Do you experience paradoxes? An encounter with a spiritual teacher

In the mid-2000s, I went to a spiritual teacher. (The main one at the Center for Sacred Sciences in Oregon where I lived at the time.)

I told him about an especially strong shift into no-self that was happening at the time. (There was a strong no-self state, where the no-self aspect of what I am was strongly in the foreground, and it lasted for about half a year. I have experienced many states and phases like this, and they all highlight certain features of what I am.)

He asked me: Do you experience paradoxes?

I said honestly: “No”

And he responded: “Then it’s not an awakening”.

And that was it.

I was a bit baffled since I was more interested in exploring the no-self shift. For me, it’s a process with a lot of different aspects and phases, and I find it all intriguing. A binary view on awakening has some validity, but it’s not what I personally find most interesting. Also, why ask about experiencing paradoxes? I vaguely remember experiencing paradoxes following the initial awakening shift more than two decades earlier, but that went away as my thought processes got more used to oneness.


What is a paradox?

For me, it’s when we intellectually assume something is contradictory and we have trouble reconciling it.

In an awakening shift, we may notice we are both this human self and the oneness it’s all happening within and as.

This is not a paradox. Both are valid. And they are two different things. In a conventional sense, I am a human being in the world. And to myself, in my first-person experience, I am capacity for the world and what the world happens within and as.

If we hold thoughts as true or not, and as having some kind of exclusive truth, then this can appear as a paradox. We may struggle with understanding how both can be true. The experience of paradox comes from a certain habitual way of thinking about things that reflects separation consciousness.


Following an initial awakening shift, our mind – still operating to some extent from separation consciousness – may have difficulty reconciling apparent opposites. For instance, that we are human and divine, or that we are something within the world and we are what the world happens within, and so on. After a while, we get familiar with this new terrain and the experience of paradox fades away. These are no longer paradoxes for us.

We can also say this another way: If we hold thoughts as holding some form of exclusive truth, then it’s natural to experience paradoxes following an awakening shift. But when we get used to it and our thoughts are more aligned with oneness, we see that thoughts are questions about the world. They help us orient and function in the world, but they cannot hold any full or final or absolute truth. At the same time, there is some kind of validity in any thought. Getting used to this removes the ground for experiencing paradoxes. We get used to the divine as everything and we recognize thoughts as questions about the world and hold them more lightly.

When I look back to the initial awakening shift, I remember experiencing paradoxes as an early reaction to the shift. My mind was baffled that everything is nothing and something, that what I am is this human self and the divine, and so on. At the same time, it was very clear that the divine embraces and takes the form of any and all polarities. And with time, I no longer experienced it as a paradox. My mind got used to it.


There are a few other things that may have happened here.

For me, this encounter was as much a test of the teacher as anything else.

It seems that he cannot see energies. If he did, he would have relied on that to evaluate how much awakening there is in someone’s system. (As I do.) It’s much more direct and reliable than words.

And it seems that he doesn’t understand that the experience of paradoxes is an initial reaction that tends to fade with time and as we get more familiar with the terrain. He asked a question that makes sense for a relatively fresh awakening shift, not one that happened 25 years ago.

This is in marked contrast to when I have met with other spiritual teachers. For instance, in my teens and early twenties when I met teachers who sees energies and could see the awakening in my system before talking with me. And when I met with Adyashanti and there was a deep mutual sense of recognition.

From this and other experiences with this particular teacher, my sense is that he had a prejudice against new members. At the time, I had started the introductory course which contained pointers, books, and practices I was familiar with from twenty-five years of practice. He was reluctant to meet with me since I was a novice in his mind, and he seemed to meet me with that filter. He assumed that whatever I said was from the view of a novice. (For the same reason, I was also not allowed to join their retreats, even if I had decades of serious meditation practice, and had done a large number of far longer and more intensive retreats as a resident of a Zen center.)

Another side of this is a wound I have. When people jump to conclusions about me, my pattern is to do nothing to clarify it even if their conclusion seems odd or doesn’t fit reality. I let them believe whatever they want to believe. This has, at times, created difficulties in my life and it’s something I am conscious of and working on changing. It’s also one of the more ingrained patterns in me.

This pattern is related to a wound of not being seen and understood. A part of me expects to not be seen and understood, so I don’t even try to clarify in anticipation of misunderstandings or clear up misconceptions that have already happened. My passivity then sets up a situation so just that – not being seen or understood – is more likely to happen. In this case, the teacher played into it. And I left feeling not seen and understood. This pattern is also reflected in that I did nothing to explain my background or history upfront.

Finally, I may have understood the word paradox differently from the teacher. He may have just meant realizing the inherent richness of existence, and that the divine includes and takes the form of everything. And I understood it as having trouble reconciling apparently contradictory things.


If I were to ask one question to see if there is an awakening, what would it be?

Most likely, it would be: Is your human self happening on its own?

In your own direct and visceral experience, is your human self happening on its own? Is it living its own life?

And I look for a way to ask it that is less leading and more open-ended.

In my experience, that’s one of the essential signs of awakening and it’s there whether the awakening shift is new or familiar.

Some other possible questions:

How do you experience your physical body? For me, where my mind has images of this body, I find some sensations happening within and as the consciousness I find myself as.

How do you experience the world? To me, happening within and as what I am.

When you walk or drive in a car, are you moving through the landscape? Or is the landscape moving through you? For me, it’s moving through me. I can almost not remember it being any other way.

Do you have an experience of distance? Yes and no. I can relate to and use distance in a conventional sense. But I don’t experience distance, it’s all happening within and as the consciousness I am.

Of course, with all of these questions, there is a risk of getting an intellectual answer rather than how people viscerally and directly experience something. So finding questions that are more open-ended may be helpful, along with some follow-up questions.

Personally, I would just look at their energy system and see it there. That cannot be mistaken and it cannot be faked. When I look at the energy system that’s awake, the awakeness goes out infinitely from the body, and the energy field is clear, more transparent, and high vibration. (It’s very difficult to describe in words.) If there is less awakeness, then the awake part of the energy field stays closer to the body, and the energy field is generally more dense,

Ironically, around the same time, someone at the center had some kind of awakening shift and was pronounced “awake” by the main teacher. (Another oddity I don’t quite understand. The initial awakening shift is a milestone but doesn’t mean the person has matured into it or is ready to teach or guide others.) I looked at his energy system and could see the awakeness there, but I also saw that it wasn’t very stable. It was half awake and half unawake. Some weeks later, the main teacher announced that the awakening for this person wasn’t very stable.

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Talking about the whole process

I am very grateful for the Center for Sacred Sciences here in Oregon, and have gotten much out of the retreats and individual conversations with a couple of teachers. At the same time, I notice something I have heard from others as well. They talk about the journey to God, and not within God. At least in public, they talk about only a part of the process.

I can imagine a couple of reasons for that strategy: It’s simpler, at least on the surface. And they leave out a few things, including dark nights, that may scare people off from getting involved.

At the same time, I see several possible drawbacks:

(a) It’s a misrepresentation of the process. And since many students are familiar with other teachers/teachings, they know it’s a misrepresentation of the process. This invites a lack of trust. What else do they hide? Do they know about the rest, or not?

(b) They leave out several phases which could give a better understanding of the process as a whole, including the one they do talk about in public – the initial phase.

(c) Talking about the journey to God only may set up awakening as (i) a goal, (ii) either/or (binary), (iii) only sudden, and (iv) better than unawakened.

(d) They may lose folks who have been through the gate – either stably or temporarily – and look for guidance of what’s after.

(e) They implicitly treat the students as children, unable to discern, unable to deal with complexity, unable to take care of themselves, someone that needs to be protected against themselves.

And I see several benefits from talking openly about the whole process, as many do these days:

(a) It’s a fuller and more honest representation of the whole process. It invites trust.

(b) Talking about the whole process gives a fuller understanding of what it’s about, including what the initial phase – the journey to God – is about.

(c) It shows that it’s an ongoing process, and ongoing unfolding. An opening or awakening is one of many milestones, and not a goal and not necessarily “better” than what’s before or after in time.

(d) Their approach is more attractive to people who have been through the first gate.

(e) Students are treated as responsible, and able to discern and take care of themselves.

What about their two possible reasons for choosing their strategy? For me, it’s simpler to include it all, also because the whole sheds lights on each phase. Also, I prefer transparency and knowing what I am getting into. (And in my case, there wasn’t any choice.)

Some thoughts for me to look at:

Their approach belongs to a different culture / time.

They are dishonest. Misguided.

They treat students as children. They do people a disservice.

They only talk about the journey to God and not within God.

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How do I exclude myself?

If I feel excluded, one of the questions is how do I exclude myself? And then look at how I exclude myself in my mind, in how I interpret the situation, and also how I exclude myself in a practical, everyday sense.

This comes up now and then in relation to our local spiritual group. It is usually not a big thing, but enough to slightly bother me.

More precisely, I slightly bother myself as an invitation to look a little closer, find what is more honest for me, what feels better, and what is more wise and kind in a practical, everyday sense.

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What Ground awakening does and doesn’t do, and what practice does and doesn’t do

It can be helpful to be clear about what Ground awakening does and doesn’t do, and what practice does and doesn’t do.

To put it bluntly, all Ground awakening does is change who or what we take ourselves to be. We find ourselves as awakeness, the content of experience as awakeness, and already absent of any I with an Other.

And practice does two things: It invites what we are to notice itself. (Ground awakening.) And it helps this human self heal, mature and develop.

What Ground awakening doesn’t necessarily do is change how this human self shows up in the world. Although it may happen to some extent.

Our human self do tend to reorganize within this new context of Ground awake to itself, but it is almost side effect, it takes time, and may need guidance by intention and specific practices to be more thorough.

And what practice doesn’t do is to control anything. Practice invites change for this human self, and it may invite what we are to notice itself, but that is about it. Whatever shows up within form are guests living their own lives, on their own schedule. And what we are noticing itself is also a guest, living its own life, on its own schedule.

So when we see people functioning within a context of Ground awakening, and they seem relatively healthy and mature, what we see is probably a combination of practice and awakening. The practice – including ordinary psychology and relationship work – has invited the human self to heal and mature, and the awakening may have encouraged that further.

In a practical sense, it doesn’t really matter. Whether we are looking for a more healthy and mature human self, or to notice what we really are, practice is a way to invite it in.

The trigger for this post: Noticing how Joel sometimes talks and writes in a way that may give the impression that Ground awakening does more than it does. And how students at CSS sometimes talk as if a Ground awakening is responsible for what practice is actually responsible for.

Dream: needs to work itself through

I see what is left to be worked through, represented as a black rectangle with some substance and thickness.

This was a dream image that stayed with me after I woke up.

It has a sense of something that needed to be exhausted through practice and effort. And also that they exhausting itself is the point of it.

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No biography to write?

Joel wrote his biography up to his awakening, because there was nobody there to write about following the awakening. But is that quite true?

It is true, in the sense that there is no separate I there anymore following the awakening. No I with an Other, placed on this human self or any other content of awareness. It is just this field of awakeness and its content, which is awakeness itself, inherently absent of an I with an Other, absent of center and periphery. Yet still, somehow, functionally connected to a particular human self. (In his case, Joel. In my case, this human self. In your case, your human self.)

Yet it is also false, in that this human self still lives its life in the world, as before. And the story of this human self can indeed be told, and may offer valuable insights and pointers for others, maybe even inviting what we are to wake up to itself.

Of course, saying that there is nobody there to write about is a teaching tool, throwing a wrench into our habit of taking ourselves to be content of awareness and inviting us to look a little closer.

But it is also a partial truth, a quite one-sided way of talking about it, and I can’t help thinking that it may be more helpful to include both of these sides.

Yes, there is no separate I here to write about. But the story of this human self can still be told, and it can have some value (or not) to do so.

Working with dreams

One of the topics from last night’s CSS meeting was dreams.

They mainly (only?) work with dreams through intellectual interpretation, and differentiate between “egoic” and “spiritual” dreams, mostly disregarding or at least downplaying the first category.

This is of course useful. But another way of working with dreams, and one I find more juicy and plunges me more into the unknown, is through active imagination. Usually, I take a few minutes to close my eyes and go back into the dream, replaying a part of it, and then interacting slightly differently with the dream characters, asking them questions, who are you? Being curious, seeing what happens, what dynamics and information is there.

Often, I am quite surprised by what happens, and how it helps me get familiar with dynamics and disowned parts at my human level, and begin to bring these into the warmth.

And also, I work with dreams through investigating whatever beliefs come up during or after the dream. Dreams trigger beliefs as much as any other stories that play themselves out for us, whether in our daily life, in the news, in movies, books, mythology, or anything else. So why not make use of it?

So in both of these cases, there is an immediateness in how I work with dreams that does not require going through any intellectual interpretation. (Which is heavily colored by our conscious view, what we already consciously know, and also tends to get pretty abstract and dry even if it hits the mark in some way.) And there is also no differentiation between “egoic” and “spiritual” dreams. Both are gold. Both offer valuable guidance.

And I find these beliefs to investigate: They should use active imagination. They shouldn’t rely on intellectual interpretation so much. (What dinosaurs! Do they live a hundred years ago?) Why do they differentiate so much between “egoic” and “spiritual” dreams? Don’t they know that there is gold in both? That the same teachings are to be found in both? I am right. I know.

Benefits of going to my local spiritual group

There are multiple benefits for me in going to CSS.

First, the clarity Joel brings from his Ground awakening and studies of the philosophy and practices of many traditions. (Christianity, Buddhism, Sufism, Hinduism/Advaita.)

Then, what gets triggered in me in different ways.

I often feel that the ways the teachers look at a particular topic is quite limited, so it encourages me to find what is more true for myself. What they say is great, but what else is also true? What are the other ways of looking at this topic? What does the larger landscape look like? And also, what are the truths in the reversals of these teachings?

And then the reactiveness, the hangups triggered in me, which is as valuable and as much a teacher as the above. (If not more of a teacher.) Whenever I go, believes are triggered, and there is something in the setting that allows these to come up more clearly and in more abundance than in any other setting. (I probably have higher expectations/hopes.)

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Quantum Koans

A talk on quantum experiments as koans by Thomas McFarlane at the Center for Sacred Sciences. As koans, these quantum experiments pull the rug out from under thoughts, and help us see how there is nothing absolute in our conventional ways of mapping the world.

Quantum Koans from Center for Sacred Sciences and Vimeo.

A limited inclusiveness

Seeing how much sense it makes to include the energy & consciousness, and self & other dimensions in our own practice, it is paradoxical how for instance CSS, which has as its mission to be inclusive, confines itself to one one quadrant: the one of consciousness and self-initiated work. Also, in terms of the aqal quadrant of one & many, and inner & outer, it again confines itself mainly to only one quadrant: one and inner. It is inclusive in a very limited way.

And although the teachers may know about and have explored some of the other quadrants, they usually don’t talk about it, which can set the students up for having limited and limiting ideas about what is possible.

This is of course OK as well. The benefit of limiting ones focus to a small area is, as usual, that we get to be intimately familiar with it. The drawback is a potentially narrow world view, and also a dismissing of practices and approaches which help us explore the terrain in different ways, and outside of what other practices may cover. While keeping it simple, it also limits.

Working with Choiceless Awareness

At the two CSS retreats I have been to, Choiceless Awareness has been the main practice, and I can see why. It can be a finely tuned tool for exploring the workings of the mind, the mechanisms of samsara, and what is (already) more true for us.

The main progression, over the course of the retreat and also within each session, is from stability practice (focusing on an object such as the breath or a mantra), going through the sense fields and noticing what arises in each (sensations, sight, sound, taste/smell, thought), and then inquiring into a particular process or area in more detail.

When we go through the sense fields, we can do it one by one (seems useful to get into it), then label whatever attention goes to (sound, sight, taste, thought, etc.), and we can also move into just noticing which field something arises within without the self-talk, and finally shift into Shikantaza, just sitting, or true meditation as Adyashanti calls it.

Some of the inquiries we can engage in using this tool…

  • We can notice impermanence in each sense field, how everything arises and passes away within this timeless now of awareness. We can also notice how this impermanence is alive in immediate timeless awareness, while any other forms of impermanence comes from a story and happens within time. In other words, this is the only one outside of thoughts, and the other ones are only found in the inside of thoughts.
  • We can explore thoughts specifically.
    • We can explore image thoughts put on top of perceptions.
    • For instance, without the visual field (eyes closed), we can explore how the body and the space within and around the body is represented in thought, and how movements of the body is mirrored in changes in these visual thoughts. The visual thoughts are laid on top of perceptions, identifying what arises, and also giving rise to a sense of a body (overlaid on sensations) and space in general (body+wider world). For instance, a sensation arises in space, in the area where the body-image says a foot is, and it is taken as an itch on the side of the foot. A sound arises, and it is taken as the sound of a bird just outside the window.
    • Bringing in the visual field again, we can actually see the image thoughts superimposed on the pure visual perceptions, and the difference between them. We can also notice how anticipation of a change in the visual field is actually a change in the visual thoughts superimposed on the visual field. For instance, I see the teacher sit there with the stick for hitting the gong, and the visual thought shows me him moving to hit the gong while the visual field shows him sitting with it in his lap.
    • In exploring impermanence within each sense field, we can see how image thoughts create a sense of continuity. Perceptions arise and fall away within timeless awareness. Any thought about them is a thought of what was, a memory. And in this way, a sense of continuity is created. Without thought, no continuity.
  • We can explore emotions, and see how they are made up of sensations and a story about these sensations. When this is seen, and the story is not believed in or engaged with, there are no emotions anymore. There is not the label of emotions. And also, we see that what arises as an easily recognizable emotion from the gestalt of sensation+story (when its components are not clearly seen), now is something quite different, often something that we couldn’t label very easily (beyond simply “sensation”) even if we tried.

This is obviously a very limited list, mainly because I have a quite limited experience with it so far. It strikes me that this form of inquiry is quite similar to in the Big Mind process, with choiceless awareness with a more narrow focus, and the Big Mind process spanning a much wider range of areas of inquiry.

CSS retreat and thought images

I just returned from another excellent CSS retreat, this time led by Todd who brought a wonderful fullness of heart and emotion into it along with the usual (unusual) clarity about Ground awakening that any of the teachers at CSS express.

Some of the things that came up for me using the choiceless awareness practice (labeling the six sense fields, then in this case exploring thought specifically)…

First, the new stuff…

  • There is the very familiar layer of discursive thought (self-talk), and also the layer of labeling images, labeling whatever arises in the sense-fields. For instance, something arises (bird song) and an image of a bird is placed on top of the sound. Or I close my eyes, and can still see a pale vaguely defined image of my body there, and any body part. There are sensations (swallowing) and an image of the swallowing mechanism placed on top of the sensations. A sound (lawn mover) and a vague image of a person pushing a lawn mover placed on top of the sound. These images provide a preliminary suggestion or interpretation of the perception, and serve as a fertile ground for discursive thought to arise and draw from if discursive thought arises related to that perception. These are interpretive labeling images.
  • A particular type of labeling images seem to provide cues for emotions. A perception arises, an image label suggesting what it may be is placed on top of it, and sometimes, another image label is added which provide emotion and mood cues. For me, these have color and texture as cues for what emotions and moods to trigger. (I need to explore this more to see how it plays itself out, and am also not sure if this is the same for everyone. I tend to associate words and concepts with color and texture anyway, a mild case of synesthesia, so I suspect this may be different for many others.)
  • Another type of labeling images seem to do the same for the truth content of a thought, either as really believed in or as conventional (relative) truth. For me, thoughts seen as true appear as yellow, while those less true as pale and neutral. The ones really true (believed in and taken as true) appears as bright slightly orange yellow. And those with only conventional truth as a more gentle yet still bright yellow. Weird, I know, but possibly due to synthesia.

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Dr. Wolff on ambrosia

Dr. Wolff

I asked one of the teachers at Center for Sacred Sciences about the recent shift in experience of air and water, and he sent me this excerpt from one of Dr. Wolff‘s writings (emphasis added by me):

One day, after the evening meal and while still sitting at the table, I found that, by gradual transition, I had passed into a very delightful state of contemplation. The actual content of the thought of that period is forgotten, but as I made careful note of the state I was in and submitted it to close scrutiny, the quality of the state was well impressed upon my memory. My breath had changed, but not in the sense of stopping or becoming extremely slow or rapid. It was, perhaps, just a little slower than normal. The notable change was in a subtle quality associated with the air breathed. Over and above the physical gasses of the air there seemed to be an impalpable substance of indescribable sweetness which, in turn, was associated with a general sense of well-being, embracing even the physical man. It was like happiness or joy, but these words are inadequate. It was of a very gentle quality, yet far transcended the value of any of the more familiar forms of happiness. It was quite independent of the beauty or comfort of the environment. At that time the latter was, to say the least, austere and not in any sense attractive. This quality, associated with the air, I had, in a smaller measure, previously experienced at high altitudes in the mountains, but in the present instance the altitude was only 1800 feet and the air was far from invigorating, due to the period being exceptionally warm. However, introspective analysis revealed the fact that the elixir-like quality was most marked during the exhalation, thus indicating that it was not derived from the surrounding air. Further, the exhaled breath was not simply air expelled into the outer atmosphere, but seemed to penetrate down through the whole organism like a gentle caress, leaving throughout a quiet sense of delight. It seemed to me like a nectar. Since that time I have learned that it is the true Ambrosia.

-Wolff (Pathways Through to Space, p.2)

His description seems very similar to the shift that happened with me. It is interesting to note that he also was reminded of fresh mountain air, and describes it as a nectar (or elixir, or ambrosia), and something that is “embracing even the physical man”.

Here is something more that came up for me around it:

It is most noticeable when breathing air and drinking water, but it is also a constant stream that goes through any experience (when I eat or drink something with flavor, the flavor goes more into the foreground… although the stream is still there).

It seems related to the endarkenment shift a few months back… there has been a sense of a good deal of reorganizing happening on an energetic and physical level associated with that shift, and this – the changes in sense experiences – may be related to it.

Oddly enough, the velvety smooth, round, full quality of the endarkenment, is now smelled, tasted and tactilely sensed in a very physical way.

Consciousness… one or many? (and the answer is maybe yes, and neither)

I have had the pleasure of spending some time with Deep Surface lately, including at the Center for Sacred Sciences this morning, and he asked Joel a really good question.. one that I am sure comes up for most of us sooner or later, and probably over and over in slightly new ways.

(Paraphrased:) There is an apparently separate consciousness here, and there also seems to be apparently separate consciousnesses out there, in other people and animals. What is the relationship between all of these? Is it one, many? If it is one, why does it appear as many?

Joel asked us how many consciousnesses we each have direct experience with, and the answer for all of us was one. He then also helped clarify the difference between awareness itself and its content, the seeing and the seen… the content is many and always changing… different sights, sensations, thoughts, subpersonalities and so on. But the seeing is always one, always the same.

This helped clarify it for me as well, and here is one way to talk about it:

A field of awake emptiness

The Ground of all form is awake emptiness, appearing as a field of awake emptiness throughout space.

Over here, the content of this awake emptiness is from this individual. Over there, from that individual. Over there again, from another individual.

Emptiness is always the same. Simply emptiness. Yet its content is always different. It is different here, over time. And it is different at different points in space, with content arising from different individuals (including all sentient beings.)

So the awake emptiness is one, yet its content is many. And this is also why it can be awake to itself over there, in that individual, and not here, in this individual, and so on. In one individual, it takes itself to be that content, that individual. In another, it has awakened to itself as awake emptiness, recognizing the whole field as nothing other than the same awake emptiness.

One, and many (and neither)

So is it one or many? As usual for me, the answer seems to be “yes.”

It is one, in that in our own experience, there is only one. And it is one in that it is the same awake emptiness everywhere (emptiness is emptiness.)

Yet, its contents is of course many, and it appears separate until it awakens to itself as awake emptiness, recognizing the whole field as nothing other than this awake emptiness.

And also, it is such an unusual situation, at least for our minds to grasp, so we cannot really say it is one or many. It is somewhere in between, something a little different, not quite either.

Local integral network?

Many places have their integral pods and networks, and we have had some too – one study group that went for a while, and one I organized last year on integral practice.

Now, it seems that the time is ripe for something else to get going.

Some ideas for local activities

A brief, general menu of possibilities…

  • Catalyst group
    Forming a core catalyst and support group for whatever network may emerge.

  • Outreach
    Presentations, workshops, articles in local publications, website, email group, group blog, consulting with organizations or individuals who want to operate from a more integrally informed view.

  • Mapping
    Developing an AQAL map of our local community: Where do existing approaches fit into the aqal map? How can they reorganize to reflect a more conscious aqal approach?

What does it take to reflect a more integrally informed view?

In general, and as KW points out, each of the organizations and individuals will have to let go of their claim to absolute truth.

Some of the possible questions that come up:

What are some of the ways their organization, their insights, their existing maps and views, can be reorganized to reflect a more integrally informed framework? What would need to change? What can stay the same? Where in the aqal map do they land? Which areas are left out? How can they work with others to create a more comprehensive approach? What are their unique contributions?

Examples of realigned organizations

And then some (very rough and preliminary) examples of how this may look. This is of course going to be terribly generalized. (And will bring up some projections and food for inquiry later on…!)

These organizations are all led by friends or acquaintances of mine who I have the greatest respect and appreciation for. But that does not mean that their frameworks are somehow final, complete, without room for improvement, and not available to an integral overhaul 🙂

:: Prototista

Prototista is a quite remarkable community school for complexity theories, run by one person. It is based on solid and leading-edge science, although tends to leave out the left hand quadrant entirely, as well as the developmental dimension.

They do have somewhat of a practical application focus, so including the left hand of the quadrant, and an understanding of human development, would – most likely – make their approach more effective. Of course, many students there do that on their own, fitting the valuable contributions from Prototista into a more comprehensive framework.

:: Eugene Permaculture Guild

Well, Eugene Permaculture Guild is the premiere local example of the green value meme, although many of the individuals there are probably at wider and more inclusive turns of the spiral.

In general, they do cover all the quadrants pretty well. What they lack is an understanding of human development, and a willingness to meet and work with people where they are at.

As is typical for any first tier level, they want everybody else to be where they themselves are, they want others to “get it”. (Hopeless! as Byron Katie would say.)

And as is typical for the green level in particular, they appreciate some forms of diversity – such as ethnic, age and so on, but do not appreciate the diversity of the spiral of development. They do not appreciate orange much, and even less amber, and see second tier folks as elitist or naive kooks.

To reflect a more integral approach, they could include this understanding of the lines and levels of human development, and how it plays out in community and approaches to sustainability.

Most importantly, it would help them meet people where they are at, using their language, addressing their values and goals, not needing or wanting them to change their basic values and worldview, just aligning and partnering around the shared interests of creating a more livable and life-supporting community.

It would help them be more effective in what they are doing. It would very much be a practical approach. It would help them avoid the usual burn-out from the old us versus them mentality and wanting them to be like us. And it would be more fun.

:: Permatopia

Permatopia is a comprehensive map to a more sustainable society, and another green level approach.

It is almost entirely right hand quadrant, which is OK as long as it is combined with more left hand understandings.

Maybe more seriously, it leaves out an understanding of human development. And this means that it is almost entirely uninteresting to anyone but other greens.

Amber and orange says, nice but why should we care? Or, get away from me with that crazy hippie talk!

Second tier says, you are onto something very important, but you are leaving too much out to get me on board. The approach is not comprehensive and inclusive enough, and the way you do it alienates too many people. I’ll put in my energy somewhere else.


There is a PROUT educational center here. It is a beautiful theory, obviously well-meaning, and it is integral in that it does cover all the quadrants and even an understanding of human development.

Its main weakness is that it seems highly prescriptive, from the overall framework and down into a good deal of detail. There is a particular way of doing it. It is content full where the aqal framework is content-free, allowing for anything to be plugged into it. So it tends to appear somewhat unrealistic, idealistic, utopian, rigid, a pipe dream.

In it’s utopian idealism it appeals to some Green meme folks, but that is about it. It is difficult to see folks from amber and orange, at least in this culture, embrace it, and second tier folks may tend to see it as too idealistic and inflexible. One solution is of course to loosen up the content part, and allow other approaches which still fit within the general intention of PROUT.

:: Center for Sacred Sciences

CSS is under guidance of Joel who clearly lives from a Ground awakening and realized selflessness, and speaks beautifully about this, weaving together quotes and views from a wide range of spiritual traditions. There are also several others who have realized selflessness under his guidance, and who now function as occasional assistant teachers.

As inclusive their approach is in terms of drawing from a range of traditions, they also leave much out compared to an aqal perspective. They mostly focus on the upper left quadrant, although sometimes bring in quantum physics and the like from the right hand quadrants. And they do not address zone #2 views on the upper left quadrants. For instance, they altogether leave out the understandings of human development from western psychology.

Still, their main weakness may be in another area: Being somewhat stuck in the absolute. The focus is almost exclusively on realized selflessness, largely ignoring the human self and its health, maturity, and continued development before and after realized selflessness.

As far as I understand, KW talks about how an awakening, here realized selflessness, can cement the human self wherever it may be. And this is exactly my main concern with CSS. Their exclusive focus on realized selflessness leaves out attention to the health and development of the human self, and this can to some extent fix the human self where it is at.

Within the context of realized selflessness, there is an invitation to a continued and deepening healing, maturing and development of the human self. Many of the II associates understand and emphasise this, including Saniel Bonder and Genpo Roshi. Joel does not.

Of course, from the view of the absolute, he is right. Everything is Spirit. Everything is emptiness dancing, including what from a relative view is seen as an unhealthy or healthy, immature or mature human self – less or further along in its many lines of development.

Yet, it is also onesided. Existence has two faces: emptiness and form, ground and phenomena, Self and self. Or we can say the context of a sense of I or realized selflessness, and the content of this human self and the rest of the world of form.

And this content, this world of form, continues to unfold in always new ways. As this universe and planet, it continues to evolve. As this human self, it continues to develop.

If we emphasize only one, we leave out at least half of the story. In a way, we make God into far less than it is. We miss out on the invitation of consciously participating in the evolution of the world of form, within and as Ground.

:: Co-Intelligence Institute

CII does a wonderful job in gathering information about and promoting various approaches to collective intelligence, something which is sorely needed in our society, and maybe especially in our political system. I am not sure exactly where on the Spiral Dynamics spiral they are located, but most likely somewhere between green and second tier, with a nostalgia for green.

In terms of the quadrants, they seem to do a pretty good job covering all of them. The widening circles of development seem to be mostly left out or in the background, probably because it clashes with the green aversion to anything that tastes of hierarchy and attachment to the egalitarian.

Maybe more seriously, green idealism here seem to abandon the effective pragmatism of orange and is not yet at the more inclusive and deep pragmatism of second tier.

Orange knows how to get things done, yet ignores much in the process – and that is picked up by Green. Second tier also knows how to get things done, and now with a pragmatism that draw on tools and insights from any first tier levels, including the willingness and ability to meet people where they are at. At second tier, the idealism of green no longer gets in the way of getting things done.

The phases of self-inquiry

I am doing the fifth phase of the distance course from Center for Sacred Sciences, and it includes a specific form of self-inquiry as the featured practice. When I explore it for myself, I find three phases…

What changes

First, I look at what changes. Sensations come and go. Thoughts come and go. Sounds come and go. Sights come and go. Smells and tastes come and go. Although there may be times that I temporarily identify with sensations and thoughts, I see that I am not really either of those. They come and go. They live their own life. They are all finite in space and time. Change is inherent in any content, in anything arising, in anything happening.

And yet, something does not change.

What does not change

Then, I notice that which does not change. It is not content. It is not finite in time or space. It is this awake clarity, not defined by any characteristics such as color, extent, location, beginning, end, and so on. As Douglas Harding says, it is the capacity for the world, that which allows it all to unfold and live its own life. It is the awake emptiness which allows the fullness of the world. This is what does not change, and I am that.

Not different

Finally, there is the seeing of content as not different from this awake clarity. Where does the seeing end and the seen begin? Where does awareness end and its content begin? I cannot find this boundary anywhere. The content of awareness does not seem any different from awareness itself. It is revealed as form and emptiness. Seeing and seen has the same Ground, the same nature of awake clarity.


It is a practice that unfolds over time. At any time engaging in this form of inquiry, I may have a clear taste of each of these three phases. Yet, it is not a clear or full seeing, so there may be temporary identification with content again. There is the cycle of taste of clear seeing, then temporary identification with content. Gradually, there is an increased familiarity with this clear seeing, a shifting of the center of gravity to this clear seeing. This sets the stage for it to pop, for the Ground to shift into the foreground, revealing it all as inherently absent of any I anywhere.

Inquiry :: He shouldn’t see relative truths as absolute

Several weeks back, a scientist in the audience at the Center for Sacred Sciences got worked up around the types of truths as they relate to science.

Joel said that science deals with relative truths, and today’s accepted theories are tomorrow’s garbage pile of obsolete views (paraphrased). It seems obvious, from both a mystical and scientific view. All theories and models are limited and they are of only temporary value as well. Everything is provisional. Even the absolute truth, revealed to itself and expressed through mystics of any tradition, can only be expressed in a relative and limited way.

The science guy was very reluctant to admit that our current worldviews and theories are provisional, and I noticed it triggered a reaction in me. I could clearly see how he tried to made relative truths into apparent absolute truths, but could not – in the moment, see how I do the same. Instead, I went into a story that I see relative truths only as relative truths, and he does not. I get it, he does not.

From the discrepancy between (a) already noticing that this is not true and (b) trying to tell myself otherwise, many things happened including stress, discomfort, stronger sense of I and Other, sense of something to protect.

He shouldn’t see relative truths as absolute.

  1. Is it true?

    Yes. He is a scientist, and should know better (even a child knows that any map is incomplete and provisional, for god’s sake!)

  2. Can I absolutely know it is true?

    No. And I don’t know what is best for his path, nor for mine.

  3. How do I react when I believe that thought?

    I feel I am right and he is wrong. I see myself as superior. I become righteous. I have something to defend. I experience a split between us, a sense of separation and alienation.

    How do I treat him?

    As rigid. Inferior. Somebody who doesn’t quite get it. Somebody who is reactive, who allows emotions and irrationality take over.

    How do I treat myself?

    As superior. Somebody who gets it. Somebody who is more cool headed. As right. As separate from him, and others who don’t get it.

    Also, I blame myself for going into this. I see that believing the thought brings contraction and discomfort for myself, and I know it cannot be true. Yet I still act and react as if I believe it. I am in the grips of this belief, which I know cannot be true. There is some despair coming up from this. A sense of hopelessness. Of being stuck. Of not quite knowing what to do about it, at least in the moment.

    When did I first have that thought?

    Probably in my early and mid teens, when I realized – to my shock and amazement, how apparently irrational many or most adults seem to be. I still haven’t quite gotten over that shock and disbelief.

    Where in the body do I experience it?

    A contraction and holding in my chest and abdomen. A contraction of the muscles in my lower leg. Tension in my neck. Holding my breath back some.

    What is the payoff?

    I get to be right, superior, more insightful, clearer, more cool headed.

    What is the cost?

    Stress, discomfort, sense of separation, getting caught up in emotions, caught up in and to some extent blinded by my reactiveness.

  4. Who or what would I be without that thought?

    Somebody who sits there and listen to and watch somebody else speak, with clarity, ease, interest and curiosity. I am interesting in what he has to say, where he is coming from, why he would see it that way, and (especially) how that mirror myself.

    Instead of stress and reactiveness there is interest and curiosity. There is a sense of connection and intimacy.

    There is a human being speaking, just like me. And he mirrors me perfectly. Whatever I see in him I can find in myself (if I look).

  5. Turnarounds

    (a) He should see relative truths as absolute.

    Yes, because he does, according to my story. It is his path right now, until it isn’t. He is doing what he has to do, right now – as we all do, myself included.

    When he sees relative truths as absolute, what are the gifts for me?

    I get to see my beliefs around it, and explore how I do what I see him doing. I get to see myself more clearly, in ways I wouldn’t have been able to without him.

    He mirrors me, whether I see it or not. If I don’t see it, there is stress which is a motivation to see more clearly what is going on. If I explore and see it, I learn something new about myself and also about the process of believing in thoughts and projections, and then seeing through it.

    I see that he is my teacher, in a very real sense. Without him, I wouldn’t see this in myself. His presence there is a gift to me.

    (b) I shouldn’t see relative truths as absolute.

    Yes, that is more true. I am far more interested in what I do here, and in finding clarity for myself.

    What are some examples of how I see relative truths as absolute?

    Whenever I believe a thought – any thought, I take a relative truth and make it into an absolute. And in this, there is stress, unease, sense of I and Other, separation, not being at home.

    For instance, in believing that he should not see relative truths as absolute, I do the same as what I see in him. I am the one making this relative truth into an absolute. I attach to that thought as if it is an absolute truth, eternal, always valid, unquestionable.

    (c) I should see relative truths as absolute.

    Yes, when I do. When I see relative truths as absolute, then that is what I do – and have to do, until I don’t.

    When I see relative truths as absolute, what are the gifts?

    I get to experience, from the inside, the dynamics of believing thoughts. I get to become more familiar with the process, from living it.

    I get to experience the stress in it, which encourages me to find some clarity around it, to see more clearly what is going on.

    Also, I find myself in the same boat as anyone, anywhere, who believes in abstractions. This opens up for empathy, and possibly for helping others see it for themselves later on (through mirroring for them what they already know).

    (d) I shouldn’t see absolute truths as relative.

    Hmm… That is an interesting one. I shouldn’t see absolute truths as relative. How do I see them as relative?

    Another way of phrasing this turnaround is…

    I shouldn’t make absolute truths into relative truths.

    The only absolute truth arises when what is remembers its own nature, of no I anywhere, and this cannot be expressed through any abstractions. I cannot see it, apart from being it. How do I then make it into something relative?

    I make it into something relative when I try to reflect it in abstractions, at which point it automatically becomes relative truths, at best.

    So this turnaround is a reminder to see this more clearly, that the absolute truth is revealed when what is awakens to its own nature, and anything expressed automatically is a relative truth, at best. There is no need to get too caught up in terminology or ways of speaking, in comparing or trying to find the one best approach, because it is all relative truth. I can hold it loosely. This is a good reminder.

    As soon as the absolute is expressed, it becomes a relative truth, and I should know the difference.

    (d) I should see absolute truths as relative.

    Whatever is expressed, even when it points to the absolute, is a relative truth. And that means it can be expressed in many different ways. It is similar to many different artists trying to depict the same landscape, each one will do it a little (or a lot) differently.

    And it is all OK. Some depictions resonate with some folks, and other depictions with others. Some are highly realistic, others are more poetic. Some use broad strokes, others include lots of details. Some are rough and approximate, others are more faithful to the landscape. Some are dramatic, others are toned down. Some come directly from the artist, others come through numerous copies of the original. It is all OK.

    Together, all the depictions give a more comprehensive and rich picture. And each one resonates with some people who may not be able to hear it in any other way.

Some Ways of Labeling *

The fourth phase of the distance course from the Center of Sacred Sciences includes the insight meditation practice of labeling.

Their recommended approach is to label sensations, smell/taste, sound, sight and thought. A sensation comes up, and instead of attaching to a story about it, I just label is sensation. A thought comes up, and instead of going into its content, I label it thought. And so on.

In exploring this, I see how sensations, smell/taste, sound and sight are liberated from the stories about them, or rather from any attachment and belief to stories about them. They are just seen as what they are: sensations, smell/taste, sound and sight. I also see how thoughts are liberated from attachments to and beliefs in them, allowing them to be what they are – just thoughts, independent on their content. In labeling it thought, it stops there, before attachment to and fueling of its content.

A sensation come up, and a story anger. In labeling sensation, that is it. It is just a sensation, and I really don’t know what it is or what story to attach to it. Any story is just that, a story. Ephemeral. Added to it. Not inherent in the sensation. So the sensation is allowed to be what it is, without a story attached to it. And the stories come and go on their own as well, seen as just thought, without any need to attach to or fuel them.

A sound comes up, and a story noisy neighbors. In labeling sound, again it stops there. In labeling thought, the story of noisy neighbors is seen as just an story.

Three types of stories

When I do this, I see at least three types of stories.

  1. The story of the meaning of the perception

    There is a perception, and then a story about its meaning.

    A sensation may mean anger, joy, sadness, hunger, thirst, pain. Or it may go even further to mean I am sick, I may die, I will go to the hospital, how can I afford it, what a lousy medical insurance system, what if the doctors screw up, and so on.

    A taste may mean wonderful food, bad breath.

    A smell may mean he smells, he probably doesn’t take care of himself, he needs to get his act together.

    A sound may mean disrespectful neighbors, beautiful bird song, gunshot!

    A sight may mean old woman, attractive person, don’t like that vase – we should get rid of it.

  2. The story of the link between the perception and the initial story

    There is a sensation, a story, and then a story about the link between the sensation and the story.

  3. The story of the reality of the stories of meaning and link

    Both the story of the meaning of the sensation (pain) and the link (the story reflect the sensation) have secondary stories attached to them, stories saying they are real.

    The story of a link has a second story attached to it saying the link is real: The story does indeed accurately reflect the meaning of the sensation. There is not even any point in questioning it. I know it is pain!

    And the story of the meaning has the same story attached to it, a story of its validity and reality.

    This is where attachment to the stories come in. This is where they are believed in.

So here is one way of describing the sequence…

  1. There is a sensation and a story pain.
  2. There is a story about the link between the two. The story pain reflects the sensation.

  3. There are stories of validity attached to the two initial stories.

    The story is connected with the sensation, indeed – it seems to come out of or being inherent in the sensation. From seeing sensation as just sensation and thought as just thought, they are now linked in our experience of it.

    And the story pain is real, it is what is happening, it is pain! From seeing it as just a story, it is now taken as reality, as the gospel truth.

  4. These two initial stories, and the secondary stories saying they are real and valid, spawn a large number of other stories – and their consequences.

    I don’t’ want pain, I’ll do anything to make it go away – I’ll take a pill, distract myself, eat, watch TV. I better take it seriously or it can harm or kill me. It means I have some terrible disease.


Going back to the initial labeling practice, I see that there is a range of variations of the basic practice.

One variation is to simply label sensations, smell/taste, sound and sight perception. There is perception and thought. Only those two. That simplifies it for me and is a shortcut when I use it in daily life.

Another variation is to label personality. This seems most useful when the initial phase, that of labeling perceptions and thoughts, slips by and form the experience of a conglomerate of perceptions and thoughts. Conglomerates which take the appearance of a personality – of likes and dislikes, of preferences, of beliefs, of identity.

So I may notice a reaction to a situation, and just label it personality. This is the dislikes of the personality coming up, nothing more. No need to attach to or identify with it too much.

As with all labeling practice, this noting helps in shifting the center of gravity from the content (the perception, thought, or reaction of the personality) to the witness, the seeing, pure awareness. There is a disidentification with the content, a release from being blindly caught up in it, a sense of more space and freedom.

And finally, another way I have explored labeling is to combine it with the Big Mind process. Something comes up, and there is the recognition of it as the voice of anger, disappointment, attraction, seeking mind, nonseeking mind, and so on.

Ego Fighting?

I went to a talk by a guest speaker at the Center for Sacred Sciences Sunday. What is has clearly awakened to its own nature through him, and just listening allowed the vague sense of I to dissipate more.

Still, there were parts of the content that does not seem to align with my own experiences.

For instance, he talked a few times about the ego fighting its dissolution, fearing its death and so on. This is a quite common way of talking about it, but it seems clearly inaccurate as well. Really, this fighting seems to be an impression that only arises when there is still a belief in I there.

After the belief in I falls away, the whole process appears different. Now, we see that what appears to be “ego fighting” is just innocent habitual patterns. That is all. There was no ego in the first place, only the appearance of it from an overlay of the idea of I. It was a fiction all along. And the habitual patterns are only experienced as a problem to the extent there is identification with them.

And the belief in the idea of I is equally and completely innocent. It is just there as long as it has to, only as long as there has not been a clear seeing of the nature of what is being inherently absent of any I.

Land Mines

During the conversation with Joel, the topic of hot buttons came up (the following is just my interpretation of it).

These buttons are really just beliefs in stories. Stories that seem real to us to various degrees. Some completely real, maybe apparently beyond any questioning. Others less real, although we are still acting as if we believe in them – which we clearly do.

They are there, waiting to be triggered by various circumstances.

Land mines

An image that comes up for me is that of land mines. They are in the ground. The locations of some may be know to us and the location of others may not be known. And as we live our lives, various mines are triggered – some repeatedly.

Inquiry is one way to disarm these mines. One or more mines go off, we know their location, and they are disarmed. A situation does not match one or more beliefs, we take them to inquiry, and the charge goes out of them.

Buttons taking us out of awakening

In looking at my own life, I can see how these buttons can (apparently) even take us out of awakening.

I had what seemed to be a relatively deep and stable F6-F9 awakening in my teens and early twenties. But it was not complete, there was still a sense of accomplishment and arrogance there, there was still a vague sense of I. And even if I saw that clearly, and that those were symptoms of a not complete awakening, they still hang around. There was an Achilles heel there, and life knew exactly how to allow this to come to the forefront so I had little choice but to deal with it.

Last fall, the Ground popped into the foreground in an awakening to selflessness for some weeks, and here too a button got pushed (a habitual pattern which brought up self-consciousness) and the veil of “I” reemerged.

So even in an awakening, these buttons can be pushed and the veil of “I” can reemerge. And of course before any awakening, they are pushed as well.

And I can see the beauty of this, in how it invites me to explore and examine the mechanisms of Samsara in ever more detail.

Mechanisms of Samsara

I had a conversation with Joel at the Center for Sacred Sciences today, and it was very helpful – especially in clarifying my process unfolding in time. (Although there is really no “I” here, nor any “time” for it to unfold “within”. And the clarification is only of the story about it.)

One of the things he mentioned was the importance of becoming very familiar with the mechanisms of Samsara. How is it that the inherent clarity of mind gets clouded over? How is it that everything inherently absent of any “I” pulls a veil over itself creating a sense of “I”?

I find that the Byron Katie inquiries are very helpful for me in uncovering these mechanisms of samsara, in great detail. It is of course one of many approaches, but one that seems to work for me right now. It seems to bring out just about any practical insight that I have found anywhere else, in my – of course quite limited – studies of the various mystical traditions.

Center for Sacred Sciences

I went to my first live talk with Joel at the Center for Sacred Sciences today, and it was a remarkable talk. Clear, precise, from direct experience, using simple everyday words, wide-ranging and with a good deal of humor and personal flavor as well. He is saying what the mystics from all traditions are saying, with a clarity and immediacy that is rare.

I am beginning the foundations course, and hope to join their retreat in April. Their focus on the nondual awakening seems to be just what “I” (!) need right now.

He basically went through a lot of what I am trying to write about here. In my case, it is from limited experience and realization, with little eloquence and through a brain filter which is not too clear. In his case, it is from an obviously seasoned and brilliantly clear experience, from long studies of many traditions, and with a simplicity, ordinariness and elegance which is sorely needed today.