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February 9, 2023

A Statement from Helmut Doermann Concerning the IF Position Paper

1. A Metaphor

In advance: To provide better readability, I am using masculine pronouns and hope for your understanding.

Let us just assume that we are gardeners and have a garden to cultivate with vegetables, fruit trees, berry bushes and flowers. When a gardener takes care of his garden and hopes to achieve good yields, then he needs experience, motivation and dedication. Perhaps we have completed the respective training. Or we are self-taught. If this is the case, then we know what is required to achieve a good harvest and to bring out the very best in our flower garden. We know when it is time to plant the seeds and how to take care of the young plants.

We know the weeds as well as the influences of the weather. Likewise, we know what pests are present and how to prevent their damage. We know how much time and love it requires from our side but at the same time know that we are not the ones to cause the garden to grow and bloom. Without some kind of plan or concept for the garden, it becomes random and arbitrary. Plants are placed together that do not belong together and have a bad influence on one another.

If I look at the position paper as a garden plan for a garden waiting to be developed, then it is apparent that the paper offers a theoretical background that appears to make sense. The “plan” has been well written. It reflects integral thinking of the 21st century. However, as a gardener the following questions arise: Is the position paper not better defined as an “Orientation Paper”? What defines an integral teacher? Will there be integral teachers in the future without a sphere of privacy? How do I react to that personally? How should the paper be evaluated? What potentials for development does it contain? How can it be applied? The paper does not give answers to these questions. It can’t because this approach is so new that there are no role models or gardeners that have already gone this way before. That is why I would like devote this article to answering these questions as a “spiritual” gardener but without claiming to already know the answers. I want to present questions and be as specific as possible in answering them within the context of this article. For good reason I have chosen the metaphor of a gardener. I see myself as a spiritual teacher but with the soul of a gardener.

2. A Paper Stating a Position or Giving an Orientation?

To make it very clear from the beginning: I am very enthusiastic about the position paper that the board of the Integrales Forum has prepared which embraces essential items of an integral, evolutionary spirituality. It is a paper of the highest quality. I share the basic tenets of the position paper and personally practice many parts in my own Integral Life Practice. An integral life practice has also become an essential element in the groups and courses that I offer. I am very supportive when it comes to inviting teachers from different traditions to also share their opinions. This is all headed in the right direction and open discussions are much needed. However, I would not set the standard too high with the paper and hope that it is not implemented in a fundamentalistic way. That is what I fear the most. Perhaps it corresponds to our German nature to “hammer things out” very thoroughly and in great detail. For this reason, I would find it more fitting to use the term “orientation paper” at this point in time. This is, first and foremost, a rough draft. It appears to me that a practice-oriented and an open and honest exchange is not only necessary but through the position paper allows the idea of a school for integral spirituality to come to life.

Science and integral evolutionary spirituality do not have to be at odds with one another. They complement each other and bring that together which belongs together. A scientific approach complies with our understanding of Western culture. It is our legacy. The five points listed in Part 1 not only appear to make sense but they can be seen as a sort of basic knowledge for future integral teachers. Spiritual teachers of all mystical traditions have the possibility to orient themselves toward this and see themselves within a larger framework. That Ken Wilber’s “Integral Philosophy” is ideally suited for this purpose is quite obvious. As far as I know, no one else has managed so far to provide such good, comprehensive and differentiated maps (as Wilber calls them).

3. The Term Spirituality

The position paper defines “spirituality” in a post-postmodern sense and terms such as BEING and BECOMING are representative of an integral spirituality. The term “spirituality” is greatly enhanced by an integral understanding. Based on my own experience, I know that frictions within the mystic traditions often start at this point (if they haven’t started already). Mystical traditions that “only” deal with the Absolute or the BEING aspect do not (yet) have much to do with the BEING aspect. And anything new is usually first of all seen as a threat or at least viewed with suspicion.

I have always connected the term spirituality with the word “attainment/realization/actualization”. Just some information concerning myself before I go into greater detail concerning the definition. I have been practicing meditation for more than 30 years (in the Christian context one speaks of contemplation). During this time I have a also devoted time to Tibetan Buddhism but primarily with Christian mysticism. My work is based on a combination of the tradition as presented by Willigis Jaeger with the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber. I would like to add that the Christian tradition has remained my spiritual home in spite of inner friction. For many years now I have been on the board of a “Christian School of Mysticism” known as the Wuerzburger School of Contemplation. Christian mysticism is influenced by Zen Buddhism. That is why I grew up in a spiritual culture shaped by Zen influences. With respect to the definition of spirituality, this usually deals with the “NOW” moment. This means – and we are all aware of this – to be in the here and now. That applies not only to meditation but actualization in every day life. In many discussions, with teachers in particular, this was and is always highlighted over and over again and practiced accordingly.

I define “spirituality as realization” as follows: In this world the “Holy One”, “primordial ground of being” or the Godhead as defined by Master Eckhart needs to be realized. And this in everyday life. Spiritual experience and realization are two wings that allow us to fly. If one wing is not developed well, then the flight is not as it should be. Willigis Jaeger says “Spirituality that doesn’t find its expression in daily life is on the wrong track”. I have often asked myself: What tools are necessary for spirituality to become reality in everyday living? The Ten Ox Herding Pictures of Zen ask the same question: What does the marketplace look like? What helps me when I am at the marketplace of life? How do I handle this? My answer is: An integral philosophy connected with the tools of an integral life practice.

4. How Do I Recognize an Integral Teacher?

While reading the position paper I asked myself: How can an “integral” teacher be recognized? Perhaps the sentence from Jesus, “you shall know them by their fruits…” fits here. Point 5 in the article (Towards a School and Science of an Integral Evolutionary Spirituality) clears shows what this could look like.

If I look at myself, I see someone who is trying to live a life that is moral, authentic, compassionate, warm-hearted and honest. If I think about the group, “Integral Spirituality”, that I have been leading for 10 years now (we meet weekly), I am aware of the fact that the students have a very fine sense of whether one is practicing what he preaches. If this is the case, then the students or course participants feel spoken to and attracted by what is said. Or they may recognize that a teacher simply does not meet their expectations. In my courses and retreats, it is very important that the qualities mentioned above serve as a basis for our encounter. This applies to the teacher/student discussions or the exchange in general. That this also represents a developmental process for the teacher as well is quite obvious. It is a process that the teacher should also completely support. I believe that a spiritual teacher (as well as his students) are “seekers” and always remain so. The teacher seeks because there is truly no end to inner perfection. This puts the teacher, at least as far as his outlook is concerned, on an eye to eye level with his students or course participants. This doesn’t mean “equal among equals” however, then his role as teacher also carries responsibilities that he cannot or should not try to avoid.

An encounter on the same level can be somewhat liberating for the teacher. It takes away the pressure of always having to be someone special at all times. Students and course participants usually respond to this with respect and it becomes possible to create a spirited and strong WE space. How do the students or course participants respond? It is actually quite simple. They are either for or against the teacher. This process often takes time but it does take place one way or the other. They have their very own criteria. The position paper can be of help here and I think it makes sense for teachers to discuss this with their students and course participants. This provides an opportunity for self reflection and for feedback from others. This is not normally the case within spiritual communities although it can be of great value for the teacher.

Not too long ago I directed an advanced training group for several days with spiritual teachers within the Wuerzburger School of Contemplation (WSdK). The topic of the retreat was “Group Leading and Intervision”. Teachers held short lectures, directed teacher/student discussions and received feedback from other colleagues in a secure setting. Particularly the feedback and the ensuing dialogues were incredibly helpful and profitable for the participants. What really surprised me was that a sense of competition simply did not present itself. Even veteran teachers took part in the exercises. A great sense of closeness developed in the days together.

The topic of teacher/student relationships is quite often the subject of interest in my groups here in Minden and was often discussed in lectures or interactions.

Once again my experience: Students and course participants honor this.

5. Will There Be Integral Teachers “Without a Private Sphere” in the Future?

Am I for self disclosure? Am I open to evaluation by others? From my many years of discussions within the WSdK, I know that this is possibly one of the most difficult areas for teachers to submit to. These questions touch upon many different levels. Part 2 of the position paper entitled “Enlightened Spirituality – A Checklist for Spiritual Teachers with Respect to Competence, Integrity, Responsibility and Transparency” is a challenge for spiritual teachers. I personally feel a certain sense of resistance when the subject of “a checklist for teachers” is addressed. I miss that private and protected sphere especially in this day and age where everything is made public. I don’t want to be evaluated in any internet portal. This doesn’t mean, however, that I wouldn’t be open to questions in a trusted environment such as exists within my group here in Minden.

Therefore, I regard a “checklist” for teachers as problematic. At this time I can’t imagine that teachers are really ready for self-disclosure or validation by others. Perhaps in 10 years. And this position paper may give an impetus in this direction.

Even if I really try to be open about my own, let’s just call it, “limitations”, I still ask myself: Is a “transparent” teacher that which really counts. As I was looking for my own teachers, I went to lectures and retreats, talked to them personally and evaluated them in my own way. I read their writings and talked to other students. Evaluating them is one thing, but the most essential for me is the inner connection that one feels towards a teacher. It should be a connection from heart to heart; a connection that goes beyond just the personal and yet includes it at the same time.

When a teacher does decide to “come out”, then it is of great importance that he not just pass on platitudes and self-disclosures that sound good but that he is open, honest and authentic when speaking or writing about himself. Of course, there is no contradiction here. With respect to this point, I ask myself several questions: What criteria are used? Does something such as generally accepted “integral” criteria exist? How can that be validated? Who can evaluate it? A test? My concern: A self-disclosure or external assessment could become very formal and typically German. If anyone say something about a student (who is a teacher), then it is his own teacher.

We have talked for many years about what it means to be a teacher at the WSdK. We have created “standards” for teachers. This step can be surely seen as “integral” but more about this in the next paragraph.

But please bear in mind: If evolutionary consciousness truly awakens and develops in a human being, then structures can be too tight, tests or self-disclosures and external assessments of the teacher can become too narrow and finally hinder his self-development and creativity. That is not just counterproductive, it is at odds with an integral and evolutionary dynamic. That’s why I am in favor of dealing with the position paper in an open and light manner within the confines of an integral school and would change the name, as already mentioned, to “orientation paper”.

6. Development Within the Wuerzburger School of Contemplation (WSdk)

As already mentioned, I have been on the board of the WSdk for many years. The Wuerzburger school sees itself as a “school” that is oriented towards Christian spirituality and mysticism. What does the term Christian mysticism mean? As with other traditions, there are different directions of Christian spirituality. One of these directions can be found at the “WSdK”. Presently 120 teachers belong to the WSdK and they offer almost just as many meditation and contemplation groups. They were initiated by Willigis Jaeger, Benedictine monk and Zen master. The school has an ecumenical orientation. Its teachers practice and encourage contemplation (formless meditation). Their focus is the Western tradition of Christian mysticism and they would like to reawaken this tradition through daily practice within the individual consciousness and society at large.

The WSdK has intensively dealt with the prerequisites for teachers within the last few years. So-called “criteria” were created that exactly define and determine the role of a teacher. A group of experienced teachers (so-called veterans) have been dealing with this issue for the last several years. The bottom line is: This process was very intensive and often painful. Particularly the issue of self-perception often resulted in flared tempers. There were tumultuous meetings (with approx. 100 people). There were resignations because of the standards. There were hostilities when prospective teachers were then refused or information came that certain prerequisites were not fulfilled. This process still continues today. Presumably WSdK will adopt a paper including the criteria for teachers this year.

Using WSdK as an example, I am writing this because I want to show that there are spiritual communities that are dealing with the questions concerning prerequisites for spiritual teachers. There are other Christian spiritual communities, such as “Via Cordis” in Switzerland, who have taken a similar path.

Here an excerpt from “Prerequisites for Teachers of the WSdK”:

  • The most important prerequisite is one’s own practice of contemplative prayer (meditation) for many years.

Further it is expected:

  • A deepening of personal experience in practice and theory by taking part in an adequate number of courses in contemplation with a teacher who has been recognized by the school.
  • Participation in or assisting with courses from two other recognized teachers of WSdk in order to experience how the courses are run.
  • Deepening and intensifying the personal spiritual path by studying Christian mysticism and other mystical traditions.
  • Experience with and basic knowledge of psychology and psychotherapy.
  • Deepening and reflection of the contemplative path by regularly taking part in meetings sponsored by WSdK.
  • Willingness for intervision.

Of particular importance is the topic “experience with and basic knowledge of psychology and psychotherapy”. There was wide acceptance of this point within the teaching body. As I write this, however, I am reminded how difficult and time-consuming this process was (sigh) and still is. I never questioned the meaningfulness of this topic. Our community surely handled this in a very “German” way, i.e. somewhat narrowly and bureaucratically. But teachers are human too that are “on the way”. And … there were no role models for this up to now who could provide the orientation.

Finally, I would like to say: To be a spiritual teacher in our time still means that I am often “alone” with many questions. Not necessarily lonely but alone. With respect to the position paper, I also desire an exchange with teachers and scholars, but also with students and practitioners.

7. What Kind of Development Does the Position Paper Reveal?

I am writing this in January of 2011. At this point in time several teachers have already stated their opinions in response to the position paper. An important step! Another important step that Sonja Student, Michael Habecker (board of Integrales Forum) and myself have thought about and discussed for some time now is the founding of a school for integral spirituality (SIS). Clearly formulated goals already exist and an extended group of forerunners are ready to act.

Concerning the position paper: I hope that the paper develops from a position paper to an orientation paper and finally an “Integral Life Paper”. Such a paper could form the basis for future activities of an SIS (School of Integral Spirituality).

The position paper offers an opportunity for teachers of the most diverse mystical traditions to come out of isolation and begin exchange with like-minded (integral) spiritual colleagues in order to develop an integral life and culture (perhaps I speak for my own positive shadow with this). The position paper can – and it is already happening – help build a bridge between different spiritual traditions. And that is something that has been the desire of my heart for more than 30 years.

The position paper can also form the basis for continuing education and retreats aimed towards an integral, evolutionary spirituality. This can apply to spiritual teachers as well as seminars, retreats and workshops for interested integralists. Karl Rahner once said: “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not exist at all”. I believe the future will be integral because it is also the level of consciousness that has the potential to change our world from the bottom up. That is to be understood as more of a challenge than simply “I’m something special.” Ken Wilber made the following comment once with respect to pioneers: “They can be recognized because they are the ones with the arrows in their backs.” Let us carefully pull the arrows out of our bodies together…

8. An Integral Gardener’ Vision

An “integral” gardener sees himself as part of the whole. He is connected with himself and his garden to the benefit of all. Plants of the most different types grow in his garden such as: authenticity, will, wisdom, seriousness as well as love, compassion and patience. He takes care of them regularly and when it is necessary. But he also know that plants really become strong through rain and storm. That’s why he knows that his watering can is no comparison to a strong rain shower complete with thunder and lightning. He is aware of his limitations and sees a Godly plan that is know as evolution behind all growth.

He goes into his garden everyday; not because he has to but rather because he wants to. He integrates fertilizer (consciousness). He talks to “his” plants and gives them the largest possible amount of attention and love. For him “everything tastes of God.” Even that which isn’t perfect still the exudes the fragrance of God.

He sees and feels this in warm showers of rain (bliss), when he digs up the earth with his hands (his innermost being), while observing butterflies (positive development) and in the same way voles (shadow elements). An integral gardener doesn’t just talk to other gardeners and those who don’t garden, but rather asks for advice. He reads books and attempts to keep his knowledge up to date. He often questions himself and considers his behavior with respect to the WHOLE as well as the smallest beetle. He knows: there is no separation between himself and the garden. He is the ONE as well as the MANY. An integral gardener is not afraid of worldly things and does not lose himself in things of the SPIRIT. He stands between heaven and earth: firmly rooted in the source of all being and yet oriented towards heaven. His place is exactly in the middle between both.

Helmut Dörmann, born in 1957, is a gestalt therapist and works as coordinator for an out-patient hospice. He is a spiritual teacher of integral mysticism and board member of the Wuerzburg School of Contemplation. His spiritual orientation is Christian mysticism.

We live in a context where many of us have outgrown traditional forms of religion. This means that pre-modern, ethnocentric versions of our world’s traditions no longer have the capacity to meet our modern and postmodern needs. The integrative space of a World Spirituality allows our great religious traditions to evolve from ethnocentric to world-centric, and even to kosmocentric consciousness. World Spirituality allows us all to move forward together, beyond the limitations of traditional religion, while still embracing all of the valuable insights and gifts of the past.

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