Integral Post is a free high-profile blog series that features writings and articles from many of our favorite integral thinkers and leaders. Updated every week, Integral Post offers exciting updates, observations, and applications from all corners of the Kosmos—reaching all the way from academia to pop culture to the innermost heart of the world's great spiritual traditions.

by Ginny Whitelaw


OK, let's talk about sex. I've probably grabbed your attention as few other topics could. It's the mountainous life-force energy that, from adolescence through every stage of adulthood, turns our life around through its desires and our varying ability to navigate them. It's the mother lode of all explosive topics and, for better or worse, it's recently exploded together with Zen across many articles and much commentary. The catalyst has been the Sasaki story of sexual abuse, “settled” by a thorough and thoughtful council review, as the unsettling karmic consequences of this, and all such sex scandals, continue their endless chain reactions through individual lives and collective consciousness. Integral Life Editor Corey deVos asked Diane Musho Hamilton and me to share our points of view on the matter. We had agreed to a joint interview for Integral Life, but somehow its scheduling and our schedules didn't come together. Diane and I did talk, however, to see if we could shed any light (not just more heat) on the subject, and I will say that meeting the extraordinary Diane Hamilton is one good thing that has come of it.

I was tempted to just let the topic drop, but somehow it came back to me on the cushion one morning as something to write about – an intuition I have learned to trust. And why? I don't think I can take away the pain that has been caused to women who have felt violated by what can be the most trustworthy relationship possible between human beings – between Zen teacher and student. I acknowledge that pain from the start, and bow to all who have had to work with it; would that it lead to more insight than bitterness. But I had to come back to this story for three reasons. First, because it holds important learnings about Zen training and any form of spiritual development. Second, because it holds important lessons for leadership. And third, because it highlights the value of an Integral perspective. So take a deep breath and let's dive into these choppy waters.

What does it tell us about Zen training and spiritual development? Something Ken Wilber has been talking about for years: that you can't ignore sex. You can't expect that a fully integrating practice or all-in journey is somehow going to bypass the mother-lode of sexual energy in the human body. It just doesn't work that way. Moreover, one can be extremely mature along one line of development (e.g., intellectual) and shockingly immature along another (e.g., physical). As Andrew Cohen and Ken convincingly point out in their dialogues: “enlightenment” doesn't mean one no longer has a shadow side to work out. But still, we get confused about sex in the realm of spiritual development when so many traditions emphasize transcending the so-called base desires of the body. There is a place in deep training to transmute every bit of energy you can call upon into One Breath. But you can't transmute energy that you've cut yourself off from or never found. If these scandals show us anything it's that if you try to ignore sexual energy, repress it, pretend it's all under control – SURPRISE – it will pop out in immature, perverse, even predatory ways. On the other hand, if you have no impulse control and over-indulge this energy, it will burn you and others through you. A perfect paradox.

How do we work with this energy in some productive way? While we don't often talk about it this way, I've come to experience the hara development that is central to our line of Zen training (closely aligned with martial arts) as a way to integrate this life-force energy and engage its power. Hara is a Japanese term that physically maps to the lower abdomen, but also has spiritual significance as the life-force center; hence the phrase hara-kiri or “cutting the center,” as a form of ritual suicide. Anyway in our line of Zen, developing this center is of great importance. We use sword and sound training to strengthen this center. We do heavy and hard work to learn to lift and move from this center. We wear hara belts when we meditate to feel every breath in this center. And on every exhale, we subtly set the hara to keep fire in the belly and the mind clear.

I've come to experience that the hara maps to 2 of the 4 energy patterns in the human body and personality. At the base of the hara is the Driver center (you can instantly feel this center if you increasingly press your palms together and notice something in the base of the abdomen starts to fire). We cannot come to full power without connecting to this Driver center and integrating the Driver's fiery energy. At the top of the hara, around the belly button, is the Collaborator center (which you can experience by shifting your weight side-to-side and feeling the pivot point around which you're moving). We cannot come to our full power without integrating the Collaborator's engaging, enthusiastic energy. As we've learned through decades of research into these patterns1, the core movement of the Driver pattern is pushing or thrusting. The core movement of the Collaborator pattern is rhythmically rocking. It doesn't take a Sigmund Freud to see the connection to sexual energy. But that's not all. Together these two patterns also manifest our extroverted, action-oriented side (in contrast to the other two patterns of personality: the calm, rational Organizer and open-ended, dreamy Visionary). What we know about these energy patterns, in part, through the FEBI that measures them, is that we all have all 4, we all need all 4, and we all have preferences embedded in our personality.

If we add to our preferences a stiff morality message that says sex is base, animal behavior and that we, as humans, can transcend all that through religious training or spiritual development, we may cut ourselves off from the very energy we need to live life at full strength. And yet, there is also truth in the opposite stance: that life-force energy not spent on sex is potentially available for “greater" demands (e.g., driving into battle, driving out delusion). So long as we indulge the passions of the body, we can get caught up in its greed cycle. Good thing to know. So I'm not advocating for or against sex; as with all great truths, it's paradoxical. But I am saying that if you're serious about spiritual development, you can't leave any part of you out – certainly not the powerhouse Driver and Collaborator patterns. AND there are better and worse ways to engage and work with this power. One of the better ways is hara development. One of the worse ways is to exploit, or be exploited by, unequal power relationships.

Which is where this story also has learnings for leadership. Because leaders often find themselves in power-superior relationships, such as boss-subordinate, officer-recruit, celebrity-fan, doctor-patient, minister-parishioner, or teacher-student. And two things are known to happen to people in power-superior positions, both of which have implications for sex. One is that people in power become more attractive because others will be drawn to their power as a way to feel more power or security themselves. Ron Heifetz and Martin Linksy have written boldly on this matter in Leadership on the Line, pointing out this attraction is an animal thing, not nearly as personal as powerful men (for the most part) like to make it. “Manage your hungers,” is one their core messages to leaders. Secondly, if others are not making themselves available to those in power, the power itself can be used to coerce, threaten or trick. Leaders in power have abused that power to feed their sexual appetites since the dawn of the species. But what the Sasaki story underscores is that, in this era of transparency, secrets do not remain secrets, silenced victims do not remain silent, and the morality of our age no longer accepts this abuse of power. So many leaders destroy other people, their own legacies, and much of the value they otherwise create because they don't yet understand this.

That brings us to the third set of learnings from this episode, that is, the value of an Integral perspective in sorting through these thorny matters. For we could argue that perfectly healthy sexual relationships have emerged from unequal power relationships. Many people have found the love-of-their-life this way – sometimes ending one marriage to start another. And in hierarchical systems – as in most organizations – most sexual pairings would be among people at different power levels (e.g., boss- subordinate). Men who rise up in these hierarchical systems may know few people outside of them and certainly attract more attention within them. As one male teacher told me when I was taking him to task for initiating sexual relationships with his female students, “The only women I'm close to are those I teach.” In the spiritual development realm, surely there are leaders/teachers who feel they're freeing or opening their followers by having sex with them. The appropriately named movie, A Dangerous Method, recounts this dilemma in the life of Carl Jung and the hysterical client he did, in fact, free through sexual encounter. How is one to see clearly in these murky waters?

If one sees only through the passion of I, life force energy will act through the self-serving I and do what it does – for better or worse. By seeing from all quadrants, and even being the whole picture, we give an opening for life-force energy to act on behalf of the whole. We certainly arrive at a bigger answer. You can try this out for yourself, looking at any goal or decision you're facing – it doesn't have to be sexual in nature – and downloading the Whole Self exercise from The Zen Leader. In this exercise, you'll see we work with goals and how they're viewed from players in various circles instead of quadrants, but the practice of perspective taking is the same. Many of you will also see similarities to Genpo Roshi's method of speaking in different voices and arriving at Big Mind. For our example, let's put ourselves in the position of a power-superior leader considering if it's alright to pursue sex with a subordinate. We start with the upper left quadrant of I (or the central dot of “I” in the Whole Self exercise, see Figure 1) and, speaking in the voice of local I, we might say, “This satisfies my needs; I really want this – hey, why not?” We then look at it from our subordinate's view (lower left quadrant in the Integral model, or the dot representing our subordinate in the inner circle). Speaking as that person, we might say/hear anything from: “This frightens me,” to “This serves me if it leads to something permanent,” or any number of options. We may get only this far into the exercise and already it's clear to us, that our needs are so misaligned that mostly harm will come from pursuing this action. But let's say in the best case (certainly not the Sasaki case), even from our prospective partner's view, things still look pretty good.

Now we move over to the quadrants of how this will look objectively, from outside in. We take the perspective and speak in the voice of, say, a husband or parent to our subordinate and feel their anguish or concern. We speak in the voice of others in our sangha, team, company, etc (right hand quadrants and other dots in the inner and outer circles), and see how the group becomes divided by who's in the know, who's out of the know, the collusion of silence, the differing opinions, the defense of the leader, and blaming of the subordinate (since someone has to take the blame) – all things, in fact, that came to light in the Sasaki case. We go further out and look at it from the perspective of those not in the group and we see all the harsh judgment heaped on the sangha, team, company, etc. Speaking in those voices, we say/hear things like, “There must be something wrong with that group to condone such behavior for so long.” Or, “There must be something wrong with that whole tradition to have fostered such men.” While our circumstance might be different, we have heard exactly these voices in the Sasaki story – vilifying an entire Zen tradition that countless generations have found to be of incomparable value. And ultimately, we look at it as the whole picture – our Whole Self as the outermost all-embracing circle – how does this relationship serve the whole picture? And what best piece of advice would we offer to our local self at the center of this scene? Whatever it is, you can bet it will be less blind than a subjective, I-only view. And now that we've consciously embraced the whole picture, the life-force energy coming through us has a chance to act on behalf of the whole.

So what does sex teach us about Zen and leadership? Connect with your full power cleanly, with neither excessive repression nor indulgence, be the whole picture and you'll do the right thing. Anything less, expect some trouble. And perhaps, as we see trouble around us, we'll have the compassion to see this is a pretty tough assignment.

Dr. Ginny Whitelaw is a leadership expert and Zen master in the Chozen-ji line of Rinzai Zen.  She is the author of The Zen Leader (, President of Focus Leadership, and founder of the Institute for Zen Leadership (

1 For more background on the energy patterns, see Whitelaw, G. and Wetzig, N., Move to Greatness (Boston: Nicholas Brealey, 2008)


What Next Media Collection

What kind of future we are imagining for ourselves? For the integral movement? For the impact of the integral vision on our shared future? These are precisely the sorts of questions that prompted us to hold the What Next Conference this past New Years. After almost 10 years of the online integral movement, we wanted to see what the integral vision can really offer to the world and to our rapidly evolving cultural conversation, and wanted to create a space where we could come together as a community and look forward to all the wonderful possibilities that are waiting for us to enact.

Here you can find the full media collection for the 2012 What Next Conference. We were able to capture some of the greatest moments from this extraordinary event—moments you can now enjoy from the comfort of your own home.


Everything below is available to Premium Members, and some can be purchased separately. If you are not a member, you can sign up for Premium Membership and gain access to our entire library of life-mastery resources.
The Zen Leader Animated
Ginny Whitelaw
Integral Zen: Perspectives and Practice
Diane Musho Hamilton and Ken Wilber
Mondo Zen: Hollowbones and Windowpane
Jun Po Kelly Roshi and Ken Wilber
Big Mind/Big Heart Practice
Genpo Merzel Roshi

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