Chris Dierkes and Eric Towle: Searching for Centaur, Uprising of the Human Spirit #ITC2015

On Saturday, Chris Dierkes and Eric Towle hosted a "triad presentation": "Searching for Centaur: Recovering the Lost Symbolism and Self-Identity of Integral Consciousness" (Chris) and the "Uprising of the Human Spirit" (Eric). There are many reasons why I came to love this panel, but first, a recap. 

We start with a brief overview of Eric Towle's new book, The Uprising of the Human SpiritCivilizations rise and fall at a frequent level, historically, and both Jean Gebser and political science can help tell us why. He cites the meta theoretical work of Carol Quigley, who wrote extensively about cultural evolution. 

"New civilizations begin with new ideas coming into play. It's about consciousness opening up, producing new ideas, and new culture". 

Eric describes this initial periods as extremely "flexible", where a civilization's early life is healthy development and "exposition of these new ideas".

After a certain period, these new, flexible systems lose their flexibility. "Situations grow worse for the public as the elite defend their own interests, and if a society is not flexible, it won't be able to meet the needs of the people". 

In Gebser's terminology, this would be transition from the efficient to the deficient phase of a structure of consciousness. 

Older methods no longer work with new data (for example, Newtonian physics and Quantum Mechanics). The holders of a society are truly "holding it in place", and preventing the emergence a new structure. This, in turn, develops friction, importantly between "the experiences of evolving individuals and the society held in place by the elite". 

Quigley points out that this elitist suppression – a form of unhealthy hierarchy – begin attempts to quell social revolution through various means (militaristic, bread and circus, distraction, etc). The deficient consciousness of the ruling elite attempt to appease social agitation by throwing a bone to ameliorate.

Eric also importantly points out that each civilization will be different in how the elite tend to consolidate their positions. 

This is also what Jean Gebser describes as a time of tremendous anxiety. Sounds familiar?

This is where Eric switches tracks and starts describing an integral approach to reclaiming our integrative and spiritual power in an age where the deficient consciousness is predominant rule of law.

"In order for the integral to happen, you have to go back and re-establish the old structures".

All of the previous structures have to "be online" in order for the integral to emerge, Eric describes. "Evolution can't happen without it".

The archaic structure, for instance, is "immensely powerful". He describes how some indigenous cultures describe how "plants tell them" and instruct them how to find medicine. The magic is more about emotion, music and sound and sensuality. Also powerful dimensions of human experience. The mythic is the world of the psyche, imagery, aesthetics and the beauty of the world. it is also the dimension of story and narrative. 

Here, Eric makes what I think is a powerful point:

"If we don't inhabit these structures, the power structure will inhabit them. This is how the power structure controls them. It produces a false culture, it pumps all this culture out there, presenting the public with this image of reality that's not real. It becomes, essentially a diversion and disinformation, effectively maintaining the status quo".

This produces the effect of a collective that "marches along a descending society".

By bringing the previous structures online, we become individuated. "Unique creators". We can then work, and think, more democratically and challenge the unnecessary stagnation of deficient forms of consciousness and power.

Chris Dierkes on Searching for Centaur

Or, as Chris puts it, "Searching for Sugar Man". 

He starts out describing his new private practice.

"What if I could set a space that would allow for the structures of consciousness to be re-inhabiated, but without ever explaining what we were doing?" He would use no colors or charts.

Chris tells a little about his backstory as a spiritual seeker and the commonalities of "soul illness" he witnessed in both himself and the people he'd work with. 

So what would happen if the structures of consciousness were allowed to be re-inhabited? "Would Gebser's idea of integration and transmutation of all simultaneously start to come into existence?" Chris was reading Ken Wilber's Up from Atman when he reached a passage that struck him. The chapter on integral consciousness as centaur.

"As I'm rereading it years later, I had a bit of an epiphany or 'mind-blow' because all of the things Ken is describing in that chapter, he was describing what I was witnessing with my practice, in real time". 

He decided he needed to go back to the early corpus and begin reading Ken Wilber's work through the lens of the centaur, tracing the "evolution of its symbolism".

The centaur itself is a symbol of the human animal. A self-symbol (another version would be the mermaid). It is a symbolic representation of the human (cognition) with the animal (instinct/body) as one synthetic whole. 

Here he quotes Ida Rolf:

"The possibility, namely that in some way, as yet poorly defined, the physical body is actually the personality rather than its expression. The physical body is the energy unit we call human". 

In other words, in AQAL, the upper left and upper right intrinsically arising together.

Chris is suggesting that the body is the personality, and that the body, the personality can become the doorway to the transpersonal.

The centaur didn't remain the symbol for integral consciousness. In Wilber's later work, the centaur becomes identity, and integral becomes "vision-logic". We replaced the vision-image with vision logic to express integral. 

Vision logic has come to "predominate" what integral means and how we use it. It is valid, Chris suggests, but only part of the story.

Here Chris offers us a very interesting definition of integral:

"Integral is the ability to become super sensory in the present moment... Things become extremely clear."

He gives us some examples from his practice. During the session, he'll ask "where is your voice in this room?" Intuitively and imaginatively, they'll point out where they feel it is. He then asks them, "where is the path to your voice?" and invites them to journey across the room to find it. As they make their way to their voice, internal blocks will come up. "The body is the personality", Chris says, "watch for those signs".

He symbolizes "the entirety of their psychic reality" as a wall in the room. There is writing on the wall that says, "You can't go past this", and he asks them, "Do you want to erase that?"

When they do, Chris tells us that, very often, there is a spontaneous emergence of the centaur. 

Contrasting this kind of spontaneous, body-mind clarity, the vision logic form of integral "struggles forever" with a loss of natural intentionality. Despite its importance, Chris asks us if we shouldn't be starting with the integral centaur before we float up into those hyper cognitions of vision logic.

"I was missing this very healthy, grounded form of what it means to simply be an integrated and conscious human being". Interestingly, he notes that spiritual experiences may or may not emerge, but when they do, "he or she comes to them and integrates them from being human, a bodily human, a centaur, a mermaid". Problems occur when we don't start from there, when that is lost – as, he suggests, is the current state of integral affairs (later Wilber, like Wilber 4, 5, etc). 

He noted how telling it was when Sean Esbjörn-Hargens described, in his opening presentation (blogged here), that "Integral comes together in 1993 in Ken Wilber's Sex Ecology Spirituality". That is, around 1993. Chris remarks, "Read Spectrum of Consciousness!" But the point is well taken. SES came after The Atman Project, after the integral centaur. 

Immediate Reflections:

What struck me powerfully in this combinatory presentation was the significant macro/micro perspectives Tim and Chris were sharing. While Eric focused on the "meta" approach, that is, a look at the rise and fall of civilizations, cultural evolution,  what a "deficient" (Gebserian term) phase of consciousness looks like as it begins to consolidate itself, and how to gain "efficient" forms of thinking and being-in-world in order to empower yourself, Chris looked specifically at the integral movement's early "Centaur". Arguably, the Integral Centaur in earlier Wilber works was the "efficient" phase of integral, itself, and the latter Integral Theory? Well, here's where it gets tricky.

Chris also mentioned during his talk that the Vision-Logic development in Wilber's later work wasn't wrong. But something is amiss (willingly admitted to by Sean Hargens and other presenters in ITC2013's reflective panels looking at the integral shadow). Symptoms point to, as Chris mentions, "a lack of grounding," a loss of intentionality, and the common accusation of cognitive dissociation. A-political meta mapping while the city of Rome burns.

We also shouldn't forget that Chris stands alongside Zak Stein's critique of the "growth to goodness fallacy" (also presented in ITC2013) and Susanne Cook Grueter's "transcendent hubris" and Bonnitta Roy's critique of Integral Theory's "monological use of developmental logics" (Thanks, Bonnitta, for pointing this out in a recent, post-ITC thread).

None of this is to say we need to abandon Wilber's latter work. I don't think anyone, including myself, is calling for that. What I would like to see, however, is exactly what he mentioned in his talk: let the "right-brained" integralists have the play they deserve.

I think I echo both Eric and Chris in my introductory #ITC2015 blog when I write:

Integrative principles are not our principles. They are wild. Undomesticated by whatever orienting frameworks we give them. We are invited to listen.

Vision-logic is only part of what integral is. Without the rest, without the imagistic and grounded centaur, is it not possible we are suffering the same, systemic dissociative issues that the deficient mental-rational consciousness now suffers on a global scale? 

I'm excited to have both Eric and Chris as colleagues in this initiative. Let's hope to have more space for the integral centaur in ITC2017 and integral scholarship.