George Leonard: Towards a Balanced Way

This essay appeared in the Lomi Journal over thirty years ago. I find George’s insights every bit as relevant today. Please enjoy…

San Francisco – ‘the first city of the Age of Enlightenment.”

Last March, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi proclaimed San Francisco “the first city of the Age of Enlightenment”since, according to his figures, it is “the city with the largest percentage of its population practicing Transcendental Meditation in the world.” Through the Maharishi didn’t say so, it’s a safe bet that San Francisco is also the first city in the world in terms of gestalt, rolfing, psychosynthesis, encounter, Arica, massage, bioenergetics, Proskauer breathing, est, aikido, energy awareness, Feldenkrais, biofeedback and other growth disciplines. Indeed, since the mid-1960’s, the metropolitan area that centers on San Francisco  has emerged as a modern-day holy city, attracting thousands of pilgrims in search of enlightenment, transformation, a new way of being in the world.

This holy city, unlike Jerusalem, Mecca, Lhasa, or Benares, offers no simple religion, no monolithic sequence of techniques, no fixed doctrine. Residents and pilgrims can choose from a multiplicity of approaches. Practitioners work within a rich context of competition and cooperation which militates against conspicuous bad practice. Cross-fertilization and continuing evolution are the rule rather than the exception; rare is the discipline that has not been influenced by other disciplines. Groups that meet under the name of “encounter,” for example, are likely to include some gestalt techniques, massage and perhaps exercises from Feldenkrais or Arica. Psychosynthesis techniques are widely used in work not listed under that title. Breath control plays a part in most of the adventures of the body and spirit mentioned here. More and more group leaders are realizing the role played by bodily functioning and physical movement in the matters of personal growth and transformation. This increasing concern with the physical body has been accompanied by an awareness, new for our time, that certain “energies” flow in and around the body.  Talk of this “energy flow”(in the nature of the Chinese chi or Japanese ki) can be heard in encounter groups as well as at lectures in acupuncture or bioenergetics.

George Leonard, visionary and co-founder of the body-mind-spirit movement

So you can see that the 1970s seem to be moving us towards convergence and consolidation. You might even imagine that the many and varied approaches to growth and transformation could someday come together to form a single, unified work—or, what is more likely, several unified works. Such a development would, of course, have its disadvantages as well as advantages. It might retard creative ferment, and could well result in fixed doctrine and dogma. If these dangers could be avoided, however, a unified work combining the best elements of the separate works now available would have unprecedented power to transform individuals and social groups. The unification process is probably inevitable in any case, as is apparent to one degree or another in such groups as Arica, est, and, in a different sense, the Lomi school.

The challenge, it seems to me, lies in creating a balanced Way of Being, one which does not neglect any crucial aspect of human functioning, one which does the work of transformation without sacrificing intelligence, humor and compassion, one which, finally, contributes to social justice. What I want to do here is outline the main elements of a Balanced Way. I present this outline as by no means final but simply as a guide for further discussion.

A Way of the Body

The Body’s Way…whole being fitness

Fitness. Just as the body provides a foundation for any Balanced Way of Being, so physical fitness provides a foundation for the bodily arts. If this argument has any justice, then we must regretfully conclude that most growth disciplines and growth organizations are in serious need of some foundation work. The neglect of basic fitness is understandable; traditional “gym” or “P.E.” classes have given this aspect of life a bad name, and the jock image seems somehow at odds with personal transformation. The inauguration of the Esalen Sports Center in 1973, however, suggested a new approach to this subject.

The three components of fitness can be broken down into three groups. The first is related to general bodily capability and includes cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility. The second is related to the efficiency and skill of the body in motion, and includes agility, balance, coordination, power, and speed. The third, often neglected in Western conditioning, includes the crucial matters of right posture and right breathing. A Balanced Way will make provisions for training in each of these areas.

Specific Sport or Bodily Art. A Balanced Way will provide or encourage participation in some specific physical discipline. Through devotion to this sport or art, the participant can gain bodily control, and enjoy the transcendent experience of long-term psychophysical development. Dance, T’ai Chi, aikido, Feldenkrais, and hatha yoga come to mind as particularly appropriate; each offers conditioning in some of the fitness components listed above as well as being valuable in itself. It is also possible, as Michael Murphy has suggested, that Western sport as well as Eastern physical art can become a “liberating discipline of sorts, a kind of yoga or sadhana in the making.” Murphy has listed the siddhi or extraordinary powers associated with various religious and shamanistic traditions, and has given examples of each in the world of sport and bodily art. It is perhaps not entirely mischievous to suggest that the next great yogi will appear, not in a flowing white robe, but in a sweat suit.

Good Health.  In Western medicine, “health” is defined, by and large, simply as the absence of disease, along with normal readings on various tests. In a Balanced Way, however, this definition would provide only a starting point for explorations into the area of Good Health. This presently unexplored area involves states of extraordinary well being, above and beyond average conditioning. It involves systemic balance and vibrant flow of “energy” throughout the body. It is associated with good nutrition and freedom from dependence on drugs. It implies body/mind/spirit harmony.  A Balanced Way will offer guidelines and practice in  those matters that have to do with Good Health. I find it useful to remind myself that the world “health” shares common ancestry with the word “holy.”

A Way of Integration and Relationship

Integration of the Self. Since Freud first unearthed the “unconscious” forces that warp our daily actions and separate us from our own true being, psychologists of the West have devised ever-more-ingenious therapies for repairing the fractured self. Honed and polished, informed by a more hopeful view of human possibilities than that held by Freud, therapy itself has been transformed in psychosynthesis, gestalt and encounter. The family therapy concepts of Jackson and Satir, growing out of Bateson’s sophisticated theories of interaction and process, have led to efficient, non-coercive practice. Rogers and Maslow have had a pervasive, almost osmotic effect on all these new therapies. Scientology and est have created powerful means for clearing and integrating the self. The point here is that many methods now exist for helping people “get their stuff together,” and that these methods have a place in a Balanced Way. It is significant that the San Francisco Zen Center has quietly called in psychological counselors to help Zen students whose personal problems stand in the way of their practice.

Social and Ethical Integration. The question of social action is a troubling one for practitioners of the new adventures of the body and spirit. The behaviors involved in conventional politics, for example, have seemed far removed from those encouraged in the growth movement; any real connection has thus seemed remote. “There’s no way I can change the world,” the familiar saying goes. “All I can do is change myself.” Yet it is also clear that we are all interconnected, that the healthy body thrives best in a healthy body politic, that the social milieu places ultimate limits on individual transformation. In the long run, a Balanced Way involves social philosophy and social action. Any complete, coherent Way of Being implies a general ethical framework, and a Balanced Way will eventually result in the articulation of such a framework. It seems inevitable, moreover, that participants in a Balanced Way will, sooner or later, become engaged in the arena that is presently termed “political.”

Ecological Integration. To live a Balanced Way means to live in harmony with the natural world. To live in harmony with the natural world now requires that we transform the life style that prevails in the advanced industrial nations. Simply to preserve our planet, we must revise our economics, politics, manufacturing, marketing, advertising, transportation, housing, marriage, family, childrearing and individual consciousness. Ecological balance turns us towards social and cultural transformation. A Balanced Way is far from passive.

A Way of Mind

Practitioners of a Balanced Way will deal with cognitive materials as an aid to their practice. The map is not the territory; the theory is not the reality. But on any journey towards transformed being, some sort of map is needed. You have only to look at the rich and complex theoretical literature associated with the great Eastern religions to realize that thought and experience are not necessarily at war. Indeed, the cultivation of mind is closely allied with the cultivation of body. A transformed scholarship goes along with a transformed physical education. A number of present-day growth disciplines—est¬, Arica, pyschosynthesis—have formulated their own theoretical systems. My hope is that these systems stay open-ended. Theory becomes dangerous only when it is set in concrete, as “Doctrine.” At best, theory remains incomplete, tentative, a realm of play and delight—a necessity. As I’ve written elsewhere: “Perhaps our knowledge that transformation is possible comes from the realm of no-words. But we will need words to let it happen.”

A Way of Spirit

To make connection with the essential ground of being (which is beyond the power of words to describe) may be seen as the ultimate purpose of any Way, and it might claimed that all else of minor importance. A Balanced Way, however, will avoid specialization of certain yogic sects, in which the seeker bypasses the life and responsibilities of this world for the sake of a direct connection with the realm beyond. The means for connecting—meditating, chanting, fasting, isolation, and so on—are well known; the specific steps that can lead to samadhi have been carefully researched and validated through the ages. But participants in a Balanced Way will approach their samadhi not through mere spiritual technology but through the fullness of a full life. In a Way of Spirit, as Aldous Huxley point out, “what we know depends also on whay, as moral beings, we choose to make ourselves.” A Balanced Way will involve practices that lead to a higher knowing. These practices, however, will not stand apart from social and personal existence worthy of such knowledge.

The Prospect

From this vantage point in “the first city in the Age of Enlightenment,” the tendency towards convergence, towards a Balanced Way, seems strong and inevitable. For instance, Arica training combines body work, theoretical formulation and spiritual practices. Other groups are moving in the same direction. The California Institute of Transpersonal Psychology recently announced a Ph.D. program under the direction of Dr. Robert Frager, a psychologist and aikido master. The program lists five areas of study that come close to matching the elements outlined in this article: Body Work, Group Work, Individual Work, Intellectual Work, and Spiritual Work. Every doctoral candidate will be expected to participate in each of these areas. An American Way of Being compromising varied elements, old and new, physical/mental/spiritual, is surely an idea whose time has come.

I am pleased to offer these speculations as an introduction to the first publishing venture of the Lomi School. This exemplary organization has been motivated since its birth in 1971 by the search for convergence and balance, for the disciplined delight of body, mind and spirit joined. It is appropriate now to celebrate its successes, and to share, in this publication, the insights of some of its leaders.

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