Life: spiritual growth, freedom and tradition

Life: spiritual growth, freedom and tradition December 1, 2005

“[O]ne has to be willing to let go of–or die to–the present level. Perhaps one has run up against its inherent limitations or contradictions (as Hegel would say), or one is beginning to disidentify with it (as Assagioli explained), or perhaps one has just gotten tired of it.”
– Ken Wilber (from tom’s comment, #13)

As I replied to tom’s comment, I agree with this general formula for spiritual growth. Each level is a sort of consciousness, a world-view, a system of conceptual connections. But how does one know what level he is at? I guess a full understanding of each level is a good start, but each theorist will cut up the levels in different ways and most, if not all, will realize and admit the artificiality of his or her particular system. But each will indicate that each level comes up to its own inherent limits. We find these limits through imminent critique (critique from within), and I think Socrates is our first immanent critic. He showed the simple incoherency of his interlocutors’ positions by simply getting them to contradict themselves through their own reasoning. The problem, for him (/Plato), Hegel, and Wilber is that it is perhaps too easy to find fault in the reasoning of others, yet very difficult to state a coherent system of your own.

Back to me. My difficulty lies in what I would call the ‘sore loser critique’. The sore loser critique can look, sound, and feel just like the immanent critique by which one legitimately moves from one level to the next. However, the sore loser simply assumes the attributes of the next level without personally realizing the limits of the prior level. To realize the limits of a level of consciousness, say that of Hegel’s ‘Stoic’ (see my schemata), one must fully LIVE that level; one must get inside it and use its world-view as a vehicle, driven until finally breaking down, at which point one ‘dies to’ that level and the next vehicle is taken up.

But I did not fully LIVE the Catholicism I was brought up in. I rejected it far to early to understand what exactly I was rejecting. I stepped out of that vehicle onto the lonely road of angst, only to be picked up like some vagabond hitch-hiker by the smooth sails of science. To be honest it was more like the smooth sails of science caught my eye while I was still in Catholicism, and perhaps my own version of Catholicism wasn’t the very best, top of the line version out there… Maybe I didn’t maintain my Catholicism well enough and maybe it is not to blame for my failed youth. Maybe my leaving it there on the side of the spiritual road one day as I embraced the cold logic of science was an accident, a sore loser critique, and not a step forward at all.

And then, after years as a ‘devout atheist’, I found my way into Buddhism. This deserves some time/thought… But for now I will leave with the Catholicism/atheism move.

A professor of mine, David Sherman, a ‘left-Hegelian’ (ie. basically a Marxist), discusses his conversations with a friend, a ‘right-Hegelian’ (ie. a Christian, state-loving conservative) in graduate school, and his friend telling him,

‘if you’re not reconciled [to the state, the current ethical totality], get reconciled’

(in a thick Southern accent, so ‘get’ should be ‘guee-it‘). The moral is that, in Hegel and likely in Wilber, we MUST fully realize (get reconciled with) any given level of consciousness before we can get beyond it. If we never enter it, live it, and sublate it, but instead grow up apart from it and only look upon its irrationality from OUTSIDE, then we have not moved, CAN NOT move, to the next, higher level of consciousness.

My concluding question is: are we ever free from traditions, or are we only ever free in them?

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