Sunday, July 08, 2007

Cohen on Spiritual Inquiry

A really profound (in my estimation) article by Andrew Cohen on the nature of and reason for spiritual inquiry in the 21st century context.

Extra credit: On the question of Cohen's relationship to the Feminine path, (see here), it is true he is a Masculine-only teacher. At least he is now--that's Cohen 3.0. Cohen 1.0 actually expressed deeply Feminine characteristics. Again masculine as a Type....he emphasizes effort over grace, transcending and excluding, erotic dominant, states and stages but no shadow work to speak of.

His practice however elucidates a higher stage, 3rd tier, than other teachers--don't take my word for you, check it out for yourself. He is really the first to take stages of consciousness, post-metaphysics, and the intersubjective seriously, whatever other faults there may be. It is certainly deeper than the integral wave, but the span, as it were, may have problems associated with it. My own inquiry is finding a 3rd tier way of transcending and including (Authentic Self + integrated centauric personality) as opposed to transcending and excluding. But even there I'm still more Masculine than Feminine, so I'm not sure that's helpful to any Feminine ones out there.

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What would be ideal (in my mind) is a Feminine parallel at the same stage (indigo/violet). To be fair, Cohen would I think argue that given the weight (or dead weight) of human consciousness, to make any faltering efforts towards the 3rd tier, which does in fact bring forth a different identity (Authentic Self as stage not state) at this point I guess requires negation/transcending only. I'll leave that for the reader to decide upon for him/herself.

So there is the bind---only criticizing the negative aspects of it is less than completely helpful to use some diplomatic language. It doesn't acknowledge the true--only criticizes the partial. The choice unfortunately is an unfortunate one in my mind: the deeper/higher wave with comes with certain other deficiencies or the earlier waves which may be better on the other issues but then is inherently limited by the nature of its stage/worldview/horizon. Either way a less than full choice.

Anyway be that as it may, I've excerpted the whole article by Cohen because I think it should be really meditated upon:

Spiritual Inquiry and the Evolution of Consciousness

What is the purpose of spiritual inquiry? It is to make sense out of life at the deepest level. If we don’t make the effort to deeply grasp who we are and why we are here, we will half-blindly stumble our way through life, like most people do. And that’s not much help to the evolutionary process. We are living in a time when nobody really knows what the rules are anymore. Now that we have more or less transcended traditional orientations, we really have to let in the fact that those of us at the leading edge, in so many ways, are in uncharted waters. That’s why engaging in the deliberate practice of philosophical and spiritual inquiry is more important than ever.

In light of the reality of our postmodern predicament, engagement with spiritual inquiry becomes very potent and inherently meaningful, because what you are doing is not just philosophical and intellectual entertainment. You are actually trying to make sense of life in the biggest context for the biggest reasons. It’s not a game. You are literally trying to create new grooves in consciousness—new structures, deeper perspectives, and higher potentials.

So if you are serious about the evolution of consciousness, spiritual inquiry is not just something you do in your free time on a Sunday afternoon. It is a certain orientation to life, which is the orientation of the Authentic Self. An authentically inquiring position is one in which you are passionately interested in that which you do not already know. For the sake of the evolution of consciousness itself, you want to know. If you personally are not deeply committed to the evolution of consciousness, then you are not going to be truly interested in spiritual inquiry, beyond a kind of philosophical exercise.

Consciousness is not some mysterious substance that exists beyond the self out there in the ether. It is simultaneously our self and intersubjectively ourselves—it is the part of our self that we are sharing with other selves. Consciousness is an intersubjective field that we all share. So for the intersubjective field to be able to evolve and develop, the consciousness that makes it up, which is your own, has to make room for this kind of subtle and profound and mysterious growth process to actually occur. The intersubjective field, which is the self, can and does develop according to the level of participation of those individuals who are actually passionately concerned with its development. So that’s the context for serious spiritual inquiry. And the only way you can really engage with this practice is to allow yourself to not already know.

Most of us, unconsciously, are taking a position that at a deep level, we already know. Already knowing is the position of the ego, because the ego always needs to feel secure. Now, of course, we all do know things, and that’s not a problem—indeed, our intellectual capacity is an extraordinary gift of evolution. But the problem is that when we begin to accumulate knowledge, our ego tends to get attached to the idea that it knows something. We often begin to feel that we are important simply because we know something. Knowledge makes the ego feel powerful, and more often than not creates a wall that protects and empowers that part of the self. And when we are attached to the idea of being someone who already knows, it’s very difficult to learn or develop at the level of the soul. Especially when the context is enlightenment, development always involves venturing into unknown territory.

So when we realize that the evolution of consciousness is the evolution of the intersubjective field, which is the evolution of the self at the deepest level, then finding the means to not already know, which means to put the ego aside, becomes an imperative.

The field itself simply cannot develop unless your engagement with the process is egoless. If you are unwilling to not already know, your unwillingness is going to hinder the evolution of the self in this intersubjective endeavor. Intersubjective evolution is always a matter of conscious, intentional, volitional, willing cooperation. You have to want to cooperate with the evolutionary process, you have to be genuinely interested in it, not merely as an abstract philosophical idea, but as your own engaged commitment to the evolution of consciousness. An individual who truly cares about the development of the intersubjective field is like a parent who deeply cares about the upbringing, education, and welfare of their child. This only works when you awaken to that kind of passionate interest in and care for the evolution and development of the field itself.

When I talk about not already knowing it doesn’t mean that you have to literally be a blank slate or erase your memory bank. A lot of people don’t know the difference between not already knowing and knowing nothing. Not already knowing doesn’t mean to not know intellectually. It doesn’t have to do with your intellect; it has to do with your ego. It has to do with your freedom from being egoically identified with the information that your intellect has amassed. As long as you are attached to the information you have accumulated because it makes you feel powerful and superior as an individual, you will never have the room inside yourself to not already know, to authentically inquire.

So what does it mean to have a relationship to knowledge, memory, and experience that is not binding? The perfect posture for the self to assume in order to be able to evolve is a miraculous middle place between not already knowing, on the one hand, and wanting to know, on the other. Not already knowing, at the deepest level, aligns us with the ground of all being, that primordial emptiness, inherently free and already liberated, that is the Self as unmanifest consciousness. Wanting to know, passionately, energetically wanting to understand, aligns us simultaneously with the Authentic Self, which is the evolutionary impulse or deepest manifest expression of consciousness. So the perfect evolutionary posture is one that is dynamically poised between those two opposites.

If you are abiding in that middle place between not knowing and wanting to know, between the Ground of Being and the Authentic Self, there is no foothold for the ego. And from that miraculous middle place between all pairs of opposites, new grooves in consciousness—new structures, deeper perspectives, and higher potentials—begin to emerge and evolve within the intersubjective field that is your own self.


At 3:16 PM, Anonymous ebuddha said...

I'm not sure why you push Cohen's stuff - as a process, the entities he discusses are hopelessly muddled:

a. "Ego ego ego". First off, a real problem. Ego has very SPECIFIC definitions - remember, originates as a concept from Sigmund Freud, and if modifying that concept - as further defined in ego psychology - still has nothing to do with how Cohen uses the term.
b. Field of intersubjectivity - again, this ends up being a form of answer for everything. It's the self, it's consciousness, etc. If an individual is "interested" in the the intersubjective field. So what is the relationship of an individual to self, then? An incoherent framework, with nothing in the actual social sciences or research to back it up, but for mere anecdote. It's an amorphously prized non-entity, equated with the highest value.
c. Motivation dependencies and incoherence: "The field itself simply cannot develop unless your engagement with the process is egoless". Who is the your? If one is attempting to engage from egolessness (again, no grounded sober description), isn't your ego doing that engagement? Pretending to be egoless?

Structurally, of course, the framework is neo-con, with the same horrible effects caused by reducing human life and complexity to slogans.

"Intersubjective field" equals "freedom".

"Ego" equals Islamic terrorism.

Ego is the greatest threat to intersubjective field (slash enlightenment


"Islamic terrorism is the greatest threat to Freedom!"

Notably, this sets up the dynamic where ANYTHING GOES, anything is justified, in order to "eliminate the ego", or "eliminate the threat to freedom".

So, in the neo-con case, blase unconcern for the lives lost, the blowback, the lack of differntiation in the groups of people with objections to the neo-con control, etc.

And in the case of Cohen, the blase disregard in the cases of Cohen's abuse of his former disciples, his absolute need for control (reflected in his site, by the way. Most comments to his weblog, including mine, which were simply mildly challenging - much nicer than this one - get deleted).

You can continue to promote the Cohen's work, but recognize that his work as such is a mess, regarding the foundations, as well as a mess regarding his own guru abuse history.

At 11:01 AM, Anonymous ebuddha said...

Thinking on this, over the last day, it's actually fairly revealing that you can actually trace the abuse (in the case of Cohen), or violence, (in the case of the neo-cons) from the same vague, fuzzy polarizing "demonization". (in Cohen's case, all resistance against Cohen is automatically the big bad "ego", and in the neo-con's case, all violence against the U.S. is automatically "terrorists".)

Both philosophies are vague, and "don't do nuance".

In this sense, it isn't a surprise, really. As it is said, "the end is in the beginning". If you start with careless polarization in your philosophy, a vague "the big enemy", then everything looks like a nail - an enemy, that needs to be hit.

At 11:36 AM, Anonymous ebuddha said...

Lastly - "the evolutionary process". This is hubris at its greatest degree. You can call yourself, at the cutting edge. At an advanced level of consciousness, even. But "evolutionary"? Again, a quite irresponsible lifting of evolutionary biology, grafted onto Cohen's particular movement. Even Chardin, was careful not to apply any particular person/movement with evolution, but just to trace stages. Wilber also, is more careful to do a broad-based stage/state/perceptual type analysis - what is found in the world - and not attempt to lift "evolutionary" language completely from it's moorings.

I take into account your own experiences - clearly, you have experienced an alteration in consciousness using Cohen's processes. (Don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater).

Still, for feedback - this article is not profound at all, in my own estimation, but deeply confused, and lacking in all the ways detailed.

You may want to rethink the contextual frameworks in which Cohen's work in couched in, as they don't seem to work. Not easy to do, separating the positive aspects of your experiences from the philosophical framework in which they are transmitted. But this separates 2nd tier from 1st tier, right?

At 2:49 PM, Blogger CJ Smith said...


Thanks for the comments. There's a lot there; I don't know where to start exactly, so I'll just dive in and see what surfaces.

As I've said before my main disagreement with Cohen's framework is that he says he is "transcend and exclude."

That explains the negative language concerning ego. Not to mention the strict duality, the power/authoritarian issues, all the rest. I think all of the issues can be traced back to the exclude part. But the transcend part is there.

Although to be fair, I did hear him say that ego meant two different things--1)that which creates psycho-physical stability and 2)force of resistance.

He only is referencing #2. But I think he would do well to make more clear that #1 does exist and tampering with that does not lead to spiritual realization but rather psychic breakdown. And he did say that if you had a problem with #1 see a therapist. But he was rather dismissive of the idea and showed that he thought it was something that would be transcended at later date.

But, given the experiences, it is true I hold that he has helped bring about a praxis that reveals a higher stage. A stage that does indeed transcend the integrated centaur (2nd tier). That's why I would say transcend and include the centauric boodymind. Meaning that shadow work would always be necessary by my formulation.

The identity revealed is an identity that objectifies what we normally call the self (bodymind). That in part helps explain why the language around ego is so complicated. This is very subtle stuff. It is like in traditional language the Soul but as a Stage.

This identity he calls the Authentic Self. All of the rest of your questions about intersubjectivity, stages, evolution of consciousness, however much they may or may not be right, without locating the address of the experience, I don't think they are very helpful or convincing. At least to me.

The main element of his article was inquiry. Inquiry in the context he is speaking about. Not traditional forms of inquiry per se. Inquiry from the point of view/mind of the Authentic Self.

There are things to critique. But you would first (by my lights) have to show that you had connected to the truth of what is going on. The Kosmic Address as it were.

Within that frame, Cohen leans to making the We an almost individual holon unto itself. I don't really agree with that interpretation.

Wilber says he thinks the collective has a "life of its own" over say a "mind of its own" which an individual holon expresses. I would lean towards that formulation, but given my time in some of the circles I can see how people could argue the We has a mind of its own. Particularly when the space is expressing a field of more enlightened contemplation.

But just to widen the narrative, Cohen is not the only one in these circles who thinks the collective is its own full holon---Mark Edwards and Andy Smith come to mind. Though different of course from Cohen in many other ways.

The signifier has to match up with the signifieds. And I feel from considered experience and reflection that many of the signifiers do line up. Sure there could be some tweaking, but there's a lot that sticks in my mind.

Not to mention there is inevitably a different version of the teaching for the public, for those who go to retreat, for his students, and then for insider students. Have to taken into account the context(s) involved before so easily passing final sentence.

That's why I don't think I'm "pushing" (in your words) his stuff. I'm talking about the practice not the teacher himself, not the community. And even do a positive/negative on the interpretation (from my own pov).

Otherwise bro, I say you have to locate the experience, enter the space sympathetically (there is always time for criticism and/or integration afterwards). Til then your criticisms just sound too much like your own prejudice talking (to me anyway).



At 2:15 PM, Anonymous ebuddha said...

"Otherwise bro, I say you have to locate the experience, enter the space sympathetically (there is always time for criticism and/or integration afterwards). Til then your criticisms just sound too much like your own prejudice talking (to me anyway)."

Well, clearly there is a lot of truth there. I don't have experience with that particular practice. That's a very valid point, I grant!

Not quite the end of it though.

I'm not sure you can so easily extricate the practice out of the community. I understand that you believe you can separate out the practice from the community, or the revelations from the teacher. I'm not so sure. I've done a practice that, in its nature is very different, but had the similar polarization, with the accompanying tragic cult effects. (the big evil their was not "ego" but "illusion".) This didn't prevent the experiences promised from showing up, however.

As you say, pointing to the signifier/signified, it's well documented that a spiritual, transcendent experience is always translated through a person's individual mental framework. Sometimes altering that framework, sometimes reinforcing it. Especially considering the social expectations that contribute to the signifier.

What still isn't understood well - by any of us - is that a spiritual experience happens to a person (realization, transmission of energy, etc, through a particular practice), but what that then signifies ends up being to a large degree a creative act.

For a christian mystic, interpreted thorugh the lens of Christ.

For a Cohen practice community group, intrepreted through THAT lens.

In that sense, talking about "evolution" IS an interpretation, is a signifier. And it is valid to criticize this signifier of the experiences you are having - because it is simply false, muddled, untrue.

Another example - "forces of resistance" - in a way, that is much more useful. Much more nuanced, as different types of resistance can be catalogued. It's a disservice then, to shorthand to "ego".

So - the baby you identify:

"The identity revealed is an identity that objectifies what we normally call the self (bodymind). That in part helps explain why the language around ego is so complicated. This is very subtle stuff. It is like in traditional language the Soul but as a Stage."

Given the caution above - how much of revealed is a creative interpretation of a spiritual experience, based on guidance and expectation - how would this be different than the experience of Self after a long retreat? (I think I asked something like this earlier, you didn't respond.)

It's very common after a long retreat that "the normal self is revealed as an object (objectified)".

Re: heavy meditation also reveals the interpersonal - is often revealed how the interpersonal field is similar to a river. Reaction, effect, without interference of a personalized self.

So, in regard to your baby - as you signify it yourself - "The identity revealed is an identity that objectifies what we normally call the self (bodymind)."

I would agree that that signifier absolutely describes the end result of heavy meditation. Or, as you also know, the apperception of the source - when the deep well of true identity is revealed, the regular identity is not only shown to be an object, but shown to be a transparent object.

None of this of course, takes away from the fact that Cohen, as such, uses his own ego and resistance (control, polarization, etc) to create signifiers in his community that line up with his authoritarian narcissism.

Which then get ingested, fouling the signified.
Thanks for the discussion!

At 8:11 PM, Blogger CJ Smith said...


I realize after reading your comment, I left one important piece out. It isn't just the feeling that the self is objectified because as you say correctly you can experience that in all manner of different spiritual practices.

The difference, for me, is that there is intrinsically this deep fire in the belly--this deep desire to participate. What Cohen calls the Creative/God Impulse. That impulse is what propels the desire for communion and discourse from the perspective of the Authentic Self/selves.

I have never experienced that in any other practice, discipline. This experience is dependent on an evolutionary awareness, which exists after/different worldspace than the traditions.

Peace. Chris


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