Earlier this month Integral Institute and JFK University co-sponsored the second bi-annual Integral Theory Conference in San Francisco. As one of the only people in my immediate universe who didn’t attend this event, I thought it would be interesting to get a couple of perspectives on what happened there, and where the future of this emerging culture is heading.
Having worked with the integral framework for several years in both my personal and professional life, I’ve been most interested in what our Beams & Struts colleague Olen Gunnlaugson (quoted below) calls the ‘second wave’ of integral theory. Unlike, for example, the second wave of feminism, this second wave refers to the observations, experiences and adjustments people have and make working with the integral map on the ground. Since the basic framework makes such intuitive sense and has an ease and elegance the hard world can lack, there is tendency for people to remain locked in the construct of the theory, detached from the difficult choices and crooked timber of manifest reality.
What has come clear to me in recent years is a paradox with integral theory: on the one hand, there is a real need for increased academic rigor, rooting the framework at an academic level, showing its natural capacity for trans-disciplinary synergy. On the other hand, there is an unfortunate tendency for the work to be merely a head-trip, and fall far short of its inherent promise: the embodied promise of body, mind and spirit animated in self, culture and nature. This is the same promise made in the religious traditions and the philosophic and literary canons. It seems obvious that the bookends of this paradox need to move in step: through research, application and rigor, integral theory must find it’s right relationship to the academy; at the same time, there must be an ongoing yoga, a practice, rooted in experience and inquiry, curious and fearless. Only then will the complete picture, and this inherent promise, be properly realized.
At a high level, I observed and experienced a community of visionaries, theorists, and practitioners who are dedicated to, and passionate about, the quest for a deeper and wider understanding and expression of our purpose and direction as human beings (of course there are exceptions). This was both refreshing and inspiring. I also noticed that this particular ‘integral’ quest is growing in its maturity and is becoming more and more grounded in healthy discussion, debate, critique and refinement. As a result, I think we are seeing more and more specialization in various elements of the integral frame; for example, Otto Laske’s ongoing and deep investigation of the cognitive line of development. As scholar-practitioners continue to refine these more specialized aspects of AQAL, perhaps integral studies will gain more credibility as a valid academic discipline that not only goes wide, but also deep.
I think the expression or ‘embodiment’, of an integral reality frame is what will always make the ITC different from traditional academic conferences (this is both a challenge and opportunity). I felt that the organizers, the majority of the presenters, and keynote speaker Robert Kegan embodied what ‘integral’ means to me: conceiving of and participating in all aspects of our lives in ever wider and deeper ways; acting from and sharing with the world our best self (or unique self in integral terms); and skillfully challenging ourselves and those in our spheres of influence to see more and be more with all the integral tools we have (philosophies, theories, maps, practices and all) in service of something much greater.
(Tim is a PhD candidate in Organizational Development at Concordia University)
The ITC offered me an opportunity that felt like a “coming home”; a unifying presence and a collective sense of growth in the LL quadrant (the ‘We space’ of the interior collective). There generally appeared more ability present in other lines of development, other than just in the re-known cognitive line! Interpersonal, emotional, spiritual, somatic (awesome dance night!) all seemed more embodied and added to the expression of our interactions and experience. As part of this community I experienced spaciousness for exploration of how Integral Theory (and Practice) is morphing as we advance through the complexity and invite metatheories into the Integrative web.
Having witnessed the men’s and women’s panels a moment that stood out for me as well as being inspiring was the ability of the woman’s panel to move with greater embodiment throughout the vertical spiral levels (descending and ascending!), a willingness to address shadow aspects as they arose and the ability to develop the conversations to a new place of discovery!
A message I took away in general is the intention for us all to develop more in the vertical direction, to focus in on the already broad horizon we are invested in and to take it to a new level; the ability to wake up as well as grow up.
I now eagerly await the 2012 Integral Theory ‘and’ Practice Conference!
(Kate is a Registered Massage Therapist and a certified Integral Coach)
For me a key current that rode through the Integral Theory Conference was the need to complement previously dominate understandings of Integral Theory in terms of vertical development and evolution with notions of deeper inclusion, embrace, and the whole. Amongst ourselves at Beams & Struts we have tossed around the (half-formed) idea of "Deep Integral." Deep Integral would be (in the words of Juma) total embrace of all levels of our collective being.
At this conference I saw this Deep Integral vision actualized in practice, reflection, and theory. In particular I want to point to the work of Tim Winton (Pattern Dynamics) which had a major influence on me, as well as Zak Stein and (friend of Beams & Struts) Katie Heikkinen. They showed me a path to a much deeper maturation by a ever deepening embrace of all waves of being---through the key concept of health--to work in consort with notions of evolution, higher development, and vertical transformation.
(Chris has a Masters of Divinity from the Vancouver School of Theology, and was recently ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada)
I believe the ITC 2010 conference was on the whole a success, a firm translative step in helping integral culture become more aware of its own adolescent developmental position, in turn preparing the ground for a gradual collective movement into mature adulthood over the next few conferences towards 2020. Speaking with Sean Hargens on the last day, I was pleased to learn that its statistically significant--from a marketing perspective--for the event to sell out again, a lower right expression of the event's value to the emerging culture. Apparently the general trend is for there to be a dip right after a breakthrough event like what took place with the first conference. So presently the numbers are aligned with collective sentiments about integral as a cultural and academic movement of thought, which I find encouraging.
Among the many promising aspects of the conference related to maturing the culture, an obvious one was the strong and much needed desire for the event to become more academic. The rhetoric was a little overdone in places, raising the eyebrows of folks visiting from more traditional academic institutions. Yet I also understand this as a reflection of how passionately the intention was held by the organizers and contributors. It helped remind everyone that though "integral" is in ways foremost an emerging culture, academically speaking, there is a field of studies. And if integral is going to emerge as a viable field, it must take seriously a number of the gold standards of academia--rigour, depth, criticism, peer-reviewed processes, debate, among others--while continuing to refine and clarify precisely how integral practices can help academia evolve and grow-up. My sense was of the possibility of a dialectic that could emerge with future ITC's, where academic and integral conventions and distinctions become polarities for each other, essentially helping both cultures grow up.
All academic aspirations aside, ITC 2010 was also a powerful community event. Unlike most academic conferences I've been to and it is precisely in this sense that the event held much promise insofar as it demonstrated that personal and collective interiority and consciousness-raising practices matter greatly in our lives and in our theorizing and that the health, vitality and creative capacity of the we-space also matters greatly!
Overall, the event modeled well to non-integral scholar-practitioners the richer lifeworld possibilities that emerge when critical intellect is tempered with integral processes, consciousness and love.
Already looking forward to the next ITC!
(Olen is an Associate Professor in the Business Department of Laval University)
I feel very blessed to have been able to attend and present at the second biennial Integral theory conference this year. My experience was that a very palpable evolution had occurred since the inaugural conference two years ago. The sense of community was much stronger and, for me, it felt very much like a family reunion with all of my favorite people! The quality of the presentations I saw also far surpassed anything I’d seen in 2008. I’m very inspired by the depth, intelligence and rigor that rising scholars are invoking to analyze, critique and build on the integral model, in the spirit of making it an even more robust and open map for the future. I have a lot of excitement about the possibilities for integral’s emerging entrance into the academic world.
(Vanessa is one of the leading voices in the emerging field of integral gender studies)
I have two sets of reflections on my time at the 2nd Integral Theory Conference. The first is that integral theory, and the AQAL model, are rapidly transforming. From a philosophical point of view, any good theory/model should be constantly shuttling back and forth between the theory and the empirical, between the existing model and new data/experience that questions the current validity/accurateness of that model. This process is alive and well in the integral community. People are adding parts, collapsing others, critiquing sections, and complexifying others. There’s a lot of dynamic and generative work being done in the ever-broadening global community of scholar-practitioners, and it tells me that integral theory is currently a healthy and evolving body of knowledge.
The other was a small moment I’d like to share. It happened at the end of a two-hour panel discussion on meta-theory in the final slot of the conference, a session that was very fertile for me personally (I madly scribbled out pages of notes). At the end of a complex and ‘heady’ session, the panel moderator Tom Murray asked for a few moments of silence for us to be together as a group. A strong field entered the room quickly and we all sat in what I experienced as a very present field of communion. I thought this was a perfect and heartening micro example of a group of folks that are growing both cognitively and spiritually at the same time. I experienced several other moments of a similar nature. Growth seems to be happening in heart, head and body, which sounds kinda like what this whole integrative endeavor was meant to enact in the first place. My heart sung out during this experience. I could almost smell the Kingdom.
(Trevor has an MA in philosophy from Brock University)