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Written December 2000, published in ReVisionFall, 2001

Spiritual inquiry as divine becoming

The guiding ideas behind my practice of spiritual inquiry can be set forth in seven basic statements. They constitute a version of theological personalism in the European tradition of mystical philosophers like Martin Buber (1937) and Nikolai Berdyaev (1937), updated in terms of a participatory worldview (Abram, 1996; Bateson, 1979; Ferrer, 2001; Heron, 1992, 1996, 1998; Heron and Reason, 1997; Merleau-Ponty, 1962; Reason, 1994; Skolimowski, 1994; Spretnak, 1991; Tarnas, 1991), a series of co-operative inquiries, and my personal lived inquiry into Being (Heron, 1998). Here are the statements. A human person:

1. Is a distinct spiritual presence in, and nonseparable from, the given cosmos, participating through immediate present experience – the very process of being in a world – in the presence of the divine.

2. Is not to be reduced to, or confused with, an illusory, separate, contracted, and egoic self with which personhood can become temporarily identified.

3. Emerges from and is grounded in immanent spiritual life; and is informed and illuminated by a transcendent spiritual consciousness.

4. Has original revelation here and now, through opening to his or her intrinsic saturation with divinity. Such revelation is a human-divine communion, a co-creation of mediated-immediacy.

5. Has spiritual authority within which, when freed from the distortions of spiritual projection onto external sources, manifests as co-created inner light and inner life.

6. Has freedom to generate, with immanent spiritual life, an innovative spiritual path.

7. Manifests the creative process of divine becoming as an autonomous being, embedded in connectedness, and in co-operative, transformative relations with other persons similarly engaged.

In an earlier book, Feeling and Personhood (Heron, 1992), I suggested that there are various states of personhood, which I called primal, spontaneous, compulsive, conventional, creative, self-creating, self-transfiguring, and charismatic; and looked at various possible relations between them, and possible patterns of personal development in which they figure. The self-transfiguring person I portrayed as one who:

…has embarked upon the realization of their subtle energies, psychic capacities and spiritual potentials. They are busy with transformations of ordinary perception and action, extra sensory development and access to other realities, ritual, meditation, prayer, worship, and living in the now. And all this is integrated with a creative, expressive life in the world. (Heron, 1992: 61)

The present essay focuses on the self-transfiguring person adopting a path of lived inquiry. I will discuss the above seven statements in more detail, refining and advancing the views put forward in Sacred Science (Heron, 1998).

1. A person is a distinct spiritual presence in, and nonseparable from, the given cosmos, participating through immediate present experience – the very process of being in a world – in the presence of the divine.

2. As such, a person is not to be reduced to, or confused with, an illusory, separate, contracted and egoic self with which personhood can become temporarily identified.

I find that my everyday self is always and inalienably immersed in divinity simply by virtue of its way of being in a world. The process of my perceiving – visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic imaging – is relational, interactive, interdependent and correlative. There is no gap, no separation between I the imager, the imaging, and the imaged. This unitive process enacts a local world with infinite, unlimited horizons without, and emerges from a generative infinitude within. The enactment is tacitly continuous with these dipolar infinities. I am engaged with cosmic imagination: ‘The living power and prime agent of all human perception and a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM’ (Coleridge).

Moreover, my perceiving is not only imaging, it is at the same time a felt mutual resonance with what is being imaged. This tells us that we, the entities present, in the totality of our reciprocal relations, constitute the sheer vibrant presence of Being here and now. I call this, simply, immediate present experience. This is already a religious experience: the communion of self and world within the embrace of Being.

Without this going on all the time, there is no world for the everyday self. At the same time my self can get dissociated and distracted from its necessary participatory nature. It can get constricted in the illusory separateness of an alienated ego structure: by childhood wounding; by the exigencies of survival and social life; by the way the concepts that come with language separate subject from object, imager from imaged, bury the participatory transaction of imaging, and distract attention from felt resonance (Heron, 1992).

However, by paying attention to these three factors, and by learning how to disperse their constricting impact, I can uncover what has been going on all the time – interactive imaging and resonance within the presence of Being here and now. This uncovering and coming to my senses reveals a real person in relation with other centres of reference. As such

· I am unique by having a standpoint and viewpoint, an enactive perspective. Whereas the self as contracted ego has to do with illusory separateness, the self as emergent person has to do with a distinct perspective within real unity.

· I am constituted by mutual engagement with others in a world, participating reciprocally in the presence of other beings, human and non-human, within the presence of Being.

· I image their forms of appearing, make discriminatory judgments about their status and significance, and choose to act in relation to them.

· I am capable of extensive and intensive unfoldment by virtue of an inherent opening onto an infinite actuality without and beyond, and an infinite potential within. I can creatively transform my world, and be a catalyst to transfigure myself.

This immediate present experience, this being one of the here and now Many-in-relation-in-the-One, is the locus and foundation of personhood. It is not prepersonal, not prior to verbal and conceptual mastery. I have called it post-linguistic and post-conceptual (Heron, 1992, 1996), to mean simply that it follows from deconstructing the subject-object split that language-use imposes on the process of perceiving. It is a person participating intentionally in local, temporal divine presence, and poised at the interface between transcendent spiritual consciousness and immanent spiritual life. From this here and now, the ongoing spiritual process is one of rhythmic expansion, increasing the present wholeness through a spiraling inclusion of hitherto immanent and transcendent spirit, with various intermittent phases of consolidation and reactive contraction.

A person on my view, then, is an embodied spiritual presence, one of the real Many within the divine One, whose distinctness of being within the unity of the whole is more fundamental than any of her or his temporary and illusory states of egoic alienation and separateness. This distinctness of a person has to do with him or her being one unique focus, among many, of the whole web of interbeing relations. Personal autonomy is grounded in this unique presence, participating resonantly in an unitive field of interconnected beings, within the presence of Being. It is manifest as the individual perspective necessarily involved in imaging a world, as the individual judgment inalienably required to make relevant distinctions and evaluations according to appropriate standards, and as individual responsibility in choosing to act.

This is not the personal autonomy of the Cartesian ego, an isolated, self-reflexive consciousness independent of any context – what Charlene Spretnak calls the Lone Cowboy sense of autonomy. It is, rather,

The ecological/cosmological sense of uniqueness coupled with intersubjectivity and interbeing…One can accurately speak of the ‘autonomy’ of an individual only by incorporating a sense of the dynamic web of relationships that are constitutive for that being at a given moment. (Spretnak, 1995: 5)

This web or context has two layers. There is the superficial linguistic, cultural context within which autonomy is exercised and by which it is socially defined. And there is the deeper primary, extralinguistic and extracultural, context of conscious mutual participation with other presences in given Being, within which autonomy can also be intentionally exercised and by which it is, so to say, divinely defined.

3. A person emerges from and is grounded in immanent spiritual life; and is informed and illuminated by a transcendent spiritual consciousness.

I hold a provisional theory of the divine as encompassing:

· Transcendent spiritual consciousness, beyond and informing our immediate experience.

· Immanent spiritual life, deep within and animating our immediate experience. And, mediating between the poles

· Our very present immediate experience of here and now form and process.

I also find that it makes sense of my experience of the inner heights and depths, to integrate this dipolarity of transcendent consciousness and immanent life, with another mysterious one, the dipolarity of the manifest and the unmanifest. The term ‘unmanifest’ is not very satisfactory, does not reside in the dictionary, so I shall replace with both ‘beyond-the-manifest’ and ‘within-the-manifest’.

Thus I encounter transcendent consciousness as beyond-the-manifest: as boundless ineffability, ecstatic infinitude beyond all form and differentiation, beyond every circumference, every defining name. I also find that transcendent consciousness is manifest in two complementary ways. It is as if it generates all spatial form in some sense and also upholds it. So I engage with it as originating sound and light, creative overmind, demiurge, the first word of form. And then, too, I meet it as all-holding universal mind, cosmic store-consciousness, the repository of informing archetypes.

Figure 1 Dipolar theology and the dipolar spiritual path

Plumbing the depths of immanent life I engage with the mystery of the within-the-manifest: primordial emptiness, the infinitude within all form, within every center the essential absence within all differentiation, the spaceless womb of being. At the same pole, immanent life manifests in complementary ways, both generating temporal process and sustaining it. So I feel it as generative, primordial life, the living emergence of new development from within, the inner, innovative prompt to time my own process in this or that or the other way. And I also feel it as interfused and pervasive inner presence, manifest as the sustaining cyclic gestures in time, both of the presence that I am in the world, and of the diverse presences of the world with whom I am in mutual exchange.

The integrative center between the poles is my immediate present experience of being now here, my consciousness-life co-creating present form and process in conjunction with divine consciousness-life. I participate in a unitive field of being-in-a-world: present in an immediate, local, participatory subjective-objective reality, in which there is no gap between subject and object, between perceiver, perceiving and perceived, between consciousness and its contents, between resonant feeling and other diverse presences, between form and process, between my being and my becoming. This explicit local unitive field is full of distinctions and motions without separateness. It is partial, capable of expansion and contraction, and is the explicit innovative focus of active becoming within a tacit ground of infinite height, depth and extent.

Figure 1 above sets out in diagrammatic form this dipolar theology, the arrows on the right portraying dipolar divine dynamics, and the arrows on the left suggesting a dipolar spiritual path. For the divine dynamics read from the bottom to the middle and from the top to the middle. For the spiritual path, read from the middle to the bottom and from the middle to the top. Remember, it is just a construct, a modest metaphor, a simplifying device. But it does, so far as it can, resonate beyond itself to that which is true to my experience. It has been elaborated in the cartography presented in Sacred Science (Heron, 1998).

4. A person has original revelation here and now through opening to his or her intrinsic saturation with divinity. Such revelation is a human-divine communion, a co-creation of mediated-immediacy.

I regard spiritual inquiry as a process of co-creative communion with the divine, involving human mediation of the immediacy of divine presence. By the divine, as we have seen, I mean that astonishing presence that transcends, includes and is immanent within, all manifest realms, both subtle and material.

The belief that the divine is a One-Many reality that includes everything, means that the process of spiritual inquiry is itself a form of divine becoming. It is part of god exploring its relation with the rest of god and the whole of god. The human inquirer is one of the divine Many entering into discriminating communion with the rest of the Many and the One. And as one of the Many, the human inquirer is intrinsically saturated with divinity.

The notion of intrinsic saturation points to what is already the case about our being in the world, but from which we can readily be distracted from noticing. So a basic kind of inquiry is the practice of opening to this that is already the case. What I call ‘intrinsic saturation’ is similar to what Karl Rahner calls ‘transcendental experience’, a universal pre-reflective and tacit experience of god which is the foundation for all other human experience, and which becomes conscious only when we reflect deeply on the conditions for the possibility of human knowledge and activity (Kelly, 1993). Merleau-Ponty, coming in from a different angle, also spoke of ‘radical reflection’ which reveals the fusion of seer and seen in and through the ‘flesh’, a fusion which is prior to and a condition of all subsequent analysis (Bernasconi, 1995).

Intrinsic saturation – what is already the case – is revealed by reflective contemplation, a process of self-transcending reflection which both encounters the divinity it formulates, and is formulated by that divinity, in a co-creative embrace. Contemplation of the mutual encounter, dwelling in the communion of one of the Many and the One, transcends the purely reflective process by which it is entered. What starts out as mental mediation becomes mediated-immediacy, a co-creative human-divine communion. What is divine in it has universal validity, the human mediation in it makes it relative to the context of its formulation. The notion of mediated-immediacy stands on the middle ground between the extremes of contextualist relativism and absolutist universalism (for a related view see Ferrer, 2001).

Kant used a form of transcendental argument to provide a priori knowledge of the world as it appears, but not as it is in itself. His epistemology is self-enclosing: it cuts us off from radical ontology, from being-as-such. Self-transcending reflection is rather different: it yields a priori knowledge which mediates the immediacy of what there is, encountered in and through the epiphany of its appearing. Epistemology and ontology merge in a co-shaping communion of knowing and being (cf. Panikkar, 1996).

Here are some examples of intrinsic saturation which can become conscious through reflective contemplation of the kind I have described; and which I invite the reader to check out in his or her own lived inquiry. I present them mainly in terms of a brief phenomenology of their contemplative states. For a fuller account of the prior reflections see Heron (1992, Chapters 5, 7, 8, 9; 1996, Chapter 10; 1998, Parts 1 and 3). And note that the fourth of the examples below, on intention, goes beyond self-transcending reflection into the realm of self-transcending practical knowing, self-transfiguring knowing-how.

4.1. Perception. Human perceiving is grounded in human feeling, which I differentiate from emotion, and regard as the capacity of a person to participate as a distinct non-separate presence in wider unities of being (Heron, 1992). In such radical perception, there is no gap, no separation between perceiver and perceived. Subject and object, which may also be another human subject, interfuse in a co-creative embrace. This consciousness-world, or person-to-person, co-participatory union is the local home of the go-between divinity, the living presence of Shekinah (in Jewish tradition a feminine word for divine immanence), the manifest goddess alive in the reality of relationship. Furthermore, both center and circumference of finite perceiving – the sensory worldfield of Shekinah – are fraught with an inalienable engagement with the infinite.

If you attend to the center of reference for touch, kinesthetic sense, seeing and hearing, it is a delicious void, there is nothing there. It is an infinitude within. These four modalities of imaging our being-in-a-world coalesce at an apparent locus which they declare to be a full emptiness. It is full because it is a cornucopia out of which our whole four-modal world pours. And it is empty because it is a womb of internal infinitude.

Likewise every perceptual circumference or boundary, every finite limit to the seeing and hearing of our sensory field, declares its latent infinity. Each limit declares there is more beyond it. It announces a series of limits that is unlimited. In one horizon we have tacit acquaintance with horizons that are infinite. But the infinite is not the finite horizon that is never met, it is the transcendent ground and condition of the whole series, implicit in each and every horizon. Explicit participation in any one of the bounded is a tacit participation in the transcendent boundless, das Umgreifende. The unlimited, the infinite, the boundless transcends the series of contexts it defines. Through the circumscription of our perceiving we engage with the ineffable, the ecstatic, the standing outside of any determinate setting or series of such settings, which yet contains them all.

So here in our very being-in-the-world of perceiving we are saturated with the tri-partite face of god: the manifest presence alive in the reality of relationship, the immanent generative void at our center of reference, and the transcendent ineffable boundless crowning every horizon.

4.2. Motivation. Human motivation with all its everyday finite limits of desire and want and need is rooted in an infinite potential. Needs are the manifest of our capacities, most basically for loving and knowing and choosing. There are all sorts of ongoing, contingent limits – culminating in this world in physical death – to our expression of these capacities. But it makes no sense to talk of a limit to the fulfilment of these capacities that is intrinsic to their nature. Just to say that this or that is the inherent limit of our loving or our knowing or our choosing, is to become tacitly engaged with what lies beyond the supposed limit. Every determinate stage of the development of our human capacities is sooner or later riven with a self-transcending yearning, a hunger for the tacit whole of Being.

On the holonomic principle, just as the genetic potential of the whole human body is present in each of its cells, so the whole of the One-Many is present in each inquiring one of the Many as his or her infinite potential. This is Schelling’s deus implicitus, spirit-in-action, the divine self-transcending drive at the root of human motivation: the drive of each one to open to the heights and depths of the One and manifest an ever more distinctive luster within the collegiality of the Many. We long to be open to the One. We long for collegiality – unbound mutuality and co-inherence of distinctness of being without separation of being, individual diversity in free unity.

Theologians, East and West, have had a range of delicious terms for co-inherence – circuminsessio, conciliarité, koinonia, perichoresis, sobornost – and these now call for general release beyond the reach of church dogmatics. Following Solovyov in the nineteenth century, Berdyaev (1937) in the twentieth century gives the best generalized account of the best of these terms – sobornost – as the creative process of divine spirit manifest through the self-determining subjectivity of human personhood, engaged in the realization of value and achieved in true community.

4.3. Attention. Human attention is at the core of everyday awareness: we attend to this and we attend to that. It is the very focus of our effective in-the-world consciousness. Yet when we attend to this attentive capacity, when we rest our focus on this focus, on itself, it becomes a lens which refracts a vast expanse of transpersonal awareness, a soaring outreach of universal intelligence of which our own attention to daily life is the local manifest. Such vigilant awareness of its own stillness opens to the cosmic ocean of consciousness.

Another version of this route is via transcendental subjectivity, in Kant’s jargon ‘the transcendental unity of apperception’, the a priori unity of consciousness on which all coherence and meaning of inner and outer experience depend. The ‘I’ transcends any account it gives of itself, since it is the ever-present pre-condition of every account. To attend to the ‘I’, to be in the ‘I’, both in and beyond any determinate description of itself, is to open to its consubstantiality with the great ‘I’, that consciousness that embraces whatever there is. This is one-One consubstantiality: since the ‘I’ can always give an appropriate developing account of itself, it is a distinct one of the Many; since it always absolutely transcends this account, it is contained in the One.

4.4. Intention. The notion of intention is a crucial ingredient in an account of human action and agency. Act-related intentions, that is, intentions involved in particular present behaviors, are the hall-mark of the human agent. Such intentions are a compound of (1) the purpose of the action, its end, aim or intended outcome; (2) its means, strategy or method of achieving that purpose; and (3) the actual physical behaviors – the movements, postures, gestures, breath and sounds – required to implement the means. Human agents are much preoccupied with the ends and means of actions as determined by the prevailing beliefs, norms and values of the social system of which they are a daily part. The bodily processes involved are usually entirely subservient to this pre-occupation.

But suppose now the physical behaviors – the movements, postures, gestures, breath and sounds – become both the end and the means. The purpose of the action is to manifest their intrinsic dynamism, which is also the method of fulfilling that purpose. Both purpose and method are for action to speak out in its own extralinguistic mode. Action then becomes self-transcending sacred posture, movement and sound, creating a spatio-temporal matrix of divine presence. This matrix is a holonomic celebration of, and a performative participation in, the divine Act generating spatio-temporal worlds galore. The body reveals itself as a dynamic ambassador of cosmic grace.

Inquirers here are being intentional about going deeper into their embodiment to manifest the indwelling life divine, as it moves through the total fabric of creation, physical and subtle. They co-create spati-]temporal matrices with this emerging dynamic divine potential not only through impromptu sacred posture, movement and sound, but also rhythmic breathing and body work, rhythmic emotional cleansing and healing. The everyday ends and means of social life can be interfused with further matrices through charismatic bearing and gesture, charismatic timing and tone of voice. And through intentional human-divine co-creation of the rhythms of living and loving: waking and sleeping, activity and relaxation, eating and fasting, sexuality and celibacy, creativity and lying fallow, coming and going, togetherness and separation, communality and privacy, autonomy and co-operation, caring and confrontation, innovation and conservation; and of the physical, energetic and psychic rhythms of the day, the week, the month, the year and its seasons, and longer cycles.

4.5. Judgment. A human being is pre-eminently a judging being. To become a person is to learn how to differentiate and discriminate, to make relevant distinctions, and to evaluate in various ways what has thus been distinguished. The ability to judge – to differentiate and evaluate according to appropriate standards – needs education, training, practice; but it is necessarily self-directed, no-one else can do it for us. Once acquired, it makes us autonomous adults, capable of entering into genuine co-operation and collegiality, authentic diversity in unity. Distinguish in order to unite, said Maritain.

The autonomous ‘I’ who makes the judgment, a distinct person among the Many, is contingently this and that sort of person, but is ultimately and necessarily not this, not that. It is the transcendental subject who is the author of all the differentiations made, including self-differentiations, while at the same time being their undifferentiated ground. This is one-One autonomy, personal autonomy intrinsically immersed in divine unity and in the collegiality of the Many. Personal autonomy is itself at root human-divine, mediated-immediacy.

The most radical judgments any human can make are about the divine and a relationship with the divine. It follows from the above, that if these judgments are not autonomous, they are not divinely grounded. They are heteronomous, dependent on, and co-determined with, teacher, tradition or text. They are pseudo-divine. Of course, it may be our autonomous judgment that a teacher, tradition or text offers us a way forward for a while. But only for a while, otherwise we rapidly relapse into heteronomy and the cul-de-sac of other-directed salvation.

5. A person has spiritual authority within which, when freed from the distortions of spiritual projection onto external sources, manifests as co-created inner light and inner life.

If we claim that spiritual authority resides in some other person, being, doctrine, book, school or church, we are the legitimating author of this claim. We choose to regard it as valid. No authority resides in anything external unless we first decide to confer that authority on it. Nothing out there is accredited and definitive until we first elect it to be so. All explicit judgments that illumination resides without, rest upon a prior and much more basic tacit light within. When it is made explicit, this is the internal authority of which our own discriminating judgment is the expression. Individual human judgment, with its inner spiritual ground, is the legitimating source of all external spiritual authority. The religious history of the human race appears to involve the slow and painful realization that this is indeed the case.

We have to realize that every revelation must finally be appropriated by the individual soul. The very term ‘revelation’ implies the existence of the minds by which it is received. And it is on the attitude of such minds that everything in the end depends. The last word is with the interior monitor. The process is not completed until the divine which appears without is acknowledged by the divine which is enthroned deep within. And no amount of ingenious sophistry can do away with this ultimate fact. In other words the individual must take his stand upon the witness of the inner light, the authority within his own soul. This principle was clearly formulated by the Cambridge Platonist, Benjamin Whichcote, who ventured on the statement: ‘If you have a revelation from God, I must have a revelation from God too before I can believe you’. (Hyde, 1949: 39)

When we become aware that the final court of spiritual authority resides within, and that any authority we had vested in anyone or anything external was derived from the imprimatur of that inner court, then we are spiritually centered and will not in the future become improperly subservient to any religious school. What we learn from it will be passed through the prism of our inner discrimination. But when we are not aware of this, then we are busy with spiritual projection, and are spiritually off-center. The spiritual authority that resides within is not known for what it is, is in some sense suppressed and denied, and is then unconsciously projected on, invested in, and inevitably misrepresented and distorted by, what is without.

If our internal authorising of a spiritual teacher is displaced and projected out as an external authority residing in that teacher, then our inner authority is misrepresented as nescience seeking illumination from another, instead of being affirmed as our inner knowing seeking dialogue with the inner knowing of another. Thus we deny the divine ground of our own autonomous judgment, and become followers, second-class spiritual citizens in a heteronomous culture, inescapably excluded from authentic enlightenment.

When we are fully aware of spiritual projection so that it can be substantially withdrawn and undone, then the spiritual path itself is based on internal authority through the continuous exercise of our own discriminating judgment and its spiritual ground; and this in association with others similarly engaged. Divine becoming emerges as the living spiritual ground of human autonomy and co-operation. And the divinity thus manifest will necessarily be different in certain fundamental respects, in terms of beliefs and practices, from all divinities defined by external authorities. However, there are three very important caveats about all this, the second being the crucial one.

First, such withdrawal is not an all or nothing phenomenon. It may involve a variety of hybrids. These include:

· Sequential projection.A person projects for a period on one spiritual school, then withdraws it and projects on to another, going through several over a number of years. This process may become quite intentional, in the sense that the person consciously goes along with the authoritarian tendency of a school in order to benefit from its teachings and practices, and pulls out when that tendency becomes too spiritually restricting.

· Partial projection.A person stays constantly within one tradition in allegiance to certain strands of it, while radically reappraising other strands.

· Intellectual freedom.The intellect appears to exercise a lot of freedom, for example, with respect to transpersonal theory, but practice remains firmly wedded to projection within a spiritual school. The theoretical outcome will then include veiled special pleading for the practical allegiance.

· Discreet freedom.A person remains within one tradition for purposes of the support found within its spiritual community, otherwise picks and chooses among its beliefs and practices, refracting them through the prism of the internal monitor.

Second, and crucially, I doubt whether there is a final end to the process of spiritual projection. There is certainly a critical point when it is raised into consciousness and radically withdrawn as human-divine autonomy is reclaimed. But this reclamation, this radical reappraisal of one’s spirituality, may well include elements drawn from past and present spiritual practitioners and thinkers. So the reappraisal, in weeding out past projections, may rely, in part and on occasion, on new ones in order to do so. The difference, of course, is in the awareness that this may be going on. Hence the critical subjectivity of a reframing mind, which continually deconstructs presumed internal authority to uncover any projections that may be at work displacing it. The authority within, being co-created, mediated-immediacy, is never final, always provisional. Its divine immediacy makes it a revelation, its human mediation makes it a fallible one. This is one of the deepest practical paradoxes of the religious life.

Thirdly, the substantial withdrawal of spiritual projection from traditional and new age schools certainly does not mean that one ceases to take account of them and learn anything from them. On the contrary, the beliefs and practices of the various schools, ancient and modern, constitute a huge data-bank, a massive resource which, when refracted through the internal monitor, can be drawn upon, adapted and revised in framing the maps which guide autonomous and co-operative spiritual inquiry.

In the opening statement to this section, I define spiritual authority simply as inner light and inner life. Before elaborating this, let’s be clear that I cannot be an external authority defining the nature of internal authority for others. Self-direction cannot be other-defined and other-prescribed. Autonomous people can only dialogue and inquire with each other about the nature of self-direction. Here, then, are some of my conjectures on the matter, based on my own lived inquiry, and put forward as a contribution to such dialogue .

By ‘inner light’ I mean the discriminating judgment of the distinct person and its transcendent source, the one-to-One, which have described in 4.5 above. By ‘inner life’ I mean impulses from the divine ground of human motivation, mentioned in 4.2 above. Inner light is the critical subjectivity by which intelligent judgments are made about things spiritual. Inner life is the impulse to open to Being, to make self-transfiguring and self-transcending choices. This dipolarity of spiritual life and light is the great pincer movement of awakening: on the one hand the inner impulse to open to Being, on the other hand the discriminating realization that we are already saturated with it.

To say some more about inner life, I find that my everyday psyche has a very evident supporting ground or foundation. When I attend to this ground, it becomes a source or well-spring, which, when I open to it, is of apparently limitless potential. It is also like a cornucopia or womb, with an ever-deepening infinitude within. Its potential fullness increases as I plumb its depth and creative darkness, and so does its emptiness. I call this spiritual life within, since it is harbors spiritseed, entelechy, the formative potential of my becoming. The spiritseed puts out sprouts, shoots – above ground in the psyche. They are prompts to open to Being, and to time or space my being, in relation to the immediate context of interbeing, in this, that or the other way. Inner light, my discriminating awakening to a wider consciousness, is in dialogic relation with these inner life-prompts. This internal dialogue between inner light and inner life is, further, in interaction with what I regard as a third contributor to inner spiritual authority – appropriate discourse with the other, upon which I elaborate under statement 7 below.

6. A person has freedom to generate, with immanent spiritual life, an innovative spiritual path.

I said just above that the spiritual life within harbors spiritseed, entelechy, the formative potential of my becoming. What Aristotle meant by an entelechy was the condition in which a potentiality has become an actuality. But there is another more recent usage in which entelechy is the immanent, formative potential of what is actual. So the entelechy guides the emergence of, and is progressively realized in, the actual entity.

Carl Rogers made this idea of entelechy a basic tenet of his personality theory. He called it an actualizing tendency. He thought it was inborn in everyone as an ‘inherent tendency of the organism to develop all its capacities in ways which serve to maintain or enhance the organism’ (Rogers, 1959: 196). ‘It is clear that the actualizing tendency is selective and directional – a constructive tendency’ (Rogers, 1980: 121). It affects both body and mind, and with respect to the latter, it guides people toward increased autonomy, expanded experience and inner growth. Virtually the same idea is found in Maslow, as a self-actualizing need, ‘the desire to become more and more what one idiosyncratically is, to become everything one is capable of becoming’ (Maslow, 1970: 46).

It reappears in Wilber as the Ground-Unconscious which is ‘all the deep structures existing as potentials ready to emerge at some future point’ (Wilber, 1990: 105). And in Washburn as the ‘Dynamic Ground (libido, psychic energy, numinous power or spirit) of somatic, instinctual, affective and creative-imaginal potentials’ (Washburn, 1995: 11). Jean Houston writes of the ‘Entelechy Self’ as ‘the Root Self, the ground of one’s being, and the seeded coded essence in you which contains both the patterns and the possibilities of your life’. (Houston, 1987:31). These three writers all use the metaphor of the ground in characterizing the spiritual life-potential within.

Do these ground potentials act upon us willy-nilly, predetermining the basic stages of our explicit spiritual development? Do they constitute a fixed pattern of our future unfolding? Alternatively, do the ground potentials offer a range of possibilities from among which we may choose and so create our own pattern? I take this second view. I believe that we may co-create our path in dynamic relation with a set of options emerging from the spiritual life within. And this not only in relation to the daily surface structure of the path, but also concerning its basic unfolding pattern. Radical spiritual innovation is the hallmark of divine becoming.

Of course, we must at any given time entertain a working hypothesis of some basic array of options for developing our divine potential, if we are effectively to set about actualizing it. But what this array is, what general constants it contains, and by what sequence it may be realized over time, are for each of us undetermined matters until we start on our own path. They are open to co-creation with immanent spirit, through processes of individual and co-operative inquiry, and taking account of prior inquiries and the legacy of diverse spiritual traditions. There is great scope for future spiritual innovation here. Indeed, when autonomous people relate within an ongoing self-generating spiritual culture, and the path for each becomes significantly interactive, the potential for emergent novelty in path-making is hugely increased. This does not make for a chaotic, anything-goes, relativism, but for unity in real diversity. The universal divine constants are necessarily revealed in and through the variations of human-divine innovation.

Can one enter into a conscious co-creating relation with immanent spiritual life, its womb of possibility? I believe so. You can relate to it, give it voice and be spiritually upheld and nourished by it, and enter into a co-guiding dynamic with it. I say co-guiding, since you select and shape the guiding as much as the guiding shapes you. This, on the one hand, makes it maculate, corrigible, and personally autonomous, and on the other hand reveals divine immediacy.

Various techniques have been proposed, in recent times, for tapping directly into the guiding potential within. E-Therapy was one (Kitselman, 1953).Kitselman asks how we can let out the greatness that is in us and affirms that it can let itself out, it only needs to be asked. He] then outlines a simple technique for asking E, the inner voice, which will respond in terms of any one or more of the following: inner ecstatic fire, trembling, body movements, disidentification from personal history, or an impulse toward some strategic action.

The much researched experiential focusing of Gendlin is another (Gendlin, 1981). This basically consists in making a clear relaxed area in the body-mind so that when a key question – suitably refined and focused – is asked, there is space for the answer to be manifest, in verbal or nonverbal imagery, accompanied by a subtle release of energy. Gendlin describes the whole process as if it were primarily somatic, a description which has always seemed to me to be rather too cautious.

But McMahon and Campbell develop Gendlin’s focusing in terms of a bio-spiritual approach. Their bio-spirituality emphasizes ‘an experience of grace in the body’. They relate letting go into the body-feeling about an issue, to a movement of the indwelling life-giving presence and power of God (McMahon and Campbell, 1991: 5, 17).

None of these processes is a purely passive receptivity to some guiding internal otherness, although they have a tendency to be described in this way, as I have just done in order to report them in their own terms. But my experience of them, and of related sorts of inner lived inquiry, is that my subjectivity is actively involved at a deep level in selecting and shaping life-processes moving within. The challenge of these methods is not to surrender fully to what comes up from the depths, but to open up that liberated place within where one can be co-creative with immanent spirit. And this with respect to options that shape both the surface and deeper pattern of the spiritual path.

7. A person manifests the creative process of divine becoming as an autonomous being, embedded in connectedness, and in co-operative, transformative relations with other persons similarly engaged.

In terms of process theology (Hartshorne and Reese, 1953), one aspect of divinity is the temporal becoming of finite entities within an infinite field. This includes self-determining human subjectivity, whose inner light and life, in interaction as I have described above, is in process of development, in the context of the limited flux and turn of events accessible to the individual. Both the inner light and the inner life are human-divine co-creations, forms of mediated-immediacy, hence they are maculate, corrigible, relative to their setting, changing and unfolding. At the human end, they are subject to three limiting factors.

Figure 2 The maculate authority within

· My social context, the hermeneutic situation of local language and culture.

· The degree of my explicit, conscious participation in the interbeing of the universe, the collective field of reciprocally engaged and diverse presences.

· The degree of emotional damage and spiritual constriction within which I labor.

Hence the importance of both critical subjectivity and life-prompts being exercised within a community of peers, who assist each other – using a range of peer support procedures – with the rigor of continuous spiritual deconstruction. Such deconstruction means being aware of how these three factors interact and how the presuppositions of this interaction set the scene for, limit and mould, every act of inner light and inner life. It means an attitude of bracketing such presuppositions and being open to their reframing through, respectively, a revision of prevailing belief-systems in the culture, enriched participation in the lived-through world, and emotional healing. Persons in peer groups can do a variety of things together to facilitate these three undertakings.

Such deconstruction does not eliminate or dethrone either the inner light or the inner life. On the contrary, it empowers each to flourish with ever greater temporary relevance. This maculate authority within is shown in Figure 2. The word ‘maculate’ is the opposite of ‘immaculate’, which means free from fault, perfect, spotless. So ‘maculate’ means not free from fault, imperfect, spotted. I also take it to mean relative to its limited context, and good enough in relation to its context. Thus the ‘macula lutea’ is the region of greatest visual acuity in the retina of the eye.

So as well as exercising discriminating inner light, and opening to the impulses of spiritual life, there is an important third contributor to the spiritual authority within. It is appropriate discourse with the other. This brings the internal dialogue between inner light and inner life into a comprehensive and more-than-verbal, as well as a verbal, relation with others in their world.

Everything is talking to everything else in the primordial language of creation. Abram eloquently makes the point in his The Spell of the Sensuous, that we do not inhabit a purely external, objective world out there, but a world of intersubjective phenomena in which human and non-human presences of all kinds forma shared field of experience lived through from diverse viewpoints. Within this participatory field, with which we reciprocally engage, there is an animate process of mutual apprehension – a meaningful dialogue of interbeing – going on. And this is prior to, and the ground and source of, all our use of verbal language (Abram, 1996; Heron, 1996).

So my phrase ‘appropriate discourse with the other’ is inclusive. It means several things.

· Opening now to nonverbal, interbeing exchange with the presences that are here, which we name trees and roads, rocks and stars, fish and fowl; and with the sheer presence of the whole in all its modes, physical, subtle and spiritual. This, I find, is a primal revelation of the divine. It is the dynamic eminence of the immediate multidimensional experiential world, the here and now collective field, in which our own presence is in reciprocal engagement, through being and doing, with other diverse presences, within the presence of Being. This nonverbal exchange may, for the person involved, be a silent, still and enriched participation in terms of felt resonance and imaging. Or it may be nonverbally expressive, embodying this participatory engagement in vocal or musical sounds, movements, gestures and postures; or in impromptu drawing, painting and modeling of clay.

· Talking to, talking with, talking within, this field – out loud and out of doors in my native tongue – using a variety of metaphors and figures of speech. In this process I am hearing what I am moved to say, how I am moved to edit and reframe it – and so deepen my encounter with Being – as I engage with the collective field of experience in which I am embodied and embedded. I am attending to a subtle dialogue between verbal and nonverbal forms of utterance and participation.

· The above practices – the silent and still, the nonverbally expressive, and the verbally improvised – can be variously combined in a charismatic collaborative inquiry into Being, by a group of spiritual inquirers, working sometimes simultaneously, and sometimes serially. This becomes a celebratory, innovative inquiry at the immediate, dynamic crest of divine becoming. For more details see the account of ‘primary theatre’ in Heron (2001, Chapter 8; 1999, Chapters 11 and 12).

· Dialogue with other humans, sharing our intelligent judgments and views, apprehensions and intuitions, about things spiritual and subtle. It can have two forms, verbal and aesthetic. We can talk with words, or we can exchange aesthetic presentations, nonverbal symbols of our spiritual process, wrought in any one or more of the whole range of art-forms. There is thus possible a mutual fructification between the propositional and the presentational, between explanation and expression (Heron, 1996: 88-90).

The view of internal spiritual authority which I have presented can be construed, in Berdyaev’s terms, as the creative, temporal process of divine becoming, which manifests as human-divine autonomy, a dipolar inner light and inner life, and evaluates that creative process in collaboration with other presences and persons in the field of interbeing. This means cultivation of discriminatory competence in evaluating spiritual and subtle events, of openness to impulses from the spiritual life deep within, of relationship with the felt field of interbeing, and reviewing the whole process in dialogue with one’s peers.

My basic postulate about the field of interbeing, is that any presence within it is uniquely what it is interdependently with the particular structure of the web of relations within which it is a nodal point or focus. No entity is distinct apart from its interconnections with other entities. Individual agency is correlative with social communion. Just so, human persons are only persons in relation with other persons. I can only be genuinely autonomous when in authentic co-operation with others.

Seeing the world as temporal divine process, I find true religion among autonomous humans in co-operative relations with each other and with the more-than-human world, taking account also of presences in complementary realities. I enter into union between beings, and with Being as such, when each being is both individualized and participatory. As we transcend separateness and alienation we become both more distinct and more in communion with each other. Our becoming more refined, autonomous and discriminating in our judgments, is interdependent with our entering ever more fully into participatory relations and unitive embrace. This is sobornost, One-Many sacrality, crowned by the transcendent and grounded in the immanent.

At present, co-operative inquiry (Heron and Reason, 2000; Heron 1996; Reason, 1988, 1994) in the spiritual sphere is unused and unknown, and is threatening to the authoritarianism that is part and parcel both of a long-standing spiritual traditions and of brash new spiritual cults. Such research means that a group of spiritual inquirers explore mystical and subtle experience together and discriminate among themselves about it (Heron, 2000, 1998). They can:

· Devise practices consonant with their inner light and life, and thus give form to their own original relation to creation.

· Elicit categories of understanding appropriate to their experience, without relapsing unconsciously into traditional doctrines, new age euphoria, or culturally prevalent beliefs and values.

· Refine the authority within – the discriminating inner light, the grounding inner life and the deconstruction of any ongoing projection – by the collaborative use of inquiry cycles and validity procedures.

· Clarify practical issues about entering and exiting from the experience.

· Winnow out criteria for distinguishing spiritual experience from purely psychological or subtle states.

· Manifest, as central to the inquiry process, charismatic transformation of everyday life: in personal behavior, interpersonal relationships, organizational processes, sociopolitical and ecological initiatives.


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