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June 1, 2023

Newest Thinking on Unique Self, from a dialogue with Bert Parlee and Marc Gafni, at the recent Integral Leadership Collaborative

Your Unique Self: Giving Your Gift — Dr. Marc Gafni — Audio Transcript

Bert Parlee: Marc has an incredible breadth of wisdom and knowledge, not only in the spiritual traditions, but his doctorate is from Oxford, he’s a scholar, speaks various languages, and the way he weaves stories, drawing from all streams of life that he brings into his very embodied organic teaching style. Welcome Marc.

Marc Gafni: We’re here to talk about “Unique Self.” I’d like to lay out for you a teaching I’m calling “New Enlightenment of Unique Self.”

• Publications and where to find more information:

• “Unique Self in Non-Dual Humanism.” I’ve published this work in a formal academic way through SUNY Press. It traces a 2,000 year-old Aramaic lineage, which is one of the sources I’m drawing on in Unique Self.

• My personal website:

• “Journal of Integral Theory and Practice,” an academically peer-reviewed journal; I edited edition Journal 6.1 which is on Unique Self. We called it the “new chapter in Integral Theory.”

• “Your Unique Self: The Future of Enlightenment” – forthcoming. More of a public “dharma” book.

• What I want to share with you is a deep unfolding, deep within lineages, deep within your own source code, and brings together the best of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern streams of insights. It forms the newest chapter of integral theory from one perspective, and also the next stage of what I’m calling the “future of enlightenment” from a different perspective.

• Who cares about enlightenment? That’s our first powerful question. Or said differently, “What is enlightenment?” If we knew what it is, we might be able to figure out who cares. • Unique Self is, first and foremost, an enlightenment teaching. That’s the frame we’re in. An enlightenment teaching does not claim that the teacher is enlightened. It just claims that it’s an enlightenment teaching, and we all teach what we need to learn. What Is Enlightenment?

• Enlightenment is sanity… to be sane. We usually think of enlightenment as a very sophisticated, high-end, leading edge of accomplishment, which is realized by a few old men, and perhaps a couple of women, hidden in the back streets of Jerusalem and the peaks of the Himalayas, Nepal, maybe a Sufi somewhere in the Middle East, etc.

• If that’s true, enlightenment is interesting, but obviously not that compelling, because it doesn’t talk to a lot of people; not a lot of people realize it, right? And, it doesn’t have much to do with mainstream culture or the way we live.

• A more precise definition which leads us toward the “democratization” of enlightenment is: “Enlightenment is sanity.” That’s a big deal… who doesn’t want to be sane? To be “not enlightened,” or to live in “normal” consciousness, is insane.

• What does that mean? Let’s look at that together. What does it mean to be sane? It means to know who I am; to know my identity.

• If I said to you, “hey, I’m Bert Parlee,” eventually if I kept insisting that was true, at some point people would start labeling me crazy; “he doesn’t know who he is.” So to be sane means to know my identity. I know who I am; I know my true nature; I know my true identity.

• My identity is not that of being a limited, small self, not merely being a skin-encapsulated ego. My identity is not only the small- self separate personality of Marc Gafni. That’s only part of who I am. My “partness” is not my wholeness. My partness is actually part of a larger whole, the larger One, the seamless coat of the universe.

• I’m not merely a separate self, but as I move beyond the illusion of my separate self, and access my identity, which is my true nature, then I’m living in my “true self” – from separate self to true self – and my true self, my true nature, my true identity, which is that I am part of a larger whole, the great fabric system depth of the cosmos. I’m not separate.

• Because if I’m separate, all that I have available to me is the limited power, the limited love, the limited laughter, the limited energy, the limited joy, the limited prosperity, of my separate self. Which is pretty limited.

• But if I actually experience myself as I truly am, that I am part of this larger field of being and becoming, that’s alive and moving through me, in me, and as me, and there’s separation in the mind of god, the uni-verse, the one great verse of reality which courses through the verbs and adjectives and dangling modifiers in my life… when I realize that to be not a dogma, but a dharma truth that is lived and accessed in the first-person, then I begin to access and live from infinite power, infinite love, infinite laughter, infinite energy, infinite joy, and infinite prosperity. I move beyond the limitation of the illusion of the separate self. And that’s a big deal.

• So why does that matter? Because normal consciousness is insane. How do I know that? Normal consciousness produces “dukkha” – suffering. Normal conscious who lives under the undispelled illusion of being merely a separate self, grasps; desperately seeks in all the wrong places, to reify that sense of not existing.

• The person who lives in the illusion of the separate self wakes up in the morning and says, “I exist,” but they don’t really believe it. Then they (I) spend the rest of the day trying to prove to myself that I exist, because I don’t have a genuine sense of my own existence.

• Trying to prove to myself that I’m actually eternal beyond the fragility of my mortal self, I don’t actually have a lived sense of my eternity, of my own depth, of my own infinite goodness, value and beloved nature. So I grasp for what I have. I don’t actually experience myself as being inside the circle of love, inside the circle of Eros, inside the circle of infinity. I don’t really experience myself as being in the interior face of the cosmos; I’m not really on the inside.

• So I place you on the outside, giving me an illusion of being on the inside. And I draw a line in between us. That’s the beginning of hatred, war, all that causes brutal destruction.

• If this sounds to you like an interesting spiritual idea, but – Hello! let’s get down to real life! – just notice that 100 million people were brutally killed in the last century by people who lived in normal consciousness. So normal consciousness is insane. To kill 100 million people in a century, for no genuine reason – not to assert or move anything forward, just because the human ego thinks that it is merely a separate self, desperately lashing out in order to feel its own sense of existence, placing so many others outside of the circle in order to have the pseudo-erotic illusion of being inside the circle. That’s insanity; utterly crazy.

• When we live on an Earth in which there’s enough food and resources to feed us all five times over, and 20 million children die of starvation every year, and we’re talking about being sane? Normal consciousness is insane. • So enlightenment is about sanity. Sanity is about love. Love is about the force of attraction. Love is about mutuality, recognition, union and embrace. Love is the realization that we’re all bound by invisible lines of connection; that we’re all part of a larger whole; and if you’re not eating, then I’m starving.

• So enlightenment is about love. And the way to get to love is to love your way to enlightenment. What does that mean? We’ll talk about that later.

• The difference between “Bert” and “Marc” – we’re both men, about the same height and weight, same general age category. To mistake between me and Bert is a pretty minor mistake. A few details here and there. Basically, we’re the same general genre happening. It’s not that blatant of insanity.

• But to actually mistake your separate self as being all you are, and not realize that you are a True Self, which is an in- eradicable and indivisible part of the seamless coat of the universe? The gap between that lack of realization, that illusion, that limited sense of self? That’s truly insanity. So that’s enlightenment, and it’s why we care about enlightenment.

#2: If that’s what enlightenment is; if it’s that important, that transformative; if it is actually the source of love and compassion, the source of all that’s virtuous and good; if it actually would allow us to move beyond suffering, which is precisely the promise of enlightenment teachers, then why isn’t everybody rushing to buy this incredible product (putting it in lower-right marketing terms)? Why isn’t everybody rushing to buy it off the shelf? Why isn’t there an incredible desire for everybody in the world rushing to become enlightened?

• Not only is that not happening, but actually, people don’t really care about enlightenment. In my new book, “Your Unique Self,” I insisted on putting a subtitle on it, “The Future of Enlightenment.” The problem with putting “Enlightenment” in a book title is that you automatically cut your audience by 2/3. Because who cares about enlightenment?

• So it doesn’t make sense, friends. If enlightenment is that important, if it’s knowing your true nature, if it’s sanity, if it has the transformative potential to shift the way we live together in this global commons, to end war and slavery because there’s been a shift and deepening of our perception and knowing of our True Nature and identity, and expanding our sense of small-self and becoming Big Heart and Big Mind; if that’s truly the case, and it is the case – that’s the great teaching of all the enlightenment traditions – then why doesn’t anybody care? Why isn’t this more popular? Why is this on the fringes of society? That’s our second question.

#3: So what’s the answer? Some people say it’s because enlightenment is hard; you have to practice a lot. People don’t want to give up the comforts of the ego. People are unwilling to die to their separate self. The enlightenment teachers tell us this, and there’s some truth in it. But there seems to be more. Is it really that people are too lazy, they’re really just afraid to die to their separate self? Don’t people realize this would be an incredible, wild gift to everyone? What’s the deeper reason that enlightenment teachings actually don’t take hold in the general culture? Why does it remain such a fringe part of our conversation?

• It’s not just that people aren’t willing to die to their separate self. It’s more like people aren’t willing to lose a sense of their uniqueness.

• People feel, “my uniqueness is my personal identity; that’s who I am. But if I become enlightened, I’ve got to leave that whole separate self thing behind, and I just become part of the One, which feels kind of blah. I become ‘blah-ified,’ amorphic. I lose my distinguishing characteristics, my uniqueness. I don’t want to do that, because to lose my uniqueness, my distinction, I feel is actually to lose myself; it’s actually to disappear.”

• It’s the fear of disappearing that prevents people from engaging in enlightenment conversations.

#4: People are actually right, and most enlightenment teachers are actually wrong. That is to say, that fear of getting lost, of losing that sense of being a unique self, that sense of being distinguished, that’s a correct fear. In fact, much enlightenment teaching suggests that in order to be part of the One, you need to leave that sense of your uniqueness behind.

#5: If you engage the dharma deeply, you realize it’s actually not true [that you lose your unique self].

#6: You realize – and here’s the core of what we’re saying here, the essence of what this Unique Self enlightenment teaching is – we need to posit a central and compelling distinction between “separateness” and “uniqueness.” That distinction allows for a higher integral evolutionary embrace of the best teachings of East and West, and allows us to evolve the dharma and evolve the very trajectory of our own personal lives, and change everything.

#7: When we say “enlightenment,” what does that evoke in you? “Enlightenment” comes from two separate places. On the one hand, there’s Eastern enlightenment, dying to the separate self. That’s true. That’s one form of enlightenment which says, “move beyond your separate self, because your separate self is the source of all suffering, and realize that you’re not a separate self, but you’re a True Self. “

• That’s the Eastern enlightenment teachings, as well as appearing very strongly in Western mystical esoteric traditions, and appears in the first and second generations of Hasidism within Hebrew mystical tradition. It appears in Meister Eckhart’s version of Christianity and many other Christian thinkers. It appears in certain versions of Islam.

• For the time being, we’ll refer to it as an Eastern teaching, to identify it more readily, because it’s heavily associated with Advaita Vedanta, with Theravadan Buddhism, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, etc.

• This Eastern teaching is: 1) move beyond your separate self; 2) the separate self is the source of all suffering; 3) when you leave your separate self behind, you identify with your True Self and come to know your True Nature, and begin to live in fullness, enlightenment and joy.

• That’s one version of enlightenment. The problem is that enlightenment is also evoked in another arena in history. When you think about Enlightenment, you think about history 300-400 years ago, the mid 18th-century, the emergence of Western Enlightenment, which, not coincidentally, uses the same word. The purpose of Western Enlightenment which emerges in history is not dissimilar from the purpose of Eastern Enlightenment… to move beyond suffering.

• How do you do that? For Western Enlightenment, the way you move beyond suffering is not to move beyond separate self, but to affirm the dignity of separate self. When you don’t confirm the dignity of the separate self, then you get suffering. When the separate self isn’t a separate dignified monadic unit, not part of a larger frame, i.e. a Church frame or a feudal frame, etc., that’s the source of suffering. So to move beyond suffering, says Western Enlightenment, we need to affirm the separate self.

• That’s the problem; the reason enlightenment teaching doesn’t take root in the West’s notion of individuality, which is the affirmation of the dignity of the separate self as the root source of moving beyond suffering.

• We have these two different teachings; each one representing a major wellspring of knowing, gnosis, which live together today in our Western world, and contradict each other exclusively. The contradiction hasn’t, heretofore, been articulated. Therefore, we don’t understand why the Western body-mind-heart resists Eastern enlightenment. Because it violates the core source code meta-structure of the Western psyche-body-heart-mind. So what do we do?

#8: How do we resolve this tension in our hearts and souls, in the heart-body-mind of culture, within our yearning and striving, within our myths by which we want to live our lives? What is our grail quest? To move beyond separate self, or to confirm the dignity of separate self? What are we looking for?

#9: To understand what our grail quest is and bring the Eastern and Western impulse to a higher evolutionary integral embrace, we need to posit this central distinction in point #6 between separateness and uniqueness. If we do this, we take an evolutionary momentous leap.

• Both the West and East enlightenment teachings confuse separateness and uniqueness. East says: move beyond your separate self, and assume that your uniqueness was part of being a separate self. One teacher and good friend says that there’s no such thing as a “unique” spiritual experience. She was teaching the classical dharma of Eastern enlightenment. Move beyond your separate self, and your uniqueness is, ipso facto, part of your separateness.

• The Course in Miracles says, if you think in any sense you’re special and unique, you will not find peace. Because specialness/uniqueness is a property of the separate self-ego.

• You’ll find this in many forms throughout this teaching, and it’s a mistake. Because actually, if you clarify the dharma, you realize that you can move beyond your separate self… Bert and Marc can both move beyond their separate selves. We’re no long skin-encapsulated egos. Bert and Marc both realize that we are both together part of the seamless coat of the universe which, while it’s seamless, is not featureless.

• Bert and Marc are each unique expressions, unique features, in this seamless coat of the universe. Although Bert and Marc participate in the same essence, we’re both “personal faces,” personalized expressions of that essence. Although Bert and Marc are part of the same True Self, and the total number of True Selves are One, Bert and Marc are completely distinct as Unique Self.

• I can move beyond separate self, realize my True Self, but then understand that there is no absolute True Self in existence in the manifest world. Because every True Self sees through a unique set of eyes. That perspective of True Self is Unique Self.

• In the old enlightenment teaching, enlightenment had no preferences and no perspective. Because there wasn’t the understanding that perspective shapes reality. In the pre-modern period, the notion of perception was that you were perceiving what is. When we all perceive what is – the True Nature of the Great One – then we’re all going to be part of that.

• But when I have the post-modern realization as the ontology of perspective comes on line, I realize that enlightenment has perspective, because everything has perspective. That’s precisely what post-modernity teaches us. There is nothing that lives independently of perspective. Everything is seen through the prism of your unique perspective. In fact, your True Self plus your unique perspective is your Unique Self.

• True Self + Perspective = Unique Self

• You are the personal face of essence, the particularized infinity of God expressed through your unique face. That’s a big deal. To wake up doesn’t merely mean to wake up beyond your separate self to True Self, it means to wake up and realize you’re not merely True Self, you’re Unique Self. You’re a unique, particularized expression of All That Is, that lives in you, as you, and through you. Therefore you have unique gifts to give to the world that no one else in the world that ever was, is, or will be, can give other than you. Your unique gift flows directly from your unique perspective, your unique way of seeing the world. The eyes to see that live in you are eyes that give vision to the Divine, to All That Is, in a way that no one else does.

• From a Unique Self perspective, to love God (being all three faces – 1st, 2nd, 3rd person – of All That Is) means to let God see through your eyes. To not love God is to become bland, to blend, either into one great undifferentiated blob of True Self, which is often how classical enlightenment is presented, and not

to actually realize your distinction as a personalized face of Essence.

• That’s a big distinction. We say to our Eastern Enlightenment friends: yes, we need to move beyond separate self in order to heal suffering. But when we move beyond separate self, we don’t actually eradicate uniqueness, because separateness and uniqueness are two different things. I can not be a separate self and absolutely be a Unique Self, which is the unique expressive perspective of my True Self.

#10. The West makes the same mistake in its enlightenment teaching. The West says that in order to achieve enlightenment you need to affirm the dignity of your separate self. But that’s actually not true. Why?

• The West says that all love, relationship, accountability, responsibility and virtue is based on two separate selves being in relationship to each other. If you leave behind separate self and become part of the One, then you lose relationship and lose responsibility and you lose love. But that’s not true; it’s a mistake in the Western dharma. Because actually, in order to have love, relationship, virtue, accountability and responsibility, you don’t need separate self; you need only Unique Self. • The West can actually accept the East; you can move beyond your separate self, and not lose the core basis of Western ethics, which is relationship, love, accountability and virtue. Because they exist between Unique Selves, who realize that

they’re not separate; they’re part of the seamless coat of the universe which is seamless but not featureless, uniquely expressed in their unique face’s features.

• The limitation, the mistake of the Eastern dharma of enlightenment is a confusion between separateness and uniqueness from one perspective. And the mistake in the Western version of enlightenment is also confusion between separateness and uniqueness. Unique Self becomes the higher embrace, the apex, which receives the best of West and East, merging them into a genuine higher embrace; a powerful expression of West-meets-East in the highest and most beautiful way, the Unique Self, which transcends and includes the best of Western and Eastern Enlightenment. • Eastern Enlightenment is always a state, moving beyond your separate self to realize your True Self. Western Enlightenment is a structural stage, a recognition of your uniqueness and an infinitely dignified individual. Unique Self is where states and structure stages meet. Unique Self is both the highest state experience of enlightenment, and it’s also the highest structure stage of enlightenment.

• That gives us a pretty gorgeous vision, a direction, an obligation to actually realize, to clarify, our perspective. To clarify the obfuscating prisms of false self, to clarify the obscuring grasping of small-self ego, to clarify our perspective. So we see the world in a particular way, and what emerges from that perspective is our unique gift that only we have to give.

• Then we’re filled with incredible joy; we realize that we’re ultimately needed. Our deed is God’s need. That which we can give, we can gift to the world as Unique Self, can only be given by us, and is needed by All That Is. No matter what I do; work, meditate, chant, pray, clarify myself to be the most enlightened being on the planet. And I’ll never be able to give the unique gift of Bert Parlee. Each of us has our Unique Self gifts to give which bring us essential joy. Bert and Marc can meet, not in the place of egoic grasping, jealousy, brutal subtle competitiveness that often exists between men, but actually in a place of wild love!

• Because love at its core is not an emotion. In the inter- subjective space between people – love is a perception. Love is to have eyes to see, for each of us to see other and say, “oh my God, that’s gorgeous! What a unique set of gifts he has that he’s giving in the world, and there’s no way I can give them.” But I don’t need to have to give them. Because only my grasping ego wants to give Bert’s gifts. Only a disconnection and alienation from my uniqueness. When I’m actually living in my uniqueness, paradoxically when I meet Bert, I’m opened up to his uniqueness. And I’m utterly delighted.

• This is where the Course in Miracles makes a mistake. It says that you’re not special. Wrong. You are special. The Course in Miracles fails to distinguish between levels of consciousness. At the level of grasping, egoic, separate self, you’re not special. That’s the apparent specialness of the pseudo-ego, grasping for its pseudo-Eros. But when I move beyond that limited, narrow, brutal sense of being special, which is destructive and often malicious, I realize in classical enlightenment my True Self, then awaken to the new enlightenment of Unique Self, that every True Self sees through a unique set of eyes, then I’m special and you’re special. Awesome! Let’s be special together. We can delight in our specialness.

• Then we begin to engage in a Unique Self Encounter, which is when we meet and realize we each have a piece of each other’s story. The ethics of our encounter is when we exchange with each other those pieces of each other’s story. Wow, that’s a whole different world.

Bert: Your message inspires in me the passion to recognize one’s obligation to fulfill one’s manifest destiny; to realize the sanity as the heart of the natural enlightened self, which is different than the craziness of the ordinary self in the world, where, as you identified, so many bad things happen, even with the best of intentions.

• You’re identifying the nature of Unique Self striving for a rich contribution of an individual’s offering which only they can give in this place and time, and for us to live out our spiritual destiny is to live into that place, not deny it, bring it forth and create a world of greater goodness, truth and beauty, based on love, and yielding happiness in the best sense of the word.

• You mentioned malice, a very important principle in spiritual practice, actually. Sometimes in our sensitive selves, the parts of us that want to, rightfully, embrace diversity and the range of multicultural strivings in the world, we sometimes feel shy about naming that one [malice]. One of the things I love about your teaching is that you’re willing to go there. We’re going to be looking at where we’ve been, and of course there are many challenges on the road ahead, many things unfolding in the world. What might you say, in terms of how Unique Self may try to address what many might call “evil” in the world? And how do we address this “malice” problem?

Marc: In my forthcoming book, “Unique Self: The Future of Enlightenment,” there is a chapter on malice. Some people asked what malice was doing in it; mostly they were from the human potential and new-age movements. There’s a lack of recognition of malice. It’s caused more mistakes, in judgment, in policy… I’ve had enormous experience with it over the years and have looked at it very closely.

• Malice is the opposite of love. Love is a unique self-perception. Malice, in the interpersonal realm, is denial of Unique Self. Love in the evolutionary third-person realm (Dante’s “the force that moves the sun and the stars”), love as the Eros of evolution, as the connectivity, mutuality, recognition, union, and embrace – malice is its flip-opposite; again, in the third-person force, it’s the force of disintegration, of alienation, of disconnection, or the opposite of religion (re-ligere), the deconstruction in all of its forms.

• Malice is the denial of Unique Self. When one denies another’s Unique Self, and identifies them with whatever particular weakness one has been able to find (and we can find one in everyone), then one exaggerates and expands that weakness, and distorts it, magnifies it, we get malice.

• The failure of the new age to recognize malice is an enormous failure. Someone can talk to a new age leader and completely character assassinate another person, and the new age leader will think, “wow, that must be really legitimate, it must come from a really deep place.” They actually don’t recognize that they’ve just met Malice. One of the great things that Scott Peck did – I think his best contribution was a book called “People of the Lie.” It deals with malice; he recognizes malice, and puts it in a kind of Christological frame, which I think is unnecessary, but from an existential perspective, malice is real. I think the best person who wrote on it was a British psychoanalyst named Joseph Burke, “The Tyranny of Malice,” which is an excellent and classical work.

• It’s critical to recognize malice, because when we don’t, we don’t factor it into our policy decisions, in our realpolitik. Malice is a real force.

• Can malice be transformed? Sure it can. But first it has to be recognized. Even malice that you don’t act out can emerge in you, and you recognize, “wow, that’s malice.” That’s a big deal.

• One of the easiest ways to find malice, Bert, is to find jealousy. Jealousy is one of the ways that, while it might not devolve into actual malice, it’s a place we can access a twinge of malice.

• Another place we can access malice in the world is in the blogosphere. There’s a lot of the Good, the True and the Beautiful in the blogosphere, but it’s also often motivated by malice. Where you have people who are self-appointed vigilantes, who never have an actual face-to-face conversation with anyone in a genuine way. Face-to-face means Unique Self to Unique Self. “Face” is an expression of Unique Self, the 45 muscles in the face which are about unique expression. There’s never a face-to-face contact, there’s never a desire for transformation. There’s a person, sitting in their basement blogging away, attacking people they don’t know, they’ve never sat and had dinner with.

• They attack, gather information, distort it, and they’re motivated by the energy, often, of malice. It’s an animating energy. Malice has energy, it has power. It moves things. Just like love moves the sun and the stars, malice negatively animates and drives people.

• So while I wasn’t going to take the conversation in that direction, I very much appreciate your pointing it out. Malice usually emerges from a person who hasn’t realized any dimension of their Unique Self. The shadow of malice emerges when a person’s Unique Self is so distorted, so obscured, that they cannot have a sense of the fullness of their own life, so they only derive energy through a kind of gratuitous, distorted, exaggerated attack on other, that gives them a sense of meaning. • I know that people listening would rather hear me talk about love and light, and I love to talk about love and light. If I want to be anything in the world, it’s a lover… of men, women, children and goats. Love not in the sexual sense, but in the beautiful recognition of union and embrace.

• We can’t be evolutionary lovers unless we’re willing to recognize malice as it arises in our self, as it arises in our “we” space, to actually address and confront it directly. That’s such an important perception, I completely appreciate you bringing that forth, Bert.

Bert: I appreciate you finding the incredible value and importance of that part of the shadow, which is, of course, so much of what spiritual practice does well to involve us with, if we’re really going to deepen ourselves into realization, enlightenment, whatever we might call that living out as our fullest, deepest purpose as Unique Selves, we do well to look at our shadows. • One of the things that comes up with any new way that we have to realize ourselves, and you’re developing a whole great new model here, how would you say we protect ourselves against sometimes very clever “spiritual materialism of the ego,” as Chogyam Rinpoche called it, when, even unbeknownst to ourselves in some ways, we narcissistically reify and glamorize in our vanity, ourselves; the Tibetans call this “rudrahood”… an attempt at enlightenment of the ego, by the ego. Which of course doesn’t happen, but does create a clever façade and a story of self-deception. What do you say to people who want to embrace the light, realization and love of cultivating Unique Selves, and how to guard against this very tricky way we can fool ourselves into being, narcissistically, the One?

Marc: That’s an awesome inquiry. My reframed articulation of your question is, how do we prevent the ego from hijacking Unique Self? [Bert: Yes.] First I want to say that the ego hijacks everything. The fact that something can potentially be hijacked… I have a good friend who teaches about identifying with the evolutionary impulse, which is a core Aurobindo teaching. He says, well, that’s better than Unique Self because you’re identifying with the evolutionary impulse; the ego’s not going to hijack it. My response is, why won’t the ego hijack the evolutionary impulse? The ego hijacks everything.

• The fact that something has a shadow side, sexuality for example, doesn’t undermine sexuality. The fact that Unique Self can be distorted as the grasping ego doesn’t in any way undermine the central efficacy and necessity of realizing our True Nature as Unique Self. We need to distinguish between ego and Unique Self. That’s enormously important. • In my upcoming book, there’s a chapter on 25 distinctions between ego and Unique Self. Part of the practice of Unique Self Enlightenment is to make these distinctions. For example, your ego thinks you’re special because you’re better or worse than other people. Your Unique Self knows you’re special because you’re yourself. For the ego, “special” means “better than.” For your Unique Self, “special” or “different” means “distinct and free from any comparison or point of reference.” For your Unique Self, you’re special because of your spontaneous expression of your essence. That’s just one example.

• A second example is: Ego reacts, Unique Self acts. Your ego is constantly in reaction to outside stimuli; it never thinks a spontaneous thought. It rarely acts because it’s moved to do so by a freely arriving thought or desire. Unique Self, by contrast, is moved to action by the power and joy of its own authentic original impulse.

• By the way, Bert, all these distinctions can be applied to business as well… ego imitates, Unique Self is original. Your ego is trapped in imitation. The ego is, by its very definition, in limitation. And limitation leads to imitation. Ego is always living the life of imitation based on limitation, which leads to mindless (not effective) competition, which leads to compulsive comparison to satisfaction. But originality, which is a quality of Unique Self, freed from comparison, is by its nature self- satisfied. It feels good in itself. Your ego never thinks an original thought; originality emerges from your unique face, which is a vote by contact with your True Self, your original face.

• That’s one of the key issues: satisfaction or greed; enough or more. The Unique Self story vs. the ego story. Joy vs. fear; Eros or grasping; authentic freedom or pseudo-freedom; victim or player; loyalty or betrayal; there’s a long list of distinctions which I try to develop; authentic friendship or pseudo- friendship; are you saying yes (Unique Self) or no (ego- contracting). Even when your ego says “yes,” it’s only because it’s afraid to say “no.” Your Unique Self is always expanding to say “yes”; even when you say “no,” it’s only to make room for more authentic “yes.” In other words, the distinctions are very deep. I think part of the practice of Unique Self Enlightenment is to be constantly making those discernments… who’s talking? Is this ego talking?

• You can also make these distinctions from a feeling perspective; emotional work, where you actually feel the difference between ego and Unique Self. You can do kinesthetic/body work, have an embodied distinction whether you’re acting from ego or Unique Self. We always need to do the practice to not allow the ego to hijack the Unique Self. Jennifer Grove: I love your work and admire your journey. Malice is an issue that I see a lot in the integral community I’m a member of. I see both the malice, and the denial of it. It seems to be my karmic place to point that out. Then I get responses that I’m just projecting. I’m riding on that karma and accepting it, looking at it from “not-it.” Do you have suggestions as to a “full” way to deal with this? Especially in the integral community, it just gets rebuffed – “you’re the one in the hall of mirrors; you’re the problem; you and your malice get out of here and everybody will be just fine.” How do we deal with that? Marc: There’s a lot of love and goodness in the integral community; and there clearly are shadows of malice that exist in different dimensions of the community, whether in the blogosphere or other places. I think they need to be called out, named as such. To say, hey, I’m sure there’s a lot of love here, but malice is also at play here. Malice is a real thing; we need actually to begin to name it. That’s one.

• Two is that we have to avoid being seduced by malice. One example: when Bill Clinton was president, he had an engagement with Ms. Lewinsky. Whatever that was, it wasn’t relevant to national politics. About 30% of the country obsessed over it, and Republican leadership, in a completely partisan way, used it to really paralyze the country. As Laura Kipnis, a major feminist, points out in the fourth chapter of her book, “A Female Thing,” virtually all the people who attacked Bill Clinton on the Republican side were all having similar Lewinsky experiences in their lives that they hid. Meaning, it was driven by malice. What happened was that we allowed ourselves to be seduced by malice. The reason it remained on the front pages and kind of stopped the country was that everybody was interested… they fed off of it. The same way the blogosphere sometimes feeds off the lowest common denominator. We need to call malice out, and tell people, “don’t be fed by it.” The result of that

malice, for example, was the Iraq war. If Al Gore had been elected president with a little bit more votes, we wouldn’t have done the Iraq war. The reason Al Gore wasn’t elected president was that Bill Clinton couldn’t campaign for him, because he was tarred by this Lewinsky story. So the malice at the root of this story, and the seduction by that malice by the American people, actually caused the Iraq war. My point, of course over- dramatizing, is that malice is real, so a) it needs to be called out, and b) we need to refuse, as a community, to let ourselves be seduced by malice.

Samir: One question is: how is the concept of Unique Self different from the Eastern concept of dharma? A second question is: what can one do to get more exposure to Unique Self, because it is a very scary proposition, as you’re dancing a very thin line with the ego. What is your Unique Self and what is your separate self? Marc: In terms of the distinction between Unique Self and dharma, I think you’re referring to the Bhagavad-Gita, which, by the way, was the basis for the movie, “Bagger Vance.” That notion of having your dharma. That notion in Hinduism of “Atman is Brahman,” could be interpreted as Unique Self. You could also interpret it as Buddhist “no-self.” It’s kind of unclear. I’ve had conversations with Sally Kempton, Swami Dirgananda, and Professor Dick Mann, head of Transpersonal section of SUNY Press, who’s an old-time Siddha Yoga practitioner. Both of them are students of Muktananda, who is the Siddha Yoga lineage, which is rooted deep in

Hinduism, a place where you have glimmers of Unique Self, but it’s not quite clear. Sally would quote Muktananda, “God appears in you as you.” Her interpretation of that was a kind of “no- self/True Self.” I argued that he was actually referring to Unique Self. It’s never quite clear in Hinduism. It’s clearer in Sufism, where you have a clearer idea of the personal face of Essence. • Ken and I talked about whether Unique Self is an evolutionary emergent, or is Unique Self rooted in the old traditions? I would say that Unique Self is foreshadowed in some of the great traditions, in certain ideas of soul, but not others. In Judeo-Christianity, soul is sometimes the glorified spiritual ego. That’s not what we mean by Unique Self. At other times, soul is used more like Unique True Self. You have to be careful. • In Sufism, in Kabbalah, in Kashmir Shaivism, in esoteric Christianity, you have proto-Unique Self ideas. What happens in the evolutionary emergent is that what comes online in Modernity/Post-Modernity is perspective. We used to think that we see the world as it is. Once we realize that we see the world through a perspective, that changes everything, including our notion of enlightenment. If in the classical world we see the world as it is, so classical enlightenment is non-distinct. Because I’m not seeing the world through my prism, I’m seeing the world as it is, and all of our prisms are basically the same. But if I realize that’s not true, that I see the world through a unique prism perspective, then even when I attain enlightenment, it’s still through that prism and perspective. That’s Unique Self. The notion of perspective is very important.

• Two, the notion of “self” per se is a modern idea. “Self” doesn’t appear in the dictionary until the Renaissance. So “self” and perspectives are related. So it was very hard for an earlier notion of spirit to talk in full Unique Self terms, because there wasn’t a value of uniqueness.

• For example, the idea of one person, one vote would have been absurd a thousand years ago. The Buddha could have never dreamt of democracy. As we feel into democracy, which is an affirmation of the unique perspective of every individual, we then begin to realize that perspective is central, and that enlightenment has perspective, and that to be enlightened is not to lose your perspective, but to clarify your unique perspective. When I stop imitating Samir, and begin being Marc, not from an egoic place of grasping, but from an expression of my clarified second-tier perspective, then Unique Self begins to come online. Modern notions of development play into it; when we realize that higher levels of development, whether ultra-violet or Yellow, depending on your model, all embrace Unique Self as an expression of second-tier development, and have done the empirical work to validate that. All of that was unavailable in the pre-modern traditions. In that sense, I would say that Unique Self is an evolutionary emergent, one of the core expressions of what the World Spirituality Council is calling World Spirituality, bringing together the best of pre-modern insight into the great traditions, modern insight of individuality, and post-modern insight of perspective. That’s the nature of Unique Self.

• Where can you find this now? You can get the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice. I’m editing a series on integral spirituality. Sean Esbjorn-Hargens and I just edited an edition on Unique Self. You can order that from SUNY Press. Bert [from Jennifer Blalock]: How do you teach the Unique Self to different memes, “meeting people where they’re at”? How can this principle be appealing to people who are making meaning at different levels?

Marc: Unique Self appears at every level of consciousness. That’s critical to understand. And we can talk about it at every level. For example, at Amber/Blue, the mythic meme of consciousness, the Unique Self is the special gift you have to give to your society. It’s a special obligation you fulfill as a member of the polis. At Orange rational level, Unique Self is about your unique potential for achievement, for emergence and creativity. At Green multicultural pluralistic level, uniqueness is about the irreducibility of difference. One of the great Green institutions in America is Spirit Rock, a Buddhist meditation center. The entrance to Spirit Rock has a banner that says “We believe in diversity.” A beautiful expression of Green consciousness. For Green consciousness, diversity is that everybody’s unique. The weakness, of course, is there’s no hierarchy. But there’s an affirmation of the uniqueness of everyone in every tradition, every religion, every individual. At second-tier, the notion of unique obligation, unique creativity, and the irreducible uniqueness of the individual come together to create the empowered second-tier individual who’s giving their unique evolutionary gifts for the sake of all that is. It’s a kind of liberating uniqueness, a uniqueness that is the law of the individual, incarnate as the individual unique expression of divinity, of the Divine will. It’s the knowing that when I access my own will, I’m accessing the Divine will, when I strip away all the layers, when I’m actually merging with all that is, which is Divinity, the Tao, Atman, Brahman.

• So uniqueness appears at all these levels. At Beige, it’s the drive to survive; it’s worth my surviving. Although it’s an unconscious recognition of uniqueness, it’s “I need to survive,” I’m not just another one. I’m responsible for my own survival, which is an implicit recognition of my uniqueness. At Purple, magic/mythic consciousness, all of magic is based on the recognition of the unique spell, the unique place, the unique tribe, etc. It’s a recognition of distinction, and my place in the tribe, etc. So Unique Self will appear in different ways at every level of consciousness. But as you get closer to a true recognition of your True Nature, to second-tier, which is where that comes online, your Unique Self becomes clarified.

• Finally, I would say that one of the ways Unique Self appears at all levels of consciousness is in a flow state. In a flow state, no matter what level of consciousness you are, your Unique Self will often appear, because the ego gets out of the way. What then happens, though, is the particular directive or imperative of your Unique Self is then interpreted through your level of consciousness. That’s always worth noting.

Bert: One of the things that comes to mind for me is not only how it relates with different orders of meaning making, but what have you been learning about the nature of Unique Self as it shows up respectively in masculine and feminine energies, in men and women, males and females?

Marc: At the Integral Theory Conference I was privileged to give a talk on this question: the masculine and feminine as it relates to Unique Self. The essential idea I tried to put forth there is as follows: There are no two hermaphrodites (a combination of masculine and feminine) that are the same. One of the expressions of my Unique Self is a unique calibration of masculine and feminine within who I am. That’s one of the formulas for Unique self. When my Unique Self is out of kilter, it’s often because I have a distorted or unlived dimension of masculine and feminine.

• In Kabbalistic nomenclature, the word “shalom” means peace or wholeness. What it means in the original Kabbalistic framework is the whole complete integration of your precise masculine and feminine. Any part of your masculine or feminine that’s unlived or distorted will disturb your peace, your shalom, your equilibrium. Because your peace and equilibrium only comes from the fullness of your Unique Self. In Hebrew, the word for uniqueness is “yichud,” which means both “unique” and “unification,” particularly of your masculine and feminine.

• Unique Self shows up differently in the masculine and feminine. In the masculine, Unique Self might show up in a particular kind of purpose-driven life, which is about certain kinds of masculine accomplishment in the world (whether it’s expressed through a man or a woman). In the feminine, it might show up in unique ways of nurturing, caring, embracing, a radical commitment to unique relationship, etc.

• In both men and women, of course, these masculine and feminine poles show up. Unique Self is definitely refracted differently, both through the prism of the masculine and feminine, and through the prism of the unique calibration of masculine and feminine in every unique hermaphrodite. Bert: Are there particular ways that masculine and feminine energies can get fooled by their efforts to realize True/Unique Self? Have you discovered any differences gender-wise in the ways that we both realize it and fool ourselves?

Marc: For sure. The simple way to say it would be that the feminine often uses relationship to cover over the need to access her particular unique expression of divinity. The special love, the special relationship becomes, in lieu of the genuine location and articulation of uniqueness. In the masculine, that which is used to obfuscate, fool, cover over, to allow one to not engage a full encounter with their uniqueness, is often work. Professional function, for the masculine, often covers up unique purpose. The masculine needs to be careful not to use professional function, or competence, to cover up uniqueness. The feminine needs to be careful not to allow relationship, relatedness, to cover up that uniqueness.

About Marc Gafni

Marc Gafni is a visionary scholar, philosopher, and wisdom teacher. He is teacher-in-residence and co-initiator of the Center for Integral Wisdom. He is the leading theorist and teacher of Unique Self enlightenment, an emergent post-postmodern wisdom lineage which builds on his national bestseller Soul Prints, winner of the Nautilus Award for Best Spirituality Book, as well as the highly acclaimed Your Unique Self (2012) and Radical Kabbalah (2012), which is based on his doctoral dissertation at Oxford University.


  1. I just wanted to take ownership of being the creator of the above “transcript” from Marc’s presentation at the Integral Leadership Collaborative conference. Since the above is not an exact transcript, but more of a narrative-style summary, I take full responsibility for any and all errors in content (not formatting… that’s ievolve’s responsibility).

    That said, I found Marc’s presentation to be wonderful. I love this guy… he’s a great blend of Magician and Lover, a true mensch. His creation of a new meme, “Unique Self” provides a transcending and including of Western and Eastern ideas of enlightenment.

    From a lens of Spiral Dynamics, I’m interested in this new meme, which according to Marc, is not a “value” as such, because it shows up at all levels of the Spiral. Rather, he is describing an attribute of human existence which shows up at all levels, but is only recently articulated from a certain value system (whatever one Marc is operating from).


  2. Anita Boyd-Johnson says:

    What a gorgeous summary of the teachings I have learned from you, Marc, in our work together. I needed the re-view. And thanks, Ben, for your comment above and your work as narrative summarizer. I’m betting that “seamless coat of the universe” is “seamless code”.


  1. […] “Newest Thinking on Unique Self, from a dialogue with Bert Parlee and Marc Gafni, at the recen… Ben Levi offers an inexact transcript/summary which includes this teaching by Gafni: …[I]f […]

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