Voltronization: Or The Meta-Enaction of Beams & Struts

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A new theory without a new practice is simply a new map with no real territory, or what is generally called ‘ideology’.      

–Ken Wilber Excerpt B


I cannot recommend highly enough Juma and Trevor’s excellent piece (subtitled: Putting Girth In your Quadrants). My reading of that piece sparked the initial thought that lead to the following contribution.

If you haven’t had a chance to read that article first, I recommend reading it first before coming back here...

The Integral Theory Conference (July 29-Aug 1 2010) was a formative event for a number of us writers at Beams & Struts.  I’d like to explore The Conference’s central theme--Enaction--and how I see it relating to Beams & Struts.  I do this especially (but not limited to) those who were unable to attend The Conference.


In order to get a better grasp on the concept of enaction, my guide will be an essay by Ken Wilber:  Excerpt B The Many Ways We Touch:  Three Helpful Principles for Any Integrative Approach.  This essay is in my own view one of (if not the) most important pieces of Wilber’s writing and sadly the most underrated and least known.  In this essay Wilber lays a broad yet deep framework that I will then apply to our experiment known as Beams and Struts.



What then is enaction and how does it relate to the word theory (as in integral theory)?


Wilber writes:

“Put simply, a theory is a map of a territory, while a paradigm is a practice that brings;forth a territory in the first place. The paradigm or social practice itself is called an ‘exemplar’ or ‘injunction,’ and the theory is called, well, the theory. The point is that knowledge revolutions are generally combinations of new paradigm-practices that bring forth a new phenomenological territory plus new theories and maps that attempt to offer some sort of abstract or contoured guidance to the new territories thus disclosed and brought forth. But a new theory without a new practice is simply a new map with no real territory, or what is generally called ‘ideology’."

Enaction therefore is the process of doing something--paradigms, exemplars, behavioral injunctions those are enactions.  And Wilber's point is that different paradigms bring forth different worlds of experience.

As a simple example.  If I were to ask you to close your eyes, slow down your breathing, and focus within your subjective experience for a few moments.  Notice your thoughts, your feelings, sensations, whatever is arising in your case.


If you undertake that practice (technically a first person perspective/practice) various phenomena will occur.  By putting your attention to your inner self, all kinds of potential "data" will be there for you to observe:  e.g. memories, feelings, problems, etc.


If you hadn't undertaken that specific practice (a meditational one), then that phenomena would not have arisen in your case as it did.  The world of your inner experience arose due to the fact that you enacted that world through the meditational paradigm offered above.  The practice did not determine the content of what arose but rather opened the specific kind of world in which those kinds of content could and did emerge.


A theory, as Wilber defines in that quotation, is at its best a generative or helpful manner of framing those worlds of experience.  The paradigm (or enaction) however is the thing that sets in motion the world of experience that a theory is there to be help make sense out of.


Recall Wilber stated that theory without grounding in the paradigm is ideology--and believe me there is integral ideology out there.  The emphasis on enaction, on grounding ourselves in practice, helps dispel the fog of ideology. This principle forces the practitioner to become clear about what exactly the practice in question is, what are the experiences/worlds that typically arise through such practice, and how the theory (or theories) help interpret and frame those experiences.  




Ideology is broken by the practice of sharing our practices, entering those worlds, building and debating the best maps of those worlds, and then continually checking (and re-checking) whether our experience is vivid, our theories illuminating, our practices real.  [For more background on this point, see my earlier post on The Integral Learning Cycle.]



To wit, one of the difficulties to date with the development, teaching, and embodiment of integral has been the focus on teaching theory first--as in the name itself integral theory.  As per Wilber's quotation, the bare minimum necessary is Integral Paradigm and Integral Theory.  Rather people need to be first introduced to an integral paradigm (integral enaction) and only after that the theory. An integral paradigm enacts the world of integral (or post-postmodern) experience. Integral theory only makes sense in relation to the experience of an integral world.

One of the strengths of this year's Integral Theory Conference was the theme of Enaction (Integral Paradigms) to help get under the tendency to approach the topic first by learning the theory without having the grounding in integral practice and experience.


What then is an integral (or at least integrating) paradigm or paradigms?

Later on in Excerpt B (Part I) Wilber writes:

“Namely, whereas all previous waves of culture and consciousness (traditional, modern, and postmodern) believed that their values were the only valid or correct values, any integral wave acknowledges the importance and validity of all of those values, not just as historically appropriate (which the other waves will acknowledge), but as inherent ingredients in today's spiral of growth and development…In contradistinction to all of those exclusionary social practices, an integral wave attempts to acknowledge, honor, and actually include all of those values in the ongoing spiral of its own unfolding, thus bringing together the best of premodern, modern, and postmodern, while pledging exclusionary allegiance to none of them.”

The key point in that quotation is that integral sees all previous waves of development as intrinsically necessary to our moving forward—each has some gift(s) that we need in order to evolve into a more wondrous future.

This practice of profound embrace is what we have termed at Beams and Struts “Deep Integral.” Again, see Juma and Trevor’s piece on Richard Harrison’s Radio program for a beautiful exploration in real time and real life of this very topic. In some ways the word “deep” in deep integral is redundant as per Wilber’s own understanding above; deep inclusion is the primary overarching principle of integral. Nevertheless I think it is helpful to remind ourselves to continue this practice of embrace by referring to Deep Integral, helping to work as a counterbalance to tendencies to only (or over) emphasize higher levels of development in integral practice and theory.

Deep Integral, when framed in the language of enaction, sounds like this (Wilber):

“The result would be a set of paradigms, behavioral injunctions, and social practices that might be called an integral methodological pluralism. "Integral," in that the pluralism is not a mere eclecticism or grab bag of unrelated paradigms, but a meta-paradigm that weaves together its many threads into an integral tapestry, a unity-in-diversity that slights neither the unity nor the diversity. "Methodological," in that this is a real paradigm or set of actual practices and behavioral injunctions to bring forth an integral territory, not merely a new holistic theory or maps without any territory. And "pluralism" in that there is no one overriding or privileged injunction (other than to be radically all-inclusive). Unlike postmodernism, which practiced a type of exclusionary pluralism that condemned all [ed: other previous values], integral or inclusionary pluralism is a conscientiously adopted set of behavioral paradigms for acknowledging--and actually seeking out--the enduring truths in categorically every major methodology in [edit: premodern, modern, postmodern, and post-postmodern] waves.”

Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP for short) is the nerve center of integral theory. It in a sense electrifies and coordinates the attempt to build a post-postmodern world.

Here’s why (Wilber again):

“Right now the concept [of IMP] is helpful because it offers us another reason to honor, acknowledge, and integrate a large number of otherwise "incommensurable" paradigms. Most "paradigm clashes" are usually deemed "incommensurable"--meaning there is no way for the two paradigms to fit together--but this is so only because people focus on the phenomena, not the practices. But if we realize that phenomena are enacted, brought forth, and disclosed by practices, then we realize that what appeared to be "conflicting phenomena" or experiences are simply different (and fully compatible) experiences brought forth by different practices. Adopt the different practices, and you will see the same phenomena that the adherents of the supposedly "incommensurable" paradigm are seeing. Hence, the "incommensurability" is not insurmountable, or even a significant barrier, to any sort of integral embrace.”

This statement, deceptively simple in nature, is an absolute live grenade thrown into the soul of our world. What if religions stopped either denigrating science or trying to use science as proof of their own claims? What if science (philosophically) recognized the validity of contemplative practice? What if everyone admitted that whatever particular field they were in was only one field that didn’t have all the answers to all of life’s issues and questions, but that we needed the insights of each other? AND what if we had a plausible (at least as a first broad brush) way to actually relate to one another’s gifts, covering over of various limitations, thereby being able to truly work together?

That’s a world I yearn to live in. The key term for me in that quotation is “fully compatible” (“experiences are simply different and fully compatible experiences brought forth by different practices”). Fully compatible. Let the enormity of that statement sink in.

Wilber writes:

“The second part of any integral methodological pluralism, and the part that prevents it from being mere eclecticism, is a meta-paradigmatic set of practices that conscientiously relate the various paradigmatic strands to each other. Put simply, integral methodological pluralism includes a compilation of the most important, time-tested methodologies, as well as a set of practices that weave them together or integrate them into ways of being-in-the-world that are radically nonexclusionary. This aspect of IMP can be summarized as, "Everybody is right."

(Put technically, such a meta-paradigmatic practice enacts a new domain upon the individually-enacted paradigmatic domains, such that their individually-enacted phenomena overlap, their brought-forth horizons merge to some degree, and there is enacted upon the enacted phenomena--and accordingly there is brought forth, illumined, and most fundamentally disclosed--a new territory or domain of integral interrelationships. In other words, this is a paradigm of paradigms, which means, as we now know, a practice of practices and not a theory of theories).”

There’s an enormous amount there, so that is of such crucial value, let me break that quotation down.

The meta-paradigmatic side is the “I” in IMP—the integral or integrating piece. First the various (pluralism) practices (methodological) are drawn into relationship with one another, a relationship that normally does not occur given the dominant “my theory is the right, you’re wrong” attitudes prevalent in the world.

Then those various practices are correlated and framed by the tools of integral theory. Wilber calls this move “freeing a practice by limiting it”—note the emphasis on freedom through humility or proper boundary setting.

“Put technically, such a meta-paradigmatic practice enacts a new domain upon the individually-enacted paradigmatic domains, such that their individually-enacted phenomena overlap, their brought-forth horizons merge to some degree, and there is enacted upon the enacted phenomena a new territory or domain of integral interrelationships.”

Here then we have found (in technical language) the overriding ethos and praxis of Beams & Struts. I see Beams & Struts as our attempt to create an integrally methodologically pluralistic form of online discourse.

Each of us writers focuses on a specific area. Within that area we perform the first (or paradigmatic) aspect of the IMP. We seek to elucidate the best practices and already existing paradigms within our respective fields—for example of this paradigmatic aspect, see Bergen’s excellent essay introducing an integral perspective to international development.

By the process of writing online together, the site itself—indeed its very structure (LR) as well as our stated collective intentions (LL)—brings about the meta-paradigmatic aspect of Integral Methodological Pluralism.

In my reflection on this site, I have noticed real-time moments where individually enacted paradigms overlap, their brought-forth horizons merge to some degree, and there is enacted upon our enacted phenomena a new territory or domain of integral interrelationships.

There is an ecology, an environment of a number of different kinds of IMPs—there are in other words different forms of IMP from different contexts (with each still holding the same basic pattern in place).

Wilber’s Excerpt B is heavily geared towards the academic context—what Wilber calls transdisciplinary procedures. Integral colleagues working in that field include people like Sean Hargens, Mark Forman, Olen Gunnlaugson, Zak Stein, and Katie Heikinnen.

While I don’t think we’re aiming to be dums dums around here, Beams and Struts is not a formal academic forum. So a distinction (an interrelationship) forms there.

Another venue (another life form in our ecology of IMPs) would be Integral Life Practice, an IMP applied to individual personal and spiritual development. Names like Craig Hamilton, Terry Patten, Cindy Lou Golin, and the Integral Coaching Canada Team work in their various ways in this world.

Then there is the application of integral practice to social issues (Wilber):

“On a societal scale, it [IMP] involves approaching social ills with an integrative tool kit, not a piecemeal series of ameliorations that often create as many problems as they solve. Integral solutions to social problems involve sustained inquiries into ways that will allow each wave (magic, mythic, rational, and pluralistic) to freely explore its own potentials but in ways that those waves would not construct if left to their own exclusionary practices.”

Tim Winton, creator of Pattern Dynamics (trademarked), is pioneering a profound socially responsible enterprise founded in just this practice.

All of these offerings, each in their own context, are integral and meta-paradigmatic in nature.

So Beams & Struts is aiming to add another element to the mix. B&S is certainly not the only integral online writing out there:  e.g. Bill Harryman, Zero Integral, Bruce Alderman (aka Balder), and Integral World.  Still, I do think we are trying to bring something unique in our online contributions at B&S.

I believe we are seeking through the meta-paradigmatic practice of writing and reading together, of our sustained collective inquiry, to help give birth to this post-postmodern worldspace through the medium of our lives, work, interests, and so forth. If a domain of knowledge and practice is freed by being limited, then in that freedom it can finally truly offer its gift to the larger whole. It can also glory in the gifts of other ways—rather than becoming competitive, jealous, or entirely ignoring the role and wisdom of others.

Beams & Struts is one way of creating an online integral meta-paradigmatic paradigm. A meta-paradigm is a practice of practices. Integral theory is a theory of theories. Its greatest strength, in my opinion, is that integral theory is a theory that directly points to and forces one to undertake practice of all kinds. “Knowing” integral theory doesn’t do anything. Practicing integral is everything (or at least nearly everything). As we each seek to bring an integrally informed practice to our various fields/vocations, together we seek for the emergence of an integration of integrations. A meta-paradigm, a meta-theory.

Or in simpler terms, a new culture.

This new culture is emergent, meaning it is a new arising greater than the sum of its parts.  It can't be predicted either from its component members.  It is in that sense a Voltron project.  All of us individually work to create wholeness and integration in the areas of our interest like the various members of the Voltron crew (i.e. the lion pilots in Season 1).  But joined together Voltron emerges.  Though true Beams & Struts has not reached the point of being galactic defender of the good, as a metaphor it is a helpful one.*  

I have tried (and think at least partially succeeded) in exhibiting or actually doing the very thing that this essay was about (meta-enaction) in this process of this essay.  I've linked heavily from our own site, weaving together the various strands in a (hopefully) conscious and purposeful way--as opposed to Wilber's critique of 'mere eclecticism'.  I've referred and introduced also a representative sample of the larger world of integral thinkers and actors beyond the Beams & Struts roster.  This wider community constitutes a larger pool of creative thinkers and writers that as this site matures and evolves we hope to give space to at this site.  

As this essay began, so it ends---a new theory is not sufficient by itself without a new paradigm.  A new theory absent new practice tends to become ideological in nature.  That is why in this essay I consciously practiced (or attempted to anyway) the very thing that was being described--enaction and theory.  

For post-postmodern integral writing and thinking to further deepen, it must not only talk about what it sees and experiences ("the ends") but the manner ("the means") by which it arrived at that insight.  

In Integral Spirituality Wilber wrote:

"The meaning of a statement is the means of its enactment."  

The meaning of Beams and Struts is the means whereby we writers come together with the common intention to explore and enact the post-postmodern worldspace, using (as is necessary, appropriate, and helpful) the integral theory to help map and orient us in that arising world.    

Like Voltron, the meaning of Beams and Struts, is the act of joining together and to see what emerges.  


*Plus, as a child I had to watch Jem with my sister while she had to watch Voltron with me, and since TJ has already written on Jem, it's the only 80s cartoon reference I got left.

[Image Below Courtesy Bonnitta Roy]





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  • Comment Link Joe Perez Tuesday, 07 September 2010 19:11 posted by Joe Perez

    Hi, Chris. It's hard to comment briefly on such a sense article -- that and being unfamiliar with Voltron, not that one needs to know Voltron to appreciate IMP (I think!) -- but I do have a couple questions for you.

    Would you agree with me that Wilber's "everyone is right" saying isn't really very good at capturing what he thinks it does. If you read his description of the point he's trying to get across, I think it would be something more like "everyone who practices any particular paradigm would agree that that paradigm enacts phenomena that are appropriately captured by the terminology of that paradigm, and may be right or wrong relative to that paradigm (not to say that every person is capable of enacting every conceivable paradigm in any kind of deep way and therefore may not be able to independently verify the aforementioned claim)?"

    Also, re "a new culture," aren't you forgetting about the new social structure? Which, I might add, on the http://theaui.ning.com/ website if not in many other places is getting some long overdue attention, or do you disagree?



  • Comment Link Joe Perez Tuesday, 07 September 2010 19:16 posted by Joe Perez

    In the first sentence, meant "dense" not "sense" ... and "dense" in the sense of "rich and full" :)

  • Comment Link bruce sanguin Sunday, 12 September 2010 15:32 posted by bruce sanguin

    Thanks Chris,

    I think I've been conflating paradigm and theory. I also think I've been one of those who learned integral theory before paradigm/praxis, and it's helpful to imagine doing praxis and allow the theory to then map out the territory. I also think I've tended to look to the praxis of the scientific method to support my preferred domain.

    Finally, I realize that your site isn't technically "academic", but it's a challenging niche you are writing into - I try to imagine who in my congregation would dig into this piece. Hmmm... a few come to mind.

    Thanks for pushing my edges

  • Comment Link Karl Higley Tuesday, 14 September 2010 20:44 posted by Karl Higley

    One of the really under-examined facets of integral is the specific way that the theoretical constructs motivate particular practices.

    As one example, we discovered in our DC integral group that constructing an ILP based on body/mind/spirit/shadow biases one strongly toward the upper left to the exclusion of the other quadrants. Using the four quadrants as a basis for ILP results in a very different set of practices, which tend to be distributed through the quadrants more evenly. (Of course, this second set of practices is likely to be unbalanced when considered in terms of lines of development, and so on.)

    The theory shapes the practice as much as the practice shapes the theory.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 16 September 2010 01:12 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thanks for the comment. That's an excellent point re: ILP which I agree with. It's my major (loving) criticism of the text (which otherwise I really support).

    Can you say more about what specific things you guys did in each quadrant?

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 16 September 2010 01:16 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Glad this crazy piece helped.

    Integral theory is a praxis--when someone actually thinks through in a reflective deep way what is occurring in any moment in a situation, event, crisis, whatever. And starts to hear the various voices on a subject in light of the theory's map.

    In terms of the scientific method, the scientific method is just a subset of the larger integral cycle of learning:

    practice, experience, interpretation, and confirmation/social action.

    So it's a great place to start. It's just then to apply the same basic categories but more in the religious tradition language. e.g. Ignatian Paradigm:

    Action, Experience, Reflection, leading to New Action.

    This would be a really helpful model with a Centering Prayer or Lectio Divina small group.

    It helps contextualize what they are doing within the framework of learning--and religion as learning about how to follow God.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 16 September 2010 01:20 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thanks for the comment. I agree that "everybody is right" doesn't quite communicate what he wants it to. I've often wondered how far I would be willing to take that (Nazis?--what was their partial truth?).

    You're right it's more about the already existing paradigms that bring wisdom.

    And on the LR, "The Voltron Crew" at B&S is still working on our own internal LR as well as how we will interface with the wider community in terms of structural issues.

    It will be interesting to see how AUI forms. I think at B&S (too many acronyms :) we've started more in terms of our own internal LL as this essay argued. We need some reflection, work in the LR.

    I see AUI as starting more in the LR and it will be interesting to see how its LL develops--whether people will learn to trust one another, build intimacy, common vision/goals, or whether there will be challenges in that regard.

    What's your sense of it so far--realizing of course how young the project is?

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