The major theme of Ken Wilber's most important work - Sex, Ecology, Spirituality - is that integral consciousness represents the next great wave of cultural and individual evolution. In SES, Ken's AQAL model is explicitly presented as one expression of this stage of consciousness, and certainly not as the final word on it. Similar messages about integral being our next collective step were offered half-a-century earlier by Jean Gebser and his contemporary Sri Aurobindo. And there were others even before them predicting an "integral future," such as Harvard Sociologist Pitirim Sorokin.
And yet, approaching our third major international conference, we find ourselves stuck with a stubborn cultural meme which is the opposite of this message. The meme is demonstrated in this way: Almost every time one publicly sees either praise or criticism of the "integral community," the community is equated to Ken, to AQAL, or to those who surround him. The contributions of that specific community are defined as the essential contributions of integral, and the failings of that specific community are defined as the essential failures of integral. We believe this is neither fair to those in that community nor fair to those who take other integral perspectives. It is far too much pressure for one sub-group to carry - to be put under that kind of microscope - and it is far too little attention paid to others, who are rightly discouraged and put off.
Before we proceed with this point, however, let's ask this question: Why does this matter? Who cares how integral is defined and perceived? Isn't it enough to just make it work in the real world, or in one's personal growth, no matter what you call it?
To this we say "absolutely it matters" and let us tell you why.
Integral NGOs, corporations, practices and practitioners - by many names and under many systems - are currently multiplying at a fast rate. Complex global problems - social upheaval, terrorism, global warming, the world economic crisis - impact us directly in our daily lives and will bend to nothing less than integrated solutions. We believe that in the relatively near future, there will be a "tipping point" when integral practitioners and systems will move out of the position of being an underground thought-and-practice movement and have the chance to take a seat at the table with the established leaders of our social and intellectual discourse. How the field is defined once that transition begins will make a huge difference.
If we don't break this reality-resistant meme - that Wilber=integral - we may miss this critical opportunity. We will not be ready to compete in the institutions that shape our societies. This may have a serious impact on the larger integral zeitgeist, and even ironically for Ken's work itself. Progress will be set back or potentially lost.
Here's the hard truth: Ideas that are identified solely with singular geniuses often die or are marginalized. They can become insular and self-referential. Or they can be easily dismissed as charismatic movements or personality cults, fairly or not. History repeatedly shows us this.
On the other hand, when we open ourselves up to being a group composed of many voices, opinions, and perspectives, we become a tradition. Traditions can live on and on. In the words of Huston Smith, traditions "gain traction in history in the long run."
So we are taking this moment to say something very bold, both because we believe it is fact and because we believe it is important: We - namely all those who have presented and gathered at the ITC over the past three events, including 1500 people from over 30 countries, coming from many perspectives - as well as those who gather at similar events such as ILiA (Integral Leadership in Action) - represent the identity of the *real* integral community much more accurately than what is often narrowly defined as *the* integral community.
Our participants, of course, include the Boulder/Denver integral community - and we are dedicated students and practitioners of AQAL approaches - but we also respect and include so many more ideas and practices who are not part of that particular view. We are more broadly international, dialogical, and committed to creating an academic and practical tradition that critically examines and researches itself. We employ multiple models and perspectives beyond an AQAL-only perspective. We approach each iteration of the conference as a new opportunity to ask how we might continually foster and represent this larger, integral, transdisciplinary tradition. We want to gather the *whole* integral wave, not just one part of it.
We need your help to break the current meme. Here is how you can help: The next time you hear someone identify the integral community as simply Ken or AQAL and those who work with him, please interrupt that discussion and conversationally disagree. Let them know that integral is a worldwide and historically-grounded movement of which Ken and AQAL are an important part, but definitively not the whole. Point your peers to other integral thinkers (Gebser, Aurobindo, Morin, Bhaskar, Torbert); to the many integral books and pieces of literature written by the larger global community, which are appearing more frequently each year; and to events similar to ours - including ours - where all types of integral views are welcome. If you are an "integral leader." and present on integral to others, do the same. Help us break the meme and thus create a tradition.