"Transcend and include... this is the self-transcending drive of the Kosmos—to go beyond what went before and yet include what went before... to open into the very heart of Spirit-in-action." Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if a group of people somewhere were for something and against nothing?" Ernest Holmes

Sunday, August 9, 2009

My First Intergal Coaching Session

Leslie Williams of Integral Coaching Canada recently agreed to help me through some blocks I was encountering in getting my book published. The book is the fruit of my own spiritual journey and my interest in Ken Wilber's integral theory; it recounts my amazing two-year adventure dialoging with a fundamentalist pastor and getting to know second person God.

Leslie agreed to meet me between corporate appointments at an Embassy Suites hotel in Herndon, Virginia. We sat in a magnificent atrium aside a waterfall and pond with two full-grown, live swans floating peacefully. Leslie listened intently as I let two years of frustration about publishing roadblocks come tumbling out. Then she told me she was hearing primarily issues from the left-hand quadrants: "I'm frustrated that" or "I'm afraid that" rather than "I can't" or "I don't have the resources to." She suggested the metaphor of a river plunging downstream and encountering boulders. "Let's find out which of these bolders is the main one," she suggested, "so I can get a sense of whether you need a therapist, a spiritual director, a motivational coach, or just somebody to help you get organized. Which of these issues has the most heat?"

Leslie actually arranged for a flip chart to be brought to us. As I continued to explore, it became pretty apparent where the heat is, and some of it regards the existential questions explored in the book itself. Was this project, "meant to be," and if so what does that mean?

An all-quadrant approach
Checking frequently to see if she was on track, Leslie suggested some approaches to each of my issues. And even though the blocks are left-hand (interior), her approaches included right-hand actions: pinning down some people whose offers to help me have been vague and even taking a class in aikido to prepare myself to stay balanced when people attack some of my controversial observations--like the fact that new agers and fundamentalists are actually very close in their experience of how reality works, but their levels of perception cause them to use opposite languaging. Leslie recounted that her own experience in interracial work is that the peacemaker is often shot at from both sides.

Leslie also had me draw three concentric circles representing the levels of control I have over each of the issues that is bothering me. She noted that most of my issues are in the outer circle--things I have no control over whatsoever, like whether the book will get the kind of key break that would bring it to the attention of the wide audience I seek to reach. She suggested that given the potential I sense for the book to do good, I need to just keep on moving forward no matter what comes, to "Let go and let God."

There was more, a few things I won't share. But the end result was that I felt completely heard and "vibed with." In fact, I smiled later realizing how her JOB as an integral coach is to communicate on my level while seeing things from a broader perspective. Would she have said some of the same things to someone whose book had an opposite premise?

As she left me with the swans, I felt clearer, lighter, inspired, and challenged. I laughed at myself to hear in my head the theme song to "Man of La Mancha": "And I know, if I'll only be true to this glorious quest..."

I went home and collected clip art to make a collage of how I was feeling. It was extremely satisfying to place each frustration on the periphery with an image in the center of me putting together the puzzle pieces of a multifaceted gem.

And then I remembered the last time that two swans had captured my attention. It was last summer when I visited the village of my ancestors in France, Belleme. Two swans have always lived in the moat that surrounds remains of the castle at the top of the hill. And when I saw them last summer 30 years from my prior visit, I felt familiarity with a timeless peace. Then as now, they were a gentle presence, and a beautiful reminder. So I looked at the photo I took of that moat, and noticed the free-flowing fountain at the center of it. In fact, the fountain is spouting right out of that "boulder" in the center.

Leslie's approach was exactly what I needed, and in the week that followed, several good things fell into place. I signed on with Intermedia publishers, I got a great review from a fellow integralist, and a journalist friend offered to help make contacts for my marketing plan. I am grateful to Leslie, and to the swans.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Web Design Classes at Arlington NOVA

I'll begin teaching Web Design classes at the the Arlington campus of Northern Virginia Community College in September. The following classes lead to a Web Design certificate at Arlington NOVA:
  • Dreamweaver
  • Web Graphics
  • Content Management Systems
Arlington is a satellite location of the Alexandria campus of Northern Virginia Community College, (NOVA) located in the Ballston area of Arlington.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How to Handle Hate Mail

A nice example this morning from the ex-owner of Nathans at her new blog, CarolJoynt.com. She's a Web design client of mine, and just yesterday I finished her new blog and she issued her first post since her popular Georgetown pub closed last week due to the economy and back taxes. You may have heard all the buzz about the "Citizens Bailout" of people donating money to help Carol save her house.

Well within 24 hours she had a hate mail rant. She's the kind of person who posts several times a day, but her old blog--which I also did, was manually operated with no comments. So this was the first time she had to decide how to handle a comment.

By an odd coincidence, Tom Curran of the DC Meetup for my favorite philosopher Ken Wilber posted this quote for the day from David Hawkins' "Power vs. force,"
"Ignorance does not yield to attack, but it dissipates in the light, and nothing dissolves dishonesty faster than the simple act of revealing the truth. The only way to enhance one's power in the world is by increasing one's integrity, understanding and capacity for compassion."
I immediately sent the quote to Carol, but it turned out she needed no advice. She had already written a very classy reply, a textbook example of how to deal with hate mail. She offers no resistance, and no counter-attack, not the slightest sense of snideness. My hat is off to her for that because I personally need 24 hours of deep breathing before I can pull off a response that pure. The only thing that would possibly have improved the sense of integrity it conveys would be to find some guilt to admit to, like maybe, "Well, yes, in 2002 I did drink one glass of champagne that I didn't pay for."

PS: Blogger vs. TypePad
By the way, I originally planned to set Carol up with one of these Blogger blogs, but she preferred Typepad which she considers classier. Its main advantage that I see is that it permits you to post non-blog pages, and thus acts more like a full website. If anyone wants a consult on that, I'll be happy to oblige.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Why I love "The Goode Family"

At first glance, this new animated show The Goode Family is an over-the-top caricature of green cultural values, which unfortunately earned it some scathing reviews.  But look closer and see a subtle examination of goodness that transcends both traditional values and postmodern political correctness.

The show is the latest offering from Mike Judge, creator of  "Beavis and Buthead" and my beloved "King of the Hill."  Gerald and Helen Goode strive to be good by recycling, befriending minorities,  and feeding their dog a vegan diet. Moderate daughter Bliss rebels by exploring evangelism while their not-too-bright adopted son Ubuntu just wants to be liked and play Bingo. The family gets caught in contradictions at every turn and must decide where the good really lies.

A great review of the Goode Family at Enlighten Next captures my favorite moment in the first episode. Helen is creeped out that her daughter shows interest in a chastity event at an evangelical church. Her husband Gerald’s response
presents her with one of the hilarious contradictions faced on the path to perfect political correctness: “Maybe we shouldn’t be so judgmental,” he says. “Don’t we always try to celebrate people’s differences and learn from them?” To which Helen responds, “Sure, if they’re like Native Americans or backwards rainforest tribes. But not these people!”
This attempt to be nonjugmental brings much of the show's conflict.  In one episode, Ubuntu wants to play football. Despite the parent's dismay, Gerald goes along with Ubuntu for a pep rally and tries to get in the spirit. But a line is crossed when the other fathers want to slay a pig representing the opposing team. The moral fog lifts and Gerald leaps to stop the slaughter, even though it means fighting off a much bigger guy in full bloodlust.

A similar theme of moral clarity arises in another eposode in which the Goodes accidently offend a chic lesbian couple who hold the key to Helen's coveted place in the Art League. To make amends, they seek to prove they are not homophobic by seeking out another lesbian couple to befriend. To their initial dismay, the couple they find are barrel-chested, beer guzzling, truck drivers. But these lesbians have a sweet affection for each other and a genuineness that is lacking at the snarkey parties of the Art League who ridicule the low class couple. When forced to choose, Helen sides with the truck drivers--for a night of bingo.

Neil Pedley captures this balanced counterpointing in a UReview of the Goode Family:
Careful to showcase first and foremost the humanity of such reactionary figures as Hank Hill he not only enables those who are different to laugh at his antics, but those who are most similar to comfortably laugh along too. This lack of disdain on his part is his secret weapon and the reason he was able to transform the likes of Beavis and Butthead into an icon for the MTV generation despite them being a mocking, unflattering, distorted manifestation of the very people who were watching.
For its rich exploration of moral dilemmas, The Goode Family warms my heart and tickles my mind. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

"Three Faces of God" & Integral Practice

Re-integrating the Beloved Other

Do you find it easier to do devotional chants in Hindu than in English?

That's one of the questions posed yesterday at the high energy workshop on Ken Wilber's "Three Faces of God" held at the Celebration Center of Spiritual Living in Falls Church, VA
Speaking mostly to members of the New Thought community, Rev. Sophia Ducey told 22 of us that Science of Mind does a world class job of knowing God as the "I Am" presence but can be conflicted about the comforting presence of the "Beloved Other." Through meditation, chanting, and dialog, she invited us to look again at how our image of God had changed over our life: was it an enlargement or a pendulum swing AWAY from something we rejected which might then call us back to center? If we were still reacting against something, she recommended shadow work to fully include any babies thrown out with bathwater. She got down on her knees to demonstrate her own quest to re-integrate surrender and devotion to the Beloved Other, which then, she said, reinforced her sense of the God inside.

Integral Practice
Rev. Sophia also said that the work of Ken Wilber alerted her to the
need for practice to develop each aspect of our selves. Again, Science
of Mind is a leader in promoting the interior practices of prayer and
meditation, but puts less emphasis on body awareness, right action in
each moment, and right relationship with fellow members of our spiritual
community. She and her partners in Canada are developing Integral
Practice Groups--a container for small groups to support each other in
this full array of practices.
How this came together
When Rev. Sophia left the Religious Science church she was
ministering to in Vancouver to focus on this work, she asked a Christian
church to rent her space. It turned out that pastor, Bruce Sanguin of Canadian Memorial, had authored a book on integral congregations, so they are now working as a team along with a Buddhist and an Anglican. Now THAT'S integral! Of course, one of the pioneers in how to run an integral practice group is our own James Jones of Personal Awareness Institute and our DC Ken Wilber Meetup.
We asked Rev. Sophia for more. She is in transition and doesn't know when she'll be back in DC, so I may explore with Rev. Trish, senior minister of the Celebration Center, whether there are other ways we can keep the conversation going in the meantime. Also, Sophia tells me that her group in Vancouver has an upcoming visit scheduled with Integral Coaching Canada. So lots of good things happening in Canada these days. We may have to get used to being referred to as "south of the border."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I recommend "Church Junkie"

Great piece in the magazine section of today's Washington Post by a secularist woman who went back to church when she was "in dire need of people who would be nice to me for less than $125 an hour." After trying several churches she ended up in the welcoming embrace of "a bald, black, Episcopal minister with overstated earrings and a rock-steady voice."

Sounds something like the adventure that led to my book. The latest on that is that my agent and cover coach are both urging me to change my title: under consideration are "Fundamental Differences" and "My Fundamental Enlightenment." Any votes? HarperOne and Inter Varsity Press are both considering it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Humor Line: How to Stop a Bully

I've been musing that a person's sense of humor can serve as a marker for their other lines of development: mental, emotional, spiritual, ethical, etc. I'll get back to that in another post. But while researching levels of humor, I stumbled upon "Bullies to Buddies" an amazing site offering a book about how to stop childhood bullying.

To anyone with children I highly recommend chapter 5 on protecting the victim with "four magic words."

I also recommend to everyone Chapter 9 about humor as violence vs. humor as courage. Author Izzy Kalman MS argues that the Columbine high school massacre can be seen as a failure of the sense of humor of the children being bullied!

[Photo permission pending. Do click the image for a very funny gallery of painted images.]

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Meeting Karen Armstrong at Sacred Circles

I'll confess that the main reason I went to the Sacred Circles conference at Washington's National Cathedral last night was to meet ground-breaking religious Historian Karen Armstrong (History of God, Battle for God, Spiral Staircase). But the evening would have been memorable even if the universe hadn't conspired to make my dream come true.

The annual woman's interfaith event drew perhaps 600 women for the theme "Love in Action," and Armstrong was the keynote speaker calling for all world religions to recognize compassion as their common root.

A really real cathedral
The soaring cathedral took my breath away. I had forgotten that this is a really real Cathedral which was perhaps shown off to its best by the contrast of classic stone pillars as backdrop for childrens' art and colorful displays from world religions. A portrait of First Lady and President Obama's inauguration day visit graced the entryway.

But it was the pageantry of the evening itself that most struck me. And I have to say that my appreciation was heightened ten-fold by a conversation I had a few hours earlier with my fellow Ken Wilber fan James Jones of the Personal Awareness Institute. James knows everybody and everything in personal and spiritual growth. He had just been telling me over coffee that all religious rituals can be identified with one or more of the levels of consciousness described in Spiral Dynamics (similar to the chakra system).
  • from the archaic level, use of the body
  • from the magic level, recognition of good and bad forces
  • from the power level, sacrifice for protection from enemies
  • from the mythic level, joining with God in an agreement to work together
  • from the higher levels, calling forth God from within ourselves
So I smiled broadly as we started by having Cynthia Winton-Henry of InterPlay lead us to stand and "shake your arms and legs and the thing that you sit on." Then a Lakota medicine woman in a fringed garment and buckskin boots called us to face the four directions as she burnt sage, shook rattles, and made an offering of tobacco to the spirits of mind, body, spirit and earth. (I had to let go of concern that Muslims or orthodox Christians in the room might be uncomfortable about participating.) We chanted to create a holy space, and the tones shimmered as they echoed in the vast archways overhead. Colorful streamers wafted in the high spaces as angelically dressed bearers waved medicine flags from 20 foot poles.

Next came Anglican scholar Esther de Waal wearing black and gold with a necklace that appeared to be a large iron cross. In a formidable Teutonic voice she called forth the Celtic gods. (I am mis-remembering some of the theologic details, but you get the idea.) And finally came a beautiful bald woman in dangling, red earings and cream-colored robes that appeared Buddhist but for the starburst on the back. This was Rabbi Phyllis Berman who told us she lost her hair as a young person because of an allergy. After 20 years of hiding under a wig, she learned that facing the world as she is brought her the gift of being able to see others as they are, as well. With a radiant smile she led us in a Hebrew chant she translated as "Expand the boundaries of my tent."

Walking up the chakras
I felt exactly as if I had just walked up the chakras --except, of course, for intellect, the hole filled by Karen Armstrong. She told us of her project with TED to create a worldwide charter for compassion. And she told us of her journey: from failed nun, to producer of British TV shows that mocked religion, to time in the silence that drew her to study the monotheist tradition in a whole new way--from within its own perspective. She said that when she studied the prophet Mohammad, she worked to see the world through his eyes. As a result, she began to see all people with more compassion. And that's where I wanted to stand up and shout, because that was exactly my experience in the two-year dialogue with a fundamentalist bishop that led to my book.

The final speaker was an elfin Muslim woman from Afghanistan.  Peeking out from a softly flowered headscarf, Sakena Yacoobi told of facing death threats and armed blockades to bring education to girls in her country. Her story reminded me of the thrilling and amazing book "Three Cups of Tea" which tells the similar adventure of an American man overtaken by desire to provide education to Afghani girls. I was struck by the difference that the miracles he achieved appear secular while Sakena credited God for hers.

Not a blessing, just a wish
Just before the evening ended, Armstrong got up to scuttle out a side door--the door that I was sitting beside. I stood, smiled, and reached out the postcard that desceibes my project. She took it and paused just long enough for me to tell her that she had inspired me and that I would love to have her blessing. "I don't do blessings," she said. "but I will wish you well on your spiritual journey." And with that, she gave me a hug, and she was off.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

93% of Muslims Condemn 9/11

The first worldwide Gallup poll of Muslims last year is reviewed by my favorite imam at his Minaret of Freedom blog. Here is the part that everybody needs to know.
Those who condemned the 9/11 attacks did so on specifically religious grounds: that the Qur’an forbids killing innocents and that murder is hated by God. Those who condoned the attacks did so on political grounds, charging the American government with imposing dictatorships and occupation on the Muslim world.
Why wasn't this in the headlines? Did I miss it? I am not into the political stuff, but this supports my sense that the problem is not primarily the fact that some people take their holy books literally. 

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Black Pastor's take on Obama Confounds Party Lines

A bracing sermon given by my book's co-author, Bishop Phil Thomas, on the Sunday before the inauguration of President Obama.

Bishop Thomas has never been one for the niceties of political correctness, but I love the sweet & sour way he mixes in-your-face truth with calls for peacemaking dialogue. My blogging buddy Karl argues that a true transpartisan is one who is willing to make both sides mad. This might fit the bill.