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Evolving With Jonathan Gustin

The integral spiritual teacher advocates "evolutionary enlightenment."

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Enlightenment isn't everything. "Traditional enlightenment, in which we realize the timeless essence of our true nature, gives us equanimity," said integral spiritual teacher Jonathan Gustin, who will be at Northbrae Community Church (941 The Alameda, Berkeley) on Wednesday, September 15. "We can then have moments of contentment, because we can see the underlying perfection of everything."

Seeing underlying perfection is all well and good, Gustin said, but with the air and sea being poisoned and many species nearing extinction, we can't really afford passive bliss. He's part of the evolutionary enlightenment movement, whose adherents use mindfulness and meditation to become better eco-activists.

Healing the earth would require a total change in our attitude toward the environment, Gustin believes. At this point in history, "human consciousness isn't up to the task."

Consciousness evolves. Over time, "modernism led to postmodernism, but even postmodernism isn't adequate, because things are still getting worse," he said. "In the next phase — you could call it transpersonal or integral or post-postmodern consciousness — we need to become agents for change."

Standard enlightenment — the goal of countless meditators for millennia — "can make you so enlightened that you're unmoved, no matter what happens," Gustin continued. "Everything seems so right and so destined that you just say calmly, 'Ah well, there goes another species.'"

Gustin can't bear that thought. Synthesizing multiple spiritual traditions and drawing upon the work of fellow teachers Adyashanti, Bill Plotkin, Tim Kelly, and Andrew Cohen, he promotes what he calls "soul-centric" meditation, which begins with the question: What holds the ultimate significance for me, and what do I need to do today to be in alignment with that which is most important to me?

Carrying "more depth, heat, and urgency" than traditional meditation, it guides the seeker "to that part of themselves that knows their purpose," he said. "Everyone has a purpose secreted away in their depths, a gift that the world needs. This is a big statement, that evolution needs you to take your place. A sunflower and a tree take their places. They couldn't refuse flowering if they tried. But a human can refuse to flower. A human can say, 'Oh no, I'm just a consumer; it would be hubris to think evolution needed me.' But it does.

"Most people go through life neither seeking nor knowing their purpose, so they try to fill that purpose-shaped hole with ice cream, with addictions to money or coffee or meaningless sex or surfing the Internet," Gustin said. "When you know where you're needed, then you're aligned with the beating heart of the cosmos."

To channel his own gift and help others channel theirs, ten years ago Gustin founded Green Sangha, a Berkeley-based organization with chapters in San Francisco, Marin County, and Sonoma County. Its members employ Buddhist practices to foment spiritually based environmental activism, from beach cleanups to letter-writing campaigns.

"On my deathbed, I want to be able to say that I've been thoroughly used up before I died, thoroughly used up in service." 7 p.m., free. Northbrae.org

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