Drive Cutting-Edge Progress by Improving Inner Engagement
Chapter Eight: The Full Range of Our Engagement
Personal and cultural conditioning enable us to function normally and pragmatically within a culture, but they also limit what we perceive and do in rigid, habitual ways. Are we simply the product of our conditioning, including our psychological ‘resistance’ to getting things done? Or are we something bigger, more expansive, as suggested by research on peak experiences? Other than our ordinary conditioned state and the 'zone' of peak performance, are there other states it can be helpful to familiarize ourselves with in order to get an overview of what's possible for us as humans? Is there an example of how one changes from one state to another?
Levels representing the full range of human experience
Besides our 'normal' conditioned consciousness, what other states are possible for humans? It could help to consider the full range of possibilities. Is there a comprehensive catalog of states?
So far, the only candidate I’ve seen for a clear description of the full range of human development, with its incredibly varied views and focal settings, is Tarthang Tulku’s series of books on the Time, Space, and Knowledge (TSK) vision. These books describe three main levels of human functioning: “As an organizing principle for an inquiry into time, space, and knowledge, it can help to think in terms of three different levels. The first level starts from our common, everyday views of how these facets of our being operate.” (p. xxix, SDTS) The third level is an enlightened state that we might compare to the so-called 'zone' of peak performance described in Chapter Six. A second level, an intermediate level that occurs during our development from the first to the third level, is also described in the books. The following section has a summary of these three levels, drawn from the six books of the TSK series: Time, Space, and Knowledge (1977), Love of Knowledge (1987), Knowledge of Time and Space (1990), Visions of Knowledge (1993), Dynamics of Time and Space (1994), and Sacred Dimensions of Time and Space (1997).
Before we examine these levels, let's take a look at why Tarthang Tulku describes them in terms of time, space, and knowledge. According to the author, "Time, space and knowledge are the most basic facets of human experience." (KTS, p. xv) "We are partners with space through physical existence, partners with time through actions, and partners with knowledge through awareness. Though these three facets of being may be neither ‘absolute’ nor ‘ultimate’, they constitute the ‘stuff’ of our lives—starting points for an inquiry that can transform our being." (LOK, pp. xx-xxi)
Focusing on time, space, and knowledge--rather than the self--affords a new approach at the outset. "Conventional knowledge today focuses on the self: what the self needs, what it understands, what it is capable of. Suppose that we shift this focus, looking in a more neutral way at how our being functions." (SDTS, p. xiv) "When we place these three factors—space, time, and knowledge—at the center of our being, something quite remarkable happens. Knowledge comes into its own, informing experience and existence in a very powerful way." (p. xv, SDTS) "The starting point for such transformation is to investigate time, space, and knowledge in our own experience, challenging the restrictive ways that we have learned to think of them." (SDTS, p. xvi)
Now we examine the characteristics and limitations of level one.
Summary of level one
This is the 'normal' way we are and operate after we have matured, that is, after our ordinary Western conditioning is complete. This level is sometimes also called the ordinary level:
Summary of level two
Summary of level three
This brief depiction of level three from the Time, Space, and Knowledge vision is consistent with the zone of peak performance (see Chapter Six ). And it's worth noting that here also we find no complexes, personality, or identity, much less conditions like emotional upset, doubt, and separation that are common with level one.
Three ways of experiencing a feeling
To see more clearly how these three main levels of functioning are related, we can depict what happens as you change the way you relate to a particular feeling from a first-level to a third-level way. Although any feeling could be used, in this example, we take the example of a feeling of pain in the shoulder. The pain is presumed to be the same energy in the descriptions of all three levels--it is the way the pain energy is experienced, or the overall view of the energy, that is different.
One: At level one, our usual way of experiencing, the pain is usually labeled, often as something negative, and is experienced as located in a particular place in the body, in this case in the shoulder. You, identified as the self, are not merged with the feeling, but are related to it as a feeling that you have. Your experience of time is linear, flowing relentlessly in one direction. Space is experienced as extending in three dimensions.
Two: At level two, the feeling is not experienced as so clearly locatable as in the first way of experiencing. The feeling is in the same physical location, but one experiences the boundaries of the feeling to be more open or less definite. There may be a shifting back and forth from seeing the feeling as negative, to relating to it as simply neutral energy. One senses the surrounding space differently—not so extended, more open, less fragmented, and less container-like. Similarly, the sense of oneself as the observer of the feeling is more spacious. Rather than an intellectual way of relating to the feeling, there is a simple, nonverbal observation or sensing of it. There's also a sense of time slowing down.
Three: At level three, there is simply the pure energy of the feeling, with no labeling, and no identification of location in the body. There is no feeling of oneself as an observer separate from the feeling. Awareness is merged with the feeling-energy, which is not experienced as negative. There is no sense of time passing, and no experience of space as a container for things and events. Space is simply nonextended openness that accompanies and permeates the feeling.
(Continued in the next column)
Table of Contents
Click on a heading to go to that part of the book.
Introduction: Definitions and Principles
Chapter 1: The Peak Performance Principle
Chapter 2: Case History--Monitoring a Transformational Variable
Chapter 3: A lab exercise--Sorting Cards into Books for Time
Chapter 4: Case History--Monitoring an Emotional Intelligence Variable
Chapter 5: General Four-step Approach to Accomplishment, Creativity, and Change
Chapter 6: What’s the Zone of Peak Experience and Performance?
Chapter 7: Building An Engagement Playing Field
Chapter 8: The Full Range of Our Engagement, or, "Who Are We, Anyway?"
Bibliography and References
(Continued from the previous column)
Ocean of Knowledge
The quality of our participation with time, space, and knowledge in the three different levels above corresponds to differences in the quality of our experience in the following metaphor:
Imagine that you live within the depths of an 'ocean'; you are completely permeated by it. It gives to you, and you take what it offers, acting in ways that are expressive of the purity and power of the water. The results of your actions remain within that same sphere, flowing freely back into the water. But the 'ocean' is vast, unbridled power, not limited or constrained by anything, and constrains nothing. It permits everything, even ways of relating to it that are very limited and 'stand-offish'.
Let's suppose that you become identified with one of these narrow, aloof ways of interacting with the ocean. It's as though you have drawn above it, ignoring the qualities and depth of its waters. You don't even "acknowledge" that depth; you don't knowingly interact with it. But you can never completely sever your connection, so you can never avoid depending on it and interacting with it in some way. The result is that the ocean leaps up and slaps you in the face with the peaks of its high, jagged waves. This is the only form of contact your aloof stance will permit.
Perhaps you come to live on the very peaks of these waves and look across to the peaks of other waves around you. You pretend that reality is comprised only of what floats there on the peaks, that there is no 'underneath', not even any supporting water, except perhaps in some abstract sense. Even so, part of your new existence is the constant, shocking sensation of being struck by ocean sprays.
Perhaps you take this unpleasant experience as meaningless, just a 'background phenomenon'. But it won't go away. Always churned about by the waves, out of phase with the rise and fall of other peaks, it is hard to relate satisfactorily to others. The structures you build seem unstable, subject to some relentless, destabilizing power, and you are always struck in the face by the surging water.
If, eventually, you relax your obsession with scanning across the peaks, and become willing to give more attention to the water itself, to acknowledge it in a participatory sense, you can delve deeply into the ocean. Then, much to your vast amazement, the annoying stinging sprays and the undermining influence of the waves ceases. Your awareness is not restricted to maintaining contact with tiny, erratically jumping objects separated from you by unbridgeable distances.
'Beauty', 'peace', 'security', 'fulfillment', 'intimacy', 'knowledge', 'communication', 'coexistence' all come to acquire meanings very different from what they had for you on the surface. This ‘ocean’ and its ‘waves’ are only rough metaphors for the range of space and time as they are seen by different types of knowledge, different degrees of participation. Frustration, loss, and separation may have been typical themes for the knowledge of the surface, which was subject to the waves. But nothing can be lost or exhausted for that knowledge which remains attuned to the depths of space and time. Everything that fulfills and delights, and everything that stimulates knowledge to become more sensitive and encompassing, is perfectly preserved there. You can see why it's so important that we be totally 'in' or 'within' time, space, and knowledge. (DOT I, pp. xxxi-xxxiii)
"Time, space, and knowledge do not act in one particular way . . . . [it depends on our engagement, and on] how deeply we acknowledge our connection with them. Whether we acknowledge them or not, we are using them, and they are using us. Just because we ignore them, depending on them only unconsciously, doesn't mean that there's no interchange. We are still bound to time and space; we and they are inseparable companions. If we ignore our connection to them, we relegate ourselves to lives of a kind of menial, trivial service: the only way we allow ourselves to be used by the universe at large." (DOT I, p. xxx)