From Deconstruction to Reconstruction:
Marc Gafni and the ‘Unique Self’
By Kathy Brownback
Instructor in Religion and Philosophy, Phillips Exeter Academy
“The old maps that your parents and grandparents grew up with are not enough, and there don’t seem to be others around that really describe the territory. Your liberal arts education has taught you critical analysis and fluency in different ways of thinking, but hasn’t equipped you with a reliable “inner GPS” that can navigate contradictions and find its way. You might sense that such a thing is possible, but you observe that many in the world around you seem to lack both compass and map—and you do not want to be among them. How can contemplative practice help you discern such a map?
First, there is the practical level. Contemplative practice can encourage the ability to focus and enter into a subject with minimal distraction and interruption. It can help a great deal with stress reduction. Moving more deeply, it can foster the capacity to hold apparent contradictions in tension with each other without immediate dismissal of one side. It can encourage you to listen to and help develop the ideas of others from a less egoic perspective—and to see connections between disciplines that infuse their understanding of each other. It helps provide the space for deeper creativity and inspiration. At its most profound level, contemplative practice has the potential to help you reconnect with a deeper sense of purpose, meaning, and value in your life.
This goal is at the heart of the work of philosopher Marc Gafni, director of the Center for Integral Wisdom, a think tank dedicated to evolving and articulating a shared global framework of meaning and responsibility. Gafni, who holds a Ph.D. from Oxford, is classically trained in the study of the Kabbalah, as well as in modern and postmodern schools of epistemology (the study of knowledge, or how we know what we know).
His work brings significant developmental insights of modern psychology and science together with spiritual practice and the study of world religions. Along with philosopher Ken Wilber and other scholars, Gafni is working on the articulation of an Integral world spirituality.
Its first principle is what Gafni has termed “Unique Self”—a theory of self and contemplative practice that he has likened to a puzzle piece. The unique self has all the idiosyncrasies—the many-formed edges—of an individual life, and yet it is also profoundly committed to the larger whole.
This article is an introduction to Gafni’s theory of the unique self, and to the making of maps and the solving of puzzles”
About Kathy Brownback
Kathy Brownback has been teaching religion and philosophy at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire for 30 years. She is now working on a book that is partly memoir and partly her experiences teaching unique self theory at the school.