7/21 — Dialogue Two: The Absolute, Relative and the Non-Dual with Peter Merry and Nishad Dubashia

Peter Merry Nish Nish Dubashia

Peter Merry, Nishad Dubashia

Peter Merry
Nishad Dubashia

Editor’s note: In this second dialogue of the ongoing series, “Integral Reflections on Science and Spirituality,” Peter and Nishad explore the evolution of consciousness, non-duality, and moving beyond clock-time. You can also watch this dialogue on ILR’s video page.

Peter: So we have a quote about proprioception: “It was the movement of thought that could be self-aware without bringing in a self who is aware of it.” And then when I looked into it more, proprioception in the physical sense is to grasp one’s own position in space, including the position of the limbs in relation to others in the body as a whole. So, I guess that physical proprioception is the idea of your body just knowing where its hand is when you move it. There’s nothing in between that knowing. In a way when they’re talking about the proprioception of thought, it’s that there’s just an instant knowing.

Nish: Yes.

P: Without anything in between. As I thought, maybe that’s what Krishnamurti meant by insight when he was trying to distinguish between insight and thought. Insight was like this in-the-moment instant knowing.

N: Yes.

P: And so yeah, that’s where I feel the next phase is, as it were, this instant knowing. You could say the proprioception of thought, of mind, I suppose. And then the linear thought follows that in the service of whatever the impulse is that comes through the insight, I guess. Is that-?

N: Yes. Yes, that makes sense to me. I mean, I would say proprioception, when thought becomes aware of itself, or some kind of deep awareness of thought arises that wasn’t there before, it’s not so much that we become aware of the content of thought, because I think we’re already aware of the contents of our thoughts. I don’t think that’s anything special. I think it goes deeper than that. We become aware of the structure and the process of thought, not just the specific content. We actually have an insight, almost a felt bodily insight, into the nature of thought rather than specific thoughts.

P: And maybe our language is even limiting us, you know?

N: Yeah.

P: Maybe to say that we become aware of thought isn’t even the right language because that’s a kind of cognitive thing, you know?

N: Yes, yes.

P: And what they’re pointing to is this: in the same way the body instantly knows where it is in space, you instantly know something rather than having to go through a kind of rational process of thinking about it.

N: Yes. I think that makes sense because if at each level what was previously subject becomes object, then at turquoise, if the pinnacle of yellow is conceptual thinking, which is what we’re suggesting, then at turquoise, the entire structure and process of conceptual thought as a whole becomes the object. And a new subject arises that wasn’t there before, which we could refer to as the higher mind. And it’s that new subject that then has that capacity to see things instantly, to see things holistically, and to have insights. Real insight has to come from that trans-conceptual subject that arises in turquoise which we could refer to as the higher mind. 

P: In a way, again we struggle for language because subject suggests an object. And yet in that space if I have understood it, there isn’t really that subject/object relation. There’s not me and the other. From your book actually, the distinction between me and not me with the other as a fragment is gone, but me and the other become parts rather than fragments.

N: Yes.

P: So rather than making the “me” separate from the other, there’s a recognition of it holarchically as its own unique part.

N: Yes, yes.

P: But in the context of the whole.

N: Yes. I mean I think that’s an important point, because I think subject/object can be fragmentary but it can also be non-fragmentary. I think subject/object can work in a way that doesn’t necessarily cause fragmentation and conflict. Just for practical purposes, a certain subject/object division can be necessary. But I think when Krishnamurti is saying that the division between the thinker and the thought is dissolved at some point, I think he’s talking within the conceptual mind, if you like. So we currently split the conceptual mind into thinker and thought, but really the thinker is just another thought.

P: Yes.

N: The thinker is just an idea, really. So if the dualism between the thinker and the thought within the realm of the conceptual mind is healed, then the conceptual mind is self-less. It’s just a process with no self. But then something else has to emerge to become aware of that.

P: Yes. 

N: Yes, and you’re right. We wouldn’t refer to that something else as me or self, necessarily. But there is some kind of higher mode of awareness that emerges, that becomes aware of the conceptual mind as a whole, with no thinker within the conceptual mind, if that makes sense.

P: Yes. It’s hard, isn’t it?

N: Yes.

P: When the language is …

N: It is, yes. But the whole of language is constructed in such a way that the subject/object dualism, or the thinker/thought dualism, seems to be inherent. We never question it, because our language is constructed that way. And when we’re starting to talk about what we’re talking about we need new ways of talking, really.

P: Somebody recommended a book to me that I just ordered by Gregg Braden called Words of Wisdom, which apparently goes back to looking at how, like we were talking about last time, how words were more resonant with reality, connecting us to reality rather than separating us from reality, in the ancient traditions. I haven’t seen that. I haven’t got it yet, but yes.

Going back to this subject/object or objectivity, I was reading some of the comments in the discussion with Bohm. I made a note like, “does objectivity really exist?” And ultimately, the thinker is influencing the thought. “Since the way you think affects the way you observe,” as he says, “what you’re seeing may not be real, since your attitude affects the way you perceive things.” And you guys were having this discussion about whether the split from one to two is just an abstraction.

N: Yes.

P: Ultimately, you go from one to the multiplicity, if the general directionality of life is increasing differentiation and increasing interconnectedness at the same time.

N: Yes.

P: Because when you differentiate, of course you become clearer about the specific role in nature of each part and sub-part in a positive way, in the sense of the uniqueness of each different piece that life has created. When you add the interconnectedness, the more parts you create, the more relationships you create, right?

N: Right.

P: So if you’ve only got two parts, there’s only one relationship. And if you’ve got four parts, there’s more relationships. So that as we go down that path, we are continuing to differentiate things more and more clearly in a way that I think somehow relates to the Fibonacci sequence and theme geometrically. And it’s like, I was seeing a line on a chart where the Y axis is objectivity and the line goes up as we distinguish more and more and more parts. But it never actually touches or gets completely parallel to that Y axis.

N: Right.

P: So we never get to pure objectivity, but as we inquire more deeply and see without judgment the distinction and differentiation between the parts, and therefore the more subtle interconnectedness, we’re able to get closer to that objectivity, but we never actually can touch it.

N: No. Well, let me go back to your first question. I’m jotting things down as you’re speaking. Is there such a thing as objectivity? I would say ultimately no, because ultimately subject and object are one. So from the point of view of absolute truth, if we can talk about that, use that kind of language, there’s no subject to differentiate from the object and observe an objective world. But for practical purposes in the relative world, I think we can assume that it is an ideal to work towards.

Now, going to spiral dynamics, I think the notion of objectivity in rigorous terms doesn’t really arise until orange. And then as soon as you get to green, we immediately start to question whether objectivity is even really possible. So I think the way most people use the word objective reality, and we’re talking about science and reason and so on, is largely a stage-specific notion.

P: Yes. 

N: I think as we go beyond orange into green and especially into turquoise, the deep interconnection between subject and object and how they deeply influence each other, and how they’re not really separate, becomes more and more apparent in our experience. Are you aware of Adi Da?

P: Yes. 

N: He was one of Ken Wilber big influences, yeah?

P: Yes. 

N: He had a statement which I think is quite insightful on this. He said that what he started to realize is the world is not just a physical reality. It’s a psychophysical reality. So the world isn’t out there and our minds in here, but mind and matter are constantly influencing each other, and reality is both. Reality is psychophysical. For the practical purposes of doing science, you have to try to take mind out of it and do it with pure objectivity. But if you do that in extreme forms or without realizing what you’re doing, that can become what Bohm calls a fragmentation. 

P: Isn’t that what most science assumes, that you can-

N: -Yes.

P: Have that objectivity?

N: Yes, I think classical science is entirely based on that assumption. The scientific method from Galileo, Francis Bacon and Newton onwards has that assumption, that the world is knowable. It’s rational. Our minds are rational, and the mind can objectively observe this rational universe without its own stuff interfering with that. But even within science, that assumption has started to be questioned now because of quantum physics.

P: Yes, exactly.

N: So I think with quantum physics, science itself is moving into green.

P: Yes, and Dean Radin.

N: Yes.

P: In his last book, Real Magic, he actually talks about experiments they did to see how the beliefs of the experimenters influenced the outcomes. They showed that if somebody didn’t believe a certain outcome was possible, it just didn’t happen. Where under certain conditions people believed it was possible, then they would get a certain outcome. The moment somebody else did it, they couldn’t replicate it because they didn’t believe it was possible. So it completely blows that whole idea of objectivity.

N: I think the scientific notion of objectivity was necessary in order to free us from religious authority and so on, which is part of the essence of what happened at the Renaissance. But a lot of people seem to believe that that’s the end of evolution, and that’s the end of history. We’ve arrived. But of course, that’s not true. Each level has its own unexamined assumptions, which the next level unravels. But then the next level has its own new set of assumptions.

P: Yes. I was wanting to come back to your point about objective being, and object being a different experience at different levels. And given that, I think the “other as object” emerged more with red. Self to other.

N: Yes.

P: Whereas with purple, we are aware of course of threats as it were, of other tribes or of differences in some way. But I was thinking with red, the object is there to be exploited.

N: Yes.

P: With blue, the object is there to be controlled. With orange, the object is there to be explored.

N: Right.

P: And with green, the object is there to be related to.

N: Exactly, yes, yes.

P: And with yellow, the object is there to be functionally played with or something like that. 

N: Yes. Or the entire spectrum of objects is there to be understood correctly. Because with yellow, you kind of get Object with a capital O, which includes all the objects that have gone before.

P: Yes, yes. Now I think this kind of touches on this question I had around absolute and relative, which I feel like Bohm and Krishnamurti struggled with and tried to get some clarity on, because Bohm and Krishnamurti kept trying to push beyond. Krishnamurti was always saying, “there’s something beyond. There’s something beyond.” And then they seemed to settle on this idea of the ground being in a way, the non-dual. Now the way I understand it as I’ve picked it up I think from Ken and others is, we can talk about the relative world, all these bits and stuff, divisions, relatedness, et cetera around us. We can talk about the absolute, which we don’t currently have words for, right? But then they are both transcended by the non-dual, and often there is a confusion between the absolute and the non-dual.

N: Yes, very much so.

P: Particularly in some spiritual traditions, which then deny the relative. From one of Ken’s pieces, the non-dual is when you can hold both the absolute and the relative as both being true at the same time.

And I was wondering whether the observer can be related to absolute and the observed related to relative. Because in a way, when you’re the observer you’re like the fish in water, right? You can’t describe yourself, you know what I mean? You’re the fish in water. So in a way, your context is absolute as the observer … And then everything out there and around you is relative. Everything you can observe is relative. So I kind of went down that track and then was also thinking, “okay, in the relative you’ve got time. In the absolute, you’ve got no time.” In non-dual, they both exist.

N: Yes. 

P: Relative is about part. Absolute is about whole. 

But I think you, in your dialogue with Bohm, describe how the whole is not the same as the non-dual because it’s related to the parts.

N: Yes, right.

P: And therefore it’s also a relative concept. And then when I was doing the research for volution into the trinity … I don’t know if you’ve read this piece, but I was looking at the different trinities in different traditions, and how they related to what I thought was the core dynamic of the volutionary process. In the Christian tradition you have father, son and spirit. But God is not the same as father. God sits at the centre and transcends. So it was kind of, “Okay, so father is more the absolute.”

And then the son, and Mary, the daughter, is the relative. And then you’ve got God, but God represents the non-dual.

In that context. So again, the distinction between relative and absolute, which are of course being compared to each other, and then the non-dual ground, which I think is what Bohm was pointing to, what Bohm and Krishnamurti got to transcends both of those. Does that make sense to you?

N: Yes, totally. I mean let me tell you the way I understand this. I tend to come at this from a Buddhist perspective. So in Buddhism, one of the key insights is that nothing has permanent essence. Everything is impermanent. There’s no permanence. There’s no permanent essence to any part, and they denote that insight with the term emptiness. So reality is empty of any abiding object, thought, idea, anything. That emptiness is the absolute truth. So the absolute truth, if you like is the emptiness that underlies form. Does that make sense?

P: Yes, so the absolute truth is the non-permanence of form.

N: Yes, which we can metaphorically think of as this nothingness or zero out of which form comes, and back into which form goes.

So the emptiness, if you like, is the beginning of the involutionary process. Out of emptiness, involution begins and you end up with the created order. So if we think of the absolute as this emptiness out of which everything comes, and if we think of form as the relative world, which is all the parts, emptiness in a way is the whole. It’s everything as a whole, prior to form. Multiplicity is the relative, which is all the parts. Then the non-dual ground is the ultimate oneness of absolute and relative. Emptiness is form. They’re not really different. They’re only different in our perception because we’re talking about them.

Now what you said about the observer and the observed being a kind of mirror of that—that’s exactly how Buddhism evolved. Because as Buddhism evolved, they started to say, “but what is this emptiness?” Well, it’s really consciousness. So really, it’s not just emptiness in the form. It’s actually consciousness in the form. So the absolute in a way is the ground, if you like, of subjectivity. It’s the supreme Subject, with a capital S, and the whole world of form is the supreme Object, with a capital O. The subject, that supreme Subject and that supreme Object are actually one. At every level, when we have an observer and an observed, that’s like a downgraded version of that basic primary dualism that occurs all the way up and all the way down.

P: Right, yes. All the up and all the way down in the holarchy, so at a different level. And the subject at that level has its absolute reality.

N: Yes, exactly.

P: And then everything around it is relative. Yes, great. I haven’t studied the Buddhism in detail, so that’s nice to see how that fits together.

N: Yes. But the other thing you said is also absolutely right. In spiritual circles, most people or a lot of people would identify that absolute and call it the non-dual, but I think that’s a mistake of language.

Vedanta is the tradition where that seems to happen the most, especially in the more popular versions of Vedanta you have in the West. You have this idea that you discover your true Self with a capital S, which is that place where nothing ever happens, and it’s who you are where there’s no real story, and so on. And then they refer to that as the non-dual, but actually it’s a very dualistic notion because it’s opposed to the relative self, which does go around doing things. The real non-dual is that the big Self and the little self are both parts of the same ground.

P: Yes, exactly. I ended up having this discussion with a Vedanta person at some point. You just can’t get around it and they say, “yes, but it’s an illusion. It’s all illusion, what you’re saying.” And you just can’t get anywhere, because they just relativize it all. 

N: In Hinduism, the guy who founded Vedanta traditionally is Shankara. He believed that the only reality is what they call Brahman, which is the ultimate reality, and the world is Maya, which is illusion. That’s where that idea originally comes from. But as Hinduism evolved, later Vedantic thinkers started to realize, “well, there’s all kinds of holes in this argument.” It’s not actually very coherent. It’s very difficult to build a coherent system where the whole universe is just an illusion. It raises all kinds of questions which are almost impossible to answer. So Vedanta eventually was refined in various ways. But I actually prefer Kashmiri Shaivism, which is a tradition in Hinduism where it’s a very similar idea. You’ve got the absolute. The absolute manifests as the relative, and they’re both ultimately one, but the relative is seen as just as real as the absolute. It’s not an illusion. It’s not less real. It’s just a different aspect of reality. It’s just as real, and enlightenment doesn’t mean getting rid of the illusion. It means realizing the absolute oneness of the absolute and the relative, what Hindus call Shiva and Shakti. So Shiva is the absolute truth, and Shakti is the energy of the whole universe, the cosmos. But Shakti is just as real as Shiva.

P: Yes. Beautiful, yes. That really resonates. The thing, in terms of the impact that has on one, for me certainly, is like getting into a meditation practice and realizing the absolute, because we’re obviously immersed in the relative. But the absolute is a complement to the relative in a way that you don’t take yourself so seriously. Everything’s not so contracted with big problems, because there’s the absolute context, which means that you can play more in the relative.

More likely knowing that ultimately there’s this absolute context that you properly explain. But it brings a kind of relief to the suffering. I think that’s the thing, isn’t it, right?

N: Absolutely.

P: It brings relief to the suffering. I don’t say it always works, because the relative is very good at luring us in to forgetting about the absolute, and then we get all kind of caught up in it again and stressed and everything else. But when I remember both, it really enables one to hold the relative lightly and somehow to see it more clearly, and to start to feel that, and to get access more to the insights rather than to try to work it all out.

N: Yes. I mean, I think one can get stuck in either half and both of those are pathologies of a kind. If you realize the absolute to the exclusion of the relative, then the world doesn’t matter. However much pain and suffering there is in the world, it doesn’t matter because it’s all an illusion. There are people who have held this position. They become monks, or they go and live in a forest and nothing matters. That’s only half the truth. That’s the problem, and that realization is of no practical use to anybody except to that person who’s just woken up from this dream. But everybody within the dream is still suffering.

Now if we do it the other way around, which is what most people do, that only the relative is real and there is no absolute, then it’s what you said. We’re just suffering all the time, because we just spend our lives running after shadows and nothing’s ever really going to be fixed. It’s all a big threat, and it’s all painful.

So sometimes we can, yes, hold them both together. We can thoroughly engage in the world, but at the same time we don’t take it 100% seriously.

P: I had this little saying to help myself remember that, that I think is even still on my Skype tag, which is fully engaged and totally free. It would remind me. The fully engaged kept me present and the totally free was, yes, and I’m totally free at the same time, and just holding those two the whole time.

You know, really where I came from, I came from the world of activism, really. I was very much into environmental activism, digging up motorways in London, planting trees in them and then locking or chaining ourselves and reclaiming the streets, pouring sand over them and creating parties on the streets of London. It was great. And so I was kind of frustrated. I didn’t get the spiritual people who just seemed to sit on their cushion and not care the whole time. And then when I read A Theory of Everything and I saw the four quadrants and I realized, “wow, if I don’t do this inner stuff, then I’m going to be projecting my own mess onto the outer world as I try to clear it up.” That was really the impulse behind founding the Center for Human Emergence over here, 15 years ago, to try to combine spirituality and activism. So it’s either the spiritual activist, or the spiritual practitioner. But you’ve got to have both, you know?

N: Yes, you do, yes.

P: Yes. And as you say, one, the kind of angry activist just ends up creating more of a mess if they haven’t got some sense of the absolute context. You say the absolute just withdraws in a way, and is actually no good to anybody. The rest of the suffering goes on. We did have this conversation in the Center for Human Emergence at some point. And correct me if you think this is different, but it feels like it’s a masculine path that takes one away from the kind of more feminine compassion. So you’ve got insight and compassion, right? But the insight is you could say is more of the masculine and the compassion is more the feminine. There are traditions that seem to have just one or the other. And maybe this is related to the split that I describe in the evolution from beige to purple.

Which kind of exists in a way without anything to do with feeling and compassion. It’s all neutral, and it’s all an illusion. It’s all insight.

N: I think that is quite right. It’s a very good way to think about it, because in the Eastern traditions, Hinduism, Buddhism, consciousness, absolute consciousness tends to be described as male, and the world of energy and form where we get involved and run around is female. So Shiva and Shakti in Hinduism and those equivalents in Buddhism. And non-dual realization is actually depicted as the sexual union between the male and the female, which leads to the tantric traditions in India. That is seen as final realization. So even the Buddha, I mean to the extent that he didn’t come back and take part in politics for example, may not have fully returned and realized something fully non-dual. But a true non-dual realization I think is still quite rare.

P: Yes. When you were saying that, it made me think of something which Ken said about Kali. Quoting Up from Eden after he’d been talking about how when the great mother is repressed, the great goddess is concealed.

That is such a powerful statement. He then goes on and says Kali is the perfect great goddess. She preserves but transcends the great mother, and thereby integrates the lower with the higher. Is that right?

N: Yes, because the great mother represents the lower levels which we’ve repressed as we’ve developed the rational mind and so on, and which we do need to reclaim. We could think of that as the great mother, but Kali represents all the levels, but not absolute consciousness. So whereas the great mother represents the lower levels, Kali represents all the levels but still within form, and then Shiva represents the consciousness beyond form.

P: So what would the great goddess be? Would this be that the great goddess holds all of form?

N: Ultimately, yes.

P: Okay, and then Shiva?

N: Shiva is the consciousness that is the absolute truth.

So the great goddess is the totality of the relative world, and Shiva is the consciousness that lies beyond the relative world, the absolute truth. So Kali is all of the relative truth. These are quite powerful metaphors which people work with a lot in India.

P: Yes, I guess that’s their function isn’t it, really? They’re archetypes. To tell the story, essentially.

N: Yes, yes, and that’s reflected in the traditions. I mean, the worshipers of Shiva in India tend to be ascetics who deny the world, whereas worshipers of Kali tend to be more active in the world. So it does actually work out the way you’d expect it to work out. These archetypes do tend to have the kind of power that we’d assign to them.

P: And to use Bohm’s language, would you say that, is the implicit the absolute and the explicit the relative?

N: I mean ultimately yes, but it’s more complex than that. Because I think as you evolve, the level which is yet to emerge is implicate in relation to the level that has already emerged. So in a way, you’ve got several implicate and explicate orders of different degrees shading off into the ultimate. But ultimately, yes. Ultimately the absolute would be the most, the end point of the implicate order.

P: Yes. The way I framed it as volution, in terms of the three core dynamics, was that you had the container, right? Which in a way could be the soul of the individual or the container of the whole at any level. And then you have the manifest relative, and then you have the dynamics between the two, or maybe in Ken’s language, kind of gross, subtle dynamics, and then the causal container. And so maybe, because the way I see it is that it’s a bit like a light spectrum. We know that there’s a big light spectrum, and we accept that we can only see part of it.

In the same way, there’s this part of the spectrum that we might call a relative world that we can see, and then there’s everything else that is still coming into form. It’s in formation and waves, right?

And that those are more the subtle energies, and what I call the dynamics, that go on. So in a way, that is also implicit in implicate order, because it’s kind of unfolding. It’s not yet completely manifested in … I think the way I make sense of it, following Jude Currivan’s work is that those waves that are probabilities or possibilities of information, as we direct our consciousness towards them. Our intention brings them into standing waves which is what makes them visible for us in this 3D reality. And that actually they, rather than talking about them as particles —and the collapse of a wave into a particle—it would be more accurate to talk about them as waves that cohere and then behave as relative parts, and therefore particles in the way we experience relative reality. See what I mean?

But actually, it’s all the same spectrum. They’re not different. The particle isn’t different to a wave. You know, it’s a coherent wave form, in a sense.

N: Yes. Going back to your gross, subtle and causal, may be a better way to be more precise about it would be that the gross is Bohm’s explicate order.

The subtle is Bohm’s implicate order, and the causal is Bohm’s holomovement.

P: Oh, yes. Right.

N: So the holomovement is the underlying whole behind everything. Out of that comes an implicate order, and then out of that comes the explicate order.

P: Yes, yes. And would you say that quantum physics is basically describing what goes on in the subtle implicate order and relativity, the physics of relativity, is basically describing what goes on in this explicit relative world?

N: I’m not sure. I think that’s certainly one way of looking at it, though.

P: Let me add another piece to that and see how [it might work].

You know I have this image in volution of, well, a seed. If you look at a seed, what it does is in a parallel process is it puts its roots down and it grows its stem, right, like this. If you look at humanity in terms of scale of the universe, and you look at the biggest thing that we’re aware of, you look at the smallest thing we’re aware of, we’re right in the middle.

Now, how much of chance is that? Or is that a function of our consciousness, is that like the seed, as we extend our consciousness up to encompass more, we also refine, right? This goes back to the distinguishing of the discernment of the parts, so the parts become clearer as we see a bigger whole. But it’s actually a parallel process, so as we discover more of the universe, we actually find more of the small pieces like the quarks.

And that somehow there’s a link between quantum happening at that micro level, but also at that macro level. And then in that space in the middle in a way is where the relative kind of manifests, when the wave forms become standing waves and behave as particles, so it’s parts. That’s when the physics of relativity comes in. How does that land?

N: Yes, that’s interesting – what you’re saying about human beings kind of perched halfway between the whole and the part, and we’re able to see both. I think that’s true, and I think that finds a mirror in the religious traditions. In the religious traditions, they talk about man being perched halfway between heaven and hell, or between the gods and the animals, the gods and the beasts. We’re kind of halfway somehow. So we have the biggest responsibility in a way, because we can see both. That’s why we can experience the non-dual in a way that maybe an insect wouldn’t be able to.

P: Just to go deeper there. I got the sense, isn’t that some people are, “isn’t that amazing? I mean, the chances of that being true are so small,” and I’m kind of going, “no, that’s built in to the design of consciousness.”

N: Yes, it’s inevitable, actually.

P: Yes, it’s inevitable because we’re doing this, just like a seed, you know?

We’re extending up and we’re extending down at the same time. We’re getting greater differentiation and greater interconnectedness at the same time. So it’s obvious that because we’re the observer, we will always be at the middle.

And another example of that was a guy, Richard Leviton. He does geomancy and earth energetics stuff. He says the deal that we made—and this is again just another story of the same thing, I think—the deal that we made was that the angels are kind of disembodied, and the elementals look after the Earth. Our job is to bridge between the two, to take the high frequencies of the angelic realm, and as a transformer, to transform them into low enough frequencies, in a way, for the earth elementals to be able to absorb that information and use it. In his kind of fashion he said, “you can’t have an angel talk straight to a gnome, because the energy of an angel would fry the ass off a gnome,” he says. The frequency is way too high. So there you’ve got the same story, kind of bridging heaven and earth, bridging the angelic and the elementals.

N: Yes. I mean in a way we are the mediators between the whole and the part.

P: Right? Not somebody kind of designed it or whatever. By the definition of our consciousness, right? It’s always how we are.

Part gets bigger. Part gets more refined.

N: It couldn’t be otherwise.

P: No, exactly. Sometimes when we’re doing some energetic work we do the chakra walk with people. We take them, they go on a walk and you go through the different chakras. When you hit top chakras, it’s like you’re not walking but the world is kind of moving past you in a way. So there’s that again moment of, “oh, yeah, it’s not me walking through space-time. It’s space-time moving through me.”

So that was actually the title of this. Well, I started off when I did this thing for Integral European Conference suggesting that maybe we don’t move through space-time, but space-time moves through us. And it’s our consciousness that is defining what that journey looks like.

N: Yes. I think yes, because ultimately we’re not separate from space time.

Most people in their daily experience are very object-oriented. So they think of these objects as what’s real, and we are navigating them. But what you’re describing is to move to a more subject-oriented form of orientation, so what you said is that it is space-time that is moving through us. The subject is the still point.

P: Yes. I think both of those are just two halves of the subject/object dualism, because ultimately they’re not different. I think space-time is something that we create. It’s not-

N: -It’s not out there waiting for us to discover it. We generate it. Space-time is just a reflection of the structures of our own mind as we look out.

P: Yes. That was part of the kind of realization I got when I was contemplating this split from beige to purple, as “Hang on. Before that happened, we didn’t experience time linearly.”

I was kind of, “wow, you mean linear time is not a permanent feature of the universe?” That’s a way we developed our experience of the world around us, and we projected this linearity onto time. I think it’s in “The Ending of Time”, either Bohm or Krishnamurti says it’s like each moment is just reinventing itself, as it were, popping up. It’s popping up, popping down, appearing, disappearing, out of the field or the ground.

And that we projected a linear story into that reality.

N: Yes, yes. We tie the moments together and make a story out of it.

P: Yes. And so you’ve got linear time, and you’ve got the separation of things in space, which of course goes hand in hand.

We created space-time, and that’s why it’s interesting. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance yet to look at any of Nassim Haramein’s stuff, but he’s really describing the physics of that next level where we integrate it all again.

N: Yes. I mean, if we go back to purple, beige or purple definitely, I think their experience of time would have been very much cyclic at that stage. Because of their material conditions, they live by the seasons and so on. I think once we got to blue and we had to start thinking of long-term goals, which you need in order to develop civilizations and empires, then cyclical time didn’t serve a purpose in that world set-up. And so the mind then naturally evolved to see things linearly.

P: Yes. I think it was also, and obviously these things go hand in hand, it was required to … Because if we take survival as being the basic driver still, and we realized we could plant things for the future and we wouldn’t get the instant reward, but we’d have to be patient and wait. That’s agriculture, right? And so that projects a linearity into time as well. You know, Bohm and Krishnamurti make this distinction between psychological time and what do they call it? Physical time?

N: Chronological time.

P: Yes, chronological time where they’re saying, “yes, chronological time is the evolution of the universe.” They don’t question that.

So chronological time. Psychological time, as I make sense of it, is really about how we relate to that. It’s how we choose to relate to whatever happens around us. That’s where we get ourselves into trouble, because we spend our time worrying about stuff that seemed to happen before, and thinking about how we’re going to do stuff in the future, and therefore being disconnected from what’s actually going on in the present and getting caught up in this psychological time.

N: Yes, right. You can think of chronological time as the part as opposed to the fragment. Chronological time has its place in multiplicity. It’s not inherently problematic. It’s just a tool that can be useful. But when we take that division of past, present and future too far and start relating it to our own supposed existence as a separate self through history, that has had these problems and that has these worries about the future and so on, then what was the multiplicity of chronological time becomes the fragmentation of psychological time.

And I think this [relationship to time] is actually Krishnamurti’s original contribution, because I’ve not seen this in the traditions. The distinction between chronological and psychological time. I think that’s quite an original insight.

P: Yes. It did get me thinking, because if indeed subject/object or observer/observed are one, with this chronological time thing, are we saying that’s an objective thing? Like, “well, there is chronological time and then psychological time is how we relate to it.” But what would be more consistent would be a story that says the whole concept of chronological time is a linear concept, right? Things happen one after the other … Is that also something that we created? So is there a difference between linear time and chronological time? Are we saying they’re the same thing? Are they something that just exists, or has that also been created somehow?

N: I would say that linear time is an example of chronological time. Because I would say even cyclical time is still chronological time. It’s just that it goes in cycles instead of in a straight line. Chronological time means any passing of time. It’s any way of looking at things where that happened in the past, this is happening in the present, and that’s happening in the future. So any division of the present moment into past, present and future, is chronological time. Linear time is one way of doing that.

It keeps going, and it never comes back again. Whereas cyclical time, you have A becomes B and then B becomes A again eventually.

P: Yes, it comes back around.

N: Or at a higher spiral. But it’s still something that’s chronological. It’s still something, even if we’re in cyclical time, we still have a past and a future. It’s just that the future returns in a way that it doesn’t in linear time.

P: Yes, that’s a very useful distinction, yes, between chronological on the one hand as a category. Because then there will be a third category of chronological time emerging now, which we might call proprioception time, as it were?

It would be a form of time that integrates, I think, both linear and cyclical. Because in the torus or the spiral, when you go around the spiral it comes back again, but it comes back to the same place, but at a higher level. So there is linearity, but there’s also a cyclical nature to it.

It does seem to be the case that as we attempt to, let’s say, evolve ourselves into the future, that wanting to put those branches higher, we need to send the roots deeper, and therefore we encounter stuff from the past that is directly related to the possibility of that future unfolding.

And so that past will come back around again, past patterns will come back around again, until we integrate it somehow, which would release the energy and enable that step into the future. So then that’s really what the volutionary process describes, that continual breathing in and out in a way between those, the past and the future, the part and the whole, as the information is shared throughout the system. Holographically.

N: I mean, we could say that chronological time itself evolves. So pre-rational versions of chronological time would be your cyclical time of the farmer, for example. The rational chronological time is the linear time of science.

P: Progress.

N: And what you’ve just described, which is the spiral which integrates the two, is the trans-rational form of chronological time. Psychological time is when all of that goes horribly wrong and it causes personal conflicts and so on, because we take the process of dividing past and future too far. And then on the other side of the equation you’ve got the whole, which would be the eternity of the present moment. This transcends time, but it can still use time.

P: Yes, exactly. It’s like the instant knowing or insight. That can still use thought.

But if psychological time is about how we relate to chronological time, then there can be a healthy and an unhealthy psychological time, right? There can be a psychological time that gets caught, let’s say, in one kind of chronological time, like linearity disconnected from physical time. But you could also have a healthy psychological time, a healthy relationship to chronological time which would, I think, depend on some kind of sense of the absolute, and being able to sit in the present moment and not get caught up in the chronological time dynamics, as it were, but play them and play with them, with a kind of lightness as it were. To engage with it from a place of freedom, essentially.


I mean, I agree with what you’ve said but I don’t think that Krishnamurti would agree with either of us here. Because Krishnamurti uses the term psychological time to invariably mean something unhealthy.

So for Krishnamurti, if we dissolve psychological time, it’s gone and we’re purely operating at the level of chronological time after that. But if you remember we talked about schools that are too absolute and not relative enough, and the other way around. I think Krishnamurti’s teachings veer towards too much emphasis on the absolute.

That’s why for him, psychological time is just demonized. Because I think what you’ve said is actually more integral, which is that there is a healthy and an unhealthy version of psychological time. In the healthy version, it’s no longer an obstacle. It works perfectly harmoniously with chronological time.

P: Yes. Well, that’s interesting because as he was describing Krishnamurti’s position on that, I thought, “oh, yes. I could see that point.” Because, from the very last thing you said, they become harmonized. Psychological and chronological time. So in a way you could say they dissolve. Or psychological time dissolves, and then you’re just living chronological time without anything in the way between you and the experience.

N: Yes, without any overlay.

P: Yes. Like the same thing we were talking about with thought, that the instant insight … There’s nothing in the way, right? You know, and you act. Then you are really just alive in chronological time, fully alive, without any questioning getting in the way of it.

So yes, I could see what he might have been pointing to and maybe he was kind of trying to make the point that currently, our psychological time seems to be completely caught up in a linearity that is disconnected, and takes us away from the present moment, so definitely needing to come back to the present moment.

N: I mean, I think we’ve talked about absolute and relative as being the two dimensions of reality, if you like. It might be more accurate to talk of three. You’ve got absolute. You’ve got a healthy relative, and you’ve got an unhealthy relative. That way we avoid demonizing the relative and saying everything has to be absolute. Because what we need to get rid of is the unhealthy relative. The healthy relative is not a problem.

And also it highlights that there is work to do in the relative. We’ve got to tidy things up, get rid of the unhealthy and be healthy. It’s not just a question of chucking the relative in the bin and just being absolute. I think they do that in Mahayana Buddhism. They say there’s an absolute, a relative, a true relative I think they call it, and a false relative. And the job is not to get rid of the true relative, because you need the true relative to survive. The job is to get rid of the false relative, and then to realize the oneness between the absolute and the true relative.

P: Isn’t the only way to get rid of that false relative to have the experience of the absolute?

N: Ultimately, yes. But in certain contexts, not necessarily. I mean, you could have somebody who could go into therapy for several years, have no notion at all of the absolute, and still be tidying up some of their false relative stuff.

P: Right. And isn’t the nature of relative that there will always be true and false relative? I mean, it’s an ideal in a way.

Like we might say, to transcend and include, or as I prefer to say, expand and embrace. The notion one can transcend and include the previous level in an ideal form of true relative, let’s say. If that happens very cleanly, then there’s no dissociation. That’s the negative form. But there’s a differentiation that takes place, and that allows the new to emerge. And then in a nice clean fashion, the previous level is integrated and everything kind of flows on smoothly. Yet we know that the nature of the relative is that all sorts of stuff happens in that.

N: Oh, yes. I mean, that’s enough. That’s true, because if we could get rid of the false relative completely, we wouldn’t really need the absolute because we could have a perfect relative world here.

P: Then they would have integrated, yes.

N: Yes, and obviously that’s not possible. I think what we need to do is number one, ground ourselves in the absolute so we don’t take any of this too seriously. But number two, while we’re alive and we’re living in the relative world, a large part of our mission is to minimize the false and maximize the true in the relative.

P: And play the game fully, like fully engaged, you know?

And knowing that, I think that fullness of engagement comes when we free ourselves from getting trapped in the past or the future, or too obsessed with the parts. Then we really become more alive again, and there’s a fullness of engagement that happens, but held in a kind of lightness at the same time. That, I think, can be perceived by people sometimes as being a bit brutal, because it’s very honest. It’s a very direct, fully embodied living experience of doing what needs to be done. And in a way, we’ll just cut through any bullshit and tell it as it is. That can be perceived as being very rude.

N: I’m always being told that I’m too blunt and rude, because I tend to be quite direct and honest. But I think as you evolve, as you minimize the false in the relative, the bullshit and the shadow isn’t there so much anymore because you’re not going to have the energy to engage in all the subterfuge that most people are constantly engaging in.

P: Yes. And in a way, it’s also holding the sword of insight, which is the clarity and the directness, with the compassion. So with the understanding that people are on their own journey. They have their own pain … And they can only really take the next natural step that is next for them.

N: Well, this is why spiral dynamics is so useful. You can’t get someone to move from blue to yellow without going through orange and green first. I mean, people can only do what they can do.

P: Yes. That’s one of the key things I think that people sometimes get confused about. It’s mainly coming from orange, of course. They think spiral is all about getting everybody to second tier, or everybody to yellow. Now from one context, that is partially true in the sense that the life conditions on the planet now are requiring integral thinking, but not of everybody. Actually, the key design imperative of the spiral is to match life conditions with the value system that people are at, so it’s about creating the habitats that enable healthy expression of the value systems that people are currently centered in.

And then if one does that, there is energy over to move on should that be on that person’s path, basically. But you know, I think of my granddad for example, who just kind of stopped at blue and a really healthy blue. He would go out and help. He was 80 himself, and he was helping with disabled people, the driving. He had a habitat that fit his value system and enabled him to live a positive life that contributed to the world around him. The problem is, if we try to force people to move too fast, they experience stress, contract, and then fight for their value system, as it were, because they haven’t got the habitat for it to be able to express itself in a healthy way.

N: I mean, I think this is exactly why second tier is so vital, that at least some people get to second tier. Because otherwise, if we take the three main first-tier levels that are dominant, which are blue, orange and green, each one of them thinks that they’ve got the right answer. So blue wants everyone to be blue, and so on. And of course, it’s neither possible nor desirable that everyone’s just at that one level. So I think the imperative is not to get everyone to evolve as highly as possible, but to get the whole spiral as healthy as possible.

P: Yes. And that requires second-tier design essentially, right?

N: Exactly. To be able to even see that or even conceive that, you need second-tier cognition.

P: And the interesting thing is, what we found with the dancers when we were doing this experiment, was how the first two systems were yin-based, beige and purple. And then the central four had their foundation as yang, and then yellow/turquoise had their foundation as yin again. And it’s that exactly. What happens of course is the second-tier realization of the connectedness, of the relationship between the parts, whereas the first tier focuses on the separation of the connection, particularly when you have a traumatic split from the earlier yin systems.

N: Yes, I mean that could also be why at orange we stop and move to world-centric for the first time. Everything is egocentric and ethnocentric prior to orange. Orange starts to look globally for the first time.

P: Yes, absolutely. It’s still in the position of trying to get itself to the top of that global system, but orange does definitely start to see the whole picture more, not just take things on faith, and broaden its horizons, yes.

N: I sometimes wonder, just as a theoretical question, what would actually be more desirable? A healthy blue or an unhealthy green? I mean, is it better to be at a lower level and healthy, or at a higher level but unhealthy?

P: I think a lower level healthy, because the prime directive of the spiral is the health of the spiral.

N: Yes. I think that as well, yes.

P: So a healthy green includes everything and allows it to be there. In a way unhealthy green has got blue streaming into it. What it does is it say, “if you don’t believe in this post-relative kind of postmodern perspective like me, then you’re wrong.” And so that isn’t really true green. That’s green with a bit of blue absolutism.

N: Exactly, and I think that that unhealthy green is there in the world today.

It’s the mean green meme I think, some people call it. I think that’s quite prevalent. I sometimes wonder if we have to choose. Because in the area of politics for example, you sometimes wonder if you’ve got one party that’s healthy conservative, and if you’ve got another party that’s actually a very unhealthy liberal left party …

P: Yes. Well, in a way what we need now, given the urgency of the situation on the planet, is an enlightened dictatorship.

We need to get a form of governance that says, “look, this I what needs to be done. Boom, do it.” And the biggest hope for that, should you get enlightened leadership in China for example, is their governance system is still so blue that if they want to push through legislation, they could. They could basically force people to adopt it. So yes, because democracy in a sense opens up to diversity, it then makes it harder to be able to take decisions quickly, because you’re trying to include all the different voices. Particularly if you have a kind of paralyzed green that can’t work out that there is actually a verticality in the holarchy, right?

A healthy verticality, in that a decision that includes more of the whole is better than a decision that just prioritizes a small part of the whole.

N: The philosopher Plato talked about the ideal state as being run by the philosopher kings. You get the people who are the philosophers, and they become the kings. So I wonder if what you’re kind of talking about here is yellow/turquoise people in charge, people who have a very clear integral understanding. And then they can essentially make some headway into resolving these kinds of issues, because they see the whole picture in a way that green and lower just can’t see. The problem is, what I’ve found when I talk to people even on Facebook, or friends and family, people have an incredible resistance to the idea of evolution and development within human beings. Because people just don’t like the idea that some human beings are more developed or evolved than others. They really resist that idea.

P: Yes. It’s because they collapse more evolved with better. If the general directionality of the spiral is increasing complexity, which means that it is able to hold more of reality. That’s neither good nor bad. The question of good or bad comes in when you bring in the life conditions. Because the question is, which value system is most appropriate for certain life conditions? And so at the moment, given the global challenges we’re facing, a second-tier value system is important because of the complexity of the challenges, but not for everybody. I remember when I was doing, in a big blue-chip company, doing some organizational development work. They had managers who were really coming into green, but the business unit they were running was shipping tapes back and forth between this company and the clients. It was business continuity and resilience.

The managers had good healthy green, and they were wanting to do the latest thing in green, which was self-organizing teams. So they tried to introduce this to their staff, their department, and they said, “People keep coming to us and going, “yeah, but can you just tell me what to do?'” And so they said, “They’re not taking any initiative.” And so I said to them, “Well, look at the life conditions. Look at the function that these people are meant to be performing,” right?

Which is basically making sure everything is logged properly, shipping tapes back and forth, and making sure that all works. “Which value system best supports that particular function?” And they stopped and thought and they were, “Blue.” “Right. So that means you want people with a good, healthy blue in that department. So what form of management would best support those people?” Ticking over in green, because it has the complexity. It’s able to see it and go, “Oh, yes. More of a blue form of management would fit, suit that habitat, right, and suit those people.”

So yes, what they were trying to do when they introduced self-organizing teams in green is the complexity. It was a bad fit. The complexity was too much for the people who were there with the right value system, to perform the right function. There’s no judgment about them being better or worse. It’s about creating a habitat for the fit of what it is people need to be able to perform. That’s there, but that requires second-tier insight because of the distance that gives you to your attachment to any of the earlier systems.

N: We could say that existentially, everybody is equal. But functionally, some people have a more complex function to perform than others.

P: Yes. I mean, everyone has an important value and they are different in their complexity and in the specific skills that they have, at any particular level. But it does become an imperative if the life conditions change and become more complex to train and educate people, and do what we can to help them develop to match the complexity.

It does become an imperative, but it’s not a general thing that we need everybody to get to the second tier.

N: Yes, not everyone … I think it would be undesirable for everybody to get to second tier. Because who’s going to do the work? Who’s going to do the first-tier functions, yes?

P: Yes, exactly.

N: I mean I remember, going back to a healthy lower or unhealthy higher, I remember watching films set in America in 1850 or something. Settlers from Europe living out in the wilderness in some remote town, and their life is just their tiny little world, their family, their society. They go to church every Sunday. It depicted this very healthy blue setup and I remember thinking … All right, I mean my thinking tends to be yellow, turquoise. But I’d be perfectly happy living there, because they all seem really happy. In their context, it’s actually a perfectly happy, healthy setup.

P: And it reminds you, the beauty of blue is you just know where you stand.

N: Yes, exactly.

P: You know what’s expected of you. You know what to do. Just follow the rules, and everything will be fine. It’s extremely relaxing. If you’re a healthy blue system that is looked on as grey, as we call open blue, so that means it’s not closed, but it’s open. It can be open to other religions having their own practice and being different to it.

But just saying, “Yeah, well, we just happen to believe something else. We’re not going to adopt your way of doing things, and not try to. We’ll do things our way, but they’re not creating any damage.” Basically, the key thing is not to prevent anybody else expressing their value system in a healthy way.

N: But can blue do that? Is there a healthy blue that can do that? Because religions have tended to be pretty exclusivist out there.

P: Yes. You can be defined I think in terms of your own practice, but do you then need to annihilate the other in order to feel only when—and this is where I think again the split has to do with it—when you’ve lost the context of everything being connected at some level.

So the reason I think that religions have ended up doing that is because of the split that happened between the pre-cognitive development and post-cognitive development. So you get religion dropping into that place of fear, which is really what it is. It’s like fear of the other rather than a sense of belonging to everything around it. Then yes, then you’ve got a recipe for a conflict.

N: I think what you just said explains extremely well why the Abrahamic religions have tended to be more intolerant historically than the Eastern religions, generally speaking. There are exceptions, of course.

I think if you look at, say, the development of the Jewish religion in the Old Testament, it’s quite clear that a suppression and a demonization of the lower levels happened quite quickly. So you have the story of Moses, who represents the ultimate blue religion. He goes up the mountain and gets his rules and regulations from God, his ten commandments, so then he comes back down the mountain again with these rules that everyone has to follow. But when he comes down, he finds that the Israelites have regressed to purple or red religion, because they’ve started worshiping the golden calf.

And when he sees that, he orders all of the people who were doing that to be killed. And the whole of the Jewish law in the Old Testament, and the occasions in the Old Testament when the Israelites would go and commit genocide on some of the neighbouring tribes who were worshiping other Gods. Often these could be religions, what they called the pagan religions, which I think came from more purple-type cognition, gods and goddesses of the god of the sun, and the god of the wind, and that kind of thing. I think you can see how the Abrahamic religions quite early on started to suppress rather than include these lower-level religions. That didn’t tend to happen quite so much in Eastern religions.

In Hinduism especially, it was always accepted that there were going to be lots of different types of Hinduism. So there are types of Hinduism that are purple even today, and that’s fine.

P: And lots of different deities, you know?

N: So the worship of Shakti, Kali and so on, what we were talking about earlier, often goes hand in hand with purple religion, which is why you often see goddess worship in the villages and farms, away from the urban areas. Whereas the worship of maybe Vishnu, which can be blue, more transcendent, more away from the things of the earth, could be more in the urban areas. But Hinduism embraces them all, generally speaking, and you see that in Buddhism and Taoism. So maybe that’s one of the reasons why you’ve tended to have a greater tolerance in Eastern religions, because they didn’t suppress in the way the Middle Eastern religions have tended to.

P: Yes. That makes a lot of sense, and there’s that quote again from Ken in Up from Eden which always, always strikes me where he says, “it’s a terrible realization, but one may look in vain through Judeo-Christian, Islamic religion for any authentic trace of the higher touch of the subtle goddess herself.” And that would become a perfect and terrifying comment on an entire civilization, because that I think is the core of why we’ve been able to plunder the planet in the way we have. It’s the core of so much of what we need to get over basically as the West, and unfortunately we’ve exported a lot of it to the rest of the world.

N: To the East now, yes. 

P: But it’s really very, very fundamental, I think.

N: I’ll just say that historically, in early Judaism, historians have found they did originally have a god and a goddess. But the worshipers of the god prevailed and murdered all the worshipers of the goddess, and then they started their monotheism. This anti-feminine, anti-female sentiment showed itself through history in various ways, like the burning of witches, the subjugation of women, and like you say, the plundering of the planet.

P: Throughout, and we’re not even there yet in kind of dealing with that piece. I mean, it’s still so prevalent, yes.

About the Authors

Peter Merry is co-founding Chief Innovation Officer at Ubiquity, founder of the Center for Human Emergence (Netherlands), and a founding partner of Engage!. He has worked in and across different sectors. As well as co-founding and leading the organisations above, his experience includes facilitating integral change processes in multinational corporations, and government ministries, and in multistakeholder initiatives with global stakeholders. He has also spent many years in the not-for-profit sector. He is a recognised expert in the field of evolutionary systems dynamics and Spiral Dynamics Integral in particular. His first book was published in English and Dutch (Evolutionary Leadership, 2005) and his second in 2019 (Why Work? on designing work for people and planet – His third book Leading from the Field ( is due out at the end of November 2020. . He has an MSc in Human Ecology from Edinburgh University and a PhD from Ubiquity’s Wisdom School on volution theory (see His personal website is

Nish Dubashia is an independent scholar, Integral thinker, and long-time practitioner of yoga and meditation.  

He lives in the UK and has an Honours Degree in Mathematics from the University of Warwick, where he studied with some of the world’s finest research mathematicians. 

He is the author of The Unity of Everything: A Conversation with David Bohm (2018), an account of how he was personally invited by Bohm, one of the greatest physicists of the twentieth century and close associate of Einstein, to Birkbeck College in London, to discuss an evolutionary and metaphysical model that Nish had developed while still in his early twenties, and its possible correlations with modern physics and Eastern spirituality. 

The book has been referenced in The Journal of Dialogue Studies and in a related academic workshop in London by Dr Beth Macy, a highly honoured and awarded organizational development consultant and Jungian scholar from Texas, USA.   

Nish also writes fiction under the pen name Nishad Cote, and his works include Gifted: The Story of a Young Genius(2015) and Dancing with Angels: One Man’s Search for the Meaning of Life (2020). 

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