Tag Archive: Integral Practice


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!

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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.

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.

 

 

 

In the last post I wrote about how one of Joss Whedon’s favorite narratives is that of a scrappy band working together to avert an Apocalypse. I said that I wished he would venture forth beyond the Apocalypse and imagine adventures on the other side.

It occurred to me that Firefly started in that direction.  It was set 500 years in the future. We are told the Earth was “used up” and humans had moved out into the galaxy.

When it first aired, I dug it. It had lots of potential. And I knew that Joss’s shows need time to really get going, so I was looking forward to it becoming even better. That said, I was also disappointed. What was awesome were Joss’s usual interesting, quirky characters, the almost poetic dialogue, and the masterful storytelling. The setting, however, I found less believable than Buffy or Angel. It seemed like a tired old vision of the Future. I am seriously bugged by Sci Fi which is basically just the 20th Century with flying cars, space ships, laser guns , and robots. At the end of the first and only (half) season and in the film, “Serenity” the “future” started to get interesting. Alas.

I believe it was Daniel Quinn, author of “Ishmael,” who said, “I’ve only made one prediction about the future, and that is if humans are still around 100 years from now, they will live very differently and think very differently than we do now.”

The “think very differently” part is what is so hard to imagine. Just like a medieval person couldn’t really imagine the way a modern person thinks and sees the world, its impossible from our level of consciousness to imagine the future consciousness. (Unless we have had some peak experiences, spiritual experiences, or psychedelic experiences.) The characters in Firefly were really just contemporary folks projected 500 years into the future.

I think that Joss got it partially right. He focused on the existential freedom on the other side of The Big Birth. His vision of outer space with infinite worlds to explore is an image of nearly limitless freedom and opportunity for creativity and exploration. But, there is more than bigger freedom on the other side. There is a a much bigger way of thinking, of seeing, and loving. Basically, what would the global community be like if a billion people were as evolved as the Dalai Lama? What if that kind of consciousness, that kind of compassion was the norm? Think of all those scientists, businessmen, leaders, teachers, engineers, parents, etc., operating from that level of consciousness? That’s the Sci Fi series I want to see.

I’ve been getting to urge to revisit Joss Whedon’s work. Recently, I watched the season 6 finale to Buffy, a few Firefly episodes, and last night: “Epitaph.” Epitaph was the episode of Dollhouse that Joss and Company made when the cancellation of Season One seemed certain. It’s about the Apocalypse.

If you’re a fan of Joss, you know the Apocalypse is a frequent theme of his.  I suspect that his upcoming blockbuster, “The Avengers,” will contain apocalyptic elements as well. His favorite narrative seems to be: a band of flawed, but decent friends work together to overcome impossible odds, and to defeat some form of “The Big Bad” in order to avert an immanent Apocalypse.

It strikes me that this is also the narrative of The Lord of The Rings. It is also the narrative of World War II. Maybe it is the narrative of our times. Who or What is The Big Bad? If you look at Joss’s work, it is typically narcissism run amok, and all the usual suspects: fear, hatred, greed, and lust for power. That seems about right.

Interestingly, in Joss’s work, once the current Apocalypse is averted, it’s mostly back to business as usual until the next one slouches forth. “Epitaph” (which is excellent by the way) is exceptional in that it is post-Apocalyptic. Everything has collapsed. Humans appear to be doomed. Yet, there is hope. There is the possibility of a New Beginning. A a scrappy band of survivors fights for the Future, for the possibility of “Safe Haven.”

I would love to see Joss continue in this direction. It’s time for him to turn his bright mind and imagination to life after the Big Shift that is happening. There are the slightest indications of such a vision in “Epitaph.” There are hints that “Save Haven” is a more wise and loving community of humans than the pre-Apocalypse folks. This is basically what needs to be imagined: a global, all-inclusive community of humans who are much wiser and more loving; living,working, and playing together harmoniously. What would that look like?

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