FEBRUARY 8, 2018

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It was one of these weeks where things were quickly going downhill. Or so it seemed. My partner was away for work. My dog got diarrhea. My daughter got the flu. My network of support was on vacation… and so on. I could see that I was looking outside myself, trying to identify the perpetrator of such a lousy plan. Looking in all directions but me.

Looking at the projector

When I decided to look at the projector—me—I realized that if there was a perpetrator in the story I was telling myself, then I was the victim. Pulling this slippery thread, I got deeper into the story. It went something like, “hard work is kind of unfair, and at some point this has to end, as I deserve something better.” The more I got in touch with this narrative, the question I then asked myself was, “where the hell did I get this…crap?!” I started looking in the usual places: culture, society, family… I immediately could spot similar patterns in my family of origin, not to mention mainstream culture. Indeed, it was Cinderella’s tale—so not surprising that it was so familiar! I have consciously been inspired by the idea of dying having fully contributed to my community. But unconscious stories can have a stronger effect than our best intentions … until they become conscious.

Integrating and transcending our stories

And yet, having discovered my story did not allow me to get rid of it completely. I’m still working on it. Stories, as forms of mental patterns or personal complexes, are attached to our bodies, bones and skins: sticky coats with a particular shape. Gaining awareness of our stories can change how we relate to them, allowing us to disidentify from them. But how can we integrate and transcend them?

There are two ways we use in Integral Coaching to achieve this. The first one by inviting a new narrative. In my case, the Cinderella story was replaced by the story of a Dakini, an empowering Buddhist feminine archetype.

The second way to transcend and integrate our stories is by bringing awareness to our bodies. Our bodies become the repositories of our unconscious, and by finding and letting go of tensions that hold these patterns, we loosen the power of them and create space for something new. For this, Hatha yoga has been the path that has opened me the most, as well as embodied meditation from the Shambhala tradition.


To end, I would like to invite you to take up this self-reflection daily for one week. At the end of your day, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What narrative have I lived by today? How could I tell? How did it feel?
  • What did this narrative create?
  • What different different story could I live by? What could this make possible?

Magda is an Integral Coach based in Spain. You can read more on her blog.  

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DECEMBER 19, 2017

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It’s amazing how often we assume our requests can be heard while ignoring the capacity of others to listen to what we’re asking. Some examples:

You made a request by email

If your recipient didn’t read it, didn’t see it, or is overwhelmed by emails and messages, as so many people are, you probably don’t have a listener, no matter how many times you insist that you’ve asked, or how sure you are that they should have read what you said.

You asked at a time when the other person couldn’t pay attention

If they’re busy, anxious, fearful, or distracted, then just because you’ve spoken, again, doesn’t mean you have a listener. Even asking someone face to face who is distracted this way does not guarantee they have any capacity to hear you.

You assumed the other person should be interested in what you have to say simply because of who you are

Your seniority, fame, position of authority, sense of yourself as interesting or important are no guarantee anyone is listening. Neither is being a parent or a partner or the boss. Assuming you do is a route to many difficulties.

Can you think of times you might have asked when there’s no listener available, even if the request seems obvious to you? And if so, what might you do to make it possible for people to genuinely hear you?

You might need to think about timing, place, tone and the medium through which you make your request, as well as the mood of your request (sincerity, cynicism, frustration). All of these will have an impact on others’ capacity to listen.

If you find yourself thinking “I’ve asked them time and time again, but nothing ever seems to happen” you might well still be assuming you have a listener when you don’t.

And now you have a place where you can look to resolve your difficulty.

You can read lots more from senior faculty member  Justin Wise on his blog.

Take up a rigorous study of speaking and listening in Masterful Conversations, a three-day workshop happening in San Francisco and the DC Metro Area in the spring.

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SEPTEMBER 21, 2016

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I was taking advantage of the long summer days to catch up on some much-needed gardening when I found the book. The Cichlid Aquarium had been in our garage since my husband and I had moved in 13 years ago, weathering all the extremes Michigan could conjure, including two of the worst Midwestern winters on record. Yet, other than a film of dust, the book was unscathed: not a spot of mold, its color pages bright and glossy in the slanting evening sunshine. I’ve never seen cichlids while scuba diving, but the widely varied colors and the beauty of the photography gave me a strong sense of how stunning they are.

I wiped the dust carefully from the cover, edges of the pages, and binding, and finally turned the book over to wipe off the back. There was a photo of the author, Dr. Paul V. Loiselle, and a brief bio of his life and work. Suddenly I felt a cold-hot-trembling melting throughout my core and down to my feet. Tears came to my eyes. I’m not sure what affected me. Perhaps it was the care the author put into this work and the hopes and expectations it would spark in some aquarium aficionado leafing through it in a pet store while deciding which varieties to bring home, or of some budding marine biologist poring through the pages under the solitary glow of an anglepoise lamp. Something about all the love and curiosity and hope and work came together and I felt the most sacred confluence of sadness, joy, tenderness, regret, and … what?  I’m not certain.

In the CD collection The Fearless Heart, Pema Chodron reads the poem “True Heart of Blessing” by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. The poem points to how, in its direct experience, the raw energy of an emotion is unfiltered and pure—one emotion is not different from that of any other. Here is an excerpt:

Fear is fear of fear
Raw fear is in the essence of joy
Raw joy is nothing but raw fear
Inseparability coils in the true heart of openness

In the “normal” world, this is fairly obscure stuff that can be contemplated at best, but understood and lived by few. This is a just a runway our society’s planes don’t land on. But one point might be that in direct experience, we can touch joy, regardless of the circumstances. There’s an essential, core part of each of us that can always be joyful.

That moment in my garage with the cichlids and Dr. Loiselle gave me a tiny understanding of the direct experience of emotion right before our story gets layered on top. There in the fading light, I was blessed to feel the profound, subtle truth of that poem.

Jan Martinez is an Integral Coach in the Detroit area, working with leaders in the automotive industry. Learn more on her website.

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JULY 12, 2016

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The myth of the Garden of Eden is so brilliant and powerful because it expresses our sense of having profoundly lost something essential and elemental from our lives, something we need.

We long to return to the peace and beauty of the garden. It’s a place we feel we once knew but from which we’ve been exiled, and we imagine there’s something we can do to get back so that everything can be alright once again. When we return we will at last stop feeling so separate from the world, so alienated from it. It will be a place where we’re fully welcomed and loved, where we don’t need to strive any more, where the resources of the world will effortlessly meet our needs, and where we no longer need to feel afraid or ashamed. And in this way the myth of the garden promises to fill an enormous hole that we don’t otherwise know how to address. 

Perhaps we’ll meet the right person, a friend or lover or saviour whose acceptance and care for us will be our return (maybe it’s this sense that draws us towards particular people in our lives in the first place). Or perhaps it will come through fame, a big enough bank balance, or through attaining a certain status or prominence in our work or our wider culture. We can become convinced we’ll be readmitted to the garden by following a spiritual path, by being kind, or by cultivating depth, integrity, knowledge, power, courage, or equanimity. Maybe receiving the right email in our inbox will do it (is this why we check so often?).

We wonder if we haven’t found our way back because we didn’t try hard enough. So we keep on with the same strategies, despairing that they don’t seem to work out.

Our suffering is magnified by our finding that nothing and no-one we encounter is able to return us as we’d hoped. We are terrified that it’s our own failing, and if not that then the unfairness of the world towards us, that keeps us away.

The story rings true because we all know Adam and Eve’s loss at loss first-hand. We began our lives in the wondrous and cushioned embrace of the womb, deeply connected to the being of another inside whose body we floated, totally and unquestioningly cared for. And now we find ourselves thrown into the messy physical world where nothing ever quite goes our way, where we don’t feel held, where we feel anguish as well as joy, and where we have to take responsibility for ourselves. The pain of leaving the garden is nothing less than the pain of living in the world with the memory of a once simpler time when we experienced only our oneness with all of it.

The Eden story’s brilliance is not only that it so perfectly describes our deep longing, but that it also calls into question our wish to return. Adam and Eve are children – barely aware of themselves, barely able to know anything, unable to distinguish between this and that, between actions that bring wholeness to the world and actions that destroy. They can remain in the garden only as long as this remains the case. Once they eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, once they develop the capacity to engage with the world in its fullness of both dark and light, once they grow up, the spell of the garden is broken and they have to face the world as it is. A return to the garden would not be the idyll we imagine because it would mean giving up the capacities and faculties that make us adults, most notably the capacity to discern, and the capacity to choose.

So, how should we live in the light of this? One path, for sure, is the path of nihilism, the certainty that all is lost and that, faced with the prospect that nothing ever works out apart from death, nothing is of meaning. The other path, which seems much more life giving to me, is one in which we simultaneously turn towards that of the garden which is already present in the world (beauty, love, compassion, the wonders of nature are just a few) and towards doing what we can to reduce the suffering that we know cannot be avoided completely. This second path also means learning to live with the hole-like feeling of incompleteness – perhaps to be human is always in some way to feel incomplete – and yet continuing to bring as much of our capacity for goodness and integrity as we can. The second path means giving up the idyllic myth of Eden for the much more grown up task of living with dignity and compassion with the world as it is and us as we are. And in order to do this, we have to give up on our fantasy of returning to the garden, a fantasy that adds difficulty to difficulty and so readily has us hold back what we could bring.

And, as well as this, there is another possibility, which is to look deeper into life than we are yet accustomed to doing. The separateness of our bodies so convinces us we are separate from everything and from one another – and it’s the very compelling feeling of distance that has us long so urgently to return. The anguish of this, and the longing of it, is very familiar to me as I write this today. But from another perspective, which I glimpse now and then, we all arise from a wholeness from which we have never been apart – call it the universe, ‘the one’, emptiness, God, life itself – there are many names. In those moments when we get to see that we’re all together an expression of something which has always been our home, perhaps we get to relax our desperation a little, and this in turn allows us to contribute without trying all the time to grasp too tightly something that is already here.

Justin is a senior faculty member with New Ventures West. Lots more of his writing can be found on his website.

Photo Credit: けんたま/KENTAMA via Compfight cc

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