In this two-part interview, Brett Thomas asks the authors of Occupy Integral to explain what’s really happening to our world from an integral perspective and how the Integral Movement can have a greater impact for positive change. [Occupy Integral! was originally published in the online magazine Beams & Struts by Terry Patten and Marco Morelli.]
In Occupy Integral! Terry and Marco write :
We post this manifesto in what feels like a moment of calm before the storm… it seems to be the quiescence or exhaustion following a complicated year. From revolutions in the Middle East to the Occupy protests in the US and globally, there is an upheaval brewing . . . and spilling over. We are four years into the global economic crisis, yet the fundamental issues relating to sustainability, debt, inequality, and so on have not been truly addressed, let alone resolved. Our political systems are in stalemate. Environmental signals are growing more distressing. Not only melting ice caps, but also the nuclear disaster in Japan highlight the size of the hole we are digging for ourselves. It would be fair to say that people are stressing out.
No doubt, there are plenty of encouraging things happening too. New technologies, new awakenings, new forms of creativity and cooperation, and all that jazz. That’s what makes it such an incredible time to be alive. Of course, we can look back 10, 500, or 2000 years and find similar stories of humanity on the edge of crisis and transcendence. Yet there’s an exponential intensity to the way in which our situation has been complexifying and accelerating (in other words, evolving) in recent decades, and there’s little doubt we’re on a steeper slope now. This might be why it seems like a moment in which consciousness is bracing or conserving its energy for the unknown that’s to come—that strange X that’s conjuring a higher order out of the chaos.
Brett: On your Integral Revolution website you write, “People everywhere are waking up to the reality that the world as we know it is dying, and a new world is struggling to be born. Across the globe, the streets are filled with people demanding change. Some are even giving their lives. And millions more are working for change more quietly, yet no less profoundly.” I think some people intuit that big changes are brewing, others wonder if this is really that different (given that there has always been conflict and change in every decade), and others are just puzzled, wondering, “What’s really happening?” My question to you is, “What IS really happening?” Can you describe what’s happening in the world in a way that is integrally informed yet comprehensible to an intelligent mainstream audience that may be unfamiliar with integral terminology?
Terry: That’s a pretty big question, Brett. To do it justice will likely require a whole book (underway), and even then we’ll leave out many important details. But a few things can be said, and need to be. I think we’re currently well into a “perfect storm” of epochal changes. On one hand, we human beings are learning to live with unprecedented connectivity to vastly expanded and rapidly-morphing virtual peer groups. Yet at the same time, our cultures, nations, institutions are colliding with others all over the world with incommensurate values, mindsets, structures of meaning-making, and states of consciousness. We also know that the current global economic crisis is not just another cyclical event, but rather an expression of fundamental shifts in our energy usage and availability, population and demographics, productivity and technology, and even the viability of the monetary system itself.
It’s no wonder billions of human beings are experiencing unprecedented stresses. Our connectivity and cultural freedoms (at least in some places) empower us more than ever before, but the dizzying pace of change, the sheer density of stimuli, the rancor of our politics, and the demands of a hyper-competitive global economy are like the tightening of an existential knot.
Meanwhile, those of us with enough advantages and education are integrating and synthesizing mankind’s ancient, modern and postmodern wisdom and scientific knowledge as never before, via integral theory, evolutionary awareness, and various other meta-systemic, meta-perspectival frameworks and practices. So there’s this countervailing upsurge into free awareness that senses new possible ways of being, individually and collectively, locally and globally. And the question is, how to make good on that intuition?
Take it all into account, swallow hard, and take a deep breath: This is your life, our shared life. We’ve been given a “genjo koan” by Life — a natural (not artificial) question that’s presented by our everyday experience — and it will change us, mature us, transform us if we “live” it (instead of trying to simply answer it with our minds). If we enter into it whole-bodily and authentically, and truly take it seriously. And since we’ve been given this Big Question together, we’ll only rise to meet it and be changed by it together — in mutuality.
So we’re being asked to become a community of practitioner-activist-leaders, each of whom dedicates him/herself passionately to a personal practice that includes active service, civic responsibility, and maybe even a little friendly agitation. Certain aspects of the world, certain nodes in the holographic Indra’s Net we call this world, absolutely need to be served. And we’ll only begin to succeed to serve them if we learn to cooperate in new ways, if we become faithful, trustable brothers and sisters to one another, sangha, practitioners enacting our connection with one another — each of us growing and serving and all of us being changed by the process of cooperating even while we pursue diverse approaches. But such cooperation is unprecedented.
And in the midst of all this, some of us have learned to speak the language of Integral theory, and we’re seeing the value of choosing to try to make everything described here explicit and conscious. We sense the process can only fulfill itself in a self-aware mode. That’s what is happening.
So this very dialog is an expression of that self-aware, self-actualizing emergent process, an expression that we hope will help enable us and everyone to find healthy places to co-create the healthy transformational cultural emergence our crisis is calling for.
Marco: Thanks, Brett, for giving us this opportunity to riff a little on a topic we’ve been thinking about, discussing, researching, and feeling into for a long time. And I think, fundamentally, Terry’s point about this world being a koan is how I’m practicing in relation to the question — in other words, I think a big dose of epistemological humility is called for. At some real and irreducible level, the truth is we have no fucking clue what’s “really” happening! Anyone who forgets that risks falling into ideology and self-delusion, and can even become a scary and dangerous person. On the other hand, it seems pretty obvious that we, as humanity — and even the Earth itself — are in the midst of a radical transformation. All it takes to see this is to look at the evolutionary story . . .
In the 4.5 billion years that Planet Earth has existed, our species homo sapiens has been around for approximately 200,000 years. On a 24-hour clock, that would be less than a minute. Most of this time, we were primitive hunter-gatherers. Only 10,000 years ago did we begin farming and building cities. Less than 3,000 years ago, the first mass-scale religions and empires arose. Just over 200 years ago, our modern nation-states were born, and the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions transformed not just our ways of life, but literally the face of the planet itself. Now, in the last 50 years, we’ve entered the Information Age, making communication, travel, and trade virtually immediate and global.
So what’s next? Following some great thinkers, we’re saying that the next chapter in the human story is a Planetary Age. This is a time when we’ll be charged with creating systems and ways of beings that are much more fully integrated, not just horizontally for global trade and communications (which is what Tom Friedman describes in The World is Flat), but vertically as well. That means integrating our global techno-economic and political systems with the Earth’s beautiful biosphere and with our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being and aspirations. And not just for the lucky few, but for anyone who wants it.
While holding the koan and the not-knowing simultaneously in our hearts, I think we can also describe a pretty amazing story, which is that a new world really is possible. It’s not guaranteed, and God knows, there may be dark and violent times ahead. But I think we can hold the vision (lightly, yet with boldness and passion) of a more just, good, true, and beautiful world to come, and realize that it’s up to us (not just integralists, but any human being who feels called and inspired) to do all we can to help birth it into being.
Terry Patten and Marco V. Morelli are the co-authors, with Ken Wilber and Adam Leonard, of Integral Life Practice: A 21st-Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening.
Terry and Marco are currently working on a new book called The Integral Revolution: The Future of Consciousness, Culture, and Society in the Planetary Age.