Opening Invocations, Welcoming Address #ITC2015

We crowded into the The Cooperage at Sonoma State at around 7:30. Fashionably late from dinner (be warned, I will not be responsible if your college provides me with an infinite latte machine). 

I hurried over towards the front and grabbed a chair, immediately noticing the noticeably large plant that Mark Fabionar, the "brain child" behind the evening events at ITC2015, had shrouding his profile. A pomegranate plant? Sure enough. 

Many of you know the theme for ITC2015 is "Integral Impacts", but during the opening invocation tonight, Mark explained what the image of the pomegranate actually meant to him. After leading us through a brief meditation – bringing our attention to the body, the room full of participants, the campus, the hills of Sonoma and their ancient histories, he told us the mythical connotations behind this delicious fruit. Potent yet transformative, the pomegranate beckons further reflections beyond its sweet delicacy. Its juiciness leads us down the dark path of the unconscious; the shadow, and the transformations that lie therein. 

A further recognition, then, to have a real live pomegranate plant attending the opening invocation. He raises a vile and announces the pouring of libations for the opening ceremony. We say prayers to the dead. Those who have recently passed, like Roy Bhaskar (keynote speaker for ITC2013), Piaget, Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin, Alfred North Whitehead, Allan Watts and Bucky Fuller are among the few who are called out. Mark, a self-admitted science fiction fan, asks us to respond to each pouring of water over the pomegranate with "SO SAY WE ALL". I gladly chant this for every name invoked. 

I was called to attention the dispersed but rhizomatic lineage of the Integral tradition. Countercultural heroes. Mystics (though Alan Watts would only call himself an entertainer). Theologians. Thank you, especially, for the geeky invocation Mark. So say we all.

Next, Sean Esbjörn-Hargens steps up with a second meditation. 3 breaths, bringing attention to the self, the collective presence in the room, and the Sonoma State campus itself. Sean remarks how thrilled he is by the "field" of energy he sense is already "launched" from a day full of workshops and anticipation. 

I am curious what he will speak about tonight.

"Integral Impacts" is the topic. Of course! First, he shares an overview of the previous Integral Theory Conferences. Each one, he suggests was designed to facilitate "crucial conversations to deepen connections to self, other and world." The first was Integral Action. The second was Integral Differentiation (towards a Wilber-based, but not Wilber-centric theory). Lastly, the 2013 conference, the one I also attended, was Integral Meta Dialogue. Roy Bhaskar's Critical Realism and Edgar Morin's complexity.

Sean quickly mentions that "Integral" began as a philosophy in 1995 or so. "We've been at it for fifteen to twenty years. How can we have more impact?" he asks us. This year is all about "demonstrating impact". 

He jokes that meta theories don't always have the kind of impact they're looking for. The audience chuckles knowing all too well.

Here, he also mentions something intriguing: that meta theories may not be necessary in every situation. Perhaps some require you to take a non-integral stance (hence the Democracy 3D panels, where ITC panelists will be consciously taking stances for or against certain opinions). The point us, we need more discriminating on what integral impact really is when it happens, and the more interesting point for Sean: we need to start developing impact in an "integral way". That is, adding to the traditional statistical evidence of impact the qualitative dimensions.

"We're not living up to our potential, that's my sense," Sean pauses here and lets that sink in.

He uses the "vision logic" (joking, here) of Nike's "Just Do It" with Gandhi's "Be the Change" to make "Be Impact". 

That's the motto this year. BE IMPACT. Now, how are we going to be impact? 

Sean takes us through an overview of Meta Integral's mission to train leaders transform companies, and offer grants to integral initiatives. He gives us a few examples of what initiatives are already doing "out there". One of the first, and most interesting in my mind was the Slocan Integral Forestry Cooperative in Canada, managing to get 35K acres of forest and organizing across multiple communities (both rural and progressive). Then there was Gail Hochachka's work in Peru and Bolivia, helping to facilitate a "transformation of value chains" in the marketplace there. John Record's "Restorative Integral Support for Social Services" in California reported a 2x effectivity with its integral approach. Still more interesting was Bence Ganti's Integral Academy in Budapest, and the subsequent enrollment of 450 adult students and four universities formally recognizing Integral Psychology as an academic discipline. 

Still further mentioned was Marilyn Hamilton's work in Oklahoma's city of Durant, and their adoption of the Integral City mandala as an image of urban unity.

Sean also mentioned Jinoong Kim's (otherwise known as Bigbros) book getting published under the top fifty business books in South Korea. It is now available in every public library. 

Clearly, there has been some kind of integral impact in the world. Sean urged us to push for further, clearer results, statistics, and unique offerings that only integral methodologies could give these kind of initiatives. To fail to do so would be a "missed opportunity". 

"Business wise, we need to learn about impact".

Shifting gears, Sean gleefully noted Pope Francis and Laudato Si, the recent papal encyclical calling for an "Integral Ecology". Some of you may, or may not know this, but this is also the title of Sean's book

The term "Integral" in the recent encyclical is noted at least thirty times, featuring an entire chapter on Integral Ecology. 

But, does this mean that the Pope is influenced by Ken Wilber, or Sean? 

It turns out he is at least inspired by the works of Thomas Berry, St. Francis of Assis, and liberation theologist Leonard Boff. Furthermore, the encyclical calls for modern fragmented knowledge to be "integrated into a broader vision of reality". So does this mean that Pope Francis might be secretly reading Ken Wilber? "How else would we explain it"? Sean jokes. 

Regardless of whether the Pope is reading Wilber, or any kind of integral ecology, he is certainly thinking along the same lines. 

Lastly, and most excitingly for Meta Integral, was the announcement of the partnership with the The Nature Conservancy towards building a "Global Action Network". A new website and infrastructure dedicated to fostering professional, political, and social change. 

Immediate Reflections

Forgive my exhaustion, today (and tomorrow). Jet lag is setting in, but, in all likelihood, it is simply my lack of sleep (24 hours or so by now). I am sincerely excited and swept up by Sean's enthusiasm and vision for Integral Theory, the Integral Tradition and its application in the world; though, I do wonder at this point where this vision is aiming to go. After all, with Zak Stein's 3D Democracy panel stance that "integral is inherently anti-capitalist", and with midnight musings by fellow integral sympathizers, I can't help but wonder where we are leaning in anymore with the truly radical, post-capitalist visions for the future. Sean offers a vision – and examples – of Integral Impact is certainly a potent one; one that is respectable and important. Yet I want to lean in further. Deeper. There is an unmade world that lies just beyond the horizon of our discourse – one that is not articulated by the possibilities that are offered by taming "late-capitalism" into a more docile beast. 

The world of tomorrow is even stranger. ITC is offering a good vision, but can it reach into an impossible future and imagine a wholly other, different and better world? For myself, I seek a line of flight, and contemplate that our future may not be one which may be wholly initiated by smoothly paved steps but crisis. Transition hard won by the tremendous and hidden struggle of articulating an impossible, unknown. In that ultimate bifurcation, between a "benign capitalism" and some new articulation of planetary culture, how would we not choose the latter?

What do you think, ITC-goers and remote readers?