[Editor's Introduction Chris]: This week we are publishing two pieces on MetaIntegral, a new organization launching their online presence later this week. Part of our mission here at Beams is to be a platform for new projects and new voices to be heard. Also we seek to further the discourse of integral theory and practice, fostering dialogue, and including as many perspectives as possible. We believe that these pieces fit within that overall mission. At the same time, I hope it's clear that the views are those of the authors. We encourage folks to leave their comments below. This piece by Tim Winton explores the topic of whether there should even be 'big container' organizations within integral, and if so how to create them in an appopriate way--looking to ecosystems as a learning model. The second piece (on the Integral Planet Endowment) by Jordan Luftig and Sean Hargens is here. Also checkout the followup blog piece by Carissa Wieler on grief and love within the integral world.
“Techniques employ four qualities that reflect the nature of our world. Depending on the circumstances, you should be: hard like a diamond, flexible as a willow, smooth-flowing like water or empty as space.”
--Morihei Ushiba (1972, p. 71)
In writing this piece I’m feeling a little like the guy who asks what might be a really dumb question in an auditorium full of really smart people. Intuitively, deep in my gut, I feel like I need to start a conversation, but I’m not really confident about how it’s going to go. I can’t stop myself from putting my hand up, and, now that I’m speaking into the mic, I’m getting those cold sweats down my spine and my stomach is in a knot.
I’m not sure I’m necessarily the most qualified person to start this, and I’m not even sure it’s going to be as important to you as it is to me, but, if it is, then it’ll be worth the risk. And, I’m prepared to be flat out wrong about how to go about this. Starting this conversation is not just about the ‘Integral community’–to a large degree it’s also about my own journey in Integral and my need, at this particular time, to try and make sense of what is going on and what I’m doing within the Integral space.
The question at the heart of this conversation, for me–and this is what I’ve been struggling with for a while now–is exactly how do we find meaning in what has gone down with the ‘Integral Enterprise’ to date. What happened to all the promise, the confidence, the potential for the more evolved organisation of the larger movement itself? How did we get to this underwhelming state of affairs when we were meant to be so fricken onto it–when our whole raison d’etre is that we think we have a better way of doing this sort of thing?
I’m not talking about all of the great people and organisations using Integral theory in really useful and interesting ways, and I’m not talking about the many extraordinary practitioners and truly beautiful people in our community. I’m talking about the big container, or at least bigger containers, that I believe are meant to hold these initiatives and people in an integrated embrace. Why is it that at the wider ‘integrating’ level it feels so much like Integral has failed to live up to its potential, and, I might add, its considerable hype? What does this mean to each of us and to what we share through our participation in Integral?
Do we even need these big containers? I would argue that we do. One of the major things we agree on in Integral as a community is that interiors have exterior correlates and visa versa. So, while it is tempting to give up on the idea of Integral ‘institutions’, given what we have seen so far, I don’t think we can realize the potential of Integral consciousness to be of service in the world if we, if fact, do that. So, the ‘we’ I’m referring to is not just the Integral community at large, more specifically it’s those of us in the Integral community who see the need for more complex, more comprehensive types of organisations, but who want to see more functional, supportive and enlightened ones–those of us who still think this is a worthy, if not essential, pursuit. It is understandable if you feel a little (or a lot) outside of this big container ‘we’ at the moment. Initially, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to be a part of that ‘we’. This article is about how I did and the processes that brought me there.
There is an element of rationalisation in all this as well. I have made a commitment, a deep commitment, to participate in an attempt to create one of these bigger containers, but one that I think can actually be the kind of supportive, evolved, liberating structure that I hoped would be the norm. I think the dynamics associated with the failure to date to create these bigger structures in the ways we imagined them has caused a lot of hurt. Hurt to individuals, to reputations, to organisations, to initiatives and to the movement itself through a serious loss of confidence in our belief that anything Integral can actually make a real difference, not just in isolated instances (where I think it does), but in the wider world. How can it possibly if we can’t even get it right in our own community? If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking largely about dynamics many (myself included) feel to be have been associated with Integral Institute. To be fair, these same patterns can also been seen elsewhere in the Integral space. So, right now, being involved with these bigger projects in Integral seems tainted and risky, like their very nature might be to start with good intentions and big statements and then to degenerate into unnecessary exclusivity, unmet expectation, neglect, turf wars, power politics and empire building.
Being sure about why I should make a commitment to getting this big container thing right is difficult, and I feel more than a little vulnerable. I do, though, feel like I need to make sense of what has happened in the past, what is likely to be possible and not possible in the future, and to share this with all of you before my full capacity is going to show up.
I realised recently that I’ve been telling myself a story about all this– making it up and repeating it and shaping it into some sort of meaning. The most effective way I can think of to start this inquiry is to just tell that story as an invitation for further conversation and as a process for collectively making meaning.
I think it’s clear that there is now a widespread, real, and deep distrust (which I partly share) of any attempt to put in place these bigger structures. Why then do I feel so strongly about participating in the development of MetaIntegral (MI), an unabashedly big container that Sean Esbjorn-Hargens is founding in an attempt to make the integral space healthier in Integral?
The answer to this is partly a Douglas Adams type sentiment. Simply, that every Tupperware set needs a few big containers. You know, the one’s you can fit lots of the other smaller containers into when you go on a picnic or a camping trip. It’s the integral idea in a nutshell, really. Put simply, I still believe in Integral (and in the more generalised ‘integral arising’), and I think we need to get this right to sustain that belief.
Partly it’s that my experience to date, with Sean and within the nascent MetaIntegral organisation–which I will speak more about later–has been to find the kind of space, the kind of services and the kind of support that I wanted from the institution building projects in Integral. I’m writing this piece in part to introduce and advocate for MetaIntegral. I like what I see so far. I think there is a need for it, and I am making a commitment to it. On that basis, I’m going to make a case for supporting it and for why I think it’s different; but, if it turns out, in my view, not to demonstrate a healthy expression of ‘the big container’, I will equally apply my efforts to working out why and to letting you know about it.
What I’ve experienced so far with regard to MI wasn’t enough though. Somehow that feeling and my trust in Sean were not going to allow me to fully surrender my resistance to this sort of project. I also had to make sense of a whole range of things that were bothering me through creating the story I mentioned above–a kind of meaning making narrative or mythos that I’ll start by telling you a bit about my own.
What I’m Going to Tell and How
In this telling I’m going to try and do a few things. I’m going to try and make sense of Ken Wilber. Not in a comprehensive way (I might be a little impulsive, but I’m not nuts), just enough to tease apart a few distinctions that helped me come to terms with my perceptions. I’ll have a go at the same for Integral Institute and its general design and function. Again, not in any sort of clinical way, but just enough to string together this story. And, I’m going to attempt to do this, in part, using bits of my own budding initiative, which is an Integral Pattern Language useful for this type of narrative building. Along the way we will do some compare and contrast between how I perceive MI vs II, some of the Patterns they share, ones they don’t, ones I think we need, and what a difference I think a shift in perspective can make.
At this point I’ll introduce PatternDynamics (PD)–my Integral application. Technically I refer to it as an Integral Sustainability Pattern Language. It forms, to switch from the Tupperware metaphor, an element within the emerging MetaIntegral ecosystem. It’s useful for shifting conversations to a ‘systems view’, or more fully perhaps to a ‘perspectival systems view’ (which is one of the ways that I tend to think of integral capacity). From there, collectively, we can gain some objectivity on dynamics we may be immersed in or are only able to sense emotionally or intuitively. This is the same subject/object move that we get through using the AQAL elements. In this case, instead of having five AQAL elements (oriented as a theoretical framework) we have 56 PD Patterns (oriented more as a semiotic process: a conversation). Like the AQAL elements, all of the Patterns are generally observable types or forms of organisation that help us make distinctions where we may not have been able to do so before.
For the more theoretically minded–you can skip this paragraph if you’re not–I view the AQAL framework as representative of a set (but by no means the set) of foundational ‘patterns of organisation’ or ‘types’ or ‘forms’. These are what I refer to as meta-types: observable general forms that seem to pop up literally everywhere. I also view the AQAL framework, from a big-picture, historical development vantage point, as an approach to the wider integral impulse with a distinctly first person orientation. For me, more than anything else, it’s been a visionary and truly profound theory cooked up in Wilber’s first person and transmitted to our first persons. I think of AQAL Integral as being associated with a distinctly first person, interior ‘understanding’ and personal development type orientation. I’m not saying that’s all it is, only that it feels very much like that’s its native orientation. All of which is fine. In fact, I think this dynamic, and this is part of the story, has been essential for having anything we refer to as Integral at all. But, at this stage, and this is a theme to which we will return, I think it is appropriate to explore just what a more second person, community development, developmental orientation might look like within our capital ‘I’ Integral. That’s why I’m interested in language as an approach to Integral; Integral as a capacity for conversation and story and meaning as well as a theory or theories. All of this is tied up with my own thinking on meta-types and the perceived need to start shifting our emphasis from a first person, theoretical, vertical, evolutionary focus to include a more second person, community emphasising, horizontal, health orientated focus. If you want to start in on that conversation then you can check out this paper, Creating Cultures of Sustainability, by clicking Winton at www.integraltheoryconference.org/talks
Ok, back to the story. This isn’t the first time I’ve been a participant in movements that have undergone the kind of dynamic I’m talking about: where theory failed, at least in the first instance, to translate into the kind of community reality that the particular theory postulated. I’ve been a practitioner and community member of both Aikido (a Japanese martial art referred to as ‘the art of peace’) and permaculture (a global sustainability design and lifestyle movement) for the last 20 years. Like Integral, both have powerful and charismatic founders, Morihei Ushiba and Bill Mollison respectively; both claim to have methods that will dramatically improve things for humankind if practiced widely. In the case of permaculture, it has two founders–the other, and equal partner, being David Holmgren – however, it was Mollison who evangelised permaculture as an ideal in sustainable global community living.
In both cases when it comes to the larger scale organisation of the communities of practitioners themselves, I’ve witnessed the same old kinds of ego trips, power plays, political manoeuvring, poor behaviour and community dysfunction that I’ve experience outside these disciplines. Sound familiar? In limited instances and in limited scope both can and have produced demonstrative improvements in some aspects of human affairs, but not widely enough, even within their own communities, to serve as exemplars that drive an uptake within the mainstream of society that fundamentally alters it. Were their founders actually able to demonstrate this personally and within their own communities? It doesn’t actually seem to matter. I didn’t know Morihei Ushiba since he died two years after I was born, but my feeling is that while perhaps he could be difficult and enigmatic, he was indeed the kind of figure who walked his talk and was revered for it. I do know Bill, and I do not think this is true of him. Much of the time I thought his behaviour seemed to demonstrate exactly the opposite of how you might go about building sustainable community. But that’s another story. You can read about that one here in An Integral Permaculture.
I’m a fairly practical sort of bloke, so my interest has been primarily in testing the theory of these two disciplines through embodied practice and application to ‘real life situations’. I’ve done the same with Integral Theory. What I found was that some of the grander claims, not necessarily all made by their founders–often by their closer followers–were not in fact able to be substantiated. After road testing permaculture as a complete and viable strategy for sustainable community living during a ten-year residential education centre experiment, I concluded that it was not. But, this has been one of its major claims and what sold me on the idea in the first place. (This probably speaks as much to my naivety as to shortcomings in the discipline, but there you go).
This failure along with the above mentioned all too human behaviour and what seemed like an almost pathological tendency to perpetuate this myth on other unsuspecting but well intentioned people, caused me to completely fall out of love with permaculture for a while. This was especially so because along the way I took a few hard knocks and at times felt bruised and bloodied from trying to put in place something that was promoted as a practical ideal, but that the theory could not really support. Adding Integral theory and practice to permaculture in this instance did, however, yield some real and tangible improvements to the project. It’s one of the main reasons I still have faith in the ability of integral approaches to make a real difference in the world. That story is available in From Deep Green to Second Tier: Sustainability at the Threshold.
After some time and some distance away from that crucible, I was able to look at the situation a little more objectively. I was able to see permaculture’s strengths and weaknesses and to take stock of what I learned and what did actually work. Practicing permaculture is where I gained the skills to work in sustainability education, ecological design, forestry and organic agriculture–vocations that I think are useful and that I truly love. Also, through Mollison and Holmgren’s focus on natural patterns and principles, it became the foundation--along with aspects of Aikido, a lot of time in nature, architectural design, complexity and systems theories--for the ‘perspectival’ systems awareness that I brought along to my Integral turn and subsequently used to develop PatternDynamics.
In comparison, road testing Aikido turned out to be relatively simple. Despite what you might read on martial arts forums and despite having trained mostly in one of the ‘softer’ styles of the art. There is a police video somewhere that illustrates that if you are inclined to neutralise an attacker then Aikido works well enough ‘in the street’. I also think it is unsurpassed as a body/mind integration discipline. It wasn’t the stitches in my lip from my street encounter that hurt when it came to Aikido. It was the disappointment of witnessing masters I revered and trusted dispute, in ways that should have been well beneath them, who had rights to what pieces of the art of peace. Sadly, I’ve encountered similar stories through conversations with aikidoka from around the world.
One of the things I’ve taken away from these experiences is that theory is one thing and practice is another–especially with regard to the wider community of practitioners. For me, there is clearly a pattern at work in all this. In the world of theory there is no requirement to demonstrate its practicality. The cut and thrust takes place behind a computer terminal or at conferences. I don’t want to downplay the kind of intersubjective violence to reputations, feelings, livelihoods and such that can go on here, but for me it’s in putting theory into practice, especially at the larger scales, that one encounters, shall we say, a fuller spectrum and deeper experience of the proverbial rough and tumble.
Sensing the Field
My sense of the general sentiment in the Integral ‘field’ at the moment is that there are quite a few of us who are feeling, to one degree or another, underwhelmed, distrusting, disappointed, disenchanted or, in fact, bruised and bloodied by our initial period of practice, as a community. What interests me about the Integral dynamic at this time, and what has helped me to story this in a way that makes me want to continue, is that there are archetypal patterns at work. Uncovering those stories has helped me to acknowledge how I’m feeling emotionally and also to shift my perspective so I can view things more objectively. As a collection of stories, as patterns that have been repeated many times in the past–as a set of cultural meta-types–it all starts to make a little more sense.
Looking at it this way, it’s much easier to resist some critics’ views that Ken Wilber is somehow defective, Integral is defective, its big institutions are flag waving, inherently exploitative empire building enterprises or ‘look-at-me clubs’. And, therefore by association with them, I’m defective, and that the whole thing just isn’t going to work the way we thought. Some of this criticism is undoubtedly partly valid, however the flaws in Integral are most likely not congenital. Having worked through some of this stuff now, I don’t feel like that is the case at all, and, frankly that’s a big relief. Like many of you, I’ve invested a lot of life energy and identity in being a part of Integral.
I’m going to start to tell that more archetypal story now–at least the story as I see it. Again, it’s not my intention to tell you the story. I’m putting this out there as a process that is working for me, and that can serve to start a conversation that might help to do the same thing collectively. I’m going to use both PD Patterns and AQAL Perspectives to do this. To give this method the best chance of success, we are going to have to touch on just a couple more aspects of theory. You see, even in promoting a more second person, culturally orientated approach, I’m going to have to use a little first person orientated theory. That is the first bit of theory: even thought it might be appropriate to orient around one perspective to explore or explain a given situation, we are still going to have to work multiple perspectives. The point is to be able to ‘shift’ these perspectives as necessary–focusing on the shifting as much as the perspectives themselves. The same requirement for shifting is true of the Patterns, which we will get to in a moment. Secondly, it’s all about balancing and integrating these Patterns and Perspectives in a given situation to enable ‘generative health’–what my good friend and Integral colleague, Will Vary, refers to as ‘Apithology’.
The first Pattern I’m going to introduce is one that will be familiar: the Holon. I’m doing it to help us discuss the story of Ken. When I said I was going to try and make sense of Ken Wilber, I didn’t mean so much Ken the person, I meant more Ken the figure. I don’t know him personally and our few communications have been short and mostly one way, so I won’t be focusing on that, although, I will have a few things to say based on what I have experienced. I’m doing this because I think we need to find a story for Ken, one that allows us, the community, to put him in the proper relationship to the constellation of Integral activities and its overall development. If not, we will be stuck trying to work out how we feel about Ken, and by extension Integral Institute, as a series of subjective and intersubjective judgements, and we will not be able to look at these things more objectively and therefore move on. This kind of collective ‘object making’ is the whole point of the larger story I’m trying to tell here, but I think it is most important with regard to Ken, given the magnitude of his presence with regard to Integral as a whole.
(Click here to read a fuller description of this pattern.)
The two inner ovals of the Holon Pattern above represent systems that are parts of a larger system, signified by the enveloping larger oval. Each of the three ovals also has an inside and an outside symbolising the subjective and objective aspects of any part/whole ‘system’. The inclusion of the cross is an acknowledgement that Ken came up with this holon as part/whole/subject/object insight, which I think might just prove to be the contemporary equivalent of inventing the wheel in terms of how it ultimately serves humanity. This inclusion also acknowledges that he created the quadrant symbol to help represent the holon. This last part, creating a diagram or a ‘Pattern’ to represent a foundational ‘pattern of organization’, perhaps the most foundational pattern of organization, or what I mentioned earlier I refer to as a meta-type, seems less important, in this case, than the theory of the holon itself. It is architect Christopher Alexander, founder of the concept of Pattern Languages, who relates the full power of this act when he states in his earliest book on the subject, Notes on the Synthesis of Form:
“… I found that the diagrams themselves had immense power, and that, in fact, most of the power of what I had written lay in the power of these diagrams.” (Alexander, 1964, preface)
That said, you will notice how my Holon Pattern is a softer, more shapely, more feminine, more relational and more horizontally emphasizing signifier of the nature of the holon.
So what does this have to do with Ken? Well the first part of the story is that some of the features of Ken’s behaviour, as they relate to the Integral community at large, can be characterized through a particular orientation to the holon. What I mean by this is that his actions tend to gravitate to the very agentic, ‘part’ aspect of the holon, and also to the interior side of things. We don’t need to get stuck on this. I certainly don’t think Ken does, but it does look like it’s been his basic orientation to the holon as it relates to his work in Integral. This is precisely the very powerful and agentic first person approach I alluded to earlier that enabled Ken in creating Integral theory, in passing it on to us, and then in launching it as a potentially historically important cultural force. I don’t think this sort of thing happens very successfully by committee, or by folks with less robust interior capacity, so it’s just as well. This is Ken as Master–capital ‘M’. The Master we sought out in the beginning, the Master we revered for the awesomeness of this capacity, and the Master, truth be known, we projected our bright shadows onto and fell in love with, turbo charging the launch of Integral in direct proportion to the magnitude of his offering, which was, in both cases, really very large.
So far, so good: Ken as Master looks like a good fit–a pattern and a perspective balanced and integrated to serve the process at hand. I don’t think this is as true for the next part of the story. Once Ken had formed his theory suitably and given it that all mighty push into the world with the help of initial supporters, I sensed that things subtly started to change. This is especially true of the development of the initiatives of Integral Institute, Ken’s main institutional vehicle and Integral’s first and most central ‘big container’.
The next Pattern I’m going to introduce is Hierarchy. The composition of the diagram itself illustrates the meta-type it represents: a wide base at the bottom, concentrated power at the top, all held in a very stable and somewhat rigid configuration.
(Click here for a fuller description of this pattern.)
I still remember the excitement I felt around some of the earlier initiatives announced by the newly formed Integral Institute (II): the Multiplex, the emergence of Integral Naked and the Seminars run by various centres within II, to name just a few of what seemed like a steady fount of big ideas and bigger projects. By the time I attended the first Integral Ecology and Sustainability Seminar hosted by II at the Westin Hotel near Boulder in 2004, it was clear that many folks had gathered and were continuing to gather to work with Ken and II. Some of them had clearly uprooted their lives and moved to do just that. The promise of Integral at that stage was big enough that part of me wanted to do the same thing. It’s exactly what I did when I went to train with Bill Mollison early in my permaculture days, but this time I had learned enough to see the wisdom in a little more distance.
Even having invested in travelling all the way from Australia to attend the seminar, I was prepared to be somewhat underwhelmed. I was not; the folks who organized this event and the folks who turned up, people like Barrett Brown, Gail Hochachka, Cynthia McEwan, John Schmidt, David Johnston, Sean Esbjön-Hargens, and many others gave me an experience of Integral and of that community that made me feel like I’d finally found my people. Ken spoke to us twice. It was clear enough to me then that while he was a Master worth seeking out, there was not going to be a whole lot of Grandma Zen going around when you were close to him, if you know what I mean. That is fine with me. I’d worked out through my previous experiences that the idea I had in my head about how it would be to work with these sorts of Masters, was not necessarily how Masters worked. Ken, in my view, clearly has a genuinely and profoundly Big Heart, but it was also clear that his very powerful presence and agency would have the biggest influence on the form of II as an organization. Integral Institute always felt like a kingdom to me and that’s why I introduced the Hierarchy Pattern–Ken as Master in the concentrated seat of power and influence at the top of the unyielding Kingdom of II.
As I add Patterns to this story (like the nice looking ones above that I prepared earlier: Holon and Hierarchy) I’m also going to add them together in mono-colour hand drawn composites that represent the story as a whole. This is to illustrate how the Patterns can be used in this type of conversation (without having to be an expert at Adobe Illustrator) and to encourage some of you to look through the Patterns and Charts on www.patterndynamics.com.au to use them to engage in the conversation as you see it. It’s also to demonstrate that the Patterns themselves are more like elements of an alphabet and that it’s the way they are compiled into larger units of meaning that makes them a language.
Master and Apprentice
By the time I attended my second seminar in 2006 at the now familiar Westin Hotel, I sensed a real shift in the Integral communities’ relationship to Ken. Boomeritis, Ken's tongue in cheek critique of extreme postmodernism by way of a novel, had been published since 2002. In the meantime there had been building what can only be described as an online war with some of his critics. Not all of the conflict was around Ken’s views on the pathologies of what he thought of as a deep narcissism infecting parts of the postmodern baby boomer generation, but this general critique of it did seem to be the fuel that fed the fire. Things at Integral Institute also appeared to be in disarray. At the time of the seminar the previous CEO of II had just departed in less than convivial circumstances, some of the other folk involved in II appeared to be in fire fighting mode and others were clearly dismayed and rethinking their involvement. I’ve always interpreted these goings on, both online and off, as the result of Ken trying to make distinctions between what was Integral and what was a lesser interpretation of Integral that threatened the integrity of the system. (Editor's Note: Just last week Integral Life, the successor to Integral Naked relaunched with a new mission statement--please check that out for their most current incarnation.)
If you are interested in Integral Theory in any way, this is just something you have to come to terms with. It’s a lot easier for many of us to turn a blind eye to this difficult and somewhat awkward reality and to remain in the warmer, fuzzier world of pluralistic, egalitarian beliefs and values. Grandma Zen might allow you to stay there, but not Ken Zen. Masters are not in the business of making you comfortable. They are in the business of shifting your awareness.
Some of you may find this part of my story somewhat controversial, but I think what Ken did here was necessary; and, now that the hard work in making this bigger distinction has been done, it is something that needs to be maintained in a myriad of smaller ways within our community. This has always been a real Jesus-chasing-the-money-changers-from-the-temple kind of effort for me. And–we crucified him for it.
I think this period in the history of Integral illustrates one of the main dynamics in our relationship to Ken. Ken, perhaps harshly or unskilfully or heroically, depending on your perspective, making repeated efforts to cut out those who would seek to debase the system–at least as he saw it; and then a larger and larger group of us being uneasy, then dismayed then horrified at the consequences. Clearly he has his supporters, and there are enough of them acting in good faith that they cannot be discounted, nor can the truth, however partial, associated with these actions be denied.
Now we need to tease apart Ken’s actions as Integral Big Heart from Ken as a human being–a human being, like the rest of us, with flaws. This story is not about white washing flaws in Ken’s behaviour. Far from it: clearly there have been some and they can look mighty big, but that is the whole point, and it brings us to the crux and core of our story. Are we Integral critics, the authentic ones, going to have the courage and humility to stand up, to do our best in carrying on the lineage, and to know that it is inevitable that we will make mistakes, and that our flaws will also be magnified and that, in this, other people will hang their dark shadows onto us in the same way we have hung them on Ken? Will we be grounded enough, also, to resist the temptation to exploit the energy of the bright shadow?
The real story here is the archetypal story of the Master and the apprentice: first we revere her and seek her out, then we learn from her, then we see her flaws and limitations. Given that an immediate cure for the human condition seems unlikely, and given that progress has only ever been made through learning from mistakes, are we, then, ready to emerge from the Master’s shadow–or, rather, our own shadow, the shadow we have hung on the Master–and face this inevitability? Is there not some truth in this in relation to how we collectively feel about Ken and II? Are we not to some degree projecting onto the Master what it means to step into our own mastery? Am I not? Are we ready to own this? If we are, then the story goes something like this: Ken is a Master with a big Big Heart and also a human being with flaws, who being aware of these two realities, the inevitability of mistakes, and the inevitability of the projections he would face, subjected himself knowingly to the slings and arrows for the good of the greater whole, as he saw it. Now each of us can evaluate the need for these actions and the elegance, or lack thereof, by which they were executed, but, if we are honest with ourselves, it is now a lot harder to think that Ken was not acting in good faith, with authenticity and, indeed, with a very Big Heart. You might think it is a flawed Big Heart, but keep in mind, they all are. The alternative story, that Ken’s personality is somehow defective and that he is profoundly unaware of what he was doing, just does not make enough sense–by itself.
Transcend and Include
(Click here for a fuller description of this pattern.)
This is all a part of Emergence, the next Pattern I would like to introduce. Collectively we are called into the advanced stages of emerging as Masters in our own right–it’s that time. As the Pattern above signifies, this emergence takes elements of previous systems (the little squares) and ‘pops’ them to a new level (indicated by the arrows), creating a new form (the oval). This story illustrates the classic developmental sequence. First we identify with a given level–the level we are trying to master–then we have to dis-identify with that level as the necessary start to transcending it. Then if all goes well, we swing back around and include what we dis-identified with and then emerge as a healthy integrated, much different and hopefully more complex whole. If we don’t, well, then we have a shadow. And, really, do we want the figure of Ken lurking around in our collective basement? That would be way worse than underwhelming–way, way worse! Developing the awareness to find a story for Ken that contains enough truth to allow us to embrace him as we transcend him is a much better option. I’m not interested so much in whether this is the story of Ken, as finding out what is, through the sum of our perspectives. I might be wrong about the amount of truth in this story, but what I do know is that however we collectively story Ken as a figure in Integral, we do in fact need a story, and we need to agree on its truth. So, if you think I am off base, please treat this as an invitation to discover your truth and to tell that story.
So, the answer to my initial question is that we arrived here because to one degree or another it’s where you arrive in the development of a movement when the community as a whole begins to transcend the original Master. Yes, I still think it’s accurate to describe Integral as a movement, and, yes, things might have gone better, but they could also have been a lot worse. Our ‘we’ actually exists, and that is no small feat. And, yes, the big container thing has not met our expectations with regard to all the hype around what Integral was going to achieve. It might also be interesting at this point to ask why, if we felt the big container wasn’t working out, didn’t we do something about it? Why did we just default to the idea that Ken was the only one who could do this sort of thing?
Hype and the Energy of the Bright Shadow
My biggest criticism of the behaviour of Ken and II is all the hype. It’s really just borrowing from future successes and therefore borrowing from the community. In this case, it also amplified a very powerful dynamic–what I’m going to call the ‘energy of the bright shadow’. This is when we give our energy, resources and attention by projecting our higher potentials onto a figure, or figures, that we think represent the realization of those potentials. Working with this energy is always risky, potentially dangerous, and susceptible to abuse. It requires a strong duty of care. The projectees, it must be said, must also take responsibility for their half of this dynamic. Sometimes it’s worth borrowing to boost an enterprise along–that is what good credit systems should really be all about. The energy of the bright shadow may also be able to be used skilfully, if balanced and integrated to serve the enduring health of both the individuals involved and of the system as a whole. So, I don’t so much have a problem with how Ken and II generated the hyperbole around the initial launch of Integral. I was willing to entertain the idea that tipping this balance to such an extreme was timely and in service of an extremely good idea. But, I think this somehow became a general modus operandi and that there have been a few too many folks in and around II (and in fact more generally in the Integral scene) dipping into the same community credit, but without the same sort of justification or capacity to pay back. What seems like a much larger associated problem (again, I carry this perspective because of some of my previous experiences–particularly Mollison’s hyping of permaculture and the sycophants that he attracted) was the lack of discrimination about the acceptance and use of the energy of the bright shadow. This too seems to have become a general MO within parts of the Integral community, some tapping this flow through an association with Ken, and some by emulating him as proclaimed master of a particular sub-kingdom of Integral. This is, of course, not true of everyone involved in II or with Ken or in Integral at large. It’s just one of those orienting generalizations that helps us along the way.
If Ken was going to go booting people out of the temple, then perhaps it would have been better if he located folks engaged in these other, more insidious, forms of debasement–or empowered people who could. Because this did not happen, we lost our innocence and Integral Institute lost a big chunk of its credibility.
This, I think, is closer to the real source of our distrust of the big container.
If it is true that the bigger the emotional charge for, or against, something, the greater it is as an indicator of the amount of shadow at play, then we really have to examine the energy around how the Integral community feels about Ken and II at the moment, particularly in relation to both the period where we projected the bright shadow and the period where we have hung the darker one.
I think, also, it is precisely because Integral has had a first person focus on theory rather than a second person focus on conversation, meaning, values and culture that how power should be used in our community has gone undiscussed–at least in the more ‘official’ forums–and has often not been handled well. A discussion on power, whom should have it, how it is allocated, validated and substantiated, and how it gets used is another story and another conversation the Integral community needs to have sometime soon. I like to work on the basis that most people operate in good faith and that bad outcomes are generally the result of mistakes. If, though, we agree that something is a mistake, then any continued use of the sort of approach would constitute, in my books, an abuse of power.
Strong words, I know, but it is hard to see how we are going to get anywhere by apologising for the ongoing practice of that sort of thing. What I hope comes through here is that I’m attempting to offer authentic criticism. Part of doing that is pointing out it is actually ok to make mistakes (it’s inevitable) that mistakes were in fact made, and that, for criticism to be of service, these mistakes should examined. Partly, it is willing to be wrong, which I may be. And partly it is about being able to put things within a larger perspective. What we are hoping Integral can do is to make a real difference to how human beings relate to each other en mass. This has been the goal of every purportedly beneficent cultural movement since the dawn of time. Progress has been slow. If we make even a minor contribution, it will all be worth it. Deep down, though, many of us believe we have something that can do better than that. If so, this, in part at least, explains the very powerful energy we are working with, and, no doubt, a fair chunk of the energy behind our collective shadow dynamics related to Ken and II.
Community as Master
What I’ve come to now is that from a more dispassionate, more objective perspective what has gone down in the Integral world to date fits with patterns we have seen before and will most likely see again. Therefore, without denying the reality of the situation, we shouldn’t be overly harsh on Ken or ourselves or anyone else–unless of course the aforementioned negativities are perpetuated. The real question is, can we step up as a community and make real improvements going forward? And if so, just how do we do that?
My feeling is that it’s the Integral community at large that is emerging into mastery–Community as Master. Like I said, there are many, many good examples of Integral Theory being applied by individual practitioners and by groups on small and even medium scales. Here, it is doing pretty much what we thought it would do. There are also multiple examples of people who are taking Integral Theory further and making Integral Application better than anything we saw in the beginning. For instance Integral Coaching Canada has been a standout in both furthering Integral Theory and its application. Integral Without Borders is also doing great work. This is to name just a few examples. Now it’s time to scale this activity up into bigger institutions, and through that success demonstrate we really do have the capacity to make a substantial and lasting contribution to human affairs. I think this will require that shift from a first person ‘theoretical’ orientation to a more ‘cultural’ second person orientation in the general design of the Integral enterprise.
(Click here for a fuller description of this pattern.)
This leads to the Holarchy Pattern. The nested series of holons illustrated in this diagram signify a much more ecological pattern–systems within systems within systems. Hierarchy is implied here–some ovals encompass others–but it’s subordinate to the idea of ecology. An ecology is a system where there are many different niches at many different scales. It’s an organising principle with more of a dynamic, co-creative, participatory structure. Ecologies are also necessarily a blooming buzzing network of signalling and multi-directional communications. The hierarchical nature of II is a direct contrast to the principle Pattern that I see at work in MI, which is the more ecologically orientated Holarchy Pattern. Keep in mind that the Holarchy Pattern prescribes the framework of the greater system. You will find the same thing with MetaIntegral. It is embedded in a conscious field that supports a particular kind of ecosystem with a particular purpose. To find a niche there you will need to identify with the consciousness of that purpose. MetaIntegral does not intend to be the big container only a big container, one that might serve as a template for others. If MI turns out to be a redwood forest and you are looking for more of a coastal wetland, then you have a template for growing that type of holarchy. The more good ones the better, I reckon.
The composite Pattern above signifies the meta-type (pattern of organisation or principle of design) that results from the balancing of Hierarchy with Holarchy. Hierarchy is not eliminated, but integrated (transcended and included) within a more complex whole. And, Hierarchy is in no way bad here, it just needs to be balanced with Holoarchy to serve the situation we find ourselves in now, which is not the launch of a movement, but its growth and maturity.
In a way, I’m speaking to you as a kind of MetaIntegral guinea pig. Recently, Sean Esbjörn-Hargens coached me as a certified coach of Integral Coaching Canada (one of the aforementioned organizations working very effectively at the medium scale in Integral). He has also mentored me, through the publishing process. In this coaching, mentoring, and our further work together he encouraged and assisted me, along with my long time collaborator Kamya O’keeffe, in developing PatternDynamics as an Integral application. Sean also helped to deepen what I would call my integral embodiment–my lived experience as an Integral practitioner. This was during the time that Sean was developing the concept of MetaIntegral. My input was welcomed and, in part, incorporated. It’s the two-way nature of my engagement with Sean and with the development of MI, more than anything else, which gives me the confidence to participate and to make such a deep commitment.
Dynamic Balance of the Feminine and the Masculine
MI is a space orientated to embodiment and application, to living integrally as a practitioner and to creating effective applications of that embodiment. It is not a space for commentary, but it is a space for conversations, conversations like this one that serve, through a shift to a more second person orientation, to build the meaning, values and the culture that support effective embodiment and application. In that way I feel like MI brings a more grounded, more functional, more supportive, more feminine balance to the design of our institutions. This relates to the descending arrow in the Masculine/Feminine Pattern below. The ascending arrow signifies the more agentic, more hierarchically driven, in many ways more exciting, but riskier dynamics that have dominated Integral to date. The masculine arrow is like the vertical branches of an olive tree: they shoot for the light and provide the energy for the tree, but they bear no fruit. The feminine arrow represents the lower more horizontal branches that carry less energy producing leaves but almost all of the fruit.
(Click here for a fuller description of this pattern.)
It’s not the use of a more masculine or a more feminine principle that matters so much as the capacity to balance and integrate these polarities as a method of ‘shifting’ that enables generative health for a particular, and of course constantly shifting, context. Everybody and everything needs a dynamic balance between generating energy and using it creatively, agency and communion, Hierarchy and Holorchy. I think MI as a proposition within Integral needs to, and does, enable a shift to a more feminine orientation at this time, and I think it’s what we need. But, I also think MI embodies the capacity to shift between these perspectives as needed, which is signified by the intertwining of the masculine and feminine arrows in the Pattern diagram itself.
Meta-type: Balancing Polarity through Holarchy
The composite Pattern above represents a meta-type that I’ve called Balancing Polarity through Holarchy. The addition of the descending and ascending Masculine/Feminine Pattern arrows around the Holoarchy Pattern serves as a symbol for one of the central design principles informing MetaIntegral as an Institution–the capacity to balance and integrate masculine and feminie principles through the embodiment of a transcendent holarchy.
The last Pattern I want to include is Source.
(Click here for a fuller description of this pattern.)
Source signifies the consciousness awareness that holds the origin and evolution of a system’s identity and purpose . You can see the Source Pattern in the composite above. It is the most central and foundational of all the Patterns. It is the same core symbol as the Holon Pattern, and it shares the part/whole/inside/outside meaning as an aspect of its own. The focus, though, is on the consciousness that brings awareness to the unique nature of a particular holon or system. Without an awareness of a system’s original identity and purpose; and, without an ability to balance changes to that identity and purpose in a way that transcends but includes that origin, it will be compromised at its core. Source, in this instance, represents the consciousness required to integrate Ken, II and the history of Integral to date, into the evolution of the collective meaning making of our communtiy. If we can do this in a balanced way, it will enable the self-organising awareness of the individuals in the community around that identity and purpose. If not, we will have related shadows and blockages.
Ken will remain the origin of the Integral community’s identity, but he is no longer the main force in its evolution. That is up to us. Inevitably there will be a grieving process associated with the loss of Ken as the main source of our identity and the place where we hang our hopes, dreams, higher and lower selves. This grief must also carry the resultant loss of our innocence as a community. I think this is a big part of the feeling I’m describing in the field at the moment–to transcend is, in part, to separate–to experience a loss. This needs to be acknowledged and we must work through this grief without haste and in a way that allows the fullness of the process to demonstrate itself. A key to this will be to raise the consciousness required to acknowledge our origin so our relationship to it may be balanced, integrated and included in the evolving identity and purpose that ultimately makes Integral meaningful to us. This is the Source that serves us all. In this way, may we find generative health in the emergence of Community as Master.
Alexander. C, (1964). Notes on the Synthesis of Form. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Ueshiba, M, (1992). The Art of Peace. Boston, MA: Shambala