In Memory of Benazir Bhutto: Presence, Freedom and Fullness

 The following is from Robb Smith’s blog at

It offers an integral approach to understanding this sad and senseless murder.

In Memory of Benazir Bhutto: Presence, Freedom and Fullness

I cried when I saw that Benazir Bhutto was senselessly murdered this morning in Pakistan. There is just so much confusion in the world, so much fear, unleashing itself like a steam kettle variously into hatred-acts of desolate minds and hearts throughout the world. I spend a lot of time thinking about the role of integral theory and practice in this world. Integral is daunting because of its simultaneous depth and breadth, and yet tragedy cuts through the clutter of our Starbuck’s-fed lives like a hit from the Zen master’s stick: the world is literally crying out in anguish for greater understanding that can reduce the hatred that stems from fear and faulty action, and integral can provide that understanding.

Only when every human being can realize both freedom and fullness while also having permission to be fully human – to enact their lesser selves and fulfill more primal needs without harm to others – will the cycle of hatred, fear, and faulty action be dissolved to reveal the perfect light of a present and loving Self, like the sun burning through rain clouds to remind us of its ever-presence. This is the “what” of world evolution. Integral is the “how.”

An intellectual understanding of Bhutto’s death can be easily and uniquely grasped through an integral lens: much of Pakistan’s traditional value system stems from what psychologists call a conformist level of development. A woman, especially one that is a pro-democracy reformer, therefore represents a dual (female and democratic) threat to the established value structure that the conformists have established, in this case a patriarchal religiously-ordained system of cultural meaning-making and social power distribution. Moreover, when they perceive a threat, conformists can often reach quickly into their antecedent level of personal development for the archaic violence required to abolish the threat. (Think of the tribal violence of pre-modern clans and this begins to approximate the prevailing modus operandi for threatened conformists; as integral philosopher Ken Wilber has cited, every terrorist of the past 50 years, regardless of their religious orientation or originating culture, has this exact same psychological composition.)

And to echo and greatly generalize an undercurrent of the political debates in the U.S., conformists/traditionalists/conservatives seek to preserve the status quo as part of their highest sense of values, while progressives/liberals seek to change the status quo through an ever-expanding impulse of development and progress. In a vacuum, neither is right or wrong or better or worse, and in a metaphysical sense both are necessary: a foundation from which to grow (preserve) as well as growth that continually renews the foundation (change).

Benazir Bhutto was murdered by the forces of preservation.

More specifically, she was murdered by someone so afraid of change, so afraid to admit the reality of developmental progress on any level – that of gender, power, religious, cultural or social – that the values system enacted to operate against the perceived threat made the act fully justifiable (and akin to that of the Nazis, Huns or Khans). From that level of development not only is the act justifiable, it may even be worthy of martyrdom. Like all human beings, conformists find deep meaning with that which they hold to be real.

Again, explaining the hatred that comes from fear is easy. Fear is the soil in which hatred finds its roots. But fear cannot survive understanding, and leading an integral life provides more understanding of oneself and the world than anything else available. But this understanding is not solely, or even most importantly, one of intellectual learnedness. It is one of practice.

At first glance practice may seem to mean different things in different contexts. In sports it means physical training, learning physical maneuvers, and mental and emotional preparation. However, in music it means much the same thing. So, too, in the martial arts (Karate, Tae Kwon Do, etc.) And so on. So while the actual techniques of practice differ by field, the process and goal of practice is the same: cultivation through repetition. So what is an integral life trying to cultivate? Presence, freedom, and fullness.

To overcome hatred, we must overcome fear. There is only one thing that truly dissipates fear at its root, and that is presence. From presence the foundation is lain for real freedom to arise and real fullness to manifest. It proceeds something like this:

1. Presence is the state derived from the practice of contemplation.

2. Freedom is the deeply-known sense of independence derived from lack of fear and ability to understand (and not be afraid of) self. (Freedom also correlates with the drive to preserve what has come before.)

3. Fullness is the deeply-felt sense of meaning derived from the presence of love and ability to understand (and not be afraid of) other human beings. (Fullness also correlates with the drive to change what has come before.)

So the integral life “formula” is to create presence and foster understanding of self and others, which eliminates fear of self and others, allowing one deep permission to feel and express oneself as fully human, which naturally arises as freedom and fullness. And the three forms of practice are such that:

Presence: The practice of presence is developed through various forms of meditation and body awareness (gross, subtle and causal bodies).  The result of presence is a deep abiding awareness of the present moment.

Freedom: The practice of freedom is developed through awareness of self, how my developmental needs (i.e., stages) arise in different life circumstances, what type of quadrant-personality I have (I orient from a lower-right, or systems, view) and personal shadow dissolution, among others. The results of freedom are great humor, flexibility, compassion for self, optimism and strength.

Fullness: The practice of fullness is developed through awareness of others, recognizing when their different developmental needs (i.e., stages) manifest, recognizing what types of quadrant-personalities I encounter and shadow dissolution to reduce my own projections. The results of fullness are great creativity, compassion for others, love, meaning and joy.

And guiding the whole process is an awareness of the constant and dynamic tension between my need for freedom – to be independent as a lone agent, abiding in the presence of meditative emptiness – and my need for fullness – to find deep meaning with others, filled to the brim with love for the chaos of ever-changing circumstances. The ultimate expression of an integral life is the comfort one finds with this irresolvable paradox, finding oneself constantly drawn towards two dichotomous ends of a spectrum. An integral life resolves the paradox the only way a paradox can ever be resolved – by surrendering to it fully as it is, accepting that this tension will always be there, and that it is natural, acceptable, and even wonderfully awesome.

Thus the practice of an integral life brings the fruits of both of these ends of the spectrum, peace on the one hand and passion on the other. So when we encounter a horrific tragedy like the senseless murder of Benazir Bhutto, we can actually feel what it means for something to “hurt more, and bother us less,” as Ken Wilber has so eloquently described the paradox. I can be deeply at peace in my sense of freedom, but I also can also cry out in an agony born of passionate fullness.

And her murder was not senseless, just tragic. We can make sense of the tragedy even while condemning the ignorance and fear that provides it sustenance. We understand the stages of developmental psychology that give rise to this type of violence, the nature of fear as it arises in those who seek to preserve a world that they desperately want to fully understand, and the lack of presence and freedom and fullness self-evident in their own lives. And it is this very practice of integral understanding that overcomes our own tendency to react in fear to such a tragedy, allowing us to preserve a sense of freedom and fullness in our own lives. We can then act on the tragedy with a compassionate view that sources our next action from love and understanding, disrupting the chain of faulty action that serves only to exacerbate ignorance and bondage.

In honor of Benazir Bhutto, another life cut short by the fearful hands of ignorance and hatred, I rededicate myself to my own practice, that I might be a bright light of love and understanding in a world that desperately needs it to soften the inevitable pain of its own evolutionary growth.

In memory of Benazir Bhutto



~ by James Myoe on December 28, 2007.

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