The Quest Mandala

By now, a returning reader is familiar with my “dancing” style with things I regard as essential to understanding the human journey. I prefer to keep words flexible and their contextual frames almost always moving, which makes it hard to pin me down and hold me to account. I don’t do this to evade responsibility for what I write, but because the things I write about are fluid, dynamic, and imbued with mystery.

My purpose in writing is not really to educate or convert a reader to my opinion. I write because I like to dance.

So let’s take another turn with the question of why we are here on this human adventure. Science can provide explanations for how we got here, but it’s the task of spirituality to clarify the why. This doesn’t mean that we have license to fly off willy-nilly into astral planes and metaphysical esoterica. We should stay in our bodies with our feet on the ground, even as we ponder the higher reaches of our human nature.

It doesn’t make sense to me that the evolutionary aim of our existence would require us to deny or discard what makes us what we are.

We will position ourselves at the center of the dance floor, which in the mandala above identifies us as an embodied, self-conscious mind – or ego for short. We begin in this position not because it’s where the human journey starts, but because this is where we first wake up to the adventure and realize that we need to figure some stuff out.

As “who I am,” ego is both for-itself and for-others, meaning that “I” am a unique person whose self-image is reflected back to me in the mirror of other persons.

Ego centers me in myself and connects me to you. Integrity and empathy, autonomy and affiliation, agency and communion: the polarity of experience that comes into play with ego development can be considered from various angles. Centering the self and connecting to others is the critical contribution of ego to the longer human quest. This dynamic of centering and connecting reveals the true meaning of power.

Our quest consciously begins as we wake up in this performance space between our centered self and our connection with others. Because this “middle realm” is frequently fraught with insecurity, attachment, shame and self-doubt, however, there is a strong chance we can get stuck here.

The naturally creative polarity of self and other cannot hold the balance, but instead snaps to the bi-polar extremes of possession or submission, taking power for myself or giving it all to you.

Now, you should be able to see this bi-polar swing between possession and submission as a defining pathology in human history, and probably in your own life story as well. I can see it in mine, for sure.

But instead of how we typically deal with pathology in Western medicine and psychotherapy, which is to cure it or cut it out as soon as possible, a better approach would be to regard it as a clue to how we can better manage the balance and use its energy for progress in the direction of greater health, wellbeing, and fulfillment.

By becoming more skillful in the equal priorities of keeping our center and making connections, the axis of our quest can pivot 90° to the vertical orientation. From our center we can drop and descend into the deeper realm of Being, to the quiet clearing of soul where we are grounded in the present Mystery of Reality (or Ground of Being). Ego’s quest for a proper balance of power (integrity + empathy) opens the path to soul’s quest for inner peace.

This axial shift from ego concerns to the soul’s aspiration for inner peace helps us understand the distinction between religion and spirituality, and perhaps also the popular self-identification on polls as “spiritual, but not religious.” I say ‘perhaps’ because in a large number of cases the distancing from formal religion is motivated by clerical abuse, dogmatic oppression, manipulative guilt, or a cumulative irrelevancy.

For these individuals, religion is a code-word for what they managed to escape and never want to go back to.

Spiritual is thus another way of saying that they still have inclinations for things divine and supernatural, but want nothing to do with all the traditional and organizational baggage. Their current preference is for a mixed-bag, when-I-need it, grab-and-go variety of religion, although they don’t want to call it that.

Many of them remain stuck in the middle realm, having pulled out of organized religion and its congregation of like-minded believers, into a private religion of their own where they can be in control and decide what it is.

That’s not what I mean by spirituality here. In this context it refers to that pivot to the vertical axis mentioned earlier, not out of, against, or away from religion, but beyond it; beyond ego to the soul, beyond the balance of power to inner peace. Here, spirituality is not about “me” and what “I” want. Indeed, “I” and “me” have been left up there in the middle realm, so to speak, for a deeper experience of contemplative solitude and grounded presence.

This vertical orientation opens a path upwards as well: with, through, and beyond our interpersonal connections with others, to the transpersonal (or communal) realm of spirit.

Our empathic and compassionate engagement in service to the higher wholeness of community fulfills our human quest for love. Again, just as a strong center provides the stable release-point from which consciousness can drop into the deeper realm of soul, so a strong connection with others provides the stable launch-point from which consciousness can leap into the higher realm of spirit.

Ultimately, which is to say, with respect to the highest aim and purpose of our human journey, it is the generous, joyful, ecstatic, and inclusive experience of genuine community that we long for. In the balance of power, and with our roots deep in the ground of inner peace, the synergy of love flows through us and out into the worlds we are creating and re-making each new day, together.

Published by tractsofrevolution

Thanks for stopping by! My formal training and experience are in the fields of philosophy (B.A.), spirituality (M.Div.), and counseling (M.Ed.), but my passionate interest is in what Abraham Maslow called "the farther reaches of our human nature." Tracts of Revolution is an ongoing conversation about this adventure we are all on -- together: becoming more fully human, more fully alive. I'd love for you to join in!

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