The Mountain Path, or New Evolutionary Landscapes

I’ve noticed my thoughts of late have been following a particular trail or pattern. Here are a few others that I’ve written along this particular path:

It’s difficult to summarize exactly where this path has taken me. My mind has been seeded with an idea (saw Inception yesterday) of the non-linear path. The Tao that is wild and rugged, that goes back and forth between order and chaos. The Way that travels in circles and cycles rather than arrows and ladders. It’s this messier, organic path that I have always resonated with, and attempted to explore in one author or another.

It was my main contention with authors such as Ken Wilber, who utilize entirely masculine and rational pathways, rendering consciousness itself to appear more like the hard drive of my computer than a real living system, like a neural network or the ecosystem of a rain forest. I’ve always had the intuition that the intuitive itself, the imaginative and the feminine was an area that has been left misunderstood and abandoned. The realms of the messy are not approachable to a strictly rational mind, in which the wild appears wicked, the organic messy like weeds creeping up under strictly laid brick-pathways.

As the mindfulness teacher, Shinzen Young says, “subtle is significant.” It is the subtle path of the Tao that has been overlooked. Glancing around the imaginative landscape of many evolutionary theorists and consciousness philosophers today, notions of chaos and non-linear dynamics is left as a foot-note rather than a chapter in a book. Put simply, there is an imbalance of the intellect and the intuition here.

Contemporary theorists would have you believe Mind is merely a machine we haven’t cracked yet, and even though Wilber would detest that idea, he still handles the interior landscape of consciousness as if it were simply a linear program.

On the other hand, notions of the multi-dimensional, the non-linear are relatively new and still emerging in the history of human consciousness. We have philosophers such as Whitehead or Teilhard de Chardin early on. It’s also my belief that Jung’s insights have yet to be tapped. The synchronistic appearance of the Red Book last winter is a testament to that.

Scientists, such as Varela, Maturana, Margulis, Lovelock, Kuhn, and writers such as Thompson, Deleuze and DeLanda, seem to have appeared only a few decades ago. The radical notion that we have to look at whole-systems and their interdependent participation with each other, is something I feel is abstractly mentioned, but not applied in integral theory. There are far and few actually attempting to utilize this. Auto-poeisis and Gaia Theory are fascinating examples of something new. Far from being long-forgotten, I get the feeling that new discoveries in the same theme will continue to occur.

In the “Awakening to Origin” essay, I suggested that a linear, developmental model of human evolution is insufficient. We must look into ourselves for alternative ways of seeing. This is difficult, particularly because we are immersed in a culture that has all but forgotten its psyche. Maybe this is why movies like Inception and books like the Red Book are so enticing — they invite us into the realms of self knowledge. It is both fascinating and terrifying.

We are so used to objectifying everything in reality, including ourselves, that we forget to explore the intimate subject who is witnessing it all in the first place. Objectifying the Self is one path that yields knowledge, but it won’t do much good as we increasingly need to become more self-aware. The inside and the out, the “within and without” of things are in desperate need of balance.

So one of the things I’ve begun to suggest, walking in the footsteps of some giants like William Irwin Thompson, and Carl Jung, is that the non-linear path can be expressed. It might even be said that by so fully embracing linear and rational modes of thinking, we have opened the floodgates for the non-linear and multidimensional.

The language of this path can be balanced with our rational discourse, so that developmental lists and vertical maps can be utilized, but not for the same purposes.

Integral Options Cafe recently blogged about the Integral Theory Conference. One of the major issues that came up was the “growth to goodness,” problem: the idea that the higher you get up on the map, the better person or more evolved you are. This idea, while not always expressed but certainly implied, flies in the face of a more multi-dimensional understanding of consciousness. There is intrinsic goodness at any “level,” unity and wholeness expressed perfectly, whether we are looking at a network of rhizomes or a human brain. The notion of progress creeps up and reifies the ego in new ways, and so it seems that the integral maps themselves have a deep shadow they cannot reconcile.

The path of evolution itself is circular. There are dead ends, there are winding roads and sometimes it goes up, and sometimes it goes down. But any step towards something novel and emergent is a step towards humbleness. With each ascended step up the mountain, there is more at stake. Not to mention, the possibility for a greater fall.

Jean Gebser was careful to note that his “lists” were not talking about anything vertical. They were listed for convenience sake, expressing particular worldviews that emerged sequentially in time.

It’s been shown, however, that ancient cultures and primordial humanity had an extremely sophisticated understanding of the cosmos. We can, as many have like Barfield and Thompson, go so far as to say that humanity’s mind was more Whole than it ever has been since. The rift between subject and object, cosmos and psyche had not yet been torn. So ancient cultures potentially had more awareness into cosmic processes than we.

So we’ve gone back and forward at the same time. We’ve fragmented our consciousness. But in a more multi-dimensional vision of human evolution, perhaps to fragment is also to venture towards a new whole.

Evolutionary cycles tend to go through relatively stable periods, followed by chaotic extinctions, from which life bounces back in new complex wholes.

It may be that the cosmos has a universe pull, a natural tendency to work in such an archetypal pattern of expansion and contraction. Teilhard believed it was the force of love that pulled us into greater complexity and consciousness, the force of the future itself, tugging life like the moon does the sea. Perhaps in the mind of an angel, the future and the past are not divided by the linear arrow of human time, but instead overlap and fold upon each other so that they are interpenetrating and intersecting at infinity. The eternal and the temporal are woven right into each other, so that our dimension is merely nested in infinity.

In the course of human evolution, many of us are theorizing and speaking about “evolving ourselves.” But if we want to dance with the angels on the head of a pin, we are going to have to begin to think like angels ourselves. How are we going to speak of multidimensionality without beginning to at least open up to it?

2. The Cycles of Expansion and Contraction

“There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self” — Carl Jung

As much as we can follow a convenient arrow of complexity in evolution, specifically human socio-cultural evolution, we can also follow a spiral and a circle. The rise and fall of organisms in the greater cosmic life-pulse of the Earth, like an in and out breath of expansion and contraction, displays a cyclical dimension of time that the arrow does not symbolize.

It’s this “circumnavigating” which I find to be really fascinating and an untapped potential in exploring the evolution of consciousness.

We can see at least inklings of this in William Irwin Thompson’s work, and extensively written about on the individual level with Carl Jung, but here I am hoping to emphasize the need for the circular, the cyclical, the imaginative navigation of the evolution of human consciousness — let alone the evolution of life as a whole.

When we invoke this kind of time, we are stepping back a few hundred thousand years to our hunter-gatherer ancestors living in the womb of Mother-Goddess. Astrology has its roots here, and so its no surprise astrology expresses an ancient form of understanding1) growth and 2) cyclical transformations as compared to our modern ladder-like charts of human development. Remember though, that ancient does not mean useless. The past lives in us and seeks to be integrated with the conscious mind.

In this place, time repeats. The stars tell us of the cycles of heaven and earth, birth and death. They movement of the heavens has a progression of cycles in which the same stories are retold. Time is brought back to the eternal, all that is birthed from the womb of Mother-Goddess eventually returns in death.

3. Patterns in Novelty

So, where is there room for novelty? Emergence? I believe we are in a really fortunate time period where we can look back at literally billions of years, and that time line is also a spiral that, if we can appreciate and gain a sensibility for an ancient imaginative faculty of mind, invites us to see where time overlaps. So that previous “rungs” of the spiral intersect in the present and the future.

To give an example in images:

The first plant life on Earth, emerging as algae on the surface of water, then eventually spreading over the lands as they terraformed the Earth. There is an archetypal pattern that intersects human consciousness with these first plants. Like a band of neurons washed up on the shores of the wild, we began our slow enveloping of the Earth much like the first plants.

In the beginning, plants gave off little oxygen and wasn’t a bother to most of the life on early Earth. But over the millions of years, through a series of successive mutations, plants got deadly. They literally poisoned Earth’s atmosphere. What was once a harmless new mutation had now become something like an apocalyptic angel, leaving death in its wake.

Something happened, however, and this in my mind attests to the brilliancy of life: the world adapted. Eventually, what was once harmless, then toxic, had become integral to the planet.

Forward time a few million years, we find ourselves in the same archetypal situation as these early plants. During our initial emergence, we hominids were relatively harmless in the scheme of things, but as we grew, what was once minor became major, and humans have ushered in one of the greatest mass extinctions in the history of life. The enveloping forests of green reflect an archetypal theme up the spiral, as we find ourselves in the midst of Teilhard’s noosphere. From forests of green to forests of electric light. As our consciousness awakens to this symbiotic archetype, this ecology of cooperation and relationship — we begin to intersect the past, as Mind becomes aware of an archetype that manifests all the way up and all the way down. At first it manifests as the bringer of the apocalypse, later, a necessary integration of the manifest world.

The deeper structural pattern at work appears to be in the nature of “one becoming two.” The separation and eventual re-union.

As we fall from Eden in our natural state of grace, or unity with the world, both biology and psychologically, we become a greater agent of destruction. Equally so, however, do we become the potential for a new integral unity. Might we, as Lovelock suggests become as integral to the planet as plants are today? Will we earn our keep in the layers of life on Earth?

William Irwin Thompson suggests that in the realm of time and space, the unity that God or “higher dimensions” naturally express gets “split up” down here. So polarities come into being: day and night, light and darkness. The two are paradoxically needed to create a whole. Often enough, what will eventually become good must first express its polar opposite: darkness.

Jung believed this was true. In his Red Book, he writes a somewhat shocking section in which he described war as something that was, in the long run, “good,” because it revealed the darkness that was in us. The shadow must be integrated, the unconscious must be rendered into light. So the union of opposites is a huge dimension in the development of the psyche, and it appears to be important, if not essential for human history and the larger history of life. The Angel of death is also the ambassador of Heaven. Truth comes down from on high and becomes paradox, played out in the process of time.

This may put our modern predicament in perspective. We are planetary, and we are global, but the infrastructure is born from the labor of billions in poverty. Europe’s shift from kingdom to country came in the wake of Viking terror. Is our shift hailed by the terror of military industrial complex and multinational corporations?

When I see many developmental theorists and advocates pride themselves in being on climbing the “evolutionary edge,” I believe they are equally descending into their own shadows. The awakening doesn’t always have to be rude, but this is what makes humbleness on the path so important.

So, rather than seeing the evolution of consciousness as purely developmental, we can also see it as a sort of oscillating wave form, with one particular dimension of consciousness being explored, flowered into being and eventually collapsing, followed by another.

The “followed” part is where many modern theorists get hung up on. They take the sequence and turn it on its side, and attempt to climb the ladder to the top. By doing this, they actually fail to integrate the circular path and topple over, again and again until they begin to intuit something is missing from the path.

4. The Nature of the Mandala

Jean Gebser posited there are 4 structures of consciousness: Archaic, Magic, Mythic, Mental, and Integral. The fifth is not so much the last rung of the ladder as it is the center of a circumference we have been exploring.

I think Jung is a great help here in understanding that human maturity is very cyclical. Particular dimensions express themselves in us: anima, animus, shadow, persona, etc. Each of them are a dimension of us but each of them alone do not reflect the whole.

The image of a mandala has always been a universal expression of Unity and Wholeness. It’s a way of tapping into the unconscious the psyche to help us understand what’s integrated, what’s not. What’s bothering us on a particular day can sometimes be understood by drawing mandalas in dream journals and diaries. Human consciousness, in other words, has a rich imaginative dimension that is always there, whether the tiny conscious portion of our mind is awakened to its own depths or not.

The notion of “4” is also a very important theme for Jung. I don’t understand enough about it, but to at least begin: there are four seasons, four personality types, the Alchemist’s Philosophers Stone has 4 elements and there are four Yugas, or cosmic seasons in Hindu cosmology.

Four is an expression of wholeness, much like the mandala. It’s the notion that we can “square the circle.” Which is another way of representing the image of a mandala: as a union of the manifest and unmanifest.

The ancient cultures had more of an intuitive grasp on this mytho-poeic and archetypal language. Something I believe we drastically need in order to develop any balanced representation of human consciousness, let alone a progression of evolutive cycles.

So here is a starter. Let’s envision Jean Gebser’s four structures of consciousness, rather than a list, expressed as a mandalic image.

Each point is a particular “structure” in the evolution of consciousness, which is not linear but cyclical. During the flow of time and history, particular dimensions of this mandala have flowered into being. They have manifested from the unmanifest. I would really like a mandala that had a spiral emerging out of the center and a square surrounding it — this would display the different layers of time.

As time continues to flow like a river, rushing towards the sea, civilizations and worldviews rise and fall like the seasons. Each time this archetypal spring returns, and a new “structure” emerges, it carries the seeds of previous structures with a new qualitative focus; be it mythic or rational or archaic. The tendency is to get more complex. So the further along time we go, particular “structures” arise during that season.

There comes a point in the flow of time where something new occurs, far from just an endless linear emergence of novelty. Time has “picked up the game” and it requires that Life respond in a more adequate way. The archangel of death returns in one guise or another — in the past it may have been Vikings, or ecocide or famine or infrastructure collapse. This agent of death challenges us to respond with novelty. What was relegated previously to the unconscious depths is being called to the front lines, so to speak. So we have to learn to invoke the spirit of our depths to involve itself in the world, as we evolve into new possibilities.

What was once our strength is now our weakness, and unless there is a new “mutation,” we cannot be reborn in a new structure, a new consciousness. It is this challenge, another guise of the “eternal return,” that drives evolution to new heights. In what Steve McIntosh similarly describes as a “thesis, antithesis, synthesis,” of evolution, our consciousness undergoes a cyclic collapse and rising of a new culture. The old is often contained in the new, at least implicitly.

Eventually, however, this “rise and fall” picks up speed, and suddenly one corner of the mandala will no longer be adequate for the coming apocalypse. Instead, we must seek to rise to the challenge with our full spirit, our innate Wholeness. This cannot be done with one end of the Self or the other. It requires the Individuated Self to come into being. The mandala that has found its own center.

And so an alternative “conception” or vision of the evolution of consciousness is rather a kind of “flowering” of Mind, going this way and that. Exploring this path and then later that one, meandering up the mountainside until it reaches a particular pinnacle — a peak in which the infinite and finite intersect; that is, the center of the mandala. It is as Jean Gebser described “ever present origin.” From where we came, and where we return to. In the end, the vast cosmic time it took for Mind to reach this pinnacle is another telling of the Eternal Return.


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