Coda: Compassionate Self-Discipline and Integral Life Practice

Coda / March 2009

russ volckmannIf you are anything at all like me, even a smidgen (a small bit), some changes just come very hard in your life. I know that quitting smoking was like that for me, until the day I just did it cold turkey twelve years ago (after decades of smoking) and haven’t had a cigarette since; actually, like many ex-smokers, I hate the smell of cigarette smoke. Getting in shape with diet and exercise has been another such challenge.

In recent years my work has had me tied pretty much to a computer and a telephone. Add to that an injury that makes distance walking painful and you can imagine how it might be tough to get out of my very comfortable chair and venture forth to the gym or take the time to prepare a fresh healthy meal, rather than relying on things I can pull off a shelf or out of the refrigerator. Even after months and months of successful workouts and dieting with the modest loss of 25 pounds should mean that my self-discipline must be pretty good.

Alas! Several months of avoiding the gym (just too much work to do, I tell myself) and slothful approaches to the kitchen have added many of those pounds back. Now it is even tougher to get back on board and do the program, that element of my integral life practice that is so important for health and well being.

humber coverilpAnd now Shambhala has published a book that offers me some hope: Cheri Huber, Making a Change for Good: A Guide to Compassionate Self-Discipline (2007). Certainly compassion should do the trick, no? Well, I don’t know, yet. But I intend to find out. I am sure you know about Integral Life Practice, prepared by Ken Wilber, Terry Patten, Adam Leonard and Marco Morelli (Integral Books, 2008). Well, when you put the two of these together, it stirs some “change juice!”

Huber offers a 30-day program to compassionate self-discipline. (Now if I can only discipline myself to do it in 30 days, wouldn’t that be something!) She writes about meditation, karmic conditioning, support, eating, time management and awareness. She offers comments that draw us in, such as the belief that everyone faces challenges with self-discipline. And the pathway involves living in the present.

The program includes meditation and journaling (which by the way Brian Johnson points to as critical factors in his self-development in Fresh Perspective (this issue of Integral Leadership Review). And it is okay to quit and start again. Just start again! Each day choose something to focus compassionate self-discipline on. Start at the beginning of the month and, if you stop, start at the beginning of the next month.

So, I will begin this program on April Fools Day. I may or may not let you know of my progress.

As for THE Integral Life Practice, well elements are already in place. I meditate fairly regularly, but need to journal on a daily basis. Make it all regular and just do it! I know from my experience that I feel better when I do. Shadow work? You know, I have been involved in the human potential movement since 1969 through encounter groups, gestalt groups, miscellaneous other types of awareness and groups and trainings, body therapies and so on. Yeah, it’s a long list. I guess I have been a workshop junkie. And there is STILL shadow work to be done. In my journaling, I will give it a shot (again—my experience with this in iWET wasn’t that helpful), because the 3-2-1- process so well outlined in the book lends itself to journaling.

One thing that should help is attending to my level(s) of consciousness. One element, according to Wilber et al, is answering Life’s Questions (another good journaling activity). Here they are:

  • What am I aware of? (cognition)
  • What do I need? (needs)
  • Who am I? (self-identity)
  • What is important to me? (values)
  • How do I feel about this? (emotional intelligence)
  • What is beautiful or attractive to me? (aesthetics)
  • What is the right thing to do? (moral development)
  • How should we interact? (interpersonal development)
  • How should I physically do this? (kinesthetic ability)
  • What is of ultimate concern? (spirituality)

Well, this is a fine set of questions. I am not sure they all quite lend themselves to development in the neat way laid out here, but they are good questions. I struggle a bit with emotional intelligence being about feelings; this seems to be a bit of reductionism to me. But the idea of feelings and emotional intelligence is present and can be leveraged for learning. And, lest this list seem a bit overwhelming, note this:

“Integral Life practice does not require (or even recommend) that you become hyper-developed in every single available line, like some kind of decathlete of consciousness, or developmental jack-of-all-trades [master of none]…You don’t need to master all the lines of development; just be aware of them. The awareness itself will exert a balancing force on your life because you’ll naturally begin to adapt your behavior to leverage your strengths and compensate for you weaknesses.”

And what of the body—that domain of non-compassionate failure of self-discipline that has dogged me in recent years? Well, it turns out I don’t just have one body, but three, to be compassionate about! You guessed it: gross (and that is the one I am focused on), subtle (and my failure to follow through impacts this field of energies) and causal (and I dance with this one meditatively).

The Integral Life Practice program offers a “3-Body Workout!” The first body is predictable, all that stuff I avoid by not going to the gym, walking, running, sports, dance, etc. Subtle body is one that I have intermittently used tai chi for. Here is the place for yoga, visualization, etc. And causal body involves meditations (more than one approach), Big Mind (love it and use it), and some other practices that I encourage you to look up in the book. And be sure to check out their approach for involving all three bodies, virtually at the same time! Now I gotta try that!

There is no doubt that this is a valuable and extensive compendium of activities, awareness and attention that will facilitate development along the lines each of us chooses to focus on. Maybe I will let you know how I am doing in a future issue of ILR. In the meanwhile, wouldn’t it be interesting to collect some success stories using these and other approaches? Send them in:

> Russ