Saturday, November 15, 2008

Review: Integral Life Practice, part 1: the body

Kurt Barstow reviews the Body Module of the ILP Kit from Ken Wilber and pals. He's a bit more favorable than I am, but then I am a trainer so it all seems basic to me.

Integral Life Practice, part 1: the body

by Kurt Barstow

Integral Life Practice Starter Kit
If you were to invent a spirituality for the 21st century, one that would reflect our current evolutionary position, that was able to draw upon what is universal to all the great wisdom traditions, that was conversant with the contributions of modern developmental psychology, and that had a place for everyone, what would it look like? It would probably look something very much like Integral Spirituality. The outcome of the contributions of many thinkers but as a synthetic unity largely the brain child of the philosopher Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality is so named because it attempts to provide a complete picture, or as nearly complete as we can have it right now, of consciousness and of psycho-spiritual development. This is something that could only take place now because it is only at this moment that we have the information learned from both the contemplative traditions of religion (especially eastern) and modern psychology that allow us to chart out a developmental map of both individual human and cultural experience that lays out the progressive unfolding from matter to spirit. You have to imagine something that, while “resting on the shoulders of giants” is also so current and so chic that it could appeal to the entertainment industry. I will say more about this in a later article, but for now wish to stick with the history of Integral Spirituality itself.

What is truly remarkable about Wilber is not even so much his extraordinary ability to synthesize the world’s spiritual, ethical, philosophical, epistemological, and psychological thought into a coherent developmental scheme or his ability to be equally at home discussing Eastern spiritual and Western philosophical and psychological traditions as it is his humility and accessibility. What could have been just another moment in academic or intellectual history, because of Wilber, has turned into an institution, The Integral Institute, which is not only a living embodiment of intellectual and spiritual exchange among the various wisdom traditions with an ambitious program to make integral theory relevant to a complete array of activities or domains (from medicine and business to education and ecology), but also has the mission of making Integral Spirituality available to regular people like you and me. This radical accessibility (try to imagine Kant or Hegel with a popular radio show), which is of course appropriate to spirituality and a test of its applicability, takes several forms, from workshops and professional teaching seminars to three websites (The Integral Institute, Integral Naked, and The Integral Spiritual Center) and a weekly eNewsletter. Membership provides one with monthly DVDs and CDs as well as access to the websites, which include clips from various seminars; interviews that delve into sports, popular culture, science, politics, and spirituality; art; and musical performances. But at the heart of all this, and what can make it really relevant to your own life is Integral Life Practice, for which the Institute offers an Integral Life Practice Starter Kit. It is this that I will talk about in the next four articles, highlighting the four major modules of Integral Life Practice: Body, Mind, Spirit, and Shadow.


Despite an ascetic tradition that attempts to discount the body, it is obviously a central fact of our existence and something that needs to be reckoned with in our spiritual practice. As the contemporary mystic Andrew Harvey so eloquently puts it in his book The Direct Path: Creating a Personal Journey to the Divine Using the World’s Spiritual Traditions (Broadway Books, 2000): Celebrating the sacredness of the body leads “to an inward transformation that over time comes to reflect itself in every thought, action, and choice and to heal the false divisions between ‘body’ and ‘soul,’ ‘physical’ and ‘spiritual,’ ‘self’ and ‘other,’ Being conscious of the sacredness of the body slowly turns the whole of life into an experience of feast and celebration; every walk or meal or deep sleep or joy at a flower or beautiful face becomes a form of praise and prayer. Being conscious of the holiness of the bodies of other human and sentient beings makes you instinctively more sensitive and protective of them in every way and breeds what Buddha called a ‘loving harmlessness’ in the core of your being. To see, know, and feel through understanding the sacredness of your own body the sacredness of the entire creation--from the smallest dancing flea to the gray whale and the Himalayas--awakens a holy passion for God in all forms of life, and a practical resolution to do everything in your power to protect and guard nature from humanity’s greed and ignorance.” In the Christian tradition, the body is a temple. In the Buddhist tradition, Enlightenment happens through the body (“This very body, the Buddha”). In Hinduism, the asanas of yoga are preparation for meditation and awakening. And from Taoism stems Chi Gong and Tai Chi. Our embodiment is a major vehicle of our spirituality and this is pointed to in some way in virtually all the spiritual traditions.

The modular system of Integral Life Practices

Integral Life Practice is designed to be modular (hence it allows you to mix and match specific practices); customizable (hence you are given choices and options suitable to your schedule, preferences, and needs); scalable (hence adaptable to the time you have, down to 1-minute modules); distilled (hence boiling down the essence of traditional practices); and synergistic (hence you are working in different but complementary areas at the same time). So in creating an Integral Practice you may choose the body discipline in which you want to work. I, for example, have primarily a yoga practice with a more minor Qi Gong practice. I have also used the workouts unique to Integral Practice discussed below and consider my massage practice to be in this category. But a body practice could just as well be biking, swimming, or traditional western exercises. In the DVDs that come with the Integral Life Starter Kit you will be introduced to two further options: the 3-Body Workout and F.I.T weight training.

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