Thank You Ross Douthat – Part 1

Ross Douthat – I Love Lena

There was another evocative article by Ross Douthat in this past Sunday’s New York Times. He gave his piece that tantalizing title I Love Lena.

The “Lena” here is Lena Dunham —  described by Douthat as “the youthful impresario behind HBO’s series ‘Girls.'” Not having TV in our house, Girls is a program I have neither watched nor heard of. Douthat explains the show and goes on to say why he likes it. As with many articles by Douthat, it took me a while to “get his drift,” but as also happens with Douthat I find that in this piece he makes me think more deeply about spirituality in general and Pathwork, my spiritual path, in particular.

Please read I Love Lena for a full appreciation of Douthat’s thoughts, but let me cut to the chase of what drew me. In the article Douthat cites the late Robert Bellah who coined the word “expressive individualism,” as the worldview “that the key to the good life lies almost exclusively in self-discovery, self-actualization, the cultivation of the unique and holy You.”

When I first read this sentence in I Love Lena, I said, “Yikes! Is Pathwork, the path that has served me so well, nothing more than ‘expressive individualism,’ which Douthat through Bellah and episodes in “Girls” shows not only not to be a source of happiness but at times even a source of agony?” I paused and then reflected on Pathwork, the path that has served me so well, and also on some earlier more general spiritual work that I have enjoyed – Spiral Dynamics, Beck, Wilber, etc.

The Pathwork perspective:

At the risk of great oversimplification, let me describe some of the relevant points I want to use to compare the Pathwork framework, as I understand Pathwork, with some of the good points in Ross Douthat’s article.

First, is Pathwork aimed at the happiness and fulfillment of the individual only, the “expressive individualism” and the “”unique and holy You” that Bellah and Douthat warn against as narcissistic indulgence that can only lead to misery in the end? In Pathwork, personal and spiritual development (self-actualization) is a focus, and one’s unique divine nature is emphasized indeed. BUT the work and one’s unique divine nature is a means serving the purpose of purification and transformation of the individual in the individual’s service to God and the Plan of Salvation. Fulfillment and happiness, even states of bliss, for the individual are a byproduct, but never a goal per se in Pathwork (though often people, including myself for sure, enter Pathwork thinking that perhaps here they will find happiness or, as with me, deeper fulfillment in life).

But let me add more. Where do true happiness and fulfillment come from in Pathwork if happiness and personal fulfillment are not Pathwork’s focus?

Synchronicity being what it is, I just completed the Devotional Version of Pathwork Lecture 257 about a week ago.  After reading Douthat’s article Sunday I remembered the following striking and vivid quote from page 34 of the lecture I had just finished) … “The longing [for oneness] is desperate in your soul, and the pain of not experiencing oneness is excruciatingNot knowing of this [desperate] longing [for oneness in your soul], not feeling the [excruciating] pain [of not experiencing oneness], is even worse [than the desperate longing for oneness per se and excruciating pain of not experiencing oneness per se]; it [i.e., this state of not knowing of this longing and not feeling the pain of not experiencing oneness]  is a state of apathy, unaliveness, confusion and secondary pain.  It is a state that you can never understand because it is a result of a long chain reaction whose origin is precisely the pain of denying oneness.” …

So yes, as mentioned above, Pathwork, speaks to this “self-discovery” and “self-actualization,” and even “the unique and holy You,” and speaks to these facets of spirituality rather extensively at that!  But Pathwork does not say these developmental steps or capacity for holiness are solely serving the individual’s “pursuit of happiness”  or fulfillment.

Quite the contrary in fact: The inner work of Pathwork is the hard work of discovering, owning up to and accepting the inner negativities and distortions we all have with an eye toward their “purification” and “transformation.”  Yes, happiness is a byproduct of this personal and spiritual growth work, but true joy and happiness come to us not directly through our work but rather indirectly through entering deeply into relationship with others and with God, all made possible via the purification and transformation involved in personal and spiritual development. This, roughly, is the Pathwork. And yes, Pathwork would agree that expressive individualism per se will never bring happiness or fulfillment!

Spiral Dynamics

Let me turn to a more general spiritual framework for additional context of both Pathwork and Douthat’s article. For many years I have been fascinated by consciousness memes, or spiral dynamics of spiritual/consciousness growth as described by Ken Wilber (Theory of Everything © 2000). Wilber’s book is built upon Don Beck’s comprehensive work (Spiral Dynamics – most recent edition ©2006 and also there is a wonderful 7-hour audio lecture series Beck offers – Spiral Dynamics Integral ©2006 available from Sounds True), which in turn is built upon the work of the late Clare Graves (1914-1986).

In Spiral Dynamics theory, consciousness in individuals and societies evolves slowly and is spiral in nature (meaning that we, as individuals and groups, revisit life issues throughout our individual or societal lives, each time from a higher or deeper level of consciousness, hence life offers us spiral growth).

Beck assigns arbitrary colors to each of 8 sequential levels of consciousness and divides the 8 levels, each called memes, into two tiers – Tier 1 consisting of the first 6 memes (beige, purple, red, blue, orange, and green) and Tier 2 consisting of last two memes (yellow and turquois). Of these 8 memes, I want to focus on numbers 5 (orange meme from Tier 1), 7 (yellow meme from Tier 2), and 8 (turquois meme also from Tier 2).  From Beck’s Spiral Dynamics, here are some of the characteristics of these three memes:

Orange Meme: Rise of the individual as expressed in various guarantees of freedom, liberty, rights, and personal autonomy, etc. (page 245).

Yellow Meme: Accept the inevitability of nature’s flows and forms, find natural mix of conflicting “truths” and “uncertainties,” discovering personal freedom without harm to others or excesses of self-interest, experience fullness of living on an Earth of such diversity in multiple dimensions, demand integrative and open systems, etc. (page 275).

Turquois Meme: blending and harmonizing a strong collective of individuals, focus on the good of all living entities as integrated systems, Self is part of larger, conscious, spiritual whole that also serves self, etc. (page287).

Back to Pathwork

When I consider the language used in Pathwork Lecture 257 mentioned previously, it feels to me to be a description of the Turquois Meme as presented by Beck and Wilber. Consider specifically the words, “Self is part of larger, conscious, spiritual whole that also serves self.” Pathwork Lecture 257, given nearly 35 years ago,  states so clearly that happiness and fulfillment cannot happen via individualism but rather come only when we experience the spiritual state of oneness with all that is, including God. Yet, throughout the Pathwork lectures the need to grow personally and spiritually as individuals is viewed as a very necessary and ongoing process in order for individuals to develop the capacity to experience such oneness that our souls long for – and from this oneness, again as a byproduct, experiencing also fullness and happiness, even, as many of the Pathwork lectures state, bliss supreme. And what about the Yellow meme? It would certainly be a state in Pathwork on the way to Turquois. It seems to me that the aim of Pathwork is Tier 2 consciousness – but also helping us see, own, and grow through the various memes in Tier 1 on the way.

And back to Douthat/Bellah

Perhaps what Robert Bellah was exploring were the consciousness levels in Tier 1 and especially Yellow – perhaps this Level 5 is the “expressive individualism” that cannot lead to ultimate happiness as Lena’s “Girls” illustrates by example and Douthat is so good at pointing out.

So once again, THANK YOU, Ross Douthat, for stirring my pot and brain – helping me bring together Spiral Dynamics, Wilber’s Theory of Everything, Pathwork, and your words building on Robert Bellah’s concepts of expressive individualism!

Shared in love, Gary

Other New Facets to Explore

As I said, I appreciate Douthat’s evocative article. He stirred up a lot in me. Now I have purchased three of Robert Bellah’s books (Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American LifeReligion In Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age, and The Axial Age and its Consequences). I am especially drawn to Religion In Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age ©2011 (called by one reviewer, “the opus magnum of the greatest living sociologist of religion”) and its sequel, The Axial Age and its Consequences ©2012, both written shortly before Professor Bellah’s death on July 30, 2013.

As an aside, I notice that Wilber has included in his Theory of Everything, short sections on the thoughts of Robert Bellah (p. 113), Thomas L. Friedman (p 127, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and writer for the New York Times), and Francis Fukuyama (p. 114, author of Political Order and Political Decayreview included in September 14, 2014 New York Times, and an interview with Francis Fukuyama quoted in a Thomas L. Friedman article in October 5 NYT).