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Integral Transformative Practice Book Discussion

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  • Dennis K
    ANNOUNCEMENT: Integral Transformative Practice Book Discussion Greetings! If you re familiar with the work of Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 30, 2004
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      ANNOUNCEMENT: Integral Transformative Practice Book Discussion
      If you're familiar with the work of Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California (www.esalen.org and www.esalenctr.org), or the Institute of Noetic Sciences (www.noetic.org), then you've probably heard of the human potential movement pioneers George Leonard and Michael Murphy.  Among many other books, Murphy has written THE PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF MEDITATION and THE FUTURE OF THE BODY.  Leonard is the author of about a dozen books, including THE TRANSFORMATION, EDUCATION AND ECSTASY, THE ULTIMATE ATHLETE, and MASTERY.  In 1995, together they co-authored a landmark work regarding "ITP" or Integral Transformative Practice, under the title THE LIFE WE ARE GIVEN; A LONG-TERM PROGRAM FOR REALIZING THE POTENTIAL OF BODY, MIND, HEART AND SOUL.
      Below is a commentary on the preface to TLWAG (The Life We Are Given).  This essay, and a more in-depth review of the book, may also be read online at http://groups.msn.com/OPIS/itppreface.msnw.
      You are invited to participate in an online group discussion based on weekly readings of this book.  This discussion begins this week, right now!  It is on the message board of the Order of Panentheistic Integral Spirituality at http://groups.msn.com/OPIS/general.msnw.  The message board is open to the public for viewing, so you need not be a member of the MSN group if you just want to read along.  Or, you can join the group (completely free) and participate in the discussion, even if you don't have the book.
      Here's a taste of what the book is about, in an essay about its preface that I wrote in November 2003:
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      Exploring the Preface to the book, THE LIFE WE ARE GIVEN, by George Leonard and Michael Murphy

      The title of the Preface is "Joining the Evolutionary Adventure." The thrust of the message of this preface, it seems to me, is that there is more to us than we typically believe or recognize, that we can consciously choose to take ourselves farther, to expand our capacities in mind, body and spirit, and that as we do so, we contribute to positive change in the world. It is a message about human potential. The book overall is a landmark contribution to what has been called the Human Potential Movement.

      The authors begin with this sentence: "Like the human heart, the world points beyond itself to something greater and more beautiful than its present condition. That something attracts us all, in different ways, and leads many of us to seek transformation." They then postulate that this "something greater and more beautiful" to which the world seems to be pointing, or indicating, is the very driving force behind evolution, behind the capacity for nature to be continually "self-surpassing," and that, of course, we humans share in it.

      By the end of the first paragraph, they propose a basis for seeking transformation, for working to surpass our present condition, to strive toward that "something greater and more beautiful." They propose that, "As we grow in love and strength, we become vehicles for the world’s growth. We bring new sustenance to our families, new joy to our friends, new light to our places of work. We enhance the physical things around us, and the earth itself."

      They take this idea farther in saying, "It becomes more and more evident that our own well-being is indissolubly linked to the health of society and our environment. It is possible, now more than ever before, to see that our own growth is rooted in, and furthers, the whole world’s advance."

      So, right from the first two paragraphs, this book sets a course for itself. Its cause is defined as the pursuit of our own capacity for transforming the planet, beginning with ourselves. The capacity to do so, the book asserts, already exists in the ultimate nature of things and people, as an outgrowth of the evolutionary process. The authors claim, "Like evolution itself, we can bring forth new possibilities for growth, new worlds for further exploration."

      Michael Murphy notes that, "We live only part of the life we are given." He implies, as does this entire book, that there is more to life than what we’ve been conditioned to accept. His own book, THE FUTURE OF THE BODY is a catalog of instances of exceptional human functioning, stories of people who did seemingly miraculous things, things not normally considered within the range of human capability. In writing that book, Murphy demonstrates the potential of humanity.

      The next thing the preface asks and attempts to answer is not one question but a series of questions all revolving around basically one central concern: the cause or basis for the unlimited potentiality demonstrated in evolution and in humanity, and the apparent connection between the human potential for self-surpassing transformation and that of evolution. The writers point to what I regard as a both a panentheistic and an integral perspective that has developed out of the work of a progression of philosophers. Rather than attempt to paraphrase the Leonard/Murphy explanation, I’ll just quote it:

      In simple terms, it can be stated like this: While remaining transcendent to all created things, the divine spirit involved itself in the birth of the material universe. The process that followed, the uneven but inexorable emergence of ever higher organization from matter to life to humankind, is then - at the heart of it - the unfolding of hidden divinity. Evolution follows involution. What was implicit is gradually made explicit, as the spirit within all things progressively manifests itself. In the words of the Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo, "apparent nature is secret God."

      This idea has been developed in different ways by the German philosophers Hegel and Friedrich Schelling; by Henry James, Sr., the father of William and Henry James; by the French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson; by the Jesuit theologian Tielhard de Chardin; and by twentieth-century thinkers such as Jean Gebser, Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, and Sri Aurobindo. The vision put forth by these and other philosophers reflects intuitions reported by countless people since antiquity that they enjoy a secret contact or kinship with the founding principle of the universe. The recognition of a reality ordinarily hidden but immediately apprehended as our true identity, our immortal soul, our "original face," our secret at-oneness with God is implicit in much Buddhist, Hindu, Platonist, Christian, Jewish, and Islamic thought.

      The idea that divinity is present in all things, manifesting itself through the immense adventure of evolution, helps account for the mystery of our great surplus capacities, our yearnings for God, our inextinguishable creativity, our sense of grace in human affairs. It helps explain our quest for self-transcendence and humanity’s proliferation of transformative practices.

      If I go merrily along supporting such a statement without skepticism, as I am inclined to do because my own explorations and contemplations have led me to the same conclusion, I might alienate all who are agnostic or atheist or skeptical of "spirituality" and "divinity." I do not want to do this.

      I believe that the overall value of this book, its teaching of the discipline called Integral Transformative Practice (ITP), extends to believer and unbeliever alike. Although I agree with the authors that ultimately the transformative process is related to a spiritual process, I also feel that notions of divinity and spirituality need not necessarily be involved in one’s decision to practice ITP for the purpose of self-improvement and contribution to the improvement of the world, for the purpose of expanding one’s capacities, for the purpose of simply becoming all one can be.

      For many of us, this is a spiritual quest. For me, ITP is as much a spiritual practice as prayer and sacraments in religion. This is why it is the core practice in what I call "panentheistic integral spirituality." For those who do not see a spiritual basis for the practice, it can still be a discipline to use in one’s quest for attaining their highest and best, for maximizing their own expression of their greatest potential, regardless of their views on spirituality. The component practices involved in ITP do not require belief in God or participation in any religious ritual.

      Leonard and Murphy go on to catalog the globally common experience of all cultures in the pursuit and development of "transformative practices." They list and refer to practices dating back to the Neanderthals, the Cro-Magnon, and the Stone Age. They identify transformative practices developed in India, in Hinduism and Buddhism. They point to practices arising in China and Japan, such as feng shui, aikido, and Zen. They then turn West and look briefly at transformative practices developed there, such as cabalistic and Hasidic mysticism, and in Sufism, as well as in Judaism. They mention the transformative work of ancient Christian mystics such as Hildegarde of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. They refer to Protestants such as Jakob Bohme and George Fox, founder of Quakerism. This series of mentions of religiously motivated transformative practices points to a global process, not some isolated esoteric notion. Leonard and Murphy point to all these influences as part of a "worldwide event" contributing to "a momentous new stage in the development of transformative practice."

      Then the writers summarize the influence of modern science, saying:

      … today, more than ever before, long-term human change can be understood and guided with the help of science. There are many reasons for this, among them new advances in the understanding of psychodynamics by modern psychology; demonstration of our capacity for highly specific change in psychoneuroimmunology, sports medicine, biofeedback training, placebo studies, and hypnosis research; new discoveries about the mind’s ability to reshape motivations, emotions, and the flesh; and sociologists’ demonstrations that each social group nurtures just some of our attributes while neglecting or suppressing others. Never before has there been so much scientifically based knowledge about the transformative capacities of human nature. This knowledge, combined with the lore and inspiration of the sacred traditions, gives the human race an unprecedented opportunity to make a great evolutionary advance. It is possible now, we believe, for humanity to pursue its destiny with more clarity than ever before. To quote the poet Christopher Fry: "Affairs are now soul-size. The enterprise is exploration into God."

      The book goes much farther into explanations of both the sacred and the secular inventions, discoveries, and philosophies involved in formulation of ITP. Remember, this is only the Preface to the book we’re looking at right now! If you have not already read the book, you may begin now to get some idea of what an adventure it is, and how deeply the roots of ITP go into the entire history of humanity, right up to the latest in modern scientific and philosophical thought. This is why I say that even if you never undertake ITP as a practice, you’ll learn a lot from this book.

      Next in the Preface, the authors address a critically important point, which they identify as "the guiding idea of this book." That point is not emphasized enough, I think. To anyone who takes the time to read the book, the point becomes apparent, because ITP is obviously accessible to anyone and everyone, and easy to learn just by reading the book. But as a something of an "apostle of ITP," as someone who wants to spread its message and value to others, I want to heavily emphasize this "guiding idea of the book."

      That "guiding idea" is that transformative practice is not for an elite few. It is not just for people who go to the Himalayas and learn from gurus and meditate for years in caves or ashrams. It is not only for monks and ascetics and celibates. It is not only for athletes who devote their entire lives to their craft. It is not only for academics who put tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars into pursuit of advanced educational degrees. Transformative practices are available to everyone, and ITP is presented so simply, so plainly, so clearly, that anyone with a tenth grade reading level (or maybe less) can learn it on their own, essentially for free (assuming they can borrow the book).

      George Leonard and Michael Murphy could have easily created a "School of Transformative Practice" and charged up to hundreds of dollars per day to attend and learn from these masters. Many masters do exactly that. But ITP is out there for free. For the price of a single book you can learn ITP as I did: by reading it and trying it.

      The "guiding idea" is expressed in the generosity of the authors’ making the teaching available freely to the world. The guiding idea is that ITP is for everyone. In the authors’ own words:

      Every person on this planet can join the procession of transformative practice that began with our ancient ancestors. That is the guiding idea of this book. The ways of growth described here, which can be adopted by anyone, embrace our many parts. We call them integral to signify their inclusion of our entire human nature - body, mind, heart, and soul.

      Leonard and Murphy humbly gloss over the great value they have given the world in a practice that can be learned by anyone in their own home, at their own pace, according to their own schedule. Then they move on to the reason ITP is called integral, and on to some concluding thoughts we should all take into account before launching an exploration of integral transformative practices:

      When wisely pursued, such practices bestow countless blessings. If we do not obsess about their results, they make us vehicles of grace and reveal unexpected treasures. In this, they often seem paradoxical. They require time, for example, but frequently make more time available to us. They can slow time down, and open us to the timeless moment from which we have arisen. They require sacrifice, but they restore us. While demanding the relinquishment of established patterns, they open us to new love, new awareness, new energy; what we lose is replaced by new joy, beauty and strength. They require effort, but come to be effortless. Demanding commitment, they eventually proceed by second nature. They need a persistent will, but after a while flow unimpeded. Whereas they are typically hard to start, they eventually cannot be stopped.

      For most of us, integral practices require hard work. But with patience, the initial discomfort they cause turns into an ever-recurring pleasure. Renewing mind and heart, rebuilding the body, restoring the soul, become sources of endless delight.

      These are critical observations about integral transformative practices, which we will explore and discuss in future encounters with the subject.

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      To read or join the discussion about this great book, go to http://groups.msn.com/OPIS/general.msnw.
      Best regards,
      Dennis Koenig
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