Bachelors’ degrees in English and Secondary education preceded a Master’s degree in Italian Literature which has gifted him with a life-long attachment to Italy where he is now residing permanently, giving him a unique sensitivity to cultural subtleties. This sensitivity prepared him for careers first in teaching and then in drug and alcohol counseling. For the past decade Mark has studied the Integral approach as pioneered by Ken Wilber, mentoring individuals with the unique understanding of personal and societal development that the Integral framework provides. Offering a variety of perspectives on any particular situation, Mark uses the powerful tools of Integral to help you find a way through the maze of non-conventional relationships you may find yourself in during these times when old models so often fall short
My personal story
Being rather a latecomer to Paradiso Integrale, I, perhaps like you now, did not understand at once just what it really is.
For me in the beginning, the physical location and the various buildings of the complex were almost immaterial. I had come to this place to meet in person Adelheid (Heidi) Hörnlein, a woman I had known until then only via Facebook, email and Skype. Our initial meeting had originally been quite by chance and our online acquaintanceship had begun simply because we both had some interests in common. But interest in each other personally had however soon flowered into a definitely romantic interest. That is what had brought me to this sort of “Bed and Breakfast” on 10 hectares (25 acres) of hillside outside the small village of Otricoli in Umbria about an hour north of Rome.
The romance began to thrive and we soon looked forward to my permanent “residence” in Paradiso Integrale. It was winter and I was the only “guest” – so to speak – and thus still had little idea just what the very idea of Paradiso Integrale was. That had to wait until spring when a dozen or so women with whom Heidi had been in touch with as some kind of teacher or counselor or something arrived to stay for about a week. I had arranged to visit a friend in Milan, hundreds of miles to the north, during their stay, so just what went on here still remained a bit of a mystery.
Nonetheless, I was committed to learn about and to become actively engaged in this enterprise. After my visit to Milan, other guests arrived, this time to follow a course in “Seeing without Glasses” which was conducted by a competent and confident Italian fellow who led half-seeing people around the property as well as through classroom exercises. And they went for a week of living and working without glasses!
I was starting to get an idea of what kind of surprising growth experiences, transformations- (or other magic!) went on here. And in the process, I was learning how to do meal clean-up and dishes for large groups of people which was in itself a “growth” experience.
But the real learning was not confined to the physical, though I did at once start weekly Pilates classes with Heidi, learning to stand up straight for the first time since childhood! Learning of one kind or another continued nearly daily. Heidi had been following a course of study which, though unknown to me, had become quite popular called Feminine Power. I became intellectually curious as it was something quite important to her and I thought I should know something about it. I read a bit about it and decided to follow the lessons she had already completed a year of more earlier. To my surprise and pleasure, I found them stimulating and deeply “provoking” in the sense that I had to be honest to a greater degree than ever before.
And changes began with this discipline and Heidi’s loving experience to guide me. I began to understand why previous relationships had ended so disastrously and painfully. I began to see my behavior patterns that basically grew out of childhood attempts to make sense of and survive with the family I grew up in and then how I continued to follow those patterns as I got older, in school, into work, among friends, and into intimate relationships with women, all leading eventually to few friends, a mediocre work history, and three divorces! You might say that I was ready to do things differently, which certainly did help.
Now over two years into my relationship with Heidi, we both became confident enough to get married. As a team, we continue to host groups here. Besides the ongoing series of the Bates Method (for seeing without glasses) and the womens’ groups, Paradiso Integrale has hosted Holistic Tango seminars, short day programs, online programs via Skype or telephone conference, as well as one-to-one work.
How did all this happen? Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. At seventy-two years of age, such huge changes in lifestyle (barring some great health challenge)are not the rule. Even though I had enjoyed some very satisfying work periods, like teaching at high school and university levels, and drug and alcohol counseling, I always found work ultimately unsatisfying. At Paradiso Integrale, however, I learned how to deeply understand what I truly desired to do, and I found models for bringing those desires into reality.
One example stands out, though there were many others along the way, but this one requires a word about Holistic Tango. This approach to the dance does not actually dwell on any competence about traditional tango steps. Rather it explores how we each follow the two basic roles of the dancers: the “male” role as the active leader and the “female” role of receptive follower. Each role requires its own sensitivities and competences, with traditional Tango always assigning the active role to the man and the receptive role to the woman.
But Holistic Tango regularly changes the roles for both sexes, so any dance begins with one party active and the other passive and the next dance continues with the same couple reversing the roles. The theory is that the way we dance reflects the way we interact in “real life” and Holistic Tango is a route for understanding IN THE BODY how these patterns feel and also how they are seen and felt by others. It’s a powerful practice.
Our instructor, Massimo Habib, (hats off, Maestro!) led us in a supporting exercise that had us role-playing dying and being reborn. He took us “down” to a feeling of being dead, where nothing was happening, where there was no sensation. After a short period to absorb this state, we were to open our eyes and see before us a random Tango partner as the first thing to appear before our eyes in our “new life.” The effect was singularly dramatic. My partner’s face was so particular, so impressive, that it did indeed seem like the first experience of seeing a human face. Then we each carefully reached out to touch the other’s face, which was an exquisite and unique sensation, so sensitive were our fingers – and our faces that were touched! Then we carefully began to explore each other’s bodies with the same wonder and exhilaration – all within the safe container of the exercise so all the touching was quite appropriate and within bounds.
I’m going into this experience in some detail because of its effect upon me. I realised that my body feelings had been awakened from a long sleep, that repressing such pleasantly exquisite feelings had been something I’d learned long ago in order to get by in the world without much pleasant touching in which a younger me had found himself. I’d been missing so much! But even worse, that hunger for touch had “gone underground” and disguised itself as sexual energy, resulting in confused and unsatisfying love making, for both myself and my partners over the years. Clarity! What I really wanted to do became very obvious.
So now we are developing programs that explore the sense of touch, and how we – and especially men – can reclaim the joyous experience of both touching and being touched without that underground twist that allows contact to be expressed only sexually. This unfortunate twist of course can lead women to – with reason – be very suspicious of any male physical contact.
That’s what Paradiso Integrale is all about. It’s a place, an idea, supportive people, a series of programs and practices, a joyous embrace of our humanity. It allows and virtually demands transformation, but a gentle and loving demand that makes that growth possible – and therefore probable – within a safe and trustworthy embrace.