I – soul being – self
understanding and experiencing
(Opening talk at the annual meeting of DAKBT (German Study Group for Concentrative Movement Therapy) in Hattingen on the 28th November, 2013)
S i l e n c e
– in the tranquility of the body, when feelings fade away and thoughts subside, we can experience that there is more than what we are accustomed to perceive:
There is a smile, there is vastness.
The spine erects itself, the head is slightly tilted backwards, the eyes - open or closed - gaze above the horizon of everyday life’s perception into infinity. By and by, our outer personality steps to the side; then, in the depth of the heart, we can experience the golden smile of our soul being within the boundless, blue vastness of our Self.
If our outer personality, our I, does not step back, our perception remains filled by the usual stream of physical sensations, the swirl of emotions, by passing thoughts and the experiences of the outside world.
The smile inside us and the vastness around us remain veiled.
But they are there nevertheless. In this state of being we simply don’t have access to our Soul Being and our Self. They are subtle, and their perception is covered by the grosser frequencies of sensual impressions, emotions and thoughts. This state can be compared with a cloudy day. While the golden sun is shining as ever and the vastness of the sky is present as always, it is nevertheless covered by clouds for our perception; we experience this and express it like this: “Today the sun is not shining and the heavens hang low”.
If momentarily perceivable or veiled – today we wish to greet our fellow human beings around us on all three levels of our reality:
Our outer personality is greeting with the familiar “hallo”, accompanied by shaking hands, which permits a short physical contact and, with a glance into the eyes of the other, signals: “I am aware of you and I have a friendly attitude towards you.”
Our Soul Being is greeting with the Indian “namasté”, which some of us got to know while traveling. Erectly we put our palms together in front of the heart and slightly bow to the other to express: “My soul honours your soul”.
Our Self is greeting the Self of the other by opening our arms, lifting up and widening our hands, as a sign of the vastness that is inside ourselves and that we experience in the other. We know this gesture from the priest who turns towards God. This way we are greeting the Divine in the other with the Divine within ourselves.
We are concerned about the question: “Who am I?”
This is the central question of the human being, who contrary to the animal, plants and material objects, is blessed (or even punished) with a more or less developed consciousness of himself.
It is a question of identification: There is consciousness and there are formations on different levels of reality – wherever my consciousness is focused I am identified.
- ‘Western’ people of today are still mainly identified by their thinking –
“I think, therefore I am” - according to the starting point of the Philosophy of Descartes. On this basis Scholastic Theology and superstition of the Middle Ages could be overcome; With this, the cornerstone for scientific research was laid.
- In the 90’s Damasio enlightened us concerning “Descarte’s mistake”; he proved scientifically that our thinking functions on the basis of feeling only. Accordingly it would be correct to say: “I think and feel, therefore I am.”
KBT (Concentrated Movement Therapy) takes us still deeper into our personality. It prompts us to let our consciousness sink into the feeling body; thereby it develops from the “body that I have” to the “body that I am”.
Our ‘I’ is the entity of our consciousness that integrates all of these levels: “I am my thoughts, my feelings and my body”. In addition the ‘I’ is connecting itself to the development in the course of the life story and to the context of the social environment: “I was that child / I was that youngster / I was that young adult / I am the partner / I am the mother or the father” and so on. When all these levels and ingredients’ are well integrated, I can draw the conclusion: “That I am”, and maybe at the same time I am pointing towards the middle of my chest – not towards my forehead or towards my stomach (for a good reason as we will see).
Parts of our shadow, as well as parts of our personality, which we have not integrated in our ‘I’, can come into our awareness as neurotic or psychosomatic symptoms; we sense them to be strange, unwanted, a cause of suffering; we do not understand what for – we do not understand ourselves. These symptoms do (somehow) belong to us, but on the other hand (somehow) they don’t. They are ‘I’-dyston’, as it is called in professional circles.
The ‘I’ accounts for our personality; we know it more or less well and strive to understand and to unfold it more and more. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs this corresponds with the need for self-discovery and self-realization. This we can only pursue when our basic needs have been satisfied sufficiently: our physiological needs, our need for security and belonging, our need for love and acknowledgement.
At the end of Maslow’s pyramid of needs stands the need for Self-Transcendence. It marks the transition from ‘I’-psychology to transpersonal psychology that sprang up in the 70s on the western coast of the States, but in Germany never really gained a foothold.
Here we are approaching a ‘limited horizon’ that Anke Dalhoff asked me to look beyond. Transpersonal Psychology deals with that which appears in our waking consciousness, when we go into silence - as at the beginning of our togetherness - when the flow of thoughts and feelings, the outer senses of our body and surroundings ebb away. Now it is not a matter of a further step in the development of our personality anymore – it is a matter of the well-known ‘quantum leap’ towards the infinite inner person that we are, towards the Divine within us.
On the physical level I experienced such a leap a few years ago in a high wire garden. Ten meters high, in the middle of a balance beam there was a gap that couldn’t possibly be bridged by one step; to get to the other side one had to jump. It wasn’t possible to keep one foot on the timber. This climbing construction was called “the decision” (and of course we were roped up for security reasons). At first my legs were shivering at being 10 meters high. Only when they had calmed down was I able to slowly walk up to the gap on the beam. Now the decision had to be made: to jump or not to jump? At this point it is possible also to simply let oneself be roped down, and one has then had the superb experience of having almost been floating on the beam high up in the air. In my case the jump simply happened. I heard myself calling out: “Stephan, I am jumping!” … and found myself sitting on the timber on the other side. Wow, what an experience! For weeks it was lingering on inside me.
I am sharing this experience to give you a taste of what ‘quantum leap’ means here and to assure you that it takes a decision: you can jump – you don’t have to jump!
My leap in consciousness did not occur in Transpersonal Psychology, but directly in spiritual studies and experiences. In my search I finally arrived at Sri Aurobindo, in whose main philosophical work “The Divine Life” I found satisfactory explanations that I could integrate and relate to all of my previous knowledge and my experiences.
Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy is a cosmology
- based in the depth of thousands of years of Indian wisdom,
- presented by a mind of rational logic that was trained in the West,
- further developed in an integral evolutionary way in the spirit of a time that also found representatives in Teilhard de Chardin and Jean Gebser.
Between 2006 and 2009, for 24 months I studied in various Southern and Northern Indian Ashrams, first in an autodidactic way and later at an online master study course of the Indira Gandhi University in New Delhi.
I also delved into the practice of Integral Yoga that was developed on the basis of his insights by Sri Aurobindo - together with his companion, Mirra Alfassa, a native French woman called “The Mother”. I am practicing Integral Yoga with various teachers in Auroville, the international, eco-spiritual city-community near Pondicherry, which was founded under the patronage of UNESCO by the Mother in 1968 to manifest the Oneness of Humanity on the basis of the One Divine Self.
What did I find out about the I, the Soul Being and the Self during these ten years of wandering and learning? What can I share with you about this?
First of all it needs to be noted that in general these terms are randomly used in the western world. It is not clear what they mean: ‘I’ and ‘Self’ are used as if they were synonyms, as if they meant the same – which they don’t! For example, this is the case when Stern refers in his research to the ‘selves’’ which the baby possesses or develops, but describes the beginnings and emergence of the ego personality. Stern wants to distant himself from the term ‘I’ of Freud’s theory of drives, which he finds inadequate for his observations. Maslow calls it “self-discovery” and “self-realization”, when the experience and expression of the individual ‘I’ is concerned. On the other hand the urge for ‘self-transcendence’ that we mentioned before is wanting to go beyond the ‘I’, leave it behind, to transcend it, to be able to experience and realise the Self. Western psychology is mainly an ‘I’ psychology and the resulting psychotherapy deals with healing and developing the ‘I’ of the outer personality that exists between conception, birth and death. The Self is eternal. It exists in time and space and beyond. Experiencing and realizing it are the theme of spiritual disciplines, which are mainly concerned with overcoming the ‘I’ to arrive at the Self. In Transpersonal Psychology there are different branches having their own understanding and development. But in Germany, in only a few clinics, people try to include the transcendence of the ego and the experience of the Self in their therapy. This is because it requires a concept that acknowledges the existence of the Divine in general and particularly within the human being – and this is delicate, as it evades the western approach to research.
The term “soul” denotes something different in each of the following cases: in the Greek word ‘psyche’, in the Christian faith and in psychology as a western science of the soul. To outline this in detail would go beyond the scope of this presentation. What all applications of this term have in common is that “soul” means the core within the human being. But this is considered in different contexts and located on different levels.
It requires the cosmology of Sri Aurobindo to see the realities behind these terms within an appropriate overall context that gives us clarification.
1. Diagram (the Absolute and Consciousness) open
This cosmology starts with the absolute, and reaches down into matter to be able to view all the elements that are facets of the ONE as an integral Oneness. The absolute exists beyond being or not being, beyond conscious existence and yet it bears, permeates and is all. A further statement concerning this is in principle impossible. The primary, omnipresent reality that emerges from the absolute is consciousness. It has two facets: conscious being (Satchidananda) and conscious non-being (Nirwana); a first duality can be experienced by enlightened ones such as Buddha and Sri Aurobindo. For us mentally bound human beings it is a question of polarity. These states are a paradox; they seem to exclude each other – and yet they are ONE in the absolute. In Buddhism nirvana is the conscious non-being, the goal of all efforts, as it does free the human being from the painful “wheel of rebirth”; the merging of the individual consciousness into nirvana is the ultimate exit from the suffering of existence. In Hinduism, human beings of all centuries turn towards doing research on conscious being, existence. This is the starting point and the goal of my consciousness journey.
If you would like to learn more about the Buddhist Nirvana you would have to ask someone else. Sri Aurobindo has experienced Nirvana, but has decided not to merge into it and to remain in conscious being, to experience and to explore it in spite of all the suffering that appears in human consciousness. I have made the same decision, and I follow Sri Aurobino; because if it was all about getting out and free, than all the suffering and development was for nothing! It must have been worth it for something in the end – and that it is, fortunately!
2. Diagram (higher and lower hemisphere of existence) open
So we are concerned with conscious being, with existence; and here we have to differentiate between a higher and a lower hemisphere. The higher hemisphere of existence is eternally unchanging being, transcendence beyond time and space. The lower hemisphere of existence is the manifestation in space and time, the everlasting change of being. In transcendence we find the One conscious BEING in three facets as
- pure unmoved consciousness (sat), experienced as the Self (Atman) by its impersonal side, recognized as Ishwara, the Divine Lord, in its personal being;
- active power of consciousness (chid), experienced in its impersonal side as nature, recognized in its personal appearance as Maha-Shakti, the Great Goddess,
- conscious blessedness (ananda) of the Oneness of Self and Nature, of Ishwara and Maha-Shakti.
(footnote: here we find a second and third duality, namely active and passive, personal and impersonal.)
So the True Self (Atman) is already here, in transcendence beyond time and space. It is pure, void, unmoved, conscious being. It is called Jivatman, when standing behind or above an individual human incarnation as witnessing consciousness. The True Soul is a ray of consciousness that emerges from ananda, the blessedness of Being One. Therefore it is pure smiling, joy, bliss. It enters the incarnation, its “Avatar”, the organism of the physical body, feelings and thoughts that we usually identify with. The soul absorbs the essence of the experiences of our lives and thereby becomes an individualized Soul Being. This is the persona that continues to exist after death that at a different time, at another location, re-incarnates in a new body, in a different personality. So newborn ones are indeed no “blank sheets”; on the contrary, they bring an individuality with them, as Stern realized while observing his babies without any further comment. In analogy to the DNA of our physical bodies, we could even speak of a “soul DNA”.
It is Nature or Maha-Shakti, the active power of consciousness that provides the outer organism, by leaving transcendence and moving towards manifestation into time and space. She is dedicated to the everlasting process of change: by gradually compressing, she is in the course of “Involution” – so called by Sri Aurobindo – developing worlds and beings of subtle matter. The involution fulfils itself in three basic steps: the manifestation of the mental, of life and of matter by increasing density and crudeness. When the point of utmost possible density was reached, the material, evolutionary universe was born by the Big Bang. Our outer personality, integrated by our I, is an infinitely small, but holistic particle of this. Our earth, the blue planet, is the evolutionary part of the universe – maybe only one of many, who knows? - in which matter, life and the mental are, one after the other, developed within a diversity of perishable forms that is beyond all description. Homo sapiens is insofar up till now the peak of this evolutionary process, as the human being beyond animal life anchors mental consciousness within the manifestation, and integrates all basic elements, matter, life and the mental inside himself. Moreover, within the individualised human being that has a soul, transcendental ‘being’ and manifested ‘becoming’ combine each other. Thereby, individuation on the highest level is taking place – it happens within the incarnated Soul-Being.
The absolute does now exist in three different “states of aggregation”: transcendent, cosmic and individual. To individuate the Divine is the second big task of the human being, the Homo sapiens that has a soul – and with this we are occupied at the moment.
This project goes beyond academic medicine as taught at the University and beyond conventional therapeutic research – it is trans-rational. It requires a quantum leap in consciousness, letting go of the terrain of sturdy facts. We do not need to fear this, as it does not imply a relapse into the infra-rational, where the gate to wild superstition would be opened anew as in the middle ages. We are “roped up”, safeguarded by our rational mind. It will keep us at the height of its consciousness. We will not fall any deeper. However, for us to be able to experience and integrate higher and subtler levels of consciousness our rational mind needs to open up, it may not deem itself to be the highest as it usually does in the western world, because it is characterized by rational science and its resultant technic. Ken Wilber and Sri Aurobindo agree on this point: on the rational level of consciousness, humankind has only reached “halftime in evolution”. Ahead of us lies the next step, the development of Homo sapiens into Homo Divinus – this means the realisation of the human being, who has integrated the Divine in himself. Inside us the Divine, the Soul and the Self were and are ever present, but they remain in the background. As they are so subtle they struggle to be noticeable and to gain a hearing. Our ego is so noisy and dominant that we almost don’t have any access to the Divine inside us, often so little that we are inclined to deny its existence altogether. But Goethe, the old master, sensed the soul inside himself and let us know:
“Quietly sensible, a God in our bosom speaks and shows us what needs to be taken up and what needs to be fled.”
The Divine inside us, Soul and Self, live in our chest: for this reason we point to our chest and not towards our head or stomach when we want to express with a gesture: “That’s me” or “That’s myself”.
Well – what is to be done?
After having the map of consciousness spread out before us and as we can now orientate ourselves, our journey starts. As always there are many roads to Rome (to the Homo Devinius that Jesus Christ already realised within himself 2000 years ago already) and on each of these paths we will be seeing something different, will be experiencing something different – if we want go get to Rome at all and not prefer to go to New York or Rio …. The path that opened up for me I called Field Dynamics. There will be a workshop for that which allows you to go deeper into this experience. I would like to describe it as follows:
By focusing consciousness on the feeling body, KBT gains access to knowledge and wisdom of the body and activates its creative potential to heal dysfunctional personality patterns. With Field Dynamics in a state of ‘breathing relaxation’, we go deeper into the level of cells and tissue, where, in the light of the accompanying consciousness, parts of the shadow will appear and give access to working on them.
- We are diving as deeply as possible into our outer personality.
While practising ‘breathing concentration’ on the spaces of the heart on the surface we find the “wishing-soul”, the emotionality of our outer personality, behind that our “Soul-Being” with its specific Biotope and at the very back we find the vastness of the Self, felt and illustrated in very individual ways in each case.
- We meet the inner person, the Divine inside us that is behind our ‘I-Avatar’.
We trust the dynamic of this field in between the subjective wisdom of the physical body and the Divine inside us. The integration of all our parts allows us to ripen to become a “Homo Divinus”.
- The evolutionary quantum leap happens to us.
I – Soul Being – Self
Understanding and experiencing
I thank you for your kind attention.
Topic evening on “The Divine Life” by Sri Aurobindo
Topic: Who am I?
Second Book, Part 2, Chapter XIX
Exposé: Last year Richard Precht made this ancient question fit to appear in the chart of bestselling books. He answered it in an amusing and informative way he answered it on the basis of the scientific Zeitgeist.
We want to turn towards Sri Aurobindo’s message that he already conveyed 100 years ago, and we want to let him lead us into the depths, vastness and heights of his realisation. Doing so, we encounter the unconscious, the soul, the self and the immortal within us. Finally, it is becoming clear and understandable what these words that we like using describe, and in which context they are posed concerning who and what we really are.
Introduction to the topic
‘Who am I’ – what a question!
Strangers ask me: “Who are you?” But do I ask myself: “Who am I?”? Yet this is not a question for me. I know it from early childhood: my parents looked at my body and called me by my name and that’s it. I am me and carry this name that means me.
I am my body, my feelings, my thoughts, my deeds, my life story. I additionally identify with some things that also belong to me, that are, so to speak, an extension of myself: my family, my house, my city, my nation. And of course I am one of the 6 billion people on earth – all this in delimitation of who and what I am not. Well, if one can’t answer the question “Who am I?” spontaneously and with certainty, then one has a real problem, then one is considered sick in one way or another and treated accordingly. Fortunately this happens only rarely.
And yet: the question “Who am I?” is one of the oldest and maybe most central question for humankind that - contrary to the animal and plant world - self-awareness is imposed upon. “Realise yourself” was written above the entrance to the oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece, and after some time I start to guess that what I know and think about myself cannot be everything.
As soon as life gives us some space for it, the search begins that can take us on very different paths that hold different answers ready: western scientific materialism, psychological and philosophical schools, different versions of religious dogmatism and paths of spiritual tradition – or the pure deepening of one’s own life experience. And after a while it always comes down to the same result: one finds some satisfying answers that capture reality and allow us to understand and master life a little better; but – there is a big ‘but’. Sooner or later experiences show up and lead to questions that cannot be answered with these insights anymore – the search goes on.
On such a search it is possible to meet Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), his French companion Mirra Alfassa (1878-1973), called “the Mother”, and their ‘Integral Yoga’. Sri Aurobindo is a ‘rational mystic’ of India: during his childhood and youth he was trained in London and Cambridge in the western way of thinking, back in India he rooted himself deeply in the ancient Indian knowledge revealed in the Vedas and Upanishades and by degrees he experienced and realized all aspects of enlightenment. It was the lifework of the Mother to put the yoga they had developed together into practice and to get it across more easily to the many students in the Ashram at Pondicherry and in the world. It is the integrality of this yoga and its evolutionary aspect that make it appropriate to the present time.
In his basic series “The Life Divine”, Sri Aurobindo exposes our “Sevenfold Ignorance” to us and leads us to the “Sevenfold Knowledge” of who and what we really are. He names and describes:
- Constitutional Ignorance
- Psychological Ignorance
- Ignorance depending on the time
- Ego-centred Ignorance
- Cosmic Ignorance
- Primal Ignorance
- and Practical Ignorance
Our Constitutional Ignorance results from the fact that we human beings are mental beings bound to matter and life. We distinguish ourselves by our ability of reasoning cognition, which is predominantly used to serve our material and vital needs. Initially this orientation is required to master these areas to manage daily life to a degree (with occasional propitious hours). Later however it becomes a limitation that prevents us recognising our true greater being. Even if we have explored the physical and chemical laws of our world, the vastness of the universe and the depths of the oceans, and have understood the biological and social processes, we will not be much closer to the true happiness that lies in being conscious of our own being and to realising it. The highest we can momentarily reach at the level of physical-vital-mental daily life consciousness is technical comfort and unstable harmonization of our lives through ethical and aesthetic principals and behaviour that is appropriate to reality. What is essential is knowledge about the spiritual core of our being that, in a further step of evolution beyond the current stage, wants to manifest itself in the outer world.
Our Psychological Ignorance results from of our fixation on our outer mental-vital-physical personality with a daily life consciousness that is sustained by a superficial memory capacity. The levels beneath, behind and above do not appear spontaneously therein and nor, to any significant extent, do the parts of our being that are connected to those levels. Psychology, as a western human discipline, has for the past 100 years explored our unconscious levels and parts of our personality. Eastern spiritual science has, for thousands of years, been exploring and teaching about the levels of the universal and transcendental spirit, and finds the One and our universal Self lying above normal daily life consciousness. The Christian Middle Ages, with their occultism and Saints, had access to the subliminal (occult) realities behind the outer world and knew about the soul that forms the immortal divine core in every one of us. It takes avoidance of our consciousness of the outside and turning towards what is below, above and inside to become aware of these levels of reality and of the unconscious parts of our personality, of our soul and our self.
If we want to know who in truth we are and what is really moving us, then there is no getting around this research.
Our time-related Ignorance is linked to the assumption that our individuality is tied to our body and its life between birth and death which is limiting the continuity of our superficial memory capacity. We have a spontaneous sense of the immortal inside us, but our reasoning, being based on material-sensory data, rejects it as being irrational superstition that is fomented by some religions. Sri Aurobindo explains that our basic immortality lies in the timelessness of our Self, in our unchangeable being, beyond our ‘becoming’ in time. As a natural consequence of this true immortality, there is a continuity of our development in time, of our experience of one life moving to another, of one world moving to another after the dissolution of our physical body. This is a natural result of the timelessness of our being that expresses itself here in everlasting continuity in eternal time. It is our soul (the Divine spark of consciousness inside us) that passes through the cycles of birth and death thereafter and rebirth, and that sustains the sense of a continuing identity inside us.
We can experience our unchanging Self and the core of our soul in our growth, if we withdraw our consciousness from the draining interest on the material for a while, go inside and above, out of our superficial, perishable moment to moment life into eternal life of our immortal consciousness. Then we do experience that we are a spiritual being, possessing an abiding soul life that develops its activities in successive physical processes of being and thereby shapes its true inner individuality.
Through this insight, we become free at the same time of our Ego-centered Ignorance. The ego exists through its limitations: “this is me, but that I am not – this belongs to me and not that”. It separates us from our fellow men, from the world, from the universe and from the Divine All-One, and limits us to our outer personality. It does not find a foothold within the connectedness of our soul with all creatures and the boundlessness of our transcendental Self and dissolves. But this disappearance does not lead to the destruction of true individuality of our spiritual being, as this has always been universal and one with transcendence. A new kind of non-personal personal viewing, feeling and dealing is developing.
Our Cosmic Ignorance is thus dissolving: we do not identify ourselves with a microscopic small part of manifestation, our present incarnation, but realise our universality, the cosmic consciousness, in which manifestation as a whole is happening: “I am ALL of this.” And our Primal Ignorance will be overcome also, the oblivion of our transcendental Self as being one with the Divine All-One. Now the One is being experienced in the Many and the Many are being seen in the One. “It reconciles eternal Oneness with eternal diversity.” It reunites the soul with God and discovers the Divine Being in the universe. Due to this realisation we can converge to the absolute as the origin of all circumstances and relations.” This is Sri Aurobindo’s lived experience that he shares with us as we are still on the way.
By overcoming all these forms of ignorance, we gain self-realisation. Now we know who we really are: on the surface only we are physical-vital-mental human beings, often driven by the unconscious inside us and in the period between birth and death we live as our daily life consciousness points out to us. Behind this outer personality lives our soul, the share of the All One Divine consciousness that, through the sequence of rebirths and the passages through the beyond, maintains the continuity of our individuality in the eternity of time. Above this is our individual Self, that does not manifest itself in time. It expends us into the universal and transcendental Self and finally into the Absolute beyond being and non-being.
This path of realisation implies spiritual evolution: “the transformation of a life of ignorance towards a Divine life of a spirit that is conscious of the truth; the transformation of a mental way of being into a spiritual and supramental one … The true individual, the spiritual being comes to the fore. It is individual and yet universal, universal and yet self-transcendent.”
This form of self-realization enables us to overcome the seventh, Practical Ignorance, which at its worst expresses itself in bad deeds, suffering, mistakes and lies. When living in the overarching truth, we will according to Divine law feel and take action out of the Oneness, beyond a narrow ethical standard that is an expression of the highest mental level. Human life and suffering will transform itself into a Divine life on earth, into harmony, joy and perfection. Sri Aurobindo informs us that this is the inevitable next step ahead of us, and that we human beings play the central role in this.
For many years, all of us have felt the enormous pressure towards transformation that weighs on us: good to know where the journey leads and what it requires – thank you from the depth of my heart, Sri Aurobindo!