Here’s the new template boilerplate for this blog:
STEAM is a systematic way of thinking, an interconnected mode of being, and a comprehensive model for transformations of self, culture, and world… it’s about being authentic to your life’s purpose, embracing the ineffable and ever-present Oneness of Being and realizing ever expanding degrees of compassion and love… some call this approach integral or AQAL; others call it second-tier or post-postmodernism… I call it STEAM-powered living, and this blog is all about rising up to realize our true nature.
A careful reader will notice that I’ve de-emphasized “integral” in this statement of my blog’s mission. Why? I’ve decided that integral is too vague for some of my needs, so I’m taking a closer look at the ways that I’m describing my approach to writing this blog.
Here are some common questions that arise as a result of the vagueness of integral talk, stated as generically as possible: Is such and such integral? Is this or that something an integral person would say or do? How do you know if such and such is really integral?
Defining integral is an important step in being able to have meaningful conversations about such questions. At least the dictionary definition is clear: integral means “composed of integral parts; lacking nothing essential.” If anything’s got the essentials, it’s integral.
Today integral is a word that’s getting a heavy burden placed on it by many people. As I see it, today there are a large and growing number of systematic and evolutionary thinkers in many disciplines whose work is pointing towards new ways of thinking that have many broad, overlapping similarities. Different thinkers describe those connections in different ways.
The most comprehensive thinker that I know who has charted those similarities and differences is Ken Wilber. But his theories (written in over twenty books) require a depth of study that few people have the time or inclination for; and even among those sympathetic to Wilber’s approach, there are differences of opinion about precisely what is and isn’t really integral. Integral is not only an intellectual position, it is an embodied movement in personal, cultural, and socio-political development. As such, it is embodied at many different levels of self-consciousness.
“Ken Wilber doesn’t own integral,” as someone recently said on an online forum. True enough, however that’s like saying that Hegel didn’t own German idealism or that Freud didn’t own psychoanalysis. It seems silly to have to rebut the notion that any individual can own such a vast movement as integral, and yet it is sometimes necessary. Wilber himself has made similar observations many times. However, Ken Wilber and Integral Institute have recently taken steps to protect the intellectual property associated with a particular variety of integral theory and practice techniques. Thus, they have been using the trademark symbol on such words as AQAL™, an acronym short for “all quadrants, all levels…” To me that sounds like it’s probably a prudent step. I’m not a lawyer, but from where I stand as a writer it’s actually quite helpful in distinguishing between flavors of integral. There’s generic integral or second-tier consciousness or post-postmodernism, and then there’s Ken Wilber’s version of integral: AQAL. (Actually, you can probably just say “Ken Wilber’s version of integral” and be generally understood.)
Every spiritual teacher, philosopher, or writer who is bold or stupid enough to call their work integral could have their own integral approach that says “this is how I’ve fleshed out the details,” and nobody need ever get confused. If a controversy arose as to whether Joe Blow’s work is integral, at the very least you’ve got a benchmark that allows you to say, “Well, it may or may not be integral, but it’s definitely AQAL-compliant.”
My own approach to integral has been to follow the AQAL model in a broad sort of way, and then fill in the details as they come to me out of my own life practice, observations, and writing. Since May 2005, I’ve been using the acronym STEAM to describe the contours of my approach (it’s short for stages, types, experiences, angles, and modes). If AQAL is like an operating system, then STEAM is intended to be an AQAL-compliant application.
Why bother making these sorts of fine distinctions? Just to get a little more clarity. If I write some juicy nugget such as “Integral means never having to say you’re sorry,” I don’t really want to get into back and forth about whether that’s really true about some mythical beast that somebody else is calling integral. Pretty soon nobody’s talking about the importance of apologies and everyone’s debating the definition of integral (and that gets way tiresome). I think it’s better to simply talk about my approach and ideas and relate them to a systematic model (that is, STEAM) in a way that lets readers separately consider the validity of both my point regarding the subject matter at hand and the systematic model. If I were to say, for example, “STEAM-powered living means never having to say you’re sorry,” then right or wrong, at least the conversation can stay focused on what I’m saying, not on the matter of defining integral.