Integral for the Masses!: i-WET!

Keith Bellamy

Keith Bellamy

Saturday, August 6th 2005

The thunderstorms that we had been promised overnight had failed to materialise, although the air most definitely felt a little cooler and less humid than we had been experiencing for the past few days. I then reminded myself that it was 7:30 in the morning as I was climbing into the car to drive into the City, and that I have no past memory of atmospheric conditions at this time of day for some considerable time. What was I doing at such an ungodly hour on a Saturday morning? I was heading into Manhattan to participate in the second Integral Institute i-WET workshop.

The first workshop had taken place the previous weekend in San Francisco and this weekend the gang from Colorado were rolling into the Big Apple to give us a chance to taste the integral Weekend Experiential Training that had been promised for so long. Personally, I was looking forward to an experiential weekend; the time for talking and reading about all matters integral, as far as I was concerned, was past; now it was time to get real! As I headed out from home and onto the Hutchinson River Parkway, the sun was shining; the sky was bereft of clouds and with the wind blowing in my hair as I drove the Miata with the top down a sense of excitement and a degree of trepidation was growing in the pit of my stomach.

Of course that could have just been related to the fact that although I have been living in Scarsdale New York for almost three months, this was the first time that I had driven into New York City by myself. Luckily, we are in the midst of the holiday season and the traffic was light (especially at such an early hour) and the drive was uneventful. One thing that caught my interest as I drove down the West Side Highway was a billboard sponsored by a Jewish Woman’s Group proclaiming the late Lubavetcher Rebbe to be the Messiah. Nothing new in that in the city that was his home until he died ten years ago; what tiggled me was that the billboard was directly opposite from the USS Intrepid. I found the juxtaposition of a symbol of America’s military strength and a twenty-foot high picture of the supposed Messiah somewhat paradoxical. Perhaps, this was a sign of what to expect over the next two days?

The correspondence from the Integral Institute had been very precise. Registration was between 8:00 and 9:00 with proceedings starting promptly at 9:00. We were regaled not to be late. I parked my car and arrived outside of the building hosting the workshop a few minutes past 8:00 only to find the doors closed and a couple of other participants waiting to be allowed to enter. Slowly, fellow participants started to arrive; pushed at the same doors that we had all previously rattled earlier only to be frustrated that the building was still not open. A more adventurous individual started to explore the environment only to find that whilst the address for the building was 125 W 118th Street, the actual entrance was number 123. We picked up our bags and belongings and made our way up to the 4th floor to register for this, hopefully, seminal event.

Registration comprised looking at the nametags laid out in alphabetical order and once having retrieved one’s own to have your name crossed off of a list being held by one of the organisers. The first thing that you couldn’t help but notice on entering the room was just how white it was. The walls, the floor, the ceiling, the chairs, the air-conditioning pipes, everything was white. Thank god I didn’t choose the all white outfit I was contemplating wearing today; I’d have been like a disembodied head floating amongst all the other participants.

Slowly, the room started to fill with other accomplices joining this voyage of discovery. As the gathering started to grow, I noted that we were: predominantly, male; more forties and fifties than twenties and thirties; and our dress styles were eclectic and ranged from nouveau hippy to high fashioned weekend chic. In many ways the usual suspects that I have experienced turning up to the plethora of other workshops that I have participated in.
As promised we were called to order at 9:00 and the day was about to begin. The chairs arranged around a small stage housing three over-tall bar stools were mostly full. A quick calculation suggested about 100 participants; a fact that was later confirmed by one of the presenters. The stage remained empty and a solitary individual with shaven head approached a microphone to the right of the stage with a guitar in hand. Our day was to start with a song by Stuart Davis; our first experience of i-WET was the living breathing incarnation of one of Ken Wilber’s characters from Boomeritis.

Throughout the weekend Stuart was to act like a human bookend separating the sessions with his integrally enlightened music and bringing us back to earth when we threatened to float off. His intensity and humour both shone forth all weekend and his ability to poke fun at himself, like when he mentioned that he had been described as “mini-me” no doubt reflecting the physical similarities between him and the other bald headed individual from Boulder Colorado helped build a rapport with the gathered masses. Sadly, Stuart was let down by the PA system provided in the white room and it was difficult to discern the lyrics of the songs that he sang for us. I have no doubt that at future events with this problem removed his value and contribution to the seminars will be greatly enhanced. That said, it was a delight having his energy poured into the mix for the weekend.

With the music over, our three presenters for the weekend took to the stage and climbed, literally, onto the super high bar stools that were there. As Bert (Parlee), Diane (Hamilton) and Huy (Lam) made themselves comfortable on their chairs an image of Rat Packers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior settling down to sing a medley of their favourite hits ran through my mind. As they bantered with one and other, I found it difficult to remove the image. Like the seasoned professionals that they are, the initial session was spent informing us as to what to expect for the coming two days.

We were then invited to take our beverages, bags and chairs to the end of the room and to form a large circle. Bert took the lead and proceeded to take us through a number of “ice-breakers” to stir up our energies and to allow them to coalesce for the experiences ahead. Our first exercise was to find out where were all from. The first group called into the centre of the hall were from Manhattan; approximately a quarter to a third of the assembled masses hailed from the heart of New York City.

Next the sons and daughters of Brooklyn and Queens made themselves known to us all and probably made up about a quarter of our grouping. Next residents from the Bronx & Staten Island were encouraged to come forward. Not a soul stirred, it would appear that the news of Integral had not yet made its way into these two polar opposite boroughs of the city. I suppose that when the Integral Institute starts to send out missionaries to educate the world, we know where to send them! Those of us living within 100 miles of Manhattan made up about one fifth of the group with the remainder traveling significant distances across the continental USA to be with us for the weekend.

We wandered aimlessly, at first around the room being encouraged to take notice of what was arising for us physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually as we walked through each other seeking out space in the room. As I was starting to feel comfortable in my wandering, my mind was disturbed by a faint ringing sound as Bert played a hand-held xylophone placed close to his cheek in order for the radio microphone that he was using. This slightly contortive behaviour was to be experienced many times over the weekend as we were exhorted to break from our current activity and move to the next exercise.

The icebreakers continued for some considerable time as we were asked to take partners and share a little about what brought us to the workshop and who we would consider to be our greatest hero alive or dead. What hit home for me more than anything else was how we all seemed to set about our set tasks with gusto. The decibel level in the room would skyrocket as half the group started to talk to the other half for two minutes before changing roles. The acoustics of the cavernous white room played a part in creating the deafening background roar against which we had to talk, but the greater part of the sound had its genesis, I believe, in raw unabashed enthusiasm.

The opening session concluded with our choosing partners not to talk with, but to stand back to back and move in a dance that arose in the moment. There was a distinct change in the energy of the room as we crossed possibly our first Rubicon for the weekend. My experiences with the integral community suggested that their preference was more cerebral than physical, especially in a room of near strangers. As somebody who has incorporated ecstatic dance as part of my own personal Integral Transformative practice over the past 10-years, the “back-dancing” exercise was nothing new; I cannot say that the same was true for the partners that I paired with who both seemed very uncomfortable with a strange man rubbing shoulder blades and buttocks with them against a backdrop of sensual music. Bert’s chimes came none too soon for them as we moved into our first break.

Following the break we moved into our cognitive experiential session for the weekend as Bert gave a very high level overview of Integral Theory and how it had evolved from Wilber I right through to Wilber V. One seemed to get the sense that Bert knew that he was a hiding to nothing as the awareness and understanding of Integral and Wilber’s work spread over an inordinately large spectrum. It was almost a case of “if you can’t please everybody, then you might as well please yourself!” The presentation took as its starting point the fact that today was the 60th anniversary of Hiroshima, one of the most horrendous acts of brutality by mankind on mankind ever experienced. We were taken through a voyage of discovery as to how quadrants, lines, stages et al might help us start to understand such devastating acts and help us to gain a more inclusive understanding. This culminated in being shown a picture of a hippopotamus that had adopted a Giant Sea Turtle following the Tsunami of last year. Personally, I am not sure quite how we arrived at this end point, but I guess that was part of my cognitive challenge.

One key point that came out of the presentation was how Wilber would continually deconstruct his earlier thinking on all matters Integral and allow a new understanding to emerge and evolve. So it should have come as no shock to find that the lingua franca that has dominated Integral Circles for the past five years or so has been completely replaced as part of his latest thinking in Wilber V. The colour-coded system devised by Chris Cowan and incorporated into Spiral Dynamics and made popular by “A Theory of Everything” was now passé.

In the brave new world of Integral, we now had a new spectrum against which to assess and understand the stages of developmentalism and to compare and contrast the plethora of developmental lines against a continuum that ranges from infrared to ultra-violet and then clear light. As we broke for lunch my head was reeling. Not only was I confused that clear light came after ultra-violet on the electro magnetic spectrum according to the Sage of Colorado; but I was wondering how we were ever going to reconcile the fact that old friends such as Purple, Blue and Yellow were no longer to be part of our Integral Lexicon but we had to make acquaintances with magenta, amber and indigo amongst others. However, my stomach was, by now, convinced that my throat had been cut and the call of a greasy diner on the corner of 16th and 6th overcame any desires to resolve or reconcile this major change to my comfort zone. Lunch was all that really mattered.

As we drifted back into the room from our midday fuel shop, I think that few of us were aware quite what was in store for the afternoon session. Sure we knew that it was Big Mind and how this exercise developed by Genpo Roshi had been adopted by Ken and the crowd back at Boulder as the mechanism to help mere mortals to experience mini-glimpses of the Satori state that he has written about so elegantly. Another song by Stuart followed by an introduction by Bert that had Diane almost blushing with embarrassment. She needn’t have been concerned; everything that Bert claimed for her facilitation of the process was exceeded in the delivery.

We sat like children on a carpet at nursery school waiting for teacher to tell us a story. Gently, Diane encouraged us to move closer together so that she could see all of our faces. At the same time she admitted that nobody had ever undertaken the Big Mind process with a group of 100 participants so we were heading into new territory from the outset. In her assured yet gentle tone we were given a brief history as to how were had arrived at the current moment. Whilst she didn’t say, “in the beginning ?…” she might well have done, such was the anticipation that had settled upon the room.

And so it began. We were asked to put ourselves to one side as she started to talk with different voices that support us in our day-to-day activities. The “Controller”, the “Protector” and the “Sceptic” were all called in quick succession. Although we were asked not to allow the “Cynic” to hi-jack the conversation with the “sceptic” that was, for a few, easier said than done. As the conversation turned to the “Damaged Self” a discernable shift in our collective energy was felt personally and in conversations with others afterwards this was confirmed as the first shift in the process. A sense of sadness emanating from the collective damaged selves in the room was clearly present.

However, as we moved to “Desire” the energy lightened considerably and a more jovial air settled upon the group. Although the Big Mind process has its roots in Jungian philosophy, I am sure that Dr Freud would have had a field day as participants started to voice their desires at the invitation of Diane. More interestingly, because of the size of the group and the need for spontaneity Diane would repeat whatever individuals said so that the whole group could hear their comments. Well almost! On a number, of occasions what was said and what was repeated lost something as it vibrated through the ear from Speaker’s mouth to Diane’s ear.

One participant’s desire was expressed as “Ken Wilber’s mind.” Diane repeated what she heard as “Ken Wilber’s body.” A wave of merriment passed through the assembled masses. However the next desire expressed was for “steak”. This was interpreted as “Sex.” After much laughter, we came to the conclusion that the two were both just manifestations of flesh. Desire seemed to make the group more cohesive and created a sense of community, which was used as a springboard into “Seeking Mind.” The two felt to be different sides of the same coin. Desire told us what we wanted; Seeking Mind drove us to satisfy our expressed desire. These two voices seemed to need one and other to sound complete.

And then we were invited to take what was presented as such a small step, yet in practice was possibly the biggest leap that I personally was to experience over the weekend. Diane invited “Non-Seeking Mind” to put in an appearance. As I shifted my body to accommodate this new voice, reality changed. To be more precise, I became aware of reality and not the illusion of reality that tends to be present with me at most times. This was not the first time that I have experienced this state; in both meditation and ecstatic dance I have reached such a level of awareness. What was different this time was that I had never done so with 100 other people all achieving the same.

We flowed effortlessly through “Big Mind,” “Big Heart,” “Feminine Compassion,” “Masculine Compassion,” “Master,” and returned to ourselves as “Integrative Free Functioning.” Yet it wasn’t a return to the self who started the session. As I sat there at the end of the session trying to ground myself in preparation for the trip home, I was reminded of Heraclites statement that “no man may ever enter the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” Whilst I have understood this statement cognitively for years, this afternoon I every cell of my body understood what it really meant.

Exiting from the building, the sun was shining and it was a hot and humid late afternoon in Manhattan. I strolled across the road to the Parking Garage to pick up my car and noticed the sign that said I could have parked in the street all day. It didn’t seem to matter like it normally would when I have made stupid mistakes in the past. It didn’t even worry me when I was charged $25 when the garage 50 yards down the road had a special of $11.50 for weekend parking. I drove off into the sunshine without a care in the world.

As I came to the Henry Hudson Bridge toll station, a slightly obese traffic policeman stepped out in front of the car and muttered something about the license plate on my wife’s car. It would appear that we were still carrying a style of license plate that was now illegal. In the spirit of Big Mind that was still with me, and in the knowledge that the officer and I were really the same, I apologised and said that I wasn’t aware of the difficulty. I can still remember the puzzled look on his face when he told me to drive on whilst another of his inner voices was screaming to give me a summons.

The rest of Saturday evening was spent resting and luxuriating in the events of the day just past.

Sunday, August 7th 2005

If you have to drive into Manhattan, there can be no better time to do it than at 8:00 AM on a Sunday morning. It feels as if the complex road system that serves the urban sprawl that is New York City was developed and implemented just for you! Apart from the occasional other car, on the road, the highway is yours to own and do with as you please. There are few more pleasing sights than when you are approaching the man-made canyons of New York at speed. Today was, to put it simply, just perfect. Perfect for building upon the experiences that had been provided yesterday.

On the stroke of 9:00 we started with another song from Stuart as we stood around. All the chairs had been removed from the room to prepare us for the exercise. Through the distorted PA system it was difficult to comprehend what Stuart was singing about, but it was most certainly done with verve and passion. I found my mind wandering and thinking about the near compulsive passion that was being demonstrated to commence every session on time. Finally, it came to me; the Integral Institute was trying to make up for the late launch of the Integral University by being early for all of our experiential sessions. Hmm! Makes me wonder what might have come up if Diane had asked to talk to “Frivolous Mind” during yesterday’s session.

The morning proper opened with Huy taking us through 3-body surfing. He described it as an integral kata or set of exercises designed to stimulate the physical, subtle and causal bodies. It had been developed by folks around the Integral Institute and comprises lessons from both the Martial Arts and Body Building communities that are prevalent in Boulder these days. Huy explained that the kata was part of the new Integral Life Practice that had replaced the Integral Transformative Practice that had been in vogue until recently.

The exercises were, in the main quite simple and easy to execute. The trick came in being focussed and undertaking each exercise with a deep intentionality, which is often missing from most exercise programmes available today. As he explained, most people go to the gym and when they do bicep curls try to do as many as possible with the largest weight they can tolerate. In the Integral Kata, it is neither the number of curls nor the amount of iron that is moved that matters but the intention that you have for your bicep.

After we had all attempted to undertake the Kata, Huy gave us a demonstration of how he puts it into his practice of Martial Arts with a demonstration that started with Bruce Lee and ended as Michael Jackson break-dancing across the stage. The emphasis being that it doesn’t matter what culture you are from, the Integral Kata has the ability to inform and improve all three bodies at the same time. In response to questions, we were informed that a DVD Home study kit was being developed at the Institute and should be available in the very near future. I am afraid that “Cynical Mind” came rushing to the surface and wondered where the T-shirt was?

A break; a song; and into a session that I feel should have been called, “Big Mind! So What?” Again led by Diane we spent a short period of time trying to find ways to incorporate the Big Mind technique into our everyday meditation practices. We were told that uncovering the Big Mind Process has completely re-energised Genpo Roshi and has given him the spirit and drive that he had when he first set out as a teacher. The one major difference being that when he first started, his Zazen practices focussed on traditional Zen Coans. Today, he just sits on his cushion and asks to talk with “Non Seeking Mind” and then sits for an hour or more in whatever arises.

The amazing thing was that as we sat and adopted a meditative position allowing non-seeking mind to permeate our individual and collective consciousness it led to the same energetic feeling in the room. It was almost as if having had a taste the day before was all that we needed to bring it all flooding back. As I came out of the meditative state, my first thought was that this was going to be easy moving forward. Time has demonstrated to me that this was clearly “Trickster Mind” talking. It is going to take a lot of practice before it gets anywhere near easy.

Diane kept the Madonna-like ear-clipped microphone for the next session and introduced us to the 3-2-1 process that has been developed at the Integral Institute as an approach to confronting our shadows as part of an Integral Life Practice. This, so we were told, was Western philosophy’s greatest contribution to the Integral Theory and Practice. The ability to move from 3rd person to 2nd person and ultimately to 1st person in a structured manner, provides a mechanism that allows us to own those elements of ourselves that have for whatever reason, become dissociated from the whole and act as impediments to growth and transformation. These disassociations arise not just from our past experiences but also in response to the challenges of raising our consciousness to higher states. This explains, so we were told, why spiritually advanced individuals can often be found with major psychological problems and why a psychological process is necessary as part of any Integral Life Practice.

The exercise was straightforward. We had to think of a situation that we were struggling with in real life and to spend about ten minutes or so writing about it first as third person object; then as a second person conversation; and finally as the first person as we take back the projections that are emanating from our shadow. We then needed to share whatever arose with a partner in the room.

From an intellectual perspective one couldn’t really argue with the logic behind the process. However, from an experiential point of view I didn’t really get the impact that I might have expected. Diane kept warning us that this process might bring up all sorts of unexpected feelings and emotions, yet this seemed to be more a theory than practice with our group. With hindsight, I would hazard a guess that this is probably down to most of the people in the room having experienced other psychological techniques that have proven to be more powerful than that being delivered to the workshop.

I have to admit that leaving for lunch on the second day I was feeling a little despondent. I was not being rational but, the previous day had ended on such a high note it was always going to be difficult to follow through and maintain the impact.

Bert returned to the group to lead the first session of the afternoon. We were split into groups of 4 and asked to complete a number of sentence stems that Bert would offer to us. There really was no explanation as to where this experience integrates with the rest of the Integral Model. However, the hour or so that was spent on the exercise quickly passed, not so much because the exercise was so absorbing, but because I had a great group to play with. Of course I have absolutely no scientific evidence to prove it, but I believe that we were reprimanded more than most groups because we were playing by our own rules.

In one of our interludes, the conversation turned to the London bombings of a month earlier and I admitted that an acquaintance from the London Integral Circle, in which I had been highly active until my move to New York, had been killed on July 7th. To which point a member of the foursome said that she knew about it because she was involved in our list. I then experienced one of those wonderful moments in life when you realise that you have spent the past hour in conversation with somebody that you have been communicating with for about 18 months but had never really met. It was like finding a long lost sister. It was also great to be able to report back to London that 100% of the New York contingent of the London Integral Circle had attended the local i-WET session.

Our final session of the afternoon was led buy Huy as he outlined the plans emanating out of Colorado of the emerging integral multiplex. Working from a single slide, we were presented with a picture of the Milky Way of activities that are either in train or are planned over the coming months. Huy was reluctant to commit to fixed dates for the many streams of activity and referred to the fact that in the spring of 2004 Ken Wilber had announced to a Denver seminar that the Integral University would launch in the fall of that year. In this year’s equivalent seminar, Ken could not make it in person so the attendees were played a DVD of his previous presentation. When he announced that IU would launch in the fall, his assertion was not out of date!

By the time that Huy’s presentation came to an end, it felt, to this correspondent at least, as if the energy in the room was rapidly turning down. The wind up session, led by Bert, repeated the exercise where people from different geographic locations came into the centre of the room. On the stroke of 5:00pm we started to wend our way from the white room, recognising that we had participated in something that was more a work in progress than necessarily a completed product. The high spots made it difficult for those sessions that did not meet the expectations that had been set.

As I sat at home on the Sunday evening reflecting upon my total experience for the weekend, I had no doubts that I was glad that I had participated. If I had any criticism it was that some of the sessions it was that the Integral Institute needs to learn that it doesn’t need to do everything itself and that its real value is in pointing us towards the absolute best practice available in the marketplace. When the presenters are not total masters of the subject being presented, it takes some of the gloss off of the total weekend.

However, the Integral dream seems to be becoming a reality and for that I feel we all need to be grateful. Would I recommend attending i-WET sessions in the future? Most definitely. Will I personally attend another i-WET session, at the moment, “selective voice” says, “No.” However, with the passage of time, who knows?