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.


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Fitness, Spirituality & The Quality of Your Life


Spirituality has two basic drives. It's first drive is for you to be not as defined by the the circumstances of your life. We can call this freedom. You need to be less governed by the events, people and contexts that you find yourself in. When you don't have freedom, the quality of your life suffers and you remain entrenched in the limitations of your life as it presently is.

The second drive of spirituality is for you to be more present, connected and engaged with your life. We can call this fullness. While you need to be less governed by the circumstances of your life (freedom) you also need to be more present to what is going on in your life. The quality of your life erodes when you become less connected and engaged with what is happening. Attuning to your relationships, vocation as well as your self that is in the world improves your life and the quality of the lives of those around you.

Fitness used to be optional. Generically speaking we can say that "back in the day" evolutionarily speaking movement and survival were intrinsically connected. You had to move to hunt and gather, often times throughout much of the day light. Today we live in a different world where many of us are what we can call "knowledge" workers. If you are a knowledge worker you gain the means to support yourself by creating, following and managing information flow. If this is you then you can spend large portions of your life without moving much. You can spend the vast majority of your days inside a small circumference facing some piece or pieces of technology and or people. In the meantime, movement spikes while walking to the bath room, someone else's movement circumference (office) or to get into your car to then sit still while technology loco-motes you.


Lifestyles that support sedentary patterns will kill you.


Biologically speaking inactivity sends powerful messages to your body and they sound like this: "you are sick" or "you are dying." Chronic persistent inactivity meant you were sick or dying 10,000 years ago. Today ongoing inactivity sends the same biological messages.

The result, many of us need fitness. Our lives depend upon it in a very direct way. You need an intentional period, each day, to rigorously move your body. Please note, I said "each day" as 3 days a week is not enough. Each day you are not vigorously moving your body you are likely shortening your life. Fail to move and you are actively drawing death just a bit closer to you. So whatever you do, move!

But it is not enough to just move your body every day. Fitness needs spirituality. Movement needs to refine both your ability to be more free from the circumstances of your life as well as your ability to be fully present in the circumstances of your life.

Sadly much of the movement that happens as people move their bodies is an expression of dissociation. Movement that is divorced from attention is a form of dissociation. If your attention is not placed on or into your movement you are likely dissociating from your fitness. I often see people on the stair stepping machines, stationary bicycles, treadmills and the like exercising as they read the latest issues of fitness, fashion and sports magazines. Occasionally I see folded up sections of the today's newspaper in front of glazed over eyes. Or, better yet, they are watching TV as CNN's latest coverage of the political campaign to the White House flickers before their eyes.

Fitness is often riddled with dissociation. Dissociation is a function of not having enough freedom yet simultaneously being unable to be present in life. You dissociate precisely where you are too controlled by the circumstances of life and unable to be present in your life. That's when you "check out" so to speak.

The body is perhaps one of the most challenging dimensions of life. Most adults have tremendous difficulty not being dictated by the embodied circumstances and thus they have immense limitations when it comes to being present to their embodied sensations (this shows up by stunting results yielded in fitness and in every other facet of adult life). Many adults have yet to grow, reinforce and strengthen the neurological wiring and processing power to be genuinely free from their body yet at the same time present in the fullness of their body.

Fitness is an ideal training ground to grow the faculties of spirituality. Next time you train, don't “check out” to what's going on in your body. Check in. Turn your attention into and upon the embodied sensations of movement. You'll find that you will yield much more in return.

Enjoy,
~Rob
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The Religion of Strength


A couple of weeks ago I was sitting on a bench in my gym recovering between sets when one of the guys who regularly trains there (who also happens to embody what I would consider a more rigorous practice than most) asked, "Did you just write a book on training?" I smiled and said yes, pausing for a moment as I searched for the best way to talk about my book in this moment; he continued about a coworker who was talking about Strength to Awaken and he said my book was like the religion of strength training.

I had to take a moment to really consider this framing - I was hung up on the word "religion" for what is probably an obvious reason. Religion has a lot of baggage. But as I softened into the phrase, "the religion of strength," I said, "Yeah, I guess you could call it the religion of strength training."

We dove into a really cool, yet brief, exchange, right there in the gym. He said something to the extent of, "I never thought of training like that before, but I've started to see how this has been a center for me in my life for years." We continued on from there; two things are still lingering with me.


1. The Religion of Strength & 2. Practices that help us find our "Center."


The Religion of Strength has started to grow on me since it was planted in my awareness. The term Religion is rooted in the concepts of bonding, to bind together and to join or re-join. It is in this sense (moving in a similar direction with William James' orientation on religious experience) that my book is absolutely a religion of strength and this is indeed one of the larger purposes of strength training. It is to join you with your larger strength as a human being and re-join you with facets of your strength that have become forgotten, obscured or lost in some fashion.

Training in this context is significantly different from what we often think of as training to get stronger in the conventional sense. Religion, at least in my mind, implies some form of worship and rigorous practice. So, how do we worship in the most mundane of places?

This what my book, at least in part, is about. But let's dive into a substantive response to this question right now.

The larger maturity of who you are is always yoking together, joining and integrating polarities. The sacred and the profane, pain and pleasure, being separate and being connected, being and becoming as well as freedom and responsibility (naming several) are held in a spontaneous conversation, with one always informing and co-creating and mutually establishing the other.

Your conventional self typically prefers to attempt to establish a static position, organized around preferences, that is in conflict with the other polarity. In strength training, or any form of rigorous physical training, the classic example is to prefer pleasure which is in conflict with pain. The attempt to get stronger in this context involves avoiding pain, which, as my book unpacks in greater depth, turns into a habituated strategy to maintain as much comfort as possible.

This is perhaps the most inefficient way to become stronger because it is not strength that is worshipped, but rather comfort. 


As most of you are aware, genuine pleasure always involves some conversation or exchange with pain. These two are not as separate as our conventional selves often presume. So today, my invitation to you is to bind, join and bond your awareness with  the dimension of you that holds, embraces and participates with polarities. Embody the self that is literally larger than polarity, and thereby able to integrate and participate in their joining.

Perhaps it is precisely this ability - to embody and participate with the full spread of polarity - that is more connected with "strength" than our conventional orientations. Perhaps it is stepping beyond our false simplicity of choosing this over that where we can find our more true, complex and beautiful center.

Let's build and discover this strength together today.

Practice Strong,
~Rob
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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

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