John Daniels photoWelcome to my thoughtstream on the topic of creative change. I appreciate your visit and hope you’ll stay a while.

Tracts of Revolution explores the dynamics of human creativity as it swirls in our cells, pulses through our bodies, connects us to each other, and constructs the magnificent panoply of world cultures. You will find two distinct currents to this thoughtstream that may interest you.

“Conversations” are blog posts reflecting on the creative works of authors and artists of our present day and recent past. These creators communicated their visions of reality and the human future through words and other art-forms, partly to share them with the rest of us, but also because they finally couldn’t resist the force that seized and inspired them. I name that force “the creative spirit,” and am convinced that it inhabits all of us – while only a relatively few of us are courageous (or foolhardy) enough to “go with the flow.”

I have a lot to say about spirituality and religion, but this shouldn’t lead to the conclusion that I consider the creative spirit especially religious or “spiritual” in a more narrowly religious sense. The authors I bring into conversation are both religious and nonreligious, believers and atheists, metaphysically-minded psychonauts and down-to-earth humanists. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what ideological camp you inhabit, what country you call home, what language you speak, which way you’re oriented, or whether you are charming or abrasive. You and I are creators, and it’s time we take responsibility for this incredible power with which the universe has endowed our species.

For a more practical and therapeutic approach to creativity, check out my blog Braintracts. Over the past 30+ years I have developed a life-change program that helps individuals take creative control of their lives and step more intentionally into the worlds they really want to inhabit. This approach is brain-based and solution-focused, pulling from the current research of neuroscience and the best practices in human empowerment (counseling and coaching).

The Medieval art/science of metallurgy investigated the molecular secrets of changing natural ores into metals and other alloys. The process was mysterious and the research traditions of those early scientists often took on the shroud of an almost gnostic mysticism. Mentallurgy is my attempt to remove the shroud of secrecy from the question of how the power of attention is transformed into the attitudes, beliefs, moods and drives behind human behavior. If you don’t particularly like the world you presently inhabit, then create a different one! Mentallurgy can show you how. Click over to www.braintracts.wordpress.com

Next Steps

Wouldn’t you love to have a map for this journey of your life? Some chart, some tool – something that could help you get oriented in Reality and moving in the right direction? We’re not talking about a step-by-step itinerary prescribing every move, turn, and stop along the way. That would take the adventure out of it.

There’s something about having to find your way, and not just follow someone else’s, that makes the journey a true adventure.

We find just such a map in the wisdom traditions of the world, which originate from the wellspring of spiritual insight (seeing into the true nature of things) and comprise a network of tributaries flowing into a Great Sea of Enlightenment. As the religions have fought over water rights and whose buckets (conceptual categories) will hold and define this living stream, Sophia Perennis has carried on in its work of awaking, liberating, and renewing the Human Spirit for millenniums.

The diagram above is a simplified illustration of this map of the human journey, again not so much a prescription for where we should go but a layout of the terrain and the different directions we can go, depending on what kind of experience we are seeking. An important metaphor from the wisdom traditions visualizes this journey as more a way or method than a pilgrimage with a preset destination.

In that light, human salvation is less a distant arrival point (e.g., the heavenly paradise of religion), than it is the healing, wholeness, and wellbeing that arise from intentional living, when we are mindfully engaged in the Here and Now.

As with all helpful maps, this one orients us with a “You are Here” locator designated by the notorious term “ego,” which, innocently enough, refers to the place in each of us where consciousness flexes back upon itself in a self-conscious identity.

While it is true that the great historical wave of human suffering originated with the breakthrough to an individual self-conscious experience, the emergence of ego consciousness also opened up new frontiers of spirituality.

From this central point, seemingly alone in the middle of Everything, four such frontiers open up to us, each one leading into a distinct realm of discovery, challenge, and opportunity.


The path on the left leads into the character, personality, and temperament of the individual – into “oneself.” This is an endlessly fascinating realm filled with funhouse mirrors that reflect back distorted images, along with countless passages, rabbit holes into dark tunnels, and tight mazes where it is easy to get lost.

On the path into Oneself we see the image of a spiral threatening to pull consciousness from its introspective adventure and into a neurotic pattern of self-preoccupation. Such obsession with our own need to feel safe, loved, capable and worthy (our so-called subjective or “feeling-needs”: the collection of funhouse mirrors just mentioned) is what generates the preponderance of psychiatric suffering across our species today.

Our anxiety drives us to attach to what or whom we need to save us, which of course they cannot do. This agitates our frustration, causing us to grip down even harder – or else drop to our knees in submission, hoping that our gestures of flattery, adulation, or appeasement will motivate their intervention on our behalf.

Over time, the resulting entanglement and codependency have us completely hemmed in and we might remain in this self-induced hostage condition for many years – even a lifetime.

The not-so-clear but very present danger of this neurotic spiral shouldn’t steer us away from the truly enchanting frontier of Oneself, however. Temperamental traits, patterns in the personality, and habits of character that formed as we responded to our circumstances and chose our way through life: all of it holds the potential of greater insight into who we are and why we tend to lean into or away from Reality as we do.

The modern science of psychology is itself evidence of how at once intriguing and baffling we humans are to ourselves.


A second frontier, accessible from this back country of Oneself but also approachable by a more “vertical” and inward drop away from the center position of ego, is a mystery of what the wisdom traditions name the Ground – the grounding Mystery, Ground of Being, Real Presence, or the Present Mystery of Reality.

The alternate route, through the threads and tangles of personality, has frequently led some to conclude that the frontiers of Oneself and Ground are really the same – when they are not. Their difference is a matter of whether the ego is conducting the quest, through a webwork of its own making, or instead needs to be released and left at the surface for a kind of existential “trust fall” into the very Ground of our being.

This is the essential, and etymological, meaning of “faith.”

Interior probes of our personality can bring us to the brink, perhaps, but at some point the center of self-conscious awareness must itself be surrendered, leaving no one (none, no thing, Nothing) but an ineffable and boundless Presence.

Mystical spirituality is a disciplined cultivation of communion with the Ground, playing at the threshold or drop-off where words dissolve, theology (“god talk”) becomes nonsense, where thoughts untie from the thinker, and only a pure awareness remains. Not surprisingly, mystics the world over have not been well-received by the custodians of religious orthodoxy. In many cases, they have been excommunicated, persecuted, condemned and put to death – only later honored or even worshiped as revealers and avatars of Truth.


Returning to the “You are Here” station of ego, a third path takes us into the frontier of interpersonal life, the social arena, and where we encounter “an other” (Another). The otherness of Another shows itself only through the veils of personality, as the hidden subject behind the presented object of the person before us. An interior self, a center of feeling, thought, intention and will, is back there somewhere, arousing our fascination, curiosity, fantasy, suspicion or fear.

The development of our own personality and sense of self, of our ego and personal identity, was shaped in the field of early attachments and alliances.

Personal identity and its ego-in-charge would simply not be possible without this interplay with partners, allies, rivals and opponents who are on their own journeys of ego formation toward becoming somebody special.

Just take all of those complications and neurotic potential that we barely acknowledged in each of us (Oneself), and now throw it into the fray of interpersonal and social interactions, and what you have is an exponential dynamic of actions causing reactions causing counter-reactions, all together producing an amplifying effect across the web of human relations that seems always on the verge of blowing up or shaking apart.

And yet, somehow we need each other.


For what? The answer to this question takes us into our fourth frontier, called Community. Not just another word for the addition of more Others to the scene, community names the synergistic and transformational process whereby much of that same chaotic energy just mentioned gets harnessed and channeled into a higher wholeness.

Individually we are empowered to rise above our own roles and identity contracts for the sake of joining with others in transpersonal fellowship and harmony.

Notwithstanding my earlier concession that the human journey is less about a destination (where we are going) than a way or method (how we are going), this whole scheme seems guided by an aim towards ever more inclusive, compassionate, virtuous and enlightened – in a word, provident – forms of community.

As individuals commit themselves to living more grounded and centered lives, reaching out to each other with acceptance and love, the strength of their bonds and the synergy in their differences will continue to create communities that nurture, inspire, guide and liberate the Human Spirit for still more to come.

It’s there we learn that waking up and becoming whole, together, is what the human journey is all about.

Helping Each Other Fly

Whereas all other animal species on Earth evolve naturally toward the mature and fully self-actualized ideals of their distinct genotypes, the fulfillment of human potential requires a mediating system of inventions and conventions known as culture.

Without culture humans are incapable of realizing the full potential of what lies within us.

And yet, it is also the case that culture can be a dark and destructive force which extinguishes the Human Spirit in so many of us. The talent and creative intelligence that seeks to be discovered, developed, and expressed instead goes undiscovered, or worse it gets suppressed by abusive or incompetent parents, teachers, trainers, and coaches.

The old argument between those, like Thomas Hobbes, who regarded culture as a civilizing influence upon a savage animal nature, and others, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who saw it as having a corrupting influence on a native innocence, has been exposed as based on a false dichotomy.

It’s not human nature on one side and human culture on the other, but a human nature expressed and further developed through the mediation of culture. Human culture is technically an “exaptation” that human nature produced by virtue of its creative intelligence, and then used that creation to support, drive, and inspire the prolific output which has expanded and accelerated ever since.

Culture quickly became a kind of scaffolding for human progress, to the point where now human survival is nearly impossible without it.

It’s certainly true that the higher we climb into this scaffolding of culture and the more reliant on its support we get, the weaker our animal instincts, native intuitions, and “natural wisdom” also tend to become. Like Darth Vader in Star Wars who was unable to live without his breathing mask and protective suit, humans have grown existentially dependent on the artificial habitats and support of culture.

But this post is not intended as another dystopian scenario of our human fate. I will invite my reader to climb back down with me, closer to that generative threshold of human creativity where our native intelligence as individuals was originally coaxed and guided into learning the foundational skills of culture.

Almost by definition, a skill is an ability that must be learned and typically also taught, then practiced towards mastery.

Humans don’t know how to perform a skill by instinct. We may be naturally predisposed with a talent or knack for it, but its performance is something that requires instruction, training, coaching, and consistent practice to even stand a chance of approximating the level of proficiency known as mastery.

And because learning a new skill depends on other humans (even with today’s addition of instructional AI), this “learning alliance” is where the process can really take off – or fail.

My question, then, is about successful skill instruction, acquisition, and mastery.

What makes for a strong and productive learning alliance? Whether we’re talking about parents and children, teachers and students, coaches and players, therapists and clients, physicians and patients, trainers and trainees, what is the path by which human nature gets lifted into culture’s scaffolding of skills and thus equipped for the higher flourishing of our species?

The above illustration depicts a piano lesson in session. A student sits at the piano as an instructor stands behind her, commenting and advising on the recital underway. The “path” in question is laid out schematically like a circuit, using a magenta-colored line with numbered nodes to indicate key junctures where a learning alliance facilitates, or otherwise impedes, the creative flow.

1. Internal State

Human nature shows up to the session in the animal biology of both the student and teacher. This node is positioned in the “gut” or viscera where the body’s internal nervous state is registered and managed. The optimal internal state for learning is coherent, composed, and calm, making it more likely that each partner of the learning alliance can give their attention and effort to the challenge at hand.

An anxious, agitated, or depressed nervous state, on the other hand, does not support mindful intention and effective learning, but is instead susceptible to distraction, forgetfulness, disengagement and performance errors. What is called a grounded state identifies the optimal psychosomatic (mind-body) alignment where an individual is centered in present awareness, mindfully attentive to Reality and fully embodied.

An effective learning alliance is rooted in the grounded internal states of both teacher and student.

2. Interpersonal Rapport

Neither partner has any direct control over the other’s internal state. Still, the evolutionary design of their nervous systems gives each a natural ability (not a skill) to sense, react, adapt and influence the other. In an effective learning alliance, a “teacher” traditionally has the greater responsibility for managing the communication and other conditions that are conducive to a calm, focused, and engaged session. Under such conditions the student is more likely to learn what she needs to know and know how to do.

Many students are naturally nervous in facing the challenge of learning something new. Their natural curiosity is often counterbalanced by a self-conscious awareness of the fact that they don’t yet know nor can they do very expertly what the teacher may be expecting.

A skillful teacher takes responsibility by affirming effort, recognizing progress, and encouraging improvement – all the while assuring the student of their unconditional confidence and patient support.

3. Technical Mastery

Progress to skill mastery can take a while, particularly for more complex skills like playing the piano. But with calm internal states in both teacher and student, and a positive interpersonal rapport between them, the implementation and correction through consistent practice makes the approach to mastery much more likely.

The student will typically be expected to practice on her own between lessons, demonstrating her growing competency and exposing where she needs to improve on her skill each time.

The learning pathway for a new skill moves through distinct phases: (1) a mimetic phase where the student mimics or mirrors what the teacher is modeling; (2) a practice phase where specific moves and routines are repeated over and over again; and finally (3) a performance phase, by which time the mechanics of the skill require less conscious attention and effortful control, liberating the new “master” for a flawless rendition, fresh improvisation, and even creative innovation.

4. Creative Transcendence

This ascending progress, where the technical mastery of skills at one level serves as the foundation for the learning of skills at higher levels of cultural engagement and production, is what has lifted our human potential to new heights over the long millenniums of time. Along the way we have become more connected, more involved, and even more creative. All of our knowledge, technologies, and skills have united us into a single global community.

The cultural scaffolding of skills has elevated us to a level of diversity awareness and inclusion never before possible. We have created new dimensions of identity, new architectures of intelligence, new technologies of communication, and new possibilities for self-transcendence. We seem to be just on the cusp of a new communal way of being that is mystically grounded, socially engaged, and ethically enlightened.

And just now, wouldn’t you know it, we are starting to devote less attention, invest less time, and accept less responsibility for managing the healthy learning alliances on which creative culture and human fulfillment depend.

Maybe it’s not too late.

A Journey Better Shared

There are just a handful of ideas from the collective wisdom tradition (Sophia Perennis) of the human race that truly transcend the historical conditions of time and place. The tradition itself is a massive undertaking, free of committees and bureaucratic management, to conserve and further develop groundbreaking insights into evolutionary advances for our species and the planet.

As a counter-offensive to the destructive impulses and shortsightedness of our species, Sophia Perennis has helped perhaps more than anything else to keep us together and work things out.

This post will bring the handful of ideas into a system, making a case for regarding this system as a useful framework in understanding the human journey. While the historical conditions of time and place have an undeniable influence on our individual development and wellbeing, these more general dynamics can help us appreciate the essential (deep) and universal (broad) principles in play, when or wherever we happen to be.

My diagram lays out these ideas using a graphing tool of ‘X’ and ‘Y’ axes, where the horizontal (‘X’) axis corresponds to eras of time in the human journey, and the vertical (‘Y’) axis intersects three distinct planes of consciousness – the subpersonal (“below” ego), the interpersonal (“between” egos), and the transpersonal (“beyond” ego). The human journey is divided into three eras, which I will provocatively designate as trimesters of human transformation, with each trimester correlated to the ascent of consciousness through its three planes.

I could keep trying to explain my approach, but let’s just jump into it.

The first trimester of our human journey begins in an extremely dependent and vulnerable condition. A human newborn is utterly incapable of feeding, cleaning, moving, or defending itself. This absolute dependency on external circumstances and the infant’s taller powers activates an inherent capacity of its nervous system, calibrating the body’s internal state according to how provident, or otherwise, reality is perceived to be.

When the liberal Protestant philosopher-theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) defined faith as the experience of “absolute dependency” on the provident reality of God, it was this most basic human experience he was referencing. Back then, no one knew much about brains, nervous systems, and the subpersonal intelligence of the body in matching and meeting the conditions of life with a nervous state and behavior that are maximally adaptive.

Schleiermacher was sufficiently self-aware to realize how foundational this capacity is to a human being’s general outlook, attitude, and wellbeing. Yet, because Christian orthodoxy was already deeply committed to a definition of faith as a set of beliefs rather than the inner release of trust to the present and provident Mystery of reality, his insight was brushed aside as too subjective and psychological – too “liberal.”

Nevertheless, it is his understanding of faith as existential trust that is more consistent with the larger wisdom tradition.

In the above illustration, faith (the virtue of the first trimester of our human journey) is connected by a slanting line to peace, drawing an essential equivalence between the adaptive response of existential trust and the experience, on the subpersonal plane, of a deep inner calm. Faith and peace are dynamic correlates, then, in the early stages of human transformation.

We must acknowledge the fact that not everyone’s nervous system matches up to a provident reality of caring taller powers and a nurturing early environment. Some are born into situations of neglect, scarcity, abandonment, or abuse – which activate a very different adaptive response in the body: not the trusting release of faith, but instead a nervous contraction away from a dangerous, unpredictable, and hostile reality. Their internal state is one of chronic anxiety and fearful vigilance, not a calm and composed inner peace.

For now, however, our meditation will stay focused on the optimal achievements along our journey, using these as contextual guidelines for appropriate therapy and support when things don’t go perfectly – which, as a widely acknowledged fact of our human condition, they never do.

So we follow the next arrow up from the subpersonal (i.e., the body’s internal state) to the interpersonal, where experience opens out to relationships with other persons. This is the plane of consciousness centered in the self-conscious experience of ego – the “I” who wears masks of identity, takes on roles and joins in the role plays of society, and more or less obsesses over becoming somebody special.

The wisdom teachings don’t denigrate the ego for being a mere construct of social engineering. They regard it rather as a means to something more, a mechanism of sorts for centering personal identity and making connections with other persons across the various scales of belonging, association, and membership.

When the individual is grounded in a state of inner peace, the primal response of existential trust can be directed outward to others, where it serves as the dynamic core of loving relationships.

Both visually and dynamically, the entire system of virtues turns on this hub of interpersonal love. It is the crucial second trimester of our life journey and occupies – we could rightly say it preoccupies – the central plane of interpersonal consciousness, where we are confronted with the challenge of getting along and loving each other.

Wisdom teachers all around the world and throughout history have preached and practiced the critical importance of love – for oneself, for our neighbor, and even for the enemy – to the wellbeing and final salvation of humanity.

When individuals are connected in healthy bonds of love, mutual goodwill, and ethical responsibility, the resulting community (literally “together as one”) has the effect of generating within and among them a Spirit of joy.

This communal Spirit, frequently written using the uppercase ‘S’ to honor the mystery of its being not merely a sum but the product of individuals transcending their personal identities and interpersonal agreements for a transpersonal experience of higher wholeness, is celebrated across the cultures as a kind of divine ecstasy, the flourishing and fulfillment of our true nature as human beings.

As the metaphorical roots of the word suggest, Spirit (ruach, pneuma, spiritus) is the “breath” that animates us, the “wind” that moves among us, and the “air” that surrounds, uplifts, and unites us together as one.

The last arrow in my diagram follows the flow from joy to hope, bringing us into the third and final trimester of our human journey. Notice, too, that we are dropping back down to the interpersonal plane of consciousness. This is consistent with the teachings of spiritual wisdom, which declares that the cultivation of love in the joy of genuine community is the secret to humanity’s ultimate hope.

Human destiny is bright so long as our vision includes everyone and everything, as we hold open a positive expectation for a world where love can only grow.

A Reconciliation of Religion & Science

The overstory of cultural evolution features a complementarity of visions known as religion and science, which in the last 2,500 years or so have been competing for dominance, with religion on a dramatic decline in the West since the 1800s – but starting long before. Many will argue that this decline of religion in the West is a sign of our spiritual decadence as a culture.

This argument comes off too much like that oft-used tactic of corrupt authority: blaming the victim.

Religion becomes irrelevant and then comes down with coercion and threats to enforce compliance. All the while, its members are disengaged and quietly leaving out the back door. A good percentage of those that remain are either there for the kindred society it provides, the warm familiarity of its customs and beliefs, or else because they are convinced that it holds the only point of access to the ultimate glory they seek.

In this blog I have been making a case for seeing much of religion’s troubles as self-inflicted, brought on by its own dogmatic unwillingness to meet and advance with the evolving spirituality of its people – and of our species generally. If the role of religion is (1) to facilitate the spiritual development and liberation of human beings, and (2) to provide for the creative engagement of spirituality with the real world and its challenges, then religion is failing on both counts.

Religion started losing ground way back when the enterprise of philosophy – the disciplined pursuit of wisdom based in a grounded understanding of the universe and our place in it – dedicated itself to building a system of knowledge free of magic, superstition, and orthodoxy.

What began as “natural philosophy” soon became science, a headwater that quickly differentiated into numerous tributaries: physics, geometry, biology, astronomy, and dozens more as the centuries went on.

All of this sprang from a newfound confidence in sense experience, critical and contextual reasoning, experimental methods, and methodological doubt (holding a claim in question until it can be validated or disproved by evidence and logical thought) – all anchored to a growing sense of the individual’s capacity for finding the truth by more natural lights.

Ideally, religion would have encouraged this progress to a more rational and reality-oriented way of being, just as a parent should encourage and support their child’s development into more formal operations of thought, ego strength, and intellectual autonomy.

In the same way that a parent doesn’t insist on controlling the behavior and beliefs of their adolescent with a dogmatic “Because I said so!” it is critical for religion to know when, and how, to step back and then reengage its members in accordance with their evolving faith, expanding curiosity, and developing intelligence.

This moment of breakthrough is wonderfully illustrated in the so-called Flammarion engraving (see above), which may date back to the early modern period (15th-16th century). It depicts an explorer who suddenly, it would seem, is able to see through the veil of a world where his life’s security, orientation, and meaning have been safeguarded – up till this moment.

On the other side of this veil he beholds a cosmic system of elements, physical forces, spheres and wheels; no deities, archangels, or heavenly abode are to be seen.

Not, that is to say, what he was told to expect.

That realm beyond the veil is the universe of science; the veil and its enclosed world, the domain of religion – at least in its theistic mode. Theism is a type of religion oriented on a patron deity (or deities) who provides protection, support, and final salvation to his (or her) people in exchange for their worship and obedience.

Its rise over the longer history of religion correlates exactly with the ascendancy in human consciousness of the self-conscious personal ego. The patron deity plays the role of celestial superego to a growing multiplicity and potential anarchy of human egos on the ground, so to speak, each in pursuit of their own happiness. As moral administrator and archetype of virtues, the deity incentivizes proper behavior and inspires the activation of virtue in his (or her) devotees.

When natural philosophy began to lift the veil of meaning to discover a reality not populated by god and his angels, this revelation itself was the signal of a transformation in human consciousness.

Solar gods and lunar goddesses, heavenly fathers and earth mothers were drawn aside on physical stars and moons, the boundless vault of outer space and blue marble of our precious home planet.

Those earlier mythological references had accomplished their work of attuning human consciousness to a provident universe: the generative source, dynamic web, and shared destiny of all things. With a deep feeling of belonging, that they were safe and supplied what they needed to flourish and live meaningful lives, theism had served humans well.

But the time had come for some to step out into a larger reality and learn how to live on the other side of (post-) theism and its richly embroidered veils of mythology. With a well-grounded faith, a sacred reverence for life, and their ethical virtue sufficiently awakened, religion should have been ready to facilitate the progress of this generation of seekers into a post-theistic spirituality and worldview.

Just as the parent needs to help a child emerge from under the protective firmament of dependency to face reality as it is, to take on life as it is, so theism needed (and still needs) to not just allow but encourage and inspire the spiritual liberation of its “children.”

Whereas theism, especially in these latter days, tends to be unifocal in defending a literal reading of its myths and laying claim to absolute truth, post-theistic religion accepts and embraces responsibility for cultivating faith in its children, awaking compassion in its youth, and ordaining the higher self of adults for the task of interpreting the stories and updating its metaphors of God.

In this way, post-theistic adults can lead and guide the spiritual evolution of believers all the way through.

When theism elected to hold its ground rather than adapt and accommodate the transformation in consciousness that was underway, it created conditions for the spiritual decadence of Western culture. Without the intentional structure of a post-theistic guidance system in place, many would-be post-theists were either pushed out, or, for the sake of staying true to the longing within themselves, chose to leave, forced from their community to find their way alone.

What theism hasn’t understood all this time is that a post-theist is never alone, having attained the realization that Everything is connected, All is One, and We’re all in this – together.

In large part, those who stayed inside were either still in need of what theism provided, or else, locked up in their own convictions and driven by a spiritual frustration, saw themselves as its heroic crusaders against a god-forsaken and sin-sick world.

Veils can be convenient to hide behind.

Free to Shine

In Clarity and Brilliance I offered a way of conceptualizing the dynamic integrity of human consciousness across its four types of intelligence: rational (RQ = mind), emotional (EQ = heart), visceral (VQ = will), and spiritual (SQ = soul/spirit).

The validity of these four is well-established in the psychological literature, with our spiritual intelligence most recently accepted into the empirical and academic discussion, now free of its supernatural and metaphysical preconceptions.

Using the analogy of a diamond, I employed the terms “clarity” and “brilliance” to help us appreciate the integrity of intelligence and how consciousness is (or can be) amplified, developed, and expressed in the human being. We have to qualify this with a “can be” since, in many of us, this flow of consciousness is actually impeded by neurotic, even pathological, complications. We’ll come to these after a bit.

“Clarity” refers to the transparency that each facet offers to the diamond’s interior depths, while its “brilliance” describes the effect of focusing and magnifying the light from these depths into a resplendent outward radiance. A clear diamond is also a bright diamond.

Clarity is looking in, brilliance is shining out.

So too with consciousness and its three “facets” or faculties of mind, heart, and will. When these are transparent to the inner depths of soul, consciousness is focused and intensified into the outward expression of spirit. This can be depicted more abstractly using the cross design of ‘X’ and ‘Y’ axes, where the three faculties are arranged along the horizontal (‘X’) axis and spiritual intelligence forms a continuum along the vertical (‘Y’) axis, with soul down-and-within and spirit up-and-around.

This entire system should be understood psychospiritually. Instead, in its early efforts to legitimate itself as a scientific (i.e., not “superstitious”) enterprise, Western psychology detached the horizontal axis of faculties from the recently discredited and unscientific vertical continuum of spiritual intelligence. It then further dissected the faculties into separate centers, or, which became the mainstream paradigm, absorbed the heart and will into a more broadly cognitive theory of mind.

Twenty-first-century psychology is more open to a psychospiritual approach, now that spiritual intelligence (SQ) has been validated in the research. Psychologists can agree, if not with the supernatural worldview and metaphysics of religious true believers, then with more of their scientific peers, that humans universally seek existential grounding in reality, as well as transpersonal community with others and all things – perhaps even with the cosmos itself.

These are not mere wishful fantasies or forgotten sensations of prenatal life, as Freud believed, but aspirations or spiritual longings that are deeply rooted in human nature.

In this post I will merge my “diamond” model of consciousness with the Five Aspirations of a human being. The coincidence of there being five aspirations or spiritual longings that drive us through life, and also five distinct nodes of our quadratic intelligence – rational, emotional, visceral, and two for the esoteric/contemplative and ecstatic/expressive poles on the continuum of spiritual intelligence – only recently clicked for me.

But it’s enough of a revelation that I wanted to upload it to the cloud of superconscious wisdom, just in case someone else, somewhere else, and perhaps at some other time, might download and help it to advance.

My diagram brings forward the diamond image, associating each faculty or node with one of the five aspirations. Thus:

  • The soul centers our longing for inner peace.
  • The mind centers our longing for deeper meaning.
  • The heart centers our longing for genuine love.
  • The will centers our longing for higher purpose.
  • The spirit centers our longing for creative freedom.

In the healthy and self-actualizing human being there is a deep sense of grounding in reality, which registers in the nervous system as a calm inner peace. Free of distress and securely based, the faculties of mind, heart, and will can develop and function with clarity, opening to life in the world with clearheaded and kindhearted goodwill.

The clarity of these faculties focuses awareness into the deep interior of the soul, where it is cultivated, amplified, and then projected outward as spirit in creative freedom. A clear (or open) mind, heart, and will provides for a relevant engagement with reality, one that is in touch with what’s going on, sensitive to the wonders and mysteries, challenges and opportunities it holds.

It’s when we put this dynamic of consciousness on its course of normal human development that the complications mentioned above start showing up.

If for whatever reason an individual lacks the grounding of inner peace, this insecurity has the effect of “clouding” the faculties with distortions that interfere with their proper function – dysfunctions which arise in the effort to manage insecurity and prevent an overwhelming flood of panic and despair.

Rather than opening in curiosity and seeking to understand, the mind closes down on its own beliefs, finding a false sense of security inside a defended enclosure of conviction. Instead of opening to others and to reality itself in lovingkindness, the heart gets locked into obsession and neurotic attachment. And in this clouded and distorted state, the will gets stuck in the ambition of “what’s in it for me?”: desperately craving something but at the same time afraid it won’t work out or be enough.

Conviction, obsession, and ambition are all compensatory mechanisms for managing – or more accurately, coping with – the subjective insecurity (anxiety) that comes with ego formation and standing out as somebody unique and special.

Because the development of personal identity entails a differentiation of self-consciousness from the ground of consciousness itself, even a normal ego experiences some degree of exposure and alienation which registers in the nervous system as generalized anxiety.

Given that normal ego development brings some anxiety along with it, and now with a better understanding of how the mind, heart, and will lose their transparency to the depths of soul as they get trapped in their own coping strategies, we can sympathize with how humans “manage” to so magnificently muck things up for ourselves.

We can also see the wisdom in the various methods and techniques that humans have devised over the millenniums for cultivating a more grounded existence. When we have inner peace, we can live free of conviction, obsession, and ambition – free to create a life of deeper meaning, genuine love, and higher purpose.

We can be free to shine and share in the Spirit of true community.

Human Rising

If you live by your convictions, you are a prisoner (a convict) to your beliefs and have difficulty thinking outside the box (your prison) and being open to mystery, to the present mystery of Reality, to Reality, or just to what’s real.

It’s important to you – we might even say it’s mandatory – that Reality, just like your mind, is locked down inside clear categories, on a grid of values that are absolute and unchanging.

If instead you live by your aspirations, there is a longing in you for fulfillment, which shouldn’t be confused with happiness but refers rather to an experience of realizing your potential and becoming more fully human. Humanity has been evolving for many millenniums, and your own development has progressed through stages of growth, awakening, and self-actualization since birth.

The truth is, both of these forces are at work in you. One works to define you and the world around you, adding layers over time of identity and the habits of judgment and belief that hold your identity together and keep your world intact. The other works to transform you, along with the world around you, by activating the inner capacity and evolutionary aim of your human ideal.

To the degree that convictions lock things in place and aspirations break things open, these two forces are antagonistic to each other. Much of your pain or joy in life is how this antagonism plays out.

To really get our minds around this, take a look at the illustration above. Vertical and horizontal axes are arrows coordinating an upward and forward movement, to signify a larger organic process in play: growing out of the ground and following the inner aim of its ideal – in this case, a mature and more fully self-actualized human being.

The horizontal arrow moving from left to right correlates to the actual past and possible futures of development. And you – or your “I” (ego) in this conversation – are at the center, corresponding to the experiential present.

Coming to you from the left (or past) is the storyline of your development as a character – the main character of your personal myth. Just as earlier chapters of a story serve to define the characters who develop and interact with each other, your life up till now is the record of conditions, events, and choices that have conspired in the construction of a personal identity – who you are and how you present yourself to others.

Now, to help us understand what’s going on as we move to the right, let’s turn our attention to the vertical axis, from the temporal (horizontal) to a contextual orientation. Your existence is grounded in Reality and is a product or manifestation of other forces – not biographical this time, but generally biological. This is not about who you are as a personality but what you are as a living, sentient human being.

Your existence is “generated” up from this ground, which is why we call it your existential ground, the generative Source and Ground of Being. Simultaneously with your emergence from this ground, you have been surrounded by and involved in a larger web of beings and forces, on the broadest contextual scale known as the universe: the “turning-as/into-one” of everything there is.

The transcultural wisdom tradition known as the Perennial Philosophy or Sophia Perennis acknowledges this universal web as a vast community of beings: not a chaotic mess but a cosmic order; not a random arrangement only, but a harmonious whole – a community in the true sense of the term.

This community manifests in a highly sophisticated and complex way among human beings. Life and consciousness have evolved in you to the point of achieving self-conscious awareness, in the ego (“I”) that puts on masks and plays the roles of identity. Over time and across countless role plays your identity has taken on the habits of character, that star of your personal myth mentioned earlier.

Now, it’s important to see that in order for you to participate in and consciously belong to human community, you (along with others) need to become a self-conscious person with a character of your own. In other words, genuine community, which is transpersonal in nature, depends on the pre-existence, so to speak, of persons, of separate egos playing the game of identity.

Community, therefore, is not a mere collection of egos, but a higher wholeness (com+unitas: together as one) that forms as individual egos are able and willing to “get over themselves” for a life in mutual harmony. There is no possibility of going beyond (trans-) the personal without a personal ego already in place.

This is a main reason why philosophies that denigrate the ego as something to be denied, renounced, or extinguished actually impede human progress toward genuine community.

What these philosophies are reacting to is not the ego of normal human development, but the neurotic ego which refuses, and is to some extent unable, to go beyond the drama of personal identity for a transpersonal experience of unity.

Many don’t understand that the way through is not by attacking and defeating the ego, but rather by helping it become sufficiently centered and strong to be capable of getting over itself.

My illustration displays two orange lines (the color code of all things ego-related in this blog), a solid line beneath your ego and a dashed line above it. The solid line makes the point that consciousness cannot descend into its ground without first releasing the masks and roles of personal identity, along with the separate self-conscious ego that defines itself by them.

This may be where the error lies with those philosophies of ego-renunciation, in their confusion of the necessary release with an aggressive rejection of the ego.

The psychospiritual benefit of dropping out of ego consciousness and into the grounding mystery of what you (really) are is in the creative freedom it affords, for getting over and going beyond the limitations of personal identity, of your character and the convictions that otherwise hold your spirit captive.

With that freedom you can cultivate the spiritual aspirations that will fill your sails and take you to the farther reaches of human nature, and (through that dashed orange line) into the higher wholeness of genuine community and the liberated life.

Democracy at (the) Stake

The foreperson on the grand jury for Georgia’s State prosecution of election interference by Donald Trump and others is recently in the news, giving interviews to whomever will listen (and it seems everyone is) over her excitement for having the privilege to serve in that capacity. When asked, she confessed that she did not vote in the 2020 Presidential election.

Wait, what?

Obviously, interfering with elections is on a whole different scale than not supporting elections by choosing not to vote. But in both actions it is clear that democracy is at stake – we can even say that democracy is at “the” stake, against the wall, on the gallows (choose your metaphor). Democracy is government by participation, under the leadership of representatives we pick to be there.

That’s how it’s designed to work.

Whether the ballots we cast are illegally stolen or not counted; whether we are prevented from casting our legal vote or make the choice ourselves not to participate, democracy is on its way out.

People with good sense and who care about equality, freedom, equity and inclusion need to understand that ideals and values such as these must be worked for, defended, and consistently promoted in their actions and choices.

A frightening number of current representatives, however, are showing by their rhetoric that these ideals and values are not in their picture of a future America. In fact, if they have their way, America will be a nation under autocratic control, of racial and gender inequality, of codified inequities permanently locking out the lower classes from access to a better life, and with high walls of exclusion against every person, thing, and idea that doesn’t fit obediently inside their box.

The walls of their box are forged of fear, not faith; of anger, not hope; of self-interest and not “a more perfect union.”

By regularly stirring the pot or throwing more logs on the fire (choose your metaphor), these anti-American politicians, along with their handlers and supporters, are continuing to cast doubt on the integrity of elections, thus undermining the trust of Americans in the entire process.

Must-winners are inevitably sore losers, and sore losers tend not to be fair players.

If they can discourage or otherwise convince voters who don’t support them or believe in what they stand for to stay home on election day, then their comparatively small base of devotees will prevail over the general will of the people.

And that is how democracy dies.

Interfere with elections, overthrow election results, or persuade opposition voters that their votes won’t matter and not to bother showing up: choose your adventure, but the result will be the same. There is no effective will of the people if that will is not registered, recorded, counted, and protected.

For a while, there will still be opportunities to participate in democracy – by serving on a jury, for instance.

But eventually these won’t really matter, either, since by then something other than a constitutional justice system will be deciding who’s in, who’s out, and who deserves what.

As a young person, the Georgia State grand jury foreperson might hold the belief that democracy “just is,” like a backdrop to daily life and its more immediate concerns. As long as the economy is working and the lights stay on, the political side of things can be left for others to run and worry about.

As we enjoy our freedoms, we don’t often consciously appreciate all that goes on and all that had to happen – the collective work and sacrifice of thousands – for us to be free. It’s easy to believe that the environment, atmosphere, and “spirit” of freedom is and will always be around us, as we chase our economic dreams.

It was partly this preferential interest in the values of capitalism over the values of democracy that got Donald Trump as close he came to winning the popular vote in the 2016 election. Trump was a celebrity icon of how to bend, and if necessary to break, democratic principles (along with ethical standards) in pursuit of economic gain.

Even before Trump, fewer Americans were showing up to the polls to cast their vote. He just found a way to exploit that political indifference – or maybe it’s ignórance: willful ignorance – to his advantage.

The “American Dream” is really a hybrid of economic and political aspirations, for the freedom to make a better life for ourselves and to turn our diversity into genuine community. Individual prosperity and communal wellbeing shouldn’t have to compete for our attention and loyalty. They both require commitment and sacrifice in order to be realized, and it could even be argued that one cannot be fully realized without steady devotion to the other.

From the very beginning of this Experiment, Americans have wanted only enough politics and law to keep the playing field safe and fair. An outstanding characteristic of American ideology is in how we tend to view community and communal values through the lens of individualism and our own pursuit of happiness.

Even in our typical use of the term, community amounts to little more than an aggregate of individuals, rather than, as the word literally denotes, to a qualitative shift toward communion as individuals are able to transcend their personal interests for the sake of unity and a greater good. If we take any steps in the direction of community, we do it according to a calculus of “what’s in it for me” versus what’s best for us all.

I’ve made a case elsewhere for regarding democracy – not just the will of the people, but a vision for how individual wills can work together and create genuine community – as perpetually endangered in a nation where personal ambition is valued above communal (or transpersonal) wisdom.

Maybe Trump and “Trumplicanism” is just a temporary slip on the slope of democratic progress. But hopefully it has taught us that taking responsibility for democracy and doing our part makes a difference. We may not get our 15 minutes of fame for doing it, but it really does matter.

In every election, democracy is at (the) stake. By choosing not to participate, we are also hastening its demise.

All the Way Through

Treatment for anxiety will be a multi-billion dollar enterprise this year, up from previous years and expected to continue its rise for the foreseeable future. We want the inner peace of a relaxed body and calm mind, but we settle – actually we pay a lot – for feeling a little less anxious, if it can be managed.

If our anxiety can’t be managed, we are at risk of falling into depression, which is chasing the trendline of anxiety disorders like a dark demon, ready to swallow victims who can’t stay ahead of it.

The successful treatment of any malady begins in a proper understanding of its causes, conditions, and course of development, along with whether and to what extent it may be a compensatory or comorbid factor in a still larger system.

In the case of anxiety and depression, we know already that they typically coexist in a bipolar pattern: cramping up in nervous agitation, then crashing down into exhaustion where our thoughts circle the drain of hopelessness and despair. In treating one side of the pattern, symptoms often worsen on the other, drawing the patient into a web of medications, with added prescriptions aimed at mitigating the negative side-effects of the primary drugs.

And so on.

In this post I will offer a framework for understanding anxiety and depression from the perspective of wisdom spirituality. I don’t presume to diagnose my reader’s mental illness, nor am I recommending that anyone abandon their current treatment plan. It’s just a different way of looking at our pandemic of bipolar suffering, with the goal of understanding its place in the larger system of human experience, development, and transformation.

Wisdom spirituality identifies a polarity in human nature. Not the bipolar pattern of anxiety and depression, but a tension inherent to being human. One side, or pole, of this tension is represented by the path of development culminating in human fulfillment, in the actualization of our individual and species potential.

Such a quality of life can be compared analogously to the free flight of a butterfly that has emerged from its cocoon, and is known as spiritual liberty or the liberated life.

It is not a life that is trouble-free, gliding as it were above the labors and frustrations of a caterpillar’s existence.

Spiritual liberty is not about being always happy and never sad or afraid, but allows rather for a creative embrace – and release – of every sensation, feeling, and judgment. It is about being fully alive.

The path to spiritual liberty – again, not to immortality or world-escape, but to a fully awakened and liberated life – flows from a grounded faith, through mindful presence, into the experience of communion with others and all things, ultimately finding wings in the fulfillment of our essential Self.

By essential Self (with the uppercase “S”) we mean not merely the soul in a body but the body-soul essence of a human being, the animal with a perhaps uniquely evolved capacity for contemplation, empathy, creativity, and self-transcendence.

This Self of our essential nature stands in paradoxical relation with a second nature, that of our conditioned self (with the lowercase “s”), whose path of development focuses on the formation of an executive center of self-conscious identity called ego.

As a product of social engineering, the design intention of our ego is to identify us with a tribe, as “one of us” who behaves and believes in a way that ensures group cohesion and sympathy with the herd.

As “one of us,” part of this project in ego formation serves to induce a sense of individuality that psychologically separates us from our body, which becomes increasingly an object of control, ornamentation, and sensuality. Ego also differentiates us from others who engage with us in role plays of social interaction that give our life meaning.

My diagram illustrates the two paths: the first, of our essential Self developing toward spiritual liberty; and a second, of our conditioned self differentiating an identity that provides access to a meaningful life in society.

This is where we can begin to appreciate a tension in the polarity of being human and becoming somebody.

The tension starts already as our essential aptitude for a grounded faith has to share space with a subjective insecurity (or anxiety) over the gradual separation into a centered identity of our own. Part of us wants to, and still can, release in faith to the provident ground of our existence. But this other part must follow the authoritative influence of a tribe that needs us to get in line and do our part.

It’s at this point that the polar tension of the two paths becomes impossible to ignore.

While our essential Self seeks to be present and open authentically to Reality, our conditioned self is already busy in the work of personation, referring to the somewhat anxious pursuit of identity by trying on masks (Greek personae) and stepping into roles that will qualify us for the social acceptance, approval, and recognition we crave.

With respect to our essential Self, personation is the process of covering over, even suppressing and denying, our authentic nature for the sake of becoming somebody who fits in and stands out.

Now, according to wisdom spirituality, the paradoxical relation of these two paths has evolved with the aim of bringing us to the place where we are empowered to surpass ego identity for a larger transpersonal experience. It is indeed a foundational insight that helps us understand the bipolar pattern of anxiety and depression, but more importantly helps us see our way through to spiritual liberty.

When our neurotic insecurity hides inside and behind masks of identity, an experience of communion – our participation in a dynamic web of higher wholeness – is foreclosed and we are locked down by the conceit of “me and mine.”

In the worldwide anthology of principles, parables, koans, and proverbs, wisdom spirituality often speaks of the necessity for a truth seeker to “die” as a caterpillar and shed their cocoon of identity, in order to find a New Life beyond the masks and roles, and even more importantly beyond the ego who is pretending to be somebody behind all those masks and roles.

But it’s hard to let go and leave behind our conditioned self, even for the promise of an experience we can hardly imagine, much less accept as a real possibility for us.

And because others of our tribe are equally insecure and attached to the pretense of identity, reinforced by generations of dogmatic orthodoxy dismissing or outright condemning spiritual liberty as rebellious, blasphemous, and sacrilegious, our conceit can get further impounded behind convictions that close our mind to everything outside the box.

What I’m calling “spiritual depression” is not a special subtype of the garden-variety clinical depression so prevalent today. It is not unique to religious folk or to those who identify themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Spiritual depression is the deep, dark place we find ourselves after we have pushed away (or withdrawn from) everything that doesn’t fit inside our box, along with anyone who suggests that most of what is real and true is outside our box and can’t be owned.*

This depression is spiritual because it signifies something more than a deficiency in the balance of neurotransmitters in our brain, or an autoimmune disorder of psychosomatic illness, or even a breakdown in our construction of meaning.

It is spiritual because it is our human spirit that languishes and slowly dies inside a cage that was forged, ironically, to “save” our life.

It should be obvious, then, how this bipolar cycling of anxiety and depression “works.” We are anxious because the process of becoming somebody requires us to separate ourselves to some extent from our own existential ground and from the others around us.

And while personation is developmentally about putting on an identity that conforms to the world of tribal values and concerns, our insecure conceit (or conceited insecurity), compounded by a repressive tribal morality, can drive us deeper into our cocoon – so deep, in fact, that we can’t find our way out.

How would wisdom spirituality counsel us at this point, if our current treatment protocols and intervention methodologies only keep us spinning in bipolar cycles between anxiety and depression, and back around again?

Relax. Set the mask aside for now. Open your wings and be free. If you’re not there yet, just keep going – all the way through.

It’s in our nature to fly.

*This explains the odd phenomenon where dogmatic Christians are forced to deny the real Jesus, who felt it was his mission to break open boxes and acknowledge God as a mystery beyond the constructs of theology and the convictions of believers.

Provident Organizations

What’s going on when we read a best-seller about some innovative and industry-leading company, and then ten months later get the news that it’s falling apart and on the verge of bankruptcy? Obviously there’s some lag time between the research and when the finished book hit the shelves, but did the wheels come off that quickly? Really?

More likely, a toxic process was already metastasizing inside the corporate culture, carefully hidden from public view but felt by insiders long before.

You may be familiar with how it feels.

An organization is a social organism, a living thing in its own way. Which means that, like all living things, it has a lifespan and evolves through cycles of growth, stability, decline and death – or rebirth, if its members and leaders are paying attention and visionary enough to see new life on the other side.

One of the telltale signs of a culture becoming toxic, in fact, is an onset of dysfunctional leadership, where leaders lose the vision and start doing things that cause or contribute to organizational pathology. What kinds of things?

  • Requiring their approval on everything
  • Micromanaging their direct reports
  • Calling out and punishing creative risk-taking
  • Closing off feedback channels
  • Clutching credit and recognition for themselves

Instinctively, perhaps, a leader inside a toxic culture grows increasingly fixated on his or her own status, power, and job security, and less concerned about the organization they were hired to lead and serve.

Self-protection takes over, and self-transcendence – getting over themselves, thinking about the social organism and acting in the interest of its greater wellbeing – is no longer a priority.

A healthy organizational culture, on the other hand, is “tonic,” referring to a tonal strength that develops with stretching. Tonic cultures are flexible, adaptive, resilient and, as any stretching routine has the aim of increasing range of motion and establishing (or recovering) a new center of balance and control, more capable of responding creatively to the unexpected.

As regards leadership, tonic leaders are those who work consistently to keep the organization strong, centered, and sound (another derivation of the tone in tonic).

So, do pathological organizations produce dysfunctional leaders, or is it the other way around? Our modernity-conditioned preference for mechanistic models of unilinear causality tempts us to think it must be one or the other. But we have to remember that we are dealing with social organisms here, living systems and not machines.

The correct answer to our question is that pathological organizations and dysfunctional leaders are “comorbid” in toxic cultures, just as a dysfunctional heart (leader) is both cause and symptom of cardiovascular disease (in the organization).

In tonic cultures, leaders fiercely protect a safe and supportive environment where members can feel grounded, centered, connected and included in a “higher wholeness” that is purposeful, relevant, and worthwhile.

They are encouraged to take creative risks without fear of being punished if they fail. Whereas the switches, circuits, and gears in machines require regular maintenance and service, the spirit or lifeforce of an organization needs to be properly nourished, regularly exercised, and sufficiently rested to be healthy and strong.

The opposite of a pathological organization, then, is a “provident organization.” There should be a formal process for creating provident organizations, along with a badge that designates its collaborative accomplishment by leaders and members. In the future, companies, agencies, and teams will proudly wear their badge because it means they are being intentional in the work of building sustainable corporate and social cultures where everyone feels safe, supported, valued, and appreciated for their contribution to the whole.

When Gallup surveyed thousands of employees worldwide, a shocking 79 percent (in 2021; 87% in 2012) reported feeling “disengaged” or “actively disengaged” in their workplace.

The world of business reeled from the news.

Just imagine how employee disengagement translates into a damaged morale, plunging profitability, and market disadvantages. No wonder we are struggling! many leaders griped. These employees of ours are unmotivated and don’t care. They’re probably just sitting at their desks, surfing social media or taking naps. 

What did many of these leaders do? They implemented positive motivational incentives like recognition awards, and negative incentives like more frequent performance reviews, mandatory re-training, probations and threats of termination.

And what did that do? It confirmed but also amplified the experience employees were already having, of working in environments where it’s not safe to take risks, where open and inclusive community is not allowed, and where micromanagement suffocates the creative freedom and higher purpose in their work.

Many of these disengaged employees were not being lazy, but self-protective.

For many, disengagement is a coping strategy for moderating anxiety and preventing burnout. The effect of dysfunctional leadership and its various mechanisms for applying pressure to perform only makes the problem worse.

As a consequence, organizations become increasingly pathological, leaders grow more dysfunctional, and the whole thing rapidly collapses. Terminations, layoffs, downsizings and reorganizations are conducted in a panicked attempt to forestall bankruptcy and avoid terminal extinction.

It is precisely when members are starting to disengage that leaders need to resist their own self-protective impulses and “get over themselves.” Self-transcendence in leadership is enabled by a leader’s faith in his or her team and a corresponding vision of how they can, all together, meet the challenges and find opportunities in what’s before them.

In other words, the path to rebirth and new life for the organization does not involve bracing against reality and pressing down on employee performance, but stretching and re-centering the organization in a grounded sense of community and shared purpose.

As a social organism, an organization might have its anatomy represented in an “org chart,” but its life and wellbeing are a function of the flow of spirit or lifeforce through, across, and among those who fill that chart and personify it with living human beings.

We are coming to better understand the degree in which competitive success in the market is sustainably supported by a communal and cooperative spirit inside the provident organization. Only tonic cultures can flourish, adapt, and transform over time, by the inspiration and guidance of leaders who believe in their members and value human fulfillment over the bottom line.

The Four Human Force Fields

At some point along life’s way we feel an attraction, or perhaps metaphorically we hear a calling from beyond the boundary of what we know and who we are. Paradoxically, the source of this attraction or calling is not “out there” exactly, but “in here,” deeper within ourselves, a Beyond in the midst of our world, from the very Ground of our being.

It could be more of a push than a pull, more urgency than inspiration. Something inside of us is pressing forward and seemingly upward, toward a higher realization of what we might become. The Greek theologian and early Christian humanist Irenaeus of Lyon (c. 130-202 CE) understood it as the process, both evolutionary and redemptive, of our becoming more “fully human and fully alive.”

Think of the complications and certain self-destruction that would follow as a consequence of a caterpillar’s refusal to cooperate with the process of metamorphosis that intends to transform it into a butterfly. Or imagine what would happen if a seed insisted on “holding it together” and desperately clamped down on the vegetal life-force pressing for release.

If they possessed a will and self-interest of their own, and used these to fight the process of transformation, the butterfly and the plant wouldn’t be realized, and what is being “saved” by their willful resistance would suffer and rot inside. In striving to save their life, they would end up losing it instead, forfeiting fulfillment for security, liberation for identity, the predictable existence of a worm or seed for the higher mystery of what their nature intends to become.

Luckily for them, caterpillars and seeds don’t possess a self-conscious will that could refuse to go with the larger and longer life-process eventuating in butterflies and trees.

We might consider it unlucky that humans do, since so many of us willfully resist the evolutionary and redemptive force that would empower us to become fully human, fully alive.

Paradoxically, however, it is precisely this tragic liability, this freedom to choose against our higher nature, that is also a glorious gift. Therewith, we possess a unique ability to feel the attraction and hear the calling, but also to participate in the process, to consciously “let go” to our uplifting transformation and actively participate in it – even steer its course to some extent.

This may be why we have religion and caterpillars or seeds don’t.

My diagram above carries forward a model of human development that I’ve been working on for some time now. The larger process follows a zig-zag pattern starting at the bottom, zigging to the left, zagging to the right, and finally reaching completion at the top. Rather than being a terminal line, however, we should think of this as a system of dynamic interactions flowing up, down, and from side to side.

I propose that we think of the four points or stages along the way as “force fields,” each with its own energy, values, actions, and concerns.

As the purpose of this post is to better understand the forces in play at that moment when we feel the antagonism between our waking transpersonal butterfly and our self-conscious caterpillar self – that may only be dreaming of becoming a butterfly, I will aim our meditation on that more imminent zone of transformation.

We all start our journey as newborns fully immersed in the force field of Primal Instinct, where the animal nature of our living body attends to what it needs to survive and grow. Most of this activity is unconscious and compulsive, neither requiring nor even allowing our conscious control and direction. Its instincts are biologically ancient, driven by energies and guided by an intelligence that cares little, if at all, about what other’s think or what other plans we may have in place for the day ahead.

It’s not long before our family and larger society begin shaping us to the Tribal Conscience – who we are, what we believe, where we belong, and how we should behave. It is inside this force field of human development that we start to become somebody: a self-conscious actor of roles that we are given and roles we fall into, which eventually, with practice and social reinforcement, define our personal identity and connect us to the role plays of life in our tribe.

Having a mind of its own, the collective consciousness of society is dedicated to keeping us inside its protected membership, as “one of us.”

Inevitably, however, and following the impetus of our human development, we start to orient ourselves more on our own pursuit of happiness – or on what we believe will make us happy – than on the norms and expectations of our tribe. We are entering the force field of Personal Ambition.

Actually, our ambitions, or better I should say ambition itself was already being engineered and exploited in early childhood, through behavioral incentives used by our taller powers to motivate proper behavior and conformity to Tribal Conscience. It would only be a matter of developmental time before the twin motives of desire and fear (the ambi- in ambition) would move beyond stickers, spankings, lollipops, and timeouts, in service to our becoming somebody, managing an identity, impressing others, and (dammit) finding happiness.

We are all a little insecure as a consequence of growing up in a somewhat dysfunctional tribe, under taller powers who had their own issues. But even if everything in our background was perfect, the developmental achievement of forming an ego and becoming somebody unique and special, separate in our own way from everybody else, brings along with it a gathering sense of our isolation, exposure, and estrangement.

It’s this anxious vulnerability that more repressive and authoritarian tribes use to lure or compel naturally self-insecure teenagers back into the fold of “true believers” where they belong.

My diagram of the four force fields in human evolution, development, and redemption has a thin dashed arrow descending from Communal Wisdom back to Tribal Conscience, to indicate a progressive influence over time of a self-actualizing humanity on the collective consciousness of a people.

I’ve done it elsewhere and don’t have the space to defend it here, but my returning reader should recognize this as the threshold in religion where its constructs of God (mythological metaphors, artistic images, theological concepts) mediate between our minds and the present Mystery of Reality.

In contemplating these constructs, devotees begin to imitate, internalize, and then actively personify the divine virtues represented to them.

It’s been a slow process, to be sure, that has gotten hung up or thrown off course time and again.

As more individuals are willing to not just “let go and let god,” but to let go of god (the religious construct) for an experience of God (the present Mystery), religion itself can advance into wiser, more liberated, generous and more inclusive versions of itself over time.

This highest force field is much ignored these days, as more and more of us are preoccupied with our individual pursuit of happiness – or, more honestly, with our failing efforts at managing the frustration, anxiety, and depression that get in our way.

We don’t understand that these are really messages, letting us know that gripping down and hanging on is not The Way.