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January 27, 2023

Unique Self Dialogue: Ken Wilber & Marc Gafni, Part 7

Conventional understandings of the shadow (the term first used in psychology by Carl Jung to describe the unconscious) leave many students of psychology befuddled or confused. Ken Wilber and Marc Gafni have charted groundbreaking perspectives on shadow which deepen our awareness of what it means to be human and how we can lives more fully conscious lives. Wilber’s contribution, described in Transformations of Consciousness as well as other books, connects shadow to issues in the navigation from one fulcrum of consciousness to the next. Gafni’s contribution, articulated in Your Unique Self, describes shadow as a distortion of Unique Self or an unlived part of one’s unique story.

Listen to the dialogue and read a partial transcript:


In this 20-minute dialogue, the seventh clip from the Ken Wilber/Marc Gafni Unique Self Dialogue Series, shadow integration moves to the forefront:

So let’s begin with Unique Self and shadow. Here I’m picking up a conversation we’ve had a number of times since 2003 when I read Transitions of Consciousness where you wrote that fabulous essay on the different fulcrums and the different pathologies at different fulcrums. It was the book with the turquoise cover. That’s how I remember your books, by the color of their cover. Turquoise cover. So I can find it on the bookshelf. So in light of that conversation, let me step right now directly into content.

You talked about there how if a person doesn’t properly transition from one fulcrum of consciousness to another, when there is a kind of disassociation, that creates a split-off of a dimension of self that can turn into shadow (and I’m going to talk to you about that in a couple of minutes about how that works). In response to that, both how helpful that was in my own thinking and how helpful it was in understanding in psychology different levels of consciousness, I shared with you a different Integral approach to consciousness which if I had to say in one word it was not based not on levels but on types.

If we look at Unique Self as an ultimate typology. While masculine and feminine are a typology, an enneagram is a way of doing typology, and the five Buddha families are a way of doing typology, and the Sephirot of Kabbalah are a way of doing typology, What Unique Self says is that in some sense each individual is a typology of one. That therefore they have infinite valuable and dignity and they are not reducible to any typology and that creates the great liberal understanding of the dignity of the individual which is really critical.
From that perspective, when I started thinking about twenty years back … when I saw in myself and as I started to notice in the people I was working with is that their shadow would emerge because they weren’t in some sense living their story. I want to use story precisely. I don’t mean the story that good Vajrayana Buddhism says to move beyond, the story of the coiled, contracted separate self. But story in the infinite, unique expression of the self which we began to call Unique Self. I began to discover that shadow was in some sense Unique Self distortion. The distortion of Unique Self created shadow expression. That began to be a very powerful understanding of how typologies play in such a profound way shadow. I was talking to some of our younger mutual friends, Zach, other people, and really made shadow come alive for them in a way that the classical shadow literature doesn’t do. The literature is kind of confused. You’re not sure what shadow is and why shadow is so important to integrate.There’s a clarion call for shadow integration but nobody understands why. From this typology perspective something becomes really interesting and really clear.

You begin to understand that shadow at its core has the same DNA as your Unique Self. You don’t have a shadow in a generic sense. You have the Unique Shadow, which is either the distortion of your Unique Self or your unlived Unique Self. Or to borrow a phrase from you, that you use in No Boundary, I think, where shadow is the you used the term lie. Shadow is a lie you are telling about yourself. It really struck me. If we put these two teachings together, it’s a lie you tell about yourself, an unlived story, an unlived Unique Self expression.

If I can give you one really interesting example, and then hear your perspective. I was working with a fantastic woman who is the head of an elite private school in Europe. Really smart, delightful, lovely, and she just had one thing going on, and I asked her permission to tell this story. She would get in these arbitrary fights with people. Really arbitrary. She would draw a line in the sand and would get into this massive argument with the dean of the school. It didn’t work. As we worked together over time … she’s a teacher.… I said, be my teacher…. She did great teaching, taught me the New Testament, Luke 15, I remember. What was completely fascinating was, she did the whole time what I call “feminine teaching.” She held the container, she facilitated me beautifully, but she never took a stand about anything she believed it. It was a shadow of classic liberal teaching. Completely facilitative, but no insemination, no taking a stand. What we realized that because she was a teacher –that was her Unique Self — but a key aspect of her teaching persona, meaning the masculine teacher who takes a stand, inseminates, draws a line, was actually disowned and that emerged in shadow form in her taking a stand arbitrarily on essentially irrelevant issues because she had actually disowned this key part of her Unique Self and we gradually worked over a period of time in changing her teaching style to move through this green consciousness trope and integrate the masculine. Not only did her evaluations soar, but that shadow dimension she worked on for 20 years disappeared. It’s a dramatic understanding of shadow as Unique Self distortion and shadow integration. All of a sudden that clarion call which is so poorly explained in Robert Bly’s book on the shadow. Now shadow integration is not just about bringing your negative elements into first person, and know that they’re there. That’s a first step like we would do in the 1-2-3 process that you developed. But the next natural step would be to integrate your shadow is to integrate your Unique Shadow which leads you back to your Unique Self. It becomes super clear why it is important to integrate your Unique Shadow which is not just because you don’t want to be owned by the disowned negativity in you, but you are integrating your personal essence, which is what you are, which opens up every door. It is an exciting move, an evolutionary leap forward in shadow understanding. Putting that forth to start the conversation.

Ken: There are a lot of ways to go at this. Carl Jung used to say that one gets to the self through the shadow, which is a type of variation on that topic. He had that intuition that you’re discussing that the shadow wasn’t just pathology but was in some sense part of a compass-pointer towards some way that you’ve gotten derailed in your life. Somehow you’ve gotten off track. As you say, it’s distorted Unique Self or unlived Unique Self or using the No Boundary term it’s a lie basically about your Unique Self, a lie about your life. It’s where you’re not fundamentally telling the truth about yourself. That leads obviously to all sorts of negativities.

You don’t have to have repression or reaction formation or any of those things if you’re just simply lying. The shadow is the nexus of the lie. It’s the whole core where you can’t face certain truths in a direct nd honest and straightforward way. And when these truths have to do with your essence, the very core of what you are, you are telling basically in a sense the biggest lie you can. That’s going to have the biggest impact on how you fail to live up to your genuine capacities, your true potentials, your real Self, your Unique Self. It also goes to show that the Unique Self can’t simply overpower what certain conventional things that are going on. As usual … a holistic or integral approach is required … we have to keep one foot in the Unique Self and one foot in the conventional self… and make sure these two are lined up as well. And so bringing the Unique Self into the shadow and having the shadow fundamentally connected with the Unique Self is a very important move. At the same time, it doesn’t stop us from saying, for example, the woman you discussed and how she gotten caught in a lie about her Unique Self. But it’s more than just a lie. It’s a lie at the green level. And so we can still keep the notion of a hierarchy of shadow elements because that tells us when we started lying about our Unique Self. When did we get out of touch with our Unique Perspective? Was it red, was it amber, was it orange, was it green? Am I lying to myself about the kind of safety that I want to express with my Unique Self? Am I lying to myself about the type of belongingness I want my Unique Self to be involved in. Am I lying to myself about the self-esteem that I have and how the Unique Self is connected with that? Am I lying to myself about self-actualization, and am I caught in the green slump?

Marc: You just made a brilliant move. What you just did is take the entire levels of consciousness thing and folded that into the conversation of what that lie is. That’s fantastic.
Ken: That gives us a chance of pinpointing with a little more accuracy the type of lie that you are involved with, when it probably happened. If it’s red, it’s probably something that happened with your parents and it’s probably going to be therefore something you will repeat when you get into intimate relationships. Knowing that is going to give you a little bit of a handle on telling the truth about this, so you reconnect with your Unique Self. What it really wants under that lie, the more you understand that lie and understanding if it’s an amber, orange, or green, or self-actualization or human self-transcendence that you are lying about are important issues which point out that lie so we can bring these two sides of the street together, and make sure we are tracking both as carefully as we can.

Marc: Yeah, that is super important. I want to take a second to unpack for the readers some of the implications of what you just said. Let me just share. I would recommend for everyone listening to go back and read Ken’s essay in Transformations in Consciousness. And I’m going to give an almost superficial but clear enough summary of one core point there of what Ken is talking about right now. Let me give one example. What this essay basically talks about is that at every fulcrum of consciousness you have to appropriate transcend and include whatever the goods were of that particular level and disidentify with that level in order to move to the next level, but you have to disidentify and not disassociate. You’ve applied that intuition, Ken, in any number of ways which I think are critically important. For example, in the Marriage of Sense and Soul … You’ve got a great chapter of the mistake of modernity where It basically disassociates instead of disidentifies with certain dimensions of spirit, creating side by side with the dignity of modernity the disasters of modernity. You basically apply this psychological, structural intuition about disassociation versus disidentification,about how culture moves through levels of consciousness, relationships to spirit. It can also apply to individuals moving through levels of consciousness. Just thinking of one example offhand. I’m thinking of the same good friend in Switzerland, my good friend, who happens to come from a wealthy family which we might call orange, the orange level. She moved to green, but instead of disidentifying with orange, she disassociated from orange, with the result that now her two daughters are now mega-driven as hedge fund traders who are completely into finances.

Ken: Predictable.

Marc: Predictable. It’s exactly your model. Instead of identifying with orange she disidentifed, it was disowned in her, which means that it appeared in a raging form in the next generation.

Ken: Exactly. And then the kids want to differentiate with their parents, the best thing for them to do is identify with something that they have disassociated.

Marc: Exactly. And when I shared this with her, in working with her daughters, it was a blow-away revelation. It was really really powerful. Wow. It creates an incredible space and insight. That’s been our excitement over the years. Here’s where Unique Self integrates with Integral Theory in such a natural way because we then say is your Unique Self is not only your proclivities, your talents, your gift. It’s not only your Unique Perspective which births your Unique Gifts which creates your Unique Obligation … but your Unique Self is completely refracted through and part and parcel with your level of consciousness. So therefore part of your Unique Self is to know where am I on the spiral (to the extent that of course you can only know if you’re second tier because you can only see the spiral then) but you can begin to identify and see yourself and understand where you are in the story. Of course, paradoxically, uniqueness only appears as a spontaneous level of consciousness at what you called, in one of our conversations a couple years back: it’s not a deduction but a spontaneous expression at second tier, at second tier, at the level when you can actually see what your level of consciousness is. Key in charting your Unique Self position and understanding what your shadow is would be understanding is my relationship to levels of consciousness. Where am I? What parts of different levels might I have disassociated from rather than disidentified from. Levels of consciousness are not separate from Unique Self, they’re completely integral to it. This is the first time we’ve put this together this clearly so it’s really exciting,

Ken: it’s good.

Marc: Yes, it’s good. It’s exciting, really really clear. I think it will allow for the emergence of our next topic, which is: what would Unique Self therapy look like?

Listen to the entire audio dialogue.



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