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Integral Spirituality and ice cream 2010-Jul-02 at 23:42 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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Let’s start with the obvious: the current forms of Integral Spirituality are skewed towards paths that involve formal teacher/student relationships.  Let’s run down the list:

  • Ken Wilber
  • Genpo Roshi
  • Andrew Cohen
  • Adyashanti
  • Diane Musho Hamilton
  • Terry Patten
  • Sally Kempton
  • Father Thomas Keating
  • Vidyuddeva
  • Lama Surya Das
  • Patrick Sweeney
  • Dan Brown

All of these (I’m sure I’m forgetting a few) have played important parts in defining Integral Spirituality.  And all of them are teachers and/or students within some kind of formal, spiritual relationship.

And… let me hasten to add, just so we’re clear: I celebrate that fact.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong – at all – with pursuing enlightenment through the establishment of a formal teacher/student relationship.  It has been, and remains, an honored and challenging path, and one that, if the teacher is chosen carefully, leads to incredible experiences of liberation.

The problem with this skewed sample comes in when we’re trying to think about a topic as broad and deep as Integral Spirituality.  When we realize that, traditionally, far less than 1% of people on Earth have ever participated in this kind of spiritual practice, one wonders how applicable some of the thinking from people who invest in these kinds of relationships will be to the population at large.  And there’s no reason whatsoever to think that that less-than-1% number is going to change with the growth of the Integral wave of development.

All I’m saying is that we don’t yet know what Integral Spirituality looks like, despite the number of people trying to lead the way into it.  We won’t know what it looks like until we have lots more people applying Integral to mainstream religion, and then seeing what shakes out of that.

I’m privileged to know Olivier BenHaim from the Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue, and to have met Tom Thresher from the Suquamish United Church of Christ, who has written a book about his experiences leading an Integral Church.  Both of them are trying to figure out what it means to do Integral Spirituality in the context of something that looks like a traditional Western congregation.  They are two of only a handful of leaders who are walking that path right now, and I believe that the results of their work will ultimately form the patterns and morphogenic fields around which a mainstream Integral Spirituality – one that can handle an influx of hundreds of millions of people over the coming decades – will arise to provide that incredibly important cultural function for us.

Again, I bow humbly and gratefully to all of the leaders of Integral Spirituality, and my heart opens in love to all those who have found their paths through their work.


With that said, I’m done.

I’m done trying to rate and rank the various forms of Integral Spirituality.  It’s a little game I see so many of us playing (and I used to do it, too).  Who’s more authentic?  Who’s done more shadow work so their teachings are cleaner and clearer?  Who’s got the latest KW Stamp Of Approval?  Who understands their own lineage the best?

Here’s my answer to those questions: I don’t care anymore.

To say that someone has “found her path” is to say, at a fundamental energetic level, that she feels her own energy get more coherent around those teachers and those teachings.  That’s all it means.

I have dozens of friends who are students of Andrew Cohen, for instance.  For them, when they first came into contact with Andrew, either in person or through his teachings, they felt that surge of energy, that straightening of the spine, that sharp in-breath that makes you feel “Yes! This is it!”  In other words, they became more energetically coherent around Andrew.  Typically, these people have incredibly positive and motivational stories to tell about their experiences.

Others come into contact with Andrew or his teachings and have a different energetic reaction: their spines curve back down, the breath becomes shallow, they back away, they get uncomfortable around it.  In other words, they become less energetically coherent around Andrew.  Typically, these people have less-than-flattering things to say about what they’ve experienced.

Others don’t even have a reaction one way or another.

Who’s right?  Are the ones who become more coherent or less coherent right?  What about the ones who become more or less coherent around Adi Da? Or Mahamudra?  Or Sufism?  Or Genpo Roshi?

My answer is: They’re all correct.  If they’re genuinely sensing into their own mind/body wisdom, and noticing the emotional and energetic reactions they’re having to the various teachers and teachings… then we’re good.

There are as many paths to enlightenment as there are beings who wish to be enlightened.  It’s not my job anymore to rate and rank them.  It is my self-appointed job to encourage you to find your path or paths and then remain with those paths.  Bask in the ones that make you feel more coherent.  Live in them and through them.  Radiate their wisdom in your everyday life.  And don’t waste a second of your time criticizing a path that makes you feel less coherent… your criticism is projection, and nothing more.  Instead, celebrate and rejoice that others have found their paths through means that you didn’t.

If you’re not into Big Mind, it doesn’t mean that Genpo Roshi is an idiot.  It just means that you’re not feeling it.  If you don’t like EnlightenNext, hey, no big deal.  Just go find what works for you.

There is still room in this view for discernment, and for legitimate dharma battles, and for debate about what it means to hold a spiritual perspective on the events of the world.  But it’s not about denouncing a path just because it doesn’t feel right for you.

The way I’ve taken to describing this concept is around ice cream.  Everyone likes ice cream, right?  Well… we all have our own favorite flavors.  If you like Mint Chocolate Chip, you’re not wrong (well, I think you’re wrong, but that’s my problem, not yours… see?).  If you like Vanilla, you’re not wrong.  Dulce de Leche… not wrong.  You just have a favorite flavor.  I have my favorite flavors: Cake Batter, followed closely by Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie (And, by the way, go to a B&J Store and order a Chocolate Fudge Brownie shake.  You’re welcome.).

Whatever your favorite flavor is… you’re not wrong.

But the most important part of Integral – the very heart and center of the philosophy – is that we all need to recover our connection with and as Spirit.  That’s the ice cream.

Whatever your favorite flavor is, my most important advice is: make sure you have some ice cream, make sure you have some authentic spirituality.  If you don’t, you’re missing out on the best part of Integral.  Really, don’t miss this part.  It’s what it’s all pointing to.



1. madbluewings - 2010-Jul-03 at 09:58 PDT

What if my favorite flavor of ice cream keeps changing? Is that evolution or is that dillettantism?

And if certain moods call for certain flavors…?

2. Ted Saad - 2010-Jul-03 at 10:07 PDT

Good post Scott. One thing to consider is that we are all imbalanced in some areas of life. Those imbalances can often move us towards or against people that validate or compliment those imbalances. If those unconscious structures are ruling our decisions, it could be that we are not making the best choices for the deepest part of ourselves. Hence, the same is true with teachers. If we are feeling an energetic aversion to some teacher, it may be that that teacher is pointing to something deeper in ourselves that we don’t want to face. And vice versa. So we have to be careful here. Just because we are drawn or repelled by something, it doesn’t mean that its the best or worse (respectively) thing for us. Something to consider!

3. Scott Arbeit - 2010-Jul-03 at 10:31 PDT

I have three favorite “flavors” of enlightenment, that I use constantly, depending on my needs in the moment. I have a strong Second Person Face of God relationship with Sathya Sai Baba. I have a First Person Face of God experience through what I’ve learned about Tibetan Buddhism, and Mahamudra in particular. And I also have taken on a Siddha Yoga tradition through my friends and teachers.

I would be accused of being a dilettante by those who have taken on that formal teacher/student relationship. My answer is: see the results of my path, and decide for yourself if I’m “getting it” or not.

And Ted, you’re right. And… the avoidance and resistance, that too is part of the path. Getting clear and coherent with our energies so that we can make the wisest choices about our path… that too is part of the path.

4. Ted Saad - 2010-Jul-03 at 11:43 PDT

Another point I want to make is we should be careful about becoming relativists in regards to teachers and paths. They are not all the same, and some may be pointing to something higher than others. Again, I have no problem with anyone choosing their ice cream flavor, but even at an integral level of consciousness there will distinctions that will need to be made from time to time in a developmental context. Again, I think people should choose what works for them as long as we don’t fall back on a postmodern aperspectival way of seeing these things. Many thanks Scott!

5. madbluewings - 2010-Jul-03 at 16:09 PDT

My read on it is that distinctions are not sacrificed when one attends to choosing the path most appropriate to the needs of their soul at any given time. It’s just that energy is not wasted in making endless distinctions not relevant to the most coherent expression of that being at that time.

I love what I think you’re saying, Scott: do what you need to, moment by moment, to attend to your own coherence. Be responsible for that. Don’t waste energy on the rest.

Also, let others do the same. To do so is to acknowledge the limits of your capacity to understand all the factors that contribute to the value any particular person might find in any particular teaching, experience, or transmission.

I also sense that it is only through such coherence that we access best discernment. To make coherence the guiding principle is the opposite of abandoning care and discernment — it is the only practice that will keep us on our toes and accountable to our habits of imbalance and fear. In my experience, when I am really coherent I don’t need to know what’s “off” or “on” in order to make decisions about which actions to take (or not take), which teachings to consider, etc. It’s like you have been saying elsewhere, Scott: I don’t even really need to make decisions at all. In coherence, the appropriate action or knowing arises.

I keep thinking of The Bhagavad Gita — there is no “doer”. We align with What Is, without attachment to the outcome of our actions, and right action effortlessly arises through us. We don’t, and fear-driven action will muck up the works and make us far less effective and clear.

6. Isaiah Landers - 2010-Jul-03 at 16:14 PDT

Sweet my friend. You go Scott! As I said when you were here with us…”You are one of my heroes”. As has been said by another: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” But then again…what does a character in a play know anyway? Me? My ‘knowing’ is but a dandruff flake on the head of a gnat. BTW the proverbial surf is up. If anyone is unsure of the trustworthiness of their surfboard, or haven’t had the foresight to have one handy, mine is mega-clone-able.

Scott Arbeit - 2010-Jul-04 at 17:47 PDT

Thanks for noticing… :-)

It’s simple when you let it be.

And I’m down with surfing now. Much love….

7. madbluewings - 2010-Jul-03 at 16:25 PDT

I did ask the dilettantism question in some jest, at least with regards to my own process. I don’t doubt that wisdom can express as the capacity to enjoy many flavors and to walk a path that might look like it lacks a center. The key is whether a center exists and to what degree someone is organized coherently around that center.

8. Tom Thresher - 2010-Jul-03 at 19:17 PDT

Hi Scott,
Thank you for your kind words about my work. I think you’ve nailed it when you say we don’t know what Integral Spirituality will look like. My work has been seat-of-the-pants because there aren’t any models to follow, only the edifying, but still abstract, lens of integral theory. (I personally like it that way.) The challenge in our church is to imbed an integral perspective in the culture and institution so it doesn’t rely so much on me. I’m fortunate to work with a bunch of remarkable folks, so I’m optimistic.
You might be interested in a short video I made about Integral (or what we are calling Evolving) church. Here’s the You Tube link:

Scott Arbeit - 2010-Jul-04 at 17:46 PDT

Tom –

That’s pure win. “The Holy Grail”, “They Live” (one of my favorite movies of all time, by the way), The Scorpions, and Eva Cassidy, all in one video. Add Mel Brooks holding the Fifteen Commandments next time you do an edit. :-)

And, as we’ve talked about… your most early path through this territory is inspiring to me, and will lead the way for others to do it faster, easier, and more gracefully than any pioneer could ever encounter. I’m glad to be playing on the same extended team.

9. madbluewings - 2010-Jul-04 at 08:57 PDT

Tom, I enjoyed the video. Nice Monty Python clip! I look forward to discovering more about your work and your church..

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