Well, the oasis of grace miraculously opened, and now it’s time to roll up our collective sleeves and get on with the healing work! I know that my own first assignment has something to do with helping to expose—and hopefully defuse—some of the reactivity and sanctimoniousness that boils just below the surface in my immediate peer group, the spiritual liberal intelligentsia.
Sometimes a book simply falls off the bookshelf when the time is right. In this case, it wasn’t the bookshelf, but my nightstand, where for the past year this modest, aqua-covered text had been slowly inching its way down in my pile of unread books. To whomever the now-unremembered giver may have been, THANK YOU! It has definitely proved to be the right book for the task now at hand.
The book is called Seeing Through the World by Jeremy Johnson and is a brilliant introduction to the teaching of Jean Gebser, a name you may not even have heard of. As I devoured the book in a single weekend (fortunately, it’s short), I could feel my world once again gently rocking on its foundations, always a good sign that a book has really hit home. I knew instantly I had a tiger by the tail.
I shared my enthusiasm during our small Wisdom gathering at Claymont in late October, and about half that group are now also up to their eyeballs in Johnson, with similar shifting of their mental tectonic plates. I could see that Gebser—through the brilliant eyes of Jeremy Johnson—was handing me exactly the tools to see where I’d been pinned for so long now, both personally and culturally.
Jean Gebser (1905-1973) was a German-Swiss philosopher, mystic, and early scholar of the origin of consciousness. If his name rings a bell, it is probably because of his seminal influence on Ken Wilber, whose highly popular evolutionary models of consciousness have set the cognitive baseline for so much of our contemporary spiritual understanding. What I had not realized until reading Johnson, is that what Wilber has given us is actually a MERCATOR PROJECTION of Gebser: a two-dimensional version of a three-dimensional teaching. In this flattening, significant distortion has entered, and this undetected distortion has itself contributed significantly to some of the anguish and polarization we now find ourselves caught in.
I bit the bullet this past weekend and ordered Gebser’s original text, The Ever-Present Origin. (In English, not the original German; at least that much I let myself off the hook.) Still, I know the ways of these twentieth century European cultural philosophers, and I quake at the task before me when the book finally arrives; I hope my mind is still up for this! But Jeremy Johnson’s overview has given me some solid handholds, and from what I can deduce so far through my recent explorations of imaginal causality I have already been traversing some of the same ground as Gebser. I’ll report back on that in due course. Meanwhile, what I intend to work with in this next series of blogs will follow something of this trajectory. I think:
- First of all, I want to make a pass through three foundational pieces of the Gebser model:
1) Structures of consciousness (as opposed to STAGES of consciousness); 2) the intrinsically divisive/splintering proclivities of the late (deteriorating) mental structures of consciousness; 3) Integral understood not as non-dual but as APERSPECTIVAL seeing: the capacity to draw on and simultaneously integrate all former structures of consciousness (not just points of view).
- Then I will attempt to sidle back and explore what light each of these tenets have to shed upon the place we’re now culturally pinned and how these subtle Gordian knots might be disentangled.
If you’re up for joining this exploration, I encourage you to buy Jeremy Johnson’s book and explore it firsthand. It’s easily available online. We’ll see where this initial pass goes. I may later try to develop this as a more formal online course. But for now, I think we need some of these tools on deck, even in a preliminary stage of development, to begin to really tackle that portion of the national healing that falls on our own particular shoulders.
A Note from Wisdom Waypoints:
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This post introduces Exploring Jean Gebser, a series of blogs by Cynthia Bourgeault, based on Jeremy Johnson’s book, mentioned above, and highly recommended.
Image credits from the top: Japanese waterfall at Powerscourt Gardens, courtesy of Terryballard, Wikimedia Commons; Rendez-vous, by Piza Arthur-Luis; image credit Reunion des Musees Nationaux-Grand Palais / Gérard Blot; photo image of Seeing Through the World book cover, courtesy of Jonathan Steele and Cynthia Bourgeualt, cropped.