by Marc Gafni
As many of you know, I have spent the last several years unpacking what I call Unique Self enlightenment. Let me share in a few short words, what I mean by Unique Self. Unique Self is not merely ego or personality, it is the essence that lies beneath and beyond your personality. More precisely, it is the personal face of essence. It is the unique God-spark living in you and as you. Your Unique Self is the infinite love intelligence, which is all that is—living in you, as you, and through you. It is the perspective of your enlightenment. Your Unique Perspective is sourced beyond any and all social, cultural and psychological conditioning. Classic enlightenment is what I call evolution beyond the exclusive identification with ego and the realization of one’s True Nature, which is sometimes called True Self. The New Enlightenment of Unique Self is a momentous leap beyond classical enlightenment. In Unique Self enlightenment, you realize that your enlightenment has a perspective. Your perspective has infinite value and dignity and is both the source and purpose of your existence. I have written about this in other places and mention it here in these few sentences because of the implications of this integral evolutionary understanding of enlightenment for the teacher-student relationship.
The Unique Self-teaching has two major implications in the spiritual context of teacher-student relationship. When a teacher gives his students only impersonal or cosmic love, even when it is genuine, the student cannot truly grow. It is personal love that releases the contraction of ego. When the teacher sees the student merely as a seeker whose ego longs for release, something of vital importance is lost in the teacher-student relationship. The student doesn’t need to be coddled by the teacher, yet it is absolutely essential for the student to be seen and valued uniquely by the teacher. This is an essential human need. This is what it means to be loved. When this personal love occurs, a deep place in the student begins to stir. The student has been seen and therefore their self-contraction begins to uncoil. Their ego relaxes its grasping grip. The Unique Self of the student begins to emerge though genuine contact with the Unique Self of the teacher, which elicits the Unique Self of the student, and vice-versa. The ability to make contact and be intimate or not is the essential distinction between Unique Self and Ego. Unique Self can make contact, Ego cannot. Many teachers trapped in ego fail to make contact and therefore keep their students trapped in ego as well, even if their professed goal is to evolve the student beyond ego to True Self.
When the substance of one Unique Self touches the substance of another Unique Self, contact is made. Contact is a touching without ego boundaries and yet without the loss of the unique individuation of being. One is not ‘being in the past’ but it is totally ‘present in the now.’ Presence meets Presence. Both sides have personal history. Both sides of the contact are intensely personal, but neither side is attached to personal history.
When a teacher denies Unique Self by confusing it with egoic uniqueness, and thus views the goal of enlightenment as being the realization of Oneness with the ground of being, the result is always apparent in the student of that teaching. The student may be bright and articulate, they may say all the right things and look the right way, but at some core level we cannot make contact with them. We get this uneasy feeling and we aren’t quite sure why. Images of the old movie the Stepford Wives comes to mind. In this movie, the men of Stepford consider their wives to be nagging, troublesome, egoic, and generally underdeveloped, so the men kill their wives and replace them, in the same body, with wise, wonderful, devoted, mega-sexy, compliant Stepford Wives. The male teacher in the guise of husband often kills the Unique Self by mistaking it for the ego. The authentic divine feminine in both teacher and student is also therefore killed. What then emerges is the student who is a perfect, appropriate, articulate and clean-cut Stepford Wife—but there is something essentially effaced.
It is because of this that the teacher is obligated to give his students radically personal love, which is the honoring and recognition of the Unique Self of the student. The recognition of the student’s Unique Self releases the student’s contraction of ego. Personal love always releases the contraction of ego. Personal contact is the joyous essence of being. It can solve world conflicts and create the intimacy that makes life worth living. When we feel that genuine contact has been made, we have the delightful experience of our Unique Self being received and witnessed. The process of being seen, in and of itself evolves us; it invites us into our fullest majesty and reveals our inner splendor. Unique Self offers a quality of presence which shows up when the ego is set aside, even if temporarily, and our deeper being and becoming emerges in all of it’s resplendent beauty.
The second implication of Unique Self in the teacher-student relationship is that it acknowledges the natural limitation of the authority of the teacher. The Unique Self teaching illuminates this limitation particularly when it is contrasted with other more impersonal constructs of Enlightenment. If one experiences that the awakening of self beyond ego is the awakening of an activated and engaged “impersonal” Authentic Self, then the teacher’s authority is naturally greater then it might be to a student who experiences the awakening beyond ego as True Self plus ontological perspective, which equals Unique Self. If the goal is impersonal Enlightenment, then the teacher who is more realized then the students in their Absolute awakening might naturally assume a powerfully authoritarian approach towards the students. The authority of the teacher is rooted in him or her having a profoundly higher degree of Enlightenment then the student. If this authority is exercised with integrity, then this may be for the benefit of the student. If the authority were exercised in a corrupt or demonic manner, then this relationship would clearly not be of benefit to the student. The potential shadow of the impersonal in the teacher-student context may therefore be stated as an excessive authority exercised inappropriately. If, however, the core teaching being used is that of Unique Self, then even if the teacher has natural authority based on a higher degree of realization then student, the teacher’s authority will none-the-less be limited. While the teacher may have a higher level of realization of True Self then the student, by definition the teacher cannot have a higher level of realization of the Unique Self of the student for the very reason that the unique perspective of the student is not available to the teacher. It may well be the case that the realization of the teacher enables him to see and point to the Unique Self of the student more clearly then the student himself. However, this pointing out of the Unique Self of the student by the teacher must always be held with humility because the teacher realizes that while his experience of True Self fully exhausts and transcends that of the student, the same cannot be said for Unique Self. There is an intimate dimension of Unique Self that can never be penetrated by the teacher; hence, the authority of the teacher is naturally limited. The ultimate authority of the student derives from her authorship of his/her own story, which can never be plagiarized by the teacher.
Unique Self is important because personal contact is the joyous essence of Being. Personal contact can solve world conflicts and create the intimacy that makes life worth living. When you feel genuine contact has been made, you have the delightful experience of your Unique Self being received and witnessed. As in quantum physics, the process of being seen, in and of itself, evolves us, invites us to our fullest majesty, and reveals our inner splendor.
Uniqueness is not a concept! Unique Self is a quality of presence that shows up when the ego is set aside, even temporarily, and our deeper being and becoming emerges in all of its resplendent beauty. When someone shows up in Unique Self, we are aroused to love them and are intensely desirous of being loved by them. This is the personal relationship with Jesus Christ that so many sectors of Christianity understand so profoundly. It is this personal relationship with God that is also so derided by New Age teachers and even more sophisticated dharma thinkers because they are caught in the impersonality of so much mis-understood Eastern teaching.
In conclusion, it is my intention and prayer that all of these reflections, while not definitive, will at least open the conversation to a more paradoxical, compassionate and loving place. We live in a world that is in desperate need of passionately committed teachers and students. This is probably the most vital modality we have for the transmission of spirit in it’s full ethos and etos. All of us are charged with a post postmodern evolutionary integral obligation to develop the teacher-student relationship in a way the incorporates the best insights and technologies of the pre-modern, modern and postmodern epochs.
We live in a context where many of us have outgrown traditional forms of religion. This means that pre-modern, ethnocentric versions of our world’s traditions no longer have the capacity to meet our modern and postmodern needs. The integrative space of a World Spirituality allows our great religious traditions to evolve from ethnocentric to world-centric, and even to kosmocentric consciousness. World Spirituality allows us all to move forward together, beyond the limitations of traditional religion, while still embracing all of the valuable insights and gifts of the past.
That’s why we are delighted to invite you to World Spirituality Annual Practice Retreat of Love and Activism – Evolutionary Integral Relationships with Dr. Marc Gafni, Sally Kempton, Warren Farrell, Terry Patten, Mariana Caplan, Decker Cunov, Dustin DiPerna, & Marcy Baruch, July 17th – 24th in Berkeley, California.
Our annual practice retreat of love and activism is itself an example of World Spirituality practice: it is designed to engage you cognitively, inter-personally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We will employ a balance of theoretical and experiential, as well as individual and group, learning sessions—all woven together into a vital, comprehensive, and balanced awareness.
We will also focus on helping you develop and strengthen your own World Spirituality practice. Each day will consist of deep engagement in dharma (spiritual teachings), practice, and experiential and relational exercises, including:
[i] While sexual intimacy in the context of a dual relationship between teacher and student, when specific contexts and conditions are met, may well be appropriate and ethical it also involves a great deal of potential dangers. This point was well made by Ken Wilber in a recorded dialogue at the German Integrales forum in 2010, and has been made by numerous feminimst writers including bell hooks, Christina Hoff Sommers, Laura Kipnis, Daphne Patai and many others. I discuss this issue in my article, “Spiritually Incorrect, Sex Ethics and Injury,” see marcgafni.com and Integrales Magazine (forthcoming). As I, and all of the aforementioned writers point out, sexual intimacy between teacher and student may also potentially endanger both the teacher and the student. It requires a particularly evolved student and a particularly evolved teacher to successfully navigate this territory. In this sense, one might argue that if the Unique Self teaching is to be lived out in its entirety, it requires a particular kind of student and teacher whom are able to hold the complexities of dual or multiple relationships without falling into the classical egoic traps. This is rare, for all people are geniuses at self-deception. It is for this reason that I generally recommend not engaging sexual relations between the student and teacher. The exceptions to this rule are in the realm of the post-conventional, and therefore by definition need to be looked at individually and cannot be taught in public articles or teachings.
Evaluation of claims of either excessive intimacy and/or excessive authority require careful case by case investigation which examines both the goodness and potential shadow of the teacher as well as the goodness and potential shadow of the student. Sometimes (but obviously not always) the dynamic at play is that the teacher profoundly believes a certain kind of post-conventional contract is in play between him or her and the student, and this is indeed the case at least for a time, in some cases. However, at some point, as a result of alienation in some form, the student’s ego contracts and he or she reverts to conventional or even pre-conventional consciousness. At that point, the student will often retroactively and wrongly interpret the relationship with the teacher through a conventional or even pre-conventional prism—which is the source of many false claims of abuse and often engender significant pain and damage to all concerned.