Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Look Ma! No Stories!

Over the last few years, I’ve done a lot of work on myself and figured out some really cool and simple truths. The one that is hitting me most right now is that the events in your life and your THOUGHTS about the events are two different things. I think this comes from my practice of doing The Work (from Byron Katie’s book and The whole idea of that practice is to teach yourself to step back from whatever is going on and sort out the difference between what is really happening (the event) and what you are thinking and believing about it (your stories).

Guess which one of those things makes your life miserable or ecstatic? Need help deciding? Here’s my current example: In two months, I am losing my job, again. My position is being eliminated because a new VP came in with a different vision than the person who hired me and I’m apparently not part of that vision. That’s an event set in the future that I was told about last week. However, right now as I look out my open window at the tree swaying in the breeze and listen to the birds chirping in the sun, what’s the problem? Right now, I have a job, a house, etc. The weather is gorgeous too. Right about now you ought to be reading this and thinking about a million bad things that can happen to me financially and otherwise after I’m cut loose. Me too! However, those are the stories. The layoff is the event. The stories in our heads about how I might lose my income and all that goes with that, and how I have no real goals or direction in my life anymore are just that, stories. They are not true right NOW. The sun still shines and the tree still sways in the breeze whether I’m thinking about those horrible things or whether I am just looking at the tree. That’s what is true.

Unfortunately, events are hard to change especially if they happened in the past. I still have time to alter the course of my employment with this company (which I like), and I am trying but I have no control over any of it. However, my emotions about this are also not something I can control. Emotions are like weather, and that’s a great thing because when was the last time you saw a thunderstorm last forever? The sun always comes eventually, and so does the rain. Neither of them stay for long.

There is a lot of freedom in that. Whatever I am feeling will pass. All I have to do is feel and understand. Questioning the stories that arise about the event also helps dissipate the negative feelings much more quickly. Neither the events nor the emotions can be avoided forever. Shit is always going to happen. It’s how you deal with it that matters.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

We have met the enemy and he is us

A lot has been going on in the world with the US elections and human evolution in general these days. Philosophers and Psychologists for generations will study this time period and subject it to endless analysis. Heck, the anthropologists will probably even get in on the action too. I am only sad that I do not have an advanced degree in one of these areas so that I may contribute meaningfully to the discussion. If someone gave me half a million bucks to live on for the next few years, I would find the rest of the money and quit my job to get a PsyD degree so I can look at human development clinically. It fascinates me. Like most people who study it, I am taken by the relationship between human development and whatever the definition of spirituality is in a given moment. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. Alas, as near as I can predict, that is not in the cards for me, however. I am relegated to finding material on my own and trying to get through it.

Even with my limited knowledge, I can still see a lot going on with various current events such as the US elections (which I will talk about in the next couple posts.) Studying Integral Theory has given me some perspective on the matter which seems absent among most groups (unless they are groups that also study Integral Theory.) The problem with Integral Theory, unfortunately, is that it is extremely didactic and pedagogical. Can't understand one of the words in that last sentence without looking it up? Then you will need a dictionary nearby to get through any works on Integral Theory. (I am constantly looking up their jargon and terms too.) In plain English, the theory is frick'n complicated. In slightly better English, Integral Theory is just really inaccessible to laymen without some knowledge of Psych or Philosophy. That is why it stays in its own bubble and does not venture out, which is kind of a bummer because it is damned useful for explaining pretty much anything.

As someone who has read maybe 20 books on the subject over the last 10 years, and various journal articles and blogs, I can form my own opinion about the utility of Integral Theory and raise what I think are some of its limitations. Here are a few:

  • The leaders of the movement say they "are not in the transformation business". Here they have a wonderful tool at their disposal to change the face of business, art, entertainment, literature and a host of other things, not to mention human personal growth, and yet they only pay attention to or cater to the "bleeding edge" of human consciousness, or who they think is at that edge. That is really a shame. Some of their leaders opine that it is a waste of time to interact with those who cannot understand their inaccessible theory. Why? I make a great living translating complex biomedical information into bite-sized chunks that people with English and Business degrees can understand, and they LOVE it. It changes their outlook on the world, at least regarding their jobs. These leaders don't think that doing the equivalent thing for translating complex psych concepts into something a reasonably intelligent BA degree holder or High School educated plumber can understand is not valuable? I disagree.

  • There is a penchant for navel gazing in the movement. Much analysis goes into why people are fucked up and doing the things they are doing, and there are a lot of suggestions about how those people should think and feel and what they should study or read. However, once someone suggests a practical solution to implementing an Integral perspective, WOAH. We can't go applying the theory now, can we? The analysis pretty much stops at social action, or really any action. Now to be fair, there are some authors that do give step by step examples and even create small companies that implement some integrally minded business solutions, but they only do it for companies that are ready and willing to take it on anyway, i.e. the bleeding edge again. I really think that this work has so much potential for getting down and dirty and using it to relate to people who are at less broad stages of development, if it is done right. However, one time I was even accused of co-opting theory and taking it out of context by doing so. (I had suggested implementing dictatorships back into the Middle East to get it stable again because the inhabitants were proven not to understand Democracy yet, and needed something they could grasp.... a point which I argued from a wholly Integral perspective, by the way.)

  • Just as I (with a biomedical engineering doctorate) have no real education in Psychology or Philosophy and am pontificating about those very same things right now, the Integral community has Psych and Philosophy doctorates pontificating about matters of hard sciences like physics, chemistry, and biology who really should not be doing so either, at least not if they want to have their information be correct. This tends to cause some basic misunderstandings in the theory, especially regarding evolution and chemical reactions. Now, if we had some experts in those fields getting together with the soft science folks, which we actually do have right now, it could really be a good thing and the theory can grow. I think this is being remedied and will just take time.

  • Long ago, my old teacher, Draja Mickaharic, once told me, "The legitimacy or true practice of a movement drops to zero after pi human lifetimes." Now, Draja spewed a lot of fun crap in his day, especially if you take it as gospel. However, regardless of his numbers he did have a point. Integral Theory is in its infancy and its founder is still alive, so we have a long way to go before it becomes completely fogged out as to what the intent is. However, there are times when you really need to check yourself and make sure you are not in a cult. The way to do that is to keep questioning everything and shining the light of academic discussion on it, and that is being done most of the time, but some great points have come up lately (by my friend David Long) regarding the personification of whatever the baseline of all existence is, often referred to as The Ground of Being or Oneness or God, even. The discussion (much of which is beyond my ability to understand right now) is over whether or not this ultimate thing that exists has any qualities at all which can be described. Some of the founder types claim that it does, and folks like David point out that if that is true it needs to be proven definitively, not empirically. From there, it becomes a mess, but given all that I know, I tend to side with David, yet think I have not read enough to see what the other side says.

    Overall, I like that the people involved with Integral Theory for the most part have the ability to question themselves and look inward instead of demanding acceptance of their beliefs like common members of a lower level movement (or even a religion) would do. I do wish the movement would work to get more involved and become more public with its solutions while adjusting the amount of "woo woo" accordingly to the audience. My intent here is definitely not to complain, and in honor of that, I do have a few suggestions and ideas that can further the movement and the use of its perspective:

  • Make seven websites, one for each stage of development in the UL quadrant. That would give a website for Purple, Red, Amber, Orange, Green, Teal, and Turquoise. Each website would present Integral Theory from that particular angle to people of that particular stage. It would give practical examples of how to use their own beliefs to become more healthy in whatever those are. It would also give clues and insights that are slightly above-stage, so as to create a small amount of tension for growth, while also referring them to groups of people that are like-minded, but guided or coached by someone at a higher stage, preferably Second Tier.

  • Create videos in the same vein, and even put them on these websites. In those videos, talk about worldly things such as politics, relationships, sex, parenting, and academics, but from those particular stages and in an Integral context. Most current material only talks about things from higher stages and just uses the lower ones as examples of how NOT to be or as ways of understanding people who are. They don't address the people who are in those lower stages.

  • If you are a teacher of any subject, fashion your teachings differently for different receivers at different stages. It is not as hard as one might think. I teach martial arts from an Integral perspective (see Integral Martial Arts, and for the most part the students in the class are all at Amber and Orange so it's not too huge a spread to deal with. That will be just as true in a high school History classroom.

    Ok, so there is three things and I could probably come up with more. My underlying point is I think the Integral movement should really get its hands dirtier and relate directly to people of all stages, changing its message and appearance for them as needed. The Sufis do this even to this day, and they are really good at it minus their own secretive nature. Thank you for reading and comments are always welcome.