The Magician–no longer just an ego in a bag of skin…
Last time we looked at the developmental stage called the Strategist in Susanne Cook-Greuter’s developmental model. In this post I’m going to look at the developmental stage after the Strategist, the Magician. The Magician’s perspective is significantly different from that of the Strategist. The Strategist is the epitome of the well-organized, complex separate self, the master of his world. He is able to see and understand a complex universe from a perspective centered on, and in, the self. On the other hand, the Magician, though he has a separate self, begins to see through that self and begins to disidentify with it. His sense of self includes the separate self, but adds to it the infinite number of interconnections he shares with the rest of the universe–not as something he knows about, but rather as something he feels and experiences. As we go further, I’ll explain what I mean by that. The view of the Magician, however, is an entirely new way of seeing oneself and the universe.
Let’s review the main achievements of the Strategist, so we can more easily see the progression from Strategist to Magician. The Strategist fully sees the self and its complex relationships with the rest of the world. He is able to understand and work with the shifting complexity of the multiple interconnected systems that make up his life. Instead of passively throwing up his hands at the paradoxical and constantly shifting relativity inherent in reality, as did the Individualist, he is able in any given moment to find a small spot on which to stand temporarily in order to take practical action in that moment–despite the fact that in the next moment the situation will likely shift.
The Strategist realizes that there are multiple ways of seeing the world, as did the Individualist, but the Strategist does not see all perspectives as equal. Some are better: they are more practical, more in tune with his values, his integrity, or the demands of the situation–even though what is “better” might possibly change in the next moment.
The Strategist, in addition to having mastered logical thinking, rationality, and cause and effect, also utilizes other forms of information, including dreams, the wisdom of his body, and intuition. And though his individual boundaries are solid, he feels deeply connected to the rest of humanity, seeing that beyond the limitless variations we’re also alike in fundamental ways.
The Magician shares these achievements, but takes them further, expressing them and utilizing them from a different sort of center. Instead of a separate “me” encapsulated in the body, the Magician’s center is larger, more expanded. He still has a sense of an individual self, but has begun to see (and feel) it as more of an abstraction, a construct, an idea, than as an solid or intrinsic reality. Though one perspective through which the world can be viewed, the subject/object, “me/not-me” distinction seems confining and no longer represents his full experience of reality.
As Susanne Cook-Greuter puts it, the Magician realizes that
…the “ego” has functioned both as a central processing unit for stimuli and as a central point of reference and self-identity. Once they realize this fundamental ego-centricity, it is felt as a constraint to further growth and understanding. Magicians start to wonder about the meaningfulness of more and more complex thought structures and integrations such as can be imagined with a fifth or nth person perspective. They start to realize the absurdity or automatic limits of human map making in the representational domain.
In other words, the ego at this stage has become transparent to itself. The final knowledge of the self sought by the Strategist is now seen to be impossible, because the self is now seen for what it is: a construct, an idea, a way of structuring reality, but not as a real “thing”–just as the border between the US and Canada is just a useful, but imaginary, line. Instead of the self being experienced solely in the individual organism, as in the previous developmental stages, there are now moments when it seems to include everything, the entire universe (an experience more fully integrated in the next developmental stage, the Ironist).
This is more than just a new way of thinking. It is, rather, a new experience of self that includes the previous experience of a separate self while adding not just a knowledge of one’s connection to everything else, but the actual experience of those connections as the self.
Part of this shift is due to the Magician’s insight that language, with its bias toward separate “subjects” who then do something to other separate “objects,” along with social conditioning and mental map-making, are attempts to freeze or pin down an always-moving, infinitely complex, constantly unfolding multidimensional process into static and enduring things. These conditioned habits are seen for what they are: useful, perhaps, in order to navigate the world, but confining and illusion-creating.
The Magician begins to see that all the things humans do to mentally construct an enduring separate self are nothing more than attempts to make sense of the impermanence of human existence and to defend against the fear and self-doubt this creates–a resistance to the reality of the human predicament. On the other hand, he also acknowledging that doing so is a normal reaction to that predicament. The Magician sees the enormity of the existential paradox–and sees that there is no way out of it–but does not judge others for their attempts to come to terms with it.
(Eventually, in the highest developmental stages, in a small number of individuals, there is a complete surrender to this human predicament, to the fact that life is impermanent, and does involve suffering no matter what we do. This surrender is not unlike that of a person with a terminal illness who final comes to peace with his situation and thereafter radiates an equanimity that dramatically affects all those with whom he comes into contact.)
Being less identified with the separate self, the Magician no longer feels the need to defend it. This gives rise to a new spontaneity and a new sense of freedom. It may also cause others to see him as flaky or ungrounded if they take seriously what the Magician now sees as merely mental constructs. Since they have deconstructed what so many others take as truth and reality and few others see the world as they do, Magicians can often feel isolated from others.
We’ve noted that the Strategist has reached the highest level of rational meaning-making viewed from the perspective of a separate self. The Magician, having reached this peak, now begins to see through his own meaning-making. He sees the inherent contradictions in rational subject/object-based thought and the construction of more and more complex maps of reality. For the Magician, the map clearly is NOT the same as the territory. No map can remotely contain what it seeks to represent, and the Magician’s experience of reality has outstripped the ability of any map to contain or even come close to representing it.
The Magician has, for instance, become keenly aware that all rational map-making (including that underlying the mental creation of a separate self) involves the splitting of all processes and ideas into mutually exclusive polar opposites (good/bad, here/there, having/not having, buying/selling, up/down, life/death, etc.). It becomes increasingly obvious that this dualistic way of looking at the world fails to take into account, first of all, the arbitrary nature of all these divisions, and the fact that each pair of opposites arise together and depend upon each other (both sides of the polarity are defined in terms of the other). It becomes clear to the Magician that human unhappiness is largely the result of the tensions created as the world is arbitrarily parsed into approriate and inappropriate.
Partly for this reason, Magicians seek to undo the tethers they feel to the rational mind, to subject/object thinking, to unconscious conditioned responses, to social conditioning, and to the pseudo-reality imposed by language. They create this disidentification through close observation of their own emotional and mental processing. As they watch, they begin to realize that their processing behavior is largely a defense–a futile attempt to permanently pin things down as a way of denying the impermanence of the embodied self.
The Individualist and the Strategist, then, are able to see through social conditioning, while the Magician sees through the predicament of the entire human situation. This is a shocking realization, and Magicians often feel a deep existential angst until (and unless) they surrender–like the terminally ill person above–to what they have discovered. Unfortunately this surrender generally does not happen until the next developmental level.
There are two changes in perspective that contribute to the shift from a locus of control and experience centered in the separate, embodied self, and toward a more expanded self beyond the ego and the body. First, in gaining distance from the internal processes underlying the Magician’s personal “story” and his map of reality, the Magician sees that what he thought was “reality” is really just one of an infinite number of possible (self-created) realities. If what he always thought was reality isn’t reality, then what is? This ability to see his own map-making enlarges the search for meaning to realms beyond the separate self and its rational meaning-making.
Second, this new ability to witness internal processes previously identified as “me” can sometimes lead to spontaneous experiences of the transcendent, where knower and known, subject and object merge, and the personal, limited self disappears.
Watching the ego’s stream of thoughts and feelings, but without becoming involved in them or trying to do anything about them (“watching thoughts go by like clouds in the sky”) creates freedom from the ego’s constant efforts at control and its moment-by-moment creation of a separate self. But once the Magician stops to “admire his work” or evaluate and analyze these experiences, he pops the still-fragile Oneness balloon. One of the characteristics of this stage is an ability to visit the transcendent, but without being able to reside there permanently. Giving up a separate self with which we’ve identified for so long, and which we’ve so strongly relied upon to make sense of our life, is difficult, and seeing the Promised Land without being able to move in is frustrating for the Magician.
When a full disidentification with the illusory separate self does happen to a human being, it isn’t the result of intentional actions. Ken Wilber has said, with tongue in cheek, that experiences of the transcendent are accidental, but that meditation makes one “more accident prone.” A permanent dropping of the separate self is in the same category–when it happens, it is an accident, but if one develops the expanded perspective that allows deconstruction of the separate self, one becomes more accident prone. Ironically, using the self to try to drop the self just reinforced the very thing we’re trying to get rid of.
Magicians can feel alone in the world, as there are few others like them and few with whom they can share their experience and perspective of life. As a result, Magicians sometimes see themselves as “better” than others. At the same time, they appreciate that others have their own ways of making sense of life, giving them a greater tolerance for the points of view of others even while seeing the limitations of that point of view. Dealing with so much complexity, and so many paradoxes inherent in life, Magicians can sometimes feel nostalgic for the days when their perspective and their way of understanding life was simpler. If they have trouble coming to terms with the realizations they’ve had about the human condition, Magicians can become depressed.
With a highly developed view of his own past ways of meaning-making, the Magician is the first developmental level with a wide enough perspective to fully see, understand, and empathize with the existential situation of those at previous developmental levels, to appreciate the developmental strategies of others. This wider perspective also allows them to adopt strategies from previous levels where such strategies would be resourceful. This puts them in an ideal position to provide skillful and empathetic mentoring or coaching. Magicians are able, for instance, to meet the power plays of Opportunists with their own power in a way that those at previous levels could not. Having a lower need for ego gratification and an ability to put feelings of self-importance aside, they are often more effective in helping others than are Strategists.
In the next post I’ll look at the last level in Susanne Cook-Greuter’s model of human development, the Ironist.
A few quick announcements before I go:
The May 2-3 Seattle workshop I’ll be doing with Zen master Genpo Roshi is full, in fact over-full (there is a waiting list). We are, however, going to do another workshop in New York, June 28-29.
I HAVE NOT TOLD ANYONE ABOUT THIS WORKSHOP–YET. I’M TELLING THOSE OF YOU WHO READ THIS BLOG FIRST, WHICH GIVES YOU FIRST SHOT AT THE SEATS–which I know will go fast. We will be mailing to the entire Centerpointe list about it soon, however.
The last time I did an event in New York–in 2003 on the evening of the day I spoke at the United Nations–it filled up almost literally overnight, with people flying in from Europe, Iceland, and even South America. And that was without the additional attraction of Genpo Roshi. If you want a spot at this workshop, this is your chance to move to the front of the line.
There are two main benefits to working with Genpo and me in New York. First, with the Big Mind process you WILL be able to have an experience of transcendent, unity consciousness, something that traditionally takes years or even decades of sitting in meditation to achieve.
That, in and of itself, is enough reason to be there.
Second, Big Mind is the most powerful tool I’ve ever seen for dealing with the shadow aspects of yourself that unconsciously create your suffering. A great deal of the Big Mind process involves healing these shadow aspects, and as you do this, huge positive changes happen.
Finally, just to be with Genpo Roshi is an amazing experience. If you go back to the post I did (about the third week of February) right after our LA workshop and read the comments posted by those who were there, you’ll see that everyone described it as the most amazing experience of their entire lives.
So, if you’re interested in being with us in New York, May 2-3, go to www.centerpointe.com/bigmind right now and reserve your seat. Both LA and Seattle sold out within days of my announcing them, and I suspect the same thing will happen with New York.
Here’s the other opportunity I want to tell you about. My good friend Dr. Jim Hardt is the world’s greatest authority on brainwave biofeedback, and I have frequently recommended his 7-day Alpha Brainwave training as being life-changing. It is, however, pretty expensive. Dr. Hardt has been gracious enough to extend a 20% discount to Centerpointe people, but even with this discount the training still isn’t cheap (though VERY worth it).
To allow more people to benefit, I suggested to Dr. Hardt that he create a way for you to observe a training as it happens, in the same way that musicians attend master classes with world-class musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma. Jim liked this idea and responded by creating an Alpha Brain Wave Master Class, where you see the process in action–while becoming an expert on brainwaves, biofeedback, processing unresolved material as it comes up, and a lot more.
This training is DIRT CHEAP, and very worth attending. They are held in the San Francisco Bay area, the next one starts May 3rd, and you can read all about it at http://www.biocybernaut.com/alphamasterclass.htm.
Dr. Hardt told me about the first of these Master Classes last weekend. I understand those in attendance were, literally, in ecstacy by the end. So go read the information about it, and then give Dr. Hardt a call and get to know him. I highly suggest that you at least click on the link and read the description.
And, finally, in my next post I’ll finish the Cook-Grueter developmental levels by describing the Ironist, the final level. Now, I’m off to lead a Centerpointe retreat.
(click the player above to listen to this post)
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