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.


We are living in a time when dangerous and death-dealing ideologies (belief systems) are threatening to pull our world apart. In one way or another, these ideologies share a common lineage by attaching themselves to the “wild card” factor of ego consciousness.

Some regard ego as supreme, whether we’re speaking of the personal ego of individuals or the national ego of millions, asserting its superiority over every challenger. Other ideologies condemn the historical rise of ego consciousness as the cause of humanity’s fall from grace and our current lot of suffering.

Both these extremes, from the glorification of ego to its demonization, are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of its place in the longer evolution of consciousness.

Their common misunderstanding – with the subsequent corrupt and conflicting ideologies that have formed around it, amplified to now apocalyptic proportions – is both fueled by an underlying insecurity and feeds it in turn.

For ego to get established as the control center of an individual and national identity, the developing consciousness must be separated to some extent from the reality around it – the “I” (Latin ego) from what is “not me” and “not us.” Such separation brings with it feelings of insecurity, vulnerability, exposure, and alienation, a psychic state of anxiety and distrust over what it cannot know or fully control.

To promote its own interests and defend itself against “the Other,” an insecure ego constructs (and easily falls for) a belief system which channels its existential anxiety into a constellation of convictions – claims to absolute truth, its own special election, and a manifest destiny for the elect alone.

Whether an individual is making assertions of greatness and superiority over others, or a national leader is promising to make his nation “great again,” the unavoidable consequence will be only more isolation, more suffering, and a final torment in psychic depression and political oppression.

There is a better way, one that leads into a future of genuine community and human flourishing. This tradition is just as ancient as the versions of ego insanity running rampant on our planet today. In fact, its roots go even deeper – much deeper.

In what follows I will offer a kind of digest of wisdom, a simple summary of what this tradition teaches and has been cultivating for thousands of years. The good news is that it is still alive today, and it offers all the insight, understanding, and inspiration we need to break past this psychotic episode of human history.

To make it even easier to grasp and recall, I propose a mnemonic code: 1-3-5-4. Hyperlinks will take you to deeper explorations of our topic.

The 1 Tradition of Sophia Perennis

In a time when the word “tradition” carries all kinds of heavy baggage holding us in the past, invoking it here might seem ill-advised. How can the way through our current threat be about tradition, when forward is the direction we need to go? Many of us shudder at the sound of it, since getting to where we are now has meant breaking free of its strangling coil and leaving the past behind us.

But tradition simply refers to the “handing on” of a heritage, worldview, and way of life from one generation to the next. By its mechanism, human civilization has been able to advance along the wheels of cultural evolution, maintaining stability while making improvements along the way, and seeding at times truly revolutionary innovations.

This particular tradition has been responsible for handing on a system of truths, principles, and practices that provide grounding and orientation for a life of meaning and fulfillment. At the rise and later decline of modernity, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Aldous Huxley named it the “perennial philosophy,” for its pursuit and preservation of wisdom over the long millenniums of cultural history.

It can be helpful to think of this tradition, what I call Sophia Perennis, as the collective superconscious of our species, a stream of wisdom that has been gathering “above” us in a “cloud drive” or shared library of spiritual insights and discoveries.

If the “collective unconscious” of Jungian psychology puts the store of archetypes in a place from which they come “up” to us unbidden in dreams and mythology, this collective superconscious of Sophia Perennis must be called “down,” by intention, into the realms of daily life.

Each original discovery “uploaded” its bit of wisdom to the superconscious stream, making it instantly available for “download” by all humans anywhere and for all time – but only by those who are ready for it by virtue of their own psychospiritual development. Henceforth they serve as the creative catalysts, inspired examples, and “chosen” teachers of The Way.

Here is what they have taught, and what we now so desperately need to understand and bring back to life.

The 3 Truths of Reality

  1. Everything is connected (Evident Truth).
  2. All is One (Essential Truth).
  3. We’re all in this together (Encompassing Truth).

Sophia Perennis defines truth in a revelational rather than a propositional way. Instead of telling us about reality, as something to be explained, its Three Truths represent the alignment of consciousness to reality, as the way things are.

The First Truth is the obvious fact that everything is connected; or put in the negative, that nothing is separate from everything else around it. While this truth is arguably the most obvious of the three, its insight is inherently abhorrent to the insecure ego whose very identity is based on separation. To accept it will require the ego to give up its delusion and effectively “die” as a separate self, just as a seed must surrender its contained identity for the plant to come forth (a metaphor from the wisdom teachings of Jesus).

Once accepted, though, consciousness is allowed to drop below egoic thinking, to deeper centers of mind, body, and soul. And it is there that Wisdom’s Second Truth is found: that in the deepest interior of existence is a grounding mystery, a Ground of Being, in which All is One. And because all things arise out of the same grounding mystery (continuing with the plant or tree analogy), the “canopy” of their myriad interactions reveals a Third Truth: We’re all in this together.

This refers to the higher wholeness in which we and everything else participates, and to which all of us belong; an encompassing truth that empowers and shapes an ethics of kindness, generosity, cooperation, and goodwill.

The 5 Principles of Wisdom

  1. Cultivating inner peace is key to making peace with others.
  2. Living for the wellbeing of the greater Whole promotes health and happiness for oneself.
  3. Opening a larger frame with a longer view on life leads to better choices and fewer frustrations.
  4. Letting go of vengeance and practicing kindness instead provides space for damaged relationships to heal and community to arise.
  5. Living only for oneself leads to loneliness, hypertension, and an early death.

The distinctive ethical shape of a life seeking to align itself to the Three Truths of Wisdom is further elucidated in its Five Principles. Each principle operates as a rule or guideline of The Way (the Torah, Logos, Tao, Dharma, Pollen Path, or Gospel way of life). All together these principles translate the transcendental insights (Three Truths) into specific injunctions that either invite us to active intention (Principles 1-4) or warn of the suffering we can expect as a natural consequence of not living in accord with reality (Principle 5).

These Five Principles of Sophia Perennis will inevitably be mistaken by egoic consciousness as moral commandments legislating what it means to be right, proper, and pure; laying down the necessary conditions of reward and punishment. But the Principles of ethical wisdom are only understood in their true spirit by those who have transcended “me and mine,” reward and punishment, and who are able to consider their own life in service to a greater whole.

The 4 Practices of Spirituality

  1. Get grounded.
  2. Find your center.
  3. Connect to what matters.
  4. Be the change you want to see.

The question remains as to how, practically speaking, we can hold this higher (enlightened) consciousness of Wisdom in the challenging business of daily life. Ritually reciting the Three Truths and taping the Five Principles on our bathroom mirror can be effective methods for not forgetting the teachings of Sophia Perennis. But “not forgetting” is not the same as putting these teachings into practice. For this we have the prescription of Four Practices, which are specific counsel on “how to” cultivate a vibrant spirituality and a life of wisdom.

As in a hologram, the Four Principles are a smaller image of the larger gestalt whose code we’ve been following here.

Drop out of ego and become fully present to your life where you are (Practice 1); center yourself in your essential nature as a human being (Practice 2); connect to what is authentic, relevant, genuine, and true (Practice 3); be a creative force in moving the world deeper into harmony and closer to peace (Practice 4).

Set this entire meditation on the Sophia Perennis against the egomaniacal ideologies running amok today, and the difference is glaring. Ego insecurity, neurotic attachment, and dogmatic convictions are driving our globe ever closer to the brink. We need more people to wake up. They are the ones who turn off the extremist media and tune in to reality, not just to what’s going on but to the way things really are.

They are the true revolutionaries of a New Humanity, who will take the lead and show us The Way.

Perhaps you are one of them.

The Wheel of Happiness

Let’s play a game. I call it The Wheel of Happiness.

The background idea of my game is that the wholeness, integrity, and balance we want in our life is about coordinating our intention across four dimensions. This four-fold typology of human wholeness identifies four distinct dimensions or domains of conscious experience which require a balanced investment of our time, attention, and care for us to enjoy equanimity and all its benefits.

Neglecting just one of these domains will put our life out of balance, into an uncentered state that makes us suffer.

Having made the case for a perfect balance across the four dimensions, we need to acknowledge the fact that each of us tends to prefer one dimension over the others, as the domain where we feel most comfortable and in control. This may have to do with our natural temperament, but it could also register a preference based on life experience, reaching all the way back to infancy and early childhood when we were just getting our bearings in life.

Whatever the reason, our normal attraction to one domain carries with it a temptation to undervalue, dismiss, or at the very least neglect our real needs in the other three. The predictable outcome will be pain, frustration, anxiety, depression, a lack of fulfillment, along with a tendency to botch things up in the domains or dimensions of life where our competency is underdeveloped.

A managed balance and wholeness – I was going to say “on the other hand,” but such binary thinking is yet another symptom of imbalance – generates pleasure, flow, confidence, happiness, a sense of fulfillment, along with a knack for making things better for ourselves and others around us.

I’ll briefly define the typology of four dimensions and then explain how to play the game. The mechanics of the game involves spinning a wheel that has an arrow fixed to its rim. The wheel itself is a multi-colored braid of four strands corresponding to the four domains. Each domain is labeled with key terms in a frame of its specific color. Terms inside the frame provide a formal definition of what we seek and can expect to find in that dimension of life. A third term outside the frame summarizes the theme in a more straightforward and practical way, clarifying a characteristic action and its aim.

Starting at the top and making our way around the Wheel in clockwise fashion, the summary term of knowledge identifies the practical aim of Truth and Wisdom. Seeking truth is about clarifying meaning, endeavoring to make our beliefs as transparent as possible to the reality beyond them. Truth is not reality itself but the degree of transparency in our constructions of meaning. Or to invoke the metaphor in the root-word for truth (Greek aletheia), it is seeing through the veil of language to the reality behind it, an effect made possible by the clarity of language itself.

To the degree that our search for truth and quest for knowledge does help us see the way things really are (i.e., reality) and live by this vision, we are said to have wisdom. Being wise is more than merely being knowledgeable, smart, clever, or even intelligent. Wisdom refers to the practical know-how of a life well lived, of understanding how to put our lives in accord with the way things really are.

Moving around to the summary term of achievement, we are in the life domain of Power and Virtue. This dimension in our typology of balance and wholeness is focused on self-actualization, on bringing to expression a deeper human potential in our talents, strengths, and abilities. Power is not about dominating and controlling others, and neither is virtue a matter of moral purity or obedience. As the “ability to act,” power speaks to an inner capacity (or potency) for accomplishing things, while virtue, from the ancient Greek arete, refers to the demonstration of excellence (fluency, grace, eloquence and proficiency) in what we do.

It should be clear that achievement is about much more than just “getting things done.” Finishing a task and reaching a goal can be rewarding, for sure. But as a domain of life, achievement is the process by which our creative potential – we can even say our human spirit – is manifested through the exercise of our skills, intelligence, effort, and efficient action.

A third stop on The Wheel of Intention brings us to the domain of solitude and the life dimension of Peace and Wellbeing. This is a decisive turn inward, not to the self as our object but to the inner life of the soul. Solitude refers to that deep place within ourselves where we are undisturbed by the commotion and distractions of life, where we can be quiet and simply relax into being. Peace is a positive state of stillness and mindful presence, not merely the absence of anxiety or inner conflict.

We don’t have to physically remove ourselves to a secluded place away from the traffic and noise of daily life, but that can help.

Giving quality time and careful attention to the realm of experience waiting for us “below deck” and underneath the exhausting business of managing an identity and living our lives, keeps a clear path of descent to the inner wellspring of genuine peace and authentic joy. This joy is not derived from lucky events or happy circumstances, but rather bubbles up from the depths of our spiritual life.

Coming up a final quarter-turn takes us to the domain of relationships, where connection invites the cultivation of Love and Communion. Connecting with others feeds an essential need of our human spirit, to be with another and give ourselves fully to the bond that unites us and to the common ground we share.

More than any other theme in poetry, sacred literature, and spiritual philosophy, love has been glorified as the mystery behind all things and holding everything together – in the words of Dante, l’amor che move ‘l sole e l’altre stelle (“the love that moves the sun and the other stars”).

According to this inspired vision, the true aim of connection and love is to be united as one. We surrender the individuating principle of our ego for a deeper oneness, where the surface distinctions that normally separate us and make us strangers to one another are released, allowing us to drop into an almost mystical fellowship of being. Not every relationship of ours can reach this level of intimacy and communion, nor should we expect such. But cultivating the ground of our closer connections can give real love a chance to grow.

Now that we have defined the features of The Wheel of Happiness, here’s how to play.

Admitting our tendency to migrate and set up shop in the life domain that feels most natural to us, the rules of play introduce an element of chance. You might roll a die until you get a ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, or ‘4’ (a ‘5’ or ‘6’ means you keep rolling). Number the domains according to the sequence followed above: ‘1’ = knowledge, ‘2’ = achievement, ‘3’ = solitude, and ‘4’ = connection. Or else you can set four random objects at cardinal points on the circumference of an imaginary circle or one drawn on paper. Place an empty soda or beer bottle (or any linear object that can easily spin) on its side at the center, and “spin the bottle.” The point it lands on (or comes closest to) will be the focus of your intention.

Once a life domain on The Wheel of Happiness has been selected – ideally at random, but you can be more systematic about it as long as you are willing to lean away from your favorite domain and work on the others as well – ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How is my general life balance as it relates to this dimension?
  2. How can I invest more time, attention, and care into this domain of my life? What are a few specific ways I can do this?
  3. As I bring more awareness, purpose, and commitment (i.e., intention) into this domain of my life, what are some benefits I can anticipate? (Think beyond the general benefits of balance, integrity, wholeness, and greater fulfillment. Again, be specific.)

That’s it. Have fun!

If you have time, drop a comment so the rest of us can hear how it’s going.

Can You Believe It?

It’s amazing to think that humans are the only species on Earth that will kill and die not just for territory, food, mates and offspring, but even for our beliefs. Indeed the greater proportion of damage and death caused by humans over our relatively short history has been for the sake and in the name of ideas – things that are not even real but only mental, imaginary, and conceptual “objects” of belief.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we need to purge our minds of mental, imaginary, and conceptual objects. That would amount to our intellectual and spiritual lobotomy. Because humans are a story-telling and meaning-making species, a steady production and trade in nonmaterial things is the life blood of our cultures and the soul of civilization.

Everything above the line of biology hangs in the air of our thoughts, just as every cultural artifact originated in and is a material expression of an idea, and of someone’s belief in that idea.

When Richard Dawkins proposed an evolutionary analog to our biological genes, in the cultural “memes” that seed our thoughts, engender belief, and drive human destiny along an ideological trajectory of progress or demise, he was criticized for attempting to reduce human freedom and creativity to “nothing but” a blind cultural selection of ideas.

Undoubtedly this line of thinking can be pushed in a reductionistic direction, but that’s not the value his theory has for me. It seems certain that we humans are manipulated by the beliefs (and memes) in our minds, even to the extent of being made willing to commit atrocities on their behalf. We happen to be standing now, and once again, on the brink of collective self-destruction, as opposing sides of belief muster our armies of ideological warriors and suicide terrorists.

Instead of sweeping belief aside as “nothing but” the metaphysical byproduct of errant or lazy thinking, or waiting until the war of ideologies is over and we can think rationally again, I propose that we dig into the processes behind its product and try to better understand what a belief essentially is.

Toward that end, I offer the above chart which distinguishes among different types of belief, where they sit relative to each other as well as on a spectrum of how conscious and cognitive they happen to be.

Let’s define our values. To identify a belief as “conscious” means that we are aware of holding it and can articulate it in a statement. At the opposite end of this continuum is an “unconscious” belief, one which we are not directly aware of and would have a difficult if not impossible time putting into words.

“Precognitive” beliefs come before and/or stand in front of the formal operations of thought and hold their position by deflecting or “throwing aside” criticism. Across this same spectrum are “postcognitive” beliefs, which as the term implies come at the conclusion of formal thought and make a claim to standing beyond question or doubt.

The center of my chart, then, is where cognition (or thinking) is busy in the work of constructing beliefs and weighing out their “truthiness.”

For reasons that will become clearer as we go, we will begin our exploration of belief in the lower-left quadrant of my chart, where we find our assumptions. By definition – from a root meaning “to pick up and carry along” – an assumption is both unconscious and precognitive, which means that we have little or no awareness of it as a belief, and that it enters our mind prior to the formal operations of thought.

Most of our assumptions were “picked up” on our path of development and absorbed from the social atmosphere of our family and tribe.

In its status as precognitive and unconscious, an assumption is analogous to a pair of spectacles perched on the bridge of our nose. If they are doing their job, we shouldn’t notice the lenses that are filtering and focusing our perception of reality. Our assumption is that reality is as we see it. An important difference between prescription lenses and our assumptions, however, is that our assumptions may be “out of focus” and even profoundly distorting in their effects, in ways we are completely unaware.

If a particular assumption was picked up when we were very young children, it can continue shaping our perceptions of reality and backgrounding all our other beliefs for the rest of our lives. How we presently see the world, others, and ourselves may not be true to the way they really are.


This is why the work of “surfacing” assumptions and bringing them under scrutiny to be verified or falsified is so central to the cognitive approaches of psychotherapy. The exercise forces an assumption out of the dark and into the light for examination, where its truth-value as an opinion can be decided.

Is the belief based on actual experience or objective evidence? Is it logical, rational, reasonable, and realistic (i.e., reality-oriented)? Is it useful to the task of living a more responsible life?

If not, then the client needs to choose between keeping their illusion and living in reality.

A second type of belief which is also precognitive but more consciously held than an assumption is a doctrine. We usually think of doctrines as belonging in religious institutions and their orthodox systems of belief, which are frequently pressed upon adherents as necessary to their membership, identity (as believers), and final salvation. Here I am not interested in what a particular doctrine may be about, but rather in its value as a marker of belonging. I’m of the opinion that most of the doctrinal content of orthodoxy is not really the main point.

Whether we grew up in such a tradition or consider joining it later in life, there are certain things that members of this kind believe (or at least profess to believe), doctrines that we will be expected to adopt (and recite) as well. We will not likely be invited, or even allowed, to interrogate a doctrine as if it were a “mere” opinion – even though orthodoxy literally means “correct opinion” (ortho+doxa).

Often some kind of protective aura is placed around a doctrine, whether it be sacred tradition, divine revelation, or metaphysical mystery, to keep us from looking too closely and asking questions.

Now that we’re in the sphere of religion and orthodoxy, we can swing over the vertical midline to a third type of belief, conviction. In this blog I don’t have many positive things to say about conviction, in the literal sense of the term (“to be held captive”), since its value is based on a rejection of our freedom to believe otherwise. (Our word heretic refers to one who “chooses otherwise.”)

We may have thought our way into it, or maybe we’ve been holding onto it for so long that our mind is now its prisoner and we are unable to think outside its box.

Convictions are in the “postcognitive” category of beliefs in acknowledgment of the explicit and final conclusion they declare on their topic. They are nevertheless “conscious,” which means that we can recite them with hand over heart – but without having to think. If someone should question a conviction of ours, we won’t in our defense call on logical reason, objective evidence, or even common sense. Rather our strategic apology will be to trace its lineage and associations to other convictions we hold – or I should say, that are holding our mind captive.

This is why it is useless to challenge a convicted true believer of any stripe. You soon get the sense that you’re being pulled along a recurrent cross-referencing loop of proof texts and “revealed” truths – without ever touching the ground of reality!

The power of convictions in cutting off questions, closing the mind, separating us from reality, and pushing us into conclaves of absolutism helps to throw some light on that concerning proclivity of our species mentioned at the start of this post: our readiness – even our eagerness – to destroy, kill, and die for our beliefs.

Is there a solution, or at least a path that could lead us away from our mutually assured destruction? Yes.

It requires using the full capacity of our conscious cognitive mind. The type of belief that represents our careful consideration, logical analysis, rational assessment, reasonable discretion, creative thinking, responsible discernment, and evidence-based observations is called a judgment. On my chart it is positioned directly above opinion, and can be defined as a well-deliberated opinion on whatever the subject, question, or problem happens to be.

Ideally all our other beliefs – assumptions, doctrines, convictions, and provisional opinions – can be brought to the table where we can interrogate them, test them, validate or refute them on a case by case basis. Granted this is an ideal, and probably hopeless in the larger scheme of things and given the eight or so billion minds we have running around the planet today.

So let’s begin where we can: with ourselves, and work our way outward from here.

Living By What We Know

I’m going to make an argument that will likely seem strange to you, at least at first.

It applies to our current situation as a species on this planet, specifically to our apparent disorientation and confusion when it comes to knowing how to live and get along. Add to this a chronic frustration over so many things getting in the way of what we really want, and you have a very unstable and volatile situation indeed.

My argument is that we do in fact know how to get along but for some reason feel unable to access this wisdom. For that is the correct and proper name for this kind of knowledge, as the know-how we need to flourish and find fulfillment in life. Wisdom is not a mere catalog of epistemic propositions about reality but rather a set of truths that align our thoughts, feelings, and actions to reality.

Using the analogy of gravity, we disregard or “forget” the truths of wisdom to our own detriment. Because wisdom reveals to us the nature of reality, which also includes our own human nature, living by its light carries at least the implied promise that life will be easier, more enjoyable, more meaningful and fulfilling when we intentionally put ourselves in accord with the way things are.

Living in discord with reality leads inevitably to suffering.

In fact, the wisdom truths that could save us from an impending catastrophe are already known. We don’t need experts to tell us what they are because we already know them. As a species we have been carrying these truths in our collective superconscious for hundreds, even thousands of years.

Upon the original discovery of each truth, it was instantly “uploaded” to this superconscious – in another post I name it the “stream of wisdom,” coursing through history and over our heads, figuratively speaking – and henceforth available, just as instantly, for download by all humans everywhere.

When I tell you what these wisdom truths are, you are likely to have an “aha” experience, not because you are learning of them for the first time, but as if you are being reminded of something you already know. And that, of course, is what I am arguing.

Three truths of wisdom in particular have given inspiration and guidance to humans over these many centuries. Who knows, but their discovery may go back even millions of years to our prehuman ancestors, as it seems that even the “lower” animals have a robust intuition of how to live in accord with reality.

At any rate, I have organized these three truths of wisdom by a logic of the obvious, starting with an evident truth, reaching deeper to an essential truth, and then ascending outward to an encompassing truth.

Directing our attention to what is most obvious, we can see that every existing thing (including ourselves) is or occurs in a relational field, not just in proximity to other things around it but connected to them by a web of relations or network of forces. Quantum, atomic, magnetic, molecular, gravitational, barometric, thermal and other environmental forces move through, around, and between things, creating currents and lines of influence that codetermine their very character – and in the case of living things, their survival.

The evident truth of wisdom states that “Everything is connected.” The very nature of reality is such that each and every thing is connected, by both visible and invisible forces, to all other things. What this means is that our existence, as Buddhists say, “co-arises” with that of everything else – locally and globally.

The fabric of our common field not only supports us individually but is also affected by our actions, perhaps even by our emotions, attitudes, and intentions.

An only apparently empty space between us and others is in reality (or really) energized by countless outgoing, incoming, and ambient exchanges throughout a complex web of relations.

This much is, as we should all agree, evident. Even if we can’t see the web in all its frequencies and dimensions, certain strands or lines of force connecting us to others and the reality around us are too obvious to deny. We have only to consult our sciences to validate this first principle of wisdom: nothing exists in absolute isolation, but as connected and involved with other things – ultimately all other things.

Whereas Western science had once assumed reality could be analyzed into isolated particles, that curtain of illusion was decisively ripped from its rings with the discoveries of quantum mechanics (or high-energy physics).

The real challenge, however, is more psychological than strictly scientific. In our personal development, each of us gradually comes to the sense of ourselves as a separate individual, existing in our own unique “ego space.” Even though personal identity presumes a social context of roles and role-plays (persona refers to an onstage actor’s mask), we still can fall into the delusion of our independence and, as the delusion further envelops us, of our absolute transcendence as to our context, its conditions, and all the others coexisting in our relational field.

We have only opened up the evident truth of wisdom and we can already see how much of the current crisis can be pinned on this illusion of our separate ego. It’s not the illusion per se but the captivating delusion – that is, our convicted belief in the truth of this illusion – that has pushed us apart and away from reality, causing us to contract into ourselves in defense against what we are projecting as a threat to our security.

The deeper enthralled in this delusion we get, the more erroneous our judgments and destructive our behavior becomes.

Once we can break free of our prison of ignórance (willful ignorance) and conviction, and complete a fresh download of this evident truth of wisdom, its other two come along quite naturally. As all things coexist and co-arise in a web of relational forces, each thing is itself a manifestation of reality. In other words, that field is also a ground, calling our attention from the radial lines of connection between things, to the “inner being” (as distinct from the web’s “inter-being”) of each existing thing.

As a manifestation of reality, each thing is a formal expression of its quantum, material, organic, sentient, egoic, and communal nature, occupying a niche somewhere on this continuum of being. A rock, for instance, occupies the material niche, manifesting matter and energy in its form, yet is beneath the niche of organic existence. A plant is organic, with a deeper nature of matter and energy, but while it may possess some sentient capacity in its ability to sense, feel, and adapt to its environment, it is beneath the niche of egoic (self-conscious) existence.

Humans are perhaps uniquely egoic, as well as (going deeper down and within) sentient, organic, material, and energetic manifestations of reality. However, we characteristically fall beneath a fully communal (spiritual, transpersonal) existence.

Our depth-exploration of reality and the discovery of the grounding mystery in each thing that both anchors its existence and finds expression in its distinct form, introduces (or reminds us of) a second truth of wisdom. This essential truth states that “All is One” – not all of it together, which is the focus of wisdom’s third truth, but All through each and deeper into the ground of Being itself: to the One manifesting “upwards” as the rock, the plant, and as each of us.

The essential truth of wisdom is neither abstract nor esoteric, except in the literal sense of what is “deep within” (esoteros). What is more obvious, though not as much as “everything is connected,” than the fact that each and every thing, in being real, is a manifestation of reality or the power of Being (be-ing) itself? We may not be used to speaking this way, but it should be beyond dispute to say that something is real because it is grounded in The Real (or reality) and is a manifestation of Being.

So, because “Everything is connected” and “All is One,” a third and final truth logically follows, which is that “We’re all in this together.” This is wisdom’s encompassing truth. Each existing thing is a manifestation of the One reality; it co-exists with everything else in a connecting web of relations; and along with everything else, it belongs to, participates in, and is encompassed by a transcendent unity or higher wholeness.

If the web is a metaphor of our connectedness, terms that indicate an upward shift to higher wholeness include universe, integral order, ecosystem, and community.

It should be clear that while it may take some time for us to become aware of the higher wholeness encompassing all things, “we’re all in this together” whether we consciously know it (and own it) or remain stuck in our prisons of ignórance and conviction.

As long as we remain captives of our delusional separation from others and the larger reality to which we belong (partnerships, communities, and ecosystems), our choices, judgments, and actions will collide with the way things are. The predictable consequences of our foolish egoism will be the degradation of living systems, the loss of community, chronic conflict, widespread suffering, and our own miserable extinction.

Or we can choose a brighter destiny and start living by what we already know.