From Race to Culture to Kosmos

Greg ThomasAesthetic, Audio, Cognitive, Creative, Deep Transformation, Ethical, Free, Leadership, Musical, Spiritual

Using the Dance of Differences to Wise Up, Harmonize, and Actualize

“Out of the many… one. This is the challenge, the spiritual challenge, for Americans and for humanity.”Greg Thomas

Greg Thomas, brilliant cultural analyst, educator, musician, speaker, and co-founder of the Jazz Leadership Project, is passionate about the power of culture to transform us as individuals and collectively. Where race is concerned, Greg presents an illuminating, multiperspectival view of the many layered issues around racism in this country. Early on, Greg developed a systemic perspective on how everything fits together, and realized that the issues that plague us are not just about race or racism, but the overarching systemic racial worldview. Greg offers that the way out of this morass lies in adopting a cultural lens to replace the racial lens. And Greg points out that when we further embrace a cultural worldview in a participatory way, it opens up all the doors and windows: creating room for individuals to shine, for groups to experience group flow, for all of us to enjoy beauty and appreciation—the way soloist, band, and audience come together in a shared musical experience.

When Greg talks about the power of culture, sharing illustrative anecdotes about blues masters, blues philosophy, and great moments in jazz history, it becomes clear just how effective culture is at dissolving boundaries and heightening connection, and how music (in this case) allows us to transcend our differences, our daily burdens, and experience unbounded joy. This is a lively, impactful, and poignant dialogue, with wisdom ranging from the deeply spiritual, the psychological/developmental, to the political and universal.

Recorded January 25, 2023.

Topics & Timestamps: Part 1

  • Introducing Greg Thomas, jazz & blues scholar, musician, educator, and cultural sage (01:02)
  • The blues speaks to everyone: as the Buddha said, life is suffering (03:04)
  • The experience of Black Americans and their relationship with absurdity (05:07)
  • Cultural appropriation is a misunderstanding of the way culture works: the difference between plagiarism and cultural appropriation (06:42)
  • Flourishing happens when different ideas and cultures come together (09:05)
  • Recognizing the fundamental tributary that the Black American experience and culture is to American history and American culture: using a cultural lens instead of a racial one (13:46)
  • Greg Thomas’ spiritual journey: integrating traditionalism, modernism, postmodernism, Integral Theory, a pre-traditional experience, and studying African syncretism, Taoism, Kabbalah, and more (17:38)
  • How Greg developed a systemic perspective on how everything fits together, the blues wisdom tradition, and the 4th zone of the Integral Map (22:21)
  • Dealing with the range and depth of the wicked problems we have today is ultimately going to take wisdom (25:37)
  • How indigenous wisdom was lost during the Age of Enlightenment and the challenge of the Integral movement to provide a framework for integration (26:08)
  • One of our fundamental problems stems from the notion that we are separate from nature, separate from the divine (29:24)
  • Out of the many…one: this is the challenge, the spiritual challenge, for Americans and for humanity (32:22)
  • Is ethnocentricity (and therefore racism) a natural part of the evolutionary ladder? (35:54)
  • The concept of rooted cosmopolitanism (40:15)
  • Ken Wilber’s “dignities and disasters” of modernity (45:20)
  • Beyond ethnocentrism and how each stage has its traps: one trap is the denial of any differences between races, which isn’t right either (47:21)
  • Deracialization and the fundamental concept of our identity: making sense of the complex terms race and identity (50:06)
  • It’s not just about race or racism, but the overarching systemic racial worldview (53:57)
  • Perspectival and participatory knowing are crucial, so we can engage with one another and develop skills of interaction (56:09)
  • The swing era of the 1930s, stomping the blues, and group flow (58:29)

Topics & Timestamps: Part 2

  • Antagonistic cooperation: competition is part of the American, democratic experience, but there are ways it can be a cooperative competition, e.g. cutting contests in jazz, cypher in hip hop (01:30)
  • Where individuality and the group flow dynamic come together: jazz and the ring shout tradition (04:34)
  • Entropy, consciousness, and culture: the tragic dimension and the comic perspective (05:33)
  • The power of culture: pushing people towards excellence, orienting towards self-actualization, and the Greek notion of arete (06:57)
  • How do we get to arete? The importance of striving for and developing both mastery and wisdom (11:11)
  • The tension between virtues like liberty and equality (15:27)
  • The healing power of music: Art Pepper & Sonny Stitt’s cutting contest (18:00)
  • Stomping the blues and how music merges secular & sacred, reminds us of our range of human feelings, gives resonance to memory, and brings healing and transcendence (21:11)
  • Music affirms the gift of life: moments of utopia allow us to transcend our everyday cares (25:00)
  • The role of creativity, the arts & humanities, is crucial in getting through the meaning crisis and the metacrisis (28:53)
  • Cultural forms and ideas can be picked up at any time and reinvigorated: bringing back the wisdom (29:52)
  • If there are enough of us who can model what it takes to be in flow together, despite our differences, we could tap into higher dimensions of human possibility (32:52)
  • The blues idiom wisdom tradition, great orators Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. & Frederick Douglass, and the embodiment of American democratic ideals (33:36)
  • Striving to achieve the realization of democratic ideals in a multiracial democracy—it’s never been done before (38:34)
  • The fundamental contradiction of being a slave owner in a country based on the principle of liberty (41:30)
  • Ultimately neither slave owner or slave is psychologically and spiritually free in a slave society (42:20)

Podcast produced by Vanessa Santos
Image created via MidJourney

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About the Deep Transformation series

We are clearly in a new era, facing world-threatening challenges and graced with barely conceivable opportunities. In this mind-boggling new world, we all face two crucial questions:

  • First, the ever-present conundrum of how to best live fully, deeply, wisely, and well.
    Second, the new question unique to our times, how to best understand and heal our endangered world.
  • Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear responses to these questions from some of the great consciousness pioneers—the outstanding thinkers, sages, scientists, and activists—of our time? These are the people and conversations that Deep Transformation offers.

Deep Transformation: Self-Society-Spirit draws on diverse ideas from around the world. It goes beyond traditional positions and polarities—beyond left and right, material and spiritual—to seek syntheses of deep wisdom and practical know-how that integrate the best of all positions.

Click here to learn more about Deep Transformation!

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Greg Thomas

About Greg Thomas

Greg Thomas has over 25 years of experience as a writer, producer, broadcaster and educator, and has been featured in publications as various as The Root, All About Jazz, Salon, London's Guardian Observer, the Village Voice, Africana, American Legacy, Savoy, New York's Daily News as well as the scholarly journal Callaloo. He was the Editor-in-Chief of Harlem World magazine from 2003-2006.

John Dupuy

About John Dupuy

John Dupuy is co-founder and CEO of iAwake Technologies, a company that creates cutting-edge, high-tech brainwave entrainment soundtracks that support the healing of emotional/shadow issues, deepen meditation, mental focus, creativity, and flow states, and enhance a daily integral transformative practice. John has been working personally and professionally with brainwave entrainment technology since 2004, and travels internationally to teach and inspire on the subjects of Integral Transformative Practice and Integral Recovery®. John is also the author of Integral Recovery: A Revolutionary Approach to the Treatment of Alcoholism and Addiction (SUNY Press, 2013), winner of the 2013 USA Best Book Award, and co-host of the popular Journey of Integral Recovery podcast. John also hosts the online series Spiritual Tech Talks 2.0, in which he converses with leaders, pioneers, and inventors on the current wave of emerging spiritual technologies.

Roger Walsh

About Roger Walsh

Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D., has spent nearly a quarter century researching and practicing in the world's great spiritual traditions. His critically acclaimed book, Essential Spirituality, is a summary of that wisdom, outlining the seven spiritual practices common to the world's major religions.