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Hope from the Transcendentalists 2013-Mar-18 at 02:45 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
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I found myself reading a bit of Thoreau tonight, and was meditating a bit on the Transcendental movement as a whole.

As I wrote previously, Transcendentalism was the first truly American philosophy. What’s particularly interesting about it is that the Transcendentalists were very clear about the Soul and the Oversoul. In other words, mystic spirituality. As in, Thoreau quoted the Vedas in his writing… he got it. So the first American philosophy had a mystic spirituality in its very center. Cool, right?

You know, Thoreau didn’t go to Walden for two years to write Walden. He went there to write A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Although he certainly went into town on occasion, and still saw Emerson and his family every week or two, and even had visitors… really, the cabin on Walden Pond was built so that he could do a two-year retreat. Thoreau trusted the value of that kind of experience.

And the entire world received the blessings of that trust. A Week turned out to be his best, most polished writing ever. And Walden? Walden, brilliant jewel it is, was basically a collection of observations he made during that retreat. Walden was the blog, if you will, that he wrote while he really wrote A Week. Amazing things come through when you rest in Silence.

I say all of this to say: take heart. The path to a collective spiritual life can seem like it’s farther away than ever. But Thoreau thought that too. In his time, the bustle of the railroad and the newspapers and all of the commerce in Concord (much less Boston!) was far beyond what he thought could possibly be healthy for the human soul.

And yet, even though he thought that about the world, he lived in Silence and Spirit, knowing what was true, what always would be true. We can, too. It’s not too late. It’s actually right on time.


The moral imperative to evolve 2010-Oct-05 at 11:11 PDT

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When you begin to recognize that your own presence here in this world is part of something infinitely bigger than yourself, you feel a sense of obligation awakening within you—a spiritually inspired, soul-level moral imperative to evolve for the sake of the future of the evolutionary process itself. The way you respond to that obligation and to that sense of cosmic responsibility is by demonstrating that the process is profoundly positive—indeed, the process is sacred—through your own example, through your own victory, through your own tangible and unmistakable higher development.

— Andrew Cohen

That’s what it feels like to me, too.

I know Andrew doesn’t appeal to everyone, but he is also the surface for more projection than perhaps anyone else in the Integral movement.  He’s doing honest, hard, good work on developing Integral Spirituality, through his own unique self, and I think that over the coming years more and more people will appreciate how he’s pioneered that field in many ways.

This is just one example of what he’s been thinking.  It’s good stuff, and I do recommend checking it out.

Thoreau on Silence 2010-Jul-27 at 14:10 PDT

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Henry David Thoreau is my favorite author, and has been since the age of 14.  To me, no one has done with the English language what he did with it.  Such precise poetry in prose.

Recently I had occasion to read from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.  This was the book that Thoreau built his cabin on Walden Pond, where he lived for two years, to write.  A Week is a travelogue, telling the story of a trip Henry took with his brother.  Along with the brilliantly-observed travel stories, it seamlessly weaves in philosophy and spirituality in a constant, beautiful flow.  As much as I love Walden and so many of his essays… this remains perhaps his most perfectly executed work.

What follows are the very last words of the book.  Substitute the word “Spirit” for “Silence” if that gets the point across better.  Don’t forget… the Transcendentalists were very clear about the Soul and Oversoul, and they created what was the first truly American philosophy, and that philosophy included spirituality at its very heart.


As the truest society approaches always nearer to solitude, so the most excellent speech finally falls into Silence. Silence is audible to all men, at all times, and in all places. She is when we hear inwardly, sound when we hear outwardly. Creation has not displaced her, but is her visible framework and foil. All sounds are her servants, and purveyors, proclaiming not only that their mistress is, but is a rare mistress, and earnestly to be sought after. They are so far akin to Silence, that they are but bubbles on her surface, which straightway burst, an evidence of the strength and prolificness of the under-current; a faint utterance of Silence, and then only agreeable to our auditory nerves when they contrast themselves with and relieve the former. In proportion as they do this, and are heighteners and intensifiers of the Silence, they are harmony and purest melody.

Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after satiety as after disappointment; that background which the painter may not daub, be he master or bungler, and which, however awkward a figure we may have made in the foreground, remains ever our inviolable asylum, where no indignity can assail, no personality disturb us.

The orator puts off his individuality, and is then most eloquent when most silent. He listens while he speaks, and is a hearer along with his audience. Who has not hearkened to Her infinite din? She is Truth’s speaking-trumpet, the sole oracle, the true Delphi and Dodona, which kings and courtiers would do well to consult, nor will they be balked by an ambiguous answer. For through Her all revelations have been made, and just in proportion as men have consulted her oracle within, they have obtained a clear insight, and their age has been marked as an enlightened one. But as often as they have gone gadding abroad to a strange Delphi and her mad priestess, their age has been dark and leaden. Such were garrulous and noisy eras, which no longer yield any sound, but the Grecian or silent and melodious era is ever sounding and resounding in the ears of men.

A good book is the plectrum with which our else silent lyres are struck. We not unfrequently refer the interest which belongs to our own unwritten sequel, to the written and comparatively lifeless body of the work. Of all books this sequel is the most indispensable part. It should be the author’s aim to say once and emphatically, "He said," . This is the most the book-maker can attain to. If he make his volume a mole whereon the waves of Silence may break, it is well.

It were vain for me to endeavor to interrupt the Silence. She cannot be done into English. For six thousand years men have translated her with what fidelity belonged to each, and still she is little better than a sealed book. A man may run on confidently for a time, thinking he has her under his thumb, and shall one day exhaust her, but he too must at last be silent, and men remark only how brave a beginning he made; for when he at length dives into her, so vast is the disproportion of the told to the untold, that the former will seem but the bubble on the surface where he disappeared. Nevertheless, we will go on, like those Chinese cliff swallows, feathering our nests with the froth, which may one day be bread of life to such as dwell by the sea-shore.

We had made about fifty miles this day with sail and oar, and now, far in the evening, our boat was grating against the bulrushes of its native port, and its keel recognized the Concord mud, where some semblance of its outline was still preserved in the flattened flags which had scarce yet erected themselves since our departure; and we leaped gladly on shore, drawing it up, and fastening it to the wild apple-tree, whose stem still bore the mark which its chain had worn in the chafing of the spring freshets.

Comment upgrades on Integral Spirituality 2010-Jul-04 at 15:00 PDT

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My friend Lauren (yogapoetics on the right-hand side of your monitor) shared yesterday’s blog post on her Facebook feed, and I got the following comment over there from Daniel Schulman:

This is getting into very subtle territory, requiring nuanced examination. On the one hand, a facile ‘my guru is better than your guru’ scenario is of course, potentially suspect. It could just be nothing more than camouflaged tribal/team conditioning expressing itself. On the other hand, it is the very deep implicit nature of post-modernism (which we are all very very steeped in) to recoil from the challenge of vertical discernment. The flatland of non-judgmentalism and the avoidance of doing the hard work involved in teasing such things apart. So it may be a game for some and for others it may not be a game. Candid and thoughtful examination usually makes it pretty clear what motivations are involved in one’s position on such matters.

Ted had some similar distinctions in his comments on my blog yesterday, and I think they’re worth addressing.

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!

I started writing my own comment, but then it got long, so I figured I’d upgrade the comments into another post instead. :-)


I appreciate your responses, and the care with which you made them.  And I completely agree that we have to avoid a flatland, post-modern, non-hierarchical perspective on spiritual paths, or confusion will set in quickly.  What I’m suggesting is simply that I notice that, energetically, some people are attracted to certain types of spiritual teachings, and some are repelled by the very same ones.  It seems to me to make sense that one should use that facility — simply noticing whether something makes you feel more coherent, or less coherent — as a guide to deciding which spiritual paths to choose, even if those paths might be ranked by some as perhaps less effective or less authentic than some others.

Really, in terms of Integral theory, what I’m suggesting is that it’s interesting to look at this phenomena not just from a hierarchical, levels-of-development perspective (and it IS interesting AND useful to look at it from that point-of-view), but that it’s also possible to look at it from a typological point-of-view, with at least some validity.  This assumes that we’re staying in the general area of a second-tier spirituality, or one that includes the irreducible reality of a non-dual awareness, and so I’m trying to limit the scope of this idea so that levels don’t have to play out.  It would be interesting to attempt, at least, a typological study of who is attracted to which spiritual teaching, one that would look far beyond something like MBTI, and would reflect the intricacy of the Integral perspective.  I hope that I’m not holding a flatland perspective when imagining that.

Or I could be totally wrong.  But I’m going with it for now.

There will be those who find it important and interesting to dive into the Comparative Dharma/Techniques debate, and I’ll look in on them from time to time.  Ultimately, though, there’s another perspective that says: Just get everyone going on some sort of path.  And, this time, let’s not make it painful to get on that path.  Let’s allow people to be attracted to the teachings that they are attracted to, and let them nest there.

Both perspectives are valid.  Both contexts are important.  And I’m going to choose among those contexts… and simply ask people to go where they’re called to go, and to trust that.

I’ll take tens of millions of people doing that in the next twenty years, and others can have picking which path makes the best Satori Sauce.  I’ll take my side of that any day of the week, because I believe that mainstream forms of Integral Spirituality are the only thing that gets the Integral movement scaled up fast enough to make the impact on the world that we need to make.

And we already know that some of the forms that a mainstream Integral Spirituality will take will be scoffed at by some as not being rigorous or authentic enough, or not breaking down the ego structure thoroughly enough, or whatever.  That debate is inevitable in the Integral wave of development.  And I won’t let it stop me from supporting the greatest depth for the greatest span of people, rather than the greatest depth for a smaller span.


And – seriously – thank you to everyone holding up the other side of it, too.  So many will seek your guidance, and need your kind of careful sifting, during their own search for a path, as I did, and many souls will find their way through your efforts.

Blessings on all views of the truth.

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

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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.