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I’m on the coaching team with Diane Tompkins and Rachel Gaunt for an upcoming Leadership Retreat. Please check out the Event Page on the Courage Corps Website.

What is The Wheel?

If you read the blogs on my biography, you can see where the concept of “The Wheel” came from. It’s basically what I call a set of practices designed with the intention of nourishing all of a person. It includes the totality of a person. The way it does this is to include five different kinds of practice. One way to look at it is nourishing or exercising different bodies. In my case, I nourish my physical body by eating healthy foods and getting daily physical exercise. I nourish my subtle body by practicing Qi Gong and restorative Yoga. I nourish my emotional body by practicing opening my heart, kindness, and forgiveness. I nourish my creative/cognitive body by practicing writing. And finally I practice sitting meditation which aims at including and nourishing all of these bodies. Meditation, I consider to be a meta-practice or a primordial, “ground” practice.

The idea is that most if not all beneficial practices fall into the above 5 categories: physical, vital, emotional, creative, and The Whole. And if you pick five practices that nourish the 5 categories, and practice them every day, you, in your totality, are going to be increasingly healthy and satisfied. I call  engaging in a set of practices like this, “turning The Wheel,” because I’ve found it has wheel like properties. Once it is turning, it acts like a stabilizing, gyroscopic flywheel. Like a flywheel it stores energy. And once its going it doesn’t take much energy at all to keep it going.

Here are the basic instructions for being happy and healthy: “Love. Repeat.” That’s pretty much all we have to do. We all do this. And all of us have some happiness and some health in our lives or else we wouldn’t still be here (with no love at all, we would soon perish.) But typically what happens is that we don’t love in a balanced way. We don’t love in a comprehensive way. We leave out big parts of ourselves. We might even hate or fear parts of ourselves.

The Wheel emerged as an answer to questions like: how do we most efficiently and effectively Love-Repeat? How do we Love-Repeat in a way that nourishes our totality? What is the simplest, most effortless, most efficient way to be satisfied? To be fulfilled? To be whole, complete, centered? To be resilient? To be physically fit and healthy? To be full of vitality?. To have a big, happy heart with lots of healthy relationships? To be living out our unique destinies, loving our work/play/art? To be successful in all these areas!

Basically, The Wheel aims at generating and focusing a whole lot of love.

It’s a Love Dynamo!

I finished Mass Effect 3. I agree with the critical consensus on Metacritic that it was around a 95 on a scale of 100. It is an astounding game. Incredibly rich and well executed. It is satisfying on so many levels. Great gameplay. Great Roleplaying mechanics. Great stories, mission structure, graphics, etc. However, here come the big “but.” In the final 1 percent of the game, the finale, it epically fails. It’s going to take some time to sort out what exactly happened. It’s big news in the world of video games. The customer ratings on metacritic and other sites are around 40 percent, due to so many zero scores. A large petition has formed raising 70 thousand dollars for charity to basically redo the ending. Many fans who have played 100 plus hours from Mass Effect 1 through 3 are hugely disappointed. Why are they so hurt? Why are they so pissed?

Well, first of all, they love Commander Shepherd and they do not like the way he or she is treated at the end. (You can play Shepherd as a gay or straight, male of female of any ethnicity you chose; henceforth I will refer to her as a female.) And because the player has identified with her so much, the player feels unfairly treated. This love of Shepherd is where Bioware epically succeeds. I personally bonded with her and her team more than I have with any other characters in a video game. And I suspect that the vast majority of players who have played through all 3 games would say the same.

But, something deeper is going on here.

The conceptual model of reality that the Mass Effect Universe is founded on is what has been called Post-Modern. It is a relativistic model. It arose interestingly around the time that Physics was discovering Relativity. We’re talking Nietzsche, and Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness. We’re talking about staring into a howling void of meaninglessness. Taken to its logical extremes, in this model, there is no good and evil, only power, and the most heinous of atrocities are okay if you get away with them. The end justifies the means. But, actually there is no need to justify anything. There is no ultimate justice.  If you can feel a bit into the moral abyss of Nazi Germany and World War 2 where morality got grotesquely twisted, twisted to the point where dropping atomic bombs on civilians seemed like a good idea at the time, you get a flavor of how horrifying this model of reality can be.

As Commander Shepherd, you are actually fighting against this worldview. The Reapers are the ultimate Galactic Nazis. They literalize the meme (so well explored by Nietzsche) of eternal return. In this worldview, there is no real growth or progress, just eternal repetition. The Reapers actually end galactic civilization and harvest all advanced self-aware species every 50 thousand years. Then they start it over again. “The Cycle must be perserved” or something like that. They actually see themselves as saviors of life. In the meantime, their actions are about as Evil as you can get.

The problem is that this worldview is actually the worldview of the developers. Or the developers are conflicted. And hence, in the end there is some serious incoherence. As  Shepherd we have united the advanced civilizations of the Galaxy in order to fight the existential threat of the Reapers. (Notice how this echoes WWII where most of the world united to fight The Third Reich.) There is a victory of sorts, but it feels hollow. There has been a regression into what amounts to a Dark Age. Eternal Return seems to be confirmed in spite of Shepherd and companies efforts. Up until this point, the narrative has followed the archetype of a life or death struggle in which ultimately oppressive forces are overcome, ushering in a time of expansion, jubilation, and freedom. This is what happens after WWII, at the end of Lord of the Rings, at the end of the American Revolution, etc. Imagine if at the end of WWII, the Nazi’s were barely defeated, but not before they developed their own nuclear weapons. An all out nuclear war ensued and civilization had all but collapsed. Collapse and regression. This is basically the end of Mass Effect 3.

Not very satisfying, eh?

And not very true. The ending just feels wrong. It doesn’t match up with our experience of the way Reality works. Of course a Post Modern Nihilist would have a clever argument about how we’re basically deluding ourselves. But, here’s the thing, this worldview holds that no belief, no narrative, no worldview is more valuable than any other, which means ultimately that there is no value whatsoever. Yet, the Post Modernist believes that his worldview is the right one, the most accurate, and hence the most valuable. Huge, game-breaking internal contradiction. Huge incoherence.

What happens at the end of ME3? Well, literally there is a Galactic collapse. But, actually the narrative itself collapses. It’s a tired narrative. In the series we were fighting against that narrative and the developers force us to lose. We thought we had freedom, but we are forced into swallowing the writer’s cold, stale, nihilistic worldview.

That kind of sucks.

 

Two years ago, I went on a week long silent meditation retreat where a form of Qi Gong was also taught. On the first day, I knew I had found the next practice that I needed, a practice that would nourish and cultivate my vitality.

After the retreat, I began to practice Qi Gong every day. At some point during the retreat, I really got it, like a revelation, that daily practice is truly key. Harnessing the diurnal rhythm is how to most efficiently and effectively establish and grow practices that cause you to thrive. For example, ten minutes of exercise every day is going to work a lot better than three twenty minute sessions a week. When you engage in a practice every day, it quickly becomes automatic, like brushing your teeth. (More on this later.)

To the daily Qi Gong, I added physical exercise, emotional/relational work, and meditation. In order to fit these sessions into the day, I made them nice and short: 10 minutes each.

I was feeling good. I was beginning to thrive. And yet, there was still something missing! I hadn’t taken my passion, working with synergistic practices, out into the world. I had not created a livelihood based on inspiring and helping people to thrive by engaging in healthful practices.  I had recently completed a Waldorf Teacher Training program. There I learned about how regular artistic practice is not only healing, but it develops the capacity to manifest and show up in the world. During those three years I did a lot of art. It became clear that daily art practice was the fourth spoke of The Wheel. I began to write every day. A new book and my new livelihood emerged from that practice.

After doing these five different kinds of practice every day for a year, I saw that this circuit had wheel like qualities. So, I called it “The Wheel.”

I entered into that daily turning of The Wheel, knowing that it would nourish me and bring health, because I had already experienced this with the various practices. What was new was shortening the sessions and doing all five kinds of exercises every day. I entered into this with an experimental attitude. How well would it work? After month or two, I was seeing that this was a very powerful and surprising easy approach. Once the Wheel was turning it accumulated momentum. It required very little effort to keep it spinning.  It centered and anchored the day. I was also struck with how efficient it was. Relatively minimal effort and time yielded maximum beneficial effects. In other words, I was becoming increasingly happy and healthy with ease.

How cool is that? I’d been engaged in various kinds of personal growth work for decades, and it was rarely easy. This is the central message I want to share that it is possible to heal and become increasing healthy and happy, easily and enjoyably.

Engaging in a regular transformative practice will bring up many opportunities to work with your inner authoritarian structures. If we don’t work with those structures, then we may end up reinforcing an old regime that is in serious need of a revolution. We all have inner authoritarians. We internalized them mainly from our parents, but also from the culture around us. When we were young children, some of us had wise, benevolent, loving kings and queens for parents. Some of us had cruel despots. Most of us had parents somewhere in between.

A person can go very far with a practice without ever working on that inner authority. I’m thinking of Andre Agassi. His father amounted to a narcissistic despot, and Andre thoroughly internalized that tyrant. Andre mastered tennis by pushing himself mercilessly. His intense daily practice of competitive tennis utterly transformed his life.

However, he reached a point in his life where he was miserable. He was one of the world’s best tennis players, but the rest of his life was in shambles. In an interview, he revealed that he had always hated tennis. He never enjoyed it. He decided that he was either going to find a way to love tennis and make it his own (not his father’s) or he was going to quit.

I remember seeing Andre play after he had transformed. At the time, I didn’t know his story. And I was very surprised. I watched him for 5 minutes without recognizing him, and I did a double take when I saw the caption under his image. I had never liked Andre 1.0. But, I immediately liked Andre 2.0. He was a new person. He had shaved off his hair. He played differently. He was much more humble. You could tell that he was playing with heart. There was a depth to him that had been lacking before.

Transformative practices will transform you. But, if they are founded on a kind of inner fascism, they will prove to be unsustainable. Ultimately they will not thrive, or cause you to thrive. If they are founded on an open heart; if they are practiced in a loving and kind way, well then, your practices and you will flourish.

A Bit of Biography, Part 2

When I was 29, I got divorced. It was becoming clear that I had some learning and growing to do if I wanted to be in healthy, satisfying personal relationships. Physical exercise and meditation had positive effects in this area. I was more centered, patient, and resilient, which definitely helped. Still, it wasn’t enough. A couple years later I entered graduate school to study counseling psychology. I got into therapy. I did quite a bit of work healing old emotional wounds. This kind of work, working with relationships, communication, emotions: this became another spoke of The Wheel. Thanks to this kind of work my relationships became deeper, more satisfying, and healthier. When, I was 35 I got married. This time I was in a far healthier and far more mature relationship. 10 years later we are going strong with two kids, 4 and 7.

In spite of all this goodness, there was one big area of my life I was neglecting: my vitality. When I was 43, I was completely exhausted. I’d been in a good, solid relationship for 9 years. We had two beautiful, happy kids. But, middle age had arrived with a vengeance. Over the past 5 years I’d racked up some serious sleep deprivation. A heckaton of my vital energy was being poured into the kids, and not really being replentished. I felt like they were healthy plants. I was the soil, and I was just about depleted.

I went to an acupuncturist. He said my physical body was in good shape (thanks to continuing physical exercise) but my Chi tank was just about empty. My “pulses” were weak. My adrenals were shot.

As a new parent, the centeredness and presence I had developed through mediation had served me very well. I still managed to work out a few times a week and was in okay shape. My work in therapy and Graduate School and with my wife definitely helped me to negotiate the interpersonal stresses of parenthood and marriage with some grace.  I was about to say that Meditation, exercise, and emotional relational work combined to make me a much better husband and father. But, the truth is: without all that work, I couldn’t have done it at all. I would not have had this wonderful family.

And yet, I was done. Out of gas. Something had to give. Working with my acupuncturist was a start. I began to be more sensitive to my life energy, my “Chi”, my vitality. I began to consciously cultivate it, and it slowly began to return.

To be continued . . .

 

When I was 9 years old, our class had to do the presidential fitness tests or whatever the eff they were. My scores were at the bottom of the class. I was a pretty chubby kid which was much rarer in those days. I had excellent coordination and eye hand coordination. But my fat weighed me down. For the next 6 years my weight was a big bummer. The message I received from my parents and many of my peers was that there was something wrong with me. I was fat and lazy: that was the message. It was some kind of moral failing. Either I was too weak to change or I chose to be fat for some twisted reason. So, I wondered: why  can’t I lose this weight? I surely would like not to be fat and not to be the object of so much derision. On the other hand, I really liked eating lots of candy and junk food. Of course my friends and siblings all did too, but they weren’t fat. No fair! Okay maybe I did enjoy such food excessively. But, anyway, I couldn’t lose the weight in spite of all kinds of diets and exercise.

When I was 14, I started playing High School basketball. I began to lose the weight. Basketball really introduced me to intense daily practice. The practice itself transformed my body. It also strengthened my will. With that new found willpower, I started exercising more, playing both tennis and basketball, and I ate less. Within a year I was quite skinny. This was my first experience of how powerful daily practice was. Regular physical exercise has been a part of my life ever since. I learned that physical practice is how you take care of your physical body. Here we see the first “spoke” of The Wheel.

When I was 22, the Summer after I graduated from college, my father committed suicide. This blew me into a major existential crisis. Your 20’s are already a kind of mild to extreme existential crisis: you’re trying to find out who you are and what kind of work you want to do in this world and what kind of relationships you want to be in. Physical exercise certainly helped ground me a bit and keep me relatively healthy and not clinically depressed, but it wasn’t enough. “What is the meaning of life? What really matters?” I took psychedelics several times with the attitude of the seeker. The states of consciousness I experienced confirmed my intuition that consciousness and reality is much bigger and wilder than conventional, ordinary, consensual “reality.” But, those states passed, leaving just a pale memory. I read a Zen book (“The Three Pillars of Zen”). Kapleau Roshi said you had to diligently practice meditation to really get Zen, to embody it. What this meant to me was that I had to meditate in order to really get the meaning of life. I started meditating. I had lost faith in materialism. Meditation seemed the best way to see for myself if there is anything that really matters once you get beneath all the superficial layers.

Meditation did not answer my questions in an intellectual or logical or conceptual way. But, it did have immediate practical benefits and cumulative benefits that kept me practicing. On a day that I meditated, I felt more centered, more grounded, more courageous, and somehow more authentic. Over the years, I became increasingly centered. At the same time I became more open and sensitive. 20 years later as I write this, I’ve come to understand that meditation is wonderful way to practice wholeness. It is a powerful way to be intentional about including all or our experience, all of the aspects of who we are, in our consciousness. In other words, it is a way to practice being more awake to our whole selves. This kind of Wholeness meditation is the meta practice of The Wheel. Here we practice including all the aspects we will work with: physicality, vitality, emotionality, and creativity.

To Be Continued.

Next, I get divorced!

“What ails thee?”

Nora asked Luke the same question that Parsifal asked the Grail King. This  was the question that broke a spell that had plagued the land, and won Parsifal The Holy Grail.

Luke didn’t know what ailed him, but something did. He was out of shape. He felt tired all the time.  He had friends and a girlfriend; but, his relationships were not very satisfying. He didn’t enjoy his job very much. He felt adrift and lost.

One day he saw a message pinned up at a local cafe. It advertised yoga classes. Luke had heard yoga was good for you; reading the ad he had a flash of knowing that rarely happened. He attended a class the next day. This is where he met Nora; she owned the studio.

Nora was very unassuming and humble, and seemed truly happy and relaxed. She was quite a bit older than Luke. Still, he fell in love with her. He went to her class nearly every day the studio was open. He asked her if yoga was what had made her so beautiful, happy and centered, so loving and so lovable. She said that yoga definitely helped but that there was more. She told him that he wouldn’t believe her if she told him the secret. He begged her to tell him, but she would smile gently and tell him that he wouldn’t believe her and he was probably better off just doing yoga. Then at some point he would be ready. Over the course of that year, he kept asking her to tell him the secret.

Finally she said, “I will send you to the wise man who sent me on my journey. Perhaps he will help you.”

Luke visited the wise man at his little home in the hills. The jolly little man invited Luke into his kitchen and prepared him some green tea.

Luke sipped his tea and said, “My yoga teacher sent me to you. She said that you could help me to be happy, beautiful, and loving like her.”

The old man considered luke thoughtfully for a few moments and said, “I have a magic potion that if you drink it, it will enhance all of your actions and experiences. You will become physically fit and beautiful. You will be full of vital energy and be vibrantly healthy. You will be loving and lovable. Your relationships will be deeply satisfying. You will fulfill your unique destiny and will generously give your gifts to the world. You will live a rich and full life that is full of love and happiness. Would you like to drink of this potion?”

Stunned Luke stammered, “Yes. Please.”

“The potion must be earned.”

“What must I do?”

“I will give you five exercises that for you to do every day. They will prepare and cleanse you, so that you can imbibe of the potion. If your body and mind are not properly conditioned, you may become very sick. Come back in a year and I will see if you are ready.”

Luke became afraid, afraid that the tasks would be too difficult or dangerous. Despondently he asked, “What are the tasks?”

“Every day, for 1 minute, exercise your body in any way you like. For one minute move and breathe, paying attention to being alive. For one minute, feel what you are feeling; for one minute . . . what kind of art would you like to do?”

“I’ve always wanted to learn to play the guitar . . .”

For one minute a day play the guitar. And finally, every day for one minute, sit and love.”

“Um, that’s just five minutes a day.”

“Yes, exactly.”

“ So, one minute each: exercising, paying attention to being alive, feeling my feelings, playing guitar, and loving?”

“Yep, you can do the exercises anywhere at anytime. Just do them every day. They will prepare you for the potion.”

And so Luke began to do these daily tasks. After a month or so they became a routine that was surprisingly easy. He couldn’t believe that this was all he had to do to earn the Potion.

A year passed, and he went to see the wise man. “Very good, you are doing the exercises every day, I can see. Keep it up.”

“But, am I ready for the potion?”

The Wise Man laughed, though not in an unkind way. “Oh my friend, you have a way to go. It will take some years. But you are making progress! Keep at it.

Luke sighed. He was beginning to suspect that the man might be a charlatan. But the Wise man and his yoga teacher were genuinely beautiful, wonderful, loving people. They knew something. And, he had come to really enjoy the daily exercises. Over time he was gradually spending more and more time doing them, just because he enjoyed them. After a year was doing each kind of exercise 20 minutes a day. After two years it was longer and these practices had evolved. He was in the best shape he had ever been in; he felt much more lively than he had been since he had been a child. He felt more kind and generous and people seemed to like him more. He had learned to play the guitar and had written some songs. They weren’t particularly great, but he was proud of them and was enjoying becoming a musician. So, even if there wasn’t really a potion, he decided he would keep at the exercises.

And so it went. Every year Luke would go to see the Wise man. They would chat about Luke’s life and the progress he was making. The Wise man was always jolly and encouraging. “It won’t be long now!” he would cry.

And after several years, Luke knew it was all some kind of divine joke that his yoga teacher and the wise man had played on him. It was obvious that what the wise man had promised the potion would give him, he was already receiving by doing the exercises.

The next time he went to see the wise man, they smiled at each other wordlessly. There were tears in both of their eyes.

“I see, finally you are ready.”

And so the wise man brought out a ten-year old bottle of Bordeaux.

“I put this in the cellar the first time you came to see me. It should be perfect now.”

They laughed and embraced and shared a wonderful bottle of wine.

Today Mass Effect 3 is released. If you are into video games, you know this is a big deal. My copy will arrive some time today and I will be playing it tonight. Mass Effect 3 is a role playing game in which you and your allies are fighting to save all life in the  Galaxy from utter annihilation. If you have not played ME1, spoiler alert. I am going to reveal the bad guys.

The bad guys are “The Reapers.” They are an advanced A.I. Civilization or Machine Civilization that lies dormant for aeons while Life evolves. When Life is “ripe” they “harvest” it. They basically assimilate all of Life, all that has been learned, all that has been created. (I don’t know why that means all life must be destroyed.) The Reapers then sow the seeds for new Life and start the process all over again. This is a clever take on one of the most common themes in Science Fiction: our machines evolving beyond us and either “terminating” or “assimilating” us. A few examples: The Borg in Star Trek, The Terminator films, The Matrix Trilogy, and Battlestar Gallactica.

I actually find this meme pretty tired. It makes a good narrative for a video game, but enough already. We are at the end of an era and our technology is primarily responsible. This is true, and this is why this narrative resonates with us. However, we are not separate from technology. We are technology. Okay, that might be overstating it. At our very core, our essence, prior to form, we are not technology. But, as soon as forms/creations show up: hello technology (Check out Kevin Kelly, The Technium.)

There was a time when humans did not have spoken language, in the earliest hunter gatherer times. A huge shift happened tens of thousands of years ago when early agriculture emerged. This was a radical new technology that changed everything. Co-emergent with that (we don’t know if one came first) came spoken language. Jeremy Rifkin theorizes that this new communication technology (spoken language) was necessary to manage the complicated social dynamics and organizational logistics of basic agriculture which necessitated a whole new kind of culture. (By the way, culture is a technology.)

The emergence of the technology of Spoken Language was one of the great game changers: a true Singularity. Human experience after this Singularity was radically different than what it had been previously. Pre-Verbal humans could in no way imagine what the Post-Verbal human would live and think like. By the way, all of us have experienced this transition in this lifetime. Some time around 1 years old we made this Big Shift. And of course, we get to witness our children and others children go through this Big Shift.

Anyway, the point is technology is not something out there, alien from us. Maybe new technologies seem that way before we assimilate them (or are assimilated by them.) Did e.mail seem weird and alien 15 years ago? The internet definitely did to a lot of people. Now that I think about it, I think the Internet continues to get exponentially weirder and more alien. But, compared to our Pre-Internet selves, so do we.

Anyway, wish me luck in the epic battle against the Reapers. The future of the Galaxy is at stake.

My Website is Up

My Website, turnthewheel.net,  just went live. It’s a simple page describing the work I do as an Integral Trainer/Coach. Basically, I help people customize a set of practices that will bring them into health and balance. This kind of work is in alignment with Integral Transformative Practice pioneered by George Leonard and Michael Murphy, with Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga, with Rudolph Steiner’s teachings, and with Integral Life Practice being developed by Ken Wilber, Terry Patten and others.

The basic idea of Integral Practices is that to most effectively develop the whole person, more than one practice is necessary. Different practices develop different aspects of the person. For example, for personal growth, practicing Yoga is good. But, practicing Yoga, Meditation, and being in psychotherapy is better. My own set of Integral Practices includes: Meditation, Qi Gong, Strength and Cardiovascular exercise, Heart Centered Prayer and Inquiry, Writing, and Conscious Parenting.

These Beginning Times increasingly put pressure on us to “grow up.” Just as old external structures (governments, carbon based economy, education, media, etc.) are on life support or collapsing as we speak, our own ego structures are in trouble. We have to get much bigger, more capable, and more compassionate in order to thrive in the coming times. How do we do that? Integral Practices.

 

 

 

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