This is the second in a 2-part series of blogs. The first was called, A Global Spirituality Part 1 – Why It’s Good News That All Paths Do Not Lead To The Same Place. In that article I explored how different communities around the world have cultivated extraordinary insights into how the different aspects of our being and reality can be brought to blossom. I ended by noting that today, because of humanity’s emergence into more and more of a global culture, we now have the opportunity to put these different pieces of the puzzle of human potential together. When we do, we start to vision for the first time, a truly holistic and globally informed path of growth and awakening, and a new level of what it means to be human.
In this blog, I will explore how someone can make practical use of this opportunity in their own life to put together a practice that includes all these different pieces. In contemporary spiritual culture, where the market is so saturated with different teachers and events offering so many different types of practice and teaching, it can often be very confusing for people to try and work out how they should take forward a path of personal growth. I am passionate about helping people integrate the different teachings and knowledge systems we have access to now to discover what all this means for them.
The essential foundation of an integral, or truly holistic spiritual practice, is first that it includes all the different levels of our being – from body to sexuality to emotion to mind to soul to spirit to Absolute Source. Second, it requires that what we cultivate in our practice is expressed through all of life – not just in our inner experience, but in our embodied daily life, our relationships and our engagement with the world. (*The approach I will discuss here is inspired by the integral approach of Ken Wilber, which seeks to help us put together the most integrative and all-inclusive approach to any question we are considering. There’s a lot that could be said in unpacking his approach, but I’ll try to keep this simple.)
To put together such a practice you have two choices: you either find an integrally informed spiritual guide who is already holding all of these different processes of growth in mind as they guide you, or you put together a practice yourself that ticks all the boxes. It’s important to also make the point that in the everyday process of our life, unconditional surrender, trust and acceptance of the way things are is as important as a drive to transform our lives and break through into new levels of being. If we only have the latter, we fall into a pretty dry hyper-masculine focus that is constantly seeking to control and transform life, without the ability to just deeply rest into it and let the life-force of our being flow as it wishes. It’s also true that acceptance and surrender alone will likely not offer the same possibility for growth in life as if we included the fire of the evolutionary drive too.
Ok, so what does it mean to include all the different levels of our being? Let’s name these different levels, consider what types of growth can happen with each of them, and what traditions or pathways offer practices for the unfolding of this layer of our being:
• Physical body: Here, possible areas of growth include diet and energetic vitality; what it means to live a deeply healthy physical life; the chakra system and its relation to the endocrine system; heart coherence; healing at the level of the body; and a healthy and alive relationship to your body and its wisdom.
Pathways and practices: Health and wellness, nutrition, Eastern chakra teachings; different global medicine systems (e.g. Western medicine or Traditional Chinese Medicine), physiotherapy, Hatha Yoga, Pranayama, bodywork, somatic meditation.
• Sexuality: Possible areas of growth here include us learning to feel more and more alive, present, whole and energised in our sexuality; fusing our sexuality with the energies of the heart and consciousness; Learning to re-wire our usual patterns around the rising and flow of sexual energy, either alone or with a partner, for sustained periods so as to cultivate states of bliss, loving connection, vitality and healing.
Pathways and practices: Sacred sexuality, classical tantra (e.g. Hindu or Tibetan Buddhist), neo-tantra, Taoist sexual kung fu, the work of teachers such as David Deida, Bruce Lyon, Margot Anand.
• Emotion: Here, areas of growth include emotional health, emotional intelligence, and the unconscious dimensions of our psyche; connecting with our feelings, belly and heart; tracing where we can get caught in painful cycles of emotional reactivity, anxiety and trauma; attachment and learning to ground unconditional self-love, self-worth and self-care for ourselves and others.
Pathways and practices: Psychotherapy (e.g. depth psychology, Somatic Experiencing, attachment-based therapy, behavioural therapy, cognitive therapy, shadow work, Emotional Freedom Technique), Shamanism.
• Mind: Possible areas of growth here include the characteristics of optimal mental health; examining the core beliefs and assumptions we have about ourselves, our relationships, and the world, and releasing those that no longer serve so as to liberate our bodies and minds into fuller expression; considering what the most fulfilling, wise and compassionate worldviews would look like; studying and learning to more deeply understand our ourselves and our world.
Pathways and practices: Integral Theory, developmental psychology, Spiral Dynamics, any subject of intellectual study (e.g. politics, religion, education, economics…).
• Soul: At the soul level possible areas of growth include connecting more and more deeply to our soul as a source of inspiration and guidance in life. In doing so, we explore the deeper dimensions of ourselves as journeying spiritual beings. We can activate soul consciousness, soul purpose, connection to our soul family and unique path of participation in collective evolution. We look into the unique facets, qualities and energies embodied by our soul, and its journey and desired expression in this incarnation.
Pathways and practices: Mystical Christianity, Sufism, Kaballah, Shamanism, Transpersonal Psychology, New Age spirituality, Alice Bailey, Diamond Approach, Eco-Spirituality, contemporary teachers who focus on soul work (e.g. Thomas Hubl, Bill Plotkin, Bentinho Massaro, Sera Beak).
• Spirit: At this level possible areas of growth include recognising the womb of unmanifest consciousness and information that all form arises from; insight into the karmic threads and habits that inform our lives across incarnations (access to the “akashic records”); transcendence of the sense of self and all form; connection to the unmanifest principle of the divine father.
Pathways and practices: Theravada Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Vedanta, Kaballah, contemporary teachers that focus on this level (e.g. Anadi, Aisha Salem).
• Awakening to the Absolute: Here we awaken to that which is the ground of all levels and all reality – our true nature as the one Infinite Awake Presence that transcends, embraces and is arising as the entire kosmos. This realisation can open up through the radical awakening of consciousness, the revelation of God through the heart, or through our dissolution into oneness with the whole Kosmos. This brings profound freedom, insight, intimacy with all creation as our own true being, and the dissolution of all self and seprateness in the light of the One Reality.
Pathways and practices: Vajrayana Buddhism (e.g. Dzogchen and Mahamudra), Zen, Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism, Mystical Christianity, Sufism, Adidam, Diamond Approach, contemporary teachers who focus on the Absolute (e.g. Adyashanti, Bentinho Massaro, Rupert Spira, John de Ruiter).
Ok, so these are the different levels. As is clear, there are many different pathways that could offer practices for these different levels, but the practitioner’s job is to keep it simple, choose practices that they resonate with, and stay with them for a sustained period of time so that they can really support growth and transformation. It’s absolutely right to bring in new practices and approaches from time to time if that fits our process, but if we flit from one practice to the next without any sustained periods of committed practice with one, we’ll likely not build enough momentum in our practice to bring about real shifts.
There are great benefits to including all of these levels. A spiritual practice purely focussed on soul work or awakening to the Absolute may soften the edges of any deep psychological wounds in the most tender layers of the personal self, but they likely won’t heal them. Good quality psychotherapy helps with that. Likewise, a path focussing purely on physical processes like diet and chakra work will not lead to soul awakening or awakening to the Absolute. They require practices at their own respective levels.
Once we include each of these different levels of our being, the next component of an integral spiritual practice is that the deeper and fuller modes of being we cultivate in each of them are then brought into expression in all domains of life. One way to describe the major domains of life is in terms of the three perspectives in which all life occurs – I, We/You, and It/It’s. These perspectives are so fundamental that all language that we use to describe the world and our experience uses them as a foundation – the 1st person (I), 2nd person (you or we), and 3rd person (it or it’s). Unpacking what these refer to more fully we see that:
• The domain of the “I” relates to our entire world of internal subjective experience. This includes all the sensations, perceptions, feelings, thoughts and ideas we have, as well as our sense of self, consciousness, and presence.
• The domain of the “We or You” relates to the whole field of relationship. This might include our relationship with friends, family, partners, colleagues and our participation in groups and culture as a whole.
• The domain of the “It” or “Its” relates to the outer world. This includes the whole of nature, human society, the planet as a whole and the kosmos. It includes our work in the world, our bodies, our behaviour, biology and activity.
It’s rare that people really seek to include all of these domains in their practice. Often, people’s spiritual practice stays purely in the realm of internal subjective experience (e.g. meditation or prayer) but doesn’t flow fully into their relationships and participation in the world. Or it might primarily focus on working with their body and exercise (e.g. physical yoga), without producing real openings and shifts in their consciousness and engagement with the world. A truly holistic spiritual practice not only works with growth at every level of our being, but sees all domains of life – our internal life, our field of relationships and our engagement with the world – as sacred spheres in which to express our practice.
The focus of such a practice is to know our true essence in awakening to and as the One Ultimate Presence that transcends, embraces and is arising as the kosmos; the continued unfolding of the fullness of our humanity, in body, sexuality, emotion, mind soul and spirit; and the expression of these in our consciousness, relationships and connection to the world, to nature, to our bodies, the earth and kosmos. When such a practice is flowing in our lives, there is the opportunity for a form of holistic spiritual emergence that may birth a whole new level of what it means to be awake, in communion with the divine, human, and connected to this beautiful planet on which we live.
In closing it’s important for me to acknowledge that there will no doubt be blindspots to the vision for a global spirituality that I have outlined in these two blogs. That is inevitable. My view is no one person or group can outline what a truly global spirituality is. That is a global process, and it is going to take a large network of individuals and communities around the world, all speaking from experience and sharing their contributions into the shared field. May these articles be a contribution to that process.