Category Archives: Wilber/Integral Teachings
Just as human beings intrinsically possess 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-person perspectives of the world, so do we possess those same perspectives in our experience of spirituality. And while these dimensions of the divine can be found in just about any spiritual lineage—Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Islam, etc.—many of these traditions only explicitly emphasize one or two of these perspectives, resulting in one or more important aspects of spirituality often being left out of their conceptions of God.
God in 3rd-person is often described as the “great web-of-life,” and is frequently experienced when observing objects of miraculous beauty such as the Grand Canyon, exquisite music, transcendent art, or the mind-boggling elegance of deep-space photography. Many astronauts returning to Earth have experienced powerful states of transcendence triggered by simply looking at our planet floating in the vacuum of space, the sublime fragility and significance of the human condition clearly reflected in their retinas. As John Glenn said, “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.”
Or, consider the words of another NASA hero, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell:
“On the way home from the moon, looking out at the heavens, this insight—which I now call a transcendent experience—happened. I realized that the molecules of my body had been created or prototyped in an ancient generation of stars—along with the molecules of the spacecraft and my partners and everything else we could see including the Earth out in front of us. Suddenly, it was all very personal. Those were my molecules. It was an experience of interconnectedness. It was an experience of bliss, of ecstasy… it was so profound. I realized that the story of ourselves as told by science—our cosmology, our religion—was incomplete and likely flawed. I recognized that the Newtonian idea of separate, independent, discreet things in the universe wasn’t a fully accurate description.”
God in 2nd-person is traditionally defined as the “I-Thou” relationship with the divine, where Spirit is experienced as a living intelligence that we can actually interact with in our own lives. As Ken often says, borrowing from renowned theologian Martin Buber, in the “I-Thou” relationship, God is the hyphen connecting the I and the Thou. And of course, our conceptions of God in 2nd-person evolve right alongside the rest of humanity, growing from magical animistic immersion, to the mythic “old bearded white man in the sky” interpretation, to rational and pluralistic recognitions of divinity within our families, communities, and humanity itself, to the simple intuition that we all exist within the unimaginable Mind of some Supreme Being, by whatever name.
This, as Br. David mentions, is reflected beautifully in the closing lines of a love poem written by ee cummings, titled i am so glad and very:
we are so both and oneful
night cannot be so sky
sky cannot be so sunful
i am through you so i
Or, from the lips of George Harrison:
It’s been a long long long time
How could I ever have lost you
When I loved you
It took a long long long time
Now I’m so happy I found you
How I love you
So many tears I was searching
So many tears I was wasting, oh oh
Now I can see you, be you
How can I ever misplace you
How I want you
Oh I love you
Your know that I need you
Ooh I love you
God in 1st-person refers to the actual phenomenological experience of God, in the form of satori, kensho, ecstatic reverie, and other sorts of “peak experiences” of the divine. These are most frequently exercised through some form of contemplative practice, such as meditation or prayer, in which we can directly experience consciousness as the “singular to which the plural is unknown”—and the effortless, open awareness behind all of our experiences is recognized as the consciousness of God (or Godhead, as Christian mystics might prefer). In this space, all of our thoughts, emotions, and experiences, as well as the rest of the world around us, are simply and effortlessly witnessed, in much the same way that clouds float effortlessly through the infinite expanse of the sky. And that effortless expanse at the center of each and every moment IS God transcendent, looking at His/Her own immanence through each of our eyes. A wonderful description of this sort of personal experience of and as God can be found in Ken’s book One Taste:
“It is true that the physical matter of your body is inside the matter of the house, and the matter of the house is inside the matter of the universe. But you are not merely matter or physicality. You are also Consciousness as Such, of which matter is merely the outer skin. The ego adopts the viewpoint of matter, and therefore is constantly trapped by matter—trapped and tortured by the physics of pain. But pain, too, arises in your consciousness, and you can either be in pain, or find pain in you, so that you surround pain, are bigger than pain, transcend pain, as you rest in the vast expanse of pure Emptiness that you deeply and truly are.
So what do I see? If I contract as ego, it appears that I am confined in the body, which is confined in the house, which is confined in the large universe around it. But if I rest as Witness—the vast, open, empty consciousness—it becomes obvious that I am not in the body, the body is in me; I am not in this house, the house is in me; I m not in the universe, the universe is in me. All of them are arising in the vast, open, empty, pure, luminous Space of primordial Consciousness, right now and right now and forever right now. Therefore, be Consciousness.”
What is fascinating is that we can see that any spiritual tradition is capable of expressing all three of these forms of spiritual experience—in fact, if you are leaving any of these out, chances are your understanding of spiritual realities is incomplete in some way.
Historically, Western traditions can be said to have largely focused on 2nd- and 3rd-person interpretations, and have often been distrustful of 1st-person reports of God, using them, at times, as the grounds for heresy. On the other end of the pathology, Eastern traditions tend to emphasize 1st- and 3rd-person perspectives, and too often try to deny the existence of any sort of personal “God in 2nd-person.” However, when moving from a 3rd-person description of God directly to a 1st-person experience of God, without the soul-cleansing qualities of extreme humility, grace, and gratefulness that God in 2nd-person bestows upon us, it can be deceptively easy to sneak the whims of the ego into our interpretations of spiritual experience—and, rather than transcending the ego, our spiritual experiences can ironically become the last refuge of the ego.
Strictly speaking, nothing can be said about the true essence of Reality (including that)—but in the finite, manifest domain, the three faces of God appear to be intrinsic to Spirit’s radiant display. And unfortunately, Spirit’s expression as 2nd-person Thou has largely gotten stuck at the mythic-membership fundamentalist level of development. The modern world not only rejected the marginalization and cruelties associated with the mythic god, it threw out God in 2nd-person altogether—and thus a huge baby got thrown out with the bathwater of mythic consciousness: one-third of God’s own ever-present Face. Indeed, one of the key dilemmas for humanity is discovering a way to help the great spiritual and religious traditions grow into their modern, postmodern, and integral forms of being-in-the-world, with all three faces of God shining brightly.
“The Three Faces of Spirit is one of the most important insights that Integral theory offers to the field of spirituality. All human approaches to spiritual practice and mystical realization can be seen to fall into three broad categories — First-Person Spirituality, Second-Person Spirituality, and Third-Person Spirituality.
The Mystery of existence, the matter of ultimate concern, is the ultimate profundity. No perspective can possibly capture it. By its very nature, Spirit itself, the great Mystery, transcends all perspectives.
But human nervous systems are perspective-making machines. We can’t help taking perspectives. And thus, since the most ancient times, our spirituality, and our descriptions of it, always make use of our fundamental perspectives. The structure of language gives us a hint to the deep structure of our perspectives and our spirituality — we organize our speech in three broad categories.
The first-person. There is “I” or “me” the first-person perspective; from this vantage-point I can explore the rich depths of interior experience, of what it’s like inside me, of my consciousness, my intuitions, my thoughts, my experiences, and my feelings. In language, the first-person is the one speaking.
The second-person. When I am able to connect with someone, that one goes from being (for me) an “it” to becoming “you.” We connect. There is at least the most basic kind of communion. We are able to understand each other, reach mutual agreements, and a culture can arise. And in any kind of inter-subjective connection, a “we” arises. In language, the second-person is the one spoken to.
The third-person. When I contemplate anything or anyone, or when I act upon anything or anyone in my world, whatever I contemplate or act upon is the object of my attention or action. I can see it, observe it, examine it, sense it, and affect it. This is the domain of objective information and experience. Herein lies all objective knowledge, including all our sciences. In language, the third-person is the one spoken about.
Based on the distinctions between the first, second, and third person perspectives, we can see three distinct “families” of spiritual experience and practice. We’ll consider third-person spirituality first, then first-person spirituality, and finally second-person spirituality.
Third-person spirituality often involves contemplating the mystery of existence (“looking at it.”) This can take a wide variety of forms; two of the most important and familiar expressions of third-person spirituality are (1) nature mysticism, and (2) philosophy or theology. Nature mysticism is found in all spiritual traditions, and it is important in the lives of most post-postmodern practitioners. It involves contemplating the natural landscape, light, sky, sun, moon, stars, and creatures, seeing them, in a sense, as the body of the Mystery of existence. In reading, writing, or discussing philosophy, we contemplate existence, noticing the abstract patterns that connect and underlie our world and experience. Philosophy and nature mysticism are entirely different undertakings, but they both involve “contemplating it,” looking at aspects of the Mystery, and letting that process transform us. In Integral Life Practice, the core third-person spiritual practice is called Kosmic Contemplation.
First-person spirituality involves awakening to the unchanging IAMness that is always present as the still and silent Witness of experience. This IAMness is the pure consciousness that is present during every experience, every sound, sight, smell, taste, sensation, thought, or feeling, however pleasant or unpleasant. Such pure consciousness is often described as the ultimate realization, the goal of Eastern mystical paths. It is experienced when eyes open after meditation, and there is an experience of Oneness with all existence, of Union, of non-separation. And long before we achieve any ultimate nirvana, we can experience a glimpse of IAMness (also called Suchness) via meditation, inspiring conversation with a spiritual teacher, or spontaneously, as a graceful accident. The paths that focus on first-person spirituality usually focus on meditation, on transcending our “monkey mind” tendency to be absorbed in our constant stream of thoughts, and on the open field of consciousness that naturally arises when the mind relaxes. In Integral Life Practice, the core first-person spiritual practice is called Integral Inquiry or Integral Awakening.
Educated post-postmodern Westerners tend to feel a natural openness to both of these forms of spirituality. Modern science questions the idea of personal identity and validates the inherent oneness of the cosmos. Both first-person and third-person spirituality make sense to a contemporary worldview. The Western discovery of Eastern spirituality has primarily sparked trans-rational explorations of first-person, and to a lesser degree, third-person spirituality.
Second-person spirituality involves communion with the Mystery of existence as one’s universal beloved intimate. It is a direct relationship between the individual “I” with the “you” of Spirit, turning directly into feeling-contact with the universal beloved. It can be expressed through prayer, and through a devotional life of worship, service, and celebration. Second-person paths usually begin with insight, the acknowledgment that the heart tends to close, cutting us off from others and life. On that basis, there is practice, the intention to open the heart, loving surrender to the source of grace, and devotional enjoyment of intimacy with Spirit.
Second-person spirituality is a difficult sticking-point for many Westerners. One reason is that Western culture was long dominated by Christian second-person religion with a dogmatic mythic conception of God. When Western cultures made their transition into modernity, they (rightly!) rejected mythic religious conceptions of God. But they threw out the baby (second-person spirituality altogether) along with the bathwater (a mythic version of God.) It can be especially difficult for Westerners to accept trans-rational prayer, since they often imagine that communing with the Mystery must inherently presume a metaphysical conception of God. (“First, tell me exactly who I would be praying to?”) But that dogmatic skepticism fails to notice that we can relate to Spirit trans-rationally, as the graceful nature of reality, the universal “other-ness” implied by the experience of “me-ness.”
But second-person spirituality is essential—and it’s one of the most transformational opportunities opened up by an Integral view. Human brains and nervous systems evolved in hunter-gatherer bands, and therefore we are mentally and emotionally structured for relating to others. Those relational capacities are not engaged by first-person awakening to IAMness or third-person contemplation of nature or philosophy.
A love relationship with existence is the essence of second-person spirituality—and love enables us to access tremendous power and energy. Second-person spirituality implicates us personally, revealing our closed hearts and contraction for what they are—a violation of our inherent love-relationship with the Mystery of existence. The universal drama of a love-relationship with the universal Beloved quickens our blood and brings us alive. Love is what unleashes the power of our whole being. And what is spirituality without love? In Integral Life Practice, the core second-person spiritual practice is called Integral Communion.” -Terry Patten
For more from Terry check out: http://www.integralspiritualpractice.com/