Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More on sexual ethics and spiritual leadership.

So lets just talk about sexual ethics and spiritual leadership.

I want to just jot something down here, and I'm not going to take too much effort to be subtle about it. I'll just present it like its the ten commandments and then we can talk.

Its OK to:

Be single and promiscuous
Have an open marriage.
Create polyamorous relationships, married or not.

Its not OK to:

Screw your students.
Screw your clients.
Screw the underaged.
Cheat on your commitments to your significant other(s).
Cheat on your commitments to your spiritual community.

Its very easy when talking about sexual ethics to descend into a kind of puritanical response, or to accuse valid critiques of performing this descent. When anyone discusses sexual ethics and spiritual teachers, they're actually talking about power, not sex. A spiritual teacher can have all the sex they want with as many people as they want provided they aren't committed to a tradition that frowns on that. Power, integrity, commitment, responsibility. These are the important topics, not Tab A into Slot B or who falls in love with whom.

Now a separate topic might be whether or not promiscuity, open marriages, polyamory, etc. are spiritually advisable. Are they safe? Are they healthy? But this is a different ethical question than "What are the limits on sexual behavior that one must accept to be a teacher or guide to others?"

I even can allow that there might be spiritual paths that actually do involve teachers and students having sexual relationships. But they would be distinguished by making the sexual relationship a conscious, central part of the practice. I've read there are actually erotic tantric teachers who do this, though I have yet to meet one or know enough about anyone actually doing this to form an opinion. But that is a very different thing than cheating, secrecy, and exploitation.

This obviously has come up because of Genpo and I didn't write this to dog on Genpo. Genpo didn't betray *me*. He betrayed his wife and his sangha and his students, most especially the students with whom he had romantic/erotic relationships. He has a lot to make amends for there - to those people, not to me. I'm writing about this because we can let our shock and outrage run out of control and take irrational positions about sexual misbehavior. When we allow ourselves to just be shocked by the sexual component, which honestly in Genpo's case is pretty tame, we cloud and confound the issue. Its not about who a teacher *screws*. Its about *who* a teacher screws. If I am not careful with this, then any critique I make can be discounted as simple sexual puritanism.

It doesn't matter to me if a spiritual teacher wants to have hot monkey sex with the entire population of Kalamazoo. As long as s/he isn't teaching any of them and as long as that doesn't break any of their commitments to spouse and community.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Spiritual Teaching and Sexual Ethics: Genpo and Gafni

So Genpo is stepping down and he will be Roshi no more. I wish I knew why. The rumor mill (that is, my friends who I have frantically canvassed in an attempt to discover what happened and so gain some illusory control over my world) says he had an affair and this is why.This raises so many questions, so I'm going to write about it as if it were true. But maybe its not, at this point I can't know.

A friend of a friend on FB compared his actions to Gafni in a positive way, lauding Genpo for handling this with integrity while reviling Gafni. I tend to agree with her but I wonder about the dependence on context and reaction. Can one's actions after the fact really exhonerate one? Is the original sin so terrible?

So lets be clear. I understand that Genpo is rumored to have had an affair and that this is the reason he is stepping down. He did this once before in Maine, I have read. In general I am indifferent. An affair is a private problem between spouses, although it certainly damages a teacher's ability to expound on sexual ethics unless he finds a way to integrate the transgression honestly into his teaching. It becomes more complicated if the affair is between Master and student. I don't know what the standard Zen position on this is. I suspect that in a deeply traditional way, Zen tolerates this as the purview of the feudal community leader. But I don't know. I do know that its inappropriate in the postmodern world. We know too much about human relationships and power dynamics to believe this is ok. If a spiritual teacher has a sexual relationship with a student, at the very least they have to forsake one of the roles. Either the sexual relationship ends or the teaching relationship ends. Honestly I doubt that this minimal response would be sufficient, but its at least necessary. So, not knowing the details of Genpo's situation, I speculate that he may be taking this minimal step.

Or he may be acting to satisfy our more puritanical urges, paying homage to our inner traditionalism.

Or he may be acting to divest himself of these traditional expectations so that he can go about his business with what he perceives to be more freedom. As I said above, I don't think that would work given our postmodern understanding of power.

Some part of me that wants to think the best of Genpo, fantasizes that he is stepping down as an act of leadership within the integral community. That he is showing up the sexual ethics of others, demonstrating the way sexual infractions on the part of spiritual teachers should be handled. I suspect this is just a fantasy projection of mine.

No matter how I look at it though, I think this action, if he did have an affair with a student, is appropriate. I think it satisfies community needs on multiple levels: the traditional, the modern, the postmodern. I don't think he should give himself a pass and stay in his position as Roshi. Perhaps he could come back to it later, but stepping down for now seems right.

I can't leave this topic without touching on the question of Gafni. There are multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against Gafni, some of them involving underaged girls. Gafni's respons has been to deny and respin, maintaining that he's just behaving in postmodern and postconventional ways and being judged harshly by the unselfreflexive traditionalists among us. And he does deny - allegations involving a very early involvement with an underage girl (she was 13, he was 19) are met with claims that it was a sweet teenage romance. He produces lie detector results showing that he believes he once had a letter from her establishing the kind regard they held for one another. He only produces lie detector results because he can't produce the letter. He claims other stories were invented by disgruntled spouses, or by hysterical teens, or by shady and unscrupulous journalists. Every claim has enough confusion around it that there's no smoking gun and Gafni remains largely unaffected - though I suspect he would rejoin that losing his ministry in Israel was hardly remaining unaffected. I could only respond that he seems to be landing on his feet quite well, once again.

So I think the differences here are pretty clear. Genpo had two relationships with students seperated by 20 years. He stepped down in both cases. Clearly he has a problem remaining monogamous, but as far as I know his infractions are against his marriage vows, not any kind of abusive relationship. I think its appropriate that he step down from his role as Roshi. As an informal student and admirer of his, I expect him to deal with this with a certain amount of transparency if we are to continue to look to him as a spiritual teacher, Roshi or not. Otherwise I don't think we'd be giving appropriate attention to the power dynamics involved in teacher/student relationships. I hope he does exhibit some leadership on this and threads the needle between transparency and accountability on the one hand, and tabloid voyeurism on the other. God knows the integral community could use some leadership by example in this arena of sexual ethics.

By contrast, Gafni is accused of multiple infractions that go beyond simple affairs and he has admitted to guilt in exactly zero of them. He's misunderstood. He's vilified. He was naive. He was a "young kid in love" etc. etc. etc. Anything but responsible. Google "Secoya teenage Gafni" and tell me if they sound like "young kids in love". I am distantly connected to Secoya through my personal relationships (real-life, not merely Facebook), and I have every reason to believe the online letter is genuine. I can't expect the general public to take my word for it, but I know whose account I believe.

Genpo and Gafni are anything but equivalent, in their teaching, in their authenticity, in their infractions, and in their responses.

I hope Genpo goes the extra mile and provides the integral community with leadership on spiritual teaching and sexual ethics. We badly need it. I suspect that I hope in vain, but I still hope.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Commodification of Integral Theory and Practice.

I wrote the following in response to a thread my good friend Bruce Kunkel stared on Facebook.

His status was:

"Is integral thought in danger becoming "clubby" and "orthodox"? Do you believe that integral thought and progress have the greatest opportunity for authentic fleshing out as open source? - as "radically free". Or do you feel that commercial gatekeepers/commodifiers to integral dialog and discussion is the right turn to make?"

Forgive the disjointed nature of this post. I wrote a lot on Bruce's thread and gathered it together here. Hopefully it makes some kind of sense. The last few paragraphs are new, so my friends from FB can just jump to the end.

The integral subculture can't skip stages, regardless of the individual development of some of the participants. Our social structure is Red/Amber - not even Orange. Consider whether the leaders of the integral subculture are beholden to any communal standards of ethics or behavior. Is there any body to which members of the integral subculture may appeal in case of dispute? There really isn't. We're kings, courts, and serfs. The kings cooperate because it suits them to. When it no longer suits them, they will go off on their own.

Perhaps the more relevant question is whether we can escape being a subculture. I'm not sure we can.

Getting to the point of critique is important. I have strong areas of disagreement with Wilber as well, however I'm probably not the best person to pursue the debate. More I am aware of them as i pursue applications. The metatheoretical view is very helpful to differentiating and contextualizing Wilber's work. I think it ends up being simultaneously more powerful and less powerful than many realize. Bonnie has said - and I follow some of her line of thought on this - that much of what she's doing was consciously and subconsciously implicit in Wilber's work all along. I think there's a lot of great work here to be done.

Still - that doesn't have much to do with the social holon that is the integral community. Our individual development, opinions, etc. do not necessarily determine how we interact. Its both a function of our individual social lines of development and the social structures we put in place. To the extent that we *are* putting social structures in place, they are pre-democratic, imho.

But back to the commercial aspect of this thread - how's this for a reframe - a guy's gotta eat. Nobody in the integral community is cleaning up on these products. Robb Smith, CEO of II and I Life, works for free. Integral coaches, counselors, and consultants work for a fee. Ken's books have never been free. So what does Open Source mean? If someone builds an expertise as a skilled conveyor of integral concepts, they deserve compensation for their services and payment for the educational materials they've created.

I think another mistake might be to think about things like ISE and Integral Life as places where the work of developing integral theory and practice is going to happen. Where its going to happen is at ITC, at JFKU, at Fielding, in JITP, and in the other integral journals. ILife and ISE are forums for propagating knowledge, not developing and debating it.

As for orthodoxy - I think yes its certainly in danger. Studying the underlying source material helps a lot to head off the reification of Wilber's model. Take the evidence for Third Tier for instance - its very thin - its a speculative take on some interesting case studies more or less, at least to the extent that I understand it. Then look at Kegan - in Kegan's work he makes explicit reference to social learning as a means to transform, something Ken makes very little reference to except in the most implicit way. Kegan also makes very little distinction between Green and Teal, viewing Green, Teal, and Turquoise as sub-stages of 5th order, while Orange is 4th order and has similar sub-stages that just aren't spelled out in Wilber's spectrum. This is less to play gotcha with AQAL and more to reinforce the limits of metatheory. There are very important details about developmental theories that are just lost at the AQAL metatheory level - I think its arguable that its not a good enough meta-model given the degree to which the details of the underlying theories are obscured.

To me, my experience with Mark Edward's metatheory class at JFKU left me quite concerned that our primary task at this point in the integral experiment is to prevent integral theory from going the way of Marxist and Neo-Marxist orthodoxy. We need to stay open and stay in dialogue with the "non-integral" world as well as all the other integral currents and projects in the world that have little to do with Wilber.

I think when we express concern about the behavior of our leaders and the institutions around them we need to be specific about our concerns. Really, the biggest criticism I can make about the various practices of the I-I, Ilife, ITC, ISE, etc., is that I am always skeptical about spiritual teaching that costs a lot of money. Well, that and I think some of the 'teachers' attending are of questionable character. Still, ISE isn't any more expensive than any other conference, so its not the charging money for a conference that's the problem - the problem only arises when the word "spirit" gets added to it. Its really, in my case, a reaction to the long history of religious shysters conning old people out of their pennies. God isn't short of cash - to paraphrase Bono.

But for the rest of it? It costs money to teach people. It costs money to provide a place where people can come together. The only reason we can have this "free" dialogue here on FB is that we allow ourselves to be bombarded to some extent by advertising. That's hardly "free" and is hardly superior to paying membership dues on I-Life. (Not to mention the frequent risks to our privacy).

Further, I think we have to be careful not to conflate Ken's lack of social graces with some kind of institutional nefariousness. I know from listening to the folks on the ITC critiques panel that people were treated unfairly, dismissively, and impolitely in the early days of I-I. Interacting with Ken its pretty clear he really doesn't seem to know how to relate to people. And this had something to do, I'd expect, with the demise of all the various I-I endeavors, the transformation to I-life, and the export of Integral University to JFKU and Fielding. Ken doesn't lead anymore. He hasn't for years. Its not his sweet spot. I don't think it makes a lot of sense to hold this period against integral theory and the various wilber related institutions. I don't think we have to forget. But we should forgive. Good critique of integral theory is actively sought now. It was clear at JFKU that one of our tasks was going to be creating good critique where so much of it hasn't been.

So I think its good to reflect on the integral products that we are being offered and to realize that going to expensive conferences isn't going to advance integral theory and application. But I also think it would be a mistake to equate these products with the integral endeavor in general.

In short, final response to Bruce's thought provoking status.... No I don't think integral thought is in great danger of being closed off and commodified. I think its getting more open than it has ever been. But I do think we, the integral public, are in danger of mistaking products for something else.