Written December 2000, published in ReVision, Fall, 2001
Spiritual inquiry as divine becoming
The guiding ideas behind my practice of spiritual inquiry can
be set forth in seven basic statements. They constitute a version of theological
personalism in the European tradition of mystical philosophers like Martin Buber
(1937) and Nikolai Berdyaev (1937), updated in terms of a participatory
worldview (Abram, 1996; Bateson, 1979; Ferrer, 2001; Heron, 1992, 1996, 1998;
Heron and Reason, 1997; Merleau-Ponty, 1962; Reason, 1994; Skolimowski, 1994;
Spretnak, 1991; Tarnas, 1991), a series of co-operative inquiries, and my
personal lived inquiry into Being (Heron, 1998). Here are the statements. A
1. Is a distinct spiritual presence in, and nonseparable
from, the given cosmos, participating through immediate present experience - the
very process of being in a world - in the presence of the divine.
2. Is not to be reduced to, or confused with, an illusory,
separate, contracted, and egoic self with which personhood can become
3. Emerges from and is grounded in immanent spiritual life;
and is informed and illuminated by a transcendent spiritual consciousness.
4. Has original revelation here and now, through opening to
his or her intrinsic saturation with divinity. Such revelation is a human-divine
communion, a co-creation of mediated-immediacy.
5. Has spiritual authority within which, when freed from the
distortions of spiritual projection onto external sources, manifests as
co-created inner light and inner life.
6. Has freedom to generate, with immanent spiritual life, an
innovative spiritual path.
7. Manifests the creative process of divine becoming as an
autonomous being, embedded in connectedness, and in co-operative, transformative
relations with other persons similarly engaged.
In an earlier book, Feeling and Personhood (Heron,
1992), I suggested that there are various states of personhood, which I called
primal, spontaneous, compulsive, conventional, creative, self-creating,
self-transfiguring, and charismatic; and looked at various possible relations
between them, and possible patterns of personal development in which they
figure. The self-transfiguring person I portrayed as one who:
…has embarked upon the realization of their subtle
energies, psychic capacities and spiritual potentials. They are busy with
transformations of ordinary perception and action, extra sensory development
and access to other realities, ritual, meditation, prayer, worship, and living
in the now. And all this is integrated with a creative, expressive life in the
world. (Heron, 1992: 61)
The present essay focuses on the self-transfiguring person
adopting a path of lived inquiry. I will discuss the above seven statements in
more detail, refining and advancing the views put forward in Sacred Science
1. A person is a distinct spiritual presence in, and
nonseparable from, the given cosmos, participating through immediate present
experience - the very process of being in a world - in the presence of the
2. As such, a person is not to be reduced to, or confused
with, an illusory, separate, contracted and egoic self with which personhood can
become temporarily identified.
I find that my everyday self is always and inalienably
immersed in divinity simply by virtue of its way of being in a world. The
process of my perceiving - visual, auditory, tactile, kinesthetic imaging - is
relational, interactive, interdependent and correlative. There is no gap, no
separation between I the imager, the imaging, and the imaged. This unitive
process enacts a local world with infinite, unlimited horizons without, and
emerges from a generative infinitude within. The enactment is tacitly continuous
with these dipolar infinities. I am engaged with cosmic imagination: 'The living
power and prime agent of all human perception and a repetition in the finite
mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM' (Coleridge).
Moreover, my perceiving is not only imaging, it is at the
same time a felt mutual resonance with what is being imaged. This tells us that
we, the entities present, in the totality of our reciprocal relations,
constitute the sheer vibrant presence of Being here and now. I call this,
simply, immediate present experience. This is already a religious experience:
the communion of self and world within the embrace of Being.
Without this going on all the time, there is no world for the
everyday self. At the same time my self can get dissociated and distracted from
its necessary participatory nature. It can get constricted in the illusory
separateness of an alienated ego structure: by childhood wounding; by the
exigencies of survival and social life; by the way the concepts that come with
language separate subject from object, imager from imaged, bury the
participatory transaction of imaging, and distract attention from felt resonance
However, by paying attention to these three factors, and by
learning how to disperse their constricting impact, I can uncover what has been
going on all the time - interactive imaging and resonance within the presence of
Being here and now. This uncovering and coming to my senses reveals a real
person in relation with other centres of reference. As such
· I am unique by having a standpoint and viewpoint,
an enactive perspective. Whereas the self as contracted ego has to do with
illusory separateness, the self as emergent person has to do with a distinct
perspective within real unity.
· I am constituted by mutual engagement with others
in a world, participating reciprocally in the presence of other beings, human
and non-human, within the presence of Being.
· I image their forms of appearing, make
discriminatory judgments about their status and significance, and choose to
act in relation to them.
· I am capable of extensive and intensive
unfoldment by virtue of an inherent opening onto an infinite actuality without
and beyond, and an infinite potential within. I can creatively transform my
world, and be a catalyst to transfigure myself.
This immediate present experience, this being one of the here
and now Many-in-relation-in-the-One, is the locus and foundation of personhood.
It is not prepersonal, not prior to verbal and conceptual mastery. I have called
it post-linguistic and post-conceptual (Heron, 1992, 1996), to mean simply that
it follows from deconstructing the subject-object split that language-use
imposes on the process of perceiving. It is a person participating intentionally
in local, temporal divine presence, and poised at the interface between
transcendent spiritual consciousness and immanent spiritual life. From this here
and now, the ongoing spiritual process is one of rhythmic expansion, increasing
the present wholeness through a spiraling inclusion of hitherto immanent and
transcendent spirit, with various intermittent phases of consolidation and
A person on my view, then, is an embodied spiritual presence,
one of the real Many within the divine One, whose distinctness of being within
the unity of the whole is more fundamental than any of her or his temporary and
illusory states of egoic alienation and separateness. This distinctness of a
person has to do with him or her being one unique focus, among many, of the
whole web of interbeing relations. Personal autonomy is grounded in this unique
presence, participating resonantly in an unitive field of interconnected beings,
within the presence of Being. It is manifest as the individual perspective
necessarily involved in imaging a world, as the individual judgment inalienably
required to make relevant distinctions and evaluations according to appropriate
standards, and as individual responsibility in choosing to act.
This is not the personal autonomy of the Cartesian ego, an
isolated, self-reflexive consciousness independent of any context - what
Charlene Spretnak calls the Lone Cowboy sense of autonomy. It is, rather,
The ecological/cosmological sense of uniqueness coupled
with intersubjectivity and interbeing…One can accurately speak of the ‘autonomy’
of an individual only by incorporating a sense of the dynamic web of
relationships that are constitutive for that being at a given moment. (Spretnak,
This web or context has two layers. There is the superficial
linguistic, cultural context within which autonomy is exercised and by which it
is socially defined. And there is the deeper primary, extralinguistic and
extracultural, context of conscious mutual participation with other
presences in given Being, within which autonomy can also be intentionally
exercised and by which it is, so to say, divinely defined.
3. A person emerges from and is grounded in immanent
spiritual life; and is informed and illuminated by a transcendent spiritual
I hold a provisional theory of the divine as encompassing:
· Transcendent spiritual consciousness, beyond and
informing our immediate experience.
· Immanent spiritual life, deep within and
animating our immediate experience. And, mediating between the poles
· Our very present immediate experience of here and
now form and process.
I also find that it makes sense of my experience of the inner
heights and depths, to integrate this dipolarity of transcendent consciousness
and immanent life, with another mysterious one, the dipolarity of the manifest
and the unmanifest. The term ‘unmanifest’ is not very satisfactory, does not
reside in the dictionary, so I shall replace with both ‘beyond-the-manifest’
Thus I encounter transcendent consciousness as beyond-the-manifest:
as boundless ineffability, ecstatic infinitude beyond all form and
differentiation, beyond every circumference, every defining name. I also find
that transcendent consciousness is manifest in two complementary ways. It
is as if it generates all spatial form in some sense and also upholds it. So I
engage with it as originating sound and light, creative overmind, demiurge, the
first word of form. And then, too, I meet it as all-holding universal mind,
cosmic store-consciousness, the repository of informing archetypes.
Figure 1 Dipolar theology and the dipolar spiritual path
Plumbing the depths of immanent life I engage with the
mystery of the within-the-manifest: primordial emptiness, the infinitude within
all form, within every center the essential absence within all differentiation,
the spaceless womb of being. At the same pole, immanent life manifests in
complementary ways, both generating temporal process and sustaining it. So I
feel it as generative, primordial life, the living emergence of new development
from within, the inner, innovative prompt to time my own process in this or that
or the other way. And I also feel it as interfused and pervasive inner presence,
manifest as the sustaining cyclic gestures in time, both of the presence that I
am in the world, and of the diverse presences of the world with whom I am in
The integrative center between the poles is my immediate
present experience of being now here, my consciousness-life co-creating present
form and process in conjunction with divine consciousness-life. I participate in
a unitive field of being-in-a-world: present in an immediate, local,
participatory subjective-objective reality, in which there is no gap between
subject and object, between perceiver, perceiving and perceived, between
consciousness and its contents, between resonant feeling and other diverse
presences, between form and process, between my being and my becoming. This
explicit local unitive field is full of distinctions and motions without
separateness. It is partial, capable of expansion and contraction, and is the
explicit innovative focus of active becoming within a tacit ground of infinite
height, depth and extent.
Figure 1 above sets out in diagrammatic form this dipolar
theology, the arrows on the right portraying dipolar divine dynamics, and the
arrows on the left suggesting a dipolar spiritual path. For the divine dynamics
read from the bottom to the middle and from the top to the middle. For the
spiritual path, read from the middle to the bottom and from the middle to the
top. Remember, it is just a construct, a modest metaphor, a simplifying device.
But it does, so far as it can, resonate beyond itself to that which is true to
my experience. It has been elaborated in the cartography presented in Sacred
Science (Heron, 1998).
4. A person has original revelation here and now through
opening to his or her intrinsic saturation with divinity. Such revelation is a
human-divine communion, a co-creation of mediated-immediacy.
I regard spiritual inquiry as a process of co-creative
communion with the divine, involving human mediation of the immediacy of divine
presence. By the divine, as we have seen, I mean that astonishing presence that
transcends, includes and is immanent within, all manifest realms, both subtle
The belief that the divine is a One-Many reality that
includes everything, means that the process of spiritual inquiry is itself a
form of divine becoming. It is part of god exploring its relation with the rest
of god and the whole of god. The human inquirer is one of the divine Many
entering into discriminating communion with the rest of the Many and the One.
And as one of the Many, the human inquirer is intrinsically saturated with
The notion of intrinsic saturation points to what is already
the case about our being in the world, but from which we can readily be
distracted from noticing. So a basic kind of inquiry is the practice of opening
to this that is already the case. What I call 'intrinsic saturation' is similar
to what Karl Rahner calls 'transcendental experience', a universal
pre-reflective and tacit experience of god which is the foundation for all other
human experience, and which becomes conscious only when we reflect deeply on the
conditions for the possibility of human knowledge and activity (Kelly, 1993).
Merleau-Ponty, coming in from a different angle, also spoke of 'radical
reflection' which reveals the fusion of seer and seen in and through the
'flesh', a fusion which is prior to and a condition of all subsequent analysis (Bernasconi,
Intrinsic saturation - what is already the case - is revealed
by reflective contemplation, a process of self-transcending reflection which
both encounters the divinity it formulates, and is formulated by that divinity,
in a co-creative embrace. Contemplation of the mutual encounter, dwelling in the
communion of one of the Many and the One, transcends the purely reflective
process by which it is entered. What starts out as mental mediation becomes
mediated-immediacy, a co-creative human-divine communion. What is divine in it
has universal validity, the human mediation in it makes it relative to the
context of its formulation. The notion of mediated-immediacy stands on the
middle ground between the extremes of contextualist relativism and absolutist
universalism (for a related view see Ferrer, 2001).
Kant used a form of transcendental argument to provide a
priori knowledge of the world as it appears, but not as it is in itself. His
epistemology is self-enclosing: it cuts us off from radical ontology, from
being-as-such. Self-transcending reflection is rather different: it yields a
priori knowledge which mediates the immediacy of what there is, encountered in
and through the epiphany of its appearing. Epistemology and ontology merge in a
co-shaping communion of knowing and being (cf. Panikkar, 1996).
Here are some examples of intrinsic saturation which can
become conscious through reflective contemplation of the kind I have described;
and which I invite the reader to check out in his or her own lived inquiry. I
present them mainly in terms of a brief phenomenology of their contemplative
states. For a fuller account of the prior reflections see Heron (1992, Chapters
5, 7, 8, 9; 1996, Chapter 10; 1998, Parts 1 and 3). And note that the fourth of
the examples below, on intention, goes beyond self-transcending reflection into
the realm of self-transcending practical knowing, self-transfiguring
4.1. Perception. Human perceiving is grounded in
human feeling, which I differentiate from emotion, and regard as the capacity of
a person to participate as a distinct non-separate presence in wider unities of
being (Heron, 1992). In such radical perception, there is no gap, no separation
between perceiver and perceived. Subject and object, which may also be another
human subject, interfuse in a co-creative embrace. This consciousness-world, or
person-to-person, co-participatory union is the local home of the go-between
divinity, the living presence of Shekinah (in Jewish tradition a feminine
word for divine immanence), the manifest goddess alive in the reality of
relationship. Furthermore, both center and circumference of finite perceiving -
the sensory worldfield of Shekinah - are fraught with an inalienable
engagement with the infinite.
If you attend to the center of reference for touch,
kinesthetic sense, seeing and hearing, it is a delicious void, there is nothing
there. It is an infinitude within. These four modalities of imaging our
being-in-a-world coalesce at an apparent locus which they declare to be a full
emptiness. It is full because it is a cornucopia out of which our whole
four-modal world pours. And it is empty because it is a womb of internal
Likewise every perceptual circumference or boundary, every
finite limit to the seeing and hearing of our sensory field, declares its latent
infinity. Each limit declares there is more beyond it. It announces a series of
limits that is unlimited. In one horizon we have tacit acquaintance with
horizons that are infinite. But the infinite is not the finite horizon that is
never met, it is the transcendent ground and condition of the whole series,
implicit in each and every horizon. Explicit participation in any one of the
bounded is a tacit participation in the transcendent boundless, das
Umgreifende. The unlimited, the infinite, the boundless transcends the
series of contexts it defines. Through the circumscription of our perceiving we
engage with the ineffable, the ecstatic, the standing outside of any determinate
setting or series of such settings, which yet contains them all.
So here in our very being-in-the-world of perceiving we are
saturated with the tri-partite face of god: the manifest presence alive in the
reality of relationship, the immanent generative void at our center of
reference, and the transcendent ineffable boundless crowning every horizon.
4.2. Motivation. Human motivation with all its
everyday finite limits of desire and want and need is rooted in an infinite
potential. Needs are the manifest of our capacities, most basically for loving
and knowing and choosing. There are all sorts of ongoing, contingent limits -
culminating in this world in physical death - to our expression of these
capacities. But it makes no sense to talk of a limit to the fulfilment of these
capacities that is intrinsic to their nature. Just to say that this or that is
the inherent limit of our loving or our knowing or our choosing, is to become
tacitly engaged with what lies beyond the supposed limit. Every determinate
stage of the development of our human capacities is sooner or later riven with a
self-transcending yearning, a hunger for the tacit whole of Being.
On the holonomic principle, just as the genetic potential of
the whole human body is present in each of its cells, so the whole of the
One-Many is present in each inquiring one of the Many as his or her infinite
potential. This is Schelling's deus implicitus, spirit-in-action, the
divine self-transcending drive at the root of human motivation: the drive of
each one to open to the heights and depths of the One and manifest an ever more
distinctive luster within the collegiality of the Many. We long to be open to
the One. We long for collegiality - unbound mutuality and co-inherence of
distinctness of being without separation of being, individual diversity in free
Theologians, East and West, have had a range of delicious
terms for co-inherence - circuminsessio, conciliarité, koinonia,
perichoresis, sobornost - and these now call for general release beyond the
reach of church dogmatics. Following Solovyov in the nineteenth century,
Berdyaev (1937) in the twentieth century gives the best generalized account of
the best of these terms - sobornost - as the creative process of divine
spirit manifest through the self-determining subjectivity of human personhood,
engaged in the realization of value and achieved in true community.
4.3. Attention. Human attention is at the core of
everyday awareness: we attend to this and we attend to that. It is the very
focus of our effective in-the-world consciousness. Yet when we attend to this
attentive capacity, when we rest our focus on this focus, on itself, it becomes
a lens which refracts a vast expanse of transpersonal awareness, a soaring
outreach of universal intelligence of which our own attention to daily life is
the local manifest. Such vigilant awareness of its own stillness opens to the
cosmic ocean of consciousness.
Another version of this route is via transcendental
subjectivity, in Kant's jargon 'the transcendental unity of apperception', the a
priori unity of consciousness on which all coherence and meaning of inner and
outer experience depend. The 'I' transcends any account it gives of itself,
since it is the ever-present pre-condition of every account. To attend to the
'I', to be in the 'I', both in and beyond any determinate description of itself,
is to open to its consubstantiality with the great 'I', that consciousness that
embraces whatever there is. This is one-One consubstantiality: since the 'I' can
always give an appropriate developing account of itself, it is a distinct one of
the Many; since it always absolutely transcends this account, it is contained in
4.4. Intention. The notion of intention is a
crucial ingredient in an account of human action and agency. Act-related
intentions, that is, intentions involved in particular present behaviors, are
the hall-mark of the human agent. Such intentions are a compound of (1) the
purpose of the action, its end, aim or intended outcome; (2) its means, strategy
or method of achieving that purpose; and (3) the actual physical behaviors - the
movements, postures, gestures, breath and sounds - required to implement the
means. Human agents are much preoccupied with the ends and means of actions as
determined by the prevailing beliefs, norms and values of the social system of
which they are a daily part. The bodily processes involved are usually entirely
subservient to this pre-occupation.
But suppose now the physical behaviors - the movements,
postures, gestures, breath and sounds - become both the end and the means. The
purpose of the action is to manifest their intrinsic dynamism, which is also the
method of fulfilling that purpose. Both purpose and method are for action to
speak out in its own extralinguistic mode. Action then becomes self-transcending
sacred posture, movement and sound, creating a spatio-temporal matrix of divine
presence. This matrix is a holonomic celebration of, and a performative
participation in, the divine Act generating spatio-temporal worlds galore. The
body reveals itself as a dynamic ambassador of cosmic grace.
Inquirers here are being intentional about going deeper into
their embodiment to manifest the indwelling life divine, as it moves through the
total fabric of creation, physical and subtle. They co-create spati-]temporal
matrices with this emerging dynamic divine potential not only through impromptu
sacred posture, movement and sound, but also rhythmic breathing and body work,
rhythmic emotional cleansing and healing. The everyday ends and means of social
life can be interfused with further matrices through charismatic bearing and
gesture, charismatic timing and tone of voice. And through intentional
human-divine co-creation of the rhythms of living and loving: waking and
sleeping, activity and relaxation, eating and fasting, sexuality and celibacy,
creativity and lying fallow, coming and going, togetherness and separation,
communality and privacy, autonomy and co-operation, caring and confrontation,
innovation and conservation; and of the physical, energetic and psychic rhythms
of the day, the week, the month, the year and its seasons, and longer cycles.
4.5. Judgment. A human being is pre-eminently a
judging being. To become a person is to learn how to differentiate and
discriminate, to make relevant distinctions, and to evaluate in various ways
what has thus been distinguished. The ability to judge - to differentiate and
evaluate according to appropriate standards - needs education, training,
practice; but it is necessarily self-directed, no-one else can do it for us.
Once acquired, it makes us autonomous adults, capable of entering into genuine
co-operation and collegiality, authentic diversity in unity. Distinguish in
order to unite, said Maritain.
The autonomous 'I' who makes the judgment, a distinct person
among the Many, is contingently this and that sort of person, but is ultimately
and necessarily not this, not that. It is the transcendental subject who is the
author of all the differentiations made, including self-differentiations, while
at the same time being their undifferentiated ground. This is one-One autonomy,
personal autonomy intrinsically immersed in divine unity and in the collegiality
of the Many. Personal autonomy is itself at root human-divine,
The most radical judgments any human can make are about the
divine and a relationship with the divine. It follows from the above, that if
these judgments are not autonomous, they are not divinely grounded. They are
heteronomous, dependent on, and co-determined with, teacher, tradition or text.
They are pseudo-divine. Of course, it may be our autonomous judgment that a
teacher, tradition or text offers us a way forward for a while. But only for a
while, otherwise we rapidly relapse into heteronomy and the cul-de-sac of
5. A person has spiritual authority within which, when freed
from the distortions of spiritual projection onto external sources, manifests as
co-created inner light and inner life.
If we claim that spiritual authority resides in some other
person, being, doctrine, book, school or church, we are the legitimating author
of this claim. We choose to regard it as valid. No authority resides in anything
external unless we first decide to confer that authority on it. Nothing out
there is accredited and definitive until we first elect it to be so. All
explicit judgments that illumination resides without, rest upon a prior and much
more basic tacit light within. When it is made explicit, this is the internal
authority of which our own discriminating judgment is the expression. Individual
human judgment, with its inner spiritual ground, is the legitimating source of
all external spiritual authority. The religious history of the human race
appears to involve the slow and painful realization that this is indeed the
We have to realize that every revelation must finally be
appropriated by the individual soul. The very term ‘revelation’ implies
the existence of the minds by which it is received. And it is on the attitude
of such minds that everything in the end depends. The last word is with the
interior monitor. The process is not completed until the divine which appears
without is acknowledged by the divine which is enthroned deep within. And no
amount of ingenious sophistry can do away with this ultimate fact. In other
words the individual must take his stand upon the witness of the inner light,
the authority within his own soul. This principle was clearly formulated by
the Cambridge Platonist, Benjamin Whichcote, who ventured on the statement:
‘If you have a revelation from God, I must have a revelation from God too
before I can believe you’. (Hyde, 1949: 39)
When we become aware that the final court of spiritual
authority resides within, and that any authority we had vested in anyone or
anything external was derived from the imprimatur of that inner court, then we
are spiritually centered and will not in the future become improperly
subservient to any religious school. What we learn from it will be passed
through the prism of our inner discrimination. But when we are not aware of
this, then we are busy with spiritual projection, and are spiritually
off-center. The spiritual authority that resides within is not known for what it
is, is in some sense suppressed and denied, and is then unconsciously projected
on, invested in, and inevitably misrepresented and distorted by, what is
If our internal authorising of a spiritual teacher is
displaced and projected out as an external authority residing in that teacher,
then our inner authority is misrepresented as nescience seeking illumination
from another, instead of being affirmed as our inner knowing seeking dialogue
with the inner knowing of another. Thus we deny the divine ground of our own
autonomous judgment, and become followers, second-class spiritual citizens in a
heteronomous culture, inescapably excluded from authentic enlightenment.
When we are fully aware of spiritual projection so that it
can be substantially withdrawn and undone, then the spiritual path itself is
based on internal authority through the continuous exercise of our own
discriminating judgment and its spiritual ground; and this in association with
others similarly engaged. Divine becoming emerges as the living spiritual ground
of human autonomy and co-operation. And the divinity thus manifest will
necessarily be different in certain fundamental respects, in terms of beliefs
and practices, from all divinities defined by external authorities. However,
there are three very important caveats about all this, the second being the
First, such withdrawal is not an all or nothing phenomenon.
It may involve a variety of hybrids. These include:
· Sequential projection. A person
projects for a period on one spiritual school, then withdraws it and projects
on to another, going through several over a number of years. This process may
become quite intentional, in the sense that the person consciously goes along
with the authoritarian tendency of a school in order to benefit from its
teachings and practices, and pulls out when that tendency becomes too
· Partial projection. A person stays
constantly within one tradition in allegiance to certain strands of it, while
radically reappraising other strands.
· Intellectual freedom. The intellect
appears to exercise a lot of freedom, for example, with respect to
transpersonal theory, but practice remains firmly wedded to projection within
a spiritual school. The theoretical outcome will then include veiled special
pleading for the practical allegiance.
· Discreet freedom. A person remains
within one tradition for purposes of the support found within its spiritual
community, otherwise picks and chooses among its beliefs and practices,
refracting them through the prism of the internal monitor.
Second, and crucially, I doubt whether there is a final end
to the process of spiritual projection. There is certainly a critical point when
it is raised into consciousness and radically withdrawn as human-divine autonomy
is reclaimed. But this reclamation, this radical reappraisal of one’s
spirituality, may well include elements drawn from past and present spiritual
practitioners and thinkers. So the reappraisal, in weeding out past projections,
may rely, in part and on occasion, on new ones in order to do so. The
difference, of course, is in the awareness that this may be going on. Hence the
critical subjectivity of a reframing mind, which continually deconstructs
presumed internal authority to uncover any projections that may be at work
displacing it. The authority within, being co-created, mediated-immediacy, is
never final, always provisional. Its divine immediacy makes it a revelation, its
human mediation makes it a fallible one. This is one of the deepest practical
paradoxes of the religious life.
Thirdly, the substantial withdrawal of spiritual projection
from traditional and new age schools certainly does not mean that one ceases to
take account of them and learn anything from them. On the contrary, the beliefs
and practices of the various schools, ancient and modern, constitute a huge
data-bank, a massive resource which, when refracted through the internal
monitor, can be drawn upon, adapted and revised in framing the maps which guide
autonomous and co-operative spiritual inquiry.
In the opening statement to this section, I define spiritual
authority simply as inner light and inner life. Before elaborating this, let's
be clear that I cannot be an external authority defining the nature of internal
authority for others. Self-direction cannot be other-defined and
other-prescribed. Autonomous people can only dialogue and inquire with each
other about the nature of self-direction. Here, then, are some of my conjectures
on the matter, based on my own lived inquiry, and put forward as a contribution
to such dialogue .
By 'inner light' I mean the discriminating judgment of the
distinct person and its transcendent source, the one-to-One, which have
described in 4.5 above. By 'inner life' I mean impulses from the divine ground
of human motivation, mentioned in 4.2 above. Inner light is the critical
subjectivity by which intelligent judgments are made about things spiritual.
Inner life is the impulse to open to Being, to make self-transfiguring and
self-transcending choices. This dipolarity of spiritual life and light is the
great pincer movement of awakening: on the one hand the inner impulse to open to
Being, on the other hand the discriminating realization that we are already
saturated with it.
To say some more about inner life, I find that my everyday
psyche has a very evident supporting ground or foundation. When I attend to this
ground, it becomes a source or well-spring, which, when I open to it, is of
apparently limitless potential. It is also like a cornucopia or womb, with an
ever-deepening infinitude within. Its potential fullness increases as I plumb
its depth and creative darkness, and so does its emptiness. I call this
spiritual life within, since it is harbors spiritseed, entelechy, the formative
potential of my becoming. The spiritseed puts out sprouts, shoots - above ground
in the psyche. They are prompts to open to Being, and to time or space my being,
in relation to the immediate context of interbeing, in this, that or the other
way. Inner light, my discriminating awakening to a wider consciousness, is in
dialogic relation with these inner life-prompts. This internal dialogue between
inner light and inner life is, further, in interaction with what I regard as a
third contributor to inner spiritual authority - appropriate discourse with the
other, upon which I elaborate under statement 7 below.
6. A person has freedom to generate, with immanent spiritual
life, an innovative spiritual path.
I said just above that the spiritual life within harbors
spiritseed, entelechy, the formative potential of my becoming. What Aristotle
meant by an entelechy was the condition in which a potentiality has become an
actuality. But there is another more recent usage in which entelechy is the
immanent, formative potential of what is actual. So the entelechy guides the
emergence of, and is progressively realized in, the actual entity.
Carl Rogers made this idea of entelechy a basic tenet of his
personality theory. He called it an actualizing tendency. He thought it was
inborn in everyone as an 'inherent tendency of the organism to develop all its
capacities in ways which serve to maintain or enhance the organism' (Rogers,
1959: 196). 'It is clear that the actualizing tendency is selective and
directional - a constructive tendency' (Rogers, 1980: 121). It affects both body
and mind, and with respect to the latter, it guides people toward increased
autonomy, expanded experience and inner growth. Virtually the same idea is found
in Maslow, as a self-actualizing need, 'the desire to become more and more what
one idiosyncratically is, to become everything one is capable of becoming' (Maslow,
It reappears in Wilber as the Ground-Unconscious which is ‘all
the deep structures existing as potentials ready to emerge at some future point’
(Wilber, 1990: 105). And in Washburn as the ‘Dynamic Ground (libido, psychic
energy, numinous power or spirit) of somatic, instinctual, affective and
creative-imaginal potentials’ (Washburn, 1995: 11). Jean Houston writes of the
'Entelechy Self' as 'the Root Self, the ground of one's being, and the seeded
coded essence in you which contains both the patterns and the possibilities of
your life'. (Houston, 1987:31). These three writers all use the metaphor of the
ground in characterizing the spiritual life-potential within.
Do these ground potentials act upon us willy-nilly,
predetermining the basic stages of our explicit spiritual development? Do they
constitute a fixed pattern of our future unfolding? Alternatively, do the ground
potentials offer a range of possibilities from among which we may choose and so
create our own pattern? I take this second view. I believe that we may co-create
our path in dynamic relation with a set of options emerging from the spiritual
life within. And this not only in relation to the daily surface structure of the
path, but also concerning its basic unfolding pattern. Radical spiritual
innovation is the hallmark of divine becoming.
Of course, we must at any given time entertain a working
hypothesis of some basic array of options for developing our divine potential,
if we are effectively to set about actualizing it. But what this array is, what
general constants it contains, and by what sequence it may be realized over
time, are for each of us undetermined matters until we start on our own path.
They are open to co-creation with immanent spirit, through processes of
individual and co-operative inquiry, and taking account of prior inquiries and
the legacy of diverse spiritual traditions. There is great scope for future
spiritual innovation here. Indeed, when autonomous people relate within an
ongoing self-generating spiritual culture, and the path for each becomes
significantly interactive, the potential for emergent novelty in path-making is
hugely increased. This does not make for a chaotic, anything-goes, relativism,
but for unity in real diversity. The universal divine constants are necessarily
revealed in and through the variations of human-divine innovation.
Can one enter into a conscious co-creating relation with
immanent spiritual life, its womb of possibility? I believe so. You can relate
to it, give it voice and be spiritually upheld and nourished by it, and enter
into a co-guiding dynamic with it. I say co-guiding, since you select and shape
the guiding as much as the guiding shapes you. This, on the one hand, makes it
maculate, corrigible, and personally autonomous, and on the other hand reveals
Various techniques have been proposed, in recent times, for
tapping directly into the guiding potential within. E-Therapy was one (Kitselman,
1953).Kitselman asks how we can let out the greatness that is in us and affirms
that it can let itself out, it only needs to be asked. He] then outlines a
simple technique for asking E, the inner voice, which will respond in terms of
any one or more of the following: inner ecstatic fire, trembling, body
movements, disidentification from personal history, or an impulse toward some
The much researched experiential focusing of Gendlin is
another (Gendlin, 1981). This basically consists in making a clear relaxed area
in the body-mind so that when a key question - suitably refined and focused - is
asked, there is space for the answer to be manifest, in verbal or nonverbal
imagery, accompanied by a subtle release of energy. Gendlin describes the whole
process as if it were primarily somatic, a description which has always seemed
to me to be rather too cautious.
But McMahon and Campbell develop Gendlin’s focusing in
terms of a bio-spiritual approach. Their bio-spirituality emphasizes ‘an
experience of grace in the body’. They relate letting go into the body-feeling
about an issue, to a movement of the indwelling life-giving presence and power
of God (McMahon and Campbell, 1991: 5, 17).
None of these processes is a purely passive receptivity to
some guiding internal otherness, although they have a tendency to be described
in this way, as I have just done in order to report them in their own terms. But
my experience of them, and of related sorts of inner lived inquiry, is that my
subjectivity is actively involved at a deep level in selecting and shaping
life-processes moving within. The challenge of these methods is not to surrender
fully to what comes up from the depths, but to open up that liberated place
within where one can be co-creative with immanent spirit. And this with respect
to options that shape both the surface and deeper pattern of the spiritual path.
7. A person manifests the creative process of divine becoming
as an autonomous being, embedded in connectedness, and in co-operative,
transformative relations with other persons similarly engaged.
In terms of process theology (Hartshorne and Reese, 1953),
one aspect of divinity is the temporal becoming of finite entities within an
infinite field. This includes self-determining human subjectivity, whose inner
light and life, in interaction as I have described above, is in process of
development, in the context of the limited flux and turn of events accessible to
the individual. Both the inner light and the inner life are human-divine
co-creations, forms of mediated-immediacy, hence they are maculate, corrigible,
relative to their setting, changing and unfolding. At the human end, they are
subject to three limiting factors.
Figure 2 The maculate authority within
· My social context, the hermeneutic situation of
local language and culture.
· The degree of my explicit, conscious participation
in the interbeing of the universe, the collective field of reciprocally engaged
and diverse presences.
· The degree of emotional damage and spiritual
constriction within which I labor.
Hence the importance of both critical subjectivity and
life-prompts being exercised within a community of peers, who assist each other
- using a range of peer support procedures - with the rigor of continuous
spiritual deconstruction. Such deconstruction means being aware of how these
three factors interact and how the presuppositions of this interaction set the
scene for, limit and mould, every act of inner light and inner life. It means an
attitude of bracketing such presuppositions and being open to their reframing
through, respectively, a revision of prevailing belief-systems in the culture,
enriched participation in the lived-through world, and emotional healing.
Persons in peer groups can do a variety of things together to facilitate these
Such deconstruction does not eliminate or dethrone either the
inner light or the inner life. On the contrary, it empowers each to flourish
with ever greater temporary relevance. This maculate authority within is shown
in Figure 2. The word ‘maculate’ is the opposite of ‘immaculate’, which
means free from fault, perfect, spotless. So ‘maculate’ means not free from
fault, imperfect, spotted. I also take it to mean relative to its limited
context, and good enough in relation to its context. Thus the ‘macula lutea’
is the region of greatest visual acuity in the retina of the eye.
So as well as exercising discriminating inner light, and
opening to the impulses of spiritual life, there is an important third
contributor to the spiritual authority within. It is appropriate discourse with
the other. This brings the internal dialogue between inner light and inner life
into a comprehensive and more-than-verbal, as well as a verbal, relation with
others in their world.
Everything is talking to everything else in the primordial
language of creation. Abram eloquently makes the point in his The Spell of
the Sensuous, that we do not inhabit a purely external, objective world out
there, but a world of intersubjective phenomena in which human and
non-human presences of all kinds forma shared field of experience lived through
from diverse viewpoints. Within this participatory field, with which we
reciprocally engage, there is an animate process of mutual apprehension - a
meaningful dialogue of interbeing - going on. And this is prior to, and the
ground and source of, all our use of verbal language (Abram, 1996; Heron, 1996).
So my phrase ‘appropriate discourse with the other’ is
inclusive. It means several things.
· Opening now to nonverbal, interbeing exchange
with the presences that are here, which we name trees and roads, rocks and
stars, fish and fowl; and with the sheer presence of the whole in all its
modes, physical, subtle and spiritual. This, I find, is a primal revelation of
the divine. It is the dynamic eminence of the immediate multidimensional
experiential world, the here and now collective field, in which our own
presence is in reciprocal engagement, through being and doing, with other
diverse presences, within the presence of Being. This nonverbal exchange may,
for the person involved, be a silent, still and enriched participation in
terms of felt resonance and imaging. Or it may be nonverbally expressive,
embodying this participatory engagement in vocal or musical sounds, movements,
gestures and postures; or in impromptu drawing, painting and modeling of clay.
· Talking to, talking with, talking within, this
field - out loud and out of doors in my native tongue - using a variety of
metaphors and figures of speech. In this process I am hearing what I am moved
to say, how I am moved to edit and reframe it - and so deepen my encounter
with Being - as I engage with the collective field of experience in which I am
embodied and embedded. I am attending to a subtle dialogue between verbal and
nonverbal forms of utterance and participation.
· The above practices - the silent and still, the
nonverbally expressive, and the verbally improvised - can be variously
combined in a charismatic collaborative inquiry into Being, by a group of
spiritual inquirers, working sometimes simultaneously, and sometimes serially.
This becomes a celebratory, innovative inquiry at the immediate, dynamic crest
of divine becoming. For more details see the account of 'primary theatre' in
Heron (2001, Chapter 8; 1999, Chapters 11 and 12).
· Dialogue with other humans, sharing our
intelligent judgments and views, apprehensions and intuitions, about things
spiritual and subtle. It can have two forms, verbal and aesthetic. We can talk
with words, or we can exchange aesthetic presentations, nonverbal symbols of
our spiritual process, wrought in any one or more of the whole range of
art-forms. There is thus possible a mutual fructification between the
propositional and the presentational, between explanation and expression
(Heron, 1996: 88-90).
The view of internal spiritual authority which I have
presented can be construed, in Berdyaev’s terms, as the creative, temporal
process of divine becoming, which manifests as human-divine autonomy, a dipolar
inner light and inner life, and evaluates that creative process in collaboration
with other presences and persons in the field of interbeing. This means
cultivation of discriminatory competence in evaluating spiritual and subtle
events, of openness to impulses from the spiritual life deep within, of
relationship with the felt field of interbeing, and reviewing the whole process
in dialogue with one’s peers.
My basic postulate about the field of interbeing, is that any
presence within it is uniquely what it is interdependently with the particular
structure of the web of relations within which it is a nodal point or focus. No
entity is distinct apart from its interconnections with other entities.
Individual agency is correlative with social communion. Just so, human persons
are only persons in relation with other persons. I can only be genuinely
autonomous when in authentic co-operation with others.
Seeing the world as temporal divine process, I find true
religion among autonomous humans in co-operative relations with each other and
with the more-than-human world, taking account also of presences in
complementary realities. I enter into union between beings, and with Being as
such, when each being is both individualized and participatory. As we transcend
separateness and alienation we become both more distinct and more in communion
with each other. Our becoming more refined, autonomous and discriminating in our
judgments, is interdependent with our entering ever more fully into
participatory relations and unitive embrace. This is sobornost, One-Many
sacrality, crowned by the transcendent and grounded in the immanent.
At present, co-operative inquiry (Heron and Reason, 2000;
Heron 1996; Reason, 1988, 1994) in the spiritual sphere is unused and unknown,
and is threatening to the authoritarianism that is part and parcel both of a
long-standing spiritual traditions and of brash new spiritual cults. Such
research means that a group of spiritual inquirers explore mystical and subtle
experience together and discriminate among themselves about it (Heron, 2000,
1998). They can:
· Devise practices consonant with their inner light
and life, and thus give form to their own original relation to creation.
· Elicit categories of understanding appropriate to
their experience, without relapsing unconsciously into traditional doctrines,
new age euphoria, or culturally prevalent beliefs and values.
· Refine the authority within - the discriminating
inner light, the grounding inner life and the deconstruction of any ongoing
projection - by the collaborative use of inquiry cycles and validity
· Clarify practical issues about entering and
exiting from the experience.
· Winnow out criteria for distinguishing spiritual
experience from purely psychological or subtle states.
· Manifest, as central to the inquiry process,
charismatic transformation of everyday life: in personal behavior,
interpersonal relationships, organizational processes, sociopolitical and
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