4/1 – The Adventures of Integral Consciousness in Russia: An Interview with Eugene Pustoshkin

April- June 2014 / Feature Articles

Translated by Eugene Pustoshkin

Eugene Pustoshkin

Eugene Pustoshkin

Eugene Pustoshkin lives in St. Petersburg, Russia. He currently serves as the Chief Editor of Eros and Kosmos (see: http://eroskosmos.org/english), a recently founded Russian online magazine; he is also the Bureau Chief / Associate Editor for Russia at Integral Leadership Review. A few years ago he graduated as clinical psychologist from St. Petersburg State University. He translated several books by Ken Wilber and works of other Integral authors.

What follows is an interview that was done at the request of the Ufanavtica project (a transpersonal project in the Russian city of Ufa) in Summer 2013 and translated to English in March 2014. The Russian version of the text is available here.

— Hello, Eugene! We are glad to have this opportunity to communicate with you and share with our audiences some information about such an important topic as Integral theory and practice. First of all, could you please briefly explain what is Integral theory?

— First, I want to note that Integral theory doesn’t have any direct or even indirect connection to integral calculus. In English this discipline is called Integral theory, and the word Integral means “whole” or “holistic,” and it is related to such a notion as integration. It refers to a living human activity of integrating various disciplines under the “roof” of some sort of “over-arching” integrating framework which in itself is neutral and allows having a fruitful dialogue and interaction among those disciplines. The English word theory comes from Greek theoria, and I am very fond of its original meaning: contemplation, observation—or, we could say, witnessing. In other words, on its very deep level Integral theory is holistic contemplation of the world.

Thus, Integral theory represents a developing field of human activity which investigates or contemplates the world and is based on the principle of all-inclusion of various perspectives, values and disciplines. This inclusion aspires to be comprehensive. At the same time all-inclusion is not grounded in the principle that would say “all perspectives are equally right,” for in Integral theory a big role is played by the process of evaluating truth-claims  of various viewpoints, concepts, theories, and so on. Every once in a while one has to make a choice which aspects of one’s own perspective he or she must retain and which aspects he or she must let go of, at least until more data that supports them is gathered. All-inclusion is dynamic rather than static; it continuously grows, expands, transforms, develops, and evolves (under the influence of various people)—just as many other phenomena in our life.

One of the goals of Integral theory is practicing increasing wholeness, including and integrating body, mind and spirit both in individual consciousness of the practitioner and in culture and nature. In history there has been a number of attempts to come up with various integral or integrative theories, however right now I focus on the line of inquiry and practice which is most contributed to and shaped by the American philosopher Ken Wilber.

In his works Wilber shows how various branches of psychology, neurosciences, cultural sciences, sociology, systems theory, spirituality and theology, arts, philosophy of science and general philosophy can be reconciled with each other in order to escape fragmentariness and the position that thinks that “only my discipline exists, other are not important” and actually come to experiencing of holistic and integral consciousness, being, and doing. In other words, in Wilber’s works we see a reconciliation of the conflict between “hard scientists” and “soft scientists,” “materialists” and “idealists,” “individualists” and “collectivists” and so on. (To be precise, such reconciliation happens not among the hosts of these worldviews but among the worldviews themselves, for the practice shows that people are still too attached to their sympathies and antipathies, so the process of consciousness transformation from lesser integrativity to greater integrativity takes time.)

Wilber’s project was supported at first by dozens and now by hundreds and, perhaps, thousands of scholars and researchers around the world who now gradually form into various groups and communities and participate in the process of further development of Integral theory and its various branches and applications, such as integral psychology and psychotherapy, integral spirituality, integral economy, integral recovery of addicts, integral business, integral coaching, integral cinematic arts, integral politics, integral ecology and so on.

There are groups of researchers in USA, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and other countries. And I hope that soon enough some serious research will appear at first on the individual and then on the collective level in Russia as well (we already witness the emergence of individuals who are seriously committed to integral scholarship in the broadest sense of this term).

In addition there are those who, perhaps, are not so eager to work on Integral theory and theoretical investigation and who are more interested in informing their daily practice and life with the knowledge acquired thanks to Integral theory. Such people see benefits from applying integral psychology to their practice of family relationships, psychotherapy, entrepreneurship and so on.

In this sense Integral theory acts as a useful meta-map which helps to correctly determine your’s own “perspectival address” and get a grasp of where you are now, where you should go next and which tools you should use in the process. Integral theory is also good as a means of indexing applicability and limitations of various approaches, methods, practices, and disciplines from the perspective of both their universal meaning and their immediate importance for us.

— Could you please explain where you see the practical application of Integral theory in our days and what is its advantage over other frameworks? Why it is Integral theory’s application that is important today more than ever?

— When I began to study clinical psychology at St. Petersburg State University, in my own experience I encountered the existential void that emerges due to fragmentariness and dissociation of the processes of education and partiality of worldviews held by teachers and of concepts investigated by scientists.

General understanding of psychology—with few exceptions—was mostly naïve materialist, often missing the living texture of reality and concealed under the masquerade of smart words which, so it seemed, never meant anything specific. Teachers unwittingly argued with each other, often contradictory things were said in different classes, and it was difficult to grasp how all those fragmented perspectives relate to each other. And those who tried to understand faced various difficulties. The word “consciousness” was almost taboo or it was understood as some sort of mysterious epiphenomenon which shouldn’t be mentioned in any specific way. It was better to repeat some common-sense truths and conduct research, hiding oneself in questionnaries and tests, searching for some correlations and fixating on statistical methods—but never and in under no circumstances one should get in contact with soul. Most often, education per se was reduced to learning of the lists of names and concepts, that is it was limited strictly to intellectual knowledge.

Ken Wilber’s Integral psychology literally saved me from this mess, it gave me a map and a tool using which I was able to connect understanding of various perspectives on and disciplines of psychology and also determine the place of psychology among other disciplines and understand that subjective experience in no way should be reduced to objective behavioral or neural processes.

Contemporary world and the complexity of its processes, existence of numerous sources of information, openness to planetary processes, the possibility of traveling not just physically but also intellectually through various landscapes doesn’t allow people to give an exclusive preference towards just one perspective or one viewpoint.

More and more people emerge who disagree with the notion that when they start to study to become a psychologist, their teachers, for example, often are afraid of everything that is related to spiritual experience, near-death experiences, and altered states of consciousness. Such teachers do their best to kill all creativity in their students, instead of which expecting you to stay mediocre and write another one of those theses on “psychological specifics of such and such phenomenon.” Of course, you can always find exceptions, and I communicated with various people who told me simply miraculous stories about their professors, departments, and universities which supported their initiatives.

It is likely that the same happens in other professional disciplines: Many people sincerely inquire how their legal degree, or a degree in philosophy, cultural sciences or economy could relate to the pragmatic reality of life;  how in the world can they apply knowledge gained, say, in psychology (and transpersonal psychology) towards economy; how they could enrich philosophy in a way that would transform it from being merely a philosophy of mind only to a philosophy of heart and practice.

In our contemporary times, when hyperspecialization is still a powerful trend and limitless fragmentation into increasingly smaller and lesser disciplines still occurs, Integral theory serves as an antidote and remedy from being lost in all this seemingly fragmented diversity. It offers us access to a panoramic view and radically expands the landscapes and territories through which we can traverse—both interior and exterior; both individual and collective.

Integral theory has an in-built time bomb which manifests as the necessity of Integral practice. Contemplation requires praxis. And when you start to practice, learning one paradigm of practice or other, you are at risk of getting lost in all of that and forgetting something important. You start to do meditation; and, say, your wife divorces you. You start to seek a new wife; and depression overcomes you. You start to treat your own depression, and lose all money, your business collapse, your friend goes through an existential crisis, some terrorist attack happens, a world economic crisis unfolds and so on. In overall, life happens in all its unqualifiable nakedness.

You constantly jerk trying to catch one opportunity or another, chasing ghosts of desires and all vain things, and here Integral theory offers a frame of reference based on which a holistic worldview may emerge which would, in due time, let you stop dance someone else’s dance and instead begin to find your own equilibrium, walking the rope of your own life, the rope which extends over the abyss of existence. The only correct response to challenges and difficulties of contemporary life is gradual and harmonious development of your habit towards increasingly holistic or integral practice. Slowly, gradually, through trials and errors, the capacities of consciousness, body, and soul expand and unfold for a greater all-inclusion.

Integral is dangerous in that after one taste of it in its more or less holistic variation it is impossible to be content with anything lesser. Integral theory and practice is the best that we have to-date for those who don’t see contradictions between the material and the spiritual, between individual and social,  and who aspire to integrate their own life, so that it stops resembling a discontinuous texture with numerous holes and discrepancies. As for the advantage of Integral theory over other frameworks, in its own kind and function it is unique and there are no analogues.

Sometimes some individuals emerge who make claims that, in their approach, they transcended but included Integral theory, but their claims, in my opinion, are not supported with actual reality (often such people exhibit little if any capacity to grasp Integral theory and express their own thought, yet they are so eager to offer their own “alternatives”). It is possible that some approaches exist that I don’t know of, but whatever I don’t know about, I cannot speak about.

It seems, though, that there is something. In the Western Integral circles people speak of Bhaskar’s Critical Realism as some valuable analogue of Integral theory that emphasizes different things. In the international Integral Theory Conference that was held in USA in 2013 Roy Bhaskar and Edgar Morin (who is also an influential thinker and the author of one of the integrative theories) were invited as honorary guests in the attempt to find some common ground and establish some sort of dialogue. We’ll see where it brings us. This is interesting. I will do my best to track what happens on this intellectual field.

In general, Integral theory allows including of numerous other theories, models, approaches, and practices. The reverse is usually not the case. At the moment there is no approach that would fully include and digest Integral theory while bringing forth something entirely novel. When such an approach emerges, I will immediately begin to study it. I am sure that sooner or later it will emerge.

— What is AQAL?

— AQAL (pronounced “ah-qwal”) is a shorthand for Integral model or Integral framework which was proposed by Ken Wilber in mid-1990’s. AQAL stands for all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all types, all states. These terms are just reminders of the things we must include when we inquire into some phenomenon or occasion—if we want to come to a holistic vision of what’s going on, of course.

Let’s go in that order. When you investigate some phenomenon, it is necessary that you include all quadrants. Quadrants are most basic perspectives through which one may look at reality. There are many introductory materials into what quadrants are, so, frankly speaking, it is extremely boring for me to repeat all of that, so I will merely mention that the necessity to include all quadrants means that you should include into your consideration the perspectives of first, second and third person (“I,” “You/We,” and “It”). In practice it often means the capacity to not merely consider these perspectives but also enact them in your own experience.

I think every sane person can invent some example after reading basic information about Integral theory. I generally prefer to describe quadrants as follows. Every person, including the one who is reading this interview right now, has consciousness or awareness (first person, “I”). The exterior correlate of this consciousness and its mental processes is the activity of the organism, the brain, behavior as a whole (third person, “It”).

If I remembered something nice, this is correlated with some activity in a particular brain region. If I meditate or do a holotropic breathwork session, the patterns of my neural activity will change. If I decided to perform holotropic breathwork, I need to make some sort of changes in my behavior (start to hyperventilate my lungs, for instance). But the main point of holotropic breathwork is not in changing breathing patterns (“It”-behavior) but in the states of consciousness that arise during that process (“I”-awareness).

And now, I stopped my holotropic breathwork session. Whom may I tell about what I experienced, and how? And if I start to tell him or her, would they understand me, would they accept me? No man’s an island, and everyone lives in the society of other people with whom one must build communication, interact, and be co-present; we need to love each other and so on (all of that is “we”-realities of culture). Furthermore, all of that happens in a particular country and a particular economic system; and the country has its own obfuscate history and so on (this is what Wilber calls the “Its”-dimension of social systems and environmental factors).

Thus, it appears that in the process of life our being is inseparably connected to all the quadrants (broadly designated as the dimensions of “I,” “We,” “It,” and “Its”). So, in one way or another one should take them into consideration; and those who don’t include some of those dimensions often screw up. Instead of offering you an pre-made example I would prefer to ask you to think of possible examples from your own life—examples of the situations where ignoring of some of these dimensions (consciousness, behavior, culture or social systems) led to some sort of a trouble.

All levels” refers to the notion that every phenomenon is multidimensional, and a human being is akin to a multi-layered onion (just recall what Shrek tried to explain to the talking donkey in the famous movie). The Integral approach places a big emphasis on understanding of levels of consciousness. I don’t want to dive into this issue right now; I believe I have spent hundreds or maybe thousands of hours to this topic in various contexts (for instance, in online discussions). It is just important to understand that human consciousness grows and progresses through stages of development (childhood, adolescence, youth, maturity, wisdom etc.).

And consciousness doesn’t develop in an even fashion. One person can be very smart but at the same time be “disabled” in terms of emotional or spiritual intelligence. He or she—let’s say he—can be a brilliant mathematician, but people would run away from this person, because he is too egoistic in how he treats others and regularly ruins the atmosphere during communal gatherings by bringing forth tensions due to his unskillful communication. All of that is related to “all lines,” where lines refer to the notion that there are multiple lines of development which developmentally unfold relatively independently from each other (one could refer to cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, psychosexual intelligence, physical intelligence, spiritual intelligence, and so on).

Many think that if one is a gifted person she is talented in everything. This is a fallacy. Many musicians have an outstanding musical intelligence, but they are isolated in their discipline and don’t have any communicative skills or cannot make a good judgment about whom they should trust, whom they shouldn’t, and whom they should avoid at any cost. If gaps in some lines of development lead to unfortunate consequences, wouldn’t it be better to notice this and ask someone for help and begin to develop these areas, for instance start fitness training in order to improve physical line or go through psychotherapy in order to integrate the line of self-development?

As for types, I could mention a simple example. There are boys and girls. These are different worlds in many aspects, with different emphases being made and different role models and normative behaviors being practiced. In the postmodern era, of course, these norms can be subject to transformation, evolution, change, and so on. One could consider the subject in its increasing complexity. However, it is simply important to understand that you can differentiate different types of people, and one cannot say, for instance, that only men are human beings, while women are not. Or vice versa.

Also, there are introverts and extraverts. A brilliant musician or athlete could be more introverted; she can have her own approach towards training, exercise and life in general, while another could be extraverted. Someone could be homosexual, bisexual or heterosexual. And so on. One may consider various typologies; it is simply important to become aware of the diversity of typological variations of personality, behaviors, cultures, social archetypes, role distributions in group dynamics and so on.

The last component of AQAL is “states.” Every day we go through waking, dreaming and deep sleep states. States of consciousness shift and alter (as well as states of weather, the brain, and stock market). Meditation can induce altered states of consciousness. Various contemplative practices. One could go into a deep trance and miss one’s stop at subway.

States of consciousness have their correlates in brainwaves. If one remains in beta waves for too much time—this is a state of ordinary and work-focused sensorimotor-directed mind—then stress and fatigue accumulate. One needs to learn how to live through various states of consciousness and acquire what some call polyphasic consciousness (the capacity to fluidly work with various states of consciousness, including very altered ones). It is also important to recognize that other people also go through different states (from pathological states to ordinary and extraordinary). One should learn to recognize these states and facilitate emergence of more resourceful states of consciousness which, by the way, can be transmitted to others.

When applied to yourself the AQAL approach is simply about developing, in the space of your consciousness, the capacity of moment-to-moment witnessing of how all these realities are already taking place everywhere wherever you direct your attention to. If you are able to notice these realities without ignoring them—and it is possible to ignore them by being in some sort of narrow trance—then, at least, you can learn how to work with all of them. This is also a good basis for nondual meditation which includes all phenomena without exception in the space of your own contemplation.

It is known that Ken Wilber offered the foundations of using AQAL Model in the field of spirituality. What are the key starting points for this direction of Integral thought?

— Today, in peer-reviewed magazines some remarkable scientific articles are published. People’s heart stops, and during a few dozen minutes they remain in a not-living state, and then physicians resuscitate them, so they tell stories that make you wonder. A significant amount of those who came back to life tell that they could observe everything that happens in the resuscitation room during the time where, according to registered medical data, there was zero electrical activity in their brain. According to all standard criteria they were dead, yet after being resuscitated they managed to offer detailed description of everything that happened, as if they witnessed all of that. Furthermore, it is common to get reports from people of various cultures that they encountered some sort of perfect being fulfilled with love and compassion. Often such experiences completely change these individuals’ attitudes towards their own life, catalyzing transformations in their consciousness.

Thus, it appears that one has no grounds to strongly assert that consciousness is just a secondary byproduct, an epiphenomenon of the material substrate (that is, of the brain). The continuously repeated materialistic axiom turned out to be an ungrounded belief based on what science and humanity at large tried to build the fortress of their worldviews. It was something like hypnosis or false consciousness (someone believes in dogmatic religious myths of exoteric religions; other people believe in materialistic atheistic myths; yet others believe on other kinds of myths). We can strongly assert only that there is some sort of correlative interrelation between the brain and consciousness; however, there is no empirical evidence that directly supports the assertions about causality (i.e. that consciousness is caused by cellular activity of the brain). This would be a premature and apparently false assertion about the nature of human consciousness.

Just understand that we currently witness the collapse and agony of the system of materialistic dogmas; and this fact directly influences all of us. The fact that—under the condition where the brain has absolutely no electrical activity—a human person reports complex experiences which correspond to so-called “higher mental functions” (and these reports have been repeatedly verified and confirmed by clinical scientists; and there is no evidence that supports an assertion that they could be random) unplugs the system of support that perpetuates our naïve belief in that scientific-materialist view which we have been ingesting in the society of 20th century.

Gradually, our entire system of worldview frames of reference is being restructured, and we increasingly face the reality of Spirit. It appears that religions were not a naïve mistake of humanity, as some materialistically included thinkers of 19th and 20th century hurried to conclude: These are not just and mainly authoritarian and despotic social power institutions—although in their exoteric form they could definitely lead (and in fact did lead) to various abuses of power, inquisitions and so on… however, now we see abuses of power from contemporary cynical and atheistic in their nature power institutions as well. Wherever there is power, there is always the risk of power abuse. Religions are rather a living dynamic search of answers on the questions raised by spiritual experience that is encountered everywhere in all cultures with no exception.

Spirituality and religiosity are not limited to exclusively mythic religion. Mythic religion is an external trace of some sort of important interior knowledge which was discovered by the founders of religions and transmitted from generation to generation by the keepers of spiritual wisdom in as skillful way as they were capable of (and no one is perfect and flawless). This is knowledge that has been acquired through trials and errors, often through some insight or “direct revelation”—knowledge about how we can cultivate our relationship with our own Spirit and how we can ascend to the higher knowledge of that which every one of us is in the innermost depth of our consciousness.

So, the key starting point for Integral spirituality is in the recognition of the simple truth of the existence of spiritual reality which is the planetary and, perhaps, even universal legacy of all sentient beings. Every human being has the right for spiritual self-realization in any culture of the world—for seeking and finding answers to ultimate questions of “life, God, universe, and everything.” Various religious movements are not absolutely identical to each other; they often explore relatively different depths of spiritual realization, sometimes making different emphases. However, I have no doubts that in their essential forms all religions are an attempt to ascend the single transcendental mountain of reality.

Even agnosticism and atheism (as some fuzzy terms) are rationalistic attempts to offer some sort of practice of finding answers to questions of spirituality. This is an attempt to seek answers that is offered by those who are primarily not acquainted with transpersonal states of consciousness in their own experience (in their own first person). Since many militant atheists are conditioned through their upbringing in a way that disallows them to turn towards seeking the transcendent, they project this transcendent reality onto some symbol, such as, for instance, the “sacred image” of science (which exists in their imagination), so they defend this sacred image with fervent religiosity. This is a typical example of how projective mechanisms of psyche work. In much of their stance they act irrationally and illogically, despite their worshiping of logic; their thinking is also often irrational; and they cling to the institutions of power and influence (which is totally understandable, given the bloody history of the European civilization which is related to the intolerance towards a diversity of thought and the temptation to eliminate heterodoxies; the fears that atheists have in front of religious fanaticism are understandable—however, in fighting with the monster for too long, dogmatic atheists themselves now become monsters which block the unfolding of rational and post-rational scientific progress). Atheism is not a given, it is a subculture, a subgroup of people who practice their particular way of interacting with reality, have their specific discourse, their own myths, practices, material basis…. as any other human tradition of reality enactment.

Integral studies of spirituality show that some traditions, while being absolutely legitimate paths, stop at the foot of the spiritual mountain; other traditions ascend it half-way; yet other traditions ascend to its very top. This is determined through applying the principle of transcending and including: If one tradition or line of spiritual practice can evoke (that is, includes) experiences which in their deeper features correspond to those of another tradition, and if, however, this tradition add something significantly novel to those experiences, then it touches a level of spiritual realization which transcends but includes the level with which the other tradition works. In other words, all traditions are important, but not all traditions are equal, and some of them need further development and require supplementary practices in order to heed the maximum result. Not everyone agrees with this; such people prefer to continue their practice as it is. This is okay. It’s just there are others who disagree with such an approach and who supplement Zen with Mahamudra practice, for instance, in order to overcome, say, the barrier between the causal state and the nondual state of awareness.

It is now we think that spiritual traditions are something static and fixed in sacred scriptures or carved in stone. In fact, of course, Christianity and Indian religious traditions and Buddhism and Islam and so on have been forming under the circumstances of continuous interaction within and without those currents, under the condition of dialectics, dialogue, confrontation, creative tensions, arguments and competitive struggle for attaining power, influence on elites and various layers of society, and under the condition of a specific sociopolitical culture, governmental structures, economies etc. Often those religions would confront the status quo and struggle against the existing order.

In my opinion, the original stage of mystical religions’ development is characterized by rebellion. Rebellion against ignorance and obfuscations that exist in the world at the moment of revelation. Genuinely transformative religions needed to offer real practical tools of solving actual existential-spiritual issues. Today, thanks to Wilber, we would say: of solving problems and fulfilling needs of transpersonal levels of the spectrum of consciousness (The Spectrum of Consciousness is the first Wilber’s book written when he was only 23; it made him relatively well-known in the emerging field of transpersonal studies back then).

Alas, today there is an understanding of religions which is too materialistic (such an understanding is often practiced by religious adepts themselves). Some sort of spiritual materialism emerges when religion is practiced in order to gain some material possessions and stuff (from richness and love to some state of quietude) rather than to respond on the ultimate question of being and meanings of existence. This is, in my opinion, a problem caused by the lack of cultural integrity and consummation around these issues and the lack of integrally informed discourses about spirituality and religion.

Further information about the Integral approach to religion and spirituality and their roles in the modern and postmodern world is available in Ken Wilber’s book Integral Spirituality, the first Russian (ebook) edition of which we published in November 2013.

As for AQAL and spirituality/religion, of course, any study of religion needs to hold in its inner space, in its practice and on the level of discourse (or communicative practice) all quadrants, all levels in all lines of development, all types, and all states. Spirituality is a complex phenomenon; and there are numerous perspectives on it that span the entire spectrum of consciousness development and typologies of worldview attitudes. It is important to attempt to reconstruct and pro-construct an increasingly comprehensive panorama of spiritual abundance in the world in order to get a better understanding of where we came from, where we are heading and what for we do all of that.

Which role does the practice of holotropic breathwork play within AQAL?

— Within AQAL Framework the practice of holotropic breathwork is a behavioral practice which is aimed at inducing an altered state of consciousness (ASC) which has both perinatal and transpersonal components. Perinatal experiences refer to re-experiencing of one’s birth; and transpersonal experiences are basically that which we call mystical or spiritual experience. As it is, holotropic breathwork is a method of inducing a discrete state of consciousness (it’s discrete in the sense that there is a relatively abrupt induction of ASC) in the “I”-quadrant of Integral framework. It primarily induces the states of consciousness which in Integral model are categorized as psychic and subtle (in the overall continuum of states of consciousness from gross to psychic, subtle, causal, and nondual).

This practice of soulful catharsis often allows one to get in touch with one’s own soul and subtle psychic realm, experience systems of condensed experiences, become aware of perinatal birth trauma and so on. It can be one of the multiple methods which can be used as a means of self-discovery, psychotherapy, and integral practice. One needs to be aware of the upsides of this method as well as its possible downsides.

Eugene Pustoshkin speaks to Stan Grof at the International Transpersonal Conference (Moscow, 2010)

Eugene Pustoshkin speaks to Stan Grof at the International Transpersonal Conference (Moscow, 2010)

Eugene Pustoshkin speaks to Stan Grof at the International Transpersonal Conference (Moscow, 2010)

Being an integrally informed practitioner, how does a person supplement the practice of holotropic breathwork? What are the downsides of using this method as the only practice?

— To me holotropic breathwork is not a panacea; but I consider this method to be an effective way to introduce people into the notion of altered states of consciousness and spiritual realities. However, I have much less understanding of its prospects as a long-term practice (well, perhaps, as one of the modules of some sort of hypothetical long-term integral transformative practice). I knew individuals who did holotropic breathwork sessions almost every day for half a year, and then they got tired of it. Those extreme cases are caused by the desire of attaining extraordinary states of consciousness; and, of course, it could be one of the many legitimate aspects of human experience. The longing for transcendence and ecstatic experiences, in my opinion, is in-built into human psyche. We need to respect this impulse and work with it from an integral standpoint.

I personally have almost no experience of this kind of breathwork, so in this aspect I want to recommend you to contact my colleague and friend Dmitry Baranov, the founder of Ipraktik, an integral initiative in Moscow. Dmitry is a certified conductor of holotropic breathwork sessions with a lot of experience of immersion into holotropic states. He also works within the paradigms of process-oriented psychology (developed by Arnold and Amy Mindell) and integral psychology (developed by Ken Wilber). I believe he might have some good ideas about some of the upsides, downsides and utter limitations of this method.

For me, it is important that holotropic breathwork is a legitimate and increasingly recognized method of entering profoundly transformative states of consciousness. In Russia altered states receive especially little attention, while they are obviously inherent to psychic functioning, so, probably, there are many positive sides in the increase of popularity of this approach (one may say that these are first baby steps towards transforming our communal consciousness and our culture from so-called monophasic consciousness to polyphasic consciousness—that is, consciousness which freely operates in the entire diversity of states of consciousness, inherited by human beings both from birth and as in-built potentials).

However, as a practical method holotropic breathwork needs to be supplemented with integral practice, psychotherapy, meditation, intellectual work and so on. It is important to read books, to be able to orient in one’s own experience and at the same time hold multiple perspectives on occasions (it’s important to develop your mind and intellect). It is important to go to gym regularly and do fitness training, play soccer or basketball, heal your relationships with your own self and others and so on. Perhaps, one may find it important to participate in the political life of the country, in developing business projects, in developing communities, in serving your family, humanity, and world at large and so on. All of these are some of the components of the united and inseparable integral practice which is also known as Life.

In my opinion, it is inappropriate to use holotropic breathwork as the sole and only practice, for it is a practice of discrete and very intensive states of consciousness. One has to know how to work with these states, one has to learn how to work with them and gradually integrate them in your life. One has to learn how to transform the very fabric of one’s own waking consciousness so as to rest in an increasingly spontaneous, whole, holotropic state of consciousness no matter what the weather, time of day or enacted practice is.

— In the end we would like to integrate this influx of information by asking the question about our homeland. By looking through this broad and profound perspective which is offered by Integral theory, what prospects do you see for the unfolding of evolutionary impulse in Russia? Which actions are necessary now in order for development to unfold in the healthiest way possible? Are there people in Russia who work in this direction?

— Despite the chronically difficult sociocultural position in which, in my opinion, our country is, I see humongous prospects for the unfolding of—as you wonderfully put it—evolutionary impulse in Russia. In fact, when our perception becomes increasingly integral, we cease to neurotically fixate our attention only on what is bad or only on what is good, while ignoring the other polarity. The situation starts to unfold in front of our eyes—and within us—in its entire multidimensional nakedness.

Everything is in our hands (not in someone else’s hands, but in the hands of every one of us). All transformations are built upon concrete and specific individual and collective initiatives, on feats and commitment of people towards greater Beauty, Goodness, and Truth.

Russia is chained with binds of fear, terror, horror. Everywhere fear is used as a means of manipulation and exploitation, lying and self-delusion. As soon as a person gradually comes to understand that he or she is not exclusively a meat ball, some sort of merely material-biological body, that he or she is something larger, that his or her consciousness doesn’t cease to exist upon death—as the aforementioned studies of near-death experiences show, not to mention numerous traditions of spiritual wisdom—he or she starts to become aware that the fear of death is a sort of in-built mechanism but not an eternal given; that, in fact, there are no reasons to fear death, and the most horrible thing that can happen is non-life during this present life. No need to fear anything, but if you do need to fear something, I think it needs to be the fear that you will not genuinely live your life and until the very death will remain the cold living cadaver, a corpse that is afraid to move and make a sound not only of your own vital aliveness but even simply of your own voice.

In the innermost depths of the Russian people, in the innermost depths of all peoples that inhabit Russia there is a giant dreaming. One needs to simply skillfully awaken this giant; awaken the giant, first and foremost, in your own self. All obstacles are illusory; all excuses are the words we tell ourselves, repeating figments of our own imagination or that of others. The one who is afraid must understand that the most horrible thing that could have happened already happened: this fear put chains on your heart, and you are already not living. You are afraid to move, to unfold your purpose, to disclose yourself and offer the world a gift of that which attempts to grow through you.

In the depths of Russia, in every city and village there is a gigantic energy sleeping, the energy of awareness and self-awareness of each and every human being. Integral practice always already begins with becoming aware of the simple fact of your own existence, of your being “thrown” into being—being that has its own history, its own truths, and its own delusions. Fools stop on the roadside, yawn and cling to some smaller and insignificant flower, forgetting the entire panorama of being. There is no one to blame but yourself for your own narrow existential trance. Being belongs to nobody. And simultaneously it is a treasure of all and everyone in particular. It cannot be taken away, it cannot be given, it cannot be presented to someone else as a gift. No one can give you any advice as regards to how to live, only you yourself could discover the path within your own being.

This is why it is necessary to gradually rebuild and recapture the wholeness of our common culture, the wholeness of our local cultures, to become aware of the unity-in-diversity of all our peoples, to discover planetary culture within ourselves. It is crucial to begin with our own gradual transformation and informing other people; it is important to translate books, write new ones, do presentations and talks, develop projects and simply live a life that is illumined with interior beauty, truth-truthfulness (pravda) and presence. It is important to discover in oneself and others further possibilities and prospects of new existential meanings. Not those meanings which are already in the air in the form of various simulacra created by other blind people—who are often blinded by their own unsurpassable stupidity and obfuscations—but those meanings that come from a greater depth and truth of Life. Spirit breathes wherever it wants; and the heart always senses where its presence is.

Are there people in Russia who work in this direction? Gradually, they emerge. Evolutionary impulse is unstoppable.

 

 

 

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