“I have always been moved by love. Love has exalted my heart, shattered my life, broken my heart, caused me unimaginable suffering, and gifted me with unspeakable joy. Love has evolved, clarified, and even purified its intentions in me over the years. For all of it, I am wildly grateful to love”.

These opening sentences from Dr. Marc Gafni’s upcoming book, “The Universe, a Love Story”- set up the stage for the book he and the late Barbara Marx Hubbard wrote together before her passing – due to publication later this year.

“The Universe, a Love Story” is also our theme this year at the Festival – where the question of “what is our role, both individually and collectively in telling that story?” will be explored in depth.

The text below* – also excerpted from the book, introduces the themes at the core of Dr. Marc’s work, which together makes up what we call “the Dharma” also known as “CosmoErotic Humanism”.

“Since I was very young, all I have wanted to do is to love everyone as deeply and intensely as possible. The notion of limiting love to one person, to one nation, to one idea, to one place feels unbearably painful. Even as I happily know that love demands from me intense singular focus on the utter uniqueness and irreducible quality inherent in every encounter, be it fleeting or forever. And I know well the truth of the interior scientists, “there is nothing more whole than a broken heart.”
As you can imagine, this way of being, from which I cannot escape, has landed me in a certain amount of trouble along the way. It is the work of a lifetime or many lifetimes to clarify the nature of our LoveDesire, disambiguate love from grasping, and learn to truly live with an open heart. I am sure, as we all do, that I made mistakes, in the normal arc of life, and I regret those mistakes. That is part of what it means to be a human being. I have no ultimate regrets. I know I was making mistakes in the right direction.
My Deepest Heart’s Desire in life is to love and give as much as I can, as deeply as I can, as widely as I can, and as purely as I can. In the depth of true love, giving and receiving become one. Nothing else matters. Every day I seek to clarify my love, to evolve my love, and to purify my love. And I remain, as we all do, an imperfect and even flawed vessel for the light.
That is the nature of Infinity disclosed in “finitude”.

Sacred Texts and Loving Our Way to Enlightenment

I began my story with mad love for sacred texts, particularly from the Hebrew and Aramaic lineages of Hebrew wisdom. It was in the subtle weavings of the ethical pietism of the Talmud, the mystics of Merkava, the Eros of the Zohar, the heroic audacity of Luria, and the Hasidic masters that made me feel at home in the world.
For years, I poured over sacred text as a form of intellectual mysticism—with the deliberate intention of erotic merger with the Divine. I was driven by a yearning to become a sacred text myself. All I wanted was to become Outrageous Love—a unique expression of Outrageous Love—myself. I wanted to love my way to enlightenment.
But I knew in both my heart, mind, and body that this yearning was not original to my being. It was the core movement of apotheosis, the desire to realize our true nature—the possibility of possibility—that lives in the depth of all the sages, yogis, avatars, and saints in every era and in every part of the world. Apotheosis is the yearning to realize our literal participation in the LoveDesire, LoveIntelligence, and LoveBeauty of Divinity, and in doing so, come home to the fullness of our original identity, to live uniquely as love itself. It is this unbearable longing that has rigorously allured me for my entire life.

The Democratization of Enlightenment

It was, however, only in later writings that I realized that this is not merely the province of the leading edge of spirit or thought. It is rather the deepest, albeit unconscious yearning of every human being.
Every time we are on our knees, we are always on our knees to God.
We are devastated by our alienation from our own Divine LoveIntelligence.
We want to honor and follow this yearning home on a collective level. The manifestation that would emerge is what I began to call many years ago the “democratization of enlightenment.”
It is true that we must not lose our devotion to masters in every field. But we will not be saved by elites. Ultimately, every woman, man, and child must drink directly from the waters of realization.
We are, each of us, the unique intimacies of the Divine Field of LoveDesire who madly loves us, even as he/she/it lives, yearns, and loves as us.

Unique Self

In the late nineties, I began to write about what I originally called Soul Prints (in a book by that name), and later in the same book, I began to refer to it as Unique Self. Realization of our irreducible uniqueness within the greater field of being and becoming, not in the Myers-Briggs character-structure sense but as a unique expression of the seamless coat of the universe, seemed to be utterly essential in taking us the next step. Sharing the good news of Unique Self became core to my calling.

At the same time, in a second book, Mystery of Love, I began to realize that without a new vision of Eros, rooted in the evolutionary impulse itself, we would not be able to transform either ourselves or our planet. I understood then that all ethical breakdowns, personally and collectively, are rooted in a failure of Eros.
Eros, evolution, and Unique Self needed to be brought together in memory of our future, a vision of the New Human and the New Humanity.

Barbara Marx Hubbard met the evolutionary impulse and Conscious Evolution in the pages of Teilhard de Chardin, Sri Aurobindo, and later in the thinking of Jonas Salk and others. I had never read any of them. I met the evolutionary impulse and Conscious Evolution early in my intellectual development in the pages of my teachers Mordechai Lainer and Abraham Isaac Kook, their teacher Luria, and the masters of the Zohar and Talmud who preceded them. (…)

At some point, I realized that I needed to move beyond my ethnocentric joy and commitment. I found philosophers from Plato, Kant, and Saussure, to Sartre, Rorty, and many more. I devoured literature of all kinds. Kashmir Shaivism and the tantric strains of Buddhism allured me. And then at some later point, my focus moved from the interior sciences—as I have just described them in the preceding paragraphs—to the exterior sciences. Math, physics, molecular biology, and more seduced me with their wonder. Anthropology, emergence science, the implications of evolution, deconstruction, perennial philosophy, postmodernism, and Integral Theory each beckoned at the door.

2002 to 2003 was the beginning of a long, deep, wondrous and tumultuous, intellectual and spiritual friendship with Ken Wilber, which generated both great love as well as new chapters in Integral Theory—Unique Self—of which I was privileged to be the founding theorist—and helped catalyze other chapters like the Three Faces of God, World Spirituality based on Integral Principles, and new chapters in the Future of Love and Integral Sexuality.

My own academic work, including the two volumes on Solomon’s Wisdom, Radical Kabbalah, which I originally called Nondual Humanism, was mediated through the prism of Integral Theory. Especially the survey of structure-stages of consciousness was pivotal in inserting a developmental lens in the heart of my work. Wake Up and Grow Up—and later Show Up, Open Up, and Clean Up—the first two originally clarion calls of Trungpa Rinpoche—were reformulated in my writing and mediated through the prism of Unique Self. (…)

Waking up refers to contemplative stages of enlightened consciousness, where one realizes the Infinite, Eternal Ground of Being that imbues all of finitude. One has a direct experience that all of evolutionary manifestation is literally in-formed by the Eternal. The direct knowing of this truth is what is referred to in multiple traditions as waking up.

Of course, some traditions emphasized the quality of personhood in Spirit, and others focused on the more impersonal quality sometimes called the Tao. As I have explored in depth in Unique Self Theory, these are two sides of the One that we have direct access to in our own experience. We access the intimate personal quality of Kosmos, even as we access the surging life force that pulses through everything. Being radically informed and enlivened by the lived reality of both dimensions is the full experience of waking up.

Growing up refers to evolving through developmental stages of consciousness. At each stage, there is a new set of values, a new sense of identity, a new set of needs, and a new sense of purpose and community. These levels of developmental consciousness were famously mapped by Jean Gebser and later by Clare Graves, to name but two of literally dozens of theorists that have drawn overlapping maps of developmental levels.
The great traditions had an inkling that your social or economic matrix, as well as your character, are prisms through which your contemplative experience of enlightenment is filtered. For example, one text in the interior sciences of Hebrew wisdom argues that one’s vision of the chariot (waking up) is directly changed by one’s cultural/social context, particularly whether one dwelled in a city or village. The point of this passage is that enlightenment is not a given. It is rather filtered through frameworks. But this realization was esoteric and underdeveloped. This understanding has been deepened by the leading edges of contemporary interior sciences into the crucial realization of the interdependence of waking up on the prism of growing up as we are unpacking it here.

This is a crucial realization. Let’s say for example that you are at a tribal level of consciousness—a stage that was dominant historically in the premodern period but continued into modernity and is re-emerging in the currents of retribalization around the world. At this tribal level of consciousness—which might be called your level or stage of growing up, you experience a contemplative state of consciousness—what we will refer to as a state of waking up.

The core insight of waking up and growing up is that your waking up experience (your state) is mediated through the prism of your level (or stage) of consciousness (growing up). So if you are at a tribal stage of consciousness (ethnocentric), you will experience your state of waking up as God speaking to only your people who are chosen, or you might experience the enlightened quality of Infinite Consciousness as living uniquely in your people and your land. If you further evolve your level of consciousness (growing up) to world-centric consciousness, the exact same contemplative experience (waking up) will be experienced by you as Divine Kosmic Force, personal and impersonal Kosmic, that suffuses, embraces or addresses every human being and every nation. The simple but profound point is that one’s state experience of waking up is interpreted through one’s level of growing up.

After many years of research and study, I understood that it is in Unique Self realization that “wake up and grow up” meet and merge. For it is only in the higher stages of development – what are often referred to as the second tier of developmental levels — that Unique Self clarifies as one’s natural life compass. (…)

Responding to the Second Shock of Existence

All of my work has been focused exclusively on one point: the healing and transformation of suffering. At some point, however, my work shifted from personal existential to collective existential.

I realized, as many of us did, that the level of risk we faced in the world—the potential death of humanity—was the “second shock” of existence.
The “first shock” was the realization of personal death at the dawn of history. This realization generated the momentous revelations of spirit that we call the great religious and spiritual traditions.

But I gradually understood, with many others at the leading edge, that we are facing the “second shock” of existence—not the personal death of the individual human but the death of humanity.

I realized that only a new vision of identity and a New Universe Story could respond to the second shock of existence.

Then around 2012, something happened. I was about to share a teaching on Skype with a group of some fifty students in Europe, but I could not find any words. The intense pain of the previous years welled up and choked my heart and chest. As the wave of pain rolled through, I went silent. The students thought it was a silence of presence, but in truth, it was a silence of absence. I had nothing left to say. I thought to myself in the apparent emptiness of that silence, “This is the end. I must stop teaching. I cannot find the Shekhinah, She, the Goddess, inside of my heart anymore.” Then somehow in the very long silence—I am not sure how—I began to talk. The words truly did not come from me. The following sentence spilled out, “We live in a world of outrageous pain. The only response to outrageous pain is Outrageous Love.” And the entire teaching of Outrageous Love, mixed with the next level of the Eros and Unique Self teaching, poured out of my shattered but yearning heart. My mind disappeared and the inner pulsation of reality exploded from my broken heart garbed in language. At the core of everything is the distinction between ordinary love and outrageous love. Ordinary love is a social construction, a strategy deployed at the human level of consciousness to express and meet core needs for survival and connection. Outrageous love is not merely a human social construction, rather it is the heart of existence itself. Human love in its most wondrous forms participates in the outrageous love that is the feeling of the universe and the motivational architecture for all of existence. Human love is an evolved expression of the originating Outrageous love that flowed through the movement of Eros towards ever wider and deeper synergistic wholes generating ever new emergents, greater than the sum of all the previous parts, from the very dawn of existence. When the talk was over, my dear friend Sally Kempton, who had been in the other room writing, said to me, “Something happened today. I took notes on the teaching for you so you would have it. It is important.” And she very kindly gave me the notes because I remembered none of it.

I turned my attention to Eros, the evolution of love, the evolution of intimacy, the Tenets of Intimacy, and the laws of Outrageous Love—but all of them, from a deeply structural perspective, enlisting the gamut of exterior and interior sciences. Just like the great traditions that emerged in response to the first shock of existence, the second shock of existence generated in myself, Barbara, and our colleagues known and unknown around the world, a New Universe Story.

*NB: this excerpt was taken from an early draft and is NOT the final version which will be published later this year. Edited parts are indicated by these signs (…)