Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Robert Augustus Masters Interview: What Is Integral?

Adastra (Arthur Gillard) posted this over at the Robert Augustus Masters pod at Gaiam - very cool. For my money, Masters is one of the best integral thinkers there is -- working with the material on a daily basis, teaching, doing therapy. I hope to one day do his integral psychotherapy program.
Here's an interview I did with Robert for the INTEGRAL NEWS AND VIEWS blog in November 2007:

Robert Augustus Masters Interview: What Is Integral?

Robert Augustus Masters is a therapist and writer specializing in integral healing and awakening. Robert describes himself as increasingly finding freedom less through transcendence than through intimacy with all that is, a perspective which illuminates his deeply transformative workshops and therapy sessions. His latest book is Transformation Through Intimacy: Journey Toward Mature Monogamy.

Arthur Gillard: What does the term “integral” mean to you? What are some of the positive aspects of an integral approach, and why is it important?

Robert Augustus Masters: To me, the term “integral” basically means inclusive in a radically comprehensive manner. I say “radically” for a number of reasons: (1) The things being brought together (following sufficient clarification of their uniqueness) constitute not just parts of a totality, but also as much as possible of that totality’s presence, in as many directions and as much depth as possible; (2) such a bringing-together is far more than just a get-together or reunion or conference of partially connected items or qualities; and (3) the circle of extension that reaches from within out beyond every part illuminates and deepens the connections between all of the pieces or qualities being brought together, literally integrating them without any requisite homogenization or dilution of individual differences.

An integral approach is not just sophisticated eclecticism or a neatly mapped mixture of applied methodologies. We may be meditating, working out, doing a bit of shadow-work, and keeping up with the latest in integral theory, but this does not necessarily mean that we are actually being integral. We can only say that we’re being integral if our various practices and ways of being are functioning together (and not just in our eyes!) as a consistently embodied, more-than-adequately functioning whole, through which we are, however gradually, cultivating intimacy with all that we are. We may not have fully arrived yet, but are on our way, and have the momentum to back this up, along with an integrity that runs more and more deeply through all that we do.

Being truly integral means, among other things, developing intimacy with everything — everything! — that constitutes us. A genuinely integral consciousness lives such intimacy both conceptually and nonconceptually.

An integral approach works with our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social dimensions, level upon level, consistently taking all of it into account, without losing touch with the totality that includes and pervades it all. This means that everything relevant is considered in as inclusive, cohesive, and useful a manner as possible.

Arthur: Do you see any limitations or downsides to integral frameworks or how they are used?

Robert: Yes, particularly when such frameworks are overrelied on, or are employed in excessively intellectual ways, or are given a status which they don’t deserve. Here, I’m obviously talking about the misuse of integral frameworks — and all frameworks can, of course, be misused — but when any framework makes real estate out of overly abstract territories, leaving most readers of it more bewildered or cognitively constipated than illuminated, then that framework itself must be questioned, rather than making any difficulty associated with comprehending it the fault of the reader. This is tricky, though, since complexity can easily be categorized as just intellectual indulgence, and simplicity made into a unquestioned virtue; any integral framework is going to demand something from us intellectually, and we must be aware (beware) of reductionist tendencies here. My leaning is not toward complexity or simplicity, but rather practical elegance. A framework that really works for us is not just a heady scaffolding, but an esthetically resonant network of intersecting relevancies that readily reach more than our mind.

Overly intellectual approaches to being integral pay insufficient attention to emotions, in part perhaps because emotions are just too messy and too nonlinearly inclusive of the rest of our dimensions to be able to be neatly mapped. Emotions implicate us as a totality. They obviously involve the physical/physiological and the cognitive, but also include the social, and sometimes also the spiritual. (Very briefly, affect is the intrinsic, biological dimension of emotion; feeling is our conscious experience of affect; and emotion is the framing and dramatization of feeling. Where affect is reaction, and feeling the recognition of affect, emotion is adaptation.) Emotion involves feeling, cognition, social factors, related action tendencies, and perspectival capacity, all of which interact and work together. Any integral approach that only superficially deals with emotions is only superficially integral.

Arthur: Ken Wilber has formulated a highly detailed and comprehensive integral framework which could be described as a cognitive map of non-cognitive aspects of human nature (see, for example, the online document What Is Integral? or his recent published book The Integral Vision). Proponents say it helps one to make sure they are “touching all the bases” in their lives; some detractors say it lends itself to an overly-intellectual approach. What do you see as the benefits and potential pitfalls of this kind of detailed mapping of human reality?

Robert: Probably its key benefit is that it can assist in making us aware (or more aware) of the different areas of our life, level upon level, personally, interpersonally, collectively, and spiritually. Such a highly detailed mapping points to places and spaces which we may have overlooked or only superficially considered, and in so doing provides a real service; however, this can also be problematic, in that such a mapping can easily lead to or reinforce (or even subtly legitimize) an overly conceptual approach, in which the mapping — and the mapping of the mapping — gets so stickily lodged behind our forehead that theorizing about theorizing can easily take precedence over actually taking sufficiently fitting action. It’s not Wilber’s fault, of course, if people misuse his integral framework, but at the same time it’s important not to leave his framework unchallenged. We might, for example, see in his framework a lack of in-depth attention being given to emotion and emotional literacy, and recognize this as a weakness in (or an anemically developed aspect of) his model — mentioning an “affective line” is just not enough for us.

Arthur: You warn of the dangers of using the term “integral” too loosely, in inappropriate contexts, or superficially. Given those caveats, what do you think of using an integral framework or perspective to usefully examine complex issues, such as political events or social problems, or to help create useful solutions that cover all the bases of a problem?

Robert: I think that an integral framework or perspective is the best way to usefully examine such issues, so long as its animating force is well-embodied and free of the deadening language of academia, political masturdebation, and other hangouts for disembodied rationality.

An integral approach is not going to be much of a reality for us if we ourselves are not already living, to a significant degree, in an integral fashion. Part of what is needed is a clear recognition of where we are not integral, not in healthy relationship to some aspect of ourselves, not in integrity. Facing our fragmentation rather than trying to rise above it or only superficially deal with it is a step toward integrity. “Integral” is a bit like “love,” in that both terms are actually quite profound in their meaning, but are often used too readily or superficially. The intention to be integral is not in itself integral.

Arthur: You work as an integral therapist. What does that mean in practice? Why is an integral approach to therapy important, and what kinds of problems or clients does integral therapy best suit?

Robert: What it means is that I let an integral — or, better, intuitive integral — perspective guide what I do. It’s not that I sit there thinking about being integral, but rather that I relate to my clients (both individually and in groups) with an awareness that, as much as possible, compassionately takes in and holds them and what they’re presenting in a manner both detailed and panoramic. I work with their minds, their bodies, their emotions, their spirituality, and whatever social factors have significantly impacted them. This is not about me trying to be noble or good; rather, it’s just the manner of functioning that feels best to me — and the more I see my clients benefitting from such an inclusive approach, the more firmly rooted I become in it. And I feel so good about it that I’ve been teaching it for a while in my intuitive integral psychotherapy trainings and apprenticeship programs, even as I continue to learn more and more about it.

In an integral approach to psychotherapy, the mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions of us are all not only taken into account, but are also permitted to work in fruitful tandem — whatever constitutes us, at whatever level, is approached and engaged with in the context of our innate wholeness of being.

For example, bodywork done during a psychotherapy session would through an integral approach be conducted in a way that effectively connected it and its results to the rest of what composes us, both personally and transpersonally. (An intuitive, deeply felt practice this is, known from the inside out, simultaneously employing and transcending methodology.)

Without such connection, we’re marooned, left clinging to — and also very likely overrelying on — particular aspects of ourselves. We may meditate deeply, but find ourselves cut off from the depths of our emotions; or we may be able to openly access these depths, but find ourselves getting overwhelmed by or too easily caught up in them; or we may change our way of thinking, so that we can better regulate our emotions, but find ourselves getting stuck in disembodied rationality; and so on. And we may conceal — and not necessarily deliberately! — what isn’t working behind what is working for us.

The integration of our disparate elements — the healing retrieval and rightful positioning and alignment of our scattered or shattered selves — needs a suitable vessel for whatever changes are necessary. That vessel, that container for integral alchemy, needs to be present both inwardly — in our commitment to healing — and outwardly — in the form of supportive environments, as epitomized by well-embodied, intuitively integral approaches to psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy as such is both crucible and sanctuary for the needed healing and awakening. It is not just intimate with the personal and the transpersonal, but also with the interpersonal and collective, working as it does to illuminate and deepen the relationships between the various elements and qualities that together make us what we are.

Truly integral psychotherapy does not try to be integral; rather, it can’t help but be integral. Its bodywork, verbal direction, emotional opening, and spiritual deepening all work together as a whole, helping clients differentiate, connect, and integrate their various dimensions in an organic, naturally emerging manner.

In psychotherapy, “integral”is not so much a methodology, as a way of being. Whatever directions it gives are secondary to the presence it provides.

Arthur: Finally, could you say more about the importance of embodiment and relationships? How can people cultivate these qualities if they don't have the resources or interest to engage in expensive therapy or training?

: Embodiment is essential. Without it, we are simply adrift, wandering through cul-de-sacs of mind, constructing edifices of thought in which we cleverly waste away, cut off from the very grounding that provides us with the roots which we need in order to truly soar. An integral approach includes the body; this is pretty obvious, but the question is: How does it include the body? For workouts, yoga, massage, running? If it’s truly integral, it will work not only with the body visible, but also with the interior of the body — especially where it’s clearly not just a body, but a bodymind and energy-field — and with all of our emotions, which of course possess a strong physical component. What we are is not “in” a body, but is making an appearance as a body. Thus do we show up, and the more consciously and fully we are embodied, the more deeply we will experience whatever is happening to us, be it external or internal or a mix of both.

And relationship? Everything exists through relationship, and only through relationship. Everything! Everything, everyone, everywhere, everywhen, every last bit of it. None of it exists unto itself, truly separate from all the rest of it. None of it!

We are never not in relationship. How could we be? No one and no thing possesses truly independent existence, and therefore cannot really stand apart from everything else. In fact, that very “everything else” is what we depend upon for our very existence.

No matter how far apart we are, we are still connected. No matter how isolated we are, we are still connected. Interconnected and interdependent are we, on every possible scale, outer and inner, regardless of our mental commentary to the contrary.

As sages have long pointed out, there is actually no such thing as a truly separate or truly independent thing or being, but rather only different manifestations or embodiments of the same everpresent reality, all following the arc of their own unique yet ever-contingent leanings, meeting more and more of themselves through each other, however mechanically or unconsciously.

When such encounters become conscious — that is, when interrelatedness itself becomes conscious — integration and real intimacy become possible.

Recognizing our inherent unity of being is not the final realization of being human, but rather just the beginning. Honoring our unitive nature while simultaneously honoring the imperatives of individuated life is perhaps the core challenge of living a fully human life. And is there a better way to practice this than through an integral approach?

How we differ from each other (and from earlier versions of ourselves) is just as interesting to me as our oneness. Oneness is a given; the rest is not. Evolution — the fact that we develop — ensures that this is so.

Objectivity (or the apparent reality of what is exterior) and subjectivity (or the apparent reality of what is interior), both of which are obviously essential to consider when exploring the nature of relationship, are but the presenting surface of something deeper, something that includes both without being reducible to either.

And that something is relationship.

Some say that relationship is intersubjectivity (that is, the encounter and interplay of my interiority — my feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and so on — with your interiority), but there’s more to relationship than just your “inner-life/within-ness” and my “inner-life/within-ness” meeting.

We also must take interobjectivity (that is, the encounter and interplay of my exteriority — my behavior, physicality, and so on — with your exteriority) into account in considering the nature of relationship.

Relationship basically is intersubjectivity and interobjectivity operating as one process. Inside meeting inside, outside meeting outside, and inside meeting outside, with enough crossover, layering, and hybrid vigor to make things really interesting.

Infuse all this with love and awareness, and the result is intimacy.

We can cultivate a deeper sense of embodiment and relatedness simply by allowing ourselves to more fully participate in (and through) them, both alone and in the company of kindred spirits. Along the way, it can very useful to get into some good therapy or training, but if you simply are not in a position where you can afford this, you can still evolve. Much depends on your passion for doing such work on yourself, and on your commitment to sticking with it.

And things aren’t always as expensive as they might seem: Some courses (like many Vipassana trainings) are paid for through donation; some psychotherapists (like me) often give scholarship positions in groups; and inexpensive yet still competent work can sometimes be found through those who are in training to be psychotherapists. And though psychotherapy may seem expensive, it can be an incredible and very cost-effective deal if you are ripe for it and are with a sufficiently skilled practitioner; sometimes just one or two sessions can make an enormous difference. There’s a commonplace notion that we have to see a therapist frequently to elicit significant change; this often is simply not true. And along the way, it helps to remember that it is none other than our own healing and awakening to which we are being invited, by all that happens to us.


Integral Naked hosts an interesting and informative dialog with Robert entitled Radical Intimacy and the Search for a More Integral Wholeness. To listen to the dialog you need to join Integral Naked for a free one-month trial membership.

Robert's website includes essays, poetry, a free online newsletter, a blog, as well as descriptions of his workshops, therapy and apprenticeship programs. Of particular interest is his essay on “An Integral Approach to Healing.”

- contributed by Arthur

The Integral News and Views blog aims to explore accessible and practical integral perspectives for people who are interested in getting beyond fragmented worldviews, who desire intimacy with all that they are, and who wish to help the world, themselves, and others evolve and thrive in a mutually beneficial and sustainable manner.

1 comment:

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