If you or I needed physical healing today, we would know exactly where to go and what to do. But if we wanted integral health, we wouldn’t know where to turn. If we had ample resources, we might spend a weekend or week at a spa. In addition to being pampered, we would be offered a variety of opportunities that might range from massage to yoga, cooking classes, or relaxation techniques. Or we could attend a program at a spiritual center, focusing on our inner life. But where would we go for the guidance and support needed for a fully integrated and far-reaching integral approach? Where would we go to embrace a new and expansive vision of our possibilities, to find skillful and committed integral practitioners, and to share our journey with a like-minded community?
For more than 800 years the Asclepian healing temples served these purposes given the resources and skill of the Greek culture at that time. There were hundreds of such centers to choose from. However, this is not the case today, and that absence cannot be filled by conventional medical centers, integrative care programs, spas, or spiritual centers. Healing centers that currently focus on integrating alternative and complementary approaches extend the outer approaches of biomedical centers, but they do not fundamentally alter them. While they have added to our medical toolbox and here and there flirted with other aspects of being, they have mostly missed the broader intent of an integral approach. Each makes its own contribution, but none is integral in scope.
If humanity is to evolve to integral health, it is imperative to create a health care system that encourages and supports our efforts. We also need a community of trained professionals and like-minded friends who support our efforts. We cannot do this work alone in an unsympathetic culture. We need a safe haven in which to develop sufficient inner stability to allow us to do meaningful work in the outer world without being constantly pulled away from our inner life. An entirely new, more broad-based healing center is needed to nurture and promote the five principles of integral healing. We call this The Center for Human Flourishing. This healing center needs to embody the integral vision and be staffed by healers who have walked this path so that center will have the scope and depth needed to accomplish its ambitious mission—helping humanity take the evolutionary step to integral health.
As individuals, as a culture, and as a global village we must expand our limited and limiting vision of health. In order to unfold the fullness of our personal potential and live cooperatively and successfully in a very complex world, we need integral health rather than partial health. Only then can we carefully use our sophisticated and too often lethal technologies to address the challenges of multiculturalism, and bring worldwide poverty and the many heart-wrenching problems created by it to an end. We must exceed the limits of our current consciousness because wisdom and compassion are needed more desperately now than ever. For the world to become a truly global village, we need to avail ourselves of the full gifts of our humanity.
Years ago in an effort to understand how such a cultural shift could occur, I studied the process by which our current system of scientific medicine came into existence. I wanted to know exactly how we succeeded in replacing an entrenched and outdated system of eclectic practitioners and their apprentice-style education. So I traveled from archive to archive in this country to study the transformation in medicine that occurred during the brief 50 years from 1870 to 1920. What I discovered was rather astonishing.
There were only three basic requirements for change. The first and most essential was a vision of change whose time had come. The second was a few forward-looking, pivotal individuals who could see the future of medicine and were willing to steadfastly promote it against the prevailing and entrenched interests of the time. The final element was philanthropic support for the initial demonstration project and the effort needed to extend this approach to the entire culture. Once this vision caught on, it spread rapidly.
We can take hope from this history lesson. Now we know fundamental change requires a vision whose time has come, devoted, far-seeing leadership, and a demonstration project supported by philanthropic or public funding. The time is ripe for the realization of the integral vision. What would a Center for Human Flourishing look like? How would people use it? Let’s imagine what is needed to make this a reality.
The Blueprint for a Center for Human Flourishing
Let’s begin the blueprint for such a center by examining the integral vision and the integral map. From there we’ll look at the setting for the center, its appearance and ambience, the characteristics of practitioners, the activities of the center, and its extension into the community.
The mission of the center is to alleviate suffering and to promote human flourishing—integral health, happiness, and wholeness—first for our self and then for others. The activities of the center will address the full range of human experience—psychospiritual, biological, interpersonal, and worldly. Each individual who visits the center needs to have a clear understanding of the integral vision and map, though that may be no more than a vague familiarity for the first-time visitor. The ideal place for a retreat facility is in proximity to an urban center.
Why a retreat center? Each person must have a regular opportunity to extract his or her self from daily life with its many demanding activities and distractions. We can then fully focus on the steps involved in turning ourselves toward human flourishing. In a sense this may seem indulgent. But in actuality it is required to create integral health and life. Consider the fact that when we become ill, we are forced to drop everything and spend whatever time is necessary to regain our health. This is usually outer health alone. Do we have to be sick in order to find time for our health? Do we have to be sick in order to give our self permission to invest in integral health and life?
There are three levels of retreat: outer, inner, and innermost. Each will be available at the center. Each of these is important. The outer retreat is an external environment of stillness and solitude free from the normal activities and distractions of daily life. This outer environment supports the inner and innermost aspects of retreat. The inner aspect is not located in a physical location. It is in the mind. So it may take time to develop. We enter an inner retreat when our mind is emptied of its usual distractions, centered in stillness, and infused with loving-kindness. The inner retreat allows time, space, and quiet needed for contemplative practices that support integral health. In time, the inner retreat will give way to the innermost retreat. This occurs when we touch the most subtle mind and its pristine awareness and intuitive knowledge.
The retreat setting will be a sanctuary, a sacred place where we can attend to our lives with care and devotion. It will be a place of physical beauty that encompasses both the natural and the built environment. It will mirror back to us the solitude and harmony we seek to discover in all aspects of our life. The center and its environs will feel like our natural home, reflecting the ease, peace, and embrace that lie within. Every detail will be uplifting, supportive, and conducive to integral practice and personal development.
Each member of the staff will be a healer in his or her own way. This includes the individual who answers the telephone, kitchen helpers, and the cleaning and support staff. The integral process will be the foremost aim of everyone involved in all the center’s activities. That will allow a healing presence to be felt through a gentle word, a thoughtful gesture, a kind touch, or a listening ear. That can serve as both reassurance and an example of what should be possible in all human interactions.
The healing practitioner will be the focal point of the center’s activities. Each practitioner will be involved in his or her ongoing integral transformative process. To model and teach this special work requires not merely book learning, but direct hands-on instruction in the many practices—their demands as well as their achievements—that comprise the path to human flourishing. Practitioners will be involved in this sacred work because it is of prime importance in their own life. For them, helping others to similarly find their way is part of their own integral process. In a sense these individuals are the Asclepians of the modern-day healing center, catalyzing the healing process while simultaneously helping to build the personal skills and capacities of others. Their intention is to assist each individual in assuming his or her rightful role as self-healer as soon as possible. These practitioners will be different than the technically oriented practitioners we are familiar with. Their background and training will be varied. But what they share and emphasize in their work is knowledge of the integral path and fluency with integral practice. They are generalists in the integral path while being specialists in one particular modality.
The Healing Relationship
The practitioner’s knowledge will be complemented by his or her skillful capacity to listen with full attention. This special type of listening will serve two purposes. To begin, one listens with a contemplative mind and a clear, unconditioned awareness. This is accompanied by the intention to fully hear the other regardless of the time involved. When one listens in this way, one is entrained or drawn into the other’s experience. So the practitioner becomes fully empathic and fully aware of the circumstances of the individual’s life. As a result, both the practitioner and the individual are able to arrive at a clear sense of the next step toward integral health. Together they will determine what aspect or aspects of the life are ready to be worked with and what practices would suit this individual.
The second aspect of the listening process is what we will call “reverse entrainment.” As the practitioner takes on the life experience of the individual, the individual simultaneously takes on the contemplative state of the practitioner. When this occurs, the practitioner can point out the nature and character of the subtle mind experienced by the individual. This is an essential first introduction to the inner life, which unfolds naturally from the listening process.
The meeting of the practitioner and the individual thus serves as both an ongoing assessment process and a healing process. The bond formed here will be a long-term relationship. The healer remains available until the individual has developed the capacities and resources to assume full responsibility for self-healing. Clearly, we are not referring to a childlike dependent relationship. Here the intent of the practitioner is to liberate the individual from the need for any healer except the one inside. He or she accomplishes that by providing the appropriate vision, skills, understanding, encouragement, and support.
Having arrived at a full assessment, the practitioner and individual develop an integral plan tailored to the unique needs of the individual and involving one or more of the four aspects of life—psychospiritual, biological, interpersonal, and worldly. This plan, accompanied by the proper resources to sustain it, becomes the starting point in a dynamic process that aids in the recovery from disease or distress and promotes integral health and well-being. This process will continue day-after-day until the individual is ready to return home. The entire process will occur in the context of a supportive community of like-minded individuals.
The healing center will be designed like a wheel with a hub and its spokes. The hub is the ongoing relationship between the practitioner and the individual. It is the center of the integral approach. From this core relationship specific activities and practices radiate outward like the spokes of a wheel. The focus and particular resources of the healing plan will vary according to the needs of the individual, but they will steadfastly be aimed in the direction of human flourishing.
With increasing facility in contemplative practice, the individual will slowly, at his or her own pace, shift the center of healing from the outside—the center and its resources—to the inside—his or her consciousness and its resources. Simultaneously the relationship with the practitioner will also undergo change as the individual progressively takes on the role of self-healer. This is the step that never occurred at the Asclepian healing centers. There, the healer always remained outside in the form of Aesclepius. In our time and in such a center, it is the clear intent of integral practice that the individual takes back the powers previously attributed to a god. Human beings are now capable of this essential shift.
Retreats always come to an end. They are not meant to be permanent, but rather a special space in time to allow us to focus without distraction on our life. They are meant as a preparation for worldly life rather than as a substitute or antidote for it. Although the individual may leave the center, the center will not leave the individual. The entire experience—the relationships, personal growth, practices, and other resources—will become part of the individual’s life. Of even greater importance, the vision of human flourishing, the knowledge of what is now possible, and the hopefulness and confidence that have been attained will endure in the heart and mind of each person who experiences the center and its staff. The center will remain a home to return to again and again until that home is firmly and securely situated in the spirit and soul of all who undertake this process.
Returning to the everyday home will bring challenges, so the proper preparations must be made. An ongoing set of practices, study, and reading materials, and sustained contact with the center and its extended community will assist in this transition. In time there will be little difference between a retreat and worldly life. This is, in fact, the aim. We seek to bring healing into our life each day and to transform our daily life into a healing environment. We learn to use life’s offerings and challenges as teachers and teachings - to use life as practice.
Each of us who leaves a retreat should be encouraged to write a testimonial like those written by people leaving Asclepian healing temples. Encouraged by a community that will support our efforts, we should experience a previously unknown aliveness, an enhanced capacity for health, new and expanded abilities, and a steadfast confidence in our ability to continue our movement toward integral health and life.
Journey to the Center for Human Flourishing
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine taking the same trip that the ancient Greeks did on their way to the Asclepian healing temple. You know—perhaps through suffering, illness, or the calling of your soul—that you are ready to turn a corner in your life. Fortunately there is a place to go for individuals seeking integral health and life. You call such a center and are warmly received and encouraged to visit. On your way your thoughts about daily life and its routines drop away, and your focus slowly turns toward your own life. You feel a mixture of hope and excitement tempered with apprehension.
You arrive at the center, and you feel at home in the natural beauty as stillness and warmth welcome you. You meet the staff, find your room, get settled in, and sit back and read a bit about the center, its mission, and its activities. You then join other new guests to learn more about what lies ahead. At this initial meeting several practitioners serve as guides. They introduce themselves one at a time, speaking about their life, work, and interests. With whom do you feel a sense of connection or initial chemistry? Perhaps this is the first practitioner you will interview. Is he or she a match for your needs? Chemistry and intimacy are essential for this process to truly work. Imagine meeting with this healer/helper.
Imagine your story is fully heard from beginning to end, acknowledged, understood, and embraced. Experience the sense of stillness that enters your mind and heart. How does it feel to experience this inner stillness, peace, and ease? Your practitioner will point out that this is your inner healer, your place of refuge and reliance. Sitting in communion, imagine how you and your mentor will slowly arrive at the direction to take and the resources and activities to explore in your healing. Each day you engage in activities that nourish your body, mind, and spirit. Gradually, you begin to gain new understandings that blossom into important realizations. You can now sense how it is possible to change from the inside out. Your faith is transformed into confidence. You feel early movement toward integral health.
You can now trust there is a place and a way to find what you have been seeking. You now know that integral health and life is available to you regardless of your circumstances. Health, happiness, and wholeness can be self-cultivated, grown, and continuously expanded. Nothing and nobody can permanently separate you from these innate but previously illusive treasures. It is your natural state untainted and untouched by life’s adversities. You feel release and great relief.
There will come a time when you will be ready to return to worldly life. You will be renewed and encouraged by your experience at the center. You will have gained an understanding of the integral vision, acquired a program of integral practice, and discovered an inner path. This integral path can now become your new retreat and refuge, your source of reliance. You will return home connected to the new community met at the retreat and to the center that will always be a home away from home.
Things will be a bit different when you return home. You will have new priorities and perhaps have to make some readjustments. You will need solitude and time for study and reflection. You will soon notice that you will be less reactive to life’s challenges and have more patience and an increasingly clear sense of direction. You will certainly sense the awakening of a new-found health, happiness, and wholeness. This is the vision of healing bequeathed to us by the great sages. How does this feel to you? Would you like this to be more than an imaginary journey?
This chapter provides a brief overview of a new and very different type of healing center that will serve as a resource for individuals—adults and children—a teaching center for practitioners-in-training, and a research center for those who wish to more deeply study this expansive healing process. Everything we need to create such a center is waiting and ready. All that is needed is to implement the vision we have described here. Now is the time to bring it to life. To do so will be an act of healing not just for ourselves but our culture and the whole world.