December 9, 2016

The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 5

by Dr. Marc Gafni

(part 5)

image courtesy of Stuart Miles (c) 2013

image courtesy of Stuart Miles (c) 2013

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God in the First Person:

“All at once I found myself wrapped in a flame-colored cloud. For an instant, I thought of fire and immense conflagration somewhere close by in that great city; the next I knew that the fire was in myself. Directly afterward there came upon me as sense of exultation, of immense joyousness accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. Among other things, I did not merely come to believe, but I saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter, but is on the contrary, a living presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have an eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all men are immortal, that the cosmic order is such that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all; that the foundation principle of the world, of all worlds, is what we call love, and that the happiness of each and all is in the long run absolutely certain.”

~R.M. Bucke

God in the Second Person addressing man:

I will be united with you in marriage forever

I will be united to you in marriage through justice and righteousness

I will be united with you in marriage through overflowing love and compassion

I will be united with you in marriage in complete trust

And you will erotically know the divine

Hosea the Prophet: 2: 21- 23

Only someone who lacks both of these realizations can identify all that is as merely a process or impulse. Realization teaches that the all that is expresses as a process or an evolutionary impulse, but that God is process plus personal, not process minus personal.

Entry Five: Love and the Encounter

What emerges from the encounter in love is the affirmation of the infinite adequacy worth and dignity of the separate self. What emerges from the encounter in love is the embrace of the separate self as an essential station  on evolutionary road, Up from Eden.* You ascend up from the pre-personal consciousness of Eden to the dignity and glory of being God’s beloved. You are  affirmed in your infinite adequacy and charged with genuine responsibility for the good.  The ego separate self or what is often called the individual is a great triumph. To fully understand the gifts of ego, we need to look at it’s alternative, the bad death of the ego.

Before looking at the bad death of the ego, it is worth mentioning that there is a way to kill the ego without suffering all the horrendous consequences that I am about to outline. This is the good death of the ego. To accomplish the good death of the ego, you have to distinguish between separateness and uniqueness. We saw earlier that the evolution of Eastern teaching required the discernment of this distinction in order to transcend ego and separate self even while embracing Unique Self. We saw as well that  the West needs to make the same distinction between separateness and uniqueness, which would allow the West to retain the goods of individuality through Unique Self and thereby let go of its grasp of separate self. But at this point too, we need to turn to the bad death of the ego in order to see why the ego separate self is so important to man’s healthy evolution towards enlightenment.

Really Bad results of the Bad death of the Ego:

Below are highly influential contemporary American spiritual writers talking in glowing terms about the death of the ego. The source is Aldous Huxley and some of the leaders of his circle. Huxley is particularly important because he was one of the most influential voices in bringing eastern mysticism to American shores. Huxley’s most famous book in this vein was the  classic little tome The Doors of Perception, which shows Eastern mysticism’s direct influence on Huxley. In Doors of Perception, he   passionately preaches the virtues of No-Self. The goal in many passages is to dissolve individual consciousness and replace it with cosmic consciousness. According to Huxley, with Ego death comes blissful passivity. Man gives up all of his ambitions. There is no more desire to act. Aggressions disappear and tolerances increase. Knowledge of the meaning of life is no longer dependent on the unreliable tools of logic and rational thought. One is blissfully freed from “the world of selves.” In this state, according to Huxley, one finds true enlightenment and love. Huxley and his circle write compelling verse:

“All the harsh, dry, brittle angularity is gone, is melted….Merged with all life. Your individuality and anatomy of movement are moistly disappearing. You control is surrendered to the total organism…. When controls dissolve in a milieu of trust, the world within is glowing serene and meaningful.”

“The ego is dead
Killed during its last hysterical ravings
To become we”

The problem with all of this is straightforward and simple. If you are a non-self, there is no possibility of love between me and you. What is love without an I and a Thou? We is the Union between two individuals. If there is no individuality, there is no love. As one writer critiqued Huxley, Once the I is killed and the Thou is dead too, there can be no We either. A herd of non-egos is not a We. What can brotherhood or sisterhood mean among non-selves.

One influential teacher from Huxley’s circle tells his students to the use the moment of egolessness for the attainment of love. But we know that love is between individuals. So love is not a possibility without two.

For the non-ego and non-self  there can be no freedom either. It can be neither oppressed nor liberated. Freedom for a non-self can only mean freedom from having to be a self. In that sense, the dead might also delight in their freedom. In this formula, the dignity of the personal is effaced in order to heal alienation. The problem is that alienation is healed by man losing himself through the dissolution of his separate self-ego sense.  With the death of the ego go all the goods of individuality–including love, freedom, ethical judgment, obligation, and responsibility.

All of these goods of spirit are attained by the evolution of the human ego. It is in the experience of the egoic separate self that man  discovers responsibility and love in the encounter with other and the encounter with the loving ground of all being incarnate in the personal face of God.

This, however, is not the end of the story. It is true that without the experience of a self, there is no possibility of genuine love and responsibility. But it is no less true that without the separate self – ego, there is also no fear and suffering. With the emergence of the experience of a separate self, what has been called the birth of the ego, comes fear. The more you experiences your selfhood as an independent expression of life, cut off from the larger currents, the more you fear your own extinction

You realize very clearly that your body will not sustain you forever even as you realize its frailty and vulnerability right now. You seek to protect yourself against death.  You feel like you should not die. You sense that you are part of the quality of infinite existence, which does not die. It is for this reason that the thought of your own death terrifies you. You mistakenly think that the part of you that is immortal is your separate self. So you seek ways to make your separate self immortal.

An animal that is rooted in the natural world lacks both the awareness of his own selfhood and the death terror that comes with it. With your new-found awareness as a separate self comes not only love, but also raw terror. As a result of your terror of non-existence, you engage in the most elaborate strategies to cover up your fear of death and to give you a sense of belonging in the world.

Your feeling is that if you belong to the world, you are safe from death. This is not a logical or rational feeling. But then neither is your terror of death. So, you begin the great competition for status, belonging, money, and goods. You think, this will give you a sense that you belong in this world, that you will live forever. The entire project of culture, including the murder, destruction, war, and competition that lies at its heart, is at a very elemental level, a desperate struggle to overcome the terror of your own non-existence.

Your experience of being a separate isolated ego puts you in direct competition with the rest of the human race. It also puts you in the position of constantly needing to protect your existence. It forces you to compete with the rest of the world for every form of resource from money, to shelter, to love. The great mystical teachers were not at all wrong in pointing to your illusion of being a separate isolated ego as the root source of your suffering.

You must evolve beyond the ego. You must deconstruct the illusion of the separate self. This is the key to your spiritual evolution. This is the path that can free you from most of your suffering. Most people of the world are afraid to go down this road because they are afraid that if they do, they will lose themselves. This is a fear based on a a gigantic misunderstanding. The core false assumption is that your uniqueness is identical with your separate self. Therefore, if you transcend your separate self, you are leaving your individuality, uniqueness, and specialness behind. That is precisely what is not true. As you transcend your separate self into the spaciousness that is the ground of all being, something absolutely radical in its delight takes place. Your personal Uniqueness rises out of the ground of your impersonal enlightenment.

You seem to leave behind the personal by moving beyond the illusion that you are a separate self. But after you have transcended your identity with your separate self-ego, the personal comes back online as your Unique Self. But this time, your Uniqueness is genuine. It  is more evolved, powerful, and pure. It is true that your separate self-ego already held the great goods of individuality. But those goods were compromised by all of the grasping delusion of the ego. With the emergence of the ego, Other became enemy; greed, jealousy, horrendous stress, anguish, and murder became part of man’s everyday experience.

Before the separate self-ego emerged, we had no record in the world of people talking about their suffering.*

The emergence of separate self–ego created, at the same time, the emergence of Other. Put simply, the emergence of me creates in its wake the emergence of you. If I am I, then you are you. The Upanishads, great spiritual teachings of the East, say where there is other, there is fear. Where there is fear, there is suspicion, anxiety, and stress, which in turn, creates more fear.  What then follows is doubt and defense, which gives birth to projection. I project my hostility onto you. I then move to protect myself against your hostility.   And then, before you know it, the entire cycle of death destruction is in full bloom.

If you want to bypass this entire process, you must go to the source of the trauma. The source of the trauma is the original error of perception. This was the error of self-perception. When you emerged as a self, you thought that you were alone, separated from everyone else. You felt that you needed to develop deep defenses and armor to protect yourself from all the other selves. I am not talking about skillful means you deployed to take care of yourself in the world. That was necessary and important. Rather, I refer to your entire core stance in the world which was one of fear. Every move you made was to protect yourself from one person and win approval from another person, usually by pretending to be someone that you are not. This is the source of all of your anxiety and fear.

If you could just move beyond the fear which comes from your experience of being a separate isolated self–ego in an unfriendly world, everything would shift. This is the shift that changes everything. If you could but experience the true reality of being fully interconnected in a friendly universe which supports your existence, loves you, and desires your presence, it would all be different. If you could break free of the illusion of your being a disconnected isolated monad called an ego and perceive reality clearly, then your whole story would turn.

*See Ken Wilber’s book Up from Eden.

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For more of this essay, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4.

You can also join Dr. Marc Gafni’s contacts on LinkedIn.

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