Organic Intelligence and Spiritual Life
“Oh tangle of matter and ghost!” – Leonard Cohen
I stand at my desk, document open, and begin to orient toward the state of mind I call “writing”. The title of the blog, “Organic Intelligence® and Spiritual Life” hovers in a field of white, with soft-edged italic letters, off center on the black-framed screen. I look up to see, just above the desk, a small painting of a dark blue man in meditation on a moon-colored lotus flower floating in what looks like deep, starless space: the Hindu Tantric deity Paramashiva. His eyes are open (all 3 of them), and the painter has given him a calm, straightforward gaze. I walk away from the desk and look out the window: wide blue sky, wires over the Oakland street I live on, the Baptist church parking lot, and a solitary redwood tree fenced in by some dumpsters.
Wandering around the room, my eyes come to rest on the living room rug, its muted dark red pile, and the tilted rectangles of bright sunlight that cut the room into warm and cool sections. I go to sit down in a patch of sun, and feel warmth spread through my legs and feet. The silence in the house suddenly seems loud, and the expanse of afternoon ahead of me vast and endless, though I know very well it’s not, just a precious window of stillness carved out of a dense, often frustrating schedule. The weight of the moment seems to increase, and I feel a wave of heaviness, flickers of sadness, then a breath, medium full, sweet enough to smile a little at. I open my eyes and look around, seeing the plants and the two owl dolls with button eyes, rectangles of light a little further across the floor, a blue folded blanket.
“Spirituality” is a frustrating word. It seems to speak to the deepest intuitions, fears, and questions humans have, and offers the possibility of both comfort in the face of all the stresses and terrors of human life, and answers to ancient profound questions of who we are and why we’re here. It proposes that we can learn how to appreciate the world’s beauty, to feel joy in our life, and somehow find balance amid the swirl of activity that being an adult in this world seems to consist of. At its best, it seems to offer a way out of experiences so many of us find ourselves haunted by in modern industrial societies: the sense of meaninglessness, pervasive anxiety, insecurities both psychological and material, and the loss of so many of the cultural and familial supports that perhaps once served our deeper needs.
But the word can ring hollow. For centuries in European thought and religion, “spiritual” meant the opposite of “material”, and the idea of the separation of body and spirit has been burned deep into western cultural DNA, manifesting as all sorts of confusion, violence, and injustice. But the separation isn’t so obvious for many of us anymore, and we might feel that our true nature is more complex, less easily dissected than the old philosophers and theologians imagined. “Oh tangle of matter and ghost,” Leonard Cohen sings, and it sure feels like a tangle sometimes! Making things worse rather than better, some religious or spiritual traditions can even feel like they take us further away from the realness of our lives rather than into deeper intimacy with them. But we’re learning. More and more people are growing in the wisdom that knows spirit and body as endlessly intertwined, maybe even two words for the same experience; that spirituality can just as well be found in the eyes of a dear friend across a kitchen table as in the magical gaze of an exotic guru, in the half silence of a grove of oaks in an urban park as much as in an ancient cathedral or mountaintop temple. Maybe more so, since these places and people are right here with us, and they speak to the questions we carry with a realism, immediacy, and intimacy with our lives the romantic fantasy never can. As we orient to where we are we also orient to who we are.
OI and Spirituality
Organic Intelligence (OI) describes a naturalistic healing process that can be used in therapeutic conversations, inner work, and embodied trauma resolution, but also in (or even as) “spiritual” practice. It is grounded in training methods drawn from Buddhist contemplative exercises, cultivating the skills of mindfulness, mettā (love), and compassion for self and other. Its basic frameworks, including the 3 Phase model, Red-Blue as a way to work with oscillation, Orientation to the environment through the senses, and the deep value of Stabilizing access to pleasurable experience (Blue), all have clear analogues in contemplative and meditative traditions, both Asian and Western. Our desires to heal from the past, live well in the present, and cultivate the conditions for deep wisdom and realization are often what lead us to spiritual work, and the OI approach can serve each of these profound needs, especially when integrated into engaged, ongoing contemplative practice and inner work.
From a naturalistic perspective, there’s no way to separate spiritual practice and anything else we do. One of the most valuable aspects of Organic Intelligence, like other postmodern modalities, is its applicability not just to healing work but to ongoing psychological and spiritual development. It speaks beautifully to the process of cultivating a richly textured responsiveness and resilience amid ongoing experience. OI works with the Buddhist practice of mindfulness (sati), which trains us in present moment awareness and responsive action in relationship with others and a complex world. “Orientation to the environment through the senses” is a mindfulness instruction, and can become the basis of daily life practice, as we learn to extricate ourselves from the habits of anxiety, obsession, and unnecessary distress through arriving fully where we are. Because this extrication requires tolerating discomfort enough to let our animal bodies respond to sometimes painful sensation and feeling, we cultivate self-compassion and the ability to connect with safety, pleasure, and ease in the present moment. From these imperative Initial Conditions, the process can unfold as an unforced flow of experience.
The resonance of this model with non-dual Asian traditions like early Buddhism, Zen, Tibetan Dzogchen and Mahāmudrā, Śaiva Tantra, Advaita Vedanta, and Daoism is easily apparent. As an organismically-focused understanding, it also resonates deeply with earth-based and shamanic practices. Students of Organic Intelligence who also are committed to meditation, yoga, martial arts, or other awareness-based practices, often find their healing and spiritual life deepening together. In OI, as in many spiritual traditions, the practice and the goal are in some ways the same: mindful presence amid changing experience without overwhelm, connection to what is beautiful and joyful in life, deepening love and acceptance of ourselves, others, and all of existence. OI is already a powerful support for practitioners in many embodied spiritual lineages who have studied with Steve, but its deeper implications as a support for spiritual life are still unexplored. As we discover together the power and wisdom in this new form, I believe that all of us who are committed to spiritual and cultural evolution in this life will find profound benefit, and that the lives we grow into will be vibrant, compassionate, and a force for good in a changing world.