The article in the link above is a welcome perspective, I appreciate Tyson’s humour and attitude. In this response I both agree with some and choose to respectfully push back on other points. Giving a brief introduction to Integral Theory, then exploring some surrounding points which acknowledge the current context of ecological and social meta-crises and the imminent need to slow down, grow down. This piece organically arose in response from the above article being shared in a thread on WhatsApp training group, it grew and riffed into some useful explorations, so I landed it on to here.
Integral Theory is a meta-map, of theory, methodologies and a sense making lens. It has proved a useful frame that I have built a world view around. As with all maps and lenses of viewing the world, I find a key is to hold them lightly, allowing an opennesses to what is new, what is not seen or what may be misperceived through their framework. This helps to avoid the stagnancy which can appear from holding an idea or methodology with concrete certainty, as much as the illusion of certainty has an allure, especially in uncertain times. An image of holding these ideas lightly like feathers, can allow for the adaption to the winds of a changing environment, and encourage evolutionary shaping and growth of an idea as an object that dynamically responds and interacts with the living world.
My sense from Tysons piece is an issue with the attitude the theory is being communicated with. Integral theory can be used by the growth mind set, self development industry, and as with any theory or framework can be misused, appropriated and changed by the intention of the user and the quality of harmony or disharmony of relational interaction and attention it causes.
I value Integral Theory as one theory in an ecology of maps and acknowledge it has flaws. I appreciate it as a synthesis of maps which has theoretical depth and practical application. This engages and enhances learning through propositional, procedural, perspectival and participatory knowing.
Let’s explore a brief surface explanation of Integral Theory and the four principles of applying it in practice. Which are:
It offers a meta map of various Eastern systems of Spirituality “Waking up”. Spiritual systems, experiences and development. This is balanced with a synthesis of over 100 lines of Western Developmental Psychology “Growing up” Which maps the cognitive development of 8-6 common stages for the 14 or so lines of intelligence. These stages can apply to both an individual and collective spheres.
In regards to human experience this has long been a missing thread, as individuals and collectives have interpreted their experience of “Unity Consciousness” or “Waking Up” from their stage of “Cognitive Development” or “Growing up” ie ego centric, or ethno centric. I see this as one reason why we have such disparity between different systems of“Religion” – from Latin Religare to “re-unite” and other systems of “Union”. “Unity Consciousness” is universal and available by nature to all and I do not see it as preconceived, illusive or exclusive experience. This misconception may be drawn from the many routes and methods to enter states of union and the many different types of experience when one is in ecstasy – from Greek “ekstasis” – “to stand out side one self”.
When these states of consciousness can be treated with reverence, approached, entered and exited with safety and grounding, then integrated they can offer a balm to the deeper meaning crises here in the west. My view is that current mainstream western culture is still in the process of learning from and the exploring seriously the navigation of waking, dreaming, sleeping and trance and sub states within these categories. I see a reconnection with soul and spirt vital to quench the natural theological drive which has been absent, mutated and appropriated by the cult of consumption or has been void of direct experience for many.
Integral Theory also offers frames for “Clearing Up”, this is shadow work. Shadow by its nature is unconscious, what we do not always see, or wish to see, yet is there. This is the gentle work of acknowledging both our conscious and unconscious biases, alongside parts of our selves and experience we may not wish to recognise individually and collectively. These can be both unknown, darker or undesired parts of experience alongside the repression of beauty, creativity and the sublime. There are many methods and systems of cultivating awareness and attending to the inner work to kindly shift and change the “programmes” that we automatically run on. When we can begin to integrate the unconscious, it frees up vitality and energy from physical and mental defences and invites the opportunity to moreauthentically experience to ones self and others. Integral theory offers an overview for finding a map or method to work with shadow.
The fourth principle of applying Integral Theory is “Showing up” is the acknowledgment of the intersecting realities, of internal and external perceptive experiences, individual and collectively.
I, individual interior
It, individual exterior
We, collective interior
It’s, collective exterior.
All are valid, all are real, each quadrant can be experienced or perceived as separate yet all are interconnected, effectingand affecting all. The four quadrant map is really useful for finding blind spots, acknowledging the interactions between “hard” and “soft” systems it can overlay and support many experiences.
Integral Theory is in itself a psychoactive map, it can act as a guide to how you perceive your internal and external experience.
Journeying back round to the reply… To Tysons points about colour codes. I see their use for understanding, not ranking. Difference does not intrinsically mean discrimination, yet we are all different and still no human is “above” another. Yet age, experience, abilities and world view do differ, can be traced developmentally and in a healthy culture difference and diversity can be honoured. I also acknowledge we are enmeshed in culture and society which perpetuates sexism, racism and ageism amongst many other injustices, this takes time to work through collective shadow. The recent waves of social shadow being attended to are building on the major waves of the civil rights movements of the 60’s, and the process will continue. In deep time, we are still fresh out the feudal ages in the here in the western culture, and reeling from centuries of indigenous spiritual practitioner genocide, degradation of the feminine and disconnect from the wider Ecology. As I write this I acknowledge and am grateful for my level of opportunity, privilege and freedom, in part of the world where the wars are of heart and mind and not direct kinetic violence
To move forwards individually and collectively, I feel a key point here is to tolerate all perspectives, with out blame or shame whilst acknowledging judgment, yet tempering this with both acceptance and discernment. This is in contrast to the easier “othering” of those with difference causing polarisation, denigration and potential conflict. If we can soften from binary thinking, to allow and even welcome others to hold views that challenge our own, and open to “both and” thinking, we can engage with “truth” as a dynamic living process, which can hold ambivalent and ambiguous tension from all sides, in contrast to seeking truth as a fixed object. A tricky task in these hyper complex times, communicating through technological, media systems and algorithms that are sustained by human attention. These systems are known to actively promote discord and create polarisation to generate and harvest further attention. By learning to see where we are communicating from, and to who we are communicating to the colour coded system can help facilitate dialogue. Integral Theory offers frame to cultivate unity within diversity. The colour coded system of measuring stages of development is a map and not to be confused as an identity or reason to discriminate.
In a thriving ecosystem life is not only competitive but largely symbiotic and supports other life.. what if we are able to cultivate our ecology of ideas and methodologies to respect difference and support diversity? Where edges meet are the where new and novels ideas, flavour and inspiration arises. What if edges were not only tolerated but celebrated?
Integral Theory distinguishes and promotes “growth hierarchies” or “holorachies”. It is within these frames of growththat we see nature unfold; for example an electron is included by an atom, and so a cell, by an organ, by a body, bymind and emotions, by a soul, by a family, by a culture, by a society, by ecology, by spirit. Each layer transcends and includes the layer below…
This is an important to distinguish from “dominator hierarchies”. My sense is that for many, the frustration with the “dominator hierarchies” we are enmeshed in may blend to a distrust of “growth hierarchies” – “holorachies” which are by nature benevolent. The difference between the two is a valuable perception, one that can be applied to restore and enhance both ecological and social systems. Growth hierarchies acknowledge, tolerate and celebrate difference.
How do we transition out of the sinessent dominator systems we are embedded that are prevalent in our current competitive consumptive industrialist capitalist culture?
The cushioning of the human environment we have created in the West from the wider ecology has worn thin at the cost of our connection to the Earth, the health of soil cycle, toxic air pollution, interruption and pollution of the water cycle and the loss of a myriad of species and habitats. We are in a state of system collapse and Eco-cide. This calls for action.
I imagine the possibility ecologically-centric culture, cultivating novelty and encouraging creativity with equal opportunity (An important distinction to note this is not the oppression of equal outcome) Looking forward, Artificial Intelligence is likely to automate many peoples jobs in the next five to thirty years. Now would be a sensible time to introduce Universal Basic Income 1 2, freeing up human creativity and time to create meaningful jobs with in communities, regenerate local eco-systems, local economies and develop local food webs. How would this be funded, I do not know, yet I imagine the quicker actions we take to stabilise the of health of ecology and create regenerative resource use. To nourish this potential reality, I feel here to mention the Land Workers Alliance, La viva Campesina in regards to re-locaising food production; The Need to Grow for urban farming, soil health and closed loop energy systems and for future economics point to the work of Charles Eisenstein, whilst noting the evolving of money into the Information Age with the crypto currency and blockchain.
Can an economy emerge from where we are in this point in time which values the living systems and social systems and embrace a post industrialist, information based economy valuing wider ecology and the ease and velocity of flow of information through all systems? Can there be a return to the roots Currency – State of flowing. In contrast the Stagnecey our current economical models promote. The free flow of information is a key measure of health for any system, wether a pond, forest, circulatory system or traffic system. I believe growth hierarchies are frames which can support this transformation.
Imagine if 3% of every transaction went towards a local cause.
Integral theory has offered a map of development for both individuals and for collective spheres, which has helped cultivate the seeds of novel ideas, nourish their gestation, and prepare the environment ready start to sprout into the beginnings roots and shoots of the new systems. This may sound wild and provocative to some, and I understand for those looking out through the frame of their screen, they will be seeing it through their own narrative, thinking stylesand lens they are being presented to. We have multiple thinking styles which create different fruits of thought formations in this current culture. For example a newpaper reader, may think differntly to a 6’oclock new watcher to a podcast listener and all the gradients of difference between. Combine this with an overwhelming amount of information to form our mental and emotional states and we have large scale narrative incoherence. The current information ecology we find ourselves in calls for discernment for navigating and ingesting mental in-formation.
Yet for those looking for new growth, it is happening all around, ideas are able to be communicated, discussed, implemented and attuned to globally and quicker than any time before in our-story. Tracing change through his-story we can see it takes 10-15% of a population to be accepting of an idea and 20-30% for it be widely adopted and become common place. Who, truly deep down, would not wish to see an ecological and socially generative economy?
Why do I focus on the economy here? This is currently a dominant frame in our society and a prioritised metric of success and “health” and holds the mobilisation of resources, if this focus can mature into a focus of looking at the health of individuals, culture and ecology, I imagine the change could be incredible. This needs, the correct language, narrative, intention and openness of imagination.
“Attention is generative”… What will you nourish with your attention?
To circle back to Tyson article, I hear his point to the out of balance “growth mindset” and arrogant undertones of how this map can be communicated. The “ups” are not to be taken literally. Growing down is as of much, and in these current times possibly more importance than growing up. Deeper roots are needed for stronger branches and more nourishing fruit, other wise the fundamental laws of gravity and nature are challenged.
Growing down and slowing down, is in contrast to the western often linear expansive and perception of growth. We are currently seeing the repercussion’s of this on a global scale with the unfolding Social and Ecological Meta-Crises. Growth is a non linear motion, one I see in spirals. These spirals can have a trajectory, set by intention, then followed in cyclical progression and regression which can be followed by attention. Within in Integral Theory Ken Wilber uses the term spiral dynamics to acknowledge we can slide up and down the different stages of development depending on an individual or collectives state. Appreciating this dynamic has in my experience helped cultivate compassion for parts of my self and towards others.
“Listen to people you don’t like and see their wisdom.”
Tyson correctly points out it is in contrast for the context of many in the world, many do not have their own rooms. This circles back to one of my original points of who is using the framework, their context and how it is being communicated. I appreciate Tysons lighthearted jabs at it. Yet if the meta correlations of this framework can be held lightly enough it can provide a useful map for both gauging and guiding individual and collective development. Whilst making sure it is not prescriptive of interpreting experience, and respecting different cultural contexts. I believe it can be used beneficially, for the similarities in our humanity we do share pan culturally.
In the process of turning this piece from a rambling WhatsApp reply to a blog post. I slowed down and re-read Tysons piece and wondered to whose tones he has articulated. I hear Tysons view yet feel he is commenting more on the attitude of a maps use rather than Integral Theory as a way of understanding individual and collective human development, which intends to cultivate compassion for the non linear growth spirals this entails. I respect his wider work and call to indigenous wisdom, I see at the heart of this respect, intimacy and connection with both the human and other than human environment. Yet recognise the uniqueness and challenge of this current point in history where many have been disconnect for so long. This calls for a new way re-connecting, both embracing modern world views, current technology, ancient wisdom and working with natural cycles and forces. To support and regenerate both the human andnatural environment, which are not separate.
Patterns often repeat themselves, in various guises. To look at deep time, the advances of the western enlightenment in the were spurred from the Plague, artistic and scientific spheres were released from control of the church and western physical medicine was formed. What can appear from a “plague” in a modern context, which has the evolutionary pressure calling for improved immunity, a care for mind, body, soul and relation to the environment?
I see this hyper complex and fascinating time as call to adventure to rally and respond to the ecological and social meta crises. Uniquely this is not another group of humans to engage in kinetic violence, yet a collective challenge of existential threat. If we can collectively respond to COVID with a vaccine so quickly. What would happen if we had the motivation, enthusiasm, resource, language and narrative to rally to the reality of the ecological crises/opportunity we are in.
“We have almost literally consumed everything green on the planet.. and have been entering the chrysalis of our homes..” just like the caterpillar does not know of it’s process of turning into a butterfly. What process are we are in?
Are we in a collective initiatory process? This is not to diminish the suffering that individuals are going through, yet there is an opportunity to frame the collective process with some meaning, which in my perception gives a thread of active hope within the sorrow and chaos.
Sorrow and chaos can turn into substrates for creativity. Can there be a return to the reality of interrelatedness with the wider ecology? Can a breakdown from “normal”… how we were living before COVID was not “normal” in relation to the wider environment, yet was “common” for this recent point in time… to a breakthrough to an eco-awakening a survival and thriving of the most symbiotic. A world we have yet to imagine?
I acknowledge and have gratitude for all who’s ideas and inspiration I draw on and weave into the text above. Friends, teachers, colleagues, nature, Ken Wilber, Thomas Moore and Bill Plotkin.