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

Hero’s Journey

Let’s get “mythological” for a few minutes.

You are the hero on a journey to find your true self. (Why you would have to go anywhere to find your true self is not something you pause to really think about.) On the way, you enter a bazaar where all kinds of costumes are available for you to try on, with the promise that perhaps one style in particular will reveal your true identity. But which one?

You quickly learn that these various costumes, uniforms, and outfits are associated with larger social settings, some more formal, some less so, but each one serving to identify you as a character in a role play. It also becomes obvious to you that your performance in any given role play successfully secures, or otherwise puts at risk, your status and reputation among others in the cast.

The better you are at playing a role and being the character they expect you to be, the stronger your compensation in the form of social approval and reward.

It’s not long before you come to understand that there are some aspects of your natural temperament, as well as talents and interests you naturally possess, which are incompatible with certain costumes and clearly not permitted on stage.

Because you value the recognition you receive when you perform a role as written, you submit to this morality of compliance by leaving those parts of yourself off stage and behind the curtain. In some cases, you have to work hard to keep them hidden, but the threat of losing your part in the play, of losing your identity and becoming a nobody, is enough to justify pushing some of your natural light into the shadow and out of sight.

When young Anakin Skywalker of the Star Wars saga eventually became dependent on his Suit to hold him together and keep him alive, the tragic loss of his true self was nearly complete. Joseph Campbell regarded this character arc as a particularly powerful depiction of what can happen when a hero’s true humanity is denied and abandoned in pursuit of social identity.

I think it was in The Return of the Jedi when [Luke] Skywalker unmasks his father [Anakin]. The father had been playing one of these machine roles, a state role. He was the uniform, you know? And [with] the removal of that mask, there was an undeveloped man there; there was a kind of worm. By being [the] executive of a system, one is not developing one’s humanity. I think that George Lucas really, really did a beautiful thing there.

joseph campbell and The Power of myth, episode 2: “the message of the myth”

The great lesson of that moment in the story, or rather the great question is, How much of your true self have you abandoned or suppressed in order to fit into a Suit and be somebody others accept and approve? Anakin’s journey was redemptive in the end, as he “returned” to his humanity in the final moments of his life. Not every hero’s journey has a happy ending, however, with too many dying inside identities they mistakenly believe will save them from a lonely life of anonymity.

While all that drama, of pushing your natural light off stage and playing out an identity that others and the larger society want you to be, is exhausting – unnerving, crazy-making, frustrating, disappointing, and ultimately not fulfilling – it may come as a surprise to learn that your liberation from suffering is possible now. Right now. Not up ahead or later on, but this moment.

Something is required of you, however, which means that any doubt, hesitation, or resistance on your part will only delay your salvation – the “return” to your true self and full humanity.

What must you do? Surrender the Suit, take off the identity, and step out of character. (Be prepared, for others on stage will not be happy with you.) Exit the stage and descend by a back stairway into the nether-realm of your Shadow, where those banished and forgotten powers are locked away.

While mythology often depicts the Shadow as a menacing and diabolical force, this only proves the psychospiritual principle which states that the power of darkness (or the Dark Side) is in direct and equal measure to your passion in suppressing the light you believe makes you unacceptable to others. Your Shadow is the No! that hides and holds your light.

Now, without the trance of orthodoxy calling down to the stage and directing the action, telling you how you should act and what you should believe and how you should feel, you can finally take back your light and become whole again.

This is the moment of conversion (Greek metanoia, or “new mind”), where the veil parts and the hero, who had been in pursuit of a far-off treasure, realizes that it has been in their possession all along. A divided consciousness, split by a hanging partition of ignorance, conviction, and amnesia, gives way at last to a unified vision.

Liberated now from the self-destructive tension between the Suit and the Shadow, you can be fully present to what’s real, to the present mystery of Reality. A fully embodied experience opens a descending path to the quiet inner life of your Soul, where “human” relaxes in communion with “being.” Because you have been chasing along the horizontal axis of time for so long, this 90° shift in awareness will at first feel awkward and difficult to sustain.

As with everything else in life, though, consistent practice will strengthen this meditative skill and it won’t be long before getting grounded and staying present are effortless.

Ascending along this same axis of a vertical (or unified) vision brings you into the transpersonal realm of spiritual community, where you and everything else are co-participants in a higher wholeness. In contrast to the descending path, which entailed a gradual release of your unique center of identity to an ineffable experience of “no-self,” this ascending path involves a gathering up into yourself of what you have to offer the greater harmony of beings. Just as with breathing (the Latin spiritus means breath), your Spirit joins the conspiracy (breathing together) of a universal fellowship.

Self-transcendence (leaping out), then, is your way up to community; self-surrender (letting go) is your way down to the ground.

The mythological archetype of the Hero’s Journey, of your great adventure in search of true self, was designed to help you wake up to your life, take back your light, and become whole again.

Perhaps it’s time to take that mask off.

Fetal Personhood?

In State legislatures, courtrooms, college dorms and dive bars across the country people are debating whether a human fetus should be considered a person, and therefore respected as possessing an unalienable right to life. Proponents of the idea want to push this identity of a person as far back in time as possible, through embryonic stages and even to the moment of conception.

You might wonder what such a recognition of personhood in a human fetus is intended to accomplish.

We’ll look deeper into the definition of “person” and “personhood” in a bit, but at least for now we should assume that the reason has to do with the philosophical conception of a person as someone who is protected under the Law from murder, injury, abuse, bondage, theft, or discrimination.

From a purely biological point of view, this claim could be made on behalf of a human fetus simply because it is a human fetus and not some other animal species. It is “on the way,” as it were, to becoming a fully formed human, not a fish or a horse.

This has in fact been a foundational argument against abortion for many decades, situated in a value context of religious beliefs that has even motivated a defense against contraception, since it too interferes with god’s design for the reproduction and flourishing of life.

So, given this historical background, why would anyone believe it necessary to award personhood to an already dignified and presumably sacred human being? Perhaps it has to do with the statistically evident fact that children, the poor, minority groups, and women throughout our nation’s history have been abused, exploited, and oppressed – even though they too are presumably human beings and made in god’s image.

If being human isn’t sufficient to warrant protection under the Law, then perhaps adding this designation of person and personhood will do the trick.

The hypocrisy of defending a fetus’ right to life, but then doing nothing to provide children the protection, healthcare, education and empowerment they need to thrive in society, explodes its defense as utterly lacking integrity and ethical vision. Calling a fetus a “person” does nothing to address how we treat persons on the postpartum side of the line. Indeed, given our record on this side, assigning personhood to a fetus might very well have an opposite effect from what these apologists and legislators are pushing for.

But there’s something else. The anti-abortion movement, consisting mainly of conservative evangelicals but supported by some liberal humanists as well, is exposing its lack of understanding when it comes to what makes someone a person and in possession of personhood.

If they persist in their efforts, their cause will only amplify the confusion and eventually fall apart into noisy nonsense.

By definition – and this is always a good place to begin – “person” (along with its cognates personal, personality, and personhood) refers to a fictional character played, or personified, by a stage actor back in Greek and Roman times. The actor would dress the part, take his or her place on the stage, and speak their lines through a mask equipped with a fluted opening at the mouth, from which our term per- (through) sona (speak) derives.

During the theatrical performance, this fictional character would come alive by the animating talent of the actor, engaging with other personae in various settings and delivering to the audience a convincing dramatic rendition.

A person, then, is a narrative convention, not a natural (or even supernatural) entity. Additionally, a person, this mask of identity, has no life apart from the actor, or ego, who puts it on and animates the character. The mask, as it were, is a mediating symbol between the actor who plays the part and the character who comes to life on stage. The psychologist Carl Jung regarded the persona and its personality as a transactional complex of psychosocial identity that is constructed in the crucible of our family and tribal systems.

We can think of it as the costume that culture puts over nature, in order to channel its energies into the great and small stories that give us purpose and make our lives meaningful.

And then there’s the ego itself, which is the actor who puts on, pretends to be, and plays out the identity of a character. Society is its theater, the wide variety of social settings are its performance stage, and social interactions themselves are the role plays where identity is defined and developed.

There is considerable evidence to suggest that ego only wakes up to its own existence inside these character roles and masks of identity. Apart from them – and certainly prior to their introduction in the process of socialization – there is no ego, no “I” without a persona, no actor before there is someone to act as and act out to others.

It is only in the second year of life (postpartum) that a child has acquired enough language to appreciate the fictional characters in story, and sufficient imagination to begin pretending and inhabiting those and other roles of identity. Developmentally speaking, before this ignition of linguistic intelligence, they are neither a person, in possession of personhood, nor yet have the capacity to engage the world from a self-conscious center of personal identity.

It is simply a category mistake of the first order to assign personhood to a fetus. To do so is confused and confusing. Chasing such an argument to its logical conclusion will effectively abort the conviction that its proponents are trying so desperately to deliver.

Whole-Brain Education

The education system today directs almost all of its attention and resources to the brain’s left hemisphere. More specifically to the areas in the left hemisphere that contribute to logical and analytical problem solving – competencies at the forefront of science, technology, engineering and math (the STEM disciplines).

It’s these functions that will continue to be taken over by computers and robots, eventually leaving the heroic left hemisphere all alone in the back alley of cultural progress.

Actually, students have been feeling this way for generations now. They are expected to show up to class, soak in the information, give it back on tests, and ride the escalator to graduation. By that time they will have forgotten most of it, feeling cheated out of the best years of their lives.

You might wonder what education would be like, were it to dedicate attention and resources to the whole brain. It wouldn’t ignore or downplay left-hemisphere virtues, but so much more of the picture would be included: Its quirky, creative neighbor to the right. The constant activity in the limbic apartment below. And the mysterious noises sounding up from deep in the basement.

Of course I am using an analogy here, but the image of a multilevel apartment building is helpful when considering what ‘whole-brain’ education would look like.

Let’s begin where the focus is currently, but expand our frame to include both hemispheres of the cerebral cortex. The brain’s evolution entailed an important differentiation that located specialized nuclei and networks in particular lobes, with the two hemispheres playing complementary roles in the higher-order processing known as critical and contextual reasoning (CCR).

Critical is derived from the root meaning “to cut,” and it is a left-hemisphere specialty to cut and break things down into their elements, analyzing wholes into their component parts.

Given this predilection of the left hemisphere for critical reasoning, we can also see how the education system itself, at least in Western and developed countries, is a product of breaking student populations into levels (primary, elementary, secondary, post-secondary, graduate, doctorate), each level into grades or years, each grade into subjects and courses, and each course into sections, assignments, and assessments.

It all makes perfect sense – to the left hemisphere.

But students often get lost in the mix, stuck and disoriented, unclear about why it’s necessary and where it’s all heading. The conventional answer to that last question is to get a job, where they will likely work in a department, in a skill caste, on a team, doing things that somehow add up to meaningful wholes – but that frequently remains an elusive goal.

What’s missing is a contextual understanding of how things connect and comprise larger patterns and realities. This would be the right hemisphere’s contribution, were it invited to the conversation.

Critical and contextual reasoning keeps the bigger picture in view (or the ideal in mind) as the pieces are analyzed, defined, manipulated and mastered along the way.

This optimal balance of the brain hemispheres is about much more than equal contributions, however. The right hemisphere and its contextual reasoning actually has deeper affiliations than the left with the brain’s limbic system – that downstairs apartment where strange, non-rational things are always going on.

An evolutionarily older network of nuclei than those higher-order processes transpiring upstairs, the limbic system is where intuitive information from the body’s interior and sensory information from its external environment are synced up to produce behavioral responses that are situationally adaptive.

A perceived threat in the environment, for example, will “call up” a fear response in the body and motivate us away from the danger in order to avoid injury or death – which is obviously adaptive.

The limbic or “old mammalian” brain is constantly monitoring and adjusting this alignment of our internal state and external conditions, opening attention to the settings and situations in which we find ourselves. Here is the primitive foundation to what will later evolve into the right hemisphere’s talent for contextual reasoning, adding its own complexity and sophistication, along with a much broader and more versatile emotional repertoire.

This same affective versatility is what supports social and emotional learning (SEL).

The education system largely ignores the social and emotional intelligence of students – until, that is, it breaks out of line and disrupts the fixed routines of instruction. As a consequence, students are not only disoriented without a contextual understanding of what’s going on (right hemisphere deficit), but they don’t know how to connect and relate to their teachers, to each other, and to the curriculum in ways that could arouse interest and promote genuine learning (limbic deficit).

If students can’t and are not supported in learning how to show empathy, build rapport, get along and work together, the higher-order challenge of developing contextual reasoning will be inherently compromised.

A whole-brain model for education is not yet fully in view, for there remains the basement of our apartment building to consider. Beneath the cortex and limbic system and functioning as the boiler room for the entire complex is the brainstem, with its primal responsibility of regulating the vital functions of the body. Running alongside and up from the deep interior of the body, kundalini-link, is the vagus nerve, which serves a crucial role in “tuning” the nervous system.

When we take some deep breaths, roll our shoulders and relax, we are adjusting the vagal tone of our nervous system. Pushing our chair away from a desk full of deadlines, taking a break and going outside for a walk, even the purely mental exercise of telling ourselves it’s not the end of the world or that we did it once so we can do it again – all of these are proven effective practices for adjusting vagal tone and regulating our internal state. They belong to the category of vagal tone regulation (VTR) strategies, which you might guess are foundational skills of life, learning, maturity, and a general sense of wellbeing.

But the education system doesn’t waste time on them, either. What does the body’s nervous state have to do with academic performance and student success? Everything!

If students don’t know how (because it hasn’t been modeled or intentionally taught) to access, monitor, adjust, and regulate their nervous systems, then the natural limbic response of anxiety before a high-stakes exam will degrade the higher functions of mental focus, accurate recall, contextual and critical reasoning, resulting in performance outcomes that do not reflect their true intelligence, knowledge, desire to learn, or dedication to study.

We have learned enough about the human brain, that it’s time for an overhaul of our education system. Instead of fixating on the admittedly important skills of critical reasoning, how about we deliberately and systematically include the equally important skills of contextual reasoning, social and emotional learning, and helping students more effectively manage the stress of learning and life?

We have everything we need now to change the game – at last and for good.

Against Democracy

The mainline tradition of Christian orthodoxy represents the cumulative efforts over several centuries to translate the mythological milieu of early Christian experience into a dogmatic system of fixed beliefs. Quickly, and increasingly so over time, these beliefs came to operate as the framework of a Christian worldview, in addition to serving as standards and requirements for membership.

An emerging orthodox Christianity intentionally, and very systematically, delegitimated two other early traditions which still exist to this day. The first of these is centered in the life and teachings of Jesus, regarded as a revealer of wisdom and social revolutionary in the way he challenged status quo religion and morality, ultimately giving his life as a champion and liberator of the human spirit.

Because his singular mission was “to set free those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18), Jesus was profoundly unacceptable to any institution that sought to burden its constituents with oppressive standards (i.e., doctrines) of belief.

Orthodoxy’s solution was to convert Jesus into an object of dogmatic statements, shifting focus from the beliefs of Jesus (i.e., what Jesus himself believed and how he lived out his beliefs) to beliefs about Jesus (e.g., his virgin birth and divine nature). Needless to say, the latter were also much easier to formalize, legislate, and enforce.

A second minority tradition in Christianity that orthodoxy deliberately excludes has its roots not in history exactly, but in experience, specifically the mystical experience of boundless presence, communion, and wellbeing. Christian mysticism is also problematic for orthodoxy, not so much for its liberationist ethic, as in the case against Jesus, but because it subordinates doctrine to experience – or as we might say today, formal religion to a more fluid spirituality.

According to the Christian mystical tradition, beliefs cannot save anyone, and God is not an object but rather a symbol or nickname for the grounding mystery and communal spirit present in all things.

So now, sufficiently severed from the lifelines of Jesus’ ethical vision and the inner mystery of spiritual experience, Christian orthodoxy took up the business of institutionalizing beliefs, managing its membership, spreading the ideology and prosecuting heresies of every kind. What follows are a few main points from the belief system of orthodox Christianity.

1. God is the “King of kings” and “Lord of lords.”

This idea is an obvious holdover from archaic (biblical) times, when human governments were arranged hierarchically and ruled from above by pharaohs, monarchs, and emperors. Many hymns and praise songs of orthodox and evangelical Christianity today energetically promote the belief in a cosmic monarchy and political autocracy, singing enthusiastically and sentimentally of abasing ourselves at the feet of god or Jesus, of worshiping and glorifying our King, of serving and submitting ourselves to the commanding majesty of our Lord.

2. Humans are naturally selfish, sinful, and hell-bound.

A corollary to the belief in a god who exists outside us and above the world is the view of human nature (humans as they are by nature) as spiritually vacuous, deficient, wayward, and corrupt. With nothing good in us and nothing good about us, except what might be granted or added to us by the grace of our King and Lord, our only hope lies in god’s hands and in the authority of his Church. As divinity resides exclusively in god and god resides in heaven above the world, we have no inherent dignity or spiritual virtue in ourselves just as we are. Instead we are selfish by nature, sinful through and through, and destined for everlasting punishment – which we fully deserve.

3. Jesus is coming again – and someday soon! – to close the curtain on history and take all true believers with him back to heaven.

Orthodox Christianity has been anticipating Jesus’ return for the past nearly 2,000 years. Expectations ramp up predictably in times of social upheaval, cultural decline, or general disenchantment with the world as it is. The idea of a curtain-closing finale to history and a last-minute escape from the collapsing world-order (and planetary ecosystem) is highly attractive, particularly to those who also believe that the world is corrupt, human nature is full of sin, and god alone can save us.

Not surprisingly the belief in a savior’s rescue act, and the prospect of getting saved out of circumstances we deeply feel we cannot change, has been a best-selling marketing hook throughout Christian history.

More could be added to this short list of dogmatic beliefs driving so much of orthodox Christianity. I am tempted to also include the doctrine of “redemptive violence” (aka substitutionary atonement), which codified the idea that the violent death of Jesus on a cross was god’s preferred way of satisfying justice and putting things right.

But these three are enough to make my point. Taken together, the popular Christian beliefs (1) in a god-king and divine autocracy, (2) in the inherent depravity of human nature, and (3) in a future rescue when we can say a final goodbye to all our problems – leave little doubt as to why democracy in America might be struggling to survive.

Because American society is but a relatively recent incarnation of the longer Western cultural heritage, and given that Western culture underwent a radical makeover under the influence of orthodox Christianity, the larger cultural atmosphere enveloping American democracy contains deadly toxins (in these three dogmatic beliefs alone) that must inevitably bring about its demise.

We shouldn’t be so shocked that a large number of American citizens and their (mostly Republican) leaders today are working legislatively, as well as violently, to tear down the institutions of democracy and erect a monarchical, top-down, autocratic power structure in its place.

How can we trust each other when everyone is inherently selfish and fundamentally untrustworthy? How can we work together for the improvement of our political system, our economy, the common good, and for the recovery of Earth’s biodiversity when we can’t trust each other to do what is best for everyone?

Besides, if we believe the worst in human beings, can much good come out of ourselves? And if we are expected to wait for our mandate from “on high,” then why should we respect or have any regard for the ‘will of the people’?

Our best hope, it would seem, and really our only recourse, is to look to a future when our savior will come to airlift us out of this mess.

The Garden of Intention

A significant consequence of our fast-paced, distracted, and unsustainable way of life is that our brief glimpses into the enduring truths of existence are almost as quickly forgotten. It’s not that we’re any less intelligent than our ancestors were. We certainly know a lot more; or maybe I should say that we have a lot more information than they did. But we just don’t give the same quality time and caring attention to meditating on what really matters – not anymore.

The flashes come, but then we’re off to something else.

A much-loved metaphor from the perennial tradition of spiritual teachings (Sophia Perennis) invites us to think of our life as a Garden of Intention. If you’ve ever tended a garden of flowers, vegetables, shrubs or trees, you know how important it is to ensure that seeds have the water and nutrients they need, that weeds and pests are kept out, and that your growing plants have the proper exposure to sunlight and temperate conditions.

You can’t just toss seeds on the ground and walk away.

There’s no doubt that we today have all the essential seeds for living healthy, happy, and harmonious lives on Earth. And yet, an alarming percentage of our present population is clinically unhealthy, chronically unhappy, and perpetually in conflict with each other and the larger web of life – more so than any generation and civilization before us. We have at our fingertips a vast library of ancient and timeless wisdom, uploaded from every quarter of the globe and cultural heritage.

And yet we appear to be spinning out of control, lost and disoriented among the volumes, wandering aimlessly through the stacks of volumes and alcoves of stacks that contain all we need to be healthy, happy, and whole. That library of ancient and timeless wisdom is analogous to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, where the biodiversity of food crop seeds are currently safeguarded from total extinction that may occur due to agricultural mismanagement, crop failure, species devastation and catastrophic disease.

What we need right now is not more information but a proven method for sowing seeds of insight, cultivating genuine understanding, and harvesting the inspiration and guidance of true wisdom. Thankfully, along with the library or vault of wisdom seeds, we already have access to the know-how (i.e., the method) for becoming wise.

Given the prescient naming of our species, Homo sapiens or “wise one,” this is an opportunity to live into our nature and fulfill our destiny.

Before we take a closer look at this method for becoming wise, and therefore also more fully human, let’s resolve not to wait on others to get started or take our cue from what they are currently doing or not doing. While it is certainly true that wisdom is a cumulative feature of cultural evolution, its progress is measured only at the level of individuals and their daily life choices.

We can no longer allow the inertia and confusion of others be our reason for putting it off.

Returning to the Garden of Intention metaphor, we will follow a method for becoming wise through three major stages of spiritual growth: Insight, Understanding, and Wisdom. We can further clarify these stages according to their characteristic forms: the SEED of Insight, the BODY of Understanding, and the FRUIT of Wisdom.

As a garden of intention, we are reminded of the critical role that mindful stewardship and creative purpose play in managing the conditions in which wisdom can flourish. Managing these conditions entails five specific intentions, correlated with the stages of Insight, Understanding, and Wisdom proper. Let’s explore them in their developmental sequence.

Intuition is often regarded as a kind of intelligence in its own right, but as I’m using it here it refers to the introspective turn of consciousness to its own depths, and the retrieval from those depths of truths that we already know subconsciously but rarely if ever apprehend in our conscious awareness. They come as “flashes” and in “lightbulb moments,” when our mind is on other things or playing among the free associations of a dream. As such, these insight-seeds present themselves spontaneously to our attention, breaking in from the margins of active thought.

Like the soil of a fertile garden, intuition is a mind open and receptive to an ‘aha!’ from beyond.

Mythology worldwide depicts this arrival or “advent” of truth as revelation, literally referring to the moment when a veil is pulled back on something previously concealed or hidden from view. As a spiritual intention, revelation involves a more sustained attention to the alien character of an insight, to the fact and degree in which it breaks through the tapestry of our assumed picture of the world. According to this meaning, revelation is not simply what happens to us (as with an insight), but signals the onset of disillusionment whereby our mind is forced to surrender – or at least reconsider – its operating beliefs under the light of Truth.

In the Garden of Intention, weeds, rocks, birds and pests can interfere with the health and survival of seedlings (i.e., fresh insights and developing revelations). Cultivation is the specific intention that tends the soil, removes impediments, and guards against potentially damaging threats. It’s not just about taking things away and keeping things out, however. The soil must also be invigorated from time to time with water and essential nutrients. As an analogy, cultivation here involves building on the insight and replacing the veil of illusion with a reality-oriented understanding.

What was revealed becomes an informing principle of a new vision.

Every new insight and ensuing revelation must gradually push its roots deeper into the ground for the support and material elements it needs to grow. In terms of spiritual intentions, this disciplined practice of a deepening meditation is called contemplation. Here our mind drops below the reciprocal (back-and-forth) functions of analysis and synthesis, seeking to anchor our new understanding and emerging worldview in the grounding reality of being, in our own innermost depths.

In contemplation we release and descend to the inner sanctum of a present Mystery and boundless Presence, to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called the “beyond in the midst of our lives” (Letters and Papers from Prison, 1951).

We are identifying the fulfillment of Wisdom with the fruiting tree because it is ultimately about creative expression, productive virtue, and the actualization of hidden insights and breakthrough revelations in a consistent way of life. This is the point at which we can see the difference between a truth merely understood and one that is embodied, personified, and demonstrated in purposive action.

A “life of wisdom” is one that seeks reconciliation and actively promotes unity by the embodiment of compassion, forgiveness, and an all-embracing love.

In Christian mythology this is where the generative principle of “the Father” (Ground), centered by the individuative principle in “the Son” (Ego), flows outward and across the manifold of creation by the unitive principle of “the Spirit” (Community). The Greek name for Wisdom is Sophia, as in philosophy (love of wisdom) and the Sophia Perennis (the perennial tradition of spiritual wisdom). Personified as feminine, Sophia is what connects and includes all things in a higher wholeness.

This entire process – germinating with Insight, developed through Understanding, and culminating in Wisdom – is not actually linear but circular, where new seeds are contained in the fruit and ready to fall into fertile soil.

Becoming All That We Are

One of the most fascinating examples of creative change in nature is the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Genetically the two organisms at either end are identical, and yet they are so different from each other in every other way, that unless you watched the whole event with unblinking eyes, you’d never believe it.

Remarkably, the caterpillar has in its body a population of micro-organisms called imaginal cells, which its immune system actually suppresses and tries to destroy.

After gorging itself on leaves, the caterpillar hangs upside-down from a branch and spins a silken cocoon around itself, called a chrysalis. Once sealed up inside, the insect falls dormant and its innards slowly turn into a goopy plasma. Soon thereafter, these imaginal cells begin to multiply, connect, and differentiate into the body of a butterfly, which, once fully formed, climbs out of its incubation chamber and into the sunlight where it will dry out, unfurl its wings, and glide away through the open air.

Does this sound at all familiar to you? It should, because it’s essentially the same process of transformation that you are in the midst of right now.

You were born, however long ago, as offspring to human parents who were themselves descendants of countless generations of a highly evolved animal species called homo sapiens. Your sentient body arrived already programmed with basic urgencies (e.g., the pressing need for water, nourishment, and oxygen), along with drives, reflexes, and instincts that have secured human survival on this planet for many millenniums.

Just as with the caterpillar, these critical codes of your basic animal nature were fully engaged in their work long before you became aware of it, and they have operated continuously under the radar of your conscious awareness ever since.

Not long after your birth, your parents and the larger society got busy training and shaping you into “one of us” – that is to say, into a well-behaved member of the group. Those instinctual bonds of your basic nature were exploited in the work of constructing an identity that exhibited the same general preferences, attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs as others around you.

If we’re tracking with the process of metamorphosis, then this socially constructed self and its deputized center of self-conscious identity, called the ego (“I”), corresponds to that middle stage when the caterpillar is zipping up and falling asleep inside its cocoon.

We sometimes refer to your well-practiced and habitual ways of acting, thinking, and responding to things as a “second nature,” indicating an awareness of the fact that this conditioned behavior is different from those instinctual patterns mentioned earlier. They belong to a distinct system of codes that you learned over time, some by social instruction and moral discipline, and some through the more or less random curriculum of life experience.

It seems strange to characterize ego consciousness and your second nature as somehow dormant inside a cocoon of personal identity and its quality world, until we are reminded that the term “personal” derives from the Latin persona, referring to a stage actor’s mask. Even though it all seems very real and serious to you on the inside, the whole construction of identity – the masks, roles, stories, and scripts – is literally made up and played out on the performance stages of tribal life.

All of that overlay of social meaning encapsulates consciousness, serving as a kind of incubation chamber where animal instinct will be transformed into spiritual aspiration – but first by taking on the persona of someone who belongs here, believes these things, and behaves as everyone else expects.

You can’t see it now, and you won’t until this cultural cocoon starts to split open to the light and vast sky beyond, but what you think is real is really an elaborate illusion, a veil over your mind, a meaningful dream but a dream nonetheless.

The dream of meaning is not without its purpose, however, for in the dream-state of your second nature, all those stories of heroes, saints, and world saviors who break through to the liberated life and reveal the way for others, have been sowing inside you the imaginal seeds of a higher nature. When the time is right (kairos in Greek), your butterfly self will outgrow the cocoon of your caterpillar self and something will have to give.

If things go according to design, all that moral and mental conditioning – the identity contracts, shared assumptions, social attachments, and personal ambitions that constituted your second nature – will split at the seams and let you out. Just as the chrysalis is but a stage in the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly, so too is the cocoon of your personal identity only a transitional stage, crucial but not final, in your full transformation as a human manifestation of Being.

In my illustration above, three frames isolate the stages of transformation and define two critical thresholds in-between. The first threshold is where your caterpillar self, or basic nature, begins the work, in obedience to your tribal taller powers, of dream-spinning around itself a quality world and personal identity. And the second threshold is the moment when this improvised construction of meaning becomes suddenly (or so it can seem) too confining, oppressive, and stifling – incapable of accommodating the new dimensions of your higher nature.

As an enthusiastic apostle of post-theism, I want to meditate a bit longer on this second threshold of transformation. Theism is a second-stage, second-nature, ego-centered type of religion dedicated to the work of authorizing a coherent worldview, propagating an orthodox system of beliefs, coordinating a collective way of life, mediating a grand myth of salvation, and inculcating a binary morality of right and wrong.

All of this is regarded by believers as the creation and sovereign will of a god (Greek theos) who blesses and protects them in exchange for their worship and obedience.

In healthy theism, the virtues of god as depicted in scripture, glorified in corporate worship, and contemplated in personal devotion are initially acknowledged as divine exceptions, which devotees can only petition and extol. Over time, however, the pedagogy of religious instruction begins to shift these exalted virtues into the range of ethical ideals that believers are exhorted to imitate, “follow,” and exemplify in their daily lives.

We can think of these discrete virtues of god (such as forbearance, compassion, beneficence, and forgiveness) on the analogy of imaginal cells or seeds, planted early and eventually taking root, fusing together, and differentiating into a new and higher nature, whereby a Gautama becomes a Buddha (“awakened one”), and a Jesus becomes a Christ (“anointed/empowered one”). If references to god persist, it is now as the divine-within, the inner teacher, the Spirit of Love and Freedom.

Post-theism, then, is not a “one-world religion” where the distinctive voices of our historical traditions are silenced and left behind in a pre-enlightened past. Instead, it advocates for integrity and genuine health in all forms of theism, so that they can be ready when the time comes, to encourage and assist in a believer’s spiritual breakthrough to the liberated life.

Meditation on a Tree

Sometimes it’s easier to understand ourselves by using something else as our lens. Let’s take that tree outside your window.

As an analogy, this particular example is especially helpful given that a tree is rooted in the ground, growing up and out to participate in its local and regional ecosystem. Lots of fascinating connotations attach to this reality of the ground: how its dark, deep, and hidden mystery provides the support and nourishment that a tree requires to live and grow.

Mystical traditions around the world have contemplated these virtues of the ground in their favored metaphor of Being-itself: of the grounding Mystery, Ground of Being, essential Reality, the Being in beings, and creative Source of all things.

Your tree has grown up from the ground and into its distinctive BODY by a kind of extroverted (upward and outward) flow of energy. It also reaches back down into the ground by an introverted (inward and downward) channel, which you can think of as its SOUL. Through its root system, the tree seeks out deeper sources of minerals, water, and other essential elements.

You might imagine this communion of the tree and its ground as a dark, still, and silent place – a wellspring of quiet presence and deep inner peace. This is where the tree “goes” to find solitude.

Let’s just continue with this imaginative exercise of personifying the tree outside your window by further imagining that it possesses some sense of itself as a centered individual. There is clearly an intelligence that informs its structure and governs the circulation of its life-energy. It wouldn’t be such a stretch to acknowledge this as the MIND of the tree, or as the power of mind in the tree.

Mind, here, simply refers to the tree’s capacity of sentience: that it can sense the energy and warmth of the sun, the location of water and various nutrient deposits, the strain of the wind on its limbs, maybe even the weight of birds on its branches and the vibration of bees in its flowers. Inside all of these peripheral sensations is the tree’s sense of itself as their center, witness, and observer.

If your tree has a sense of itself as a centered individual, then perhaps it also possesses an EGO – a self-conscious identity (“I”) as one tree among many, occupying this spot in the yard, trying to figure out the meaning of existence and the purpose of life. Gathering its power of mind into a center of self-conscious identity has the interesting effect of drawing some of its sentience away from the ground beneath, as well as bringing into relief the fact that there are other individuals close by and farther away.

As a consequence of its growing self-preoccupation, that introverted channel to a grounded inner peace is no longer as carefully attended. And there is a growing concern as well over what its neighbors are up to. Can they be trusted?

Paradoxically, this emergent ability to regard others has opened another, subtler, line of perception – almost as if your tree can feel what they are feeling, even if it is only remembering, imagining, and projecting into them what it has experienced for itself.

This – what is it? – empathic intuition suggests the existence of a kind of connective web stretching between, across, and throughout the multiplicity of things. The tree’s acute sense of separation, which followed as a consequence of consciousness contracting into its own individual center of self-conscious identity, was, oddly enough, a prerequisite to this awareness of participating with others in a vibrant web of life.

Connection bridges over separation and actually preserves the distance it overcomes. In other words, if not for the fact of having a separate center, only as it successfully becomes an individual and impounds a unique subjective sense of itself (ego), the tree would not have the awareness or capacity to feel connected to something else.

Of course, on its lonelier days you would have a tough time convincing your tree of this truth.

Our meditation on the tree outside your window is not quite finished. The presence of a sympathetic web connecting it to its neighbors, and to all the other others – separate individuals of every kind and variety – elevates your tree’s awareness to the mystery of a higher wholeness, a grand unity or community of beings. If mind is the intelligence informing and governing its internal life, then HEART names the intelligence that resonates with and reaches out to others.

The tree is not merely a passive component in this integral wholeness, however. By contributing its own gifts to the greater whole, it actively serves to create and sustain the community in which it belongs. In concert with all the others, it generates a synergy of holistic consciousness, a communal SPIRIT that is more than the mere sum of the parts. The back-and-forth of relationship energizes their bonds, lifting partners into higher and higher registers of mutual engagement (1+1=3), approaching an ever more perfect union where All is One.

That tree outside your window can now be appreciated for the astonishing miracle it is: grounded in Being, centered in itself, connected to others, and in harmony with it All.

This is the way it’s meant to be. This is The Way.

Five Aspirations

Damn, if it doesn’t keep happening.

We set our sights and give chase to something we expect will satisfy our longing – for what exactly, we’re not sure, but this might be it. After it’s over, and even if we managed to grab on and gulp down the promising thing, we feel more unsatisfied and now freshly disappointed. Not quite disillusioned, unfortunately, which would suggest that the delusional expectation itself was misguided and we have finally come to see the truth.

No, not disillusioned, only disappointed. We just need a little time to process our resentment before we get back in the game.

A key chapter from the metaphysical Book of Wisdom – referring to the shared depository of spiritual wisdom across cultures and passed down through the generations (aka the Perennial Philosophy or Sophia Perennis) – would invite us to pause just a little longer at this crucial moment and not jump back in too quickly.

Ideally our chronic disappointment might be cultivated into actual disillusionment, where we break free from the fallacies and faulty thinking that have been driving us down the road to inevitable suffering.

Wisdom seeks to educate us on the difference between our physical appetites, emotional passions, and ego ambitions on one side, and our spiritual longing on the other. Qualifying this longing as “spiritual” is not to suggest that its object is heavenly, divine, or supernatural.

In fact – and this is a critically important point – spiritual longing doesn’t have an object, because it isn’t striving for or toward anything in particular. Instead what it seeks is wholeness, harmony, wellbeing, and fulfillment – what Jesus called “abundant life.” It’s about the depth and quality of experience, not merely the pursuit of something, which is what our delusional state has us mistakenly believe.

A helpful analogy is the way a beam of white light disperses through a prism into a spectrum of colors or chromatic frequencies. The beam of white light is our spiritual longing, and the distinct bands of color are what I will call the Five Aspirations. Importantly, the white light is not something other than the color bands, but is “essence” to their “expression” of the same elementary phenomenon.

For us, the Five Aspirations are how spiritual longing is expressed and played out in the realm of our everyday human experience.

Before we explore the Five Aspirations directly, it will be helpful to place them inside a frame of human development theory. My diagram identifies the major stages, using terms I’ve been refining over many years and in this blog. I won’t take time here explaining the terms, but merely assume that my reader is familiar enough with them. A watermark image in the background, of the stages in the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly, is a useful gestalt to hold in mind as we go.

Basically, human psychospiritual development begins in the “caterpillar” stage of our animal nature, in the sentient life of our body. From there it differentiates into the “chrysalis” or “cocoon” stage of egoic consciousness, centered in personal integrity and gathering a capacity for self-transcendence. But while many developmental theories regard this stage as the highest plateau to be achieved, a psychospiritual approach identifies a further stage – the fully formed and liberated “butterfly” – at a level of consciousness named spiritual community (or communal spirit).

The ultimate aim of our psychospiritual development, then, is to be included in and contribute to the higher wholeness of transpersonal fellowship, together-as-one (com+unitas).

With that framework in place, we can now look more closely at the Five Aspirations and get a better appreciation for how they fit into the larger picture. We will begin at the middle of my diagram, exactly where each of us comes to awareness of ourselves as a centered ego, indicated by an orange circle.

For so long, our developing consciousness was asleep; or better yet, it was under hypnosis (entranced, spellbound) as society was busy downloading and installing all the codes and instructions that would define our identity: who we are, where we belong, what to believe, and how we should behave as a member of this family, this tribe, this culture.

At this very location, of what Dante calls “the middle of the journey of our life,” spiritual longing awakens in us the aspiration for creative freedom, to break out of the confining “cocoon” of our social identity, to start choosing the life we want and creating the world in which we want to live. The painful part of this aspiration may be a feeling that our current identity and the conventional world are too small for our spirit, that unless something opens up to let us breathe and expand, we might succumb to depression and despair.

This is typically when our tribe (e.g., our family, party, or religion) will try to pull us back inside, tightening the seams and patching up the tears in our chrysalis – in what is known as a “fundamentalist regression” to the way things were.

As we allow ourselves to go with this creative freedom, persisting through the social pressures and our own neurotic cravings for security and control, spiritual longing will open further to the aspiration for higher purpose.

Not to be reduced to mere goals, objectives, projects, missions, or even “god’s plan for my life,” purpose here is about the quality of intention – of living on purpose and with purpose. Higher purpose is the investment of mindfulness and “deep intentionality” in all that we do, even when we are doing nothing at all. It is this deep intentionality that literally makes our life meaningful.

Living with higher purpose inspires us to create, celebrate, and commemorate deeper meaning in life – our third aspiration. In this way, the aspiration for deeper meaning is how our aspiration for higher purpose works itself out creatively: in making choices, planting values, building relationships, and devoting ourselves to what really matters. We thereby create a “house of meaning” that represents and reflects what is most precious, sacred, and enduring in life.

This concept of “constructivism” marks a significant departure from the conventional idea of meaning as a property of reality and something we must go out to find – as in Victor Frankl’s popular “search for meaning.”

Deeper meaning in life, particularly the realization that meaning itself is something we construct and project onto reality, calls us even deeper into a dimension of experience where there are no words but only a silent mystery of pure presence. This is where the aspiration for inner peace leads us – in the words of the sacred poet, “beside still waters” (Psalm 23:2). It is a place within ourselves that lies far beneath the conventional world and our chattering ego, far below the reach of language and its constructions of meaning.

Here, only metaphors like “Ground” and “Source” and “Being” can bring us close to the edge, before releasing ourselves fully to the present mystery.

Each move across the spectrum of aspirations has both broadened and deepened our understanding of spiritual longing. A final step, which psychospiritually translates into quite a leap, takes us from “deep within” to “far beyond” ourselves. The aspiration for genuine love necessarily calls us out of our solitude and into communion, out of an inner mystery and into the shared meaning of relationships. But even as we step out of quiet contemplation and into the field of interactions, the deep serenity of inner peace goes with us.

It is the secret to the difference between those who get tangled up in unhealthy attachment and codependency, and those who can love others from a position of centered stability, grounded compassion, and what Carl Rogers called “unconditional positive regard.”

As spiritual longing finds expression in the aspiration for genuine love, our journey of psychospiritual development at last reaches fulfillment. In springing free from our cocoon of ego identity, we are now invited to join the transpersonal fellowship of spiritual community, where Everything is connected, All is One, and We’re all in this together.

Keeping It Real

What is it for something to be real? Let’s go even bigger and ask, What is reality? Presumably something is real when it has reality, but what does that even mean? Are we just tripping over terms but getting no closer to genuine insight and understanding?

Not surprisingly, we’re not the first to ask these questions. They have fascinated, inspired, and flummoxed seekers just like us for thousands of years.

You’d think that with so much philosophical activity we’d be closer to having some answers by now.

Well, in fact we do.

My diagram collects what can be regarded as the deepest insights and greatest discoveries of our species over the millenniums, what we might call revelations of reality and our place in it. When modern science got in the game, a newly awakened and somewhat arrogant rationalism made the mistake of judging all other (presumably competing) philosophies to be products of ignorance and superstition, pushing them to the side and leaving them in the past as it advanced.

One arch-concept of premodern philosophy that empirical science tossed aside was named the Great Chain of Being, which classified reality into a vertical hierarchy of distinct levels or “links” of existence. And since chains don’t stand vertically on their own, a background assumption of this arch-concept was that everything hangs from above.

At the top of the Great Chain of Being was Spirit: absolute, unconditioned, without beginning, and eternal. All the other links of the Chain hung down, descended, or “emanated” from that fixed point of Spirit. Personify Spirit as a god – or name it God and give it a personality – and you can appreciate how useful this arch-concept was for decoding mythology and generating religious orthodoxies.

Some traditions saw in the Great Chain a way to explain existence as a tragic “fall” from pure Spirit, finally hitting rock bottom with matter and setting the whole thing up as a dualism of Spirit versus Matter. Humans were supposed to be at the center of this cosmic war of Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, pulled downward by mortality and sin, but also lifted upward and maybe eventually saved through the mediation of the Savior and his Church.

Today, thankfully, more of us are able to think without the mind-control of some orthodoxy telling us what we should believe. Also fortunately, even science is coming to its own holistic model of reality, now that it’s had some time outside the premodern algorithm of Chain-thinking and is starting to see the shortcomings of its own orthodoxy of reductionist materialism.

Interestingly enough, the very arch-concept we’ve been considering is coming back in vogue; except that, in the scientific perspective, the background analogy of a Great Chain is replaced by a Great Ladder or Great Tree. Importantly, ladders and trees can stand vertically without needing to hang or be suspended from sky hooks.

One of the cultural revolutions in the West that was initiated by discoveries of modern science and softened its earlier obsession with clocks and machines, centered on the idea of everything unfolding according to an evolutionary process.

An organismic model (e.g., a Great Tree) allows us to contemplate reality in terms of an evolving complexity of forms, dynamic relationships, emergent capacities, and adaptive change inside still larger ecosystems. By simply exchanging the hanging Chain of Being for a growing Tree of Being, essential parts of the older model can be preserved, even as the newer model literally expands our understanding of reality.

A fuller picture offers four distinct lenses on reality, seeing it in terms of transformation, of manifestation, of participation, and of communion. Concepts of reality as contemplated through these four lenses are, respectively, Ground, Matrix, Manifold, and Universe. Let’s take them in that order.

The continuum of existence has emerged and evolved “upwards” from a quantum Ground of energy, through matter (crystallized energy), life (organic matter), mind (sentient life), ego (self-conscious mind), and ultimately into spirit (transpersonal ego). Each transformation of energy has added a new dimension of complexity to the growing order of existence, not by “stacking” on top of what’s underneath, but by incorporating the lower forms into its own “superform.”

Importantly, the quantum Ground is not “down there” at the bottom of things, but within, as the substance in all forms of existence. Quite simply, without energy nothing exists.

The lens on reality as Matrix enables us to see each existing form as a manifestation of Being. As a human being, for example, you are technically “a human manifestation of Being,” just as there are rock manifestations of Being (or rock beings: rocks), cloud manifestations of Being (cloud beings: clouds), dog manifestations of Being (dog beings: dogs), and so forth. The uppercase Being refers to the power-to-be in everything that exists, manifesting as this being, that being, and you as a human being. True enough, each is also a form of energy; but as a manifestation of the Matrix, our focus has shifted to its distinct expression rather than its essential substance (as a transformation of the Ground).

Shifting our perspective once again, we can understand reality in relational terms. Everything that exists is not only a transformation of the Ground and a manifestation of the Matrix, but it also participates in a network of relationships. Manifold, as a noun, refers to something with “many folds” or features, each situated among, related to, and interacting with the rest. Every existing thing participates in the Manifold of beings, supported in its web or system of relationships. You, once again, do not stand in some vacuum of isolation but are connected in countless ways to everything around you, in a participative reality.

The “web of life” in Native American spirituality and the “net of gems” (Indra’s Net) in Hindu spirituality are cultural nicknames for this Manifold of beings.

In a way, our progression from substance, through expression, and into relationship has prepared us for a final ascent of reality, now as a harmony of the many, a higher wholeness formed – in the ultimate and most complex transformation of energy – as individual egos join in transpersonal fellowship, a communion in spirit. Even though we commonly use “universe” and “cosmos” interchangeably in speaking of the totality of things, the term Universe (“turning as/into one”) connotes something more.

This is not “more” in the sense of an addition to what’s already there, but indicates a qualitatively upward shift in consciousness. Instead of each individual ego bringing his or her spirit to the meeting, their mutual freedom and willingness to transcend personal identity for a higher wholeness, together-as-One, gives rise to Spirit as what moves between and among them in transpersonal communion.

What the premodern Chain of Being regarded as the Most Real, First Cause of creation, is here understood to be the culminating apotheosis of reality. As the human personality with its self-conscious ego is the second most complex phenomenon in reality, the transpersonal communion among egos – their communal Spirit – is highest.

Contemplating it all mythologically as God’s creation develops on a poetic intuition, which discerns a calling in the heart of the Universe to intentional fellowship and spiritual communion. This is perhaps the most valuable legacy of biblical theism.

So, what is it for something to be real? Even bigger, What is reality?

Well, there you have it.

Waiting in Line

The human journey through life has only recently been a topic of psychological study. For thousands of years before that, its exploration was mythological, carried out not by objective research but subjective experience. Our modern tools of psychology have made possible a rational precision that was not available all those centuries and millenniums, but even if it had been, it’s doubtful our ancestors would have fallen for it as we have.

The objective distance and rational precision we moderns prize so highly actually produce the delusion that we can be our own detached and dispassionate observers, that what we are and are becoming can be framed in a theoretical statement and tacked to the pinboard of scientific knowledge. What is inevitably left out of such a definition is ourselves and the human experience we are presuming to explain.

It’s only by going back to mythology, having now come through it, that we can grasp and properly read the map it has provided for the human journey – our human journey.

I have rendered this map of mythology in the graphic illustration above. With our new tools of modern psychology we can interpret the map self-consciously – conscious, that is, of how its topographical features reveal the path of our own evolution and possible awakening.

When apprehended as a whole, we see that our human journey unfolds along an arc of time, our individual lifetime. It arises out of and returns again to our essential nature as a “human being,” or in a more technical sense, as a human manifestation of being. “Human” is the name of our particular species, as a rather highly evolved sentient organism. “Being,” or be-ing, acknowledges the mystery of manifestation itself, not only that we have “come to be,” but that we are in the process of be-ing, moment by moment.

These two aspects or dimensions of our nature as human (manifestations of) being are widely designated by the terms “body” (human) and “soul” (being). It should be clear that body and soul are not separate things, or separable parts of ourselves, but refer rather to the outwardly manifested and inwardly manifesting reality of what we essentially are.

There is a reason why body and soul are frequently separated, even antagonized, in popular religion, which we’ll look at shortly.

The arcing line itself, arising from the body and returning to the soul, is the intended path of our personal development, as individuals centered in our own unique ego. You’ll notice that the arc is divided into trimesters of time, with each trimester marking a stage of our personal journey: emerging from the body (1st trimester), centered in the ego (second trimester), and then breaking through ego consciousness to the mystery within and the unity beyond (third trimester).

As shown in the map, the breakthrough within (Greek esoteros) brings consciousness back to the manifesting reality of being (soul); whereas the breakthrough beyond elevates consciousness into the communion of manifested beings (spirit). The descending line proceeds by a gradual release of our separate identity, in contemplation, to a mystery that cannot be named (apophatic) and in the depths of which we can only be silent. Conversely, the ascending line invites us into a transpersonal fellowship (or kindom) that is qualitatively rich in meaning (cataphatic) and inspires our ethical commitment to its higher wholeness.

That third trimester is a stage of the human journey that many of us never reach – or I should say, we never enter. We do reach its threshold, but the forces and pressures pulling us back are often overwhelming.

Like the ancient Israelites who reached the border of a promised land, only to lose their nerve as well as their faith in the One who had promised it to them, many of us find the prospect of a breakthrough unacceptable and not a little terrifying.

Let’s go back to that earlier comment about the antagonism of body and soul in popular religion, and see if the map can help us make sense of the “forces and pressures” that conspire to drive us off course and into the wilderness.

Notice how the angled lines defining the second trimester come together at a point just above the horizontal line at the bottom. That bottom line represents the complementary aspects of body and soul in our essential nature as human (manifestations of) being. The fact that the joint of those angled lines does not touch the horizontal line illustrates the psychological fact that a personal ego is not a natural formation, which is to say we are not born with a personal identity.

Instead, “who I am” (our personal identity) is something that must be socially constructed. Our tribe had the responsibility of blocking and shaping a domesticated, well-behaved member out of an animal nature which has little if any interest in waiting our turn, standing in line, or following the rules. And upon these simple commands followed many others as time went on – prohibitions, enticements, permissions, expectations, incentives, exhortations, and injunctions – all motivated in one way or another by the “carrots” and “sticks” of conventional morality.

Now, because our animal nature needs to learn how to carry on inside a household of rules, infractions are bound to happen.

In the beginning, our tribe informs us when we misbehave, which is called objective guilt. An important goal in our domestication, however, is in translating this objective guilt, which must be externally monitored and managed, into subjective guilt, or what is also called “a guilty conscience.”

At this point, the moral commands of society are internalized and we don’t have to be supervised as closely anymore. Because acceptance, approval, recognition, and belonging are structurally necessary and built-in to our personal identity (as “one of us”), guilt, in both its forms, remains a powerful force and pressure that keeps us from breaking through and crossing over.

But there’s more. The moral instruction of our tribe, in blocking and shaping an identity for us, only has its power to the extent that it can exploit a deeper insecurity that comes along with having an ego: a self-conscious sense of our separation as an ego from the ground of our essential nature.

This condition is properly diagnosed by healthy religion as that of being off-center (Greek hamartia, the “sin” of an arrow missing its mark) and out of alignment with our true self (Sanskrit dukkha, the immobilizing pain of a dislocated joint).

This profound insecurity motivates our increasingly desperate efforts at attaching ourselves to something or someone that we expect will make us feel better. The harder we try to manipulate the outer world for our gratification, however, the more paralyzing our fear becomes, and the more urgent also our craving for what we cannot find – for what cannot be found.

And yet, what choice do we have? So we lock our mind up inside a cage of fixed beliefs, or convictions, insisting that reality deliver on our imperious and conceited demands. Soon enough, our anxiety-driven frustration consumes all our hope and energy, leaving us in abject depression.

With a little sleep and some medication, we’ll be back at it tomorrow.

This is known as the Wheel of Suffering. It’s also where many of us currently find ourselves. No imagined hell can quite match its torment, symbolized mythologically as an unquenchable fire closing in around us and an insatiable worm devouring us from inside.

One of the ways we cope and still try to manage our insecurity is by inventing or joining religions that offer a way out – not the way through, which is what our mythological map reveals, but a way of escape. And because there’s no hope in this life, we are told we have to wait for the next.

Great. Another line.