Integral Bypassing 2

Integral Bypassing is when you falsely believe that you are “2nd Tier” because you have read the books of Ken Wilber or of other integral authors. One easily risks arrested development when engaged in Integral Bypassing, as Wilber discovered when he began getting letters and other forms of feedback (see “One Taste”) that revealed a number of his readers falsely believed that they didn’t need a practice because they were simply reading his books. This was a hope beyond hope; it literally flew in the face of what he was writing about – practice, practice, practice!

With the Integral Theory conference coming up, I thought I would try to participate from afar by tilling some soil to help anyone who shares my perspectives on walking our talk about levels of development.

The risk of problems presented by Integral Bypassing should be viewed as problems by the integral community. If I falsely believe that I am “2nd Tier” then I run the risk of arrested development (oh good, you’re done talking! here is what I think.); of not walking my talk (you should listen to me but enough about me, what do YOU think of me?); or of remaining disintegrated (I’m done with my shadow work, but YOU could really use some).

In this piece, I will be extending some of my ideas about “Integral Bypassing,” and also begin to formulate what could be a path to addressing the core developmental issues as I see them.

Wilber has rallied against “Boomeritis Buddhism” for many years, which is part of a larger problem that he sees in the Boomers, a “cafeteria style” approach to spirituality, where you take what you want and leave the rest (especially the really hard stuff).

From the first page of the book “Integral Life Practice” (Wilber, Patten, Leonard & Morelli): In the information age, [an] incredible wealth of knowledge, teachings, and techniques…is available to us like never before. The question is, how can we best use it? How can we put it all together? How can we make sense of the myriad of approaches, from such diverse places and times, in a way that‘s relevant to our individual and collective lives?

Perhaps we can be forgiven our bypasses – after all, we are presented in the above quote with one question that is actually three questions. That’s not just a joke (or a cheap shot), I am quite serious about the fact that integral authors, following Ken (myself included), use words like “simply” when in fact a deep understanding of Integral Theory is not simple, and is also a requirement for enacting “2nd Tier” or “Vision-Logic” meaning-making.

Furthermore, the three questions are in reverse developmental order: first you make sense of something, then you can begin to put it together into a coherent shape, and only then you can actually use it. But therein lies much of the problem with helping Integral Theory to become more practical for most people.

Or as Edgar Morin puts it, “Complexity – it’s just not simple.”

And it’s NOT. But there are ways of being “more integral” other than being “2nd Tier,” as Wilber often points out. Usually, this amounts to helping every earlier level of development to become less fragmented and therefore less reactive to meanings and values from earlier- (and also more-) developed perspectives.

What might that look like? The problem is that “defense is integrity,” as Robert Kegan puts it. So if defense is integrity, how are we to decide that a particular enacted value is more the integrity of an existing level, and less of a limitation on the health of the holarchy (or, that the enacted value does not limit the path of transformation to more evolved perspectives)? How can someone who has not yet achieved “2nd Tier” consciousness generate a “more integral” set of values and behaviors for themselves and others?

They won’t be able to do it by reading a book or by following an “Integral Life Practice” unless they are precociously developed. Because we all make sense of a book or any behavioral prescription according to – at best – our most developed way of making sense of things. Wilber says his books are “psychoactive,” but that doesn’t mean that they help you self-generate a deeper, more complex identity – especially if nobody is there to help you with that most important strand of any knowledge quest, “verification.”

All self-generated meanings around 3rd person “texts” remain at the person’s most current level of complexity unless the person is really stressed out (resulting in regression, probably), or they are have an opportunity to explore 2nd and 1st person supports and challenges as well (resulting in development, maybe).

The inclusion of “thesis, antithesis, synthesis” in dialectically transformative writing styles like Wilber’s does not mean that as a reader I will be able to hold in my mind the thoughts, feelings, and other meanings that I can self-generate, AND the differentiation, negation, and reintegration of each and all of them. And of course, it is differentiation, negation, and reintegration that is required for development. What we know from both research and practice (specifically, Subject/Object Theory research and the practice of Immunity to Change Coaching) is that the same data that can be offered up as a transformative dialectic can also be easily and automatically downsized on behalf of my current way of making sense. On behalf, that is, of my “integrity.”

Holding all three (thesis, antithesis, and synthesis) in mind is a requirement for self-generating the more developed perspective, not a recipe for helping people develop that perspective. No writing style can overcome the fact that unless I am ready, unless I already have ongoing 1st person changes and 2nd person cultural supports and challenges, I won’t be able to use a given 3rd person text to transform. It might by psychoactive, but it won’t be developmental.

For example, we might justify some road-rage by saying, “ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF HOW CRAPPY THIS PLACE IS WITH ASSHOLES WHO AREN’T DEVELOPED!” And maybe that’s a shrewd application of integral wisdom when one is stressed out (and maybe a little momentary regression as well). Alternatively, we might, especially with reflections from well-developed people who can help us verify the meanings that we generate from Integral Theory, say something like this to ourselves, on the way home from a great integral meetup when someone cuts us off: “I’m definitely like THAT sometimes, a real JERK! Like me, I bet s/he is ‘not paying attention’ or ‘didn’t plan well (rushed)’ or ‘doesn’t care if it’s not happening to them.’ I can be a real jerk sometimes, a walking contradiction! What can I learn from this?”

Having said all of that, I will also say that my own experience of Wilber’s brilliant canon is that it definitely helped me to craft a more stable set of perspectives on the nature of experience in physical reality, and on the physical reality of natural experiences. It was a better way of framing things than my neuroscience program offered, which was the reductionist mantra that set the tone in every foundational course in that program: “will the mind ever understand the brain from whence it came?”

At a time when no single methodology could help me hold my experiences without a huge “remainder” of undigested meaning, “Sex, Ecology, & Spirituality” spoke to where I was and provided me a framework where I could continue moving forward. I’m not sure that the reading itself pulled me into a more developed view – in fact, I’m sure that I had something to do with that, and that my mentors had even more to do with that.

The “lowest hanging fruit,” as they say in business, is for people in the integral community who are interested in growth and development to read integral books together with each other and to have someone who can serve as a leader, someone who maybe knows a little more about the theory or maybe has a knack for creating things/processes with an integral flavor (sort of an “I’ll know it when I see it” quality). It won’t necessarily mean that you have a crucible for transformation, but you will definitely be loading the dice in your favor!

So take advantage of this as you head out to the Integral Theory conference! Use the community and see if you can’t find people who can both support and challenge. I bet you will!