Discussion of Integral Life Practice


Integral Life Practice. (Integral Books: 2008)

In the spirit of self-disclosure, Marco Morelli (one of the co-authors) is a close, long-time friend of mine. He sent me a copy of the book in order to review it.

“The meaning of a statement is the means of its enactment.” –Ken Wilber, Integral Spirituality p.258

The question I think that has really haunted integral thought to date is how do we do integral? How do we recognize when something is actually more integrated (my preferred term increasingly to integral as such)? How does integral become the enactment of an actually different lifeworld? How does it become an existential reality, a drive, even calling for individuals?

In academic disciplines, integral thought first clears away the clutter within a field. It opens up the vantage points and worthwhile findings of any sub-groupings already within a discipline. And finds a way to order them rightly with one another. Integral theory in other words is itself a practice.

The second phase of integral I would argue is the beginning of the creation of integral norms, standards, and best practices within a field. From Holocracy, to Gail Hochachka’s Integral Development work, to Daniel O’Connor’s Mutual Praxis of Transparency, Choice, & Accountability, to Mark Edwards’ Integral Cycle of Learning–these are just a sampling of the various forays into the second phase. [For those wondering, I consider learning the integral map and language phase 0 or perhaps 0.5].

The Holy Grails of Phase 1 and 2 would be the ability of now more integrated disciplines–with their own houses in order–being able to truly and really inter-act with one another. True multi-disciplinarity, even trans-disciplinarity. Both at the level of discourse and at the level of practice. As a personal example, in my own work towards an Integral Christianity, I feel myself more and more pushed to be studying Integral Economics. Integral Economis somehow I sense has something to teach me about Integral Christianity.

And now Integral Life Practice joins this growing field of 2nd-phase integration. It seeks to help create a common language and practice structure across various spiritual lineages, so they can finally and truly dialogue. What Br. David Stendl-Rast calls in his blurb for the book a GPS (Global Practicing System). Following Wilber’s own maxim, therefore, the meaning of an [More] Integral Life Practice is the means of its enactment. More on that in a sec.

Quickly–for the classical review points of a text: it is clearly written, well-organized, jam-packed with info but not so much as to be overwhelming, It’s practical–as in practice-oriented and easy to use. It sets up a project for the individual reading the book, introduced from the beginning building to the accomplishment of that goal (the creating of an Integral Life Practice). It’s well done. Really well done in my opinion.

But I would like to explore the text a little more deeply using the phases of integral categorization in order to help contextualize the work and its place within the emerging integral worldview.

Integral Life Practice provides the way (the means of enactment) through phases 0,1, and 2 relative to the discipline of life practice. ILP is one among many of the necessary applications of integral philosophy. The integral worldview is one that takes seriously life practice as an intrinsic dimension of its being. An intrinsic fruit of its seeding.

The book covers well Phase 0, the basic introduction to the AQAL system (pp.69-125). Actually the summary of AQAL in this text might actually be the best one yet.

It also has done the background work on Phase 1, the proper ordering/balancing of the work of different streams and types of personal growth, psychotherapy, spiritual practice, physical exercise, etc. The AQAL map allows us to value (within proper limits) any and all of these various practices, people are already doing. The authors have done that background work (i.e. mental practice); we the readers need to remember in some sense that we are cribbing their findings. For those whose primary discipline is not in this field–e.g. someone doing Integral Business or Ecology or Politics–that’s perfectly fine, so long as we keep in mind it is an interpretation growing out of a practice that others can themselves take up and check their findings. In short, its open to debate.

Phase 2, the norms, the creation of best practices, the setting up of a scheduled integrated mode of life practice is also well delinated in the book. This aspect, to my mind, is the key contribution of the text. What I’m calling this 2nd phase is where the meat really gets on the bones, so I’m glad this book is adding some weight in this area.

The authors interpret the results of their initial findings. The way in which phase 1 is understood affects the shaping of phase 2. The minimum for an ILP is, according to the authors, a practice in the Body, Mind, Spirit (e.g. meditation/prayer), and Shadow work, with additional possible modules of Integral Ethics, Work, Relationships, and so on. That recommended format for designing an ILP depends on their interpretation of the results of the phase 1 findings. What I mean is their articulation of the Core Modules as consisting of four and those four being Mind, Body, Spirit, and Shadow is their interpretation. That’s not dismissing what they’ve done–i.e. “oh it’s just their interpretation”–but rather it’s their way of understanding what their studies have shown to them. [For the theoretical background on this point, follow the Mark Edwards link above. It’s also why I like discussing more or less integrated than integral per se.**].

Put another way, there is no real argument (that I’m aware of anyway) but that the AQAL map points out that we have quadrants (dimensions of being), stages of development through steams (or lines), states-bodies, types, and self (with its own shadow). An ILP would in some fashion have to both take the multiplicity of that reality into account, without it becoming a kind of mania of practice–i.e. allowing for grace, simplcity, the joys of imperfection and so on. Distilling that swirl into the Four Core Modules they do has its advantages, and the practice structure they outline is dependent on that point of view, but that way of organizing the practice streams is one possible interpretation out of an essentially number-less potential configurations. I happen to think their version is a very good one but it is one nonetheless. e.g. As a contrast, my own view would be that Ethics/Relationships have to be essential core practices.

Now I don’t want to be seen as putting too fine a point on that one because the authors provide what they term Core and Additional Modules, but make clear throughout the entire text that the choice is up to the individual. I think it’s fair to say though their way of organizing the data and foregrounding what they call The Four Core Modules and backgrounding (somewhat) The Additionals will probably have some impact in that direction on individuals who read the text and take up its recommendations. Those Categories are just that–categories–within which there are any number of potential individual different practices. The authors recommend what they call a Gold Star practice in each of the modules, but how the structure is configured depends on the individual and his/her choices. So again I want to make clear that they have not created some rigid cookie-cutter way of practice. Far from it. But in the final analysis, however, to see if they (or me or whoever) is right is to actually try it and see.

And that brings me to my last point: the question of communal verification and interpretation. That is, Life Practice in relation to the socio-cultural dimensions of experience.

The book clearly can function for any individual who wishes to undertake some practice in some fashion or other built around the specifics/format recommended by the text. The authors provide some excellent points towards the end of the book especially on the typical life cycles of practice, facing into the question of one’s values/goals/vision, and so forth.

Generally, however, traditionally spiritual practice requires joining a community or group of (more or less) like-minded folks on roughly the same path, following roughly something similar in terms of practice, beliefs, and the rest. While on the surface this question of the intersubjective-communion-spiritual community may not seem like that big a deal, it can be very quickly. Verification & interpretation involves other people, at best trusted people, with say in your spiritual life. Questions about judgment, hierarchies (more/less compassionate, more/less wakeful), who can be trusted, who can’t, in what ways can someone be trusted in what ways not. At what point must one in the face of opposing views, simply follow an inner intuition and at what point might a person need to follow someone else checking their ego?

It’s a very fine line, so I’m not really critiquing the authors so much as empathizing with the inherent tension they face. The final section, entitled The Unique Self is a very important section of the book in my estimation. The point of practice, even in awakening to the nondual, is not to disappear as an individual. We have three identities: self, Soul, and Spirit (I AM). Traditions that tend to emphasize only the Spirit and self side (e.g. Vedanta and Zen) can end up advocating denial of the self and total absorption into Spirit. A potentially new and very subtle form of duality. That way of practicing forgets the Soul. The Soul is the deepest part of our uniqueness. I’m glad the authors are arguing we should not all become spiritual automatons.

On the other hand, Souls also exist in communities (communion). Four quadrants go all the way up as down as we like to say. In Chapter 10, entitled Navigating the Practice Life, the authors recommend seven design principles for an ILP. The seventh of which is “Get support.” The description of that design aid begins on page 333 and goes to page 340. They discuss practice community, spiritual teachers or coaches. They say such relationships (rightly) can help “create an accountability structure” (p.336). While I understand the hesitancy of the authors to prescribe community or a teacher as the sine qua non of spiritual practice because it could create a stumbling block to practice for someone, I guess I would have like to seen more emphasis placed on the creation of such communities. More as a goal to be sought where able and not a prerequisite.

These communities–at their best–could act as ways to strengthen our intersubjectivity. In the intersubjetive, we are as individuals members of a group, not parts of the whole. This is a key fundamental insight of Wilber’s philosophy. Members are free to join, free to leave. Membership in this case has not only privileges but deep and abiding responsibility and commitment. We need commitment to our spiritual practice–God knows we need that–but also commitment in some sense to one another.

The shielding of the ego–even a trans-personally charged ego–subtly is reinforced through our social practices, lifestyles, and living arrangments. Not to mention the media, work, culture and all the rest. This is especially a spiritual concern in (hyper)individualistic North American society. The reason I put so much emphasis on the 2nd person mode of being-in-the-world, i.e. relationships, loving service, ethics, is that in my experience that is where the egoic self-coiling is most powerfully undone–when combined with the more personal kind of integrated life practice the authors prescribe. The we-space and the space of You-I/I-You (which isn’t always yet a “We” space) is where we suffer and our hearts are broken, are melted, and able to be re-shaped into a more divine-like pattern. But again, that is based on my own experience, which has its place but is not necessarily normative for everybody else either. I like everyone else am just trying to find a way in all this. I suffer from my own personal forms of this collective fear.

Using Daniel O’Connor’s notion of (Mutual) Choice, Transparency, and Accountability, the book Integral Life Practice deeply honors choice. That’s a great strength of the text. But I think it needs a little more grounding in mutual transparency and accountability. Individuals are again free (via choice/autonomy) to find the best ways for them of making those structures. It’s generally a good idea to check in with the tried and true ways of so doing as they tend to have some points in their favor (just from experimenting so long), but it can’t be said universally that they have all the answers. Still, this question of how do we properly hold each other to account. The mystery of the LL. The intersubjective spiritual path in the integral age of the 21st century. aka The Biggie.

**The notion that we could ever become fully integrated is the myth (and potential dark side) of integral. In Wilber’s language the Mean Turquoise Meme. Or the Kosmic IOU that the integral lifeworld writes but can’t ultimately cash. There is a certain degree of more integration and less so. Undoubtedly there is some threshold of capability that is passed wherein one achieves a more permanent structural capacity/identity in the integral layer of evolutionary development. Some will do that betters than others even within that lifeworld. But there’s never complete total 100% integration. I understand the use of the word Integral (capital I) as used in the title of their book. I use it myself that way on occasion. I think it’s worthwhile reminder however that framing it that way can be problematic and lead to the kind of false/bad interpretation I outlined before. Especially when describead as The Integral __ (Capital T, Capital I). Again I understand the rationale, but it has some shadows we should not forget.

Published in: on December 14, 2008 at 5:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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Announcement: Teaching Integral Christianity Class Jan ’09

For anyone in the Vancouver area, I wanted to pass this on.  Canadian Memorial United Church–the church I sometimes guest preach at–has been very gracious and afforded space (for free!!!) to have a class on Integral Christianity, that I will be the lead instructor on.  The class will be the first in a series of programs Bruce Sanguin, the pastor of the church is organzing to more widely a more integral consciousness in the congregation.  The four-part class I’ll be teaching can be taken as a separate program.  There will be a number of members of the church who are participating in the class as the initial part of their church leadership training that will go over the course of 2009 and 2010.

The info:

Chris Dierkes w/ Bruce Sanguin

Dates:  Starting Tuesday January 13th and then running the next three Tuesdays (Jan 20th, 27th, & Feb. 3rd)
Time:  7:30-9:30 pm.
WhereCentre for Peace. 1825 W. 16th Ave Vancouver, BC (16th between Cypress and Burrard)
Cost: $40 (for all four classes)
How to Register: Send me an Email (Email on upper right-hand side of blog). Or any questions, send me an email.

Course Description:

In this course, we will be exploring the intersection between an integral worldview and Christianity over four weeks.  The integral worldview encompasses both a theory and practice.  It provides a sense of clarity amidst the confusion of the 21st century world.  The integral view will provide a framework in order to more fully and compassionately reflect on the meaning and practice of our faith in our contemporary world.

Class 1–Perspectives on the Divine:  Introduction to Integral Christianity
Class 2–Stages of Faith: The Structures and Spires of Spiritual Development
Class 3–States of Consciousness:  The Christian Mystical Path
Class 4– Praxis:  The Integral Christian (Ad)Venture

The only reading for the course will be a short essay covering the basics of integral thought.  Participants will receive the essay in pdf form or can access it via the web.

About The Instructor:
Chris Dierkes is a 29 year old seminarian in the Anglican Church of Canada.  He has been working with integral theory for nine years.  He is an avid blogger and one of a core group of individuals working to bring Integral thought into the Christian world. He is working on a book applying Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory to Christian Mystical Theology.

Published in: on December 11, 2008 at 2:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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George Soros on Financial Crisis (Beaucoup de Links)


Click the link above for the audio of George Soros describing the current financial meltdown.

The full transcript of the interview with Bill Moyers and George Soros here.  The wiki on Soros’ theory of financial markets is here.  I’m reading Soros’ new book on the subject (as well as a few of his previous ones) for a paper for class.  This guy is brilliant on this stuff.  One of the few minds that really gets it (Nouriel Roubini, Peter Schiff, Michael Lewis & Crew, among others).

The key part is here:

GEORGE SOROS:Which they didn’t properly understand. And there was always a separation between the people who generated the mortgages and packaged them and sold them to you and the people who owned them. So nobody was paying attention to the quality of the mortgages because they didn’t have an interest. They — all day collecting fees. And then there were other people holding the mortgages.

I’m working on the issue of credit as growing from the notion of “belief” or “trust” (in Latin credere).  Credere is the same root as Creeds.  There was no ability to trust in this system because no one knew anyone else.  Speculators, brokers, and the such are not the ones to be have been making these loans–from subprime on up, nor then those even further removed from the reality of relationship–e.g. those who did the securitization and SIVs and then later the CDOs on the SIVs.

That and the notion that human actions affect the market (what Soros calls ‘reflexitivity’) lie at the heart of the necessary re-think….Soros’ new paradigm.  It follows in his decades long critique of economics as mimicking physics (via math).  In other words, to make economics into a natural science–to describe economic behavior as conforming to natural laws.  Even the more recent attempts to re-read economics along evolutionary, biological or chaotic theories has some benefit but is still trapped in what Ken Wilber calls “subtle reductionism” (as opposed to the earlier gross reductionism).  For more on that distinction, this mind-blowingly brilliant manifesto by Christian Arnsperger.

So the economic theory (according to Soros) is based on the wrong psychology, the wrong anthropology really–that is the wrong view of the human being.  Natural science-based economics thinking is suffering from what Whitehead termed “misplaced concreteness”.  That means to confuse what is originally an insight or explanatory framework predicated on a certain context (usually a fairly easy to understand rather basic one) and universalizing that insight/frame to all contexts as if there were the “natural” state of affairs.

It is built on C.S. Peirce’s notion that what we call natural laws are actually habits in the universe.  Everything starts as a moment of novelty or choice.  But over time repeated actions habitutate and instantiate themselves into the woop and warp of the universe.  What humans term natural laws are usually just the most basic, earliest, ways of being in the universe.  They are so ground in through habitual patterning that they are essentially almost 100% determined.

In market terms, following Soros, the idea of homo economicus, the rational all-knowing actor in the market that guides so much thinking in these realms is a misplaced concreteness drawn originally from the realm of markets in durable goods, where the basic law of supply and demand and the equilibrium that grows out of those interactions basically holds.  [They are in this analogy like the movements of gas molecules in a container–you can’t predict how any one molecule will go but basically you can more or less predict how the entire set of molecules over time will interact].

But credit markets are not goods markets.  And here we are back to choice and trust and the unknowability of the future and that the real and our actions interact and are responsive to one another.  That the future is free and open.  (Soros’ political vision is built out of this philosophical point).  Hence the modernist worldview and formal operational cognition upon which it rides, assumes everything heads to equilibrium (in economics this is called Walrasian thought).  Hence no regulation is necessary as everything left in its natural state will work out to the equilibrium–since all actors in the system are rational.  Sound familiar?

Ultimately by disentangling economics from relationships (and hence from consciousness/feeling) we move into an etherealized reality, where economic value can be inflated to the point where value is accruing without any actual work/product being done.  And then eventually that self-reinforcing (self-reflexive) mania will be exposed and then the house of cards comes falling down.

Religiously to have the wrong notion of the human being is to have the wrong notion of God–in other words to committ idolatry.  Because humans are made in the image of God (so claims theology).  To consider the market as a god (“the all-knowing” market).  Idolatry socially comes out in the form of wrongly structured relationships.  In the globalized frame, we exist to serve the markets, not they us.  The fruit of that fundamental misinterpretation and mistaken practice is now coming to harvest.

Skypecast: Integral Politics (Audio Content)


Click the link above for a discussion of integral politics between Scott and I–the first in what we are hoping will be a series.  We had a technical glitch or two (per our usual) but is I believe worth the listen [I’m of course biased on this subject :)]

A whole mess ‘o links for those interested:

Ken Wilber:  (Basic Summary of his Model).  Video Introduction to Politics through his Philosophical Lens.
Ha Joon Chang (The Economic Developmental Piece):  Here and here.
Thomas Barnett (The Brief):  Here, here, here, and here.  Barnett’s map here:

Spiral Dynamics:  Here and Pt. 1 of an 8 part series of shorts that show each level of development (all 8 are on youtube).

Integral Politics Presentation Monday Night


I’m leading a presentation on integral politics Monday night here in Vancouver, for any readers of the blog in the area. I hope to record the audio and post my Power Point slides sometime next week, depending on the quality of the recording.

For now, here is the information on the evening:

Integral Politics.

Politics according to Aristotle is the art of the polis.  Polis-things in other words.  The art of the possible, the art of compromise within the life of the polis (the city-state).  We will explore in depth the current transformation of humanity brought about by the mass migration of human beings from rural to urban life, the rise of technology, and politics in the global polis.  Integral thought provides a lens whereby to make increasing sense of and bring clarity to the complexity of our world.

We will explore the intersection of integral thought in the political events of our day.  Come prepared with questions on any topics you would like discussed–there will be a good amount of time for questions—for example the Canadian elections, US elections, War in Afghanistan, Economic Crisis, Terrorism, and/or more local concerns.

If people are interested, Integral Life has put out a short but helpful video introduction to politics through Ken Wilber’s AQAL system on their website.  I recommend it, but it is not required–fear not there will be no quiz!!!!

The link to the video is here.




  • Dialogue
  • Learning
  • Networking

An Exploration of Integral Framework & How It Can Change Your Life

Doors Open at 7:15, Event Begins at 7:30

Suite 100, Main Floor, 2245 West Broadway, Vancouver (between Vine & Yew)

[Image Courtesy Steve Self via Flickr, CC License].

Holonic State Formation (Integral meets Philip Bobbitt)

From p. 215 of Philipp Bobbitt’s magisterial The Shield of Achilles:

The nation-state has accumulated various responsibilities.  The legitimating promises of earlier, precedeing constitutional forms are often inherited by successive archetypes as entrenched expectations and entitlements.  The princely state promised external security,  the freedom from domination and interference by foreign powers.  The kingly state inherited this responsibility and added the promise of internal stability.  The territorial state added the promise of expanding material wealth, to which the state-nation further added the civil and political rights of popular sovereignty.  To all these responsibilities the nation-state added the promise of providing economic security and public goods to the people.

Bobbitt’s historical framing of those shifts is roughly as follows:

Princely States (1494-1648, i.e. The Peace of Westphalia)
Kingly States to Territorial States (1648-1776, i.e. Declaration of Independence)
State-Nations from 1776 to 1914 (WWI) when the Nation-State becomes the dominant reality.
2001?–>The Shift from the Nation-State to the Future Market-State (I’ll discuss that in a number of later posts)

Now to get back to the quotation.  It would be correct to call these iterations paradigm shifts–remembering that paradigm shift is actually a different way of doing business, a different praxis (often military, economic, technological, reading/scholarly praxis) which gives rise to a new worldview.

By understanding paradigm shifts, applying integral theory, the process of emergence/development works via envelopment/unfoldment:  i.e. transcend and include.  The include part is what Bobbitt is calling “inheritance” from the earlier iterations to the later ones.  The later paradigm shifts build on the platform already created by the previous incarnation of the state.  i.e. In integral-speak, Holarchy.

What this also brilliantly opens up is a way to chart state progression across the globe.  States can be roughly correlated along this axis.  e.g. China is classically moving in a very difficult way through the very difficult transition from a territorial state to a state-nation, which the Chinese urban middle class is navigating carefully.  Or someone like Ron Paul, whose Revolution, would consist of returning to the US to a state-nation status–i..e undoing the entire Welfare State.

I’m reading Shield of Achilles so that I can read Bobbitt’s new tract, Terror and Consent.

AQAL Quote for the Day

From Footnote #48 Excerpt C Vol. 2 of the Kosmos Trilogy:

    48 The postmodern pluralist, who situates truth in local cultural contexts, self-contradictorily denies cross-cultural realities while allowing cross-individual realities, whereas they both face the identical problem: how two individuals anywhere can reach mutual understanding is the only mystery here. How two people from different cultures can understand each other is trivially different from how you and I can understand each other: the extraordinary leap is between any two minds, not any two cultures. If there are enough cross-individual realities between holons to constitute a cultural identity (as claimed by the postmodernist), then there are enough realities between cultures to constitute a global context (as denied by the same postmodernists). The fact of the matter is, nobody understands how “you” and “I” become a “we,” wherever that happens–and to privilege cross-individual cultural “we’s,” as the postmodernists do, while denying all others, is merely green-meme [read: pomo} absolutism.

I think trivially different is not the right phrase.  Understanding between two different cultures does add another (often complicated and complicating) layer to understanding, but the general point is correct:  it is different in degrees not kind (contra cultural island-ism) from the regular mysterious question of how anyone understands anyone else, whether they are members of the same culture or not. 

Published in: on August 11, 2008 at 8:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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