Spirit as It
Spirit as You or Thou
Spirit as I
Integral Life Practice, by Ken Wilber, page 211
This leads us to three vital practices that help us connect to these Three Faces:
Integral Life . com
by Brother David Steindl-Rast
Just as human beings intrinsically possess 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-person perspectives of the world, so do we possess those same perspectives in our experience of spirituality. And while these dimensions of the divine can be found in just about any spiritual lineage—Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Islam, etc.—many of these traditions only explicitly emphasize one or two of these perspectives, resulting in one or more important aspects of spirituality often being left out of their conceptions of God.
Is Your God Big Enough?
God in 3rd-person is often described as the "great web-of-life," and is frequently experienced when observing objects of miraculous beauty such as the Grand Canyon, exquisite music, transcendent art, or the mind-boggling elegance of deep-space photography. Many astronauts returning to Earth have experienced powerful states of transcendence triggered by simply looking at our planet floating in the vacuum of space, the sublime fragility and significance of the human condition clearly reflected in their retinas. As John Glenn said, "To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith."
Or, consider the words of another NASA hero, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell:
"On the way home from the moon, looking out at the heavens, this insight—which I now call a transcendent experience—happened. I realized that the molecules of my body had been created or prototyped in an ancient generation of stars—along with the molecules of the spacecraft and my partners and everything else we could see including the Earth out in front of us. Suddenly, it was all very personal. Those were my molecules. It was an experience of interconnectedness. It was an experience of bliss, of ecstasy... it was so profound. I realized that the story of ourselves as told by science—ou r cosmology, our religion—was incomplete and likely flawed. I recognized that the Newtonian idea of separate, independent, discreet things in the universe wasn't a fully accurate description."
Is Your God Close Enough?
God in 2nd-person is traditionally defined as the "I-Thou" relationship with the divine, where Spirit is experienced as a living intelligence that we can actually interact with in our own lives. Borrowing from renowned theologian Martin Buber, in the "I-Thou" relationship, God is the hyphen connecting the I and the Thou. And of course, our conceptions of God in 2nd-person evolve right alongside the rest of humanity, growing from magical animistic immersion, to the mythic "old bearded white man in the sky" interpretation, to rational and pluralistic recognitions of divinity within our families, communities, and humanity itself, to the simple intuition that we all exist within the unimaginable Mind of some Supreme Being, by whatever name. This is reflected beautifully in the closing lines of a love poem written by ee cummings, titled i am so glad and very:
we are so both and oneful
night cannot be so sky
sky cannot be so sunful
i am through you so i
Or, from the lips of Beatle, George Harrison:
It's been a long long long time
How could I ever have lost you
When I loved you
It took a long long long time
Now I'm so happy I found you
How I love you
So many tears I was searching
So many tears I was wasting, oh oh
Now I can see you, be you
How can I ever misplace you
How I want you
Oh I love you
Your know that I need you
Ooh I love you
Is Your God “You” Enough?
God in 1st-personrefers to the actual phenomenological experience of God, in the form of satori, kensho, ecstatic reverie, and other sorts of "peak experiences" of the divine. These are most frequently exercised through some form of contemplative practice, such as meditation or prayer, in which we can directly experience consciousness as the "singular to which the plural is unknown"—and the effortless, open awareness behind all of our experiences is recognized as the consciousness of God (or Godhead, as Christian mystics might prefer). In this space, all of our thoughts, emotions, and experiences, as well as the rest of the world around us, are simply and effortlessly witnessed, in much the same way that clouds float effortlessly through the infinite expanse of the sky. And that effortless expanse at the center of each and every moment is God transcendent, looking at His/Her own immanence through each of our eyes. A wonderful description of this sort of personal experience of and as God can be found in Ken Wilber’s book One Taste:
"It is true that the physical matter of your body is inside the matter of the house, and the matter of the house is inside the matter of the universe. But you are not merely matter or physicality. You are also Consciousness as Such, of which matter is merely the outer skin. The ego adopts the viewpoint of matter, and therefore is constantly trapped by matter—trapped and tortured by the physics of pain. But pain, too, arises in your consciousness, and you can either be in pain, or find pain in you, so that you surround pain, are bigger than pain, transcend pain, as you rest in the vast expanse of pure Emptiness that you deeply and truly are.
So what do I see? If I contract as ego, it appears that I am confined in the body, which is confined in the house, which is confined in the large universe around it. But if I rest as Witness—the vast, open, empty consciousness—it becomes obvious that I am not in the body, the body is in me; I am not in this house, the house is in me; I m not in the universe, the universe is in me. All of them are arising in the vast, open, empty, pure, luminous Space of primordial Consciousness, right now and right now and forever right now. Therefore, be Consciousness."
What is fascinating is that we can see that any spiritual tradition is capable of expressing all three of these forms of spiritual experience—in fact, if you are leaving any of these out, chances are your understanding of spiritual realities is incomplete in some way.
Historically, Western traditions can be said to have largely focused on 2nd- and 3rd-person interpretations, and have often been distrustful of 1st-person reports of God, using them, at times, as the grounds for heresy. On the other end of the pathology, Eastern traditions tend to emphasize 1st- and 3rd-person perspectives, and too often try to deny the existence of any sort of personal "God in 2nd-person." However, when moving from a 3rd-person description of God directly to a 1st-person experience of God, without the soul-cleansing qualities of extreme humility, grace, and gratefulness that God in 2nd-person bestows upon us, it can be deceptively easy to sneak the whims of the ego into our interpretations of spiritual experience—and, rather than transcending the ego, our spiritual experiences can ironically become the last refuge of the ego.
Strictly speaking, nothing can be said about the true essence of Reality (including that)—but in the finite, manifest domain, the three faces of God appear to be intrinsic to Spirit’s radiant display. And unfortunately, Spirit’s expression as 2nd-person Thou has largely gotten stuck at the mythic-membership fundamentalist level of development. The modern world not only rejected the marginalization and cruelties associated with the mythic god, it threw out God in 2nd-person altogether—and thus a huge baby got thrown out with the bathwater of mythic consciousness: one-third of God's own ever-present Face. Indeed, one of the key dilemmas for humanity is discovering a way to help the great spiritual and religious traditions grow into their modern, postmodern, and integral forms of being-in-the-world, with all three faces of God shining brightly.
Practice: The Three Faces of Spirit
Seeking the Face of God in All Perspectives
Contributor: Roland Stanich
In this practice, we contemplate, think, and know about Spirit in the 3rd-person; we relate, dwell, and commune with Spirit in a 2nd-person relationship, and we meditate, feel and know ourselves as Spirit in a 1st-person apprehension of our source and substance.
To Practice the Three Faces of Spirit:
1. Choose a name for Spirit that you find meaningful, in each of the perspectives. For 1st-person, you might use "I AM," "Myself, "Pure Awareness," "Pure Presence," or "Mirror Mind." For 2nd-person, use any name that deeply resonates with you for Spirit as a Great Other, such as "Jesus" or "Beloved." For 3rd-person, use a phrase such as "The Great Perfection," "The Web of Life," etc.
2. As your meditation begins, attend to your breath as much as awareness allows. Then, anchor your 3rd-, 2nd- and 1st-person relationship with the Ultimate, using the words or phrases you have chosen.
3. Begin by anchoring yourself in your 3rd-person awareness of the Ultimate. Become aware of Spirit as it manifests in the universe as "It." Introduce into your awareness the word or phrase you have chosen to invoke and express Spirit in 3rd-person.
4. Then, come into the intimate presence of the Ultimate as a Great Other. Experience the depth of your relationship with Spirit, and utter t word or phrase you have chosen for Spirit in 2nd-person.
5. Next, realize that there is no separation at all. Experience the Ultimate as your very Self. Let your breath, body, mind and feeling register your true Identity as Spirit in 1st-person, and speak the word or phrase you have chosen for this aspect of Spirit.
6. For the duration of your meditation (from 20 minutes to an hour or longer), simply sit and attend to the breath. At random, and anytime your mind wanders, introduce into your awareness, with full feeling, one of the names that resonates with you for one of the Faces of Spirit.
"Thich Nhat Hanh is more my brother than many who are nearer to me in race and nationality, because he and I see things exactly the same way."
Thomas Merton, the great Christian contemplative, famously made this statement in 1966, after meeting Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh on exactly one occasion. How is it that a Catholic Christian monk and a Zen Buddhist monk could see things in "exactly the same way," even though they theoretically disagreed on the very existence of God?
The answer lies in perspectives. Merton and Thich Nhat Hanh had each come to know Spirit through a particular perspective; Merton had realized Spirit as his Beloved, and Thich Nhat Hanh, as his True Self. Each, by means of their contemplative practice, had come into contact with the Absolute; each had seen one of "The Three Faces of Spirit." Perspectives are a cornerstone of Integral theory. Taking perspectives on Spirit can be an exquisite Integral spiritual practice.
First, a quick explanation of perspectives. A 1st-person perspective refers to one's own interior, subjective experience. A 2nd-person perspective refers to a shared, intersubjective experience. And a 3rd-person perspective refers to an exterior, objective experience. The primordial natures of these perspectives is evidenced by the fact that all human languages, even the earliest we have researched, have some form of the pronouns "I" (1st-person), "you" or "we"(2nd-person) and "it"(3rd-person).
In the beginning, according to Buddhist cosmology, there is only Emptiness. And from the Emptiness, luminosity arises. From an integral perspective, we might add that as luminosity arises, it does so in perspectives. It arises in precisely those perspectives - 1st-, 2nd-, and 3rd-person- with which we relate to one another. Perspectives go all the way up and all the way down, and if you look all the way up through any of the perspectives, there you will find Spirit. Says the Koran, "God is the East, and God is the West; therefore, look to the East, or look to the West, and there you shall see the Face of God."
Since, at the very instant of manifestation, perspectives are already arising, every religious practice is seated in 1st-, 2nd-, or 3rd-person. In fact, religious traditions implicitly tend to favor one perspective over the others. Some emphasize a mystical realization of Spirit within oneself as the Supreme Identity (1st-person); some cultivate a devotion to Spirit as a Great Other, a being with Whom we can enter into communion (2nd-person); others point out the Web of Life or the Great Perfection of this moment (3rd-person).
Thus, the 3 Faces of Spirit can also be used as a sort of inventory, to bring awareness to one's spiritual practice and to make explicit what was implicit for centuries, or even millennia. From an integral altitude, we can begin to appreciate how steeped and embedded we are within our traditions, and can develop an objective view of what had been subject in our experience. Perhaps we, too, favor one perspective over the others; perhaps we could benefit from approaching Spirit in its other aspects. Though the religious traditions tend to emphasize one perspective over the others, most contain examples of practices in all three perspectives. For example, in Buddhism, one might practice:
· Shikantaza (a 1st-person practice by which one remains aware of all phenomena that arise in the present moment, realizing that they are not that)
· Tonglen (a 2nd-person practice by which one breathes in the suffering of the world, and breathes out compassion upon the world)
· Meditate on the Great Perfection (a 3rd-person practice which helps one to realize the absolute perfection of this moment, exactly as it is)
In Christianity, one might:
· Pray a Psalm that describes Nature as a reflection of God (3rd-person)
· Experience one's soul as Beloved of God, through writings such as the Song of Songs, or St. John of the Cross's Dark Night of the Soul (2nd-person).
· Pray about what it means to be the "Temple of the Holy Spirit," or to "put on the Mind of Christ," realizing with Saint Paul that it is no longer I who act, but Christ in me (1st-person).
So, take up the ancient injunction to seek the Face of God, but indeed, seek Spirit in each of its three Faces, for a fuller understanding and realization of Spirit itself.
* "The One Two Three of God" audio copyright 2006 Ken Wilber
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