Integral Practices for Times of Transition

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By Joy Reichart, New Ventures West, Guest Contributor

Gearing up as nature is winding down

How are you feeling this September? If you live or grew up in a place where the school year starts around now, you may have a mysterious, bone-deep response to this time of year. In the northern hemisphere, days start shortening, leaves start turning, and most beings prepare to hibernate and migrate. Meanwhile, human life picks up its pace, yanking us in the opposite direction of our animal instincts. The disappearance of summer’s relative spaciousness can feel harsh and sudden—and brings up a lot of conflicting feelings. 

How can Integral development help us to reconcile all this… 

… or at least not be so yanked apart by it? One way we can look at this phenomenon is through Ten Ways of Development, a model used by Integral Coaches to support their clients in becoming more deeply resourced. The premise of the model is that, as development deepens, human beings have observably different relationships to life.

Striving for balance

The most common level of development people embody when they come to coaching is termed, in this method, Balance. As the name suggests, folks have way too much to do and are working—living, really—to balance it all. It is the level of development at which the ingenious book by Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals is aimed. (That’d be most of us.)

In Balance, our lives are packed with commitments, all of which feel equally essential, and our task is to attend to all of them in sisyphean fashion: answer this email, take that meeting, do this errand, prepare that meal, squeeze in exercise, have quality time over dinner with our family, get the kids to bed—and oh, right, we’re supposed to sleep too. 

Pant, pant, pant. Yet this probably feels familiar—because we are doing it! With all the skill and precariousness of tightrope walkers, we somehow manage to keep our lives afloat, our loved ones alive, our days chugging along. 

But it takes everything we have. 

With most of the world living this way, we understandably have the sense that this is the only way to live. And so, even as fruit grows heavy on branches, even as the sun sets a few minutes earlier each day, even as our bodies long for the ‘laziness’ we may have indulged in during the previous weeks, we are compelled to join the upstream swim, pulling on every last resource we have.

Considering all this, it makes sense that this time of year may feel a bit overwhelming. Though there’s newness ahead, the few extra breaths we were perhaps afforded during the summer are about to be taken away. 

Notice what your body does in response to this. How deep are your breaths? Where are your shoulders in relation to your ears? How’s your tummy feeling? Where are your feet?

Claiming some agency

It is possible to move in our development so that there is more spaciousness. The developmental level below (i.e., deeper than) Balance is called Conversations. It has this name because folks at this level begin to see that how they speak and act have a direct effect on how life shows up for them. They understand, in other words, that they are in a conversation with life. 

Can you sense how someone at this level of development might have a different experience around this time of year than someone trying to keep a bunch of plates spinning? For one thing there may be more tolerance for conflicting emotions—sadness, excitement, despair, longing, and so forth. There is greater capacity to be with what is, versus act immediately to remedy the discomfort.

There is also greater agency in how this person moves through their days. Life is no longer a series of circumstances beyond their control or a parade of demands to deal with. There is more space to say yes and no. There is a closer connection to the center of their life, their purpose, and what is important to them. 

For instance, a person at this stage of development may acknowledge the sadness or longing or whatever they’re feeling, watch in wonder as the world around them speeds up, and adjust their own pace to address what is needed in the moment. Ultimately, as capacity grows, we are able not just to hold more, but to sense and name what is important to us, and devote ourselves to that in a more committed way. 

This is the stage of development into which students of Integral Coaching are invited. Not “invited” as in given the password to a secret room—development is neither instantaneous nor black and white. Rather, we take up practices that help us grow in this direction for the sake of helping others do the same. 

Below are two such practices that can support us in moving to a more conversational relationship with life, becoming more present to our experience, and developing the capacity to help us be with what we’re facing. Useful any time, the invitation here is to take up these practices specifically in relation to this odd time of year, when feelings run particularly deep and outer storms of activity are particularly insistent.

Practices to deepen into ourselves

Depending on how much time you have in your week, you may wish to alternate these practices, doing each every other day. 

Somatic Practice: Conditioning Your Center

This brief exercise is intended to connect you more deeply with the literal center of your body—known in different traditions as the hara (Japanese), the kath (Sufi), or the dantian (Chinese). For these purposes we can just call it the center, or core. By gently strengthening this place, we develop closer contact with it—in essence becoming more centered. 

Set an alarm twice a day to engage in this brief exercise for five minutes.

  1. Either sit with your spine straight and your feet on the floor, or lay flat on the floor.
  2. Take several deep breaths into your belly, drawing your attention to the space behind your belly button. 
  3. On the fourth or fifth exhale, begin pulling your belly button toward your spine, coming in closer contact with that center space.
  4. Begin to add some glute engagement (squeeze that derriere!) as you continue to pull in your navel with each exhale.
  5. Then add in some rib cage engagement to each breath, imagining it moving downward toward your center. 
  6. Notice the coherence, the literal gravity of your center as you make these motions. 
  7. As you resume your day, see if you can keep a fragment of your attention on this place. You can always pull your navel toward your spine to remind you it is there. 

Self-Observation: Noticing Your Feelings

The intention of this exercise is to gently begin loosening the grip our feelings have on us, clearing space in our emotional landscape so that we are not automatically acting on any old emotion that arises—or getting paralyzed by conflicting emotions. 

Either devote five minutes of your existing meditation to this exercise, or set aside five minutes to do just this.

  1. Sit in a settled, dignified posture.
  2. Spend a few moments breathing deeply and connecting with your body.
  3. Let your mind wander as it will. As soon as something comes up that has some charge —that is deeply uncomfortable, or makes you want to act in some way (it won’t take long!)—do your best to stay with it. 
  4. Let the narration of what is ‘causing’ this emotion fade into the background, and stay with the emotion itself. If it is readily available, you can give the emotion a name, but focus more closely on the sensation. 
  5. Notice where it resides in your body. Check out the movement or intensity of it. Does it have a sound, a color? What happens to your breathing? What else do you sense?
  6. Spend the remainder of your five minutes in close contact with the emotion, taking note of everything you can about it, including how it might shift or change under observation.
  7. When you open your eyes, you may wish to journal for a couple of minutes about what you experienced. 

We hope that these insights and practices help you find a bit more ground in these times of rapid, unceasing change. 

Learn more about Integral Development and practice these close-in ways of observing yourself and others in Foundations of Coaching, our virtual introductory workshop. Use the coupon code MINDFULLEADER for $100 off tuition.

Joy Reichart is the Communications Director at New Ventures West, an Integral Coach training school based in San Francisco.


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