Friday, December 25, 2009

Jorge N. Ferrer - Integral Transformative Practice: A Participatory Perspective

A couple of days ago, I posted Embodied Participation in the Mystery - Jorge N. Ferrer, Ramon V. Albareda, and Marina T. Romer, and a reader kindly pointed me to this cool article posted at Integral World.

In this excellent article Ferrer is critical of Leonard & Murphy's and Wilber's cognitive-based approach to Integral Transformative Practice [ITP by Michael Murphy & George Leonard, or Integrl Life Practice (ILP) by Ken Wilber] and recommends a more somatic, embodied approach. I really like what he has to say here - this perspective really should be integrated into the existing models.

This is his main point:
What is needed is to complement modern ITP proposals with participatory approaches that (a) facilitate the autonomous maturation of all human dimensions according to their own developmental dynamics; and (b) balance the exercise of human attributes with the creation of spaces for the coming into being of novel qualities and inner potentials. Then a genuine integral growth – one that is both grounded in our most vital potentials and co-created by all human dimensions -- may have some possibility to unfold.
Here is the abstract and introduction:

Integral Transformative Practice: A Participatory Perspective

Jorge N. Ferrer

ABSTRACT: Most psychospiritual practices in the modern West suffer from favoring growth of mind and heart over physical and instinctive aspects of human experience with many negative consequences. Michael Murphy and Ken Wilber have each made excellent contributions in offering prescriptions for “Integral Transformative Practice” (ITP) which includes various physical and psychospiritual disciplines. Their prescriptions, however, can easily perpetuate the mind-centered direction of growth characteristic of the modern West in that they inherently ask one's mind to pick and commit to already constructed practices. Needed is an approach that will permit all human dimensions to co-creatively participate in the unfolding of integral growth. As one possible solution, the author presents a program of ITP developed by Albareda and Romero in Spain. Their Holistic Integration is based in group retreats to practice “interactive embodied meditations,” which involve contemplative physical contact between practitioners that allows access to the creative potential of all human dimensions.

In an age of spiritual confusion, a consensus is growing among transpersonal authors and spiritual teachers about the importance of an integral growth of the person -- that is, a developmental process that integrates all human dimensions (body, instincts, heart, mind, and consciousness) into a fully embodied spiritual life.1 This emerging understanding stems in large part from an awareness of the many pitfalls of a lopsided development, such as spiritual bypassing (Welwood, 2000), spiritual materialism and narcissism (Caplan, 1999; Lesser, 1999), offensive spirituality and spiritual defenses (Battista, 1996), ethical and psychosexual problems in the guru-disciple relationship (Butler, 1990; Kornfield, 1975; Kripal, 1999), difficulties in integrating spiritual experiences (Bragdon, 1990; Grof & Grof, 1989), and a devitalization of the body and inhibition of primary-sexual energies (Romero & Albareda, 2001), to name only a few.

Although the idea of an integral spiritual life that it is firmly grounded in psychosomatic integration can be found in the world's religious literature – for example, in Sri-Aurobindo's synthesis of yogas and the Christian phenomenon of incarnation -- not many efforts exist in contemporary Western culture that are aimed at the exploration and development of an effective praxis to actualize this potential in human lives. More specifically, not much attention is given to the maturation of the somatic, instinctive, sexual, and emotional worlds, and the unfolding of genuine integral growth in spiritual practitioners seems to be the exception to the rule. As several authors note, even spiritual leaders and teachers across traditions display an uneven development; for example, high level cognitive and spiritual functioning combined with ethically conventional or even dysfunctional interpersonal, emotional, or sexual behavior (e.g., Feuerstein, 1991; Kripal, 2002; Wilber, 2001). A related outcome of this unbalanced development is that many honest spiritual efforts are undermined by conflicts or wounds at somatic, sexual, or emotional levels. Too often, spiritual seekers struggle with tensions existing between their spiritual ideals and their instinctive, sexual, and emotional drives, recurrently falling into unconsciously driven patterns or habits despite their most sincere conscious intentions.

What is more, a lopsided psychospiritual development may have detrimental implications not only for human flourishing, but also for spiritual discernment. As I suggest elsewhere, it is likely that many past and present spiritual visions are to some extent the product of dissociated ways of knowing – ways that emerge predominantly from emotional or mental access to subtle forms of transcendent consciousness but are ungrounded from vital and immanent spiritual sources (Ferrer, 2002). For example, spiritual visions that hold that body and world are ultimately illusory (or lower, or impure, or a hindrance to spiritual liberation) arguably derive from states of being in which the sense of self mainly or exclusively identifies with subtle energies of consciousness, getting uprooted from the body and immanent spiritual life. From this existential stance, it is understandable, and perhaps inevitable, that both body and world are seen as ultimately illusory or defective. But if our somatic and vital worlds are invited to participate in our spiritual lives, making our sense of identity permeable to not only transcendent awareness but also immanent spiritual energies, then body and world become hierophanies -- sacred realities that are crucial for human and cosmic spiritual evolution.

An examination of the numerous historical and contextual variables behind the tendency towards what we may call a “heart-chakra-up” spirituality goes beyond the aim of this paper, but I would like to mention at least a possible underlying reason. As Romero and Albareda (2001) suggest in the context of Western culture, the inhibition of the primary dimensions of the person – somatic, instinctive, sexual, and certain aspects of the emotional -- may have been actually necessary at certain juncture to allow the emergence and maturation of the values of the human heart and consciousness. More specifically, this inhibition may have been essential to avoid the reabsorption of a still relatively weak, emerging self-consciousness and its values into the stronger presence that a more instinctively driven energy once had in the individual. In the context of religious traditions, this may be connected to the widespread consideration of certain human qualities as being spiritually more “correct” or wholesome than others; for instance, equanimity over intense passions, transcendence over sensuous embodiment, chastity over sexual exploration, and so forth. What may characterize our present moment, however, is the possibility of reconnecting all these human potentials in an integrated way. In other words, having developed self-reflective consciousness and the subtle dimensions of the heart, it may be the moment to reappropriate and integrate, while retaining these values, the more primary and instinctive dimensions of human nature into a fully embodied spiritual life.2

But what does it really mean to live a fully embodied spiritual life? Is it actually possible to integrate the many needs, desires, dynamics, and understandings of the various dimensions of our being harmoniously? Can we in fact cultivate the voice and wisdom of our bodies, instincts, hearts, minds, and souls without generating tensions or dissociations within us? And, perhaps most importantly, how can we lay down and walk a truly integral spiritual path that respects the integrity of the many voices dwelling within us? In other words, how can we foster the maturation of these dimensions, not only honoring their nature but also facilitating their creative participation in our spiritual lives?

To begin exploring these complex questions, this paper opens with a brief review of some contemporary proposals of Integral Transformative Practice (ITP). I then outline a participatory perspective on integral growth that may complement and expand these accounts. Finally, I introduce Holistic Integration, an integral approach created by Ramon V. Albareda and Marina T. Romero which may offer a practical answer to some of the difficulties that beset modern individuals attempting to develop an integral life in the modern West. The paper concludes with some reflections on ITP as an incarnational praxis.

Read the whole interesting article.


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