A few years ago…maybe 2016, I read “Trump in a Post Truth World” by Ken Wilber. Immediately after I remembered that I’d purchased a book spontaneously at the gift shop in the SF exploratorium by Ken Wilber, “The Marriage of Sense and Soul: Integrating Science and Religion.” I’d started reading it on the drive home and stashed it in the glove box of the car. It was still there, folded in a strange way, but waiting for me. I read it over the next few days, and that began my journey into Ken Wilber’s Integral theory and what I called a treasure hunt because each book I read led me to another author or thinker who revealed something that seemed exactly the treasure I was seeking: life-meaning. Ken Wilber led me to Robert Kegan, and the two authors allowed me to realize that a family friend was actually at the forefront of the integral thinkers, writers and educators – I reached out to him, for the first time understanding what he did, and we began a relationship – first me picking his brain then in a more formal coaching relationship. From these integral thinkers I next stumbled on Jordan Peterson. For those of you who know how controversial he is, you might be surprised and how hard I fell for him – but I did. I had never even used youtube at the time, but I found his lectures on the Psychological Significance of the Bible which led me to watch every one of his lecture videos which included two full graduate level psychology courses and the full series of bible lectures. Each if these thinkers Wilber, Kegan, and Peterson- combined with a pattern that had emerged in my osteopathic practice, were the inspiration for the Life Coherence Project.
The idea of the Life Coherence Project relies on theories of adult development (Kegan) and integral theory (Wilber). These theories explain that people develop in a particular way after adolescence, … and that if we become more aware of it we can facilitate that development. The levels described after adolescence by Kegan are levels 4-5 and depending on which model you use (and there are many) they can have very different names, but 4 and 5 will work for now. By level 4 we start self-authoring. An abbreviated description of level 4 is that instead of being “made to feel” or be a certain way, by the people and relationships around us we start to make our own choices about who we want to be and how we want to feel. Also, at this level of development we become aware that we are growing, and that we have a role in our growth, and that we face obstacles to development we can, and cannot, see.
One of the profound insights that Kegan has, is that life is like a curriculum and we have to be developed enough to handle the level of life curriculum we are in, and that today life’s curriculum is intensely complex. There are more problems, more choices, more diversity… so we really have to develop to be able to handle the curriculum we face, and if we don’t, we end up feeling overwhelmed, in over our heads, undervalued, and our soul longing becomes terribly painful. Being aware of the curriculum is helpful too. Learning the curriculum of life and development is sometimes discussed, by Kegan, as turning subjective to objective.
Jordan Peterson’s work helped me to know more deeply certain important concepts such as the innate drive to find meaning in life, that once we are fed and sheltered and supported, if we don’t allow the drive towards growth to manifest, if we don’t seek meaning, we will fall prey to the suffering which is inherent in our existence. Peterson’s work on a particular personality typing called the Big Five Personality Traits, and his courses on great thinkers in psychology and their systems of understanding psychology was also instrumental in helping me understand that we are the same and different, each of us, in certain predictable ways.
There are other useful personality tools, like the Big Five scale, for example the enneagram, which are used as part of the LCP again -the utility of Peterson’s work is to see that part of seeking meaning and right action involves needing to know ourselves – meaning seeking might be innate but what is meaningful to one person is very different than what is important to another. The task then is to know ourselves well enough, so that we can grow ourselves.
And this idea of knowing ourselves being part of achieving more life ease, peace and joy … well the first person who explained it well to me was my grandfather – a wise wise man who I still miss deeply. So in some ways perhaps those conversations with him on Tuesdays so many years ago, were the beginning of this treasure hunt. I wonder what he’d think of the life coherence project.
Wilber’s contribution is huge as well – he authored integral theory which is a theory that attempts to integrates most philosophies and science into a theory of everything, but some of the key useful ideas for the Life Coherence project are that in any thing we do (ie in life, in development) we should addresses the different parts of us – our personal, relational, and community roles, our emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual aspects and so on. One way to look at this is through Wilber’s four quadrant model.
Another contribution from Wilber, is simply recognizing and articulating that while we might develop to a very high level in one area of our life, (Wilber uses colors to describe levels of development – say green or even teal) there may be areas where we are less developed. These areas of our life can be categorized differently – but some example categories are cognitive, emotional, spiritual, kinesthetic, esthetic etc.
Further, while we may reach a high level of development, sometimes we can spiral back down to a lower level depending on life circumstances, our shadow side, or our history, or the crises and obstacles we face. Finally, because Wilber is attempting to reconcile everything, he is one of the key thinkers that is able to return to the idea that we are not either objective biochemical biomechanical beings, nor spiritual energetic emotional beings, but some melding of all of our parts.
Wilber’s work, looking at all of the differences and different parts, and attempts to knit them back together, is in some ways very much like the biodynamic osteopathic model. In learning to practice this model of osteopathy a deep understanding of the minutiae of every aspect of our organism is undertaken and at the same time the entire body of knowledge is thrown out during each treatment while the osteopath sits with the Whole and the Health in order to not limit the capacity of Health by what she knows.
In other words, there is great value in discerning the parts in order to know ourselves or anything, but we can never fully know anything by its parts. So we must constantly move between parts and whole, knowing and not knowing. While I read Wilber over many months, I recognized the importance of this part of the Biodynamic model of Osteopathy – that it helped me discern parts and integrate them but perhaps more importantly that it offered a felt-sense of a more authentic whole to my patients.
One of the things I observed over many years, in myself and happening with a few of my regular patients is this whole understanding of what it is to be coherent and integrated. Patients sometimes came to me for “tune ups.” “How can I help you today? I would ask, which to most people was translated “What’s wrong that needs to be fixed?” But now and then the answer would be – I’m doing well, I’m just here for a tune up. I want to feel that thing…”
People have their own unique words for this thing – when speaking from a scientific, or biologic perspective I explain it as a balancing of the autonomic nervous system. From a biodynamic perspective I often talk about balancing the fluid body. From a spiritual perspective I call it “hooking back up,” “going home, “connecting to source.” One patient told me he was seeing colors again. From a more Buddhist model we sometimes talk about “being grounded” or “centered” or peaceful. A sense of rightness, comfort and ease. I called it all these things, but over many years of working with Dr. James Jealous I have come to understand it as a profound gift. For me it is essential to my wellness – every aspect, body mind and spirit and it is part of being whole.
This is foundational to the Life Coherence Project – each person who goes through this process spends time working to know the parts but is supported by a foundation of practices and osteopathic sessions focused on holding the reality of the Whole, and integrating Health.
Out of this research – a many year treasure hunt, and from years of working with people and gaining insight into their lives, years of studying with Dr. Jealous, and studying Osteopathy of watching people change and grow – or not I started to form this Life Coherence idea.