Saturday, January 28, 2006

Preliminary Observations on Integral Relationship, Part Two

["Hieros Gamos" by Joe Xuereb]

Part Two: Toward an Integral Model

[Please see Part One before reading this entry. Thanks to Kai and Kira for their ongoing conversation around this topic. If you haven't been keeping up with the conversation Kira and Kai are having in the comments section, you're missing some great insights, observation, and sharing.]

Disclaimer: As noted in the title, these are preliminary observations toward creating an integral model for relationship. I do not claim to have all the answers. I hope to generate a dialogue that might move more people to consider the implications of integral theory for the realm of intimate relationship.

Relationship has a tendency to mirror the parts of our lives that need attention. In choosing a partner, our psyche often pulls us toward the person who can best help us grow past our limitations. How this happens is a mystery, but it seems to be true more often than not. We discover our limitations through relationship, through intimacy, through making mistakes and experiencing conflicts. Holding this purpose of relationship in our hearts and minds might be the most important first step toward having an integral relationship.

From this vantage point, relationship is an important part of our physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual practice. Living an integral relationship requires a shift in consciousness about how we view relationship. For our primary relationship to be integral, it cannot be separate from our connection to our body, our emotional/shadow work, our psyche and its needs, or our spiritual path. All these parts of our lives (and more) are interconnected, and we must live in this awareness.

So what does this mean in terms of integral theory? I propose that at least five lines are necessary (but not sufficient) to having an integral relationship. I would argue that highly developed morals (Kohlberg), affect (emotional intelligence), gender identity, cognition, and empathy are all necessary for an integral relationship. Certainly, the presence of higher development in other lines would also contribute to a more integral model (especially care, creativity, and role-taking). Finally, we must have access to that part of consciousness which is able to observe itself--the observer self, or witness. Without the observer self, none of the rest of this is possible.

In terms of moral development, any relationship benefits from both partners having attained the post-conventional stage. Further, level six (universal human ethics) or level seven (transcendental morality) are the only truly second-tier moralities, and having attained these levels of moral complexity allows for the transcendence of ego needs (which I maintain is the hallmark of an integral relationship).

In an integral relationship, concern for the other's growth, happiness, needs, and safety transcend one's own ego concerns. For the first time, partners place the other's needs above their own. The approach is similar to being of service to Spirit in that we act in service of our partner, who in our eyes manifests Spirit. This does not mean we ignore or reject our own needs but, rather, that we seek ways to transcend purely egoic needs in order to serve a higher purpose (a soul-level relationship, our soul needs, and the soul needs of our partner). Even if we can't live in this elevated moral position every minute of every day, we must be able to access it in times of conflict. The ability to hold a transcendent moral stance in times of conflict is what allows us to place the spirit of the relationship above our own ego needs.

Being able to separate from our ego needs, which are usually tied to emotions, becomes central element of an integrally oriented relationship. Emotional intelligence (affect), as defined by John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey and updated by Daniel Goleman, is crucial to a healthy relationship and, therefore, the foundation of an integral relationship. Goleman outlines five basic competencies:

  1. The ability to identify and name one's emotional states and to understand the link between emotions, thought and action.

  2. The capacity to manage one's emotional states — to control emotions or to shift undesirable emotional states to more adequate ones.

  3. The ability to enter into emotional states (at will) associated with a drive to achieve and be successful.

  4. The capacity to read, be sensitive, and influence other people's emotions.

  5. The ability to enter and sustain satisfactory interpersonal relationships.
All of these skills are important in an integral relationship. I would add to this list the ability to detach from our intense emotional states and take a step back to observe them--this is another place where the observer self plays a crucial role.

We must have access to and an understanding of our own emotions if we are to feel empathy for our partner. Without empathy, we will never be able to reach the moral stages described in the previous paragraphs. Without empathy, we can never experience our partner's point of view in a situation. Without empathy, we can never really transcend ego concerns in our relationships.

As we saw in the first post on this topic, gender identity is essentially fixed until individuals reach the high Orange and Green stages of development. However, I suggest that an integral relationship requires a fluid sense of gender identity. The outward manifestation of this fluidity is in one's ability to assume different gender roles, while the inward manifestation is actually an absence of attachment to any one gender identity, a form of androgyny. In the purest form (causal level), androgyny does not refer to the mixture of masculine and feminine traits, but to the transcendence of specific sexual/gender traits--the androgyne.

This second-tier conception of gender identity allows either partner to assume the masculine or feminine energy in the relationship. Further, it's not a problem if both partners assume male energy or female energy. At higher experiential states (tantra in the traditional sense), the gender energies become archetypal in nature--as ego recedes--and can result in gender union (a kind of hieros gamos). At the highest levels, gender dissolves completely, along with ego.

Cognitive development is essentially a movement through Wilber's fulcrums of basic structures, which combines Piaget's early stages with Aurobindo's transrational stages. As Piaget's stage model ends, Wilber adds a transformation stage (vision-logic) before moving into Aurobindo's conceptions of psychic, subtle, causal, and nondual. Vision-logic corresponds to late Green/early Yellow in the Beck Spiral Dynamics model. The hallmark of this stage is the ability to hold and compare differing perspectives or points of view.

In the language of Spiral Dynamics, one must be able to read the whole Spiral and assume the worldview of any of the first tier vMemes at will to be truly integral or second tier. This is the "necessary but not sufficient" element of integral consciousness. There is more to being second tier than intellectual development, but second tier won't happen without the mental capacity to assume various and conflicting worldviews.

Development of the Self along the Spiral requires an ability to intellectually conceive of new ways of seeing the world. This is not to say that an integral experience is not available as a state of consciousness, because it is, but integral consciousness as the foundation of a worldview must be solidified as a stage and not a simple state, which is available to anyone at any stage of development.

So this brings me to what I think is the most important element to an integral relationship: the ability to access the observer self. The observer self is the part of ourselves that can step back and listen to our minds obsess about finances, or an annoying coworker, or whatever the wind of the mind is blowing into consciousness--to observe our own interior monologue. This part of our consciousness is more of who we really are than the stream of words we call the interior monologue will ever be. The observer self is the first authentic approach to finding the higher Self that resides beyond the realm of ego (Wilber's "witness").

If we meditate or see a good therapist, the observer self is one of the first skills we will develop. It’s that important. Without that part of ourselves, our monologues will keep arguing that their version of reality is the only version, and we will keep believing them, living our lives as though the monologues are the only truth, feeling confused when the world disagrees. Further, the observer self allows us to look at our behaviors and our egoic needs as though from a distance.

This skill is invaluable to a healthy relationship. When we are in the midst of conflict, or bumping up against one of the many times that our intimate relationships will reveal our wounding, we must be able to detach from the shame, guilt, anger, fear, or any other strong emotion that might surface, and to create some space to observe the emotion, its source, and how we might learn from it. As I noted above, relationship often serves the purpose of revealing our flaws and wounding to provide us with an opportunity to work on them. Without an observer self, this is not possible. If we cannot detach from our emotions when we need to, an integral relationship will not be possible.

It must be noted that the observer self is not limited to second tier or integral stage development. Anyone at any stage can learn to access the observer self as a state of consciousness. An exercise to learn this skill is available in a previous post on this site. However, a truly integral-stage person will have access to the observer at will.

These are my preliminary observations on integral relationship. I welcome objections, corrections, and continuing dialogue on this topic. As is my nature, this post has been extremely theoretical and intellectual. So what does an integral relationship, or the attempt to have one, look like from the inside? In my next post, part three, I will try to present some of my personal experience with my attempts to co-create an integral relationship.

Go to Part Three.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Poem: Su Tung P'o

[Secluded Home at Spring Mountain, Wang Jian-Qi]
Moon, Flowers, Man

I raise my cup and invite
The moon to come down from the
Sky. I hope she will accept
Me. I raise my cup and ask
The branches, heavy with flowers,
To drink with me. I wish them
Long life and promise never
To pick them. In company
With the moon and the flowers,
I get drunk, and none of us
Ever worries about good
Or bad. How many people
Can comprehend our joy? I
Have wine and moon and flowers.
Who else do I want for drinking companions?

Translated by Kenneth Rexroth, One Hundred poem from the Chinese

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Emotions and Equanimity

["Emotions" by Joelle Deroy]

After an emotion has . . . surfaced, there are two ways to deal with it. One is to objectify the emotional response by blaming someone or something for the way you feel. This way reinforces and escalates negative feelings. The other choice is to go directly into the emotion, become it, discover it, feel it thoroughly, and calmly watch its nature. Rather than ask why, observe how the emotion arises. Instead of trying to push the emotion away, befriend it. If you watch carefully, without involvement, you will see this emotion manifest in both body and mind and dissolve into pure energy.

Just by sitting quietly and watching our emotional state without attachment, we become tranquil. No other instruction is necessary. Agitated, restless feelings are like muddy water, which becomes still and transparently clear when left to stand. As our emotional reaction naturally subsides, mind and body become peaceful and balanced.

If we do not allow this change, we will see that we are holding the emotion fixed in the body, breath, and mind. Looking deeply into this emotional tension, we may discover a strange paradox: although we do not want to suffer, we seem unable to give up our unhappiness. We either cannot or will not change. We hold on to emotional responses, even the negative ones, because our emotional needs and attachments are very strong; they form a major part of our identity. Letting go of them can be very frightening and confusing, for without these familiar feelings we may no longer be sure who we are.

Tarthang Tulku, Hidden Mind of Freedom; Dharma Publishing

Although I prefer the Shambhala path of Buddhism, I keep reading Dzogchen books. I am liking what I read in some of them. Tulku is easy to read and clear in his instructions. As I continue with his book, I'll try to post interesting passages or any thoughts I have on the text.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Therapy as the Warrior's Path

["Drowning" by Tonmi Lillman]

Conventionally, being fearless means that you are not afraid or that, if someone hits you, you will hit him back. However, we are not talking about that street-fighter level of fearlessness. Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others.


In the Shambala tradition, discovering fearlessness comes from working with the softness of the human heart.

( Chögyam Trungpa, Shambala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior)

When I began my weekly talks with Maude, I had no idea what I was getting myself into or how my life would be changed. If I had known, I likely would have continued as I have, but I would have made more space in my days for just being. Some days, I am back at the gym and training my clients within an hour of hanging up the phone. It seems there is little time for reflection, meditation, and thinking up excuses to avoid the next conversation. I really was not well-prepared for the process I was undertaking.

All I knew when I made the first phone call was that I was not happy and that nothing I had tried until that point had worked to ease the discomfort always lurking beneath the surface of my consciousness. I wasn't depressed, or at least not in any way identifiable to most people. In fact, my outward life was working better than it ever had before, yet I was not content. Something was missing.

The one thing I did know when our conversations began was that I had never been a very emotional person. Perhaps it might be more honest to say that I avoid emotions to the point that I often am unaware of what I am feeling. My conservative parents taught me that "boys don't cry" or show any other vulnerable emotion. In fact, I was raised to value intellect over emotion in every conceivable way and in every instance. I learned very early that a powerful intellect garners power and respect, while vulnerable emotions are "weak and sissy." I learned through my father's words--"Stop crying or I'll give you something to really cry about"--not to show vulnerability in any way.

I carried those lessons into adulthood, and in many ways they helped me get to where I am now--both good and bad. However, the lack of vulnerability has been a hindrance to healthy relationships and to living the compassionate life that Buddhism teaches. In fact, it was my life partner who suggested I talk with Maude. She has known Maude for many years and recommended her as someone who might be able to help me find whatever it was that my life seemed to lack.

When I made the first call, I didn't suspect that I would be learning about fearlessness. Nor did I suspect that true fearlessness, as Trungpa suggests, acquires its strength from the tenderness of a human heart.

* * *

The details are unimportant. Suffice it to say that no human heart makes it to the age of 38 without gathering a variety of wounds--some deep and damaging, others less painful but still significant. For most of my life until this point, I thought, "So what--quit whining and get on with your life." I believed we all had wounds but that the strong person was simply better at working around them. As near as I could tell, I was doing a fair job at working around whatever wounds I had accumulated. As long as my life wasn't in crisis, I saw no reason to go digging around in my psyche. All that was ever required, from my point of view, was more knowledge and understanding. No problem seemed so great that I could not think my way through it.

I must have been dropped on my head too many times as an infant. Or maybe it was the copious drug use in my teen years. Whatever the case, my thinking--as educated in psychology as I actually am--has turned out to be less than adequate to the situation. I think it was Einstein who said that a problem can't be solved by the same consciousness that created the problem in the first place. He was correct.

Yet, the consciousness that created the problem was doing exactly what it was designed to do. When a child's psyche is exposed to pain for which it is ill prepared, the psyche devises defenses to deal with the pain. For example, if a young boy is repeatedly told that he should not cry when he feels pain or fear, and is even punished for expressing his vulnerability, his psyche will find ways to stuff that pain away someplace out of reach. The feeling element of his psyche will split off and be disowned. A subpersonality will develop in its place that is tough and unfeeling. The role of that subpersonality is to protect the boy from painful feelings. As the boy grows into a man, he will continue to act with few authentic emotions. Even if he realizes what is going on inside himself, either through meditation, introspection, or relationship with others, his intellect will be insufficient to resolve the problem since it was his mind that created the problem in the first place.

* * *

So, one day I'm feeling a little discontented. The feeling comes and goes for a few weeks, and I am clueless as to why I should not be happy when so much of my life is exactly how I want it. After talking with my partner, who has experienced me as distant and emotionally unavailable, I decide to talk to Maude. Looking back, that decision was the spiritual equivalent of walking out into the ocean and allowing the waves to carry me far from land.

Much of what I assumed to be true--about who I am, about my childhood, about what I want most in life--has been washed away. In many ways, this is good. I have written before about "coming undone," about the ways we can renew ourselves through giving up beliefs that no longer serve our lives. I respect the process of undoing and generally seek ways to jettison elements of my life that no longer serve me. This is different. I am undoing many of the core elements of how I define myself in the world. I am no longer the person I was when I picked up the phone for the first time. Nor am I yet the person I am in the process of becoming.

I am stuck in between. In the study of ritual and initiation, this is what is called liminal space. The word liminal derives from the Latin limen, which means threshold--of or relating to being in an intermediate state, phase, or condition; in between, transitional. In the colloquial, one might say I am neither here nor there. In truth, I no longer even know where here or there are.

Liminal space is uncomfortable. I am often grumpy, short-tempered, moody, impatient, on edge, and generally no fun to be around. Did I mention the moodiness? It's like being a teenager again, but at least there's no acne this time. In fact, I have all the symptoms--low energy, poor sleep, moodiness, a need for isolation, disrupted eating patterns--of someone who is depressed. This isn't the neurochemical imbalance kind of depression that requires pharmaceutical intervention. It's what is known as situational depression and is best treated by examining the situation that has created it. In this case, that would be liminality.

Maude has the unmitigated audacity to tell me, over and over again, that I am exactly where I need to be. If she weren't so damned right, I'd just be really annoyed. In fact, I am annoyed. Yet, despite all the turmoil and chaos swirling around inside my head, I am still capable of taking a step back and looking at the process as though it were someone else's life that was coming unraveled. From that point of view, I know she is right. I am neck-deep in the ocean of my psyche. No matter how foreign it feels, and it feels like being a stranger in my own skin, I know how to swim and I am not going to drown.

* * *

But wait, there's more. Like I said before, I was raised to believe that I can think my way out of any problem. Or rather, that if I work hard enough at something, I can master it and be in control. I thrive on being in control, on mastering problems and being the one who figures thing out. I need to have all the answers, and on the rare occasion that I don't have all the answers, I am convinced that I can find the answers quickly. From this point of view, I should have solved whatever was bothering me after the first couple of phone calls. From this point of view, I should be running the world by now, or at least some multinational corporation. Such is the power of ego.

But ego is insufficient to the task at hand. The more I try to do something to "fix" myself, the more I create distance from feeling. Doing is intellectual and active--it's where I am most comfortable. Feeling is emotional and passive--I avoid feeling as much as possible. So Maude does not give me "homework," and she constantly rebuffs my pleas for some kind of technique or activity that can lessen my discomfort. "Just notice your avoidance as it comes up," she says; or, "Just be aware that you are intellectualizing instead of feeling." Yeah, that's all great, but I want to DO something.

How difficult it is, with such a belief system, to no longer be in control. Liminality does not tolerate an inflated ego. It quickly pokes holes in such a bloated sense of self. The result is that pesky depression I complained about a few paragraphs ago. Which brings me to another of my "issues": my sense of self is either inflated or deflated, but seldom balanced. Neither is real. I am never as "in control" as I try to convince myself that I am; nor am I ever as at the fate of mercy as I sometimes feel. Both viewpoints serve to distance me from my authentic feelings--most often fear or grief.

* * *

The tenderness and sadness Trungpa speaks about is assumed in Buddhism to be the natural state of the heart. For all its wisdom, Buddhism lacks the insight into developmental issues that Western psychology has mastered over the past one hundred years. Buddhism excels at the higher reaches of human development but lacks a solid understanding of how human beings develop from birth to adulthood. The real source of that tenderness and sadness is the wounding we experience as we grow to maturity.

A wise friend once told me that my greatest gifts in life would grow out of my deepest wounding. Although I grasped his point intellectually, I had no idea how much literal truth there was in his words. One of my deepest wounds is the sense that I am separate, unappreciated, unloved by Spirit, Divinity, God--whatever you want to call the creative intelligence that is ground and goal of material reality. I have no idea how that grief will become a gift in my life, but I do know that touching that grief is softening my heart. The more I can touch that tenderness, that sadness, the more fearless I become. This is the path of the warrior that Trungpa writes about.

When I first picked up the phone to talk with Maude, I had no idea I was embarking on the path of the warrior. I knew about warrior spirit from my readings in Buddhism, Native American traditions, and from some New Age authors such as Dan Millman. I never really took much of it seriously. I had no desire to be a warrior--spiritual or otherwise.

Yet here I am, rereading Trunga's book in some ill-guided attempt to intellectually understand what is happening within me. Maude knows I cannot help myself in this area. Still, she makes a point of reminding me that I am exactly where I need to be--even if I have no idea where in the hell I am.

Monday, January 23, 2006

On Samsara

[Bosch: Garden of Earthly Delights, Middle Panel]

When we speak of samsara, it seems to be something bad. What is samsara? What do you point to when you want to identify samsara? Who is samsara? If you're wondering who samsara is, you can point to yourself. Each of us is our own samsara. Is it the same or different from ourselves? It's not be found anywhere else apart from our own existence. We are the ones who experience suffering; we are the ones who experience joy. Moreover, we are the ones who create our own samsara. Is samsara created? Yes, it is, and we're the ones who create it. How does this take place? With such mental afflictions as the three poisons of attachment, hatred, and delusion, we create samsara. The nature of all of these poisons is delusion. That is what creates our samsara.

Gyatrul Rinpoche, "Commentary" on Natural Liberation

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sunday Poem: Charles Wright

Body and Soul II  

(for Coleman Hawkins)

The structure of landscape is infinitesimal,
Like the structure of music,
                                           seamless, invisible.
Even the rain has larger sutures.
What holds the landscape together, and what holds music together,
Is faith, it appears--faith of the eye, faith of the ear.
Nothing like that in language,
However, clouds chugging from west to east like blossoms
Blown by the wind.
                               April, and anything's possible.

Here is the story of Hsuan Tsang.
A Buddhist monk, he went from Xian to southern India
And back--on horseback, on camel-back, on elephant-back, and on
Ten thousand miles it took him, from 29 to 645,
Mountains and deserts,
In search of the Truth,
                                    the heart of the heart of Reality,
The Law that would help him escape it,
And all its attendant and inescapable suffering.
                                                                          And he found it.

These days, I look at things, not through them,
And sit down low, as far away from the sky as I can get.
The reef of the weeping cherry flourishes coral,
The neighbor's back porch light bulbs glow like anemones.
Squid-eyed Venus floats forth overhead.
This is the half hour, half-light, half-dark,
                                                when everything starts to shine out,
And aphorisms skulk in the trees,
Their wings folded, their heads bowed.

Every true poem is a spark,
                            and aspires to the condition of the original fire
Arising out of the emptiness.
It is that same emptiness it wants to reignite.
It is that same engendering it wants to be re-engendered by.
Shooting stars.
April's identical,
                          celestial, wordless, burning down.
Its light is the light we commune by.
Its destination's our own, its hope is the hope we live with.

Wang Wei, on the other hand,
Before he was 30 years old bought his famous estate on the Wang River
Just east of the east end of the Southern Mountains,
                                                                          and lived there,
Off and on, for the rest of his life.
He never travelled the landscape, but stayed inside it,
A part of nature himself, he thought.
And who would say no
To someone so bound up in solitude,
                                         in failure, he thought, and suffering.

Afternoon sky the color of Cream of Wheat, a small
Dollop of butter hazily at the western edge.
Getting too old and lazy to write poems,
                                                               I watch the snowfall
From the apple trees.
Landscape, as Wang Wei says, softens the sharp edges of isolation.

Don't just do something, sit there.
And so I have, so I have,
                    the seasons curling around me like smoke,
Gone to the end of the earth and back without a sound.

From A Short History of the Shadow, 2002, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.  

Commentary on Wright Poem

Due to formatting issues with Blogger, I could not maintain the formatting in the poem and still be able to edit the body text as needed, so they are separate posts.

Here is a little biography on Charles Wright from the Academy of American Poets website:

Charles Wright was born in Pickwick Dam, Tennessee, in 1935 and was educated at Davidson College and the University of Iowa. Chickamauga, his eleventh collection of poems, won the 1996 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. His other books include Buffalo Yoga (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004); Negative Blue (2000); Appalachia (1998); Black Zodiac (1997), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; The World of the Ten Thousand Things: Poems 1980-1990; Zone Journals (1988); Country Music: Selected Early Poems (1983), which won the National Book Award; Hard Freight (1973), which was nominated for the National Book Award; and two volumes of criticism: Halflife (1988) and Quarter Notes (1995). His translation of Eugenio Montale's The Storm and Other Poems (1978) was awarded the PEN Translation Prize. His many honors include the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award of Merit Medal and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. In 1999 he was elected a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets. He is Souder Family Professor of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Wright's Zone Journals is, for me, one of the finest books of poetry published in the last 50 years. The lines are associative, not narrative, and move with a kind of fluidity that reflects the liquid nature of the mind.

Wright's is a poetry of "luminous moments," as Edward Hirsch says. A reader gets the sense that Wright is painfully aware of his insignificance before the blank face of God. Here are more of Hirsch's thoughts on Wright:

Charles Wright is a poet of lyric impulses, of what Pound termed "gists and piths." His poems are structured associatively rather than narratively, and he has created a poetics of luminous moments, what Wordsworth called "spots of time," Joyce termed "epiphanies," Virginia Woolf labeled "moments of being." Such moments, fleeting and atemporal, rupture narrative and loosen bonds of continuity and consequence. They mark and isolate the self, transporting it to another realm, weakening its boundaries. They are inchoate and asocial--defying language, destroying time. Thus they have to be seized and contained, described and dramatized in words, reintegrated back into temporal experience. The epiphanic mode creates linguistic demands upon the poet, and Wright has responded to these demands conclusively. Over the years his work has become larger and more inclusive, with narrative overtones rather than undertones, though from the beginning he has written a poetry of flashes and jump-starts, of radiance glimpsed and noted down--transcribed, transfigured.

There is a definite Christian influence in Wright's work, but it is balanced by a reverence for the Eastern religions and their focus on being in the present moment. Wright struggles often with staying in the present. His poems become filters through which he remembers things past in order to make sense of the present. The poem posted above ends with a reminder to himself to just sit in the moment. A good lesson for us all.

Charles Wright poems on the web:

After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard
Early Saturday Afternoon, Early
In the Greenhouse
Last Supper
Words and the Diminution of All Things