One jar a day


You’re next, Mr Paradiso!

Today I took another glass jar to town with me, it fit just snugly in my bag. I put in the glass container on my way to work.  When I came home from work, I took the spent fluorescent tubes to the supermarket.  (Yesterday it was the fluorescent bulbs, known here as saving bulbs since they use much less energy and last longer.  Well, supposedly they last longer. I don’t see much difference myself – I have changed most of them during these three years I’ve lived here, which is perhaps twice the life of ordinary incandescent bulbs.)

My point today – as if I had not made it before – is that I try to do this each workday.  Perhaps not both of them, but at least get something out of the house every day (not counting the ordinary trash).  Hopefully it will become second nature eventually.  My first nature is to drag things to the cave.  Thinking back to the home where I grew up, there is no doubt that I am descended from packrats.  Actually, now that I live in a house that is vaguely similar to the type of house I grew up in (albeit newer), the similarity is striking.  A living room that is halfway presentable, and several other rooms absolutely stacked with all kinds of objects, but mostly those related to learning somehow.  Yes, I have grown up to become my parents, only fewer in number.

More immediately, however, the inspiration for the (work-)daily activity probably comes from the book Integral Life Practice.  It is quite insistent that one practice each of the four core modules every day – even if only for one minute! It actually has various 5-minute and 1-minute exercises scattered throughout.  If you are busy – or, more likely, if you make yourself busy because you really don’t like one of the modules (such as body, in my case) – you can still not with any shred of dignity or integrity claim that you don’t have 1 minute free over the course of 24 hours.

Michael Mackenzie at Project Meditation says much the same thing.  If you can’t meditate more than 5 minutes, then meditate 5 minutes.  It is far better to do so every day than to start skipping days.  And Bill Harris at Centerpointe Research Institute compares using their product (Holosync) to brushing one’s teeth.  (Although I certainly would not brush my teeth continually for half an hour, much less the whole hour recommended for Holosync.  I can see what he means though.)

So that is what I do now to deal with something that is contrary to my nature.  One jar at a time, or a few light bulbs, or an old CD.  It may be only five minutes, pitiful or ridiculous depending on your view.  But if I don’t forget it and don’t fall out of the practice,  sooner or later I should become a changed person.  And even if not, there will be hundreds fewer objects in the house than it would otherwise have been, if I live here another year.

Change, awareness, colors!


Or, as I call it, experienced reality vs measurable reality.

I am still riding the wave of vaguely New-Age self-improvement stuff. Today I think I’ll just round up some odds and ends. There is no end to the oddities in this world and especially the New Age world.

For instance, I found this blog by a guy who had bought HoloSync and decided to journal his journey of self-improvement. “Changing myself” is its name, and it consists of 7 entries an February and March 2007. Then it suddenly ends, contrary to the stated plans of the author. What happened? Did HoloSync wake the demons in the dark corner of his heart and they made him end his life in a gruesome way? Did he leave everything to join a cult? Did his premonitions about a car crash finally come true? Or did he just get bored of writing a blog, like almost everyone else? In any case, we will never know the truth about HoloSync, or at least not from him.

Speaking of HoloSync, their constantly active founder and director Bill Harris is constantly trying to make the world a better place and sell HoloSync at the same time. For instance in “The Blog That Ate Mind Chatter”, he has an entry named “It’s all about awareness…”, a statement that sounds pretty close to what I’ve been talking about lately. Of course it leads to a glowing recommendation of his own product, but then again would he bother selling it if he did not believe in it? Well, perhaps if he was some kind of snake oil salesman. There is anyway a lot in this article that will be of interest even if you don’t hack your brainwaves. His revelation is eerily similar to the one I received around the age of 15 while reading a small tract by the Norwegian mystic Elias Aslaksen. At that time I suddenly realized that what happened to me was less important than my own reaction to it. And that’s the message Harris brings here too, except his is more about feeling good than doing good. There is a “hidden step” between what happens to us and how we feel. That step is our own inner constructs.

Harris also explains by example of small children how awareness grows from almost nothing in the beginning of our life and becomes stronger and stronger, giving us more and more choice. He claims that this process can continue as long as we live. Is this so, or does the increase in awareness simply follow from the maturing nervous system? Seriously, there is a great difference in the brain of a newborn baby and an older child. Not only in size, but in how connected the different parts are. In adults, new connections don’t happen automatically. I am not even sure (as Harris seems to be) that new connections will happen automatically if you listen to binaural beats every day. At some point, I think the connections that take place in “software” become more important than those that happen in “hardware”. You can’t listen yourself to Enlightenment.

The disciples of Ken Wilber agree. (Wilber himself has only overseen the writing of Integral Life Practice, not actually written any of the chapters. Still, I think we can say it is written in his spirit, more or less.) On the topic of “mind machines” and such, ILP only mentions these technological solutions briefly and in the same breath as mind-altering drugs. These are fine to use if you can do so legally and harmlessly, but they must be used in addition to and not instead of a traditional practice such as meditation.

Of course, ILP has its own weirdness. I’ve made my way through the various thoughts about physical training and nutrition, and come to the part where the Subtle Body is described in more detail. Chakras and meridians and auras oh my! I know this may be unfair coming from someone who lets an invisible friend tell him when the pasta is cooked, but I keep translating “subtle body” as “fantasy body”. Chakras and auras are great for ninja anime, but I would not entrust my health to them. That is not to put down the exercises that are supposed to strengthen the Subtle Body, such as yoga or Tai Chi. I am sure both the breathing, the postures and the focused intentions are good for the health. I just think they work by a slightly different mechanism than the ancient traditions believe.

For instance, I recently read of a study showing that patients with headache responded equally well to acupuncture that was genuine but had nothing to do with headache. Now, I am sure there are numerous studies that show the exact opposite. Why? Because unlike drugs, you cannot easily do “double-blind” tests with acupuncture. You have to either use an acupuncturist or a traditional doctor, for the simple reason that stabbing people wildly with needles is dangerous, illegal and unethical. And despite their best intentions, the acupuncturists and the doctors would send unconscious messages to the patients through their posture, their tone of voice, their expression of confidence (or not) and any number of other subtle clues. Subtle bodies indeed! So depending on who did the study, the outcome would confirm what they already knew to be true.

All this underscores the difference between measurable reality and experienced reality. Science is traditionally all about measurable reality, but if you want a truly encompassing system of knowledge (as the Integral movement strives for), you have to make room for experience. We do this in daily life: As I seem to say every few days, we still speak and act as if the sun really rises in the morning, even though we know it is the earth that rotates. To take another example that you may not know so well, the colors “brown” and “orange” are actually the same, except for context. If you get to look at any one of them through a cylinder that shows only the painted area and nothing else, brown looks like orange. Seriously, I have tried (with the roll in the center of household paper towels). And in Japan, green and blue are the same color. People can tell the difference when seeing them side by side, of course, but not from memory. This is not a biological difference but a linguistic one, but it affects memory in most people.

Well, that should be enough for one day! And in any case, the day is over.

Too many bodies!


Aaaaaa!  Dr Manhattan can’t understand why his girlfriend would want one of him but not two. It only gets worse as she finds the rest of him. Unfortunately the movie is not available for my picture taking yet, so the comic shall do.

Much as I tend to sympathize with Dr Manhattan, my problem is somewhat different. It is with the supposedly non-fiction book I’m making my way through these days, Integral Life Practices. I have finally made my way through the Mind module; it was quite long, as could be expected since the book was overseen by Ken Wilber, and the AQAL theory is his gift to the world. Then I came to the Body module. I expected various smart training techniques, but the first thing that happened was that I was told I had 3 bodies.

Oooo-kay. Uhm, I seem to have 3 bodies all of a sudden.

Now, before we consign our new friends to the loony bin, there is a question we need to ask ourselves. Do we ever dream lucid dreams? Not as in dreaming about Lucy, although I suppose that could happen too, but dreams in which we know we are dreaming and yet we keep doing it. I know I have done that, but only a few times and not for long. I have not specifically sought it out, to be honest, because I like to have some time off and my dreams are definitely “off”. I am known to do things in them that I would not dream about doing in waking life.

Some otherwise normal people do some lucid dreaming, however. And people who have greatly expanded their awareness through years of meditation can, from what I understood, not really avoid being conscious even if they happen to dream. Or even, eventually, during deep dreamless sleep. I have only once, by accident, been down there with my awareness. It’s a pretty weird place. Anyway! When you are dreaming, you seem to have a body. Evidently this is the “subtle body” which is your second body. And then there is the even more subtle “causal body” made of stillness, which you have during deep sleep. So that’s the excuse. I guess it makes sense, for sufficiently obscure translations of “body”.

Regular readers of the Chaos Node may notice that the three bodies seem to map fairly well to my concepts of body, soul (psyche) and spirit. I suppose the concept of them all as bodies may be for the purpose of combining them, as the rest of the chapter does. As can be expected of an integral practice, their recommended exercises combine all three: Infusing physical exercise with the energy and feeling of the psyche and the witnessing presence of the human spirit. More exactly, each exercise starts out with “grounding” in the witnessing presence, then doing energy-raising exercises, then the actual strength training, then a cooldown and finally a repeat focus on the witnessing presence.

More weird English: The typical way of invoking the witnessing presence is to “Notice the such-ness and is-ness of this and every moment.” I assume this is translated from Sanskrit or Pali or some such, it is certainly not English. Although I suppose the German noun “Dasein” may have inspired one of the phrases. (Not to be confused with Dasien, an online comic superheroine who has never suffered from Wilberitis.)

More about this later, probably, if my own body / bodies hold up.

Bringing awareness into everything


Open your mind… and look inside.

I have continued reading Integral Life Practice, which I guess is a small form of integral life practice on its own.

I mean, there is reading and there is reading and there is reading. On one end of the spectrum there is escapism reading, the “trashy novel” and such, which lets the reader enjoy a freedom from the normal restraints, and escape into what I call “lower worlds” where you feel powerful and your surroundings easily conform to your fantasies. On the other extreme is the contemplative reading of Holy Scripture, in which your purpose is to ascend to a “higher world” which is greater than you and commands your awe and obedience. And of course in between these you have the purely informative non-fiction, which sets out to inform us about the “real world” in which our bodies already live.

Integral Life Practice does not qualify as Holy Scripture – Ken Wilber’s AQAL is a philosophical system rather than a religion – but neither is the book purely informative. It seeks to inspire the reader to grow toward his highest potential. As such, it transports the mind to a slightly higher reality which you then have to move your real life into by living a disciplined life to some extent. The discipline in this case is the Integral Life Practice from which the book has taken its name.

I have now come to the Mind module, the second of the four main modules. A central tenet of ILP is that you have to practice something from each of the four modules every day, even if it is just a tiny 1-minute exercise. The Mind module centers on the AQAL system itself. It sees reality as consisting of four quadrants. Things can be either internal (to the mind) or external (physical). They can also be either individual or collective, or should we say singular and plural. But all these things are explained lucidly by Wilber himself for free on the Net. Likewise the concept of lines, in this case lines of development. For instance you can be highly developed along the cognitive line (you’re smart!) but poorly along the moral line (you’re a scoundrel). Likewise you can be spiritually advanced but neglect your body. And so on – there are a number of lines, mostly taken from decades of science done by others.

Now the idea is that you can use the “practices” to shore up the lines that are lagging disastrously, especially if they are main lines. (Your musical skills may or may not have a bearing on your life, although they could certainly enrich it if you have the opportunity. Your interpersonal development is pretty much essential, unless you are a hermit in this life and aiming for Nirvana – extinction – in the next.) Besides getting out of trouble with your weak spots, you can also identify your special talents and develop these for the good of the world. Evidently mediocrity does not command much sympathy in the AQAL camp – there is little mention of the lines where you have just trudged along passably.

The authors make special note of the fact that several spiritual teachers of great repute have had their life and teaching marred by sexual misbehavior. This is not a purely American thing, I remember the elders in the Christian Church pointing out the same trend among the more airy wing of the Pentecostal movement. This is what happens when one thinks spiritual growth can run ahead without Shadow Work. The Church was big on Shadow Work, at least in its early years. The thing is, if you have this kind of weak spots, they can totally ruin all the good you thought you could do.

The purpose of the Mind module is basically to make the reader aware of all the different facets of daily life: The quadrants, the lines, the levels and the types. By bringing awareness into everything, we get new choices. We don’t need to react automatically, as we often do. Merely knowing that things have different sides, and that people are different in so many ways, can be helpful. But awareness is something more than just bookish knowledge. It requires us to be present and witness the things we are aware of. This is where the practices – exercises, if you will – come in. And that is why we should think of AQAL every day.

I think this is a most excellent idea, to shine awareness into every corner of our daily life. Whether this really is the ultimate Theory of Everything, and whether it does a better job than certain other life practices, is open to debate. But given the human tendency to shrink back from awareness and into an automated life, I can only cheer on this attempt to go in the opposite direction.

Shadow work


You don’t need to know what a Kokuchi is – the link to darkness is true for even the most trivial of “possessions”.  Whenever we have to say “I don’t know what possessed me”, the shadow was there.

Let’s continue looking at my latest purchase, the book Integral Life Practice which I wrote about yesterday. The first of the four essential modules is the Shadow Module. I think this is an unfortunate placement, albeit understandable.  The authors have reason to be excited that they have included this module at all.  If you think “shadow work” is an alien phrase in mainstream literature, imagine the New Age movement where people start their day with positive affirmations of the type “I am God. I attract health, wealth and happiness.  I deserve to be happy.  I manifest everything I want by the power of my mind.

Long time readers will be familiar with my studies of automisanthropology, the science of why I, of all people, am up to no good. I have been at this since my youth, and consider it a major reason why I am generally happy in my near-hermit life. Living closely with oneself without having done shadow work is likely to be uncomfortable if not outright dangerous. So yeah, shadow work for the win!

However! In the book, this is the first of the four basic modules. And while the authors sensibly mention that a good therapist is the common way to go about it, they don’t let this stop them for long. After all, you may not be able to or willing to see a mental health practitioner. So they quickly move on to their quick, bare-bones gold star method for assimilating your shadow, the 3-2-1 method.  This name comes from the starting point of thinking of the shadow in the third person, as something remote and external; then talking to it in the second person, as a “you”, and finally assimilating it into the first person, I.

This probably works, with some practice. And the book is all about practice – it’s actually in its name. But perhaps you should wait a little longer before you set off to reclaim the parts of yourself that you have thrown down the stairs to the basement and locked the door after. Because there may just be a reason why one would go to such an extreme step with a part of oneself.

Shadow work is not a hobby, to be undertaken for the excitement of it. At the very least pick your shadows carefully, because you really don’t want them to take over your house and throw you down the stairs to the basement, then lock the door.

The authors have been practicing various self-strengthening techniques for many years. In order for you too to be able to face your own shadow, you should first make sure your body, mind and spirit are not a total wreck. If you worship a god, be sure to enlist its help too. I agree that shadow work should be done concurrently with the other three, but I would like to put it at number 4 rather than number 1. It should be approached with great caution, after careful preparation.  But approached it must be, eventually.

Overall, we aim to gradually increase awareness in our lives.  Awareness is the silver bullet, the panacea, the skeleton key, the cheat code to the game of life. (OK, actually it is more like the “sudo” command in Linux, in that you have to use it over and over, not once and for all. But you get the point.)  As we gradually raise our awareness in all parts of our lives, we cannot avoid becoming aware of our projections and our repressed parts. In which case we have to either take a good hard look at them, or give up this whole awareness thing and shrink back to a more constrained state of mind with fewer choices and more slavery.

As I said on September 16, 2001: If you want to see the rainbow, you have to face your own shadow.  I mean that literally:  This is the way light works in the natural world. But it also has some deeper meaning. The rainbow, in the ancient Hebrew myth of Noah’s Flood, was God’s promise that he would never utterly destroy the world.  But if we want that hope, we have to face our shadow.

More about the book later, Light willing.

Integral Life Practice – first look

di090312 Proof that I have at least unpacked it!

So I have cracked open the book I got in the mail the other day. I have even read the first chapters. Obviously I can’t give anything like a sensible review until I have either read it through or thrown it in the recycling bin. Even then, I shall have to be cautious, for this is a book that could save or damn the world.

The concept of integral life practices looks very much like what I in my near future fiction called “the Innerways”. This is not surprising, since when I made that concept, I already had a cursory knowledge of Ken Wilber’s theories, and had taken an interest in them since they resonated with my own writing about what I call “the Next Big Thing”, the necessary shift in human consciousness to enable our new role as stewards of the planet rather than simply one of its millions of species. The way from our current halfway apelike state to that frightening responsibility goes through the Innerways, the practices that prepare each of us to reach our highest aspiration. The book Integral Life Practice is an attempt at just that, guiding individuals onto the beginning of those paths.

For those who haven’t read or don’t remember my series of essays in 2005 (starting June 18), let me briefly state my own position. This is one of the most important things I have written about. In fact, it is one of the few important things I have ever written. So bear with me for a paragraph.

Our ancestors until around 60 000 years ago did not have culture as we know it. Well, recent findings show outbreaks of it here and there in Africa, but scattered and temporary. Mostly they lived like their ancestors a million years earlier, despite having the same body and brain as us. At some point there was an explosion of creativity, traditionally associated with the invention of abstract language, although we don’t really know that. There has been a lot of upgrades since then, but none nearly as fundamental. There is a gaping abyss between any healthy human today, even the naked Stone Age hunters of the jungle, and our ancestors who knew nothing of inspiration or aspiration. A similar leap, I believe, is about to happen again. The Ice Age mind will give way to something so much greater that it is hard to believe we are the same species. Either that, or we’ll all die terribly along with most of the planet’s higher life.

The Innerways – or integral life practices – are the perfectly natural, non-magical things we can do while we are ordinary humans, but which will at the same time move us toward the next stage. It may be that we who live today will never be part of the next phase – actually, I am pretty sure of this – but we have to move in that direction, so that the next generation can stand on our shoulders and reach for the stars. We may not become more than human, but we have an obligation to become more human than we were.

The genius insight of Integral Life Practice is to serve a “balanced diet” of such practices, which can mutually strengthen each other. This is not a new concept – “a healthy soul in a healthy body” is an ideal that has lasted for millennia. But it is extended to four core areas: Body, mind, spirit and shadow. (Shadow here refers to the subconscious, not to demon worship or some such.) I know many people today think that spirit may be an epiphenomenon, kind of like the sun seems to rise and set while in reality it is the earth that rotates. But even if you don’t believe the sun rises, you would still be a fool to think the night will last forever. In the same way, spirit is an experienced reality, and you ignore it at your own cost. Spirit – in the form of aspiration and inspiration, at the very least – has been with us since we became human.

This was pretty random, as can be expected of a chaotic mind in a sick body after a brief look at the beginning of a new book. I am not going to recommend it just yet, but I sincerely hope to complete it and test its basic ideas – to the extent that I have not accidentally tested them already. The terrain seems strangely familiar.

Oh, and one more thing: The book is a very accessible read for something so groundbreaking.

PS: I found that the book was also recommended by Bill Harris, of HoloSync fame. It is a small world Integral movement after all!