Why have so many people, especially spiritual teachers, resisted the idea of Unique Self? What are the implications of Unique Self for shadow work? And how are these two questions related? The answer may be connected to a failure to hold paradox.
Ken Wilber and Marc Gafni explore these topics in this part of their Unique Self dialogue (a 12-minute clip from a conversation recorded in September 2012). The answer which emerges is that, in Marc’s phrasing, there is a failure to discern the difference between egoic disassociation and disidentification. In spiritual traditions which “bash the ego,” there is a risk of losing one’s ability to make out the shape of the “individuated essence of the divine mind-heart which lives in you and as you.”
In Ken’s formulation, there is a failure to understand deeply “the infinite nature of the genuine Self and its unique nature appearing in each individual.”
Listen to the audio and read a partial transcript:
A partial transcript of the dialogue follows:
Marc: I think one of the reasons in the early years why Unique Self had such opposition is that people had such a hard time in disambiguating the distinction between ego and Unique Self. Lots of the reason was an inhability to hold paradox, an inappropriate either/or thinking. The paradox is so important here.
In paradox … the Garden of Eden, my teacher once said, is not paradise but paradox. There’s an unbelievable text which ppears in the Zohar, not really commented on a lot, which calls King David the Jester of the King. Why is he the jester?
He says to God, “Test me.”
God says, “I don’t think so.”
David says, “Test me.”
David sits on his rooftop. He sees Bathsheba bathing unclothed. The whole story unfolds. Bathsheba inappropriately becomes David’s wife. David commits a number of cardinal life mistakes. God says, “You see. I told you not to be tested. It wasn’t a good idea.”
David said, “What do you mean, God? You said I would fail the test. I said I would succeed. You’re the master. I’m the servant. so I failed.”
The Zohar says, for that reason David is the jester of the king. I remember when I first read a version of that story, in my lineage master, Mordechai Lanier of Izbica, the source of all the Unique Self and non-dual humanism work, not of the post-kind but of the metaphysical traditions. He cites the story a lot, but doesn’t explain why.
Ten years after seeing the story for the first time … I realize this is about freedom and determinism. Of course! It’s about choicelessness. You’re both choosing and not choosing. Couldn’t be any other way. The paradox is: Total divine pride and total humility. Total audacity and total surrender in the precise same moment. How to tell between someone who is genuinely living their Unique Self compared to someone who is caught in some egoic hijacking of Unique Self. It’s a nice distinction.
Ken: It is. That denial we see in the denial of the Unique Self as well. In some cases, it’s just a flat out mistake because some of these things do sound contradictory and we have to just hear an explanation to agree. In other cases there are deeper dysfunctionalism almost which is a failure to realize and deeply acknowledge the infinite nature of the genuine Self and its unique nature appearing in each individual. And so in some cases it’s an innocent mistake, and in some cases it’s part of the structure of the lie I’m caught in, vis-à-vis my Unique Self.
Marc: That’s a fantastic analysis. If we would apply the disassociation/ disidentification discernment to this issue. I think what’s often happened is that when spiritual teachers don’t disidentify from ego but disassociate from ego, that creates a blindness. You can never evolve beyond ego, you can evolve beyond exclusive identification with ego. You disassociate from ego, demonize ego, you are blinded to Unique Self, because you disassociate from anything that is unique. When you teach a radical neo-advaita tradition, which is beautiful and holy, in Kabbalah or Hindu tradition, it doesn’t matter who’s doing it, it’s the same moment… when you adopt that kind of tradition which bashes the ego – then you lose your ability to discern the contours of the individuated essence of the divine mind-heart which lives in you and as you.
Ken: Definitely. That’s part of the whole consideration that each individual needs to go through as they begin to honestly confront their Unique Self.
Marc: We’ve identified denial of Unique Self as a fundamental matrix of shadow formation and pathology. You pointed out something else recently… Two other things you shared. One was Maslow’s Jonah complex, which is fantastic. Jonah, for the listeners, is asked by the divine voice to go to Nineveh to give a prophecy, and Jonah flees from being in the divine presence. He ends up in the belly of a whale. The Jonah complex of Maslow takes on an enormously deeper resonance when you think of it as not merely self-realization, which is critical, but also Maslow’s later understanding which you’ve talked about extensively, self-transcendence. It deepens our Jonah complex.
But then on a practical point, our last point, what we could really do is take this whole conversation, is we can take the 3-2-1 of shadow – a gold-starred module of Integral Practice – as you’ve integrated it from the great traditions: taking shadow from 3rd to 2nd to 1st person, that’s an integration of shadow qualities into you. (Oh, that asshold lives in me.) You can go 3-2-1-0 and see they are realizations of your unlived life. Because you haven’t lived your own Unique Life, qualities such as stinginess or anger or jealousy. They might all come back online, if you trace them back to their roots, the shadow qualities are unique. They lead you back to your Unique Self. I’ve never been jealous of a ballerina. But I can walk into a bookstore and see that Ken has written another book. Then he says – I hate him – you own it. Then you see that it was his Unique Self, and that lets me live my Unique Self. Ken it’s just stunning. Unless you do that… When you actually go from 1 to 0. Follow your Unique Shadow back to your Unique Self. We’ve done this over the last few years and it’s just stunning.
Unique Shadow is the yellow brick road back to Unique Self. Jung. Sometimes Jung got it, sometimes he doesn’t. He moves away from it, back and forth. Jung’s complex. What he didn’t get is – and he got a lot and we’re all in his debt in so many ways – is what I would call the virtue of Unique Self. He used to say I’d rather be whole than good. Your Unique Self is your wholeness and goodness together. He had some idea which is based on his elevationist move. You’re either going to be whole or you’re going to be good, based a view of religion which makes you good but not whole. Unique Self invites you to your wholeness and goodness as one.
Listen to the entire dialogue: