This past Sunday I was joined by integral philosopher and author Steve McIntosh for a conversation entitled:
The Love of God and Non-Dual Samadhi:
How Evolutionary Spirituality Integrates Our Highest Spiritual Experiences
Steve McIntosh is an important integral philosopher and the author of three books. His just-released book is The Presence of the Infinite. He’s also written Evolution’s Purpose and Integral Consciousness. In addition to his work in spiritual philosophy, Steve is also co-founder and president of The Institute for Cultural Evolution, an integral political think tank.
What I appreciate about Steve is his rare combination of virtues. He brings original philosophical insight, eloquence, passion, and deep dedication to something greater — the same larger project that inspires my own work. That project is building the new integral evolutionary worldview, strengthening integral evolutionary culture, and helping it gain mainstream influence.
Steve is also a good friend, in no small part because our conversations are so often invigorating, provocative, and full of original ideas. Sunday’s dialogue was no exception, with Steve sharing many of the luminous and fragrant distinctions that he’s elaborated in his new book, while I offered some creative challenges to his theories in the hope of promoting new understandings and truths.
Steve pointed out that although it has diverse applications across culture, the field of human endeavor where the integral perspective is arguably most illuminating is in the realm of spirituality, and this is the area — integral evolutionary spirituality — that he explores in The Presence of the Infinite. (I’ll use the term “evolutionary spirituality” for the sake of brevity going forward. Steve uses “integral” and “evolutionary” interchangeably).
And the stakes are high. Steve feels that the spiritual renaissance that could result from the emergence and proliferation of evolutionary spirituality could result in an evolution of consciousness that could be as powerful as scientific medicine in terms of improving the human condition.
Transcending and including the best of what has come before, evolutionary spirituality can overcome the limitations of religious, secular, and progressive spirituality by, among other things, harmonizing science and spirit. This means reintroducing rational thinking into spiritual experience but without the hyper-rationality of modernity, in essence bringing back Truth into the realm of the Good and the Beautiful.
During the first half hour of our dialogue Steve laid out a brilliant tour de force summary of many of his book’s key concepts and distinctions. It’s far too rich to lay out in this blog post, but if you listen to the recording you’ll learn about the role of philosophy in evolutionary spirituality, transcending the cultural stuckness that blocks progressive spirituality from mainstream acceptance, an explanation of polarity theory and the fractal nature of positive-positive polarities, and the specifics of the “attractor basins” that act as engines of evolution within value-creating polarities. If this all sounds esoteric, I promise Steve managed to ground it in understandable language!
Steve’s rich summary set the foundation for our discussion of one of the most intriguing of the distinctions in The Presence of the Infinite, and the one we’d decided to explore — the interdependent “positive-positive” spiritual polarity of the experience of the love of God, and the experience of non-dual Samadhi.
Non-Dual Samadhi has been described by saints and sages throughout history as a unitive experience of ultimate reality. Subject and object become one and the limitations, and boundaries, of the separate self dissolve.
Steve says the non-dual path was claimed by progressive spirituality out of the “green meme” counter-culturists of the sixties who felt it was a path more conducive to cultural and spiritual development than the traditional western theistic spiritual paths. He sees the broad acceptance of non-duality as a huge accomplishment of progressive spirituality.
But Steve says this accomplishment has been at a cost. In the process of overcoming the self, non-dualists lose the uniqueness and originality that each of us can offer as agents of evolution. If there is no separation, we may even handicap our ability to love, since love is irreducibly original and relational. He says we risk love becoming little more that a slogan.
In evolutionary spirituality, according to Steve, relational love of our Creator and our fellows becomes available once again. Evolutionary spirituality transcends the pathologies of traditional theistic spirituality, “teasing apart the dignities from the disasters,” and rediscovering the theistic truth of a Loving God that beholds our fears and our setbacks, our trials and our triumphs, and who knows us and loves us as sons and daughters.
Steve concluded that as a positive-positive polarity, Non-duality and Love of God challenge and complement each other. Each contains the fractal essence of the other, like the white dot in the black wave, and the black dot at the center of the white wave in the Yin Yang symbol. Each allows the other to be what they truly are, working off of each other and advancing the best in each, comprising the engine of evolution that’s needed to bring about a spiritual renaissance and advance culture.
I resonated with many of the distinctions that Steve brought forth in his discussion of the polarity of the Love of God and Non-Dual Samadhi. I appreciate and participate in both these “attractor basins” of spirituality in my own life and in my teachings. In fact, one of my core teachings, The Integral Heart points directly to their inseparability.
But my experience of the relationship between what Steve distinguishes as two “poles” has been different. I don’t see non-duality and love of God as being fundamentally separate. For me, the love of God follows naturally from Non-Dual awakening. Awakening from a radical presumption of separateness is what has released me to incarnate more fully as an embodied soul, with free choice, able to embrace conditional existence more fully and passionately. This has allowed my relationship to the Mystery, or God, to open up, liberating me to love and serve in a whole different way.
Further, in my experience, non-duality contains the seeds of everything it needs in order to outgrow its limited expressions, such as a transcendentalist bias. I wondered if perhaps the limitations that Steve was pointing to weren’t so much a deficiency of non-duality itself, but rather the immaturity of how non-duality expresses itself among some individuals.
Steve agreed that immaturity is inevitable at all stages of spirituality, even at the level of evolutionary spirituality. He described what he sees as my spontaneous, natural engagement with the polarity of non-duality and love of God over a lifetime of practice. He suggested that perhaps this is why I don’t emphasize the distinction, when in fact he sees this engine of evolution underlying all of my teachings and work.
He then pointed to the way he and I were relating in our dialogue at that moment, as an example of the polarity at work, with non-duality transcending its limitations and advancing us, and our listeners, to a new understanding. Appreciating each other tremendously, we didn’t arrive at a new static agreement, but instead agreed to bookmark our conversation and continue our dialogue into the future.
We also discussed some of the ways that Steve experiences the love of God in his everyday life — through his love for his son, through his gratitude for the beauty of the natural world, in loving God and being loved in return, in a kind of divine circuitry of love.
I also shared how my practice and teachings, informed by Adi Da and Kashmir Saivism, include both non-dual awakening and devotional communion. The yoga of Love also opens the subtle body and transfigures the body-mind, so that we conduct more life and consciousness. We continually re-awaken until, non-separate, we truly see God in everything, including whomever is in front of us.