Integral Alchemy practice includes:
Learning about Integral Theory – a map of human existence
Learning the AQAL model of integral theory is part of what makes all the other different practices turn into a coherent and cohesive whole. The theory is a fascinating piece of work and makes understanding what is meant by holism a lot easier. It also shows the importance of growth and the variety of growth in different directions and how none of them are negligible. In this sense it differentiates various forms of development that previously were grouped together, or if not grouped together then partially ignored – thus opening us up to new perspectives and a deeper understanding of ourselves and our potentials.
Yoga is a spiritual discipline that traditionally includes physical work (poses or movements), meditative practices to refine awareness and obtain stillness, moral or ethical codes of conduct including things such as compassion and humility, and energetic hygiene.
The two main yogas that will be discussed on these pages are Vedic Yoga (the traditional Indian Yoga that now a days includes Hatha and Vinyasa for example) and Taoist Yoga (originally not called Yoga, but the term describes it very well as we understand it now a days).
In an integral perspective the practice of Yoga is focused on the Upper Left Quadrant and the Upper Right Quadrant developing the I and it realms, with the codes of conduct covering a small area of the interpersonal realm. The deeper our practice becomes the more the Yogic path becomes a path of inner development, inner refinement and state-of-consciousness training. In a truly holistic practice, which we can find in some traditions, it is stressed that external practice is limited, but not because of that to be neglected or discarded. Things like diet and conduct – as insignificant as they may seem to a meditative practice – are considered fundamentals without which the practice cannot advance.
Before advancing too much though, we can already reap the benefits of practice. For example: Meditation improves concentration, awareness, adaptability and ability to learn. It reduces stress and therefor inflammation, regulates the immune system and so on. There is no doubt as to the general benefits of meditation. It is also, however, the most common way to enter into deeper (and possibly superior) states of consciousness, like the often referred to witness or the true self. Meditative practices, not physical practices, are the core of the main yogic traditions.
This true self we speak of here is without qualities and free from desires (isn’t that also a quality?). It is pure awareness. Wisdom traditions from around the globe have used meditation to reach this state and the realization that comes with it: There is one underlying principle that permeates everything, or rather in which all things (including the small selves that we pretend we are) arise – a universal consciousness, an ether or “the pregnant void”. That underlying cosmic essence holds everything equally with pure love and equanimity – whether it’s pain or joy – without distinction. Tapping into this mode of being we can experience pure bliss as well as relief from personal grief, pain, fear etc. and thus fully embrace our existence and the potential for greatness that comes with it. It’s also an incredibly important tool to grow, to move through the stages of development (or identity) known to developmental psychology, by practicing dis-identifying from the self. Transcending the causal awareness there is the universal, adual unity, a state in which there are no boundaries of the self and one is fully and truly one with everything, seamlessly. These states of consciousness are available to us through meditation.
In both the Vedic and the Taoist Yogas there is the concept of Energy, Prana or Qi – a term that for westerners can be confusing. Practicing any kind of Yoga is a little bit like being a space explorer and scientist, learning about the mysterious forces of the world and then learning how to work with them. But what are they? They are the unseen foundation of our Universe that can be accessed through pure awareness and they are not to mistaken for physical or material forces, but are also not some kind of fantasy. Perhaps the best way to simply allow oneself to access them is to look at it this way: All the explanations about how the world works that we have established so far, are based on models that accurately predict how things will behave. Because of these models we understand light as a particle. Or as a wave… However, the reality of light is that it is neither. Seeing its nature as particle or wave is an artifact of our model. Looking at the universe and our existence using different models than the reductionistic, mechanistic worldview that modern science uses can create other artifacts, such as the existence of qi. In reality the universe is neither made up of atoms nor qi. Both of them are artifacts of a model, of a limited perspective. Both of them have advantages and disadvantages, and for the practices of inner cultivation typically the models that speak of qi/prana are more useful.
By working with qi and the perspectives that come with it we can aspire to achieve better health and longevity. Specific practices using qi are generally considered necessary to balance out ones own energies – to harmonize them and open all channels – which are indispensable in order to reach higher stages in one’s practice. Each Yogic tradition has very different ways to describe and work with these energies and it seems it depends greatly on disposition as to which practice in the end resonates more with you.
Self care – habits, nutrition and sleep
While in some respects self-care is included in the practice of Yoga, it can’t harm to set it apart to emphasize it’s importance: All the practices in the world can’t keep us healthy if we don’t put value on our health. Self-care is essential, not as a selfish drive but in order to be able to extend love and care for others – it has to start at the center. While perfect health is not a requirement for cultivation and growth, it is always helpful and should always be one of our main goals. We cultivate health on all levels! Some simple examples of what this means are: Forming healthy habits in order to get enough restful sleep and eat natural, unprocessed foods is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. Both eating and sleeping require parasympathetic activity to dominate over sympathetic for them to give you maximum benefits, so making sure your surroundings and your company allow you to feel relaxed for the majority of your meals and sleeps is key. Apart from that you can boost your immune and digestive system with probiotics found naturally in fermented foods or drinks such as kombucha and kefir. Using techniques like yoga nidra or TaoYoga to lower sympathetic activity to get better results from sleeping.
Relationships and the interpersonal realm
“The experience of being seen and accepted for who we really are, and the sense that we are connected to other human beings and part of a larger whole, is one of the most satisfying of all human experiences.” – Marc Bénéteau
No being exists on its own. Acknowledging this truth we must, in a holistic or integral view, naturally include the realm of interactions and interdependence. We can “discover ourselves through the eyes of others” and assist others in discovering themselves. Our friendships, our collaborations, our communities are not just side-products of living in a crowded world – they are essential elements in experiencing and exploring this reality, and experiencing and exploring love and ourselves.
In order for this to work we need both trust and honesty when together. We need acceptance and also the will to overcome that which is holding us back from showing who we are or from being fully with the other person. All of this is a matter of training ones awareness and then training ones presence. We all have experienced occasions where we were fully there, as if something or someone had invited us to join as a full human being, and other situations where we couldn’t care less about the interactions, or feel they are even uncomfortable, thus retreating from them and fending off against them. What is the difference?
Studying personality types for example through the Enneagram or other similar systems can be a great asset in understanding and accepting your own and other people’s behavior. From there we can learn to overcome the sometimes bumpy patches our interpersonal road may have. But the real practice is not in the studying, but in the togetherness – in the actual interpersonal realm. Practicing together, sharing experiences, assisting one another or simply working together for the sake of a common goal are all training grounds for the interpersonal realm. Two of the three treasures of Taoism refer to interactions: compassion and humility – giving us a loose but definite code of conduct.
Being in Nature – the life-sustaining ecosystem
The way our language and culture guide our experience and views, has us feel like there is a clear separation between the human realm and the natural realm. Humans create artificial spaces and things, while nature creates natural spaces and things. But humans are born from and into nature and without the life-sustaining eco-system that we call nature (or Gaya) we are incapable of surviving even for a minute. In Integral Alchemy we encourage redefining our relationship with nature, allowing nature to enter into our lives and beings and us into it. We strive to increase our awareness of the amazing, complex and fragile system that we are a part of, so as to extend our deepest love, care and respect towards this all encompassing web of life. Hiking, swimming in the ocean, freediving, bonfires on the beach, stargazing, trash-collection, gardening, spending time with and caring for animals… all of this can be seen as a form of connective practice, leading us to the truth of our existence.