Integral Life Practice v2.0

The State of States

State experiences sell; developmental transformation does not.

That is my opinion based on the ten years I spent helping to build and run key components of Integral Institute (the Integral Psychotherapy Center; the transformative studies database; the Integral Seminars; Integral University; the Journal of Integral Theory & Practice; publishing a book in the SUNY Press Integral Theory Series; and as an Associate Professor at John F. Kennedy University in the Integral Theory program).

State experiences sell, despite the fact that the single most often asked question in my ten years with Integral Institute was this: “How can I [my spouse/ child/ parent/ friend/ colleague] transform to my [their] next stage?”

But in order to grow from one stage to the next, you must pass through the eye of the needle in your own consciousness. You must come to terms with those parts of your identity that remain committed to maintaining your current worldview, your current values. No matter how many times Ken Wilber writes about the experience of transformation as a death-rebirth experience, the integral community seems to me fixated on the result of the transformation, the feeling of expansion and wonder and possibility that awaits you upon psychological rebirth. But first you must die.

Former heavyweight champion boxer Joe Lewis is credited with saying, “Everybody wants to get to heaven, but nobody wants to die to get there.” In developmental terms, the death process begins when we experience our own limitations and contradictions and failures. The integral community, then, if it is to help the elite class move from “green” to “teal” en-masse, must engage and learn from the failures of their current way of being in the world. Lucky for us, we have something called an Integral Life Practice (ILP), which is ideally suited for just such a purpose!

One of the most undervalued aspects of having an ILP is in discovering where you fail to achieve. The hypothesis that engaging in an ILP will help you transform from stage to stage is a sound one. But there is almost nothing written about failure (and little on resistance), and we know from developmental research that transformation is rife with emotional suffering from our internal dissonance. Those ILP aspects that we in the integral community value have to do with the depth and comprehensiveness of turning our individual and collective attention to body, mind, spirit, and shadow. But little has been written to or spoken of with respect to failure and its many growth opportunities.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

There is little to learn from success, according to Nassim Taleb, celebrated author of “The Black Swan,” a book that opened many well-educated eyes to the reality of the “narrative fallacy.” This fallacy says that we create narratives for why success occurs without any actual data, because getting data about success requires that you know everything about what happened (including the relative impact of luck). Most people can readily see why success is almost impossible to discern when this fallacy is explained to them, yet, according to Taleb, remain ignorant when applying it to their daily lives (and he includes his own tendencies here as well).

We can, however, understand why things fail. But failure doesn’t feel good, and like the thought of death, spending too much time there makes us feel queasy. Success feels good, and we are therefore compelled to spend a lot of time fantasizing about what success would be like. I’m not out to bash having positive thoughts, or even leading with positivity. I am specifically talking about what we can actually learn from success or failure.

So let me summarize: in general, even highly educated (including integral) people feel good with success and feel bad with failure; in general, we can learn very little about success from successful ventures, but we can learn a great deal from failure; and in general, when things fail we rarely attempt to discover why. We are frustrated by our own failure and by the failure of groups of which we have been part. We just want to move on.

Now think about the sheer volume of television commercials, self-help programs, and leadership literature that attempts to sell you on a “recipe for success.” Unlike cooking, one cannot actually have a recipe for success; but you can and should have a recipe for reckoning with failure.

Many recipes for success appear to work, but they might be working for reasons that have nothing to do with the recipe. Ancient myths told of the sun moving across the sky (it doesn’t), carried by chariots or some other vehicle (nope). Yet the sun still rose every day (no it didn’t!), which was “evidence” for that worldview. (Note – we move around the sun, so even though the sun is moving, rapidly, we are trailing it in an ellipse, which along with gravity gives us the illusion of stillness in motion. But of course, it is all spinning and spinning and rapidly spinning all the time. Nothing stands still.)

The reason that understanding our own ILP failures is important for our transformation is because those sticking points are most likely the places where you remain committed to an identity that is less than integral.

Starting in 2009, I have been using Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey’s Immunity to Change Coaching program to help people transform. I myself showed a half-stage transformation after my first six-month coaching arc using this method, and I have seen several clients of mine achieve half-stage and full-stage transformations. The reason that it works so well is because this method targets our developmental sticking points.

According to Lawrence Kohlberg’s developmental research (and supported by Kegan’s research), people will always prefer a set of perspectives that is slightly more developed than the set of perspectives that they can self-generate. This is why letting-go is so important in developmental transformation.

Your new self may just be dying to be born.