Soulcraft Musings 5/1/18 – Upperworld and Underworld: Two Complementary Realms of the Spiritual or Transpersonal

Upperworld and Underworld: Two Complementary Realms of the Spiritual or Transpersonal 
 This is the ninth part of a fourteen part Musing (one per week) (reproduced from the Animas Valley Institute
Friday, January 5, 2018
In the Western world, the spiritual has been largely identified with the upperworld of God, Spirit, transcendence, enlightenment, or nondual consciousness. But the underworld of soul is equally spiritual, equally mystical, and equally essential to human development. Spirit and soul are both spiritual in the sense of being numinous (of the sacred or holy) and in the sense of being transpersonal (beyond the personal, beyond the realm of the ego’s conscious self-awareness). The upperworld is the universal transpersonal, while the underworld is the unique transpersonal. While upperworld spiritualities focus on transcendence, the underworld journey provides for what cultural historian Thomas Berry called “inscendence,” which he defined as “a descent into our pre-rational, our instinctive resources.”[1] The underworld and upperworld are the two complementary realms of the spiritual. Either alone is incomplete and imperfect.
In the mainstream Western world, most religious organizations operate primarily in the middleworld of personal healing, charity, community, and morality, some in a mature and life-enhancing way, some not. In the relatively rare instances when religious people in the West truly approach the spiritual or transpersonal, it’s virtually always upperworld, as is also the case in the East.
But upperworld practices alone result in an incomplete spirituality. They catalyze the life-shifting experience of oneness, of the interconnectedness or interbeing of everything, of oneself as an integral part of God or Spirit, and of the felt-sense of being unified with all of creation — along with the accompanying sense of peace, joy, vibrancy, and deep wonder about the world — but they do not help us find our unique transpersonal role in this world, the ecological niche that makes possible our greatest service to the world as well as our deepest fulfillment. Conversely, the underworld journey alone is incomplete. Living from soul, although deeply fulfilling and life-enhancing, can become too heavy, self-centered, or stressfully goal-oriented (overly attached to outcomes) when not integrated with the transcendent experience of oneness. Nondual awakening, although joyous and peaceful, can become ungrounded, purpose-less, or complacent or detached without the experience of soul encounter .[2]
Upperworld development in no way implies or requires underworld development. And vice versa. You can be an enlightened Zen master and not have a clue about your soul purpose — probably true of most Zen masters. And you can be a soul-initiated adult and never have had an experience of nondual consciousness.
But the universal and unique transpersonal are inextricably interwoven whether or not we’ve consciously experienced either one or their interconnectedness. In just two thirteenth-century sentences, Rumi — the Persian Sufi mystic — managed to sew together the upperworld and underworld or, better, showed how we can never have one without the other:
God picks up the reed flute world and blows.
Each note is a need coming through one of us,
a passion, a longing-pain. …[3]
The soul of anything — human, flower, frog, or fox — is a unique, God-originated passion or longing-pain pouring through one of us creatures.
To read part one through eight click here.
[1] Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988), pp. 207-8. Berry saw inscendence as essential to human survival at this time: “We must go far beyond any transformation of contemporary culture. … None of our existing cultures can deal with this situation out of its own resources. We must invent, or reinvent, a sustainable human culture by a descent into our pre-rational, our instinctive r esources. Our cultural resources have lost their integrity. They cannot be trusted. What is needed is not transcendence but ‘inscendence’.”
[2] For more on the relationship between underworld (soul) and upperworld (Spirit) and the three realms of human development, see chapter 2 of Soulcraft (ibid.), which can also be found online at .
[3] Jelaluddin Rumi, The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks (San Francisco: Harper,
1995 ), p.103.
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