Widening one’s identity

Sunday, September 30, 2007

How do you keep the music playing?

How do you make it last?

How do you keep the song from fading too fast? — From the song How Do You Keep the Music Playing by Alan and Marilyn Bergman

No, I am not doing a “Dear Abby” where I will start dishing out love advice. I just thought I’d write about relationships since, lately, I’ve been hearing about many people who are finding it difficult to cope with their partners and loved ones. It’s bound to happen at one time or another. I am talking of boredom or ennui, or the onset of indifference that creeps up on people who are in special relationships. They can be people we work with, or people with much closer ties.

I thought I’d share some things I learned from the mystic philosopher Ken Wilber. While his body of work lies nowhere near the field of giving advice regarding relationships, I thought that there are things we can learn from him that may help us understand the consciousness processes and the levels we are in when we do what we do.

Ken Wilber, one of my favorite writers, talks about three ways or levels of experiencing which can apply to almost anything we do. The idea, according to Ken, is to increase the depth and width of our capacity to experience consciousness to be able to get much more out of it each time. He talks of three levels of consciousness here, with each level having different states of being that can deliver a different experience. He identified these three bodily states as gross, subtle and causal.

In his audio CD entitled Kosmic Consciousness, he uses sex as an example to illustrate the difference between the three levels. Let me explain this as concisely as I can.

On the lowest rung, which is the gross level, sex is strictly a bodily activity where one is there mainly for his or her own pleasure. It does not really matter who the partner is, or if there is even a partner. The idea is to get the maximum physical kick out of the sexual encounter. The consciousness level here is very low and the self-identity of the participant is quite narrow, which basically includes only the male or female getting all the libidinous thrills he/she can get. It is basically a selfish, egotistic orientation of sex. The goal is physical satisfaction, period.

On the next level, which Ken describes as subtle, a higher consciousness takes over. The self-identity, or ego, steps out of itself, takes a forward step and embraces the partner. Sex takes on a relational dimension as one attempts to be in tune with his or her partner not only physically but also in the emotional and psychological mode. There is a union, a communal embrace, at the very least caring, and often a love that ties them together in ecstasy. Obviously, this experience of sex and the accompanying consciousness is of a higher domain than the gross level.

On the next level, which he calls causal, the leap to higher consciousness is exponential. All of a sudden, it’s not just you and your partner making love. As Ken describes it, you are “blown to smithereens.” You both can lose yourselves and awaken to a oneness with everything.

The Tantric tradition is good for this. To say the least, it is a profound, timeless experience. The consciousness level here is a vast awareness of bliss and love, and an identification with all that is; in short, a oneness with the universe itself.

In most everything we do, we can proceed from any or all of these three states — gross, subtle or causal. In other words, we can choose from a menu of consciousness states and apply our choice to everything we have to do. Obviously, some activities require that we be in one mode mainly. Physical work, for example, may be on the gross level initially. But a greater awareness may move it to the subtle level especially if one experiences a sense of esprit de corps or teamwork, for example, and feel a sense of achieving common goals and purpose. When that happens, we can actually say we love what we do and find meaning in it.

It is not farfetched to stretch this a little more and actually experience certain physical activities in a causal mode. I have sometimes experienced a profound high, similar to what I experience when I meditate, while running. During those times, I actually feel that my body is the universe itself, and just as my heart is beating and I am sweating, the planets are turning and stars are being born. I feel that my being where I am at any given time not only has the blessing of the universe, but is sanctioned by it. It has affirmation of purpose. Could this feeling have been caused by the release of endorphins while running? Perhaps. But how do you explain that same state others reach while sitting and meditating?

Basically, the movement from gross to subtle to causal state is a progression that is ultimately about the freedom from ego — from selfishness to selflessness to oneness with everything, or from self to others to everything. It is about the ever-widening of identity.

Early on in my career with the APO, I felt that we were basically three individuals trying to do a job together. We were nowhere near being synergistic. Our partnership was shaky, to say the least. Even within the group, we competed to be the most popular. You might say we were probably on the gross level and we were merely looking out for our individual selves.

Through the years, however, we learned teamwork, camaraderie, fellowship and everything that goes with it, and moved up, consciousness-wise, to a higher, subtler level. We learned to subsume individual egos for something bigger. This was when we discovered that APO could be so much more fun and fulfilling.

In the last seven years, when we perform, we are, at the very least, in subtle mode: we invariably manage to experience the joy of being one with our audience. More often now, we even go higher to reach the causal plane where we get totally lost in the ecstasy of performing, interacting, enjoying and sharing our creative powers with ourselves and our audience. The distinction between audience and performer disappears. There is only the show. There is a power that takes over which allows us to feel effortless and wonderful as we do what we do. It feels like a miracle, actually.

Last Saturday, backstage in the Cebu International Convention Center, I was still feeling weak due to my recent bout with dengue and I was quite apprehensive about whether I could sustain my energy throughout the show we were about to do. But by the second song, I felt that I had connected with Boboy and Danny and we were “in the zone,” so to speak. We were “it.” From where we were, it seemed like everything was happening flawlessly and wonderfully. It felt like magic, and the audience seemed to confirm it. We were the universe itself showing off its awesome powers.

How does one transform a gross experience into a subtle or even a causal one? How does one reach out to another, and eventually embrace everything? The answer lies in being constantly conscious and opening oneself to ever greater, wider experiences until the fear of ego death is overcome. But the ego must keep dying again and again many times over, and so it means doing this continuously and making it a practice. And you’ll know you’re getting somewhere when you accidentally “lose yourself” on a regular basis.

* * *

Are you in-between dreams, jobs, loves or lives? Do you feel stuck and can’t move ahead? I am announcing the 36th run of my “Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop.” Here, participants uncover, face and overcome the issues that block their productivity, creativity and joy.

The sessions will be from Oct. 1 to 5, and conclude on Oct. 8. The workshop is from 7 to 9 p.m. at 31 M. Jocson St. Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Cost of the workshop is P5,000.

For reservations, call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie, or write to emailjimp@gmail.com for inquiries and a syllabus. For those who inquired before and who have been waiting for the right moment: Don’t miss it this time!