ITC 2015 — Notes From the Field

by Dennis Wittrock, Integral Europe, August 2015

ITC, I am coming!

The Integral Theory Conference 2015 (ITC) was the fourth of its kind (after 2008, 2010, and 2013) and was held in California, like its predecessors. This time, it took place in Rohnert Park at the Sonoma State University (SSU), surrounded by a beautiful campus setting with plenty of recreational opportunities.

Participants were able to cluster together in vacant student houses, which amounted to a bit of a village feel and infused the evenings with student party appeal — altogether a rejuvenating experience for the global integral family. In the evenings, people would browse different house parties, have a beer or two (or more), and engage in conversations that you can only have in integral circles (including topics like Integral Methodological Pluralism, Reinventing Organizations, climate change, meditation, post-capitalist society, NFL gossip, and plenty of silly jokes).

Welcome to Integral Village!

I was even able to detect the source of that ecstatic blues-jazz improvisation noise coming from one of the participant’s village houses: it emanated from the Integral Recovery Institute folks John Dupuy (blues guitar) and Dr. Bob Weathers (percussion), supported by jazz legend and professor of music Ed Sarath on trumpet. John later told me he wants to make a recording with these guys and call the combo “Integral Fusion.” Nice.

John Dupuy, Bob Weathers and Ed Sarath

Self-Disclosure and Disclaimer

As you can tell by now, I don’t hide the fact that my article is a pretty subjective snapshot of this event. Nevertheless, I hope to be able to provide some serious 3rd person reporting as well. I took some more or less comprehensive notes of the sessions I participated in and tried to reconstruct their meaning in hindsight as best as I could to unfold them here for you. I missed out on some program slots, because I was busy preparing my own presentation though. I also write from the perspective of being one of the co-directors of the Integral European Conference, with specific attention on the conference design principles that were applied here. Please also note that I come from Germany where the words “How are you?” represent a genuine question, not a mere greeting formula — a constant source of intercultural irritation, despite knowing better. So much for cultural conditioning… I provide this info to help you locate the “Kosmic address” and various background contexts from which I offer my observations and experiences. Feel free to give me feedback on misunderstandings or share diverging opinions.

Thursday, July 16th

There were a bunch of interesting full-day and half-day workshops that I wasn’t registered for. Instead, I ended up in the student recreation center opposite the main conference center, grateful for the opportunity to do some serious workout and yoga. Why do I mention this? I think it is indicative of the nature of truly integral events to provide opportunities to fully exercise not only mind and spirit but also the body. Not just “talk, talk, talk” or even “meditate, meditate, meditate.” Remember — this thing was called “Integral Theory Conference.” Have you ever worked out at an academic conference? You see?

Opening Invocation

Mark Fabionar of “The HUB”. photo credit: Deborah Boyar

People gathered in the Cooperage building for the official conference opening by the organizers. Mark Fabionar, leader of “The HUB — An Integral Center at SSU” and local anchorperson of the conference, officially opened the conference wearing his characteristic summer hat. After explaining the symbolism behind the pomegranate that the organizers chose as the key visual of the conference (“earthy, juicy, red, round, grounded”), he introduced the audience into an invocation practice. In what seemed like offering homage to tribal spiritual traditions, he invited us to honor different figures, alive or dead, that contributed to making this event happen by invoking their names. It would go something like this: “Teilhard de Chardin — so say we all.” Audience echoing: “So say we all!” “Sri Aurobindo — so say we all.” Audience echoing: “So say we all!” and so on. Later, people from the audience were asked to throw in names that were invoked in the same way. Something about that gave me goose bumps — in a good way.

Welcome Address

Sean Esbjörn Hargens. photo credit: Deborah Boyar

The main ITC founder and visionary, Sean Esbjörn Hargens, was next and introduced the conference topic: “Integral Impacts: Using Integrative Metatheories to Catalyze Effective Change.” He started by reviewing the themes and topics of the previous ITCs. In 2008 the main question was “What is out there?”… at all. The second ITC 2010 grappled with the question of how to honor Ken Wilber while moving beyond the fixation on the main visionary of the integral movement. The last ITC 2013 marked an opening towards other integrative meta-frameworks like Critical Realism (Roy Bhaskar) and Complex Thought (Edgar Morin) and the contribution of Integral Theory in relation to these other similarly wide and deep frameworks. This year’s conference focused on the question of what impact we are having as an integral community of scholar-practitioners, especially in the more mainstream world.

Sean highlighted the fact that 2015 marks two decades of Integral Theory’s existence, dating back to the first mention of an AQAL approach with the publication of Sex, Ecology, Spirituality by Ken Wilber in 1995. So they deemed it an appropriate time to take stock and reflect about whether we have succeeded or failed in making an impact on the larger world around us and how so. Not without a slight twinkle in the eye, Sean even elicited the quasi-heretic question of when using integral approaches might have led to being less impactful than using more conventional approaches.

He and his colleagues at MetaIntegral asked themselves how to measure impact in an integral way: “Can we just assume that an integral approach always has more impact? Also, what is impact? What do we mean by impact? What is an integral approach to impact in contrast to mainstream approaches? What metrics or forms of assessment do or can we use?” (Source: ITC newsletters). Are we living up to our full potential in this regard? Good questions indeed.

Sean went on to introduce MetaIntegral’s new motto by showing a slide with an image of the characteristic Nike Swoosh (“Just do it”) + an image of Gandhi (“Be the change you want to see in the world”) equaling = “BE IMPACT.” In their theoretical framework, they distinguish and assess four types of impact: Clear Impact (transforming performance), High Impact (transforming systems), Deep Impact (transforming hearts and minds), and Wide Impact (transforming relationships), which of course are related to the four quadrants — as any skilled reader would instantly recognize.

Sean introduced 12 inspiring examples of integral projects, among them the Holacracy implementation at shoe retailer “Zappos” and other examples of Reinventing Organizations — a book by Frederic Laloux, which is spreading like wildfire and making significant inroads into the corporate world.

MetaIntegral Associates is currently consulting for The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a large multinational organization dedicated to preserving the environment in a global action network.

Last but not least, to Sean’s great delight Pope Franciscus’ recent encyclica contains a large section titled “Integral Ecology.” Though there is no direct reference to the book Integral Ecology by Esbjörn-Hargens and Zimmerman, he was able to quote many passages that sounded suspiciously like they had been integrally informed or at least inspired — beyond mere coincidence. Sean joked that if even a small percentage of the 1.5 billion Catholics worldwide is interested in learning more about Integral Ecology due to that encyclica, his book sales might skyrocket and he may end up as a rich man. Holy Spirit!

The day ended with “Metamorphosis — Embodied Poetics and Integral Slam.” The organizers put a greater emphasis on artistic expression this time and had selected a rich menu of evening cultural performances. Six award-winning poets electrified the audience with spoken word performances before the day ended with a dance party.

Friday, July 17th

Keynote: “Integral in Action: Climate Change and Transformations to Sustainability” — Karen O’Brien, PhD

Karen O’Brien, photo credit: Deborah Boyar

Karen O’Brien is Professor of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo and member of the renowned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Her keynote presentation started out with the facts around man-made climate change. We’re clearly in the decade that matters in terms of which of the various scenarios of global warming will play out in the future. That global warming is already happening is an undisputed fact among the scientific community. Accordingly, future conversations will have a lot to do with adapting to a changing climate. In this complex climate odyssey, an integral map can be incredibly helpful, because it can inform us about the role that human interiors and values play in this journey towards sustainability.

O’Brien pointed out that the major part of the discourse is circling around systemic considerations (LR quadrant) like scientific projections on temperature changes, degree of sea level rises, CO2 concentration (ppm) in the air, etc. All of this leaves out the domain of ethics, values, and worldviews, a.k.a. human interiority. She seems to see her role as sort of an integral messenger who is pointing to this neglected part of the discourse. As a co-author of the global IPPC report with her own chapter about adaptation to climate change, she struggled hard to inject a different vocabulary into the report. Clearly, adaptation to climate change will require personal, political, and practical transformations of various kinds. Yet trying to bring in the term “transformation” into the report proved to be a laborious process, since “transformation” turned out to be a politically charged term for many countries that were “transformed” violently in the past and not always according to the political will of the majority.

O’Brien tried to reframe climate change as an “adaptive challenge,” not just touching on technical but also political dimensions. When trying to measure “risks” that climate change presents us with, we are implicitly always making a statement about what is valuable according to our view of the world. So ultimately, adaptation to climate change has to come from the inside out. Despite its clear relevance to the realities of the “lifeworld”(Habermas), this very notion challenges the mainstream scientific assumption which views consciousness and interiority merely as an “epi-phenomenon” popping out on the top of complex enough (grey) matter. Oh dear, welcome to flatland reductionism in the face of epic planetary challenges…

In closing, she mentioned the emerging discipline of “Quantum Social Theory” as an inspiring body of work which points to the potential of increasing our collaborative power in the face of this challenge. O’Brien ended on a hopeful note, reminding us of the vision and juice of the younger generations that grow up globally connected due to the internet. She is convinced that integral approaches to climate change will make a difference. “Be impact!” ( Also read Jeremy Johnson’s summary here.)

“Climate Change and the Clash of Worldviews: How Integral Can Help Us Move Forward in a Polarized Debate” — Annick de Witt, PhD

After the keynote, I continued with the topic of climate change in the following round of academic presentations. Annick de Witt from the Netherlands presented on her empirical research about the impact of interior factors — worldviews — on the perception of global environmental challenges. Her empirically validated research tool found evidence of four distinguished worldviews: “traditional,” “modern,” “postmodern,” and “integrative ,” which shape the behaviors and understanding of those who hold them. In her conference paper under the same title she concludes:

“(…)it becomes clear that each of the four worldviews has their own strengths and weakness in terms of responding to our urgent planetary issues such as climate change. In that sense, these worldviews are complementary: they all have something to offer (as well as to overcome). For policy-makers, one of the most important questions is how to mobilize these different segments of the public at large, and develop strategies that activate their potentials while mitigating their pitfalls. (…) Simultaneously, the overview of the different worldviews shows that individuals inhabiting more integrative worldviews may have particular potentials with respect to addressing sustainability-challenges such as climate change (…). This is so because of their innate self-reflexivity; their capacity to appreciate multiple, even conflicting perspectives; their holistic and systemic understanding of complex, global issues; their sense of connection to, and care for, the health and flourishing of our planet as a whole; and their commitment to come up with strategic, synergistic solutions. This means that the integrative worldview — while currently being the least researched worldview — may in fact be the most potent one in terms of addressing (the political and cultural disagreements surrounding) climate change.” (p.10/11)

I don’t remember much of the discussion part, only this: social entrepreneurship was seen as an emerging field in which many representatives of an integrative worldview can be found since they bridge hitherto divided worlds and unite business development motives with the wish to positively impact society and the environment through solving planetary problems.

The emperor is naked… or at least seriously confusing

Ah yes, I nearly forgot that I also visited a presentation on “Holarchical Field Theory” by Kevin Bowman. Frankly, in retrospect I wonder what the hell it was about. The title sounded somewhat intriguing, but before, during, and after, I wasn’t quite able to assemble the fragments into a coherent meaning.

It goes like this (quoted from the abstract): “Ken Wilber’s theory of validating claims is extended to the realms of holarchical field theory, which in part extends the theory into a social-change technology. Through proposals to groups and validations of claims, purposeful and meaningful group flow is fostered from a more integrated personality system as related to the archetypal cultural system within roles as found in societal establishments.” Mhmmm…

The speaker happily ignored key principles of audience friendly presentation. People asked some questions and engaged in a discussion. It was one of those weird moments where you ask yourself if you are the only person in the room that is stupid. This is not completely impossible at an academic Integral Theory conference. But in the end, I discarded this interpretation and settled with the consoling conclusion that the emperor was naked … or at least seriously confusing. But don’t take my word for it — maybe I am just ignorant.

Panel: “An Integral Consideration of Radical Islam”

Next was a round of panel discussions. I chose the one with Steve McIntosh, Said Dawlabani, and Marie Pace, facilitated by Dustin DiPerna. Notably (and this was readily acknowledged by the panelists), there was no Muslim among the panelists.

Dustin DiPerna, Steve McIntosh, Said Dawlabani, Marie Pace

Steve McIntosh, author and co-founder of the Institute for Cultural Evolution, started off by saying that an evolutionary spirituality recognizes Islam as an equal cultural line that is moving through its own growth trajectory, as the example of modernist Islamic reformers demonstrates. Beyond mere respect, he encouraged us to learn to love Islam. We need to find a way to let them know that a secular modernism is not the end of history, and that there is a place for the Divine. Modernism does not necessarily equal western secularism, and Allah can coexist with a modern value system in a Muslim expression.

Said E. Dawlabani, a Lebanese integralist and author in the lineage of Spiral Dynamics, got involved with Don Beck and the Center for Emergence (CHE) Middle East. He confirmed that he has experienced “RED in-your-face-Islam” on many occasions. Referring to Clare Graves’ Double Helix Model of life conditions and adaptive intelligences, he pointed out that the current environment in the Middle East would be best described as purple/RED systems on their way to BLUE institutions.

Marie Pace is a specialist in peacebuilding and conflict resolution — a field she describes as “almost integral.” She posed the question of how we can hold the ambiguity and complexity of the situation. “Who am I in relationship to radical Islam?”

Steve McIntosh stated that modernity has probably contributed the most to the problem of radical Islam by cutting off spirituality. A secular modernity is not an attractive but a threatening prospect for any devout Muslim — and devout they are. On the “upside,” radical Islamists feel the strong impulse to save Islam from dissolution. McIntosh hopes to be able to harness that heroic impulse, turn it around, and channel it into something more wholesome. Post-modernity brought the gift of reclaiming spirituality. It might help us to reclaim theism, the notion that “God is Great” — not only as the God of the bible, but also when we call it by the name of “Allah.”

Dustin DiPerna raised the question whether there is evidence for religion being used as a “conveyor belt” (an idea laid out in the book Integral Spirituality by Ken Wilber). Said Dawlabani commented that in Indonesia, a country with 250 million Muslims, a form of Islam emerged which is almost free of radicalization. This country has been a stable BLUE republic for one hundred years. He said that the Middle East will need to find its own way, but the transition from RED to BLUE is by far “the bloodiest” in human history.

Marie Pace quoted a Muslim who was saying, “We are just going through our own Middle Ages.” She reported on her work in Somalia, a country that operated without a government for twenty years, with people getting weary of constant conflict and instability. Yet the erection of a federalist structure to keep the clans in check was greeted with a lot of distrust towards centralized power. Equally contradictory are the attempts to build a new Jemen, especially because Saudi Arabia is not particularly interested in having a democratic neighbor next door.

Steve McIntosh focused again on the idea of the evolution of consciousness. The idea of “cultural evolution,” when it first emerged in the Victorian age, was deeply Eurocentric. We need to reclaim it without making the mistakes of modernity (“western hubris”) or post-modernity (“reverse orientalism”).

Said Dawlabani advocated for a “resilient design” and a path of “stratified functional democracy” (also according to the work of his wife, Elza S. Maalouf, as described in her book Emerge!). There is nothing inherently wrong with RED, rather we need healthy expressions of RED.

Saturday, July 18th

Keynote: “The Kinds of Inquiry, Power, and Love Required for Timely, Developmentally Transforming Practices” — Bill Torbert, PhD

Bill Torbert, photo credit: Deborah Boyar

Prior to the keynote presentation, I had run across the name Bill Torbert and “Collaborative Developmental Action Inquiry” (CDAI) several times but never really took the time to look at it. I was aware that he was drawing on the developmental model of Susanne Cook-Greuter and applying it to organizational transformation, among others.

According to Torbert, CDAI is “a meta-paradigmatic approach to social science and social action that encompasses seven other more familiar paradigms (e.g. Behaviorism, Empirical Positivism, and Postmodern Interpretivism) and that triangulates among third-person, objectivity-seeking social scientific inquiry, second-person, transformational, mutality-seeking political inquiry, and first-person, adult, spiritual inquiry and consciousness development in the emerging present” (Torbert, “Listening into the Dark,” Integral Review, 04/2013, Vol.9, No.2).

That is quite a mouthful of terms to digest, but basically it means that CDAI is a kind of in-the-moment research methodology that does not marginalize or ignore subjective and intersubjective realities but takes them into account consciously — in contrast to the rest of the (social) science mainstream world. This not only satisfies our longing for a more integral scientific inquiry but also has been demonstrated by Torbert to be able to predict much more reliably whether or not an organization transforms and why. Action research is not so much interested in making generalizations, rather it is strongly focused on being “timely,” hence practical to guide your action in the present moment. Despite teaching at Yale, Harvard, and Boston College and winning several awards for his publications on leadership topics, Bill Torbert radiated a great deal of humility, gratefulness, and humor on stage. Quite a jolly fellow.

In his presentation, he distinguished three kinds of feedback loops:

· Single-loop feedback: “A response that tells you you need to adjust the way you are acting, if you want to achieve your or your team’s goals.” — available at “Achiever” action-logic (orange altitude).

· Double-loop feedback: “A response that tells you that your whole way of approaching this situation-relationship needs to change.” — available at “Individualist/Pluralist/Relativist” action-logic (green altitude).

· Triple-loop feedback: “A response that awakens you into all four territories of experience at once, with a profound feeling of the inter-independence of the universe and your own congruity or incongruity herein.” — available at “Alchemist” action-logic (turquoise altitude).

He commented on the recent takedown of the Confederate flag in the US as being a rare moment of successful triple-loop feedback in the arena of politics. These feedback loops become available along the developmental spectrum — just like the “8 kinds of power” he distinguishes. The four more widely known forms of power (coercive, charming, logistical, and productive) reach up to the “Achiever” stage of development and subscribe to a single-leader model. Beyond that, starting with the Individualist/ Pluralist action-logic, new forms of power (visioning, praxis, mutually-transforming power, and the power of liberating disciplines) become available. They all are forms of “mutual power” like the example of the Holacracy organizational operating system that he mentioned as well. Torbert’s keynote presentation made me curious to learn more about the rest of his work. (Check out a visual summary of his presentation here)

Democracy 3D Panel: “Integral culture has to abandon its spirituality to have a mainstream impact”

with Sean Esbjörn-Hargens + Mark Fabionar (FOR the motion) & Terry Patten + Dustin DiPerna (AGAINST the motion); moderated by Rob McNamara

Zak Stein and Bonnita Roy in the Democracy 3D Panel on Social Justice

It starts like this: I am sitting in this other panel discussion with Zak Stein and Bonnitta Roy (among others) with the equally compelling title “It’s time for Integralists to stop catering to corporate interests and start fighting for social justice.” Really cool topic. About five minutes into it, there is a cheerful noise and applause coming from the other ballroom. For a moment I wonder if I should stay or go over. I decide to stay. More laughter spills out. A minute later, I receive a text message from my colleague Bence: “ballroom A good! come.” I say to myself, “Okay, let’s have a look.” I did not regret it. For me, this debate was the best piece of the conference. It was so absorbing that I did not take notes, unfortunately. So forgive me if my reporting is a bit anecdotal here, but I’ll do my best. (And fortunately, conference-blogger Jeremy Johnson covered the other debate on social justice in his blog)

Moderator Rob McNamara is totally killing it. photo credit: Deborah Boyar

Rob McNamara (in a manner truly exemplifying the “elegant self” he has written about) eloquently and humorously opened the floor and introduced the format of the “3D Democracy Panel”- to me the most exciting innovation in the ITC conference concept so far. The debate centers on a polarizing statement (see title) and two groups of two people that either support or oppose the motion.

The brilliant move is the quasi-paradoxical invitation for integralists to inhabit a partial position. Post-formal cognition sometimes seduces you to the idle place of “I don’t care — I guess everybody is a bit right and a bit wrong — as always.” This has some striking resemblance to the false peace of the enneagram type nine achieved by circumventing conflicts and metaphorically “falling asleep on a volcano.” Needless to say, this is deadening for any serious debate culture, since the evolutionary impulse is not invited to play itself out by means of creative friction and dialogical inquiry. This is the 100-meter race, where everybody agrees to cross the line at the same time and everybody stops training, “because we all win, as always.” Not so here. The stage was set for an “intellectual death match,” which stimulated all participants into an enlivening, juicy alertness.

Let the show begin!

Before the debate, a poll was conducted. It revealed that most of the participants (80% or more) in the room disagreed with the notion that Integral culture has to abandon its spirituality to have an impact on the mainstream. This was a tough start for the Esbjörn-Hargens / Fabionar camp FOR the motion. But it was to be expected to some degree. Sean started making his points. Despite frequent jokes, laughs, and cheerfulness, the topic at hand was not just a simplistic strawman position, but something that the organizers were seriously wrestling with in their day-to-day attempts at establishing integral approaches in the mainstream academic and business worlds. Over the years, layer on top of layer of failures, scandals, and embarrassments of some (formerly) leading integral spiritual teachers got sedimented on the internet — the archeology of shame of the integral movement is readily available to anybody who just wants to do a quick search about “Ken Wilber” or “integral” at the touch of a button, thereby veiling the deeper value and potential of integral theory and practice in the world.

Sean and Mark, the camp FOR the motion; photo credit: Deborah Boyar

They reported about university programs being rejected for including elements of integral theory, because students protested against having to pay for that “woo-woo- guru-stuff” becoming a part of their curriculum. Even despite their own deep-rooted spiritual practice, Sean and Mark wondered whether it would be more skillful to offer to the public what a friend of mine, Tim Ingold, once called a “T.O.A.E. — A Theory of Almost Everything”: AQAL minus spirituality. I certainly can recount similar experiences of running up against closed doors while trying to introduce Ken Wilber to my philosophy department as a student. It’s definitely a tough sell, and I did not always try to sell the whole package.

We’re trying to “sell” something when we are convinced that it is a good thing. But aren’t we “selling out” when we throw out the very heart of what drew most of us to Integral Theory and caused us to become re-enchanted with the juice of spirituality when walking in the desert of modern and post-modern meaninglessness and fragmentation? Or in Terry Patten’s words:

The proposition is that Integral culture must “abandon” its spirituality, “that which is of ultimate concern” — presumably in favor of lesser, non-ultimate concerns. The proposition asserts that what is ultimate, what is at the very center, at the heart of Integral culture, must be abandoned so that Integral culture can have a “mainstream impact.”
In the 60s we coined a term for this — “selling out.” It’s also called “being co-opted” by the system, or in the words of the singer Jewel, “giving your strength to that which you wish to be free of.”
Terry and Dustin had some serious fun. Also note “that pullover thing that Dustin has going” (quote Sean). photo credit: Deborah Boyar

Dustin DiPerna reminded us that the majority of the world’s population is still into some form of spirituality or religion, wondering what message it would send to this “trailing edge” if the “leading edge” tried to scrape off spirit from its official worldview in order to appease the influential figures of western mainstream.

After each team member had a chance to make their points, Rob McNamara invited the panelists to engage one person of the other team about a specific point in a very focused manner. The facilitation ensured that the debate would not so easily drift off into the cozy place of generalist statements that are directed at nobody. To me it seemed that we all witnessed the essence of masculine clarity and tough love in the form of intellectual precision. I can’t quite say how, but the way Rob held it was just hilarious.

Choose your words carefully, Sean! photo credit: Deborah Boyar

Terry summarized some more of his points in his newsletter:

Spirituality IS going mainstream, and the trend is only building momentum. Our nuanced rational engagement with spirituality is central to what makes Integral culture interesting and compelling — to each of us and to those who are to come. This motion responds to the attitudes that characterized mainstream culture a few decades ago, and which shape its current institutional habits — but not its trends, not what is currently emerging. So it misses what’s really happening, and sorely misreads the direction of our zeitgeist.
Plus, spirituality is the source of our inspiration and passion. It’s what turbocharges our creativity, giving us the ability to inspire and persuade and magnetize others. And that’s exactly what’s needed to generate mainstream impact. This motion acquiesces not only to a loss of integrity but to a loss of power — of inspiration and energy. It’s a willing embrace of mediocrity.

In the end, the audience was invited to engage with the panelists. One participant pointed out the obvious contradiction that on the one hand the team FOR the motion deplored the loss of credibility due to misdeeds of the integral spiritual teachers — yet they invited one of them to do a presentation at the conference! What message does that send to the world? Boom. The atmosphere abruptly shifted from cheerful to very serious. Mark Fabionar took the microphone and, ultimately, the blame. He said he was honored to be co-chair for ITC and admitted that being new in this position he was not courageous enough to draw a clear boundary and reject the person in question. This was a surprising and disarmingly honest answer that was received with respect and care. Sean did not comment further on the case.

In conclusion, I think that the initial thesis in its absolutistic form is provocative but untenable, and that this was the outcome of this collective inquiry. Yet as soon as we make it less broad and generic and restrict the withholding of the spiritual gems of integral theory to certain well-defined contexts and times, it will be far more acceptable for the common integralist.

This debate was a true highlight of ITC, and it set the stage for deepening our intersubjective inquiries and our intellectual rigor within the container of deep love for each other and our shared integral vision. May we continue to challenge each other to bring out the best in us.

“The Integral You Don’t See: Activism at the Frothy Edge”- Gail Hochachka

Gail in a slightly psychedelic dress

Next was the round of “Pioneer presentations.” I have great respect for the work of Gail and her colleagues at Integral Without Borders for going into the trenches of international integral sustainable development. So I was curious to learn more about the integral that I don’t see and how the model is being applied in contexts that are not always visible from our Western, first-world perspective.

But before going there, Gail criticized the “implicit theory of change” held by the general integral community which tends to orient from the Upper Left, in that “as individuals’ levels of consciousness change, so too will the social world change.” That is an unchecked claim and for Gail “this fails to account for the robust, sophisticated tetrameshing that is actually required for any true change to really gain traction toward long-term, widespread, sustainable impacts.” She attributed the likely roots of this UL /LL bias to the origin of Ken’s work, which began in (transpersonal) psychology and consciousness studies. That said, she also conceded that as a community maybe we had to overemphasize the interior dimensions for a while so as to counter the exterior orientation of the flatland mainstream culture. Now, after two decades, things seem to move towards a greater balance of both.

She showed some pictures of her African Integral Development Network. Social systems are “heavy.” They have their techno-economic mode of production and their cultural center of gravity, or “nexus-agency.” Gail said that if you want to move things, you need to do some “heavy lifting” to create openings for new discourses and new practices. She also emphasized that an individual’s center of gravity is always embedded within a broader cultural center of gravity. So if a person operates from amber but is surrounded by a green cultural climate, you could call it “amber-in-green.” Part of the work in the field is to help individuals and communities navigate this gap or tension.

She described how they consulted a big supermarket chain, Costco, to create more sustainable relationships with the local producers of nuts. They identified the latest cultural holon that has been laid down (currently green) and helped them to translate their actions up to that. The result of this “social conveyor belt” work was a product called “integrated nuts” — a title that the company’s representatives came up with on their own. But it ain’t nuts, folks. It’s just integral!

Sunday, July 19th

“At the Frothy Edge of Geopolitical Impact: Nation Building in the Ukraine (and a Brief Look at Pluralistic Ontology)” — Ken Wilber via video message

Me, ‘Don Corleone’ (John Dupuy) and Bence Ganti

Before the keynote video presentation with Ken started, Sean Esbjörn-Hargens announced the launch of The Ken Wilber Gratitude Fund — a non-profit organization that my friends Bence Ganti and John Dupuy envisioned, and that I am honored to be a part of as well.

Give back to the man who gave the world an Integral Vision.
Ken Wilber is a world cultural treasure whose writings and insights are transforming the lives of countless people worldwide. For decades, he has provided us with an inspiring role model in the way he embodies his teachings. His work sheds wisdom, hope, and illumination on practically every field of human endeavor.
The purpose of The Ken Wilber Gratitude Fund is to express our individual and collective thanks to Ken Wilber for all he has given us, to help support his ongoing creative work, and to promote wider public awareness of Integral Theory.
If you’ve been touched by Ken’s work, please consider giving back.

Learn more at

Ken via video; photo credit: Deborah Boyar

In his pre-recorded video keynote, Ken did not comment on the topic of “nation building in the Ukraine” as announced. At the Fourth Turning Conference on Integral Buddhism last year, he confirmed rumors that Ukrainian politicians had approached him to help them rebuild the country based on integral principles. I assume that the ever-changing nature of political events in this war-ridden country forced him to deviate from the plan of talking about the announced topic.

So instead, he gave an in-depth comment on the epistemology / ontology debate that developed between him and the proponents of the Critical Realism school of the British philosopher Roy Bhaskar (who participated at the last ITC in 2013 but has unfortunately passed away in the meantime).

Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, becoming, existence, or reality, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations.” “Epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. It questions what knowledge is and how it can be acquired, and the extent to which knowledge pertinent to any given subject or entity can be acquired.“

Thanks for reminding me, Wikipedia.

Ken offered a long and deep explanation, and I am not sure that I understood all the relevant pieces. Anyway, here’s my attempt of a summary of Ken’s position on this: both the Idealist (epistemology) and the Realist (ontology) positions are partly right and can offer a piece of the puzzle. In his IMP model of the eight zones (methodological families that bring forth various forms knowledge), the outside-zone (zones #2,4,6,8) methodologies represent the Realist view of things or events, whereas all the inside-zone methodologies (zones #1,3,5,7) represent the Idealism view of things or events. None of them is privileged over the other.

Ken walked through the quadrants and zones to illustrate what he meant by that. In the lower left for example, he distinguishes between the inside (zone #3) and the outside-view (zone #4). If you look at a cultural holon, a we, from the inside you get Hermeneutics, like Heidegger’s existential hermeneutics, for example. You take part in the meaning making and come up with a cartography of mutual understanding and shared meaning.

Foucault took a different approach. He studied cultures from the outside view (but still from within the left-hand interior quadrants, not from the exterior quadrants). His method was to bracket any truth claims of what was being said and not to engage in the meaning making of the discourse at hand. Rather, he would stay mute, an outsider to the cultural holon, standing on the outside looking in, curiously taking notes of the patterns of discourse, like a Martian scientist who is able to understand human language. By looking at how cultural definitions, e.g. of “madness,” have changed throughout layers of discourse over many centuries, Foucault was able to spot and document patterns invisible from within that cultural discourse.

Both views — inside and outside — obviously have something important to offer. Similarly, Ken pointed out the differences between inside and outside approaches in the exterior, LR quadrant — classical systems theory (outside) versus social autopoiesis (inside).

He gave the example of an iron rod. An iron rod ex-ists (lt. existere “to stand out”) at different levels. There is no such thing as “the iron rod” (extreme Realist position), nor does it make sense to say that since there is no single pre-given iron rod, “the rod only exists in the minds of people that perceive it” (extreme Idealist position). No, there is clearly something real “out there” that everybody relates to from his or her level of development and cognition (especially if you stumble over it). Ken called this the “sliding scale of (relative) truth” in which the view from every level is true, yet the view from every higher level is truer. Truth is evolving and previous truths are honored and retain their relative truth-value in a specific context under certain AQAL parameters (“Kosmic address”).

After the talk, Sean commented on the announcements about the six (or so) books in the pipeline that Ken talked about in the beginning, and said that Ken seems to want to make up for these last years of illness in which he hasn’t had his annual book publication since Integral Spirituality in 2006. Exciting news. What’s to come? The second part of the Kosmos Trilogy (SES is part 1), The Terrorism Trilogy (900 pages), as well as Superview and Overview- these I remember.

Keynote: “Integral Design in the midst of Chaos, Bloodshed, and Revolution.” — Elza Maalouf

Elza Maalouf; photo credit: Deborah Boyar

Actually, I missed out on much of this fascinating presentation, since I was busy preparing for my own right afterward. I just wanted to make sure to point the attention of the readers to this beautiful work in the integral lineage of Clare Graves and Don Beck (Spiral Dynamics). From the presentation abstract: “This talk reviews the crucial design elements of large-scale systems in Israel/Palestine, informed by hands-on experiences with feudal and tribal leaders, who hold the key to the future development of the region.” (Also check out this review by Jeremy Johnson )

Elza Maalouf is the CEO and co-Founder of the Center for Human Emergence Middle East and author of the book Emerge! The Rise of Functional Democracy and the Future of the Middle East. Together with Don Beck, she talked to many local leaders from both conflicting parties and organized the “Build Palestine Initiative” with a big summit in 2008. I am looking forward to reading her book. She was to kind to give me a free copy — like Said Dawlabani, her husband, who also gave me a free copy of his book MEMEnomics. Lovely people, lovely books. I am sure the SD lineage will continue to flourish.

“The 1st Integral European Conference — Integrally Evolving the Conference Format for Impact and International Community Building” — Bence Ganti & Dennis Wittrock

Participants joining us on stage for a sharing in their native language.

Here’s the backstory: I visited the second ITC in 2010. This is where I first met Bence, who presented on his school for Integral Psychology in Hungary, the Integral Academy. Back then, I was leader of the German Integral Academy (DIA) and happy to meet a European colleague. In June 2012, I initiated a gathering of European integral leaders in Berlin to meet right after the annual German conference hosted by Integrales Forum that I was organizing. On that day, Integral Europe was born — as well as the idea to do a big international conference. Bence took the initiative and invited the Integral Europe core team to Budapest in January 2013, where we settled on the Integral Academy team as host organizer and already started to check out venues for IEC.

In May 2014, the first Integral European Conference with 500 participants from 35 countries under the title “The Emergence of Integral Consciousness in Europe” took place in Budapest, Hungary. Our goal was to bring to the surface the great wealth of integral applications in theory and practice from all over Europe (and the rest of the globe), while also innovating the traditional conference format in an integral way.

Impressions of IEC 2014 in Budapest, Hungary

We applied the following conference design principles to unfold an integral impact: balancing right-brain and left-brain related activities in the daily conference schedule; creating and weaving together the mental (academic), the emotional, the spiritual, and the communal spaces; making conscious use of rituals (as “soul-language”) for bonding, healing, and harmonizing; using long experiential (non-verbal, somatic-level) healing workshops; creating visibility for all presenters (elevator pitches, poster exhibition); fostering interaction among thematic section experts and the audience; making room for presentations on valuable “non-academic” or “general” integral applications; creating visibility for all cultural identities (info display screens, global stage, country process); considering art and aesthetic dimensions (venue choice, art-exhibition, nature-excursion, comedy); enacting spiritual dimensions (meditative exercises with the audience, 24-hour meditation room); recognizing excellence by creating an award ceremony for best papers and outstanding integral community organizers; highlighting social activities (Boat Party on river Danube, Integral Lounge and exposition, Goulash Party in nature with bonfire and traditional Hungarian music, food, and dance, VIP Party) and pioneering “Integral Tourism” (visiting standard tourist places as well as sacred places in a 3-day, add-on bus-tour with 60 integral fellows including Salzman, Patten, Cook-Greuter, etc); Global stage for non-Europeans in main airtime in the main hall.

Impressions of IEC 2014 in Budapest, Hungary

We processed 165 applications, out of which we accepted 35 workshop proposals and 90 short presentation (20-minute) proposals, which we grouped into 25 thematic sections (with 3–5 presentations each). Thematic sections covered psychology, education, politics, leadership, organizational development, transformative community, gender, coaching, metatheories / alternatives to integral, psychotherapy, medicine / health, ecology / sustainability, finance / economics, academia, youth, spirituality / field and criticism of integral theory.

We cohered and coordinated a virtual international organization team of Hungarians and Germans, using innovative meeting techniques (Holacracy) to facilitate our sessions. We coordinated an international team of 70 volunteers during the conference. Post-conference, we produced a high-quality photo collection, a professional (free) 60-minute documentary movie (and trailer), and the IEC Material Collection in order to share the wealth of the recordings, papers, and posters with the rest of the world.

We achieved our aim to wake up and cohere European integralists and created a visible and interconnected field that had been non-existent on a cross-continental scale in Europe before IEC. Our long-term vision is to contribute to and give birth to a truly global integral movement — a colorful unity of integralists from all cultures, dedicated to unpacking and unfolding integral impact on a planetary scale for the benefit of all beings. In the spirit of that overarching vision, we consciously placed IEC in between the biannual ITCs in order to generate a circular flow of innovation and inspiration between the poles of America and Europe.

sharing circle; photo credit: Deborah Boyar

At the end of our presentation, we asked the audience to join us on stage and talk to us in their mother tongue. The mind may not understand, yet the soul does. It was a very touching experience to see people open up that way. I think we successfully transmitted some of the community spirit of IEC in our presentation. I would also like to thank our “fans” for their words of support from the stage: John Dupuy, Aftab Omer, and of course Susanne Cook-Greuter (“IEC 2014 was the best conference I have ever been to!”). See you again at the second IEC in May 2016 then! Sign up at to receive news and updates. Also make sure to chip in to our crowdfunding campaign to help us bring on the next event in 2016. We need your support to keep on creating joyful gatherings like this. You can find more IEC 2014 reviews (including my own report) here.

Other great stuff that happened at ITC — without me being (fully) present

Not to be missed: “the conference in the hallways”

My report feels somehow incomplete if I don’t at least mention all the great things that happened without me being (fully) present. One example is the “Pop-up Playground Lunches” — hosted by Marilyn Hamilton & team, which included tapping collective intelligence and “AQAL Systemic Constellation Work.” Shame on me that I didn’t make it over to the Art Exhibition. It is a bit painful to acknowledge that, so let’s move on quickly. I briefly showed up at the impact showcase of the MetaIntegral Foundation, where the eight grantees presented on their projects. I have no idea who won the Best Paper Award though, nor did I check out the poster presentation. It would have certainly been fun to watch the “Deeper than Day” live performance on Saturday, but it coincided with the integral blues-jazz legends and the village house parties mentioned in the very beginning.


Closing statements by Sean. Next to him: a pomegrenade plant.

Hats off to the ITC co-chairs Sean Esbjörn-Hargens and Mark Fabionar for putting on a fantastic integral conference. Let’s also honor the people in the second row: Molly Morgan and Jordan Luftig. It is often those in the second row who carry the majority of the day-to-day organizing work without being featured properly. (I am very aware of this from my role as conference co-director for IEC.)

My only direct comparison is with ITC 2010 (see my 2010 report here) and some of the livestream videos from ITC 2013, but this event marked an obvious increase in terms of quality. The 3D Democracy panel discussions rocked. Much more emphasis was put on community building and on artistic expression, which enlivened the space and the overall atmosphere immensely.

The only caveat may be that this was added on top or alongside of what used to be the existing full academic conference program. The days felt extremely full — a fullness that was rich but could also be perceived as being overly stuffed. Of course everybody was free to not take part in any given program offering. But maybe it would have been good to end earlier on some days, or leave more undefined spaces to network, chill, or simply hang out together.

Harvesting round. photo credit: Deborah Boyar

The choice of the conference topic “Integral Impacts” felt highly relevant, and the way it was enacted throughout the event was very consistent. The keynote speakers were charismatic and compelling. The venue was a good choice and offered extra value through the clustering of participants in village housing.

I am grateful that we were able to hold our presentation and grateful to the organizers for bringing together the international integral community once again. This is so important, and the integral community is such a lovely tribe. We are a big international family of kindred spirits and, like any family, we’re not without our family dysfunctions, quarrels, and quirkiness. And yet so much about us integralists makes me hopeful, joyful, and optimistic about humanity and its higher aspirations. May we live up to them! Events like this help us in this never-ending evolutionary journey.

Apparently I had some fun at ITC 2015! photo credit: Deborah Boyar

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