- Barbara Alexander, MA, MDiv
Journey of Being and Becoming
**Note from RCN: The Journey of Being & Becoming video was introduced last month. We also embrace that different formats, whether it be video or text, resonate with each of us differently. We are pleased to share with you the powerful text from the video.**
God speaks to each of us as we are made, then walks with us silently out of the night. These are the words, the numinous words, we hear before we begin:
You, called forth by your senses reach to the edge of your longing. Become my body.
Rainer Maria Rilke
This is a story about the journey we humans take as we walk silently out of the night, as we emerge from what is called the Ground of Being, and begin our life on earth. The Ground of Being is called by many names in the spiritual traditions ancient and modern, however each one asserts that our nature is identical with this indivisible Reality. William Wordsworth says it this way: But trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home. Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
And so we begin, having emerged from the great unmanifest into manifestation, identical to and inseparable from God who is our home. This Source animates us and is the dynamic force that fuels our unfolding. And while heaven lies about us in our infancy, we seem to lose touch rather quickly with this Source.
Some say it’s a terrible tragedy but as our story unfolds you’ll see it’s all part of the journey. We emerge from Being and begin the journey of Becoming. And though we seem to forget, how can we really lose touch from the Unity from which we are inseparable!
There are many maps of the territory we call Becoming. Some come from the spiritual traditions and others from the wisdom of Western psychology. There is certain coherence among them so we appear to be on the right track. Humans come equipped with the capacity to think and learn, to sense and feel and to remember. These aspects allow us to travel the evolutionary arc, a sequential unfolding that begins with unity, moves to separateness and finds unity yet again.
As we start our journey, we have no sense of separation. We are fused with our caregivers, not knowing where we end and they begin. As babies we lie contentedly (for the most part) in the arms of those who nurture us. There is a luminosity about babies that we sense even while we don’t understand it. The pull of the Ground of Being is still there and the longing to return remains deep within each of us.
Babies grow rapidly and soon began to move, to explore and draw boundaries, the inevitable trajectory for becoming a self. Our move away from the Ground of Being is supported by our mind’s binary capacity that gradually facilitates our growing sense of self. Our first realization is that we are somehow different from those around us. This is called the primary boundary, or duality, between the self and the not-self.
With this realization comes the first break with the universal . . . there is a “me” separate from everything else. What an amazing experience it must be, to stand up and begin to motor around exploring the environment with the dawning realization that there is a world filled with objects, animate and inanimate, that are not us. And we are something!
This First Dualism’s hallmark is the “space” we experience between the world and ourselves. With that comes the understanding that we live in “time” as the eternal gives way to the past, present and future. As we get used to time, the Second Dualism comes on line and we apprehend life and death. It is here, say the experts, that our fear of death is spawned. Katherine Singh tells us that as we become embedded in space and time we have “forfeited infinity and eternity – and this by the age of two.”
An exciting time to say the least but a time not without difficulties. You may not remember but leaving the womb of the infinite and eternal, the place of Love, creates fear and anxiety within. It is here that many believe the origin of the pervasive sense of inadequacy arises. The transition from being unbounded, formless into form engenders a false conclusion, called the False Self Belief that takes shape as a False Self Pattern as we continue to develop. The ecstatic longing to return, to taste, know and be that which is unbounded recedes quietly into the background of our bounded selves.
We start to adopt a defensive, protective approach in the first seven years of life. This primary repression, while necessary to our journey, results in self-consciousness and a need to control. Our bodies, once relaxed and pliable, start to rigidify into patterns that mirror the ways in which we contract emotionally. We become less open and receptive. The unity from which we came can seem scary and the overflowing love we once felt now makes us feel vulnerable.
As our journey of separation continues our connection to our own deepest nature, our Essence, that which supports us with energy and vitality, slips away. This Third Dualism is called the mind/body split. It leaves us distanced from ourselves and without the free flow of energy from the body. This separation affects our ability to be present as the unity of feeling and attention is a necessary component to be present in the here and now.
Slowly, over time we contract, closing ourselves off from our bodies and constructing a psychological barrier. Because this is a gradual and necessary process, we don’t even know we’ve done it. Quoting Singh again, “We have donned this pyschospiritual structure as a life-support system for existence on Planet Earth and confused our identity with the spacesuit. We have forgotten who we are.”
By now, somewhere between five and eight, we become identified with our mind, lessening the fears of bodily finitude. With that comes the obstruction of the flow of energy that pours in from Source. We have successfully become separate selves with a self-image that becomes reinforced by the culture in which we live. Subtly we become infused with how we “should” be.
Continuing our journey, unaware of what we’ve left behind, the Fourth Dualism completes our separation from the Ground of Being. Here we shore up our self-image based on the injunctions of our family and culture into a False Self and put into shadow all the rest of us.
These disowned parts may be thought of as “all of our potential with which we have lost contact, containing not only aspects of ourselves for which we feel shame but also some beautiful and powerful aspects of ourselves which we do not feel worthy.” (Singh) And so we are left with a distorted image of ourselves. Ken Wilber says, “In order to make the self-image acceptable, the person renders it inaccurate.”
Meanwhile we continue our development, learning rules and roles and the ability to understand other’s perspectives. Cognitive development continues and as the turbulence of our adolescence descends we begin the ongoing internal dialogue that allays the anxiety and helps us solidify our sense of self. This self-monitoring is actually shoring up our False Self. Odd isn’t it, to consider that we literally talk ourselves into whom we are! This process helps us avoid the terror of our incompleteness, warding off the abyss that threatens our unstable existence.
So the identity project, as Michael Washburn calls it, is nearly complete. Starting as a defensive set of moves against the pain and loss of the Ground of Being, we eventually settle into the False Self we’ve created and begin to demonstrate the positive aspects of this self. This is called the Conscientious or Achiever stage of development . . . the pinnacle of adult development in our culture. In reality we’ve reached the place of greatest differentiation from our Ground.
Unaware that we have disowned the freedom of the True Self and displaced the fullness of the Unique Self, we face the slings and arrows of life without the support necessary to navigate life skillfully. We’ve not only forgotten who we are but we’ve forgotten that we’ve forgotten!
It is important to remember that this is the natural move of Spirit as each individual moves out of the whole. Differentiation happens just this way. And people at this level of development have achieved tremendous strides. They experience themselves as solid and constant and go about life as if it were so. Our vehicles are just what we need for the first part of life but not for continued growth. We are incomplete selves posing as complete ones (Washburn). Due to the strength of this level, it has the capacity to maintain us here far beyond the recommended shelf life (Singh) and so we resist the natural urge to unfold into higher and deeper stages of consciousness. And the culture, which is an expression of our center of gravity, is ill equipped to support our unfolding.
How then do we live? Many of us live happy, productive lives, seemingly unaware of a longing for Source. Others mask the inner longing with additions to one thing or another. When the separation no longer feels comfortable, when alienation, anxiety and emptiness threaten us, we turn to whatever comfort we can find . . . more work, travel, acquisition, more substances or sexual partners. Anything that helps keeps the primary repression at bay because we’ve forgotten whom we are.
Still others find the creative urgency of Spirit to continue the journey impossible to resist.
This call comes in some many forms but no matter the form, it awakens us to more. Separation from others begins to feel like isolation rather than independence and our separation from the Ground of Being feels like incompleteness rather than self-control. (Washburn) And so it is that, for some, the journey continues.
It is not for the faint of heart, this journey, for the dismantling of our carefully crafted separate self is painful. Would that we could see the expanded sense of self, the forgotten One who we really are and run joyfully in that direction. Remember though that we have several important dualisms to heal on our journey to greater wholeness. This ripping away of the props that have underpinned the fiction of our separateness is a tearing of the veils that have kept us from seeing all we do not want to see. (Singh). We fear the abyss that looms large and our separate self, that “skin encapsulated ego,” is not eager to surrender. But surrender we do and the energy of the Ground of Being pours across our False Self construct to assist us on the journey. While we don’t yet experience it fully, our awareness of True Self has started to emerge.
Much to our surprise we find we can bear self-examination because of the support of our deep Ground. We are aware of our interior and are willing to attend to our limiting thoughts and concealed emotions. We take on the Fourth Dualism as our shadow side enters our awareness. Our tight hold on our identity loosens. As we reown aspects of ourselves, our “I” becomes larger and a more inclusive self begins to emerge. The animating power of the Ground of Being empowers us to dis-identify with our previously held view of ourselves.
This animating energy next helps us remove the boundary created in the Third Dualism, the mind/body split. Here is the realm of deep catharsis, a release of repressed emotions and sensations that have been part of our psychophysical armoring. We awaken to the experiential nature of our reality and feel fully alive once again. As we build the capacity to witness our experience, we begin to dis-identify with our exclusively rational outlook and appreciate our mental capacities, without the view that they constitute who we are.
With the reintegration of the mind and body, we can be fully present. The tool of focused attention serves us well as we continue to evolve. The separate self’s demise is gradual as we move into higher stages of develop, but we’ve lost the exclusive identification with “ego” and remember who we really are . . . True Self, part of the seamless coat of the universe. The qualities of spontaneity, self-directedness, compassion and a sense of a much larger “we” become embodied as we continue the journey.
The second dualism dissolves as we recognize that the number of True Selves is one and it is beyond time. Our growing capacity to hold focus and concentration transcends time by deeply entering the present. This present centered awareness, or naked attention, opens us to both eternity and infinity. No longer bound by the concrete sense of self, we see our habits of mind and emotions rise and fall in the spaciousness of our own awareness. And as the journey completes, we find ourselves letting go of the first dualism as the self and non-self gap is closed and the Ground of Being is no longer other than our very own selves.
Who we thought we were is much too small for the expression of the True Self’s vastness.
As the Ground of Being becomes the self’s own hallowedly resplendent home (Washburn), we know our True Self without doubt and recognize the particularly unique way it shows up in and as us. Released of the splits that have closed off the whole of our being, our Unique Self begins to shine. The seeds of this self have always been there, now they shine forth as unique expressions of Being . . . the universe is seamless but it is not featureless, says Marc Gafni. We locate ourselves beyond our physical, emotional and mental organism. Our mind’s clear and our heart’s radiate love.
Looking back at the journey one can see that becoming a human is facilitated by the repression of the pain of separation. Becoming fully human requires facing and integrating that pain. As we do, the desire to resist that from which we came dissipates and we come to feel deeply sourced by it. As a vehicle of the Ground of Being, we understand thy will, not my will on a profound level. From here we tell others, you are more than you think you are!! And deep within we experience the “peace that passes understanding,” a stillness in our depth that is unchanging despite what is occurring on the surface of life.
We are part of the seamless coat of the universe indeed. That universe is seamless to be sure but not featureless. There is no Original Face without a Unique Face. As our Unique Self emerges fullyembedded in the creative ground with all of humanity, we fulfill the destiny of evolution, free to live in uniqueness and offer our gifts to the world. You are an expression of the fullness of Being . . . bursting forth as the evolutionary impulse of the Kosmos. You are love in the world . . . you are an outrageous lover.
Our thanks to the great hearts and minds of Marc Gafni, Kathleen Dowling Singh, Ken Wilber, Michael Washburn, Susanne Cook-Greuter and Stephen Wolinsky from whose work we drew material.
About the Author
Barbara Alexander is a change agent whose passion is human growth and development. She has a M.A. in Counseling Psychology, with a post graduate certificate in Gestalt Therapy and practiced as a licensed psychotherapist for 20 years. During this time she consulted and provided training in the private and non-profit sectors. She also taught Gestalt Therapy. Two powerful spiritual experiences provided the awakening that radically changed her perspective on what constituted human transformation. Subsequently Barbara earned a Masters of Divinity with a Spirituality Concentration and a Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction. During that time Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory, the beautiful map that illuminates the complex terrain of human development became her framework, integrating her deep love of spirituality and psychology into a coherent whole. Read more about Barbara.
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