The Relationship between Unique Self and World Spirituality

Here are a couple of excerpts from the Epilogue of Your Unique Self: The Radical Path to Personal Enlightenment by Dr. Marc Gafni that bring together Unique Self and the practice of World Spirituality, based on the democratization of enlightenment and five core practices of showing up, waking up, growing up, lightening up, and opening up.*

The Democratization of Enlightenment

cws-heart-logoThis evolution of the enlightenment teaching paves the way for the democratization of enlightenment. As long as enlightenment seems to demand abandoning the essential  specialness of every human being and of every human collective of persons or system of knowing, it will intuitively be rejected by the masses. We all hold an intuition—even if inarticulate—of Unique Self. On a deep level we know that every human being is both part of the great collective consciousness, the creative force of evolutionary Eros that animates and drives All-That-Is, even as she is also a unique incarnation of evolutionary creativity and Eros. Each human being is an irreducible personal expression of the process incarnating infinite dignity and adequacy, as well as being a singular expression of creativity and Unique Gift. Since every human being is unique, every human being is an irreplaceable and ultimately neces- sary expression of the enlightened consciousness.

And, it is only through communities built on this We Space, which emerge from the  democratization of enlightenment generated by the Unique Self teaching, that we can foster the genuine global commons that is the next necessary and glorious step in our evolution. Spirit awaits our unpacking.  This is the evolutionary impulse, manifesting as Spirit in Action.

Each and every tradition functions as a sort of macro Unique Self, holding a particular medicine that is crucial to the health of the whole. And,that is one of the essential reasons that as we are being called to become our Unique Selves, we are also being called to a World Spirituality that speaks compellingly to the hundreds of millions of people who have moved beyond the religions or beyond exclusive identification  with any one tradition. World Spirituality is nothing less than the grand and dynamic gathering of micro and macro Unique Selves who gift the world with their Unique Perspectives and their Unique Gifts, in a way that evolves the one and the whole. It is only through a communion of World Spirituality, in which all gifts from all traditions are taken into account and woven into a higher, integral, evolutionary embrace, that we have the ability to heal our world.

The Who of World Spirituality

Many people at the leading edge of culture and creativity today, who are born in the postmodern world, unconsciously assimilate critiques of the great religious traditions. As a result, religion and sometimes spirit itself never become a genuine option in their lives. If citizens of the world today carry the wish to engage spirit, they often meander along, trying to find their way. They are confused and unable to orient themselves to a genuine worldview of meaning that compels, delights, and infuses their everyday life with meaning and direction.

World Spirituality  speaks equally to the hundreds of millions of these leading-edge cultural creatives around the world who feel that they cannot locate themselves in a tradition at all, as well as to those firmly ensconced in a tradition who might feel that their identity and hunger is not exhausted by that  tradition. They experience themselves  as dual citizens—deeply involved in their tradition but at the same time part of the broader global community of spirit.

One of the key goals of a World Spirituality  is to help seekers, all Unique Selves in the world, feel as though they have some direction and guidance on the way, which helps them to identify: What are the issues that need addressing? What are the general forms or types of practice that need to be engaged in order to live on the spiritual path of life? In a sense, the job of a World Spirituality framework is to help people cultivate discernment as they seek to find their way, grounded in spirit on a genuine path of obligation and freedom.

The How  of World Spirituality

At this point, it is essential to locate Unique Self in the larger global context in which it lives. Stated simply, Unique Self is the lodestone of an emergent World Spirituality. World Spirituality has five essential practices, all of which are fulfilled in the awakened realization of Unique Self enlightenment.*

Showing Up: Unique SelfConscious Business

The core practice of World Spirituality is the Unique Self awakening or enlightenment of every individual. This democratization  of enlightenment, in turn, fosters the evolutionary We Space of collective intelligence and creativity, which is essential for the healing and transformation of our world. This is the next necessary step in the evolution of consciousness, which is the evolution of love, which is the evolution of God. This core practice, which animates all other forms of practice, in the terminology of World Spirituality is called showing up. To show up as your Unique Self and give your Unique Gifts is to awaken as evolution, as the personal face of the evolutionary process.

Waking Up: States of Consciousness and Unique Self

Waking up has three distinct levels.

  1. To wake up means to move from separate self to True Self. To wake up is to awaken to your true nature, to know that you are not merely a skin-encapsulated ego, but that you are essence. Waking up is the continual movement from ego to essence. In waking up, you realize your true identity; you are an indivisible strand of the seamless coat of the Universe.
  2. Yet  full awakening does not  end  with True  Self. In postmodernity, we realize that  everything, including enlightenment, has a perspective. As the last vestiges of sleep are wiped from your eyes, you drop in to the realization that you are not only essence, but also the personal face of essence. You are part of the seamless coat of the uni- verse, which is seamless but not featureless. In other words, you realize that True Self always sees through a unique set of eyes. You awaken to the knowing that enlightenment always has perspective. Your Perspective. To wake up therefore means to awaken to the full realization of your Unique True Self.Waking up means waking up to your true nature—not as separate, but a part of All-That-Is. Moreover, you are an infinitely unique expression of All-That-Is.  You wake up as the personal face of essence, whose heart is a unique expression of the infinity of intimacy that is the heart of the kosmos.  This democratic realization transcends and includes all of the traditions. It is an essential shared practice of World Spirituality.
  3. Finally, to wake up is to wake up to the process itself. To wake up means to wake up to the evolutionary context in which you live and to the evolutionary imperative that lives in you, as you, and through you.

In the old enlightenment, to wake up means to wake up to your eternal true nature. As consciousness evolved we realized that your true nature has perspective and it is always ascending and evolving. Therefore, in the New Enlightenment, to wake up means to wake up to your Evolutionary Unique Self. You are the Unique Perspective of evolution. When you wake up, then the process of evolution becomes for the first time aware of itself. And this is the momentous leap in conscious- ness that potentially changes everything.

Growing Up: Levels of Consciousness and Unique Self

To grow up means to up-level your consciousness.  Your level of consciousness is the set of implicit organizing principles that create your worldview. These ascending  levels or structures of consciousness have been mapped by extensive cross-cultural  research done by leading ego developmental scien- tists over the past fifty years. For example, it has been shown that human beings in healthy development evolve from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric to kosmocentric  consciousness. Each level expands your felt sense of love and empathy to wider circles of caring. In the first level, your caring and concern is limited to you and your immediate circle. In the second  level, ethnocentric, your identity expands to a felt sense of empa- thy and connection with your larger communal context. In the third level, worldcentric, your identity shifts to a felt empathy with all living humanity. In the fourth level, you move beyond merely identifying with humanity and experience a felt sense of responsibility and empathy for all sentient beings throughout time, backward and forward. You identify with the process itself and with the unique evolutionary imperative that incarnates as you. This last evolution of consciousness has also been described as the move from first-tier to second-tier consciousness. One of the key findings of develop- mental research is that as you up-level to ever-higher stages of second-tier consciousness, your Unique Perspective  becomes readily available.  Said simply, according to leading developmental theorists, the more you grow up, the more your Unique Self comes online.

Lighten Up: Shadow and Unique Self

Cleaning up is simply a catch phrase for shadow work, which is an essential component of any Integral World Spirituality. The full recognition of the necessity for formal and ongoing shadow work is a modern and postmodern realization, which is implicit but not fully developed in the great traditions. It was Freud and Jung and their respective students who first made shadow work an essential dimension of full human development and health. Unique Self teaching  significantly  evolves the meaning of shadow work. Shadow is finally realized to be a Unique Self distortion. Shadow is a function of gifts ungiven and life unlived. To clean up is to identify your Unique Shadow and follow it back to your Unique Self, to your unique frequency of light. It is only in light of this Unique Self understanding that it makes sense to actually integrate your shadow, for you are integrating your own displaced Unique Self. This is the essential World Spirituality process of cleaning up, which we call Shadow Integration.

Opening Up: Unique Self and Love

Opening up means opening up to and incarnating love. From the perspective of Unique Self teaching, love has three essential components.  Love is at its base not an emotion, but a Unique Self perception.  To love is to recognize other. The lover has eyes to see the personal essence of the beloved, so love is a Unique Self perception.  More than that, love is a Unique Self perception-identification process. To love is not only to perceive the uniquely beautiful essence of the beloved, but to identify him or her with that essence. Second, to love is to stay open through the pain. To love is to open up to the full depth of life, despite hurt, which seduces us to close and contract. You can only stay open as your Unique Self. The ego can never stay open under attack. The third principle of opening up recognizes to love is to give. To love is to be committed to suspending your ego and giving deeply to another for the sake of their higher good, whatever that may be. Once again, you can only truly give to another and stop using him or her to support your existence after you have evolved beyond identification with your ego and realized your Unique Self.

Showing Up Again: Unique Self and Unique Gift

It is the matrix of waking up, growing up, cleaning up, and opening up that allows you to show up as your Unique Self. It is your Unique Self that gives birth to Unique Gift. As mentioned earlier in the book, your Unique Gifts are what enable you to address a Unique Need that needs to be filled. The core realization of a World Spirituality is that every human being is both part of the whole, and at the same time, a high priest or priestess in a religion of one. The core obligation, joy, and responsibility of your Unique Self is to give your Unique Gift, fulfilling a Unique Need in the kosmos that can be met by you and you alone.

Each one of these pillar principles has its own set of practices. In our  World Spirituality Practice Book (Marc Gafni and Tom Goddard), we will outline a complete set of practice modules and guidelines.


*The distinction between waking up and growing up was originally published by John Welwood in Toward a Psychology of Awakening, p. 231. Mariana Caplan (2009) points out that Chögyam Trungpa used to have people practice by saying “om mani padme hum,”—grow up. The om mani phrase expresses the enlightened state of consciousness called the Jewel in the Lotus. In effect, Trungpa was saying wake up and grow up. In a conversation with John (2011), I suggested that Trungpa, who was his teacher, was the inspiration for his core distinction between wake up and grow up, which John readily acknowledged. Trungpa understood intuitively that the western work of growing up, which for him meant psychological work, and the eastern work of waking up were two distinct lines of development, which needed to be integrated. In this tense, Chögyam Trungpa is an important forerunner of World Spirituality. Thanks to Sally Kempton for referring us to John’s work. John, however, uses the term “growing up” to refer to healthy psychological growth and resolution of psychological issues within a given level of consciousness, while in the context of world spirituality we are using the term to refer to growing up to higher levels of consciousness. This recasting of these core terms was suggested by Ken Wilber who has consistently used waking up and growing up to refer to state and stage development  respectively. Dustin DiPerna, in his new book, The Heart of Conscious Evolution (Integral Publishing House, San Francisco, 2011, p. 238) suggests calling shadow work “cleaning up.” I prefer the term lighten up because of its dual connotation and elegance. He also suggests using the terms “showing up” and “opening up,” but in a different way then I have deployed them. I have adopted the terms much like we adopted “waking up” and “growing up” from Trungpa and changed their core meaning to reflect the new evolutionary emergent of Unique Self. Similarly, I deploy the terms open up and show up as ways of expressing the core teachings of Unique Self enlightenment. Each of these terms is taken to express a different dimension of Unique Self. If, however, you combine my Unique Self teaching and Global Spirituality understanding, in conjunction with Ken’s re-deployment of Welwood’s terms to refer to states and stages, and together with Dustin Diperna’s first clustering of all these terms into one package—all originally sourced in Trungpa’s insight—then you have the genealogy of this wonderful and pithy formulation. Together with Ken, we are just now in the process of standardizing these usages within the world spirituality teachings that we are co-creating.

We are also adding a new category which we are calling Storying Up, which refers to the essential post-postmodern endeavor of constructing a new world view or big picture, a new universe story which creates a context of meaning.

Excerpt: pages 366-69, 378-382, 480-481.

For more on how the contributions of Unique Selves are essential for the creation of a World Spirituality, please see the links below, which lead to our website:

“Ten Commitments of World Spirituality Based on Integral Principles” by Marc Gafni


Essential World Spirituality Teaching by Marc Gafni