Participation And The Self

Picture by Gregory Colbert
Picture by Gregory Colbert

I have been saying that we come from the One, from Unity. By that I mean that the One, the unity, is prior to diversity. The unity we emerge from does not have a historic beginning; it didn’t Big Bang into existence. That is why when I say we come from unity I also highlight the fact that we are not going there, and neither are we returning to the One; it is not to be reached, attained through some kind of enlightenment, practice or path[i]. This One is never “lost,” it shows up as participation; all beings and things participate in the whole of everything everywhere, including all beings anywhere in the whole/all.

The participatory process goes on all of the time, for most phenomena and beings as receiving > transforming > giving, which also means that there really is neither matter nor spirit but rather an endless diversity of patterns of participation in continually changing constellations.[ii] These patterns can span several realms – for us those are the sensory, feeling/energy, cultural, and intellectual-conceptual realms[iii]; each one of us having a unique developmental fingerprint of relative clarity in these realms. We’re all different and unique, fundamentally, and as such we participate in all realities all of the time. We’re never not participating.

All this has made it utterly clear to me that any move towards unifying individuals is a power-move, as it is always also attempting to strengthen the position of some humanimals over others. A power-move, because any deliberate move towards unification is always also exclusionary; at the very least it excludes those that do not wish to be unified, maybe because they want to be independent or because they have different views. There’s nothing bad about power-moves like this, really; the move is in synch with what evolution does on a much larger scale.

Picture by Gregory Colbert
Picture by Gregory Colbert

Going for unification always also adds a new differentiation: it creates another us and them, a new difference and maybe even incommensurability. Take any social group you care to think of: if some of the differences “flare up”, and a serious attempt at unification fails, which is bound to happen over time, the group splits apart and we now have at least 2 groups. So power-moves towards unification create diversification, and that is how they – in synch with evolution – add to the growing complexity of ways of living, and of life.

Within ourselves we can see the power-move as the attempt to unify the psyche, the ego being the “personification” of that move. If, on the other hand, we simply accept the diversity inside our brain, mind, soul, spirit[iv], the whole “ego-problem” disappears; it’s not relevant anymore. Now the ego is just one of the psyche’s participants, and obviously at its very best when serving the individual. Grabbing power over an individual, pretending to be the one that unifies the whole person, the whole you, pretending to be the master and as such trying to make all other selves internally, and often also externally, serve this self-ego… that is the disease that has befallen most of humanity.

When I started to deeply see and accept the participatory nature of all existence a deep and lucid peace among the “inhabitants of my psyche” emerged, among the ego and all the other selves or sub-personalities that share this body and for a time or a season believe, “This is me.” And once this peace and lucidity stabilizes to some extent you will rarely find yourself in opposition to unfolding reality, even if at times you may work for a radical change of the way realities habitually unfold nowadays. And you start to discern ways and means how to interact generatively with all individuals, voices, and beings as participators in this mystery in which we’re all embedded. [v]



Picture by Gregory Colbert
Picture by Gregory Colbert


[i] And I’m not speaking about the experience of oneness. That experience is beautiful and deep, and may be useful as a tool of personal verification (although it appears that this experience can be easily replicated by shutting down that region in our brain that continually situates us in 3-D space, tells us where our skin ends and “the world” begins). Please do not confuse the experience of oneness with the unity, or the One, I am speaking about here.

[ii] I am sure that the body, the embryo or the impregnated egg does not get possessed by some disembodied entity, soul or spirit but rather that all beings participate in the whole of all realities to which the domains of memories of past lives, for instance, and so endlessly on also belong; they are not intrinsically other that the so called physical realities.

[iii] What we call physical reality, matter, and what Henry Corbin termed “Mundus Imaginalis”, including the mystical and “psi”-realities as well, is another way to look at these realms.

[iv] And once we truly see that there never is anything in psyche that does not participate in our wholeness as an individual this is almost inescapable.

[v] When first I wrote about this on the roof at Riad Anayela in Marrakesh I added: Ah, the profound and joyful peace that comes from contemplating this! I’ll stay. Here. Where one self hands over the reigns to another self gracefully. Where the deep contraction of a self gives way to the expanse of selves. Where no rule nor ruler is required. Where the deep relaxation that that comes with all this “holds what formerly was known as “I” together with nothing, nothing whatsoever.” Because I’m already home here; we all are…

Into the Polyverse

My twitter-stream has many tweets like these:

ColinUdeLewis “Self-control is strength. Right thought is mastery. Calmness is power.” James Allen

WilliamHarryman “95% of your emotions are determined by the way you talk to yourself.” — Brian Tracy

bfederman A man’s own self is his friend. A man’s own self is his foe. Gita

Good advise, wise words, wonderful and inspirational stuff reflecting, I think, some of what goes on in the larger ‘community’ of world-change agents, spiritually savvy geeks, integralites etc. that I feel part of. Contemplating these and many similar tweets I was inspired to put this statement on twitter:

We might be moving from transpersonal to multipersonal, from transcendence to polysemous diversity, from individual to distinctively plural

Nurturegirls response got me interested to see where this spontaneous tweet takes me when I unwrap what this means for me. So here we go…


With “transpersonal” I’m refering to Transpersonal Psychology which put Spirit and metaphysics back into Western psychology. The dean of Integral, Ken Wilber, has expanded it to a much larger system which he calls Integral Psychology – which, in turn, is part of his much larger Theory of Everything. People who have been following this blog probably know that I am critical of Wilber’s views, and most of all his vertical spirituality with an Absolute or Non-dual at it’s pinnacle, implicitly downgrading whatever is ‘below’ – but that’s a different conversation I don’t feel like getting into now except for my tweet’s topic of trancendence, the movement that rises forever up the (spiraling) vertical axis, going beyond body, mind, matter, and endlessly on until it has gone beyond everyone and everything… this is what we’re moving away from and towards polysemous diversity; which I will come to a bit further down.

Vertical spirituality used to be my orientation since I was 14 years old when I first read about yoga and silence (1967) right until the very day I was finally enlightened 33 years later; yep, you’re not supposed to say that, but bear with me. Actually I call this happening Grand Disillusionment because it was basically nilling everything I thought meant anything before this happened. But, silly me, this level-change was just the end of a strand that had been in development since my very young years fuelled by the kind of thought-food one gets as a hippie becoming meditator becoming deep seeker becoming spiritual teacher becoming guru and then, finally, dropping out of that whole game altogether.

You see, my whole journey was fueled by the conviction that a single self or Self actually exists. But the idea of being or having a self/Self is really a nest of meaning and reasoning that very much reflects our cultures’ need for capable individuals (from latin, “non-dividable”) that have a permanence and consistency that can be relied upon and that can be (made to be) responsible. And our type of meaning-making needs a center around which it revolves and to whom it refers, so there you are

This is very sketchy, and much more can be said about the self/Self, its sources and status – maybe another time; for I also want to mention two basic perspectives in Western, and maybe Eastern, culture:
The ‘scientific’ view which is basically saying that ‘out there’ beyond our skin, and even inside of it, there is just accidental matter that we, our mind and consciousness, project onto. So, for instance, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder; it is not a feature of a flower or a sunset or a person or the galaxy. The same, obviously, goes for truth and everything else. All of this is “in the mind” and not “out there”. (That there are laws governing energy-matter that are objective and not projected is an interesting conondrum most empiricists carefully avoid; this doesn’t take away the basic conviction, though, that really matter is absolutely devoid of spirit, essence or whatever else you can project on it.)
The other perspective is formed by the ‘absolute truth’ that people, things and even processes have an essence, a soul, a spirit in and of themselves. This is taken to mean that beauty is not really, or only in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is actually part of being a flower, a sunset, a person or galaxy. In this view the beauty in us resonates or in some other manner communicates with the beauty out there – we recognize truth, beauty, the Good or God that is there already whether we know it or not. We find it, it is not projected at all.

These perspectives seem very contrary but they have something in common, the idea of a subject, “in here” and an object “out there” – the idea of a singular “me” and plural “other” or “you”. (An idea that Ken Wilber and his Integralites have expanded to a quadriga, “I, we, they, it” – the 4 quadrants). This subject-object orientation system is so pervasive and seems so natural that we do not often question it. No, and aren’t there enough beautiful and deeply meaningful systems of thinking, spiritual practises and day to day life that show subject and object, I and other, inside and outside to be really real and truly true?

2006-03-17-59To unhinge this a little bit and come to a proximation of what polysemous diversity might allude to let’s look at some experiences we probably share.
Remember your last “silver moment.” You were talking with a friend maybe, or even a stranger, and you forgot all about the time and everything else; the flow of the conversation was so wonderful, you even forgot yourself. And now, as you remember this, you might not recall what exactly you were talking about but you do remember the ‘spirit’ of it, the breath, the “silver in the air” or however you want to characterize it.
Do you remember a critical moment in your life with several people involved? Maybe an accident, a fire, a thunderstorm out in the wilds or something similar? How everybody just acted in unison, nobody being in charge, really, but everything got done in no time at all?
Or do you remember a great moment in sports when your team was suddenly “in the zone” and acted as a unity, unstoppable?

What is characteristic of these moments or times is that there is no self-awareness, no individual consciousness to speak of – you’re present, you’re aware of everything that goes on but in no way as a self or self-aware. There is, rather, a polyphony sounding around a melody common to all participating voices, sometimes taking in even some of the more perceptive spectators as in sports. This, I would say, is a very natural way to be; acutually I think this is the way we often are, only we don’t notice it because the flow is not sparkling so bright as in our “silver moments”.

Does the transpersonal, evolutionary view help us understand this or, and that’s what we’re approaching here, help us turn into artists of polysemous diverse ecologies of being-together? It does, and doesn’t.
It does in that we have co-evolved as aligned (tuned in) groups of humans. To be synchronised with others is wonderfully adaptive and helps along the continued survival mightily – from multicellular beings to swarming insects, flocks of birds, fish-swarms and herds, the same pattern has been used in nature countless times. So it’s not really amazing that such highly complex beings as humans are polyphoniously connected – a great diversity of voices ‘swarm-creating’ meaning, stories, understandings and yes, identities.
And it doesn’t, because the individualistic view that is part of the fundamentals of transpersonal psychology and vertical spiritualities or religions is operating with the assumption that we are a single subject, residing somehow in a skin-encapsuled cell-ensemble, in the head maybe or the heart.

We are also biased towards clear – simple, singular – meanings. Meaning should not be ambiguous or, since that term is often used in a negative sense, polysemous. This basic assumption has taken progressively hold of our collective psyche since the birth of modern science. But we only need to look at children or people who haven’t (been able to) loose their imaginative powers to see what rich meanings things can have. Who would insist to a child that a heap of sand cannot be a mountain in which dwarfs dig for gold?

If these ideas about ‘swarm-creation’ are right than meanings continually flow-emerge between us, in the polyphony of voices and forces that we are embedded in – the so-called internal ones and the external ones. When we experience a “silver hour” with friends diverse meanings flow polysemously between us, and it is the very flow in which we delight. Were one of us to single out a meaning and individualise it, that would be the end of the silver in the hour…

Don’t get me wrong; I do not believe the silver hour to be better than other not so silvery hour. Rather it’s hinting at an evolutionary possibility for human-kind that I see dawning. The subject-object orientation isn’t wrong or illusory, the transpersonal and integral view that proposes a vertical path of transcendence is a beautifully valid orientation – it is the individualized version of being human. We’ve worked very hard as a species to differentiate enough so that we can actually regard ourselves as seperate individuals with rights and responsibilities. Yet this is no end but rather the stage for the next step, where we use what is natural to us – silver houring – develop it into an art and use it to adapt to the challenges we now face in the exponentially complexifying realities we live in. Being an individual with a transpersonal, trancendent agenda was perfect in the much lesser complex times before massive globalisation, the ‘good old times’.
2006-03-17-60But now we’re in realities were two airplanes hitting the WTC can cause worldwide mourning or were political choices in the US can cause a global financial break-down, for instance. That all is one is not a spiritual statement anymore, it’s stating the obvious. The interconnectedness that goes with this has transformed, though. In a less complex world only a decade or two ago interconnectedness did at most linearly influence other beings, systems or processes; now interconnectedness means is a massive, uncontrollable, exponentially influential process. In this situation meaning is always polysemous, diverse and complex.

Individuals can’t handle this. Teams like we’ve known them in all kinds of organisations cannot find real solutions. Clear meanings cannot connect multifaceted challenges comprising multiple unknowns with the people and resources needed for the emergence of adequate solutions. We need coherently self-organising collaborative and collective intelligences to adapt to this situation. The technical means are either here already or on the verge of becoming available.

The ‘imaginal cells‘ are realizing who they are and starting to align with each other all over the world. You are one of them. So happy we’re connecting…