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Michael Herman

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 A Brief History of Everything


When Ken Wilber was just 23 years old, he wrote a book called The Spectrum of Consciousness, which was immediately hailed as a masterpiece for the way it integrated Eastern and Western thought. Nearly thirty years and many, many books later, he wrote something called A Brief History of Everything, which I call the 'easy access' version of his encyclopedic Sex, Ecology, Spirituality.

Brief History and more recently The Marriage of Sense and Soul, have transformed the way I look at just about...well, everything. Here are my favorite few pages from Brief History. Wilber wrote Brief History and this mind-blowing piece of it as one long interview, which I've adapted into narrative form to give it some borders. Enjoy!


Evolution has a direction, yes, a principle of order out of chaos, as it is commonly phrased. In other words, a drive toward greater depth. Chance is defeated, meaning emerges -- the intrinsic value of the Kosmos increases with each unfolding. Evolution has a broad and general tendency to move in the direction of: increasing complexity, increasing differentiation/integration, increasing organization/structuration, increasing relative autonomy, increasing telos.

This doesn't mean that regression and dissolution don't occur -- they do. And it doesn't mean that every short-term development must follow those directions. As Michael Murphy says, evolution meanders more than it progresses. But over the long haul, evolution has a broad telos, a broad direction, which is particularly obvious with increasing differentiation -- an atom to an amoeba to an ape!

All of [the] scientific descriptions [of evolution] can generally be summarized as: the basic drive of evolution is to increase depth. This is the self-transcending drive of the Kosmos -- to go beyond what went before, and yet include what went before, and thus increase its own depth.

Consciousness and depth are synonymous. [Everything has] some degree of depth, however minor, because there is no bottom. And with evolution, depth becomes greater and greater. However much depth atoms have, molecules have more. And cells have more depth than molecules. And plants have more than cells. And primates more than plants.

There is a spectrum of depth, a spectrum of consciousness. And evolution unfolds that spectrum. Consciousness unfolds more and more, realizes itself more and more, comes into manifestation more and more. Spirit, consciousness, depth -- so many words for the same thing.

Since depth is everywhere, consciousness is everywhere. Consciousness is simply what depth looks like from the inside, from within. So, depth is everywhere, consciousness is everywhere, Spirit is everywhere. And as depth increases, consciousness increasingly awakens, Spirit increasingly unfolds. To say that evolution produces greater depth is simply to say that it unfolds greater consciousness.

Spirit is unfolding itself in each new transcendence, which it also enfolds into its own being at the new stage. Transcends and includes, brings forth and embraces, creates and loves, Eros and Agape, unfolds and enfolds -- different ways of saying the same thing.

So we can summarize all this very simply: because evolution goes beyond what went before, but because it must embrace what went before, then its very nature is to transcend and include, and thus it has an inherent directionality, a secret impulse, toward increasing depth, increasing intrinsic value, increasing consciousness. In order for evolution to move at all, it must move in those directions -- there's no place else for it to go!

Because the universe has direction, we ourselves have direction. There is meaning in the movement, intrinsic value in the embrace. As Emerson put it, we lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which by any other name is Spirit. There is a theme inscribed on the original face of the Kosmos. There is a pattern written on the wall of Nothingness. There is a meaning in its every gesture, a grace in its every glance.

We -- and all beings as such -- are drenched in this meaning, afloat in a current of care and profound value, ultimate significance, intrinsic awareness. We are part and parcel of this immense intelligence, this Spirit-in-action, this God-in-the-making. We don't have to think of God as some mythic figure outside of the display, running the show. Nor must we picture it as some merely immanent Goddess, lost in the forms of her own production. Evolution is both God and Goddess, transcendence and immanence. It is immanent in the process itself, woven into the very fabric of the Kosmos; but it everywhere transcends its own productions, and brings forth anew in every moment. Transcends and includes.

And we are invited, I believe, to awaken as this process. The very Spirit in us is invited to become self-conscious, or even, as some would say, superconscious. Depth increases from subconscious to self-conscious to super conscious, on the way to its own shocking recognition, utterly one with the radiant All, and we awaken as that oneness.

What do you think? Are the mystics and sages insane? Because they all tell variations on this same story, don't they? The story of awakening one morning and discovering that you are one with the All, in a timeless and eternal and infinite fashion.

Yes, maybe they are crazy, these divine fools. Maybe they are mumbling idiots in the face of the Abyss. Maybe they need a nice understanding therapist. Yes, I'm sure that would help.

But then, I wonder. Maybe the evolutionary sequence really is from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit, each transcending and including, each with a greater depth and greater consciousness and wider embrace. And in the highest reaches of evolution, maybe, just maybe, an individual's consciousness does indeed touch infinity -- a total embrace of the entire Kosmos -- a Kosmic consciousness that is Spirit awakened to its own true nature.

It's at least plausible. And tell me: is that story, sung by mystics and sages the world over, any crazier than the scientific materialism story, which is that the entire sequence is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing? Listen very carefully, just which of those two strories actually sounds totally insane?

I'll tell you what I think. I think the sages are the growing tip of the secret impulse of evolution. I think they are the leading edge of the self-transcending drive that always goes beyond what went before. I think they embody the very drive of the Kosmos toward greater depth and expanding consciousness. I think they are riding the edge of a light beam racing toward a rendezvous with God.

And I think they point to the same depth in you, and in me, and in all of us. I think they are plugged into the All, and the Kosmos sings through their voices, and Spirit shines through their eyes. And I think they discolse the face of tomorrow, they open us to the heart of our own destiny, which is also already right now in the timelessness of this very moment, and in that startling recognition the voice of the sage becomes your voice, the eyes of the sage become your eyes, you speak with the tongues of angels and are alight with the fire of a realization that never dawns nor ceases, you recognize your own true Face in the mirror of the Kosmos itself: your identity is indeed the All, and you are no longer part of that stream, you are that stream, with the All unfolding not around you but in you. The stars no longer shine out there, but in here. Supernovas come into being within your heart, and the sun shines inside your awareness. Because you transcend all, you embrace all. There is no final Whole here, only an endless process, and you are the opening or the clearing or the pure Emptiness in which the entire process unfolds -- ceaselessly, miraculously, everlastingly, lightly.

The whole game is undone, this nightmare of evolution, and you are exactly where you were at the beginning of the whole show. With a sudden shock of the utterly obvious, you recognize your own Original Face, the face you had prior to the Big Bang, the face of utter Emptiness that smiles as all creation and sings as the entire Kosmos -- and it is all undone in that primal glance, and all that is left is the smile, and the reflection of the moon on a quiet pond, late on a crystal clear night.


From A Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber, © Copyright 1996. Published by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston.

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Evolution at Work: A Personal Journey and Public Invitation to Open Space, by Michael Herman (www.michaelherman.com)
© Copyright 1998-2002 Michael Herman. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reprint or distribute without permission and full attribution, including web address and copyright notice. Permission will be granted gladly if you'll just say what you'd like to copy and where you'd like to share it. [email protected]