Friday, July 27, 2007

Soul in Intergal Theory

When I began Integral Options Cafe back in June of 2005, it was intended to be the place where I wrote about all things integral and Buddhist. At the time, I already had a politics blog (now defunct) and a fitness blog (now inactive), so this was the place for the more intellectual and theoretical stuff.

This is now the only blog (aside from Elegant Thorn Review -- which is poetry, flash-fiction, and photography) that I am actively involved with. For long time readers, you've probably noticed the drop-off in integral-related posting. My interest in all things integral has waned (largely beginning with the Wyatt Earpy episode last June). Don't get me wrong, I still think AQAL is a great model for making sense of the world -- but it's only a model.

One of the things that has moved me away from Integral Theory is that it's highly theoretical, intellectual, and based in agency and transcendence. That's all well and good -- those things are important. But Soul couldn't give a rat's ass about theory and agency and all those other things that Spirit is tied to.

Integral theory, in my experience, is heavily biased toward Spirit at the neglect of Soul. Lately, I have been feeling the need to have a more balanced relationship with the world -- I want transcendence and translation, agency and communion, autonomy and interconnectedness, knowledge and experience, and so on.

I'm not going to gender the distinction between Soul and Spirit, but this is how I see it:

Soul seeks communion, interconnectedness, experience, inclusion, and darkness. This is what Jung called the anima, which is the original Greek word for soul.

Spirit seeks agency, autonomy, knowledge, distinctions, and light. This is what Jung called the animus, the original Greek word for spirit.

In my experience -- and this might be just how I have approached it -- Integral Theory is very focused on Spirit. Maybe this is because it has largely been formulated by people interested in how to bring more Spirit, and especially transcendence, into the conversation. In one of the first magazine interviews I remember seeing with Ken Wilber (back in the mid-1990s), he was heavily intent on demonstrating that most of the New Age movement was worthless because it was just a bunch of different translations of the same basic developmental level. He argued strongly, and I bought the argument, that Integral Theory offers a path to transcendence rather than merely another translation of the same basic material.

Integral Theory does offer a basic series of assumptions that can be built into a solid spiritual practice -- the ILP model. It's a good model that I know from experience offers a lot of foundational practices, all of which are geared toward transcendence in one way or another. Sure, there is a shadow module, but it's there to remove obstacles, not because swimming around in our shadow material might actually be something the Soul needs to do on occasion.

Soul doesn't follow the dictates of intellect -- it has its own agenda that usually remains baffling under the best of circumstances. One thing I know for sure is that whatever Soul takes interest in is usually something to which we should pay attention.

When soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning. Our temptation is to isolate these symptoms or to try to eradicate them one by one; but the root problem is that we have lost our wisdom about the soul, even our interest in it. We have today few specialists of the soul to advise us when we succumb to moods and emotional pain....

~ Thomas Moore, Introduction to Care of the Soul

Thomas Moore is one of the New Age types that Ken Wilber would probably dismiss out of hand. But there is quite a bit of value in his little book (not so much in the later ones). We do neglect soul in this culture. We're all about materialism, surfaces, motion, and action. Even our spiritual practices are more about transcendence and God than they are about being and soul.

Soul likes to simply be, without having to do. It likes fine foods, nice scenery, sensuality, and lots of other things that we often do not make time for -- or if we do, we do not value them as expressions of Soul but as mind-altering addictions. We do not eat for pleasure so much as we eat to self-medicate. We have sex, but we seldom make love. We travel to beautiful places and take photographs (I'm really bad about this one), but we do not sit quietly and allow the place to work its magic on us.

All of this is missing for me in Integral Theory. Certainly, Wilber has identified 24 or more developmental lines, and some of them are lines that feed Soul rather than Spirit: socio-emotional capacity, creativity, joy, and so on. He even defines Soul as "the aspect of self that adapts to the psychic/subtle realm" (Integral Psychology, 126). Further:

Alongside those developments [of self], the soul (the psychic/subtle self) can follow its own trajectory, unfolding in its own holarchical stream. The soul or deeper-psychic line includes all the self-streams that adapt consciousness to many facets of the subtle sphere. The soul is the self that depends on the subtle line of cognition (which includes, as we saw, imagination, reverie, daydreams, creative visions, hypnogogic states, etheric states, visionary revelations, hypnotic states, transcendental illuminations, and numerous types of savikalpa samadhi), and thus the soul is the self-stream that orients and integrates consciousness in the subtle domain. (126)

I don't know about you, but my Soul reads that and says what the hell does any of that have to do with me? I'm willing to give KW the benefit of the doubt, but this is a case where I think Moore offers a better definition:

It is impossible to define precisely what soul the is. Definition is an intellectual enterprise anyway; the soul prefers to imagine. We know intuitively that soul has to do with genuineness and depth.... Soul is revealed in attachment, love, and community, as well as in retreat on behalf of inner communing and intimacy.

Tradition teaches that soul lies midway between understanding and unconsciousness, and that its instrument is neither the mind nor the body, but imagination. (CS, Introduction)

I suspect that Moore and Wilber are saying essentially the same thing, except that Wilber is using the language of intellect and Moore is using the poetry of the imagination.

I've grown weary of the language of intellect being the only language I speak. When I stopped writing poetry several years ago, it was at the same time that I began to seriously study Wilber's books. It was also when I quit drinking. I had used alcohol as the key to unlock the door to Soul-level experience and language -- without the key, there was no more poetry.

Lately, I have been trying to write again (not very successfully) and spending more time doing things that feed my soul (sitting outside watching storms pass over, visiting with friends, cooking, reading poetry, and so on). There should be some kind of a "Soul Module" in the ILP Kit -- I'm sure many of us could benefit from allowing ourselves more time to be rather than always having to do.

Even meditation can be an active pursuit rather than a way of being still and allowing soul to have some solitude. My last therapist asked me not to meditate as an activity when I was working with her. She was trying to unplug me from a compulsive need to DO things, and meditation at the time was one of things I was doing. She asked me to just sit, nothing more. No counting breaths, no returning my mind to my breath, no visualizations -- just sit and let my mind wander anywhere it wants to go, but to notice where it goes, because that is the path to learning what is going on beneath the surface -- it's a useful approach.

So, that's the deal on the lack of Integral posts here. As some balance returns to my life, I'm sure the interest will return -- but right now I'm interested in other things.


Anonymous said...

Soul is an area where I have to work, too.

Dunno if this helps...

I love both dogs and cats. But I have a gut feeling that dogs
are action, cats are presence.

Dogs are spirit, cats are soul.

My wonderful old cat died not too long ago. She was great at getting me to pause.

When she stretched and yawned, she savored it.

william harryman said...

Thanks for the comment -- I've seriously been considering getting a cat over the past couple of months. Living in apartment, a dog is out of the question (little dogs annoy me). But even with a cat, I am so seldom home for very long it feels unfair. But what does a cat care? -- I'm mostly just here to feed it and scratch its neck now and then. So maybe I will get a cat. I could use a housemate.


JMP said...

I was reading a lot of Thomas Moore around the time I discovered Wilber, so I can relate to where you're coming from.


Anonymous said...

What you wrote resonated strongly with me - soul is what I miss (deeply miss) in Wilber's stuff. I admire his stuff immensely. As a woman, in a joyful body, valuing shadowtime, I feel left behind and inferior. Yet, I know I'm not inferior. I know there's such beauty and poetry to be found in the chaos that does not adhere to patterns of lines, spirals, structures.

william harryman said...

Hi Jo,

Thanks for your comments -- I was hoping to hear a woman's point of view on this. I suspect that many women feel "left out" in integral theory, which comes across often as overly agentic and too little focused on communion.

It's a great and useful model, but I wish it honored the horizontal as much as it does the vertical.


william harryman said...

Hey Joe,

Glad to hear your response here and the more in-depth response at your blog.

I certainly don't place Moore in the same realm as Wilber (you're right in that he often makes the pre/trans error), but in terms of speaking to the soul, he is pretty good.


Anonymous said...

Bill, if you're not sure you're home often enough, dont rush to get a cat. Check with some cat savvy people to find out how much time you actually need to spend at home to give a kitty a fair deal.

In the mean time, you might arrange to do kitty sitting for friends of yours. You can savor thier cats, and help your pals out at the same time.

I plan to wait a year before having a cat again. There are a couple of trips I want to make. And my old cat was so special that I need to pay her the tribute of feeling her absence.

For other takes on soul and women's practice, here are some comments. I originally posted these on Gary Stamper's blog;


Lorin Roche offers this suggestion concerning meditation and spiritual practices that sustain and support women's development:

(quote) If you talk to women who thrive in meditation, and listen deeply and without judgment, eventually they will tell you what their real practices are, how they secretly customize the meditation practice to fit their bodies and their heart currents. That is why they thrive – they are letting their inner wisdom remake meditation into a practice that is life-affirming.

'....But unfortunately, the males from the monastic traditions lack the humility to admit, "You know, I don't know a thing about women. You should ask someone else."

We can delight in each other's different essence, for there are differences. There are also differences between types of women. These differences are obliterated by most meditation teaching, and as a result, I have to say after some observation, meditation is slightly harmful to women. This is a tragedy, for I think everyone involved is sincere.

If these differences are honored, and you allow meditation to be a celebration of your individuality, of your existence, then you will find true refuge and repose in meditation. Meditation will be a time you look forward to. You will be able to rest in your essence and be rejuvenated. You will emerge, refreshed and in touch with your deeper self. Meditation can help women, profoundly, to be true to their feminine essence and shine in the world.

You can't do someone else's meditation. It will damage the very circuits you need to experience enlightenment in life and delight in the process of living. (unquote)


(quote) (Meditation in America is taught in such a way that it tends to encourage women to be at war with their inner nature. They get a little bit of serenity at the expense of soul betrayal. A few women do thrive on meditation as it is taught – and in interviews I found out that they secretly customize their meditation to fit themselves, their personality and emotions and body chemistry. These are secrets worth learning. unquote)

The entire essay can be read here.

---Roche has a fascinating article entitled 'Two Paths'.

What Roche refers to as 'renunciation' and 'detachment' might also apply to 'transcendence' as understood in certain applications of Integralism.

Roche suggests subtle forms of damage may be incurred if householders (those whose growth path is through human connection) use practices designed by amd for renunciates -- and Roche notes most meditation practices were developed and taught by renunciates:

(quote)Here is what can happen if you are doing a practice that is not the right one for you:

"If you are doing the wrong kind of meditation for your individuality, you will be able to tell in several ways: it will feel like an imposition; you will have the sense that you are going against your own grain; there will be a sense of forcing; you will sense that the little bit of inner peace you are getting is at the expense of cutting yourself off from parts of yourself that you do not like; and you will find yourself becoming dependent on external authorities. What the guru says, or what some guru in the past said, will seem very important. More important than your own still small voice. There are actually a lot of signals saying, "You are on the wrong path." Learning to interpret these signals is an essential part of learning to meditate in a way that is healthy for you."

To use the language of social psychology--using a spiritual practice that is not right for you may cause a shift from internal locus of control to external locus of control. If you get cut off from your own roots, your own life source--you get disoriented and risk giving your power away to an external source of guidance not nearly as wise as your inner voice.

If you got wounded in childhood and are already estranged from your inner life, the risk of this increases.

"Do not expect meditation teachers to be like a doctor, who will try to figure out exactly what treatment, what medication, you need, if any. No, oddly enough, in spite of thousands of years of "tradition," meditation teachers are actually abysmal at knowing which technique to give to which person. So be very, very discerning before imposing any technique on yourself. Question everything. And when you have checked things out, and tested them in your own life, then go forward and enjoy meditation."

(A teacher may have achieved some sort of personal breakthrough, but may not be able to prescribe the right practice to students who have different histories and constitutions.)

"Whatever their name, these renunciates have for thousands of years kept alive the wisdom of meditation, and almost all the teachings on meditation in existence owe a debt of gratitude to them. Also, however, everything we know about meditation is lightly or strongly tainted with attitudes of renunciation that are only appropriate for those who wear robes and live in religious orders. Almost all books on meditation available today are written by people who were inspired in one way or the other by the great monastic traditions of India and other Asian countries. Almost all teachers of meditation are either monks or nuns, were trained by monks or nuns, or were trained by students of monks or nuns. So attitudes of renunciation have come to be synonymous with meditation.

When householders practice meditations designed for renunciates, they inadventently damage the psychic and energetic structures they need to make their way in the material world. Meditation works, and it works on you on a deep level. If you go into meditation with the idea that you have to detach from the world, you may get more than you bargained for - you may find yourself gradually getting dissociated, removed, alienated, and depersonalized. It is always easier to destroy than to create, and detachment means to cut off or separate. It can take years to rebuild connections that you have severed through mistakenly practicing detachment.

In a nutshell, monks and nuns evolve by living a life of detachment, disconnection, and aloofness. They may be very attached to their robes and their spiritual order, but their practice is about renouncing their desire for "worldly things." For them, spirituality is irrevocably tied up with denial.

Non-monks, on the other hand, evolve through working with the material world. Detachment is not the primary attitude to cultivate.

"Rather, the opposite of detachment is indicated: being involved, close, committed, and intimate. For some odd reason, this distinction is not being honored, and the wrong techniques are being taught on a wide scale.

This is discussed further in "Eating Disorders Masquerading as Yogic Food Theory"

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the above, Anon. I remember reading this in another location and thinking ahhahh! Especially remaking meditation.

I've recently ventured into shamanic/tantric breathwork as an experiment - very interesting. And I've been practising some of David Deida's stuff in intimate relationship - also interesting, in terms of experiencing the divine through communion and sex. Experimenting with bringing my pratice back to the marketplace, to places of communion. And, have read and re-read Moore, Woodman, Jung...always looking for others examining the way.

It's all interesting. I learn something important from everything, everything has a truth, right? But I find, with everything I am attracted to, and experiment with, I must always try it on while listening closely to the wisdom of my own body, my soul, and my spirit. And continue with that guidance as a touchstone. We are not taught to trust ourselves. Yet learning to listen to ourselves - our deeper Self - may be an important way to learn to listen to the divine. But perhaps that's a perspective of the feminine.


william harryman said...

Hi Anon,

I echo Jo -- Thanks for bringing your perspective and for the links.I agree that a lot of traditional meditation approaches are highly agentic -- I have my own issues with this, as well.

And Jo -- I am a big fan shamanic journeying and breathwork (combining Michael Harner and Stan Grof). I think it's a very soul-centered form of practice.


Anonymous said...

In Chinese medicine, there are two kinds of energy--yin and yang.

Yang is outward, active, agentic. It corresponds medically with the sympathetic nervous system--catabolic. Yang is nurtured through activity, it gets things done.

Yin is quiet, receptive, restorative and corresponds to the parasympathetic nervous system--catabolic. Yin requires rest, contemplation, receptivity.

The two need to be in balance. Yang corresponds to Spirit and Yin corresponds to Soul.

There is a condition recognized in traditional chinese medicine, termed yin deficiency. In yin deficiency, the sympathetic nervous system is locked on, and the parasympathetic nervous system is under active. It is very common in US culture. It can take the form of chronic stress and manifest as low quality sleep, inability to recover from athletic workouts, and when severe, can lead to chronic insomnia and heat in the soles of the feet, palms of the hands, face and upper chest---but the heat is not accompanied by any actual rise in body tempreture.

In Ayurveda, this would correspond to vata-excess disorder.

So an excess of Spirit and a deficiency of Soul can manifest as physical symptoms as well as in the intellectual, emotional and social realms.

There are some beginners questions for me--as one who has become very stuck on spirit and deficient in soul practice.

1) How to combine Soul with discerning intelligence (an application of Spirit)?

A pitfall I landed in was that years ago, I did begin to work on the Soul dimension, but gradually felt I had to do this by turning off my discernment. As a result I got burned in relation to my spiriual mentor and came to distrust the Soul dimension.

There also seems to be a common bias in large parts of the seeker's community that one has to be blindly trusting, even regress to childhood in order to cultivate Soul.

**Another bias that seems widespread is that one can only experience Soul in relation to submitting to someone or something that is domineering and authoritarian--that receptivity to Soul requires abject submission to some kind of authoritarian relationship, either to God or some spiritual mentor.

I have to ask whether this is really necessary--that perhaps we can relate with Soul and NOT need to do this through the medium of regression and the sorts of authoritarian relationships that are high risk for hurtful behavior--situations that have done much to bring the entire dimension of Soul into dis-respute.

It is interesting that there are many spiritual projects in which people started out apparently tied to the Soul dimension and gradually slid into a heavy bias on Spirit that eventually slid further into exhaustio, even into abuse.

One wonders whether many of us get some initial exposure to Soul, then get frightened of it and flee into excessive Spirit, or make the mistake of trying to control the Soul dimension and then end up trapped in abuses and excesses of Spirit.

Seems to me there has to be a way to combine the very best of Soul with dicerning Spirit--that these could be collaborative, not adversarial qualities.

Properly utilized, discerning intelligence could guide us to safeguard Soul and protect Soul from exploitation.

2) Its tempting to follow the American bias to see Soul as if it were an oil field--something to drill into and exploit so that one can get replenished and then return to the hard driving 'agentic' Spirit-biased lifestyle that led to one's debility. Treating Soul as merely a gas station to visit and from which to grab a quick sandwich and tank of gas, before blowing off down the Highway of Spirit. This entails lack of deep respect for Soul--a kind of 'wham-bam-thank-you'maam' approach that isnt respectful at all.

3) This is my observation and I dont know if others will have noticed anything like it or not. In many sectors of the seeker's circuit, there seems to be great difficulty in dealing with real vulnerability and powerlessness--such as the Buddha's big three of sickness, old age, and death.

Many sincrely spiriutal seekers seem, covertly, to actually crave power and mastery and may be trying to feel from feelings of powerlessness and vulnerablity.

So it may be very tempting to over-emphasize Spirit so as to fend off, evade and avoid powerlessness and vulnerability.

Thus Spirit and heavily Spirit biased approaches (such as the ones being discussed on this comments thread) may be utilized in a covert attempt to avoid some of the most basic, unavoidable experiences that go with being human.

We all start out utterly vulnerable and dependent as babies and tiny children. And sometimes our caregivers dont relate to us all that well when we are so utterly powerless and dependent on them.

This can lead to traumas where we end up deciding to trust and worship power and mastery, and to devalue and distrust receptivity and to despise powerlessness and vulnerability.

Without even knowing it, this trauma induced bias can lead to entire cultures in which sincere spirituality and patterns of artistic achievement take the form of spirit driven agendas that are not rooted in full access to vitality, but in driven avoidance of experiencing powerlessness, vulnerability--spiritual driven-ness that goes out of whack by avoiding the areas where Soul exists most richly, but where one must wait to find that out.

The greatest sin against Soul is turning her into a commodity, as a means to gain fame, wealth, power and control, to sin by putting her in tawdry clothes and sending Soul out to work as a hooker on the cruel streets of the so called spiritual place.

Anonymous said...

Note: I goofed a bit. Yin includes the anabolic function.

Wise athletes and trainers are well aware that the yin qualities of rest and good nutrition are as important as exercise. They say that human growth hormone is secreted during the deepest phases of sleep--and without it, one cannot respond to training.

william harryman said...

Thanks, Anon, for sharing the views of another culture -- it adds a lot to the conversation.

Each culture brings its own perspective to an issue like this -- especially when looking at an AQAL view -- and Chinese medicine is a very useful take on the role of Soul, (or Yin) in out lives.