Your Unique Self: Giving Your Gift — Dr. Marc Gafni
Bert Parlee: Marc has an incredible breadth of wisdom and
knowledge, not only in the spiritual traditions, but his doctorate is
from Oxford, he’s a scholar, speaks various languages, and the way
he weaves stories, drawing from all streams of life that he brings
into his very embodied organic teaching style. Welcome Marc.
Marc Gafni: We’re here to talk about “Unique Self.” I’d like to
lay out for you a teaching I’m calling “New Enlightenment of
• Publications and where to find more information:
• “Unique Self in Non-Dual Humanism.” I’ve published this
work in a formal academic way through SUNY Press. It
traces a 2,000 year-old Aramaic lineage, which is one of the
sources I’m drawing on in Unique Self.
• My personal website: www.marcgafni.com
• “Journal of Integral Theory and Practice,” an academically
peer-reviewed journal; I edited edition Journal 6.1 which is on
Unique Self. We called it the “new chapter in Integral
• “Your Unique Self: The Future of Enlightenment” –
forthcoming. More of a public “dharma” book.
• What I want to share with you is a deep unfolding, deep within
lineages, deep within your own source code, and brings together
the best of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern streams of
insights. It forms the newest chapter of integral theory from
one perspective, and also the next stage of what I’m calling the
“future of enlightenment” from a different perspective.
• Who cares about enlightenment? That’s our first powerful
question. Or said differently, “What is enlightenment?” If we
knew what it is, we might be able to figure out who cares.
• Unique Self is, first and foremost, an enlightenment teaching.
That’s the frame we’re in. An enlightenment teaching does not
claim that the teacher is enlightened. It just claims that it’s an
enlightenment teaching, and we all teach what we need to learn.
What Is Enlightenment?
• Enlightenment is sanity… to be sane. We usually think of
enlightenment as a very sophisticated, high-end, leading edge of
accomplishment, which is realized by a few old men, and perhaps
a couple of women, hidden in the back streets of Jerusalem and
the peaks of the Himalayas, Nepal, maybe a Sufi somewhere in
the Middle East, etc.
• If that’s true, enlightenment is interesting, but obviously not
that compelling, because it doesn’t talk to a lot of people; not a
lot of people realize it, right? And, it doesn’t have much to do
with mainstream culture or the way we live.
• A more precise definition which leads us toward the
“democratization” of enlightenment is: “Enlightenment is sanity.”
That’s a big deal… who doesn’t want to be sane? To be “not
enlightened,” or to live in “normal” consciousness, is insane.
• What does that mean? Let’s look at that together. What does it
mean to be sane? It means to know who I am; to know my
• If I said to you, “hey, I’m Bert Parlee,” eventually if I kept
insisting that was true, at some point people would start
labeling me crazy; “he doesn’t know who he is.” So to be sane
means to know my identity. I know who I am; I know my true
nature; I know my true identity.
• My identity is not that of being a limited, small self, not merely
being a skin-encapsulated ego. My identity is not only the small-
self separate personality of Marc Gafni. That’s only part of
who I am. My “partness” is not my wholeness. My partness is
actually part of a larger whole, the larger One, the seamless
coat of the universe.
• I’m not merely a separate self, but as I move beyond the
illusion of my separate self, and access my identity, which is
my true nature, then I’m living in my “true self” – from separate
self to true self – and my true self, my true nature, my true
identity, which is that I am part of a larger whole, the great
fabric system depth of the cosmos. I’m not separate.
• Because if I’m separate, all that I have available to me is the
limited power, the limited love, the limited laughter, the limited
energy, the limited joy, the limited prosperity, of my separate
self. Which is pretty limited.
• But if I actually experience myself as I truly am, that I am
part of this larger field of being and becoming, that’s alive and
moving through me, in me, and as me, and there’s separation in
the mind of god, the uni-verse, the one great verse of reality
which courses through the verbs and adjectives and dangling
modifiers in my life… when I realize that to be not a dogma, but
a dharma truth that is lived and accessed in the first-person,
then I begin to access and live from infinite power, infinite love,
infinite laughter, infinite energy, infinite joy, and infinite
prosperity. I move beyond the limitation of the illusion of the
separate self. And that’s a big deal.
• So why does that matter? Because normal consciousness is
insane. How do I know that? Normal consciousness produces
“dukkha” – suffering. Normal conscious who lives under the
undispelled illusion of being merely a separate self, grasps;
desperately seeks in all the wrong places, to reify that sense of
• The person who lives in the illusion of the separate self wakes
up in the morning and says, “I exist,” but they don’t really
believe it. Then they (I) spend the rest of the day trying to
prove to myself that I exist, because I don’t have a genuine
sense of my own existence.
• Trying to prove to myself that I’m actually eternal beyond the
fragility of my mortal self, I don’t actually have a lived sense of
my eternity, of my own depth, of my own infinite goodness, value
and beloved nature. So I grasp for what I have. I don’t actually
experience myself as being inside the circle of love, inside the
circle of Eros, inside the circle of infinity. I don’t really
experience myself as being in the interior face of the cosmos;
I’m not really on the inside.
• So I place you on the outside, giving me an illusion of being on
the inside. And I draw a line in between us. That’s the beginning
of hatred, war, all that causes brutal destruction.
• If this sounds to you like an interesting spiritual idea, but –
Hello! let’s get down to real life! – just notice that 100 million
people were brutally killed in the last century by people who
lived in normal consciousness. So normal consciousness is
insane. To kill 100 million people in a century, for no genuine
reason – not to assert or move anything forward, just because
the human ego thinks that it is merely a separate self,
desperately lashing out in order to feel its own sense of
existence, placing so many others outside of the circle in order
to have the pseudo-erotic illusion of being inside the circle.
That’s insanity; utterly crazy.
• When we live on an Earth in which there’s enough food and
resources to feed us all five times over, and 20 million children
die of starvation every year, and we’re talking about being sane?
Normal consciousness is insane.
• So enlightenment is about sanity. Sanity is about love. Love is
about the force of attraction. Love is about mutuality,
recognition, union and embrace. Love is the realization that we’re
all bound by invisible lines of connection; that we’re all part of
a larger whole; and if you’re not eating, then I’m starving.
• So enlightenment is about love. And the way to get to love is to
love your way to enlightenment. What does that mean? We’ll talk
about that later.
• The difference between “Bert” and “Marc” – we’re both men,
about the same height and weight, same general age category. To
mistake between me and Bert is a pretty minor mistake. A few
details here and there. Basically, we’re the same general genre
happening. It’s not that blatant of insanity.
• But to actually mistake your separate self as being all you are,
and not realize that you are a True Self, which is an in-
eradicable and indivisible part of the seamless coat of the
universe? The gap between that lack of realization, that illusion,
that limited sense of self? That’s truly insanity. So that’s
enlightenment, and it’s why we care about enlightenment.
#2: If that’s what enlightenment is; if it’s that important, that
transformative; if it is actually the source of love and
compassion, the source of all that’s virtuous and good; if it
actually would allow us to move beyond suffering, which is
precisely the promise of enlightenment teachers, then why isn’t
everybody rushing to buy this incredible product (putting it in
lower-right marketing terms)? Why isn’t everybody rushing to buy
it off the shelf? Why isn’t there an incredible desire for everybody
in the world rushing to become enlightened?
• Not only is that not happening, but actually, people don’t really
care about enlightenment. In my new book, “Your Unique Self,”
I insisted on putting a subtitle on it, “The Future of
Enlightenment.” The problem with putting “Enlightenment” in a
book title is that you automatically cut your audience by 2/3.
Because who cares about enlightenment?
• So it doesn’t make sense, friends. If enlightenment is that
important, if it’s knowing your true nature, if it’s sanity, if it
has the transformative potential to shift the way we live
together in this global commons, to end war and slavery because
there’s been a shift and deepening of our perception and knowing
of our True Nature and identity, and expanding our sense of
small-self and becoming Big Heart and Big Mind; if that’s truly
the case, and it is the case – that’s the great teaching of all
the enlightenment traditions – then why doesn’t anybody care?
Why isn’t this more popular? Why is this on the fringes of
society? That’s our second question.
#3: So what’s the answer? Some people say it’s because
enlightenment is hard; you have to practice a lot. People don’t want
to give up the comforts of the ego. People are unwilling to die to
their separate self. The enlightenment teachers tell us this, and
there’s some truth in it. But there seems to be more. Is it really
that people are too lazy, they’re really just afraid to die to their
separate self? Don’t people realize this would be an incredible, wild
gift to everyone? What’s the deeper reason that enlightenment
teachings actually don’t take hold in the general culture? Why
does it remain such a fringe part of our conversation?
• It’s not just that people aren’t willing to die to their separate
self. It’s more like people aren’t willing to lose a sense of their
• People feel, “my uniqueness is my personal identity; that’s who
I am. But if I become enlightened, I’ve got to leave that whole
separate self thing behind, and I just become part of the One,
which feels kind of blah. I become ‘blah-ified,’ amorphic. I
lose my distinguishing characteristics, my uniqueness. I don’t
want to do that, because to lose my uniqueness, my distinction,
I feel is actually to lose myself; it’s actually to disappear.”
• It’s the fear of disappearing that prevents people from engaging
in enlightenment conversations.
#4: People are actually right, and most enlightenment teachers are
actually wrong. That is to say, that fear of getting lost, of losing
that sense of being a unique self, that sense of being
distinguished, that’s a correct fear. In fact, much enlightenment
teaching suggests that in order to be part of the One, you need to
leave that sense of your uniqueness behind.
#5: If you engage the dharma deeply, you realize it’s actually not
true [that you lose your unique self].
#6: You realize – and here’s the core of what we’re saying here,
the essence of what this Unique Self enlightenment teaching is –
we need to posit a central and compelling distinction between
“separateness” and “uniqueness.” That distinction allows for a
higher integral evolutionary embrace of the best teachings of East
and West, and allows us to evolve the dharma and evolve the very
trajectory of our own personal lives, and change everything.
#7: When we say “enlightenment,” what does that evoke in you?
“Enlightenment” comes from two separate places. On the one hand,
there’s Eastern enlightenment, dying to the separate self. That’s
true. That’s one form of enlightenment which says, “move beyond
your separate self, because your separate self is the source of
all suffering, and realize that you’re not a separate self, but you’re
a True Self. “
• That’s the Eastern enlightenment teachings, as well as appearing
very strongly in Western mystical esoteric traditions, and appears
in the first and second generations of Hasidism within Hebrew
mystical tradition. It appears in Meister Eckhart’s version of
Christianity and many other Christian thinkers. It appears in
certain versions of Islam.
• For the time being, we’ll refer to it as an Eastern teaching, to
identify it more readily, because it’s heavily associated with
Advaita Vedanta, with Theravadan Buddhism, Mahayana and
Vajrayana Buddhism, etc.
• This Eastern teaching is: 1) move beyond your separate self; 2)
the separate self is the source of all suffering; 3) when you
leave your separate self behind, you identify with your True Self
and come to know your True Nature, and begin to live in
fullness, enlightenment and joy.
• That’s one version of enlightenment. The problem is that
enlightenment is also evoked in another arena in history. When
you think about Enlightenment, you think about history 300-400
years ago, the mid 18th-century, the emergence of Western
Enlightenment, which, not coincidentally, uses the same word.
The purpose of Western Enlightenment which emerges in history
is not dissimilar from the purpose of Eastern Enlightenment… to
move beyond suffering.
• How do you do that? For Western Enlightenment, the way you
move beyond suffering is not to move beyond separate self, but
to affirm the dignity of separate self. When you don’t confirm
the dignity of the separate self, then you get suffering. When
the separate self isn’t a separate dignified monadic unit, not part
of a larger frame, i.e. a Church frame or a feudal frame, etc.,
that’s the source of suffering. So to move beyond suffering,
says Western Enlightenment, we need to affirm the separate
• That’s the problem; the reason enlightenment teaching doesn’t
take root in the West’s notion of individuality, which is the
affirmation of the dignity of the separate self as the root
source of moving beyond suffering.
• We have these two different teachings; each one representing a
major wellspring of knowing, gnosis, which live together today in
our Western world, and contradict each other exclusively. The
contradiction hasn’t, heretofore, been articulated. Therefore, we
don’t understand why the Western body-mind-heart resists
Eastern enlightenment. Because it violates the core source code
meta-structure of the Western psyche-body-heart-mind. So
what do we do?
#8: How do we resolve this tension in our hearts and souls, in the
heart-body-mind of culture, within our yearning and striving, within
our myths by which we want to live our lives? What is our grail
quest? To move beyond separate self, or to confirm the dignity of
separate self? What are we looking for?
#9: To understand what our grail quest is and bring the Eastern and
Western impulse to a higher evolutionary integral embrace, we need
to posit this central distinction in point #6 between separateness
and uniqueness. If we do this, we take an evolutionary momentous
• Both the West and East enlightenment teachings confuse
separateness and uniqueness. East says: move beyond your
separate self, and assume that your uniqueness was part of
being a separate self. One teacher and good friend says that
there’s no such thing as a “unique” spiritual experience. She
was teaching the classical dharma of Eastern enlightenment.
Move beyond your separate self, and your uniqueness is, ipso
facto, part of your separateness.
• The Course in Miracles says, if you think in any sense you’re
special and unique, you will not find peace. Because
specialness/uniqueness is a property of the separate self-ego.
• You’ll find this in many forms throughout this teaching, and it’s
a mistake. Because actually, if you clarify the dharma, you
realize that you can move beyond your separate self… Bert and
Marc can both move beyond their separate selves. We’re no long
skin-encapsulated egos. Bert and Marc both realize that we are
both together part of the seamless coat of the universe which,
while it’s seamless, is not featureless.
• Bert and Marc are each unique expressions, unique features, in
this seamless coat of the universe. Although Bert and Marc
participate in the same essence, we’re both “personal faces,”
personalized expressions of that essence. Although Bert and
Marc are part of the same True Self, and the total number of
True Selves are One, Bert and Marc are completely distinct as
• I can move beyond separate self, realize my True Self, but then
understand that there is no absolute True Self in existence in
the manifest world. Because every True Self sees through a
unique set of eyes. That perspective of True Self is Unique
• In the old enlightenment teaching, enlightenment had no
preferences and no perspective. Because there wasn’t the
understanding that perspective shapes reality. In the pre-modern
period, the notion of perception was that you were perceiving
what is. When we all perceive what is – the True Nature of the
Great One – then we’re all going to be part of that.
• But when I have the post-modern realization as the ontology of
perspective comes on line, I realize that enlightenment has
perspective, because everything has perspective. That’s precisely
what post-modernity teaches us. There is nothing that lives
independently of perspective. Everything is seen through the
prism of your unique perspective. In fact, your True Self plus
your unique perspective is your Unique Self.
• True Self + Perspective = Unique Self
• You are the personal face of essence, the particularized infinity
of God expressed through your unique face. That’s a big deal.
To wake up doesn’t merely mean to wake up beyond your
separate self to True Self, it means to wake up and realize
you’re not merely True Self, you’re Unique Self. You’re a
unique, particularized expression of All That Is, that lives in
you, as you, and through you. Therefore you have unique gifts
to give to the world that no one else in the world that ever was,
is, or will be, can give other than you. Your unique gift flows
directly from your unique perspective, your unique way of
seeing the world. The eyes to see that live in you are eyes that
give vision to the Divine, to All That Is, in a way that no one
• From a Unique Self perspective, to love God (being all three
faces – 1st, 2nd, 3rd person – of All That Is) means to let God
see through your eyes. To not love God is to become bland, to
blend, either into one great undifferentiated blob of True Self,
which is often how classical enlightenment is presented, and not
to actually realize your distinction as a personalized face of
• That’s a big distinction. We say to our Eastern Enlightenment
friends: yes, we need to move beyond separate self in order to
heal suffering. But when we move beyond separate self, we don’t
actually eradicate uniqueness, because separateness and
uniqueness are two different things. I can not be a separate
self and absolutely be a Unique Self, which is the unique
expressive perspective of my True Self.
#10. The West makes the same mistake in its enlightenment
teaching. The West says that in order to achieve enlightenment you
need to affirm the dignity of your separate self. But that’s
actually not true. Why?
• The West says that all love, relationship, accountability,
responsibility and virtue is based on two separate selves being in
relationship to each other. If you leave behind separate self and
become part of the One, then you lose relationship and lose
responsibility and you lose love. But that’s not true; it’s a
mistake in the Western dharma. Because actually, in order to
have love, relationship, virtue, accountability and responsibility,
you don’t need separate self; you need only Unique Self.
• The West can actually accept the East; you can move beyond
your separate self, and not lose the core basis of Western
ethics, which is relationship, love, accountability and virtue.
Because they exist between Unique Selves, who realize that
they’re not separate; they’re part of the seamless coat of the
universe which is seamless but not featureless, uniquely
expressed in their unique face’s features.
• The limitation, the mistake of the Eastern dharma of
enlightenment is a confusion between separateness and
uniqueness from one perspective. And the mistake in the
Western version of enlightenment is also confusion between
separateness and uniqueness. Unique Self becomes the higher
embrace, the apex, which receives the best of West and East,
merging them into a genuine higher embrace; a powerful
expression of West-meets-East in the highest and most
beautiful way, the Unique Self, which transcends and includes
the best of Western and Eastern Enlightenment.
• Eastern Enlightenment is always a state, moving beyond your
separate self to realize your True Self. Western Enlightenment
is a structural stage, a recognition of your uniqueness and an
infinitely dignified individual. Unique Self is where states and
structure stages meet. Unique Self is both the highest state
experience of enlightenment, and it’s also the highest structure
stage of enlightenment.
• That gives us a pretty gorgeous vision, a direction, an obligation
to actually realize, to clarify, our perspective. To clarify the
obfuscating prisms of false self, to clarify the obscuring
grasping of small-self ego, to clarify our perspective. So we see
the world in a particular way, and what emerges from that
perspective is our unique gift that only we have to give.
• Then we’re filled with incredible joy; we realize that we’re
ultimately needed. Our deed is God’s need. That which we can
give, we can gift to the world as Unique Self, can only be given
by us, and is needed by All That Is. No matter what I do; work,
meditate, chant, pray, clarify myself to be the most enlightened
being on the planet. And I’ll never be able to give the unique gift
of Bert Parlee. Each of us has our Unique Self gifts to give
which bring us essential joy. Bert and Marc can meet, not in the
place of egoic grasping, jealousy, brutal subtle competitiveness
that often exists between men, but actually in a place of wild
• Because love at its core is not an emotion. In the inter-
subjective space between people – love is a perception. Love is
to have eyes to see, for each of us to see other and say, “oh
my God, that’s gorgeous! What a unique set of gifts he has
that he’s giving in the world, and there’s no way I can give
them.” But I don’t need to have to give them. Because only my
grasping ego wants to give Bert’s gifts. Only a disconnection and
alienation from my uniqueness. When I’m actually living in my
uniqueness, paradoxically when I meet Bert, I’m opened up to
his uniqueness. And I’m utterly delighted.
• This is where the Course in Miracles makes a mistake. It says
that you’re not special. Wrong. You are special. The Course in
Miracles fails to distinguish between levels of consciousness.
At the level of grasping, egoic, separate self, you’re not special.
That’s the apparent specialness of the pseudo-ego, grasping for
its pseudo-Eros. But when I move beyond that limited, narrow,
brutal sense of being special, which is destructive and often
malicious, I realize in classical enlightenment my True Self,
then awaken to the new enlightenment of Unique Self, that every
True Self sees through a unique set of eyes, then I’m special
and you’re special. Awesome! Let’s be special together. We can
delight in our specialness.
• Then we begin to engage in a Unique Self Encounter, which is
when we meet and realize we each have a piece of each other’s
story. The ethics of our encounter is when we exchange with
each other those pieces of each other’s story. Wow, that’s a
whole different world.
Bert: Your message inspires in me the passion to recognize one’s
obligation to fulfill one’s manifest destiny; to realize the sanity as
the heart of the natural enlightened self, which is different than
the craziness of the ordinary self in the world, where, as you
identified, so many bad things happen, even with the best of
• You’re identifying the nature of Unique Self striving for a rich
contribution of an individual’s offering which only they can give
in this place and time, and for us to live out our spiritual
destiny is to live into that place, not deny it, bring it forth and
create a world of greater goodness, truth and beauty, based on
love, and yielding happiness in the best sense of the word.
• You mentioned malice, a very important principle in spiritual
practice, actually. Sometimes in our sensitive selves, the parts
of us that want to, rightfully, embrace diversity and the range
of multicultural strivings in the world, we sometimes feel shy
about naming that one [malice]. One of the things I love about
your teaching is that you’re willing to go there. We’re going to
be looking at where we’ve been, and of course there are many
challenges on the road ahead, many things unfolding in the world.
What might you say, in terms of how Unique Self may try to
address what many might call “evil” in the world? And how do
we address this “malice” problem?
Marc: In my forthcoming book, “Unique Self: The Future of
Enlightenment,” there is a chapter on malice. Some people asked
what malice was doing in it; mostly they were from the human
potential and new-age movements. There’s a lack of recognition of
malice. It’s caused more mistakes, in judgment, in policy… I’ve had
enormous experience with it over the years and have looked at it
• Malice is the opposite of love. Love is a unique self-perception.
Malice, in the interpersonal realm, is denial of Unique Self. Love
in the evolutionary third-person realm (Dante’s “the force that
moves the sun and the stars”), love as the Eros of evolution, as
the connectivity, mutuality, recognition, union, and embrace –
malice is its flip-opposite; again, in the third-person force, it’s
the force of disintegration, of alienation, of disconnection, or
the opposite of religion (re-ligere), the deconstruction in all of
• Malice is the denial of Unique Self. When one denies another’s
Unique Self, and identifies them with whatever particular
weakness one has been able to find (and we can find one in
everyone), then one exaggerates and expands that weakness, and
distorts it, magnifies it, we get malice.
• The failure of the new age to recognize malice is an enormous
failure. Someone can talk to a new age leader and completely
character assassinate another person, and the new age leader
will think, “wow, that must be really legitimate, it must come
from a really deep place.” They actually don’t recognize that
they’ve just met Malice. One of the great things that Scott
Peck did – I think his best contribution was a book called
“People of the Lie.” It deals with malice; he recognizes malice,
and puts it in a kind of Christological frame, which I think is
unnecessary, but from an existential perspective, malice is real.
I think the best person who wrote on it was a British
psychoanalyst named Joseph Burke, “The Tyranny of Malice,”
which is an excellent and classical work.
• It’s critical to recognize malice, because when we don’t, we
don’t factor it into our policy decisions, in our realpolitik.
Malice is a real force.
• Can malice be transformed? Sure it can. But first it has to be
recognized. Even malice that you don’t act out can emerge in
you, and you recognize, “wow, that’s malice.” That’s a big deal.
• One of the easiest ways to find malice, Bert, is to find jealousy.
Jealousy is one of the ways that, while it might not devolve into
actual malice, it’s a place we can access a twinge of malice.
• Another place we can access malice in the world is in the
blogosphere. There’s a lot of the Good, the True and the
Beautiful in the blogosphere, but it’s also often motivated by
malice. Where you have people who are self-appointed vigilantes,
who never have an actual face-to-face conversation with anyone
in a genuine way. Face-to-face means Unique Self to Unique
Self. “Face” is an expression of Unique Self, the 45 muscles
in the face which are about unique expression. There’s never a
face-to-face contact, there’s never a desire for transformation.
There’s a person, sitting in their basement blogging away,
attacking people they don’t know, they’ve never sat and had dinner
• They attack, gather information, distort it, and they’re motivated
by the energy, often, of malice. It’s an animating energy. Malice
has energy, it has power. It moves things. Just like love moves
the sun and the stars, malice negatively animates and drives
• So while I wasn’t going to take the conversation in that
direction, I very much appreciate your pointing it out. Malice
usually emerges from a person who hasn’t realized any
dimension of their Unique Self. The shadow of malice emerges
when a person’s Unique Self is so distorted, so obscured, that
they cannot have a sense of the fullness of their own life, so
they only derive energy through a kind of gratuitous, distorted,
exaggerated attack on other, that gives them a sense of meaning.
• I know that people listening would rather hear me talk about
love and light, and I love to talk about love and light. If I want
to be anything in the world, it’s a lover… of men, women, children
and goats. Love not in the sexual sense, but in the beautiful
recognition of union and embrace.
• We can’t be evolutionary lovers unless we’re willing to recognize
malice as it arises in our self, as it arises in our “we” space, to
actually address and confront it directly. That’s such an
important perception, I completely appreciate you bringing that
Bert: I appreciate you finding the incredible value and importance
of that part of the shadow, which is, of course, so much of
what spiritual practice does well to involve us with, if we’re really
going to deepen ourselves into realization, enlightenment, whatever
we might call that living out as our fullest, deepest purpose as
Unique Selves, we do well to look at our shadows.
• One of the things that comes up with any new way that we
have to realize ourselves, and you’re developing a whole great new
model here, how would you say we protect ourselves against
sometimes very clever “spiritual materialism of the ego,” as
Chogyam Rinpoche called it, when, even unbeknownst to
ourselves in some ways, we narcissistically reify and glamorize
in our vanity, ourselves; the Tibetans call this “rudrahood”… an
attempt at enlightenment of the ego, by the ego. Which of
course doesn’t happen, but does create a clever façade and a
story of self-deception. What do you say to people who want
to embrace the light, realization and love of cultivating Unique
Selves, and how to guard against this very tricky way we can
fool ourselves into being, narcissistically, the One?
Marc: That’s an awesome inquiry. My reframed articulation of
your question is, how do we prevent the ego from hijacking Unique
Self? [Bert: Yes.] First I want to say that the ego hijacks
everything. The fact that something can potentially be hijacked… I
have a good friend who teaches about identifying with the
evolutionary impulse, which is a core Aurobindo teaching. He says,
well, that’s better than Unique Self because you’re identifying
with the evolutionary impulse; the ego’s not going to hijack it. My
response is, why won’t the ego hijack the evolutionary impulse?
The ego hijacks everything.
• The fact that something has a shadow side, sexuality for
example, doesn’t undermine sexuality. The fact that Unique Self
can be distorted as the grasping ego doesn’t in any way undermine
the central efficacy and necessity of realizing our True Nature
as Unique Self. We need to distinguish between ego and Unique
Self. That’s enormously important.
• In my upcoming book, there’s a chapter on 25 distinctions
between ego and Unique Self. Part of the practice of Unique
Self Enlightenment is to make these distinctions. For example,
your ego thinks you’re special because you’re better or worse
than other people. Your Unique Self knows you’re special
because you’re yourself. For the ego, “special” means “better
than.” For your Unique Self, “special” or “different” means
“distinct and free from any comparison or point of reference.”
For your Unique Self, you’re special because of your
spontaneous expression of your essence. That’s just one
• A second example is: Ego reacts, Unique Self acts. Your ego is
constantly in reaction to outside stimuli; it never thinks a
spontaneous thought. It rarely acts because it’s moved to do
so by a freely arriving thought or desire. Unique Self, by
contrast, is moved to action by the power and joy of its own
authentic original impulse.
• By the way, Bert, all these distinctions can be applied to
business as well… ego imitates, Unique Self is original. Your ego
is trapped in imitation. The ego is, by its very definition, in
limitation. And limitation leads to imitation. Ego is always living
the life of imitation based on limitation, which leads to mindless
(not effective) competition, which leads to compulsive
comparison to satisfaction. But originality, which is a quality
of Unique Self, freed from comparison, is by its nature self-
satisfied. It feels good in itself. Your ego never thinks an
original thought; originality emerges from your unique face,
which is a vote by contact with your True Self, your original
• That’s one of the key issues: satisfaction or greed; enough or
more. The Unique Self story vs. the ego story. Joy vs. fear;
Eros or grasping; authentic freedom or pseudo-freedom; victim
or player; loyalty or betrayal; there’s a long list of distinctions
which I try to develop; authentic friendship or pseudo-
friendship; are you saying yes (Unique Self) or no (ego-
contracting). Even when your ego says “yes,” it’s only because
it’s afraid to say “no.” Your Unique Self is always expanding to
say “yes”; even when you say “no,” it’s only to make room for
more authentic “yes.” In other words, the distinctions are very
deep. I think part of the practice of Unique Self Enlightenment
is to be constantly making those discernments… who’s talking?
Is this ego talking?
• You can also make these distinctions from a feeling perspective;
emotional work, where you actually feel the difference between
ego and Unique Self. You can do kinesthetic/body work, have an
embodied distinction whether you’re acting from ego or Unique
Self. We always need to do the practice to not allow the ego to
hijack the Unique Self.
Jennifer Grove: I love your work and admire your journey. Malice
is an issue that I see a lot in the integral community I’m a
member of. I see both the malice, and the denial of it. It seems
to be my karmic place to point that out. Then I get responses
that I’m just projecting. I’m riding on that karma and accepting it,
looking at it from “not-it.” Do you have suggestions as to a “full”
way to deal with this? Especially in the integral community, it just
gets rebuffed – “you’re the one in the hall of mirrors; you’re the
problem; you and your malice get out of here and everybody will be
just fine.” How do we deal with that?
Marc: There’s a lot of love and goodness in the integral
community; and there clearly are shadows of malice that exist in
different dimensions of the community, whether in the blogosphere
or other places. I think they need to be called out, named as
such. To say, hey, I’m sure there’s a lot of love here, but malice
is also at play here. Malice is a real thing; we need actually to
begin to name it. That’s one.
• Two is that we have to avoid being seduced by malice. One
example: when Bill Clinton was president, he had an engagement
with Ms. Lewinsky. Whatever that was, it wasn’t relevant to
national politics. About 30% of the country obsessed over it,
and Republican leadership, in a completely partisan way, used it
to really paralyze the country. As Laura Kipnis, a major feminist,
points out in the fourth chapter of her book, “A Female Thing,”
virtually all the people who attacked Bill Clinton on the
Republican side were all having similar Lewinsky experiences in
their lives that they hid. Meaning, it was driven by malice. What
happened was that we allowed ourselves to be seduced by
malice. The reason it remained on the front pages and kind of
stopped the country was that everybody was interested… they
fed off of it. The same way the blogosphere sometimes feeds
off the lowest common denominator. We need to call malice
out, and tell people, “don’t be fed by it.” The result of that
malice, for example, was the Iraq war. If Al Gore had been
elected president with a little bit more votes, we wouldn’t have
done the Iraq war. The reason Al Gore wasn’t elected president
was that Bill Clinton couldn’t campaign for him, because he was
tarred by this Lewinsky story. So the malice at the root of this
story, and the seduction by that malice by the American people,
actually caused the Iraq war. My point, of course over-
dramatizing, is that malice is real, so a) it needs to be called
out, and b) we need to refuse, as a community, to let ourselves
be seduced by malice.
Samir: One question is: how is the concept of Unique Self
different from the Eastern concept of dharma? A second question
is: what can one do to get more exposure to Unique Self, because
it is a very scary proposition, as you’re dancing a very thin line with
the ego. What is your Unique Self and what is your separate self?
Marc: In terms of the distinction between Unique Self and
dharma, I think you’re referring to the Bhagavad-Gita, which, by
the way, was the basis for the movie, “Bagger Vance.” That notion
of having your dharma. That notion in Hinduism of “Atman is
Brahman,” could be interpreted as Unique Self. You could also
interpret it as Buddhist “no-self.” It’s kind of unclear. I’ve had
conversations with Sally Kempton, Swami Dirgananda, and Professor
Dick Mann, head of Transpersonal section of SUNY Press, who’s
an old-time Siddha Yoga practitioner. Both of them are students of
Muktananda, who is the Siddha Yoga lineage, which is rooted deep in
Hinduism, a place where you have glimmers of Unique Self, but
it’s not quite clear. Sally would quote Muktananda, “God appears
in you as you.” Her interpretation of that was a kind of “no-
self/True Self.” I argued that he was actually referring to Unique
Self. It’s never quite clear in Hinduism. It’s clearer in Sufism,
where you have a clearer idea of the personal face of Essence.
• Ken and I talked about whether Unique Self is an evolutionary
emergent, or is Unique Self rooted in the old traditions? I
would say that Unique Self is foreshadowed in some of the
great traditions, in certain ideas of soul, but not others. In
Judeo-Christianity, soul is sometimes the glorified spiritual ego.
That’s not what we mean by Unique Self. At other times, soul
is used more like Unique True Self. You have to be careful.
• In Sufism, in Kabbalah, in Kashmir Shaivism, in esoteric
Christianity, you have proto-Unique Self ideas. What happens in
the evolutionary emergent is that what comes online in
Modernity/Post-Modernity is perspective. We used to think that
we see the world as it is. Once we realize that we see the
world through a perspective, that changes everything, including
our notion of enlightenment. If in the classical world we see
the world as it is, so classical enlightenment is non-distinct.
Because I’m not seeing the world through my prism, I’m seeing
the world as it is, and all of our prisms are basically the same.
But if I realize that’s not true, that I see the world through a
unique prism perspective, then even when I attain enlightenment,
it’s still through that prism and perspective. That’s Unique
Self. The notion of perspective is very important.
• Two, the notion of “self” per se is a modern idea. “Self” doesn’t
appear in the dictionary until the Renaissance. So “self” and
perspectives are related. So it was very hard for an earlier notion
of spirit to talk in full Unique Self terms, because there
wasn’t a value of uniqueness.
• For example, the idea of one person, one vote would have been
absurd a thousand years ago. The Buddha could have never
dreamt of democracy. As we feel into democracy, which is an
affirmation of the unique perspective of every individual, we then
begin to realize that perspective is central, and that
enlightenment has perspective, and that to be enlightened is not
to lose your perspective, but to clarify your unique perspective.
When I stop imitating Samir, and begin being Marc, not from an
egoic place of grasping, but from an expression of my clarified
second-tier perspective, then Unique Self begins to come online.
Modern notions of development play into it; when we realize that
higher levels of development, whether ultra-violet or Yellow,
depending on your model, all embrace Unique Self as an
expression of second-tier development, and have done the
empirical work to validate that. All of that was unavailable in the
pre-modern traditions. In that sense, I would say that Unique
Self is an evolutionary emergent, one of the core expressions of
what the World Spirituality Council is calling World Spirituality,
bringing together the best of pre-modern insight into the great
traditions, modern insight of individuality, and post-modern
insight of perspective. That’s the nature of Unique Self.
• Where can you find this now? You can get the Journal of
Integral Theory and Practice. I’m editing a series on integral
spirituality. Sean Esbjorn-Hargens and I just edited an edition on
Unique Self. You can order that from SUNY Press.
Bert [from Jennifer Blalock]: How do you teach the Unique
Self to different memes, “meeting people where they’re at”? How
can this principle be appealing to people who are making meaning at
Marc: Unique Self appears at every level of consciousness. That’s
critical to understand. And we can talk about it at every level. For
example, at Amber/Blue, the mythic meme of consciousness, the
Unique Self is the special gift you have to give to your society.
It’s a special obligation you fulfill as a member of the polis. At
Orange rational level, Unique Self is about your unique potential
for achievement, for emergence and creativity. At Green
multicultural pluralistic level, uniqueness is about the
irreducibility of difference. One of the great Green institutions in
America is Spirit Rock, a Buddhist meditation center. The entrance
to Spirit Rock has a banner that says “We believe in diversity.” A
beautiful expression of Green consciousness. For Green
consciousness, diversity is that everybody’s unique. The weakness,
of course, is there’s no hierarchy. But there’s an affirmation of
the uniqueness of everyone in every tradition, every religion, every
individual. At second-tier, the notion of unique obligation, unique
creativity, and the irreducible uniqueness of the individual come
together to create the empowered second-tier individual who’s
giving their unique evolutionary gifts for the sake of all that is.
It’s a kind of liberating uniqueness, a uniqueness that is the law
of the individual, incarnate as the individual unique expression of
divinity, of the Divine will. It’s the knowing that when I access my
own will, I’m accessing the Divine will, when I strip away all the
layers, when I’m actually merging with all that is, which is
Divinity, the Tao, Atman, Brahman.
• So uniqueness appears at all these levels. At Beige, it’s the drive
to survive; it’s worth my surviving. Although it’s an
unconscious recognition of uniqueness, it’s “I need to survive,”
I’m not just another one. I’m responsible for my own survival,
which is an implicit recognition of my uniqueness. At Purple,
magic/mythic consciousness, all of magic is based on the
recognition of the unique spell, the unique place, the unique
tribe, etc. It’s a recognition of distinction, and my place in the
tribe, etc. So Unique Self will appear in different ways at every
level of consciousness. But as you get closer to a true
recognition of your True Nature, to second-tier, which is where
that comes online, your Unique Self becomes clarified.
• Finally, I would say that one of the ways Unique Self appears
at all levels of consciousness is in a flow state. In a flow
state, no matter what level of consciousness you are, your
Unique Self will often appear, because the ego gets out of the
way. What then happens, though, is the particular directive or
imperative of your Unique Self is then interpreted through your
level of consciousness. That’s always worth noting.
Bert: One of the things that comes to mind for me is not only
how it relates with different orders of meaning making, but what
have you been learning about the nature of Unique Self as it
shows up respectively in masculine and feminine energies, in men
and women, males and females?
Marc: At the Integral Theory Conference I was privileged to give a
talk on this question: the masculine and feminine as it relates to
Unique Self. The essential idea I tried to put forth there is as
follows: There are no two hermaphrodites (a combination of
masculine and feminine) that are the same. One of the expressions
of my Unique Self is a unique calibration of masculine and
feminine within who I am. That’s one of the formulas for Unique
self. When my Unique Self is out of kilter, it’s often because I
have a distorted or unlived dimension of masculine and feminine.
• In Kabbalistic nomenclature, the word “shalom” means peace or
wholeness. What it means in the original Kabbalistic framework
is the whole complete integration of your precise masculine and
feminine. Any part of your masculine or feminine that’s unlived
or distorted will disturb your peace, your shalom, your
equilibrium. Because your peace and equilibrium only comes
from the fullness of your Unique Self. In Hebrew, the word
for uniqueness is “yichud,” which means both “unique” and
“unification,” particularly of your masculine and feminine.
• Unique Self shows up differently in the masculine and feminine.
In the masculine, Unique Self might show up in a particular
kind of purpose-driven life, which is about certain kinds of
masculine accomplishment in the world (whether it’s expressed
through a man or a woman). In the feminine, it might show up
in unique ways of nurturing, caring, embracing, a radical
commitment to unique relationship, etc.
• In both men and women, of course, these masculine and
feminine poles show up. Unique Self is definitely refracted
differently, both through the prism of the masculine and
feminine, and through the prism of the unique calibration of
masculine and feminine in every unique hermaphrodite.
Bert: Are there particular ways that masculine and feminine
energies can get fooled by their efforts to realize True/Unique
Self? Have you discovered any differences gender-wise in the ways
that we both realize it and fool ourselves?
Marc: For sure. The simple way to say it would be that the
feminine often uses relationship to cover over the need to access
her particular unique expression of divinity. The special love, the
special relationship becomes, in lieu of the genuine location and
articulation of uniqueness. In the masculine, that which is used
to obfuscate, fool, cover over, to allow one to not engage a full
encounter with their uniqueness, is often work. Professional
function, for the masculine, often covers up unique purpose. The
masculine needs to be careful not to use professional function,
or competence, to cover up uniqueness. The feminine needs to be
careful not to allow relationship, relatedness, to cover up that