June 1, 2008 | Leave a Comment

Category: Ontogeny, Society

The Boulder, Colorado, philosopher Ken Wilber makes a powerful argument that many contemporary individuals attracted by spiritual experience confuse magic and spirituality.  Wilber is known for Integral Philosophy, which traces an unfolding of life on biological, social and personal levels, using a multiscale, multistage evolutionary sequence derived from his studies in several disciplines.  Some of the evolutionary principles shared in this blog have been influenced by Wilber’s work.

Briefly put, a belief in magic is retained by tribes or myth-based cultures and some stages of childhood before rationality engages.  Societal and childhood stages of development are seen as closely tied.  Societally and personally, once the age of reason has arrived, magic withdraws as a useful explanatory principle.  Yet, there is a future stage, marked by sensitivity to how experiences that formerly seemed unrelated were actually interconnected.  This awareness opens the door, on a personal level, to spiritual experience, and on a societal level, to accepting responsibility for that which shares this planet.

In the orchestra of ideas, you have the strings (biology), percussion (society), brass (ontogeny) and winds (individual biography).  Themes are introduced in one area, picked up by another and then played by all as concepts are examined in detail.

A theme that seems to wind its way about our lives is a hidden, deep desire that magic walk onto the stage of our experience and carry us to the place where we feel embraced.

There is the obvious confusing of magic and spirituality that I see in New Age friends.  If the right technique is discovered and performed, raised consciousness will result.  Powerful, pleasing, aesthetically crafted spiritual shortcuts are the engine of the New Age consumer economy.  A belief in magic is rife among those seeking and experiencing a life characterized by connectedness.  Wilber suggests this belief reveals the influence of early childhood stages on the behavior of well intentioned but confused grown-ups.

I see it deeper still.  I’ve observed in myself, and those I love, a hesitancy to grieve.  We hold onto a deep-seated notion that if we don’t take responsibility for our own experience, someone or something will step in and bridge us to that goal.  Things as simple as eating right, exercising, meditating and sleeping regularly, for many people, would catapult them to a different space.  For many, even though they know the change is needed, the choice does not get made.  They want the choice to be made for them.  They want a different choice.  It is magical thinking.

This thinking is not magical thinking in the traditional sense, but it is in that we want to experience miraculous intervention that will shower upon us the benefits of living the good life, without living the good life.  This thinking is magical thinking that pervades much of our everyday thoughts and influences how much power we feel we have to wield influence in the world.  It gums up our ability to feel connected.

Withdrawing from feeling grief is central to this inability to move forward.  By experiencing and working through grief, we can let go of magic, rationally appraise where we are and embrace the world.  The orchestra is playing.  Connections are being made.  There is nothing magical about feeling loved.


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