Not too many people are familiar with Gebser, including the integral folks who only receive his philosophy through Ken Wilber’s plotted maps and points. I’d like to take a few minutes to share with you a few poetic insights Gebser was able to share through his life’s work.
For anyone totally unfamiliar with him, Gebser was a prolific intellectual mystic. His writings give you a sense of urgency and awakening, as if every fiber of his being was compelled to put to paper something that only his soul had received by illumination.
I’m writing this blog not so much to make an intellectual case or argument for his ideas, but only to show you the theme he wished readers to consider. His life’s work, Ever Present Origin, invites us into a new mode of perceiving the world. It takes the reader through hundreds of pieces of literature, artwork, and poetry throughout the ages, marking the transitions in thinking and relating to the world. We become immersed in a book about the evolution of consciousness, which can’t easily be disconnected (if at all) from the evolution of culture.
Gebser was able to note that we have undergone at least 4 major mutations: archaic, magic, mythic, mental-rational. These categories, however, must be understood in context of their content. One cannot simply look at the list and understand it, they are best understood by reading the cultural artifacts themselves. Each of them pertain to how we relate to space and time.
Magic: dreamlike quality of space, timeless existence.
Mythical: cycles and rhythms, space as a “cave” or enclosed area.
Mental: geometric (boxes and grids), time as linear, space existent within a vacuum.
The “mental” structure, mainly attributed to the Western Renaissance and Scientific Revolution, perceived a reality that was purely physical. Reality is quantitative and measurable space. Objects in space are thus measured not by some inner quality but by what they do. We perceive objects by their usefulness and ability to manipulate the space around us, ahead of us.
Gebser was living through WWII, so he witnessed a first-hand glimpse of what a mechanized war could do. The inability for our scientific-materialist paradigm to “check itself” with qualitative value or ethics Gebser saw as a major inherent deficiency, and a sign of its cultural decline. A new consciousness, and thus cultural shift was on the threshold of emergence.
It could be said that for every dawn of a new culture, there casts a long shadow. The shadow of the Western “enlightenment” was the deficiency of any kind of inherent value-ethics. In a purely materialist extreme, the appearances and their mechanics are what matter the most. When the intellectual and the material are prime, and the heart and its wisdom are unseen, the human being is capable of creating both the greatest material achievements and the most grotesque horrors.
To give you an example of this, consider the ramifications of the current oil spill, or the way in which we handle our livestock in order to fulfill demands of mass-production. The greatest sciences goes into cheap production and efficiency, but the shadow side to it is the horrors of the slaughter houses where animals live in the most filthy conditions. There is a thread that connects mentality of the cold, calculated extermination of Jews in concentration camps, to the cattle factories America gets most of its food from.
This brings us to the twilight of Western civilization, and the early light of some new dawn. This horizon Gebser would call integral, and his description of it has a very distinct quality. Unlike the other transient ages, there was something about this new consciousness that was able to recognize something fundamental, original. Gebser believed that the next big shift would be more than a transient age. It would be, for the first time, a return to the Source. If each mutation is a particular dimension of reality, Integral would be the recognition of something fundamental, original and unblemished.
It is difficult to describe this in any way that is not spiritual. That would be misleading! Gebser described integral as poetically and mystically as he could:
“Man is in the world to sustain it as well as himself, “in truth,” not for his or its own sake, but for the sake of the spiritual present. It is this spiritual present which elevates wholeness to transparency and frees us from our transient age, for this age of ours is not the present but partiality and flight, indeed almost a conclusion. Only someone who knows of origin has present-living and dying in the whole, in integrity.”
If the Western scientific mind can be likened to a waking state in which one is aware of their physical environment and moving about it, then integral would be likened to, “a lucidity instead of mere wakefulness.”
One can intellectually grasp truth, but integral marks the shift from talking about truth to being-in-truth. This is a qualitative experience, not a conceptual one. Recognizing one’s own consciousness as being rooted in primordial awareness, the “ever present origin.” These territories step into the realm of the mystics, who describe this perennial experience no matter where you go. The “Source” of reality, the “Root” from which all branches manifest, might be better understood in the analogy of a dream.
Throughout the night we dream of many different worlds, sometimes different lives, we travel great distances and sometimes cover great spans of time. Yet, we have never left our pillow. Such a “primordial consciousness” is what dreams our world into existence. “Integral” could be likened to, on a personal level, when one suddenly realizes they are dreaming. Suddenly the environment transforms from a limited and conforming role one is unconsciously playing out, to a conscious and liberating creation of one’s mind. The walls aren’t cages, the sky is not beyond reach.
Such an inner shift of consciousness marks the awakening to a divine reality. That which is “without” is also what is “within,” the one dreaming the many. The Source or Origin that has dreamed the world and so convinced itself, so lulled itself to sleep, and equally it is pulled to awaken.
Integral then, is the recognition of the Spiritual present in all things, allowing all things to be. We have never left our pillow, we have never left home! And yet what great distances we have traveled.
Quite a profound shift in consciousness, integral is calling for! Yet, if we do not begin to perceive ourselves and act from a place of unity, a qualitative connection and interdependence with all things, how are we expected to survive this century? Surely we won’t be inventing ourselves out of it. The last century didn’t work so well for that. This crisis we are currently undergoing would only further show that what we need is a spiritual metamorphosis, a recognition of origin, a remembrance of the sacred at a whole new level. If this were to occur, then a truly new culture and a new consciousness would begin, “Living and dying in the whole, in integrity” as we always have!