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Catching the buzz from global leaders, thinkers, teachers and mystics
by Carter Phipps

What color is your consciousness?

What is Integral spirituality? That question is the title of a spiritual manifesto about the spiritual life circulating around a few select email boxes these days. Authored by Mr. Integral himself, Ken Wilber, and prepared as a context-setting essay for this past summer's inaugural gathering of the ISC (Integral Spiritual Center) in Denver, Colorado, What Is Integral Spirituality? is making waves among the Integral crowd. While its contents are still under wraps and may be the basis for a future book, WIE has learned that Wilber's essay tackles the thorny problem of religion and fundamentalism using his patented and ever-expanding Integral framework. Moreover, he lays out a whole new color scheme that transcends and includes Spiral Dynamics in a comprehensive developmental framework. What's the basis of the scheme? Like the Eastern chakra system, he uses the colors of the rainbow. Of course, don't forget that it was Wilber who did so much to make Spiral Dynamics, and its nifty color-coded system created by Don Beck and Chris Cowan, the de facto standard for easily remembering developmental stages. So now it's like kilometers and miles all over again, VHS and Beta, Mac and Windows. Am I teal or indigo, amber or blue!? C'mon people, let's get some consensus out there.

Stress in the Green Zone

Indian spiritual teacher Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been putting his skills to work in an unusual place—Iraq. His organization, Art of Living, dispatched a team to Baghdad soon after the initial invasion to help both Iraqis and American soldiers deal with the stress and trauma of a war-torn country by using meditation and breathing techniques. And they have stayed there, even as safety in Baghdad became . . . well, less safe. Once a student of transcendental meditation master Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (better known as the Beatles' guru), Shankar has inherited his teacher's unique talent for making a virtue of simplicity. He teaches easy-to-use, easy-to-learn practices and techniques that immediately impact the psycho-physical system. And judging by the response, the Art of Living team seems to be having an effect. Some Iraqis have been so impressed that they have made their way to the ashram in India to learn how to teach the methods themselves. And Iraq isn't the only war zone on the guru's list. Teams of Shankar's students also set up shop in Kosovo and Bosnia during the crisis there, and there are plans to send people out to the Sudan as well.

Honky-Tonk Mystics

The thirteenth-century Sufi master Rumi has achieved almost universal recognition in this day and age for his mystical and ecstatic poetic verse (with a little help from translators such as Coleman Barks). But lately, this ancient Islamic mystic has been generating some buzz in the most unlikely of genres—southern country/bluegrass music. Yes, thanks to the efforts of Tennessee native Michael Green, author of The Illuminated Rumi, and an Appalachian band called The Illumination Band, Rumi's poetry has escaped the printed page and taken flight into the sweet harmonies of a genre more accustomed to breakups and bar fights. Apparently, putting Rumi to music is hardly unknown in his native Middle East, where all-night Rumi revelries have been common for centuries. Nevertheless, it's hard to imagine that anyone would have expected to hear the mandolin and fiddle providing the bed of sound for Middle East mysticism. No one can argue with the result however, as The Illumination Band's latest CD pulls off a sort of minor miracle—bridging the gap between twentieth-century Appalachia and thirteenth-century Turkey. What's their secret? Well, besides being good musicians, we suspect it might have something to do with the band's own mystic Sufi teacher—the extraordinary Sri Lankan master Bawa Muhaiyaddeen (d. 1986).

Cosmic Dreams and Butterfly Wings

James Gardner, author, complexity theorist, and former state senator, is shopping around a new book proposal whose title couldn't help but catch our eye. Called Dreams of a Cosmic Community: AI, ET, and the Emerging Mind of the Cosmos, it will take up where his first foray into physics, Biocosm, left off, exploring biology, complexity theory, artificial intelligence, supra-intelligent species, UFOs, the direction of the universe, and the fate and destiny of the cosmos—you know, mundane things like that. Gardner, a practicing lawyer, thinks like a physicist and argues his points like a seasoned attorney, but thankfully, he writes for the layperson in clear and simple prose as he explores the role of intelligence in shaping not only this planet's future but the future of the whole cosmos. WIE has seen an early outline of the book in which Gardner humbly describes his thesis as explaining how “the origin of life and the emergence of intelligence were not meaningless accidents in a hostile, largely lifeless cosmos but at the very heart of the vast machinery of creation, cosmological evolution, and cosmic replication.” Now if someone could just convince those Kansas school boards.

Evolution in Development

Evolution continues to be a buzzword these days, and not just among Kansas school boards. Recently, thirty or so scientists, activists, scholars, and teachers gathered under the central California sun and spent three days discussing the dynamics of evolution from cultural, biological, and cosmic perspectives. The idea, conceived and executed by Christian minister and “evolutionary evangelist” Michael Dowd, was to explore how understanding the nature and direction of evolution is critical for negotiating the twenty-first century. There was no shortage of star power in attendance, including such well-known thinkers as Brian Swimme, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Duane Elgin, Paul Ray, and Elisabet Sahtouris. Participants presented their schemes, ideas, models, maps, and plans for building a more evolved human culture. And the high-powered audience didn't just listen. They argued and critiqued and discussed, sparking some fascinating talks about everything from peak oil to evolutionary directionality to world history to political reform. So what was the end result of the gathering? Hard to say just yet, but Dowd is quietly planning to hold more such events around the country over the next years, with the ultimate goal being the formation of some sort of permanent entity, possibly a think tank. Think Santa Fe Institute with less chaos and complexity, more culture and cosmology.

Spirituality Makes the “It” List

Steve Case, former AOL chairman, buys the Wisdom Channel. Martha Stewart purchases the once mighty New Age Journal (now Body & Soul). Al Gore's youth-oriented Current TV talks openly about including spiritually focused content, and also hires Gotham Chopra (Deepak's son) to be on his staff. Yes, the rush to bring progressive spiritual themes into the mass media is continuing unabated. Need more evidence? The Spiritual Cinema Circle, the spiritual DVD subscription service, has been so successful that it's starting to produce its own movies, like Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God, which began shooting this November. And the Circle has spun off other projects such as the Transformational Book Circle, a sort of Oprah book club for New Agers that distributes books endorsed by popular spiritual teachers like Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford, and Louise Hay. The club signed up three thousand members in its first few hours. That's right—the first few hours.

Even reality TV is getting spiritual. Last spring, the BBC featured The Monastery, a TV special that took five men from varied backgrounds and gave them a forty-day and forty-night spiritual makeover living with monks in a Catholic abbey. The result? Major changes in all five lives, and good ratings to boot.

Or how about I Married a Princess? This new reality TV show debuted last spring on Lifetime and features an average Malibu family of seven—except that the mother is the princess of Yugoslavia. The princess and her husband wanted to demonstrate a holistic, spiritually grounded lifestyle for the prime-time audience. Several episodes show the family attending Agape, the eclectic and progressive LA spiritual community formed by Rev. Michael Beckwith. Another includes a visit to see world-renowned Indian teacher Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma), one of the most enlightened women alive today. Not exactly something you see every day on cable.

Finally, WIE has learned that Amma herself is planning to launch a North American television channel focused on spiritual themes. While the legendary saint has Oprah-like clout in her native India, it will be interesting to see how her influence translates in the American market. The smart money says don't bet against her.


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December 2005–February 2006