The Atman Project ~ Excerpt From The Eye of Spirit, Ken Wilber

  The Atman Project also ended my flirtation with Romanticism and its attempt to make regression into a source of salvation. I had in fact begun to write both Atman and Eden as a validation of the Romantic view: men and women start out in an unconscious union with the Divine–an unreflexive immersion in a type of Heaven on Earth, a paradisiacal Eden, both ontogenetically and phylogenetically; then they break away from that union, through a process of alienation and dissociation (the isolated and divisive ego); then return to the Divine in a conscious and glorious union.  
     Human development thus proceeds, so to speak, from unconscious Heaven to conscious Hell to conscious Heaven. I started writing both books to validate that Romantic notion… But the more I worked on the books, the more it became obvious that the Romantic view was hopelessly muddled… 
    Hence, the overall Romantic view: one starts out in unconscious Heaven, an unconscious union with the Divine; one then loses this unconscious union, and thus plunges into conscious Hell; one can then regain the Divine union, but now in a higher and conscious fashion.  
     The only problem with that view is that the first step–the loss of the unconscious union with the Divine–is an absolute impossibility. All things are one with the Divine Ground–it is, after all, the Ground of all being! To lose oneness with that Ground is to cease to exist.  
  Follow it closely: there are only two general stances you can have in relation to the Divine Ground: since all things are one with Ground, you can either be aware of that oneness, or you can be unaware of that oneness. That is, you can be conscious or unconscious of your union with the Divine Ground: those are the only two choices you have.  
     And since the Romantic view is that you start out, as an infant, in an unconscious union with Ground, you cannot then lose that union! You have already lost consciousness of the union; you cannot then further lose the union itself or you would cease to be! So if you are unconscious of your union, it can’t get any worse, ontologically speaking. That is already the pits of alienation. You are already living in Hell, as it were; you are already immersed in samsara, only you don’t realize it–you haven’t the awareness to recognize this burning fact. And so that is more the actual state of the infantile self: unconscious Hell.  
     What does start to happen, however, is that you begin to wake up to the alienated world in and around you. You go from unconscious Hell to conscious Hell, and being conscious of Hell, of samsara, of lacerating existence, is what makes growing up–and being an adult–such a nightmare of misery and alienation. The infant self is relatively peaceful, not because it is living in Heaven, but because it isn’t aware enough to register the flames of Hell all around it…  
     As the infant self grows in awareness and consciousness, it slowly becomes aware of the intrinsic pain of existence, the torment inherent in samsara, the mechanism of madness coiled inherently in the manifest world: it begins to suffer. It is introduced to the first Noble Truth, a jolting initiation into the world of perception, whose sole mathematics is the torture-inducing fire of unquenched and unquenchable desire. This is not a desire-ridden world that was lacking in the infant’s previous “wonderful” immersion state, but simply a world that dominated that state unconsciously, a world which the self now slowly, painfully, tragically becomes aware of.  
    And so, as the self grows in awareness, it moves from unconscious Hell to conscious Hell, and there it may spend its entire life, seeking above all else the numbing consolations that will blunt its raw and ragged feelings, blur its etchings of despair. Its life becomes a map of morphine, and folding itself into the anesthetic glow of all its compensations, it might even manage to convince itself, at least for an endearing blush of rose-tinted time, that the dualistic world is an altogether pretty thing.  
  But alternatively, the self might continue its growth and development into the genuinely spiritual domains: transcending the separate-self sense, it uncoils in the very Divine. The union with the Divinea union or oneness that had been present but unconscious since the start–now flares forth in consciousness in a brilliant burst of illumination and a shock of the unspeakably ordinary: it realizes its Supreme Identity with Spirit itself, announced, perhaps, in nothing more than the cool breeze of a bright spring day, this outrageously obvious affair. 
     Now, there is indeed a falling away from Godhead, from Spirit, from the primordial Ground, and this is the truth the Romantics are trying to get at, before they slip into their pre/trans fallacies. This falling away is called involution, the movement whereby all things fall away from a consciousness of their union with the Divine, and thus imagine themselves to be separate and isolated monads, alienated and alienating. And once involution has occurred–and Spirit becomes unconsciously involved in the lower and lowest forms of its own manifestation–then evolution can occur: Spirit unfolds in a great spectrum of consciousness, from the Big Bang to matter to sensation to perception to impulse to image to symbol to concept to reason to psychic to subtle to causal occasions, on the way to its own shocking self-recognition, Spirit’s own self-realization and self-resurrection. And in each of those stages–from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit–evolution becomes more and more conscious, more and more are, more and more realized, more and more awake–with all the joys, and all the terrors, inherently involved in that dialectic of awakening. 
 
  At each stage of this process of Spirit’s return to itself, we–you and I–nonetheless remember, perhaps vaguely, perhaps intensely, that we were once consciously one with the very Divine itself. It is there, this memory trace, in the back of our awareness, pulling and pushing us to realize, to awaken, to remember who and what we always already are.  
     In fact, all things, we might surmise, intuit to one degree or another that their very Ground is Spirit itself. All things are driven, urged, pushed and pulled to manifest this realization. And yet, prior to that divine awakening, all things seek Spirit in a way that actually prevents the realization: or else we would be realized right now! We seek Spirit in ways that prevent it.  
     We seek for Spirit in the world of time; but Spirit is timeless, and cannot there be found. We seek for Spirit in the world of space; but Spirit is spaceless, and cannot there be found. We seek for Spirit in this or that object, shiny and alluring and full of fame or fortune; but Spirit is not an object, and it cannot be seen or grasped in the world of commodities and commotion. 
     In other words, we are seeking for Spirit in ways that prevent its realization, and force us to settle for substitute gratifications, which propel us through, and lock us into, the wretched world of time and terror, space and death, sin and separation, loneliness and consolation.  
     And that is the Atman project.
   The Atman project: the attempt to find Spirit in ways that prevent it and force substitute gratifications. And, as you will see in the following pages, the entire structure of the manifest universe is driven by the Atman project, a project that continues until we–until you and I–awaken to the Spirit whose substitutes we seek in the world of space and time and grasping and despair. The nightmare of history is the nightmare of the Atman project, the fruitless search in time for that which is finally timeless, a search that inherently generates terror and torment, a self ravaged by repression, paralyzed by guilt, beset with the frost and fever of wretched alienation–a torture that is only undone in the radiant Heart when the great search itself uncoils, when the self-contraction relaxes its attempt to find God, real or substitute: the movement in time is undone by the great Unborn, the great Uncreate, the great Emptiness in the Heart of the Kosmos itself. 
 
     And so, as you read this book, try to remember: remember the great event when you breathed out and created this entire Kosmos; remember the great emptying when you threw yourself out as the entire World, just to see what would happen. Remember the forms and forces through which you have traveled thus far: from galaxies to planets, to verdant plants reaching upward for the sun, to animals stalking day and night, restless with their weary search, through primal men and women, yearning for the light, to the very person now holding this book: remember who and what you have been, what you have done, what you have seen, who you actually are in all those guises, the masks of the God and the Goddess, the masks of your own Original Face.

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