IEC 2016 Opening Address by Dennis Wittrock
I feel blessed to be able to welcome you to this second Integral European Conference. My own history with integral reaches back 16 years now when I first picked up a book by Ken Wilber and got introduced to Integral. Finally, there was something I wanted to share and amplify in the world, something that reflected my own values and way of thinking. Something true, good and beautiful. Something I could truly stand for. But it has not been an easy journey with integral through all these years. I started out with an innocent and naïve hope, that the Integral Revolution is just around the corner, a big explosion of deeper understanding, compassion and saner ways of treating each other and the planet – similar to my own individual “Heureka”-moment when I first ran into this stuff. Boy, was I wrong about that.
But, as Ken Wilber says, “nobody is smart enough to be wrong all the time”. I erred, but only about 20 years, or so. I felt like I’ve had a sneak preview of the future – with the little problem that only everybody else around me would have to catch up to make it a reality. But I was ready to become a source of that, to teach to others what I wanted to learn about integral myself, to lay down the railway-tracks while riding that train to this brighter, smarter, more humane place. Luckily, I found that was not alone in that. We’re never alone if we follow our hearts. We get introduced to people, things fall into place, we’re being lovingly guided, enveloped by a higher intelligence.
The first IEC was envisioned 2012 in Berlin, where I had invited two dozen integral leaders from Europe to come together and create visibility about what is going on in the national integral movements and associations. The goal was to connect and share and reinforce each other. This culminated in the first IEC 2014 in Budapest with the title of “The Emergence of Integral Consciousness in Europe”.
Of course, Integral consciousness did not emerge in 2014 – it has been around well before that, described by various pioneers of psychology and consciousness research like James Mark Baldwin or Prof. Clare Graves, cultural anthropologists like Jean Gebser, or spiritual philosophers like Sri Aurobindo. The work of Ken Wilber is simply the most recent and most compelling evidence of a phenomenon to which the mainstream is blind, but that is definitely out there and in here: a new complexity of consciousness is being born in our midst, creatively expressing itself in a multitude of ways.
Professor Clare Graves, a pioneer in describing the levels of human existence and “grandfather” of the Spiral Dynamics model, always reminded us to view the emergence of a new consciousness in relationship with the exterior life conditions that humans are facing. New life-conditions give rise to new consciousness, which in turn produces new and more complex life conditions, and so on – but there is no guarantee that the process will at all times spiral upwards towards sweetness and light. Regression is very possible.
This year’s title is “Reinventing Europe – Integral Reflections in a Rapidly Changing World”. Europe is clearly at a point of crisis. The influx of refugees, economical difficulties, war in the Ukraine, the rise of nationalism, and the questioning of the basic values of the European Union create new life-conditions and complexities that need to be dealt with. Who has all the answers to all these challenges? We’re not supposing that we as integral movement do, but what we offer is to bring to bear an integral perspective on these issues. Because a little more wholeness and integrality is so much better than increasing our efforts to solve things with a fragmented view of reality, a disembodied stance, ignorant with regard to the evolution of consciousness and culture. Or in short: with a crappy map of reality. I do believe, that we can do better than that. I do believe we can truly stop being part of the problem and become a part of the solution instead.
As you may have noticed, this year in our program we’re putting an emphasis on the contributions from the emerging Teal-movement. Frederic Laloux’s book “Reinventing Organizations” has not only inspired a dynamic and rapidly growing community of organizational pioneers, but also our conference title “Reinventing Europe”. The message of the book is: it is already happening, folks! Organizations are changing and demonstrate that they are able to operate from a completely new level – “teal”, “yellow”, “integrated”, “integral” – whatever you want to call it. People and organizations that have never heard about integral, Ken Wilber, Laloux or Spiral Dynamics are already expressing integral in action: self-organization, evolutionary purpose and wholeness – for years. This is really hopeful and truly inspiring for me to see.
One example: in 2006 I ran into Brian Robertson and Tom Thomison with their teal organizational practice “Holacracy”. Back then I sensed the huge potential and brought them to Germany for their first European tour in 2007. Now, nine years later, they are really going through the roof with major companies implementing their method and the practice spreading like wildfire. Clearly, change is happening and there is a great longing for a new way of working together and expressing our shared purpose through that.
We are happy to join forces this year with George Pór, Alia Aurami and Chris Clark from Enlivening Edge. We wish to marry the Reinventing Organizations movement with the international integral movement. Welcome to our honeymoon. Organizations are a powerful force on the planet and transforming them is necessary – but is it sufficient? I like how George reframed the challenge of scaling the Reinventing Organizations work to a bigger context. He spoke of “Reinventing Social Systems”. This falls completely in line with the theme of “Reinventing Europe”. To reinvent Europe, we need to do the nitty-gritty work in all areas of society: in education, in science, in business, in economics, in politics, in community building, spirituality, etc, etc. We are lucky be able to feature and highlight the work of so many of you who have contributed to make IEC such a rich integral tapestry.
We will hear awesome keynote speakers. But the real star of the show is the integral community itself. This is why we designed the conference format to maximize engagement among participants during thematic sections, transformative workshop sessions and community events. Make use of this unique opportunity to meet, mingle, share and inspire each other!
Let me offer some critical reflections about larger patterns in the integral scene. All of us who have followed the integral movement over the last decade have witnessed the rise and fall of self-proclaimed integral spiritual teachers who apparently did not live up to what I view as one of the cornerstones of integralism: basic ethics and integrity. Nobody among is without failures and shadows – and in fact at IEC we are actually offering forums and feedback for anybody willing to work on their personal stuff.
These figures, among them Marc Gafni, Andrew Cohen, and Genpo Roshi, have done damage to the public reputation of integral itself – so much so, that there was a major debate at the last Integral Theory Conference, whether or not Integral Theory should distance itself from spirituality altogether. I don’t think so, but I get the point. My hope and my experience in being with the integral community is that there is an ability to sense and to differentiate between what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to spirituality or any other topic. I encourage you to exercise your ability to make your own critical discernments and draw clear boundaries, thereby making sure the community self-corrects and does not devolve into groupthink, hubris or the tempting idea of one’s own superiority.
These so-called teachers are not infallible, Integral is not going to save the world, Ken Wilber is not our guru, the Integral community is not a cult, you are not “superior” to your fellow human brothers or sisters, a late stage of development is no guarantee for happiness or fulfillment in life – it depends on what you do with it.
But all of that is no excuse whatsoever to withhold or hide all our gifts from the world, all the brilliant theories and distinctions, your passions and talents, your hopes and your dreams. And integral has a lot of them. So bring them to the table and let your light shine. As always it is both- and: humility and divine pride, total surrender and completely going for what you believe in.
I would also like to offer some thoughts about the cohesion and level of integration of the integral scene itself. Integral is diverse. We have a lot of brilliant individualists, expressing their self authentically and doing integral work in the world. You could call that a healthy “yellow” autonomous self-sense. Many Integralists are like cats – ironically, it is hard to get them together and join forces. The Integral scene is not very integrated in itself. Everybody’s got their own little integral hub, their little integral business, their little turf, but a concerted, coordinated global action seems extremely rare or hard to achieve among integralists. I speak from experience. There is too much infighting going on, too many ego-games, too little working together towards a shared global purpose – despite the fact that we agree on so much more things than on what we disagree on. Now I would like to ask you all to raise you right hand and gently slap your forehead with your palm like this. Speak after me “THIS IS STUPID.”
I find it a bit of an irony and maybe there is truth to the concept that early integral is very individualistic, whereas more mature integral swings back to the collectivistic pole of the polarity. I think we sorely need this higher collective integration of integral tribes and initiative, a true conspiracy of sanity on this planet, where finally some smart and caring grown-ups get together and have a serious conversation about the future of our planet and what we as Integral Movement are willing to give and – dare I say – sacrifice for that. Don’t ask what integral can do for you – instead ask what you can do for integral!
The ultimate act of heroic leadership – its paradoxical fulfillment – is the moment, when our integral leaders give up their self-concerned power games, when we give up our need to be front and center, when we give up our need to run the show, to be at the top of the hill , the need to control our peers, but instead trust their intelligence and good will and collaborate.
I am standing here on this stage and speaking to you as what some might see as an “integral leader”. Let me tell you this: I never aspired to be in this position. Rather, I ended up here because I was never really satisfied with the degree of implementation of integral ideas in the world. I am still not. I would have loved to join a mature integral organization in my area. There was none. I was ahead of my time, lonely, craving for connection, longing for a community of the adequate, for true integral fellowship.
But you can only complain for so long. In the end I rolled up my sleeves and joined various loose networks and worked to improve the structures, organizations and connections that I found. I ended up leading Integral Europe, but I am not particularly keen on leading. Leading is difficult – people project all kinds of stuff onto you – good or bad – and then rather stand back, watch and criticize what you do from afar. I would rather like to co-create with grown-ups on a grown-up level and work together towards a shared higher purpose.
Look at worldwide politics for example. It’s a mess. The truth is that we let immature children run our countries and fuck up our planet. I have a 8-year-old boy at home, so I know what childish behavior looks like. Would the true grown-ups please stand up? Do it with me. Please stand up now for a moment.
That’s what we need to Reinvent Europe!
I wish you a great conference!