]We are continuing with the Chapter "Romanticism: Return of the Origin" and the very important issue of regression.
Once again Ken Wilber takes an unduly linear view and fails to recognise the vital dynamic role of regression in all integrative processes. Indeed put quite simply integration cannot take place in experience without (dynamic) regression.
For Ken repression is not something inherent in reason but only occurs when the process of differentiation goes astray leading to dissociation from the lower levels. So in this context we then get pathological repression which greatly stifles instinctive and emotional life.
However when correctly understood, reason by its very nature inevitably tends to repress emotion. It is important to point out that notions of pathological repression relate to culturally defined "norms" of behaviour. So in our highly differentiated Western culture one is pathologically repressed when this causes emotional problems (in terms of this culturally defined normality).
However, what appears "normal" in terms of conventional notions of personal development can appear very inadequate from the perspective of "higher" spiritual stages of growth.
Thus someone who might appear quite integrated and healthy at the personal stages, in the light of a "higher" spiritual insight will typically uncover deep levels of (unrecognised) repression in the psyche. If this repression is not properly addressed at this stage, it may then prove pathological and greatly hinder further spiritual growth.
So in the dynamics of development, dissociation by its very nature takes place as a result of using one-directional reason. However within a cultural context - which in many ways is dissociated - we tend to be somewhat insensitive to this malaise. Thus one may seem healthy and integrated in our society despite the accumulation of considerable levels of (unrecognised) repression.
Indeed this helps to explain - despite our great advances in specialised knowledge - that remarkably few progress to the advanced stages of spiritual development. Our highly differentiated approach to understanding has led to a crucial misinterpretation of the true dynamics of development (greatly hindering authentic spiritual growth).
Let me explain more clearly why the use of (one-directional) reason by its very nature inevitably causes repression.
Spiritual reality is ultimately ineffable (without polarity). So when using rational language we need to create paradoxical statements (where opposite poles are treated as complementary).
However, the very nature of (one-directional) reason is to separate these poles leading to clear unambiguous undestanding.
So (conventional) science works on the assumption that objective reality is somehow independent of (subjective) mind. This does indeed pave the way a definite form of knowledge. However in terms of the true dynamics of understanding it is very unbalanced.
So though reality involves the complementarity of both positive (objective) and negative (subjective) poles, (conventional) science approaches reality in a merely positive (objective) fashion.
So when one conforms to this mode of understanding positive and negative poles become separated (and dissociated in experience). Though reality ultimately involves the identity of both poles (positive and negative) one now interprets it solely in terms of just one pole (i.e. the positive).
This then leads (unconsciously) to the negation of the other (unrecognised) pole. In other words it becomes repressed (i.e. cut off or dissociated) in the unconscious.
The greater is one's attachment to the products of one-directional understanding the greater the corresponding (unrecognised) repression.
Now I would fully agree that early development requires the gradual differentiation of consciousness (culminating eventually in the unfolding of the personal stages). However this inevitably involves considerable (unconscious) repression.
If development proceeds smoothly (in terms of conventional criteria), no signs of pathology will be apparent - at the personal stages - and one will be able to integrate well in society.
However once the "higher" stages of spiritual development unfold the need for intimate confrontation with the shadow will arise (where much latent repression will be revealed).
The proper uncovering of repression is simply not possible from the persepctive of the personal stages of development. (By their very nature the personal stages require considerable masking of the shadow). It is only possible through the penetrating spiritual light of "higher" development.
Thus dynamic regression (and the deep healing of the shadow) is an essential component of authentic mystical growth.
So again Ken Wilber greatly overlooks the crucial dynamic role of regression.
Basically it is quite simple. Differentiation (in a direct sense) involves the separation of polar opposites in experience. This leads to a phenomenal understanding of reality where movement takes place in a solely foreward direction in space and time.
Thus progression in terms of the development of structures relates - in a direct sense - to their differentiation.
However in spiritual terms forward and backward movement are purely relative.
Therefore integration inevitably involves the complementary movement of regression (in the return to one's spiritual centre).
So in the mature balanced life there is a continual process of going out (differentiation) and returning (integration) to one's spiritual centre (which is in the eternal present).
Ken Wilber's approach to development is unbalanced (from a dynamic perspective) as he places the emphasis on a very polarised perspective (i.e. progression and evolutionary ascent). However true balance requires giving equal emphasis to regression (and - in relative terms - involutionary descent).
So if we are to understand the true dynamics of growth we cannot treat progression and regression in linear terms but rather in dynamic relative fashion.
However this linear perspective is very obvious in Ken's way of dealing with Romanticism. He defines their desire to return to the Origin (and union with nature) as a regression to an earlier period in history.
And because Ken identifies these earlier periods with prepersonal development he sees this desire as very mistaken.
Now Ken may be right that many of the Romantics did in practice glorify past ages (in an uncritical fashion).
However the true Romantic quest has nothing to do with a linear return in time (to a previous age in history). Rather it is concerned with the return to one's spiritual centre (which is continually present).
I will illustrate this point with reference to the great Spanish mystic mystic St. John of the Cross (who is perhaps the most profound exponent of spiritual development in the Christian tradition).
In Western mysticism the refined use of reason plays a considerable role in "higher" spiritual development. It is used to detach the disciple from undue attachment to the senses. This then frees the mind for a purer reception of the spiritual light. However typically this can lead to an unduly transcendent (otherworldly) focus and a defensive approach to the World.
So initially the spiritual disciple makes spiritual progress in a intellectually defined manner. However this can have a repressive effect leading to a stunting of emotional dynamics.
So an existential crisis can slowly develop leading to deep questioning of this very idea of "progress". Because the problem is rooted in a desire to control (through reason), a radical surrender is required with the deep letting go of intellectual attachment.
In Christian mysticism this letting go is generally referred to as spiritual purgation and can lead to a dramatic reversal in one's spiritual fortune. Whereas one formerly saw oneself as advancing, now one sees all one's notions of progress undone in this purgative process.
St. John starkly portrays the nature of this purgation (which involves a type of suffering that is inexplicable) in his famous "Dark Night" commentaries.
So the Dark Night represents the extreme example of mature dynamic regression (which takes place in circular rather than linear fashion). Ultimate reality essentially exists in the present moment and not in phenomenal space-time.
However one inevitably identifies spiritual development with phenomenal notions of progress. This then subtly leads one away from the spirit (which is in the present). Thus to correct this tendency, one must - in relative terms - regress back to one's spiritual centre (which cannot be confused with phenomenal reality).
This regression takes place in a profoundly interior fashion. So if progress is identified with (exterior) worldly development, then regression - relatively - relates to (interior) self-awareness.
So if one gives - as is typical - the (exterior) pole undue emphasis (through attachment to conscious phenomenal symbols) then this ultimately needs to be corrected through corresponding interior (unconscious) development.
So the purpose of the Dark Night is to learn to focus one's energy entirely on the Spirit. This it serves a profoundly integrative role. However this in principle is true of all psychological (and indeed physical) development.
Differentiation involves polarisation and the movement out (from a spiritual centre) into the world of conscious phenomena (in space-time).
Integration involves the healing of this polar spilt though the reverse movement backwards (to the spiritual centre) where both poles are intuitively combined.
This if differentiation is identified with progression - then in relative terms - integration must be identified with regression. So progression and regression in this dynamic sense are purely relative terms (with respect to the continual spiritual present).
Because the Dark Night is designed to erode all conscious attachment (especially the deep-rooted desire to control), it generally leads to a marked switch from a transcendent to an immanent view of spirituality. Because of this surrender one now feels free to emotionally respond to reality enabling one to experience an intimate aesthetic connection with creation.
This is well-exemplified in St. John's own writings. He provides the most uncompromising transcendent view of the spiritual life in the "Dark Night". Yet in the Spiritual Canticle this turns to a wonderfully immanent and aesthetically refined view of creation.
So St. John realises the Romantic quest of returning to the Origin to become one with nature. However this is not experienced as some past era in time but rather as a greater openness to the spiritual transparency of the present moment (mediated through the symbols of nature).
My beloved is the mountains
And lonely wooded valleys
And resounding rivers,
The whistling of love stirring breezes
The tranquil night
At the time of the rising dawn
The supper that refreshes and deepens love
Let us rejoice Beloved
And let us go forth to behold ourselves in your beauty
To the mountain and to the hill
To where the pure water flows
And further deep into the thicket
And then we will go on
To the high caverns in the rock
Which are not so well concealed
There we shall enter
And taste the fresh fruit of the pomegranates
There you will show me
What my soul has been seeking
And then you will give me
You my life, will give me there
What you gave me on that other day
The breathing of the air
The song of the sweet nightingale
The grove and its living beauty
In the serene night
With a flame that is consuming and painless.
So spiritual development typically unfolds - initially - through the intellect (giving a strong transcendent focus).
This ultimately leads to imbalance and the need for "downward" integration with the emotions (made possible through purgation).
At a later stage the need for deeper spiritual integration with one's body is likely to emerge. This is a very difficult task and requires the most fundamental questioning of identity.
In the most basic sense I am identified as a man because I have the physical body of a man. However this physical recognition in itself creates a polarised notion of body identity (where the masculine aspect is separated from the feminine).
Ultimate integration of the body with the spirit requires the releasing of attachment to any polarised notions of the body.
On the one hand this means confronting fundamental instinctive fears. At the most basis level, loss of identity is associated with loss of the physical body. At another level it involves surrendering any rigid notion of sexual identity. Again at its most basic the sexual urge arises from the sense of a lack of the opposite sex in one's own physical body.
So the most "integrated" mystics lose the fear of physical death (as they have surrendered attachment to their physical bodies). Also they often live a celibate life joyfully (freed from the need for sex). However, I would say that this is a very unusual state and rarely attained.
So the highest "transpersonal" requires intimate confrontation with the "lowest" prepersonal stage of development. And in a dynamic sense this is what one would expect as transpersonal and prepersonal are complementary.
I was interested in reading "Dailogues with Ken Wilber" to see that the views of the spiritual practitioners were very much in line with my own position. For example Jack Kornfield's personal spiritual account can be very well explained in terms of the dynamic interpretation of pre and tarns.
"The images that seem to work best for me in understanding human development are the mandala and the spiral.
Neither the mandal nor the spiral has a profoundly hierarchical nature. If we imagine the mandala as an expression of human development, it is clear that one can have great openings to the transpersonal only to close down a week later and have to deal with the earliest infantile or traumatic experiences."
He also says
"We have learned that one of the great mistakes of the earlier years of bringing Eastern spiritual maps and models to the West is what might be called the "linear mistake".
Well I am afraid that Ken Wilber's holarchical interpretation of development represents a good example of this "linear mistake".
Michelle McDonald Smith (in the very next contribution) continues in the same manner as Jack Kornfield. She starts off by saying
In my first years of Buddhist practice, I touched so many places of freedom that it seemed that there was nowhere to go "up" - to more and more transcendence and an easier and easier life. The model seemed linear and direct. I didn't have any idea that I would experience many hell realms after that."
She then describes what happened when she started to have longer retreats
"At the time I couldn't even describe it - the sense of going back and forth between such clarity and openness and such darkness. It was extraordinary. The more I had access to the deep places in meditation, the more I was accessing the darkness and the shutting down."
A little later she states
"I had to learn about regression. When my practice became concentrated there would be a certain point at which I would regress to age two or three or birth and just be going through the trauma. I had never learned to bring my adult presence to that child part of me. The hurt part of myself was totally alone, and I wouldn't know what to do. So what accompanied the annihilation were layers of terror, rage, grief, hopelessness and deprivation. When I started going through these layers, I felt betrayed by the linear spiritual model. I thought that because I had these very deep experiences in meditation practice, I wouldn't have to go through anything like that. It wasn't in the model. The sense of betrayal was so much of my suffering. How could I experience that kind of hopelessness after such insights?"
So we have here a very good description of dynamic regression. Michelle makes it clear that she could not have returned to earlier traumas (without transcendence).
"I needed all that transcendence in order to be able to face very difficult experiences. Most of us or maybe all of us, in all cultures have many difficult closed areas and for a long time don't have the strength to open to them. A spiritual base helps us to follow the path of opening to their areas."
So in the dynamics of growth prepersonal and transpersonal are very closely linked (and complementary). And regression is an essential aspect of spiritual growth.
Because Ken Wilber tries to clearly separate them in a linear manner (and consequently denies the role of dynamic regression) his pre/trans fallacy is deeply flawed.
Indeed judging from what he says in "Grace and Grit" his own development would fit in with a more dynamic perspective.
I was interested to observe that for many years after meeting Treya, Ken lost his intellectual daemon. Though some of this undoubtedly was related to caring for Treya in very difficult circumstances, I would imagine that it would have happened anyway. Ken had devoted many years to intense intellectual activity and nature was now prompting him to shift direction. In other words he was forced to regress deeper into his self confronting the shadow (and repressed elements of the personality).
So once again the very process of differentiating structures in experience, inevitably leads to a degree of dissociation. The process of integration involves the undoing of rigid attachment to these structures through a reverse movement of dynamic regression.
To be continued …..