Friday, November 23, 2007

It Slumbers

In the quiet that followed, Adam could almost see his granddaughter's mind at work, turning the Story over and over. Suddenly, she bolted upright. "I think I know," she said. "When the dust was ready, Spirit . . . like . . . breathed into it."

"But how did Spirit get there?"

"It didn't get there, it was always there," said Dawn. "It had to wait, that's all." (from The Story of Everything, Chapter 30)

What makes up Everything? For Bill Bryson, it's Matter, Life and a touch of Spirit. For Harold Morowitz, it's Matter and Life, with Spirit coming on strong. Ken Wilber strikes a different proportion. Ninety percent of his A Brief History of Everything--the last in this series of "Everything" books-- is about Spirit.

Wilber is a philosopher who dropped out of a biochemistry major in college to write his first book, The Spectrum of Consciousness, at the age of 23. Consciousness and integral thinking have been his abiding interest since, over the course of two dozen books. Much of his work is summarized in A Brief History of Everything, which was published in 1996. I read the revised edition, published in 2000.

The history that Wilber covers--moreso, interprets--is indeed that of consciousness, traced through philosophy, mainly from the West, and spirituality, mainly from the East. But playing in the background, and sometimes coming to the fore, are the sciences of Matter and Life, which complete his cosmology.

That cosmology begins with the Big Bang and Matter. Then comes Life, an emergent or holon that is "higher." Then comes (depending on which page you are reading) "mind and Spirit" or "mind, soul, and Spirit." No surprises so far: this is New Story all the way, with gradations once you get past Life.

But wait: there's a stunning sentence on page 179, six words that turn the story upside down. "Pure consciousness is not an emergent." Not an emergent, says Wilber. Nor is Spirit, the equivalent of pure consciousness. If Spirit is not an emergent, it's more than just the end of the story. It is also, in some way, the beginning.

What is Spirit? Wilber is liberal in his referents. It is Self, Subjectivity, the Ultimate I, the I-I, Emptiness. It is pure Witness, pure Seer, pure Presence. It is Buddha, Christ, God and Goddess, Tao and Brahman. It is the support, the cause, the creative ground.

For being so much, Spirit does very little . . . for a while. "Spirit slumbers in nature, begins to awaken in mind, and finally recognizes itself as Spirit." The metaphor of slumber comes from the German idealist philosopher Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854):
Schelling's key insight was that the Spirit that is realized in a conscious fashion in the supreme identity is in fact the Spirit that was present all along. . . . At each stage Spirit unfolds more of itself, realizes more of itself, and thus moves from slumber in nature to awakening in mind to final realization as Spirit itself.
Interestingly, Alfred Russel Wallace, who hit upon the idea of natural selection independently of Darwin, "always maintained that natural selection itself was not the cause but the result of 'Spirit's manner and mode of creation.'"

Spirit at the beginning of the story. Spirit at the end. Spirit all along the way. The template is neither "old" nor "new," but this may be the story our children tell when their time comes. They ought to love the metaphor of sleep because they are part of the awakening.

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COPYRIGHT (C) 2007 JOHN N. KOTRE

1 comment:

Greg F said...

Isn't it interesting that the author of the first creation tale (retrojection) presented an All One as a potter? I myself have scooped clay from a shallow moccasin-friendly Illinois stream, hand shaped it to a crude container,dug an earthen kiln, and fired the "primitive" thing that now sits on my shelf. And there it holds what? I keep it there for what it's worth. A thing of the spirit holding but dust and its full measure of air.