South West Integral Group – Integral Alive Day with Gary Hawke May 22nd 2011
I feel fortunate to have found a group of people in the South West of the UK who meet every 4 to 6 weeks because we have an interest in “Integral”. On 22nd May we met in a village hall somewhere in the countryside of Somerset and were lucky enough to have Gary Hawke come down from London for the day to give us a taste of “Integral Alive”. I had worked with Gary before, being part of his 6 month experimental course, but most of the group had not met him and he had not met them. This was a bigger group than usual, we were 20 in number. Gary had prepared us well, sending out an in-depth e-mail prior to the day and asking us to think about our intention for the day and other questions such as “what do we bring to relationships?”
Having introduced himself and given us an idea of his intention for the day Gary very quickly settled us with some basic seated breathing and general pointers for the day being careful to assure us that everything he was asking us to do would be an invitation and that we were free to choose not to do. Then he got us up and moving with bodywork. Nothing too strenuous but enough to unwrinkled the body as most of us had travelled a fair distance. We then sat in a big circle and each person in turn, got up, came to the centre of the circle and introduced themselves 4 times facing each quarter of the group in turn, then moved outside the circle to a corner of the room and addressing the group as a whole, declared their intention for the day. It never ceases to intrigue me how much you can appreciate and feel about a person just from the body language and the tone in their voices. How brave we all are to put ourselves out there and show-up like this. I stand up and teach yoga at least 3 times a week but that’s my domain, that’s where I’m comfortable, but I didn’t think I’d be nervous in this situation! How wrong! I was nervous, especially when Gary queried what I said and made me think and feel on my feet! What a wonderful way to get a glimpse of each individual there. Gary concluded from the intentions that what the majority of people were aiming to get from the day was a deeper sense of connection to the group and to each other. So he wisely instructed us to have a coffee break and have some time for socialisation at that point.
On our return we did a short standing focus with eyes closed and then were asked to walk slowly around the room and really look and connect with all inanimate objects, noticing different structures of the building, different textures of the walls, curtains, wood in the room etc. To use all our senses of perception, so we were encouraged to touch and thus feel the textures as well. Then to focus on each other and really look and notice with curiosity.
The next exercise was hilarious and I caught Gary laughing his socks off (I did wonder if he put this one in just for his own amusement!). We were asked to pick a member of the group and secretly follow them as we all walked around the room in a group, keeping at least 2 metres away from the person you had picked so they didn’t guess who was following them. After a while Gary asked us to imitate the manner in which the person you were following walked and to exaggerate the mannerisms. Well of course, as we were all following each other and each exaggeration was multiplied the end result was a bit like the “Ministry of Silly Walks”!
Next we touched on a more “shadowy” note. Gary asked us to walk around with a body/face expressing a number of statements eg “not good enough” but to be sure we did make eye contact with the others in the group. Then to display our normal day to day expression depicting how we mask this underlying feeling, or hide it, to show our pretense “face”. This was disturbingly revealing – how quickly I dropped in to the pretense mode, this lead me to think how much of the day do I spend in this inauthenticity? Certainly food for thought.
We then broke for lunch which was a lovely social time sat in a large group in the sunshine outside the hall.
On our return from lunch we were asked to pick a partner, someone we had never worked with before. We were then given a long stretchy rubber exercise band and were told to dance with each other to the music, each of the partners holding the band in one hand. This was interesting, to keep good connection with the other person the band needed to be taught, not loose. If there was too much “pinging” of the band it became chaotic. We then joined up with another pair and danced in a 4 trying to keeping the bands connected at all times, and then the whole group meshed together, the bands crossing over in the centre producing a huge spoked circle effect. Obviously bodily communication was necessary here to gel the final group together, there was a certain amount of “shuffle and squeeze”!
We then stayed with the same partner and sat close looking into each other’s eyes then took it in turn to complete the sentence “when I look in to your eyes I see…………..” for 2 minutes, then swap over. I realised having done this, or a similar exercise, a few times now, how important it is to be patient and wait for a genuine sense of what you really see to come up. In the past I am sure I have rushed this and not been particularly authentic. It’s such a conditioning to be “nice” and say nice things about each other, when perhaps what you are really noticing is a lot of sadness and even anger.
Next came possibly the most challenging exercise of the day. We were asked to draw a picture which represented the formation of our “false self”, then in our groups of 4 to each tell the others in the group what the images represented and tell “our story”. Always difficult, but what is so reassuring is how similar in essence all the “stories” are, different characters, different scenarios but ultimately those all too familiar stories of human relationships being dysfunctional resulting in suffering and pain for children inequipped to comprehend and deal with the emotional explosions in themselves.
Then a well timed tea break and an opportunity to discuss this further.
As a complete contrast we then partnered someone completely different and did an exercise involving our “unique self”. We sat opposite our partners and again took it in turns to finish a sentence, this time “I am unique because ………..” for 2 minutes or so whilst our partner wrote the answers down. This was a great exercise for me, I had previously confused trying to find unique self as trying to find some amazing mission that I and I alone was put on this earth to fulfil. As Gary explained we may all know that we have great compassion but that compassion is unique in all of us. So its more a case of acknowledging your strengths and owning them, not shying away from them. It was hard as none of us want to appear arrogant or over confident.
This was followed by the group coming together again to form the audience for Integral Theatre. Each of us coming forward in turn on to the imaginary stage to say our closing message to the rest of the group. This ended up mainly being a big thank you to Gary and to the group as a whole for making the day so successful. Again it was fascinating to watch each individual and feel how much of a deeper connection I personally felt for every one of them. I can’t explain in words how or why this process works but I always feel at the end of Gary’s days an overwhelming feeling of love. Is it the eye gazing? Is it the showing up? The simply being able to relax and know that you’re accepted and understood by the group? I don’t know, but it feels very genuine.
To my utter surprise Gary finished by getting us all to sing! It was obvious that this was Gary completely pushing himself beyond his own comfort zone – he practically begged us not to leave him singing on his own! So in a full circle we sang many verses and choruses of the “Rhythm of life”! What a wonderful way to finish the day. My concluding comment from this is that one of Gary’s strengths lies in his ability to be so open and honest about his own vulnerability. The day was a huge success: informative, experiential, fun, deepl y moving and held expertly and intuitively by Gary. I would thoroughly recommend an Integral Alive workshop to anyone wanting to deepen their understanding and practice of Integral.
About the Author
I am 51, teach Iyengar Yoga and also work as a medical secretary, single parent for past 17 years to 2 beautiful girls, youngest now 19 so life is much easier. I was practising a form of Tibetan Buddhism for about 10 years but new deep in my heart that something wasn’t quite right. Came across Ken Wilber’s work about 2 years ago and it switched all the lights on! Answering so many of my questions. Haven’t looked back, been investigating and trying to embody “Integral” eversince. Now fallen in love with Mondo Zen which suits me to the core, tremendously helped by Gary’s work and Terry Patten’s online course. Am happy to be on a path of practice.