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Spiritual Inquiry
and the Evolution of Consciousness

By Andrew Cohen

Inquiry What is the purpose of spiritual inquiry? It is to make sense out of life at the deepest level. If we don't make the effort to deeply grasp who we are and why we are here, we will half-blindly stumble our way through life, like most people do. And that's not much help to the evolutionary process. We are living in a time when nobody really knows what the rules are anymore. Now that we have more or less transcended traditional orientations, we really have to let in the fact that those of us at the leading edge, in so many ways, are in uncharted waters. That's why engaging in the deliberate practice of philosophical and spiritual inquiry is more important than ever.

In light of the reality of our postmodern predicament, engagement with spiritual inquiry becomes very potent and inherently meaningful, because what you are doing is not just philosophical and intellectual entertainment. You are actually trying to make sense of life in the biggest context for the biggest reasons. It's not a game. You are literally trying to create new grooves in consciousness-new structures, deeper perspectives, and higher potentials.

So if you are serious about the evolution of consciousness, spiritual inquiry is not just something you do in your free time on a Sunday afternoon. It is a certain orientation to life, which is the orientation of the Authentic Self. An authentically inquiring position is one in which you are passionately interested in that which you do not already know. For the sake of the evolution of consciousness itself, you want to know. If you personally are not deeply committed to the evolution of consciousness, then you are not going to be truly interested in spiritual inquiry, beyond a kind of philosophical exercise.

Consciousness is not some mysterious substance that exists beyond the self out there in the ether. It is simultaneously our self and intersubjectively ourselves-it is the part of our self that we are sharing with other selves. Consciousness is an intersubjective field that we all share. So for the intersubjective field to be able to evolve and develop, the consciousness that makes it up, which is your own, has to make room for this kind of subtle and profound and mysterious growth process to actually occur. The intersubjective field, which is the self, can and does develop according to the level of participation of those individuals who are actually passionately concerned with its development. So that's the context for serious spiritual inquiry. And the only way you can really engage with this practice is to allow yourself to not already know.

Most of us, unconsciously, are taking a position that at a deep level, we already know. Already knowing is the position of the ego, because the ego always needs to feel secure. Now, of course, we all do know things, and that's not a problem-indeed, our intellectual capacity is an extraordinary gift of evolution. But the problem is that when we begin to accumulate knowledge, our ego tends to get attached to the idea that it knows something. We often begin to feel that we are important simply because we know something. Knowledge makes the ego feel powerful, and more often than not creates a wall that protects and empowers that part of the self. And when we are attached to the idea of being someone who already knows, it's very difficult to learn or develop at the level of the soul. Especially when the context is enlightenment, development always involves venturing into unknown territory.

So when we realize that the evolution of consciousness is the evolution of the intersubjective field, which is the evolution of the self at the deepest level, then finding the means to not already know, which means to put the ego aside, becomes an imperative.

The field itself simply cannot develop unless your engagement with the process is egoless. If you are unwilling to not already know, your unwillingness is going to hinder the evolution of the self in this intersubjective endeavor. Intersubjective evolution is always a matter of conscious, intentional, volitional, willing cooperation. You have to want to cooperate with the evolutionary process, you have to be genuinely interested in it, not merely as an abstract philosophical idea, but as your own engaged commitment to the evolution of consciousness. An individual who truly cares about the development of the intersubjective field is like a parent who deeply cares about the upbringing, education, and welfare of their child. This only works when you awaken to that kind of passionate interest in and care for the evolution and development of the field itself.

When I talk about not already knowing it doesn't mean that you have to literally be a blank slate or erase your memory bank. A lot of people don't know the difference between not already knowing and knowing nothing. Not already knowing doesn't mean to not know intellectually. It doesn't have to do with your intellect; it has to do with your ego. It has to do with your freedom from being egoically identified with the information that your intellect has amassed. As long as you are attached to the information you have accumulated because it makes you feel powerful and superior as an individual, you will never have the room inside yourself to not already know, to authentically inquire.

So what does it mean to have a relationship to knowledge, memory, and experience that is not binding? The perfect posture for the self to assume in order to be able to evolve is a miraculous middle place between not already knowing, on the one hand, and wanting to know, on the other. Not already knowing, at the deepest level, aligns us with the ground of all being, that primordial emptiness, inherently free and already liberated, that is the Self as unmanifest consciousness. Wanting to know, passionately, energetically wanting to understand, aligns us simultaneously with the Authentic Self, which is the evolutionary impulse or deepest manifest expression of consciousness. So the perfect evolutionary posture is one that is dynamically poised between those two opposites.

If you are abiding in that middle place between not knowing and wanting to know, between the Ground of Being and the Authentic Self, there is no foothold for the ego. And from that miraculous middle place between all pairs of opposites, new grooves in consciousness-new structures, deeper perspectives, and higher potentials-begin to emerge and evolve within the intersubjective field that is your own self.


Andrew Cohen is a spiritual teacher and acclaimed author widely recognized as a defining voice in the emerging field of evolutionary spirituality called "Evolutionary Enlightenment." A life-changing awakening in 1986 brought Cohen to the end of his own search for liberation while simultaneously starting him on an exploration of the meaning and significance of enlightenment for our time. This has led him to a profound investigation of the human predicament and into dialogue with sages, saints, and spiritual luminaries from nearly every tradition and beyond.

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