Integral Embodiment in the Classroom: Transformative Practices Across Three Lineages – Pre-Conference Workshops #ITC2013
by Jeremy Johnson
Education is Integral to Creating Culture
Willow Dea and Matthew Rich
Willow is the author/editor of Igniting Brilliance: Integral Education in the 21st Century. Education is such a hugely important topic for me, and I think, for transforming culture. Like the monasteries (since this morning’s session is still on my mind) of Medieval Europe were containers for education, religious practice, cosmology, and culture (and among other things, gardening, technology… Yes, you know, the monks developed the first modern clocks to keep track of the calender), schools are modern-day containers for raising the next generation, getting the community involved, and nourish the towns, cities and villages they find themselves in. Education is integral to culture. That’s why I’m here.
1:45 PM: Willow Dea and Matthew Rich introduce themselves. They’ve been working together – mainly online – and so this is their first time really collaborating in person. Yes, this is friendship in the internet age.
Willow discusses her book : “It’s about embodied education and perspectives.”
We go around the room, introducing ourselves. Wow, so many educators here already. Great to be in the room with them.
2:00: Willow guides us through a heart-centered meditation. Feeling grounded, more folks walked in the door immediately after. Here we go.
2:07: Matthew Rich asks the room who’s familiar with Integral Theory, Integral Yoga, and Edgar Morin’s Complexity Though. Mixed responses for the latter two – I’m not as familiar with Morin’s work, but Integral Yoga (Sri Aurobindo) has been a spiritual companion for me.
Integral Yoga is first. Very happy to hear Sri Aurobindo‘s work brought to attention (not enough IMO). Matthew recognizes that Aurobindo’s influence on Wilber is tremendous, even if Wilber has mis-appropriated it in some respects. Very true. Aurobindo has a huge literary output spanning so much: education, social psychology, east/west synthesis, so much more.
Now onto Edgar Morin. Complexity Thought and meta-theory. “Very different sensibility and texture to Wilber, and Bhaskar. Much more contintental flavor, and a strong influence of postmodern, continental theory, systems thinking… Strong neomarxist influence. Early in his career, he was very involved in communism in France. He is a sociologist by training, but very trans-diciplinary.”
Wrote Seven Complex Lessons for UNESCO: “Important contribution in transmitting complex insights that can be used in the classroom.” – Excellent!
Now Ken Wilber. “One of the most comprehensive meta-frameworks available… but not without room for criticism.” Matthew says that its “incredible elegance” is “one of its greatest strengths and one of its greatest weaknesses.” Can be applied in immediate ways. His desire to create something elegant and simple has led to sloppiness in his scholarship. This is one way Bhaskar and Morin can contribute by “re-introducing a kind of messiness” to integral thinking – big yes to this! Something many critics of Wilber have been saying for over a decade, including my own writings here on EL and Beams and Struts. Mentioned this in my first blog: “a good theory leaks.”
Willow Dea: “We get to store information faster, and have a more seamless experience.” Gives example of Steve Jobs, producing elegant machines that we experience. “I get to walk through the world an navigate… with these distinctions.” Yes, there is a kind of metanoia that happens when you internalize a set of orientations.
Willow says that there is a synthetic aspect to this, in bringing so many things together. Folks who are like this tend to be “on fire” and really hold attention to “whatever they’re embedded with.” Good way to put it.
She brings up Zach Stein’s critique last conference: Using integral in a descriptive and evaluative way. “We have to be careful about collapsing it as a way to describe people.” Again, another big yes and important criticism. I personally moved away from the integral communities for a while around this issue.
Matthew Rich brings up the “growth to greatness” idea: using Spiral Dynamics to move towards greater levels. “That’s just blue,” or “that’s just orange.” The idea that people “get better” as they get “more developed” is a fallacy and misuse of Integral Theory.
“What we’ve lost touch with is the incredibly dynamic nature of development. It’s not this really simple, linear process. Complexity thinkers like Morin have a lot to contribute to our understanding of development in that way.” – Matthew Rich
“People in the educational system do a lot of damage to students with these evaluative labels.” Yup. But to toss out these labels is also a loss – Matthew encourages us to maintain a tension between embracing labels too readily and dismissing them offhand. I tend to agree with this “middle-way” approach. Could it be the rigidity of embracing – fetishizing – developmental models (growth to goodness, etc) are actually a kind of failure to embrace synthetic, “complexity” thinking? A kind of failed leap to a new metanoia. Just thinking out loud here.
2:51: We just went through a great meditation/visualization exercise. We moved through the evolution of the universe. Some great moments contemplating the vastness of the universe without life – rocks and inanimate objects – and then into life (Matthew notes that Sri Aurobindo called this “the Vital”), and then into the awakening of the self-conscious mind.
Teilhard de Chardin called this mind “turning upon itself.” We ended with an imaginative exercise into the future. What might be next? Interesting answers from everyone. Blankness – infinite potential – white light. For me, I thought of the mystics and Sri Aurobindo’s “gnostic being,” and physiologically, felt a humming around my forehead and the top of my head. I thought: “This, whatever this is. There is more, and there is joy in this encounter.” Not sure entirely how that plays out, visually. But there it is. Good exercise.
“There’s a kind of enfoldment taking place,” Matthew describes. “This narrative… this evolution of consciousness Sri Aurobindo talks about, especially in his philosophical work, The Life Divine, and his epic poem Savitri.” Savitri will get your mind buzzing and your heart into a flutter of poetic ecstasy. It does for me, at least.
Matthew is giving a run-down of Aurobindo’s writings. That man is a transitional being, “part of an evolutionary process that will be, once more, transcended and included.” Aurobindo has the physical, the vital (life energy, emotional energy, drives), the mental, the potential to move beyond the mental into the supramental.
“This narrative we carry in our own bodies, and in our societies.”
“Our relationship to our physicality takes place through our minds… and to our relationship to our vital aspects take place through our minds.” Commenting on the visualization exercise and what we were doing. Matthew says there is great educational significance in integrating these aspects of ourselves.
“From an educational perspective, we can integratively engage all of these domains, and this gives a new psychological model of wholeness… in how we engage people in an educational sense.”
Matthew also says we need to situate everything into “complexity.” Education. Culture. Everything involved, everything interconnected. All of this plays directly into education. Matthew was a Montessori teacher, notes about “cosmic education.”
“Rooting whatever we teach in its interconnectedness, and in this grand narrative of consciousness. I’d like to issue an invitation to engaging educational interactions/occasions from this perspective of wholeness and interconnectedness, and in terms of how they fit within a story which has directionality. Consciousness’s evolution, which is going somewhere. There’s no stopping it.” – Matthew Rich
“When we’re bringing consciousness into the classroom, what we need to do better is listen.”
3:07: “How do you bring the consciousness of consciousness to your practice?” Willow asks everybody. Great question! Very interesting answers. Some of us are currently working with kids, others adults. Learning about how they implement these ideas in the classroom or with their organizations. Some are more personal, like “Just reflecting on consciousness and self-awareness,” being an exercise.
For me it is my writing that is often a kind of psycho-spiritual exercise. Contemplative and imaginative exercises as I work out things in myself and also, most importantly, work with what I sense “wants” to be said through the work. The complex storm of practicality, creative ecstasy, communion with the “spirit” of the page as a creation, and the self-reflexivity of writing as I switch in and out of these different modes of consciousness – all while getting words on the page! And I don’t mean this in terms of fiction writing (though it is true there too) but academic, scholarly, and consciousness-oriented literature. Many folks seemed to resonate this in their own work. Orients me towards the importance of the “messy” orientation Matthew and myself seem to be saying. This seems to be hugely important. Not only in that it applies to meta-theories, but our own personal alchemical journey of transformation of “self” and “society.”
3:22 “Individual, species, society.” Matthew Rich brings up this idea from Complexity Thought. These three things orient us towards a perspective of wholeness… Break time!
3:37: Great interim conversations on education and integral in transforming culture. More on this later. Now we’re back. Brief introduction to Spiral Dynamics, but as it turns out, we’re all pretty familiar with the basics. Moving on…
“Healthy blue is a really helpful stage for learning about discipline, morals and rules, how to be good. A lovely structure for how to behave in the world. Having moved to Texas, I’ve got a lot of exposure to this.” -Willow Dea
Next is orange. “Very few systems are orange. Very few emphasize an achiever mindset.” Interesting. I wonder if this has changed since the 1950’s – prior to the postmodern turn.
This part is interesting because of the earlier comments on not using these categories so sweepingly, but we’re using it here, now. Describing “orange” and “blue” and “green” schools. Then again though, we’re on the topic of S.D. and using that model to reflect on educational approaches, so I don’t think it’s a problem. Plus, everyone’s familiar with it. I wonder, though, if we can use models like S.D., well, more dynamically (messier). Perhaps here more than elsewhere for folks who’ve adapted S.D. in their consciousness curriciulum is where we have to be the most adept and dynamic if we’re to use it as a pedagogical tool (as Matthew Rich was saying).
“Integrity is a huge part of each of these stages… but in an orange school, integrity looks like academic rigor.” -Willow Dea
A good question: someone brings up her experience about public school actually being more orange: gold stars, competition between students, goals and achievement boards, behavior management, etc. I tend to agree.
Matthew has a good response to this, in that modernization has affected and influenced just about everything, making education economistic. In practice, he says, “the values brought in by the people working there… the social milieu is far more ethnocentric, more blue.” Again, interesting. I wonder if we can really detach bell ringing and secularized mechanizations (grading, routine, etc.) from the culture floating atop the system – doesn’t it mean that the system, the sea in which we swim, has a dominant influence or affection?
Interesting, Willow admits to making a mistake of a “big fat generalization.” Love the receptivity from both her and Matthew on this. The discussion is going really well.
3:59: Now we’re moving onto the next part. Time to get out of our chairs. Image of a Whirling Dervish, “Dancing the Altitudes.”