Go Beyond the Mind: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson XIII

Cynthia Bourgeault continues her unfolding series of reflections upon Integral structures of consciousness and ideas brought forth in Jean Gebser’s masterful book, Ever Present Origin. If you’re new to Gebser’s revelatory ideas, Cynthia recommends starting with Seeing Through the World: Jean Gebster and Integral Consciousness, by Jeremy Johnson, available at Amazon.com or Revelore Press.


When I say that the ability to access and sustain the Integral structure of consciousness is developmental, I mean just that: it is fundamentally a question of physiology, rather than of moral virtue or mystical yearning. We cannot think, pray, meditate, or conceptualize our way to it. It is fundamentally a matter of preparing the entire body to receive it. To embody it.

The Abkhazian-born Kebzeh teacher Murat Yagan once commented: “Spiritual practice is fundamentally about strengthening the nervous system.” I believe he is 100% correct here, and that the failure to recognize the full implications of his observation has been the largest single impediment to would-be-integralists trying to till the inner ground for this emergent new structure of consciousness. As in the classic case of the word “repentance” (metanoia in the original Greek, noia being “mind” and meta being “greater than” or “beyond”), what’s actually being asked for here is not to “think differently,” but to “go beyond the mind.


… what’s actually being asked for here is not to “think differently,” but to “go beyond the mind.

If you look at Gebser’s description of Integral, by far the most common word he uses to describe it is “intensification”—specifically, “an intensification of Originary presence.” Intensification means the voltage gets turned up. And where do you suppose it gets turned up? In the body, of course: in our physical, incarnate, all-too-fragile skin and bones, increasingly invited to “bear the beams of love”—the heart of the heart of the inscrutable divine yearning to be known, to become transparent in finitude.

There is no chance whatsoever that this new mutation will NOT arrive. It presses toward us, both individually and culturally, with that proverbial “force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” But like a glacier, it advances and recedes—individually across the course of a lifetime, culturally across the course of even thousands of years—as the undercarriage is prepared, both individually and culturally, to manifest it, not simply dissolve in it.

The place where the Integral movement has repeatedly gotten thrown back on itself, I believe, is by the unchallenged assumption that the access route to this new structure of consciousness lies through the mind. This miscalculation, in turn, gets compounded in our all too automatic misidentification of the mind with the brain. We know better at one level, but we fall into that habit repeatedly. When a word like nous, for example (which technically designates an organ of higher spiritual knowing centered in the heart) gets translated as “the higher mind” or “higher intellect,” then we are delivered back straightway into the straits of confusion, and the wild goose chase begins once again. I cannot comment specifically on how this stands in the Asian traditions, but I do know that the Dalai Lama’s prestigious Mind and Life Institute and its cutting-edge inquiries into neuro-meditation are still principally preoccupied with the neurology of the brain. While maverick think tanks like the HeartMath Institute have long been pushing for a more comprehensive neurophysiology of “mindfulness,” their science itself somewhat still lacks the rigor required for full standing in the academic research community.

Gebser himself fell prey to this habitual conflation of mind and brain. He looks for signs of the emergence in the intellectual culture of the time. He sees marvelous artistic innovations (primarily visual and musical.) He does not consult mysticism, dance, or religion. While at one point in EPO he actively entertains the idea that the ability to run the Integral program depends on an upgrade of the physiological operating system, he immediately confines his thinking to a further evolution of the brain and explores scientific data in this area only. It’s a wonderful yet frustrating example of “so close, and yet….”

He touches this “so close and yet so far” note even more poignantly when he comes right up to the hem of as he briefly ponders Pascal’s theology of “the logic of the heart” (EPO, p. 405). But at the last moment he averts his gaze and goes skittering off on another intellectual fox chase in the direction of Pascal’s comments on “ennui” and “divertissement.” Damn!!!! If only he had known….

But of course, a Western-trained, classically exoteric Christian of his era couldn’t be expected to know. These things were simply not taught in the mainstream Church, neither Catholic nor Protestant. The tradition lay sequestered in cloistered monasteries, veiled in nuptial metaphors. Or it lay intentionally concealed within the esoteric tradition, veiled in pseudo-cultic formats of which Gebser was rightly wary.

But a bona fide, rigorous teaching on Prayer of the Heart does in fact exist both in mystical Christianity and mystical Islam (Sufism.) And beyond even this treasury of Western Mystical teachings on Prayer of the Heart, there is Gurdjieff’s still more comprehensive teaching on a fully embodied (“three-centered”) awareness, which, when fully awakened and stabilized in a person permits him or her to perceive and be in a manner curiously congruent with what Gebser seems to be calling for in his tantalizingly obscure descriptions of this imminent Integral mutation.

When Gebser completed The Ever Present Origin in 1950, these practices were for all intents and purposes unavailable; The Church’s contemplative treasure house was still, as Thomas Keating wryly observed, “Christianity’s best kept secret.” Thankfully, that is no longer the case today. As the contemplative awakening of the 1970s and 1980s brought these practices into the spiritual mainstream, and as the Enneagram of Personality movement “outted” Gurdjieff from his esoteric foxhole and brought renewed attention to his teaching, the ground was being slowly prepared to “put legs” on Gebser’s sublime vision and carry it from the head down into the heart—and the feet—and from there, out into the world.

It is time now, seven decades later, to begin to connect the dots.

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