By Trevor Malkinson
“The root of our restlessness is the whole evolution of the cosmos itself. When we think about ourselves and our destiny, we can’t dissociate them from the destiny of the whole universe.” – evolutionary theologian John Haught
At the 2010 Integral Theory Conference, I attended a presentation by Dr. Marc Gafni where he explored the core dimensions of masculine and feminine shadow. As Gafni went through his list of eight essential characteristics of masculine energy – and their attendant shadow possibilities – an explosive series of connections started to fire in my wee brain; the penny dropped, the slot machine alarms started to sound, and suddenly a hundred drinking nights from my life started to pass rapidly before my eyes. There were beer bongs, shot gunned cans, AC/DC, road trips and hazy mornings on unknown couches. Then scenes from the cult movie Fubar started to flash in my mind too, and at once I thought I’d understood the deeper motivations of the characters Terry and Deaner. In a sudden revelation, in an apokalupsis of sorts, I realized what had so often driven so many of us to just given’r (1).
But before getting to that story, a little legwork needs to be done. Firstly, for those who may be unfamiliar, what is meant by the word shadow in the paragraph above? Generally speaking, the shadow is a psychological term for aspects of our self that have been disowned or repressed by our conscious mind. To do ‘shadow work’ is to bring this material into our awareness, hopefully relieving us from its negative unconscious disruptions and re-integrating the suppressed aspects of ourselves into the totality of our conscious being. There’s a rich psychological literature on the shadow, with different schools offering differing views, and it’s not my intention to summarize or evaluate that body of work. For this article, I’m concerned solely with Marc Gafni’s original contribution to that lineage of thought, and the important insights that I think can be drawn from it.
For Gafni our shadow is intimately related to another dimension of his work, the unique self. Somewhere on the continuum between personal ego and eternal Atman, Dr. Gafni has introduced a third dimension that he calls the “unique self”. You might say that the unique self is the flavor and character of the eternal as it pours through our own unique constellation of characteristics and into the world as form. If we can open up and be a vehicle for the animating depths of the cosmos that run through us – if we can put ourselves in alignment with Thy will- we can express this evolutionary thrust through the unique forms and capacities that make up our own (unique) perspective. We can serve the divine with the particular form that has arisen as us; we can become, as Gafni puts it, one of the divine’s “infinite faces”.
Building off of this notion, Gafni argues that our “unique shadow” is the result of our unlived or disowned unique self. He says, “Shadow is the part of your story, your unique self, that you haven’t lived. Shadow is not merely anger, rage, pettiness or fear. Those are shadow qualities. What shadow is at its core, is your unlived life, your unlived story. [Shadow results from] the precise extent you don’t live the unique enactment of your singular expression of divinity” (2). Gafni then looks at this unique shadow through another level of refinement, by assessing how ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ energies have their own specific shadow expressions (3). It was here that I found startling insights into Fubaresque party culture, into Girls Gone Wild raunch culture, and into the general obsession with transgression that has marked the postmodern era. But before exploring that, a detour of cosmic proportion.
“The universe is a communion and a community. We ourselves are that communion becoming conscious of itself”. – Thomas Berry, The Riverdale Paper
The central proposition/insight of Marc Gafni’s work on unique shadow, is that we’re driven by forces within us that demand expression, and if we don’t express these energies in the form they want to take, they’ll find an expression one way or another (ie. in shadow or unhealthy forms) (4). But there’s another premise that’s intimately caught up with this story, which is that the energies and impulses we’re responding to are ultimately cosmic ones.
As a teacher of evolutionary spirituality, Marc Gafni is directing our attention back to the greater processes of which we’re always already a-part, and he joins a lineage that has grown alongside the dominant scientific materialist view of the modern world. As Duane Elgin summarizes, “For more than 300 years, science has viewed the physical universe as “all there is”: all that exists are various combinations of inert matter and to suggest otherwise is to regress into superstition” (5). But running alongside that view of world and cosmos has been another philosophical-spiritual tradition, one where a series of thinkers came to view cosmos and psyche, humans and the universe, as intimately connected. Here’s a short tour of some of those thinkers so we can get a further sense for this cosmocentric perspective.
One person who held such a view was the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860). Schopenhauer posited a universal Will that coursed through everything and “impelled all things” (6). But Schopenhauer was a pessimist, believing that this Will was a blind striving that we humans were totally at the whim off. There was zero human freedom, just a slavish servitude to this uncontrollable cosmic force. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) said bollocks to the pessimistic aspect of Schopenhauer’s thinking, but very much kept the cosmic view, turning Schopenhauer’s Will into his cosmic “will to power”. Nietzsche writes, “This world is the will to power- and nothing besides! And you yourself are this will to power- and nothing besides!” (7). For Nietzsche this ‘will to power’ shows up in humans as a striving for self-realization and self-overcoming, an inner propulsion toward greatness, creation and a fuller manifestation of being.
The philosopher Hegel (1770-1831) also held a cosmocentric view. His express project was to overcome the tense opposition between the otherworldly transcendence of classical theism, and the utterly worldly reductionism of the materialists. Through his dialectical-reason, Hegel tried to demonstrate the core mystical realization that “the universal is in the individual”; that is, what is universal, what is everywhere and in all things, is also right within us. And for the mature Hegel, “man comes to himself in the end when he sees himself as a vehicle for the larger Spirit”, or for that which is universal (8).
The French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941) posited a cosmic Vital Force (élan vital) that was purposeful and directional. For Bergson, “God is immanent in the cosmos as the Vital Force in which all creatures live, move, and have their being. Although they are in God, creatures are ontologically distinct from God and partially free in how they evolve” (9). This cosmic élan vital is said to be the source and fire of all evolution.
And lastly, we can step out of the Western tradition and back a ways in time, to the findings of Buddhism. Here’s a key passage from the classic text What the Buddha Taught - “Will, volition, thirst to exist, to continue, to become more and more, is a tremendous force that moves whole lives, whole existences, that even moves the whole world. This is the greatest force, the greatest energy in the world. According to Buddhism, this force does not stop with the non-functioning of the body, which is death; but continues manifesting itself in another form, producing existence which is called re-birth” (10).
So that’s a small sampling of a counter-tradition to the dominant view of the cosmos in the modern period, which was summarized nicely by the philosopher Bertrand Russell when he said, “Man’s origin, growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms” (11). It may well be that humans had to go through an intense period of differentiation from nature and cosmos in order to become more individuated and autonomous beings. In this way, the mechanistic and materialistic view of the universe was a liberating one, a sharp break from the superstition and fears of the tribal-mythic past. But this cosmic nihilism also contributed to the profound alienation, disconnection, and diminishment of meaning and purpose that wracked the same period (12). It also left us unaware of what’s truly driving us.
Luckily a new scientific picture is emerging of a universe “that’s deeply alive as an evolutionary learning system”, and cosmologists are recognizing the universe as “one single unfolding event” of which we’re an intimate part (13). And there’s also been a revival and extension of the tradition of evolutionary spirituality in recent years, with its important cosmocentric orientation and practice. It’s against this backdrop that I think we can best understand Marc Gafni’s teachings on unique shadow, and what they can tell us about our cosmically connected lives.
Of the eight core dimensions of the masculine that Marc Gafni went through in his presentation, there were two in particular that got my wheels turning. The first dimension was that it’s goal oriented and directional. It wants to go somewhere, get something done, accomplish a goal. It’s focused, driven, and linear. This can be a very positive thing; as Gafni points out, it’s “part of the evolutionary thrust, it powers evolution, it unfolds history” (14). But if our response to this drive is not aligned with the cosmos, is not in accord with the élan vital, we’ll find false goals, inappropriate causes, and can even become fanatical about having to get something (anything) done. This is a powerful energy that needs to be taken seriously. In its healthy expression it can lead to an ecstatic and exhilarating collaboration between self and the creative cosmos, but if resistance pushes it into shadow it can come out in all sorts of unhealthy ways.
Another dimension of the masculine energy – and the one most central to this article – is the desire to be living on the edge. This is the impulse to push boundaries, cross a line, take it even further. Gafni offers the image of two elite boxers going at it. Why do we like watching such a seemingly barbaric event? Because it’s two humans living on their edge, pushing their limits, leaning in and going for gold. This edge is the hot combustion engine of cosmic dynamism and emergence, and we’re attracted to it because we’re all driven and compelled internally to heed such a call at some level. But if we can’t consciously express it in the fullest and most authentic form it desires, it’ll go into shadow, where we’ll cross dangerous lines, take inappropriate risks, and find any edge that’s around. And it’s this particular shadow that seems to be so powerfully alive in our culture today.
I grew up in the Canadian suburbs where getting wasted on the weekend was what we did, and we crossed lines whenever possible. The classic mockumentary Fubar (an acronym that stands for “F’d Up Beyond All Recognition”) is a classic send up of this part of Canadian culture (a version of which exists in many cultures). When I started hearing about this part of the masculine shadow I started to see the main Fubar characters Terry and Deaner in a whole new light. They were always pushing their edge, getting super wasted, shot gunning endless beers, smashing stuff, falling over, banging into things, rockin out and just generally give’r. And as for this Canadian slang term give’r – canonized in the film Fubar – it’s actually quite revealing in this general context. According to the Urban Dictionary, it means “1) to work very hard. 2) to get wasted and rock as hard as possible”, and it’s meant “to provoke one to apply oneself to a task with his/her fullest vigor”. It’s tapping into a massive current of evolutionary energy, it’s just that it’s often being applied in all the wrong directions!
But the problem runs much deeper and wider than just extreme party culture. In our post ‘Death of God’ secular society, one cut off from a living cosmos, it seems that this drive to live on our edge has gone into shadow en masse. Many postmodern thinkers and artists became obsessed with the notion of transgression, convinced that crossing bounds and limits held some key to life and meaning. In a book length treatment of transgression in postmodern culture, the sociologist Chris Jenks asks, “What resides in the word ‘transgression’ that reaches out, that magnetizes, that touches the shadow side in us all” (15).
Propelled and compelled to be living on the edge and pushing our limits, but with a severed connection to the deeper source and direction of this drive, we expel this energy any way we can. Thus, we see the rise of Girls Gone Wild raunch culture, and in documentaries like The Inside Job we hear of rampant cocaine and prostitute use by the high rollers on Wall St. (16). In Chris Hedges’ book Empire of Illusion, he writes a horrifying chapter about the rise of Gonzo Porn in the late 1990s, a brutal form of pornography where woman are degraded and abused in the harshest forms possible. And as Chris Hedges observes, this is the logical conclusion of a culture needing to push its boundaries more and more, to find that deeper hit, chasing pleasure’s tail down the rabbit hole of its own oblivion. And our current form of consumer capitalism only cheers on this furious pursuit of pleasure and abandon. The philosopher Slavoj Zizek calls it a “libidinal economy that relies on the dynamic of continuously generating new transgressive desire and practices” (17).
“Today we have a new meta-narrative, coming from the post-modern sciences of complexity and the new cosmology, the idea of cosmogenesis, the story of the developing universe, the notion that the cosmos is a single, creative, unfolding event that includes life and us in its narrative, one that locates culture in space and time”. – architectural theorist Charles Jencks
So what are we supposed to do about all this? On one level the answer is simple – we need to get connected again. Connected to the cosmos, connected in a conscious way to its energies that run through us, and we need to find the tools to make and sustain this all-important alignment. Luckily we have that long rich tradition of cosmocentric thinkers that was sampled earlier. And there’s also new emerging intellectual movements like Big History, which views history within a continuum that stretches from the big bang to the present. It’s founder David Christian gave a striking TED talk recently, saying that he and others are building a free on-line Big History syllabus for high school students. Movements like this along with those working in the Great Story tradition, are providing us with the intellectual tools to understand ourselves as part of a long and unfinished universe story (19). They’re providing the much needed mental context to support and ground our reconnection with the cosmos.
There’s a strong emerging tradition of evolutionary spirituality too, with leaders such as Andrew Cohen, Michael Dowd, Craig Hamilton, Bruce Sanguin and the folks here at iEvolve (among many others) offering a variety of practices for this cosmic transition. Craig Hamilton describes his teaching of Integral Enlightenment as a “new spirituality with a leading-edge understanding of both the human condition and our place in the Cosmos…It’s meant to meet the needs of the deepest yearning of the human heart- the longing to be a vessel for the infinite in this world” (18). It was contact with these evolutionary teachings and practices that pulled me from the darkest period of my own life, as I struggled with anger, addiction and the shadow expressions of my own misdirected yearnings. I’ll be forever grateful for this profound new orientation to life.
A great shift out of the modern period of cosmic nihilism and separation is underway, and we can work together and support each other as we pioneer our way through this unique evolutionary passage. We can do the shadow work necessary, find a healthy expression of our masculine drives and then pass this wisdom on to our youth, and we can find our way to some sort of collective edge. I’m not sure how it will look, and I’m not sure how it will go down, but one thing I do know for sure, is that no matter what happens, no matter what trouble brews, I’ll be out there on the road, in the mountains, down on the street – just fuckin’ given’r!
|Trevor Malkinson grew up in Victoria, BC. He did a double undergraduate degree in philosophy and environmental studies at the University of Victoria, and then did a graduate degree in philosophy at Brock University. He will be entering the Vancouver School of Theology in fall 2011, wih the intention of going into ministry in the United Church of Canada. As a chef by trade, he has a passionate interest in food and in supporting the development of a post-industrial food culture. He also has a passionate interest in evolutionary spirituality, and how the Christian tradition can live anew within this emerging worldview. Trevor is a founding member of www.beamsandstruts.com where he writes regularly.|
(1) Definition of Give’r from Urban Dictionary:
i) Verb used across English speaking Canada since the early 1970′s with roots in the Western Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta meaning 1) to work very hard. 2) to get wasted and rock as hard as possible. 3) To finish a job or task in an efficient and quick manner.
ii) Canadian term adopted from the phrase “fucking give it to her” meant to provoke one to apply oneself to a task with his/her fullest vigor.
(2) quote from Marc Gafni’s presentation: MP3 Recordings of the 2nd Biennial Integral Theory Conference 2010: Enacting an Integral Future.
(3) It’s important to say a few words about Marc Gafni’s use of the terms ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ in relation to shadow, as these two signifiers have come under fire in recent times; some have suggested that the terms should no longer be used in spiritual typologies. Gafni for his part reminded folks several times during his talk that we all have masculine and feminine energies within us; the terms are not gender specific. He also substitutes the old Kabbalistic nomenclature of lines (masculine) and circle (feminine) as a second set of signifiers, which I personally find quite helpful. Nevertheless, that’s just a short clarifying disclaimer about those terms, as they can be the source of much confusion and consternation.
4) quote from Marc Gafni’s presentation: MP3 Recordings of the 2nd Biennial Integral Theory Conference 2010: Enacting an Integral Future.
5) It’s worth noting that Elgin also sees the dead universe view as part of our evolution- “Despite its bleak outlook, a dead-universe perspective represents a critically important stage in humanity’s long journey of awakening. In pulling back from nature and pulling apart from one another, we have become much stronger and more differentiated as individuals. My sense is that we humans have separated ourselves as far from union with nature as we will ever go. Now we have little choice: If we are to continue to evolve and realize our potential as a species, we must become conscious of our partnership with nature and one another”. Elgin, Duane. The Living Universe. San Francisco: Berret-Koehler Publishers, 2009. p.8, 9.
(6) “Schopenhauer thrust the concept of the will into a central ontological role. Will, for him, was not merely the equivalent of human desire but was more generally a universal force, a drive, something that impelled all things and sustained all things”. Skrbina, David. Panpsychism in the West. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007. p.118.
(7) Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Random House, 1967. Section 1067.
Also: “The will to accumulate force is special to the phenomena of life, to nourishment, procreation, inheritance- to society, state, custom, authority. Should we not be permitted to assume this will as a motive cause of chemistry, too?- and in the cosmic order?”. Ibid, Section 689.
(8) Taylor, Charles. Hegel. UK: Cambridge University Press, 1975. p.450.
(9) Cooper, John W. Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers. Michigan: Baker Academic Press, 2006. p.144.
(10) Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. New York: Grove Press, 1959. p.33.
(11) Russell, Bertrand. “A Free Man’s Worship”. Russell on Religion. Routledge, 1999. p.32.
(12) ““The death of God” that Nietzsche recognized in the nineteenth century very much corresponded to the death of the sky. From roughly the seventeenth century to the early twentieth century, modern science (unlike premodern and postmodern science) taught the sky was a machine, and if it needed a deity, it was only to oil the machine once in a while. Eventually, that lone duty was taken away from God as well…We [eventually] substituted the awe of the heavens with the awe of human made destruction”. Fox, Matthew. The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine. California: New World Library, 2008. p.8.
Also, for another analysis of the damaging results of nihilism and alienation in this period: cf. Tillich, Paul. The Courage to Be. US: Yale University Press, 2000.
(13) “that’s deeply alive as an evolutionary learning system”. Elgin, Duane. The Living Universe. San Francisco: Berret-Koehler Publishers, 2009. pxi
“Today we have a new metanarrative, coming from the post-modern sciences of complexity and the new cosmology, the idea of cosmogenesis, the story of the developing universe, the notion that the cosmos is a single, creative, unfolding event that includes life and us in its narrative, one that locates culture in space and time”. Jencks, Charles. Critical Modernism- Where is Post-modernism Going? Britain: John Wiley & Sons, 2007. p.24.
Also: cf. Abrams and Primack. The View From the Center of the Universe: Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Universe. US: Riverhead Books, 2006.
(14) quote from Marc Gafni’s presentation: MP3 Recordings of the 2nd Biennial Integral Theory Conference 2010: Enacting an Integral Future
(15) “To transgress is to go beyond the bounds or limits set by a commandment or law or convention, it is to violate or infringe”. Jenks, Chris. Transgression. London: Routledge, 2003. p.2
(16) For more on cocaine and prostitute use by workers in the financial sector, see also a recent memoir of the scene in London. Anderson, Geraint. CityBoy: Beer and Loathing in the Square Mile. Britain: Headline Paperbacks, 2009.
For raunch culture: Levi, Ariel. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. Free Press, 2006.
(17) Zizek, Slavoj. Irag: The Borrowed Kettle. London: Verso Books, 2004. p.124.
(19) David Christian’s Big History TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/david_christian_big_history.htm
The Great Story: http://www.thegreatstory.org/what_is.html
Getting into Relationship with God: