Wednesday, December 26, 2007


A COURSE TAKEN AT THE CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF INTEGRAL STUDIES IN THE SPRING OF 1999 INTRODUCTION: CONTEXT As a self-styled “seeker of esoteric knowledge” I had certainly heard of Carl Jung, Erich Neumann, Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin and Jean Gebser for many years. Strangely, I had never read any of their books. Morris Berman and Jennifer Cobb were new to me too. Instead, this search of mine had led mostly to Sufi material such as O.M. Burke’s Among The Dervishes, Idries Shah’s books, Annemarie Schimmel’s Mystical Dimensions of Islam, and various others. I had had some interesting interludes wherein I met various Sufic types, studied and prayed and meditated a while with them and sought to incorporate some of their exercises. I also took an interest in the work of G.I. Gurdjieff and his student John Bennett, prompted in part by a meandering into an ancient wisdom tradition from the Caucasus Mountains, Ahmusta Kebzeh, which is being kept alive by Abkhasian transplant, Murat Yagan, and his community of like-minded souls in Vernon, British Columbia.

When I was a young Catholic lad, I used to wander into the shadowy coolness of the church and yearn for some sort of sign from God, some kind of mystical experience. Nothing ever happened. When the cultural upheavals of the ‘60s and ‘70s came, I took refuge in some fairly mind-altering experiences, mostly with hallucinogens. But this was recreational drug use by a half-baked adolescent, not exactly inner journeying for self-knowledge. Still, I found what I found – another dimension of consciousness. Mostly we wanted to self-medicate ourselves to escape the vacuous L.B.J./Nixon brand of deflated reality. We did this through our own invented rites of self-abnegation – the old “tune-in, turn-on, drop out” mentality. I hated normative, conformist reality then and I detest it still today. Quite simply, it’s boring, myopic, parochial and woefully incomplete. How are so many people comfortable there?

Through most of the ‘70s I experienced a number of mental breaks. I was victimized repeatedly by the petty-minded culture of psychiatry, such as it was then and remains today – even on the simple basis of having had a past mental health history and having failed to reveal it. I somehow managed to overcome these setbacks and went on to finish college, law school and other things and experienced zero “residual” since that decade. It was probably “difficulty adjusting to adult life” – whatever adult life is – that was the basis of my impairment during this time period. Despite the heavy difficulties these mental breaks caused me, as a result I gained an enduring appreciation for the abnormative and I value very much the experiential lessons learned.

Being a sensitive lad from very early on, I was always retreating somewhere within when I felt some pain I couldn’t ‘grok’. Over the years, I think I developed a fairly sophisticated interior world. I never could commit to any one career path. I was always restless and often roamed. I got bored easily with most jobs and with most people. I started to develop quite a literary mean streak and cynical attitude toward a world I viewed as absurd. In short, I didn’t fit in and didn’t want to, though I felt the intense pain of isolation, of alienation. For a while I often went about asking, “Where are my people?” Yet I must say that during all of this time, through all of my horrible tribulations – like Job, I persevered; never lost faith that there was something much greater than myself; never gave up my hope and my faith in goodness, truth, beauty; and I never gave up seeking it out. So many detours presented themselves, enough to fill up a few lifetimes. I ended up fleeing from everything, time and time again – forever re-creating myself; trying to take and preserve the lessons learned and integrate them in some slowly accumulating body of knowledge I was constructing in the organized confusion of my solitary way.

In Korea, in 1995, after having read the periodical ReVision for a while, I suddenly got wind of Ken Wilber. I sent off for his Sex, Ecology, Spirituality and it knocked me off my nut. I re-read this work and many of his others since. Finally, I wanted to know more, I wanted to check his sources, I wanted to explore the transpersonal in a more structured way, among others whose interests coincided with mine. So I applied to the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS).

My first two CIIS quarters had been spent on-line from Korea in the Human and Organizational Transformation program. Then I moved to San Francisco and transitioned into the Individualized doctoral program (IND), which, some years later was discontinued. And I felt very fortunate to have this opportunity. Here at last, I thought, I could continue to more seriously work on what I considered to be psychological/bio-energetic blocks that had been dogging me around for all these years. It was my belief that these blocks, or parts of me which were somehow not yet fully associated, were hindering my ability to fully stabilize a strong, healthy ego so that I might then be able to delve more deeply into my spiritual nature. Or, to put it into Aurobiindo’s words, “...all problems of existence [this type of existential angst in particular] are essentially problems of harmony.” (McDermott, 1987:51)

In deciding to study the origins and evolution of consciousness (which for me means “the workings of Spirit” in the Teilhardian sense, or the “driving force behind both the unconscious and consciousness”) I was hoping to broaden my frame of understanding by establishing more of a template for my experience. That is, by getting a better handle on what has come before, I hoped for a better understanding of where it was all going and how to ‘situate’ myself accordingly.

By this time in my life I feel that I have reached a quiet place of understanding in the spiritual domain. I am no longer the “seeker” as much as I am one who seeks to “be” every experience of which I become a part. Something had clicked inside of me. I could see many of those around me being taken in by various traps, cults, half measures, smoke-and-mirrors – and I felt calm within, hoping I wasn’t too self-assured on this whole point, and I tried to remain circumspect. I saw the literalist/fundamentalist dogma, both the orthodoxy and the new age fluff, the emotion that was taken as being “spiritual”, the West, the East, the fallacies of belief and faith, the constant projecting that went on, the false pride, the ego fooling person after person (me too, surely). I was on the margins of everything – a “heretic without a home”. I began asking, “How are the great masses, who have become disillusioned with mainstream religion, supposed to find some type of structure, some sort of ritual or practice within which they can find their spiritual way?”

Along these lines, I remembered my admiration for Ibn ’Arabi, especially after reading about his life in the Quest For The Red Sulphur (1993) by Claude Addas. This Sufi saint never had one specific master, he was the rare soul who found the Divine within via the mediation of no single man. He learned from many different masters. Here is an excerpt, in Ibn ’Arabi’s own (translated) words – a great story from that book:

There was a time when I became accustomed to withdraw into cemeteries to isolate myself. I heard that my master Yusuf b. Yakhlaf al-Kumi had announced: “So-and-so [and he referred to me by name] has given up the company of the living because he prefers the company of the dead!” I sent someone to tell him: “If you join me you will soon see whose company I keep!” He performed the dawn prayer and came out alone to meet me; he searched for me and found me sitting between the tombs with my head lowered talking to the spirits who kept me company. He came and sat beside me, full of respect. I turned towards him to look at him and saw that he had changed color and seemed ill at ease. He was unable to raise his head because of the weight that was pressing down on him; I looked straight at him but he was unable to look at me because he was so disturbed. When I had finished my conversations and the ‘spiritual instant’ (warid) had come to an end, the shaikh relaxed and, relieved, turned to me and kissed me between the eyes. I said to him, Well, master, who is it that keeps company with the dead – you – or I?” He replied: “Certainly not [you], by God; it is I who keep company with the dead!” . (Addas, 1993:91, quoting Ibn al’Arabi’s al-Futuhat al-maykkiyya III, p.45)

Of course, this was during that great flowering of spirituality in the 12th/13th centuries A.D. when the Essence, known then as Sufism, found its highest florescence embedded within Islam (and in its variant forms as it transmuted into Christian circles in the south of Spain and France). Yet, as devout a Muslim as he was, Ibn ‘Arabi insisted on his own path, in doing things his own way. These days, Sufism – terribly malformed and more often than not found in various fossilized manifestations – barely exists in America (as far as I am able to tell) and as a result, what is left there of the Essence is even less understood, and is in fact misunderstood, by Westerners. Instead, most spiritually-minded persons here seem to find what they consider the Essence in Buddhism, of one flavor or another. And Buddhism is a likely candidate, as it is the only major religion which is essentially a non-religion, with (relatively speaking) less of the baggage that normally attaches to a tradition such as Sufism which is associated with Islam – the vessel in which the Essence was placed from the Dark Ages until the Enlightenment, but out of which it has been dissipating ever since.

As I went about looking for grace and guidance I wondered, “What spiritual practice can I latch onto, around which I might structure my ‘regenerating Self’?” At the same time I knew that whatever practice I might settle in with would one day fall away, like the snakeskin that is left behind as it is outgrown. I found ancient traditions too out-of-date – they were formulated for a particular time, place and culturally specific group of people. Spirituality, as with consciousness, changes in form and substance as it evolves. Or, as Jean Gebser puts it,

Before we can discern the new, we must know the old. The adage that everything has happened [everything “is written”], and that there is nothing new under the sun (and the moon), is only conditionally correct. It is true that everything has always been there, but in another way, in another light, with a different value attached to it, in another realization or manifestation. (Gebser, 1949, Eng. Trans. 1985:36)

Where was a more home-grown, contemporary practice or structure for spiritual growth, one that was not so heavily laden with foreign cultural elements that were more distracting or meaningless than insightful? – one that was science-friendly, more post-modern in its thrust? Was I being parochial myself for wanting such a thing? Or was it more of a reaching out to find an authentic presence of Spirit, in preference to a less authentic past manifestation?

“What discipline was needed?” I asked myself. I felt an overwhelming feeling of being unable to connect (easily) to my subtle self; I seemed blocked from the natural unity of my being. If meditational contemplative practices were the most efficacious in deepening one’s spirituality– yet not so available to meditato-potatohead me because of the psychological/bio-energetic blocks I was experiencing – how could I access the psyche, let alone more nondual planes of transcendelia? My yearning, and my contemplative practices of love and service to others and mindfulness and creative cogitation could only take me so far, I believed.

Gurdjieff tried to bring the ancient wisdom to the West. But he may not have had the entire system; and somewhere I seem to recall having read that he was a loose cannon working without “a mandate.” Yet what he was trying to do – to integrate these old practices in some sort of Westernized scientific formatting – was his unique, heroic achievement. He started the ball rolling – a ball which integral/transpersonal studies may just now be starting to get a handle on.

The West, burdened as it has been by a watered-down Christianity, has had no structural contemplative tradition to speak of. Its mystics have been exceptions to the rule, mere aberrations, souls who have chanced onto an esoteric path, rather than being heirs to generation after generation of spiritual guides who have taken up the meditational injunction and can show others the way toward an intensely deep development in this Realm. This is especially true in Christian America. Certainly William Blake was onto something – and others in America, a mystic here and mystic there – but nowhere has there been the kind of deep mystical development within the context of the kind of dynastic flowering or silsila that can be observed in Sufism or in Buddhism or in Taoism.

Surely there are “secret saints” – unknown, unobtrusive guiding lights among us. And I wonder, in this day and age whether deep esoteric spiritual development is not something which is undertaken very quietly and without much structure at all. There is a saying – “Those who know, don’t say; those who don’t, talk and talk.” Maybe this new consciousness which is descending upon us, e.g., Aurobindo’s Overmind, or perhaps even Supermind, has made the process less formalized and more accessible on an unmediated, individualized basis. Even so, I can’t help but feel that with each new aspirant, there would need to be a kind of reinventing of the wheel. This hardly seems very efficient.

Aurobindo, speaking of the psychological discipline of yoga, put it this way:

In this discipline the inspiration of the master, and, in the difficult stages, his control and his presence are indispensable – for it would be impossible otherwise to go through it without much stumbling and error which would prevent all chances of success. The master is one who has risen to higher consciousness and being and he is often regarded as its manifestation or representative. He not only helps by his teaching and still more by his influence and example, but by a power to communicate his own experience to others. (McDermott, 1987:41)

So in my “noospheric explorations” I have been searching for a way to ratchet-up my own consciousness, to utilize more of my mind/no-mind, to expand my awareness – to ultimately realize more and more of my full potential as a human being, Gebser’s “completion of integration”, i.e., “intensification” of consciousness (Gebser, 1985: 99-100) Along the way I have recognized a few things. I have learned that it is more than contributive to develop a certain intellectual facility; but I have also learned that to keep trying to develop this aspect of oneself, this ratio sectoring, can become a kind of “masturbation of the brain”. We can become as a dog chasing its own tail on the mental/rational plane as we try to accumulate more and more book knowledge; not unlike how some New Agers become trapped at the psychic level of consciousness with all of its “shifting and shifty” images.

I have learned that there are “other ways of knowing.” One such way is the indigenous mind, neo-shamanist approach. Having been raised in the post-modernist mindset of a techno-industrial society, I was not born into this kind of naturalism. Instead, I have been trying to heal the subject/object split that was likely generated by a lack of in-arms love during the crucial early years (Liedloff, 1986), or by some perinatal or past life trauma, (Groff, 1988) and/or by whatever pathos ensues from our mechanized, unnatural social structure. Also, I now know that I should not be satisfied in a place bereft of nature; that dissociation from the natural world is highly suspect as a contributive factor to humanity’s psycho/bio-energetic difficulties (if I may be allowed this projection).

I have also learned to be patient and satisfied with whatever progress or non-progress I make; to know that wherever I’m at is where I’m supposed to be – while always knowing I can improve my human condition, that I can do better. But intellectually or indigenously or intuitively grasping an evolving consciousness/Spirit is a far shot from ‘experientially knowing’ – this, I believe, reaches its fullness by ‘becoming still’ in disciplined, meditational contemplative practice. (Or, something more consonant with Berman’s experiential, somatic, gnostic, five body theory, heretical account, as detailed in Coming To Our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West (1989).)

Thus, by studying the various theoretical models of the conscious and unconscious mind, as well as immersing oneself in experiential contemplative practices, is the means I have chosen to attain my personal goal, which – for all intents and purposes – is to “normalize” or heal my fractured self, and then to recollect, i.e., to complete myself – to apprehend enlightenment or illumination, to experience Essence. One big roadblock to all who wish to travel such a path is trying to find the ways and means to ‘grok’ the Way, when even articulating it is heavily weighed down by the very circumstances and inadequacies of our perception in the ordinary state of consciousness in which we find ourselves. We are in Plato’s cave trying to speak about what it is like on the outside with the crippled language of the cave; like fish in a sea who, one after another, grope toward the land in an effort to amphibianize themselves. Success, if attained at all, is a long arduous process of groping toward that ineffable Omega point of completedness, interconnectedness, enlightened self-knowledge.

This long introduction I feel is necessary to give the context in which I am embedded so that the reader can better understand and contextualize what emerges from the observations and analysis that follow. If I learned one thing from my on-line HOT immersion it was about what knowledge and learning are, the various learning modes, and how we might learn best.

Knowledge itself is an open-ended process – not a “thing” at all. Collaborative learning theory states that we learn by socially constructing this knowledge continuum through an on-going dialogue among knowledgeable peers who are tasked with certain open-ended collaborative projects. We hope to become members of the knowledge community of, in this case, neophyte adepts of consciousness studies. To do that, optimally, we must actively participate in the process as described above. Contextualizing is one way to share with another on a more cellular level, and which tends to draw in writer and reader to become collaborative learners. And here it is that we consider the “how” of how we socially construct and internalize some eternal Truth about the nature of cosmological phenomena, of matter, life, mind and spirit. This, both the subject AND the processes of investigation, as well as the meaning we make – in all their multifaceted manifestations – is the real ‘human phenomenon.’


In this course, I felt somewhat constrained by the traditional top-down method of instruction. Though I am able to learn this way, I don’t think (for reasons stated herein) that our learning was optimal. At the start of the course I had hoped to enter into a more personalized relationship with the facilitator by e-mail and was put off. Interrelationships between students, perhaps following the model of the facilitator, were not actively encouraged or fostered, in or out of class. The basic course method was: individually read, listen to the lecture, and discuss in the last 20 minutes of the two-and-a-half-hour class, once-a-week. For me, this course methodology was relatively adequate only as an intro/overview of consciousness studies. But as a deep, meaningful experience of what consciousness is – its origins, its deformities, its future – it seemed limited and a bit superficial because of this teaching style and the lack of an experiential component.

I believe in this collaborative model – we learn best in interactive, interdependent, cooperative/collaborative groups. It is the rare soul indeed, e.g., Ibn ‘Arabi, who has such mastery over the psyche and beyond, that he or she can learn directly from the Essence. We poor dopes need this mirroring of our selves – our individual consciousnesses reflecting off one another, which can, if engaged in correctly, lead to synergistic, continuous, transformational learning.

My beef here is that, although in this course we approached a kind of “pooled” learning, more often than not, the learning was what might be described as “fragmented”, wherein “individuals learn separately, but the group does not learn as a holistic system, an organic entity. Members retain their separate views and are often not committed to working as a group.” (Kasl, Marsick & Dechant (1997) Teams As Learners: A Research Based Model Of Team Learning. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Vol. 33(2), 227-246, See pp. 230-231).

And what we are talking about here when we speak of “learning” is precisely “expanding conscious awareness”, “expanding consciousness”, or better yet, “intensifying consciousness.” My point is that this course in consciousness studies could have been an “experience” of consciousness expanded or intensified, rather than only a course “about” consciousness. Some consciousness did indeed expand, some learning did take place, but my contention is that it did so at a level that was much more cognitive than experiential.

For me, Aurobindo, Neumann, Gebser, and Berman could have sufficed as the texts for the entire quarter. The other authors/readings were confused and confusing and/or less complete in their analyses for me. Most people (and authors) only have a part of the story of consciousness and spirituality anyway (including me). It's just that some people have more of the story and can relate it more clearly than others. And if what they know and present is clearer and “more complete,” there's likely to be more truth there and less distracting residua.

I would have welcomed more dialogue, perhaps in the Bohmian (as in David Bohm), or the “talking-stick” style, or even Socratic dialogue – and a facilitator who was more of a fellow collaborative learner than teacher. This is not to say that David Ulansey was or is some arid intellectual pedant – not at all. He showed tremendous depth of sensitivity to students and I must say that I was never bored even by his most abstruse tangents, analyses, or speculations.

But what I do not buy into, substantively, is what I took to be the facilitator’s vision (made all the more powerful by his “authority of knowledge positional presumption”) – of a future which does not seem to be nurtured by an indigenous view and is devoid of the premise of that view – that we ARE the Earth, that the consciousness of the Earth IS our consciousness – that we need not be mutated, dangling, dissociated, virtual reality pathogens of the planet; to move forward with the “human agenda” at the expense of an integrated, more biocentric “natural agenda”, rationalizing it as, “Well, this is where evolution is at now – in the noosphere.” Such a stance is not merely differentiation. It is a dissociating of ourselves from more fundamental holons of existence – the physiosphere and biosphere – and as such, it does violence to life; its underlying premises, in my opinion and in the opinion of those who are more Earth-centered, are at worst pathological, or at the very least incomplete.

[NOTE: If I have mischaracterized your worldview, David, I certainly apologize. And I might have offered to engage with you and students more in class, but for the way that the class was run. Given the short discussion periods, I felt wary of interrupting you and even more wary of taking up too much time at the expense of other students who might then not be able to express themselves. Also, my class comments were handicapped by an affective deficit (See generally, John Heron, Feeling and Personhood, 1992: Chap.2) whereby I felt a kind of disengagement from the energy field. This made it difficult to focus and frame what I wished to articulate. My e-mailed comments and quotes to you received not much more than a congenial nod in response. And I say all of this while fully apprised that my own worldview is likely problematic as well, due to the limits of our shared human frailties. Still, we speak our minds.]

Having said all of this, and keeping in mind Elizabeth Kasl’s words – “...individuals learn separately...Members retain their separate views...” – this final paper is a mirror of the fragmented course learning, i.e., mostly self-referent. That is, I feel we certainly intensified our understanding of the course subject matter, yet we did so while retaining or processing it through our individual meaning perspectives; we referred the meaning we made from lectures and limited discussion to ourselves as individuals, not as group members ‘making the knowledge our own’. So here is my own top-down take:


Jennifer Cobb never adequately defines “the spiritual” in her book, Cybergrace (1998). She does speak of “the sacred.” And she speaks of “divinity” as “that which enables all of creation to become more than it once was, to evolve and expand, to experience greater richness, depth, and diversity. ...In the simplest terms, creativity unfolding in the universe forms the primary expression of divine activity.” (Cobb, 1998:12) But my questions to her are: How much is God in cyberspace and to what depth? What is the meaning of “sacred”? How “spiritual” is the author herself and how is she qualified to speak of “the spiritual”? Did she find her spirituality in divinity school? I’m not trying to be unfair to her; my only point is that her presumptions about spirituality – which appear to be essentially Teilhardian/Wilberian – may be premature. It is like, as in Plato’s Meno, a person trying to speak of “virtue” before he or she is even able to say what virtue is.

In fact, Cobb may have mistaken learning for spirituality. Cyberspace is, by and large, a big information-share. And certainly, if we accept the notion that Spirit is immanent everywhere, then interacting interdependently by e-mail, on a chat line or on a Listserv or within an on-line CIIS cohort might seem like – or even actually be – a kind of spiritual, divine-like process undertaken in a “sacred space.” Still, it sounds a lot more like collaborative learning to me, as described above. (Also see generally, Kenneth A. Bruffee’s Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge (1993))

With this caution in mind, there certainly is a spiritual aspect to cyberspace. Any medium that encourages dialogue and precipitates reflection and creativity can contribute to the ongoing evolutionary process of consciousness and an enhancement of the noosphere. Cyberspace might also be a meeting ground for hearts and souls, such as in the example of Bishop Jacque Gaillot’s virtual congregation (Cobb, 1998:73-76) – or, as Cobb says, “Virtual spaces release a new energy into our culture and social spheres of experience, an energy that contains some important spiritual insights.” (Cobb, 1998:76) ‘Spiritual insights’ would, in my opinion, be more of a consonant find than a positing of ‘the spiritual’ in the cyberspace medium – the Internet being a more profane, material realization, a mere metaphoric exteriorization of Teilhard’s vision of an ever-evolving, global noospheric membrane that envelops the planet.

And what of this man, Teilhard de Chardin? – Jesuit priest-paleontologist, Papal footsoldier-scientist. Here’s another one, the depth of whose spirituality or mysticism is worth investigating. Cobb describes him as having “...daringly blended science and theology...” (Cobb, 1998:77) He sounds like a modern day Thomas Aquinas to me, the man from the 13th century whose lofty and strained efforts somehow succeeded at reconciling Christianity with Aristotle, paving the way for modernity in the process. Thus it is that the work of both Thomas Aquinas and Teilhard de Chardin can be seen through the lens of William Irwin Thompson’s remark, that "Science is reform Christianity..." (Pacific Shift 1985:124).

I suspect that much of my trouble with reading Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man (1959) may be the translator’s fault. After all, even the title was mistranslated – the truer translation of the original being, The Human Phenomenon. How much we owe to the translator and how much can be attributed to the author for the turgid prose within – excelled only perhaps by the Loeb Classics edition of the translation of Porphyry’s Enneads of Plotinus – is unknown to me.

But my sense from reading Teilhard is that he may simply have been writing in the tradition of the heady French intellectual. Besides being unduly complicated (almost to the point of opaqueness) in his word choice, sentence structure and grammar, he seems forever trying to fit a round peg into a square hole; flogging his notion of “the spiritual” to fit into his sciento-spiritual worldview, or vice versa. And his occasional poetic flourishes are a poor cover for a celibate whose cerebral writing reflects the endpoint of his sperm retention, i.e., it seems a messy lot of abstract drivel that gets superimposed onto a few cogent points about evolution.

Teilhard’s strength lies in his conclusions: that consciousness rises through living beings; that evolution – the evolution of consciousness, with its concomitant unfolding of Spirit – is proceeding now in the noosphere; that there is a “spiritual genetic component” to humanity’s continual becoming; and that there is an Omega point – an autonomy/ actuality/ irreversibility/ transcendence (See, de Chardin, 1959:271) – toward which humanity is groping.

And while I find these conclusions tenable, I would only qualify that the focus on noospheric evolution must be a focus on evolution that transcends but includes that around which the noospheric membrane is spun; i.e., sound and robust noospheric expansion must be Earth-friendly. If not, the planet will not sustain the people whose minds and consciousness compose the budding florescence of the planet. (Aurobindo says, “The complete soul possesses all its self and all Nature.” (McDermott, 1987:81)) How can a flower grow – even in a pot – whose soil is poisoned by acid rain in a mutagenic, cancerous environment and which is baked by ultra-violet-laden photons or frozen by dramatically shifting weather patterns – all this while we sit uninvolved with the natural ecology, before “the new TV screens”: our PCs?

Scholars tell us that language was “born in the night” within the same time-frame as when proto-homo sapiens were learning the art of fire-making and gathering around the hearth. So let's talk about this “light of the fire from our computer screens during this dark age of transition” around which we now sit, physically disconnected from one another, though noospherically connected (in a more synthetic sense), bonding in a neo-hieroglyphic language of words, symbols, images. The downside of language is that it has done and continues to do much violence to our existence, constituting one of the most effective devices for keeping us entranced. (See generally, Benjamin Lee Whorf, Language, Thought and Reality, 1956; Also see, von Humboldt, Sapir, Boas, and D. Alford). Just consider the endless flow of TV/advertising trash talk, or people calling each other on the phone to mutually reinforce their shared cultural fear of silence, the nemo, the Void, their own beingness.

Computers can extend this use of language-as-culture-trance. The up-side to computers, as compared to TV, is that they are, or at least can be, (synthetically) humanly interactional. And in virtual reality we can be in and interact with a humanly created terrain, a new cultural ecology. My point here is that the computer screen is the modern day “fire” that can give us tools that can continue to differentiate-out consciousness (toward dissociation) or that can be used to reincorporate self/other and re-integrate the ecologies of both nature and culture. The problem, as I see it, is in getting people to turn away from their screens to other human beings and to the natural world in general; a great danger lies in habitually accepting the mediation of the computer screen between themselves and other human beings, between themselves and the world – and ultimately, between themselves and the sacred – a circumstance which would elevate the machine to the societal function of the priest, i.e., computer as new intermediary (when the neo-shamanist, gnostic – or perhaps the balanced deep ecologist? – knows that unmediated, direct communication with the Divine is possible (though problematic in its own way too)). The bottom line is that computers can (and have) become just one more distracting diversion for us in our continuing avoidance of facing up to the nemo.

Teilhard’s ultra-positive heralding of humanity as the crown of evolution is both misplaced and naive, hopelessly romantic and idealistic – or is it perhaps just ‘premature’? For the most part, we are not beings who realize our full potential; we are, almost all of us, automatons entranced by our own/ our culture's conditioning. As a result, we are poor noospheric fodder indeed.

Let’s talk about the future, the next 5,000 years. In my opinion, the death rattle of the “old thinking” is inevitable and is, in fact, looming very near now. It will certainly, I believe, go out with a nuclear, disease-ridden, chaotic weather, famine and plague-like bang. Getting human beings to change their habitual ways, their ingrained thinking patterns, is tantamount to the impossible task of trying to get all welfare recipients to give up their entitlements, multiplied by a factor of 10 to the 40th power. For most of those 5 billion, there does not exist even some semblance of self-knowing that makes them healthy, effective contributors to the noosphere. I simply do not see how automaton-like humans, disconnected from their mind/bodies and our earth, qualify for participating in a noospheric evolution of the planet in much of a significant way. Am I undervaluing the innate power of the human being? I doubt it. It has been said that the power of prayer is lost, or at least diluted, depending on the inner development/purity of the petitioner. And often, seemingly noble attempts at articulating life’s problems (if our sleeping condition is even realized by those who attempt it) and the offered solutions, are limited and reek with a tinge of the planetary symptomology summarized in the saying "They lust after the very things that oppress them." That is, those who wish to ‘change the world’ often end up becoming the oppressors, only with their “new” paradigms; while seemingly improved, these new paradigms do nothing but rearticulate our paradoxical human condition of trying to know before they/we are able to truly know.

Perhaps it was necessary for Teilhard to state his case with the overly reasoned discourse of his scientific analysis. Qualitatively speaking, he seems to lack the rich depth of the experiential mystic. But of course who am I to make this distinction? Both he (and Jennifer Cobb) express themselves like the Western white folk that they are, caught up in their own Christian/scientistic meaning perspectives. (There I go again!)

For me, a good writer is one who is able to provide a comfortable level of clarity for readers (whether because of, or in spite of, his or her writing style). Some may prefer the highly intellectual approach, the presumed scientific rigor of Teilhard’s presentation. Others, like me, may find it terribly confused and convoluted. (By saying this, I am not condemning either science or cognitive knowing, only recognizing their limitations.) This, of course, can be a poor reflection of my own capacity for understanding particularly dense paradigmatic discourse. But I am surely not alone in this handicap. Particularly those with an indigenous mindset would likely find Teilhard extremely rational, Western, and Christian/Euro-centric in his outlook – and this despite his vocation and his many years of working in China. For me, his style (and/or his translator?) all but buries his intuitive transrationalism and this obscures rather than clarifies his work.

As an example of good, clear, scholarly writing on the frontiers of consciousness studies I would point to Morris Berman’s Coming To Our Senses. Berman’s point about the dry somatically uninvolved reportage found in many books is that it fails precisely because it comes from the head, not from the heart – the heart being the source of the somatic resonance of the body. After I struggled through The Phenomenon of Man and then read Berman I found comfort in Berman’s words. It seemed that Teilhard was writing from his head, in spite of his “poetic” lapses. In Berman I found complete resonance. Here was a scholar whose subject matter and writing style conveyed the mystery of life and the ups and downs of the evolution of consciousness in a coherent contemporary voice; who recognized the exoteric ruse of the Church and the esoteric truth of the heretic.

As our physical evolution has emerged, so too has the evolution of our consciousness. We began in the archaic mists of an undifferentiated state of consciousness stretching as far back as some 1.7 million years – way back into the Paleolithic era. In the late Paleolithic and early Neolithic era, we lived in unperspectival magical harmony with the Earth; within the unconscious uroboric. Consciousness, the ego, the ability to apprehend self and other, began to emerge out of this barely differentiated, oceanic pleroma. Soon our nomadic hunting-gathering was giving way to established village life with its horticulture and domestication of animals. So, along with the outward signs of incipient civilizations – autopoeietically emerging in discrete points on the planet within this same early Neolithic era – consciousness was flaring forth, separating itself from the unconscious uroboric Great Mother, gradually individuating into the polaric mythic, the hero’s journey, the patriarchal warrior society. We have been riding the crest of this individuating-out of consciousness for roughly 5,000 years. In the last 300 years we have come to the zenith of this separating out from our unconscious minds as we traverse the mental/rational phase of our consciousness evolution. And finally, our unbalanced psychic pathology has begun to fold back onto ourselves. As this enfolding is proceeding, we are just beginning to enter the aperspectival/integral, centauric/vision-logic, 5th-order consciousness, lateral thinking phase of our evolution of consciousness.

The point is, we are a species of stupefaction, awe, and wonderment which – despite our glorious civilizational achievements (sophisticated cultural ecologies) – has degenerated into a ‘species of stupids’. The Arabic/Sufi word for Divine remembrance/invocation is dhikr; the Greek words for “remember” are mimnesko and memnemai – recalling perhaps the Platonic idea of recollection of our Divine selves – these are hints that should help to edge us in the right direction of clearing away the fog of our partially constructed reality; and an active engagement in “remembrance” might help us to regain our full human potential, lost since our ‘fall from grace’, our ‘eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge’, our present-day three dimensional, dualist-materialist descent into good and evil and the almost total inability of our species to know the difference. Aurobindo explains the forgetfulness as “ exclusive action of consciousness tranced into self-forgetfulness by an abysmal plunge into the absorption of the formative and creative material process.” (McDermott, 1987, p.107)

The cure for our species seems to lie in merging our consciousness, folding it back into the unconscious mind, in a revitalized integration; not to lose this hard-won and dearly paid-for consciousness, but to fuse our unconscious minds with it. Yet, this sort of new thinking has barely caught on. Thus, how is it possible to love ourselves, empathize with each other, and embrace the Earth in noospheric bliss (let alone the whole cosmos), when we are in such a dilapidated condition?

I would argue, as does Aurobindo, that we first need to do much self-discovery of ourselves (however we choose to do so). I would add that such explorations are often aided by an immersion in and self-exploration of difference, also known as the “other,” so that we might begin to integrate our individual psyches. Then, besides suffusing the planet with an all-embracing love, we must perhaps apply a “tough love” to those planetary inhabitants who remain clueless, who are doing their best to co-opt the transpersonal/humanistic/spirituality/hermeneutic movement in a facade-like way, thereby putting a pretty face onto their rapacious greed empires. We witnessed this (to use a perhaps more banal example) as corporate America bought-out and then gutted rock-and-roll and soul music beginning in the late 60s, during which the McDonaldization of American society (and the world) began in earnest and continues in full swing today unabated – and would triumph but for some pitiful murmuring of a handful of culturally mutant visionaries.

Mystic East Indian philosopher, Aurobindo, articulated for us how Matter and Spirit interact with one another, and how we can begin to see and live in the numinous rather than in the mundane. He speaks of the spiritual from the experiential knowing of the contemplative, artfully portraying its presence throughout his prose in language that gives us a sense of its definition. In his masterwork, The Life Divine, he “systematically articulates the synthesis of matter and spirit by locating them both in the double movement of existence – involution [descent] and evolution [ascent].” (McDermott, 1987:47) (For Aurobindo, involution seems to be more of a constantly recurring cycle, whereas Teilhard de Chardin would differ on this aspect of involution by maintaining that involution was a one time affair, as in how our own solar system self-organized itself – perhaps a spin-off of his viewing Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, the one and only Son of God.) Concomitantly, whereas involution is a process by which Spirit descends into matter, evolution is a “growing of the Self in material Nature to the conscious possession of its own spiritual being.” (McDermott, 1987:81) (Here, he and Teilhard are in agreement on the nature of evolution.)

“The fundamental idea upon which the whole structure of Aurobindo’s philosophy rests is that Matter as well as Spirit is to be looked upon as real.” (McDermott, 1987:49, quoting from An Introduction to the Philosophy of Aurobindo, 1965:1) Aurobindo succinctly puts the mystery of human evolution this way: “Universe is a diffusion of the divine All in infinite Space and Time, the individual its concentration within limits of Space and Time” (McDermott, 1987:58) and who gropes toward Spirit in an “evolutionary persistence” (McDermott, 1987:107) “...Evolution, then, is ontologically subsequent to involution: first existence involves itself in its various levels, and then it is opened out by a series of natural and human transformations.” (McDermott, 1987:48)

Aurobindo posits six ‘levels’ or ‘structures’ of consciousness which he calls “hemispheres of existence” (McDermott, 1987:48). In ascending order, the lower hemisphere consists of Matter (physical, inconscient), Life (vital, organic) and Mind (intellect and intuition), and the upper hemisphere consists of Bliss (Ananda), Consciousness-Force (Chit) and Existence (Sat). Mediating between these two hemispheres is the Supermind (perfect unity in diversity). Aurobindo describes the Supermind as “...the divine Gnosis which creates, governs and upholds the worlds; it is the secret Wisdom which upholds both our Knowledge and our Ignorance.” (McDermott, 1987:84) “...Just as the lower three levels of consciousness need to be transformed by the higher three, the Sat-Chit-Ananda [emphasis added] is not fulfilled until it completely spiritualizes the entire realms of physical, vital, and mental existence. (McDermott, 1987:48) Here again, is a call for integrating the Earth – all of Nature – and the body, within the entire process of spiritual emergence. Or, said differently, ‘Supermind’ IS our humanity: “Our humanity is the meeting-place of the finite and the infinite [Earth and Heaven, Matter and Spirit] and to grow more and more towards that Infinite even in this physical birth is our privilege.” (McDermott, 1987:79) There is much more from Aurobindo that could be discussed here, such as his belief in reincarnation, the nature of the soul, and his East/West analysis. But at this point we are brought neatly to the topic of the body, that Morris Berman speaks of so urgently.

Morris Berman’s Coming To Our Senses presents a contemporary exposition of the overall pathos of our human condition and what has led us and kept us here. And because he speaks in a (post)modern voice (and one which has benefited from the recent literature), this book is a more accessible and perhaps a more meaningful work for many of us in the course and for readers in general. (It certainly was for me.) Berman’s account presents a metaphorical exploration of the basic fault of our existence, the so-called nemo, by way of a history of mirrors and our human perception of and interrelationship with animals. He then courses through four periods over the last two thousand years during which the gnostic undercurrent came bubbling up to the surface for us to examine in retrospect. His kind of scholarship is one that calls for an experiential knowing through the body – in contradistinction to either a detached, transcender, mental-rational view, or to an ultra-magical, descender, atomist-materialist reduction.

Morris Berman’s observations on the body are strung together here to emphasize the crucial role it plays in our consciousness – in our need to refind it and how to somatically articulate our expository presentation of it: “Regardless of what a person visibly presents to the world, they have a secret life, one that is grounded in their emotions, their bodily relationship to the world and to themselves. ...Academic discourses generally lack the power to shock, to move the reader; which is to say, they lack the power to teach. They fail to address the felt, visceral level of our being, and so possess an air of unreality. (Berman, 1989:110) “ will generally confront the problem of reading about things that somehow fail to resonate with what is most familiar to you. And what is that? In a word, your emotions, or more broadly, your “spiritual” and psychic life. These things are what real life is about; they reflect the things that matter the most to you, for they are experienced in the body.” (Berman, 1989:108) “The essential truth,” writes Morris Berman, “was an interior one; to omit this was to give the reader, or listener, no significant information whatsoever. In the transition to modernity, this emphasis on interior knowing was severely attenuated.” (Berman, 1989:111) “...The human drama is first and foremost a somatic one.” (Berman, 1989:108) “I think it is safe to say that we have penetrated down to the hidden, or invisible, layer of history here, and found, at the core of it – the human body. ...Coming to our senses means sorting this out once and for all. It also means becoming embodied. And the two ultimately amount to the same thing. (Berman, 1989:342)

So too does Aurobindo, the yoga adept, make this crucial point about us and our bodies: is the body that he must make his own foundation and the starting-point for his development of life and mind and spirit in the physical existence. That assumption of body we call birth, and in it only can take place here the development of self and the play of relations between the individual and the universal and all other individuals; in it only can there be the growth by the progressive development of our conscious being towards a supreme recovery of unity with God and with all in God: all the sum of what we call Life in the physical world is a progress of the soul and proceeds by birth into the body and has that for its fulcrum... (McDermott, 1987:107)

Erich Neumann, in his masterful The Origins and History of Consciousness (1954), further develops and contemporizes Carl Jung’s analytical psychology. Using archetypal, primordial images – [more properly referred to as ‘prototypes’, according to Ken Wilber (Wilber, 1990:255); concurring in this interpretation, John Heron (no friend of Wilber) concludes: “Jung dealt with mythic images and tried to give them archetypal status which they cannot carry.” (John Heron, Feeling and Personhood: Psychology In Another Key (1992:141).] – Neumann draws on depth psychology to tell his story of the evolution of the unconscious mind into consciousness.

The Neumann/Jungian story begins in the uroboros, symbolized by the snake eating its own tail, which perceives itself as feminine. In this undifferentiated state of unconscious unity – similar to Jean Gebser’s unperspectival archaic and early magical structures, the human mind would have been in a state of complete interpenetration with its environment, like the fetus floating in the pleroma of the uterus. The classic Jungian archetype for this stage in the uroboric is the Great (and ‘good’) Mother, also symbolized by “[a]nything deep – abyss, valley, ground, sea, fountains, lakes, pools, the earth...the underworld, the cave, the house, the city... Anything big and embracing which contains, surrounds, enwraps, shelters, preserves, and nourishes anything small belongs to the primordial matriarchal realm.” (Neumann, 1954:14).

The process of differentiation toward and through Gebser’s magical structure proceeded slowly over most of our 1.7 million years. In this tenuous state of magical consciousness humans went from loosely organized hunting bands to settled Neolithic agricultural villages, perhaps all the while remaining in a matri-centric culture (relatively speaking). A subtle boundary was beginning to be felt between itself as consciousness and its environment, typified by emotions. Whereas before there was a pleromatic unity, an interconnectedness was now developing wherein the mind began to distinguish a sense of multiplicity – yet a multiplicity that seemed to center and emanate from the individual. There was still no subject/object split, but rather a restiveness in the uroboric mindset. We can see this in the infant who shows a vague familiarity to its surroundings and in the child who thinks it makes the sun go down by wishing it so. Gebser would represent this “one-dimensional proto-ego” that is projected outward and dispersed as an interchangeable point.

Not surprisingly, Neumann spends a great deal of time describing the archetypal energies that were stewing within his Great Mother culture and nudging a struggling human mind in its evolution toward a separate identity (ego or consciousness). I say “not surprisingly” because the mythic, primordial imagery that are Jungian archetypes rose into consciousness (and therefore into being) not only from generation after generation of participation with the natural world; these archetypes were also burned into consciousness as they were magnified in the outward mirroring of petroglyphs, in so-called goddess figurines (Cf., William Irwin Thompson’s discussion of these figurines and pre-history in general in his Coming Into Being (1996)), in paintings on clay vessels, and finally in the cultural avalanche of myth, art, literature and music that was soon following, as consciousness began to fully emerge toward differentiation into Gebser’s mythical structure.

The struggle to break free from the Great Mother – i.e., into this ego or consciousness that was arising out of the uroboros – is characterized by the archetypal hero’s journey. The Evil Mother archetype (later to be replaced by/mingled with the symbol of a bear or boar, representing the unsuccessful, castrated son) resists the efforts of the once incestuous but now rebellious hero-son. (Consciousness perceives itself as masculine, though the Terrible Father archetype aids and abets the evil mom, i.e., unconsciousness.) Jungian archetypes of the battling twins and ‘the hero with a thousand faces’ (a la another Jungian, Joseph Campbell) enter now and the tale is filled with blood, death and dismemberment. To free himself, the hero must slay the Great/Terrible Mother; he must embark on a journey of self-discovery. Gebser (1985) would represent this two-dimensional mythical structure of consciousness as a circle on which a polarization (cf. the twins archetype) has now formed. This polarity is typified by the notion of dreams. “Temporality” or a new sense of time (and to a limited extent “space”) is the terrain of the mythic. As the mythic coalesces, Neuman’s “primordial parents” become fully formed as mother and father archetypes. Behold the adolescent who has declared independence from the nest! Behold the warring towns who hold fast to their grain stores while scaling the others’ walled fortresses for the bounty held within! Enter the warrior, patri-centric culture with its architecture rising upward in phallic, transcendent, vertical monuments to a hard-won ego. Jungian archetypes abound in the sun myths, the symbol of the human head, the moon myths, glorification, deification and divinity myths. (Cf. Neumann’s interpretation of the myth of Osiris with William Irwin Thompson’s in The Time Falling Bodies Take To Light (1985))

Neumann uses the term “centroversion” (similar to Teilhard’s “granulation”) to describe this self-formative individuating; it is a subjective projection of the libido onto itself – when a sufficient amount of this raw psychic energy inheres, then consciousness can shift, i.e., a phase change can occur – and this is what has prompted the ego to enter into relation or union with the self. In Jungian archetypal imagery – the journeying hero has gained the treasure/ rescued the captive, which means he has discovered his own creativity as an autopoeitic agent in a newly discovered reality of the psyche.

What is left is for consciousness to differentiate once again into three-dimensionality. Gebser represents this new structuration with the triangle. Subject/object, self/other duality as discerned by thought, has arrived; we have become space conscious. This is Gebser’s perspectival mental structure, which probably began about the time of the Renaissance, (when perspective was discovered in art) and has been proceeding to intensify ever since. The adolescent has become a teenager and is all the closer to adulthood.

Elements of the archaic and magical linger on within our consciousness in this modern era of the mythic/mental/rational. Even as some of us grasp at the next emerging structure – the aperspectival/integral, which Gebser represents as a sphere – we remain, for the most part, tangled in these consciousness holons that are more fundamental to those that are more complex. Regressions are not uncommon in our day – from magical thinking in New Age groups to mythic membership playing out in ultra-nationalism, “Balkanizations” or within the unchecked zeal of fundamentalist religious groups.

Here, the thread of our story can be taken up by Morris Berman. In Coming To Our Senses, Berman so neatly summarizes two ‘bright spots’ in our struggle against the pathos that has brought us to this mental/rational point in the history of consciousness, the extract is worth repeating here in its entirety:

The notion of a psychic revolution in the West, based on Eastern influences and a revaluation of the archetypal feminine, gets us to the heart of what I have been pursuing in this chapter on heresy as a secret, somatic “skeleton key,” as it were, to the history of Western consciousness at large. It amounts to a breakthrough in interiority, an overturning of previous “masculine” mentalite at certain nodal points in our political history; and it is the immediate political context that shaped, in each case, what happened to the immense psychic energy that got released. In the case of our Greek model, it had (in my view) an unfortunate ending: amidst the rich diversity of Greek philosophy and shamanism, Jewish ethics and magic, and Oriental Gnostic practices that made the world of the Mediterranean basin so exciting and heterogeneous, one system managed to triumph. Christianity was victorious over its competitors, including the Roman Empire, only to become a Roman Empire of the mind for the next several hundred years. When the next challenge to it arose, it could only respond as a political monolith, repressing the opposition and/or co-opting it by means of the Cult of the Virgin Mary... The French model has as a major characteristic the creation of unintended side-effects that are still with us today: the rise of the nation-state; the final canonization of dualistic thinking, which is ultimately simplistic; the legitimizing of investigation into “thought crime,” and the administrative persecution (to varying degrees); the unexpected channeling of the gnostic impulse of moving toward union with God into the love of another human being as a secular/ecstatic experience. Both romantic love and mind control get institutionalized as a result of the Church’s repression and co-optation of the Cathars. This process of a rebellious heresy actually playing into the hands of the powers that be is what I take to be the central feature of the French model, and it is certainly one capable of being repeated today. (Berman, 1989:214-215)

Jean Gebser’s Ever-Present Origin (1985) is as dense and rich as a Claxton fruitcake. This seminal work on consciousness studies chronicles the evolutionary development of humanity with an exactitude that staggers the mind. Gebser’s thesis is here presented, taken from his chapter on The Irruption of Time, under the subtitle, The Awakening of Consciousness of Freedom from Time. In it is his projection of where consciousness is headed – out of an “already obsolete three-dimensional dualistic-materialistic world conception” (Gebser, 1985:288) to an aperspectival integrated structure (“[t]he whole [that] can be perceived only aperspectivally.”) (Gebser, 1985:289) in which we plumb the fourth-dimensional depths of time; an understanding which I interpret as a ‘conscious’ reimmersion in the Essence – our genetic heritage and our future:

It is from origin, which is not bound to time, that all time forms constituting us have mutated. Origin lies “before” all timelessness, temporicity, and time. Wherever man becomes conscious of the pre-given, pre-conscious, originary pre-timelessness, he is in the time-freedom, consciously recovering its presence. Where this is accomplished, origin and the present are integrated by the intensified consciousness. The irruption of time into our consciousness is the first indication, the initial motif of the consciousness mutation that is today acute. This mutation will bear its fruits of transforming the world if we succeed in superseding the irruption of time; but that is tantamount to what we have called the presentiation of origin, which can be achieved only by the successful achievement of the main task posed by the new mutation: the coming of consciousness of time-freedom, the achronon. (Gebser, 1985:289)


So far in this paper I have sought to spin a narrative that has incorporated bits and pieces of what I have learned from my readings and the discussions, of (particularly) Aurobindo, Gebser, Berman, and Neumann. These four authors were key in helping me to apprehend in much more detail this phenomenon we call consciousness. They filled in some empty terrain in my own knowing, helping me to see more clearly the nature of the problem consciousness poses for us at the cusp of what Mayan scholars call The Fifth World. Though at points I cite them ‘in bulk’, I also hoped to show how their work has already been integrated into ‘the self-referent me’. With this in mind I conclude with some final words on the meaning I have made from studying all of the works presented in this course.

Unconsciousness to consciousness to pathological consciousness – this has been our human trajectory so far as I understand it from the readings. The Earth has hosted us throughout, being progressively left behind, taken-for-granted, and degraded, as this evolutionary arrow of time has dragged us along, groping. All the while our blue shimmering planet with its swirling white clouds keeps on turning, hurtling through space. The sun and the moon, the planets and the stars shine and dance in a rhythm above us. Below our feet, little things crawl and wriggle. All around us, plant life breaks through the landscape and clutters our waterscapes; animal friends putter about on land, propel themselves through the seas, glide about in the wind. The congregating, many-voiced birds carry-on with their songs up in the trees. And it’s hard to believe that Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring has all but arrived – but it has, in many more ways than we know, or that we are willing to accept, even when fully informed.

The scientists and naturalists catalogue the disasters we have foisted upon our green Earth by forgetting about our embeddedness in it. Available literature presents the body counts of our species-cleansing, the demise of our natural ecology through technologies that run counter to the Earth-bound cosmological rhythms of life; the pathos of our heedlessness. This has been the cost of the heroic emergence of our ego-minds in this industrial nation-state (non)beingness we have created for ourselves in our present era. For those of us who live in the “developed” world (or aspire to live there), within the four walls of our separation from nature, among the structures we have erected as replacements – where we bask and loll, self-absorbed in solipsistic detachment, while being mostly ignorant or illiterate of the means by which we have arrived in this synthesized, artificial environment – our minds have been captured by a culture-trance of a rationalism that denudes the spheres of life it ignores. The physical – the air, the water, the earth – the biological: our very bodies have become disconnected from us. We are disembodied minds, just about somatically dead.

We flush toilets, ride in our poison-producing cars along roads that choke off the free-ranging of other species, mindlessly consume electrical energy from a central grid fed by polluting fossil fuels or hydroelectric energy from dams that scar the waterways and displace or kill other creatures – and despite the techniques we have devised for the treatment of waste and water and keeping the air from enclosing us with poison vapors, we keep over-extending ourselves in the names of “progress,” “democracy,” “techno-modernism,” “nationalism.” We keep producing non-Earth-friendly chemicals that we pour onto our land, feed to our animals, ourselves – chemicals that run off into streams and rivers, lakes and oceans, into aquifers that are drying out; chemicals that burn off into the air which all life forms breathe. In a scientism run amok, supported and encouraged by a military-industrial-athletic-entertainment-academia-corporate-controlled-media complex, we live in a demonic ignorant bliss, destroying life that has evolved and diversified – and the soil and sea that have nurtured it over these billions of years.

This ego, this pathological consciousness, IS the Satan. Surprise! We ARE the Great Satan! We participate in the myths we perpetuate – myths of old, modern myths of science – myth to math. And in our individual and collective arrogance, we find our identities by projecting our deformities-of-being onto others, disbelieving we are the cruel tyrants of this planet. We know not what we do. We revel in an ultra-materialist comfort while giving lip-service to high ethical, moral and religious values; we effectively lust after the very things that oppress us; we are not able to know ourselves, disconnected as we are from the essence, of Spirit, that is immanent in all; we are dispossessed of our full human potential that only shines through from time-to-time in saints and sages who have discovered the esoteric Truth (that should, hopefully, one day be our normative condition – Teilhard’s Omega point), even if they have brought us only part of the story within the parameters of the particular age within which they have lived and taught us.

The secularist-descender backlash against the domination in the West by the exoteric-ascender Church – that began in earnest in the 16th century – has exceeded its mandate. It has also exceeded its scope in that it has sought to present itself as THE paradigm for our world’s future. Lest we self-flagellate into oblivion here, a few observations are in order.

The chronicle of the achievements of the human race – a race in time and space – are exhaustively listed in the history books. Through our language and our self-reflective capabilities we have produced a wealth of literature and art, science, engineering and architectural feats, medical and legal and spiritual knowledge. How we have accomplished this – at the cost of our living planet and the sacrifice of our deeper sense of self – is the issue. In a hopeless impotence borne of a seemingly endless sense of helplessness, it makes one want to just go out and howl – howl in the night!

It is a tough philosophical nut-to-crack, trying to decide if humanity has been better off for such achievements, typified by such things as pyramids, and other towering edifices and alterations to the natural environment, or whether we might have been better off living in a deep ecology, non-“developed” state, e.g., similar to the native North Americans or Down-Under Aboriginals or African villagers – who leave/left a rich linguistic and natural culture heritage, but with few such monuments to themselves. The voices of indigenous peoples today who know and practice their Way – as with the voicing of the female element embodied in the knowing of that Great Mother archetype – might clamor for this latter, simpler way of being. But their voices are being drowned out by the status quo modernism of patri-centric, non-indigenous, hydra-headed corporate fascists in league with government – that often includes the so-called “conservatives” and “progressives” alike.

The plain fact is, that we cannot turn back the clock, we cannot stop the arrow of time, we cannot return to some retro-romantic notion of a by-gone era – but we can begin to see the pathology of our own consciousness in these times. We can also use the environmental-friendly science and technology we have created and the great storehouses of knowledge we have generated, together with less patri-centric, more indigenous modes of knowing, as a template for returning to a normative relationship with our Earth and the Universe; for creating a planet friendly to all species; for reviving the inherent notion of the sacredness within us and in the world around us. And it is the preservation of the planet’s natural ecology – a universal concern – that may be the guiding link for bringing together the Earth’s nation-states under new banners of bioregionalism.

The language of mathematics too, can and will guide us into a new millennial vision of balanced health, within and among us. This certainly is a most appropriate instrument for scientific understanding and which should be used to continue to combat scientism, instead of undergirding it.

We are in an intelligible universe made so through narrative, through the stories we tell of our body/mind experience of it. There are some practical beginnings we can implement and undertake in order to realign our consciousness – from becoming more fully informed about the extent of our planetary ecological and consciousness tragedy by reading the accumulated literature, to starting up a new program of education at all levels wherein we can hear this new, yet age-old, story of the universe, of consciousness, of Spirit, in a more structured way. Even though, as Aurobindo puts it, “The time of religions is over” (McDermott, 1986:34), the major religions must heed the call of the Earth and speak out forcefully in a Green Party – or better – an Earthfirst! kind of way to help people to live within the reality of cosmogenesis rather than keep embracing an outmoded redemptive/salvation mentality that is antithetical to the body and to the Earth.

As Aurobindo has proclaimed, “We have entered the age of universal spirituality, of spiritual existence in its initial purity.” (McDermott, 1987:34, quoting Bull. I.C.E., p.6) Onto this, our withering worldly stage, such words echo and redound in our collective consciousness, not unlike the howl echoing from the distant hills.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


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My doctoral research focused on the intersection of law and consciousness. In my work I aspired toward articulating a kind of attractor basin (1) for orienting human consciousness toward the remaking of a world that is genuinely conducive to global democracy, economic justice, and civil society – in contradistinction to a world that suffers, at present, from the deleterious effects of empire-driven policies and those actions of corporate capitalism that have caused such misery for citizens worldwide (Johnson, 2007; Johnson 2004; Johnson, 2000; Perkins, 2007; Perkins, 2004). As the undertaking of a project such as this requires the labor of many and varied fields of expertise, it is perhaps the ultimate multi-disciplinary effort. Using a relational/participatory frame (2) of consciousness, networks of problem-solving actors from diverse backgrounds can help to transform human systems by ameliorating and ultimately supplanting harsh, socioeconomic, political, and environmental inequities.

In my dissertation I explored the origins and charted the development of law and legal culture within the Western legal tradition (WLT) by examining the continuing evolution of jurisprudence in the context of Jean Gebser’s (1985) structures of consciousness analysis. Via my own critical intuition, and by examining certain texts (Berman, 2000; Zerzan, 1998; Clastres, 1989; Diamond, 1987), I postulated that understanding law’s genesis out of custom required an excursus into pre-history in search of law’s epistemological legitimacy. I concluded that at some point in pre-history there had occurred a crack in a formerly all-pervasive originary custom nurtured by the pre-mental (archaic, magic, mythic) consciousness of primal peoples. That is, under certain conditions, in certain instances the originary custom of nomadic, non-hierarchical social structures diverged over time into what I refer to as acculturated custom. This led me to my contention that only acculturated custom is that custom conventionally cited as a source of law.

From here I detected the earliest notions of law, what I refer to as mytho-concepts, that arose out of this acculturated custom, eventually mutating symbiotically with mental consciousness into what humanity has come to know as LAW. Indeed, law is uniquely a creature of mental consciousness and alphabetic literacy. In turn, jurisprudence (or the philosophy of law) is continually reworked within the WLT by what historian Donald R. Kelley (1990) posits as the contending, conceptual forces of nomos and physis, employed in an oppositional dialectic that repeatedly plays itself out within the over-arching logos of each succeeding age.

In my doctoral work I sought to demonstrate that the WLT has functioned as a container, mirroring back from within it a mental consciousness directing an evolution of law growing increasingly hypertrophied, as consciousness intensified toward what Gebser (1985) calls its "deficient" form: the mental-rational. I thus surmised that this deficient-mental consciousness is capable of only regurgitating thought and ideas of a debilitating consensual reality via a self-reflexive culture trance. Hence, I referred to status quo law and jurisprudence as deficient-mental legal culture. I posited, however, that humanity is shifting into a more relational/participatory consciousness that Gebser (1985) refers to as integral consciousness (3). A growing subculture of “cultural creatives” (Ray & Anderson, 2000) can be seen as exhibiting signs of this new consciousness shift.

The overriding quest of my dissertation was to inquire into whether law, conceptualized via mental consciousness for over two millennia, can adapt, continue to develop and thrive amid a newly intensifying structure of integral consciousness. In responding, I considered new law practice models (e.g., restorative justice, collaborative law, holistic law, etc) and legal theorists (Barton, 1998; Souza Santos, 1995; Gabel, 1984) whose work is generally oriented toward Gebser’s vision of a new, aperspectival jurisprudence. Thus, I introduce what I term integral jurisprudence as a new attractor basin within the WLT. It is via integral values, and a worldview and reality premised upon integral consciousness, that individuals might not only self-transcend deficient-mental legal culture but generally transform all deficient-mental human systems.

Quite simply, at present the future of the WLT hangs in the balance: whether Western legal culture can self-transcend the deficient phase of mental consciousness will depend on how successful is the symbiotic embrace of integral values that nurture this new consciousness shift. One place to look for a more holistic, relational/participatory frame is the originary custom in the life-ways of present-day nomadic, non-hierarchical primal peoples. What I am suggesting is that such primal peoples have not allowed prior structures of consciousness – the archaic, magic, and the mythic – to become atrophied while being dominated or overwhelmed by a mental/rational consciousness.

Structures of consciousness theory, as applied to nomadic, non-hierarchical primal peoples, might indicate two possibilities, the evidence for which exists solely by deduction from my own theoretical intuition: 1) they simply have not yet reached that hyper-developed stage of consciousness whose acceleration intensifies with the predominance of the deficient form of mythic consciousness, or 2) the deficient form of each structure manifests in a flatter crescendo over a more extended period of time, so that the mutation precipitating the subsequent structure is smoother and the primal person is perhaps better adjusted to his or her consciousness. I am inclined toward the latter theory.

The adaptation to subsequent structures might not be comprehended as those in civilized society experienced their own consciousness – as a progressively developing evolution through stages or structures. Instead, for such primal peoples the intensification of consciousness toward and through mutations may be more of a seamless and imperceptible transitional flow. The deficient form of each structure, rather than colonizing the beneficial aspects of a prior, efficient structure of consciousness by means of a steep, traumatizing process, may instead ameliorate its deficiencies in such a way that each structure of consciousness preserves its integrity and therefore its innate ontological value.

In moderns, the evolution of mental consciousness might be seen as a more forced, steeper, yet shortened and more traumatic process, convulsing into a mental structure that is not as susceptible to accommodating the full benefits of prior structures, which in turn might not be capable of being harmonized (because not fully processed). The full benefits of prior structures are instead repressed into the realm of the unconscious, a kind of universal catch-all referent symbolizing those parts of us that remain as hidden and mysterious psychological disconnects from our wholeness-of-being. I refer to this disconnect from wholeness of being as dissociation.

Crucial to my definition of dissociation as a phenomenon of consciousness is an understanding of the prevalence of a mental/rational ontological orthodoxy that results in a culturally-twisted epistemological stasis – viz., a more generalized dissociative malaise experienced as consensual reality and culture trance. David Edwards (1995) does a masterful job of explaining the dynamics. As he seeks to demonstrate, the basic “reality” framework for modern social goals is determined by powerful state and corporate elites. More to the point, no “conspiracy theory” is needed for society, including its media, to think and act more-or-less in lockstep with the status quo:

"Thus once it has been accepted that industrial society should be dedicated to economic growth through corporate profit generated by mass consumption, these framing conditions can be expected to produce a version of social reality progressively reflecting their requirements in an almost automatic way." (Edwards, 1995, p.35, emphasis added).

I maintain that it is through a self-transcendence, negotiated via a relational/participatory consciousness, that humanity individually and collectively moves away from dissociation toward a more associated and ultimately integrated state of being.

Mental/rational thinkers generally suffer a disconnect from a benign mental consciousness and a treasure trove to be found in the harmonization of prior structures (each latent, however attenuated) that can make consciousness more fully associated. Instead, in a so-called dissociated state, we over-rely on the current, predominating, deficient-mental consciousness structure, the mental/rational, wherein the tendency is for abstractions to replace the concrete world around us. Ralph Metzner (Roszak, et al., 1995a) describes dissociation as a process wherein “we progressively disconnect perception of the external world in order to attend to interior images, memories, and impressions.” (Roszak, et al., 1995a, p.63).

Dissociation, then, appears to degrade our connection to the natural world through a kind of overwhelming solipsism that demands that the wholeness of our consciousness remains aloof and almost absent from communion with the external environment. We become self-referential in our worldview. Put into vivid context, Paul Shepard (Roszak, et al., 1995b) expresses this dissociation in the following way:

"All Westerners are heir, not only to the self-justifications of recent technophilic Promethean impulses, but to the legacy of the whole. We may now be the possessors of the flimsiest identity structure, the products of a prolonged tinkering with ontogenesis – by Paleolithic standards, childish adults. Because of this arrested development, modern society continues to work, for it requires dependence. But the private cost is massive therapy, escapism, intoxicants, narcotics, fits of destruction and rage, enormous grief, subordination to hierarchies that exhibit this callous ineptitude at every level, and perhaps worst of all, a readiness to strike back at a natural world that we dimly perceive as having failed us. From this erosion of human nurturing comes the failure of the passages of the life cycle and the exhaustion of our ecological accords." (Roszak, Gomes & Kanner, 1995b: 35)

I submit, then, that originary custom – as a life-way that presents a different ontological trajectory of our human consciousness – may indeed structurally unfold more slowly and more holistically. By so doing, an embedded familiarization with originary custom may help avoid entrapment in deficient forms of consciousness, or within a predominating structure that is bereft of a holonically integrated nature, whatever those structural limits of consciousness might be. Thus, I propose participatory field research among a primal society that is open to the idea of allowing me to heuristically journey with them and report upon the experience of what I call its originary custom.

Enter the cultural mutant, who deeply senses his or her own dissociation. The cultural mutant somehow missed out on being or becoming a part of the new American dream: the techno-modernist vision, the Western triumphalist society, a person capable of easily identifying with the vapid, deficient-mental consciousness of the age. Instead, the intuition of the cultural mutant apprehends the stirring of planetary values informing a new kind of consciousness.

While his or her society is reveling in its self-referential, solipsistic definition of success, the cultural mutant bemoans the decline of the authentic and agitates against the inequities and imbalances inherent in consensual reality and American culture trance; while this society smugly congratulates itself on its legacy of democratic ideals and its being the champion of liberty and freedom around the world, the cultural mutant is aghast at such hypocrisy, seeing instead a USA that, in spite of its lofty rhetoric, has exploited peoples, their resources, and the environment – either directly or through client entities – wherever it could.

The cultural mutant sees corporate capitalism, that – in the name of neo-liberal “free market” capitalism – has quietly and cunningly traded democratic values and the ideals of liberty for a rank materialism based on the almighty petro-dollar (a dollar now tied to the price of oil), whose supremacy is enforced via the entrenched militarism of over 750 US bases overseas.

Being “out of the loop,” the cultural mutant is none-the-less determined to inform fellow planetary citizens about the benefits of learning to be adept at applying an empowering skill. Mostly such a skill questions the presumptions invisibly inhering in deficient-mental thinking from a holistic, relational/participatory frame of consciousness.

The cultural mutant's critical inquiry into our shared social, economic and political system begins with the assumption that, in general, we are culturally and linguistically limited to, and/or by, the Cartesian spatio-temporal perspective in the mainstream of our thinking. The traditional way of learning – viz., getting to know the problem, devising a solution, and then implementing that solution – is representative of this “old-think.” (4) However, if we wish to transform ourselves while being immersed in that which we wish to know, then we must proceed by other means. Procedurally, the approach is to enter into a process that breaks down the identification with the Cartesian spatio-temporal worldview in order to land us in a new worldview that is relational-holistic in nature. Knowing how to see the dialectical relationship of reality is to situate oneself in an epistemology that holds that relationship between both the relational-holistic epistemology and the Cartesian spatio-temporal epistemology.

The details of how this process of breaking down identifications and opening to a transcending worldview cannot be written down in a few lines. But it can be approached by directly addressing mind, language, and culture, and it can also be addressed by focusing on experiential learning that involves arational, instinctual, and emotional ways of knowing.

Wittgenstein saw philosophy as something like therapy, a transformational exercise. I think Gregory Bateson, R.D. Laing, Derrida and others were also taking philosophy in directions of breaking down the frames of thinking that we ordinarily use in order to open up the mind to greater complexities of reality.

I believe that a process that holds on the one side to mind, language, and culture, and on the other side to enhancing the capacities for experiential knowing, offers a very powerful way toward change and transforming oneself.

I have observed that in the fashion of Cartesian spatio-temporal thinking, people look to change either by knowing more, or by abandoning knowing in a reactive fashion and resorting only to experience as a way to transform themselves. Thus you get an either/or split, either mind or experience. It seems hard for people to engage both/and, i.e., both mind and experience.

It is worth saying that any learning approach that asks people to let go of existing identifications and go into the unknown is asking a lot, as it asks people to tolerate confusion for a period while their psyches reorganize themselves. Fear and frustration certainly arise. On the other hand, I maintain that nature is pushing us all in that direction anyway. I believe that meeting the issue on a territory of one’s own choosing is preferable to having it pushed on you, particularly when you may be least prepared.

Learners of this new epistemological framing will likely feel moments of what transformative learning theorist Jack Mezirow (1975) calls a “disorienting dilemma,” or what Plato refers to in The Meno as “perplexity.” Such states signify that minds are in a process of change. This can be compared to a Zen master constantly telling an adept that he or she has not yet penetrated the koan; by so doing the master is attempting to destabilize the adept’s fixed way of thinking. The adept is expected to experience a kind of temporary psychosis, relax into the bigger mental container of not knowing what he or she previously held so dear, and then have a laugh. The difference between the before and after situations is that before the adept is identified with his or her knowledge. Afterwards, he or she is no longer identified with the knowledge, hence the feeling of freedom and relaxation.

The paradox is that the knowledge is even more available for the learner to use as he or she wishes; and yet the student is no longer a “prisoner” of the knowledge. We can look to systems thinking, to modern physics, to modern philosophy, to a hundred and one modern developmental processes that have nothing much to do with thought and a lot to do with experiential knowing – to shamanic wisdom, to esoteric teachings, to things that I may know through my own experiential knowing that I cannot relate to any formal teaching or learning situation with which I have been involved other than my own living, and so on.

So the real question is whether the effort to change the mind is about having a holistic way of thinking that projects out into the world, or is it to be thinking from within a holistic reality as a participant of that reality. The former is the kind of enlightenment practiced at my former institute (California Institute of Integral Studies) and, for example, by Ken Wilber-like thinkers. The latter is the kind of mentation that an indigenous person from an Amazonian tribe might experience after being familiarized with modernity. In a way, thinking holistically is like swimming in a sea of consciousness, observing patterns of relationship, and accumulating a wisdom of experiential knowing about how to function in this sea of consciousness.

The values and perspectives gained from such a consciousness provide a trenchant method for exposing an old-think-based-on-exploitation by a corpocracy (5)(or corporatocracy) whose sole aim has been to amass wealth and power, and that lulls ill-informed citizenry into complacency via rampant consumerism, out-of-control commodity fetishism, and social-control broadcasts by corporate media.

In fact, the message of the cultural mutant is that humanity needs to provide an opening for an alternative to the fascist powers of corporatism, militarism, and corrupt government; that opening requires a new epistemology of language – a non-Cartesian language that speaks from an inclusive both/and consciousness unbounded by the either/or dualism of mental/rational, Cartesian thinking.

By revisiting originary custom, then, humanity may re-discover values that it had discarded when it diverged onto the path of acculturation – e.g., egalitarianism and that earth-centered perspective expressed in today’s parlance as ecopsychology – values that are much-needed in the world today. Recovering something of what we have lost may lead us to what we can become(6). What we can become is a symbiotic function of how we frame our laguage and act from a relational/participatory frame of consciousness. What all of this means in terms of transformative institution-building is, first, envisioning and founding improved emancipatory and regulatory human systems, e.g., by giving impetus to a burgeoning field known as global governance(, n.d.), which may help regulate interdependent relations via a complex of formal and informal institutions, mechanisms, relationships, and processes between and among states, markets, citizens and organizations, both inter- and non-governmental. It is in this way that collective interests on the global plane are articulated, rights and obligations are established, and differences are mediated. The literature indicates that a niche for global governance is especially crucial to develop as the international system reshapes itself in the 21st century; and secondly, institutional transformation can be structurally nurtured by reconfiguring the idea of national sovereignty in accordance with what has been called “evolutionary idealism” (Litfin, 2001) or via a model of “disaggregated sovereignty” (Slaughter, 2004).

Citizens can rally governments for improved emancipatory and regulatory human systems, and a new form of sovereignty that moves beyond the outmoded concept of nationalism, with its cover of “national security” and its often-myopic “national interests.” Consequently, heretofore-marginalized cultural mutants learn to become citizens of the planet who can begin to have confidence in themselves; they do so as they gain a better familiarization with a new relational/participatory consciousness that they feel or intuit but have difficulty internalizing or clearly apprehending; they do so by drawing on and practicing wider epistemologies and integral values of the heart: the moral and spiritual dimensions of love, hope, compassion, imagination, intuition, aesthetic sensibility, and a deeply developed sense of empathy for each other, for all living things, and for all life-sustaining qualities of our environment – i.e., the wholeness of being.

From my perspective, a new, reinvigorated consciousness is the ideal fountainhead out of which truly citizen-centered global public policy, institutions, and institution-building can be born, nurtured, and maintained. From the stance of a worldview that embraces a more relational/participatory consciousness the avaricious consumerist/materialist, Cartesian frame-of-reference, e.g., the status quo values and agenda of a growing, global corpocracy would no longer be viable. (Hartmann, 2006; Hartmann, 2002; Drutman & Cray, 2004; Nader, 2004; Raskin, 2003; Edwards, 1995) The Cartesian frame might eventually be understood as simply a small, oft times deviant part of a much bigger frame that delights in wholeness, justness, fairness and a humanitas that is deeply rooted in the wisdom of nature and a worldview less identified to itself, more nuanced. That is, a holistic, integral worldview includes-yet-circumscribes the non-holistic, Cartesian frame as only a part within a more capacious frame of consciousness with a much higher order of complexity.

How to develop and articulate all of the above into an attractor basin for human consciousness that can be better apprehended and more easily accessed – and thus actually practiced and learned – is the goal of my research and life’s work.


(1) A converging ensemble of “information” fields of states of being/becoming, akin to David Bohm’s “quantum potential” (Bohm, 1952) or to Rupert Sheldrake’s “morphogenetic field” (Sheldrake, 2005).

(2) A frame wherein the consciousness knows itself to be inside and part of the total complex reality, related to all other parts, and knowing that all other parts are similarly inside and part of the complexity, and are related to other parts. Out of such a consciousness a person thinks and languages from this relational/participatory perspective (Berman, 2000; Abram, 1996, Clastres, 1989; Gebser, 1985; Bateson, 1972).

(3) Integral consciousness is described as aperspectival (vertex => crown of head) inward-relating in a space-free, time-free “inhalation,” characterized by presentiating in a diaphanous “rendering whole” in integral functioning of concretion-verition, emphasizing an acausal, integrated arationality of verition transparency, using openness and spirituality to apprehend an amaterial, apsychic reality of ego-freedom in a world-perceived mutivalence [pluralism] within a social system that is an integrum of feminine/masculine energies, infused by a praeligio of presentiating-concretizing-integrating. (Gebser, 1985, paraphrased from synoptic table appended thereto; the neologisms are Gebser’s.)

(4)“Old think” is used here as shorthand notation that expresses my own and others’ frustration with the status quo; its implication is only that holistic thinking is a better “wheelbarrow” for our thoughts. In fact, the holistic worldview accommodates the non-holistic, so-called Cartesian “old think” as a part of the whole of consciousness.

(5) De facto rule by mega-corporations in conjunction with international banking, corporate-owned media, and the enabling collusion of a militarist government and/or a network of such governments, comparable to the so -called military-industrial complex (Perkins, 2004, 2007; Johnson, 2000, 2004, 2007; Nader, 2004).

(6) (Megre, 2005)


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