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Spiritual Not Religious
by Terrence Bishop

- a rational approach to spirituality for the 21st century

What is Integral?

 
Integral Philosophy is simply a description of reality that seeks to be inclusive and holistic in its study of human potentials. It is a map that describes the terrain of existence, and like any good map, it can help us work out where we have been, where we are, and where we are going.

It's modern-day champion, Ken Wilber, is clear in his view that philosophy is useless if it does not offer meaningful answers to everyday problems. Integral philosophy is a goldmine of useful insights into the small and large challenges we all face every day.

 

The Integral Approach is a practise of awareness that seeks to take into account all the relevant dimensions that are acting upon this and every moment. Someone who is practising the Integral Approach will use the integral map to remind themselves of all the forces at work that make up this moment of reality. It's like a checklist for someone who is trying to become more conscious.

 

For a quick example of how the Integral Approach can be helpful in everyday situations, click here.
 
No matter who you are or what you do in life, we can all benefit from a deeper understanding of our life experiences. If those experiences are all fully aligned with your life purpose leading to on-going bliss and love in your life, then perhaps you are one of the exceptions. If however you find that life is mostly good but there’s 10% or 20% or more that isn’t working so well, then you may find integral to be a profound and powerful tool for unpacking the busted bits and creating a life more aligned with your dreams.
 
For a brief history of integral, click here.
 

Integral in a Nutshell

 

Integral Theory describes five ever-present dimensions of reality for every human, which for most of us become blended and often confused with each other like the ingredients in the soup of life. Integral theory does not encourage us to ‘unmake’ the soup, but rather helps us to make more delicious soup through an awareness of the ingredients and how to mix them with skill.
 
Trying to describe the dimensions of reality is like trying to explain the nature of water to a fish. We are so utterly immersed in it that it becomes difficult to see. To give you a taste, one of the five elements is Levels of Consciousness. Imagine you work with a handful of people, some of whom are traditional thinkers, others are dedicated business types, while others are more liberal, perhaps 'nature types'. Each of these people embody a different level of consciousness (a different worldview), and each one has different values, communicates differently, and sees you differently.
 
An understanding of these worldviews enables you to adjust your way of listening and communicating with each of them, leading to better relationships and greater productivity. The same kinds of considerations apply when communicating with children, Elders, the opposite sex, people from other cultures, in intimate contexts, etc. In short, you employ skillful means in the way you engage with others because you understand that one size does not fit all.
 
Invaluable Insight or Intellectual Indulgence?
 
At first glance, the Integral Approach may seem a bit complicated and abstract. This response may arise for many reasons. One is that the Integral Approach is not for everyone. Some people have other paths towards their own fulfilment, and nothing in the integral model suggests they should change. If all this is a bit like psycho-mumbo-jumbo, then move on and have a nice day.
 
Another reason is that it is genuinely challenging to see what surrounds and permeates us (like that fish trying to study water). At first the mind tends to reject any invitation to see through our blind spots, but developmental psychologists have shown with decades of compelling research that learning to see beyond what we understand is precisely the process of our own evolution, and we have been doing it virtually from the moment we were born.
 
Another reason why we might experience intellectual resistance is that some of us have fallen out of the habit of conceptual thinking, preferring instead to rely on pure experience for insight into the mysteries of life. The integral approach suggests that both are needed to create insight that lasts, and that some of us may have forgotten to exercise the muscles in our brains that would enable us to understand the truly complex nature of modern life. If this resonates as true for you, then a little reading each day on the Integral Approach is a bit like a workout in a mental gym... after a while it becomes easer, and eventually it is downright fun.
 
What's the Point of Integral?
 
For those who feel their lives are largely OK, then 90% of the time we do not need to engage in detailed analysis of what is arising before us in life. Instinctively we know what to do and most of the time it all works out just fine. However in those moments where we feel confused, overwhelmed or just plain exhausted from trying so hard with so little success, the Integral Approach can turbo-charge our thinking and give wings to our perception.

 

Most of the time therefore, we need change nothing about the way we see, think, feel or behave, but if we are trying to understand why money is so elusive, or the trouble in our relationship, or our background feelings of despair or hopelessness, or why we aren’t sleeping very well, or the crisis of meaning and purpose that is rampant in our culture, or what to do about global warming or terrorism or the biodiversity crisis, we need a more powerful way of thinking and seeing. We need a structured approach to unravel the various irreducible aspects of the moment as we search for understanding.
 
Once the basics of the Integral Approach become second nature in our thinking and behaviours, we may also find that we can learn much more quickly than before. We learn to see what others cannot see, which enables us to suggest creative responses to a given situation that a more partial view may miss. We may also find our health improves, our energy levels increase, our intuitive perception becomes sharper and more sensitive to the subtleties arising in the moment. In short, we can enjoy all the benefits that come with an evolution in consciousness, in much the same way that an adolescent enjoys a wide range of benefits when they finally embrace the consciousness of adulthood.

 

The integral method is also profoundly useful if we wish to engage others in action-based strategies that seek to address the challenges we face as one half of an intimate relationship or as employees in a company that is trying to grow or as participating members of a culture heading for trouble. We cannot do anything with others if we do not have mutual understanding on what we are trying to do. Mutual understanding requires we find shared meaning through language, story or other symbols. The Integral Model offers a roadmap that helps us find common purpose and effective strategies as we plan to co-create the world that will unfold in the lifetime of our children.

 

So the Integral Approach can be used as a diagnostic tool to help us understand what is missing in our way of engaging a particular life circumstance, but it can also be used as a roadmap to help us structure our average day in a way that ensures all the main aspects of life are getting a reasonable level of our attention. It can alert us to what’s missing before we begin to experience the problematic symptoms that inevitably arise when our lives fall out of balance.

 

Importantly, it can also be used as a lens to look into the future to gives us clues about where we are going and whether we are doing all we need to to give our visions and dreams the best chance of becoming reality. It can also give us clues on the fate of our culture if we continue of the current course, and sends clear signals about what we are doing and not doing as a culture that is leading us towards global calamity. Using the Integral Approach, we can also develop clear strategies about how to respond in a meaningful way to avert disaster for our grandchildren.
 
A Vision for the Future
 
What made the 1960's so special was that that was the moment when the last wave of consciousness growth crashed into the collective psyche of our culture. We now call that the Postmodern Wave, and in its wake came the civil rights movement, feminism, the environmental movement, racial tolerance, consideration for the disabled and numerous other great advances.
 
The wave before that was the wave of Modernity that reached critical mass in the late 1800's. It gave birth to the industrial revolution, and was the seed of the current global corporation. The wave before that was the Mythic or Traditional wave that was ushered in with the Roman Empire and cemented in place when the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. It gave birth to the rule of law as a means of containing warlords and feudal masters.  
 
It took almost 1900 years after the emergence of Traditionalism for Modernity to enter the public sphere. Then it took just 150 years for the Postmodern wave to crash into our worlds. All indications are that the next wave is currently gaining strength, just 50 years after the last one. This new wave is the Integral wave, and like the waves before it, it will change everything. 
 
Perhaps the predictions of the Mayans for the end of the world in 2012 is really a prediction of the end of the world as we know it, for an integrally informed world has the potential to bring together all peoples on the face of the globe under the common cause of mutual survival.
 
The prime concern of someone who embodies an integral worldview is the wellbeing of everyone and every living thing. In it's healthy form, this powerful new consciousness will not use its considerable power to dominate or exploit others, if only because it has been proven countless times that power-over another is never sustainable... eventually the oppressed will find their way onto the path of freedom. Integral consciousness finds fulfilment through peace, freedom and the celebration of beauty. Such a person is also not afraid of conflict, but rather uses conflict as a means of identifying and addressing the knotty problems that undermine wellbeing.
 
Imagine a world where governments co-operate under the banner of a newly empowered United Nations in service of mutual survival and global sustainability. Imagine a government that is not driven by the power-hungry or the greedy, but rather fulfils its mandate of serving the entire populace in a way where wealth is measured not only in dollars, but also in health and wellbeing. Imagine a world were environmental responsibility comes before corporate profits, and laws exist to prevent the use of marketing practises that exploit low self-esteem or encourage addiction.
 
This is not a fairy-tale, new-age fantasy. The tyrants and criminals of the world will still be contained, by lethal force if necessary, rehabilitated where possible and punished where appropriate. We will still have police and a viable military. The body of law that governs acceptable behaviour will continue to form the basis of social commerce, only updated to include the crimes of businesses who plunder resources and exploit human vulnerabilities in the name of profit. Personal responsibility will be the number one obligation of every member of society, and especially so for corporations and public officers.
 
Business will evolve into sustainable practices. While some businesses may not survive, others will emerge and flourish. This has always been the reality of the market, and an integrally-informed world will, if anything, level the playing field and force those businesses who are exploitive or wasteful to pay for their poor practices.  
 
The demands on individuals will far surpass what is expected now, just as individuals today are expected to be much more conscious than our grandparents in our use of natural resources and the moral standards we bring to interactions with each other in a multi-cultural, equal rights society. This evolution will be nurtured in the schools, just as the move to postmodern values was nurtured in our schools in the 70's and beyond. Instead of teaching only math and English and other productivity skills, our youth will study consciousness itself and become skilled at nurturing their own development into healthy integral capabilities.
 
This transition will not be easy, and the road ahead will no doubt be bumpy and treacherous as the vested interests cling desperately to their power. Yet consciousness continues to evolve. It has become increasingly clear to many that we have but two choices... evolve or perish. Of course the planet itself will survive, and some might argue would be better off without homo sapiens. But that is a backward step. The Spirit of Evolution has evolved thus far not so that we might all commit collective suicide through ignorance and greed. The invitation is clear and compelling, but consider that those who would perish would not be us, but our grandchildren.
 
Don't act for yourself... do it for them. Don't grow for more power, grow for more Love.
 
The question then becomes not whether the species will survive, but how much of the biosphere will survive. Humanity has grown from the lesser creatures, which we continue to depend on to this day for our survival. The quicker we make the transition to integral values, the more of the biosphere will survive for all future generations to enjoy. With every passing day, we lose another 100 or so species. With every passing day, the climate gets a little warmer, the coral reefs die a little more, a little more old growth forest disappears forever, and future gets just a little darker.
 
Now is the time to get passionate about the future we are co-creating for our grandchildren.
 
Now you have scratched the surface of the integral universe. If you now find yourself quietly excited at having discovered realistic hope for future generations, come and join us for a weekend of integral enquiry into the possibilities of existence. for information on upcoming workshops, click here.