Living in a Sacred World
A little over a year ago—on January 4, 2005—I awoke at 7:30 in the morning in my apartment in New York City with a strange pain deep in the center of my chest. I didn’t know at the time that I had developed a one hundred percent blockage in the top of my left anterior descending coronary artery. I didn’t know until I was in the ambulance with the team of paramedics, chasing through the morning traffic toward Saint Luke’s Hospital, that I was dying.
The experience of almost dying confirmed for me a belief that I have had for quite some time: We are spiritual beings living in a sacred world. In essence, I am advocating that we should feel empowered to live life to the fullest, using our senses, hearts, and minds to reveal its profound mysteries. By doing so, we acknowledge our responsibilities as co-creators with the divine to do our part to bring about an enlightened and sustainable future.
I feel very lucky to be here. I welcome this opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences in this series of reflections about the human race and the planet on which we live, about our spiritual journey in a sacred world. I hope to infuse my words with the spirit of philosophy, which in classical Greece meant a passion for wisdom expressed through the pursuit of knowledge, and with Prajna, an ancient Sanskrit term for the wisdom realized through the methods of meditation.
Illuminated in the light of wisdom, our human story reveals its plot line—the ongoing quest for meaning through the discovery of the Logos: the underlying divine forces that act as the ordering principles of the universe. When properly understood, these forces give coherency, meaning, and direction to the course of human history and point toward the possibility of a positive future, not just for people in general but for each of us in particular.
Individual lives can be described from four perspectives, which are themselves reflections of the four aspects of our humanity: the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. The way we view life depends very much upon our natural proclivity to emphasize one of these aspects over the others. Imagine, if you will, that these four aspects of our being are arranged in the shape of an Egyptian Pyramid: the physical at the base, then the emotional, followed by the intellectual, and the spiritual at the summit. Just as the Pyramids are built from the bottom up, there is an evolutionary progression as we build from our physical base toward our spiritual apex.
I am proposing that our collective human story also unfolds through four stages. In the first, humanity’s physical foundation was established through a series of significant events from the dawn of time to the invention of writing around 3000 B.C. The second period dates to the time when the worldwide calendar was set by the birth of Jesus. It is at this time that the second tier of our human evolutionary process, our emotional aspect, begins to become differentiated. The sign of this occurring was the emergence of worldwide religious institutions. The third layer, the intellectual, appeared in the form of philosophy during the Classical Age of Greece. Since then, humanity’s faculty of reason has continued to advance our understanding of the world through a vast range of social and physical sciences up to the present day. In the present fourth stage of humanity’s evolutionary progression, the three others will become integrated.
For individuals, this means undergoing a gradual transformative process that permits us to embody the Logos and function as whole spiritual beings. For humanity, it presents the possibility of finally learning how to live with one another in peace. The most significant sign that humanity is at long last entering into its spiritual fourth stage is that women began coming into their power in the middle of the 20th century. For at its very root, our spiritual process is based on the integration of male and female wisdom energies.
In individual human lives, the development and interplay between these four aspects of our being does not emerge in a clear linear progression; and their expression in our collective human story does not occur in a well-defined sequence either. I am using a historical timeline as an armature to creatively sculpt a trajectory toward the human race’s collective spiritual maturity—a process that somewhat parallels the actual spiritual development of a single person. We grow in fits and starts; we fall back and proceed again. The path we take is circuitous, and at every stage, whether personal or collective, our progress is uneven. It is experienced as periods of growth and regression as we instinctively try to grow toward actualizing our inherent human potential.
We fall short, however, if we fail to appreciate the value of the final, integrative stage, for without this last stage of our development, we will remain unaware that the world we see reflects what we are predisposed to see. For example: if we emphasize the physical realm, we tend to be practical. If we emphasize our emotional side, we feel more comfortable expressing ourselves. If we emphasize our intellect, it is natural for us to conceptualize. And, if we emphasize the spiritual, separated from the other aspects of our being, there is a good possibility that we will be inclined either to devalue everyday life in favor of a mystical transcendentalism or go to the other extreme and indulge in forms of mercantile spiritual materialism.
When individuals intentionally make the effort to understand themselves and integrate the four aspects of their being within the environment at large, it is called doing the work. This series of reflections illuminates this idea by exploring what the great 20th-century psychologist Carl Jung called Depth Psychology and the Process of Individuation. Then, using that as a foundation, we will be able to integrate essential teachings from some ancient mystical/wisdom traditions into our own cultural idiom. Here, East meets West because both are pointing toward the practical significance of the integrative stage of development—where we become oriented to experience life as an unfolding of ”whole experiences” in which all things are appreciated for being interrelated and interconnected. The clearest sign we as individuals are making progress in this direction is that we will increasingly relate to our world through the integrated spiritual/wisdom energies of love, intelligence, and compassion.
In the next episode of my narrative, I will share with you some reflections about how the world appeared to me as I walked out of the hospital a year ago and saw the sunlight again for the very first time. Then, we will begin our journey with the sun casting light and shadow on the mountains of ancient China and continue back to the furthest reaches of time—to the Big Bang—when existence explodes out of primordial emptiness.
Center for Empowered Leadership