I’m almost reluctant to attempt to write a review of the weekend that 14 “integral” lovers (8 Men, 6 Women) experienced with Gary at a beautiful venue in the Dorset countryside, from 2:00 PM Friday to 4:00 PM Sunday, I’m reluctant, as I don’t think my mind awareness can recall enough or my heart awareness express enough or my physical awareness put in place enough – of what happened!
The Friday afternoon session was bewildering for myself, Gary attempted to introduce us to Advanced Integral theory, and The Philosophy of metaReality, suffice it to say, it was a like he was speaking a foreign language at times. So up in my head came my objections – what’s the point of all this? Why?
Is it truly necessary to try and get our heads around so much theory and academia? I can’t cope with this! But I did, as did the rest of the group and slowly little drips of understanding began to penetrate, questions and thoughts and feelings were expressed and Gary patiently kept going.
Friday Evening, Opening Circle
We started by finding our safe space in the retreat room; we were encouraged to return to the safe space any time we needed to accentuate that we need attention. Gary then instructed us to complete a room health and safety check, pointing to any potential hazards. He also pointed out the need to maintain physical wellbeing. This instilled the motivation to be responsible to the group as well as to our own self.
What followed was an exercise in placing people differently in the room in order to feel safe, this lead to Gary being able to lead the contributing participants into a process of bringing up some occlusions, for one participant this centred around their like/hate of intimacy and for another around their fullness/potentiality. Next we were lead to a partner exercise, taking turns to talk about ourselves, the listening partner had to either accept our statements or state “I don’t believe you” – thus bringing to light the difference between core truths, core false beliefs, is this statement real or demi-reality, demi-reality being formed around our idealised self, so that a belief is what structures our reality, is this belief actually truth, and if not how are we then enslaved to that demi-reality. This then being the master/slave relationship which consistently “occludes” or blocks reality.
A practice of entering the room in a ceremonial fashion was instructed which was a lovely way to greet each other at the beginning of each session. Gary invited volunteers to be the circle guardian for each session, this involved ensuring the session started on time reciting the Alethic prayer, managing the circle sharing, a different person for each session volunteered. To close, two songs were played, one depicting human hurt, and the other freedom, we were asked which we identified more with. We ended standing in a circle, reorienting ourselves to our awareness in each of the 8 zones of the integral quadrants.
7.00 a.m. Meditations
Watchful of our thoughts, are we holding them or letting them go followed by a partner practice in deep presence (eye to eye) of thankfulness, one person representing God and the other completing the sentence “I thank you for…” We then came to circle, rocking the body in the seated position and chanting Abwun quietly inwards, then to the whole group, and then to the universe.
A.M. 1st Session
First the morning circle, we then settled in for 3 exercises:
In pairs making eye contact taking turns to verbalise what we noticed about our partner, what we imagined from that noticing, what we felt and what we wanted. What a rich and beautiful exercise in connecting. We swapped partners 3 times.
The group was then split in men and the women; taking turns to lie down in the middle of the circle contracting into a tight ball, the group reinforced the contraction by pushing into the person. This was to help us feel our “normal” state of internal contraction, that under stress we probably all live with, and also then to feel the external pressure. The contracted person was supported in unwind and offered a massaged, allowing a surrendering finally helping them to come back up to standing. During the exercise debrief, it was surprising how comfortable some people felt within the contracted state and how the external pressure once surrendered to was not uncomfortable, or even soothing.
A 5 Rhythms based dance was then offered with the encouragement to reach our own edges, not anybody else’s, emphasizing that this was a movement practice, so not to judge our ability or lack of dancing skills. In discussion afterwards one participant shared his view of actually in the end being amused by his frustration and inability to “let go” into the movement.
P.M. 2nd Session
After the group circle, we had two main exercises in the afternoon.
First standing breathing through our 3 centres bringing more focused awareness to each, first Mind, then Heart and then Physical centre at the Hara and down to earth. Then in pairs, holding left hands we repeated the process, placing our right hand on our partner’s forehead, breathing through our partner’s 3 centres as if they were our own centres and breathing out through our own centres thus creating a circle of breath and ultimately breathing as one being. We released the right hand and using our left hands, releasing the physical connection we maintained a subtle body connection holding an energy ball, rising to standing, maintaining the ball and starting to move around the room, maintaining the connection, moving further apart whilst expanding the size of the ball, and wordlessly “guiding” each other to avoid other couples in the room.
This was a fairly long exercise and I don’t know if it was for this reason, or not but I found breaking away from this connection quite difficult, I didn’t want to break it, although in all honesty I’m not sure that I “got” the feeling of the subtle body energies. With our partners we then discussed the exercise.
What followed and I’m not sure how this came about, is 2 participants uncovering an “occlusion” in regards to one having difficulty being seen as a beautiful woman and the other using the term “younger beautiful woman”. In order to help in this process we ended up in a “Greek chorus” of repetition “you are a beautiful woman” which was clearly a deeply moving process for the participant, and indeed all of us.
Then we were invited in pairs to into the gardens with one person being the photographer, and the other with, eyes closed, the camera. The photographer lead the camera to an image they wanted to capture placed their hands in front of the “camera” lens to create a frame and then said 1,2,3 and click at which point the “camera” took a picture. Back in the room we were given a sheet of paper and various pencils, crayons and felt tips and asked to draw our “snapshots” in one picture or using just the one sheet of paper represent our “snapshots” in an abstract way. This obviously brought up the occlusion of not being able to draw for some people and comparing ourselves to each other.
In the closing circle that followed there seemed to be a drop energy and Gary encouraged us to keep up with him and not to disappear from the group in “sleepiness”. We then broke for the evening meal.
Evening 3rd Session
The first exercise of the evening session was an extremely challenging experience of the Naikan process.
In pairs, turns were take to complete the three Naikan, sentences, the first two being positive aspects:
You gave me…..”
I gave you…….”
The third addressed
The trouble/pain I gave you was…….
Partners took the role of representing someone of our choice who has cared for us the most in our life, in most cases a parent or life long caregiver. This was an emotive exercise, to put it mildly!
We then broke into 2 groups to talk about the exercise, in our group we engaged in a process to help someone who felt extremely disconnected. The session ended with the group forming an inner circle facing out and instructed to move clockwise and an outer circle facing in and instructed to move anticlockwise.
As a series of songs were played we turned, and met the gaze of a new partner remaining connected with the gaze feeling into the rhythm of our own mind/heart/body until the song ended and we moved on to the next gaze.
7.00 a.m. Morning Meditations
30 minutes in stillness followed by chanting Abwun, inside self, to a partner, then to the whole group.
A.M. 4th Session
Opening circle, prayer and sharing, after which Gary went into some detail of an experience he had the previous evening when he felt he “a deep contraction way from the group” and how the process of MELD had brought him through this.
MELD – Movement, Edge, Love, Doing.
He explained more about “occlusion” being the absence of something and the necessity to find what the absence is to bring us to alethic truth of any event/occurrence. He also explained the difference between hard gaze and soft gaze of the eyes before going in to the next exercise.
With partner seated, holding presence, we completed circles of “I give you the gift of ………..” the other person speaking “I receive your gift of ……. And I give you the gift of………….”
I now actually see how this exercise was to truly get us into centeredness for the following:
We stood and firstly connected with the awareness of mind, heart, and physical, ensuring that we were fully grounded. Then our partner stood behind us with hands on our shoulders and deliberately rocked us to try and knock us off of our centre. The level of rocking and rolling become, as we requested, more intense added to which our partner shouting a word that would normally throw us off centre eg. Loser! We then faced each other and again in turns we thoroughly embodied the aggressor and embodied our centred response in a dramatized confrontation – raising the roof!
To slow down we were invited to wander the gardens for 20 minutes and use our 3 awarenesses to “feel” into nature and collect an object that held resonance for us and consider the questions:
What does what we see mean from
Our perspective of mind?
Our perspective of heart?
Our perspective of the physical?
After the closing circle, we were reminded to stay present and mindful as we prepared our last meal together. Everyone was to participate in creating the meal, and we were encouraged to resist our “normal” role taking. So continuing the practice as we moved into the social time. The lunch was wonderful, patched together from all the food left over from our individual stocks from the weekend, the table set beautifully, and it was a shared experience of genuine pleasure.
P.M. Closing Circle.
Gary called a circle and invited each person to offer their object from nature, expressing the significance of the objects to the 3 awarenesses and to relate it to their experience of the weekend. You needed to be there to genuinely appreciate the depth of feeling resonating around the room, the gratitude, the heartfelt thanks from participant to all participants for their openness and willingness to participate in the “laboratory” of this retreat, the feelings of transformation and growth and most of all the LOVE. Purely and simply the depth of connectedness and group bonding that allows that love to shine through when we are all willing to go beyond ego, to be without a head.
Gary’s parting question to us all was “What are we going to do now? What are we going to do?” I took this to be a question of responsibility – how can I take this weekend and let it have an impact on my life and thus an impact on the world.
We finished by inviting Gary into a circle and chanting Abwun around him as a way of saying the biggest thank you possible. My eyes fill with tears as I type this; such is my feeling of sincere elation at the privilege of being a part of this unique retreat.
I would like to finish this review with the Alethic Prayer that was read to us by the guardian during the opening and closing circles of the sessions.
Beloved, Inmost Heart of every heart,
do not Let our human hearts be broken
by our merely mortal suffering here –
but Make our mortal human hearts break-Free
to an unconditional love of You,
that we may, Thus, love all living beings
with Love’s own alethic, and unbounded, Heart.
About the Author
Tessa Martin teaches Iyengar Yoga and also works as a medical secretary. For ten years she practised a form of Tibetan Buddhism but knew deep in my heart that something wasn’t quite right. Coming across Ken Wilber’s work about 5 years ago switched all the lights on! Answering so many of my questions. And she haven’t looked back, Tessa has been investigating and trying to embody “Integral” eversince. Now fallen in love with Mondo Zen which suits her to the core, tremendously helped by Gary’s work and Terry Patten’s online course.