From Chapter 2: What Is Integral Life Practice?
Whatever your motivation, the intention to begin, renew, or deepen a practice is a wonderful first step. But once you’ve made that choice, how do you follow through with it? Thirty years of experience have shown us that your practice will turn to mush without a framework for organizing it. An Integral framework can help you make sense of the many options available to you, providing ultimate flexibility and inclusiveness, so you can most fully and deeply honor your intentions and fulfill your potentials.
A Radically Inclusive Approach
The Integral Life Practice framework allows for maximum flexibility. It’s not a program you must follow uncritically, humorlessly, and perhaps even with a sense of superiority, until you’re enlightened, more successful, better looking, and someday hopefully perfect. It gives you a set of tools for designing a unique and personalized practice, in whatever form works best for you right
now, with the understanding that what works best will change over time.
The “Integral” part of ILP is that it is radically inclusive. To be this, it draws on a conceptual map called AQAL (which stands for “All Quadrants, All Levels”—we’ll get deeper into this in a moment). AQAL (pronounced ah-qwul) is a theory of everything, a way of comprehending life and reality in very broad yet precise terms. AQAL is a map of consciousness, the Kosmos, and human development, at every level and in every dimension that presents itself.
Technically speaking, AQAL is a map of maps, or a meta-theory that incorporates the core truths from hundreds of other theories. It organizes the profound insights of the spiritual traditions, philosophy, modern science, developmental psychology, and many other disciplines, into a coherent whole. AQAL accounts for the many perspectives that great thinkers, teachers, and researchers have brought to our understanding of self and world.
But it doesn’t stop there, because AQAL is also intuitive—it describes the terrain of your own awareness. You don’t need hi-tech equipment or an advanced degree to enjoy the benefits of an AQAL-informed perspective. All you need is to bring a new kind of awareness to your lived experience.
It’s similar to learning a second language. At the beginning, it may feel a little awkward as you’re memorizing new vocabulary and fumbling with new ways of expressing yourself. In time, however, you discover that the more you apply the new grammar to real life situations, the easier it becomes to remember and use it, even if you still instinctively think in your native language and translate to the second.
With practice, you begin to think in the new language with greater ease and mastery. Eventually, you even begin to dream in the new language. And you haven’t lost your old language; you’ve only become bilingual. The more fluent you become, the more the language infuses your being and becomes a part of who you are. Soon the words effortlessly flow from your lips and you’re able to communicate with different kinds of people in totally new ways. Your world has expanded to include new horizons that you may have never thought possible.
Integral Life Practice Is “Powered by AQAL”
Because AQAL attempts to map the Kosmos itself, ILP engages nearly every aspect of our lives. As you embark on an Integral Life Practice you will learn to hold more perspectives, and to do so more freely and flexibly, exercising every dimension of your being. It’s not just a mental game, but a felt and lived embodied intelligence. Integral Life Practice is AQAL applied to life—a life of conscious evolution in all parts of your being.
In creating Integral Life Practice we asked some key questions:
• What are the most effective and essential practices of the ancient
• What new insights into practice are offered by the most current
• How can we find the patterns that connect the most diverse insights
• How can we use this knowledge to promote a lifetime of growth and
We’re not the first to attempt a synthesis of East and West, or to extract the spiritual wisdom from the religious traditions. It does seem though that AQAL provides some powerful missing keys to a truly universal approach to practice that is still capable of respecting—and even empowering—the healthy differences between divergent paths.
As grand as this may sound, the basic principles are not particularly complex or difficult to grasp. Integral Life Practice is designed for and by people living within the pressurized schedules of the 21st century. You can’t afford to waste your time any more than we can. That’s why, if a practice isn’t high-leverage, you won’t find it here. ILP is perfectly compatible with a fast-paced professional lifestyle. But we haven’t cut corners either. If you want to go truly deep in your practice, ILP can help you do that quickly and directly.
How does ILP work? First, we suggest a modular approach to practice. An ILP module is a category of practice that relates to a specific part of your being, such as body, mind, spirit, or shadow. Identifying your practice modules will give you an overview of your practice life, allowing you to determine which areas you’re exercising and which you’re leaving out.
One of the benefits of a modular approach is that with just a handful of modules you can engage all the key areas of your life—while maintaining full choice of exactly how you do so. ILP does not dictate the specific practices you should do—and by “practices” we mean consciously and regularly performed activities such as yoga, weightlifting, journaling, acts of service, and so on. Rather, it suggests a few general areas—i.e., modules—that are essential, and others that are also important but optional, and then allows you to decide exactly how you want to engage those areas. This makes it easier to choose the practices that are right for you, while still covering all the bases.
Second, ILP is scalable, which means you can simplify and shorten your practice to accommodate your time frame. Do you often find yourself too busy for practice? You can do a basic form of Integral Life Practice in as little as ten minutes a day. Thus, anyone, no matter how busy, can have an Integral Life Practice.
Are you interested in deep and rapid transformation? You can also use the ILP principles to engage a committed life of practice at the deepest level—with the same intensity of a traditional monastic or an Olympic athlete. Your practices can stretch to several hours each day and may include attending retreats or living in a dedicated practice community.
Do you have a wide or very specific range of practice interests? ILP is customizable, letting you bring your unique interests, passions, and needs into play. It doesn’t impose rigid structures on you, but rather creates a flexible, open space in which you can creatively engage the many dimensions of your being.
When we do suggest particular practices, such as the Gold Star Practices, these are condensed and distilled—keeping what’s essential and discarding what isn’t—in order to give you the “most bang for your buck.” You can be sure you won’t be wasting your time.
Finally, ILP is Integral, by which we specifically mean “powered by AQAL.” AQAL is the most comprehensive map of consciousness available at this time, and Integral Life Practice puts it to use to create a cutting-edge form of practice for the 21st century. The AQAL structure of Integral Life Practice makes room not only for higher growth and self-actualization, but also and especially for awakening to, or recognizing, the Suchness or ever-present is-ness of this moment, and this one, and this . . .
Launch Pad: 4 Core Modules
Integral Life Practice has 4 Core Modules:
Additional important modules include:
• Integral Ethics
• Integral Sexual Yoga
• Transmuting Emotions
• Integral Parenting
• Integral Relationships
• Integral Communication
The universal starting point for ILP is the 4 Core Modules. That’s because they relate to four primary dimensions of your individual being: body, mind, spirit, and shadow. They don’t require anything or anyone else but you. So you can, if you wish, work on them by yourself. If you consistently engage practices in each of these four areas, you’ll empower and turbocharge your overall development. You will be better able to function inwardly and outwardly, through multiple perspectives, with greater clarity, presence, and vitality in practically any area of your life.
Traditional spiritual paths have usually emphasized only two or three of these modules—they almost never included the Shadow module. Modern and postmodern paths of self-development often do include shadow work, but some jettison the Mind module, and most usually lack the depth and rigor of the meditative traditions in the Spirit module.
If you only take on one practice in each of the 4 Core Modules, you’ll be doing ILP. That’s all it takes. And if you do it wisely, you’ll avoid the common pitfalls that can otherwise hold back meaningful transformation.
Some people ask, “Well, what if I really need to focus on something else besides the 4 Core Modules?” Of course you do! You can bring awareness and care to all your key relationships and functions (career, intimacy, family, and more) in the additional modules. And any module could be your focus at any given time. All the modules—core and additional—are important. If you’re in a phase where you’re looking to align your career with your life’s purpose or your heart’s passion, then you probably want to focus on the Work module and on unfolding your unique self. If you’ve just fallen in love (or are looking for love), or are working on issues with your intimate partner, then you probably want to focus on the Relationships module. If you’re starting a new family—well, then, you guessed it, the Parenting module.
The 4 Core Modules are a recommended foundation, not a rigid, dogmatic structure. The journey of your life will have many chapters, and the emphasis of your practice can shift accordingly. The ILP modules are just a way to account for the more central dimensions of your life. Moreover, you need not think of a module as a rigid, compartmentalized, abstract unit of your being—there’s no need to relate to yourself in a detached and clunky way. Modules orient, balance, and integrate a life of practice. The exact terms are less important than the energy, clarity, sincerity, and intentionality with which you engage your practice.
Gold Star Practices
Each module contains any number of practices that you may choose from. For example, the Body module includes a broad range of practices, including weightlifting, aerobics, sports, swimming, yoga, qigong, diet, and nutrition. Any practice that focuses on the embodied aspect of your life can be considered a Body module practice. Likewise, practices such as prayer, meditation, and devotional worship belong to the Spirit module, because they relate to the spiritual dimension of your being.
We’ve developed a number of recommended practices in each of the 4 Core Modules. We call them Gold Star Practices and they’re original, AQAL-based, and especially appropriate for 21st century life—integrating the best of traditional, modern, and postmodern approaches. Many Gold Star Practices are distillations of traditional practices—minus the religious and cultural baggage. In some cases, we invented a practice from scratch, to address a newly perceived need. All Gold Star Practices are streamlined and condensed, covering the most relevant aspects of practice.
Pressed for Time? Try a 1-Minute Module
Your ILP can be as rich and expansive as you want it to be. But for when you’re in a hurry, we’ve created quick versions of the Gold Star Practices that are called 1-Minute Modules. A 1-Minute Module is a Gold Star Practice condensed into a remarkably efficient and authentic exercise that takes very little time to complete. It’s a Gold Star mini-practice, which you can do almost any time or anywhere—at work, on the subway, after lunch, between classes, just before bed . . . whenever.
The 1-Minute Modules are not a replacement for more intensive practices. Ideally, you might have an hour or two each day to deeply engage your practices; and sometimes, for example in an extended retreat, you would have even more. But when you don’t have that much time, the 1-Minute Modules help you keep in touch with the essence of your practices, which is light years better then neglecting them completely.
By utilizing the 1-Minute Modules, you can do a full ILP, realistically, in about ten minutes a day. This makes it easy to maintain your practice even when you’re busy—and it also eliminates the main excuse for not practicing! Anyone can make the time to practice ILP regularly.
Time to Devote Yourself Deeply? The Principles of ILP Still Apply.
There is no end to practice. After years of dedication, experienced practitioners often work with the same modules in subtler, more nuanced ways. Once your whole life is practice, you tend to work more deeply with your states of mind and emotions. Your practice deepens in your relationships, work, and other additional modules. And, of course, you continue to return to Body, Mind, Spirit, and Shadow. Your practice should continually adapt, flex, and evolve as you move into each new phase of life and maturity.
The principles of ILP will help you to design and keep refining an overall practice that’s effective, balanced, and high-leverage. You won’t leave out any of the essentials, or neglect major dimensions of your development, even during periods when you concentrate on particular kinds of growth, such as an intensive phase of meditation practice or a period of focused training for an athletic event.
Even during phases of life in which practice apparently takes a back seat to work or family, you’ll have tools so it can flex and morph appropriately. In fact, the way you engage the modules and practices of your Integral Life Practice can evolve over time: general guidelines can become firm commitments that can develop into a natural and inherent orientation to every moment of life. There’s room not just for inhalation but also for exhalation—for all the qualities and phases of a healthy human life.
The Smart Way to Wake Up
The best thing is to just get started! Whether you’re a beginner or a veteran practitioner, make use of this book to bring the most intelligent and useful practices to your own life. Once you have the basics down, it’s easy to begin your own ILP. Here is a summary of how simply and quickly you can do so:
• ILP has 4 Core Modules: Body, Mind, Spirit, and Shadow. It
works via the principle of cross-training.
• All you need to start an ILP is one practice in each of the core
• Design your ILP and scale it to fit the realities (large or small) of
your schedule, level of commitment, and state of inspiration.
• Mix and match. Include practices from additional modules as appropriate;
focus on what’s most relevant and needed in your life.
• Gold Star Practices are optimized for ILP—they’re particularly
distilled, concentrated, and effective, but not obligatory. Try a
1-Minute Module if you’re busy.
• The hard part is the school of life itself. But practice helps us be
radically more present, alive, and capable of embracing both the
difficulties and the pleasures of everyday life.