This Weekend in 2013

I sit in a basement office space in a community center in Boulder, just having completed a session with a coaching client and preparing for a weekend workshop I will be co-leading. The community center is called The Integral Center. The workshop is the fifth weekend in a series of six to teach and train a group of about thirty in the fundamentals of an interpersonal communication process we call Circling.

On this morning’s commute I recounted my last month’s travels to my younger brother who just flew in to join us on the leadership team for the weekend. Since our previous training weekend, I have travelled to San Francisco to visit with friends, to a wilderness school near Mt. Shasta replete with sweat lodge ceremonies for two weekend retreats, and then back to Boulder. I have conversed and sat in meditation with a visiting Zen Master. I picked up a few more acro-yoga moves from a class in the grass at a park. I facilitated rapid-fire business meetings using a process called Holacracy. I attended a speed-reading and memory-improvement workshop. I met with coaching clients. I dined with friends. I discussed philosophy, science, and politics with friends and colleagues. We conversed on a range of topics such as recent events in Egypt, climate change, consciousness, the technological singularity, Buddhism, psychology, anarchism, the amazing properties of graphene, the conlang Ithkuil, sex-scandals amongst the ranks of spiritual teachers, the connections between intimacy and adult development, and probably a few other things I’m not recalling at the moment. For pleasure I’ve tossed back some beers with buddies, cuddled up with friends, surfed silly youtube videos, enjoyed some summer blockbusters, read the comic book story of Promethea, and played a little Ping Pong, Go, and some Magic: The Gathering.

This very weekend, in years prior, I’ve made ritualistic returns to Comic-Con in my hometown of San Diego, a spectacle of humanity with a healthy side dish of non-humanity for good measure. As social network feeds send their updates this morning, I sense my ambivalence towards missing this year’s international pinnacle of popular culture and arts. I fondly recall memories of years past and chance personal encounters with the likes of Stan Lee, the Wachowski’s, and Neil Gaiman. I also count it an honor to be part of a reverent and celebratory audience with Ray Bradbury once. Navigating the halls and aisles of Comic-Con floor I was struck by the close juxtapositions of our times: creativity and commercialism, the alternative and the mainstream, the young and the old, the cynical and the sincere, sexuality and innocence, cheap thrills and expensive rarities, the sacred and the profane, the artistic and the mundane. Though I feel relieved to be missing the lines, the crowds, the heat, the sweat, and the blaring inundation of marketing, I do miss the human connections, our conversations, and the narratives we would weave together while waiting in line to see some such celebrity, luminary, or other. One way I make sense of Comic-Con and the world in which is situated is its panoply of media to enact our search for meaning in a world of information overload and cynicism. Mythology is resurrected in a self-conscious form where fiction and truth meld. Though often the result is a reduction to a least common denominator, at its best it transcends simple conventions and offers vehicles aplenty for a globalized humanity to create and discover its own meaning through the re-enchantment of collective storytelling.

Back on my feeds, I’m updated from friends attending the Integral Theory Conference (ITC) in Northern California this very same weekend. Another international gathering, this time of philosophers and theorists in a collective inquiry into what it means to be human today and how we can make meaning together in a world of seemingly incommensurate pluralities. Without belaboring the often dense technicalities of what Integral Theory is exactly, I will attempt to convey its interest to me. On the surface, it is an ambitious meta-theoretical project, expounded most prominently by Ken Wilber, to make sense of everything: humankind’s place in the cosmos and the relationships amongst the mind & body, self & other, individual & collective, spirit & science, and the ongoing evolution of the natural world, culture, society, and the human condition. At the core of this project is the question of how to maximally integrate the massive variance of human perspectives without resorting to a simplistic forms of relativism or absolutism. Culturally speaking, it’s an exploration of what succeeds post-modernity, if anything. It’s both intriguing and ambitious—at times bordering on the bombastic, unsurprisingly. My interest includes both the intellectual and the personal: the Integral project has been a touchstone and a context for my own self-understanding in addition to the heady pleasures of intellectualizing about life, the universe, and everything.

As the time for our workshop to begin in Boulder approaches, I account for my decision to be here instead of at Comic-Con, ITC, or just kicking back with friends in the perennially moderate climate of my hometown. My personal quest for intimacy and satisfaction in relationships led me far and wide to therapy and a plethora of books and workshops on relationships and communication. Now I help teach others how to express themselves clearly while honing their listening skills. On a good day, our Circling process aligns with the intentions of the participants and we have the privilege of genuine contact between self and other: I and Thou. In Circling, casual chatter, discussions of facts, philosophical debates, or platitudes about how everything is relative and all perspectives are constructed are sidelined, and instead each participant is faced with an actual encounter with other real-live humans and their personal universes of desires, beliefs, preferences, confusions, and expressions. And as often as this is a profound encounter with other, it is just as often a profoundly, and sometimes surprising, encounter with the self. My own yearning for authentic connection and intimate depth has certainly led to a journey of surprising self-revelation—the myriad ways I’ve prevented myself experiencing what I want so very much. In a world where the search for meaning is often, at best, confined to the impersonal facts of science or the accoutrements of material success, and at worst, dismissed as a fool’s errand, the place I find meaning comes alive is in the space of human connection—an experience we all value and long for intrinsically, in spite of its complexities and challenges. I have literally fallen in love, as I do each time through, with our cohort of students. I choose to spend this weekend in 2013 with students, friends, colleagues and my brother here at The Integral Center where our interpersonal practices are informed by an Integral perspective on the human condition… and every day is one we share in love!

I can’t say where I will be next year this weekend. Perhaps one day you and I will meet and know each other in the flesh, if we haven’t yet already. My hope is that your window into my world has been a little of the kind of shared humanity you like.

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2 Comments

  1. Maya Hill says:

    Michael, thank you very much for giving me this insight into your time here.

  2. Leslie says:

    It is indeed a little of the shared humanity that I enjoy. Thank you for reflecting so eloquently and poignantly on your time in Boulder, along with your other endeavors, enjoyments, and thoughts about your life. This piece is the perfect reflection of the man that you are: intellectual, eloquent, and comprehensive….yet full of heart and soul. You are a philosopher, a visionary, and a teacher, my friend.

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