In February of 2012, two luminaries in the arena of Integral Spirituality published a manifesto that went on to become the most popular discussion-starter in the history of Beams and Struts, a community E-zine. Called “Occupy Integral!”, it called for nothing less than an Integral Revolution. Has there been one?
Terry Patten and Marco V Morelli are known to many of us as two of the co-authors (with Ken Wilber and Adam Leonard) of Integral Life Practice: A 21st-Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening, the 2008 release from Integral Books. Since 2012, Terry has gone on to publish
A New Republic of the Heart: An Ethos for Revolutionaries – A Guide to Inner Work for Holistic Change (North Atlantic Books, 2018) while Marco has provided leadership to the Cosmos Cooperative and its various projects. (I’ve got articles planned in the near future for discussing their more recent activism.)
The manifesto’s stance is easy enough to describe: It starts with recognizing a common identity that we share as Integralists and then indicting us (with friendly self-criticism) as insufficiently involved in social activism:
As Integralists—or people dedicated to the healthy evolution of consciousness, culture, and the systems that make up our world—we all feel called to awaken to, understand, engage, enjoy, and serve this miraculous moment. Yet there is a perception that as a community, tribe, or “we-space,” we integral enthusiasts lack a depth of engagement in the world, or what might be called a social commitment. It is said we’re more interested in the “map” than the “territory.” We are accused (or we accuse ourselves) of “meta-doing” and “integral inaction.”
Needless to say, such perceptions are only partially true, and we could easily point to many integral projects and practitioners who defy these assertions. Yet they are not baseless, and it’s worth becoming curious about why this is the case.
The manifesto goes on to say that Integral seems to “deemphasize the importance or urgency of social activism” in favor of “evolution of the self” which stands the danger of “taking us out of the fight”. The root cause of this problem is not to be found in Integral theory itself (which, they say, does not “preclude” a “more activist expression of integralism”), but rather a failure of integralists to sufficiently practice their chosen faith, er, actually the exact words they used were “this manifesto calls for a reappropriation of Ken Wilber’s AQAL matrix.” (emphasis in original).
With a tiny bit of the rhetoric of good Protestant reformers confronting an ossified monolithic body of Catholics just going through the motions of faith ritualistically, Terry and Marco goad the faithful to return to the fundamental tenets of the intellectual edifice that brought them together in the first place. They write:
Let’s Occupy Integral. No permit is required. No official membership or certification is necessary to our right to peaceful assembly. We certainly can and must go on refining the map, polishing the lens, elaborating our meta-perspectives, and deepening our realization of and grounding in the Witness, the Mystery, Emptiness, Godhead, pure Consciousness, or the True Self.
After crediting Ken Wilber for both developing the integral theories that inspired so many of us as well as connecting us into a (geographically dispersed and worldwide) community, they ask for integralists to step into and beyond the spirit of theoretical criticism into the spirit of forging a sense of “engagement as evolutionaries” in service to a “revolution of love”.
So… six years and a couple of months later, did we? Did we, as integralists, occupy Integral?
Regrettably, there is no scholarly sociology of the Integral movement for us to draw upon in response. But it’s quite obvious there have been some bumps in the road for the emergence of Integral philosophy and spirituality into a position of wider influence. So far as I know, there is no comprehensive overview of integralist individuals and organizations, no membership-based organization, and not even a business directory of professionals who use integral theory in their work. Some notable integral organizations have disappeared (remember Integral Institute?). Zines like Beams and Struts folded. Groups like MetaIntegral and the Center for Integral Wisdom went through successive reinventions. An academic program or two with “Integral” in the title vanished. Prominent spiritual teachers associated with the Integral movement saw scandal and disruption to their work. Even the Integral Books imprint which published Integral Life Practice (not to mention my own book, 2007’s Soulfully Gay) disappeared.
Furthermore, at one point there were numerous “Integral blogs” in the blogosphere, but most of these fizzled with the advent of Web 2.0 and as the old guard of bloggers grew weary. New Facebook groups emerged which contained many Integral discussions, but isolated them in silos that tend to be largely invisible to the wider public. The most prominent Facebook group for the Integral community went through growing pains in 2016 and 2017 that some saw as a “hostile takeover” by community members who viewed the establishment Integral scene with suspicion or repudiation. (At one point, Robb Smith, the forum’s moderator, removed “Integral” from the title of the group to designate that it had fallen very far away from its original intention. Since then, the group has managed to turn itself around and continues to be known as Integral Global.)
For every organization in turmoil or missed opportunity for the Integral “brand” to find purchase in fertile soil, many thousands of people inspired by the Integral vision continued to labor onward. Books were written and sold. Philosophies were advanced in multiple papers and conferences. Websites like Integral World continued their mission of “critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber.” The Integral Life flagship website continued to operate with remarkable consistency and high standards of professionalism. A publishing house brought out new Integral book titles. An Integral pundit joined the fray of talking heads on politics and culture. Educational programs continued to reach many new people and inaugurate a new generation of enthusiasts eager to evolve and explore new avenues for spirituality that no other scene could offer. And in the last two years, Ken Wilber himself has returned to form with several major new books despite continuing to have health issues.
The Integral movement slogged on despite an overall climate of considerable adversity, or so it seems to me. Some people may take a more optimistic or pessimistic view, and that’s their right, but I think that most of us would probably agree that the Integral Revolution envisioned by Patten and Morelli six years ago didn’t appear as we might have wished it would have.
“Slog On, Integral!” doesn’t quite have the ring of a bestselling manifesto, but we could do worse for a motto.
What we have seen occur in the Integral movement over the past six years is not the fiery energy and determined purpose of a truly revolutionary social movement according to historical templates for such things. What we have seen instead, I think, is entirely consistent with the less sexy and ego-satisfying notion that at this point in its emergence Integral is a movement that is basically an incremental extension and maturation of postmodernism, specifically as that process is unfolding from one particular critical strand of a methodologically diverse broader postmodern movement with multiple sub-movements each working at cross-purposes at the creative avant-garde of our modern societies.
In other words, Integralists haven’t been the revolutionaries of an entirely new colossal epoch of global enlightenment (not yet, anyways). We have largely been critics of postmodernity who are struggling within the din of its multiplicity and fragmentation to present an alternative vision of a postmodern future. Our vision that we are agents of evolutionary currents active in self, culture, nature, and spirit who are becoming self-aware and developing more comprehensive visions of wholeness is a great one. But, clearly, we were not heard as well as we would have liked to have been heard.
Unfortunately, so far as critics of postmodernity are concerned, Integral seems to have been outmaneuvered in the public imagination by louder, angrier critics who carry bigger sticks (in the case of Donald Trump and the resurgent nationalist right-wing) or a bigger axe to grind (in the case of Jordan B. Peterson, the IDW, and so on, who are mixing liberal and conservative values into a synthesis).
Nevertheless, the ballgame we are playing is not one where we know the inning. It probably isn’t the bottom of the ninth, in other words. If the Integral movement gets smarter and more self-aware, we have every reason to play for a turnaround. Many of Terry and Marco’s suggestions are still valid and worthy of adopting. But times have changed, and so I have a modest new proposal.
These are some suggestions — feel free to call them “Joe Perez’s 10 Theses for the Future of the Integral Movement (As of Today)” — that I have for integralists who were once inspired by “Occupy Integral!” and are ready for a resurgence of the activist spirit within us all:
- Play for individual and social power based on authentic moral and spiritual authority, not revolutionary fervor. It’s too late for the revolutionary’s playbook to succeed; however, the flag at center-field is within striking distance, if we act quickly. Let’s face it, when it comes to solving many of the world’s most wicked problems, there is already enough wisdom to know what to do; the biggest problem is that the wisest folks don’t have the power to do what needs to be done. So empower yourselves and each other. Don’t be evil about it, naturally; but tap into the warrior spirit of shambhala.
- Own the role of “the mature adults” in the crowded field of critics of postmodernity. Shape postmodernity’s self-image relentlessly until each postmodernist wakes up with the realization that they are evolutionaries of spirit. So if you’re a regular basher of Greens or Postmoderns, get over it fast. If you’re really attuned to the spirit of evolution, then you know the shoes they’ve walked — perhaps even quite recently — so embody empathy from that spot.
- Act from your unique angle that gives you a potentially superior vision for evolving postmodernity, but stay attuned to the workings of Atman (Universal Self). It is expressing itself through voices you would rather not listen to. Remember that the opposition between genuine humility and authentic grandeur of spirit is a false one. Don’t forget that no one evolves without shedding many skins, and you might have to help peel some snakes ready to slough their own skins.
- Have the back of our fellow movement members and come together with a cohesive spirit under the rubric of “integralism” and as “evolutionaries”. Quit with the backstabbing and infighting and petty squabbles — get with professional mediators, if necessary. Unblock and re-friend integral folks with whom you’ve fought in the past. Don’t give integralists shit for promoting their blog posts, workshops, and conferences (why don’t you share their advertisements instead?).
- Remember, the best criticism of Integral is to construct a positive vision that is more compelling than what you were given by those who came before you. Shift from rehashing old theoretical debates to constructing and enacting meta-systemic, globally-conscious visions. Don’t spread unproven conspiracy theories. Don’t publish stuff you know is crap just because it’s critical of Ken Wilber. Criticize “from within” the Integral worldview; there’s no view from nowhere.
- Kill the nefarious taboo against talking about spiritual evolution even amongst evolutionaries. Be careful about distinguishing too much between “integral” and “non-integral” (as Terry and Marco said), but let our fellow integralists talk openly about development within our own Integral circles, even if it makes us uncomfortable. We need to exit every closet and normalize development-talk whenever possible, even as we support the creation of station-based (as opposed to stage-based) Integral models as Wilber suggested in 2006’s Integral Spirituality.
- Don’t “Occupy Integral!”. Occupy Love and let that Love heal, reconcile, and connect you to every station, state, type, line, and quadrant that you know. “Postmodern” (or “post-postmodern” if you prefer) is a stage you are passing through. “Integral” is a stage you are passing through. You can’t occupy a stage without squeezing into too tight a field for the Atman, Universal Self, which is the yang to the yin of Universal Love, so don’t worry about it. Come Home.
- Don’t let Facebook own the Integral movement. It’s become too insular and myopic and often not very fun. Get back on the blogosphere or use other community-based tools to explore fresh alternatives to the same old newsfeed curated by bots. Use RSS readers to keep up with this blog and others you like.
- Donate money, volunteer, and be a booster. Many integral artists and writers have Patreon pages, so support the ones who are doing work you like. And keep supporting them even if you don’t like everything they write or produce (even great artists can have a bad day). Many hands make light work.
- Keep the ramp well-maintained and lit for integralists to continue their personal evolution from systemic-mind to global-mind to para-mind to meta-mind to over-mind and super-mind (and so on). Don’t judge anyone for pursuing their own muses or angels or spirits in the pursuit of the third-tier (and so on). Perhaps they’ll come down from the mountain when they’re ready, with their hair turned Turquoise or Indigo or Violet or Ultraviolet or Clear Light. Ask them where they got their hair done.
Don’t forget why you’re doing it. There’s a world out there — and in here — that is crying out in pain and suffering. Let us thank Marco and Terry for encouraging us six years ago with their wise words
Let’s reaffirm and radicalize our commitment to not only change ourselves—but also to really, really change the world.
and let us find a contemporary way to recommit to a positive path for change that works for each and every one of us. What we are doing today at Golden Egg 22, I think, is finding our distinctive Ethos — our social soul.
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