"We live in an online life. An online life means nothing other than being connected to the cosmic internet. You know that you are online and you have the ability to download information wherever you are. So if you are talking with someone your meeting with them will be inspirational because you are connected--if you need new information you simply go to the [cosmic] internet and download it."
Spiritual teacher Thomas Hübl returned to Vancouver this past October (2011). During that trip, my wife Chloe and I were very fortunate to host Thomas and his companions at our home for a few hours before his evening talk.
While he was at our home, Thomas graciously granted me an interview with him. You can listen to the audio or read a transcript of the interview here. The quotation that begins this piece comes from that interview. I wrote this piece as a companion to help give some frameworks for people in approaching the interview.
Full Disclosure: I sent a draft copy of this piece to friend of Beams and Struts (and tour manager for Thomas), Mathias Weitbrecht. The photos are courtsey of Mathias--they include photos from various locations during Thomas' Fall 2011 North American tour.
When Thomas was here in Vancouver in April of 2011, he talked about four fundamentals to his teaching: meditation, downloading the future, transparent communication, and service.
Meditation and service are domains of spiritual practice that I think many people are quite familiar with. Also, there are a number of articles and videos covering some of the elements of transparent communication. The simplest definition of transparent communication is an emphatic form of communication in a transpersonal context.
Given the wider knowledge around meditation and service and the emphasis placed on transparent communication in the videos and articles to date I felt it would be beneficial to focus instead on downloading the future. Downloading the future is the element of the four fundamentals that I feel is least clear in my own understanding. In talking with others I found this to be a repeated theme. Persons I spoke to were curious and interested but not as clear as to what exactly this teaching of downloading the future entails.
The interview digs deep into Hübl’s teaching around downloading the future: what it means, how it is practiced, what are its implications, etc.
PART I: THE VISION
Hübl began by defining what he means by the future. There are two kinds of future he said. One version of the future is just like today except tomorrow or next week or next year. The names and faces and events might change slightly but the same basic patterns play themselves out over and over again without anything substantially changing. In this way of life, people daydream and spend time imagining some happier, more fulfilled life that they will never likely do much to achieve.
The second definition of the future is the realization and embodiment by certain highly developed people of new and creative forms of human expression. This second definition of the future is the one Thomas focused on in the interview.
Hübl uses the metaphor of an opaque ceiling which prevents people from seeing what is above the ceiling. The innovators, Thomas says, are people who scratch holes in the ceiling and as they do a perfume filters down through the holes in the ceiling. This perfume wafts down to those below the ceiling who notice the smell and are attracted to its fragrance. The truly creative ones (in whatever domain of human endeavor they focus on) exist “above the ceiling” and they share the fragrance of that creative future with those below. As more and more people become attracted to the scent of this creative future then they to start to exude this scent and overtime a new structure in human development is born.
Hübl refers to such people as having an “expanded radius of awareness.”
To help unpack the implications of this teaching, let’s turn for a moment to Ken Wilber’s work on the many meanings of the word spirituality. Hübl is talking about clearly spiritual principles but in ways that are not necessarily ones people connect with spirituality. I think looking at Wilber’s understanding of the many definitions of spirituality will help clear up any potential confusion on this point.
In Integral Spirituality, Wilber describes four meanings of the word spiritual:
1. the highest level in any line of development
2. a separate line itself
3. an extraordinary peak experience or state
4. a particular attitude (e.g. love, compassion, wisdom, openness)
--Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality pp. 100-102
Hübl’s teaching on meditation and his practice of toning correspond with Wilber’s definition #3 (a state of being). Meditation also aids in the cultivation of spirituality in the 4th sense of an attitude of love, compassion, and humility. Service (one of the foundations of Hubl’s teaching) also has a strong correlation with Wilber’s 4th definition of spirituality.
Downloading the future, it seems to me, emphasizes quite profoundly Wilber’s 1st and 2nd definition of spirituality: the highest level in any line of development and a separate line (or intelligence) unto itself.*
What does all that mean? There’s a little bit of integral or philosophical-ese in those definitions, so let me unpack those for a moment. Then I’ll come back to how I find Thomas makes an otherwise interesting but potentially abstract teaching into a very concrete and beautiful experiential reality.
In Wilber’s philosophical framework there are a number of lines of human development. He sometimes calls these lines streams (an image I prefer to lines actually). These streams are domains of human experience that show the possibility of growth, evolution, development, even perhaps mastery. Examples of such streams of intelligence include artistic, athletic, mathematic, ethical, emotional, spiritual, psychological, musical, and technological (think inventors), to name just a few. There are many others that could be named. And each of those streams has, as it were, smaller tributaries: e.g. within musical there would be singing or playing or conducting or teaching, etc.
There is a great deal of debate within the integral community as to the exact relationship between various streams and how many streams there and so on. Sufficed to say, I think, that there are such streams and there are at least to some degree or another distinct from one another. That is to say being highly skilled in say mathematical intelligence does not automatically equate to high spiritual intelligence or vice versa.
What Thomas kept coming back to in our interview was this notion of creative people in every human endeavor. That these creative, innovative people in domains like art or business or psychotherapy or politics or spirituality are the ones we should be looking to for guidance as to how to move ahead.
As William Gibson famously said, “the future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.” I think Gibson was mostly talking about technology but this saying could be extended via Thomas Hübl to include much more of our inner worlds.
Hübl says that a person who is highly developed in one stream exists in our future in that stream. The future is already here—the creative people already exist. It’s simply not very evenly distributed.
Hübl has really locked into Wilber’s first definition of spirituality: the highest development in any stream of intelligence. He points to the possibility of inquiring into the nature of these creative people across all domains of human endeavor and asking whether there are any common patterns to them, something that might get at a kind of source code for Creativity, for downloading future potential into human flesh.
Here is a video of a woman turning a stripper’s pole into a transcendent experience. No seriously. This may seem like an off-the-wall example, but watch the clip (it’s not sexualized). She is incarnating the highest levels of human bodily intelligence. She is performing a spiritual act by Wilber’s definition #1. She exists in the future in the words of Hübl. She is showing us the future by this act—the future in the stream of the athletic, made aesthetic even transcendent by her act (aided by the powerful music).
At one point in the interview Hübl discusses how because there are so many lines of intelligence, a person can be our teacher in one and not another. We might be a teacher for our friends and colleagues in another line and they in turn might teach us in yet another. He sees this as a source of humility and trust in the overall process of life.
Spiritual teachers are embodying the creative future of the line of spiritual intelligence (Wilber’s definition of spirituality #2). Hübl’s insight on this matter both gives a strong role to spiritual teachers but also places them within the realm of their own expertise and in relation to others in the realms (or streams/lines) of their own expertise.
So on the one hand there are many streams of life and within different streams different people exist in the future (and in other lines maybe are stuck at much earlier level of development)--this teaching I think speaks to the value of autonomy, individuality, as well as the sense of a larger whole. On the other hand, the teaching about higher development in certain streams of life makes clear that we are not all equals...equals in the sense of development and embodiment in certain lines of human expression. To say that we are not equals in this specific developmental sense can (and should) be combined with a sense that we are all equals in an Ultimate sense--as bearers of Light or in theological language as all made in the image and likeness of God.
The key is to hold all three of those positions in paradoxical wisdom: 1. we are all equal in an absolute sense as manifestations of the Light 2. there are many lines of development and different people in different lines are more highly advanced and we should therefore be humble 3. within specified contexts, there is not just content difference but qualitative difference (difference of levels) in the actions, attitudes, and expressions of people.
If there is going to be any great culture change in our day, it seems to me those three elements lie at the heart of any such transformation. Numbers 1 and 2 by themselves lack the creative tension of number 3. Number 3 by itself however leads to a corrosive elitism, whether spiritual, financial, political, social or otherwise. Even the combination of numbers 1 and 3 in certain spiritual communities leads to a real loss of diversity and multi-linear development (which comes from #2) a potential for serious spiritualized arrogance and harshness.
The teaching on recognizing and appreciating the quality of others being our teachers (in certain respects) and existing in our future undercuts the two destructive tendencies of our world: celebrity-ism and deconstruction.
In the first we envy others. We project onto them our unfulfilled hopes and dreams. We cease to see them as real people and we disempower ourselves in the process. In the second, we tear them down in nihilistic rage, recognizing that no one is any greater authority for my life than myself. Sometimes these two tendencies are both manifest.
Seeing that another-in some domain of human enterprise--is in my future is to neither envy them nor to deny their embodiment which for now exists only as potential within me. Gratitude and appreciation are the proper responses to such a one, not envy or resentment.
And when the context is appropriate we make recognize our role as teachers of others in some domain in which we may be developed. This space is one of generous sharing and humility. The humility comes from recognizing that while we may be a teacher in one area we certainly are not in others and perhaps are all kinds of poorly developed in some lines of our being.
Hübl used a beautiful metaphor to capture this last point. A person standing on a mountain and water is flowing down the mountain. The person could refuse to be open to the water flowing down from above (i.e. not recognizing the teacher-ness of another in some domain) or they could hold the water to themselves and refuse to let it flow through them and continue on down the mountain for others (i.e. refusing to be a teacher to others).
PART II: THE OBSTACLE
It at this point that Hübl delves into the question of what prevents this deeper culture from arising? Why are the truly creative one so few and so far between?
Fear. From Hübl’s perspective, fear is the primary obstacle. Fear that expresses itself in a desire for comfort and safety. This desire for safety, however, is an illusion, according to Thomas.
Hübl says that for some reason the geniuses of our world (in whatever domain they are genius), transcend their fear and at the same time passionately care about this world. In so doing, they listen deeply and act upon the voice or the impulse of development.
The rest of humanity does not lead with the desire for change but rather is driven by the desire for stability and the false sense of security. Yet evolution will happen regardless of human desires or not. And when The Universe’s will to evolve meets human resistance to change, then dis-ease is created and that dis-ease will manifest itself in all kinds of symptoms.
In individuals we often label these symptoms as neuroses. But taken to a cultural or national or even global scale and the symptoms magnify by many orders.
In the contemporary world the signs are all around this major transformative change wants to occur badly. Economic volatility, political revolutions, and ecological destruction are the symptoms that the old structure of consciousness, culture, society, and behavior is dying out. It can no longer effectively deal with the conditions of life arising all around us.
For Hübl all of these seemingly negative phenomena could be seen in a positive light. We humans could understand all these collective neuroses as a wakeup call, as symptoms pointing us to underlying disease. We could then focus on overcoming the disease.
Or absent that conscious choice to change, the pressure will build until it collapses the current reality system.
The choice, according to Hübl, is stark: creativity or safety. He argues that the contemporary time is the time for the creatives to step into their power and to lead.
The creative ones are people who, Hübl says, hear the call the call of the future louder than the noise of the world.
PART III: THE WAY FORWARD
Having laid out the vision of becoming the future and discussing what stands in the way of that glorious awakening, the conversation turned to the question of how to move forward. How do we strengthen the parts of ourselves that hear the call of the future and want to act on it and come to terms with the voices within us that are afraid of such action?
I asked Hübl what practices there might be to help engender this change within ourselves. He offered a few.
- The geniuses are really into whatever it is they are a genius at. They give themselves completely to their work: e.g. parenting, politics, teaching, spirituality, art, etc.
- They both create and drop that which they have created rather than holding onto their genius creations. They hold very deeply to the next and the next and the next impulse of creation within them.
- They do, what Hübl called, “something different than normal." He brought up two examples of this something different--the classic practices of sabbath and tithing. Sabbath is to work 6 days and then to take one day off completely from work. Tithing is to give at minimum 10% of one’s income for the good all. I appreciated both of those examples as they challenged the consumerism and the economic oppression of our day.
- Hübl used sabbath and tithing to discuss what he called the art of listening. The art of listening involved two key elements. The first was an ability to stand back and reflect on one’s own structures--emotional, mental, relational, social structures and so on. The second was to sit in spaciousness to know that all around us we exist within Light, within Presence and Oneness (this is the traditional experiential gift of meditation).
A & B really have to do with the immersion of ourselves fully into whatever it is we are called to do in Life. C & D really have to do with the capacity to then step back, reflect, and Be in Life. As Thomas said in the interview, we have to equally love both completely transcend and completely incarnate Life.
In this video, Thomas Hubl describes his teaching as looking into what happens when we explore living in the radicality of Presence, in all levels and lines of our being, individually and collectively.
A few times in our interview Thomas described the intensity of Presence--it is a Spacious Reality as well but it is a Spaciousness that pervades and seeks to grow, to change, to heal, and to evolve. Downloading the future, becoming the future in the present, is for Thomas, entering into that Divine Intensity.
The root meaning of the word Transparent is to “let the light in.” By entering into the radicality of Presence, we become Transparent--to ourselves, to one another, to Life, to God. We become transparent by letting the light in, living in that beautiful intensity of the Present Moment.
In that transparence, we will see our lights and our shadows and we will see the same in each other as they will see us. Then a creative future may really come to be as we start to see the great strengths of each other and look for a way to build a culture that supports and empowers those strengths as well as cares for each other (appropriately) in our weaknesses.
* Downloading the future applies more broadly to developing our potential in any line of our development and in any moment of existence really. Here I’m focusing more on the spiritual implications of downloading but these elements should be kept in mind as well.