Dustin DiPerna is a dynamic young integral leader who has traveled all over the world, working as a bridge-builder, a scholar, a teacher, and an entrepreneur. He continues to make fresh, dynamic, original contributions to contemporary spiritual culture.
He is also a friend. Dustin and I bonded immediately when we first met, even as the classic intergenerational tensions arose between us, particularly when he began putting forth his work in the public space. We’ve always spoken frankly and we’ve forged a deeper friendship in the process.
What does it mean to go “beyond mindfulness?” Dustin defines mindfulness as “the capacity to bring the full attention of one’s presence to the moment, to be aware of body sensations, thoughts, and emotions — without judgment—and the recognition that we are not these sensations, thoughts and emotions.”
But that’s not the end of the path, nor is it enough. Beyond mindfulness, there is an awakening of free consciousness and an opening of the heart. As we expand our capacity to care and to love, we begin to feel that our own awareness isn’t contained within our personality structure.
Ultimately we can recognize a reality that’s non-separate, a reality that’s unbounded wholeness. It’s from that awakening that effective action in the world can spring forth. That’s why we have to go “beyond mindfulness” into awakening.
But there’s a paradox. As the title of this series, Beyond Awakening suggests, not only is mindfulness insufficient for addressing our world crisis, but even awakening has to evolve. It must become “mutual awakening” and “awakening in action” and “awakened citizenship.” A new paradigm of awakening is in the process of emerging.
But integral consciousness goes beyond either/or thinking to both/and thinking. At the same time, even though mindfulness may not be sufficient, it is a very good thing that it’s finding cultural acceptance. The mainstreaming of this “beginner’s practice” of mindfulness, from Silicon Valley to suburbia, is undeniably positive. At least some kind of consciousness practice is now arriving in the lives of many more people. This has a potential for significant societal impact and uplift.
Dustin pointed to the 1960s and the emergence of post-modern consciousness. Some people turned our attention inward, beginning to examine consciousness with psychedelics and the exploration of Eastern meditation traditions. Many also turned our attention outward, mobilizing to affect the world in a positive way, through civil rights, social justice and environmental activism.
Both the inward and the outward efforts were positive and had cultural impact, but individually each was limited. If we only do the inward work we may never “leave the cushion.” But if we neglect our inward work, and charge forth to change the world, we tend to suffer marginalization and depletion.
Dustin claims that if we can truly bring these two streams together, to both “wake up and show up,” in an activism that doesn’t perpetuate separation, what can result is an inexhaustible sense of love and the capacity to move into the world in a dynamic way.
Mindfulness is a gateway into this integration of awareness and activism. The “paradox” is resolved if we can support and appreciate its infiltration into larger culture, while helping people to understand what mindfulness is and isn’t—where it is useful and where it has limitations.
Our intergenerational differences have been a rich source of creative “friction” for us, so it seemed important to go there during our dialogue. I asked Dustin to share what he is noticing about those differences among his contemporaries. For his part, Dustin suggested that we describe the archetypes, and the critiques, that we’ve experienced in each other’s generation.
Dustin says his generation can often mistake information for experience, and fail to respect and honor the experience of the spiritual practitioners who have come before. And that’s a pitfall.
At the same time, they benefit from the legacy of baby boomers and Gen-Xers who have enabled later generations to be exposed in their teens and early twenties to integral and evolutionary philosophical frameworks, giving them a much richer understanding of esoteric wisdom traditions. As a result, practitioners of Dustin’s generation have a certain acuity and quickness.
This “quickness” is often where the intergenerational tension arises. But it’s also where the possibility for a powerful intergenerational synergy arises. With sufficient humility and mutual respect, the depth of older practitioners who have experienced loss, acquired wisdom, and sustained commitments over time, can interact synergistically with the quickness and adaptability of younger practitioners.
I observed that younger practitioners are not engaging the sustained, self-transcending, whole-being surrender that practitioners of my generation dedicated to our spiritual schools and teachers. My own root guru, Adi Da intruded deeply into my life, demanding a whole life of practice. Because I trusted him more than I trusted myself, I was able to transcend my preferences and patterns and discover remarkable freedom and profound growth.
This level of submission is now unthinkable amongst Dustin and his contemporaries. For good reasons. But there is something lost too. Surrender to a teacher enables the practitioner to go beyond one’s preferences in ways that are sometimes extremely uncomfortable. This makes real transformation and ego transcendence possible.
Dustin posited that there has been an “upgrade” to that kind of teacher-student relationship, based on what his generation learned from mine. It’s a more nuanced approach to devotion that is context and content-specific, based on a teacher’s particular gifts. He says, “we are submitting, but we’re submitting to particular aspects of the beings to whom we’re devoted, and not to the whole being.”
To keep a balanced perspective, I asked the simple question that the gurus who taught my generation would have posed about this “upgraded” spiritual path, “Yes, but who’s making the choice?” (If it’s influenced by the contracted, reactive, compensatory patterns of what we usually call “the ego,” it may not really be an “upgrade.”)
We both agreed that one of the things that excites and compels us is the emergence of integral we-space practices and the collective awakening that is possible in mutuality.
Dustin said that this mutuality enables us to live in evolutionary ecosystems which can maximize learning. A healthy evolutionary ecosystem is one where we have all of the following kinds of relationships:
- People that we’re learning from.
- People who we’re mentoring or teaching.
- People that we’re in mutuality with, peers with whom we share a similar level of development.
I agreed, but suggested something even more radical—regarding everyone (whether “above” or “below” us) as our teacher, friend, and as someone in need of our love and wisdom—a view of reality in which we’re all teachers and students and friends to one another.
It was a rich conversation. We also touched on “the way of effort” and “the way of grace,” the importance of relating to our “outer work” as lovers—and much, much more.
I invite you to listen in here.