Introduction to my new nonfiction book-- Coherent Self, Coherent World:
a new synthesis of Myth, Metaphysics & Bohm's Implicate Order - available from 'O' Books early 2019
Introduction - The Whole Self Produces Whole Outcomes
The genuine coherence of our ideas does not come from the reasoning that ties them together, but from the spiritual impulse that gives rise to them.
Nicolás Gómez Dávila
Coherence means the quality of forming a unified whole.We experience coherence in relationship with a caring partner, a close friend or mentor. These relationships are balanced, reciprocal.We are each different individuals, but we have a sense of meaningful relatedness, one which nurtures and expands the fundamental sense of ourself. We feel part of a unified whole. We can also experience coherence when we walk through buildings that have been well-designed. We respond to the proportions of their physical space, and are able to find our way around with ease, feeling on both counts again a sense of meaningful relationship. And we may find the way some one writes or speaks coherent. Their ideas are logically consistent and hold together, their arguments are clear and make sense so that we understand what they mean.
But the cornerstone of coherence is the experience of being a unified whole in our own right as individuals. This is a potential available to us as human beings because we have two aspects to our identity or two qualities of awareness.We have an inner presence, and an outer or personality self. While any words we use to talk about identity and the self are naturally subject to many different interpretations, for simplicity’s sake, I will for the most part refer to these two aspects of ourselves as the inner self, and the personality self. And in this book I want to show how it is the meaningful relationship between these two that opens the space of coherence in us, with its percolating lift of relief and perspective, which then leads to coherence in how we think and what we create.
The modern west mostly ignores the presence of our inner self, so that its potential lurks like the proverbial elephant in the room that no one talks about. Only this elephant is not just in a room, it is in the entire social and cultural world we inhabit. Alan Watts described this syndrome as a taboo: ‘The most strongly enforced of all known taboos is the taboo against knowing who or what you really are...’ from The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.
To acknowledge the inner self goes against a prevailing orthodoxy that takes its cue from scientific reductionism which sees the world as material only, including human beings. According to this view, our minds, emotions and personalities are just electrical firings in the brain cells. Scientific reductionism has coalesced out of interpretations of the theory of evolution, psychology and genetics. The end result is the notion that we, like the rest of the flora and fauna, are biological survival mechanisms, driven by the imperative of genes that want to reproduce themselves.
But this interpretation of the life-sciences has not kept pace with the discoveries of quantum physics which showed, over a hundred years ago, that matter is not simply material because at the sub-atomic level particles appear to be temporary waves appearing and disappearing out of a vast ocean of deeper energy. Therefore the advance guard of science, which is physics, tells us that something else is in the mix, and that all of matter is interwoven with an energetic or non-material aspect. And on this basis alone, the scientific reductionist approach is incoherent because it is not logically consistent with the findings of physics.
In my own experience, the existence of a deeper aspect of myself has always been obvious, and characterizing humans as highly complex biological survival systems seems a bizarrely narrow view. But more importantly, I believe that because this view is incoherent, it leads to incoherence in our thought and actions both as individuals and as a society. This is because it conditions us to think of ourselves as what I term the personality self only, defined by the sum total of the nature and nurture elements allotted to us. As a result, we mostly override the presence of our inner self, discount its promptings and thereby drain life of its deeper meaning. My aim is to explain why the inner self is the crucial aspect of our identity, and the key to our happiness and effectiveness as human beings. I look at how accessing the inner self affects the way we perceive the world, and therefore the way we impact it. I show that the balanced relationship between inner and outer selves is the loom of our creativity in every field - including our ideas, our art and design, our relationships and our leadership. Conversely, I also analyze the subtle steps involved when identity, focussed in the personality self only, feels fearful and inflates, leading to Narcissism, the abuse of power and the depletion of values.
Most social sciences participate in the bias against awareness of the inner self. With a few exceptions, notably psychosynthesis, psychotherapy is the obedient offspring of psychology, and follows the materialist orthodoxy viewing human beings as assailed by different degrees of personality disorders. Moreover, it is believed that some of the (ever lengthening) list of disorders, such as alcoholism, may be helped along by genetic propensities. So in order to find insight about this part of ourselves (other than our own experience as we start to notice it) we have to refer to ancient myth and sacred texts. This is because the two-fold nature of our identity - the ‘human’ bit and the ‘being’ bit - and the relationship between them forms the essential teaching of the wisdom traditions, both east and west. Moreover, it is also the meaning encoded in many mythic archetypes. In this book I pick and choose from strands of all these ingredients, using a mix of symbols, including sacred geometry, and texts that I am familiar with, and translating or ‘decoding’ them into terms understandable today. Therefore, the range of references is eclectic and not meant to be comprehensive, although I suspect that most, if not all, the ancient sacred traditions and mythic archetypes contain essentially the same information about ourselves. They comprise our operating instructions.
However I make a distinction between these sources and the body of belief that has grown up around the world’s major religions, which have become dominated for the most part by beliefs about metaphysical concepts. In the process, the potential of an experienced relationship with a deeper dimension of oneself has been largely forgotten. This potential was explained with remarkable brevity, for instance, in the phrases: ‘My Father and I are one’ ; ‘it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” ; ‘The Father within, he doeth the works’. Whether we interpret ‘Father’ as the inner self, or a larger entity called god doesn’t really matter. The point is, he/she/the deeper self is ‘within’. And there is the potential to ‘be one’ with this inner dimension. But for me there is a big difference between these sayings of Jesus (however accurately or inaccurately translated) and the vast edifice of belief that has been built upon them. Mainly because this edifice is formed around the idea that Jesus had a unique relationship to the ‘Father’, which is not so easily available to everyone else. In other words, the very opposite of what I believe he meant.
In Hindu, Buddhist and Chinese systems of thought, a more complex vocabulary about this relationship was evolved, defining layers of transcendent consciousness such as Atman, Buddha-nature and Shen. In the grail myth, there is the figure of the Grail King, an elderly man with white hair who lives in the inner room of the Grail Castle, and whose nature is so refined he can live on the white wafers served to him from the grail. The Grail King in his inner room is a symbol of the same dimension of identity that Jesus called ‘My Father’. But when Perceval first finds his way into the Grail Castle, he does not yet realize that the Grail King lives there.
The inner dimension of self, however languaged, however we may or may not have thought about it, constitutes an immediate, in-the-moment dimension that we can access, directly, for ourselves at any moment we choose to do so. There is nothing mysterious or mystical about it. But, like Perceval, we may have to become consciously aware of its existence.
In addition to the insights from ancient texts and myth, I draw on the work of theoretical physicist David Bohm, whose profound grasp of quantum theory and its implications helped him evolve a radical new understanding of reality which involved a deeper order of interiority within the universe itself, and a dynamic process of evolution and creativity in which human beings participated.
While mainstream academia is still dominated by the materialist orthodoxy, teachers of practical spirituality abound in today’s society, and precepts to do with mindfulness and balance are finding their way into the language and curricula of self-help gurus, executive coaches and consultants by the arm-load. Yet despite these inroads, ‘spirituality’ is still often talked about as if it is an optional extra, or a hobby, or simply a method of relaxation. My aim is to show it is none of these. Connecting to our inner self is fundamental to thinking and perceiving coherently, and therefore effectively. The whole self gives rise to whole outcomes: in moral, aesthetic and practical terms. It is what will facilitate the wider renewal of culture and a balanced approach to use of resources and the environment. This is not an optional extra, it is the only way forward.