differentiated perception is tantamount to a "return to the primordial oneness of birth," before we were "corrupted by the development of ego." Many western psychologists who are otherwise brilliant men and women have made this mistake -- most notably Mark Epstein (Thoughts Without a Thinker) and Michael Washburn (The Ego and the Dynamic Ground).

This isn't the case. The predifferentiated state of the infant is completely prepersonal, prerational, and pre-egoic. The transdifferentiated state of the spiritual master is transpersonal, transrational, and transegoic. You cannot transcend an ego that has not developed. This is the major thesis of Wilber's The Atman Project.

In order to transcend ego and reach states of nondual consciousness, we must develop an ego in the first place. Otherwise, we are nothing more than narcissistic infants unable to distinguish ourselves from the arms in which we are being held.

That said, we are never separate from our enlightenment. We are at all times living in nondual consciousness -- it is not something we have to earn, work our way toward, or ascend a hierarchy to experience. All we ever have to do is drop the curtain of ego to experience this nondual state. Learning to do this simple task is the hardest thing most of us will ever do.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Political Spectrum From a Spiral Viewpoint

Don Beck developed this template to help us understand how both sides in the political debate can be either peacemakers (conciliators) or totally single-minded aggressors (flamethrowers). This is a useful tool as the premise for an integral politics.

The bottom three levels (4-6) are blocked systems, unable to hear other points of view or alter their positions based on new information. The top three levels (1-3) are open systems, fully able to hear other positions and alter their own positions in light of new information. It feels as though politics is dominated by the bottom three levels on both sides of the political aisle.

For those of you who know a little about Spiral Dynamics, the important vMemes are listed on the right of the chart. Each viewpoint is based in a unique worldview that shapes how it responds to its particular life conditions.

The problem on both sides of the divide is that the "stuck" viewpoints can make enemies of their allies. For example, an R5 zealot (maybe Focus on the Family) can see R3 through R1 as too liberal, making enemies of its own party members. The same thing can happen to liberals, where extremists (perhaps Earth First members) may see moderates who try to work within the system as traitors to the cause.

An integral politics must work to unite the top three levels on both sides to form something equivalent to the "Gang of 14" (7 Democrats and 7 Republicans) who ended the threat of the nuclear option (ending the filibuster option for the minority party in the Senate). Only the highest vMemes are capable of working to create consensus, or of finding ways to compromise that allow both sides to feel as though they get their needs met.

If you have insights or ideas on how to create a more integral politics, please send me a message at Integral Options for Life. I will post the best ideas on the site. I would like this to become a place, a true Ideas Café, where other people can share their ideas and create a multilogue on topics that matter.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

SDi in Boulder Is Over

The SDi Level II certification in Boulder for 2005 has ended. I'm sitting here in the Denver airport reflecting on everything I learned and am grateful for the experience. The people I met and got to know over this last week are all remarkable human beings.

Jean Houston seems to have been a very welcome teacher for the Level II days. I am probably alone in my reservations about her teachings, but then I have always been a cynic. I admire the breadth of her knowledge and her ability to think on her feet in profound ways. However, I think she mistakenly elevates a lot of prepersonal Purple vMeme stuff to transpersonal Turquoise vMeme status. Having made the pre/trans fallacy so often in my life, I am hypersensitive to it when it comes up. Jean seems to make this mistake a lot and then dismisses any questioning of her position. I don't know if this is hubris or false certainty, but it's disconcerting. She's too brilliant to haphazardly make category errors.

I found Don Beck to be amazingly down-to-earth and humble. It's refreshing to meet a master teacher who is not full of himself. Don doesn't take himself too seriously, even when he is very serious about Spiral Dynamics. Any Texan who can repeatedly dis his own state is fine by me.

I have to admit I came into this week afraid I wouldn't learn anything I hadn't already absorbed from the book. I am glad to have been so terribly wrong. More than anything else, I have a new appreciation for how each of the vMemes comes into existence to correct an imbalance -- and how crucial each vMeme is to the whole Spiral. I am also grateful to Don for being so clear that we are not about "growing" people. We can best serve the Spiral by working to create life conditions that will effectively bring forth new vMemes in people who are ready for transformation.

Evangelical Christians & Intelligent Design

On NBC's Dateline Friday night, Tom Brokaw spent the hour exploring the world of evangelical Christianity. The episode, "In God They Trust," focused on one of America's newly emergent mega-churches in Colorado Springs, CO -- Ted Haggard's New Life Church.

Brokaw: Most of the churches that I know of, and certainly the ones I attended, at some point, you out loud acknowledge that you were a sinner or that you came face-to-face to guilt that you may feel.

Haggard: Right.

Brokaw: I didn’t see any of that here.

Haggard: Well, we do talk about sin. But, see, the issue is Jesus took care of our sin. And Jesus removes guilt from our life. So the emphasis in our church isn’t how to get your sins removed because that’s pretty easy to do. Jesus did that on the cross. The emphasis in our church is how to fulfill the destiny that God’s called you


Along with other religious conservative leaders, Haggard belongs to an association called the Arlington Group, the members push for common goals such as banning gay marriage and restricting abortion.

Brokaw: Let me read you what Senator John Danforth, an ordained Episcopal priest, a Republican says, “Many conservative Christians approach politics with a certainty that they know God’s mind and they can advance God’s will through government.” Is he talking about you?

Ted Haggard: Well, I think all of us have a responsibility to advance God’s will through government. But we are in a pluralistic society. We’re not talking about theocracy. We’re not talking about some group of religious leaders dictating to the government how to write law.

While it's easy for some of us to look at these people as fundamentalists and radicals, especially considering that they hold a literal interpretation of the Bible, there is more to the movement than a strict religious vision. They want their government to reflect their views -- and this is where many of us feel uncomfortable -- so it is important that we understand the source of their views and how we might change them.

In the language of Spiral Dynamics, evangelicals are Blue to the core [a mini-course on the Spiral is available here]. The Blue Meme emerges in response to the previous Red Meme, which is egoic and power-driven. Red is unstructured, violent, and lacking any guilt in the satisfaction of its needs. Blue rises to provide boundaries to that egoic drive, to sublimate egoic needs into culturally agreed-upon values.

To provide a foundation for this set of collective values, Blue invokes a divine power and the threat of eternal punishment, as well as the promise of eternal bliss if you simply follow the rules. However, the emphasis should not be on the divinity -- it should be on the need for order and meaning that religion offers. This is where we can talk to Blue and expand its worldview.

One of the reasons evangelicals reject science is because they sense that it removes meaning and order from the world -- science killed God in their eyes. One of the most disturbing things to a Blue person is a world without order and meaning; as long as they believe science removes those values from their world, they will reject science and remain ensconced in their evangelical worldview. This viewpoint is precisely why conservatives, especially evangelicals, despise postmodernism's relativism -- it makes all things equal and in doing so removes meaning from the world (as they see it).

What would happen if science and religion could peacefully coexist? I have been harshly critical of "intelligent design" and still maintain that it is faith and not science, but we should be encouraging evangelicals to adopt the intelligent design (ID) worldview and to reject strict creationism. We also should fight to the death all attempts to teach ID as science.

Intelligent design offers a new set of life conditions that can open the possibility of Blue moving toward Orange, resulting in a BLUE-orange transitional Meme. In an ID world, science will no longer be seen by evangelicals as a value system that rejects God and an ordered, meaningful universe.

If we want to create an integral world, and particularly if we want to create an integral politics, we will need to find new ways to alter the existing life conditions to facilitate change and emergence. As much as it might pain us, ID is one of the ways we can create life conditions that will allow some evangelicals to move toward a more expansive worldview.