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High Sierra - Dale Laitinen
1. Our Origins
2. Beginnings of
the Institute for BioSpiritual Research

3. The Institute Today
4. Where We are Going
a) A "Spiritual Practice" for Democracies
b) Nurturing Peace-Filled Children
c) Nurturing Healthy Spiritualities

1. Our Origins

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HE YEAR WAS 1945. The place, 10,000 feet high along the crest of the Sierra in California’s Yosemite National Park. I (Ed McMahon) was fifteen years old on a family camping trip, wandering off by myself on a lazy August afternoon.

World War II had just come to an end in Europe and Japan’s surrender was imminent. So, like many boys my age, thoughts were beginning to turn toward a future apart from the armed forces.

Craggy peaks glistened against the intense blue sky. Here and there, patches of lingering snow contrasted their pure whiteness against the summer’s lush, green outcroppings of grass and wild flowers. In this immense silence of staggering beauty, I could feel for the first time since I was nine an inner space and the freedom to wonder about a life without war. What should I do with my life? There were so many possibilities!

HE OPENNESS I FELT inside me was much like the vast open vistas around me, uncluttered by buildings, cars, people, and noise. Climbing to the top of a small granite rise in this rooftop garden of the world, with its incomparably crafted giant bonsai, I felt overwhelmed by a deep sense of awe and reverence, physically needing to respond to some presence that was more than just the beauty around me.

MOVED TOWARD A FALLEN LOG, dropping to my knees with head down, eyes closed in a position of semi-prostration. I felt enveloped in a Presence that seemed to come out of me as well as everything around me. Although the experience has always been impossible to describe, there was an unspoken invitation or life-direction that broke through to my conscious awareness.

I never spoke of this experience to anyone for many years, writing of it for the first time only in my doctoral thesis, and then later in a book with the following words:

    “Whatever you hunger for is right in the rock being a rock, the grass being grass, the tree being a tree. The flower only has to be a flower to be whole, to be in harmony with everything else.

    “But how does a person just be human?

    “Unlike the trees and flowers, people are confused about what it means to be human. So, you will have to spend your life looking for the answer yourself.

    “Look not with your mind, but with your body. If you can find a way to live in your body and not reject any of it, then you will be guided into discovering the wisdom you sense in nature all around you.

    “Your own body is the key that will tune you in to this vast and awesome Presence, the source of all wisdom.”

BEWILDERING EXPERIENCE for a young boy! Certainly not one to talk about if you didn’t want raised eyebrows directed your way. But much more than curiosity about the body’s role in human development was etched deep in my bones that afternoon. Almost 60 years later, it is clear that my life has been spent looking for the answer, and this website is being created from out of that journey and the guidance that has come from that experience.

In retrospect, I now know that the significance of this early experience is that it provided me, and the Institute’s research and outreach, with an inner sounding board or screening device with which to evaluate both theory as well as growth and spiritual practices. This has enabled us more effectively to utilize the research of others in the development of what we call today, “the habit of noticing and nurturing important feelings.” In a nutshell, we had a sense for what pieces were “on track,” and which were not while creating a BIO-spiritual approach.

Some of the most significant researchers who passed through this “inner screening” and became an integral part of our exploration of body-links are highlighted below.

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Teilhard de Chardin
Photo by Philippe Halsman
HORTLY BEFORE HIS DEATH in 1955, the renowned Jesuit palaeontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, had dreamed of founding an Institute for the scientific study of what he called, “human energetics.” As a stretcher bearer during the First World War, day after day he felt the agony and dying of wounded men whom he carried from the front lines. That experience never left him. Then came World War II with its decimation of millions.

Having lived through these horrors, the unending perils of our atomic age, and environmental destruction he had observed around him during his world travels, Teilhard concluded that the question such an Institute should explore was: “Are there unknown inner resources within the human species that, if brought to the surface, might make it possible for us not only to survive, but also grow beyond our destructive tendencies?”

Decade after decade he had seen this plague of human destruction combine with technological advances to create devastating power beyond description. He asked himself, “Is there some organic, spiritual or motivational energy for life inside human beings that can be awakened to guide us into a transformed way of living?”

N AN ERA FAST BECOMING aware of evolution itself, Teilhard wondered whether practical possibilities could emerge from this new awareness that might halt the downward slide into even greater tragedy. Was it possible for our species to set forth fresh goals for itself, discovering a pragmatic new course to follow?

The stark questions posed by this eminent scientist and caring human being were never fully explored in a systematic way before his death. But his vision pointed toward the dim outlines of a path to follow. Twenty years later, in 1975, a small beginning was made when the Institute for BioSpiritual Research was born.

During the years between the death of Teilhard and the founding of the Institute, a pragmatic piece of data emerged to be explored by Eugene T. Gendlin, a philosoper at the University of Chicago.

Eugene Gendlin
During his student days, Gendlin had participated in a Counseling Practicum under the direction of Carl Rogers. Rogers was intrigued at the thought of having a philosopher in the practicum. It was here that Gendlin's philosophical background connected with Rogers’ pioneering work in psychology.

The dynamic interplay between Gendlin’s philosophy and Rogers’ research provided a unique vantage point from which to examine human knowing in a fresh way.

Carl Rogers
Carl Rogers had identified “congruence,” the ability to feel one’s feelings physiologically and allow them to symbolize themselves accurately, as a key to human growth. The lack of such congruence brought profound inner disconnection within the person, which in turn disrupted external relationships and perceptions, causing all manner of pathological conditions.

ENDLIN SET OUT to learn more about the inner experiencing process that led to congruent, connected living. He noted that meaning is never just thought in the mind alone. It is also felt in the body. He further realized that the body was more than a mere pipeline of emotion, feeling, and physical sensations funneling data from an outer world into the mind for processing. Rather, the body added it’s own unique, implicit knowing and felt meaning to sensory input! It was not a mere passive agent, but a dynamic player in the drama of human evolving.

Gendlin named this new awareness, “felt sensing.” It was a knowing “felt” in the body, yet “sensed” not like the five senses, but more like, “She makes good sense,” where “sense” is a meaning word, including but also containing far more than physical sensation or emotion alone. Gendlin developed a teachable process for accessing felt senses, which he named, “Focusing.”

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HERE WERE, OF COURSE, numerous other early influences upon the development of what you will find on this website. We close our summary of origins by mentioning two additional names. First, the physicist-philosopher, Lancelot Law Whyte.

Whyte wrote,
“The Next Development in Man” which, among other contributions, contains one of the most incisive critiques of idealistic thinking and Christianity’s failure to include "the body’s process of wholeness" within spirituality.

L.L. Whyte
L.L. Whyte had a significant influence upon Carl Rogers and helped to shape the development of his thought. Even though Whyte could not offer any effective "process for change," his insightful analysis of the "dissociated" person, by which he meant "dis-connected" or "un-linked," had a profound effect upon Carl Rogers as he developed his notion of "congruence."

While this creative movement was taking place in the fields of philosophy and psychology, a similar kind of development was occuring in the world of theology within the writings of a German theologian, Karl Rahner.

Rahner’s theology of the body was years ahead of its time. It can only be fully appreciated, however, when “an effective body-process” is available through which to recognize and tap into the body’s own knowing potential, together with its capacity for linking with a Larger Living Process.

Karl Rahner
Karl Rahner was arguably one of the greatest and most influential theologians of the 20th Century. He had a powerful “developmental sense," and sought continuously to bring that perspective into his theological reflections. When discussing the merits of an evolutionary worldview in a 1962 article, for example, he went so far as to say that: “...spirit and matter...are moments in a dynamic history...and we can say that matter of itself essentially develops toward spirit.”

The stage was now set for two researchers in the psychology of religion to build further upon the foundation laid down by Carl Rogers, Eugene Gendlin, L.L. Whyte, Karl Rahner, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

(2) Beginnings of the Institute for BioSpiritual Research

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HILE COMPLETING their doctoral studies at the University of Ottawa during the late 1960’s, Edwin McMahon and Peter Campbell brought together their complementary backgrounds in psychotherapy, Ignatian spirituality, the psychological investigation of religion, philosophy, and Christian theology to begin forming a unique synthesis.

Campbell was already very familiar with the works of Teilhard, but realized that the power of his intuitive sense for matter and spirit interacting within the cosmos and human evolution still lacked some necessary spark to ignite the full potential within Teilhard’s all-encompassing vision of “cosmogenesis,” “anthropogenesis,” and “christogenesis.”

Peter Campbell

Edwin McMahon
McMahon, who brought more extensive research in spirituality and psychology as well as therapy experience to the team, agreed. Together they sought not only proven theoretical support for their synthesis, but McMahon began experimenting with the design of practical, experiential workshops. He sought to enable participants to begin developing what he initially called, “BioSpiritual Focusing,” and later, “the habit of felt sensing”--a body-based, psychologically healthy foundation for a global spirituality.

Putting their diverse backgrounds and experience together, it didn’t take McMahon and Campbell long to realize that Gendlin’s “felt sensing” was a critical key to the Teilhardian sense for evolution within human awareness. Here was the engine that drove forward congruence and the potential for further connecting. Both Teilhard de Chardin’s and Karl Rahner’s powerful grasp of the evolutionary interplay between matter and spirit was realized pragmatically and organically in human beings within the unfolding of their felt senses--what McMahon was calling, “the habit of felt sensing.”

IT WAS THE HUMAN BODY, together with it’s innate knowing potential, that was itself the doorway to future human progress.

A vast, untapped evolutionary resource lay waiting to be explored within the unending surprises that emerge whenever, as McMahon eventually would write, “...we learn to develop the habit of ‘noticing’ and ‘nurturing’ all our important feelings.”

The human body contains a further “more” or story beneath the bubbling surface events of daily living and personal history. Some deeper, implicit, evolutionary current lies waiting to move forward within every human life.

Campbell and McMahon had been trained in the spiritual tradition of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. With this common background they could appreciate the evolutionary spirituality of the two Jesuits, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Karl Rahner. It is the human body which provides our most grounded spiritual link, both to the details of daily living as well as the mystery of an evolving universe. Paradoxically, our body, which we so identify with mortality and decay, is itself our conscious bridge into immortality! It is our precious “link” to the universe as a whole--and beyond!

In the early 1970’s, Campbell and McMahon set out to explore the link between Focusing and spirituality. They found that the body’s ability to experience felt meaning is our forgotten bridge into the experience of spirit and, as the poet William Wordsworth so eloquently proclaimed, the resource within consciousness for our, “Intimations of Immortality.”

ODY MEANING, they learned, came as spontaneous gift or surprise. Felt sensing was not a byproduct of logic and reason. It could neither be predicted nor controlled. There is a transcendent, “graced” quality to the felt sense as it unfolds meaning in the body.

McMahon and Campbell widened Focusing to emphasize this gift dimension, linking the mind-knowing of our information-based culture with our spirit-based body wisdom, opening a whole new paradigm of human consciousness for exploration. They initially called their synthesis, “BioSpiritual Focusing,” adding the prefix “Bio-” to highlight the body’s central contribution to the experience of gift or grace in human life. In more recent years they have come to realize that the critical key which unlocks this evolving human awareness is an ability to develop the “habit” of noticing and nurturing all important feelings, together with the body’s “felt sense knowing” that is implicit within our feelings.

(3) The Institute Today

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HE INSTITUTE for BioSpiritual Research is a non-profit, member-supported, international network that is not affiliated with any national, political, business, or religious vested interest.

What ties this organization together is the growing conviction that humankind will never move forward in its quest for global peace and a responsible care of our planet until we discover a simple, body-based “spiritual practice” for daily living--a practice that gradually reveals the sacred giftedness of all life and our tied-in-ness to all that exists.

True human solidarity lies deep within this unifying experience in the body, regardless of any historical or religious interpretations, or cultural traditions within which such a practice may or may not exist. The “habit” of felt sensing is available to all human beings if they are not conditioned to block its development.

When Saul Bellow received the Nobel Prize for Literature, he spoke warmly of Joseph Conrad’s sense for just such experience. Conrad once wrote, “...we must find the gift dimension in our being, seeking it out beneath the wreckage of many systems...” The Institute was founded to help uncover this next educational step in human evolution as we search for a simple body practice that transcends diverse cultures and can form a foundation for peace within the bodies of ordinary people around the globe.

4. Where We are Going

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a) A “Spiritual Practice” for Democracies

The absolute necessity for discovering a simple practice, like the one just mentioned, becomes more evident with each passing day. The social fabric and structure of world democracies demand it, as does the inner well-being and mental health of their citizens.

OW CAN PLURALIST, multicultured democratic societies survive and protect their freedoms, human rights, and the equal opportunities they struggle and die to keep alive, if at the same time they do not have a common cultural spirituality that connects each successive generation with the reality of some operative ‘higher power’ in our individual lives and that of the planet we live upon?

The perennial problem that soon arises in even the best of democracies, is that proponents of one religious or non-religious interpretation eventually seek to impose their view of this ‘higher power’ upon everyone else. Witness today the turmoil generated by widespread religious fundamentalism.

History teaches that when fundamentalism of any sort rears its head, it is a sure sign of spiritual decay. Having lost it’s way, the human spirit is forced to endure a rapid descent into various expressions of control and stifling legalisms. Religion becomes security-centered. Growth-seeking exploration is stifled. At the current point in human history, democracies have not yet survived long enough to evolve a level of spiritual maturity that can provide them with alternatives for responding to such threats to their existence--other than to declare war on something or somebody.

Years ago, Ed McMahon was guided by an experience that pointed toward an answer hidden somewhere within the human body we all share in common. That answer has never been found in our warring, often divisive interpretations, nor in the unending battles around whose religious interpretation is the right one.

We believe that the next step in human evolution will flow from a more widespread, maturing inner connection--a wholeness within each of us. But this will not occur unless every person’s inner struggle to grow can somehow be situated within the earth’s larger evolutionary movement toward greater unification.

The organism which best experiences these two movements together as a seamless whole is not our analyzing mind, but our common human body’s unique way of felt knowing and being connected in the world and universe around us.

The time has come for the development of a practical, common, body-based, non-denominational “spiritual practice” that will provide pluralistic democracies with the moral foundation upon which they can endure and flourish. We must turn again to family life, teaching parents how to take advantage of the “open window” in every young child’s early years. The Institute exists to help that happen.

b) Nurturing Peace-Filled Children

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VER FORTY YEARS AGO, Abraham Maslow challenged young psychologists to devote their lives to researching the origins of human violence. As psychologists of religion, we felt that the impotence of religion as an effective deterrent to the growing violence all around us was deeply troubling. Maslow’s call became an integral part of our lives and our research.

It was always present as we designed and evaluated the hundreds of workshops we gave to groups, our years as psychotherapists, counselors, educators, doctoral researchers, and in the experiments we have undertaken in our own personal growth and the development of BioSpirituality.

After all these years, the conclusion we have come to is that the origin of most violence, of most destructive behavior--perhaps all of it--lies in the absence of a body-based habit of knowing how to take care of our feelings--especially our fears and tears. In other words, not having been taught in childhood what we are now calling, “the habit of noticing and nurturing all important feelings,” especially the so-called “negative” ones.

Nothing affects our behavior more than the way we feel about ourselves. The way we “deal with” those feelings when they are difficult is a learned behavior! Young children watch how adults, especially their parents, treat their feelings. And then they imitate them. Eventually, habits develop. These habits can lead either to greater wholeness and health, or to “process-skipping” and pathology.

HEN USING THE WORD, “violence,” we not only refer to obviously destructive physical behaviors, but also to how we learn to relate to our own emotions. Often, as children, we experienced adults labeling feelings as “good” or “bad,” “acceptable” or “not acceptable.” Depending upon the label, we were being taught correspondingly “appropriate” ways to “deal with” them. It is still rare to find parents who can model as well as consistently and intelligently guide children into a healthy habit like what we call “noticing and nurturing important feelings.”

We learn from brain research that around the age of six years neural patterns of response to feelings have already been “wired into place,” so to speak, and it becomes increasingly difficult with age to change them. Over and over again, the bottom line from rehab data identifies certain feelings that continually resurface in children with problems. Without there being any positive habit in place to process such feelings, it is not long before youngsters begin overeating, smoking, ingesting drugs, alcohol, junk foods, etc.. Feelings like “not fitting in,” “being left out,” “not loved as much by parents as they love my brother or sister,” “not as pretty as...,” “not as good in sports as...” Such feelings are common and normal in kids as they grow up. But without learning early how to take care of such feelings and listen to their stories, such unprocessed emotions become time bombs for later destructive behaviors.

That is why this website must be seen as only the barest beginning of a much larger development of resources, videos, films, school and church programs, and support/training groups for parents in order effectively to reach all children with an essential learning and experience that is absolutely necessary for their healthy growth. We simply cannot afford to neglect this any longer for the sake of human health and the creation of a peaceful world.

F WE TRULY WANT peace-filled communities, families, and schools without violence, then we must teach children, beginning at home and in pre-school, how to notice and nurture all their important feelings so their inner stories may unfold and be heard. Then, with continued support at home and in school, and hopefully in the other formative social groups they participate in, like scouts, church, athletics, etc., the habit will be formed for life. When kids don’t feel good about themselves, they need to know how to take care of themselves and one another before they begin acting out their negative feelings in destructive ways.

Once the habit of not taking care of their feelings becomes patterned into their brains and programmed into their external behaviors, change becomes extremely difficult, costly, time-consuming, heartbreaking, life-destroying, and at best only haphazardly successful.

An embodied habit must be replaced by another equally embodied habit in order for any lasting change to take root in a person. The chance of this ever happening has so much stacked against it. As Lancelot Law Whyte so clearly pointed out, external values and ideals are simply unable to do the job effectively because they cannot be internalized in the body when there is a contrary body-habit already in place. So, the best remedy is always prevention by helping kids from their earliest years to develop a body-habit of “knowing in their bones” how to take care of all their feelings.

From the early development of this simple habit of caring for our feelings can grow the internalized values, behaviors, mental, emotional and community health that we all want to create, live in, and pass on to our children.

c) Nurturing Healthy Spiritualities

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We believe that the first foundational step toward developing healthy spiritualities is to embody them within the "habit of noticing and nurturing important feelings."

MAGINE WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN to children the world over, if at least one of their parents began regularly to encourage and teach them how to take care of their important feelings within the context of some "gifting presence." Through the doorway of such feelings, even the scary ones like their fears and tears, they could then discover the gift of their own unique identities.

Imagine even further what might occur if church leaders came to realize the immense benefit of this approach as a support for family and community life. It could awaken a sense for the body’s role in spiritual growth as the awareness of gift (“grace”) and an experience of the sacred in caring for our important feelings. The practice of a spirituality directly linked to the healing of stuck fears and diminishing violence could then be tangibly experienced in the body.

Many of our life-damaging decisions are linked to a chronic “disconnection” from what our bodies already know about situations, choices, and crucial judgments. The habit of noticing and nurturing important feelings facilitates our ability to connect inside with this reservoir.

Most parents worry about their kids, and how to provide them with practical guidelines for moral and value-based living. But what might happen if they could share a way for this next generation to companion their own doubts, confusion, tears and fears, so even these need not block them from growing?

If parents, teachers, and child caregivers can do that, they will not only have gifted their children with an abiding resource to carry them through the hard times, they will have helped set them on a profound spiritual journey that can continue throughout their lives.

The awareness of participating in some larger reality or Greater Whole would not be drawn solely from religious teachings and traditions, but from the experience of their own bodies as well. There would be immense, positive social benefits if the body’s awareness itself could be recognized as one of our greatest sources of wisdom for peace, community, and life-giving moral values. We know now that over a period of time the practice of the habit of noticing and nurturing important feelings can develop this resource within us.

ROWTH IN HUMAN WHOLENESS has always been recognized as sacred within healthy religious traditions. For us, holiness IS the journey into wholeness! Growth in consciousness IS a maturing awareness of that connection “within” some higher power, being tied in to some “larger, unfolding process.” Our work in the Institute and its expression on this website has been to discover a simple, easy to understand structure for developing an awareness of that connection within our bodies, and not just as more ideas, ideals, or teachings for the mind.

We hope this website represents at least the beginning of a sound body foundation upon which ordinary people may renew their cherished religious and spiritual traditions or, where necessary, build new ones that enhance healthy human growth, honor the body’s role in spiritual development, and are sufficiently simple and practical to be passed on to children in an age of broken body links.

As this website unfolds, we plan to share our own integration of what, for us, is an intrinsic Christian biospirituality. It will be drawn from our Judaeo-Christian tradition and discovered within our own noticing and nurturing of important feelings.

E HOPE THAT WHATEVER renewing influence this effort may have within our own spiritual heritage, may also serve as an invitation for those in other traditions. May it encourage them to explore the body-feel of gift and unity that grows from the habit of noticing and nurturing their important feelings, helping them to discover further life-enhancing, peace-making connections within their own spiritual traditions.

Being able to grow up with this “habit of felt sensing” can create a bridge of hope, providing meaning, life-direction, and an inner knowing that each of us is part of some larger, life-giving process, some greater source of energy. Such hope and spirit is meant to mature in the body. The Institute for BioSpiritual Research exists to help all people find practical, simple ways to restore that connection, especially in the lives of children--our collective future!

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In ending this page,
we invite you to pause for a moment.

Close your eyes, if it helps,
and quietly allow your attention to be drawn inward,
sensing how your body is responding
to what you have just read.

Allow time to notice and nurture
in an open, caring way
whatever your body may be telling you.

Let this inner experience connect
with anything that spontaneously arises inside
and feels linked in some way to what you are feeling.

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Clicking on the link below will take you to a brief description of each page on this site, along with a further link that will take you to it.

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