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March 21, 2023

Ken Wilber and Marc Gafni in Dialogue: Unique Self Therapy (Part 8)

Marc Gafni and Ken Wilber continue the Unique Self dialogues with a segment of great interest to anyone concerned about healing modalities. Beginning with the opening question, “What would a Unique Self therapy look like?” and continuing on to groundbreaking discussion of nondual spiritual practice, this exchange provides numerous insights. From Wilber’s perspective, the essence of Unique Self therapy is uncovering the lies that we tell about ourselves, including lies about our grandeur. Wilber and Gafni concur that the Tibetan Buddhist practice of yidam (or “divine pride”) offers valuable wisdom that can be adapted for use within an integral Unique Self healing context.

This clip is a 16-minute excerpt which follows immediately from Part 7 on Unique Shadow. In the previous conversation, the pandits conclude that uniqueness paradoxically appears as a spontaneous level of consciousness at “second-tier,” the structure in which consciousness becomes more capable of looking at itself. They saw that key in charting the Unique Self’s position and understanding the nature of shadow is understanding is the relationship to levels of consciousness.


Marc: This is exciting. This is going to allow for the emergence of … here’s our next topic. What would Unique Self therapy look like? We’re working with as you know the board chair of CWS, Lori Galperin, and her clinical co-director Mark Schwartz, the leaders in treatment about developing a sort of Unique Self therapeutic modality. We’re now testing it. How would that work? What would that mean? This will be a key piece of the story: to be able to, for someone who is relatively healthy, to be able to chart: where am I in my level of consciousness? To be able to see the level of consciousness and bring levels of consciousness directly into the Unique Self conversation as part of an actual enacted therapeutic modality. That’s exciting.

Ken: I agree. There are any things involved in the therapeutics of the Unique Self. One of them is certainly coming face-to-face with the fundamental lie or lies that one has got caught up with in the course of one’s life, facing those, and attempting to determine the particular level that they come from, just because that helps to clarify the structure of the lie, the type of lie, when it happened, the relationships that were probably part of it. What sort of talents do you seem to have? People will lie about their talents just as frequently as they lie about their negatives. Maslow called it the Jonah complex. We’re afraid of our greatness as much as our negatives and our smallness. That fear of greatness is simply the fear of your own Unique Self. That’s a terrible position to be in.

Being able to identify one’s talents, one’s skills, one’s genuine gifts, and so on, depends on having confronted one’s shadow and the fundamental lies that you tell and have told about yourself, to be able to move through the lie in order to be able to stand next to the light, so to speak. Lying about greatness is one of the most unspoken lies that we have. But it’s also one of the most common. And so then the capacity to actually recognize what the – for lack of a better word – what the feeling of the divine Self is like. What does it actually feel like to be divine? The Tibetans, for example, one of the most common practices in Tibetan Buddhism is called yidam. They have a visualization technique where a Buddha or two Buddhas in sexual congress that are drawn in colorful figures and in this practice you identify with the yidam, you visualize yourself as being this particular deity. There are two marks of successful practice. One is the clarity of the visualization. Because what you are doing when you are holding this visualization is holding both concentration and insight awareness simultaneously. You are concentrating on the form and holding that in mind without dropping it; and two, you are realizing that that form is empty because it’s still just something you are imagining. You are realizing that form is emptiness and emptiness is form, which is the definition of insight. And the second way you measure success in this practice is by the feelings of divine pride that you hold. That’s the tricky one. Interestingly what you usually trip up is the ego.

The ego is usually the pretender to the throne. It runs around pretending to be God. But when it is faced with God, it is embarrassed; it fumbles and pulls back. It doesn’t know how to say, Oh well yes actually I am that I AM. I AM the fundamental Ground of all Being, and to say that without pulling back, without hesitating, without shyness. Trungpa used to say that we don’t try to kill the ego, we give it everything it wants and it dies of embarrassment. That’s essentially what holding divine pride is. In a paradoxical way it induces humility. Being able to spot one’s lie, spot one’s talents, being able to spot one’s divinity, are just small handfuls of the items that you want to work with when you are working with Unique Self. Unique Self plays an important role in all of those. All of those have been diminished by not being connected with the Unique Self. Because at the very lease what it’s been connected with is just egoic capacities, some conventional self that is being discussed and divinity/infinity is being left out of the equation entirely (which of course is only the entire Ground of All Being, the Ultimate Source of All Reality, which is a lousy thing to leave out, talk about lies).

Another fundamental lie is that I don’t have a Unique Self. That really eats deeply because we are brought up in a culture which denies it, and allows only a finite, liberal, egoic self… and denies an infinite real self. That’s a deep and fundamental lie that really then affects pretty much everything it touches. So confronting lies is a really fundamental issue in this process along with one’s talents, gifts, particular skills, and so on. By definition every individual body/mind has.

Marc: You covered seven or eight key points here. I want to dance with you in just a couple of them. When talking about lies, people focus on the detail lies: You didn’t tell me that you are making $5,000 more than you are. You didn’t tell me this or that. But we are willing to lie about the essential nature of human dignity, which is shocking. It’s about confronting lies. The greatest lie as you framed it is that I don’t have a Unique Self, and paradoxically that lie is made in the name of individuality. In a certain sense, in our Unique Self teaching, what we are doing is stripping away the straw man that supported that lie. In other words, what supported that lie is a kind of no-self teaching, and the total number of True Selves as you always cite is one, but that means I’m lost. I’m actually a higher individuation, individuated beyond ego, so we can’t accept the enlightenment teaching. What Unique Self does is actually strip away that canard, and reveal that the great teaching that form and emptiness being one holds profoundly the infinite unique dignity of every person as an expression of essence. So there’s no more place to hide. We actually for the first time get to claim our inalienable right and our inalienable joy and obligation that I am a Unique Self. I am a infinite unique expression of essence. What comes online is what you describe emerging out of Tibetan Buddhism as divine pride.

The teaching on divine pride becomes a core Unique Self practice. (It’s wild, Meta-K, just about every conversation… that’s why I enjoy them so much, we are charting new ground.) So yidam visualization techniques become forms of actually accessing a felt experience of my Unique Self. Although within Tibetan Buddhism it’s not completely clear whether we are talking about True Self or Unique Self… and we’ve tried any number of dialogues to superimpose Unique Self on that eternal drop that exists in those texts… and we’ve affirmed Unique Self as an evolutionary emergent. Clearly we can from an Integral mode and trans-path practice we can borrow the divine pride/yidam practices and infuse them with the Unique Perspective/Unique Self understanding and they become Unique Self practices.

Ken: Definitely. And there’s a whole paradox about divine pride. In its wake, it brings this whole atmosphere of humility. One of the real paradoxes about Spirit, one of the fundamental things that we learn in metaphysics 101 is that any statement about Spirit is going to be paradoxical (not contradictory). A contradiction is one statement is true and its opposite is false. In a paradox, we have two opposites, both of which are true. It’s been said that a paradox is truth standing on its head to get attention. What has to happen to discover divine pride is you have to discover the True and Unique Self and to do that you have to uncover the egoic self. The egoic self is the pretender to be divine. That doesn’t fundamentally believe it. It just pretends. It’s part of its Atman Project, unable to obtain God directly, so it substitutes itself for God, wanders around in that way, until it’s caught up with this desire to show up as God. Let me see you be God. Whereupon it tends to whither. That’s what happens with the correct practice of divine pride. In feeling through to this divinity, you really do start to transcend the merely separate self and that opens the whole door of infinite awareness to the Self. That’s been a completely different world, profound to the core.

Marc: Completely different world and profound to the core, and this idea of what you’ve called the Atman Project and what I’ve called Pseudo-Eros. It’s the same basic understanding. You’re not in Eros, you’re in Pseudo-Eros; you’re not actually in Atman as Brahman but in the Atman Project where the servant is pretending to be king. Here’s the interesting thing. If there wasn’t Unique Self, if Unique Self wasn’t the nature of reality, the ego would have no chance of pretending. I think it’s a simple but powerful point. If the nature of reality was True Self; if Emptiness wasn’t Form; meaning if it wasn’t true that every True Self has a unique perspective which means that uniqueness is an ineradicable and irreducible part of reality and that’s actually what Nagarjuna intuited and we’ve unpacked through Unique Self in its evolutionary emergent form bringing a whole lot of postmodern insights into the mix, the ego would have no chance. The reason the ego has a chance is because the ego is hijacking the actual reality of Unique Self. It’s pretending to be Unique Self. If ego was pretending to be True Self everyone would see it immediately. The ego’s very existence, and the power of its pretending, points to there being a higher order clarified version of ego which is post-emptiness which is Unique Self.

Ken: Right.

Listen to the entire dialogue on audio…


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