Context Is Everything.

Via Andrew Cohen
on Feb 22, 2011
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I have been a teacher of enlightenment for almost twenty-five years.

When I first began to teach, I used to think enlightenment was simply a profound and transformative spiritual experience. But I soon found out that, for most of us, that is not enough. The experiences we have—even the most profound moments of ecstatic revelation—are not necessarily what liberate us, transform us, or even bring us wisdom. While soothing for the soul and liberating for the spirit, they simply do not clarify the overarching developmental context in which they are occurring, and therefore do not necessarily dislodge the deeply embedded ways of thinking that keep us trapped in ego. This is why we continue to get lost again and again in the ego’s limited perspective, even though we may have transcended it—seen and felt and known beyond it—many, many times. So I have come to understand that what matters far more is the context—the inner context in which these experiences occur and the perspective from which we interpret their significance. If we truly aspire for radical transformation, context is everything.

When I speak about context, I’m referring to the way in which we orient ourselves and define what our experience is, moment to moment—the emotional, psychological, philosophical, ethical framework, conscious or unconscious, within which we interpret everything that happens to us. All human beings are interpreting their experience in some kind of context, giving it meaning in relationship to the larger world. But often, we’re just doing it mechanically, blindly, driven by habit or conditioning, and so the context remains profoundly limited. If the context in which we see our life is limited, then no matter what moments of grace descend upon us, they will slip through our fingers.

In the past, human beings found a higher context in the structures of the family, the tribe, the nation, or the religious traditions. But many of us at the leading edge of development today find that we can no longer look to these cultural structures to help us make sense of the human experience. We are products of a secular culture, born out of the revolutions of the sixties, in which we broke free from the strictures of tradition and cast off the moral, ethical, philosophical, and spiritual principles that no longer seemed relevant to our time. But we’ve found nothing to replace them. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Western culture seems to have come adrift morally, ethically, philosophically, and definitely spiritually.

The end of an era, and the beginning of a new one, is literally forcing us to find a new context, a new way to orient ourselves to the experience of being alive. More and more people today are becoming interested in the spiritual dimension of life. But as we begin to think about higher potentials and seek for the experience of deeper states of consciousness, we need to first and foremost reflect on the question: What is the context for my life? What is the biggest perspective from which I can see my own presence on this planet? The context for the spiritual path in our time is more challenging than it has ever been because these days it would seem almost impossible for anyone with an awakening heart and mind to avoid the simultaneously thrilling and terrifying reality of our agitated world. Those of us who actually care about what is happening but just don’t know what to do about it need a new ethical, philosophical, and spiritual context that is big enough to embrace this reality and help us to begin to come to terms with the ever-greater complexity that we are living in. Before we can seek solutions to the overwhelming crises our planet faces, we need to ask ourselves: How vast and inclusive is the level of consciousness from which we are looking at the problems? The effectiveness of the solutions that we come up with is entirely dependent upon the level of consciousness that they come from.

There is a direct relationship between the context in which we see our experience and our level of development, as individuals and cultures. The lower our level of development, the smaller and the less inclusive our context or perspective is going to be. As our consciousness and culture evolves and develops, our perspective gets bigger and becomes more inclusive.

At the lowest levels of development, human consciousness can be defined as egocentric, and at this level, the sense of self sees no context beyond itself. As consciousness develops, it becomes ethnocentric—expanding the context to the family, the tribe, the nation, or the great spiritual traditions. Many of the problems we face in the world today stem from this level of consciousness—from the inability of one nation or religion to see beyond itself. This is why there is a tremendous urgency for more and more human beings to evolve beyond ethnocentric consciousness to what we could call worldcentric consciousness, in which we see ourselves primarily as citizens of this planet, rather than members of a particular tribe or nation or religion. Worldcentric consciousness is a very new emergence. Up until very recently in history, we lived in our separate enclaves, barely aware of the fact that we were part of one global system. But now that fact is becoming almost impossible to avoid. The problems we are faced with affect all of us, because we’re part of one global context. And so many of these problems could be solved if we as human beings were able to see ourselves as part of a global system, citizens of one world.

There is also a level beyond worldcentric consciousness, which we could call cosmoscentric, and that is a context in which we see and recognize ourselves to be citizens of the universe, citizens of the cosmos itself, before we are members of this global civilization, or a particular nation, tribe, or family. We see our own lives in light of the fourteen billion years of cosmic evolution. This is what I am really trying to awaken people to in my teaching work, by redefining spiritual transformation and its perennial goal of enlightenment in an evolutionary context. I am convinced that understanding the evolutionary context of our own emergence is the most important factor in awakening to a new spirituality, which can help us to define the new moral and ethical framework that is so desperately needed in our time.

Andrew Cohen is a spiritual teacher and founder of the award-winning EnlightenNext magazine. Click to learn more about his new book Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening.


About Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen is an American spiritual teacher and visionary thinker widely recognized for his original contribution to the emerging field of evolutionary spirituality. Through his talks, retreats, publications, and ongoing dialogues with the leading philosophers, mystics, and activists of our time, he is becoming a defining voice in an international alliance of individuals and organizations that are committed to the transformation of human consciousness and culture. The founder and editor in chief of the international, award-winning EnlightenNext magazine, formerly What Is Enlightenment?, Cohen is dedicated to creating “nothing less than a revolution in consciousness and culture.” Since 1991, Cohen and his small team of editors have met with mystics and materialists, physicists and philosophers, activists and athletes in an effort to create a popular forum for dialogue and inquiry regarding the meaning of human life in the postmodern era. You can follow him on his Facebook page. Download a free chapter of Andrew's book, Evolutionary Enlightenment, by clicking here. You can also join him for a series of free monthly broadcasts by registering here.


4 Responses to “Context Is Everything.”

  1. yogiclarebear says:


    Can you expand on what you mean by “defining the new moral and ethical framework?” I think I'm struggling with the word “new,” regarding.

  2. billyen says:


    In his recent New Yorker profile of the Church of Scientology (February 7, 2011), Lawrence Wright highlights a type of social pathology that, far from being confined to Scientologists, is a ubiquitous feature of many contemporary so-called “religious” or “spiritual” organizations. Yet in public discourse about the relative merits of any particular such group, there seems to be a characteristic obliviousness to the presence of this pathology, and it seems to be difficult for people to perceive and accept how pervasive and formulaic this type of pathology actually is. Whether in the interest of general “fairness,” or of protecting an emotional investment in a chosen spiritual ideology, people seem to be inclined to extend some measure of legitimacy to an established organization no matter how perverse its internal dynamics are known or rumored to be—in spite of the fact that these dynamics often do represent a TOTAL perversion of the overt ideology of the organization in question.
    As a result, the phenomenon of cultic abuse and manipulation continues to be examined on a case-by-case basis, while the isolation and insularity of such groups serves to protect them against a recognition of their underlying commonalities. Such a recognition does not constitute undue generalization or indiscriminate persecution, nor does it undermine the foundational principle of religious freedom that such organizations often hide behind. Used judiciously as a tool for investigation, evaluation and discernment, a clearer understanding of this form of social pathology would enable cult members and the general public to recognize organizations that receive undeserved preferential treatment based on the false assumption that they exist to do good, and tax-exempt status while they beat and rob people—protesting all the while that they are being persecuted by “unenlightened” critics, “disgruntled” former members and “witch-hunting” government agencies. Without such information, we will continue to be surprised each time another series of ugly incidents is exposed and denied. Though this is a phenomenon endemic to groups that use mystical traditions and founding myths to justify their authority over individual members, each time they produce results consistent with their authoritarian blueprints there is public outrage—AFTER a lot of people have gotten hurt and their BIZARRE ORDEALS
    have become the object of gawking and controversy.

    AMERICAN GURU, my book about the organization EnlightenNext and its founder Andrew Cohen, tracks the history and development of this phenomenon in yet another such “idealistic” group. To demonstrate how much EnlightenNext has in common with the Church of Scientology, I’ve listed HERE:
    several striking parallels between Scientology as documented by Wright and EnlightenNext as documented in AMERICAN GURU. Other than the fact that Scientology has a higher profile and more substantial assets and membership, close comparison reveals little substantial difference between them in terms of the effects of the authoritarian dynamic described above.
    William Yenner

  3. Andrew Cohen and the Fall of the Mythic Guru: