What follows is a foreword I wrote for a not-yet-published book called Soulfully Gay, by Joe Perez. Joe is just now seeking a publisher, so you won’t yet find his work on Amazon. I won’t spoil what he’s written by telling you the plot, but I hope you enjoy this note from the heart and see it as an example of integral thinking in action.
"I am in the awkward situation of writing a foreword to a book by a gay person. This is an awkward situation not because Joe Perez is gay, but because I have to point it out. I feel the same damn irritation as having to refer to, say, Edmund White as a "gay writer." Nobody has to point out that I am heterosexual, although now I hear that I am not a heterosexual but a metrosexual, although, in fact, I have never had sex with a metro in my life. But I’m sure it is a wonderful experience.
"Nevertheless, because I have to include that information—culture today demands it, from those both for and against homosexuals—then let me say this. Joe Perez’s book is perhaps the most astonishing, brilliant, and courageous look at the interface between individual belief and cultural values that has been written in our times. By a homosexual, or a heterosexual, or any other sexual I am aware of.
"As it happens, this rather extraordinary chronicle unfolds around several conflict-inducing facts, one of which is that Joe is indeed gay; another of which is that Joe was raised Roman (homophobic) Catholic; another is that he often has authentic mystical states; and yet another is that Joe is, but only occasionally, clinically psychotic. It is the jolting collision of those items, held together by Joe’s courage in the face of all of them, that makes this chronicle so extraordinary in so many ways.
"The last item—the occasional trip into realms labeled madness—can mean, especially if you are a writer, that you are given to telling the unvarnished, brutal, searing truth, whether society likes it or not. And not the Sylvia Plath look-at-me kinds of truth, but the spiritual-seer and mad-shaman types of truth, the truths that really hurt, the truths that get into society’s craw and stick there, causing festering metaphysical sores indicative of social cancers or worse—but also the types of truth that speak to you deeply, authentically, radiantly, if you have the courage to listen.
"As it turns out, Joe is a writer, a rip-roaring wonder of a writer, and he had the courage to tell those truths, to endure them, to have them tear him apart, hospitalize him, brutalize him, kill and reassemble him, in one of the most astonishing tales of death and resurrection you are likely to find in today’s literature.
"There is one other reason this is an awkward foreword for me, which is that Joe’s transformation, or at least its narrative, depends in part on my own writings. For those of you unfamiliar with my work, here’s the Reader’s Digest version, in one short paragraph, I promise.
"In a series of over a dozen books, I have attempted to create a comprehensive map of human nature (which is a little less grandiose than it sounds). Everybody knows that you don’t want to confuse the map with the territory. But you don’t want a totally screwed-up map, either. So in order to make as few mistakes as possible, I basically took over 100 of the best maps of human nature drawn by various cultures—East and West, premodern and modern and postmodern—and attempted to combine the enduring elements of each, along with whatever new insights I might add. The result is called "integral" because it attempts to be widely inclusive, combining the various truths in a way that is as coherent and comprehensive as possible.
"What often happens if you study this integral map is that it begins to make room in your psyche, in your being, in your soul, for all the parts of you that were disowned, whether by society, your parents, your peers, whomever. An integral approach even makes room for those who did the disowning to you. And there, I believe, is part of the key to the extraordinary events that begin to unfold in Joe’s awareness, his being, his life. In a remarkably short period chronicled in this book, as Joe takes up a more integral approach, there is a profound resolution and integration of an enormous number of seemingly contradictory items—anti-gay Catholic upbringing, life as a gay man, authentic mystical spirituality, psychotic delusions. I don’t want to overplay the role of an integral approach, but it is part of this extraordinary journey of self awakening and self acceptance.
"But having a map is one thing; traversing the real territory, quite another, especially if that territory is marked by the occasional straightjacket, brutal homophobia, drug addiction, a plummeting T-cell count, and deserting friends, all nonetheless cut with profound and authentic spiritual experiences, transcendental grace and glory, deep love and friendship where it counts, and insights that even shamans would envy, all in a bottle with a skull and crossbones on it.