Integral for the Masses: State of the Integral Spirituality Movement—Part 1

Keith Bellamy

keith bellamyWe have been very busy little beavers here in the New York City Integral Community of late. On the surface, it might appear as if we have been continuing in our normal manner, holding meetings and discussing our future plans and generally seeking to further the cause in the Metropolis. Any casual observer probably wouldn’t have given us a second glance over the past few months. Yet the truth is, more by accident than design, we stumbled into a process that has the potential to reverberate around “Planet Integral” for some time to come. We have been forced to take a three dimensional look at the navel of the Integral Spirituality Movement and face up to a number of questions that we, and probably many others,might have preferred remain unasked.

Although never intentional, I ended up taking a significant leadership role in these machinations. As I look back hazily, it feels as if I was in one of those old B-movies where the sergeant major asks for a volunteer to take three steps forward. The reluctant hero not being quite aware of what is going on around him doesn’t notice that everybody else has taken three steps backwards and he finds himself being “volunteered.” Perhaps I am being a little unkind to some of my colleagues in the NY Integral Community, but I think that they will admit to a kernel of truth in what I am saying.

The turmoil and tumult of the past few months have, at times, been so immense that I feel that I need to take two columns to report fully. This first column focuses on the process that we have been through and the lessons we have learned about our role and significance in the broader Integral Community. The second column will focus on the findings and understandings that emerged from the investigations we undertook. I hasten to add that we have not fully completed our process, so to report our findings would be somewhat premature, but here at ILR time waits for no man, and Russ is relentless when it comes to asking for copy to meet each issue’s deadline.

The whole process began when word first came down from Integral’s Mount Olympus (a.k.a. Louisville Colorado) that former Rabbi, and now Dr. Marc Gafni had been rehabilitated and reintroduced into the fold. In a low key, almost casual statement he was reintroduced without any hint or suggestion of any possible reverberations that might arise throughout the wider Integral Community. Just under three years ago, Marc Gafni was declared a virtual pariah. He was forced to publish a letter declaring that he had a “sickness” and driven into the wilderness. Many decided, for what they assumed were good reasons, to distance themselves from him and to act in a manner that quite frankly demonstrated very little Integral behavior.

In the June 2006 issue of ILR I wrote condemning the actions of the leaders of the Integral Community at the time. We have a collective responsibility for each other and, when one of our leading lights is going astray, it is unacceptable to distance ourselves from them and claim we had nothing to do with whatever happened. I failed to win myself any brownie points at the time in certain mountain communities and I guess I probably will not earn many more for expressing my belief that, if Marc was treated to harshly in 2006, there is a chance that he is being treated too leniently here in 2009 with his eintroduction. Two wrongs still do not make a right, even in our little integrally informed cocoons. Trust me, I’m from Colorado and I’ve read the “file” is not sufficient informationto allow us to make our own decisions and wipe the slate clean.

For those not familiar with the story, a quick recapitulation. Charges of sexual impropriety were filed against Marc Gafni in Israel in May of 2006. For many reasons, some technical and others legal, he was not able to respond to those charges at the time. As a consequence, leaders of the communities that had not only been supporting him but deriving huge benefits from his indisputable talents rapidly withdrew support and from having any association with him. Marc was advised, badly, to make a public statement confessing to having an “illness.” This provoked a feeding frenzy across the Integral universe where sanghas, on a complete absence of facts but a high propensity for gossip, innuendo and plain malice, formed kangaroo courts and effectively found him guilty, although of what I am unsure. Gafni was forced into purdah and spent the next two years of his life trying to understand what had happened to him and attempting to pull together the “facts”.

He developed a file of information that was shared among a broad community of individuals who eventually concluded that he had done “nothing illegal!” In March of this year Integral Life pronounced that it has read the file, concluded that Dr Gafni, as he was now calling himself (having completed his D. Phil at Oxford University), had not broken any laws and was being asked to plan and coordinate their major spiritual event due to take place over the New Year of 2010 and to continue for the next five years. Without a by-your-leave, or any apology for their part in the shenanigans of 2006, the wider Integral Community was being told, “This guy’s OK now.” Now this may well be the truth, but considering their track record it was little wonder that some started to wonder what was going on and chose to engage in their own debate to understand the consequences of such a proclamation.

Here in New York responses ranged from “I never believed he ever did anything wrong” to “I knew him in those days, and you have only heard the half of it.” More importantly, our inner Martin Luther’s were aroused; we were not prepared to accept a Papal decree emanating from Integral Spirituality’s neo-Vatican. We knew that we were not privy to many, let alone all, of the facts concerning the Gafni “affair”, but decided that this was a symptom of a potentially greater malaise. It caused some of us to ponder the health of the Integral Spirituality Movement as a whole. As aspirants seeking to raise our levels of Integral Consciousness, we felt the need and the desire to understand what was truly happening in the emergent world of Integral Spirituality.

Of course there were many among us who felt that we were too small or insignificant to be taking on such a major subject or debate and they were right—partially. On the other hand, when it was pointed out that failure to take on this investigation would effectively constrain our own individual and collective development, the Integral New York City Salon (i-NYCS) conceived a series of meetings specifically focused on “The State of the Integral Spirituality Movement” or SISM for short. The objective of these meetings was not specifically to discuss the fall and rise of Marc Gafni, although we knew that his story would inform much of our discussions; our objective was to get to an understanding of Integral Spirituality that would fuel our own development moving forward.

Over a course of four meetings and two months, we invited a number of “honored guests” to engage with us in attempting to answer the following sets of questions:

  1. Is there an Integral Spirituality Movement? Does it really exist or is it an illusion driven by our deepest desire for it to exist? Is it centered around Ken Wilber as an attractor and what might happen in the future?
  2. What should we expect from an Integral Spiritual Teacher? How are they different from first tier spiritual teachers? What level of ethical and moral standards should we hold our teachers to? How can we avoid placing teachers and leaders on pedestals and then being disappointed when they fail to meet our expectations?
  3. What are our roles as individuals and a collective in supporting and furthering the evolution of the Integral Spirituality Movement? Is it acceptable to abdicate responsibility for our own and our collective actions? Do we have the mandate to create structures that hold the “jewels” of the movement safe? How do we do this in a post, postmodern world that has rejected the structures of earlier spiritual movements? What do we need to reintroduce into an Integral Spirituality Movement?
  4. Spirituality is, and always will be, an attractor for vulnerable individuals in society—how do we keep such individuals safe? How do we avoid falling into a Pre/Trans Fallacy trap and creating an environment that is more of a cult than an enlightening environment?
  5. What has happened in the past within the Integral Spirituality Movement that gives us cause for concern? How might we avoid making similar mistakes again in the future?

We were not so naive as to believe that we were going to answer these questions throughout our series of meetings. In fact, we were quite prepared for the possibility that not only would we not answer the questions, but also we were more than likely to give rise to several more far-reaching questions for consideration. This turned out to be the case.

Through a mixture of fate, good fortune and an element of opportunism, we were privileged to have the following teachers join us to discuss the questions outlined above:

✦ Diane Musho Hamilton Sensei—Dharma heir to Genpo Roshi and a leading light in the Integral Spirituality Movement, founding partner of i-evolve and close colleague of Marc Gafni’s;
✦ Rabbi David Ingber—founder of Kehilat Romemu, New York City’s Integral Jewish Community, Student of Rabbi Zalman Schacter Shalomi and former student of Marc Gafni, but now one of his harshest critics;
✦ Terry Patten—Renowned practitioner and teacher of Integral Spirituality, Co-author of Integral Life Practice with Ken Wilber, and long time student of Adi Da; and
✦ Dr Marc Gafni—about whom I have probably already said enough.

Each meeting was well attended by members of the New York Integral Community seeking answers. Each of our honored guests brought with them insights and understanding of the Integral Spirituality Movement that allowed us to explore facets of this gem in our midst in a way that were previously obscured. Each teacher brought a different energy into the room, yet all could be characterized in a single word, passion. Anybody entering the room and encountering these discussions, having never read Wilber or any other text on Integral Theory could not help but have felt the palpable intensity that these individuals invoked with respect to Integral Spirituality. Without opening their mouths or uttering a single word, each of the four guests seemed to answer our first question. Yes the Integral Spirituality Movement is real, tangible and being transmitted through these teachers and many others.

One interesting finding that came out of these sessions was not only the lack of a single definition as to what the Movement is, but also how we all see it differently depending upon the baggage we bring with us. It became abundantly clear from listening to these teachers and the subsequent conversations that arose, that not only does the Integral Spirituality Movement draw its life force from being able to hold multiple perspectives and seeing them as containing partial truths, but also its health is predicated on encouraging individuals to bring their perspectives to the table. As soon as we attempt to contain or curtail what is Integral Spirituality, the potential for this blossoming movement is diminished significantly.

These insights forced us into a second phase of the process, distilling the lessons learned from the teachers and embellishing them with our own insights and innate wisdom. These activities not only helped us coalesce as a group and build a much more robust “we space” than existed before, it also helped many among us to find a voice that had been too long hidden. Even if our findings do not amount to a row of beans (and to judge that you will need to read the next issue of ILR), the process made one thing very clear. Integral Spirituality does not belong to an individual or a group of individuals. Unless we are looking to reconstruct the old edifices of first tier religions, it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to make sure that our truths are mixed into the pot and allowed to flavor the ever changing banquet that is Integral Spirituality.

This process has helped many of us in this little community to answer a very important question, “Who does Integral Spirituality belong to?” The answer, “Me, and You, and You, and Them. Everybody and Nobody.

So welcome back Marc not because somebody has told us that you are kosher once more, but because your mere presence forces us all to peer into those dark places where we would otherwise prefer not to look. As you will see in the next issue, Integral Spirituality needs catalysts like this more than almost anything else. The moment we stop questioning and challenging is the day we allow this emerging Movement to potentially implode and collapse. Our journey over the past few weeks indicates that the health of Integral Spirituality depends upon our willingness to engage and not just sit back and wait to have it delivered on a plate at workshops retreats and other events.