I have stated how I would define a STEAM-based approach to integral here. And I have articulated a vision for a symbolic, ritualistic expression of an integral consciousness. Recently I’ve been wondering if it might also be possible to express the essential integral ethos in a short mantra. Just as mantras such as “equality, liberty, and fraternity” have at times expressed the ethos of previous waves of consciousness, can we sum up integral in a catchphrase or set of most important attributes or defining characteristics? The problem is particularly perplexing because integral by its very definition encompasses so many of the characteristics that have defined previous stages of consciousness and carries them through into its style as attributes of its own nature. It is therefore challenging to articulate the unique characteristics of integral without lapsing into a sort of redundancy (just as you wouldn’t define the sixth grade curriculum by pointing to lessons learned in fourth or fifth grade).
I’ll take a stab at doing so, though only as a thought experiment. I offer some tentative thoughts in that light, and welcome all manner of feedback on the substance and value of the effort. To define the central ethos of integral, I would proceed by looking to the root features of Reality, as best I understand those features, and ask how they are expressing themselves through the integral stage of development. There are other methods of approach that might also be fruitful (for example, introspection or empirical psychological and sociological research into observable behavior and characteristics), but this little thought experiment is looking at the root and going from there to see what we can discover.
The four central tenets of holons are, as I would say for these purposes, Eros (the driving force of Becoming), compassion (the driving force of
rootedness of Being), agency (the masculine style of Being and Becoming), and communion (the feminine style of Being and Becoming). At a minimum, it seems to me, an attempt to concisely define the integral ethos must account for how integral is an expression of Eros and compassion. What unique form do these two drives take when expressed at this particular stage of consciousness evolution?
Let’s begin by considering what’s going on at the integral stage of consciousness in individuals. At this stage, a person’s center of gravity has shifted so that the forms of adaptive intelligence associated with the “integral meme” (to use the Spiral Dynamics term) are so prominent, say, that they guide about 50% of the person’s reactions, perceptions, beliefs, and values. According to Don Beck, common attributes include quality and complexity of decision-making and other cognitive aspects, a quickness of finding solutions, a lack of status motivation, a fearlessness without lack of cautiousness, and curiosity about “just being alive in the expansive universe.” About 25% of the person’s multiple intelligences may reflect first-tier memes, while another 25% may embody higher, mystical, trans-rational stages of awareness.
Although Beck may be correct in saying that integral is characterized by a lack of fear, I would be very careful before using the expression “fearlessness” myself. Because fear in its two primal directions corresponding with Eros and compassion–Phobos and Thanatos–are universal potentialities for all holons. It is more accurate to say that at the integral level of consciousness, old fears (of losing individual immortality, status and success symbols, acceptance by others, etc.) are passing away and new… perhaps deeper, darker, and more terrible fears… are coming into awareness.
Fear manifests as resistance to Being (that is, Thanatos or homophobia, fear of the Same) and resistance to Becoming (that is, Phobos or heterophobia, fear of the Other). In order to see how fear manifests at integral, you must grasp, in a tentative way at least, what integral is, and what it is moving towards. Integral is the adaptive intelligence that is bringing together what has come before it into a coherent whole in which the parts retain their distinctiveness. In other words, relativistic pluralism becomes universal pluralism. Residing in this activity of integration is the mode of Being (you might say, growing Buddhist compassion or homophilia) at the integral wave. And yet there is also an mode of Becoming (you might say, growing Eros or heterophilia), a movement from the integral stage towards the subtle and other trans-rational stages of consciousness. Such stages may broadly be said to describe a deeply felt, embodied, and vital sense of a unity to reality in all its many and diverse energetic forms as they can be understood by using concepts such as stages, types, experiences, angles, and modes. The very rational distinctions of STEAM that made the integral stage of awareness separate from what came before it must be overcome. That which made integral distinctive must die, rise up, and disappear into a higher awareness that is described in various traditions as unity consciousness, transcendence, sacredness, Divinity, or Emptiness.
The guiding spirit of integral, as I see it, must concisely capture the particular movement of this dance of Being and Becoming. You might say that it’s “include” (for compassion) and “transcend” (for Eros). But after reading these phrases over and over again, they start to seem less than fresh. There’s not much zip or zing, at least not to my ears. But here’s a suggestion: equanimity (for compassion) and soul retrieval (for Eros).
Equanimity, “a balanced state of mind characterized by lack of strong attachments,” to express the integral impulse towards Being: overcoming the fears that characterized first-tier ways of Being, reconciling opposites by locating them within a developmental framework or model of reality (stages, the S in STEAM) or some other appropriate tool for bringing coherence to the multiplicity of perspectives on reality (the TEAM in STEAM), sizing up options quickly and moving from paralysis to decisive action, and so forth. The central ethos of these drives can perhaps be characterized by equanimity, “a perfect, unshakable balance of mind, rooted in insight.” (Venerable Nyanaponika Thera). It is an understanding that the apparent conflicts of life originate in faulty or unbalanced perspectives, and that wisdom lies in rising above those partial and unintegrated perspectives. Equanimity includes awareness that knowledge liberates from fear. It includes a notion of “right understanding” without which some traditions say Enlightenment is impossible. Equanimity is going to the very edge of thought, and seeing that the eye of mind can take you no further.
If I choose a Buddhist term for the compassion side of the integral ethos, I choose a term for Eros–soul retrieval–that should resonate to some degree with paganism, shamanism, Judeo-Christian traditions, modern psychotherapeutic traditions, and aspects of the New Age.
If equanimity describes how the integral ethos strives to overcome attachments so that the self, finding greater calmness and harmony, can rest in the fullness of Being, then soul retrieval describes how the integral ethos strives to manifest its total, undivided, and essential nature so that it can dissolve into the emptiness of Becoming. The problem here isn’t merely reconciling opposites through some sort of intellectual exercise, but actually embodying opposites and giving them an expression that is coherent, authentic, and full–whether it’s messy or neat, ugly or beautiful, grotesque or sublime. This work demands, as never before in previous stages of consciousness, liberation from unconsciousness (whether such fetters arise from subconscious shadow or transpersonal realms). It is therefore necessary to reappropriate the wisdom of the shamans that “soul loss is a spiritual illness that causes emotional and physical disease.”Soul retrieval means moving towards a shift in our self sense from personal identity (green or pluralistic relativism) and identity-in-unitas (yellow or universal pluralism) to identity as a soul, or if you prefer, Self (non-self). We human beings exist, I believe, as souls of lightness and darkness and all shades of gray, and that is our true self. Our true nature becomes clear as we uncover the ways that parts of ourselves are split off from our true self, and that is the central task of Becoming at the integral wave.
STEAM is, in part, a systematic way of thinking. Starting with first principles has important benefits, but its first fruits are rather highly abstract. Such is the case with this exercise, which has produced orienting generalizations that must be made more picturesque, concrete, and specific through successive iterations of thought. Turning the abstract into the concrete is, of course, the next stage of the dialectic–going from defining the terms of the subject of the inquiry to actually imagining what the subject looks and feels like–and I expect future posts on this blog will explore this territory. In plain language, it takes time to flesh out a fresh notion. It takes even more effort and time to describe the temperament, personality, and affective structure of that notion. Note that the result of such efforts could eventually give rise to enhanced clarity about the central ethos of integral, though I would not make such a claim at this time, because this un-fleshed-out idea remains quite abstract. Nevertheless, I believe that an approach that begins systematically–for example, in an AQAL approach, based on the core framework of the prime tenets of all holons–contrasts favorably to ad hoc methodologies based on anecdotes, introspection, rationalistic or coherentist reasoning, merely mythopoetic or analogical imagination, or merely subjective efforts to say “this is what integral means to me.” Such efforts may add value in particular contexts, but when they are judged against proven mantras such as “transcend and include” or even, possibly, “equanimity and soul retrieval,” they are revealed to be partial, biased, speculative, and potentially obscurant.
At this point, one might object: Why not call the holonic drive of Eros “equanimity” and the drive of compassion “soul retrieval”? Or, how is it possible to reconcile the rough, emotional, deeply disturbing work of soul retrieval with the calmness, tranquility, and indifference of equanimity? Equanimity and soul retrieval may appear at times to be opposites, perhaps, the two sides of the integral coin, but the challenge before us is to grasp the hidden unity underlying the apparent conflict at the center of this wave of development. The integral ethos–soul retrieval and equanimity–are the storm of Spirit and the eye of the storm, respectively.