Recorded July 20, 2017

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Scale, Complexity, Polarization, and Depth

The Integral Living Room’s third community call happened on Thursday evening, July 20, 2017. Jeff Salzman, Terry Patten, and Diane Hamilton were joined by four Canadian activists and an online group of 100 or so others. We continued exploring the idea of Integral Activism. We have been engaging this question ever since the presidential election shocked our system and prompted us to think about how to be more involved.
Our theme for this year’s Integral Living Room is “A Shout from the Heart: Living An Integral Activism”. In our first ILR community call, Ken Wilber gave us his thoughts about our topic, emphasizing the importance of catalyzing adult development by educating people Integral theory, and how that relates to trans-partisan politics. In the second call, we focused on what an Integral response to the current American administration looks like. For this third call, we wanted to dialogue with social activists in our community who have already given a tremendous amount of their creative life energy to this endeavor.

The Integral community has its fair share of activists, among them Gail Hochachka, a seasoned Integralist who works in climate change adaptation and is a co-founder of Integral Without Borders; Lisa Gibson, a wholehearted change agent working with complex social issues including sex work; Julian Gonzales, a deeply thoughtful Integralist involved in multi-scale sustainability projects, and Trent Berry, a truly forward-thinking activist who works with re-designing community energy consumption and delivery. Each of these people is smart and seasoned, with tremendous experience and skin in the game. It also happens that they are all Canadians living in British Columbia (a shout out to the Maple Leaf) and good friends with each other and the integral community surrounding Ken Wilber’s work.

Our conversation began with the acknowledgement that activism is literally “the act” of bringing our realization or insight into form, into life, into manifestation. For an integralist, Terry Patten reminded us, spiritual recognition underlies our work; that is, we see the perfection at the heart of all things. This perspective releases us from subject-object consciousness, from seeking, from the sense that thing are inherently wrong and bad, and allows for the full embrace of reality as it is. At the same time, we must acknowledge when things need to change. There are truly urgent issues requiring our attention from environmental degradation to economic injustice to providing healthy conditions to all people to keeping peace on the planet. These are real. We have to engage ourselves with the truth and urgency of this, while remembering that wholeness is not just a prior principle, but it is a dynamic force. Wounds heal, we recover from illness, and as Ken has pointed out over and over, over time people choose more equitable social agreements like outlawing slavery and giving women equal rights.

Jeff Salzman picked up on this theme described his activism as his passion to educate people about what he believes is the next wave of the good, true and beautiful. He is interested in a specifically Integral activism that has tired of looking at the world through a single lens or perspective, but wants the biggest point of view possible. And part of this larger view is seeing that we humans are, indeed, the heads, hands, mouths and feet of compassionate activity. Wholeness flows across boundaries in creative bursts, and we can work with that wholeness in action.

Gail had just returned from working with a research team focused on climate change adaptation in Guatemala, reframing climate change as potentially a process of deliberate transformation. Integral theory is explicitly included in this project design because of Gail’s role. She has been participating in a whole set of conversations taking place about climate change — such an enormous, wicked problem — and is noticing that we have to rethink how we even conceive of it. In these climate change conversations what people mean by transformation is very different. We need to create new cognitive space, and challenge our habitual concepts regarding climate and our conventional responses to it. She is thinking a lot about how people change, about how culture changes, and how large systems change. It is truly a four quadrant consideration. She believes we can find a transformational path through this massive and non-local challenge.

Julian has moved from working on climate change mitigation to climate change adaptation. In the time he has been involved, there is already a big shift in the framing. He said that when we consider what will it take for us to address this problem, the first thing that comes to mind is the scale. There are different scales to from which to engage the issue from local to regional to global, and we have to ask, “What is the appropriate scale for addressing it?” The challenge itself cannot be addressed from any limited perspective, so it requires our perspective to shift, to change the vantage point from which we see the problem. This requires tremendous flexibility of mind.

Terry Patten pointed out that our ecological predicament requires whole systems change. The scale is ridiculously daunting. But every Integral activist can see their work as one of “a thousand points of light” that are each contributing to how coherence is reestablishing itself amidst fragmentation. From this perspective, many small contributions can play important roles. But Trent added the necessary caution that sometimes our independent efforts can actually be counter-productive if we are not actively bridging scales and looking at the big picture together.

Lisa Gibson chimed in that she in working on social justice issues and resiliency, she sees the issues of scale, but also of complexity. She added that whether it is sex work or the opiate crisis or the legalization of marijuana, the conversations tend to be very polarized. Additionally all the available solutions seem to be inadequate. Policy makers may agree that what they are doing isn’t really working, but even then, they often don’t know how to respond. It is more and more critical to bring in more perspectives. But even while there are no easy answers to these wicked problems, the relationships among those working on the issues can ground and stabilize the inquiry.

Gail said she is also compelled by the value of relationships in this work. She is asking, “What sort of culture of change agents could scale dynamic multi-level systemic change?” People want to know what constitutes an the Integral activism practice ? That question is not answerable for us as individuals because an adequate response isn’t held within an individual consciousness. Individuals needs to realize the dimension of our togetherness, but even further, our shared beingness, and move flexibly from autonomy to communion. This realization is an expression of vision-logic within social change movements which can address multi-stakeholder and multi-perspectival engagements. Lisa’s activist community talks about “scaling deep”. This relates to the interior changes required for cultural change adequate to scale social and systemic transformation. Policies and right hand quadrant change are only effective and sustainable if they are supported by the culture’s values and beliefs.

Trent mentioned intimacy as another aspect of this work on relational depth. He noted the work of Michael Stone, a very popular Buddhist teacher and yogi who recently died, who wrote a lot about the relationship of spiritual practice to activism. Trent recalled that Michael’s identified three big issues in this writing: Climate change, economic injustice, and the atrophy of intimacy – including loss of intimacy with our bodies, in relationships, and in communities. This list reflects the importance of both the right and left hand quadrants in our activism. Julian mentioned that in his work, he often reflects on intimacy — intimacy with himself as a facilitator, intimacy with the humans he is working with, and intimacy with the natural world.
Interest in the structures and systems, and willingness to include the interiors of culture – enduring relationships, emotional depth, and profound intimacy are essential dimensions of any real conversation about scaling systemic change. We’ve summarized some key perspectives here, but there were many more interesting moments.

2 Responses to “Scale, Complexity, Polarization, and Depth”
  1. George Swan

    I love your definition of activism, as “bringing our Realization into actual manifestation.” This makes me think how manifestation is more of the it-ness, and the values of being arise from the Me-ness and the We-ness. I just read Richard Rohr’s interpretation of Jonah and the Whale. Jonah was caught up in the “myriad details of life”, all of it’s frustrations, anger, stories and struggles, and he did not see his True Self, his Oneness with the Universe. Self-transcendence is an existential achievement, when the whale does not swallow you, but you swallow the whale.
    The Laughing Buddha (Hotai, 1200 AD) was a Zen monk who carried a cloth sack (for collecting all your worries and woes) so he could disappear them. It’s the message of Christianity, the potential salvation we gain from finding our Christ Consciousness. HaHaHaHoHo!

    As Mooji says, “When you/we can see what is not Real, then the [Cosmic] Laughter comes.”

  2. Jeremy Page

    Thanks for your summary. I don’t think of myself as an activist and yet I am in an engaged citizen of our world. I can relate to the concept of our evolution being beyond the comprehension of an individual.

    My contribution tends to be in the areas of economics and intimacy. Neither of these is as an activist. Yet both advance a healthier world.

    Perhaps another way that I contribute is my living in a very conservative state. I do my best to communicate to our representatives in government. We are a small state and I feel my opinion gets heard.

    I am looking forward to this year’s integral living room.