Some extra thoughts on Integral Life Practice–Religion

I had some extra thoughts on Integral Life Practice that I couldn’t figure out how to fit within my earlier post/review.  They are part of the same general discussion of communal verification/interpretation that I had goin’ in the last one. I apologize for the slightly scattered, mish mashed feel of this post.

In The Life We Are Given, in some ways the forerunner text-scheme to ILP, Mike Murphy and George Leonard put a good deal of focus on communities of practice.  The book grew out of their experiences with teaching classes undergoing their practice.  I think that was the one piece missing from Integral Life Practice book.

And the question of communities inevitably leads to another question–the freaky deaky “r” word of religion.  [For what it’s worth, I’ve also argued for the creation of atheist religion that is simply not rabidly anti-theist, so I’m actually in some sense pro many kinds of religious creation].

One definition of a religion, according to Wilber, is any organized form of spirituality. By that definition, ILP is aiming (whether intentionally or not) at religion-creation in some form or other.

Now, I’m someone who comes from an already existing spiritual lineage and am trying to bring integral into that world. It’s hard work, but it’s also fairly clear how to proceed. Similar movements are afoot with Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and so forth.  So I stand somewhat outside this process.  For those however who are not now within a tradition or have never been traditioned at all and for whom something like an ILP would function as their primary spiritual practice, there is then this question of a specifically integral path (generic integral? I don’t know what we call it). Integral without some other qualification I mean. Since I’m coming from a different angle on this one, I’m not sure I have a good answer what to do about that specific issue. I can see it’s there and the authors certainly can as well. It seems clear enough to me that even with a renewed more integrated form of the various (so-called) Great Religions, a number of individuals will still not be draw0n to those paths and will be left with this other category (Integral Integral?). If, as I argued in the earlier post  to enter the integral lifeworld for real–as opposed to just using integral theory to help achieve earlier life needs/goals in earlier lifeworlds, like making a whole wad of cash–means coming to face the issue of spiritual life. And somehow that is going to be organized by humans, since that is how we operate, and religions are at least partially about organized spirituality, then…irresistible force meet immovable rock.

The religion-issue is a very subtle and very tricky one. It usually un-subtly comes up as questions about whether integral  (or whatever) is a cult or not– religious and/or marketing in nature.  Cult, interestingly, in its original understanding (cultus) is a classic mark of a religion.  Before it became equated with mass suicides, spiritual ponzi schemes, or dark mysterious specter groups that control the world’s wealth-media-resources, cult was a positive term.  Cult was conceived as a duty, a part of being a human maturation and flourishing.  [I happen to still think that original definition is better, but I’m old fashioned].

Regardless of one’s view on that particular question, everyone starts at square zero and moves through the already well-patterned stages of existence (magical, mythic, rational, pluralistic) before entering integral.  To argue, as I do, for coming to terms with the intersubjective in the spiritual path, is to question some of the idols of the American pantheon (many forms of American Christianity included):  namely the  heresy of questioning the separate atomized self.  Spiritual practices can work that separate self, even dis-solve it, but never actually question its relation or relationship to others.  What theology calls “The Spirit (or the Gospel) of the Age.”

A large part of spiritual practice, in my mind, is coming to undo this culturally accreted patterns.  Or at least to begin to examine them, to surface them (as much as we can), to study their history, how they came to be, become aware of us performing them in the presence of others (and watching them similarly do so).  Spiritual experiences never come without interpretation and the interpretative framework, usually unconscious, that one holds in mind, already pre-sets (or limits/horizons) the potential view or outlay of an experience.  For a fascinating way in which logical positivism (materialist, ideal language, and reductionist philosophy) can meet with consciousness of near-death-experience, check out this description via A.J. Ayer (h/t Ross Douthat). Notice how it is not just after-the-experience reflection that is guided by philosophical framework, but also the feeling and reactions and even the picture within the experience that is shaped so fundamentally by his prior psychological and cultural commitments.

So if individuals are going to practice in common or with others, then this background questions or going to the come to the fore.  As are questions about power, sex, finances, communication, rules of engagement, maybe even authoritative texts, and you see where I’m going with this line of thought.

This is a really rich vein of thought–I hope some others in the integral-tron-sphere maybe pick it up and provide some thought or commentary.

One parting thought:  another definition of religion according to KW is to act as a conveyor belt across the levels of development.  Therefore for there to be an integral integral path would require–especially as the first generation of integral-ers all start having little ones–movement through early stages.  A “condescension” (meaning both condensing as well as a stepping-down in the classical Christian incarnational sense) to the earlier waves.  These stages exist and not dealing with them then leads to the inevitable unconscious mythicization of integral.  The mythicization is inevitable–it might as well as be plumed for what it’s worth than unconsciously doing it.  But in our myth-averse society, where religious arguments are controlled by (mythic) rationalists on both sides–creationism/fundamentalist as faux religious rationalism and militant neo-atheism as its own failed rationalism (plus repression of earlier mythic-magical wisdom structures)–then it becomes damn near impossible to consciously engage myth.  [And I don’t mean some New Agey Warrior Man Myth kinda thing either].

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Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 6:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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