Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Ken Wilber Rant Fallout: My Projections and Shadows About Spiritual Leaders

I'm ending my self-imposed moratorium on the ongoing fallout from the Wilber rant and its subsequent cleanup and pontificating. I don't excuse or condone the Wyatt Earp posts, nor do I agree with his reasons for taking that route, but then he likely doesn't give a damn what I think.

But this post isn't specifically about Wilber, although it is inspired by and a response to his series of posts.

Wilber asked us to look at our shadow stuff that might have come up as a result of his Wyatt Earp post, and also to look at our projections of that shadow stuff. For the most part he dismisses any objections to his posts as shadow material that we are projecting onto him. I think this is true, but not necessarily in the way he thinks it is.

After sitting with this for a couple of weeks, what is clear to me is that my reaction to his posts (mostly disappointment and befuddlement, with a good dose of betrayal) were a result of my projections onto him of what I want in a spiritual teacher (he calls himself a pandit, so he assumed the role of teacher). His posts shattered that projection.

Not too much has changed for me in what I want or expect from a teacher, but I am clear now that simply because I do not own that part of myself (yet) does not mean that Wilber or any other teacher has to measure up to my internal definitions.

Wilber's posts on the shadow and how to reclaim our projections focus mostly on those negative aspects of ourselves that we project (to him, we got angry because he acted out the stuff we can't own in ourselves) onto others. However, we also hold positive aspects of ourselves in shadow and project them onto the world as well.

In the West, we are conditioned to believe that we must trust and obey teachers if we want to learn anything -- whether it's how to read as a child or how to meditate or how to know what is true. We are not encouraged to develop and access that higher self (the witness or observer) who remains aloof from emotional baggage and has insights that defy reason -- the inner teacher in all of us. So we hold that part of ourselves in shadow and we project it onto people like Wilber, or Surya Das, or Andrew Cohen, or whoever is the guru of the day.

So some of us were disappointed in Wilber's posts because we had projected our inner teacher onto him -- and his actions shattered our ideas of what we expect a teacher to do or how a teacher should act. Maybe this was just me, but I suspect others experienced this as well. Wilber cultivates this type of projection to a certain extent, but it is my fault for not owning this necessary part of myself to begin with.

I think it's easier to see and reclaim the negative traits. When we are projecting negative stuff, we get reactive and it is apparent. But when we project positive qualities, such as the inner teacher, the reactivity is subtle and appears more like hero worship, or guru relationships, or simply idolization. We often can't these things because they don't cause us any suffering -- usually.

Even though I sometimes find myself in disagreement with Wilber and find myself questioning his theories, I looked to him to be a teacher, a pandit. I wanted him to lead by example, but to do so within the framework of how I believe a teacher should act: graciously accepting or refuting criticism or ignoring it when it amounts to little more than a personal attack, being able to express anger and frustration in ways that are mature and not needlessly hurtful, and having the big compassionate balls with himself -- the ability to admit when he is wrong or has made a mistake.

I want this of all teachers because this is what I want of myself, of my inner teacher. But now that I have been forced to reclaim my projection from Wilber, I will be diligent in attempting not to project that teacher outside of myself. Rather, I want to seek a connection to that part of myself, to that higher wisdom within me.

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It strikes me as funny that I wrote about this very thing in my post on the Hermit card in the Tarot. I am amazed that I was able to write that post and not see my own projections in this area. Sometimes we teach what we have to learn.

Many years ago, I kept a Hanged Man tarot card with me as a reminder about surrender. I think it is time to keep the Hermit, or Wise Old Man (can also be a woman) near at hand as a reminder that I need not always look outside of myself for wisdom and teaching.

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Steve said...

Nice post, Bill, as usual. But I have some questions. Did you merely project positive qualities onto Wilber that you shouldn't have and react unwisely when he failed to live up to them, or was your ideal of a "pandit" a legitimate one and your reaction, especially your disappointment, justified? And in a guru-disciple or "spiritual" teacher-student relationship, should the disciple not trust the guru and the student not trust the teacher to live up to legitimate ideals, or should we trust our gurus and teachers unless and until they frequently or egregiously violate them?

Elsewhere in your post, you wrote: "We are not encouraged to develop and access that higher self (the witness or observer) who remains aloof from emotional baggage and has insights that defy reason -- the inner teacher in all of us." I continue to be confused about the nature of this "witness" or "observer." I've heard Wilber and others characterize it as the vast, formless expanse in which the contents of consciousness take shape. If this is so, how could this "formless," "pure" awareness have insights that can teach us anything?


Anonymous said...

I hear you WH, and your post expresses nicely how I often relate to Wilber vis-a-vis the shadowsphere. I took his "Shadow challenge" to heart, and wrote about it over on the Integral World forum. What continues to trouble me is that Wilber has yet to acknowledge any specific instances of shadow play on his part. He has often paid lip-service by admitting he has a shadow, and that he does make mistakes, and he is human--but I can't recall him ever walking the shadow-challenge walk by saying "When I said or did this, my shadow was involved."

william harryman said...

Bob, I don't expect Wilber to really do the public work on shadow that many of us bloggers do. He's too narcissistic for that. He may be a brilliant theorist, but he is apparently inflated with the guru mentality that renders him beyond human issues. Too bad.

Steve, you raise a good question, one deserving of a full post. In short, Wilber's use of the Witness varies from time to time. In psychology there is a part of the psyche called the observer self -- unlike Wilber's conception of the Witness, it is relatively agreed upon, though not universal. The observer self is the self that can see my thoughts as I think them, otr watch me be an ass and wonder why the hell I'm acting that way.

As far as developmental levels, I'd say it's more a structure of the pscyhe that we can enter into as a state, rather than a stage, but that we can evolve into the structure as a normal part of consciousness over time. Meaning: we have access to it now with some effort, but later in our evolution it may become the norm of our consciousness.

Wilber calls his structure the Witness, and he says that it is formless. I think that simply means that it is a higher version of the observer self, one that emanates from the causal level.

As I said, I think this deserves a post of its own -- maybe in the next week or so.

As far as my projections: I think both options you raise are true. I think that my conception of a pandit, if someone wants to assume that role, is legitimate. However, I projected my ideal onto a mere mortal and was disappointed when he didn't live up to the ideal.

The teacher/student or guru/student relationship is complicated. In Buddhism, they demand complete trust because they may act in ways we can't understand as part of our education -- especially in Zen.

I'm not a big fan of this arrangement. I don't trust any mortal to be evolved enough to not have shadow stuff or not have unconscious material affecting actions and thoughts. Part of my reaction to Wilber was from not wanting to see him act like any other egocentric person who is angry. All gurus end up making a mess of things at some point, and I guess it was his turn (Cohen and Gafni have already had theirs).