Mark Fabionar Talks the HUB at Sonoma, Integral Impact, & Aesthetic Enchantment


Mark Fabionar is the director of The HUB: An Integral Center for Diversity, Vitality, and Creativity at Sonoma State University. The HUB has partnered with MetaIntegral Foundation to convene the 4th international Integral Theory Conference: Integral Impacts. Located on the beautiful Sonoma State University campus, The HUB is surrounded by the rolling bright green hills of the Northern California countryside. Not far, in fact, from the Earthrise Center at IONS (The Institute for Noetic Sciences). When I visited in the spring of 2014, I immediately noticed the palpable effect that place could have on consciousness (you can find the recap for that experience here). At The HUB, you find a space where integrative principles are not only being warmly received, but enacted.

If there was one thing I was trying to say in the previous blog, "The Unthinkable Present", it was that we need to cultivate a sensitivity beyond our mentally constructed language of meta theories to discern what impact they have. Integrative principles are not our principles. They are wild. Undomesticated by whatever orienting frameworks we give them. We are invited to listen. "Integral" is articulated and intensified through multiple languages – Edgar, Wilber, Bhaskar, etc. – but owned by none of them. William Gibson's "unthinkable present," discerned, only perhaps, by the sensitive amongst us. Spoken, sung, remixed, examined. Art and scholarship realized as a continuum.

A few days ago I was delighted to talk over the phone with Mark about the compelling lineup of academic presenters, the first international integral art exhibition, and a host of evening performances that are bound to make ITC2015 one of the most interesting integral conferences yet.

Jeremy: Let’s talk about The HUB at Sonoma State University and its background working with integrative approaches. 

Mark: It’s been great to bring all these integrative ideas and principles to a campus where some of this is already being done. Integrative approaches to learning. We’re in the North Bay. Given the region, there’s familiarity with transpersonal psychology, integral theory, and the importance of developing the whole person and whole community. Having some of these core principles inform the practicum of diversity, social justice and leadership work we do through the HUB. It’s been really a treat being in an environment that supports that. We’re developing a sense of maturity in the sense that we’re not just experimenting with programs, like we were in the first year or two. It feels like our center is maturing, and we’re partnering not only with on campus entities that share a similar desire of cohesiveness, social justice and diversity, but with a number of partners, individual artists, activities and entities outside of the university that also share our vision. This includes a number of people within the integral community, around the area and even a little bit beyond. There’s a sense of cohesiveness that’s energizing in some regards, and novel, particularly at a public university!

J: That’s what’s so interesting about it! There seems to have been a lot of positive response from the university and the cultural zeitgeist in the area is really synced up with your vision, and your mission.

M: We have some folks from the North Bay Organizing Project locally that do a lot of social justice work. We’ve connected with social entrepreneur, tech folk in the Bay Area who find meaning in wanting to serve the triple bottom line. It’s a really diverse mix, but it’s aligned. It’s not hodgepodge postmodern craziness. It’s a good mix of folks who are genuinely interested in what we’re exploring here.

J: Being here on the East Coast is different. I mean the intellectual atmosphere. There’s certainly cross-disciplinary work going on, but it sounds like what you’re experiencing on the West coast has a level of coherence to it. 

How did the MetaIntegral Foundation approach you, and The HUB, about the conference?

M: I’m in touch with a number of integrated thinkers and practitioners who I felt were appropriate to bring to the hub, and offer their gifts and wisdom. Whether it was social justice, or the wisdom tradition series, there were a number of thinkers who I’d bring to the center. It naturally happened.

Another big part of it was that we moved to a brand new student center. We’ve moved in there just over a year and a half ago. It’s the main facility that will be used for the conference. As I brought in thinkers and practitioners, I kept hearing: “This would be a nice place to host ITC.”

I’ve met with Sean Esbjorn-Hargens before since he’s right in our backyard. He’s a brilliant man in so many different ways and a scholar at heart. He has a love and desire for university campuses. I think Sean wanted to have a beautiful environment to create a kind of ecosystem or container for this type of conference to evolve into a next level experience – this was the potential that he and I both saw when we decided to partner. It happened naturally.

Also, the fact that The HUB is a public institution. The students we primarily work with are historically under-represent students, students of color, and students we don’t normally see in these human potential and integrative circles. There’s an attractiveness to some of the ITC folk for wanting Integral Theory to be less insular. Particularly around the conference theme of Impact, it made sense to ask: how can we create the best conditions and environments where we have deeper and greater impact? In multiple communities and multiple publics? Sean generally shares that vision. I think that’s exciting.

You and I have talked about the need for that in these holistic and human potential communities: to be more connected to diverse publics and diverse communities, as well as tracking what is already happening within diverse communities that might not fall within the rubric of Integral Theory.

J: It’s wonderful to see these important and serious questions being asked. What kind of community are we building if there are such large, inclusive claims? How can we really live up to the theoretical framework in a way that’s engaged with socio-cultural issues happening on the ground? Is the ground informing us?

How is ITC 2015 specifically going to explore integral impact?

M: It’s an echo of the 1960s in some regards in the question of how do we know what we’re doing is relevant in relation to the social, political, and ecological issues of our time? Framing it around impact is an epistemological question, in the sense of: how do we know? How do we know what we’re doing is impacting? What are our systems, our measurements, and to what extent is Integral Theory a privileged discourse and theory?

There’s something that is attractive about integrative thinking and Integral Theory, and we want to hold onto that because it seems to solve problems in our lives, and provides some kind of answers for us in the chaos of our lives. But how do we know if it really works if we’re not applying it, and experimenting with it on the ground in different domains? That gets to the heart of what I’m really curious about as someone who’s been following this type of work – among other works around change – for the last fifteen to twenty years.

Basically: how do we know, and then, how do we demonstrate impact? We have a number of people who have original research around impact in the fields of business, psychology, the areas of justice, international development, coaching and spirituality. But what I think I’m also excited about is the impact of art and performance.

As you know, we’re having our very first International Art Exhibit that Michael Schwartz is organizing. It will intersect well with the conference theme. It begs the question: How is the impact of aesthetics of beauty, performance, music and dance as a way to captivate, inspire – and to use Michael’s language, an ‘aesthetic of enchantment’ – new ways of being and acting in the world?

That’s the power of visual art, music and poetics. We have an amazing lineup of evening cultural performances.

J: So let’s talk about the conference design.

M: We’re really focusing on cultivating an ecosystem, or a sense of community. The campus, when we talk about aesthetic and the impact of beauty, is itself really beautiful. We have people staying at a nice villa accommodation that our students are really fortunate to have. But it’s really about creating a container – to feel inspired and connected, and feel the subtle yet powerful energy of connection through this type of natural and built environment. That’s the design. That’s why we chose Sonoma State University.

Like you, I admire so many of the integrative thinkers, researchers and practitioners. During the day, almost all of the presentations are going to be taking place in the student center’s breakout conference rooms. If we think about it, almost in a mythic way – and I'm playing with these terms particularly – the daytime is the realm of the intellect. Very solar, even masculine. Then, in the evening specifically, we have a separate community room that’s centered in the lodging area. That evening room is specifically for the cultural performances and the early morning practices, the meditation and yoga practices, and intersubjective practices. The evening time – what I imagine it to be – is for embodied and relational ways of knowing and being. If the presentation time in the morning is the solar and the masculine, this is more of the feminine, the descent.

If you play around with the pomegranate metaphor: it’s the juiciness. It’s the going down. Engaging the many. The shadow. The juiciness of it all, so to speak.

The first night, we have a “Metaphorphosis.”In terms of bringing a number of really amazing performance poets and spoken word artists to share their work. We selected incredible poets who embody a range of energies we all feel as human beings. From sadness to sorrow to ecstasy, to want and jealousy, all the things that make us human. They embody it with such power that we wanted to offer that the first night. We have folks like Mindy Nettifee, who BUST Magazine called “the linguistic orgasm we’ve all been waiting for.

Jason Bayani is a really well known and respected poet in the Bay Area. We have “Mighty” Mike McGee, who won the World Poetry Slam Championship a couple of times. We have some really engaging people who are going to provide powerful world play, embodied poetics, and quite honestly sacred space. Then we’re going to have a dance that night – DJ Adamah – who’s going to spin for us that night. And that’s just the first night!

J: And that’s just the first night, whew!By the way Mark, how would you define integral art? What does that mean to you?

M: Michael Schwartz  – within the realm of academia and art history, he’s the man I’d ask you to talk to about integral art.

One of the things that I like to talk about is that there’s a way to experience and recognize integral art as a trained scholar and philosopher, and there’s a way to experience it and notice it as a practitioner. As a lay person who’s exposed to these ideas. Maybe there’s not necessarily a language, or definition, but there’s a knowing. That knowing is powerful.

When I hear a poem by Mindy Nettifee, I can feel it somatically, I feel it in the imaginal. I go somewhere subtly. I disappear sometimes when I read or listen to her work. That to me could be classified as embodied poetics, or integrative, or integrative poetics. Without having to define it.

More importantly what does it serve in addition from just defining it? It’s not necessarily the definition that’s as important as: am I captivated? Am I inspired? Can I imagine myself and others engaging differently in the world? It’s kind of like that.

J: You’re pointing towards a descriptive and process oriented understanding of integral art. Again, it’s about what it does. What’s the impact? The terminology is important as scholars, but it's really about how it's enacted. How it's lived.

M: Yes, and the way Michael Schwartz is defining integral art is by looking at complexity, global perspectives, and diversity, but also: integral art is really a recapturing and rediscovering of enchantment in a very subtle way. The enchantment of modernity, of some of the romantics – bringing that forward feels resonant to me. It’s really about the ability to capture, or captivate the whole.

How do we captivate ourselves for whole action?

J: Let’s hear about the next two nights. 

M: The second night going to be a one person show called Wrestling Jerusalem. This is a one-person play by Aaron Davidman that’ll run 85 minutes. He’s embodying so many different perspectives on the conflict – or tragedy depending on how you frame it – from the position of a multiple characters. It’s phenomenal work. He’s also a MetaIntegral grantee. His play received rave reviews and is being turned into a film. We’re really lucky to have him.

Prior to Aaron’s play we’re having two poets and scholars who will be offering a transition around their work as both artists and practitioners. They’re preparing the space, in a sense, transitioning away from straight scholarship to straight performance.

The final night we’re calling “Deeper than Day.” It’s going to be a phenomenal night to close out. It’s going to be MC’d by an artist performer named Dahlak Brathwaite. Dahlak had his one person show Spiritrials, which opened up in the mission district. It's about searching for meaning as an African American man going through a spiritual rite of passage, involving the sociocultural dynamics of being a black person in a surveillance culture.

We also have Butterscotch performing. She was one of the first artists we thought of bringing to ITC. She’s a millennial. A classically trained musician who’s a big fan of jazz and a world champion beat boxer. She performed with Stevie Wonder and has been featured on America’s Got Talent. Talk about embodiment of an integrated artist! She combines high art with low art. Classically trained bringing hip hop with beat boxing. Plus, she has a lineage. One of her ancestors was the first person to sing “Summertime” by Porgy and Bess. She has her own interpretation which she’s going to be beat boxing for us.

That doesn’t even close it out.

We’re going to have an all woman dance troop called Mix’d Ingrdnts from Oakland who bring ballet, all types of modern dance brought together into a cohesive offering. Then, finally, we’re going to have a dance to the Riffat Sultana. She is a Pakistani woman with a really transgressive act. In her lineage, she’s not supposed to be sharing what she’s sharing because she is a woman. But she does it as a musician, and she does it to a backdrop of pop and rock and roll. It’s extremely danceable.

The whole idea is that there’s a lot that’s going to be happening in the lunar time, in the evening, that we need to engage.

J: How did you go about selecting the artists for this conference?

M: I asked a lot of questions about what the community wanted to hear, but I also asked what was missing in these types of events. That came into play.

The intent is to do what we say, to expose folks to diverse ways of knowing, diverse people, value systems and worldview that people might hold are outside our normal, everyday experience. “Oh yeah, I know this modern, premodern, postmodern worldview.” Well, how directly do we really experience people outside the realm of scholarship, or the realm of coaching?

J: For my final question, let’s switch over now to the daytime schedule. The conference presenters. Who’s giving something about integral impact that was really missing?

M: I’ll focus on the keynotes, and specifically Elza Maalouf. I’ve known Elza for a long time, seen her in action and in different contexts. She’s a phenomenal human being who’s not afraid to getting on the ground and getting the work done. She also has a very deep interior, artistic life in addition to being an intellectual and a change agent.

She’s really exploring the question of how we can find integrative and – particularly what she and Don Beck call "natural design" principles – to answer some of the fragmented challenges of the Middle East. She’s deeply informed by Integral Theory, but largely by Don Beck and Spiral Dynamics. There’s a critique of Wilberian Integral Theory, and a critique of Spiral Dynamics as well, but what I like about her is she’s actually exploring. Doing action research. Working with tribal communities, working with modern, with traditional communities where there’s clashes and danger. She’s doing it in live time and then retreating back to ask: how is this working? Then she takes that information back out there and does more experiments, and ultimately helps people out.

It’s important at a theoretical level to critique theory. It’s hard to separate theory and practice, however, I’m really curious and wanting to hear about people on the ground applying these types of concepts. Seeing what really works.

Elza is a theorist, but she’s an informed theorist, based on her work on the ground. That, and as an Arab woman living in the United States, doing work in the Middle East, is why we need to listen to her with a generous curiosity.

There’s a range of people I’m excited about. We have Adam Leonard from Google, talking about his on the ground work there. We have a teacher of the year from Sacramento who is part of the first public high school that brought Waldorf pedagogy to the high school with emphasis on social justice.

That kind of integrative learning may not be Wilberian, but it’s on the ground. It captured the attention of her colleagues – I want to learn from her!

J: If you’re interested in these metatheories, you’re hopefully inspired to act and implement them in your life. Whatever your profession may be, it’s a question that you ask yourself: how can this affect the human situation? If metatheories are inspiring us to act, let’s talk with the people who’ve done that.

M: And also: how do we develop new ways of seeing and perceiving the ways in which these integrative approaches are already working in communities that are different than ours, and that we may not readily identify because it’s not Wilber, Morin, or Gebser?

I’ve been in impoverished communities of color where there is deep, deep developmental evolutionary emergent work that I would call integrative, but it’s enacted in a way that’s different than what we get in integral theory. That doesn’t mean it’s not integral.

I’m not trying to say it’s all relative: that we can be postmodern about everything, and we can all identify with integral. Yet we do need to learn to look for what is already existent and emergent, but may not be in the cultural garb we’re used to seeing it in.

J: Thank you Mark for the wonderful interview.

Hello ITC readers! I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Mark Fabionar. Help support my blogging efforts by donating, and/or sharing my Indie GoGo Campaign for ITC2015. Thank you. Much more to come!