Dear wisdom friends,

By now the word is out that I am officially stepping back from active duty as a core faculty member at the Center for Action and Contemplation. As a newly minted “faculty emeritus,” I will no longer actively teach in the Living School or be a regular presence at CAC symposia and conferences. My course material will continue to factor prominently in the Living School curriculum for the foreseeable future, and the expectation is that I will keep a hand in with occasional special teachings and presentations.

I want to make very clear to all that this decision to step back is motivated neither by ill health nor ill will. Entirely au contraire, it rests squarely on both of these rather remarkable graces: of a still robust health, and dear, trusted friends at the CAC who have given both support and wise encouragement to what the Quakers would call a “leading”—a strong inner prompt to accept a new invitation. In this time of global upheaval I have found myself increasingly called to work at the more esoteric edges of my Christian faith, more directly in the eye-of-the-needle of the transition from ego-selfhood to whatever lies beyond it, relying on traditional teaching methods long validated in inner work but often misunderstood—and risking unintentional harm—in large, broader-platform groups where direct interaction with the teacher is increasingly limited and now mostly delivered in online formats. The broader container simply does not, in my experience, provide adequately for the deepening of trust and the mutual gauging of strength that must be in place before a teacher can safely push the student through that eye of the needle—at least in such a way as can be recognized by both parties as spiritually respectful and trustworthy. That is why traditional esoteric work has always gone on in smaller, below-the-radar circles. Knowledge can be communicated widely, but Being can only be transmitted within a bond of mutual love, validated by mutual consent.

The “leading” has been steadily growing in me over the past couple of years to give my time more fully to that more intimate, experimental, and mostly on-the-ground work, with the aim of impacting transformation of consciousness (both individually and in the larger culture) at an immediate vibrational level, rather than through intellectual paradigms and social action initiatives. Not that the two are an “either/or” proposition, but I feel increasingly called to the former more than the latter: to work directly within the imaginal bandwidth with prepared students, following the path laid down for me by my four great lightholders: Boehme, Gurdjieff, Thomas Keating, Rafe—and now, joining them in their imaginal oversight, my “pure flame” spiritual sister Cennet Jane Garland. And as I find myself living more and more these days in that imaginal thin place, I sense them all very clearly pawing the ground from their side, urging me to get on with it.

More than anything else, it’s a sense that my post is being shifted out from under me, and the choice before me is either to accept or reject the new assignment. So many of those trained in the old school of spiritual midwifing are now on the other side, and it seems that a new group of us must step forward to hold as best we can their vacated posts as imaginal gatekeepers. Ready or not, here we go!

“Hermeneutics is always a wager,” Rafe taught me: “a wager that if your premises are right, you’ll live it into existence.” For thirty years or more I have staked my teaching on certain premises—the reality of the imaginal world, the ongoing partnership with Rafe, energetic transmission between the worlds, the Law of Three, the encompassing presence of Christ, the causal validity of the beatitudes vis à vis right action in this world, the survival of selfhood (but not ego selfhood!) beyond death, the utter imperative of obedience to conscience, the growing recognition that Being hides out in the gap between theory and practice.

I feel called to ratchet up the level of integrity, to challenge the clichés and perspectival roadmaps which have framed even the best of my own spiritual understanding to date, and to claim the space necessary to play out my hand with a measure of risk and vulnerability simply not available to me when I am carrying the weight of a spiritual institution on my back.


My yearning, as with Thomas Merton as he embarked on the final season of his life, is “to be jerked out of the habitual half-tied vision of things…without trying to discredit anyone or anything—without refutation, without establishing some other argument.” Something like that.

Many of you know that Merton wrote these words less than two weeks before his death. Worry not; I assure you that I feel no intimations of my own imminent demise! But I do feel very keenly that I am entering a season of ultimacy, a time when one either does or does not clear the decks of the provisional (that which merely provides extension in the temporal realm) in order to play out one’s final hand with integrity and panâche. I feel incredibly blessed to arrive at this point still sound in mind and body. As I watch dear friends being taken apart brick by brick by physical or mental diminishment, I realize the immense gift I have been given and the imperative not to waste it.

So know that I’m still out there, still doing the work as best I can, still teaching in appropriate venues, still writing, and still sailing my little boat toward open sea, steering as best I can by the compass of my heart.

To my friends, colleagues, students, both at the CAC and in my Wisdom and contemplative circles, the deepest of thanks—and stay tuned. The show ain’t over yet.

There are two other things you should know about Gebser’s “aperspectival” time: it is non-exclusionary, and it is purposive.

Linear or perspectival time, the time we’re used to, is exclusionary. Its linear, unidirectional flow provides sequencing and causality. Things that happen earlier cause things that happen later, not the other way around. To choose to do one thing often means choosing NOT to do something else. If you decide to become a monk, you can’t marry the girl of your dreams. If you’re an artist painting a full-on portrait of somebody’s face, you can’t simultaneously show their back. As the medieval author of The Cloud of Unknowing laments, “God never gives us two moments at once.”

It is not so in aperspectival time. Here everything that is qualitatively in a moment can and does display simultaneously, as time “irrupts” into the present from a greater coherence beyond it, where seeming opposites or dissonances are harmonized in a more capacious whole. This is the “intensification” that Gebser speaks of. All our possible “courses over history” which in perspectival time can only be lived partially and sequentially, are instantly available in any moment of direct encounter with the “originary” whole. They simply shape-shift from quantitative to qualitative and present themselves as a “timeless” direct encounter with the purposive epicenter from which our lives arise and around which they in fact orbit like planets around a sun. 

While his notion admittedly boggles the mind, the heart seems to get it. This is exactly what General Lowenhielm was talking about in his extraordinary love-toast to his beloved across the banquet table that furnishes the moving climax in the movie Babette’s Feast:

Man in his weakness and shortsightedness believes that he must make choices in life. He trembles at the risk he takes. We do know fear. But no, our choice is of no importance. There comes a time when our eyes are opened, and we come to realize that that mercy is infinite. We need only await it with confidence and receive it with gratitude. Mercy imposes no conditions.

And lo! Everything we have chosen has been granted to us. And everything rejected has also been granted. Yes, we get back even what we rejected. For mercy and truth are met together. Justice and peace have embraced.

Pondering this speech in my own book Mystical Hope back in 2000 I wrote:

If only we could understand this more deeply. If only we could see and trust that all our ways of getting there—our courses over time—our good deeds, our evil deeds, our regrets, our compulsive choosings and the fallout from these choosings, our things done and paths never actualized—are quietly held in an exquisite fullness that simply poises in itself, then pours itself out in a single glance of the heart. If we could glimpse that even for an instant, then perhaps we would be able to sense the immensity of love that seeks to meet us at the crossroads of the Now, when we yield ourselves into it. (pgs. 61-62 and pgs.65-66)

That passage was written more than twenty years before I ever bumped into Gebser’s notion of Originary Presence. But it’s still been my primary experiential access route to what I construe Gebser to be hinting at in his description of Origin: not as the linear starting point but as the causal epicenter from which time irrupts into the stale procession of linearity and bedazzles it with wholeness and a felt-sense coherence. We usually interpret these brief inrushes of that other intensity as merely mystical or “peak” experiences, but the long arc of evolution suggests that they can and will become a steady state of being once our consciousness, moral compass, and nervous system have all matured to a degree that we can stand living steadily at that degree of direct causal intensity. That is Integral Emergence in a nutshell. 

Meanwhile, in this new aperspectival configuration, time has a more fluid, shapeshifting quality, serving more frequently as the vehicle of “presentiation” (bringing all things into the present moment) than as the docent of linearity. Time flows both forwards and backwards out of that causal epicenter as we learn that events theoretically in the “future” (i.e., not yet downloaded onto the horizontal timeline) can and do physically impact events in the “past.” My teacher Rafe always told me that he worked every day to liberate his parents, both long dead, from the cumulative anguish of their lives. Higher consciousness alters the flow of time— by exposing the illusion of “flow!” Meanwhile, it slips around behind the “front” of that artist’s portrait and displays the back side as well. This is what Gebser means by the “concretization” of time and why he makes so much of some of Picasso’s expressionist paintings which display mutually exclusive perspectives at the same time. Perspective be damned! If the front and back sides of something do in fact simultaneously exist, then they can be simultaneously portrayed. Period. The “time” it would have taken to walk around to the back side and paint it from its “proper” perspective is instead recaptured in the simultaneity itself. Time is now functioning not as perspectival distancing but as aperspectival convergence. 

Another way of saying this would be that time is no longer passive but active, no longer a backdrop but an additive force. In that sense, it would be fair to call it purposive—which is actually what our brilliantly precocious author of The Cloud of Unknowing does in his fourth chapter when he describes time as a function of will, each moment arising as an “urge” or “spark” of the divine will. While normally these urges arise sequentially, the author teaches—”because God does not wish to reverse the ordered course of his creation”—they can configure in other ways as well: most strikingly as a stirring or intensification of desire—“and it is wonderful to count the number of stirrings that may appear within one hour in a soul that is disposed to this work,” he marvels.

Aperspectival time thus demonstrates interiority, consciousness, and spontaneity, those three characteristics which, according to Teilhard de Chardin (Human Phenomenon p. 25) announce the definitive presence of conscious intelligence at work. It is no longer inert, mechanical; it is active, purposive, creative, unpredictable. For all of these reasons. It would not be innacurate to say—again in Teilhardian terms— that it belongs to the realm of the personal. And while the importance of this final suggestion may be lost on those of you unfamiliar with Teilhardian thought, it may just hold the missing piece to why this long-awaited Integral Emergence has been so frustratingly slow in arriving.


A Note from Northeast Wisdom/ Wisdom Waypoints:

Please share your reflections in “Comments” below! We love to hear what stirs you.

This is the thirteenth posting in the Exploring Jean Gebser series by Cynthia Bourgeault. You will find the previous posts here:

An Invitation to Begin the Healing Work;

Stages Versus Structures;

Unperspectival, Perspectival, Aperspectival;

The View from The Periscope;

The Perspectival Mainspring;

The Deficient Mental Structure;

“You Can’t Go Home Again…” The Mythic and Magic Structures;

What Integral is Not;

Integral as Theotokos: A Western Take on Origin;

The Baton Has Been Passed: Now Can We Run With It?;

The Horse, The Carriage, and the Driver: A Gurdjieffian Slant on a Gebserian Conundrum;

and The Faces of Time.

Check out the Forum for related posts written by members of the Wisdom community:

Martin Luther King and Cosmic Dialysis by Benjamin Thomas;

The Heart’s Longing by Benjamin Thomas;

Afterword: Jean Gebser Lesson X by Cynthia Bourgeault;

Horse, Carriage and Driver by Jonathan Tetley.

Stay connected, there are more posts in this series to come!

Images from the top: Emerald green water with gray dock, photo courtesy of Chris Pagan, Unsplash; Tulip blooming in snow, photo courtesy of michael podger, Unsplash; and Nightfall with lantern in sand dunes, photo courtesy of Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash.

Whatever you may take Gebser’s Integral structure of consciousness to be, its most striking characteristic is that it entails a radically different approach to time. Time presents in a strikingly different way in Integral. Gebser rightly describes it as a “fourth dimension,” and the capacity to grasp what he is laying before us here is frustratingly commensurate with our own attained capacity to begin to think, perceive, and connect the dots according to the conventions of this new language of temporicity.

For most well-educated Westerners, this will be the toughest nut to crack in the journey to the heart of Ever Present Origin. We are used to thinking of time as a duration, metronomically flowing from the past to the future. Even though we know theoretically that Einstein totally up-ended that illusion in his theory of Relativity, in the practical, commonsense world we mostly inhabit time still seems to flow steadily and to present itself as an objective backdrop against which we play out our lives, order our datebooks, and construct the narrative of ourselves. It conveys a reassuring sense of continuity, and its functional indispensability in maintaining the fabric of a well-ordered society is so obvious that it’s all too easy to look the other way and make Einstein the exception rather than the rule.

Time-as-duration is the foundational convention of perspectival consciousness; it’s the invisible electric fence that holds all things within its limits.

To escape from this habituated mode of thinking into a new and wider field of consciousness is frustratingly difficult, because ultimately it’s not a matter of will, sincerity, or merit; it’s a new developmental capacity that unfolds within an individual (and a new cultural age) according to its own inscrutable “time” table. An infant will walk when she’s ready, and as most parents eventually learn, you can’t push the river. Trying to describe four-dimensional time to those of us (most all of us) who have not yet developmentally accessed it is like trying to describe three-dimensionality to the plane-dwellers of Flatland. We don’t yet quite have the capacity to grasp it.

That’s why I admit to cringing and shying away whenever I hear the term “Integral” being bandied about. I know I am about to encounter a terrain replete with pretentious-sounding neologisms and hyped scenarios of a glorious future. Gebser himself succumbs a bit to this temptation, allowing us to tarry too long in the illusion that a new vocabulary alone (“synareisis,”, “diaphaneity,” “waring,” etc.) is going to reveal the truth of the experience. I can almost hear e.e. cummings clucking his tongue at these “great words, writing overmuch [that] stand helpless before the spirit at bay.” The poets get it. They always get it. Nothing is fully realized (“concretized” in Gebser’s term) until it can be expressed simply, in words already in everyday cultural use. Fortunately poets are well represented in The Ever Present Origin, and it is through Rilke and T.S. Eliot that one really begins to taste the extraordinary possibility Gebser is laying before us.

In the newly emerging Integral structure (again, arriving on its own developmental schedule), time will function in a different way: no longer as a duration, but as an intensification, revealing a whole new depth and dimensionality to what was previously perceived merely as a flat surface. In this additional depth and coherence, Origin can finally present itself as what it truly has been all along—immediate, originary presence—not because “God finally decides to “show up,” but because our vehicle of perception has matured enough to “bear the beams of love” without being fried alive. T.S. Eliot speaks of this movingly when he writes in his Four Quartets:           

“Old men ought to be explorers. Here and there does not matter.
We must be still and still moving into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion…”

In my own Eye of the Heart, I describe as one of the chief characteristics of imaginal perception that time no longer functions as a duration but as a volume. Cut free from the perspectival metronome, it expands and contracts to fill the “amount” of space needed to accomplish its intentions. The heart-fidelity of a lifetime can be compressed into a single glance exchanged across a banquet table, as I try to illustrate using the iconic movie Babette’s Feast. That film is really a deep dive direct into the living heart of Integral temporicity, and its portrayal of the intense, all-suffusing presence of love consummated in a nanosecond of durational time gives you some sense of what this “originary presence” is really all about once it gets out of the head. I have not yet attempted a systematic correlation between Imaginal causality and the Integral Structure of consciousness—I wrote Eye of the Heart well before my deep dive into Gebser—but the resonances are definitely intriguing.

For me the most useful starting point for beginning to get a sense of this new mode of temporicty comes in a single brief comment (EPO, p. 285) where Gebser lists several presentational formats of time: “as clock time, natural time, cosmic or sidereal time, biological duration, rhythm, meter; as mutation, duration, relativity; as vital dynamics, psychic energy [‘soul’ and ‘the unconscious’], and as mental dividing.”

I invite you to stay with that list for a while; it’s a fabulous starting point for learning to concretize time in a different way. See if you can sense your way into each of these presenting modes. What does sideral time feel like when you allow it to penetrate your being with its sheer massiveness, like a mountain range pressing down on you? How does “natural time” come alive in you when you throw away your watch and set your rhythms according to the movements of sun and stars? How are rhythm and meter expressions of time, and how are they different from each other? As you begin to “represent” these possibilities to yourself (as Gurdjieff would call it—i.e., experience them in yourself through sensation rather than visualization—you begin to get some sense for the range and suppleness of time. The emerging new structure of consciousness becomes something already strangely familiar: no longer a star on the distant horizon, but a quickening aliveness stirring in the womb of your consciousness, whose essence you already intuitively know.

I would add to that list one more temporic: pulse. It’s like meter in a way, but held deeper in your body, in soundless sensation. There you become one with the fundamental dynamism itself, “the root of the root” of the arising. It’s the way deaf people learn to become fabulous drummers.

I would have to say that this is perhaps the lesson I carry the most deeply in my being from my madcap odyssey with my cruising buddy, Johnny the Greek, a couple of seasons ago. I was a Western perspectivaI poster child; he lived mostly in the magic structure. I heard meter, he heard pulse. He taught me how to slow-dance to a jig by attuning to the deeper pulse instead of just bouncing up and down to the top rhythm. At sea, when the wind was screaming and all hell was breaking loose in a 60-knot gale, he simply tuned out the bouncing surface rhythm and hunkered down in the deep, steady pulse of the sea. He sailed on through the storms, unflappable, simply attending to what needed to be attended to in its proper temporcity, his sea-anchor planted in the root spaciousness. It’s a lesson I will cherish all my life; I believe the Sufi whirling dervishes have discovered the same truth. It is not even the “still point in the turning world.” It is the wellspring of the turning.

A Note from Northeast Wisdom/ Wisdom Waypoints:

This is the twelfth posting in the Exploring Jean Gebser series by Cynthia Bourgeault. You will find the previous posts here:

 An Invitation to Begin the Healing Work;
Stages Versus Structures;
Unperspectival, Perspectival, Aperspectival;
The View from The Periscope;
The Perspectival Mainspring;
The Deficient Mental Structure;
“You Can’t Go Home Again…” The Mythic and Magic Structures;
What Integral is Not;
Integral as Theotokos: A Western Take on Origin;
The Baton Has Been Passed: Now Can We Run With It?; and
The Horse, The Carriage, and the Driver: A Gurdjieffian Slant on a Gebserian Conundrum.

Stay connected, there is more to come!


Images from the top: Metronome Malzel, courtesy of wikimedia commons; Still Life with Metronome and Mandola, painting by George Braque, public domain usa, courtesy of wikipedia, copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift from the Leonard A. Lauder, Cubist Collection; Endless, image by author George Fitzmaurice, courtesy of Unsplash.

In my last post I invited us all to begin thinking more specifically in terms of the gifts and strengths contributed to the whole by the magic and mythic structures of consciousness. By now we’ve been working in Gebser long enough to see how that popular Wilber cliché, “transcend and include,” in fact merely muddies the waters. The “more primitive” structures of consciousness are not simply folded into the new structure like eggs in a cake batter. Rather, like rooms in a museum, they continue to stand in their own integrity, each with its own center of gravity and way of making connections. They are all needed to create that “paroxysm of harmonized complexity” through which the Integral light can shine.

This is true on both the micro-and macro-level. It is true in the healing of our own souls, and it is even more true in the healing of our culture. For Gebser, the individual and cultural expressions of evolutionary consciousness are joined at the hip. The outer world is not simply a gateway or metaphor for our inner journey. If anything, the flow is in the opposite direction. Conscious evolution is measured in Gebserian scale by the great movements sweeping across the face of cultural history. What we do here and now, at this crucial turning point, with the cultural institutions entrusted to our stewardship is of paramount importance to how the next chapter of the story will unfold.

So what are the great gifts of these two “earlier” structures of consciousness? As I reflect on Gebser, Jeremy Johnson, and my own seven-decade trek across this terrain (the last three years perhaps more eye-opening than all the rest put together), here is my own short list:


From the magic:

  1. Vital energy: a powerful, kinesthetic connection to the life force flowing through all things.
  2. shapeshifting capacity that allows the observer to easily change places with the observed and hence perceive all things from the inside (because “inside” and “outside” do not yet firmly exist in the much more fluid magical consciousness). In this liminal zone of exchange, stones speak, trees give away their secrets freely, and the great earth spirits draw close to nurture and animate.
  3. Because of the above, a belly-centered sense of belonging and interbeing; a kinesthetic numinosity which allows the world to be directly sensed as holy, not “reflected upon” as holy.
  4. A capacity to enter into that deep, non-dimensional “place where there’s no space or time” (to quote Leon Russell); to enter “mindlessness”—and there reconverge as nearly as possible in created form with that fetal archaic consciousness which is not only our personal but the primordial womb.


From the mythic:

  1. “soul:” the headwaters of the river of self-reflective consciousness. The beginning of story.
  2. A deep sense of nobility, heroism, and virtue.
  3. The capacity for devotion, covenant, and love—the beginning of “God”; it is in mythic consciousness that Yahweh—“I am who I am”—first announces himself to the Israelite people.
  4. The capacity to respond to a call from motives beyond mere security and survival: to harness the extraordinary creative strength and self-sacrificial capacities of soul.
  5. A capacity to find one’s rhythm and ground in the deeper, recurrent rhythms of the great polarities: the seasons, the play of light and dark, rise and fall of tides; opposites expressed not as oppositional, but as simply the fluctuations of a single sine wave.


I believe, by the way, that the mental has great gifts as well, though not the ones we usually look to it for. The speed of processing, calculating, positing, structuring, imagining, world-building speak for themselves. But my own take, strangely, is that what the mental contributes is BACKBONE. Gurdjieff would call it “holy the denying,” second force. Evolution goes “chordate” with the emergence of the mental structure; there is something there which can and does push back. By the very force of our separated consciousness, we can hold our own against the sheer siren call of the Mystery hurtling toward us, singing us back into oneness. We have become, like Jacob wrestling with the angel, wounded but worthy opponents. And this is a painful but absolutely necessary wounding if the next structure of consciousness is to appear, because diaphaneity is impossible if it instantly incinerates the structure it is shining through.

From Gurdjieff comes another interesting insight. You can say, roughly, that the magic structure corresponds to the moving center (notice how often I use the word “kinesthetic?”), the mythic to the emotional center, and the mental to the intellectual center. And if you permit that analogy, the next step brings an even more interesting insight. Only when the three lower centers are balanced and in communication, Gurdjieff teaches, is it possible for the New Arising (a.k.a., “Conscious Man”) to emerge on this prepared foundation. The bread-and-butter work of conscious transformation in the Gurdjieffian system lies in the careful tending and strengthening of the three lower centers (paying particular care to centers that are weak or neglected in oneself) so that a balanced, prepared undercarriage is in readiness. Then and then only will the higher stage be able to emerge.

Now it seems to me that this is a very good clue as to where our attention needs to be, not only personally but even more, culturally. We need to tend, balance and consciously connect those three lower structures we have been entrusted with: the magic, mythic, and mental.

Gurdjieff often conveyed this teaching in the form of a metaphor about a horse (emotional center), carriage (moving center), driver (intellectual center) and owner (“Real I, or conscious human being.) At the present moment, he said, the carriage is disrepair, the horse’s reins have vanished, the driver is at the pub, and the owner is nowhere to be seen.

It’s not a long stretch to apply this to our own North American cultural landscape, Winter, 2021. The magic structure is missing its brakes; the mythic structure, having cut the cord with the mental, has wandered off into the poppy fields; the driver is at the pub of choice, gulping down the home brew in fiercely loyal draughts; and the Owner—the emergent Integral— is huddling in a corner, frantically texting Uber rather than risking his life to such a contraption. We can and must do better.

I ask us all: how do we begin to help restore the carriage and horse: the sturdy—albeit perhaps “antiquated” magical and mythical institutions of our culture so dismissively cast aside, even in our own lifetime, by a street-smart driver who’s sure she knows what is best? What are these structures, anyway? Where do we locate them? If the values they represent (as per my list above) are crucial to the emergence of the Integral—and even in the event that they can be gently disentangled from the cultural institutions that have borne them for so long and be revivified in other ways, by no means a foregone conclusion—how do we find the heart and the forgiveness for this work? How do we sober up from our smug dismissiveness, pick up the currying brush, and start again with the work that must be done, for the sake of the whole, for the sake of the future?

A Note from Northeast Wisdom/ Wisdom Waypoints:

Please see Cynthia’s Afterword: Jean Gebser Lesson X here in the Wisdom Community Forum, where she is hearing resonances: “Trying to understand how to reconnect, rebalance and re-honor the severed magic, mythic, and mental structures in our culture is a gargantuan task, beyond any single one of us. But I already hear you…”

This is the eleventh posting in the Exploring Jean Gebser series by Cynthia Bourgeault. You will find the previous posts here:

 An Invitation to Begin the Healing Work;
Stages Versus Structures;
Unperspectival, Perspectival, Aperspectival;
The View from The Periscope;
The Perspectival Mainspring;
The Deficient Mental Structure; and
“You Can’t Go Home Again…” The Mythic and Magic Structures;
What Integral is Not;
Integral as Theotokos: A Western Take on Origin; and
The Baton Has Been Passed: Now Can We Run With It? Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson IX.

Stay connected, there is more to come!


Images from the top: Saint Theresa’s Interior Castle, author unknown, courtesy of Integrated Catholic Life; Pahari painting of Golden cosmic egg Hiranyagarbha by Manaku, c. 1740, courtesy of wikipedia; Charioteeer of Delphi, cropped, image author Юкатан, courtesy of wikimedia commons; Attic Panathenaic amphora, Kleophrades Painter, 490-480 B.C, public domain.

It occurred to me that people may want a little guidance as to how to pick and choose among the sudden embarrassment of riches of Cynthia Bourgeault online course options currently opening up for registration. Here’s a bit more information to help you make your selections:


I would love to have as many hands as possible on deck for the Spirituality & Practice e-course, Spiritual Gifts from the Imaginal Realm, which will launch February 18, 2021 and run through the six weeks of Lent. This is my pilot online course unpacking the material in my recent book Eye of the Heart. I will be trying to present the basic building blocks in a way that is broadly inclusive (even if you haven’t read Eye of the Heart) and practical, based in actual practices that people can do to help our entire planet through the perilous eye of the needle we’re collectively facing. If we could get a thousand people on this course—anchored by seasoned Wisdom students —we could change the world. No kidding. It’s a pretty easy pace: two-emails a week, with an accompanying spiritual practice, text for reflection, and 24/7 access to the Practice Circle, plus two zoom conferences, dates to be announced.

For more information click link above. To go directly to registration, click here: Spirituality & Practice: Spiritual Gifts from the Imaginal Realm with Cynthia Bourgeault.


If you haven’t yet taken an Introductory Wisdom School, here is your window of opportunity: the Online Introductory Wisdom School offered by the Center for Action and Contemplation, is now open for registration. With a March 3 launch date, ending June 8, 2021, this twelve-week course is a carefully crafted remake of the original course brilliantly filmed by Robbin Brent at our on-the-ground Wisdom School in North Carolina in 2015.

It’s both comprehensive and interactive and will cover all the material you would have covered in an on-the-ground school with a powerful ambience of the original still remaining. This course is the usual prerequisite for all further Wisdom Study, giving you both the basic concepts and the basic practices you need to get started on the right foot. It will also be offered again in the second half of 2021, so that may be a factor in your course selection.

To learn more about this course click the link above. Or, register here at CAC: Introductory Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault.


I’d like to call your special attention to The Divine Exchange, opening for registration on the CAC site on March 1. With a launch date on June 16 and ending September 21, 2021, this course is actually “Intro Wisdom, Part II.” It’s a deep dive into the notion of exchange—i.e., giving and receiving—both as it shows itself as the linchpin of Jesus’s teaching and as it emerges as the cornerstone of Christian Wisdom metaphysics in the notion of “exchange between the realms.” It’s the tie-rod connecting The Wisdom Jesus with Eye of the Heart, and laying out a powerful pathway of healing and practical action in our world today.

If you’ve taken an Introductory Wisdom School, this is your next step. If you haven’t…well, you can still do both courses consecutively if you’re up for a Wisdom marathon this summer…or you can take your chances and leap into Part II, then pick up Part I in the fall. I think this is actually manageable since the CAC course is so well shepherded and interactive, and I’d put it out there for your serious consideration. The Divine Exchange really does hold the key to how so many pieces of our broken world fit back together again, and the more of us that can be thinking in these terms, the more we can begin to articulate—and start walking—a visionary path of action, grounded in the heart of Christ.

To learn more: click the link above. To register: follow the link at the bottom of the page at the link above, after registration opens on March 1, 2021.

I hope to meet you on one course or the other…maybe all three!
Blessings, Cynthia

The Baton Has Been Passed. Can We Now Run With It?

No, dear friends, I didn’t send you off on a wild goose chase to immerse yourself in 450 pages of some of the most dense and intellectually challenging prose ever crafted on this planet. That was not my intention when I launched this deep dive into The Ever Present Origin late last fall. My concern was—and remains—entirely practical: to help us find our way to a broader vision that might allow us to see more clearly where our nation—and more broadly, evolutionary consciousness itself—seems to have gotten hung up, and to try to set things back on course.

Gebser’s brilliant unpacking of the five structures of consciousness, together with his helpful delineation of how each structure moves from “efficient” to “deficient” expressions, help us to see more objectively where we’re pinned and to chart a course of practical action in some perhaps unexpected directions. The following post is a first effort in that direction, offered in deep gratitude for the profound work that those of you in the Wisdom community—joined by praying, caring, sincere people all over the planet—have contributed to pulling things back from the brink of madness. We now have a little running room, thanks be to God, and we need to use it well.

From a Gebserian analysis, it seems clear to me that the Donald Trump phenomenon represents an upwelling (I’d almost be inclined to say a “projectile vomiting”) of the deficient magic and mythical structures of consciousness. Because these have been so badly repressed in the prevailing mental structure of consciousness which calls the cultural shots (itself well into the final throes of its deficient stage, locked in compulsive measuring, labeling, and splitting patterns), it is virtually inevitable that these repressed structures, which are needed for overall balance and the structural strength to actually handle the impending arrival of the Integral structure of consciousness, will instead express themselves in malignant ways.

Gebser makes clear that the cliché “transcend and include” is a mistake. The “earlier” structures do not simply roll over and fold into the onward and upward movement of consciousness. They must each speak with their own voices, in a bell rack sturdy enough to let them all resound.

You see it in the pictures, catch it in the sound clips: the animal-magnetism that Trump still exerts in his sheer testosteronized bravado and his battle cries “Make America Great again! “No more bullshit!” Pure magical vital energy: black magic, for sure, but the shiva energy flowing through it is intoxicating when you’ve lived too long in fifty shades of grey. Look at the bare-chested Jake Angeli (a.k.a. “Quanon shaman”) carrying the flag on a spear at the head of the Capitol assault charge. Look at Qanon itself: a desperate, epic attempt to reconnect with mythical/Armageddon consciousness, a mythology large enough to die for. This is a violent upsurge of magical-mythical run amok, seeking any outlet for its pent-up fury, like the flood-cresting Mississippi overflowing its banks.

Seventy years ago when Gebser wrote Ever Present Origin, he was staring at exactly the same phenomenon in the ashes of Hitler and the Third Reich. One wonders, sadly, has so little changed? I think something has changed, and the extent and stability of this change is starting to unfold. Thanks be to God, we did not collectively go over the waterfall. Some third force has begun to accumulate in our collective national psyche. And that, I think, is the real fruit that has been slowing accruing in one particular stream during these seventy years: the growing stabilizing force and tempering presence of the contemplative awakening. 

It is clear to me, however—again from a Gebserian point of view— that we have still not really addressed the source of the problem. The evolutionary current bearing the full unveiling of the next structure of consciousness has gotten hung up because we are not yet addressing the real cause of the impasse, which in my opinion is our failure to till the ground for this new unfolding by stabilizing and integrating these earlier structures. Not only privately, as “interior work,” but culturally, as legitimate and cherished expressions of the road we have collectively travelled, the ground we have collectively tilled.

In a way, the present integral evolutionary movement (whether in straight-up Gebserian or Wilber version) has inadvertently made the situation worse by exacerbating the disjunction between the structures of consciousness. Many of the folks I know who perhaps a little too glibly announce themselves as “Integral thinkers” are primarily concerned with this coming New: either as a pathway of personal self-realization (I talked about this a couple of posts ago), or in dazzling meta-visions of a new utopian era, decades if not centuries beyond what planet is as yet prepared to bear. Whatever the language, the vibration emerging from this quarter is still rousingly “Drop off the booster rocket, and let’s put the new ship in orbit.”

Sorry. We get there with the booster rocket still intact, or we don’t get there at all.

So I want to begin here from a different starting point. While the inner work of us Wisdom and contemplative/evolutionary folks may be to tend our own conscious emergence, I believe that the cultural work we must undertake together is to help repair and heal the traditional structures we’ve inhabited so that they can become healthy vessels of the repressed mythical and magical (and for that matter, mental!) structures. My wager is that when this imbalance is corrected, the full emergence of the Integral (so clearly already waiting in the wings) will be its own unstoppable force. We don’t need to race on up to the front of the train in order to reach the station first; we have to make sure that the passengers in all the train cars are well tended and still hooked up as the station in fact rushes to meet the train.

Practically, that might look like a step backwards: back to things we thought we’d outgrown. Patriotism. A personal God. Prayer. Mystery. A second look at the Roman Catholic Church. I am prepared for the hot coals about to rain down upon my head. But my aim idea here is not a nostalgic recreation of bygone times, but a more intense inquiry into their enduring value, following Gebser’s phenomenological approach. What is a healthy expression of the magical in our own era? What is a healthy expression of the mythical? The mental? I believe if we can begin to think in these terms, and to listen to the values being expressed in each of these structures rather than reacting blindly to the presenting agendas, we may be able to find our way to contemporary, healthy and integrated expressions of these structures, harmonized in the light of the already dawning Integral. And that will be our own mature contribution as a contemplative movement now come of age: the contribution of an authentic third force that just might bust up the logjam and set the river of conscious evolution free and flowing once again.

A Note from Northeast Wisdom/ Wisdom Waypoints

This is the tenth posting in the Exploring Jean Gebser series by Cynthia Bourgeault. You will find the previous posts here:

An Invitation to Begin the Healing Work;
Stages Versus Structures;
Unperspectival, Perspectival, Aperspectival;
The View from The Periscope;
The Perspectival Mainspring;
The Deficient Mental Structure; and
“You Can’t Go Home Again…” The Mythic and Magic Structures;
What Integral is Not; and
Integral as Theotokos: A Western Take on Origin.

Stay connected, there is more to come! 


Images from the top: Flag reflection, origin unknown, courtesy of snappy goat; Bell Park, Sofia, Bulgaria, courtesy of author jdblack, pixabay; Team of stonemasons restoring Canterbury Cathedral, courtesy of author Richard Cannon, Country Life Picture Library; Rain, Steam and Speed, original painting by J.M.W. Turner, courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

Gebser names his book The Ever Present Origin, and Origin is indeed the center point around which everything else in his in his magisterial teaching revolves. But his vision of Origin is unique, to say the least, and highly elusive to our habitual perspectival modes of thinking. It comes closer to my own notion of “chiastic epicenter” as I unpack it in Eye of the Heart rather than to its usual mental/rational placement as the beginning point on a horizontal timeline (or even as what lies just “behind” that beginning point).

The first and most important thing to keep in mind about Origin-according-to-Jean-Gebser is that it does not mean “in the beginning.” In Gebser’s native German the word for origin is Ursprung, which literally means “sprung forth.” The concept is verb-based, not noun-based; it designates not a primordial state, but a primordial action. It is not “cosmic inflation” (the current scientific buzzword for the universal steady state apart from local irruptions into physical manifestation), the zero point field, or “ground luminosity.” These are all terms with which it would otherwise have strong resonance, but the feeling tone is off. As Raimon Panikkar puts it in Christophany:

I am one with the Source insofar as I, too, act like a source, by making all I have received flow again (pg.116).

Source is as source does.

Heads up, however: It is not even “The Big Bang,” because it did not happen just once, in a single cataclysmic cosmic event. The essence of Gebser’s notion of Origin is not even that it has sprung forth but that it springs forth—into time, over and over again and now at an accelerating pace announcing the dawn of a new, fourth, age in human civilization. Origin is not to be found at the headwaters of “the river of time” but at every point along its course. Again and again it irrupts into time, breaks into that illusion of flowing linearity with its direct immediacy and newness. It flows to us not from the past, but from “the future” (i.e., that which is not yet manifest in time), jostling everything out of its linear entropy into a new intensification of the present moment.

It is terribly important to get this fundamental orientation right: otherwise you will be rowing backwards. You cannot find Origin by emulating earlier spiritual cultures (the mistake made by Traditionalism). Nor can you find it by flinging your heart wide open to “the future” understood as the next stop on the temporal subway line (the mistake made by Teilhard in his goofier moments and by many of the neo-Teilhardians following in his footsteps). If it is to be found anywhere, it is to be found here and now, standing right in the crosshairs of “the intersection of the timeless with time.”

It is true that this universally emerging fifth structure of consciousness (which Gebser names the Integral) bears the stigmata of Origin in a particularly intense way— perhaps more so than any of the previous structures. But this is not because it is “higher” on an evolutionary hierarchy of consciousness, but because it is deeper and sturdier in its capaciousness. A new dimension has awakened in the field of conscious perceptivity: no longer the illusion of depth created by that perspectival sleight-of-hand, but an authentic “fourth dimension” of perspectivity that allows one to see “in, through, and around” all the surfaces of this world, one’s true “perspectival horizon point” now located squarely in the bullseye of what Gebser calls originary presence. Finally one moves off of the canvas, out of flatland, into a truly global capacity to “hold all things in unity” without muddying their colors or their distinctive voices. It is not so much a new structure of consciousness, as a new candlepower of consciousness, a light through which—as in the beloved Logion 77 in the Gospel of Thomas—all can now finally be seen:

I am the light shining in all things.
I am the sum of everything,
For from me everything has come and toward me everything unfolds.
Split a piece of wood and there I am.
Pick up a stone and you will find me there.

The attained Integral structure of consciousness is a recapitulation and intensification of all other stuctures, which allows Origin to be approached—touched and even embraced—“without turning into a grease spot,” as Thomas Keating once famously said.

I am introducing Thomas Keating’s name deliberately here because toward the end of his long life—and particularly in his extraordinary final poetic sequence, The Secret Embrace— this contemporary Christian mystic was hot on the trail of Origin and gives us probably the best and most Gebserian-resonant evocation of it in words as simple and universal as Gebser’s are technical and complex. In one of his final essays Thomas speaks directly about what living out of that Originary epicenter actually feels like:

“The presence of God should become a kind of fourth dimension to all of life. Our three-dimensional world is not the real world because the most important dimension is missing: namely, that from which everything that exists is emerging and returning in each microcosmic moment of time.”
~quoted in When Spirit Leaps: Navigating the Process of Spiritual Awakening, a recent commentary from a Buddhist perspective by Bonnie L. Greenwell.

Keating refers to this junction point between infinite transcendence and creative immanence as “the Secret Embrace.” To live here is to live in the direct seeing into (a.k.a., “seeing through”) the dance between formlessness and form out of which everything pours forth into existence, tumbling downstream into form. If this is not a dead ringer for Gebser’s “Origin,” it’s about as close as I think we Christian mystics can get, even down to the correct Gebserian placement of the term “fourth dimension.” It is being able to “ware” consciously the dance of time and timelessness right at the heart-of-the arising itself, the ever present springing forth of the new into the old. The capacity of consciousness that can allow you to do that is also the capacity that can hold the complementary perspectives of each of the structures not on a flattened linear map, but in the pure spherical wonder of the divine delight in Becoming.

It’s just here that my emphasis in the last email on the “Western” underpinnings of Gebserian thought will hold us in good stead. The goal here is not to dissolve the Ursprung in a final realization of the illusionary nature of all form and time, but rather to stand in it with all the strength of one’s being and integrated ego strength (the true fruit of the mental structure of consciousness), so that one can shape and give “voice” to the mysterious yearning of the divine heart to take form, which would otherwise overwhelm with its sheer life force any finite womb in which it yearned to gestate. Its supreme Western symbol is the Theotokos, the radiant fullness of divinity taking form and shelter in the sturdy presence of a tempered and capacious human vessel. This is Integral consciousness from a Western perspective, and I believe it is where Gebser’s own deepest instincts are infallibly leading him.


This is the ninth posting in the Exploring Jean Gebser series by Cynthia Bourgeault. You will find the previous posts here on this website:

An Invitation to Begin the Healing Work: Exploring Jean Gebser, Introduction;
Stages Versus Structures: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson I;
Unperspectival, Perspectival, Aperspectival: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson II;
The View from The Periscope: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson III;
The Perspectival Mainspring: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson IV;
The Deficient Mental Structure: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson V; and
“You Can’t Go Home Again…” The Mythic and Magic Structures: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson VI; and
What Integral is Not: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson VII.

Stay connected, there is more to come!


Images from the top: Cover image Ever Present Origin by Jean Gebser, photo courtesy of author Laura Ruth; Splash, courtesy of author Virgil Cayasa, Unsplash; Hands receiving water, courtesy of author mrjn Photography, Unsplash; and Theotokos, Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers, GA, origin unknown (similar image available at alamy).

Dear Wisdom Friends,

As we enter this Feast of Epiphany, celebrating the arrival of Holy Wisdom at the stable, I invite you all to join me over the next twenty-four hours in keeping Wisdom vigil for our American nation as we enter the eye-of-the-needle of what will surely be one of the sorest tests ever pressed against our democracy and against the resiliency and common sense of our people. Whatever your politics, there is a deep need for Wisdom to arrive again, bearing her gifts of steadfastness, lucidity, and forbearance.

Here are few specific practices you might try:

1. If you feel prepared both inwardly and outwardly, by all means offer tonglen. Sitting still and fully present in your body, consciously breathe in a piece of the toxicity—the psychosis, the fear, the pathology; then breathe out sobriety. No more than ten minutes at a time, then transition into Centering Prayer. This is intentional suffering at it most literal and direct, and it does work powerfully if you can remain rock-steady inside and simply breathe.

2. In addition to or instead to the breath prayer, stay close to this cherished teaching in Philippians 4:8:

Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any praise, think on these things.”

Indeed, think on these things.

3. Pray the beautiful words of the old Quaker hymn:

Dear God and Father of us all, forgive our foolish ways,
Reclothe us in our rightful mind; in purer lives thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise…
Drop thy still dews of quietness till all our strivings cease:
Take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace
Speak through the heats of our desire they coolness and thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire; speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.

Sing along if you like. It’s 345 in the Episcopal Hymnal 1940.

4. Follow the following link to join in chanting the great Trisagion Prayer here, in the original Greek.

Agios O Theos (oh Holy God)
Agios Ischyros (holy the strong one)
Agios athanatos. (holy undying one)
Eleison imas. (have mercy on us)

Lets’ surround our world this night in a blanket of holy equanimity and remorse of conscience. Frankincense, gold, and myrrh.

Image courtesy of Cynthia Bourgeault


Image at the top: Three Wise Men, 526 AD by the “Master of Sant’Apollinare,” courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sometimes I wish we could all just declare a temporary moratorium on the term “Integral!!!” What Gebser intended when he chose that name for his emerging fifth structure of consciousness is challenging enough to wrap one’s mind around in the first place. But when his already elusive notion gets repackaged and progressively distorted in a series of popular contemporary misinterpretations, all grandly proclaiming themselves to be “integral,” then we have little choice but to begin by draining the swamp.

So okay, folks… here’s what Gebser’s Integral is NOT:

It’s not about political or social inclusiveness. It does not equate to “tolerance,” “broadmindedness,” or affirmative action. This is all still synthesis, solidly ensconced within the perspectival modus operandi.

It is not about “soul work,” self-awareness as we typically understand it, or “integrating the shadow.”

It is not “non-duality,” “a higher state of consciousness,” “self-realization,” or “enlightenment.” In that sense, it has nothing to do with spirituality whatsoever.

It is not the top tier of the evolutionary pyramid (what part of “perspectival” do you still not understand?).

It is not “living in the now.” It does not negate the past and future, but radically re-perceives them.

It does not require the suppression of the mental structure of consciousness, simply the release from its hegemony.

It is not an “it” at all—neither a “state” nor a “stage” of development—but rather, a new integrating capacity that allows all other structures of consciousness to come into a dynamic, harmonious balance.

The integral wild goose chase that’s so muddled much of contemporary spirituality got underway in earnest in the early 1980s with Ken Wilber’s ambitious effort to “complete” Gebser’s roadmap. In Gebser, there are five structures of consciousness, five only. In his groundbreaking 1981 work Up from Eden, Wilber, at the time a fervent Buddhist, added a “third tier” to Gebser’s map consisting of attained states borrowed mostly from the Asian traditions and culminating in “Nondual.” His nomenclature has substantially morphed over the years, but his staunch identification of the top rung on this evolutionary ladder with “the ever-present Nondual awareness” (Integral Spirituality, pg. 74) has held firm—this rung, in turn, accessed through a basically Buddhist transformational technology grounded in the Four Noble truths, the renunciation of suffering, the dissolution of the mirage of ego, and the attainment of a permanent “Nondual” enlightenment.

Apart from the word “Nondual” word itself—which is foreign to Gebser’s vocabulary—Wilber’s original description of “the ever-present awareness” is but a hair’s breadth away from Gebser’s “ever present origin.” But as Wilber’s original teaching got reified in the hands of some of his influential popularizing followers, this hair’s breadth widened to a river, and the “nondual” piece found a comfortable new berth in the Christian contemplative reawakening now firmly entwined with quasi-Buddhist platitudes of “letting go of the mind,” “living in the now,” and “everything belongs.” It’s all part of that amiable “Nondual lite” mélange that grew up in the 1990s (been there, done that!) and has so profoundly set its stamp on an original and much more subtle understanding of the Christian contemplative vision. 

In any case, this “nouveau-Integral” map” is radically incompatible with Gebser’s subtle and rigorously Western mode of thinking. What he envisions as “integral” is by his own testimony “not an expansion of consciousnessbut an intensification of consciousness.” And the quintessential expression of this intensification does not lie in the “laying down” of ego, the cancellation of particularity, or the collapse of past and future into an amorphous present, but in the Originary Presence shining through the whole intricate artifice like light pouring through a stained glass window. To be sure, Gebser has little use for the “hypertrophied ego,” but the Integral selfhood he envisions is still very much a personal selfhood—only one operating at an immensely higher candlepower.

Gebser betrays his Western roots as well in his adamant insistence that the emergence of EVERY new structure of consciousness comes at the price of personal suffering. “Pain is the ground of motion,” Jacob Boehme once famously quipped, and Gebser proves himself to be a loyal son of this cardinal Western orientation point. True, there is “stupid suffering”— useless and unconscious— which does little more than add to the cosmic pain body. But suffering in and of itself is the precondition for all evolutionary emergence, and the enlightened spiritual stance is not to eliminate it, but to increase one’s capacity to bear it consciously. Gebser speaks to this with poignant brevity when he writes in The Ever Present Origin: “The demand of consciousness emergence [is] to be able to endure suffering (pg. 71).”

In one of his most revealing passages, he further expands:

The identical deed that prompts Christ to accept suffering via his conscious ego leads, in Buddhism, to the negation of suffering and to the dissolution of the ego, which, when transformed, returns to the original state of immaterial Nirvana. In Buddhism the suspension of sorrow and the Ego is held in esteem; and this suspension of sorrow and suffering is realized by turning away from the world. In Christianity, the goal is to accept the ego, and the acceptance of sorrow and suffering is to be achieved by loving the world. Thus, the perilous and difficult path along which the West must proceed is here prefigured. (pg .90)

Without wanting to adjudicate in this perennial metaphysical dispute, I would say at very least that it defines and frames Gebser’s quintessentially Western approach to the question of conscious integration.

Whatever else Integral is for Gebser, it is far more closely mirrored in Teilhard’s “paroxysm of harmonized complexity” (The Human Phenomenon, pg. 186) than in any attempt to corral it within a monadic Oneness, whether temporally —“the eternal present,” spatially—the top rung on the evolutionary ladder, or metaphysically—Nonduality. Neither the gestalt nor the complexity of Gebser’s thinking allow for its easy recapturing in popularized Westernized Asian models, and all contemporary approaches stepping off from this starting point will likely wind up marching around in circles.

A Note from Northeast Wisdom/Wisdom Waypoints:

We appreciate your comments, please share your reflections in the Comments section below.

Jeremy Johnson’s book: Seeing Through the World: Jean Gebser and Integral Consciousness, is available from the publisher, here at Revelore Press. Jean Gebser’s The Ever Present Origin is available from the publisher, here at Ohio University Press.

This is the eighth posting in the Exploring Jean Gebser series by Cynthia Bourgeault. You will find the previous posts here on this website:

 An Invitation to Begin the Healing Work: Exploring Jean Gebser, Introduction;
Stages Versus Structures: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson I;
Unperspectival, Perspectival, Aperspectival: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson II;
The View from The Periscope: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson III;
The Perspectival Mainspring: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson IV;
The Deficient Mental Structure: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson V; and
“You Can’t Go Home Again…” The Mythic and Magic Structures: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson VI.

Stay connected, there is more to come!


Images from the top: Robert Fludd image from the Utriusque Cosmi, Vol 1, 1617, thanks to Public Domain Review, image courtesy of Deutsche Fotothek; Reflections at Gloucester Cathedral, courtesy of Vincemc at Wikimedia Commons; Complexity Science Image courtesy of the Center for Complexity Science, Imperial College of London.

I know that a number of you, in growing awareness of the of the blind spots and shadow elements in the mental structure of consciousness, have been casting a fond glance toward indigenous cultures, which seem to offer counterbalancing strengths in precisely the areas where the mental structure is weakest: a deeper connection to the natural world, a more organic sense of belonging, and a greater awareness of the evocative power of ritual and the numinous. Your intuition is fundamentally correct, for part of the tragic hubris of the mental structure is its disdain for structures “less evolved” than its own and its conviction that it has “transcended and included” all previous developmental stages, bearing uniquely on its own shoulders “the axis and the arrow of evolution.”

Still, one must proceed cautiously with this mythic turn. It has been tried twice already during the past century, and both times it has arrived at a dead end.

The first attempt got underway between the two world wars and gave birth to the movement known as Traditionalism. Under the guiding inspiration of the brilliant French metaphysician Rene Guenon (1886-1951), it immediately attracted some of the brighter minds of the early twentieth century and has continued to exert a significant (though mostly subterranean) influence on the intellectual current of our times. In addition to Guenon himself, some of the most prominent names associated with this movement include Ananda Coomaraswamy, Frithjof Schuon, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Titus Burckhardt, Marco Pallis, and in a somewhat less “hardline” form Huston Smith. Thomas Merton was also attracted to many aspects of this teaching, and it is no secret that he was being actively courted by a Traditionalist circle at the time of his death. Many of you in our own Wisdom circle will have met some of these teachings through my former colleague Lynn Bauman, a student of Schuon and Nasr.

The Traditionalist tagline is perfectly encapsulated in the title of Mark Sedgwick’s groundbreaking study of this movement: “Against the Modern World.” To Guenon and his lineage, the perspectival turn (as Gebser calls it, not Guenon himself) represented a disastrous mistake: a tragic spiritual profligacy and perversion of the true path of Wisdom. That ancient path still remains, guarded in diasporas of traditional cultures and religious lineages, but regaining the right path requires a strict renunciation of Modernism and a return to the thought styles, artistic genres, spiritual practices and in some cases even dietary habits of those surviving traditional cultures which have not succumbed to the siren call of modernity.

You will recognize a Traditionalist teaching when you hear one because it will inevitably begin with some variation of the theme, “We can all see that the modern world is going to hell in a handbasket,” then usually proceed to introducing the notion of the Kali Yuga, the famous “Dark Cycle” of Sanskrit provenance, which our own age is claimed to manifestly fulfill. There is a good deal of emphasis on authentic lineage transmission (as opposed to humanly-concocted religions) and an explicit orientation toward the past. The journey back to truth swims upstream against the river of time until one finally arrives at the headwaters “in the beginning…”

The conceptual flaw in this stance, from a Gebserian standpoint, is that it fundamentally mis-locates Origin. “In the beginning” is not on a linear timeline. The Origin is outside of linear time and “springs forth” (the literal meaning of the German word Ursprung) onto the world screen in the present, amid the cultural and consciousness structures currently prevailing. It cannot be found in the attempt to recreate earlier conditions as we project them in our own minds (another perspectival trap). At very best, such a misconstrued effort can only land us in the “deficient” stage of the structure we are trying to replicate: for the magic structure, in sorcery; for the mythic structure in psychic solipsism. The road we have traveled on our collective human journey toward consciousness cannot be undone—nor was there a wrong turn. Even the anguish of the deficient mental structure at the end of its vital lifespan has not been for naught, for in conferring on consciousness a whole new “world” of consciousness (the perspectival), it has laid the necessary structural groundwork for the emergence of the next unfolding.

The second “mythic revival” is of more recent vintage, roughly contemporaneous (and for good reason) with what we popularly call “the self-realization movement.” Its headwaters lie primarily in C.G. Jung and his game-changing discovery of the close correlation between the mythical as outer cultural form and as inner archetype. Gebser was onto this as well: he recognized the mythical structure as intrinsically tied to the emergence into human consciousness of the notion of the soul. But he also recognized—only too clearly—that when dealing with a structure as inherently fluid as the mythical, one has to keep a firm grip on the “yang.” He never permitted his construction of the mythical structure of consciousness to stray too far from its concrete historical and cultural underpinnings. Once that tether is cut, the mythic structure of consciousness can flow all too easily into a privatized and significantly gentrified interior landscape, where its primary purpose is to furnish the language, symbols, images, for our personal soul-work.

That was the coup de grace delivered by Joseph Campbell in his iconic The Hero with a Thousand Faces which catapulted him to fame, launched Parabola Magazine, and sparked a lively popular revival of interest in traditional cultures, crafts, artistic genres, and rituals—albeit mostly among the intellectual elite, and this time with aesthetic rather than Traditionalist dogmatic concerns predominating. The mythical structure of consciousness remerged as a fertile garden for cultivating “the rose within.” And thus it has largely remained to this day. In contemporary evolutionary models, such as Ken Wilber’s and Thomas Keating’s, it has lost virtually all connection to historical time and place and become merely the name for a developmental stage in individual human evolution.

Perspectival nostalgia in mythic drag.

Just as Origin cannot be sought through a backward turn, Gebser insists, neither can it be sought through an inward turn. Yin and yang must be held in careful balance because it is on the playing field of our collective cultural journey—history in all messiness, violence, and shadow stuff—that every structure of consciousness has emerged into manifestation; and it is the very mass and weight of that full collective experience that creates the depth and staying power to call forth the new structure of consciousness. It cannot be born until it can be borne.

This time-tested cultural pattern is particularly true of the still-dawning Integral structure, which will add yet another dimension to the weight and heft of manifest reality and demand that we meet Origin there, in that new dimension we can as yet barely apprehend. In this dark and distinctly paschal season of Advent 2020, I swear I can sometimes sense it drawing near, as if on angels’ wings, to see whether the human heart has yet grown deep enough, stable enough, and courageous enough to endure the weight of both the individual and collective suffering that is the necessary price of conscious emergence.

A Note from Northeast Wisdom/ Wisdom Waypoints:

We appreciate your comments, please share your reflections in the Comments section below.

Jeremy Johnson’s book: Seeing Through the World: Jean Gebser and Integral Consciousness, is available from the publisher, here at Revelore Press.

This is the seventh posting in the Exploring Jean Gebser series by Cynthia Bourgeault. You will find the previous posts here on this website:

An Invitation to Begin the Healing Work: Exploring Jean Gebser, Introduction;
Stages Versus Structures: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson I;
Unperspectival, Perspectival, Aperspectival: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson II;
The View from The Periscope: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson III;
The Perspectival Mainspring: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson IV; and
The Deficient Mental Structure: Exploring Jean Gebser, Lesson V.

Stay connected, there is more to come!


Image credits from the top: Earth in Hands, free image courtesy of; The Kali Yuga, origin unknown; Emergence 1: The Transfiguration, sculpture image courtesy of artist Peter L Smith and English Wikipedia.