The Wolverine, Psychosynthesis & Athletic Performance

Last night I was lecturing to my graduate students on Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli and his system for personal development called Psychosynthesis. His system rests upon leveraging the power of creative imagination to cultivate, refine and establish a more integrated self. Instead of the self being taken over and controlled by "subpersonalities" this more integrated self can control, regulate and mediate how the various subpersonalities find expression, or not. 

After class last night I found myself swimming laps and doing some agility work in the pool when I was visited by a story I had watched years ago on NFL.com. The story was on NFL safety Brian Dawkins and how he prepared for his games. Dawkins played at the highest levels for 16 years while being selected to the pro bowl 9 times. He's considered one of the top safety's to have played the game of football. Needless to say, he's worthy of some our attention and study if you're interested in consistent high level performance. 

To cut to the chase, Dawkins undergoes a transformation of sorts as he takes the field. He transforms from his normal self into the Wolverine, modeled after the Marvel comic character, who embodies intensity, fortitude and an unbreakable spirit that, regardless of the situation, brings a warrior spirit to the game.  

He even goes to the lengths of having two lockers, one for his normal clothes and conventional persona and a second filled with action figurines, posters, images and other reminders of the characteristics of the Wolverine as he knows it. Above this second locker "Weapon X" is listed instead of his name "Dawkins."

The intersection between our Italian psychiatrist who's famous for challenging Freud's model of psychoanalysis and Brain Dawkins can be found in the creative imaginative faculty of the human being. Dawkins is not a likely future hall of fame athlete because he was playing with imagination and participating with a realm of fantasy. Instead I would venture to guess he was leveraging this powerful human faculty to connect and participate with an energy, consciousness and will that in many ways transcended his everyday self. 

Assagioli points to a process called Spiritual Psychosynthesis which is his advanced stage of adult development following the completion of Personal Psychosynthesis. Dawkins was knowingly or unknowingly participating with many of these features. First, Dawkins was making contact with the imagery, symbolism and energy that was in many ways beyond his every day personality. Competition often requires this of us. We cannot be inside our preferences, anxieties, fears and doubts if we are to compete at our highest levels. This contact creates a transformation of sorts. 

The transformation Dawkins appeared to participate with was not into a make-believe action hero as our less nuanced understanding of his actions and behavior might suggest. The Wolverine for Dawkins exhibited a few interesting characteristics. First, there was integrity. He would not swear. The Wolverine abided by high standards for his personal conduct. This illustrates greater control, and from my vantage point more integrative maturity. 

Secondly, and more importantly this warrior he transformed into game in and game out was also a figure who prayed to himself, his team and even prayed to the football as he crouched down on elbows and knees looking at a single football resting on the field. He even spoke in tongues all as a means of entering into and participating with the energy, consciousness and will of the Wolverine. Dawkins outside of the game of football is a devoted religious man off the field. Again, we see features of the wolverine appearing not to be merely a pretend character but instead a living integration or synthesis of dimensions of himself that are beyond his conventional self. By going beyond himself, he naturally included what was most important off the field. 

I find this interesting as perhaps this is what sport is about. Sport is most certainly about conflict, fierce competition and the drive to win. However, inside of these conventional aims we can find how sport can be used to grow and develop athletes. Perhaps sport is a powerful integral practice than can cultivate and refine the many facets of the self. In Dawkin's case perhaps sport elicited a synthesis of personhood and the enlivening dimensions of human experience that stretch beyond conventional personhood.  

Interested in watching this video on Dawkins? Check it out here.


View Comments

The New Performance Paradigm

Ok, let's level with each other for a moment.

Observable measurable statistics are absolutely essential. If a football athlete is aiming to join an NFL roster, his 40 yard dash time, vertical jump height and broad jump distance are essential metrics. If he cannot demonstrate an adequate physiological benchmark, he simply cannot play at the next level. It is as simple as that. Or, as we are about to see in the coming weeks with the NFL draft, shaving off or adding on 3 tenths of a second on a linebacker's 40 time can be the difference of gaining or losing tens of millions of dollars.

These measures are what I like to call the tangibles, because they are more easily measured, grasped and observed.


In strength training we can measure tangibles such as starting power, progressive acceleration and total power output. These all provide measures to performance metrics relevant for just about every sport on the planet. Our above NFL aspirant is wise to grow these metrics as efficiently as possible if he is serious about that contract and the opportunity to play at the highest levels.

But we cannot stop at the tangible metrics, there are also what I like to refer to as intangibles.

Intangibles are subjective and intersubjective capacities that are not separate from the tangible dimensions of performance. These subjective facets of training and performance are also measurable capacities that are just as essential to performance assessment.

What is the complexity the self-system is capable of managing? What is your mental fortitude for pain tolerance? What is our NFL hopeful's level of emotional resiliency under stress? How efficient can a person's conceptual framework integrate coaching cues? These all point to subjective, yet measurable, dimensions to performance. Just like starting power, these are essential measures of capacities required for high level performance.

Strength to Awaken integrates the split between tangible and intangible, between what is objectively measurable and what is subjectively measurable.

We need both because the highest levels of performance are integrative in nature. 


Myopically focus upon one, either one at the exclusion of the other, and you will never see your highest performance capacities, period.

While Strength to Awaken is high-grade rocket fuel for developing the all to commonly neglected intangibles, I want you to consider carefully who is training, developing and refining your intangibles? Who has the requisite experience and skill? Who demonstrates the "inner" mastery and who can guide you toward your "outer" mastery?

If you're interested in an example, see one of the top athletes on the planet rigorously working both the tangibles and intangibles: Trevor Tierney. Carefully study what he does and says.

These are essential questions if performance is something you really want to devote yourself to.

Become curious about how intangibles integrate into the full spectrum of tangible performance metrics. Be careful though, many people who love tangibles (at the exclusion of the many intangibles) are not even seeing the whole picture of the tangibles clearly and thus leaving out essential parts.

Whatever you leave out ultimately stunts performance, regardless of whether it is tangible or intangible. 


When considering growing aptitudes for performance the following manual guides you into how to consider the full territory of the human being and its capacities.

One of the ways I like to frame strength training as is it can become a training ground for this integrative approach to refining your tangible and intangible abilities to perform. Learn it in the gym and apply it in any area of your life.

Anything less than this integrative embrace of your full complexity is bound to conceptual limitations (itself an intangible that can be measured) that itself closes down your greater possibilities.

Get curious. Keep your mind nimble and open as you refine the tangible and intangible dimensions of yourself. And, get suspicious of yourself and how you are approaching performance and training. You are practicing something, rehearsing something whether you are aware of it or not. There are likely hidden limitations to your methodologies and approaches. Curiosity can lead you toward greater performance capacities.

Rob McNamara
Author
The Elegant Self & Strength To Awaken
View Comments

When you Should and Shouldn't Train for Size


Size, it's a major focus point in the field of strength training. Unfortunately size is not properly understood so I am going to chime in on a few things.

1. You need more muscle mass. 


If you haven't followed my blog on why - you need to read it here. Muscle mass generally makes you smaller until you have gotten your body fat down to fairly low levels. So for most people, training to gain more muscle mass means you'll trade very dense muscle tissue for very dispersed adipose tissue (this is especially the case when you refine your nutrition to support muscle growth and fat loss). Get bigger muscles & you get smaller. This is the kind of size that's good for most people.

2. Athletes, slow down! 


If you happen to be a aspiring athlete who wants to get bigger and stronger... slow down!


I remember coming back my senior year in college and telling my lacrosse coach that I had gained 10 pounds of muscle. He was sitting in his office studying game tapes and here was his two year captain rolling in telling him that I gained 10 pounds of muscle since last season. What do you think his response was?

He got angry.

He knew all too well what this typically means. To him, I was telling him something along these lines, "Hey coach, I trained really hard and got slower for you... but I look good on the beach."

What was my response?

I said, "Coach, I gained 10 pounds of muscle and...I got faster. I am faster than last season."

That's when he got excited.

Gaining muscle in the conventional sense typically slows you down. Training methodologies that are designed to just build muscular size (these have become the most popular and wide spread) are not the exercises that likely you should be doing. You want to build muscular power, joint integrity and your ability for something I was talking about yesterday with a young athlete - progressive acceleration.

If you gain muscle, make sure you're doing it in a way that builds more starting power, better joint integrity and higher measures of progressive acceleration. If you're doing this your coach will be happy with what happens come competition. Athletes, whenever possible consult with seasoned experience working with athletes at the highest levels of your discipline. Learn what they are doing and employ these methodologies strategically.

In most cases you will find out that you want to avoid size like the plague, unless size is also making you neurologically more powerful, explosive, dynamic, flexible and more insulated from possible injury. If size is slowing you down, chances are you're training yourself out of being competitive.

3. The real size everyone needs.

Here is what 99% of the discourse on size is missing. While you may or may not want more physical size, you should be training to inhabit more of your psychological size. That's right you want your sense of self to be bigger, broader, more inclusive and integrative.

You need a bigger self.

Training can grow your sense of self such that you are larger than culture. This means that you are bigger than social conventions. Social norms don't drive you, your larger intelligence directs you. The self that's smaller than culture is directed by culture. The self that's larger is the one doing the directing that stems from a larger integrity. This self is big, but to be perfectly honest it's not big enough.

If you're interested in training to become larger my book Strength To Awaken is perhaps the most nuanced discourse on the subject matter. I show you how to cultivate a self that is bigger than polarities. A self that is larger than the dualities of pain and pleasure is a massively large self that is capable of an elegance that smaller, less integrative selves can not even dream of.

The next time you dive into your training I recommend focusing on what size of self you are training. Are you "exercising" your self that is smaller than your socially constructed habits or are you training the self that is larger than your habituation? Are you playing inside the conditioning of pain and pleasure or are you playing in a self that is outside of this conditioned box?

And for those of you who are worried about having a big self, or a "big ego" as it might be referred to... relax. We are not talking about inflating the ego's sense of self importance to monumental proportions. We are instead talking about growing your ego functions to massively powerful and refined levels such that you can regulate social pressures, personal habits that may hold you back as well as unresolvable polarities. These become facets that you participate with, manage and regulate instead of being managed and regulated by them.

Expand your sense of self, train to grow a larger more capable self and you will likely be served in every other facet of life.

Big Love
~Rob
View Comments

The Evolution of You & Integral Practice


In my book Strength to Awaken I outline a system and philosophy of practice that steps beyond much of the current formulations around integral practice.

The old school model, whether you're talking about Ken Wilber's ILP (integral life practice) or Michael Murphy's ITP (integral transformative practice), they are both rooted in a sequential engagement of all of your major faculties. Both approaches totally rock and they have been robust approaches that are genuine strides forwards in the technology of evolving human complexity. And one of their central limitations is that neither explicitly in a rigorous way engage the integral nature of who you are in the immediacy of this moment.

How do you train this?

That's what my book is all about.

Sequence is an inherent part of life, and the natural unfolding of your schedule takes care of the sequential nature of practice. Pick up an integral framework and take it to heart and you will find an integral practice much like Wilber and Murphy propose organically forming in your schedule. Whatever you genuinely value, you will see it showing up in your schedule.

However, If you're like most people then you are likely in need of an upgrade from a sequential approach to integral practice to the robust discipline of the full unmediated participation with this immediacy.
This my friends is where your mature integral consciousness resides and as long as you temporally project your aliveness and complexity through time - or sequence - you're playing in the integral minor leagues.

From what I can tell we need more people inhabiting, embodying and participating with the honors curriculum of human development and this brings me to the maturation of integral consciousness and ultimately the maturation of...You.

Following yesterday's post - the vast majority of people relate to integral practice and state training from a conventional stage of complexity (or below). Let's look at some of the meaning making around these conventions.

"I am meditating"
"I had a non-dual experience"
"I am working on stabilizing my Witness"

These are just a few brief examples of conventional stages of interpretation regarding state-training and in the context of integral practice we might find someone saying,

"I am going to work on my body line tonight in yoga and I've got a shadow session tomorrow afternoon with my therapist and I'm going to try to meditate tonight before I go to sleep."

"I am doing a surrender practice following my strength training session, then I am going to do some journaling. This evening after work I'm working on my cognitive line of development by studying this amazing author's Blog. It's Rob McNamara, ever heard of him?"

Shameless promoting, I know ;-)

This kind of discourse happens all the time in the integral community and it is likely to happen within your own private narrative as well.

This is all conventional because it presumes that you - your sense of self - is distinct, whole and complete from the various objects that you are negotiating. Meditation times, contemplative states of consciousness, the physical, emotional, relational, and mental parts of an integral practice. This is through and through conventional.

Ok, I'm going to let you in on a little secret… ok so it's a BIG secret. Mature Integral Consciousness has an entirely different relationship to Integral Theory and Practice than the vast majority of people are participating with. Shhhh, don't tell anyone.

…. that was exciting wasn't it?
Ok, now that we had our exciting secret you can tell anyone you want :-)

The vast majority of the integral movement has been enveloped by conventional stages of meaning making, I know… take it easy - it's OK. Ask yourself this question, Have you used integral theory to "evolve" or "develop" a more distinct, more distinctive, more complete sense of self?

Next, look around your integral circles and take note, Are they using integral theory to create, establish and fortify a more distinct, separate and complete sense of self? Are the constantly yearning to grasp the whole of integral theory by reading all the books, taking the advanced trainings and coaching with the supposed brightest minds?

This is often the landscape… Chances are you're doing this on some level and so is just about everyone else around you. For those of you who are sympathetic to the whole integral notion of being lonely in your developmental vantage point, float your rib cage gently forward, allow your crown to lift, soften your belly and allow this to penetrate through every facet of you.

Part of this is true, good and beautiful & the part virtually nobody talks about (because few people see it as an object in their complexity) is that your perceived isolation stems from your conventional stage of development. Yep, that's right, this felt sense largely stems from your conventional stage, not from your post conventional stages. Think of it as a symptom of "Integral Infancy."

The job of your conventional stage of development is to cultivate and establish a separate, distinct, complete self that is functionally autonomous. You can set your own boundaries, take stands for what you value most, clearly communicate, be loyal to who you are or who you can become depending on the circumstance. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

You are a complete, distinct self that interacts with the world. Oh, and if you do this really well with a high degree of competence, you feel alone, isolated and wondering how to bridge the gap between where you are - you "separate, discrete" self and those other people over there. Take this implicit conventional drive and jack it up on something like AQAL and of course you're going to feel even more "isolated" and hungry for community.

If you happen to have already established some sense of mastery over the "autonomous, discrete and distinct self" then it's time for the "honors track" as Robert Kegan calls it.

Right now your greater emergence is embedded in participating with the larger complexity that is here holding you and working you. Feeling isolated is only one pole of the larger truth that participates you. The dialectic of separateness and connectedness is fluid in your novel emergence into your larger more beautiful maturity. In fact, the interconnectedness of the immediacy of this moment is interpenetrating throughout you in an alive dynamic way. While your separateness and distinctness flowers into an even greater fullness, this is no longer a fixed consolidated position but an open interpenetrable incompleteness that's born from an uncommon intimacy with everything.

Enjoy!

Your sense of self that embodies your larger complexity is not distinct, not separate, not complete. Your search for greater wholeness - when not ejected into transcendent states of consciousness - actually inhabits your unconditioned incompleteness. The larger complexity that is holding you, working you, co-creating you is fundamentally incomplete, partial, open and a unique flux of interpenetrating unresolvable dialectics.

BAM!!!

...as always, more to come :-)

Big Love
~Rob


Sent from my iPad
View Comments

The Future of Spiritual Praxis


Spiritual Praxis is, by and large, a progressive exploration of more and more subtle and transcendental states of awareness leading up to the simple, direct, unmoving dynamic that is your unmediated and obvious liberation. The vast spectrum of paths, practices and discourses around the world are an investigation into ever more expansive states of consciousness. Throw away the many labels and the differing value systems that rest upon divergent states of consciousness and you have one massive tradition, one broad lineage of human beings that are yoking their awareness from their habituated identities that consolidate limitations where liberations belong.

Let us all give a huge, wide open bow to the billions of human beings that have carved forth these groves of wakefulness. Both those who are here, alive in practice today and the many that are no longer animating their known and unknown forms. Whether you're alive, died 5000, 2000, 100 years ago or if the great Cessation raptured you yesterday - there is a Silent Space beyond all habituated movement that shines a calm simple gratitude. That's for all of us :-)


There is a new form of spiritual praxis that is emerging. By new, I mean an explicit supra-developmentally-organized-practice picked up with an explicit developmental aim. Implicitly we have been participating with this since our origins, but it is only very recently that we have begun to pick up these novel forms of spirituality to explicitly participate with our evolving developmental complexity.

This new praxis is not the investigation, stabilization and realization of greater states of consciousness, rather it stems from the investigation of structure stages of consciousness. This has largely been born through modern Western psychological research methodologies, but more specifically it stems from an even more rarified specialization into studying the highest known levels of developmental maturity. So while childhood developmental psychology might not be disclosing these novel spiritual practices, the study of the highest levels of complexity of adult development is disclosing something profoundly new for spiritual practice.

Why?

These maps of our most privileged stages of maturity (development is a privilege, one of the central ones) can be used as a type of pointing out instruction. They point to novel ways of relating to everything. These maps disclose new subjective world spaces of self-organization with greater functional capacities for engaging life. They can tell most of us about our own developmental future and our larger ability to respond to the complexities of life. It takes what is called the "emergent unconscious" and points the spot light of wakeful attention into this area of the unconscious. What happens is stunning.

What I have been doing is inviting people to participate with their larger complexity by providing developmental injunctions that yokes them out of their embedded structure stages and invites them into their larger aliveness, elegance and authenticity.

Something powerful often happens when this occurs and it is very different than the more known and practiced explorations of states of consciousness. I brought some of this teaching to my instruction at the Integral Spiritual Experience a couple of years ago and I had a number of people telling me that my sessions were the most significant of their experience of the entire event. I've been leveraging this technology with coaching and psychotherapy clients, in my classrooms with my students and in my own practice life and my sense is there is something deeply vital, cutting edge and pragmatic about this approach.

Translating our highest known levels of maturity into practice injunctions appears to facilitate development dramatically and from my vantage point is a different form of spirituality.

So what does this mean? I've got a few thoughts for us here.

1. Spiritual teachers are wise to pick up developmental injunctions to shape and refine their own teaching methodologies and to refine the complexity with which they interpret the states of consciousness their traditions explore.

2. Spiritual practitioners (who has more or less stabilized conventional adult stages of development) are served by picking up injunctions in both state training and structure-stage training.

3. Integral spiritual teachers should be required to rigorously study these developmental maps with an expert who has access to at least some of the highest known forms of meaning-making. Reading about these maps on your own is a great start, but it is not sufficient just as reading about states is no substitute for actual state-refining practices. Teachers need developmental structure stage transmission and the continual re-organizing of experience into their larger complexity. Without this spiritual teachers are extremely susceptible to consolidating their meaning making, teaching and practice injections around levels of complexity that lack the larger elegance that evolution is demanding.

4. Spiritual teaching, instruction and practice is most effective and efficient when the rigorous state-training methodologies are being translated through some of the most privileged stages of maturity. We need novel systems, new traditions, and a larger methodology for holding the most privileged developmental stages as a new requisite for spiritual instruction.

Finally, we need ongoing open inquiries and a full, unmediated participation with the mystery of developmental complexity amongst our genuine leading edge. What does this practice community look like? How do we support one another? How do we challenge one another? There is no terminus to development, and one of our most important responsibilities that is co-creating us moment to moment is our unknowable evolutionary possibility. We must Submit to this participatory-immediacy.

The practice injunctions I speak of are to follow. I'm developing a course to teach at The Integral Center here in Boulder CO. I just met on this last week so I'll be sharing some of this with you in the coming weeks. If you're hungry for some of it now, tear into my book Strength to Awaken as it's littered with developmental injunctions to yoke you into your greater embodiment.

Enjoy,
~Rob

View Comments