Metabeings and Individuals: Aids and Obstacles to Growth

by Deb Bodeau


We all participate in collective consciousnesses - groups, organizations, societies, cultures. For the individual seeking psychological or spiritual development, participation in such metabeings offers both help and hindrance. We can apply the teachings of Western science in conjunction with the teachings of the Western Esoteric Tradition to become conscious of and take responsibility for our participation in metabeings, to recognize dysfunctional relationships and heal them, and to redefine our relationships with metabeings in ways that facilitate our development.


1. Introduction

We all participate in collective consciousnesses - groups, organizations, societies, cultures. For the individual seeking psychological or spiritual development, participation in such metabeings offers both help and hindrance. We can apply the teachings of Western science in conjunction with the teachings of the Western Esoteric Tradition (the Tradition, for brevity;  [1] ) to this observation. By doing so, we can become conscious of and take responsibility for our participation in metabeings. We can recognize dysfunctional relationships and heal them. We can redefine our relationships with metabeings in ways that facilitate our development.

In this document, I raise questions about the relationship between individuals and metabeings. I present some preliminary responses, based on teachings from the Tradition (as found in the open literature), concepts from various social and psychological disciplines, and personal experiences. My goal is to start discussion rather than to present a complete system. The questions I will consider are:

I use the term "metabeing" rather than one of the various alternatives for several reasons. First, it emphasizes that my perspective is different from that of the social sciences. (This also enables the use of the term "group" more consistently with the social sciences.) Second, unlike the terms "group-mind", "group-soul", and "race" which appear in some Western esoteric writings, it avoids the baggage now associated with "race consciousness" terminology. Third, it is pronounceable and evocative, unlike the term "egregor" (also spelled egregore) used in some Western esoteric writings. Finally and most importantly, it emphasizes that while such a being is a "composite consciousness" (conscious only through the consciousnesses of the individuals who participate in it), it exists on a different scale. Certainly it is "larger", encompassing the energies and consciousnesses of the individuals who participate in it. It also exists on a different time scale. Some metabeings have shorter life-spans than the individuals that compose them. Other metabeings have much longer life-spans, so that participation in them gives a sense of immortality.

In reading this document, keep the following examples of metabeings in mind: cultures, nation-states, markets, organizations, family systems, and religious, intellectual, political, or social movements, as well as esoteric orders and lodges. By an individual "participating in a metabeing" is meant identifying with the metabeing or with its perceivable forms (e.g., an institution, an event), investing psychic energy in its activities, and contributing time, effort, or resources to those activities.

The working hypothesis is that a metabeing can be viewed as a character, with a psyche, motives, moods, a personal mythology, and a self-description. In addition, the hypothesis is that descriptive and developmental models of the individual psyche can be interpreted for metabeings in a way that improves our understanding and increases our power.

2. Background

A comprehensive background would be unmanageably large. The material is intended to provide context and pointers to references. I currently neglect Western philosophy (which largely relies on the models of psychology and social science, but explores relationships between individuals and metabeings from a normative as well as descriptive perspective). I also currently neglect Eastern philosophies, psychologies, and cosmologies.

2.1 Models from the Western Social and Psychological Disciplines

A number of disciplines have developed approaches to describing and studying individuals, groups, their developmental processes, and their interdependencies. These include psychiatry, psychology, social psychology, group psychology, group dynamics, organizational behavior, sociology, anthropology, and ethnography, as well as some branches of philosophy. Interdisciplinary studies of the evolution of consciousness provide additional useful perspectives.

2.1.1 Descriptive Models of Consciousness

Psychology offers multiple models of individual consciousness. Each model has implications for how an individual might interact with a metabeing. In addition, each model of individual consciousness can be translated into a model of metabeing consciousness; the attempt to make this translation highlights ways in which individuals and metabeings are similar or different.

I'd like to highlight the following concepts from psychological models of consciousness:

2.1.2 Developmental Models of Consciousness

Psychology offers a variety of developmental models of individual consciousness. Most models focus on development from birth to adulthood. I'd like to highlight two models of adult development, for which clear parallels between individual and metabeing consciousness can be seen: Other models of individual development can also be translated into models of metabeing development, notably Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

A key point in both Kegan and Wilber is that a (stable) society or culture is optimized for a specific order or stage of consciousness. That is, the language, worldview, social processes and structures, and systems of intangible goods (incentives, disincentives, and ways of providing these to individuals) all work together to maximize the number of individuals who reach the target order or stage of consciousness.

Wilber notes that a stable society or culture will obstruct the development of individuals beyond the target stage. Wilber's model enables us to observe that, while a society or culture may have one target stage of consciousness, a spiritual tradition embedded in that culture may be optimized to bring its members to a higher stage. It becomes the role of the tradition to mediate between the individual and the larger society or culture. The tradition acts as a buffer so that society does not impede the individual's development, and the individual's development does not destabilize society.

2.1.3 Descriptive Models of Metabeings

Metabeings can be characterized in terms general attributes such as size, life-span, membership criteria, methods for sharing information, and organizational structure.  Disciplines typically home in on specific forms of metabeings, such as societies, cultures, tribes, organizations, and teams. That is, a given discipline assumes constraints on the general attributes, and then focuses on defining discipline-specific attributes and using those attributes to describe the forms of metabeings the discipline considers. For example, attributes considered in the field of organizational behavior include division of labor or degree of specialization; distribution of power, status, responsibility, and leadership; processes for decision-making; processes for setting and achieving goals; and relationship to individuals and other metabeings (e.g., public/private interface).

Thus, there are many discipline-specific models that can be used to characterize or describe specific types of metabeings. However, I have not found a unifying model in the social sciences, i.e., a model that focuses on how metabeings are all alike. Such a model would correspond to the Tradition's insight that a culture, tribe, species, or organization might all be manifestations or "incarnations" of the same kind of impulse, that each such metabeing has a Higher Self.

I'd like to highlight a couple of ideas about groups, organizations, movements, etc.

Gareth Morgan's Images of Organizations offers a metaphorical perspective on organizations that extends easily to metabeings in general. Morgan describes several common metaphors for describing and modeling organizations: organizations as machines, as organisms, as populations in ecological systems, as brains, as cultures, and as political systems. He then discusses organizations as psychic prisons, as instruments of domination, and (on a more hopeful note) as flux and transformation.

It is possible to explore the relationship between individuals and metabeings by extending Morgan's set of metaphors. If the metabeing is a machine, the individual can be a component - a simple cog or a complex subsystem;  redundant and easily replaceable or crucial. If the metabeing is an organism, the individual can be a cell, or a limb or an organ (as in Hobbes' Leviathan). If the metabeing is a population, the individual can be an organism or a subpopulation (e.g., a herd or family group).

The question of how to describe the relationship between individuals and metabeings has several aspects which are implicitly addressed in these metaphors:

2.1.4 Developmental Models of Metabeings

As with descriptive models, developmental models tend to be discipline-specific. For many disciplines, the early phases of metabeing development are not addressed; the focus is on how the metabeing changes in response to internal (e.g., population growth) or external change (e.g., new technologies).

I'd like to highlight

2.1.5 Evolution of Consciousness

I'll draw from the account in Stephen Mithen's A Prehistory of the Mind of general intelligence, multiple specialized intelligences, and cognitive fluidity. We will use two specialized intelligences in examining our topic: technical intelligence (which uses such concepts as structures, substructures, and operations on substructures) and social intelligence (which models beings as characters, with motives, emotions, and awareness of self and others). For example, the descriptive models of individual consciousness arise from applying technical intelligence to the psyche: substructures of the psyche are identified, their interrelations examined, and therapeutic strategies are defined that exploit dependencies among substructures. For purely explanatory purposes, and for some therapeutic approaches, social intelligence is also applied in some descriptive models: the "parts" are personified, and perceptions, emotions, and motives are attributed to them. Exploring the idea of a metabeing involves applying social intelligence to groups, organizations, movements, and other forms of collective behavior.

Note that social consciousness can provide useful models of activity even when (under closer examination) the "perceptions", "emotions", and "motives" have no literal basis. For example, hunter-gatherer cultures attribute anthropomorphic patterns of thought to animals who (under scientific scrutiny) appear to think very differently from humans. Nonetheless, the hunter-gatherers use their anthropomorphic models to predict animal behavior with great success.

Related to Mithen's account, two additional areas for further reflection and speculation can be highlighted. First, what are the generic constructs or data structures that underly each specialized intelligence, and how have these constructs been conditioned, elaborated, or particularized by cultures, traditions, and disciplines? Consideration of this question will aid individuals' development of a more mature relationship not only with those metabeings in which they participate, but also with individuals who participate in different metabeings. Second, is there a specialized "mystical intelligence", and if so, what are its constructs and data structures?

2.2 Insights from the Western Esoteric Tradition

In this section, I provide a sampling observations about metabeings from the open literature. I also provide an initial exploration of how the "incarnation" of a metabeing can be understood in terms of the Tree of Life. (For an introduction to the Tree of Life, see Doug's essay.)  I briefly summarize descriptive and developmental models of the individual psyche. Finally, I give a brief critique of the fatalism I perceive in many traditional teachings on group process and development.

2.2.1 A Sampling of Observations about Metabeings

The Tradition includes perspectives on egregors, group-minds, group-souls, orders, races, and guides that can be applied to metabeings in general. The focus tends to be on teachings specific to esoteric orders, fraternities, and lodges. John Michael Greer's Inside a Magical Lodge: Group Ritual in the Western Tradition provides a particularly lucid and thoughtful description of how a lodge's egregor is constructed and maintained, and of how the ethics of participants affects the egregor. The works of Butler and Fortune cited below also provide more insight on how esoteric orders, fraternities, and lodges develop and use group-minds.

The following is a sampling of ideas that can be applied to metabeings in general. A caveat on terminology is required. Terms such as "race" and "racial consciousness" are commonly used in the esoteric literature. This language reflects social theories in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The abuse of those theories by the Third Reich, as well as by bigotted social theorists discredited in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, has caused this terminology to fall into disrepute or disuse. See Arthur Herman's The Idea of Decline in Western History for more on the history of racial theories.

From W.E. Butler, Lords of Light: The Path of Initiation in the Western Mysteries, Destiny Books, Rochester, VT, 1990:

From Dion Fortune, Esoteric Orders and Their Work, The Aquarian Press, London, U.K., 1987: From William G. Gray, Inner Traditions of Magic, Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, 1970, 1984: From Gareth Knight, A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism, Samuel Weiser, Inc., York Beach, ME, 1965, 1993:

2.2.2 Metabeing Formation and Development: A Tree-of-Life Perspective

In the excerpts given above, the terms "group-mind" and "group-soul" are overloaded. The term "group-mind" can be roughly identified with consciousness at Hod, Netzach, and Yesod on the path of return, i.e., as it seeks to understand and affect the world. The term "group-soul" can likewise be identified with consciousness at those three Sephiroth, but in the sense that that consciousness is an expression or manifestation of an impulse from higher on the Tree, mediated by the metabeing's Higher Self (or guardian angel, higher soul, or individuality). For clarity, I propose the following conventions: "group-mind" refers to Hod, collective unconscious to Yesod, and collective motivations to Netzach, while "group-soul" (or "metabeing psyche") refers to consciousness at those three Sephiroth. Thus, the metabeing psyche includes a worldview, systems for describing or modeling aspects of the world, patterns of thought or reasoning; archetypes, cultural stereotypes, images, stereotyped patterns of behavior; identification of emotions, frames of mind, moods; and values.

The lightning-flash of manifestation on the Tree of Life provides a model of how a metabeing comes into existence. The path of return provides a developmental model for metabeing as well as individual consciousness. (In discussing both individual and metabeing consciousness, we use the Yetziratic Tree.) The impulse-to-manifest, expressed as an Individuality at Tiphareth, constructs a metabeing to embody itself by using available materials - the Individualities manifested as human personalities it can recruit, and the ideas, motivational structures, and images constructed by previously-manifested metabeings. The metabeing's Higher Self (like the Higher Self of an individual human) may be more or less experienced or sophisticated about incarnation.

In my experience, metabeings (like impersonal forces seeking manifestation) aren't usually malevolent. Their adverse effects on the individuals who participate in them can usually be attributed to cluelessness, indifference (related to operating on a different scale), or failure to foresee consequences. With regard to cluelessness, I believe that as we evolve, we have a responsibility to "report back up the Tree", to seek actively to improve the understanding of the Individualities-manifest-as-metabeings and the impersonal forces seeking manifestation, of how the manifest-so-far world works. (See Angels in America for an illustration of reporting.) With regard to failure to foresee consequences, the destructive impact of a metabeing may come from the opening up of paths for destructive energies, rather than from any destructive intent on the part of the metabeing. The corporate intranet can be a vector for computer viruses, even though its designers had no such intentions.

I see three major ways in which a metabeings can be malevolent. First, it can be attached to or invested in its cluelessness or indifference, despite the best efforts of its participants to correct its errors. As with individuals, this behavior is usually due to an unwillingness to reallocate energy and attention, which in turn is often due to a fear that not enough energy will be available to accomplish valued goals. Second, it can be angry at the inability of its participants to manifest its impulses. The frustration of an impulse-to-manifest becomes pain and suffering; an unevolved or inexperienced metabeing, like its human counterpart, will tend to pass the suffering on. Third, the metabeing can define itself negatively; the "Other" then becomes a target.

2.2.3 Individual Development in the Western Esoteric Tradition

The Tradition presents three major models of individual development: the path of return on the Tree of Life, the Major Arcana of the Tarot, and alchemy. [2] As background for later discussion, I need to provide a little information on the first.

The Tree of Life cosmology presents a developmental model of human consciousness, which involves ascending back up the Tree in Yetzirah. While some part of the individual's consciousness is present at each of the spheres in the Tree, awareness is initially at Malkuth and Yesod. The individual's development as a social being involves developing awareness at Hod and Netzach, and mastering the relationships among these four spheres (i.e., mastering the paths between them, developing the ability to move the center of conscious awareness from one sphere to another). The individual's development as a spiritual being builds on mastery of the lower four spheres, and involves developing awareness at Tiphareth. This is the sphere of the Higher Self, which is believed to reincarnate as different personalities (i.e., different configurations within the lower four spheres). The spheres above Tiphareth are essentially impersonal.

The visual icon for manifestation is the lightning flash descending the Tree. While it shows an alternation and interplay between the three pillars of the Tree, it is perceived as linear (or easily linearizable). The visual icon for ascent (or return) is a serpent, wrapping itself around the Tree so as to touch each of the paths between the spheres. While linearizable, the serpent's route is organic and indirect, sometimes descending slightly before re-ascending, and visiting some paths twice.

The Tradition also presents several descriptive models of individual consciousness, notably the Tree of Life and astrology. In general, these models are not applied to metabeings. In some cases, a horoscope is cast for a metabeing; difficulties arise in identifying its moment and site of birth.

2.2.4 A Respectful Critique

In surveying the literature, I found an unfortunately fatalistic approach to group process in esoteric orders, fraternities, and groups within them. Schisms (and the infighting that precede them) are viewed as inevitable. Explanations can be constructed in terms of withdrawal of inner-plane contacts, personality problems on the part of members, the inability of key members to channel the necessary energies [3] , and the decision by the group-mind that some individuals just don't fit. I have no doubt that each such explanation is true some of the time, and I believe that metabeings (like anything else that manifests in time) have limited life-spans. However, I'm suspicious of any argument that assumes a tragic flaw that dooms each metabeing. The neo-Pagan community has begun to apply ideas and techniques from the social sciences (see, for example, Amber K's Covencraft: Witchcraft for Three or More or Judy Harrows's Wicca Covens: How to Start and Organize Your Own). I believe that orders, fraternities, and groups in the Western Esoteric Tradition could benefit from that example.

There is also a risk in metabeings that claim Divine or higher-plane guidance that the participants will defer responsibility for the well-being of one another and the metabeing to their guides. This risk increases when the metabeing's norms include secrecy -- or just a strong reluctance to share information about internal processes with "outsiders" (no matter what expertise the "outsiders" have). Karen Armstrong's Through the Narrow Gate provides a case study of this risk in the setting of a Christian religious order.

Greer provides a good exposition of the problems of magical elitism (i.e., elitism based on advancement in magical skill and expertise) which apply equally well in the setting of any spiritual tradition with a fixed developmental hierarchy. He observes,

"Spiritual insight and magical power don't guarantee competence in the art of governing any more than they guarantee competence in the craft of plumbing."
There is a strong resistance in all religious organizations when anyone tries to treat sacred things in terms of their resemblances to profane things. This resistance arises, for example, when someone treats sacred texts as texts, sacred stories as stories, sacred rituals as rituals. Thus, I expect a similar resistance to treating sacred groups as groups. In Varieites of Religious Experience, William James says,
"It is true that we instinctively recoil from seeing an object to which our emotions and affections are committed handled by the intellect as any other object is handled. The first thing the intellect does with an object is to class it along with something else. But any object that is infinitely important to us and awakens our devotion feels to us also as if it must be sui generis and unique. Probably a crab would be filled with a sense of personal outrage if it could hear us class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and thus dispose of it. 'I am no such thing,' it would say; 'I am MYSELF, MYSELF alone.' " (p. 17)
And yet he concludes:
"Who does not see that we are likely to ascertain the distinctive significance of religious melancholy and happiness, or of religious trances, far better by comparing them conscientiously as we can with other varieties of melancholy, happiness, and trance, than by refusing to consider their place in any more general series, and treating them as if they were outside of nature's order altogether?" (p. 30)

3. Exploration

In this section, I look at how metabeings and individuals influence each other, the benefits that participation in metabeings offers to an individual's development, and the possible ways that participation can damage the individual's psyche or hamper development.

3.1 Mechanisms for Influence

An individual influences a metabeing by participating in its group projects. (An individual can also influence a metabeing by withholding energy from selected projects; if individuals withhold energy from all the projects the metabeing supports, they cannot be said to participate in that metabeing.) In this section, my concern is for how a metabeing influences an individual. I'll start with a few observations about mutual influence, then focus on mechanisms by which a metabeing, with its group-mind, collective unconscious, collective motivations, and group-soul, influences the individual. These mechanisms include refinements of cognitive and motivational structures, memes, behavioral motifs, and moods. The metaphor of the ping-pong ball is intended in part to illustrate how multiple influences on the individual shape their experience.

3.1.1 Mutual Influence

Mutual influence can be described in two ways: feedback and the planting of seeds in the unconscious. (For more on the latter description, see Paul Foster Case's The Tarot.) The feedback metaphor emphasizes nonlinearity, unpredictability, and the possibility of descent into chaos; the gardening metaphor emphasizes the need for ongoing nurturing and weeding. Art is a major mechanism for mutual influence between individuals and metabeings. The individual, by creating a work of art, plants a seed in the collective unconscious. On the other hand, individuals incubate seeds planted via works of art they experience.

3.1.2 Refinements of Cognitive and Motivational Structures

A metabeing specializes or tailors the generic constructs and data structures of general and specific intelligences to its environment. That is, it defines a shared worldview; it names emotions and responses; it provides models by which its individual participants can understand themselves and their world. In so doing, the metabeing performs a function too large and complex to be done by an individual in a single incarnation. However, the worldview provided by the metabeing can overconstrain the evolving individual.

A metabeing specializes or tailors generic motivational mechanisms, and constructs images to raise and channel motivation. For example, all cultures have some notion of error, or of activity that is worthy of condemnation or punishment. These notions are tied experientially to feelings of shame or guilt that seem to be part of the hardwiring of human beings. The Christian notion of "sin", however, is not universal, and is modified and conditioned by many aspects of the overall Christian worldview.

By tailoring these generic motivational structures, a metabeing creates intangible goods (e.g., respect, honor) and maintains delivery systems for those goods (e.g., social status). The fact that the metabeing operates on a wider scale than the individual enables it to create and deliver intangible goods. Money provides a clear example: An economic system manages to produce a range of goods that no individual could produce for himself/herself. There's no way to figure out which specific products are produced by any particular individual, so each individual is given an intangible "right" to some portion of the total output. The intangible good has properties (nonspecificity, divisibility) that the individual products do not. In general, intangible goods are needed to translate down to the individual scale the outputs of processes that do not themselves exist on the individual scale.

3.1.3 Memes, Motifs, and Moods

In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins coins the term "meme" for "a unit of cultural transmission" analogous to a gene. Memes propagate from one mind to another, and are subject to an evolutionary process akin to that of genes. An evolutionarily fit meme share with a fit gene the characteristics of longevity, fecundity, and copy-fidelity. Examples of effective ways to transmit an idea by packaging it as a meme include expressing it as a sound bite, associating it with a musical phrase, and linking it with a visual icon.

A behavioral motif or template is a loosely scripted set of actions one can take in a given social situation. When one enacts a behavioral motif, one's actions are understood and accepted as at least normal, at best evidence of savoir-faire. Examples include ordering at a restaurant, going on a date, having an argument, and being rude to a social inferior. Motifs reflect the behavioral norms of a social group, including norms for how one behaves badly. Different social subgroups construct local variations or elaborations of behavioral motifs. Television and film provide a rich transmission medium for behavioral motifs. I've never smoked, but I know how to hold a cigarette, inhale, and exhale in ways that communicate a wide variety of attitudes and moods. Marshall McLuhan and Wilfred Watson explore the flow between popular culture, behavioral motifs and memes (though they do not use those terms), and the deep structures of the collective unconscious in From Cliche to Archetype.

The idea that a metabeing has moods and emotions is intuitively clear - we know what it means for a crowd to be in an ugly mood, or for a nation to be euphoric after some achievement. The mechanisms by which the metabeing "feels" an emotion require some reflection, given contemporary neuropsychology's identification of moods with brain chemistry. It can feel through the emotions of its participants. It can express its feelings through spokespersons, the arts, and the mass media (e.g., the screaming heads on Crossfire). Only some of the participants need to be in a given state of mind for that state to be attributable to the metabeing. Thus, a metabeing can maintain a mood longer and with greater constancy than any individual, so long as it can trigger that mood in some portion of its participants. Metabeing expressions of emotion serve as triggers, creating a self-sustaining mood.

3.1.4 The Ping-Pong Ball Metaphor

Consider the following metaphor. My attention is like a ping-pong ball, bouncing around in a box. The box is my field of perception. (Thus, I assume there are things in the world which I am incapable of perceiving.) The floor of the box is where my attention might come to rest. The floor has low spots; these are the places my attention is most likely to wind up in. From time to time, the box is shaken or jolted (by an event in the world, by a higher force seeking to manifest, by my own psychic energies). My attention then bounces or rolls around, until it again comes to rest. It may come to rest in a different low spot, but its location will still be determined by the shape of the floor.

The floor (in fact, all the sides) of the box is provided by some of the metabeings in which I participate: human culture as a whole provides rough-hewn floorboards; Western culture adds another, more finished layer of boards; and various metabeings add layers over different regions of the floor. Finally, I put a layer of linoleum over it all: based on my experiences, I develop a worldview that shapes where my attention is likely to go. But each layer is affected by the layers beneath it: my low spots or likely foci of attention are largely determined by the low spots defined by my culture.

Psychological and spiritual development then can be conceived as developing certain skills and performing certain tasks: recognizing when the ping-pong ball of attention has gotten stuck in a low spot, giving the box a jolt to get it unstuck, moving the ball in a controlled manner rather than having it bounce all over the place, expanding the box, evening out the floor.

3.2 Potential Benefits to Individual Development

The potential benefits of participating in a metabeing to an individual's development depend on the type of metabeing. Some developmental benefits of participating in large, long-lived metabeings such as tribes, societies, or nations include: The potential benefits of participating in esoteric orders or groups are well-documented (see, for example, the works of Greer, Butler, or Fortune cited above) and will not be repeated here.

3.3 Potential Dangers to Individual Development

In this section, I give a sampling of ways that participation in a metabeing can hinder an individual's development, or harm the individual outright. As I look at this collection, I'm reminded of cautionary nutrition articles - after reading a few of them, I need to remind myself that, while anything in the wrong form or quantities can cause health problems, I can't  avoid the risks by not eating.

For ease of presentation, I organize potential dangers into four clusters: developmental mismatches, channeling and filling roles, other people, and scale differences. This is not intended to be a taxonomy; the clusters intersect, and a problem in one area can lead to a problem in another.

3.3.1 Developmental Mismatches

Some dangers to individual development arise from the individual being at, or moving into, a different developmental phase than the metabeing:

3.3.2 Channeling and Playing Roles

Some dangers relate to the role(s) an individual plays in or in relation to the metabeing, or to channeling the metabeing or its energies:

3.3.3 Other People

Some dangers arise because other people participate in or relate to the metabeing:

3.3.4 Differences in Scale

Some dangers arise simply because the metabeing exists on a different scale than the individual:

4. Application to Everyday Life

In this section, I sketch some initial ideas on how to tell whether your relationship with a metabeing is doing you harm, and what you might do to heal from that harm.

4.1 Self-Assessment

It can be illuminating (and sometimes overwhelming) to take a census of the metabeings in which one participates. Here are some questions to get you started: Also consider your negative participation in metabeings (the "I-am-not-a-jock" or "I-hate-rap" phenomenon). Some people who dis-identify with a group spend more time and energy on it than the people who identify with it.

Once you recognize that you participate in a metabeing, you can characterize it in a variety of ways which help understand how and why dysfunctions can happen:

You can also characterize your relationship to the metabeing in terms of the form and level of your participation:
Do you provide the metabeing with a human face? Are you a spokesperson or representative for it?
Do you channel energies or

4.2 Diagnostics

Here are some initial questions to help diagnose mismatches, dysfunctions, and injuries in the relationship between the individual and a metabeing:

4.3 Healing

I'll use the following general model of healing the psyche: Healing can be blocked in any of these stages. A stage can be instantaneous or take a long period of time. In the case of injury due to participation in a metabeing, the "cease to do harm" stage usually involves a temporary withdrawal from participation. Depending on the circumstances, the withdrawal can be overt, or can take the form of apparent participation coupled with withdrawal of energy and identification.

What problems can arise when an individual seeks to heal an injury due to participation in a metabeing? Here are a few examples:

4.4 Redefining Modes of Participation

Most of the literature, whether esoteric or in psychology, philosophy, or the social sciences, focuses on how an individual at the traditional order of consciousness relates to (specific kinds of) metabeings. The esoteric literature also explores the relationships between an individual, in the process of achieving modern (or, to a lesser extent, postmodern) consciousness, and esoteric orders or groups. In this section, I sketch some ideas on how an individual at the modern and postmodern orders of consciousness might relate to metabeings. In either case, the kind of identification with a metabeing that an individual at the traditional order of consciousness has, remains an option. However, it is an option that the individual exercises consciously and can drop when circumstances merit.

4.4.1 Modern Consciousness and Metabeings

In Kegan's model, an individual at the modern order of consciousness assumes narrative authority over the story of their life. The individual mediates among the demands and desires of the various metabeings in which they participate, such as family, profession, workgroup, society, and culture. In narrative terms, the individual defines their role in various organizations or institutions, e.g., employer, division or department if the employer is large enough to be so organized, professional organization, ad-hoc teams related to the profession (e.g., the organizing committee for a conference), church, political organizations, and voluntary organizations related to the arts.

Another way of saying this is that the individual chooses the form and modulates the degree of participation in each metabeing. The individual "chooses" rather than "constructs", since the form of participation must be one that the metabeing can recognize and use. For example, while I might participate in and identify with my country, I can  choose to limit the forms of my emotional participation: I will be proud when the nation works toward or achieves goals I share, I will be ashamed when it takes actions I view as discreditable, but I will not be outraged when someone says something negative about it. The individual "modulates" the degree of participation, within limits inherent in the form. For example, I can modulate the number of hours I work each week, but if I consistently work 0 hours, I cease to participate in my workplace.

The individual's narrative authority over their life in the context of a metabeing is similar to that of a writer in a shared universe: constrained by conventions and history, able to use those conventions and history as background for their narrative, but with considerable creative freedom. Thus, the modern individual becomes a co-author, with the metabeing and with the other individuals who participate in the metabeing, of both the stories of the metabeing and of the individual-as-participant. Note that conflicts can arise between the modern individual and traditional participants in the metabeing, who typically perceive the modern individual's sense of responsibility - for his/her personal narrative and for his/her contributions to the metabeing's narrative - as an attempt to seize power or as an attempt to "be as gods". The modern individual appears to lack the humility that is seen as proper in a human.

The modern individual, by sharing their energies among metabeings with similar goals (e.g., professional field, employer), provides a channel for communications and synergy among those metabeings. Thus, for example, the employer benefits from the individual's participation in a professional organization. Metabeings at the modern order of consciousness both appreciate and expect the individual to act as a conduit; metabeings at the traditional order typically both resent and accept the benefits of the individual's participation in multiple metabeings.

4.4.2 Postmodern Consciousness and Metabeings

Kegan's characterization of postmodern (or fifth-order) consciousness is less detailed than of earlier orders of consciousness. He distinguishes between reactive postmodernism (the "differentiate" phase in Wilber's three-phase model of growth) and constructive postmodernism (the "transcend and include" phase in Wilber). In this section, I ignore the reactive phase and use the term postmodernism to mean constructive postmodernism.

(I do not mean to downplay the reactive phase. By entering into it, the individual risks becoming cynical about the intangible goods which are the most obvious service metabeings provide. At a minimum, the individual will disrupt their relationships with metabeings. However, I believe the most important task in the reactive phase is to get through it. Thus, I do not want to dwell on possible relationships between metabeings and reactive-postmodern individuals. I view those relationships as inherently unstable and the stabilizing of the reactive phase as undesirable.)

The postmodern conception of self includes trans-ideological or post-ideological cognitive constructs: Rather than seeking to construct the "one true story" that encompasses all relevant facts, the postmodern mind maintains multiple stories and selects among them based on utility and beauty. The postmodern conception of self-in-relationship includes a recognition that the self, like the other, is a complex system, and that interactions can occur between subsystems as well, between the two systems, or within a larger system that includes self and other as subsystems. Kegan identifies some questions to help distinguish between how modern and postmodern consciousness construe relationships:

"(1) Do we see the self-as-system as complete and whole or do we see the self-as-system as incomplete, only a partial construction of all that the self is? (2) Do we identify with the self-as-form (which self then interacts with other selves-as-forms) or do we identify with the process of form creation (which brings forms into being and subtends their relationship? Another way of putting this second question is: Do we take as prior the elements of a relationship (which then enter into the relationship) or the relationship itself (which creates its elements)?"
The postmodern conceptions of self and of self-in-relationship enable the individual to perceive metabeings as essentially similar to oneself. Each is an internally complex, incomplete, and open system. (I use the phrase "open system" here to evoke both physics and computer science. In physics, the open system receives energy from outside the system, and thus can evolve greater internal complexity; the closed system is subject to entropy. In computer science, an open system is one which can be modified or extended by anyone who understands its interfaces.) From a Tree-of-Life perspective, each is a manifestation of a Higher Self.

Postmodern consciousness allows the individual to make a conscious (and artful) choice of metaphors and descriptions. Thus, the postmodern individual can construe relationships with metabeings (as with other individuals) with more freedom and subtlety.

The postmodern individual has several new options for relating to metabeings.

In my experience, collegiality and compassion are the hardest but most spiritually rewarding relationships to bring off. Each relies on one's awareness of and identification with one's Higher Self. Collegiality also relies on accepting the role one's Higher Self has assumed with respect to manifesting some higher impulse. Each requires acknowledging that one's life, like the existence of one's metabeing colleagues, is at the service of impersonal higher forces.

5. Conclusion

I'd like to close with three general observations:


[1] This document was originally prepared for presentation at a group studying the Western Esoteric Tradition. I assume that the reader has some understanding of the Tradition. If not, here's a little background:

The Western Esoteric or Mystery Tradition is a body of esoteric teaching, thought, and practice. To the Tradition is often attributed the goal of facilitating the evolution of consciousness. The consciousness to be evolved can be that of an individual, a group, or the human race as a whole. The Tradition is embedded in Western culture, although some Eastern influences can be found. It is promulgated by many Western occult orders, most notably those that trace their history to the Order of the Golden Dawn. Until recently, little could be found in print, so the occult orders were the means by which the teachings were passed on. The Western Mystery Tradition is also known as the Hermetic tradition, or Hermeticism.

The teachings are presented via systems of symbols, each with an associated cosmology. The systems of symbols are mapped to one another. Differences in the interpretation of a given system, or in the way two systems are mapped, are common. The symbol systems that are commonly viewed as part of the Western Mystery Tradition are Qabalah, astrology, alchemy, and the Tarot. For purposes of this document, I assume familiarity with the model of consciousness and cosmology described by the Qabalistic Tree of Life.

For further information, see the works of Greer, Butler, Fortune, Gray, and Knight mentioned above, or:
Caitlin and John Matthews, The Western Way: A Practical Guide to the Western Mystery Tradition, Volume 2: The Hermetic Tradition.
Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn.
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[2] While the paths between spheres on the Tree of Life are mapped to the Major Arcana, the Tarot model of development is of the Fool's Journey: The images of the Major Arcana are thus visited in reverse order from the serpent's route; each is visited once; and the image of the Fool is both beginning and end, so that the Major Arcana form a cycle. Thus, it seems advisable to treat the Major Arcana and the ascent of the Tree as distinct models of spiritual development. For a presentation that integrates Tarot, the Tree of Life, and alchemy from a Jungian perspective, see Dr. Irene Gad, Tarot and Individualation: Correspondences with Cabala and Alchemy.
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[3] "Channeling" roughly means "acting as a communications or energy transmission medium for a disincarnate entity". In terms of the Tree of Life, a disincarnate entity is one  that does not have a manifestation in Malkuth. It can be personifiable, in which case channeling means acting as a communications medium: an individual speaks, writes, or creates an artistic expression for the entity's thoughts or emotions. See Jon Klimo's Channeling: Investigations on Receiving Information from Paranormal Sources for a detailed survey of this phenomenon. The disincarnate entity can be an impersonal force, in which case channeling means directing and transmitting energies. See Chip Brown's Afterwards, You're a Genius for descriptions of channeling healing energies.

Channeling is distinguished from acting on the entity's behalf, in that the individual does not claim personal ownership for the ideas, emotions, or energies. Thus, we can speak of an individual channeling a metabeing, and distinguish this from the individual speaking on the metabeing's behalf. In the case of channeling, the individual may actually disagree with the message. We can also speak of an individual serving as a channel for the metabeing's energies.

Channeling energies, whether they are attributable to a metabeing, divinity, or an impersonal universe, typically induces changes in the individual. The most predictable change is habituation: the more one channels a given type of energy, the more likely it is one will be able to channel that energy in the future, and the easier the channeling will be. (This observation underlies the practice of metta meditation; see Sharon Salzberg's Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.)

Channeling energies or informamation can cause the individual's worldview to change to account for experiences related to channeling. Channeling can induce changes in the individual's emotional state and psychological stability. The risks of ego inflation, mood swings, and psychological destabilization are well recognized.
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