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A Brief History of Everything with Ken Wilber



While still in the middle of Audio Book month, we are delighted to offer this excerpt from the recording of A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber. Wilber is one of the most compelling philosophical thinkers of our times and credited with developing a unified field of consciousness synthesizing the world's great spiritual, psychological, and philosophical traditions. A Brief History of Everything is part of BetterListen's Shambhala Collection.


Question: Now we were discussing the interior transformations that occur on the way to the global and all of the problems that can prevent the emergence of this global awareness.

Ken Wilber: That’s right. And we had reached the point where there is a paradigm shift from preconventional to conventional or pre-personal to personal modes of awareness, from fulcrum3 to fulcrum4. Which is especially evidenced in the capacity to take the role of “other,” and in this shift, we see a continuing decrease in egocentrism. In fact, the overall direction of development in humans, the telos of human development is toward less and less egocentric states, but this is true in general. The arch battle in the universe is always evolution versus egocentrism. The evolutionary drive to produce greater depth is synonymous with the drive to overcome egocentrism. To find wider and deeper holes. To unfold greater and greater unions. A molecule overcomes the egocentrism of an atom. A cell overcomes the egocentrism of a molecule. And nowhere is this trend more obvious than in human development itself.

Question: So one way of looking at evolution is that it’s a continual decline in egocentrism.

Ken Wilber: That’s right, yes, a continual decentering. Howard Gardner gives a perfect summary of the research in this area, and I want to read a short quote from him because it pretty much says it all. He begins by pointing out that development in general is marked by “The decline of egocentrism.” He reports “The young child is totally egocentric. Meaning not that he thinks selfishly only about himself, but to the contrary, that he is incapable of thinking about himself. The egocentric child is unable to differentiate himself from the rest of the world. He hasn’t separated himself out from others or from objects. Thus he feels that others share his pain or his pleasure. That his mumblings will inevitably be understood, that his perspective is shared by all persons, that even animals and plants partake of his consciousness. In playing hide-and-seek, he will hide in broad view of other persons because his egocentrism prevents him from recognizing that others are aware of his location. The whole course of human development can be viewed as a continuing decline in egocentrism.”

Question: So egocentrism or narcissism is greatest at fulcrum 1 and then steadily declines?

Ken Wilber: Yes, exactly. Because at fulcrum 1 differentiation is at its least. Narcissism is at its worst. This self-centrism lessens some, but as the infant’s identity switches from physio centric to bio centric, from fulcrum 1 to fulcrum 2, that is, the child does not treat the physical world as an extension of itself because physical self and physical world are now differentiated. But the emotional self and the emotional world are not yet differentiated. And so the entire emotional world is an extension of the self. Emotional narcissism is at its peak. The bio centric or ecological self of fulcrum 2 is thus still profoundly egocentric. What it’s feeling, the world is feeling. This narcissism is lessened or declines once again with the emergence of the conceptual self, that’s fulcrum 3. The self is now a conceptual ego, but that ego still cannot yet take the role of other. So the early ego is still largely a narcissistic, preconventional egocentric. This declining narcissism can be summarized as going from physio centric to bio centric to egocentric. All three are egocentric in the general sense but less and less so. And the whole egocentric perspective undergoes yet another radical shift with the emergence of the capacity to take the role of other. At which point egocentric shifts to sociocentric.

Question: In other words fulcrum 4?

Ken Wilber: That’s right. At this stage, what becomes crucially important for me is not how I fit with my biological impulses, but how I fit with my social roles. My group, my peer group, or a bit wider, how I fit with my country, my state, my people. I’m now taking the role of other, and how I fit with the other is crucially important. I have decentered once again, differentiated once again, transcended once again. My ego is not the only ego in the universe. So this sociocentric stance is a major transformation or paradigm shift from the previous and especially egocentric stances of the first 3 fulcrums. But notice, with fulcrum 4, care and concern are expended from me to the group, but no further. If you’re a member of the group, a member of my tribe, my mythology, my ideology, then you are saved as well. But if you belong to a different culture, a different group, a different mythology, a different God, then you’re damned. So this sociocentric or conventional stance tends to be very ethnocentric. Care and concern are expanded from me to my group and there it stops. So I also call this conventional or sociocentric stance by the term, mythic membership. The world view of fulcrum4 is still mythological and so care and concern are extended to believers in the same mythology, the same ideology, the same race, the same creed, the same culture, but no further. If you’re a member of the myth, you are my brother, my sister, if not, you go to hell. In other words, I can decenter from my ego to my group but I cannot not yet decenter my group. My group is the only group in the universe. I cannot yet move from sociocentric and ethnocentric to a truly world centric or universal or global stance. A decentered universal pluralistic stance, but I am getting there slowly.

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The Fearless Heart with Pema Chödrön

PemaChodron-fearlessheart-Cover-BLIn this transcribed excerpt from Pema Chödrön's talk on "The Fearless Heart: The Practice of Living with Courage and Compassion", Ani Pema tells us how we may begin to work with fear by not shutting down or running away, as is our first inclination, but by going into the fear.

This morning I wanted to begin with a short teaching on working with emotions that comes from Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and if you would like to write this down, the name of the teaching is “The Lion’s Roar” and it appears in the March 1997 edition of the Shambhala Sun, which had a picture of me on the cover. So maybe there is some way you can locate that article and read it.

This is a teaching that has influenced me a lot over the years, and I was re-reading the article last night and I thought that I would begin this morning with this instruction that comes from Trungpa Rinpoche. One of the opening sentences is that enlightenment is not just for pacifists, but it also means relating with energy, strong, intense, waves and waves of energy. So enlightenment is not just a peaceful experience as some of us may be wishing. It is not just the ultimate chill out, but it also means relating or rather being comfortable with or relaxing with or joining with waves and waves of energy. So needless to say, this is something that has had a great influence on me on my own practice and in my teaching.

So, even talking about abiding in the experience of discomfort, abiding in the experience of fear or any other kind of discomfort, fear as it manifests and how it manifests in many different forms. And in some sense it doesn’t really matter what the energy is or what the emotion is. The instruction is on abiding in that experience without believing in the judgments and opinions about it. This is very important because it is quite predictable if you were to do a poll of the entire human race, what you would find is that when energy arises that is uncomfortable, it triggers our conditioning and we forget about any kind of rational approach at all. We go sort of nuts. So this is to say even very wonderful people such as us who perhaps have been listening to this kind of teaching for years and trying to apply it and something happens in our life. It might be a phobia; perhaps we have strong fears that are phobic. Fear of heights -- that has been one that I’ve worked with in my life. Fear of flying, fear of elevators. There are different kinds of fears that we have. And when the phobia hooks in, we somehow just shut down and the last thing that occurs to us is to go into the fear.

People who work with phobia, they actually encourage this approach. Not to necessarily have to get up on top of the highest, you know, walk across a tightrope across the Niagara Falls if you are afraid of heights, but to get used to the feeling of fear that arises with heights or with flying or elevators or spiders, snakes, whatever it might be, space -- there are a lot of phobias. And many of us have them. So the approach is to go into the feeling and to do it in a situation where you are not right on the spot, on the brink of the Grand Canyon, or going down the Grand Canyon on these donkeys. If anyone has ever done that who is afraid of heights, it is a very uncomfortable experience. The donkeys get very close to the edge and the bottom is a long way down. So going into the fear like, getting in touch with the feeling and going into it, abiding in the experience without feeding it with our opinions and judgments about it.

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Chogyam Trungpa's & Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior (part three)

ChogyamTrungpa-Shambhala_Sacred_Path_of_the_Warrior-BLHere is the part two excerpt from Chogyam Trungpa's classic and masterful text Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.  From the chapter on "Authentic Presence", Trungpa defines for us exactly what authentic presence is -- how it comes to be and how it affects ourselves and the world around us.

Achieving the realization of the universal monarch, which we discussed in the last chapter, is the fruition of developing what is called “the warrior’s authentic presence.” In Tibetan, authentic presence is "wong tong," which literally means a field of power. However, since this term refers to a human quality, we have loosely translated it here as authentic presence. The basic idea of authentic presence is that because you achieve some merit or virtue, therefore that virtue begins to be reflected in your being, your presence.
So authentic presence is based on cause and effect. The cause of authentic presence is the merit you accumulate and the effect is the presence itself. There is an outer or ordinary sense of authentic presence that anyone can experience. If a person is modest, and decent, and exertive, then he will begin to manifest some sense of good and wholesome being to those around him. The inner meaning of authentic presence, however, is connected more specifically to the path of Shambhala warriorship. Inner authentic presence comes not just from being a decent good person in the ordinary sense, but it is connected to the realization of primordial space, or egolessness. The cause or the virtue that brings inner authentic presence is emptying out and letting go. You have to be without clinging. Inner authentic presence comes from exchanging yourself with others, from being able to regard other people as yourself, generously and without fixation. So the inner merit that brings inner authentic presence is the experience of nonfixed mind, mind without fixation. When you meet a person who has inner authentic presence, you find he has an overwhelming genuineness.

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Chogyam Trungpa's & Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior (part two)

ChogyamTrungpa-Shambhala_Sacred_Path_of_the_Warrior-BL This powerful part two excerpt from Chogyam Trungpa's profound work Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior addresses fear -- and our desire to escape from it -- head on.  Trungpa also addresses the true notion of fearlessness, and the importance of seeking a true state of fearlessness in our day to day lives. 
In order to experience fearlessness, it is necessary to experience fear. The essence of cowardice is not acknowledging the reality of fear. Fear can take many forms. Logically, we know we can’t live forever. We know that we are going to die, so we are afraid. We are petrified of our death. On another level, we are afraid that we can’t handle the demands of the world. This fear expresses itself as a feeling of inadequacy. We feel that our own lives are overwhelming, and confronting the rest of the world is more overwhelming. Then there is abrupt fear, or panic that arises when new situations occur suddenly in our lives. When we feel that we can’t handle them, we jump or twitch. Sometimes fear manifests in the form of restlessness: doodles on a notepad, playing with our fingers, or fidgeting in our chairs.  We feel that we have to keep ourselves moving all the time, like an engine running in a motorcar. The pistons go up and down, up and down. As long as the pistons keep moving, we feel safe. Otherwise, we are afraid we might die on the spot.
There are innumerable strategies that we use to take our minds off of fear. Some people take tranquilizers. Some people do yoga. Some people watch television or read a magazine or go to a bar to have a beer. From the coward’s point of view, boredom should be avoided because when we are bored we begin to feel anxious. We are getting closer to our fear. Entertainment should be promoted and any thought of death should be avoided. So cowardice is trying to live our lives as though death were unknown. There have been periods in history in which many people searched for a potion of longevity. If there were such a thing, most people would find it quite horrific. If they had to live in this world for a thousand years without dying, long before they got to their thousandth birthday, they would probably commit suicide. Even if you could live forever, you would be unable to avoid the reality of death and suffering around you.
Fear has to be acknowledged. We have to realize our fear and reconcile ourselves with fear. We should look at how we move, how we talk, how we conduct ourselves, how we chew our nails, how we sometimes put our hands in our pockets uselessly. Then we will find something out about how fear is expressed in the form of restlessness. We must face the fact that fear is lurking in our lives, always, in everything we do.
On the other hand, acknowledging fear is not a cause for depression or discouragement. Because we possess such fear, we also are potentially entitled to experience fearlessness. True fearlessness is not the reduction of fear, but going beyond fear. Unfortunately, in the English language, we don’t have one word that means that. Fearlessness is the closest term, but by fearless we don’t mean “less fear,” but beyond fear.

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The Shambhala Audio Collection