It has always fascinated me that the manifest world that we can know via our senses exploded from lack of a better word from Nothing.  After all, the assertion that something can come from nothing seems absurd at first glance.  However, if you consider Nothingness as “No-thing-ness” i.e. One without a second — then perhaps we can make some sense out of this first moment in time.  The Buddhists refer to this Nothingness as Emptiness, but what is it empty of?

If we accept the Buddhist’s term of Emptiness for discussion purposes and then try to explain what it is empty of — then maybe we will have a useful starting point to look at what arose, how it might have come about and where it is going.  This is the fundamental assumption of this post.  As Shakespeare said, “a rose by any other name is still a rose,” what’s important is the underlying reality, not the specific word or symbol that is pointing to that reality.  I think different traditions use different words, but the concept seems to be eerily the same and yet ineffable.

In this context, I would like to point out that one thing Emptiness is empty of is space and time.  If we are looking at something prior to the Big Bang, it is prior to the emergence of the space-time continuum, prior to matter and prior to the cosmos in the sense of universe.

Clearly, Emptiness is a sort of infinite potentiality that has not differentiated itself from any type of ground.  This sounds suspiciously like what the various world’s wisdom traditions would label a Ground of Being – a fundamental Oneness upon which things stand out against the background.  In fact, existence implies “ex stasis” to stand out from a Ground of Being i.e. to differentiate from this underlying Oneness taking on qualia and opening up the possibility for categories and comparisons.

The world of manifestation, the world that science could measure with the senses and extensions of the senses came out of this Nothingness, which while empty of qualia such as space (extension) and time was nevertheless full of potential.  Prior to the Big Bang, it was certainly nothing and everything.  If not, how could a universe of matter emerge from it?  Instead of Emptiness, we could have chosen the term Fullness, but both would be equally inadequate in different ways.

The point I am making here is that the Ground of Being can’t be contained within a boundary or line.  Therefore, it is outside of categorical thought and comparisons, but yet we can intuit it as many cultures have across the world and throughout history.  Whatever it is, this ground seems to want to emerge into existence and unfold.  That is to say, it is this underlying ground that evolves in increasing levels of complexity, consciousness and wider embraces.  You can label it many different ways, but Spirit-in-Action seems to be equivalent to what many call evolution.  Pure undifferentiated Being merely abides, but really these are two sides of one paradoxical coin.

This is actually the argument I am making here.  That somehow, enfolded into what for lack of a better word we call Nothingness or Emptiness is the potential to become.    Further, it seems at each level of organization, new wholes emerge which are greater than the sum of the parts.  These new properties in this sense can be called emergent qualia.  Probably, the best example of such a progression is quarks, atoms, molecules, cells, organisms and man (self-reflective consciousness).

Another more general progression that shows up in the world’s wisdom traditions is matter, life, mind, soul and spirit.  This is the Great Chain of Being found within every major religious tradition.  Is this parallel a mere coincidence?  I don’t think so.  Life is more than the sum of the properties of molecules and mind is certainly more than the sum of properties of living cells, especially when you consider agency or will.

The problem, however, that leaps to mind is how can we know this?  I would suggest in the same way we know a “thought” or our own “consciousness.”  Certainly, we can’t look at a thought under a microscope or our consciousness via a telescope or other extension of the senses.  I believe this is because these are realities outside of space, but yet every scientific theory started as a thought and was formed in consciousness.  So, how do we know consciousness?  My conclusion is through direct experience, through union with that reality with no mediation of thought.  We have a simple feeling of Being.  Yet, I am more sure of my consciousness existing than the chair I’m sitting in.  In fact, how atoms exist or better, do they exist at all in the way we imagine is less clear to me than my own consciousness.  At least, since I studied quantum theory!

Without getting into a formal discussion of epistemology or theories of knowledge, I am asserting that I can and do know my own consciousness far more intimately than the physical universe although I can’t locate it in space or measure it with any instrument.  Further, I also propose that a scientific reductionist is making a very unscientific statement when they say that anything that can’t be known by the scientific method is unknowable.  That is a metaphysical statement, not a scientific one.  We privilege science so much, we often don’t take the time to reflect upon the fact that this assertion can not be proven by the scientific method.  Therefore, it is outside the domain of science.

So, for the purposes of this article I am assuming this Emptiness that exists prior to the universe is pure Spirit – undefinable, but NOT unknowable.  This pure ocean of Being must in addition to being pure potential, must have some type of intention to become, I call this the evolutionary spark.  It is an impetus for this One to differentiate and transcend itself in deeper layers enfolding (in-folding), which is to say depth while at the same time, embracing a wider span i.e. community.  Ultimately, this evolutionary process gave rise to our self-reflective consciousness, which has sufficient depth to contemplate the evolutionary process itself.

Like a wave coming out of the ocean, each of us is unique, yet an expression of the whole.  We are not really separate from the vast Ocean of Being, but rather a particular expression of it governed by organizing principles that differentiate us from the vast ground it arises from.  In fact, as something differentiates, it acquires more depth which is to say more consciousness.  In other words, more of this Being is wrapped or enfolded into a phenomena’s depth.  As it deepens the phenomenon also embraces or encompasses more of the Kosmos within itself.  Here I use this word, in the older Greek sense to denote not only the physical universe, but the nonphysical aspects of it.

If we extrapolate this line of thinking then an individual of infinite depth, would also have infinite embrace.  Certainly, Christians believe that is what Jesus represents.  In fact, this gives new meaning to the gospel quotation of “the kingdom of heaven is within you.”  In Christian and other traditions, this is often understood as an embrace of love where the divine that is outside of space (and time) is equally present at all points of space.  In other words, it is fully present everywhere, not a piece of it because it wholly outside of space and time!  This is what is meant by omnipresent.

In Hindu mythology, this reality is expressed through a different metaphor,  the jeweled net of Indra.  Here, at every point in the net, which represents the manifest world, there is a jewel that reflects the whole.  A more modern, but perhaps more crude metaphor might be a hologram.  However, it is interesting that this concept shows up in a variety of cultures, traditions and times.  Could this be revealing a universal truth?

While we can’t be absolutely sure of anything, it’s certainly interesting to consider this line of thought as a real possibility.  Is this any less fantastic that somehow the universe exploded from nothing in the sense of a vacuum and consciousness evolved out of inert matter by pure random forces through ascending levels of complexity over a LIMITED time frame – about 15 billion years.   Within a finite time frame, our current knowledge of evolution can’t explain the jumps in the evolutionary process to where we are at today.

While from one point of view a purely physics-based explanation is somewhat plausible, it contradicts the pull of our own hearts toward something greater than ourselves (meaning), the testimony of seekers of various wisdom traditions across cultures and it doesn’t explain many important phenomena such as love or consciousness.  In fact, as this point in time we can’t even pin down the physical universe at least as evidenced by having two great scientific theories that are not reconciled – namely, general relativity and quantum theory.

The quest for meaning is close to everyone’s heart, why?  Could that which you are seeking be the cause of you seeking in the first place?  Is God, Being, Emptiness or whatever label you care to put on it so close that you can’t see it.  If it is pure subject then it can’t be an object to consciousness, which would need to subsumes it.  This is like the eye not being able to see the eye.  Could your simple felt sense of Being offer you a clue as to Original Face prior to the Big Bang (a famous Zen koan or paradoxical statement meant to evoke a deeper understanding).  I would contend that yes, if you don’t privilege reason beyond other ways of knowing and you are willing to look at your unexamined assumptions about reality.

A large part of what I do is organizational development, leadership training and career coaching.  This blog is geared toward general personal growth, but I maintain a separate blog for articles relating to resumes, job searching, etc.  On the Meaningful Life home page, you will find the link you need on my blog role.  Alternatively, you can click on the link below or look under my contact menu choice above:

 

 http://patca63.wordpress.com/

Is it Infidelity?

December 11, 2012 — Leave a comment

As a personal growth coach who works in the area of sexuality among other domains, I often hear the question is such and such behavior infidelity.  I have a done a lot of research in this area and I have an e-book on Amazon on this topic.  It is an intriguing one and although seemingly difficult to answer, it is actually more straightforward than one would imagine.

One leading expert in this field who I admire very much is Frank Pittman, a psychiatrist who has been specializing in this area for over 30 years.  If you have read the literature or books about infidelity, he will almost inevitably be listed as a reference.  When he is asked this question, he says something along the lines of, you must suspect it is or you wouldn’t be asking the question.

When it comes to matters of infidelity, intimate relationships are as unique as the people who make them up.  What they all have in common, however, is some sort of agreement.  On a very fundamental level, if someones behavior is in contradiction to the agreement, then a behavior is clearly infidelity.  However, what about circumstances where a particular behavior is not explicitly mentioned or part of the agreement?

In cases of the above, the person you need to be asking is your partner.  If you are asking a third-party, it implies on some level that you are feeling some sort guilt or sense a lack of alignment.  The authority on whether or not your partner thinks something is cheating is your significant other – why not ask them?

I think these borderline situations can and do cause a lot of problems.  That is why, I recommend that when you are in doubt, do your best to follow the morally safer course.  After all, you have a lot to lose if you guess wrong!

We can get clearer on defining appropriate behavior by going back to some sort of definition of infidelity and considering what exactly the nature of betrayal is.  Literally, the word means a breach of faith and implies someone was deprived of information they had a right to know.  It is the deception and the disorientation that follows it that actually does the harm.  Therefore, when in doubt it is almost always better to err on the side of caution and over communicate.

Here is a concrete example, a woman does not sleep with a colleague, but she flirts with him and occasionally goes to lunch alone with this person.  While there isn’t overt sexual activity, there is certainly some sort of erotic charge and if this is accompanied by guilt or a desire to hide the behavior from her partner, then there is an intent to deceive and it is reasonable to consider this as at least a type of emotional infidelity.  If you ask a lot of women which is worse sexual or emotional infidelity, you might be surprised by the spectrum of answers.  Usually, women are more hurt by their partner falling in love with another woman rather than say a one night stand with a virtual stranger.

These situations often get confusing, but it is helpful to ask yourself, if I were on the receiving side of it, would I want to know, how much would I want to know and would I want my partner to err on the side of over or under communicating.  This is a good starting point for an inquiry into these tricky waters.  Even better is to have a frank discussion with your partner so there are no misunderstandings in this sensitive area.  It’s one of those key things that once your relationship takes a hit because of a misunderstanding or false assumption, it can be hard to get the trust back.

Love only grows in the fertile soil of mutual trust.  Therefore, even little white lies can undermine the foundation of your relationship.  That is to say that a little bit of deception can go a long way and even withholding information is deceptive and disorienting.  If your relationship is about love and intimacy, then deception is clearly not in the best interests of a solid and secure space to be intimate and emotionally vulnerable.

You may be asking, what if I was unfaithful and I have a lot to loss by confessing it.  If so, you are not alone and the experts seem to be divided on what is best.  My own opinion is that if you withhold something, you will be living a charade and on some level you will know that.  You may or may not be caught, but you will have some level of shame and guilt and it will be more difficult to connect with your partner.  I believe in most cases, it’s better to come clean, deal with the fallout and move on.  For some couples this is impossible, but for others it often leads to a transformation from good to better.  Granted, this shift can take a lot of time and my involve a considerable level of discomfort and tears.

When people cheat, often they are unconsciously trying to bring attention to an area of the relationship that needs attention.  In fact, some theories say that the person wants to get caught and perhaps acted out with the hope some unmet need would be forced to the surface.  Certainly, this is not true in all instances, but it often is.  Chances are if the behavior is repeated it’s a sign of some unmet need or unresolved issue in the relationship.

Infidelity is a very common phenomenon.  We are all human and while we may aspire to perfect faithfulness, the statistics suggest that it is quite likely that in a long-term marriage or partnership one or the other partner will cheat.  One study, puts the actual number for one-time infidelity by either one of the two partners in a marriage as high as 80%.  When you consider the divorce rate, the infidelity rate among men (50-60%) and the doubling of the infidelity rate among women over the last five decades, these kinds of numbers are seem more reasonable.

With the use of contraceptives, people spending more time at work, women working outside the home, an increased level of business travelling and more stress in general, these trends make even more sense.  Also, the institution of marriage, which is largely social in nature vs.the more private nature of a love affair sheds even more light on the temptation.  People also live longer and undergo more change, 100 years ago until death do us part may have meant living until 60 rather than 90.  At the same time, people years ago weren’t bombarded with media and advertising riddled with perfect bodies, perfect lives and the type of anonymity and isolation we often see in cities and even suburbs.

All of these factors make infidelity a phenomenon that we will likely have to deal with at some point in one of our key relationships.  Interestingly, it doesn’t necessarily mean your partner doesn’t love you if they stray, especially when it’s the man doing the cheating.  It could mean many things and it’s probably in the couple’s best interest to get to the bottom of what really went wrong or caused someone to act out.  Don’t try to read the other person’s mind, you will almost certainly not get the whole picture.

I think a good way to avoid infidelity is to make your expectations known and communicate about what kind of container you are trying to create for your intimate life.  Assuming your partner knows what you expect isn’t good enough for such an important area.  Intimacy sort of defines itself — “in-to-me-you-see.”  If communication is motivated by this orientation to go deeper, you can handle problems before they occur.

What is inevitable is that in any long-term relationship there will be moments of weakness and temptation.  Deal with them proactively and you won’t be in the very uncomfortable situation of trying to piece your shared life back together again.  If you or your partner does stray, seek out professional help in a coach or therapist.  This will save both of you a lot of grief and possibly prevent your from burning bridges and hurting other innocent people on the road to recovery.

Another name for meditation is awareness.  When we observe what is arising moment-to-moment we enter the present moment more fully.  What we are aware of during meditation is the faculty that is aware.  What arises are objects with respect to this awareness.  In this sense, the witnessing consciousness is pure subject.  So instead of being identified with a stream of thoughts or sensations, we are able to create some reflective distance between what some call witness consciousness and the world of phenomenon.  This consciousness is roughly what is meant by Emptiness in Buddhism.

What I talked about above is the essence of the meditative experience.  It is as if your consciousness is a mirror reflecting what is going on, while remaining clear and spacious itself.  In other words, the witness or pure consciousness is reflecting back experiences as though they were clouds floating in a bright, expansive blue sky.  It remains untouched by what it reflects.

Again, this ever-present awareness is not affected by what it reflects ever.  In this sense, it also like the sky where various weather fronts just pass through.  If you have flown over clouds in an airplane, you get this perspective as you fly above various cloud formations that just seem to be passing through a vast space.  This space is analogous to your consciousness.  If you try to locate your consciousness, you can’t pinpoint it… however, it feels vast in a deep meditative experience because it is vast.

So, what you are trying to get at is a simple feeling of Being.  You are in effect loosening your attention from the various objects that could grab your attention in the way a scary movie can.  In other words, sometimes when we watch a movie, we are pulled in by the drama to such an extent that we forget we are just watching a movie.  This is a good analogy for how we step back from the contents of consciousness when we meditate.  We come to realize what we experience is like a movie and they we are a larger presence watching it from a mental distance such as when we consciously realize we are in a theater. The movie is relatively real… the theater experience is a frame of reference that is more real.

With these basic concepts out of the way, we are now ready to talk about two broad categories of meditation.  I will call the first pure awareness practices because the idea is to be like the sky and loosely hold the contents of consciousness.  In this type of meditation, your attention is opened up widely to take in the vista of consciousness without any one thing grabbing your attention and stealing it away from the big picture.  In the context of this article, I will call this calm-abiding.

The other general type of practice involves narrowing attention.  Here, you pick a very specific focal point and return your attention to it again and again.  If you get distracted you just gently remind yourself that thinking (or whatever) just occurred and return your attention to the breath.  The attitude that accompanies this mental labeling is gentle, loving and patient.  In other words, practicing  kindness toward yourself and paying attention to the tone and stance of your inner voice without judgment is one key to this practice.  If you want more information on this, watch the brief video on Maitri.

If you think about it, in any form of awareness, the field of attention moves around within the space of awareness.  Attention is like a search light and the beam can be set to be broad or narrow.  You as the meditator get to control the width and the direction of your attention.  This ability that comes with discipline will serve you at other times because when your mind is not disciplined, you will be pulled into drama, difficult emotions and the ups and downs of life more easily.  Rather than identifying with your peaceful. open awareness that is your consciousness, you will be overidentified with the contents of the mind.  A side effect of meditation is more general mindfulness in daily life.  This ultimately translates into more options and freedom to chose your responses more skillfully.

To this point, we looked at awareness vs. attention, the correct attitude toward yourself and the concept of manipulating your attention in different ways within the field of awareness.  At this high level, the other skill we need to cultivate is balance.  When you meditate, you can either hold our attention to loosely or too tightly.  If you are a nervous wreck that is an error in one direction and if you fall asleep that is an imbalance in the opposite direction.  The correct stance is being relaxed, but alert like a cat patiently waiting for a mouse to come out of a hole in the fence.  It’s like tuning a guitar string just right, not to tight and not to loose.

Now, we can bring in some additional points that can help you even further.  While you can meditate in a variety of postures or positions, you want to pick one that will support the balance I’m suggesting above.  Through many years, this has proven to be a posture where your spine is straight, you are well-supported by the ground or a chair, your chest is open and your chin slightly tipped downward.  For now, maintaining good posture while staying relaxed is a good starting point.  The eyes can be either open or closed or you can experiment with both methods.

Below, I will suggest a few different practices that will provide you with different kinds of experiences.  You may want to keep a notebook with your thoughts, impressions, feelings and observations you’ve made experimenting with them.  You can take a few minutes to write these things down when you are finished.  These ideas will come in handy down the road.  So, now we can just dive in to the meat of the article.

Calm-Abiding – In this type of meditation, you maintain a posture like I described above.  Generally, your eyes will remain open, looking slightly downward and about 4-6 feet in front of you.  The idea here is to relax your attention by simply counting your out breaths.  You only need to hold your attention lightly on the counting to the point that you don’t lose count.  You count from one to ten and then start over again from one.  While you are doing this, you remain aware of everything else that is going on, but each object of your awareness is being touched lightly like a feather touching a bubble.  You continue way for, however, long you decided to meditate.  Even 5 or 10 minutes is plenty, when your alarm goes off or you feel you are finished, stop counting and bring your attention back to the body.

Meditating on Sound – This is a practice I love to do outside with my eyes closed, but you can also do it indoors or with a recording.  This is another type of loose attention practice and the idea is to notice various sounds as they arise.  It doesn’t matter if the sound is near or distant, but by focusing on the sound you will be carried more fully into the present moment.  For me, this practice is very relaxing and being outside makes it easier to get in touch with the spacious quality of consciousness.

A nuance in this practice is that with your eyes closed, it will seem as though your awareness is this vast expanse where various sounds are arising.  This helps you to disidentify with your consciousness being located in the head.  This is actually a habit of how we pay attention because our eyes are located in our head.  In this practice, you may even lose awareness of the boundary of your body, which is good.  If you are a nature buff, you are likely to enjoy it and because of it’s focus on spaciousness, it’s a good practice for stepping back from strong emotions.

Now that I have introduced two types of loose attention practices, I would like to suggest a couple of concentration practices where you narrow your attention.  The first of these sounds very simple, but you can use it for the rest of your life and it will just keep getting deeper and deeper.  The simplest things done well are often the most advanced techniques!

Breath Meditation – In this technique, you pay attention to breath, but here the attention is more concentrated.  You start by simply noticing the sensations that accompany the breath as you breath in and out.  In the beginning, you can even say in and out mentally or rising and falling (referring to your abdomen).  Alternatively, you can focus your attention on the subtle sensation of air flowing in and out at the edge of one nostril (more difficult) or the expansion of the shoulder blades moving apart and coming together.

In this form of meditation, the idea is to not let your attention be carried away from the focus of the meditation.  In the beginning, it may get carried away hundreds of times, but you just gently return your attention to the object you have chosen.  Jack Kornfield has compared this process to training a puppy to go to the bathroom on a newspaper.  The puppy will wander off and you just keep gently bringing it back over and over again.

The value of the practice above is that you become aware of just how active and all over the place your mind really is.  Over time, you will also start to notice that the process slows down and you will even become aware of gaps between each thought.  The awareness of the gaps is like when you are watching a train go by, but you can see between the cars to the other side.  When this starts happening, you are making progress.  Don’t follow the cars down the track, keep you attention where it is.

Of course, you can also use other things as a focal point for meditation such as a sensation in the body, a feeling or even thinking itself.  If you choose to experiment with these methods, it is good to be proficient in breath meditation and then use your breath as an anchor that you can return to if you are overwhelmed with everything that is going on.  I will describe how to do it in more detail below.

Meditation on Sensation – In this meditation, you start by meditating on breath.  You keep doing this for one third to a half of your meditation time in the beginning.  However, at a certain point when you feel you are ready, let go of the breath and focus your attention on whatever sensation in the body is most apparent to you.  This sensation may grow stronger, weaker or go away entirely, just notice this the whole process.  If another strong sensation arises, follow that in the same manner.  If no sensation is strong, return to meditating on the breath.  The breath is your anchor for your awareness in this practice and others like it.

In my next article, I will discuss other forms of meditation and provide some additional tips for your practice.  In the meantime, please experiment with these methods with openness and curiosity.  When you are learning, more frequent short periods are better than forcing the process.  Rather than forcing, simply let your practice unfold naturally.  If you are not looking forward to your next meditation session, consider the possibility that you might be moving forward to fast.  Less is more at the beginning!

One last tip, is when you get the hang of these techniques, consider alternating between calm-abiding and the breath meditation or some other form of practice.  This will give you the experience of experiencing your consciousness in different ways and manipulating your attention from moment-to-moment.  It gives you an opportunity to experience your consciousness from different vantage points, which will help you latter.  However, it is really the process itself that is important, NOT the contents of your experience on any particular day.  In other words, the path itself is the destination!  The HOW is more important than the WHAT.

In my next article on meditation, I will also discuss some finer points of breath meditation, provide additional tips to deepen this practice and introduce the practice of choiceless awareness, which is a more advanced technique, but naturally follows from practicing meditation on sensation.  This will help you to experience your mind and consciousness at an even deeper level.

If you can, it always good to attend workshops, retreats or work with a good teacher. The beneficial effects of meditation on the body and the mind are now well-documented.  In fact, in long-term meditators there is even a thickening of the prefrontal lobes of the brain that occurs as a result of new neurons forming and connecting.  That is a staggering finding with far reaching implications.

In future articles, I will also take up the topic of the various heart-centered practices.  Just as you can cultivate the mind, you can cultivate the practices of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity.  There are others as well and they all require some degree of proficiency with the techniques above.  As in sports, playing music and other skills, the basics are critical.

If this article was helpful or you have any feedback, please leave a comment.  Also, consider subscribing to my blog if you haven’t already.  My calling is to help people to lead a more meaningful life.  If this resonates with you, I would love to hear from you and hope you come back regularly to share your own experiences.

By: Patrick D. Goonan

In modern times, it seems as though many people have lost a sense of something transcendent.  In other words, organized religions and other forms of spirituality have lost their meaning or ability to connect us to something larger than ourselves.  While this isn’t true for everyone, it is certainly symptomatic of a general attitude of our times.

lovers alex gray

As a result, the closest most of us come to an actual felt experience of transcendence on a regular basis is sexual intimacy.  For many, other forms of connecting to some sort of higher power feel empty.  This partly due to the rise of modernity with the enlightenment and subsequent abandonment of ways of knowing outside of the scientific method.  In other words, we privilege science to the point of ignoring nonverbal means of connecting with reality.

Interestingly, those things that are most personal and important can’t be thoroughly explained or even looked at by the methods of science.  For example, love, a thought or our own consciousness are beyond the reach of the senses or their extensions – telescopes, microscopes and instruments of various types.  This situation leaves many of us feeling empty and some of us try to fill this void with distractions or looking for something deeper in other places.  For many, we look for that mystery, charge and deep fulfillment in sexual expression.

This situation is a double-edged sword, it could be good if it leads to deeper intimacy.  However, it could become unhealthy if it’s driven by a compulsive search for more intensity because other areas of our lives are lacking.  This can lead to sexual addiction or acting out in an attempt to fill our emptiness or need for connection in all the wrong places.

On the other hand, the bedroom is also a place where one can have an authentic transcendent experience, connect to something larger than oneself through love and deepen a significant relationship through a highly charged experience.  An interesting acronym, S.E.X. could be translated Sensual Energy Exchange or Spiritual Energy Exchange.  Often, both of these acronyms could be applied to our sexual experiences because in them we come to know ourselves and our partners in a deeper way.  We also somehow connect with life on a deeper level.

Above, I talked about sexually “acting out.”  This refers to trying to use sex for power, like a drug or to fill some void in ourselves.  However, if we do this we pollute a potential channel for love to come through us.  In this sense, our behavior becomes like a lie rather than a deep expression of who we are that we share with another human being.  When we do this, we may feel a strong physical release, but sometimes at the expense of intimacy and our ability to connect.

My hope in writing this article is to have you consider how more than ever the expression of sexuality is important and one potential way to experience oneness or be carried beyond the normal bounds of self.  It is also a indictment of a purely scientific and modern perspective that excludes phenomenon that defy the scientific method.  That is to say that we are creatures who crave meaning and science alone can’t give that to us.  Lastly, I hope what I wrote gives you some encouragement to seek out other spiritual avenues or interpretations that do have meaning for you and not stay stuck in a belief system that isn’t enriching your life.

Since sex is all around us and something we reach for when we want a transcendent experience, I hope this posting raises your awareness around the danger of hurting others by treating sex too casually or as mere recreation.  Because of the ability of sex to be so powerful and deep, there is an equal potential for doing harm through the inappropriate expression of your sexuality.  It is your own values that will determine exactly what that means.

Although we call this a modern age, there seems to be more ignorance, guilt and shame around sex than many other periods in history.  This leads to suffering for oneself and others and often makes it difficult to have a good and transcendent experience.  Therefore, if you are having issues in this area, I encourage you to reach out to a therapist, personal growth coach who does work with sexuality or other avenues to address the issues.  Life is too short not to make the most of your sex life.

Interestingly, my mother compared sex in relationship to putting oil in a car.  She said within the context of a marriage or intimate relationship, sex is like oil in that it keeps all the other parts running smoothly.  At the time she said this, I didn’t realize just how wise these words were.  However, now I realize they are true and there is also potential for so much more.

Maitri is an attitude of unconditional friendliness toward oneself.  It is the basis of compassion and the necessary attitude that must be cultivated as a part of any personal growth.  Without this capacity, it is impossible to look deeply inward and the psychological defense mechanisms that protect your ego identity keep you stuck.

In this video, Pema Chodron elaborates on the quality of Maitri as a starting point for deeper inquiry.  As a personal development coach, I have found this to be the key to becoming unstuck.  As Krishnamurti said, “seeing the truth deeply is what liberates.”  However, you can’t see the truth at all if you have a harsh inner critic and well-defended ego structure.

This is a good 10 minute video by Ken Wilber on Emptiness as it relates to the existential level of consciousness.  Interestingly, emptiness is NOT a vacuum.  It is pure awareness, ONE without another.  Here, Ken talks about it as the witness who watches sensations, perceptions, etc. arising and is not identified with any of the contents of consciousness.  He also goes into some of the nuances and connotations of the word emptiness in various Buddhist traditions.

Emptiness is empty of inherent existence.  In other words, it can be equated with the ground of Being.  Everything that exists in the sense of standing out from the ground of Being is an object to awareness which is pure subject.  You can compare this state to what was happening before the big bang.  There was nothingness in the sense of pure potential and pure awareness.  There were no things, therefore, you wouldn’t be able to make dualistic distinctions.

By: Patrick Goonan

In the first article of this series I talked about an unconditional attitude of friendliness toward yourself as a condition for deep transformation.  In the second, I talked about skillful means, gave some examples and spoke  about working with our past conditioning.  In this last post in the series, I will talk more about working on all levels of your being and across various life domains together in order to increase the probability of a transformation taking place.  If you haven’t read the other two articles, you can go back to my blog and read them first.  I recommend doing this to get maximum benefit from this more complex discussion and in-depth discussion.

In Part 2, I mentioned that in order to move up a level along a line of development you need to first disidentify from the level you are at and then identify with the new higher level. In other words, you have to transcend, then include the lower level as you move up.   As I explained earlier, you will have to pass through a transitional period of discomfort because you have separated from a lower level, but haven’t fully stablized the next level as part of self or your identity.  In other words, this desert period may provoke anxiety because it will seem to threaten your ego.  This point is very important and the attitudes I discussed in Part 1 of the series will help you cope with the discomfort.

This going up in steps is called a stage conception of development and you can talk about the upward path as a developmental line.  Some examples of developmental lines are cognitive, emotional, social and spiritual.  I also talked about conditioning and how to work with it in this series.  Besides reading this earlier post, I suggest looking at the 3-2-1 shadow process video also posted on my blog.  You may also find other useful material under other various categories on my blog.

Here in Part 3, I want to elaborate on a helpful map of reality that is particularly suited for personal growth.  This model is known as the Integral Model and was developed and popularized by Ken Wilber.  I believe it’s a an excellent map of the territory of deep change because it includes all the irreducible aspects of reality inherent to the human conditon.  In other words, it looks at the interior of things (e.g. your own thought process, feeling life, etc.) and the exterior (your body, observable effects in the world).  It also considers interactions between individuals and single objects, which is to say the collective aspects and the emergent properties of  systems.

Emergent properties can’t be explained away in terms of just looking at the parts that make up a whole.  Two good examples are life and intelligence.  You can’t explain life completely by just considering the large molecules that constitute a living organism.  Similarly, you can’t explain consciousness and intelligence in terms of the sum of physical structures that make up the brain or the electrical impulses occurring within it.

In simpler terms, the Integral Model takes into consideration individuals and how they interact in collectives such as a group, organization or society.  The model also assumes that collectives have interiors and emergent properties.  For example, a society has shared values, beliefs and other qualities that can’t be observed via the sense or their extensions.  Also, a collective has  emergent qualities that can’t be explained in terms of the sum of the parts.

It is easier to understand this model if you can see it visually.  Here is a simplified diagram that will help you grasp the points I have made so far.  Notice, the horizontal axis separates the individual dimension from the collective and the vertical axis separates the interior from the exterior.

simple_integral

Again, one quadrant of this model can not be reduced or completely explained in terms of another.  That is to say that you can’t completely understand the nature of consciousness (Quadrant 1) in terms of measuring physical correlations such as neurons firing in the brain (Quadrant 2).  You also can’t completely explain the dynamics of a society (Quadrant 3) by looking at the sum of observable behavior of the individuals that make it up (Quadrant 2).  In other words, all phenomenon have these four irreducible aspects and many of the irreducible complexities in systems correspond to emergent properties of collectives or systems as I explained.

Therefore, when we look at our own behavior, we must consider what is going on inside of us in terms of thoughts, feelings and other Q1 parts of ourselves.  At the same time, we need to deal with our outer behavior Q2 and also consider the systems we are embedded in such as our families, work environments and society.  These of course are all Q3 areas and then each of these external systems has it’s own value system, worldviews, etc. (Q4).  This is a fancy way of saying that everything is interconnected or interrelated.  In other words, to understand something you must look at the inside, the outside, the parts, the whole and how they all interact.

This model can be helpful with respect to personal development because it is largely  the systems we are embedded in and their interior aspects held as unexamined assumptions that keep us stuck.  In general, systems resist change and when an individual in a system tries to make a change, the interconnected nature of the whole system tends to pull the individual back to the status quo before any personal development work was attempted.

However, by examining an issue against the four quadrant model, you get an awareness of the systems you participate in, how they effect you and your unconscious cultural assumptions.  This allows you to overcome the almost magnetic pull of the systems dynamics and cultural beliefs on your values, beliefs and behaviors.  With this increased awareness, you have increased freedom via the process of disidentification as I explained in Part 2.  If you think about it, conditioning is a cultural phenomenon.  It is a belief or value or system of beliefs and values programmed into you by a group.  This is another reason why it’s so difficult to make a permanent change.  There are many forces you are mostly unaware of acting to preserve the status quo.

Another dimension of the model is developmental lines which I discussed above.  Since this article is about personal growth, one of the Q1 lines such as cognition, morals or emotions are what you are most likely seeking to change.  You can consider these various lines like spokes on a wheel originating from the center and moving outward in a stepwise fashion.  Since we are considering a stage conception, each step will look like a rung in a ladder. Moving up a stage is not like moving along a continuum, you are either alive or not, have self-reflective capacity or not.

Certainly, evolution follows this stepwise progression from fish, to reptiles to mammals.  Depending upon your personal beliefs, you can also consider a progression like matter, life, mind, soul and spirit as a stage progression.  Certainly, the worlds great wisdom traditions agree on this basic progression and you can consider these worldviews as part of the model.  Specifically, as organized religion or worldviews they belong in the fourth quadrant.

You can also see this type of progression in a collective such as a societal progression from hunter-gather to agrarian, agriculture to industrial, etc.  Interestingly, you will also observe a correlative developmental line in each quadrant for each of these stages!  Therefore, in Q4 or the interior of the society, you will see belief systems corresponding to each stage a civilization goes through i.e. magical beliefs will be found in hunter-gatherer societies and mythical beliefs in agrarian ones.  The quadrants are all related and we can use this knowledge to help us overcome the resistance of systems to changes and create some reflective distance between us and our shared beliefs.

Here are two diagrams, one simple and one more complex that will give you a deeper sense of how this all works together.  In the first one you can see developmental lines without a label and understand each as having steps like a ladder.

aqal_quadrants w lines

In this diagram, the yellow concentric circles represent levels, the green lines the various lines of development in each quadrant and you can see how each quadrant relates to but is not reducible to the other.  That is, each quadrant requires skillful means unique to this aspect of reality.  For example, a microscope (Q2-instrument) won’t help you to study love (Q1).  Studying social interactions (Q3) won’t help you to understand the underlying religion or worldview (Q4) that drives a lot of social behavior.

At this point, you probably have a good feel for the Integral Model.  However, it could get very complicated and while it’s good for self-development work, it also lends itself to extremely complex studies of organizations, living systems, etc.  If you think about it, it has the potential to integrate the arts, science and morals into a comprehensive unity and it has the same power for integrating the different aspects of a human life.

For your own edification and curiosity, here is a more complete four quadrant model diagram that fills in even more detail.  You don’t need to learn it at this level, but having an appreciation of it will help you understand its potential integrating power at the individual level and for analyzing complex modern day problems.  Just look over this diagram and move on unless you have a deep interest in the theory or applying it in a more complex context.

Integral Model

Integral Model

The most interesting thing about this diagram is the levels are represented by different colors and you can see some specific developmental lines and how a particular line in one quadrant corresponds to another line in an another quadrant.  I talked about this above, but here you can see specific examples in a visual context.

However, you may be asking yourself what does this have to do about be making a change in my life.  The answer is that by choosing growth practices for each quadrant and expressing them in each quadrant, you are more likely to have a transformation that is long lasting.  That is, if you work in this way you are more likely to stabilize the things you are working on into a permanent trait rather than a temporary altered state.  This integration also implies embodying your insights by expressing them deeply in each quadrant – self (Q1), culture (Q4) and nature (Q2 and Q3).  In other words, with this approach you get synergistic effects and integrate the new capacities into all the domains of life.  In this way, you get the systems working for you rather than against you.

On a practical level, this means picking one or several developmental lines to work with, choosing practices that help to develop those lines and finding ways to exercise the developing capacities in each of the four quadrants.  I realize there is a lot of new vocabulary and concepts here, so again a diagram might help.  This diagram is where the rubber meets the road in terms of applying and benefiting from the theory.

ILP_matrix

With this matrix, you can take advantage of the Integral Model without having to do a deep dive on all the theory because by your choices, you are working on different lines across quadrants and in all the domains of your life.  The specific instructions for using this matrix are in the diagram’s caption.  You simply pick one practice for each of the four core modules.  This gets you working in both your interior and your exterior dimesnions.  Then you add auxiliary practices which are collective by their nature and involve both interior and exterior dimensions too.  The point is that by working across all quadrants and on various lines, you are more likely to grow and stabilize that growth into permanent change.  This method of working also encourages and integration of your various capacities and intelligences.  As such, it is a holistic approach that touches you and your relationships in a very deep way.

The specific approach to transformation practice above is called an Integral Life Practice or ILP.  The model that comes from the diagram is a simplification of applying Integral Theory and is called the Integral Life Practices Matrix.  However, you can substitute your own practices, areas you wish to emphasize and specific means.  Technically, you can call these ILPs or whatever you wish.  The model is a useful guidelines, but when push comes to shove, you are the expert on how to apply the theory. The diagram above, however, is a very useful starting point for experimenting with this type of integrated approach.  What counts in the end is transformation or a permanent level change in one or more developmental lines.

I know this was a long article, but I hope you got a lot out of it and that you consider trying the approach I recommended.  As I said in Parts 1 and 2, I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences working this way and I invite back to leave a comment or subscribe.  If you would like further information on the integral model you can see some of my other postings including a video with Ken Wilber on Integral Life Practices.  He developed this model over decades and now has over 20 book titles in continuous print.

In my opinion, the integral model is a very important tool for understanding and working with differences across various disciplines and solving complex real world problems.  The Integral Institute is dedicated to applying the principles of this model in education, politics, business, psychology and other areas.  My experience is that it is a powerful and effective way to work on your own personal growth or a group in any domain of activity or interest.

If there are any critical aspects of this work I left unexplained or you have any questions, please leave me comments.  I will be writing more on integral theory, but if I have your input I can target my blogs to your interests more precisely.  If you would like to contact or work with me, you can find my contact information under the contact information menu heading.

Enneagram Styles

December 7, 2012 — Leave a comment

<a href=”http://blog.theenneagraminbusiness.com/2012/12/perception-and-enneagram-styles.html?m=1″>Enneagram Styles</a>

This is a good summary of the Enneagram types. There will be more material on the Enneagram in the near future.

 

 

Please click on the appropriate button to view the results of this poll.  Subscribe to my blog to learn more about personal growth, the world’s wisdom traditions and how to bridge the gap between science and religion.