The Concretion of the Spiritual
In The Ever-Present Origin, Jean Gebser writes quite a bit about “the concretion of the spiritual” as a hallmark of emergent integral consciousness. In point of fact, though, the concretion of the spiritual occurs all the time without our taking particular note of it. Jungian “synchronicity” is just another way of saying “concretion of the spiritual”, and synchronous effects (which are related to the intentionality of consciousness) are connected with Seth’s constant reminder to us that “you create the reality you know” and, therewith, with the Hindu principle Tat Tvam Asi, or “Thou art That”.
Although the concretion of the spiritual happens all the time (which I’ll discuss below) it’s in connection with “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world” (and in those terms with integral consciousness), that Gebser’s “concretion of the spiritual” is to be understood, and as something that also involves the awakening of inner senses other than the purely physical, senses we might refer to also as “metaphysical” senses.
William Blake’s proverb “What is now prov’d was once only imagined” also falls into the category “concretion of the spiritual”.
People sometimes have funny notions of the “spiritual life” or of “the spiritual”, such as mystical bliss or ecstatic vision, or even as “goodness” or “being good” in the moral sense. Spirituality has very, very little to do with that. In German — the language that Gebser wrote in — “spirit” is rendered as “Geist” (and “spiritual” as “geistlich“), which includes meanings of “mind”, consciousness, reason, imagination, culture and so on. It’s what allows notable constructs like the term Zeitgeist — the ruling “spirit of the times” or mood of the times, a ruling myth, or the “ruling idea” of an Age — which term is pretty much synonymous with Gebser’s “structure of consciousness”. In those terms, practically everything within the “field” or purview of a particular species or structure of consciousness — whether the archaic, the magical, the mythical, the mental-rational — belongs to “the concretion of the spiritual”. In fact, Gebser relies precisely on this “concretion of the spiritual” to read cultural artefacts, including language, as express tokens or symbolic forms of a particular structure of consciousness.
When Carl Jung wrote his book “Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Sky” as an example of his idea of synchronicity as an “acausal connecting principle”, this also pertains to Gebser’s “concretion of the spiritual”. Likewise, the various writings we have discussed in The Chrysalis on technology as symbolic form, or as magic and myth, pertain to technology as belonging also to “the concretion of the spiritual” — even in terms of Marshall McLuhan’s insight into technologies as “the extensions of man“. Even the body, as far as Blake and others are concerned, belongs to “the concretion of the spiritual”.
Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age — (Blake, The Marriage or Heaven and Hell)
Whether we should call Gebser’s “diaphaneity” of the world the “concretion of the spiritual” or “the spiritualisation of the concrete” is a moot point. They are equivalent and is the paradox that lies within the Taoist Chuang Tzu’s famous remark about not knowing whether he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was a man (the butterfly being a well-nigh universal symbol for the soul or psyche), or, for that matter, the physicist Sir Arthur Eddington’s remark that “the stuff of the world is mind-stuff”. One might just as well say a “consciousness structure” or “concretion of the spiritual”, and this pertains also to another saying, of Anaïs Nin’s, that “we don’t see things as they are, but as we are”.
So, Gebser’s “concretion of the spiritual” is a bit paradoxical, since practically everything we do already involves the concretion of the spiritual without our really knowing it as such. But this same paradox is implicated in the Buddhist paradox — perhaps the ultimate Buddhist paradox — that “nirvana and samsara are the same; nirvana and samsara are not the same.” They aren’t until they are, and not until the opacity that is samsaric existence (Blake’s “Ulro”) is penetrated by, and illuminated by, conscious insight — ie, becomes, in Gebser’s terms, “diaphanous” or “transparent”, which brings with it the surprising realisation that some greater part of us has always seen the world in this way. We just didn’t know that we did.
The return — the Nostos — to this greater aspect of ourselves (the “You of you” as Seth refers to it) which has always seen the world in this way is what we call “enlightenment”, and it is the theme of the parable of the Prodigal Son. This knowing of what already is, is what Gebser calls “the concretion of the spiritual” even though it otherwise occurs spontaneously whether we know it or not. But for Gebser knowing it as such is contingent upon the self-manifestation of the “diaphainon” (or “the Itself”) which is that “You of you” that Percival also calls “the Knower-in-the-Body” (which is, quite evidently, the same as Jill Bolte-Taylor’s “Life Force Power of the Universe”).
Well, there are quite a few names for this “Knower-in-the-Body” or “You of you”: Gebser’s “the Itself”, Meister Eckhart’s “Aristocrat”, the Sufi “True Self”, the Yogi’s Atman, the Dionysian “Self” of Nietzsche, William Blake’s “Universal Humanity” or “Albion”, McGilchrist’s “Master” awareness, or what has been traditionally called “the soul” or the Buddhist “Jewel in the Lotus” or Almaas’s “Diamond Heart” and so on — apparently also Castaneda’s “nagual“. (Hard to ignore all this witness and testimony, but somehow we’ve managed to do it).
Castaneda’s teacher, don Juan, once remarked to him that the art of the warrior was “to balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive”. Wonder and terror both also belong to the “concretion of the spiritual” (as Blake and Rumi both knew as well). Fear is, indeed, the first “enemy” on the path of those seeking knowledge, and sometimes it takes very concrete forms indeed, as “the sum of all fears”. You really do have to face “the dark side”. There’s not much meaning in words like “enlightenment”, “brilliance”, or “illumination” after all except in relation to and in confrontation with darkness. The “concretion of the spiritual” implies both or, as Rumi also once put it, “you need light source and shadow both“.
I have a few examples of this ambiguity of “the concretion of the spiritual”, but one I’ve taken particular interest in lately seems almost unlikely but is intriguing to me. It involves the British singer-songwriter Lily Allen who wrote an interesting song called “The Fear” — no fear in particular, but more akin to the vague sense of the uncanny, or dread or Angst often addressed by existentialist philosophers (and you can watch Allen perform it live from a 2009 festival). In fact, there is a subsequent, quite uncanny story connected with the song itself, for Allen shortly after — and for about seven years following — became the victim of an apparently mentally-ill stalker who claimed he had written “The Fear”. It was, given Allen’s description of events, like something from the movie Psycho. The stalking climaxed one night when the stalker invaded her house and her bedroom, and then the “fear” expressed in her song became very concrete indeed — in the flesh, as it were. In a real sense, the song made the stalker and the stalker became the avatar — the concretion — of the fear or Angst expressed in her song.
Allen did a lengthy interview about the episode on BBC. The uncanny bit was the sense of familiarity the two seemed to share, which Allen found deeply unsettling and baffling. That’s not too surprising even if it is uncanny — an instance of Jung’s “synchronicity” in effect — since the stalker was the sum of her fears expressed in the song which he himself claimed was his song. In a sense he was right. The song was his. It made him and it made him into the stalker and sum of her fears, and the sense of familiarity came with that.
Into this whole chaotic scene, then, the stalker throws a monkey wrench. While earlier he had been stalking Allen demanding her acknowledgement that “The Fear” was his song (and he was owed all the money she made from it), in the frightening bedroom confrontation he was constantly demanding Allen tell him where his father was! “Where’s my father? What have you done with my father?” Nothing about the song at all. Allen was understandably bewildered by this, because she didn’t realise that, in his mind, she was his mother. He was right in the way insane people are often right. “The Fear” was his song. It had made him, and especially made him into the avatar of her fear. The song was his mother, and she was the creator of the song, the singer of The Fear. He, in turn, was the son of her fear.
Emotional states (not just fear or Angst) are very powerful, and they will work to constellate themselves externally — that is to say, assume some concrete form. We might call it “kismet” or “uncanny” or “odd coincidence” if we sense a connection. That is, basically, the principle of Jung’s synchronicity, but it is not much different either from Gebser’s “concretion of the spiritual”. These emotional states are, in a sense, the “mothers” of our life experiences, and this is connected with Gebser’s use of the term “effective” and the effectivity of certain modes of perception and consciousness — magical, mythical, or the mental-rational — in shaping experience, collective or individual.
Or, as Blake put it once again, “what is now prov’d was once only imagined”.
So, we might be looking in all the wrong places for evidence of “the concretion of the spiritual” since it happens all the time — only we don’t notice it because we’re expecting something other by “spiritual” than it really means.