The Spirit is an (opposable) thumb

20 06 2011

By the combined functioning of hand, speech organs and brain, not only in each individual but also in society, men became capable of executing more and more complicated operations, and were able to set themselves, and achieve, higher and higher aims. The work of each generation itself became different, more perfect and more diversified. Agriculture was added to hunting and cattle raising; then came spinning, weaving, metalworking, pottery and navigation. Along with trade and industry, art and science finally appeared. Tribes developed into nations and states. Law and politics arose, and with them that fantastic reflection of human things in the human mind – religion. In the face of all these images, which appeared in the first place to be products of the mind and seemed to dominate human societies, the more modest productions of the working hand retreated into the background, the more so since the mind that planned the labour was able, at a very early stage in the development of society (for example, already in the primitive family), to have the labour that had been planned carried out by other hands than its own. All merit for the swift advance of civilisation was ascribed to the mind, to the development and activity of the brain. Men became accustomed to explain their actions as arising out of thought instead of their needs (which in any case are reflected and perceived in the mind); and so in the course of time there emerged that idealistic world outlook which, especially since the fall of the world of antiquity, has dominated men’s minds. It still rules them to such a degree that even the most materialistic natural scientists of the Darwinian school are still unable to form any clear idea of the origin of man, because under this ideological influence they do not recognise the part that has been played therein by labour.

-Fredrich Engels, The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man



2 responses

20 06 2011

Engels never quite gave due justice to human emotion. An explanation of human mental development predicated on the development of labor alone fails to take into full account the affective development of human beings. Yes, a crucial human development is the delegation of tasks to others (the beginning of capital), but with the development of capital comes an entire range of human emotions, from avarice and cruelty to benevolence and patronage.

When reading Engels’s vignettes on human degradation, I often think that he describes human suffering merely as a symptom of labor exploitation. He never truly captures both the emotions of the sufferer and the person inflicting suffering. The mechanical nature of Marx and Engels’s writings is seen in the political and social movements inspired by these works. It’s almost as if the trajectory towards a non-capital society never truly takes into account psychopathy and cruelty disguised as liberation.

20 06 2011

The title of this post led me to anticipate a theological, not an economic insight; but ISTM a fitting title for both:

Why We Don’t Change and How We Can

Why is it that so few of us get the results our spiritual practices
are designed to deliver?

As a spiritual teacher, I meet a lot of people on the path. And one
of the most common refrains I hear from spiritual seekers these
days goes something like this:

“I’ve been on the spiritual path for years. I’ve meditated, gone to
therapy, and attended dozens of workshops, seminars, satsangs, and
retreats. But, I’m still not fundamentally different from when I
started on the path. Sure, I’m more centered, present and calm, but
I’m still challenged by many of the same emotional patterns. I still
don’t feel like I’m living on purpose. I’m still not deeply fulfilled.”

How is it that after decades of earnest spiritual seeking, most of
us ultimately settle for a transformation far less profound or
dramatic than the one we were aiming for when we started on the

Is it, as some ancient eastern traditions tell us, that
enlightenment is such a lofty goal that we should not expect to
experience any radical transformation in one lifetime, but should
instead see our current incarnation as but one of millions of baby
steps toward that supreme goal?

Or is it, as many contemporary teachers are fond of saying, that
the attempt to change ourselves in any way is in fact misguided,
that we should simply “accept what is,” “call off the search,” and
realize that ordinary life, in all of its neurotic frailty, is

With all due respect to those of differing opinion, I would like to
propose another possibility.

I would like to suggest that the supreme and lofty goal of
profound, life transforming spiritual liberation is not only
possible in this lifetime, but is in fact well within reach of
anyone of reasonably sound mind and stable character.

And that the reason it is not happening for the vast majority of
those who are seeking it is that, for most of us, the context for
our spiritual path is just too small. In a word, it’s still about
us–our own fulfillment, our own happiness, even our own

It’s not that we’re selfish people. Indeed, most spiritual seekers
are among the most selfless people on the planet.

The problem is that we’ve all been steeped in a contemporary
spiritual subculture that tells us that the very reason we should
follow a spiritual path is so that we can live happier, more
fulfilled, more peaceful lives.

And, as long as our own happiness is all we’re seeking, we’ll never
awaken the depth of spiritual passion and conviction required to
propel us into genuine transformation.

That conviction can only arise when we realize that the spiritual
path is not about us–but about participating in something far
greater than ourselves.

To paraphrase Andrew Cohen, imagine for a moment that the fate of
the entire human race rested on your shoulders alone. That
humanity’s evolution out of brute self-interest depended entirely
on your willingness to transform your consciousness, to rise above
your smallness, to evolve beyond your negative conditioning, and
become an exemplar of humanity’s highest potential for the world.

Imagine, in other words, that for you, evolving beyond ego became
an evolutionary imperative.

Would you approach your path any differently? Would the energy you
brought to your spiritual practice intensify? Would the quality of
awareness and care with which you approached your interactions with
others become more profound?

Would you find yourself reaching with inner muscles you didn’t even
know you had to be awake to the depth you’ve tasted in your most
profound spiritual moments?

If you knew it all rested on you, would you have any choice but to

The Indian sage Ramana Maharshi once said that the spiritual
aspirant must want liberation like a drowning man wants air. But
the painful truth is that even when we recognize that we are
drowning spiritually, most of us don’t care enough to struggle to
keep our head above water.

The challenges of authentic spiritual transformation are so great
that most of us will choose to continue suffering in our smallness
over feeling the pain of allowing that smallness to die forever.

But how many of us would do the same if we realized that it wasn’t
only our own suffering we were perpetuating, but the suffering of
the entire human race?

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “That’s a nice thought
experiment. Sure, it makes me realize I could be more earnest on my
path, but what does it really have to do with me? I’m no
megalomaniac. I know that my transformation alone isn’t enough to
liberate the human race.”

And it is here that I would ask you to reconsider.

Modern science has in recent decades been verifying what the
ancient traditions intuited long ago: that, in both tangible and
mysterious ways, we are all interconnected, and any one of us can
have a profound effect on the whole.

And, if you accept the perennial mystical teaching that, at the
level of consciousness, we are not only interconnected, but are
actually one Self seeing through many eyes, then it should be clear
that, like it or not, in the way we conduct our inner and outer
lives, each of us is in fact always having an effect on the whole.

Add to that the reality that we are evolving beings living in an
evolving universe, that we are all part of a grand, cosmic
evolutionary process, and the question of our obligation to the
whole starts to cut close to the bone.

To reframe my earlier question: What would you do if you realized
that the entire human endeavor, the evolution of consciousness
itself, depended on your willingness to evolve your own

How would it affect the choices you make every day if you knew that
those choices were, in a very real sense, either contributing to
the evolution of the whole or holding it back?

At this time when it seems that our very future depends on our
willingness to evolve as a species, would you have any choice but
to act in alignment with the greatest evolutionary good?

The point I’m trying to make is that when we take a closer look at
what spiritual transformation is actually for, it quickly becomes
clear that the path of awakening is not primarily about freeing
ourselves from suffering and securing our own happiness.

Sure, that’s a nice by-product. But, as long as that’s all we’re
seeking, we probably won’t get very far.

Where the spiritual path really begins to get interesting is when
we recognize that transforming ourselves in the deepest possible
way is in fact an evolutionary imperative with profound
consequences far beyond ourselves.

When we begin to embrace the fact that our lives really are not our
own to do with as we please, that in everything we do, we are in
fact accountable to the Whole, something truly miraculous begins to

Faced with the palpable responsibility to transform for a greater
good, we find that we suddenly have access to a seemingly infinite
source of energy, intention, passion and courage to confront
whatever challenges present themselves on our path.

What’s more, all of the personal issues and problems, all of the
fears and doubts and resistances that once seemed so insurmountable
begin to seem a lot less significant.

Why? Because our attention is now captivated by something much
bigger than ourselves.

Ignited by a noble calling to participate in the grand adventure of
conscious evolution, we find we no longer have time to worry about
ourselves. And in this freedom from self-concern, before long we
discover that the deep inner peace and joy we were seeking all
along has become the very ground we are walking on.

To get a taste of the liberating context I’m pointing to, try the
following experiments:

1) Before you meditate or engage in any spiritual practice, take 10
minutes to reflect on the profound significance of your practice.
Ask yourself:

-Why do I need to awaken for myself?
-Why do other people need me to awaken?
-Why does God/evolution/humanity (your choice) need me to awaken?

Allow yourself to feel deeply into the most authentic answer you
can find. Then, invite that deeper answer to come forward as a
clear and present intention to engage your spiritual practice
wholeheartedly, as if the universe depended on it. And engage your
practice from this deeper intention.

Notice how this exercise impacts the quality of your spiritual

2) When you encounter a challenging and emotionally charged
situation in your life, before you respond, take a few minutes to
ask yourself:

-What is the most enlightened or evolved response I could have in
this situation?

-Why is it important for my own evolution for me to respond in the
most enlightened, evolved way I can?

-Why does God/evolution/humanity (your choice) need me to respond
in the most enlightened, evolved way I can?

Allow yourself to feel into the larger significance of your
response to this challenging moment. Ground yourself in an
intention to show up as an exemplar of humanity’s potential. And
then respond from this deeper intention.

Notice how your perspective on the situation and your ability to
show up changes when you approach it in this way.

To our evolution,

Craig Hamilton
Founder, Integral Enlightenment

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