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Living the Integral Way of Life

By: Michelle Wood

What Is an Integralist?

One of the topics dear to my heart is balance and harmony, both the inner balance and harmony of your body systems and organs working perfectly, and working perfectly together for your health and wellness, and outer harmony with your environment. To be in this sort of relationship with yourself and your environment means that your needs are fulfilled, and you both receive pleasure and give pleasure to everyone and everything because you acknowledge and appreciate the unity of all things.

Being in harmony with your environment can take many and diverse paths and routines, from following the energy of your astrological chart, arranging your home according to the principles of feng shui, eating foods in their season, to appreciating the cycles of sun and moon, and the seasons.

I have found that many people who live “green” and take care of the environment by paying attention to and reducing their carbon footprint as much as possible, who “eat organic” for the benefit of both the soil and the body, who appreciate the everyday miracles they see in their surroundings are the people who give pleasure to the environment. We don’t often think of that as “giving pleasure” to the environment, and the environment probably does not feel pleasure in the same way a person does, but there is an interaction on the energetic level, and the vibrations of the happy and appreciative emotions we emit while breathing fresh air, drinking clear water, and eating wholesome foods, not to mention the peace and joy we feel when surrounded by the beauty of the natural landscape, have an effect on our surroundings.

Being out of harmony with your environment is often felt as the loss of the sense of peace and contentment, which frequently happens throughout the day of a busy life. It means not paying attention nor connecting with your surroundings. It means rushing from here to there without noticing what is going on around you, eating convenience foods whether the food is nutritious or not, forgetting to take the time you need for yourself and your spiritual practice, leaving you feeling vaguely hungry and thirsty without being able to identify the source of the hunger or thirst, that nebulous “something is not right, but I don’t know what” feeling.

Inner balance means taking care of yourself by eating healthy, nutritious foods, getting the right amount of sleep for yourself, making sure you balance work time with play time. It is less about the physicality of living and more about the metaphysical aspects, the thoughts, feelings and beliefs you have that nurture you and allow you to have respect and appreciation for your emotional wellness as well as your body and your physical health. When your spirit is nurtured, your emotions and beliefs are in balance and the universe is a place of wonder and joy. You want the best for everyone without exception; you appreciate each individual for the unique talent and gift they each bring to our universal Oneness or Wholeness.

I believe this is possible only when you have a practice of self-cultivation, take responsibility for every action, and have a strong sense of spiritual connection. As Master Ni says on page 25 of The Way of Integral Life, “The best thing you can do for the world is to develop yourself spiritually.”

You create your life and your experience. On page 25 of TAO: The Subtle Universal Law and the Integral Way of Life, Master Ni writes:

“It is the energy projected by an individual’s own mind which creates his experience. Consciousness is the vessel. The events in one’s life are merely the physical or mental manifestations of the vessel’s contents. The events are thus nothing more than reflected images of one’s own mental energy. The secret to leading a positive life is to refine and harmonize one’s energy so as to live in consonance with the order of the universe. Conversely, by holding negative energy in one’s mind in the form of distorted thought patterns and attitudes, one’s life will reflect negativity and disharmony.

“Every facet of our being is a manifestation of energy.”

So, are you an Integralist? I didn’t really think of using that term until a few years ago following an interesting teleconference. About the same time, I learned that there are at least two different kinds of Integralist, and they embrace quite different principles!

I participated in a teleconference call with Dr Roger Jahnke in 2008. We were at the end of the call, and I had asked a question which was being answered by Dr Jahnke. In the ensuing conversation, I don’t recall my exact words, but said something like, “I believe we already have inside us everything we need to be completely healthy,” and he responded by telling me that I am an Integralist.

In spite of reading and following the writings of Master Ni Hua-Ching for many years, I did not apply the label of Integralist to what Master Ni calls “The Integral Way” in his writings on Daoism. In fact, Integralist frequently refers to a political philosophy, and that is not the Integralist to which I refer in this writing.

So, for perfect clarity, here is the definition of Integralist as I understand it and live it, and intend it for this article: a person who believes in the harmony of body-mind-spirit, conscious and unconscious, inside your body and outside with your environment, not necessarily just your local environment, but your universal (spiritual) environment. These are the teachings of many Daoist leaders, included in many Daoist writings, and in particular the writings of Master Ni Hua-Ching in his books on “The Integral Way.”)

The First Steps are Qigong and Meditation

As most people do, I searched for the “cure” when the “disease” became nearly overwhelming. I don’t want to spend a lot of time describing my darkness; this is going to be different for everyone, and its purpose is to make you open your eyes and heart and look around with Consciousness, Awareness, and Connection. In my case, the disease was not physical, it was emotional. Most of my fifty-seven years have been spent living with people who crushed my self-esteem and self-worth, who also convinced me that I had no other choice than to stay with them because I was too incompetent, too incapable of taking care of myself. They told me that I did not have the brains nor the skills to survive, especially financially, on my own. They said they were “doing me a favor” by taking care of me. I dwelt in that darkness for a long time…..too long.

However, when things are at their darkest, a ray of light (dare I say enlightenment) always appears; always, without exception, but it takes Consciousness and Awareness to see it and follow it.

There is a direct correlation with spiritual connection, self-love, and physical well-being. Feeling bad about yourself puts you out of harmony with your environment. The energy you emit can be damaging to your surroundings because you really do influence everyone and everything around you. Additionally, being in a state of powerlessness often engenders an “I don’t care” attitude which can lead to actually engaging in activities that may feel good in the moment but are ultimately harmful. Many addictions come from this state of being.

I myself smoked cigarettes from the time I was 17 until age 51; I quit six years ago and have not had one cigarette since. This is not to say I am better than other people who have quit and then gone back to smoking, but I believe discoveries happened like rungs on a ladder that let me climb up and out of the darkness. I made the spiritual connection I required that’s allowed me to feel that self-love that’s given me the ability to nurture myself emotionally instead of trying to “feel good” with a nicotine high.

One of the things I have come to believe very sincerely is that all problems, without exception – physical, mental, and emotional – are due to a spiritual disconnect.

The first rung on the ladder toward my own Integral Way of Life was the taiji class I started in 1995. Unfortunately, the class went only a few months and we were not able to learn the entire form, but that class was my first exposure to qigong; the taiji instructor used several qigong movements as warm-up exercises, and I enjoyed them so much that after the class ended, I continued doing these miscellaneous qigong moves until learning the Baduanjin (Eight Pieces of Brocade) form a couple years later.

I had no knowledge of metaphysics when I began qigong, but quickly enough began to sense a difference in myself, that I began to feel the stirrings of both peace and power, the kind of peace that allows clarity of thought and vision, and the kind of power that breeds self-confidence and self-esteem. These were quite new sensations, for sure, and even though it felt confusing and precarious at times, I liked them!

Quite frankly, I didn’t really understand what was going on at that time. However, I have the perfect words now, quoting Dr. Roger Jahnke in his appearance on Lama Tantrapa’s “The Secrets of Qi Gong Masters” Blog Talk Radio show http://www.blogtalkradio.com/qigongmasters/2010/11/23/interview-with-dr-roger-jahnke from November 2010 in which Dr. Jahnke spoke about wellness and qigong as a mind-body practice:

Dr Jahnke: “So, I think we have agreement on the first way [to remove that restraint to the natural expressiveness of our inherent well-being], which is a body-oriented result which arises from the will and the intelligence making the decision to focus, have a radical attentiveness to the present moment, which you stated very nicely a moment ago.

“The second thing that happens is a non-body-associated process, but it has an influence on the body which is that in the absence of the past and the future, we are naturally in the – I’ll put quotes around it – the “eternal now.” There’s a whole school of thought around this concept of present moment focus. There’s also a school of thought around the whole idea that in the absence of paying attention to the multiplicity, the layers of life, the past, the present, and the future, and just isolating our intention into the present, that we’re actually tapping infinity.

“And, what’s interesting about that, is that in that state, which could be called the “qigong state,” which could also be called the “oneness state,” could also be called the “non-dual state,” in that state, what we believe to be true, according to the great thinkers, and the great practitioners of qigong and taiji and including perhaps yourself and myself, is that when we go into that state of radical attentiveness to the “now,” we’re actually in a relationship with the part of ourselves that is whole. And that we are in a direct relationship with the part of ourselves that is eternally well. The part of ourselves that cannot get sick, and does not die. And, uh, this starts to sound a little trippy or esoteric…”

Lama Tantrapa: “At least metaphysical to some extent.”

Dr Jahnke: “Yes, so those are the two ways, one is that you shift the nervous system and that your body reflects less stress and therefore it moves naturally toward a state of greater well-being, and the second way – and they happen at the same time – is that when you tap into the “now,” you’re connecting with your eternal self, the part of yourself that isn’t just here in the four dimensions. . .”

So there it was, without my even knowing it at the time, along with the normal relaxation-response and wellness that qigong delivers, I was tapping into the state of Wholeness, of Oneness.

Introduction to the Integral Way

Michelle Wood practice standing meditation

A couple of years into my qigong practice, I attracted a mentor who introduced me into a newqigong style, Zhan Zhuang, Standing Tree or Standing Pole, as taught in the book The Way of Energy by Master Lam Kan Chuen. As that practice progressed, my understanding and experience of that state of connecting with, as Roger called it, “your eternal self” grew enormously. (I like to call it Standing Tree rather than Standing Pole because a pole has not the same life force as a tree; a pole does not bud in the spring and flower in the summer and bear fruit in the autumn as does a tree which, to me, seems much more alive with life-force and qi.

The first stage of Standing qigong for me was to experience the energy of the Earth, and as soon as that happened, I knew there was something much bigger going on than mere feelings of “energy.” We in the West tend to think of the word “energy” in terms of calories or electricity.

There is, however, a much broader and larger experience of the living nature of energy when you practice qigong in that Oneness or Non-dual state. I like to use the words Consciousness or Awareness because they bear the connotation of the living essence of the experience. It is spiritually nourishing and consciousness expanding. On an everyday level, much more takes place than simple observation of and being in harmony with the seasons and the stars.

In seeking to understand more about these unusual experiences I had during Standing Tree qigong practice, I started learning about qigong as the self-healing facet of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and discovered the Daoist writings of Master Ni, Eva Wong, and others who talked about the earth and the sky as living, conscious entities of which we were a part . . . an Integral part!

Along with being an entity in and of myself that contains everything I need to be healthy and whole, I am – we all are – cells in this “body” of our planet, perhaps we are ever waves or particles in this “body” of our universe. Authors and scientists are revealing more surprises every day, and we are learning that even though cells that were once connected are separated (say a few of your cells are removed and placed across the building, or across town), they will maintain a non-physical connection that is evident when both groups of cells react to an event that is directly experienced by only one, a mild electric shock for example.

We all are connected in ways that may be challenging to describe or discuss but if you train yourself to become sensitive to it, the connection can be experienced daily.

The best part is that you don’t even have to go anywhere to learn about or experience this Oneness. Verse 47 of the Daodejing (John C. H. Wu translation) clearly points to an inward direction in order for you to discover and make this connection: meditation, qigong, whatever practice allows you to tap into the “now.”

Without going out of your door,
You can know the ways of the world.
Without peeping through your window,
You can see the Way of of Heaven.

The farther you go,
The less you know.

Thus, the Sage knows without traveling,
Sees without looking,
And achieves without Ado.

(I know I have mentioned this before but I love it so will mention it again) is also a song sung by George Harrison and the Beatles. . . a Daoist verse with Hindu iconography. . . which you may view here: http://enlightenmenteveryday.blogspot.com/2011/02/inner-light-george-harrison-daodejing.html

There is a great paradox about looking inward: you see so much further outwardly at the same time.

Touching in with Source

As the proverb says:

To improve your health –

  • Medicine supplement is not as good as nutrition supplement;
  • Nutrition supplement is not as good as Qi supplement;
  • Qi supplement is not as good as shen (spirit) supplement.

The best way to supplement the spirit is to cultivate that “qigong” state, that state of Oneness, mentioned by Dr. Jahnke in his interview with Lama Tantrapa. Gently throughout the day, bring your mind back and back again to living in the moment instead of fretting about the past or worrying about the future.

You can do this by sitting quietly in meditation at times, or by practicing qigong movements with your full attention on the movement and your full intention in achieving the deepest level of spiritual connection that you are able at that moment. You may be surprised at how deeply you may go and how quickly you may get to that level after you have cultivated this state for a while. Your body, mind and spirit have an integrated memory, and work together to re-experience it, and to go deeper still, when given the opportunity to do so!

At times it may even seem to be a mystical experience! Which leads me to a quote I saw just yesterday that describes the word “mystic” quite perfectly: “It simply means one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience. All spiritual traditions agree that such a movement is possible, desirable, and available to everyone.” – Fr. Richard Rohr, Founding Director, Center for Action and Contemplation in his article “Mysticism In Religion: Three Ways to View the Sunset” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/fr-richard-rohr/three-ways-to-view-the-su_b_822092.html

Fr. Rohr also said: “Some call this movement conversion, some call it enlightenment, some transformation, and some holiness.”

I like to call it Being In The Dao.

When your cultivation practice takes you from belief to experience, you can maintain this mystical state of Consciousness or Oneness for longer and longer periods of time. You will discover the peace that enables you to feel content and happy, the state that also allows your body to relax and regenerate, which is the physiological equivalent to spiritual cultivation. This also brings these same feelings to everyone and everything around you, the Greater You, your relationships and your environment.

That, to me, is Living the Integral Way of Life. The best part is that it’s readily available to you, you already have within you everything you need: the desire and the discipline to cultivate it.

[Michelle Wood – has a degree in Holistic Relaxation Therapy from Natural Health Institutes, is a student yang sheng magazineof the Yijing since the early 1990s, and embraced the philosophy and shamanic roots of Daoism at the beginning of the 21st Century. Ms. Wood is a counselor for a weekly grief-recovery and transitions group, and leads discussions on Daoist principles for the on-line community at FindingAnswers.info.  She offers meditation and Qigong classes and workshops, both privately and through Central Oregon Community College. Her participation in kirtan, Indian devotional singing, lead her to study the archetypal vibrations found in Sanskrit mantras and chants. Excited by the practice of Toning, Ms. Wood developed a wellness program utilizing the phrases, tones and vibrations found in Sanskrit bhajans, devotional songs. She has just launched her new business Everyday Enlightenment, Transforming emotion and attitude into positive, life-enhancing lessons! She helps you do this through Consciousness and Awareness Development techniques such as qigong and meditation. Find her online at “Everyday Enlightenment” http://www.everyday-enlightenment.com and “Everyday Enlightenment” blog at http://enlightenmenteveryday.blogspot.com/ ]
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