Integral Theory Conference: takeaways

I just returned from the Integral Theory Conference in Pleasant Hill, CA.  This is (arguably) the largest inter-disciplinary conference on the development and evolution of consciousness, from both an academic and a practical (business and social change) perspective. 

People often ask me “what is integral philosophy”, and I have been at a loss for words (Ken Wilber wrote 10,000 pages on this topic).  I feel a little clearer now in answering:

  • “Integral” is a philosophy and a model of consciousness and cultural development that asserts that human development occurs by successive integration of higher-order (more complex and inclusive) perspectives, but without making the previous perspectives wrong.  In short: “everyone is right” (even the Taliban – if you saw things from their eyes and from their developmental level, you would agree with them)
  • “Integral” asserts that human development (as in, increases in happiness, love, contribution and maturity) occurs best by acting simultaneously on all challenges at once – including both our personal development (consciousness) and our work in the world (service or contribution)
  • That spiritual development follows the same lines as above, and is no longer (if it ever was) only a solitary pursuit, but that it has become indistinguishable from our engagement with our communities  and our network

Seen as this is my lifelong obsession (doing God’s work while having a good time ;), it’s not surprising the conference blew my mind. For perhaps the first time in my life, I found myself in a large gathering with a group of people who seemed to have the exact same interest as me.  It was exhilarating.  I had such a sense of having “found my tribe”.  Apparently, many people have been thinking about this most troubling problem of mine for some time (success and happiness), they have ideas, even solutions. 

So – I am “in”. 

Aside from this, and great networking and other business opportunities, let me give another great takeaway.

I met a guy called Brian Whetten, very compelling guy, silicon-valley entrepreneur who has turned his mind to coaching integral business models (see, and is doing well at it.

His idea is that one of the greatest challenges we are facing as a society is helping people create careers and organizations that integrate both money and meaning.  The reason this is so difficult can be understood within integral theory: that money (or survival) is a lower-order need compared to meaning or fulfillment, but still must be (of course) included if we are to be highly-functioning in the world, offering our gift freely. 

Many of us are searching for work and careers that provide meaning and fulfillment, while by-passing or suppressing the issues that come up as we confront survival.  These issues come out as “shadow”, as all kinds of resistance and procrastination that many heart-centered (service-oriented) professionals experience.  This can manifest, for example, in resistance around enrollment activities, charging too little for our services, and a thousand other ways.

The key is this: we have to heal our shadow aspects before we can reach the kind of fulfillment, self-expression and joy (along with income!) that we deeply desire.  We have to take a more “integral” perspective on our resistances and other seemingly neurotic behavior – including them, paying attention to them, loving them as it were. 

I don’t know about you, but nobody taught me this in business school (or entrepreneurial school). 

Expect more to come on this.  It’s a very exciting time for me, and I am thrilled to have you in my life, to be able to share this with you.



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