Notes from the Field: Sydney Spirituality

Trish Nowland


Integral Spirituality in Sydney, July 2011

Trish Nowland

Trish Nowland

Beginning in early 2011, through discussion and conversation, the Sydney Integral community built momentum and impetus so that the yearning amongst us, to render the heart of Integral Spirituality open and luminous, brought us to a place of shared vision, of seeking to birth something new, in our communal events.

Over the course of the last six months, we have nurtured three events to life which between them constitute three different avenues, traversable separately but more illuminating, perhaps, when chartered together, in beginning to form amongst ourselves a deepened presence, of an embodied, alive, Integral Spirituality.

Mystical Awakening

Tom Dunser, co-founder of the Integral Spiritual Network and Auckland Integral community member, graciously held a space in May, where we might encounter the gentle, mystical heart of No Self, in the writings of Bernadette Roberts, a former Carmelite nun and contemplative. Together with two members of the community of Bernadette Roberts, Tom made clear for us the points of connection and distinction in the marrying of Bernadette’s work to integral theory and thought, orienting much of the material as response to Chris Dierke’s Journal of Integral Theory and Practice (JITP) article, ‘Indistinct Union: An Integral Introduction to Nonduality in Christianity’. This article places an integral frame around Bernadette’s work and insights.

Roberts’ spiritual path of union without difference, with God, is one chartered in the presence of an illuminated nature mysticism, and a subtle still attentiveness to somatic experience to situate a complete loss, or annihilation, of self (Roberts, 2005).

Shifting bodily, Gestalt-style, through the sacramental path as outlined by Bernadette, and engaging with state-stages, of integral, the afternoon combined intimate insights about life with Bernadette from those who have spent time in her presence, with an evolving conversation about the nature of the Christian sacraments. Discussion birthed a pointing-to, of leaving behind subject-object distinction to call to presence the mysticism inherent within the Trinity, distinct from the sense of oneness with God.

It was very much an honour to be a part of the warm and insightful space drawn by Tom, as we walked through the dark nights of senses, and spirit, and self, of the ‘god awful void’, into that which is beyond reformation, to full transformation of consciousness, beyond the void of voids, into endless renewal, all articulated beautifully by Bernadette, in her work.

Metaphysical Grounding

Bernadette Roberts herself brings question to the means by which the largely eastern origins of the metaphysical root of an integral spirituality might adequately capture the sacramental heart of the revelation of Christianity (Roberts, 2005). The questions of the metaphysics present within the theory, and the postmetaphyscal stance of an integral spirituality together became a focal point a new phase of community discourse.

John O’Neill, who presented his paper ‘An Exploration of Ken Wilber’s Post-Metaphysical Spirituality’ at the Australian Biennial Conference in Philosophy, Religions and Culture in 2008 grounded an afternoon’s discussion that brought together our broader community to share our own insights and wisdom, in drawing out an emergent frame for the material in Appendix II of Integral Spirituality.

The status, structure and dynamics of cultural containers of emergence, such that make sense of integral terms like ‘conveyor belt’ and ‘Kosmic groove’ (Wilber, 2006) became an orienting point for our discussion, as we explored mystical, spiritual and psychic experiences which traverse time, space and reality – experiences bereft of both process language and adequate descriptor, as consensus went.

Edging into discussion on the metaphysics that sits as precedent to postmetaphysics, we spent some time engaging with the writing of Bruce Alderman in an Integral Theory Conference 2010 paper (with an expanded an extended version of the same now submitted to the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice for future publication), and after a wonderful, long discussion, came to the conclusion we needed another opportunity to be together and  round out a view of the expansive territory, hinted at by Alderman in the paper ‘Kingdom Come’.

Plural Understanding

Shifting our engaged space from the embodied to the aural experience of an online conference call, Bruce Alderman’s paper ‘Kingdom Come: beyond inclusivism and pluralism, an integral post-metaphysical invitation’ presented rich and erudite means through which our engagement with pluralism, particularly, might be expanded.

An Integral Pluralism as presented by Bruce wanders far beyond the straightforward relativist sense of a postmodern pluralism – the idea that incompatible statements from the same meaning sphere could both be considered true. The paper has less of an emphasis on epistemic truth claims than might be supposed, with ‘Pluralism’ in the title, rather, it seeks to draw a meta-analysis across the theorists ad practitioners active in religious pluralism. Thus, integral pluralism emerges as a willingness to participate openly in the livelihood of other traditions, seeking a reflexive enrichment of own and others’ religious lives exchanging, symbol, willingness and transformative intent .

Working through a kind of developmental trajectory birthed from a distinction between identist and differential pluralism, we found this paper drew us through a space where approaches to epistemology in spirituality were refracted with imagery and perspectival shift in such a way as to network a new understanding – to birth us into precisely the place that Bruce describes, together, as a whole.

The conversation benefited particularly from keen awareness of and aliveness to performative contradiction, particularly the means by which some forms of pluralism may negate the very differences that give organizational form to the term ‘pluralism’, where the distinctions amongst different theoretical interpretations of the word are so beautifully drawn out by Alderman, in the paper. This sense, borne by communal witness to performative contradiction, where understanding might be clarified in a first step by identifying at least one polarity as existent, within, provides the whiff of the direction of some future discussion, development and crystallization of talks amongst us, as a community of devoted, and discerning, integral companions. Shifting, along the path to more deeply embrace a language of evidence, borne beyond a language of presupposition and through a language of promise, the kingdom so precisely articulated in Bruce’s paper.

About the Author

Trish Nowland has been a co-convenor of the Sydney Integral community since 2010. Moving on from a 15-year career in information systems change management in finance, and with a passion for combining the learnings from cognitive science and neuropsychotherapy with an integral framework, she has attended the Integral Education Seminar in 2007, and is looking today towards nurturing a psychotherapy practice tailored for clients specifically working through the challenges brought to our human lives through the experience of ageing. Presently completing psychology honours at Macquarie University, she teaches shamatha meditation on campus, and is working towards teacher qualifications in Focusing and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.


Alderman, B. (2010). Kingdom Come: Beyond Inclusivism and Pluralism, An Integral Postmetaphysical Invitation. Presented at Integral Theory Conference, 2010, John F. Kennedy University, Pleasant Hill, California.

Dierkes, C. (2010). Indistinct Union: An Integral Introduction to Nonduality in Christianity. Journal  of Integral Theory and Practice. 5(3), 137-156.

O’Neill. J. (2008). An Exploration of Ken Wilber’s Post-Metaphysical Spirituality, presented at the Australian Biennial Conference in Philosophy, Religions and Culture, 2008.

Roberts, B. (2005). What is self?: a study of the spiritual journey in terms of consciousness. Boulder: Sentient Publications.

Wilber, K. (2006). Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World. Boston:  Shambala.