Here’s part of another response in an online forum to my post on defining integral. This one makes an excellent observation about the diversity of approaches to integral:
I guess that is what has been irritating me about Ken [Wilber] and the various institutions that he has put together. It’s that Ken’s work is presented as “the” integral or “the most comprehensive” integral. Not necessarily by him but by those around him. He doesn’t claim ownership of his version of integral but it is presented as “the integral.” Not always, but often.
However, those of [us] that found Ken were already putting together our own version of an integral practice without any need for some sort of grand unifying ‘meta-theory.’ For example, I have a degree in biochemistry, I meditate, I practice 2 kinds of martial arts, I play music, I aspire to be a filmmaker, I keep a journal, I read voraciously in philosophy,psychology, nutrition, eastern philosophy, science, popular culture, etc, etc, etc. [My] version of integral had body, mind, soul/spirit, individiual, social.
This is [my] version of “integral” even though it never had any grand unifying theory behind it. It never had 3-2-1 shadow work, Big Mind Meditation, 3-Kata practice tm, tm, tm. It never had 4 quadrants. It’s just what I observed as the facets of life that I wanted to improve on and expand.
If it’s difficult enough to define integral in theory, things get really tough when it comes to spotting what integral looks like in practice. If someone meditates and does yoga and reads books, are they second-tier by definition because their practice ranges from spirit to body to mind? If someone is seeking to live holistically, do they need to have a “grand unifying ‘meta-theory'” in order to count as post-postmodern? What about the case of a person whose center of gravity is clearly at a first-tier stage who is doing practices that involve a blend of body, mind, spirit, self, culture, and nature?
I don’t intend to answer these thorny questions in this post. But I will say that getting clear about language is a very important step in getting clear about such potentially confusing matters. If we are clear about what integral looks like in practice and what it doesn’t, then it’s much easier to provide answers to these issues. I’ll offer three specific observations to help provide greater clarity.
First, to articulate what integral looks like in practice, look to exemplars. Wilber’s books, DVDs, and other materials and trainings offered by the Integral Institute are helpful in this regard. Connect with people locally who are striving to put integral theory into practice, and learn what you can from them. Integral is taking shape in many places in this world, but nowhere with greater theoretical sophistication than among people informed by cutting edge integral theory.
Second, bear in mind that just about any specific physical, mental, or spiritual injunction can be part of a more comprehensive integral practice. But simply because somebody is combining a range of disciplines doesn’t make their approach integral. It could just be a very confusing, eclectic assortment of practices thrown together without an overarching vision (that is, mental map). Eclecticism does not equal integral.
Third, if you have to boil it down to its barest essentials, STEAM-powered living comes down to two prime injunctions: practices to aid in the ascension to transcendent Unity of Being and practices to help in descending deeper to embodied form. If you are not at a minimum devoting attention to both sides of the coin–say, meditation for Ascent and psychodynamic group shadow work for Descent–then there is absolutely no way what you’re doing can be called integral.