Introduction to Your Unique Self: The Radical Path to Personal Enlightenment
by Ken Wilber

We live in extraordinary times. In the history of all humanity, there have only been five or six major world transformations: somewhere around 500,000 years ago, humans began to emerge as a distinct species, with an archaic worldview which separated us from the great apes. Around 50,000 years ago, the archaic worldview gave way to a magical worldview, anchored in foraging, hunting, and gathering. Then, around 10,000 years ago, farming was discovered. Simple farming, with a hand-held hoe, called horticulture. Concurrently, the worldview of simple magic gave way mythic-magic–more complex, and more sophisticated.

Around 4,000 B.C.E., the animal-drawn plow was discovered, and horticultural gave way to agrarian, while mythic-magic gave way to fully-developed mythic, with its traditional fundamentalistic values. The mythic world ruled until right around the Renaissance in the West, where myth began to give way to reason, which exploded during the Enlightenment. The rational worldview, along with its scientific materialism, and with its modern values, became in many ways the official worldview of the modern West. Until, that is, the 1960’s, which saw the last major world transformation–this time from modern to postmodern, from monolithic reason to postmodern pluralism and the “cultural creatives”.

And so there are the major transformations of humankind–archaic to magic to mythic to rational to postmodern, correlative with techno-economic modes going from foraging to horticultural to agrarian to industrial to informational. And there the world stood, with its five major transformations–which are, in general outline, repeated today in the growth and development of every newborn individual. Born with an archaic worldview, each individual develops infantile magic from 1-3 years,  mythic-magic from 3-6, mythic from 6-11, rational from 11 onwards, with the possibility of post-rational beginning in late adolescence.

The thing about each of these levels of consciousness, which altogether are called “first-tier”, is that each of them believes that its view of the world and its values are the only ones that are true and real. The mythic fundamentalist view, the basis of most of the world’s exoteric religions, believes its truth is eternal truth–the one and only.  Rational science, on the other hand, finds myth to be just that–a myth–and replaces it with evidence-based truths, which religious myth maintains cannot capture the truly important questions of life (Who am I? What’s the meaning of life? etc.), and it condemns science for that. And then postmodern pluralism comes along and deconstructs both of them, maintaining they are both nothing but social fabrications with no more truth than poetry or fiction. But this postmodern truth, of course, is maintained to be really real. And so goes the battle between first-tier levels in these endless culture wars.

Sometime during the middle of the 20th century, pioneering developmentalists began to detect hints of an entirely newer and higher level of development–a newer and higher level of consciousness. Called integral-aperspectival by Jean Gebser, and integrated by Jane Loevinger, it represented what Clare Graves called “a monumental leap in meaning.” Abraham Maslow noticed that it was a move from deficiency motivation–needs driven by a lack of something–to being motivation–needs driven by a fullness, an abundance, an overflowing.  Spiral Dynamics called this new integral level by the term “second-tier”, in contrast to all the previous “first-tier” levels.

And the difference between first-tier and second-tier? Of course first-tier levels are all driven by deficiency needs, and second-tier by being needs–but beyond that, where each first-tier level thinks its views and its values are the only real ones, the new integral level realized that all previous levels have some significance, some importance, and therefore are to be included in any truly integral, comprehensive worldview. Where first-tier levels spend their time trying to exclude each other, second-tier spends its time including all of them. As such, integral is the first level historically to overcome partialness, fragmentation, and discord. This is the truly monumental leap spotted by these pioneering developmentalists.

The good news is that studies show this integral level is now, at the beginning of the third millennium, starting to emerge in serious fashion. Right now approximately 3-4% of the population is at second-tier, compared to around 25% at postmodern pluralistic, 40% at modern-scientific, and 30% at traditional fundamentalist. But this 3-4% is rapidly increasing, and might reach 10% within a decade. At 10%, an important tipping-point is reached. And with the tipping point, the level’s values have profound repercussions throughout the entire society.

In the meantime, those at integral second-tier are already starting to rewrite culture–turning medicine into integral medicine, education into integral education, politics into integral politics, and spirituality into integral spirituality.

Which brings us to the essence of this book, The Unique Self enlightenment teachings. These teaching have been evolved by Marc Gafni  for over three decades, drawing from his own realization, insight and the lineages in which he stands. This teaching was then clarified and evolved in a series of pivotal  conversations between Marc and myself in 2005. All of this took place originally in wonderful translineage context provided by the Integral Spiritual Center, which has now evolved into the Center for World Spirituality where Marc and I are partnering with some seventy-five other teaching around the world in evolving a World Spirituality based on Integral principles. I will outline the basic contour of the teaching which are the core of Marc’s Unique Self work and found in early formulations in his Your Unique Self, The Radical Path to Personal Enlightenment. [krista link to book would be great here]    

Traditional contemplative spirituality–not traditional religion, which involves the mythic level and its literal-dogmatic beliefs–but direct spiritual experience involves not the evolutionarily levels of consciousness, but what are known as natural states of consciousness. Not archaic, magic, mythic, rational, pluralistic, and integral; but waking, dreaming, deep sleep, turiya (or the True Self), and turiyatita (or non-dual oneness), which are the five natural states of consciousness found in all humans according to the world’s great contemplative traditions. The aim of traditional meditation is to experience all five states in full awareness, moving wakefulness from gross waking, to subtle dreaming, to causal deep sleep, to One Self turiya, to non-dual oneness or turiyatita.

Now, in integral spirituality all of those states are still important, and the aim is still to contact and resurrect all five states–especially including an experience of One True Self and non-dual Suchness. But these direct experiences are now experienced and interpreted not from 1st-tier partialness, but from 2nd-tier fullness, from an integral level. And so all of the traditional contemplative concepts and experiences are reinterpreted from an integral perspective.  Not mythic, not rational, not pluralistic, but integral.

And this changes, to some degree, everything.

Take the One Self.  Traditionally, the experience of the fourth state of consciousness is an experience of the One True Self or One True Spirit in all sentient beings. It’s a state of pure, clear, timeless, ever-present witnessing–or unqualifiable, infinite Awareness. The Sanskrit term for this is turiya, which means literally “the fourth”, as in the fourth major state of consciousness, after waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. In Zen, this is your “original face”, the face you had before your parents were born, that is your timeless, eternal, ever-present, ultimate Spirit self. In Christian mysticism it is the state of I AMness–the pure I AMness that you are before you are anything else, the I AMness that you are aware of right now as the simple feeling of being.

The overall number of True Selves is but one. The same True Self in you is the True Self present in all sentient beings. But notice something. Let’s say five of us are sitting around a table, and all five of us are 100% enlightened, 100% aware of the True Self. Each of us has transcended the ego–the small self, the finite self, the self-contraction–and is alive as the One True Infinite Spirit Self. But even though we are all equally the One Self, there is at least one thing that is very different for each of us: namely, the angle we are looking at the table from. Each of us has a unique perspective on the table–indeed, on the world itself. So the One True Self is actually taking on a different perspective in each of us. Each of us has a different view of the world, even though each of us is the One True Self.  And that means each of us has not just a One True Self, but an infinitely Unique Self as well.

Paradoxically, we each experience not only a singular True Self, the same in all, but also a radically unique manifestation of that Self, special and unique to each of us. Each of us has different talents, different gifts, and different unique views–and enlightenment involves discovering and honoring our differences just as much as our sameness.

After the egoic self-contraction is removed, and after I discover that One Self, that One Spirit, that One Reality, how do I manifest it? What special and unique perspectives do I bring to the picture? In other words, how do I discover that my One True Self is actually an infinite, all-pervading Unique Self? How do I honor my Unique Self, discover my Unique Self, manifest my Unique Self?

Well, just those are the questions this workshop (book) is designed to answer.

The Unique Self gets it’s primary injunction from the emergence in just recent times of the understanding of perspectives–the cruciality of perspectives as being ontologically prior {to reality}. What the world is composed of is perspective, before anything else. We say, for example, that the world is composed of holons–wholes that are parts of other wholes. And that’s true, but that’s already a 3rd-person perspective of what the world is composed of. So it doesn’t negate holons, it’s just even that view is a perspective–namely a 3rd-person perspective. There are 1st- and 2nd-person perspectives of what the world is composed of as well, and all three of those have validity. But that conception itself is something that has only recently been understood.

Prior to this, in both the East and the West, in pre-modern and up to modern times, the fundamental nature of perspective simply wasn’t understood. Things were assumed to simply be seen, because that’s the way they are. The world is pre-given, either in the relative way or as eternal ideas in the mind of God, and we are tapping into those and seeing those pure essences. So in the previous understanding, there’s a metaphysical foundation to the world that doesn’t change, that is true for all eternity, and the only thing that changes is our degree of understanding of these archetypes. The more we understand these eternal ideas, the closer we get to them, the more enlightened we become. In that system, in the East and the West, the enlightened nature of human consciousness is understood to be tapping into a “True Self”–a real self, a higher self.

There are always two selves in a human being: a small, relative, finite, “Old Adam” (the egoic self-contraction) and a true, infinite, “New Adam” (the One True Self). And with these two selves, the small one is responsible for basically everything that’s bad, uncomfortable, unpleasant, painful, because it doesn’t see its connection to these eternal ideas, or these eternal patterns in the Mind of God. Awakening to the True Self is the alleviation of that, and by definition, there is only one of those selves.

In all sentient beings, the overall number of True Selves is one.

Now, with the new integral understanding there is still a degree of truth to this.  As Erwin Schrödinger, founder of modern quantum mechanics put it:

“Consciousness is a singular, the plural of which is unknown.”

The overall number of I AMnesses is but one.  So every single one of us in this world has direct and immediate access to that one self–an infinite self that is ever-present. Right now that one self is in some sense hearing everything that’s being said, seeing everything that’s being seen, knowing everything that is arising. We all have access to that True Self, and our degree of enlightenment is measured by how close we feel to this One Self, how aware we are of this infinite openness, infinite radiance, infinite transparency, infinite unqualifiability.

But even though there’s only one True Self in this world, even if every single one of us was to awaken to it, right now, everyone sharing this absolutely identical sense of One Self, there would still be something that is irrefutably different in each of us. That is, every single one of us is looking at the world from a different angle.

There is only one True Self, but in each of us it has a different perspective on the world.

There is only one True Self, but it is manifesting in as many perspectives as there are sentient beings.

The formula is: One True Self + Perspective = Unique Self

So my Unique Self is this One True Self, but as seen through the perspective that my body/mind alone inhabits, and is therefore radically unique. So there is light shining right now, and there is what my gross body sees, what my subtle body sees, what my causal body sees–and even if we are all looking at the same object, we each have a completely different perspective.

And so understanding this formula–True Self plus Perspective equals Unique Self–all of a sudden this lights up all of the individuality of the individual organism that had previously gotten wiped out on the way to discovering the one True Self.

In that journey, following the previous understanding of just one Self, everything is deconstructed and everything is dis-identified with: I am not this, I am not that.  Thoughts are arising, I have thoughts, I am not those thoughts. Feelings are arising, I have feelings, I am not those feelings. Emotions arising, I have emotions, I am not those emotions. Neti, neti–not this, not that in this pure emptiness, this pure unqualifiable awareness, this one absolute True Self.

All of the multiple intelligences are deconstructed–those are not what I am either.  So in a traditional sense then, you end up with your one True Self liberated, but not much idea as to what to actually do with it. How is my awareness in any way different than the bodhisattva sitting next to me?

What we really see is that the bodhisattva next to me, and next to you, has the same True Self but a different Unique Self–and that Unique Self re-inhabits the perspectives that were, in some sense, denied on the way to transcending the ego. That is, the True Self, once discovered and expressed as Unique Self, re-inhabits those natural capacities of the human body-mind and all of its multiple intelligences. It embraces its capacity for math, or for music, or for introspection, or for interpersonal connection–all of the talents and capacities that are given to human beings. These are now reanimated–but not from a separate self sense, but from a True Self, from a radically One Self, One Spirit condition, expressed through your particular perspective.

And that’s what makes it unique. That’s what makes the activities you then engage in unique. And so this uniqueness then is indeed a new version of the traditional union of emptiness and form, because it is one with the unqualifiable vast emptiness that is the Ground of All Being, and that is one with all form that is arising–but now there is an extra little factor added into that. And that is that the awareness of that form is unique in every sentient being.  Every sentient being has a unique and special perception and perspective on what is arising.

So that becomes the basis of your particular, special, enlightened capacities. It is the way you can become a true bodhisattva–but a bodhisattva that is unique to your own perspectives. It is a way to enhance your own talents, and to find your own gifts. And these gifts and talents and capacities are the way that the One Spirit, the One Self, actually expresses itself in the world of form and makes itself known. It’s still, in a classical sense, Spirit making itself known–but now it’s making itself known through the specialness and uniqueness of each and every sentient being that comes to awaken to the one True Self.

So now there’s a whole different way to look at not only what bodhisattvas are doing, but how they are doing it, and the capacities they can use. And also on what really happens in the contemplative process where once the unique perspective of an individual is realized, the teaching stops interpreting that as egoic, and we end the confusion between uniqueness and separateness.

So there becomes a point in contemplation, once you’ve deconstructed the ego over and over and you’ve gone through causal and gone through turiya and gotten into turiyatita, when all of a sudden in this vast emptiness you are one with everything that’s arising, and you feel that oneness–you will still feel a unique perspective on how this arises in your experience.

That feeling of uniqueness would traditionally be interpreted as an egoic holdover, which will prevent you from acting in the world on that uniqueness. All that really does is gum up action completely, because the actual number of things that are recommended without a particular perspective on reality are pretty small and pretty bland. These are often stated as common phrases that everyone is supposed to understand: “love your neighbor”, “don’t be selfish”, “don’t get attached”, “act with selfless service”, etc.–instead of:

Now rest in these perspectives that are arising in yourself, and see how those are inhabited by the One True Self in a way that is unique to you, in a perspective that only you inhabit.

So now it’s all about how to spit-shine that unique perspective, instead of just deconstructing and deconstructing and deconstructing and trying to get rid of any sense of uniqueness–because that’s what happens when you’re driving towards a pure Emptiness without an understanding of inherent perspectival differences.  Uniqueness is confused with ego, and denied altogether, instead of being understood as the base through which infinite reality shines.

The capacity for this sort of perspectival understanding is not something that was for the most part completely obvious 2,000 years ago, but was oppressed or repressed or not understood by the traditions, or anything like that. It was simply an understanding that evolution had not yet gotten rich enough to bring forth.  It was understood that there was turiya, or the One True Self, the Pure Witness, and there was turiyatita, the Witness one with all form, in a true non-dual suchness. But the perspectival nature of all this was not a part of that equation. And as I said, the understanding of perspectives and how they are ontologically prior to anything that arises in the manifest world is itself a recent emergent of evolution.  It’s something relatively new, coming into existence with the integral level of development. It is One Spirit’s own evolutionary realization about itself, which is: not only do I as pure Spirit see the world, I see it through many, many, many different perspectives–all of which are I AMness seeing what is arising, but each being unique and special to that pair of eyes that is seeing the world. And yet I am rich enough to be all of it.

It’s a bringing forth, an enactment, an evolutionary unfolding that is itself, in a sense, a harbinger of the integral age. It’s an understanding on the spiritual plane or in the spiritual intelligence, concomitant with the type of integral understandings that occurring in other disciplines as well. And all of these are having to do with the emergence of integral 2nd-tier, which is unique because, again, it involves perspectives–and understanding for the first time that all previous perspectives have some role to play in evolution. Whereas in all of the thousands and tens of thousands of years that 1st-tier values dominated human behavior, all we did was try to deny each other’s perspective. We could see these perspectives, but we couldn’t see through them, and we couldn’t take the role of these other perspectives. We couldn’t inhabit them. Only by the time we got to the pluralistic level was there enough perspectival power required to make the momentous leap to 2nd tier.

All of these previous perspectives are important, and we have to start including them all in order to really encompass reality. And when we add the infinite dimension to that (namely spirituality) it means that Spirit itself, the One True Self, is realizing for the first time that it can manifest and embody in all these different perspectives, and not just force all of them to be reduced to the perspective of the One True Self. There’s still just one True Self, one Spirit, one I AMness–but now all of these involve perspectives that I am taking. And it’s the same I AMness arising in all these perspectives that makes them real.  And when a sentient being awakens to who it really is, then they have awakened to their own True Self, which will then show up in them as their Unique Self–because it is their awareness of who I AM as seen through their particular perspective.

I AM now the sum total of all these perspectives.  These are all part of what I AM, even though I will act through my own Unique Self.

And so turiyatita–non-dual Spirit–is itself evolving. It has evolved to a new level of emergence, which is not just One Self one with form, but One Self seen through many selves, all one with the world of form. And so there’s a kind of e plurabis unum arising: out of One, Many. {question for Ken–should i change this to “a type of reverse e plurabis unum”, since that phrase translates to “out of many, one”?  I think technically it would be something like “ex uno, plures”}

The great thing about it, like all of Spirit’s evolution, is that it transcends and includes. So we see the essential truths of turiyatita, we see the essential truths of One Self, One World, and the union of emptiness and form.  All of these are still true. It’s just that every evolutionary unfolding adds a new truth–and this one adds the truth that all that previous stuff is still partially true, just seen through perspectives now.  So turiyatita is e pluribus unum {ex uno, plures?}–and that, in a sense, changes everything.

There’s still the slow evolutionary unfolding and settling in of this new emergent, and so we’re seeing the role of integral perspectives settling in across the board of humanity. Maybe 3-4% of humanity is itself actually at 2nd-tier, as we noted, and in the same way we’re seeing the switch from the old (but still foundational) form of turiyatita to the new perspectival form–evolutionary and unique.  That’s also a process just slowly taking its role and having its impact in many many areas.

But the point with these emergents, including the Unique Self, is that they have emerged now in enough people, and in enough minds, and in enough hearts, that they are available to every human being out there. They’ve become a Kosmic habit, a Kosmic groove, that is now set. And so it is there, and that’s why we can draw on it now, anytime we want. Any sentient being can draw upon his or her Unique Self, and not just go to the One Self and stay there. So that changes entirely the way they can relate to their lives–to their spiritual lives, to their bodhisattva lives.

As a bodhisattva, you vow to go out and change the world. But what are you going to change it with, if not your unique talents and gifts? So even thinking about what I do now as a bodhisattva is radically changed by the fact that you’re going to act on your Unique Enlightened Self. Your Unique enlightened Self is going to be the doorway that is going to show you what to do–a new doorway from which you will act, and not just “I will act on One Self, and my One Self will be the same as you One Self, and we will go out and do One Self things together.” That’s no way to change the world.

The One Self is still there, but as soon as you come into the realm of manifestation, as soon as you come out of the radical unmanifest, you hit perspectives–that is why there is, for example, an understanding of hitting 1st-person, 2nd-person, and 3rd-person perspectives of Spirit.

What are those?  1st-person is the person speaking, so that’s “I” or “me”. 2nd person is the person being spoken to, “you” or “thou”. 3rd-person is the person or thing being spoken about, “him”, “her”, or “it”. And Spirit can be, and has been, approached through all three of these perspectives, whether realized or not. For example, in 3rd-person objective terms, Spirit is a great Web of Life, the sum total of the manifest world as a single, great, living, dynamically interwoven system. When you sit on the edge of the Grand Canyon and behold its splendor, you are perceiving Spirit in the 3rd-person.  Spirit in 2nd-person is a great “Thou”, a great “other”, which is the source and ground of the entire world. Conversations With God is approaching God in its 2nd-person form. Virtually all the theistic traditions rest on this form.  And Spirit in 1st person is your own True Self, your own I AMness, the One Self in and through all sentient beings.

All three of these forms are true–1st-person, 2nd-person, 3rd-person. Spirit manifests in all three of these perspectives, and an integral view includes them all.  And so the 1st-person degree of spirituality is no longer just I AMness, but unique I AMness, I AMness in its unique perspective. And then that infinite true Unique Self drenches and permeates the entire relative system, the entire relative self, and all of its multiple intelligences all are drenched in, soaked in, open to being part of the manifestation of their Unique Self. So that means that it is the combination of this One True Self, one radical Spirit, manifesting through the talents that happened to be awakened in every human being in the particular way that they show and experience their natural intelligences.  For some people, the Unique Self will especially show up in emotional intelligence. For some people, it will show up in cognitive intelligence. Some people will be plugged into infinity in their physiological intelligence. Others will find their connection to infinity in other ways, through any of the patterns and capacities and intelligences that are there.

And then, of course, that’s when spiritual practice becomes open–both on the way up to discovering the Unique Self, and on the way down to having it manifest–to a lot of practices that can be done to help clarify the Unique Self. For example, to clear up shadow elements that inhibit this realization. Wherever there is growth of any sort, there is a possible shadow connected with it. There is a functional and dysfunctional developmental scheme in everything, and the same thing goes for this new evolution of Unique Self. There’s a shadow going with it, too.  And so working with shadow work takes on even more importance.

Also, there are different forms of practice available now as well. In particular, certain errors are not compounded that previous schools would have made. The previous schools, one way or another, tried to deny any division at all, and let any uniqueness still be vilified as egoic. All that does it get you using contemplation to not only transcend the ego, but to continue denying your Unique Self. And so contemplation becomes a really sticky, messy thing of using your Unique Self to deny your Unique Self. If I wanted to think of a definition of a dysfunctional thing, that’s it.

Now, when this existence of absolutely, inherently unique perspective is understood, then with that we can go back and still use many of the great practices of the traditions, because many of them are still dealing with parts of reality that have been transcended and included. But we’re also looking for new practices. Just like in psychotherapy we’re looking for integral psychotherapy, and in medicine we’re looking for integral medicine, and in education we’re looking for integral education, and in contemplative studies we’re looking for integral contemplative studies. We’re looking for an integral spirituality that combines a double-fullness: the finite fullness of 2nd-tier integral, with its super-abundance motivation, and the infinite fullness of turiyatita, non-dual oneness, now as Unique Self. Not a double lack, but a double fullness, abundance, overflowing.

And that’s an entirely new lineage–a trans-path path. Unique Self realization stands at the core of this new lineage, this trans-path path. This includes all of the good stuff of the previous paths, but adds this whole new level of emergence.

And that is something that is extraordinary, and historic, and not to be denied.

Introduction to Your Unique Self: The Radical Path to Personal Enlightenment

by Ken Wilber
Integral Philosopher and Author

Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is the most influential figure in defining the terms of discussion on what constitutes the “Integral” perspective today. His corpus of 25 widely translated books has erected an intellectual framework for understanding the nature of converging trends in philosophy, psychology, sociology, and other disciplines. His books have often been bestsellers, and his scholarly books have been the basis for numerous academic programs, master’s and doctoral dissertations. He is a leading voice in support of World Spirituality based on Integral principles and has been one of the founding members of the Wisdom Council of the Center for World Spirituality.