I’ve taken a few weeks off from blogging this month in order to focus on other areas of my life. At the same time, I’ve been reflecting on how to best integrate blogging with my work in career services and the full gamut of my creativity. Now, thanks to soap, I’m returning with greater clarity on what I aspire to achieve with Awake, Alive & Aware.
A few weeks ago, I framed this blog’s mission like so:
Awake, Alive & Aware is committed to practicing, exploring, and advocating Integral ways of living as conscious beings in an evolving universe.
The idea of blogging as a practice for building greater awareness and understanding of “Integral” ways of living is still quite important to me. But I think there was something in my messaging that wasn’t quite working. And when I read an article about how a company gets people excited about toilet bowl cleaner and other mundane household goods, I began to better understand the issue.
In “Making People Passionate For Toilet-Bowl Cleaners And Other ‘Low-Interest’ Products,” Erik Ryan and Adam Lowry describe the dilemma they faced in marketing cleaning products:
We believe in making the act of cleaning more enjoyable and, if we may say so, aspirational. But virtually every commercial treats cleaning as if it were a huge hassle, virtually screaming promises of convenience and ease. Pandering to women with images of grinning maids in aprons, it was as if taking care of your things was something to be ashamed of, something you’d rather leave to someone else. This is typical problem-solution marketing, in which you set up a problem (mildew in the bathroom) and then present your product as the hero solution (Pow! mildew gone). The problem with this approach is that it forces the consumer to enter through the problem, so your brand will always live in low-interest land.
What I realized is that too often I’ve been thinking of “Integral” with a problem-solution framework, and then applying that framework implicitly in my blogging. Integral politics provides a Third Way between liberal and conservative, Integral spirituality provides a way beyond the dichotomy between “spiritual, but not religious” and fundamentalist, Integral health provides a way of reconciling alternative and Western medicine, Integral psychology provides a model for bringing Freud and Buddha together, etc.
Whatever the problem, if there’s a solution, it can be better seen from an Integral lense. From this framework, I began to blog without need for artificially restricting my focus to any one area. When the focus of the blog is basically methodology, then anything is fair game. I could even write about baking bread integrally so long as I was looking at the consciousness infused in the baking process and how a distinctively developmental or otherwise integrally oriented mindset resulted in tastier, better, or more economical bread.
Ryan and Lowry describe how they rejected the problem-solution approach to marketing Method products:
Even if you don’t find an ounce of joy in cleaning, virtually everyone loves the end state, a clean home. So we focused on talking about the aspirational end state of cleaning, and we found that, to many people, cleaning is an important part of life. It’s the ritual of connecting to their homes and families by putting life back in order. To many, cleaning is a form of caring for their children or pets by providing a safe haven for those they care about most.
It turns out that the Integral worldview has more in common with Method cleaning products than I would have guessed. Most people don’t enjoy reading meta-psychological, meta-cultural, and meta-sociological models steeped in arcane terminology seemingly requiring two Ph.D.’s to decipher. But they do like a tidy worldview.
Integral philosophy as a cleaning product
The point to the extensive philosophical modelling is not theory for theory’s sake, but connecting people to themselves and their world by putting life into good working order. Integral philosophy is a form of shampoo that helps people to create safety and sanity and health for ourselves and people we care about.
But Integral isn’t often thought of in this way, or marketed like this. Integralists have frequently been selling hand soap by listing all the ingredients and saying, “Isn’t that the most comprehensive and inclusive list of ingredients you’ve ever seen?”
Or we have focused on the benefits to be had in applying the Integral method. Its like integralists have been selling hand soap by showing how moisturized, germ-free, and nice-smelling it makes one’s hands. That’s an improvement over cataloging ingredients, but it’s still not quite working, I suspect.
Ryan and Lowry continue:
Seeking to draw out our audience’s inner clean freaks, we filled our ad campaigns with young, great-looking naked people in gorgeous, hip homes, using (or maybe just caressing) a rainbow of beautiful Method products. Rather than the “quick and painless” promises in our competitors’ ads, we communicated with clever, cheeky messages intended to promote the aspirational idea that cleaning could be cool (gasp!). Flying in the face of decades of traditional cleaning commercials, the ads resonated with people of all ages.
Now I’m not suggesting that Integral philosophy ought to consist merely in advertising copy, nor would I usually recommend the splashing of hot naked people to sell Integral-themed wares. (Though ads for integral pornography might be an exception!) What I am sensing, however, is the importance of communicating ideals through exemplars to create resonance.
A hand soap advertisement communicates the aspiration to cleanliness through Method products to inspire the desire to be like hip, cool figures in the advertisement. Similarly, an Integral blog communicates the ideal of integration/holism through Integral ideas and practices to inspire the desire to be like the blogger and/or the blog’s subjects.
So you may not be an Integral blogger, but if you are a therapist, coach, business person, consultant, minister, artist, writer … or whatever it is you do … you encounter a similar dynamic. You may not think of yourself as marketing, but if you want to do what you do Integrally, you can’t avoid the challenge of positioning your offering in relationship to the Integral brand.
Integral is beautiful
Everyone wants a house that’s beautiful and well ordered. The house is the world and the Integral philosophy is the cleaning solution that helps to put it back into order and working better; it’s not an obviously sexy thing to sell, but it can be done. Those of us who are in the “Integral business” in one way or another can’t hide behind a list of product features for Integral meta-maps; we need to embody and exude the qualities that we are promoting.
Creating demand for Integral products and services can only go so far by offering problem-solution or features-benefit comparisons. We must communicate not that Integral Theory is the Best Theory, but that “Integral is cool,” or “Integral is beautiful,” or “Integral is clever,” or “Integral is ___,” where that ___ is YOU.
There are spiritual and intellectual fads that come and go. In One Taste, Ken Wilber said that Integral was pretty much a trend, but one that was not going to be going out of fashion. Some of us lonely integralists are wondering when the trend is going to get into fashion the first time! We’d all love our books to be bestsellers and our conferences to sell out and our art to be widely appreciated … if only the wide world would open its eyes!
In fact, there’s a sense in which Wilber is non-controversially correct: if “integral” means whatever comes after post-modernity, then by definition it is arriving on the scene with a sort of undercover but celebrated status. It is new and original, like everything hip and cool. A trend fades, but the trend-behind-the-trend becomes ever more apparent with the appearance of every new post-postmodern arrival. And Integral is the name we are giving to that trend-behind-the-trend.
So I’m returning to duty at Awake, Alive & Aware with a bit more humility. I don’t want to assume that I already know the mysteriousness with which “Integral ways” move. I am more curious about discovering the values and ideals and aspirations of the post-postmodern spirit … and less interested in advocating any fixed model of those ways. (Not that there are many “fixed” Integral models out there. The ones I know are quite dynamic.)
The experiment which is Awake, Alive & Aware continues.