Everybody is asking for my grand unified theory of everything. Well, actually no one is asking. Hell, hardly anyone reads this blog, to be honest. But I keep polishing my lens and clarifying a theory that brings everything inside a single frame. That’s the supreme triadic principle of wisdom after all: (1) All is one, (2) We’re all in this together, and (3) We need to wake up to the truth before it’s too late.
The risk of ignoring it is that you or I may die without ever having lived. On the larger scale, our species could pull the whole web of life on Earth down into extinction with our foolishness, stupidity, and neurotic consumerism.
So, whether or not you are one of my handful of readers interested in such things, I’m going to lay the big picture out once again, as clearly as I’m able. Perhaps someone else, with more time than what I have left, can pick it up and put on the finishing touches.
I find it helpful to orient our picture around the centerpoint of ego consciousness – exactly where you and I, standing on our own individual centers of self-conscious awareness, are engaged in this meditation. To have arrived at this point of ego consciousness, each of us had to come into ourselves by a process of differentiation. Underneath and prior to self-awareness, consciousness was (and still is, as we will see) immersed in a profound and ineffable communion with reality.
The experience here is of an underlying, essential, deeper oneness which cannot be objectively known because it is not (nor can ever be) an object of awareness. Traditions of mystical spirituality are fond of using the metaphor of Ground in speaking of this deeper, essential oneness of reality – careful to retract what they say about it out of respect for its nature as lying below the reach of our words and thoughts.
This depth dimension of our existence (yours and mine) is the domain of soul in contemplative solitude. I’m being careful not to say your soul or my soul in order to avoid the common misunderstanding of it as somehow belonging to us, like property or a piece of ourselves. Soul simply refers to our inner life, the deeper reaches of grounded awareness, mindful presence, and mystical insight (or intuition).
So even though ego consciousness had to be differentiated out of this essential oneness of communion, the soul continues to dwell in its grounding mystery.
It wasn’t enough, however, just to differentiate out of oneness. A second process, individuation, had to gradually organize consciousness around its own proper center by forming an ego – our individual capacity for self-control, self-awareness, and self-will, all critical powers of an established identity. All of this was predicated on, as well as a symptom of, the separation of consciousness from its essential communion with reality, into the remote workspace of our unique personalities.
In world mythology, this developmental journey of ego consciousness out of the Ground (differentiation) and into its own centered existence (individuation) is represented in the hero’s separation from [his] maternal origins of home and an ongoing struggle to save [himself] from falling back into its generative (though from the hero’s perspective, identity-dissolving) abyss.
Mystical spirituality, with its skillful practice of releasing all attachments of ego-identity and dissolving into the deeper oneness of being-itself, is therefore following back down along an ancient path charted by the mythological imagination.
So here we are, back at the orienting center of the big picture, where you and I stand in our separate centers of self-conscious ego identity. The whole aim of our individuation was to bring us to a point where we are in full possession of ourselves and ready to be in conscious relationship with others and the world around us. This is the process of participation, whereby individuals relate to each other out of their separate centers in order to make connections, form bonds, and create community.
By definition, participation is about taking part in some larger system of interactions, to be a part of something greater than yourself without getting lost inside it. This relational path is contingent upon our individual ego identities not being denied and thrown aside, but rather embraced and surpassed (transcended) in the interest of contributing to the harmony of differences. Far above the underlying, essential, and deeper oneness of reality (as Ground), our experience is of an overarching, integral, higher wholeness named Universe.
It’s important to recognize this term, universe, as referring to something more than a mere arrangement (or cosmos) of existing things. Literally the “turning as/into one,” Universe refers to any order of integral wholeness, from the elementary to the intergalactic, where a system interacts and evolves holistically – that is to say, as a whole. We could justifiably refer to your living body as a universe, to your whole self as a universe, to your life in community as a universe, to the larger web of life on Earth as a universe, as we already refer to our Earth in the Milky Way among all the galaxies as the universe.
In using this term, cosmological science is invoking a very spiritual notion, of the All-as-One in which we live and move and have our being.
Just as you and I (in our separate ego identities) are free to release-and-dissolve into the experience of deeper oneness (i.e., Ground), so we might otherwise choose to connect-and-transcend our separate egos for an experience of higher wholeness (i.e., Universe). This is the realm of spirit, of our breathing (Latin spiritus) in and out and all together as a community of individuals, both human and other-than-human, across the whole web of life and beyond.
An understanding of our place within the larger universes of life awakens in us an ethical intention to live with respect, compassion, responsibility and goodwill towards all.
I don’t want to bog this post down with a cautionary note, so I’ll be quick to mention that these deeper and higher experiences are available to us only in the degree that our egos are not tangled up in neurotic attachments, dogmatic convictions, or the futile ambition to cheat mortality and save ourselves. That very ambition for everlasting life is what makes many true believers into spiritual captives of their religions, chained to the wall of some orthodoxy and perpetually “not far from the kindom of spirit” – to paraphrase a warning from Jesus (Mark 12:34).
Viewing these two paths – the descending-apophatic and ineffable way of mystical insight (the via negativa), and the ascending-kataphatic and dialogical way of ethical intention (the via positiva) – as complementary principles informing our big picture or “theory of everything” is what keeps me excited and engaged in this work. Honestly, the meditative exercise of contemplating and identifying its golden threads of timeless wisdom is deeply satisfying in itself.
If I can find a few sympathetic readers, so much the better.