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:
|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:
- Bringing together “people of action“—CEOs, investors, entrepreneurs and highly-skilled consultants rather than just people with ideas.
- 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.
- Considering our evolutionary emergency, as sobering as it is, to be also an enormous series of interlinked business opportunities.
- 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.
- 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?
October 18, 2009