‘The Horizon’, Part 2, Chapter 16: about the hidden link between elder Consciousness and the inner Sacred Mountain, and why the Solo System can help us navigate towards self-realisation
“All children are born to grow, and to articulate their needs and feelings for their self-protection.”Alice Miller
Each period of human Consciousness is a significant step forward on our evolutionary path. Now we are invited to progress beyond adulthood, beyond the mental structure, and beyond our rational paradigm.
At first sight we can only see old age. That doesn’t look like progress. It looks like decline, frailty, and moving towards death.
We want to live long, of course, but we don’t want to get old.
From our current perspective progress equals technology. One day it might save us from old age and death. — What if it doesn’t?
To be saved from parts of ourselves breaking down would only work if human Consciousness really was a kind of machine. — What if it isn’t?
When we look at human Consciousness as a living organism, we get a completely different picture. We realise that our Consciousness has to grow, like any other living creature.
Our understanding of this principle is surprisingly underdeveloped. We know that impressions in early life have profound longterm effects. But since those experiences belong to the past, there is not much we can do about them now.
This is what the psychotherapist Alice Miller believed when she wrote, “the damage done to us during our childhood cannot be undone, since we cannot change anything in our past.” — What if this isn’t the whole truth?
During the embryonic phase we feel the emotions of our parents, including those of which they are not aware themselves. We inherit the repressed and unresolved issues of our ancestors, and we go through the shocking experience of being born.
During childhood, the period when we should develop our ‘true self’, we learn to behave in certain ways to gain affection and approval of our grownups. Since we are dependent on their goodwill and care we develop a so-called ‘false self’.
Donald Winnicott, the child-analyst who introduced these terms, thought that the ‘false self’ somehow protects the ‘true self’. Today this hypothesis is confusing for 3 reasons:
1st — Contemporary philosophers suggest that the self doesn’t exist at all.
2nd — Contemporary spiritual teachers and schools of psychology suggest that we have several ‘selves’.
3rd — If the ‘self’ needs to develop during childhood, then there can’t be a ‘true self’ at that time. It doesn’t exist yet.
In child Consciousness we presumably have the dormant potential of something that could be called a ‘true sense of self’. The ‘false self’ feels fake in comparison because it interferes with the unfolding of this dormant potential. It hinders our authentic self-expression and promotes inauthentic self-expression. This is meant by ‘false self’.
In the Solo System the Self is defined as our self-perception. This resolves the problematic question of whether we ‘have a self’ or several of them, or none.
We do have a capacity to perceive ourselves at any stage of our development. During the early period of life our self-perception tends to be in its infancy, and it is vulnerable to influences from our environment.
Alice Miller tells us that, “All children are born to grow, to develop, to live, to love, and to articulate their needs and feelings for their self-protection.”
Authentic articulation of our feelings and needs, and the acceptance of them, enables us to develop our Self — or self-perception. In other words, authentic self-expression and acceptance are essential for the development of the Self.
“It’s not reliving the past, it’s using the past.”Eileen Kramer
Our child Consciousness is gifted with an enviable capacity for spontaneous self-expression. We need to express our feelings and share them with others. But this is rarely encouraged by the grownups in our life.
When she was a child Audre Lorde had great difficulties expressing herself in ‘ordinary language’. So she became a poet.
“If asked how she was feeling, Audre would reply by reciting a poem. When the poems could no longer express what she wanted to say, at about age twelve or thirteen, she began to write her own.” (From Audre Lorde’s Life and Career by Beverly Threatt Kulii et al)
Child Consciousness also has a natural urge to explore the world in a playful way. This is our most effective, effortless and enjoyable learning strategy. Instead of being supported in this self-exploration we are sent to institutions that regiment our learning process and stifle spontaneous self-expression.
During adolescence our Consciousness receives the mythical ‘call to adventure’. Some people discover their calling spontaneously at a young age. Some are born with a special gift or talent.
Many other multi-talented and multi-gifted humans have to search harder and longer. Again, this challenge of the adolescent period is not supported in our culture. It is not yet recognised as a basic need of human Consciousness.
During adulthood we should be productive and make our contribution to society. This requires that our Self is reasonably well developed and ‘grownup’, and that we have found and followed our calling.
For some people this seems to work out quite well. Here are 3 examples:
Verena Kast is a Swiss psychologist. She is in her early 70s and considers herself a ‘young elder’. According to her, old age begins in the 7th decade of life. Verena Kast leads an active and productive life. She is reminded of her age only when people ask, “when are you planning to retire?”
Arno Stern lives in Paris. He is 92 years old and enjoys his work at the painting studio he set up nearly 70 years ago. He also offers training programs, gives talks, and writes books.
Eileen Kramer was born in Sydney and followed her calling to become a dancer. Now, at the age of 102, she still dances and choreographs; she designs stage sets and costumes, and sews them.
Verena Kast, Arno Stern, and Eileen Kramer have no plans to retire. They enjoy their work and the life they have created for themselves. They are also redefining old age while living in an era that is obsessed with youth.
In an interview Eileen Kramer explains, “It’s not reliving the past. It’s using the past. Learning how to do it is not enough. I have to discover what I’m doing, I don’t always know.”
“The Black mother within each of us whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free.”Audre Lorde
Collectively we are currently living under the influence of the mental structure. Jean Gebser and other researchers of human Consciousness believe that we are in transition to the next phase which they call integral Consciousness.
As the name suggests, this is a structure where all aspects and Faculties of our Consciousness have to be integrated. It also means that no unresolved issues from previous periods must be left behind. In the integral structure all immature elements of ourselves get a chance to become part of the whole.
Here is Jean Gebser’s definition: “By integration we mean a fully completed and realised wholeness — the bringing about of an integrum, i.e., the re-establishment of the inviolate and pristine state of origin by incorporating the wealth of all subsequent achievement.”
We can experience this integral structure in every day life through so-called elder Consciousness. This is not an ‘age thing’ but rather a perspective, which gives us an opportunity to step out of linear time. In this dimension we can view ourselves through the lens of ‘realised wholeness’.
This is the integral structure Jean Gebser talks about. At first this may sound a bit ‘esoteric’. It is difficult to grasp with the rational Intellect. Our subjective experience, however, is very familiar with the non-linear dimension beyond time.
We actually move in and out of the visible, linear, material world — i.e. the space-time on which our rational mind currently relies — daily without giving it much thought. Here is an example:
Think about a time when you overreacted to a fairly insignificant event.
How did you feel?
Were you angry, nervous, anxious, worried, jealous, or upset?
Did you cry, shout, or blame somebody, or did you bite your tongue and ‘control’ yourself?
Did you feel a spontaneous urge to express your feelings?
How easy or difficult was it to share your experience with someone?
Did you feel accepted and understood, or did you feel misunderstood and rejected?
Whenever we overreact to an external event as adults we are automatically thrown back into an earlier period. Usually it is about something painful that happened in infancy, childhood, or adolescence, and the issue is still lingering unresolved in the Dark Side of the inner world.
Elder Consciousness enables us to travel backwards through space and time intentionally. When the Self is strong enough it can be used as a vehicle to retrieve relevant information and integrate it.
Such ‘time travel’ is usually initiated by ‘childish’ feelings. Intentional and carefully guided inner journeys, fuelled by authentic self-expression, can lead us to self-realisation and genuine freedom.
This process requires the cooperation of the inner masculine and the integration of the long neglected inner feminine. The Afro American writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde refers to this forgotten dimension of human Consciousness in her essay Poetry is not a Luxury:
“The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us — the poet — whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free.”
“We are all creating from such an insanely limited version of our true potential.”Jamie Catto
Every form of Consciousness has potential lying dormant until it gets activated by a trigger. Part of the trigger mechanism are so-called sensitive phases, and they get recognised instinctively.
Somehow the living organism ‘knows’ that this is a good time to activate an aspect of potential. Or to put it the other way round, the sensitive phase lets us know that there is an opportunity to awaken and develop some dormant potential.
When the development actually happens, then we experience growth. A growth spurt always seems to follow a particular sensitive phase, and the process always runs through certain stages.
For example, fruit trees ‘know’ when it is spring time, and they start to flower. Chicks ‘know’ when it is time to hatch, and they break the egg shell. Silkworms ‘know’ when it is time to make a cocoon, and they start producing silk threads.
Humans also experience such sensitive phases, but we tend to ignore them or interfere with them. This is partly because our sensitive phases feel uncomfortable. We don’t recognise automatically how valuable and significant they are for our evolutionary process.
We also perceive ourselves as superior to nature, think we know better, and that we can control everything with technology etc. But that might only be an excuse for not having to deal with ‘negative inner stuff’.
There might be a deeper and better reason. Maybe our ignorance in adulthood is simply part of our human development. Through our interference with nature and our resistance to the sensitive phases human Consciousness develops its complexity, its breadth of experience, and eventually its depth of understanding.
As unique living creatures we have the capacity to relive, recall, and re-experience our sensitive phases, not just once but many times. We can even choose not to get involved personally in this process of growing in Consciousness.
We can repress the issues which trip us up, project them onto others, and pass them on to the next generation. Human Consciousness has the power to decide when it is ready for its own growth process.
Sensitive phases which were ignored during childhood and adolescence largely due to ignorance of our elders come back later in life in form of negative experience. They are never welcome, and this is why they get rejected all over again.
When sensitive phases are continuously ignored, they become more intense and acute. Our continued repression of opportunities to develop our dormant potential eventually leads to a crisis.
This is what happened to Jamie Catto, an English musician, film maker and leader of transformational workshops. When his wife wanted to get divorced, he was thrown off his track. He felt disoriented and was forced to take a critical look at his life.
In his book Insanely Gifted he shares his experience of this difficult time:
“I felt totally disempowered. At some point I found myself on the tube and one of my favourite, saddest, most heart breaking yearning pieces of music came on my iPod… I sat there looking at all the other diverse characters … In my broken state each one looked more depressed and alienated than the last.”
Then Jamie Catto recognised that the creation of his world was a reproduction of his inner state, and he was able to use his subjective experience of the crisis as an opportunity to turn his life around.
This was a sensitive phase for him, and it helped him realise, “that we are all functioning, relating and creating from such an insanely limited version of our true potential.”
“Our nights carry in them the secrets of a greater dawn.”Sri Aurobindo
Any negative subjective experience can be an indicator for a sensitive phase and trigger a growth spurt. This means, whenever we feel ‘bad’ about anything, the unpleasant emotions are not only an irritating disruption of the inner balance. They provide an opportunity to access an aspect of our dormant potential.
Our negative subjective experience is directly connected with an immature aspect of our Consciousness which was left unresolved in an earlier period of life.
To avoid misunderstanding, let me clarify this: I am not saying that negative subjective experiences are objectively good or desirable in themselves.
They are subjective. They are negative. They are painful. They are destructive. They are not desirable in their current form, therefore we want to transform them.
I am not in any way suggesting that anyone should deliberately expose themselves to negative experiences with the intention to ‘access their dormant potential’. Such a twisted interpretation can only be construed from the rational perspective of adult Consciousness.
Sensitive phases are very delicate situations. They have to happen spontaneously, otherwise they are not genuine. “Genuine feelings are never the product of conscious effort. They are quite simply there, and they are there for a very good reason, even if that reason is not always apparent.” These are the words of Alice Miller.
The Indian consciousness researcher Sri Aurobindo focusses on the bigger picture of the evolution of mankind, but he essentially says the same thing:
“Human progress is very much an adventure through the unknown, an unknown full of surprises and baffling obstacles; it stumbles often, it misses its way at many points, it cedes here in order to gain there, it retraces its steps frequently in order to get more widely forward. The present does not always compare favourably with the past; even when it is more advanced in the mass, it may still be inferior in certain directions important to our inner or our outer welfare. But earth does move forward after all… Even in failure there is a preparation for success: our nights carry in them the secret of a greater dawn. This is a frequent experience in our individual progress, but the human collectivity also moves in much the same manner.”
In other words, authentic growth of human Consciousness cannot be manipulated or manufactured, neither individually nor collectively. Genuine negative incidents related to a sensitive phase are never the product of conscious effort. We don’t orchestrate them deliberately. They happen to us despite our best efforts.
“The whole life of the individual is nothing but the process of giving birth to himself.”Erich Fromm
Elderhood is a completely new dimension beyond our adult Consciousness. Now our practice of biosophy can witness its finest hours.
Elder Consciousness gives us the perspective we need to transcend any inner battles we face during adulthood, adolescence, childhood and infancy and transform our subjective experience into wisdom.
To help with our biosophical practice, here is a rough guide to different expressions of sensitive phases, what they might look like and to which period a genuine negative incident might relate:
1 — Sensitive phases from embryonic Consciousness: oversensitivity to other people; being stuck in a trauma pattern; under-reaction to an unacceptable situation; fear of life; lack of boundaries; difficulties being in the world, never having ‘landed properly’ on earth; inability to form a healthy and fulfilling intimate relationship.
2 — Sensitive phases from child Consciousness: over-reaction to things other people do or say; high emotional sensitivity; urges to express and share one’s feelings; need for approval and/or wanting to please others; desire to be the centre of attention; sensitivity to criticism; sense of inferiority; blind faith in authority, fear of authority, and/or desire for a parental figure; dependency on a regular routine; the need to play; naïvety, being easily impressed and gullible; immature self-perception.
3 — Sensitive phases from adolescent Consciousness: rebelliousness against authority; the sense of superiority, or knowing things better than everyone else; overestimation of one’s own ability; idealism and dreaming of a better world; the search for one’s gifts and life purpose; the urge to travel and discover the world; the yearning to find one’s calling and/or meet a ‘soulmate’; general discontent and difficulties to accept one’s own ‘mundane’ life.
4 — Sensitive phases from adult Consciousness: theorising, analysing, and searching for rational explanations for everything; wanting to ‘fix’ internal problems by external means; explaining immaterial phenomena through materialistic constructs; need to control one’s environment; being worried about safety and planning for the future; having a ‘sensible’ attitude; being concerned about one’s reputation and position in society; wanting to know ‘the truth of everything’, and turning to religion, spiritual teachings or science for definitive answers.
In his book The Sane Society the psychologist Erich Fromm wrote:
“Birth then, in the conventional meaning of the word, is only the beginning of birth in the broader sense. The whole life of the individual is nothing but the process of giving birth to himself; indeed, we should be fully born when we die – although it is the tragic fate of most individuals to die before they are born.”
The practice of bringing our unresolved issues into the Bright Side of our Consciousness is essentially the same as giving birth to aspects of ourselves which are lying in the Dark Side. But they are not dead.
They are waiting to be born. Whenever these creatures stir within us, they want to come to our awareness.
When we give birth to them this can be painful. The more we resist them, the more difficult the birth process will be.
We have to take care for these immature living creatures in our inner world. We have to love, nurture, and protect them throughout their infancy and childhood. We have to encourage and support them through the challenges of adolescence.
Then we have to guide them through the pitfalls, obstacles, and crises of adulthood, help them resolve conflicts, guide them out of their troubles, comfort them through their failures and losses.
We have to keep reminding them that a new life wants to dawn beyond their current horizon. And throughout this process, more than anything else, we have to listen to them with patience, love, and a completely open mind.
In return these ‘wild and unruly inner creatures’ help us grow the clarity, authenticity, and integrity which we are all deeply yearning for. They enable us to be born before we die.
In other words, the unborn parts of ourselves offer us the gift of self-realisation. This is the gift of elderhood.
“The pilgrimage to Mount Kailash is about surrendering oneself to the forces and presence of the mountain.”Will Johnson
Mount Kailash is the sacred mountain of Tibet. In central Asian cosmology this is the axis mundi and a very special place of power for Buddhists, Hindus, and other pilgrims.
They are seekers of inner clarity and wisdom. They don’t go to the sacred mountain to climb to the summit and enjoy the view. The pilgrims walk around the base of the mountain, either clockwise or anticlockwise, chanting mantras and performing rituals, in search of self-realisation.
In his book The Sailfish and the Sacred Mountain Will Johnson offers insights into this journey:
“The pilgrimage to Mount Kailash has nothing to do with conquering the mountain. It is, rather, about surrendering oneself to the forces and presence of the mountain, about dissolving the egoic fiction and being conquered and liberated by the mountain in the process.”
Elder Consciousness is like an inner Sacred Mountain. Initially it exists only in the form of dormant potential. At first we have to find our own way to this inner place of power.
When we get there we discover that fellow pilgrims of all ages have sought out this sacred place. We can follow their tracks and learn from them.
Jean Gebser was such an experienced ‘pilgrim’. He points out that “all paths lead only to where they have led away from. Either we run in a circle, … or we run to and fro from one opposite to the other in the belief that in this compulsive back-and-forth we will find a synthesis. What is needed then, is not a way or a path, but a leap.”
The Solo System offers 8 paths around the inner Sacred Mountain. Each path is ruled by one of the 8 Faculties of Consciousness. Each path also leads through aspects of each of the 8 Faculties. This ensures that the paths of the Solo System don’t just take you back and forth and around in circles in some old and outdated structures of Consciousness.
The ‘leaps’ we have to make within our inner world are also often referred to transcendence. We have to step out of habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, believing etc. But before we can do so we have to know exactly what we are actually doing.
Every time you walk on of these paths, prompted by a subjective experience which indicates a sensitive phase, you have the opportunity to make a leap. These are genuine leaps in Consciousness. They happen almost by themselves, as a ‘side-effect’ of walking the path.
4 of the paths of the Solo System lead anticlockwise around the inner Sacred Mountain. They are ruled by the feminine Faculties — Soul, Intuition, Instinct, Body — and they promote healing.
4 of the paths of the Solo System lead in the clockwise direction. They are ruled by the masculine Faculties — Will, Inspiration, Imagination, Intellect — and they promote creating.
“All I wanted was to try to live that, which wanted to come out of me by itself. Why was that so very difficult?”Hermann Hesse
Elderhood is neither a weakness nor an illness. It is not a ‘scourge of humanity’ which we must try to overcome. It is a privilege we can earn. It is an advanced stage of our development.
Elderhood is not reserved for old age. It is a dimension of our Consciousness into which we need to grow; and I believe it could save ourselves and our planet from self-destruction. I also believe many of us are already well on their way along this path.
For lack of a better term, elderhood is a name for the subjective experience of integral Consciousness.
At this stage we realise that the work of human creation is a process of healing and creating. We discover that the organism of human Consciousness has the power to heal itself and create itself.
We understand that our task is to support this delicate process by giving it the right impulses at the right time. The actual ‘work of growth’ has to happen by itself in unknown mysterious ways.
The metaphor of growth also corresponds with Jean Gebser’s description of our transition into this new and constructive phase. He describes the integral structure as a concretion of the spiritual, or a growing together of our essence with our Consciousness.
We have seen his definition in Chapter 11, here it is again: “Concretion does not mean a transformation of the intangible into something tangible or substantial, but rather the completion of con-crescere, that is the coalescence of the spiritual with our consciousness.”
Elder Consciousness enables us to realise our potential. This means creating an environment in which all immature aspects of ourselves can grow into mature inner creatures and make a constructive contribution to our life.
The Solo System is a powerful tool to promote the growth of elder Consciousness within ourselves. It is not only a way to transform negative experiences into something more pleasant and acceptable.
It is an inner guidance system for self-realisation.
It can give impulses for inner healing.
It can promote the work of creating.
It can offer access to inner wisdom.
It can provide reassurance and encouragement in life changing moments like this one described by Hermann Hesse in Demian:
“Only one thing I could not do: drag out the dark goal hidden within myself and paint it somewhere in front of me, like others did who knew exactly that they wanted to become a professor or a judge, a doctor or an artist… that I could not do. Perhaps I would also become something like that one day, but how was I supposed to know?… All I wanted was to try to live that, which wanted to come out of me by itself. Why was that so very difficult?”
This is not just a personal dilemma. It is a collective quest and yearning of humankind.
Why is this so very difficult?
It is my sincere wish that the Solo System may make our pilgrimage around the inner Sacred Mountain a little easier.
© Veronika Bond, 2016
This article is a draft of chapter 16 of The Horizon, volume 2 of The Solo System.
It is complemented by an e-letter, containing additional background information about the progress of the book and the creative process.
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