5. Gebser, Unity, Mythos

Mythos refers to the storied frame in which human experience typically unfolds. Even when we are capable of transcending discourse by meditative means, as soon as we look to communicate what we have found we must resort to language or other symbolic forms. And although mystics of all traditions agree that the best cannot be said, the power of evocation is indispensable in structuring our approach to realms of Heaven we might never have imagined otherwise.

Unity (Consciousness) is the best of the best. It transcends apparent separation in the phenomenal world. I evoke it in a Taoist mode of negative definition as the absence of separation, illuminated by awareness and love. Paradoxically, such illumination is possible only after Unity appears to have been lost. What actually happens is that we lose our sense of connectedness and experience disjunction.  Paradise Regained is more keenly savoured on this account, after the small self of narcissistic entrapment has ventured past its fear of daring more and re-opened to the allure of All That Is.

Jean Gebser was, in my opinion, the most significant developmental theorist of the 20th century and one whose insights offer the most valuable perspective on our current standing in relation to the calendar (6). While many theorists speak about stages of consciousness development, he focuses on consciousness structures. The difference is that developmental stages can be expected to give way in an unfolding sequence of succession, such that the later subsume the earlier in a one-way flow.

By contrast, Gebser’s structures are relatively autonomous. They persist after later structures have manifested and retain their specific integrity even when consciousness comes to identify with later forms. When I am adolescent, I think adolescent thoughts in adolescent ways and am not usually concerned with childhood memories (at least not consciously). As an adult, I don’t think adolescent thoughts in adolescent ways but, although I am not consciously concerned with childhood or adolescent memories, this may change for reasons to do with a desire to be/come One, i.e. to attain Unity.

I have explored this territory a lot and found that the significance of early experiences is never fully given or realised at first blush. Zen wisdom teaches that an experience fully lived leaves no trace, such that there is no need to carry or revisit it. Trauma and overload are clear conditions under which the truth of this principle cannot be upheld. If an experience is too injurious or vast for me to comprehend, I am numbed by it. My capacities are exceeded and/or boundaries ravaged. It may take lots of later work to put this right.

Notwithstanding injunctions to Be Here Now, I find my past to be an inexhaustible cornucopia, particularly after the impact of early wounds has been erased. (As the Origin is ever-present so is ‘the past’, like a welling Grail that only inattention turns to woe.) I have written two fictional autobiographies, for example, one twenty and the other two years ago. The first took two years and entailed intense cathartic-expressive immersion. This made it possible for many issues to arise for healing and integration. The second took only two weeks. It entailed an aesthetically motivated redrafting of the earlier text following eighteen years of additional work.

This served to clarify towards free expression a variety of gifts that had been compromised, derailed or buried under the impact of early conditioning. As wounds were reviewed beyond a need for clearing, gifts which they had overlain began to flow again. Eventually, I came to realise that these wounds also had been gifts in the sense of lures to discovery, even if their potential as such could not be realised until many years after they were first sustained.

In ‘Spirituality’, for example, I recall sitting in a box around age 7 playing Formula 1. From this came memories of playing solitary football games (left foot against right); enacting battles between armies of thousands and comparable feats of imagining. In recollecting such episodes I wasn’t just retrieving particular memories. I was also re- membering my Self in some far more fundamental sense. I retrieved a vast power of creative imagining for expression now, having freed it from the tyranny of unclarified memory. I even found this combining spontaneously with my adult awareness.

I could project Sacred Plays for the 9th wave, dream ‘The Spirituality of 2012’ and birth a Divine Child having unknowingly brought into effective relationship within myself diverse powers of (different) consciousness (structures) that Gebser refers to as archaic, magical, mythic, mental and integral. In the course of this I found that the gifts of earlier structures were clarified and enhanced by those of later ones and vice-versa. For example, my knowledge of philosophy was wildly revamped by a power of deep imagining that had been all but extinguished at school.

Writing a second autobiography allowed me to become independent of my story. This happened in January 2011 and left me ready to intuit Unity Consciousness in March, while presenting a Sacred Play to mark the beginning of the 9th wave. The element of unconscious design here was uncanny. At all points, I just followed my sense of what was the next right step. This proved essential to free my imagining from domination by particular memories/deforming experiences. My sense is that a similar turn-around can be achieved by our whole species after 28/10, such that our powers of creative imagining are cleansed beyond the limiting impact of old wounds, including from our deep collective past. The continuing waves can facilitate this process decisively (2).

Gebser’s is the only developmental paradigm I know that illuminates phenomena like the above. Section 4 of ‘Spirituality’ describes the emergence of his structures in the course of collective evolution. Ken Wilber applies this model also to personal growth, presenting it a stage developmental theory in which earlier ‘stages’ are subsumed by later ones under an idealised rubric of ‘transcend and include’. This popularisation conflates ‘stage’ with ‘structure’ and obscures Gebser’s fundamental emphasis on ‘the ever-present origin’, which is the title of his magnum opus (7).

[I discovered ‘Source-based spirituality’ in February 2011 while preparing Sacred Plays to facilitate energies of a then imminent 9th wave. I had already discovered a Point of Creation at the centre of my Heart, through which our lives are infused with spiritual energies (if it’s open). I had known Gebser’s work before but it wasn’t until spring 2012, when I was re-reading it while preparing ‘Divine Child’ that I realised the radical nature of the connection. Archaic consciousness is the consciousness of Source (Arche) in time but it is, in the language of physicist David Bohm, wholly implicate – not explicated on the level of reflective-reflexive awareness. The process of self-articulation that occurs in Consciousness between these points is a core driver of all manifest evolution.]

While it is true that the role of later structures is to clarify and refine powers of the earlier, the reverse is equally true. Moreover, this process cannot be fulfilled until the integral structure is in place (starting c 1900). This has several radical implications:

1) The promise of earlier ‘stages’ can’t be fully realised until the last one has arisen to facilitate their complete disclosure. We are now in the midst of this process.

2)  Its promise can only be truly revealed when right (integrative) relationship has been established across structures. (Indeed, the role of the integral structure can only be fulfilled by accomplishing this.)

3) This revelatory process is ongoing since earlier structures persist and continue to manifest creatively according to their specific nature. In particular, the ‘ever-present origin’ carried by archaic consciousness continues to infuse experience with new energies. (I believe this ‘Source-based spirituality’ is set to take over from 9 Creation waves whose fusion stimulated its realisation.)

4) Fulfilment of the later structures is as much dependent on the earlier as vice-versa.

5) Unity Consciousness (of which Gebser doesn’t speak any more than he speaks of the calendar) can only be achieved via effective integration across all structural levels and not just by arriving at the ‘highest’ one.

There is a direct parallel here with the 9 calendar waves. Calleman thought wave 9 alone would bring Unity Consciousness. This didn’t happen. The role of wave 9 was and remains integrative. It stimulates a re-viewing and reconfiguring of ‘levels’ of consciousness potential engendered by the waves. It is this which leads to Unity (and parallels Gebser’s Integral structure: 8). The waves empower all who would attain this synthesis but can’t confer it. The role of freedom is supported here, not pre-empted. Also, more frequent recurrence of the continuing 9th wave makes it an ideal platform for attempts to integrate residual wounds and shortfalls from earlier levels.

Archaic consciousness is utterly undifferentiated: within or without is all the Same. It knows the Universe as alive, not conceptually but immediately because it is moved by the same spiritual energies. These flow from a Source that is implicitly (i.e. not explicitly) known as such. This is Gebser’s ‘ever-present origin’. It can still be known after later structures emerge because the archaic structure itself goes on. All depends on the relationship between ‘levels’. Magical and early mythic structures (at least) build from persistence of the archaic mode while the mental tends to obscure it. Intriguingly the 8th and 9th waves serve to restore awareness of it. In my experience, they associate respectively with alignment- and Source-based forms of spirituality as well as emergent Integral consciousness.

The Magical structure corresponds to a gradual rise of distinct points of view within the undifferentiated flow of archaic consciousness. It endows embodied consciousness with a tacit sense of itself as a centre of action and perception that remains deeply embedded in and coordinated with all aspects of its environment. A unitary flow of life-bestowing energy is still experienced, but from a less dimly apprehended Source. Thus when a hunting party’s nascent intentional consciousness is exercised within a co-responsive energy Universe, ‘magical’ effects ensue. This is especially striking from the perspective of abstracted Mental consciousness, which severs all immediacy of engagement through its efforts to conceptualise the process. (Nevertheless, if these ‘structures’ can operate simultaneously, new awareness will arise.)

The Mythic structure offers an intermediate platform. Here attempts are made to articulate experience based on a psycho-logic of metaphor, which classifies objects in terms of functional and formal resemblance rather than abstract categories. Things are known in terms of each other, as are natural and super-natural phenomena. Powers of the Universe become symbolised with respect to pantheons of god/desses and tales associated with them inform ritual practices that are observed to keep these powers in a balanced relationship that is seen as favourable to community interests.

Such deities become masculine and aloof as the Mental structure rises to prominence (despite an early period of synthesis c 500 BCE). Abstract theologizing predominates through to the late 15th century, after which a new ‘perspectival’ mode of Mental consciousness emerges. This expresses the increasingly emboldened viewpoint of a rational ego that believes itself to be the pinnacle of evolution and in control of its own experience. The violence of the 20th century shattered the illusion of this self-denying mythos and a new mode of consciousness (the Integral structure) began to emerge, supported in due course by the calendar’s 8th and 9th waves.

Considering the role of this Integral structure helps illuminate the role of a repeating 9th wave. Ideally, we might imagine, Gebser’s early structures would blend with their successors so that smooth transitions occur and all enter into harmonious relationships of mutually realised inter-dependency. However, lack of awareness and distortions introduced by the power plays of vested interests usually prevent this. Hence, as with established levels of the Underworlds ‘pyramid’, much work of healing and creative renewal still needs to be done. The emergent integral consciousness structure and the repeating 9th wave are natural allies in this regard.


(7) Despite the generous tone of ‘transcend and include’, Wilber-inspired accounts tend to adopt a broad evolutionary premise that what comes later is more developed and thus superior. In particular, the specificity of Gebser’s views regarding the ever-present origin is generally lost in such accounts. This makes it hard to appreciate exactly what inspires change in us. Thus Craig Hamilton, for example, says we should identify with the ‘evolutionary self’ rather than a conservative ego. This begs questions about the ego’s first nature and its relationship with the one who dis/identifies. It is also non-parsimonious in positing an extra construct, doesn’t account for the self-explication of Consciousness and negates a prospect of ego dying into enlightenment that is now firmly part of my experience.

Wilber’s Integral Theory also tends to dismiss Magical and Mythic as primitive forms. This is foreign to the spirit of Gebser as I read him. It also suppresses modes of awareness and opportunities for expression associated with these structures. It thus inhibits the self-realisation of Unity and overlooks the contributions that ancient peoples are still making now. Moreover, Wilber presents integral as the highest stage that arises in an adaptive developmental sequence that then leads on to spiritual opening proper: a kind of postmodern apotheosis that pushes modern people beyond constricting forms of obsessive rationality towards trans-rational (mystical) experience. He then piles another series of ‘spiritual’ stages metaphorically on top of those named by Gebser. These trans-rational/trans-personal ‘stages’ mostly derive from Eastern meditative practices and while I have no doubts regarding their validity, there are important points to be made regarding the nature of Wilber’s initiative.

The first is that they stem from a much earlier historical period than Gebser’s integral structure, which is anachronistic in a stage developmental sequence. The second is that their motivation is associated with an urge to re-unite with a spiritual realm (Arche/Source) from which humanity was already separating but to which we remained much closer than modern people have been through the National and Planetary Underworlds. A third issue arises on considering that Eastern and Western mental practices have always been significantly different in ways that are finally explicable by hemispheric differences within the global brain. (I agree with Calleman’s ‘planetary midline’ hypothesis in this respect.) This is yet another reason not to pile unlike on top of seemingly like in an apparently pristine model (Wilber’s) that none the less mixes many metaphors.

The pressure is off if we readmit Gebser’s own view of the consciousness structures as retaining their specific integrity and mode of functioning – such that yogic practice, for instance, might be viewed as (ultimately) a refined expression of archaic sensibility; later forms can be seen as elaborations within this, and whatever is to come can be reckoned in terms of creative interplay between autonomous but mutually dependent structures. Intriguingly, the only other developmental model I know in which given ‘levels’ retain their specific character after their successor has arisen is the pyramid metaphor applied to 9 Underworlds/waves of the Calendar. There is scope for a beautiful synthesis here.

Finally, in noting that Wilber presents his Gebser I don’t wish to suggest that mine is simply veridical. It too is perspectival but within a frame of aperspectivity (and quantum reality), I am happy to return to awareness key considerations that Wilber’s account obscures.

(8) See ‘Reflections on the 9th Wave’ (February 2011).

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