Reaching Into the Universe

The first thing I was taught in school

artistic rendition of earthI remember one thing from my first day of school: I remember the first thing I was taught.

We started the first day of kindergarten in the largest room in the school—the Multi-Purpose Room they called it. Gathering us around the teacher and her aide, we were instructed to sit. Not just sit, but specifically cross-legged.

"We need you all to sit on your sitting bones," they said. What the heck was a sitting bone? Whatever it was, I knew sitting cross-legged was uncomfortable for me. I raised my hand. "I usually sit on my knees," I stated. I was answered with a repeat of the instructions, emphasis on "all of you," and I gave in.

I don't know why I gave in. More to the point, I don't know why I said what I said when I raised my hand, why I didn't tell them about my physical discomfort. Looking back, I can see that I hadn't been taught by my family to speak my truth or my needs. I certainly wasn't taught to advocate for myself—how many 5-year-olds are?

The first day of school, the first thing I was taught was that here, too, the authority of adults was higher than the authority of my body.

Nearly 20 years later, I would be sitting in another classroom on the first day of class. The instructor would ask us to sit in a particular way. I would be too uncomfortable in my body to do so. And it would be different than my first day of kindergarten in two meaningful ways.

First, there was no expectation to conform. The instructor had said, "If you can sit seiza, that's nice. If not, sit in a way that's comfortable for you." Not, "I need you all to sit this way," but simply "that'd be nice". He didn't desire to control us.

Second, seiza, the traditional Japanese sitting posture, was exactly how I used to sit as a young child. It was there at massage school that I noticed that the ability to sit comfortably in that position had been trained out of me by my kindergarten teacher. Throughout massage class, I had to sit cross-legged.

It's perhaps only a small way, but this is certainly one way that the weft of control that's woven throughout our culture landed in my body. I feel some sadness around each part of these memories and experiences—sadness acknowledging the kind of culture I was born into and that its consequences don't just exist "out there" in environmental disasters or social injustices but also "in here," in my tissues and the history they embody.

Touching into these memories, I feel not just the sadness but also pain as I draw the connections between global and social issues and my own vulnerable little boy self. I see how these ways that we currently enact our human presence on the planet do not meet my very basic needs for physical safety and well being.

So what do I want? I want a culture that's grounded not in our separation and difference but in our interbeing and interconnection. I want a culture that seeks to cooperate rather than control—cooperate with each other, with nature, with life.

I want to be around others who also want that, who are willing to do what it takes to shed their domestication, let go of the need to control, and live from a realization of non-separateness.

Ok, so that's a work in progress. What, I'm curious, do you want?

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Class for white people

NYC Pro-Muslim Rally Marching On Sept. 11th, 2010For some reason, the boyfriend and I have been talking about white privilege and the importance of addressing it. Then the universe drops an email in my inbox about an upcoming class called:

Being Mindful & White in a Multicultural World

a class series for white people
with Kitsy Schoen & Christopher Bowers

How timely is that? Unfortunately I can't commit to a class of its length right now (5 sessions, including a one-day retreat), but you should if you can.

About the class:

"A group for white people to explore identity, diversity, racism and privilege through mindfulness. Using practices from various teachings and traditions, we will examine lessons learned about race and privilege, how they have limited and harmed others and ourselves, and what we can do to bring greater compassion, understanding and justice to ourselves and our communities."

More info at:

Registration is required and space is limited. Sign up at

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Why integral people need more green

Mean GreenThe phrase "non-marginalizing awareness" was uttered onstage at ISE2, by Ken Wilber himself I believe, to describe the integral mindset. But I do not find that people in the integral community are somehow automatically non-marginalizing. In fact, I find a lot of work still to be done in this area, even among integral folk, and I wonder how much of this has to do with underdevelopment at the postmodern level, the level integral calls the Green meme.

The issue is that marginalization is not simply a function of our individual awareness but also of our socialization into the culture we find ourselves embedded in and the systems and institutions created by that culture. Certain assumptions from our families and culture become invisible to us, as do the systems built from those assumptions. For instance, someone raised with the assumption that everyone is either "male" or "female" may experience no particular reaction to filling out forms with the question like "Sex: ☐ Male ☐ Female". Perhaps it comes time for that person to design a form at work, and the cultural norm of asking for sex on everything from credit card applications to customer satisfaction surveys gets copied without a second thought.

To be non-marginalizing an awareness is going to have to do the work of bringing such unexamined assumptions and hidden power structures into the light of day. This is exactly the work of the Green meme, the postmodern level of development that brought with it the tools to do just that, from critical theory to deconstruction.

When I'm around the groups of relatively privileged people who tend to populate integral events—mostly straight, white, older, and relatively affluent—I often find myself wondering how much of that work they've done. It's often not readily apparent in their language or behavior. And while there's plenty of focus on weeding out the "mean" aspect of the Green level (the unchecked narcissism that can grow in the space carved out by Green's pluralistic tolerance), and always the attitude that "everybody who's anybody" in integral of course wants to transcend Green (or better yet, already has), I find myself wondering, "Where is the inclusion of it?" Where is the horizontal development at Green that takes you not only out of your narcissism but into ever growing consciousness of your privilege?

I know, I know. "But if I make my privilege more conscious I'll have to exercise more responsibility in how I wield my power that I don't want to know or admit that I have." Exactly.

Solving the problems presented by prejudices such as sexism, racism, homophobia, and cissexism requires that you do this. Find your resistances, deal with them using the tools of your choice, and get on with deconstructing yourself. This is the only way you will become part of the solution rather than part of the problem in culture and society. Integral doesn't explicitly provide tools to do this—because Green already has and integral includes them—any more than it provides tools for you to carry out scientific experiments without using the rational tools of Orange.

So while we watch Green expressions carefully for problems, let's also watch for insufficient Green as well. And let's not forget to celebrate what's so powerful and still very much needed in this world about Green while we're at it. After all, you wouldn't want to go back to living in the 50s would you?


On ayahuasca and spiritual bypassing

Ayahuasca necklaceISE2 only touched on the issue of spiritual bypassing briefly, but that was enough to remind me that I've been meaning to write about some issues in modern ayahuasca use. In short, spiritual bypassing is the use of spiritual concepts to avoid dealing with your shit. Examples include rationalizing issues away with ideas such as "it's all an illusion anyway" or ignoring things by telling yourself, "God will handle the details." Similarly, it is dangerous to believe that ayahuasca practice alone will cover all your bases. This also applies to work with other plant medicines such as mushrooms.

Ayahuasca is powerful in so many ways—from physical and psychological healing to spiritual development and more—that it can be tempting to think of it as all-powerful, or at least close to it. When I first saw Ken Wilber categorize ayahuasca as an Upper Left quadrant practice I resisted at first—after all, ayahuasca is a powerful practice that has positive impacts in all four quadrants. But then again, so does meditation.

The parallel extends into, for example, the criticism that UL practice alone is not enough to address injustice in the Lower Left quadrant: all the meditation in the world doesn't wake an ancient Chinese monk up to the fact that his culture is horribly sexist. Similarly, years or decades into ayahuasca practice, curanderos regularly get into trouble with scandal around sexual misconduct and ego issues around money, power, and fame. Just like the eastern gurus we've read about in the papers for decades.

So I had to accept that, in this respect, ayahuasca is more similar than not to meditation practice. Something I hear from people who work with plant medicine is, "The plant takes me right where I need to go, even if it's not where I want to go," but I think this is a function not just of the plant but of the individual working with it and that person's willingness to go where they need to go. The people who say things like that tend to have some experience (often plenty) delving into their uncomfortable places; some have even reached an attitude of fearlessness and eagerness toward shadow work. Of course plant medicine takes them to these places when they need to. But not everyone shares these experiences. Many find their resistance to doing their work still intact even after multiple ceremonies. Sometimes the plant tries to take them where they need to go but all they get is a tummy ache from resisting and they wonder why the plant didn't work for them.

This is why it can be so valuable to work with ayahuasca within a traditional lineage, such as the Shipibo or other tribes, or a community such as the Santo Daime. A teacher or community that has been there before can guide you around and through such traps. Often they are also better able to see our shit than we are. If working with a group is not feasible, supplement your ayahuasca practice with regular shadow work: engage with a psychotherapist, trusted spiritual teacher, integral life practice group, whatever works. But do it, and do it with a guide or teacher at least until you have enough experience under your belt to continue on your own.

As a nondual practice, ayahuasca will not solve your shadow problems unless you take it there intentionally. Ayahuasca seems quite comfortable with shadow and darkness. It is a common mistake, especially among a certain kind of California New Ager, to assume that "there's nothing but the light."

As an UL practice, ayahuasca will not solve your LL cultural problems, although it can help if you are able to help yourself, if you direct it there and have LL tools under your belt to help you.

As a spiritual practice, ayahuasca will not solve your psychological and other problems unless you are ready and able to go there. The more skillful you are with your own psyche outside of ayahuasca, the more you will get out of your ayahuasca experiences.

In the words of my grandma, a woman who trusted God deeply but never forgot her own responsibility, "God helps those who help themselves."


What does green really mean?

"Do I see anyone around me whose work is their joy, whose time is their own, whose love is their passion?"

Passion FlowerThis quote from Ascent of Humanity has stuck with me. It would seem to point to a need to go beyond questions of sustainability—after all, many people sustain their dreary work lives for decades or a lifetime—but I think it points to the need to get really clear on just what we mean when we say sustainability.

If green means spiritually fulfilling, physically healthy, economically & socially just, and environmentally sustainable, then don't issues of joy, autonomy, and passion find a place in there somewhere? Because that's the only kind of green I'm interested in.

Here is the full context of the quote:

As for my intuition of magnificent possibilities for my own life, well, my expectations are too high. Grow up, the voices say, life is just like this. What right have I to expect the unreasonable magnificence whose possibility certain moments have shown me? No, it is my intuitions that are not to be trusted. The examples of what life is surround me and define what is normal. Do I see anyone around me whose work is their joy, whose time is their own, whose love is their passion? It can't happen. Be thankful, say the voices, that my job is reasonably stimulating, that I feel "in love" at least once in a while, that the pain is manageable and life's uncertainties under control. Let good enough be good enough. Sure, life can be a drag, but at least I can afford to escape it sometimes. Life is about work, self-discipline, responsibility, but if I get these out of the way quickly and efficiently, I can enjoy vacations, entertainment, weekends, maybe even early retirement. Listening to these voices, is it any wonder that for many years, I devoted most of my energy and vitality to the escapes from life? Is it any wonder that so many of my students at Penn State look forward already, at age 21, to retirement?

Ahh, a man after my own heart.

We can't achieve the desired exterior transformations of sustainability—environmental care, physical health—without also transforming their corresponding interiors: the cultural injustices engaged in by, and bankrupt beliefs held in the hearts and minds of, every single one of us.

Everything has to change: the it, the we, and the me, the you. We cannot effectively call for change in the world "out there" without also changing ourselves and how we relate to one another. It doesn't work, which is a lesson my grandma taught me by never learning it herself.


Hiring a witch

Florentina CraftThose who know me well know that I am very skeptical, have a strong rational side, and eschew belief. And yet it is that very avoidance of belief that allows me the flexibility to sometimes use systems and models that many actively disbelieve in. And so, recently, I found myself meeting with a witch for the purpose of obtaining a talisman.

You see, recently I managed to give myself the homework of finding a talisman to serve as a physical reminder of a new way of being that I am cultivating in my life. When I put the task down on my to do list, I imagined I would find some cute little toy that reminded me of my intentions, it would be easy, and I would be done. It was not that easy. Nothing I saw in stores caught my eye or seemed to fit—at all.

So the task began languishing on my list and the question, "Where the heck am I going to find a talisman?" took up residence in the back of my mind.

The lucky break came as a result of too many emails from the Bay Area Community Exchange Timebank. I signed up for the site after hearing about it at the Green Festival, but couldn't find much use for it. After too many irrelevant emails about "new requests in your category" I logged on to delete my account, or at least stop the email deluge.

Instead, I found myself poking around the Time Bank, filling out my profile, and coming across Tatiana Almendral, whose Time Bank profile (which you can only view if you sign up and log in) lists the following services: Clinical Herbalism , Aromatherapy, Intuitive Counseling, and... Talismans. Talismans? I'd accidentally come across a professional talisman maker? There even are such things as professional talisman makers?

This was exactly what I'd been waiting for. I sent her a message explaining what I needed and we set up a meeting at Samovar.

She was everything you could want a witch to be. "Did she wear black?" a friend asked. "She looked appropriately witchy, for a witch living in a city in 2010," I replied. But beyond appearances, she was laser focused, intuitive, and quick. With very few questions she got right to the heart of the matter and suggested an appropriate symbol to base the talisman on within the first five minutes. As the discussion went on, everything I brought up was able to be connected back to that symbol.

It was also fun to find out how well I was able to meet and work with a witch. I knew the name of the rune she drew for me, even if I didn't remember what it meant. I knew my astrological moon sign, even if I faltered a bit before remembering.

A talisman takes about a month. Cycles of the moon have to be taken into account, my dreams must be visited, and of course the object must be designed, materials acquired, and the entire thing built by hand. This is WAY better than buying some plastic hamster made in Japan.

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Recommended events: April 2010

Events CalendarLots of neat stuff going on in April!

Green Festival Spring
April 10th & 11th
San Francisco, CA

Previously yearly, now the Green Festival is a biannual event in SF! The speakers at this festival are absolutely top notch. Totally inspiring and educational.

Psychedelic Science Conference
April 15th–18th
San Jose, CA

The largest conference of its kind, with world-famous presenters (Dr. Andrew Weil, Alex Grey, Erowid, Ralph Metzner, more) and an entire track dedicated to ayahuasca.

Seeding Gift Culture
April 15th–18th
Philo, CA

A retreat with Charles Eisenstein, author of The Ascent of Humanity. This looks choice. Are you ready to start telling a new story about yourself and the world? A sustainable story full of life? This looks like the place to start, or strengthen, a truly better world for yourself and your children's children.

Integral Anatomy Class
April 17th
San Francisco, CA

A one day intensive with Gil Hedley, creator of Integral Anatomy.

Earth Day 2010: Creating a Healthy Future—Where Do We Go From Here?
April 21st
Berkeley, CA

Do not miss this. This is your chance to see the preview video for Four Years. Go. the exciting new ad campaign that Pachamama Alliance is helping to spearhead.

World Change Conference
April 24th–May 2nd
Berkeley, CA

Looking at the lineup of teachers (Joanna Macy, John Kinyon, Starhawk, Kevin Danaher, more), one immediately sees that this conference means business. Organized by my amazing friend Slav of Common Circle Education.

The Feminine Fire: Power and Leadership with Sobonfu Some
April 30th
San Francisco, CA

Sobonfu was in a video we watched in Pediatric Craniosacral class. She was delightful; I'd love to see her speak in person. Her work involves ritual, community, welcoming children into the world, and more.


Event: Not-Self in the Brain

InsideJust heard about the following talk on an important topic: the non-existence of a single, stable self. I'll be there if I can. Please pass this event info on to others who might be interested.

Not-Self in the Brain

Who: Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson
What: Public presentation (with experiential activities, discussion, and practical methods)
When: Sunday evening, March 7th, 7:00–9:00pm
Where: East Bay Open Circle

This public presentation - with experiential activities, discussion, and practical methods - will explore how modern science is revealing that the psychological and neurological basis of "me, myself, and I" in fact confirms the ancient teachings that the apparent self is not the unified, enduring, and independent owner of experiences and agent of actions . . . but is truly compounded, transient, and dependently arising: in a word, "empty." Though initially unsettling, recognizing these facts is wonderfully freeing, undermines the suffering that comes from taking things personally and trying to protect and glorify the "self," and leads you to feel more peacefully one with all things.
(Sponsored by East Bay Open Circle; at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, 1924 Cedar Street; suggested donation of $10-15, but no offering is necessary.)

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From Greek tragedy to personal loss: a resource for coping, healing, and growth

GriefAn astute reader pointed me to this PBS news hour story on the cathartic medicinal value of Greek tragedy applied to war vets.

Reminds me of the techniques I use to help people with PTSD, one being Tapas Acupressure Technique.


The two basic kinds of demons, and how to deal with them

The idea of demons can be difficult for some people to work with, but I have found that using the concept as a model can be very valuable in helping one deal with various obstacles in life. Such “demons” present themselves in various ways, from depression or anxiety to addictive behavior or lack of motivation.

If you are thinking, feeling, or doing something that you don’t like, and you can’t let go of it easily, let’s call that a demon and explore how to deal with it.