The Story of Enlightenment, Part 1: Marc Gafni’s TEDx talk in Las Vegas

Photo Credit: Wonderlane

Today I’ll begin a regular series of posts discussing my own views of the Story of Enlightenment, an important theme in the thought of Marc Gafni, one of the world’s brightest lights in terms of awakened consciousness.

Gafni’s pioneering work on the Enlightenment of Fullness — a vision to be set forth more fully in upcoming books and workshops and trainings — has the potential to revolutionize the world’s view of enlightenment. It is already catalyzing a World Spirituality movement based on integral and evolutionary principles. One of its core ideas, a teaching extended from the Kabbalah tradition, is about understanding the distinction between separateness and uniqueness.

Let’s begin with a 20-minute video on “The Future of Enlightenment” from which outlines the essentials of the vision.

Here’s a quote from one section near the middle of the talk:

The great [religious] traditions are beautiful, they’re holy, stunning, they’re deep. But they’re pre-modern. So if we are going to actually be guided by the shared depths structures of pre-modernity, we’ve made a regressive move. We’ve gone backwards.

So a World Spirituality has to integrate the best and deepest insights of the pre-modern, the modern, and the postmodern. We have to weave those together in a vision that actually allows for a shared story that we can actually transmit  and hold and live in.

It’s not that the story knows everything. There’s so much we don’t know. We hold the uncertainty, we dance in the mystery. But there’s also that which we know. That which we can feel. We know it not because of faith. We’re not interested in faith. We know it not because it’s a dogma someone has told us. We know it because we have first-hand, first-hand experience after having done experiments in Spirit. Having done them in double-blind structures all over the years for thousands of years. We’ve gathered the results. We’ve checked them with the community of the adequate, which is precisely the scientific method, and we have revealed using the faculty of the Eye of the Spirit a shared story, which actually is one which can unite us.

Marc’s first point is that the great traditions are pre-modern. Straightforward enough. Or is it?

Look around at the traditions called “World Religions,” we see that at around 2000 BCE, there were was Judaism and religions in Greece, Rome, and Egypt, and Brahmanism; Theravada Buddhism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism emerged close to 500 BCE, Christianity and Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Shintoism, around 0 CE, give or take a few hundred years. The last great tradition was the founding of Islam around 610 CE, to say nothing today of the important faiths to emerge in the last 200 years.

Continue reading “The Story of Enlightenment, Part 1: Marc Gafni’s TEDx talk in Las Vegas”

What is Integral? What is World Spirituality?

Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber

This morning I am reflecting upon a kind note from a visitor who was inspired by my post “Top 10 signs your spirituality might be integral.”

Maria, who lives in Argentina, wrote:

SR.JOSE PEREZ; Es la primera vez que leo esto que usted propone la espiritualidad ,como algo muy importante ,yo siempre estuve en la busqueda de esa espiritualidad ,y de los diez ,pasos que usted da , creo que en todos me encuentro yo de alguna manera ,Y ademas estan interesante que me gustaria conocer mas , sobre este tema ,para mi la espiritualidad es como estud la presenta ,y yo busco eso el bienestar ,para el futuro de los que vendran a esta tiera que el mismo hombre esta destruyendo ,es por eso que me intereso muchisimo , le agradeceria que si tiene mas informacion ,poder tenerla o copiarla ,o no se , pero me encuentro en cada uno de esas 10 señales . muchisimas gracias .

Thank you, Maria. I read Spanish a bit better than I write Spanish (and with Google Translate I get even better!), so please forgive the English in this reply. I understand that this may be the first time you came across the sort of proposed vision of spirituality that I wrote about, and you would like to study more on the topic. You are moved by a deep concern for the world and the destruction of the planet, and want to learn more about the 10 signs specifically.

Let me tell you about the two labels that I use to situate my spirituality, so you can better see where I am coming from. Those two labels are “Integral” and “World Spirituality.” I believe that if you identify at least in part with many of those 10 signs, then your spirituality is probably already in harmony with “Integral” and “World Spirituality” as I understand them. That’s what I think, but it’s up for you to decide if those labels are helpful to you or not.

Yesterday I shared an academic paper by a scholar named Sean Esbjörn-Hargens. Esbjörn-Hargens describes the philosophical framework upon which people today throughout the world are talking about a World Spirituality based on Integral principles. Specifically, he outlines the major features of the AQAL model of consciousness, which is one of the chief tools that spiritual practitioners have found helpful.

In this paragraph, Sean talks about how the word “Integral,” which was originally used by the esteemed philosopher of Vedanta, Sri Aurobindo, became connected to an American philosopher in the late 1990s. The American philosopher, Ken Wilber, is no ordinary scholar. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Wilber or not, so I’ll say a few words.

Called by some admirers the “Einstein of Consciousness,” by the turn of the Millennium, he had created a philosophical system which reconciled (possibly for the first time) how the Enlightenment thinkers of the East and the psychoanalytical thinkers of the West were all talking about consciousness.

In the mid-1990s, Wilber advanced a vision for a genuine World Philosophy for the 21st century which could usher in an era in which religion, science, and postmodern thinkers could forge deeper connections to heal the planet and overcome obstacles to the full liberation of all people (indeed, all sentient beings). Here’s how Sean describes Wilber’s adoption of “Integral”:

Wilber first began to use the word “integral” to refer to his approach after the publication of his seminal book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality in 1995. It was in this book that he introduced the quadrant model, which has since become iconic of his work in general and integral theory in particular. Wilber’s quadrant model is often referred to as the AQAL model, with AQAL (pronounced ah-qwal) standing for all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, and all types. These five elements signify some of the most basic repeating patterns of reality. Thus, by including all of these patterns you “cover the bases” well, ensuring that no major part of any solution is left out or neglected. Each of these five elements can be used to “look at” reality and at the same time they represent the basic aspects of your own awareness in this and every moment.

Today, Ken Wilber is the most widely translated scholarly writer in the world today, with his books appearing in 24 languages. The goal of AQAL, as Esbjörn-Hargens suggests, is to allow people to carry a vision of the world they live in that is radically inclusive and holistic. What Wilber shows is that such a vision of the world is not merely a look at something happening “out there” somewhere else, but also something that is right in your own awareness right now, if you just open your eyes to look.

Ultimately, Wilber’s philosophy is a smokescreen (that is, a pretense or fiction). He does not want people to stop eating and bathing themselves, caring for their children, going to work, and doing good things in their community…just to sit alone reading philosophy books and staring off into the distance. He wants people to enter fully into life by becoming more aware of what is really going on within themselves and in everything they encounter.

As people become more aware, he shows, they know that they are not separate beings but connected to all things. As we wake up, we know we are not in this world alone, and we become more compassionate and loving. Out of the greater compassion and love flows a higher awareness that instinctively helps us to show up more fully in our relationships and work and spirituality.

This is a long way of beginning to answer your question, I know. You don’t need to read Ken Wilber’s books, though I highly recommend them because they can help to quiet the questioning mind while simultaneously arousing a passion for learning more about spirituality. Ken’s books are a good place for many people to continue their study of an Integral framework (though they aren’t for everyone).

Ken’s works have been one influence in creating international movements called the Integral Spirituality or Evolutionary Spirituality or World Spirituality movement. I don’t want to give you the impression that he’s the head honcho behind the whole thing; there are many people doing many things and he’s one very important part of it. The World Spirituality movement is increasingly today where I find my home, because it recognizes that the Integral Philosophy can be useful intellectually, but it is just the beginning.

World Spirituality, as Marc Gafni conceives it, isn’t a new religion or even really an interfaith religious movement. It is friendly to religion in general, and welcomes people of all faiths, and it doesn’t ask of them to give up their scriptures, rituals, prayers, and relationships that they hold valuable. It doesn’t ask them to shed their particular beliefs in favor of very general beliefs that everyone has in common. It asks us to find God in the world in ourselves, other people, and all things.

World Spirituality gives religious people a “trans-path path,” a way of being in the world as a “dual citizen” of their own faith (if they have one) and as a citizen of World Spirituality. It gives people without a faith an intellectually rigorous way of embracing the best wisdom of mystics of every religion while also embracing science and postmodern insights into the historically conditioned and socio-culturally constructed nature of understanding.

And one of World Spirituality’s core beliefs — which I share and find very exciting — is that enlightenment isn’t only for a rarefied, elite few. It’s for everyone, and it’s very important that everyone raise their consciousness, because our world desperately needs people who are more awake, alive, and aware.


Top 10 Signs Your Spirituality Might Be Integral

Unlike traditional religions, spirituality can be as individual as you are. And when that spirituality is founded on Integral principles, it opens the door wide for expanding human potential for rich inner development, cultural progress, artistic creativity, and spiritual renewal. But how can you tell if your spirituality is really based on integral principles?

If your spirituality is integrally based, it’s a way of being in the world as who you truly are, giving you a roadmap to finding yourself, clarifying your values, facing and healing your shadows, and eventually losing yourself again in the bliss of identity with the driving force of evolution itself: Love. It’s that simple and elegant.

An integral spiritual worldview shows you the divinity of humanity mirrored equally in both our particular and universal identities: male and female, rich and poor, black and white, gay or straight, adult or child, mature or immature. It does not blur differences into a blah sort of fake uniformity, but allows us to be uniquely ourselves, fully human, and fully capable of realizing our divinity.

In fact, maybe you are Integral without even knowing it. Here are 10 signs that your spirituality might be integral:

10. You don’t find yourself easily offended by slights to your ego, subculture, or group identification; therefore “political correctness” has little appeal to you (though you intuitively tend to avoid causing others unnecessary pain through your words or deeds). You look for signs of agreement with others and try to mediate or negotiate solutions whenever possible. You realize that there are more ways to work for justice than complaining that people are being insensitive. You don’t try to silence or shout down those who disagree with you.

9. You have come to a compassionate stance with regard to religious fundamentalists and conservative zealots because you recognize that their own stage of evolution may be less than your own. You know that everyone has a part of the truth. You know that many of the worst problems in the world are caused by people who think they have the full truth when they only have a part. You believe sacred texts such as the Bible are a source of wisdom, even if they contain many teachings which aren’t useful today. You pick your battles for justice carefully and strategically, not by reacting out of anger or fear.

8. You don’t think spirituality and religion are antithetical: Whether or not you have found a spiritual community, you know that being fully human is not strictly an individual affair. You know no person is an island. You may even admire the strong bonds of commitment and devotion shown by the religiously orthodox or traditional, and you long for deeper relations with people in your community and — through virtual communities and/or travel — around the world. When someone asks if you believe in God, before you say yes or no, part of you wonders what they mean by “God” and questions whether you are both talking about the same thing.

7. You don’t look for “explanations” of religion as strictly a subject of interest to biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, social historians, or theologians, but seek comprehensive approaches that include individual and collective dimensions of spiritual experience in subjective and objective perspectives. You believe not only in biological evolution but you are at least open to the possibility that cultures and societies undergo a sort of evolution. You don’t think science and spirituality are opposed. You don’t want to stay “stuck in your head” all the time; however, at the same time, you want your spirituality to be intellectually rigorous, not anti-intellectual.

6. You are non-judgmental not because you want others to like you or you because you seek to avoid being judged by others, but because you recognize your own shadow in everything you judge. You don’t think spiritual people have to be nice all the time. You know that anger — even rudeness — can have a healthy place in the spiritual life. You are skeptical when you hear of spiritual people blaming sick people for causing their own illnesses. You want to be free of shame, but still take responsibility for mistakes and shortcomings without blaming every problem on other individuals or classes of people.

5. You reject beliefs that insist on classifying people into victims and perpetrators, because you know that ultimately Spirit knows no such distinctions and every person has light and dark within themselves. You understand that many -isms such as classism, sexism, racism, and so forth, are wrong and need to be addressed; at the same time, you know that these socio-cultural conventions emerged in the context of a world evolving in greater degrees of Spirit and reflect the concerns of earlier stages in religious and cultural development. You believe strongly in human liberation, but think the ways that most people think of liberation are too limiting.

4. You reject overly simplistic answers to complex questions, and realize that our beliefs about ultimate reality should not seek to diminish, sentimentalize, or rationalize the mysterious and awe-inspiring nature of life. Likewise you try to avoid supposedly certain answers for understanding the mystery of death. Whether you believe in heaven and hell, reincarnation, or are agnostic about the afterlife, you know that human life is purposeful and our actions make a difference in this world. You understand that denial of death is the hallmark of an ego that doesn’t understand its true nature, its higher Self.

3. You are concerned about both ecology and justice not only in your community, but for all people around the world, part of your concern to alleviate the suffering and contribute to the holistic development of all sentient beings. You may have evolved beyond thinking only about people in your community or ethnic group or nation. You may have discovered a worldcentric worldview, one which realizes that in the 21st century it isn’t good enough to only think locally but also to think globally. You are deeply concerned by environmental concerns and protecting the natural world for future generations, but you know that technology isn’t the root of all evils; it can sometimes be the solution.

2. You recognize that Eros pervades every dimension of the world, and you celebrate erotic energy as well as spiritual energy because they are ultimately one. Nevertheless, you give sex a unique role for encountering beauty, expressing blissful play, exercising ethical behavior, and for giving and receiving love. You aren’t afraid to talk about subtle energies of yin and yang or masculine and feminine. You know that our gender and sexual roles are biologically, culturally, and sociologically conditioned; at the same time you recognize that there are meaningful cross-cultural patterns and universals that we can benefit from understanding.

1. You aren’t afraid to see your own divinity, inside and out. You may worry about arrogance sometimes, but you don’t think pride is the worst sin. You know that having self-esteem is important and that it is only genuine when it is based on recognition of your intrinsic worth, gorgeous uniqueness, and inner divinity. You know it’s safe to “come out of the closet” about both your shadows and your light, and doing so is central to your spiritual journey.  You strive to overcome all limited conceptions of who you are into a fully authentic sense that accepts everything that arises in an integral embrace as not distinct from your own highest Self.

If you look at your life and beliefs and see some or all of these signs, then you are discovering that you may already have an Integral worldview. I hope you’ll enjoy learning more about the Integral philosophy of life and World Spirituality. Follow me, Joe Perez, on Facebook and Twitter and learn more about my approach to spirituality on Awake, Aware & Alive.

Designing the iPod of Spirituality


I love this article about the 5 chief lessons Tony Fadell, formerly of Apple, learned about introducing new products. Now he’s invented the “iPod of thermostats.” If Brett Thomas is correct about integral needing to become more like Apple to reach its next breakthrough moment, and I think he is, then World Spirituality (by whatever name) can benefit from learning all of these lessons.

LESSON #1 Reintroduce a product //Apple is credited with creating new markets, but that oversimplifies the feat. What Apple really did was let people interact differently with products they already knew. That’s why Fadell saw so much promise in thermostats: 10 million are sold every year, but only 11% of users actively program them to save energy. “People treat it like a light switch, adjusting it manually 1,500 times a year,” Fadell says. “What we’re doing is making them think, Yes, there’s got to be a better way.”

LESSON #2 Build up slowly //Fadell has plans for a full thermostat ecosystem–multifunction, iOS-like software upgrades, connecting with lots of devices. But for now, he’s just offering the ability to control it from any laptop or mobile device. That’s because Apple taught him to go slow: Let people understand and buy into the device, then build a world around them step by step. “If we’d come out with the iPhone of home-energy management, people would just get confused,” he says.

LESSON #3 Design for one function // The thermostat, like the iPod, is controlled by one large circular dial–and not just because people like whirling their fingers. “You have to think, What are people going to do with the device 99% of the time? Make sure every detail supports that main interaction,” Fadell explains. “The iPod is about scrolling through long lists with one hand, and a thermostat is about dialing the temperature up or down.”

LESSON #4 The experience starts in the box //The iPod was exciting before you even turned it on, thanks to what Fadell calls the “unboxing experience”–the compact, comprehensive packaging. His thermostat’s unboxing is built with that in mind. It comes with a custom-manufactured screwdriver, and a level indicator is built into the back casing so customers know if the unit hangs straight on the wall. “This isn’t cheap,” Fadell says. “But when you take it out of the box, you want it to be easy to install–at all costs.”

LESSON #5 Make it a status symbol //The iPod’s earphones were designed to give it an “iconic design language,” Fadell says–a symbol of hipness, intended to be shown off. He similarly designed the thermostat to be a badge–a “jewel on the wall,” he says. “It’s a symbol of a green home. You’ve never seen a kid go up to a thermostat and go, ‘Whoa, cool!’ But kids who see ours do that. And if they’re interested now, they’ll be even more so in 20 years when they become homebuyers.”

via Fast Company.

Those of us engaged in World Spirituality are really co-inventing the “iPod of Spirituality,” a product that lets people interact differently with spirituality as they have previously known it. We are making it programmable, so it adjusts to our unique station in life, allowing it to regulate our life and “save our soul” and “heal the planet.”

To expand the Operating System metaphor of Ken Wilber’s, we are upgrading the product that lets people connect with lots of different domains of life — art, science, religion, health, politics, culture — making it more flexible, flowing, and mobile. Our task is letting people understand the new vision of spirituality and win their buy in to its capabilities. Then, we “build a world around them step by step.”

Apple designed the iPod for just one function: playing great music that you can take with you wherever you go. Now the World Spirituality movement must reach inside itself to identify that special function that will become its defining characteristic. Is it its capacity for interdisciplinary meta-theorizing of academic discourse? Is it its capacity for training leaders to be more flexible and creative in their decision-making, or resolving conflict and driving productivity within organizations? Is it its capacity to upgrade theology to an Integral Theory of Religion within religious institutions?

Of course, all of these are possibilities and there is a role for each one. But my answer is to say that the core function of World Spirituality is to provide the platform or foundation for charting a path of self-realization from the conventional self to the radically self-realized person, and then to the ultimately trans-personal Self. In short, it’s a way of being in the world as who you truly are, giving people a roadmap to finding themselves, clarifying their values, facing and healing their shadows, and eventually losing themselves again in the bliss of identity with the driving force of evolution itself: Love. It’s that simple and elegant.

Something like this is the Next Chapter of Integral, I imagine; at least in the form that is shaping up in the World Spirituality community. I can’t wait for the next iteration of World Spirituality to come into public focus, one which helps to “democratize enlightenment,” as Marc Gafni puts it. But we don’t need to wait for the latest and greatest Integral book to be released. This is our moment. The world needs us to be more fully ourselves right now, more connected and plugged-in to the divine spirit which moves within us all.

Are Big Ideas dead? Here’s one to watch out for

Photo Credit: QisurIf a philosopher announced a Theory of Everything in the forest, but nobody was around to hear it, would it still be a Theory of Everything? Just asking.

In “The Elusive Big Idea,” Neal Gabler tells us that if there were a Big Thinker alive in America today that it’s quite possible few people would even learn her or his name. He writes:

This isn’t to say that the successors of Rosenberg, Rawls and Keynes don’t exist, only that if they do, they are not likely to get traction in a culture that has so little use for ideas, especially big, exciting, dangerous ones, and that’s true whether the ideas come from academics or others who are not part of elite organizations and who challenge the conventional wisdom. All thinkers are victims of information glut, and the ideas of today’s thinkers are also victims of that glut.

But it is especially true of big thinkers in the social sciences like the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, who has theorized on everything from the source of language to the role of genetics in human nature, or the biologist Richard Dawkins, who has had big and controversial ideas on everything from selfishness to God, or the psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who has been analyzing different moral systems and drawing fascinating conclusions about the relationship of morality to political beliefs. But because they are scientists and empiricists rather than generalists in the humanities, the place from which ideas were customarily popularized, they suffer a double whammy: not only the whammy against ideas generally but the whammy against science, which is typically regarded in the media as mystifying at best, incomprehensible at worst. A generation ago, these men would have made their way into popular magazines and onto television screens. Now they are crowded out by informational effluvium….

We have become information narcissists, so uninterested in anything outside ourselves and our friendship circles or in any tidbit we cannot share with those friends that if a Marx or a Nietzsche were suddenly to appear, blasting his ideas, no one would pay the slightest attention, certainly not the general media, which have learned to service our narcissism.

Gabler’s analysis is astute, but some say it may be just another example of narcissism.

Megan Garber on the narcissism of media elites

Megan Garber makes an excellent point: the article has an unstated premise about what constitutes a Big Idea. She writes:

In the Gablerian information environment, the Big Idea is a function of Big Media: The two both purify and amplify each other, entwined so tightly that it’s hard to tell where the one ends and the other begins.

In other words, duh-pocalypse is at hand.

Which would all be very alarming and unfortunate, were it not for the flaw in Gabler’s premise: Ideas don’t need the media any more than the media need ideas. They’ve relied on each other in the past, true enough — media as the gatekeepers, ideas as the floods — but the present media moment is characterized above all by the fact that ideas, Big and otherwise, can be amplified independently of traditional media filters. The public, online, is empowered to decide for itself which ideas are worthy of changing the world.

Doh! She had me until the end. She is correct that the measure of an idea’s importance is at least in part relative and subjective, and then she virtually replaces the arbiter of bigness from the New York Times to Digg, Twitter, and StumbleUpon. Hers like Garber’s is a point of view sharing some of the characteristics typical of postmodernism: a relativization of truth, a democratization of values (“Who needs ‘Big’ Ideas anyway?”), and a suspicion of elite knowledge.

These articles got me thinking today about proposing a different, more integral, definition of an idea’s bigness: what is its uptake by individuals at the highest levels of ego-development, leadership maturity, stage of faith, psychological structure, or altitude of consciousness that a culture has yet produced.

An alternative proposal for measuring the Big Ideas

In other words, let’s take all the developmental models that have ever been created from Aurobindo to James Mark Baldwin, Jean Piaget to Terri O’Fallon, Carol Gilligan to Ken Wilber, Abraham Maslow to Robert Kegan, James Fowler to Michael Lerner, Jane Loevinger to Susanne Cook-Greuter, and so on, and then ask the individuals scoring highest whose ideas have been the most influential? Which living thinker’s ideas have the most ability to transform not only what people think about, but how people think?

The answer they’d likely arrive at by majority if not consensus: the “most important living philosopher you’ve never heard of.”

Surely it is objectionable that this would be an obviously elitist measure of importance. Why not just measure, say, IQ, and get the ranking of importance according to the highest IQ individuals? Why not just poll tenured faculty at Ivy League universities? Those are perfectly fine measurements as well.

Let’s ask all those groups which thinkers qualify as having the Biggest Ideas … and compare the results from all of these avenues and Gabler’s index of thinkers frequently mentioned on page one of the New York Times and Garber’s list of thinkers with the most Twitter followers. If we did so, they would each tell us interesting data points about today’s intellectual climate.

However, I suspect only the survey of highly self-realized and evolved individuals would actually provide insights that could really transform culture … because only such a survey could shed light on how other individuals might evolve, and how our culture might evolve, and how our social systems might evolve.

Ideas with or without brands: thinking in a post-idea world

Now it may convincingly be objected that even if all these surveys of Big Idea Thinkers were conducted, the news would be a trending hashtag on Twitter for about 30 seconds (if that), hit page A8 of the New York Times, and just as quickly be forgotten.

Garber writes:

Ideas increasingly resist branding. The idea of the idea is evolving. We don’t treat Google like a Big Idea — though, of course, that’s most definitely what it is; we treat it like Google. Ditto Facebook, ditto Twitter, ditto Reddit and Wikipedia. Those new infrastructures merge idea and practice, ars and tecnica, so seamlessly that it’s easy to forget how big (and how Big) the ideas that inform them actually are. Increasingly, the ultimate upshot of the Big Idea — the changed world, the bettered world — is bypassing the idea stage altogether…. Far from living in a post-idea world, we’re creating a world so thoroughly saturated with new ideas that we’re shedding the need to distinguish them as ideas in the first place. Thought is everywhere…. Ideas don’t need to be branded as such to change the course of history.

She makes some interesting points, but I’m not at all convinced about her central one. She says that the idea of the idea is evolving, but she never says what idea it is evolving into. Instead, she points to Google and Wikipedia as if this answer were “most definitely” self-explanatory. But it is not.

Saying that Google is a Big Idea in the 21st century is no more convincing than saying that the toga and sandal were the Big Ideas of ancient Greece. She is confusing technology for the intellectual theory-and-practice that generates the technology. She acknowledges that Google is “informed by” big ideas, but what is she speaking of? C+? Java? The semiconductor? Or philosophers of modernity like Rene Descartes or American pragmatism like William James? It’s not clear.

I am also wondering why she lists mainly cool, fun social media technologies in a world rife with famine, disease, warfare, and poverty. She also doesn’t mention any poets, artists, or musicians as having Big Ideas. Hers is so partial and biased a list it’s worrisome. But then that’s the thing: when she doesn’t have any Big Ideas giving her a comprehensive framework of reference, she doesn’t seem to notice that the technologies dominating her awareness are just one part of a much bigger picture.

Big thoughts return in a post-post-idea world

I think there is a Big Idea in the air that isn’t mentioned in Neal Gabler’s short list of ideas from comprehensive thinkers. The idea of the idea is evolving into a complex set of interactions of ontology, epistemology, and methodology. It is this set of interwoven interactions that is capable of making sense of today’s complexity and diversity: how our world exists in many stratums of development in natural, cultural, sociological, and psychological levels, and how such development can be mapped in an integral view that can help us to manage the complexity.

Contra Garber, Google and so forth are not the Big Ideas. They are technological outputs largely created at the intersection of individuals at autonomous or post-autonomous levels of development in a substantially modern-to-postmodern culture in a post-industrial economy. The world is much bigger than Facebook and Reddit, requiring far more comprehensive and inclusive perspectives. What it needs are frameworks capable of grasping the interdisciplinary interactions of ideas and practices in as many domains of knowledge and practice possible.

That’s not exactly a message that’s easy to convey in 140 characters or less … but it does say something about our time that there are millions of people going about their business working on just such integral approaches as I’ve described without a lot of attention by the New York Times and never trending on Twitter.

I agree that ideas don’t need to be branded as such to change the course of history. Sometimes they can sneak up on you, great ideas that were there all along that you just didn’t pay attention to because they didn’t get the page A1 treatment by our media barons. One such brand to watch out for is Integral.

A letter to Sam Harris: the world will never be ready for libertarianism

sam-harris-from-samharrisdotcomPosted to Sam Harris’s “Contact the Author” page:

Hello Sam,

Although I have all the same interests as you (though my Philosophy degree is from Harvard) and few of the same positions, I really admire the stand you took in your recent blog post on “How Rich is Too Rich?”

So much so, it was one of the first times I posted anything about you in as long as I can remember. Your questions were fantastic, your imagination was far-sighted, and your courage to speak outside the maturity zone of your most fanatical readership was joyful.

What a coincidence that just as you are saying incredibly smart things about Ayn Rand, I was just writing a bit about her last week on my post, “As the world searches for a 21st-century philosophy, Objectivism and Integral thought vie in Russia.”

I’ve long wondered why you’ve avoided saying anything publicly about Integral thought (which surely you must know about), and long suspected it had to do with your unwillingness to confront the strong “autism rebranded” maturity level apparent in so much of your readership. But now with your post, “How to Lose Readers Without Even Trying,” I see I might have been wrong. I guess we all get the readership we deserve eventually, and I wish you luck in replacing some of those “You are scum” readers with more suitable ones.

I’m sure our paths will cross in person one day. Until then, thanks for pushing back against your rebellious readers in the way you did.

Hasta lluego,

Joe Perez

P.S.: The world will never, ever be ready for libertarianism. It is only in recent centuries been ready for individual liberty, and if current trends in cultural development continue, the next thing we will be ready for is a more integral politics, not a return to the wild west.

Cross-posted to my blog at

I’m not holding my breath for a reply, but I have much admiration for the guy and like the direction in which his thought is evolving. Maybe someday he’ll even look carefully at the evolution in his thought, identify the patterns that connect it all together, and consider whether he needs to take development seriously.

Photo Credit:

A Review of William Harryman’s Integral Options Cafe Blog

Back in June 2005, William Harryman started an eclectic blog on an “integral worldview” with attention given to Ken Wilber’s work, Spiral Dynamics, psychology, Buddhism, and other topics. Since then, the Integral Options Cafe has remained remarkably consistent and prolific save for a welcome deepening of its investigation and critiques of neuroscience-related articles.

The author isn’t shy about revealing glimpses of his personal life, sharing his progressive political opinions, and inveighing against gurus who he sees as abusive. Whether or not his mindset reflects a truly integral consciousness is something readers can decide for themselves. Personally I have found his heart-wide-open poetry more consonant with his deeply held and lived spiritual principles than his diatribes.

Many posts appear to virtually reprint entire articles wholesale, which can raise alarms for readers concerned with the erosion of intellectual property in online media. No prolific blogger I know is entirely pure when it comes to strict obedience to copyright law, but Bill does take this practice farther than many.

In my view, Bill occasionally veers into off-base asides or wanders onto a caustic and uncharitable tone that is downright mean (as when he has speculated wildly on the health issues of Wilber), but these shortcomings do not make his blog mainly unreadable. If nothing else, the enormity of links and news items is a collection difficult to find anywhere else.

More curious, I feel, is that in its structure and content the blog seem to ape the all-too-familiar design, appearance, and conventions of the mainstream blogosphere, whereas this reader would prefer to see its author take more risks. Considering that the integral philosophy claims to offer a revolutionary worldview that breaks the chains of “first-tier” thinking, Bill’s format and content here seem disconcertingly conventional. And the consistency of the blog over five years also raises the question of the author’s own development over this span of time and whether the blog has kept pace or if it reflects a static state.

There are many integral options, and Bill’s vision is certainly a valuable one that will be especially resonant with Buddhists and some critics of Ken Wilber. His path is continually evolving and the reader willing to cross some barbwire fences can find interesting views and links here on a lively mosaic of topics.

Note: This review originally appeared on, Aug. 24, 2010

Letter from a reader of Soulfully Gay

Dear Joe,

Last week I was at Barnes & Noble, had just finished my latte and my book, Eat Pray Love (great), was walking out of the store glancing at books on a table display, and saw the words “Soul,” “Gay,” and “Integral,” so of course your book just jumped off the shelf into my hands. I stood there reading Ken Wilber’s amazing Forward and bought the book immediately, as I am a lesbian and a Ken Wilber nut. I finished reading it a couple of days ago and was extremely impressed.

I live in Denver, Colorado. I went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, got a couple of master’s in Sacred Music and Choral Conducting, spent four years as a full-time minister of music at a large church in Houston, was fired for being gay in 1967, went back to school to become a freelance court reporter, which lasted for 30 years, and I’m now 67 and four years into retirement.

Do you remember in Boomeritis when Ken says that people have spurts of growth in their 20s and also after retirement (geeks and geezers)? Well, I’m one of the geezers. Meanwhile, I helped start Denver PFLAG in 1980, and later formed and conducted four gay choruses: the PFLAG Festival Chorus, the Denver Women’s Chorus, the Celebration ’90 Festival Chorus (a world chorus for the Gay Games in Vancouver in 1990), and Harmony: a Colorado Chorale. I stopped conducting 12 years ago, but still go to all the concerts.

My lover Judith and I met in PFLAG and have been together 24 years this month, and we’ve also been involved in Soulforce at their demonstrations in Denver for the Episcopalians, Washington D.C. for the Catholic bishops, and Colorado Springs for Focus on the Family twice.

Several years ago we both read Grace and Grit. I thought it was one of the best books I had ever read, but several years later Judith read in the newspaper that Ken Wilber was appearing at Tattered Cover Book Store in downtown Denver to sign his novel Boomeritis, so we jumped at the chance to meet him. I took that book with me to the mountains as a summer read, and it blew my mind and, as they say, the rest is history. I organized a group of my friends (18 actually showed up) to discuss the book twice, then I read A Theory of Everything, A Brief History of Everything, One Taste, A Simple Feeling of Being, The Marriage of Sense and Soul, The Essential Ken Wilber, and most recently Integral Spirituality.

That last one is a tough one, but we just finished a discussion group that took it on… So it’s easy to see why I related so much to your book. I have also lost many friends to aids and have four very good friends who are still living with it and doing very well…

…My life has classically passed through all the stages, Christianity for 27 years, nothing for 13 years, Science of Mind for 15 or 20 years, and then Ken stepped in and blew it all to hell. And now….maybe Integral. I hope so. Anyway, thanks for writing Soulfully Gay. I did appreciate it so much…

And I will take your book with me to the Meetup group this Wednesday, June 6, and suggest that they may want to read it. I’ve met thousands of gay men in my work with PFLAG and all the choruses over the years, but your book gave me some new insights into gay men about things that most people don’t have the guts or gumption to talk about in public, at least not to women. I did notice that it was almost entirely about men, and I wondered if you have had much contact with lesbians on your path.



Thanks for permission to reprint your letter. To address your last question, I realize that Soulfully Gay is primarily about my experiences as a gay man so there’s not much that’s directly related to the experiences of others as such.

As for whether I’ve encountered lesbians on my path: yes, but not enough. (I tend to have more women friends in my life the more I’m engaged in social service work, which has been on and off.) I want to eventually do a follow-up book which will explore more richly the various experiences of women, lesbians, bisexuals, the transgendered, and other sexual minorities and gender outlaws. There’s still a lot of room for me to grow in my understanding of human nature by encountering “otherness” and growing together in friendship and love.

Response to Dallman on integral and conservativism

My response to Matthew Dallman’s post, “Response to Perez,” on integral and conservativism:

Ordinarily when another blogger or commenter is as disrespectful, slippery, and frustratingly obtuse as I have found you to be in our public and private (e-mailed) interactions, I just cut off the dialogue. But since I believe there are extenuating circumstances here–namely, that you also find me (to my surprise and displeasure) disrespectful towards you–I will continue for a while longer and continue, as I have all along, to treat you and your views with respect, even when we strongly disagree. In my experience, when two people both are convinced that the other has been rude and disrespectful, chances are good that there is fault on both sides.

In your “Response to Perez,” you twice denied ever linking your approach to integral as conservativism with a speed of decision making. This flat out isn’t true. On your own blog and Tuff Ghost’s blog, you write: “I find the ‘preferring of gradual development to abrupt change’ to be closest to what I’m referring to when I associated the integral worldview with conservatism.” When I paraphrase this exact statement of yours quite accurately, you throw at me charges that I have attributed “words/conclusions to [you] that [you] did not say” and that I have been “poor about this since we started jousting…” Later you say “Actual speed is not a factor, and it certainly is nothing I’ve even mentioned.” Yes, you did. It’s in the public record. And then you denied it, in the public record.

Are you starting to see why it is frustrating to joust with you, guy? It would be one thing if you simply forgot you said something and then later said “my bad” and we’d shrug it off because Lord knows we all make mistakes. But in my experience with you in repeated exchanges, your ongoing style seems to be to do or say one thing, deny it, and then get angry with the other person and accuse them of basically doing what you’re doing. Am I wrong? That’s my experience, and how I interpret it. Perhaps others have other experiences with you. I love to share ideas with someone as bright and gifted as you are, but I experience your way of debating as exasperating.

You also write: “I did not accuse you of hot air.” Yes, you did. Here are your exact words:

My comment is that I see where you might be going with this, but this is still pretty vague and generalized in an abstract way that verges on uselessness. “Memes” is almost a meaningless word through misuse; more particular “ideas”, “notions”, “behaviors”, etc. serve better, imo, because the choice of such alternative requires one to clarify the context one intends to examine, and then prescribe their “revolutionary” change upon. Else this is just hot air, and unearned.

And here’s how I would paraphrase what you wrote on the comment above: you say that I write in a “pretty vague and generalized in an abstract way that verges on uselessness,” used “meaningless” jargon, and unless I answer your charges then I am just puffing “hot air” and doing so in a way that is “unearned.” Is that a bad paraphrase? I don’t think so. Do you see how a reasonable person could conclude that your assertion that “I did not accuse you of hot air” rings hollow, at best? In any case, the words are all clear, and they’re all in the public domain. I’d say that whether or not you are right about me being full of hot air, yours was a pretty rude comment, especially considering that it was offered on my own weblog. Obviously you disagree and would surely deny being rude, because this morning you paint yourself as a innocent victim of my own disrespectful behavior towards you. Again, I find this sort of interaction to be exasperating. I’m tired of trying to refute your own denials of words available for all to see, so I’ll simply say that our readers can draw their own conclusions.

You also assert that I am painting you with a “rationalist” brush. You’ve stated that you think this is wrong, unhelpful, unfriendly, and undignified. You hold yourself as superior for having not “painted me with any term.” You say that you alone address my “ideas and concepts,” whereas I am guilty of insulting personal attacks. Look, we’ve had a private correspondence on the subject of psychographs and memes and so forth, and I intend to rehash none of that here. Let’s just say we’re miles apart. I notice in what you say (I’m paraphrasing here, these are my words, and I believe they are totally accurate) that you want to remove all non-rational content from debate (you call such non-rational aspects a psychograph), and stick to (to quote you exactly) “reasoning aired in the public sphere.” Every other type of public discourse aside from “reasoning” is, by implication, illegitimate in your eyes.

But privileging reasoning over other sorts of discourse is a feature of the rationalist/orange vMeme! When I point this out, I do so not to be mean or nasty or to say that you are “lower” in evolution than “moi,” but simply because it’s true. I could probably cite a dozen other examples off the top of my head where you privilege rationalist/orange or orange/blue concepts and values over non-rationalist ideas and values. But if I did, I’m sure you would deny each and every one, so what’s the use in trying? I’m out of patience. In my writing on Rising Up, the affinity between a person’s rhetoric and a value meme is often worth pointing out. I’m not claiming that your center of gravity is at blue or orange or any other color. I’ve never used those words, even as I’ve accurately described your discourse as rationalistic when it is. I don’t do that sort of psychological criticism (except on my really close friends, he he he). I’m saying that your ideas and discourse are, in specific limited instances, rationalistic. I have also stated more or less that I suspect your non-AQAL version of integral is a rationalist/integral hybrid of some sort, but that I withhold judgment for now. That’s a fair sort of thing to say, isn’t it? Why should I stop making these sorts of observations and judgments, as you demand, simply because you think they’re personal attacks of some sort?

On CJ Smith’s comments that he thinks you’re right about integral being identical to conservativism, I disagree with you both strongly. I haven’t responded to him yet, but perhaps I will in the future. For now, let me just say that he says that he missed your re-definition of “conservatvism” as “sociological conservativism.” I didn’t miss that, though I didn’t explicitly mention it in my first post. I just don’t think it matters to the broader question or whether it’s a good thing to define the essential ethos of integral by a term such as “conservativism.” See my earlier arguments for why. (Note: In your Response to Tuff Ghost, you say that you advocate a “broader characterization of ‘conservative’ distinct from its political meaning,” but this is potentially misleading. Your original post made it clear that the political meaning of conservativism is included and transcended in the sociological meaning. So to say that you are advocating conservative that is “distinct from” its political meaning seems deceptive, almost as if you are sneaking in the political conservativism through the backdoor.)

On the cancer example, I agree that it’s an extreme example. That’s intentional. Crisis response doesn’t happen every day, but life regularly throws crises at us. You say you may have more to say later. Perhaps I will, too.

On “appropriateness” vs “gradual/rapid,” as I’ve noted earlier, you did introduce the slow/fast distinction in your reply to TuffGhost (when you cited the dictionary definition of conservativism and said you agreed with it, I’ve quoted your exact words above). Anyways, you assert that there is no difference between “appropriate” and a conservative approach, but I disagree. That’s only true if you redefine conservativism to always mean the right and proper choice in any circumstance. Then it’s true. Yeah, right.

I think the falling tree example is a good example where “informed restraint” works. But to make the example fail, all you have to do is propose that there is an immediate crisis that demands a pre-rational or trans-rational response. Perhaps there is a downed power line or something like that. Integral isn’t about always choosing the rational response; it’s about being able to draw freely upon pre-, rational, or trans- approaches flexibly in the moment. When you say integral is “informed restraint” for “reasonable people” (exact quotes), I suspect that you would disagree. I realize that the last time I said something like that you responded by saying that I was badly misinterpreting you and throwing out nearly “useless” jargon, so I don’t expect that you will agree with me now.

As for your claim that I’ve not “grasped even the black and white about what [you’re] saying,” you may be right or you may be wrong, but if you’re right, it’s not for my lack of trying. I have responded above to your complaints that I am insulting you or painting you as a rationalist. I have no intention to be unkind or to insult, nor to engage in demagoguery, or perform for an audience, your parade of charges notwithstanding. (Do you really believe that you have never made any claims about my motivations, even as you say–and then in the same breath deny that you are really saying–that perhaps I am challenging you merely to “cater to [my] audience”? I’m not even sure what that means, but it sounds sinister.) On Rising Up, my aim is to show integral thinking in action, as best I know it, imperfectly as that may be. Your view of integral is very different than mine. It’s non-AQAL, we agree (and therefore non-STEAM-compliant, he he he), and so it’s certainly of interest. I think it’s worthwhile to point out differences between our views of integral and try to learn from the dialogue.

You accuse me of “arrogance in discourse.” (Never mind that you had earlier claimed that only I am guilty of making personal attacks or character assessments, whereas you are pure of this sin.) I’m not sure that I want to deny that, because sometimes I intentionally affect an attitude that is dismissive or condemnatory when I choose not to offer, at that place and time, a fuller response, but wish to express my disapproval. I think this is very common on the blogosphere, and I think it’s a fair and effective rhetorical approach to blog-writing and blog-commenting. Apparently it’s not to your taste. Fine. You don’t have to like how I write my blog. But since you specifically assert that I have been disrespectful to one Jim Andrews, let me say here that I think my response to Andrews (about 800 words on Integral Naked, plus about 200 words on TimBomb’s blog) was exactly what the piece deserved. Other writers on Integral Naked expressed all the criticisms that I felt were necessary, and chiming in with “me too” seemed excessive. You had a more positive assessment of Andrews’s essay. Good for you. We disagree on that. But simply because I decided not to write an extended essay on Andrews’s piece doesn’t mean that I disrespect him or his work. The best conclusion to draw, in my opinion, is that I don’t think highly enough of the work to write about it extensively at this time. What’s wrong with that?

On whether or not your work denies trans-rational and intuition, all I’ve said is that in your writings that propose to define the ethos of integral as conservativism, even conservativism as specially defined by you in a sociological sense that includes and transcends political conservativism, you have privileged rationalistic values over pre- and trans-rational values. You have done so specifically and exactly by proposing to define the integral ethos in a way that emphasizes features of conservativism that are, by their nature, first-tier (rationalistic) values. It’s not wrong to assert that integral includes conservativism or that features of integral are similar to features of conservativism, but you’ve gone beyond that and stressed that conservativism is the defining ethos of integral. That’s a privileging of some first-tier values over others in a way that I think is inappropriate, your assertions to the contrary notwithstanding. I’ve engaged in discussion and offered examples to clarify my original opinion, and have reached the end of my willingness to dialogue on this topic with you. I’m sorry that you feel that my interpretations of you are “batty.” I disagree. Our readers can decide for themselves.

It’s extremely rare that I respond to a comment with a 2,000 word post, however in this case the distortions of my writing were simply too egregious to allow them to stand without answering each and every one. Please don’t conclude that this sort of post is par for the course around here. I prefer shorter, friendlier posts on Rising Up. I hope this sort of post won’t be necessary often in the future.

More on integral and conservativism

More bloggers are chiming in on the “is integral conservative?” question: ebuddha and William. My views are here with a follow-up note here. While I acknowledge that there are important parallels between the integral ethos and conservativism as it might be defined in some sort of non-political sense, I disagree with those writers who would elevate or privilege conservative principles over the values and attributes of liberalism or any other value system.

Ebuddha’s claim that integral is more Apollonian than Dionysian–and his subsequent suggestion that this is like suggesting that the integral ethos is conservative–is interesting. I am certain there is truth to this in practice, just as I think it’s true that the integral philosophy has so far had a greater appeal to men than to women. However, I’m not willing to accept his generalization that “Ken Wilber’s Integralism is an archetypal manifestation of Apollo,” as I think that’s a reading of a major thrust, but not the entirety of Wilber’s work. When Wilber’s spiritual writings on nondual mysticism are given their due, and his emphasis on the vitality of including Descending as well as Ascending currents is weighed in, it seems clear to me that Wilber’s philosophy (yes) includes and transcends both Apollo and Dionysus.

Update: On a comment at Tuff Ghost’s blog, I clarify my resistance to calling the integral ethos conservative. Here’s an edited version of my response to Matthew Dallman:

The claim is that integral is conservative in the sense that is the “preferring of gradual development to abrupt change.” Personally, I agree with the idea of gradual change, and this is well suited to my temperament. However, I don’t see a preference for one pace of societal change over another as intrinsic to integral thinking.


What I do see is the ethical impulse to “protect and defend the health of the spiral as a whole,” which is something very much like an impulse of restraint that you’ve described, but not exactly. Call it stewardship if you like. Integral stewardship is a demand to STOP pathological memes from inflicting suffering on others, and a need to DEFEND the spiral as a whole. These drives may lead someone to advocate sudden, rapid, even revolutionary change if necessary. They see the need to do “whatever it takes,” and they respond with the appropriate degree of flow. Such responses are, in my view, fully integral. They do not seek to impose upon the grand forces of reality (I call it Spirit) a time-frame and demand that change happen according to a set calendar that is always prudent and minimizes disruption to the status quo. Integral is able to ride the turbulent waves of Spirit, bracing even for the occasional tsunami, and respond flexibly in the moment.


Therefore, I’m more comfortable with saying not that integral prefers SLOW over FAST change, but with saying that integral prefers APPROPRIATE change. I’m not comfortable with saying that integral always rejects or is incompatible with radicalism; I think integral strives to integrate the radicalist’s impulses into an ethical framework that minimizes harm and maximizes progress. Of course, you (Matthew) and I disagree on what integral is all about, so let me add in conclusion that these comments reflect my understanding of integral as it is described by Ken Wilber’s AQAL model and as it is embraced by STEAM. Your mileage may vary, if you’re talking about something else that may be called integral.