Steven Raymond is a student of Marc Gafni and of Integral theory. For the Center for Integral Wisdom, Steve serves as a Unique Self teacher and a Board of Trustees member, and is delighted to be bringing Unique Self dharma to the New England states in collaboration with other teachers. His focus is on the integration of group experiential processes with Unique Self training for individuals and healthcare professionals, with a particular interest in the fields of conscious birthing and conscious dying.
Steve has broad experience in deep experiential transpersonal processes and therapies, and is a master of assisting others with shadow work. Steve has a private coaching/teaching practice, and provides transformative consultation to individuals, groups and small entrepreneurs. He is also a leader in foundational men’s work, is an Alumni of the Breakthrough Men’s Community in Carmel, CA, and is now setting up a men’s community group and an Awakening Your Unique Self study group in Portland, ME. He is the parent of an adult son and daughter, and the grandparent of three children, who love him as a jokester and as a mythological god on the ping pong table.
Steve writes, “The essence of my spiritual practice, my Unique Self practice, is to seek to live a fully embodied and passionate life of joy, clarity and purpose. This is how I wish to Show Up for my family, friends, clients and students. And, it must also be said, as with all human beings, there are times when we must dance with our own shadow, and I always hope to do that authentically.”
My First Unique Self Encounter: The First Time I Ever Fell Really in Love
by Steven Raymond
My Unique Self in the Third Person
The first time I ever fell really in love, I was an emotionally damaged 23-year-old man finding my way through the complex maze of my early life. My first real love was a dying 70-year old woman, and the radically Outrageous Love I shared with her transformed my life and revealed a path forward that 37 years later I assess as the discovery of my Unique Purpose, and a life-altering revelation—my Unique Self.
In Unique Self Realization, we engage in practices so that we evolve towards a consistent Conscious Embodiment as Unique emanations of the Creative Love Intelligence that animates all life, bringing our Unique Gifts into service for a planet that desperately needs each of us.
As Dr. Marc Gafni elaborates, regarding Unique Self-Realization,
“You must embrace the infinite gorgeousness of your specialness, and the obligation that it creates for you to give your deepest Unique Gift in the world. Unique Self, which is in turn your Unique Perspective, creates your Unique Gifts, which in turn creates your Unique Obligation to offer your gift.” [i]
I am a teacher of Unique Self Process. I use Shadow Work and practices, to help students and private clients discern where they are caught in Separate Self, or more deeply entrapped in a distorted False Self, [ii] as the first steps toward their Unique Self Realization.
I have coined the phrase “Undermined Self” to distinguish a developmental level that has been distorted by biographical experiences that lead to profound feelings of inner shame and worthlessness, which become encapsulated within the protective and adaptive mechanisms of ego. In personal conversation, Dr. Gafni referred to my articulation of Undermined Self as “False Self in extremis.” John Welwood refers to Undermined Self as “subconscious deficient identity.”[iii]
I see Undermined Self metaphorically as an autoimmune disorder of Self-perception. It is not simply that one has a limited Self-perception as being isolated and separate from all others and from the creative life force of the Universe. It is also not just limiting and distorted self-beliefs, or deficient self-beliefs. If you have an Undermined Self, the encapsulated belief systems are a self-perpetuating attack upon the very essence of your Being, as though you need to apologize for the simple fact that you exist.
I understand the emotional and spiritual terrain of Undermined Self/False Self in extremis quite personally because of my early familial and social biography, and because of many years as both a participant and facilitator in deep transpersonal therapies and processes.
My early personal biography is one in which my sense of Self had been completely undermined by age 6, characterized by the powerful embodied feeling and belief, “There is something terribly wrong with me,” which I experienced as a deep shame that I had to keep hidden. My Undermined Self became further perpetuated through family dynamics and very intense bullying by my school peers, which led me into a very high-risk adolescence as a runaway from home, living through many misadventures and acting out on urban streets. More than a few of my compatriots of that time never survived their adolescence. The specifics of my life drama are not important for this discussion, but I will say that when I describe the specifics, most are shocked to couple that history with the person they perceive me to be now.
A few years after meeting a very positive male mentor at age 19, I entered school as a registered nurse, which for me, was an intensive course in Empathy Training. Long before I ever gave a thought to my own awakening, I had a very profound Unique Self Encounter[iv] with a dying patient in an intensive care unit, the 70-year old woman who was my very first real Love. The profound intensity of this encounter cut through my many layers of deeply traumatized and distorted False Self, creating an Awakening that irrevocably set me on a path of Answering My Unique Call. By no means did this Awakening heal within me the many psychological issues I would later need to lay to rest, but it created a radically positive and Purposeful Path for me.
In Answering My Unique Call, over the years I have profoundly assisted many people at extremely vulnerable times of their lives, which also had the effect of moving me developmentally towards my own personal and more consistently grounded Unique Self Realization.
I want to share my personal story here because I have the sense that the phenomenon of an early awakening to one’s Unique Call, an awakening that may long precede any form of conscious spiritual practice, is not uncommon, and through discernment and loving attention we can support others…children, family, friends, clients, our fellow travelers even briefly met…in Answering Their Own Call.
My Unique Self in the First Person
The first time I ever fell really in love was with a 70-year old Maine lobster fisherwoman in a coronary care unit after she had suffered a massive heart attack. I was 23 years old and a brand new student registered nurse, on the first day of a Critical Care rotation, in just the fourth month of the program. I was brand new to the hospital environment, and it was very exciting to be in the high-tech Intensive Care Unit… “Saving Lives, Curing People, Fighting Disease, and Stamping Out Illness!”
Elizabeth had just been admitted to the CCU the night before, and I received my assignment as the student nurse… “Don’t touch anything, just assist the staff nurse as she requests and stay with the patient.”
I still remember entering the room and seeing Elizabeth’s very frightened face, beaded with sweat, peering at me through thick wire-rimmed glasses, through a forest of IV poles and tubes and wires and beeping monitors. I remember the room as darkened, lit by the glow of a lamp and the monitors and the early pre-dawn twilight coming through the window.
“Good morning, Elizabeth, I’m going to be your student nurse today.” I felt intimidated by the IV drips of powerfully potent medications, and of all of the equipment, but I maintained a smiling and friendly poker face, and we began a conversation that would go on for three hours.
The Maine and New Hampshire working people that I knew at that time, being a fairly taciturn lot, were generally not given to speaking about themselves personally very much. They could be great storytellers, but not usually about matters very close to the heart. As a hard-working New Englander, before I entered nursing school, I had worked in factories, shoe shops, road crews and building construction, including working outdoors through two Maine winters. We would make the day go by with constant conversation, but never anything personal.
As I had been instructed not to “touch anything,” but to stay with Elizabeth, it was natural for both of us to settle into the type of conversation that creates connection, just so you’re not sitting there in an awkward silence. I am not sure that I had ever been a good listener previously in my life, but that early morning I settled into listening mode as Beth told me of her life dictated by tides and boats and traps and seasons, her whole life since she had been a young girl, working right on the lobster boat with her Dad, because he had no sons, only daughters. And how Beth was the only one of the sisters to actually work on the boat, and how she had continued this throughout her life, doing other work off-season, the way people do to make a living.
I remember becoming enthralled by Beth as she shared her story. I could see her as a young Maine girl, and she had my undivided attention. I would occasionally give her ice chips and wipe the cold sweat from her brow, or adjust her pillows for comfort, and I would ask her occasional questions as she shared her life with me.
I remember her story going deeper, and very personal, at times to the depths of tears, and remembering her own childhood and family and some of the less pleasant things that families can bring into our lives. I remember our eyes locked together for seemingly forever, and I remember feeling awash with tremendous love and compassion and an intense desire to do whatever I could to help Beth be more comfortable and for her to recover from this heart attack.
It was a feeling of loving this woman, but completely detached from any need within me except to serve her, and at that time of my life, that feeling was a radically new experience. In my elaborately covered and pained False Self with a core of shame and self-loathing, love had always been based on what I wanted to receive… generally sex, attention, and small ego gratification… and not on what I could give.
I remember Beth’s gentle laughter and being deeply engaged in every aspect of her story. It was simultaneously both an unremarkable, very normal story of a hard-working New Englander, and a dazzling, compelling engaging tale of a life fully lived. I knew that Beth was telling me things she had never revealed to another human being.
We sat this way from 7:30am to 10:30am, with only a few interruptions. The staff nurse would silently come in and out of the room to adjust drips and check monitors and record vital signs, but we barely noticed her, and I had the impression that from her standpoint, I was doing a good job of keeping company with Beth.
And so, the nurse asked me to do a minor procedure for Beth. I explained to Beth what I had to do. I lowered the head of her bed just the few inches that were necessary to perform the task. I had just the night before writing a paper on why it is necessary to keep the head of a heart attack victim’s bed elevated in a “High Fowlers” position, so I was extremely conscious about not lowering the head of Beth’s bed too far.
Suddenly Beth’s eyes fluttered closed. Her head lolled to the side with her tongue hanging out, and I looked at the heart monitor gone crazily aflutter. I instantly pushed the “Code Blue” button, immediately causing the Code Team to rush in with the crash cart, flowing into the chaotically organized medical mayhem of a “Code” procedure to save Beth’s life.
I was pushed back to the wall, not by anyone’s hands, but by my own shock and the intense energy of the Code Team. I felt as though I was not breathing, waiting for the Code Team’s efforts to revive Beth, and for the heart monitor to show a rhythm.
But Beth did not revive. The physician called off the code–“Time of death 10:52”–and suddenly the glaringly bright room was empty except for Beth and me… her body now naked and prostrate and pallid and cold.
I covered Beth with a sheet, and started to clean the room, but I was shaken… deeply and profoundly shaken right to my core. Next I was in an empty room with one of the nursing instructors. I was crying… crying really hard, because I knew that by lowering Beth’s head I had killed her. I had fallen in love with her, and I had killed her! I wept so hard and felt such intense grief and physical pain that I could have jumped right out of my body. I paced back and forth, crying and not knowing what to do with myself, and neither did the nursing instructor. I remember that I cried so hard that the crying itself hurt my eyes and face, and later my eyelids were bruised and purplish with broken blood vessels.
Not a great deal of time went by, perhaps an hour, and a phone call came up to the room where nursing instructor Becky and I were still sequestered. Becky said to me simply, “Elizabeth is going to have an autopsy. Would you like to see it?”
Something in me leaped at the chance, and I said, “Yes,” and in less than two hours after her death, I found myself again with Beth, this time downstairs in the morgue. Beth’s body was laid upon the cold steel autopsy table, and across her body from me was the pathologist, eating a rare roast beef sandwich as if what we were about to do was the most casual thing in the world.
He asked me a few questions as he finished his sandwich, and then we started in. He used a scalpel to make incisions across her chest and peeled back the skin from her chest, laying it up over her face.
At this point I felt shaky and wondered, “What I have I done,” volunteering to see the butchery of someone I had just felt authentically closer to than any human being ever in my entire young life!
But I held silent, and then the pathologist used a small handheld circular saw and removed Beth’s ribcage as though it were a turtle shell. Now, I had never seen even a minor surgery, and we were removing Beth’s ribcage! This was definitely too much, but the pathologist understood why I was there. He was trying to teach me and help me, and he pulled me conversationally into the minute details of Beth’s anatomy. He incised into her mediastinum, or heart sac, and we closely examined her left ventricle, which had ruptured so that she instantly bled out through her heart into her heart sac, which killed her instantly. We dissected her coronary arteries, and could see the almost complete occlusion that led to Beth’s massive heart attack. And so, in his gentle, kind and intelligent professionalism, the pathologist guided me to the Knowing that I had not caused the rupture of Beth’s left ventricle, and that her death was inevitable no matter what medical interventions were applied.
I feel deep gratitude for that pathologist even now, but there was a profoundly deeper lesson that came to me even as I was alleviated of my guilt. I had experienced Beth’s Unique Self open up to my Unique Self, profoundly and deeply, with meaning and purpose. I was still in the autopsy room and looking at her body as he closed her back up. The room was now silent except for the sounds of his instruments. A teaching came to me separately from what the pathologist could share. I became completely awash in the most amazing feeling of Love and Wholeness, and a Knowing sense that the magnificent Light that Beth had shown me was not extinguished by the death of her corporeal form, and that her soul was continuing on.
Without fully understanding in that moment, I had found a Unique Purpose in my life. I knew that being a Compassionate Presence for people during times of extreme vulnerability and fear was a crucial role for me as a nurse. I spent many years repeating that role over and over again with many people dying, and with many family members of people either dying or suddenly dead. Many of those years were in intensive care units and emergency departments, and I spent seven years working in AIDS units during the earlier years, before it was even known how the virus was transmitted. Always for me, while coping with the stresses of the medical system, the deeply felt Purpose of my role was to be a loving and listening Presence as each person faced their physical mortality. I did this without imposing my belief systems, other than honoring the innate desire that people have to be known and heard near the end of their lives.
In defining Unique Self Realization, Marc Gafni has identified twenty-five distinctions between ego and Unique Self. He states…
“At the level of ego, you must let go of the illusion of specialness. At the level of Unique Self, you must embrace the infinite gorgeousness of your specialness, and the obligation that it creates for you to give your deepest Unique Gift in the world. Unique Self, which is your Unique Perspective, creates your Unique Gifts, which in turn creates your Unique Obligation to offer your gift.”
At this age and maturity, I am able to look back upon my experience with Elizabeth as a very spontaneous and organic Unique Self Realization, one that transcended the unhealed pain of my earlier childhood, and my very undeveloped and uneducated life experience up to that point. Most of us as humans require a spiritual practice to sustain Awakening to our True Selves, and to live predominantly within our Unique Self. I have engaged many psychological and spiritual practices over the years. However, this early Unique Self Realization was so pivotal and transformative, it is almost impossible to imagine how I would have developed differently lacking that experience.
Speaking now from Unique Self in the first person, and looking back upon 37 years of my life and what has unfolded as most passionate, compassionate and compelling within the drives that move me, it is clear that Elizabeth was as a Bodhisattva to me, awakening me to truly Unique Gifts that I could offer to the world, that would help others and help me as I sought to awaken beyond the limitations of small ego. That first Unique Self Encounter was a very early wakeup call, pointing in a clear direction that informs and enriches me, and benefits the people I serve, even now, almost four decades later. It ignited a fiery passion within me that had no questions and no confusion… only a clear and compelling sense of Purposeful Direction.
It is not just death and dying when people need a safe container to hold their story with deep attention, reverence, and respect. We each have a Sacred Autobiography, and it is best if we can dive deeply into our personal story long before we find ourselves sweating on a deathbed somewhere in the future, as so commonly occurs. If you ever have the opportunity to be with a person near the time of their death, do so knowing you are giving a profound gift. Just allow the experience to unfold without trying to direct it…just give your Full Presence, Attention and Love.
We can support and love others in life by being Fully Present, with our Unique Self, creating a shared We-Space for our fellow travelers, many times even briefly. It is a fantastic service and gift to both give and receive.
As a final clarification, it is important to understand that an early awakening to Unique Purpose is a powerful guidepost, but in and of itself, it is not enough to simply attempt to live your Purpose, because your best intentions and efforts will be undermined by unresolved Shadow.
Engaging Purpose and Spiritual Practice without also the embodied resolution of fundamental Shadow/psychological obstacles is referred to as Spiritual Materialism (1973),[v] and Spiritual Bypassing (1983, 2010),[vi] [vii] essential concepts to understand and practice in your own development.
Marc Gafni established that a core principle of Unique Self teaching is that the source of our highest light is from within our darkness. We live in a world filled with broken hearts, broken promises, and broken lives, with seemingly infinite expressions of a primal inner shattering within the collective human psyche.
It is our opportunity, and more profoundly, it is our sacred obligation, to reveal the Unique Light hidden within our brokenness. We Enlighten to the Fullness of our Unique Self by loving our way into and through our wounding, attaining an essential primordial healing.[viii][ix]
The full Joy of living our Unique Gifts comes as we progressively leave the illusion of Separate Self/False Self behind and fully embrace our Personal Greatness, allowing the most pure expression of our Unique Purpose, as we all seek to Wake Up, Grow Up and Show Up in service of a planet that desperately needs us.
[i] Dr. Marc Gafni, Your Unique Self: The Radical Path to Personal Enlightenment, (Integral Publishers, 2012), 71.
[ii] Gafni, 10
[iii] www.johnwelwood.com/articles/Embodying.pdf, page 13
[iv] Gafni, 309-326
[v] Chogyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, (Shambala Classics, 1973)
[vi] The concept of Spiritual Bypassing was originally articulated by John Welwood more than 30-years ago. See HUMAN NATURE, BUDDHA NATURE: On Spiritual Bypassing, Relationship, and the Dharma, An interview with John Welwood by Tina Fossella. www.johnwelwood.com/articles/TRIC_interview_uncut.doc
[vii] Dr. Robert Augustus Masters, Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters, (North Atlantic Books, 2010)
[viii] Gafni, 234
[ix]In Week 9 of the 10-week online course, Awakening Your Unique Self, Marc described Seven Principles of Woundology. See the special section after the followup questions.
I had some follow-up questions for Steve on his Unique Self essay, further elaborating on his love experience with an elderly dying woman and his concept of “Undermined Self” :
Hi, Steve, thank you for this heart-opening and beautiful tale of love and the surrender to death. The thing that most struck me about the way you shared the experience was the moment you fell in love. You say you encountered her Unique Self, and you are remembering this after the fact, now that you are familiar with this kind of insight. Can you share how you knew at that time that you were in contact with the personal face of Elizabeth (Beth’s) essence?
I remember it as coming to me most powerfully when the autopsy was completed, and I stood silently in the room as the pathologist put Elizabeth’s body back together…placing her rib cage back in place, pulling the large V-Shaped flap of torso skin off her face, and suturing the incisions on her chest and abdomen.
The room was quiet except for the noises of the pathologist’s work, and I felt awash with a feeling of calmness, of serenity, and of feeling the same love I had felt for Elizabeth during our conversation. There was a simple Knowing…from whatever source, but it was without question. I knew I was looking at Elizabeth’s body, and that the essence of her had moved on away from this body, and still existed in a different form.
It is fair to ask, “Did I really know anything? Was I in a healthy state of denial following the shock of Elizabeth’s death? Was it simply Ego creating protection against pain?”
These are reasonable cognitive questions, but these questions feel completely hollow next to my actual experience. At that point, I felt no pain to protect myself against…there was only Love and an abiding, sensual certainty that the personal essence of Elizabeth was intact despite the death of her body.
As the years progressed, that inner certainty was repeatedly reaffirmed by many experiences, especially the recounting of Near-Death Experiences by so many other individuals. I had participated in many of those resuscitations. By any classic medical understanding, these patients should have not had even a remote awareness of anything happening at all. I was witness to some cases where once the near-death experience was accepted as REAL and not hallucinatory, the individuals would experience remarkable transformation in their lives.
We are not skin-encapsulated egos that die and disappear. There is a continuity of Self that pre-existed our lives in this lifetime, and continues after we shed our bodies and move on.
Editor: In your introduction, you use the term the “Undermined Self,” which Marc called “False Self in Extremis,” and this seems very important since it is the key for making fuller contact with Unique Purpose. You share your own example from your sacred autobiography as the feeling that “there is something terribly wrong with me.” Can you share the story of how you developed this term? How does your Undermined Self appear in the love story with Elizabeth in her final hours or after?
First, the word “feeling” incompletely describes my Completely Unquestioned False Belief “There is something wrong with me.” It is far more embodied within my psyche and cells than a simple “feeling,” and was the lynchpin belief of a whole system of undermining beliefs. The meme of Essential Wrongness with Me completely dominated my unconscious view of my Self and the world I lived in.
I refer to the triggered ”something wrong with me” physical sensation as “Gravy Shame,” literally feeling as though a vat of a warm gravy-like substance had been poured over my head and covered my body, and a hypersensitivity to how I was being seen by others in that moment, coupled with the immediate instinct to hide, runaway, lie, obfuscate, and metaphorically constrict into an armadillo-like ball.
I have the clear and vivid memory of being a 5-6 year old boy walking alone to school on a rainy day, and being emotionally overwhelmed with the Gravy-Shame sensation, a powerful sadness that there really was something very wrong with me. There was no questioning this belief. It was simply the Truth, and so I had to hide this shameful “Truth” so it became a shameful Secret. At that age, I was in a completely enclosed emotional silo, unable to share any authentic feeling, especially with an adult.
I became completely emotionally walled off, first from others, and then from my Self, because it is impossible to stay in the sure knowledge that you are the lowest whale shit in the deepest ocean without developing ego protective mechanisms so that you can function. However, even with those protective mechanisms, that terrible darkness would come up like a Swamp Thing, grabbing at my ankles and pulling me into fully embodied shame and deep existential despair.
As to how I came up with the phrase “Undermined Self…;” Having lived my first five decades with an Undermined Self, and having traveled that arduous journey and climbed out of that deep hole, the two word phrase “Undermined Self” came to me quite easily in both the naming and the deeply embodied understanding.
Undermined Self works very actively and intensely against any form of True Self or Unique Self Realization. The Egoic adaptive mechanisms that overlay Undermined Self will hijack one’s spiritual practice, so that practice becomes yet another form of ego-aggrandizement…true Spiritual Bypassing. This is why deeply embodied shadow work is essential for individuals with a profoundly Undermined Self. It is impossible to crack through ego’s adaptive mechanisms otherwise.
The third part of your question, “How did my Undermined Self show up in my love story with Elizabeth,” is deeply interesting, because certainly it was within me, just as it has been and continues to be with me in every love relationship.
There is an old saying in nursing, “Codependents make the best nurses.” If you feel that you have no value, it takes a great deal of life energy to cover up that pain. A powerful way to cover that pain is to do something that authentically makes a difference in helping others. In the story as I told it, I assess my encounter with Liz as a Unique Self Encounter because the intensity of the moments leading to her death cut through our mutual normal psychological styles and allowed us to be more authentically Present with each other then we had ever with any other human being. I feel that was true for her, and I absolutely know it was true for me.
In discovering my Unique Purpose in my encounter with Elizabeth, I also discovered a powerful method of finding worth within myself…not really because of Who I Was, but because of What I Could Do for Others.
And so, as my experiences with death and dying evolved, there were two levels of my Self-creating my experiences.
On the one hand, I was a wounded individual seeking Self-worth by helping others.
On the other hand, I was an evolving individual living with Passion and Purpose and making a real difference for many at extremely vulnerable times, and becoming an activist and advocate within a healthcare system that can become quite depersonalized.
Both levels of consciousness were true…both were reflections of my evolving Self. One of the great truths I have resonantly embraced from Dr. Gafni’s framing of the Stations of Self is that even as you ascend to Unique Self Realization, all of the levels of Self are still at play. I totally get this, and in my own practice, this framing helps me keep accountability to my Self, my Intentions and my forward evolution.
In the uncountable times I held deeply compassionate, skilled and unconditional Presence for the dying and their families, for me, it was a form of Spiritual Practice that led me progressively forward by genuinely helping others. However, it was also an exercise of small ego function to find worth within myself.
I will say simply this…there are many powerfully wonderful things done in this world by people organically trying to heal the damage within their own psyche. Look to the vast array of human service workers, and you will find us generously sprinkled among them.
The hoped for evolution for those of us with an Undermined Self is that eventually we are able to Vibrationally Feel and Exercise the same Love and Compassion for our Selves as we do for so many others.
I believe that the only way for those of us with an Undermined Self to achieve consistent grounding within Unique Self is to practice and then become stable in the vibrational embodiment of authentic Self-Love and Self-Compassion.
Once that liberating step is achieved, the Purpose you have always felt becomes much more effectively Actualized, and you are able to live within the “Simplicity Beyond Complexity,” by which I mean in this instance, Living Your Purpose solely because it is your Purpose, and not also because you need it as salve for the wounding of Undermined Self.
Or, as we say in CIW, and as you so elegantly covered in your July 17, 2013 post, achieving an “Enlightenment of Fullness.”
A stable embodied grounding in Unique Self progressively replaces Undermined Self. How that shows up for me now is when life experiences occasionally trigger that old Swamp Thing in me, I am able to lean into it and breathe into it with complete Self-Compassion and Self-Love, so the feeling experience is mild and transient instead of all-consuming.
When those old Swamp Thing feelings are triggered, I always bow respectfully to the child I was who suffered in isolation with those beliefs and that Outrageous Pain, and then I breathe love and Self-compassion right into that Inner Child space. I learned this love-lesson directly from three beautiful men who are my direct teachers and mentors, Marc Gafni, and Fred Jealous, Founder of the Breakthrough Men’s Community in Carmel, CA, and Rick Moss, also of BMC. And really, with deepest Gratitude to that powerful container of beautiful men in Carmel, in which I delved into those spaces so deeply while both receiving and giving profound support with so many.
Editor: I am also struck by the power of connection in this tale of love between two Unique Selves. How do you experience that relational component of the Unique Self teachings and process? How has that part evolved for you specifically, in your deep professional transformational work with others and in your personal relationships?
Robert Augustus Masters uses a phrase I like very much. “Relational intimacy is the ashram of the 21st century.” It has felt that way to me for a long time now.
Ascending from the deep hole of Undermined Self and the implosion of my False Self into a mobius-strip of Self-Negation, the ONLY way out was through relationship with others that kept evolving over time. We are all in school with each other. We learn, we grow, we experience joy and pleasure, and we are confronted with our Shadow, sometimes quite painfully with a very harsh mirror.
If you try to build a relationship based solely on pleasure and security, you will be sorely confronted and sadly disappointed. As Marc would say, you don’t know someone until you know his Shadow. The corollary is, you simply don’t know your Self until you have made intimate friends with your own Shadow. You can sit meditation for years and come up dry with Shadow work. Or, you can engage authentic intimacy and get all the free therapy you need and have the ability to be accountable for.
In my private practice, I once served a beautiful man, a Vedanta monk who had lived monastically for 23 years. He was plagued by a particular compulsion, and had tried to meditate for years to release it. We worked deeply going directly into that cavern, and it in a relatively short time, it made all the difference to him and his practice, and he had a way of moving forward by loving into it instead of away from it.
Having loved my way into the deepest recesses of my own personal emotional pain body, and having witnessed and held unconditional compassionate Presence for so many, I fully embrace all that my personal relationships bring to the surface. In serving others, I seek only to bring the best of my Self, my Unique Self, which includes my Unique Purpose and Gifts, to each encounter.
Editor: Your Unique Self has been called to different forms of radical and deep service it seems, Steve. And, you mention here a moment when you had an Awakening to Answer your Unique Call recently, while recognizing that that’s what it was you were experiencing. Was your Unique Call present in initiating your other life transitions? How do you know now that you’ve received the call to evolve or move to Portland and start developing your next community? Any more currently ringing calls you are preparing to answer?
The best that I can answer the question of recognizing “Unique Call” is that for me, it is a very embodied feeling that has clarity and direction, and never a clear outcome. Somewhere in my life I learned to pay attention to and trust that feeling. It has never steered me wrong, and I have made many major life decisions on the basis of that trust.
My move to Portland was counter-intuitive in so many ways, except for being close to my family. But honestly, that was not enough by itself. I feel a clear call to bring my particular gifts to New England. Even in just the first weeks here, I feel affirmed at every step by the way life is flowing…I am in a current and flowing with that current, and more than any other time in my life, I have less ego involved, and more maturity and wholeness…more consistency in grounding in my Unique Self.
Editor: While this is an early and formative story from your career, Steve, and all-the-more powerful because of that, you have experienced many deaths in your career and life. How do you believe the end-of-life environment has shaped or made you aware of your Unique Gifts?
I had two very different kinds of experience in hospital based nursing and end-of-life care. In the critical care environments, I eventually developed a feeling of moral outrage at much of what goes on. As a society, we have a deeply immature approach to death and dying. There is a certain technological imperative in modern high tech medicine where the technology is applied when it simply should not be used. There is a false promise of increased life given to uninformed and fearful patients, who then end up dying a miserable and barbaric death in an ICU instead of spending their last days, weeks, or months with family and friends coming to completion with relationships and business affairs. Seeing this over and over led me down many paths of activism for conscious dying.
I spent seven years working in AIDS units in Los Angeles during the early part of the epidemic, before they even knew how the virus was transmitted, and when young men were dying of their first pneumocystis pneumonia infection. The difference was that AIDS Units were similar to an in-hospital palliative care program. We would do what we could to stave off infections and provide care for the numerous and horrible syndromes, but there was never any type of false promise, and discussions about death and when to stop treatment were mature, poignant, authentic and profound. The physicians were for the most part LGBT people themselves, and they were connected by a common sense of community and completely empathetic compassion for their patients.
In the seven years I worked in AIDS care, I worked 12-hour shifts, usually four days weekly. Those are long days to spend with people in that way. I worked with an uncountable number of people leading up to their death and at the time of their death. We would get to know our patients very personally, as they might have several hospital admissions before they finally died.
Friends would say to me, “How can you do AIDS nursing? Isn’t it depressing?” Instead, it was the singularly most rewarding type of nursing I ever experienced. The nurses with whom I worked became a band of brothers and sisters, members of a very unique club. I do not think I ever laughed so much and shared so much joy with doctors, nurses and patients as in those days.
And yes, of course, it was a necessary psychological defense against the constant onslaught of young men severely afflicted with disfiguring and painful maladies and infections, and against the trauma of repeated loss to death. BUT IT WAS MORE REAL BECAUSE IT WAS HONEST AND COMPLETELY GROUNDED, AND IT DIDN’T BECOME ABOUT THE TECHNOLOGY. IT WAS ABOUT THE PATIENTS, AND IT WAS ABOUT A VIRUS RAVAGING A COMMUNITY, AND HOW WE COULD SHOW UP IN FULL PRESENCE AND COMPASSION FOR OUR PATIENTS.
I feel the emotion of it now as I write it. I loved those years, and it was a very intense spiritual practice to be there with consciousness and purpose. In terms of Unique Self, the intensity caused people…professionals and patients… to show up with incredible authenticity most of the time, and especially when the need was immediate and important. It was an environment that felt rich with very frequent Unique Self Encounters.
Editor: Tell me more about your hopes and vision for developing Unique Self Coaching and guiding development of the Unique Self Process for teachers? How did you get involved in this path? What are you most excited about seeing unfold through it?
All of the Unique Self Process teachers bring their Unique Gifts and Purpose to the banquet table of the Center for Integral Wisdom. We are all bonded by the core teachings of Unique Self as an evolution of Integral Theory. I have these goals for my participation in CIW as a Unique Self teacher.
1) With my colleague Unique Self teacher Barbara Alexander, we are creating a course specifically oriented to Life and Executive Coaches that will ground them in Unique Self Process so they may integrate that deeper knowledge in their coaching practices. We will work with both Integral and non-Integral coaches.
2) I am seeking to bring in Thought Leaders from two different worlds within healthcare to Marc’s teachings and CIW. I want individuals already with an established reputation for bringing enlightenment to the end-of-life care world, and I want the same type of individuals from the world of conscious birthing. At our last board meeting of CIW in February 2013, Marc and Michael Murphy held a dialogue on reincarnation and how to credibly and correctly address that topic in the world. My personal position is that pregnancy, birth, and the perinatal period, and the end-of-life, are vulnerable times of transition for human consciousness, and that the modern medical system has far too heavy of an interventionist hand to the detriment of souls and society. My passion for work birth and death continues, and the best way for me to effect change is to introduce the appropriate Thought Leaders with professional gravitas to Marc’s work. I am actively engaged in this initiative.
3) I wish to evolve Unique Self training specifically oriented to end-of-life care workers, including hospice chaplains, physicians, nurses and social workers. I wish also to see this training evolve for conscious birthing workers. And most fondly to my heart…I would so love to have hospice workers and birthing workers in the same weekend workshop…a very deep dive at our Wisdom School at Shalom Mountain!
4) I am strongly engaged in my private practice, and feel a commitment to working with individuals to release the limitations of Shadow, and to support the dharma and practices that lead us to a stable grounding of consciousness in Unique Self Realization. In my new residence of Portland, Maine, I am starting a Unique Self study group based directly upon Marc’s teachings, and I hope to spend the rest of my life contributing to the Democratization of Enlightenment, as I truly believe in my deepest heart…
“We live in a world of deeply Outrageous Pain, and the ONLY effective response to Outrageous Pain is Outrageous Love.”
At this point of my life, I am joyfully and purposefully committed to being an Outrageous Lover.
1) Recognize the Wound. Honor the Wound. Care for the Wound. Do the healing work – to change your relationship to the wound so it ceases to be the primary unconscious driver of your life. In this you deserve to be cherished, held, nurtured and guided. Find the right people to work with, and do the work. Make sure to choose a guide – whether it be therapist, teacher, rabbi etc. – who is committed to your evolution and whom you trust. Even when doing the work and appropriately leaning into to your guide – do not abandon your autonomy to your guide.
2) Get Over it. Stop It. Stop using the wound as your core identity. Get a life.
3) Be accurate and precise in experiencing your wounds and describing them to others. Sanity involves right proportion or right measure. Accurate measure is essential to your integrity. Beware of hiding your own lack of responsibility or even abuse behind the fig leaf of your own hurt. [Story: “Do not cry more then it hurts.”] Beware of the drama triangle when you (the victim) and your enlisted rescuers become the perpetrators, and the alleged perpetrator becomes the victim.
4) Stay open as love through the pain. Inhibit the ritual of rejection; that is, do not let hurt devolve into an insult which triggers the ritual of rejection. The ritual of rejection occurs when you lash out to hurt the person you feel insulted – offended – your existence. You lash out to reclaim your power – to reconnect to your existence – and sadly often become the abuser yourself. Do
not fall into UnLove. Stay open as love through the pain and inhibit the ritual of rejection by evolving your pain into the Wounds of Love.
5) Bring your Wounds to the Mother. Let the divine feminine hold your wounds for you. You do not need to carry them alone; you cannot carry them alone. Brings your Wounds to God. Do a formal ceremony where you offer your wounds up to God. This is a continual process of offering up your wounds to the Mother.
6) Practice the way of Laughter in relation to your wounds. You need to cry out of one side of your mouth and laugh out of the other side of your mouth. The sacred technology of laughter creates shifts in our experience. Laughter undermines the power of the pain to paralyze you. Laughter allows you to hold the paradox of your life’s joy and life’s pain.
7) Once you have done all of the above, you are ready for the big move. Broaden your context. Step up to play a larger game. As long as you are experiencing hurt from the perspective of separate self or false self – your wounds define, identify and consume you. As you evolve to True Self and then realize your Unique Self and more deeply your Evolutionary Unique Self, your whole relationship to your wounds changes dramatically. You are pulled forward by your future instead of being dragged down by your past. When you begin to live in the realization of your Unique Self, everything changes. You are living in an evolutionary context where you realize that your unique self is the ecstatic evolutionary impulse coming awake and alive in you, as you and through you. This cuts your wounds down to size. It simply becomes less interesting to focus on your wounds. They begin to seem far more insignificant than you once thought. They no longer become the place from which you are sourcing your identity.