Integral Heart Newsletter #1: Exploring Big Questions in the Integral World

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This, the first in my series of monthly newsletters, is written as an open letter from The Crossings, a retreat center near Austin, where the Integral Leadership in Action (ILiA) conference has just concluded.

Tomorrow my wife Deborah and I set out for Perpignan, France, where I've been asked to serve as the Master of Ceremonies at Renaissance2: The Great Shift Gathering, a "network of world-changing networks" that aims to catalyze a whole series of high-impact practical projects in the fields of renewable energy, enlightened enterprise, integral governance, and resilient environments.

This newsletter is full of juicy ideas. Future newsletters will sometimes be more inspirational or contain a specific practice—and some will wade into philosophical territory more directly. But I hope you will find this one very "meaty"!

In the midst of a rich series of inspiring dialogues at ILiA with many Integral and evolutionary leaders "at the frothy edge" of human possibility, here are a few of the ideas on my mind. Each is controversial, and even my own thoughts are evolving on all these topics.

Please add your two cents in the comments section where this newsletter is posted as a blog entry on my website!

Coming out of Integral Leadership in Action:

1. How will we creatively manage the tensions between "purity" and "openness" in the world of leading-edge spirituality?

The tension: Integral spirituality has no single central organization, but there are many teachers who agree about certain Integral and evolutionary principles. Various conferences, seminars, publications, and blogs focus on Integral and evolutionary themes. So, a loosely-defined Integral movement seems to have appeared, and within it, the related field of Integral spirituality.

Some people have become critical of several Integral and evolutionary spiritual teachers, essentially questioning their "goodness" in some way, fearing that they have or might mislead, exploit, or damage their students. These critics at times suggest that the (unorganized) world of Integral and evolutionary spirituality should somehow police itself, to make sure it is a clean safe space, where all the teachers and offerings can be presumed to have been vetted as high-quality trustable offerings, and to have taken up a turquoise code of ethics.

Since there is no single central clearinghouse or authority to make this happen, some students are making a personal choice not to associate with certain teachers or organizations with whom they don't feel comfortable. A few of them go further, suggesting ominously to others that they should not cooperate or associate with a teacher they deem untrustworthy or unhealthy.

Going deeper: Both purity and openness are values worth respecting. Either too much openness or too much purity can do damage. So both principles need to be respected, within reason. Staying true to one's principles is essential, and yet refusing to associate with people can erode the spirit of generosity and collegiality so essential to building a movement.

This is an example of a natural "polarity" according to management consultant Barry Johnson. To work with natural polarities effectively we have to go beyond "either/or" thinking.

As with the breath, both inhaling and exhaling are necessary, but each would be lethal if it were practiced to the exclusion of the other. There comes a point where after inhaling, we need to exhale, and vice versa. No matter what virtue we're embracing, we will eventually need to embrace the opposite pole. Here's a table that quickly summarizes the virtues of purity and openness, and the downside of too much of either:

Purity Openness
The virtues of purity: Without integrity we have nothing. With purity, we have "quality control"; areas of clarity and agreement are highlighted, educating people about healthy and unhealthy forms of spirituality, and protecting the psychological, financial, and sexual safety of aspirants, as well as the reputation of integral spirituality. The virtues of openness: The radical, transformative power of living spirituality is not suppressed; passionate creative experiments can flourish; the free choices of aspirants are respected; tolerance and generosity thrive. Openness is also attuned to the competitive spirit of the larger marketplace of ideas.
Too Much Purity: Overvaluing purity is impractical; it empowers everyone with any complaint about any teacher, undermining the whole premise of spiritual teachers and teachings, suppressing boldness, creativity and experimentation, disrespecting the choices of spiritual aspirants, and potentially becoming spiritual McCarthyism, a mood legitimizing every complaint, regardless of its veracity, motivation, or validity. And since there's no consensus about this, one person's purity is another's unsavoriness! Too Much Openness produces a chaotic, indiscriminate spiritual marketplace in which "caveat emptor" rules the day, instead of a larger "meta-sangha" that actually feels like a sanctuary for the soul. Unwary people might be exploited (especially financially and sexually) and psychologically injured due to the unhealthy power dynamics of unfettered spiritual authority. Too much openness might damage the reputation of "Integral" or "evolutionary" approaches to spirituality, or the luster of our collective "brand."

Obviously, important values reside on both sides of this polarity.

On the one hand, the Integral spirit is one of tolerance and generosity, and I instinctively distrust self-righteousness. Teachers are human, too, and we cannot relieve aspirants of their self-responsibility. The greatest spiritual heroes of the past were rarely priggish characters.

On the other hand, I do strive (and expect my colleagues to strive to) love and care for our students, to guard their well-being, to endeavor sincerely to create a psychospiritual environment that is nurturing, self-critical, and rigorous, and to constantly learn and grow.

As the Integral spiritual movement grows, we will inevitably become more diverse. What I hope and expect is that we can be allies to one another AND express our own unique perspectives through vigorous, exploratory debate. I hope we can strive toward a greater purity without narrowing ourselves down, or imagining that any of us are above reproach. I hope we will create a bigger tent, but not one in which we condone or silently acquiesce to anything with which we disagree. And I suspect we'll all learn a lot in the process of creating this kind of larger spiritual culture.

What do you think? Say so! (Leave a comment below.)

2. Is the Integral movement by its nature an "open source" project?

Many presenters at the 2008 JFK conference Integral Theory in Action shared their notes and intellectual property (IP) freely, in a spirit of collaboration. Participants loved this, and Integral IP became a topic of conversation. What is the role of IP in the Integral worldspace?

Integral is inherently an "open source" movement: On the one hand, Integral intellectual property falls into two categories: (1) There are copyrighted recordings and publications, and testing instruments, which are all necessary and completely non-problematic. (2) There are attempts to trademark or copyright important insights or good ideas in and of themselves. Such ideas may even be essential truths. Where would we all be if Ken Wilber had copyrighted the idea of the four quadrants? Or the notion of altitudes? This latter category is more analogous to patenting pieces of genetic code. By its nature, this tends to constrain the free flow of ideas, and inhibit the co-creative process at the heart of a thriving Integral community.

Ken Wilber provided a rich source of ideas from which people are free to draw. This is why the Integral movement is neither a cult nor a business, but instead a small but influential movement that has expressions in the private and public sector, and among academics all over the world.

Not only that, IP runs counter to the spirit of Integral. The "consumers" of the IP (that is, people who are interested in Integral ideas) are by nature systemic thinkers and synthesizers. They don't really want to be passive consumers of someone else's IP; they want to make connections, synthesize their own new insights and understandings, and contribute to a shared conversation that proceeds in a spirit of "open source" co-design. Anything that tends to thwart this is out-of-sync with the essential generosity that is central to the Integral spirit.

Integral IP is healthy and necessary: On the other hand, serious intellectual creativity requires full-time dedication, which implies a successful business model. The Integral movement has come to life in the midst of the world economy at a time when innovative business models are primarily based on developing valuable IP. To make this distinction between two kinds of IP and to take one of them off the table is entirely impractical. It can't and won't happen. Moreover, any attempt to do so would be foolish. It would disincentivize innovation and constrain the ability of Integral leaders to monetize their creative contributions. If the IP has enough value, people will, and should, pay for it. And the public Integral conversation will go on; it is hardly in need of protection.

Also... In these conversations, it was additionally pointed out that if any particular piece of IP is essential to the progress of the Integral movement, Integralists will find their way around its constraints. (Congress had to act officially to take away the Wright brothers' patent on flight; today Integralists acting unofficially will find their way to make use of any really important idea within the public domain.) Your thoughts?

And a couple of things I'm thinking about in anticipation of Renaissance2: The Great Shift Gathering:

3. What is the (secret?) "source code" of the art of conscious evolution?

Leading-edge conversations, by their nature, take place among a tiny intellectual or spiritual elite. How much influence can they have upon the mass of human beings—and, by extension, on the big evolutionary challenges faced by human beings? Many visionary conferences and meetings have inspired their participants without forging a discernable lasting influence on anybody but a tiny coterie of people already thinking similarly.

Renaissance2 expects to break into new territory by doing several inspiring new things:

  1. Bringing together "people of action"—CEOs, investors, entrepreneurs and highly-skilled consultants rather than just people with ideas.
  2. Focusing on incubating a series of practical projects with valid business models in the areas of renewable energy, enlightened enterprise, integral governance, and resilient environments.
  3. Considering our evolutionary emergency, as sobering as it is, to be also an enormous series of interlinked business opportunities.
  4. Operating through a "network of networks," working cooperatively with similar efforts, so that all are strengthened. (At Renaissance2, the Worldshift Alliance will be announced, an unprecedented co-operative venture involving Robin Wood's Renaissance2, Ervin Laszlo and David Woolfson's Club of Budapest, Barbara Marx Hubbard's Foundation for Conscious Evolution, Don Beck's Center for Human Emergence, Jim Garrison's The State of the World Forum, and Andrew Cohen's EnlightenNext Global Network of Evolutionaries.
  5. Working both "top down" (from the elite that will gather in Perpignan to the general population of the world) and "bottom up" (helping catalyze and cooperate with worldwide grassroots movements, involving "every-body-all-at-once" as my former teacher, Adi Da, put it in his book Not-Two Is Peace).

Will all these good ideas be sufficient to enable Renaissance2 to break through into real-world effectiveness? There are no guarantees, but I'm excited to lend my hand to help try to make it happen, and I'm honored to emcee many of our world's pre-eminent visionary leaders as we make a sincere effort to break through into a whole new level of conscious evolutionary effectiveness!

In the midst of all this, I am also considering one last paradox:

4. If organic evolutionary emergence can't be hurried, how can we respond to the urgency of our current emergencies?

Here at the Crossings, I had a series of probing conversations with many brilliant people (including but not limited to Zak Stein, Jeff Carreira, Rand Stagen, Elizabeth Debold, Jeff Salzman, Bert Parlee, and Cindy Wigglesworth) that traveled through varied terrain and questions including:

  • The acceptance of Integral thinking in academia is progressing, but it is a slow and often painful process, with many obstacles, that seems to be proceeding (in Thomas Huxley's famous phrase) "funeral by funeral."
  • The Integral community is still tiny in demographic terms, and may never break out into the mainstream. Are we having our conversation among an elite 10-100,000 or so people, and are we thus, despite reaching many influential individuals, doomed to the cultural margins? What does it take to communicate effectively to the mainstream? Should that work be implicit rather than explicit? What is our collective mission and what are our individual missions? How do each of us define our own unique roles? How can we be effective in producing change, especially change that transforms the lives and life conditions of large numbers of people? Can anyone envision an Integral cultural breakthrough?
  • Integral thinkers are split on the climate change question, with many Integral environmental activists embracing the "precautionary principle" and wanting binding carbon emission limits (albeit non-hysterically, with a respect for cultural issues) but with some prominent climate change doubters like Michael Zimmerman (who has recently blogged in appreciation of Björn Lomborg's skeptical economic analysis) and Michael Crichton. This issue seems like a lab for global concerns. Perhaps the Integral community will always be a forum for sophisticated debate over key controversies. If so, will we be able to forge any cohesive Integral activism—especially with Integral urgency? (Or is that an oxymoron?)
  • Is President Obama an "Integral leader"? He doesn't seem to be familiar with Integral theory explicitly. How much does that matter? How much of a difference could it make to his leadership? How does considering his example help to refine and define our understanding of what Integral leadership is?

Special Coaching Offer

Finally, I want to extend a special coaching offer: If you're serious about making a real move in your life, you might want to consider Integral coaching and mentoring with me.

As you can see on my website, "My mission is to help people who are passionate about actualizing their potentials in service of the greater good. I am interested in working with clients who can grow into colleagues. I want to work with people who are committed to becoming more fully present, awake, open, and effective, cooperating with others to make a positive difference in a complex, challenging, and yet ever-wondrous world."

If you would like to step further into your life at this time, and you're ready to get real and work, over a several month period, to make a transformational shift in your inner and outer life, I'm making a special offer through the end of 2009. You can arrange to have a reduced-price ($150) initial conversation. We can spend 75 minutes exploring and clarifying whether we're a fit, and if Integral Coaching with me is the right move for you in your life journey. To take advantage of this offer, please let me know a little about you by filling out the coaching questionnaire on my website, and mention the "Newsletter Offer."

Well, that's it for now. I hope you've found these topics engaging and catalytic. Over the next few days I plan to cross-post most of it on my blogs at, and at I've also posted a new video here. Comments are most welcome—may the frothy edge churn!

Terry Patten
Austin, Texas
October 18, 2009


Managing the tensions between "purity" and "openness"

I believe it would be a show of high-level integrity for the Integral movement to adopt a code of ethics for spiritual teachers. The code of ethics that psychotherapists use would be totally applicable. Spiritual teachers receive no training in ethical conduct or methodological training for spiritual and psychological transformation. Therapists and ministers do receive this type of training. Why not those spiritual teachers of the Integral movement? At this point, with all the scandal that has occurred among spiritual teachers and their students, I believe it's just plain stupid for any spiritual teacher to go without training and, ultimately, a code of conduct that protects both teacher and client. I was sexually harmed by my spiritual teacher. After receiving excellent psychotherapy to deal with the trauma of engaging with and buffeting an unboundaried spiritual teacher, I learned about the code of ethics that therapists use. As the code of ethics was revealed to me and I learned the harm that comes from unboundaried relations between client and patient, I was deeply disburbed by the actions of my spiritual teacher and see the importance of adopting an ethical code of conduct. Spiritual teachers have knowledge based on meditative and spiritual experiences but they have no training in how to work with a person's psyche and personal transformation. I believe this needs to stop! We can't rely on each spiritual teacher to display perfect egolessness, healthy boundaries, or complete knowledge about personal transformation. So, an ethical code of conduct serves as a behavioral guideline.

Purity / Openness

Hi Terry,
For me that Purity/Openness polarity is way too abstract and reified to serve the purpose you seem to be talking about. It seems to me to ignore the primacy of interpersonal relation for us embodied selves as we relate to teachers/mentors/exemplars. I'd like to see a consideration around questions like "What sort of behaviour, verified how and by whom, indicates a teacher with an interior which is probably corrosive or limiting of the spiritual and personal growth of those relating to them as mentor/coach/guru/exemplar?" And of course: "What do we (who is that "we"?) do about this?"

We've chatted on this before and, perhaps it's my stuff, but I keep hearing you as edging to the position that, if they're signing from the integral song sheet, trust them...they're second tier.

Complex stuff involving the usual human complications of in-group loyalty, shadow, the charms of liturgical homogeneity and of course, the apparently eternally reliable dominance of hope over experience.

Best Regards,

Organic evolutionary emergence

4. If organic evolutionary emergence can't be hurried, how can we respond to the urgency of our current emergencies?

I heard you speak on Craig Hamilton's series this summer and am now enrolled in one of his telecourses - your dialogue with Craig was inspiring, thank you.

I know you didn't ask for comments on this question, but it was the one that called me so...

I've wrestled with this question since the hot, hot summer of 2005 when it came home to me in a visceral way that this planet was in trouble and I had to, through my spiritual practice, find a way to 'Be' with this fear knowing that it contained a degree of my projection of my ego's fear of survival within it. The answer that I came to over months of hard practice had within it elements of the evolutionary principle that I've only now been able to be conscious of through the teachings this summer.

I am not, by nature, an activist, though my love for this planet had me at a 350 rally on Saturday and crying this morning as I viewed pictures of rallies all over the world, so I have to do what I can do in my own way - tiny actions - always carrying my travel mug, keeping a Starbucks stir stick in my bag, buying free trade/organic and/or local when I can etc. I support change in a myriad of tiny ways. On a larger level I donate when I can to environmental actions run by those with an inspiration to actions such as you are writing about. These are the actions I can do in relation to the environment

My own work calls me to inspiring greater consciousness within others - from noticing clerk's who are tired and sympathizing (hopefully lightening their days) to speaking to others about environmental issues, to helping love live within my family, to doing my spiritual practices and holding the fear, and speaking to clients about the spiritual path and its shifts and helping them decipher their choices in the light of this awareness.

This is my work, my evolutionary edge, and to do it I have to choose faith, not necessarily in this planet's well-being - I'm not sure about the outcome of this one and pray for it often, but faith in God, in Spirit's calling us Home though I don't understand how or why. With this I feel I have to be content at the moment - though I don't preclude the option of reviewing the issue at some later date should it come to the forefront of my consciousness.

I applaud and encourage all those, who like you, are thinking and working on a grander scale, but perhaps it is faith too that you need to hold as your self-effort takes you forward. For that attitude, at least in my hard-won experience of it (and it's not always there!)carries forward my actions with, I hope, a spaciousness, that has a potential to call people to their own centredness, their own life's work, and to make their actions - tiny or large - informed by something other than their ego's well-being.

Managing questions of purity and openness

I'm taking another delightful read through your newsletter. It is certainly juicy!

I wonder about 'policing' ourselves - the tendency of the mind to try to make all things safe and understandable has, in my view, sometimes a 'cementifying' effect. I remember reading Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels and being much taken with the need of Christianity to come to a 'form'. The Catholic Church created a form and probably allowed the many chaotic gnostic experiences to be organized in such a way that Christianity survived. In doing so, however, the structure of the church repudiated mystics with original - often form breaking - experience. It seems to me that openness and purity will be always need to be in some kind of form and flux.

So perhaps rather than concentrate totally on questions of 'out there', we need to be vigilant 'in here' maintaining a constant awareness of our motives and intentions and seeking balance within our selves in relation to these questions. To bring in the 'out there' aspect, because as Wilber says, we aren't able to see all aspects of the 'pie of life' we perhaps need to form a group where we can be open and vulnerable to other's reflections about our leading edge thoughts and actions.

In this, the 'idea' of supervision, without the power imbalance, appeals to me. How do we get together to explore our own questions about our leading edge thoughts and actions with others we trust to give us their own, straight from the hip, compassionate responses from which they trust us to choose wisely? Can we find such a group? Can we work within it?

It is critically important in this to be aware of our own tendency to project our own short-sightedness onto others and to hold our beliefs with a 'maybe this is true/maybe it isn't' place and to give our colleagues the trust they need to move forward into the unknown without stamping 'wrong' too easily onto any new idea.

The other principle I think that needs to be held in our awareness while we engage in such discussions, is that unlike the mind's capacity to imagine a perfect universe and imagine that we can attain perfection in it, the way forward is one of trial and error. And sometimes as Craig Hamilton suggests, we only move forward with a gut feeling that this is the direction to move - only knowing whether our intuition is 'right' or 'wrong' by the response we receive from the universe. And sometimes this involves moving forward alone, without the group.

Reaching out to these process principles of moving forward and more principles like these I am sure, might help provide some input to the proud and some impetus to the afraid.

Internal grit and external grease

Dear Mr. Patton:

You appear to be on the verge of a vital discovery, or better stated, re-discovery of the root of all culture. I found my way past the infinite polyglot of world philosophies when my path intersected the well-groomed roadway of Jesus Christ. Your analysis of the petty internal resistance to political evolution repeats Saint Paul's struggle to align the then burgeoning unity of Christianity with the social reality of the post-Roman and Renaissance worlds and the remedy is identical: find the common story! Like us, Paul knew he was onto a good thing but had to invent the process of building a world religion in order to spread the word of the new way of life taught by the Lord.

Ken Wilbur's work fell short of providing the unified theory of life he sought in his books, for the very same reason that Science can't seem to resolve itself to a single statement of fact about reality. Had Wilbur, and all such advanced theorists, at some point diverted from academia to study the drama of life itself, and applied that kind of wisdom to their review of the social process, and applied a more Shakespearean approach to their reasonings, they would have formulated a much different connection of our relationship with Heaven based on ourselves being part of the discovery of Infinity and of nothing, the two most vital components of the Human experience, and then they could have understood what Jesus means when He says: "I am the way and the truth and the Life."

We Humans are both more and less than presently thought.

Our mind, our individual and our compounded cultural mind, is one with the infinite information within which we function, and that mind, the fundamental ground of consciousness, is inherently "no thing." Mind is both producer and product of information, being both a subjective and objective element of the paradox of numbers, and of all that is without information by being non-numerical, such as all the dramatic meaning of our actions and emotions. The story of Being Human comes into proper focus when we realize that our minds, the Mind writing this and the mind reading, are Infinite and Atomic at once, and totally addicted to more fresh information. The most recent spasm of scientific discovery vainly sought to identify where, or how, Mind is produced by substantive material reality, when the exact opposite is true: information conveyed to us by matter first produces the mind and mind then erroneously presumes life's existence must reside within that matter. Mind, writ large, is always process, always in process, and always seeking to be re-defined in terms of the meaning that is constantly being identified by new information. But in order to be rationalized, life's process must terminate in meaning at some juncture between our knowing and our being known, between identifying people and being identified by them, which demands that we personalize the examination of the truth by either naming an original cause, or adopting another as yet undecided goal of our philosophy. And here is where we usually err. We never place our mind in the correct position of perspective from which to judge what mind amounts to constituitively. Instead we never think of the minds we think with.

We are not bound by our contemporary interpretations of information, as modern pedagogy insists and your carping friends would demand of each other. Rather, information and our respective interpretations of cosmological and personal meaning are naturally bound to follow the single story of Heaven and of Earth that has come down to us from our common past. The only goal that properly resolves all the known and the unknown facts of our Being into a single positive expression of meaning, is a single story into which everything in history fits pefectly, and I found Jesus Christ to be the only figure capable of bringing everything into one unified expression of meaning that accommodates the entire Human race as we are. When we all exist within such a story that it effectively guides society to our highest social utility then it is the imperitive task of science and philosophy to first instruct us in that story, and then to allow us to determine what our best bet is for an effective and just ecological system of order and law in the same terms.

I encourage one and all to internalize the Gospel so Christ's character takes residence in our actions, and to externalize His Truth as the best and most effective means of unifying all the information in the universe into harmony with each and every living being.

Friends seldom become, or remain foes when all win.

Purity and Openness

Hi, Terry, this is a great and rich newsletter! So my comments here may seem limited in scope, however... In discussing purity and openness, "purity" in the relative sense (not absolute purity beyond pure and impure) is a name for the Old, while openness is a name for the New, so that in progressive 'forward-leaning' minds there's a natural flow away from purity and into the openness, and vice versa for more conservative-minded 'backward-leaning' integralist. While integrating these two impulses is crucial, as you point out, we will inevitably prioritize one of them, depending on whether we come from Old or from New. This is then, again, a question of synthesis and integration, but which actually represents a shift into a perpendicular plane. What we find in that plane is skillful means, which arise from functional openness along with - not versus - actual purity. Skillful means is just another expression for innovative and adaptive, and in itself it always affirms both Old and New at once. To flexibly develop and deploy skillful means, we need to understand that integral is an instrument, and I don't mean just another tool, but perhaps the tool for forging a viable, sustainable, and yet progressive, bold civilization. So, openness and purity can indeed complement each other, and the issue of diversity and multiplicity of integral streams would hopefully become a question of what works best. Hope this makes sense.

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