The Ever Present Origin by Jean Gebser

The Ever-Present Origin is an immense exploration into an insight—a “lightning-like inspiration” as he called it—that first came to Gebser in Spain in 1931. This insight, that a new kind of consciousness was beginning to appear in the West, came to Gebser through his study of poetry, particularly that of the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. As Gebser unraveled it, he soon saw that evidence for this new consciousness could be found in developments in science too. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more Gebser discovered signs of this new consciousness in practically all aspects of Western culture. For the next eighteen years, he gathered and organized his thoughts on what he called an impending “mutation” in consciousness, the most immediate manifestation of which was what he called the breakdown of the “mental-rational structure” of consciousness, the dominant “scientistic” rationalist reductive paradigm that has held sway over the West for the last few centuries.

He explains in the book that we are at the brink of historical chasm and that the new millenium will bring peace, if we find a realistic response to the global crisis we are in. He described it as a crisis of consciousness and said that we have to work on a solution individually and collectively.

In his exploration about human consciousness Gebser was able to identify four major configurations in our consciousness and illustrates them through cultural data. He believed that consciousness has moved through four previous “structures,” each achieving a further separation and distinction from an atemporal, immaterial, spiritual source that he called “origin.” According to Gebser, each major configuration of consciousness always changed through a mutation hereby reaching the next level of consciousness.

Archaic (almost completely instinctual):

  • Zero-dimensional (total absence of differentiation; e.g. between the individual and the universe)
  • Non-perspective (like deep sleep)
  • Total absence of any sense of separation

Magical (principal of identity as expressed in analogical thinking):

  • One-dimensional
  • Perspectival state of timelessness and spacelessness (like a state of sleep)
  • The magic man was part of his environment and felt secure only with his group

Mythical (cognitive structure):

  • Two-dimensional
  • Unperspectival state of consciousness (like a dream)
  • Imagination and attunement with natural rhythms became important factors
  • Unfolds symbols rather than calculus
  • Intuition rather than hypothesis and abstract thinking

Mental (the domain of men’s thinking mind):

Through his research he came to believe that we are on the threshold of a new structure of consciousness, namely the Integral. This integral consciousness structure was made evident by a new relationship to space and time and it consists in part in its ability to integrate the preceding consciousness structures rather than suppressing them as the mental structure does.

Integral:

  • Four-dimensional
  • Aperspectival world of transparency
  • Time free, space free, subject free, object free world
  • Total integration of all parts
  • Grasp by mind and spirit
  • Liberation understanding of the whole

 

Gebser noticed that the integral structure of consciousness was largely witnessed as the irruption of time into the “fixed-reality” of the mental structure and explained in detail the incorporation of time in physics and the attempts to “paint” time in the visual arts and the like. This structure will enable the human mind to transcend the limitations of three- dimensionality. The supersession of time is a theme that will play an extremely important role in this structure. In fact, the ideas of arationality (as opposed to the rationality of the current structure), aperspectivity (as opposed to the perspective, spatially determined mentation of the current structure), and diaphaneity (the transparent recognition of the whole, not just parts) are significant characteristics of this new structure.

In his book “Verfall und Teilhabe” (Decline and Participation) that has not been translated into English yet, he supplies the readers in the chapter “In Search of the New Consciousness” the present mutation of consciousness. Some of them he mentions are:

  • Haste is replaced by silence and the capacity for silence;
  • Goal-oriented, purposive thoughts is replaced by unintentionalness (Absichtslosigkeit);
  • The pursuit of power is replaced by the genuine capacity for love;
  • Quantitative idle motion (Leerlauf) is replaced by the qualitative spiritual process;
  • Manipulation is replaced by the patient acceptance of the providential powers;
  • Prejudice is replaced by the renunciation of value judgments;
  • Action is replaced by poise/attitude (Haltung)
  • Homo faber is replaced by homo integer
  • The divided human being is replaced by the whole human being
  • The emptiness of the limited world is replaced by the open expanse of the open world.

 

For me, one of the most important messages from Gebser is, that the arational structure of consciousness, which in his opinion has been in the process of constellating itself since the turn of the century, does indeed depend for its full emergence on each individual person. We all have to do to the work of self-transcendence which, as Gebser freely admits, is the most difficult of all human tasks.  He said:

All work, the genuine work which we must achieve, is that which is most difficult and painful: the work on ourselves. If we do not freely take upon ourselves this pre-acceptance of the pain and torment, they will be visited upon us in otherwise necessary individual and universal collapse” (Kulturphilosophie als Methode und Wagnis, p. 409)

Gebser’s “The Ever-Present Origin” is not easy to read. If you want to find out more about him and his work you can find an overview of his work on the Internet.

Ken Wilber named Georg Feuerstein, a German Indologist who authored over 30 books on mysticism, Yoga, Tantra, and Hinduim, as “probably Gebser’s foremost American interpreter”. Feuerstein shows in Structures of Consciousness why Gebser’s comprehensive work is one of our century’s most important intellectual contribution to a new self-understand and profound spiritual reorientation. This book is for those who do not have the time or patience to work through “The Ever-Present Origin”; Feuerstein gives a terrific overview of the basic framework of Gebser’s thoughts and concepts.

In the chapter “The Play of Consciousness” in his book “Structures of Consciousness” he provides a list of integral features and their mental-rational counterparts:

self-consciousness – mind-transcending freedom
ego-fulfillment – ego-transcendence
search for perfection – present happiness
self-opacity – self transparency
obsession with and fear of time – time-freedom
past- or future-orientedness – presentiation
now-orientedness – living in the full continuum of time
boundedness, maskedness – openness
rigidity, defensiveness – fluency, availability
intolerance/toleration – playful tolerance
control – letting -be
hesitancy – immediacy
anxiety – enjoyment
alienation – participatory freedom
internalized responsibility – personal responsiveness
emotional dependence/independence – freedom of feeling
observer consciousness – participatory consciousness
forced action – responsive doing
purposive orientation – humorous participation
categorization – name-transcendence
abstraction, obsession with thinking – bodily presence
knowledge – understanding, wisdom
dogmatism – acknowledgement of the multivalency of life
fear of intimacy – freedom for intimacy
doubt – reverence for life
guilt – freedom from the superego
ennui – equanimity
exploitative orientation – service
falling in or out of love – being love

 

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