Episode 99: Integral Aikido – throwing ourselves into enlightenment

Miles KesslerIn this episode I have the great fortune of connecting with aikido instructor and dharma teacher Miles Kessler. He is originally from the US but now living in Tel Aviv, Israel. In our conversation we explore our shared passion for the Japanese martial art aikido and we do this in relation to one of our other passions, namely the integral discourse. Integral Theory is a developmental and holistic framework originally created by philosopher and spiritual teacher Ken Wilber, and Miles is one of few who is thoroughly applying the insights of integral in relation to the practice of aikido. If you are totally unfamiliar with the integral framework we suggest you check out Sean Esbjörn-Hargens introductory article attached below. You might also want to reference the graphics depicting the developmental stages and states that we reference throughout our conversation. Also, if you are unfamiliar with aikido you could briefly check out the short demonstration video below.

(3.30) In the first part Miles shares how he ended up becoming an aikido teacher and dharma practitioner, while also reflecting on how his own journey has shown him the partial validity and value of different world views or mental models (the way we see ourselves and the world we live in). He also shares his experience from practicing under Saito Sensei at Iwama in Japan for 8 years, Saito Sensei being one of Morihei Ueshiba´s closest students (the founder of aikido).

(16:17) This immersion into the traditional and hierarchical power structures of Japan, together with the modern and post-modern ways of being and relating that are more prominent in the West, gave Miles a unique perspective in understanding some of the core ideas set forth by the integral framework. For instance, what is a solution at one level will often become a problem at the next! So how can we move with a sense of fluidity within and between these different world views, or meaning-making structures, and how can we do this without watering down the essence and inherent value that they  all contain? In the integral framework these structures are often referred to as stages, levels or memes, so againsee the Spiral Dynamics model below.

(22.24) Following the above, how is it then that aikido can help to negotiate between these different structures and how can aikido facilitate transformations from one stage to the next? Also, how can we see aikido as a genuine spiritual practice, a practice that can create the space for an embodied and transrational immersion into Universal and Absolute truths? Miles points to some of the core principles of aikido, principles that open towards unification and harmony, while also acknowledging that there are aspects of aikido practice that will divide and create separation (for instance different styles or different ways to apply a technique). So how can we work with this polarity between that which unites and that which separates?

(33:40) We then discuss how to actually manifest and embody, in our day to day practice, the principles and ideas mentioned above. When a person comes flying at us with an attack, how de we keep our presence and alignment with the core principles of aikido? Why is it that we often become attached to that which separates and divides us, both as aikido practitioners and as human beings? Miles responds by bringing in the “tripple gem”, which is one of the core Buddhist doctrines, namely the Buddha, the Sangha and the Dharma. These distinctions fit nicely with the three fundamental perspectives in the integral framework which are the I, the We and the It. So how can we use these distinctions to navigate the messiness of life, both inside and outside the dojo?

(40:05) Following this we discuss the unique invitation that aikido offers to the world, for instance, how the art creates a space where we can bring forth our hardwired “fight and flight”-responses in an atmosphere of healing awareness. Through gradual practice we can learn to open our minds, hearts and will to such a degree that we are able to transcend the constraints of the “animal kingdom”. (44:50) We also address the numerous ways in which different structures of consciousness (as well as states of consciousness) can all be present at the same time in a dojo, possibly leading to a lot of confusion. Miles contextualizes this challenge through sharing his experiences from setting up a dojo on the West Bank, pointing to how different people will need different outer structures around them to support the natural growth and development of their inner meaning-making structures.

(57:00) Up until now our discussion has centered mostly around the idea of structures of consciousness (as in the different colored stages depicted in Spiral Dynamics below), so we now delve into the concept of states of consciousness. How can we as teachers and aikido practitioners create practice environments that are conducive for training in states? How can we open up towards the inherent depth which is ever present in our consciousness, for instance gross, subtle, causal and nondual state experiences? Miles gives a short guide through these states and how they can show up in different ways during our aikido practice, and he explains how these different states will impact the “look and feel” of our aikido. (1:10:20) We also discuss how our bodies resonate and show up in different ways depending on both state and stage differences and we also have some fun reflecting on the fact that right now the Universe is having a dialogue with itself, a dialogue which is being recorded as a podcast!

(1:18:40) We end of our exploration by doing a simple exercise that allows for another meaning-making modality than just conversing with words. We drop into our bodies, our breath and connect to whatever wants to arise in our stream of consciousness. We then share what came up for us and Miles ends of our dialogue by sharing some news regarding some of his future projects. Especially, check out the Integral Aikido Global Dharma Discussions that Miles will be facilitating between May 11th and June 6th 2014.

If you feel inspired or provoked by our conversation feel free to add your comments after the interview. You can also send in a written piece of work and get it published together with this episode. Further details can be found here.

Episode links: 

Miles Kessler (bio)
Integral Dojo, Tel Aviv
Integral Aikido Global Dharma Discussions
Aikido Panel Discussion, with Jan Nevelius, Patrick Cassidy, Robert Nadeau and Miles Kessler  
Evolution of Response
Aikido demonstration with Miles Kessler 5th dan, on YouTube
An Overview of Integral Theory – An All-Inclusive Framework for the 21st Century written by Sean Esbjörn Hargens, MetaIntegral Foundation

Episode resources:

We reference Spiral Dynamics many times in our dialogue and the following four “memes” or stages are the most important in relation to our conversation.


Below you can see the whole Spiral Dynamics model depicting all the stages of development that is emphasized in this specific construct of human development. Click the image to open large version in new window or check out www.spiraldynamics.net for more information. 


Towards the last part of our conversation we explore the notion of different states of consciousness. Below is a graphic made by Miles that depicts a simplified map over four different states of consciousness that are often referenced in wisdom traditions.


James Alexander Arnfinsen (redaktør)
James Alexander Arnfinsen (34) er lærer og arbeider i Osloskolen. Han har bred erfaring innenfor dialogbasert prosessledelse, nærværstrening og konflikthåndtering. Ta kontakt med James på følgende adresse: james.arnfinsen @ gmail.com
James Alexander Arnfinsen (redaktør)
James Alexander Arnfinsen (34) is a teacher, his subjects being geography, religious studies and sports science. He is currently working as a teacher in Oslo, Norway. In his spare time he practices Aikido, a Japanese martial art.
  • http://leveveg.blogspot.no/ Øyvind Holmstad

    “In 1977 American philosopher Ken Wilber published his first book, The Spectrum of Consciousness.”

    The same year as Alexander’s “A Pattern Language” was published.

    Further both Permaculture and “Baubiologie” are from the 70ties.

    I think humanity needs to get back to the track we started on in this creative decade.

    I will print and read the introduction to “Integral Theory” added. Thanks!

    • James Arnfinsen

      I´m curious to learn what you think of the article Øyvind?

  • James Arnfinsen

    Here is a directory over other audio resources created by Miles Kessler, amongst other things, a 4-pt series titled: “A Way to Reconcile the World”. https://soundcloud.com/integral-dojo

  • James Arnfinsen

    Here is an informative talk given by Marco Iacoboni, on the concept of mirror neurons and our biological/neurological roots for empathy. I’m wanting to investigate this topic further, in relation to the practice of aikido. My sense is the aikido can support the development of empathy, and I believe neurobiology can explain why..

  • James Arnfinsen

    Here is a new video series by Miles Kessler: https://theintegraldojo.leadpages.co/the-developmental-zone/

  • James Arnfinsen

    Here is a new video series by Miles Kessler: https://theintegraldojo.leadpages.co/the-developmental-zone/