Thursday, February 13, 2014

Faith and the Integral Leader

Be sure to read Nancy's post first.  A wonderful look into our President's faith life. The question I think Nancy is asking is: "How does Obama's description of his interior faith life align (or not) with your understanding of how other integral leaders describe their faith?" In other words, are there characteristics of faith that integral leaders have in common and does Obama "fit the model"?

My answer to both questions is: Yes - there are ways of being in faith that integral leaders share, and President Obama is clearly an exemplar. But before going to Nancy's question, I want to put down some basics of integral developmental theory. For a much better view, read Ken Wilber, particularly (to begin) his A Brief History of Everything; or visit his website, and/or spend some time browsing at the extraordinary

The idea of levels of development comes from the fields of developmental psychology and education. 
To summarize briefly:
  • There are stages/levels of consciousness development that are potentials for everyone, related to but not synonymous with the stages of life (infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, older age).
  • The stage/level names vary somewhat from one theorist to another, but there is broad agreement on the following six developmental levels: 
  1. archaic (the infant; self/reality fused; no differentiation); 
  2. egocentric (the child; self is differentiated but world is self-centric; can't take perspective of another; pre-operational, often magical thinking; tribal social structure; gangs); 
  3. traditional (the adolescent; can take another's perspective;  group membership is central; black and white/concrete thinking; authoritarian/hierarchical structures; the time of myth in religion; truth is "revealed" and absolute; low tolerance for deviance from the true faith; witches and heretics are burned; Europe's dominant mode of thinking before the Enlightenment; American exceptionalism as absolute (no bowing to dictators); fascism; terrorism; fundamentalism; Tea Party) ; 
  4. modern (the adult; formal operational/what if-as if/reason-based thinking; can take multiple perspectives; one's role is key to self concept; the Enlightenment perspective; universal rights/the Rights of Man; democracy; the scientific method; "Does it work?" is the value test; interiors are split off and diminished; systems are seen and studied; the "Invisible Hand"/free market capitalism; competition; Darwin/Social Darwinism; American exceptionalism (based on US as Superpower); winning matters; Wall Street; Republican Establishment; some/many Democrats);
  5. plural/postmodern (cultural creatives; holding many perspectives but privileging none; aperspectival; interiors are back; the sensitive/spiritual self; "I am spiritual but not religious"; hierarchy detested; organizations distrusted;  marginalized groups are seen/supported; civil rights; feminism; environmentalism; LGBT rights; deconstruction of universal truths and meta-narratives; rewriting "Eurocentric" history to focus on groups marginalized by the "dominant" power structures; all truth is relative (except the rule that truth is relative; that rule is absolutely true); anti-war; anti-surveillance; world centric with no enforcement-capable governance structure;  America is not exceptional (we have much to apologize for);  many Democrats; all strong liberals); and 
  6. integral (vision/logic as mode of thinking; searching for patterns and emerging wholes; the Deep Currents/not the Surface Storms; the "parts" (blown apart in the prior period) cohere again and now form "emerging wholes" this level can discern (not invariably, but consistently); truth returns - not as static absolute, but as evolutionary process; evolution is "going somewhere" - towards higher levels of complexity, broader and deeper levels of awareness, greater human interconnection; strange attractors (the Good, the Beautiful, the True), lying in our future - not in an archetypal past, call/urge us forward; for the first time, evolution becomes aware of itself and participates consciously in cocreating the emerging future; deep acceptance of transcendence, of Spirit/God as both Source and Destination; the mystical level of all the world's religions (little dogma, many spiritual disciplines and practices, focus on values - but as a way of being, not merely rules); complexity is welcomed; paradoxes are not solved - they are embraced as spaces of interior tension where new insights can emerge; the Warrior returns as Master Peacemaker who desires Peace and understands that War is sometimes necessary to ensure it; a self-enforcing world governance structure is now possible).
  • In the US, 10% of the population is thought to be at Egocentric or below; 25% at Traditional; 35% at Modern; 25% at Plural/Postmodern and 5% at integral or higher, so the "center of gravity" is at Modern (with fierce and ongoing culture wars between Traditional and Plural/Postmodern). Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand would be similar to the US. Japan would probably have a larger Modern share with  correspondingly lower Postmodern and Integral. In India, the center of gravity has probably shifted up to Modern, with Traditional elements still powerful but not committed to a war against secular progress (thanks to the powerful strands of tolerance in both Buddhism and Hinduism). China is most likely still at Traditional, with the ruling elite committed to moving society to Modern. Southeast Asia is similar to China, though probably further along than China in the push to Modern (Singapore probably has achieved Modern as its center of gravity). Most of South America would be at late Traditional/ early Modern. Africa would be at Traditional, but without powerful subgroups fighting the move to Modern. And that brings us to the obvious problem area - the Middle East, where all countries (except Israel) are firmly at Traditional, with small (10% and under) minorities leading the move to Modern and large segments of society actively fighting this move away from religious rule towards a Modern, secular, evidence-based, democratic society.
  • Everyone starts from birth at Ground Zero (Archaic) and moves up through the levels, How high someone ascends depends partly on the cultural context but mostly on one's personal choices that largely define the arc of one's development. The integral level is available to all and is not in any way a gift of genetics (therefore only available to a very few). High cognitive development (vision logic) is necessary, but not sufficient to achieve integral consciousness. It is also thought (though not fully tested) that high IQ is useful but not absolutely required to achieve vision logic as a mode of thinking (certain learning disabilities and significant IQ blockage can (I believe) make achieving vision logic unattainable). Theoretically, the ascent to integral is available to almost all. And the "purpose", or the "strange attractor" in evolution is calling all of us forward, towards higher levels of consciousness.
So at last we get to Nancy's questions: Is there a pattern to an integral leader's faith; and does Obama's expression of his faith fit that Pattern? As before, my answers are Yes and Yes. Here's why:
  • The move from plural/postmodern to integral can begin without a self-conscious faith in a transcendent and higher power; but it cannot end there. Someone on the brink of/just entering  integral, who begins to "see" the patterns and the wholes that are trying to emerge, can think he/she is without faith, but not for long. We must, at some point, provide at least a partial definition to what the poet Wordsworth called the "dark, mysterious force that regulates discordant elements and causes them to move in one society." The integral initiate sees this happening over and over again. She finally comes to see that this is the underlying evolutionary process, and at that point, for the sake of integrity, she will have to name it for herself. Obama calls it "a higher power", and that works very well. Ken Wilber calls this force Spirit, or God; and he introduces us to mystics from all traditions and shows us what names they provide. Emerson, for example, called it the soul or oversoul. Judaism declares this to be the great I am. Islam calls it Allah. What is essential is that there is only one Spirit/one God and that this Spirit is not far away; rather God is very close, or as Mohammed said, "Allah is as close as your jugular". 
  • And here is the defining move that happens at integral: The separation between God and Man disappears. Spirit is Everywhere and Always. She is the Source of all, and not just as metaphor. At the Big Bang, Spirit threw Herself out, exploded into manifest being, thus authoring  and initiating the process of evolution - first Matter, then Life, then Mind, and finally a Return to Spirit. Not (in the largest sense) "Dust to dust." Rather "Spirit to Spirit", with varying stages of "dust" in between. God and Man are not separate. "Not two," in the Buddhist tradition. "Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form" in the Non Dual traditions, which include the mystics from all faiths. We certainly can sin; but we are not fundamentally, originally sinful - and therefore we are an Original Blessing (Matthew Fox), not a flawed creation. The mystics know that they can and do commune with God, although saying so aloud can still get you in trouble (During the Inquisition, too much claiming of communion, or of experiencing God directly could get you burned at the stake). The true heresy is taking the next step, implicit in the truth of Spirit being Source, and not just Source as Author, but Source as the very Substance and Nature of the creation itself. Spirit is within us. She forms an essential part of who we are. As we grow in consciousness, we transcend the barriers we have built up between ourselves and God. We reconnect with our Divine Selves. We can experience God very directly and personally. We can speak with his Voice.
  • Some integral initiates or leaders will retain their religious roots and connections, including the central theological doctrines, such as the Doctrine of Salvation (Man as helpless sinner in need of Salvation from above and outside). I suspect this is true of President Obama. But in all cases, I believe, the harder edges of the doctrine are softened. An integral leader could not say that the Dalai Lama is going to Hell because he has not accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Nor could he look at a newborn babe and say "This child is originally and from birth a flawed and corrupted creature." Sin certainly exists - separating oneself from God, straying from the Path, breaking the Commandments; but like the Prodigal Son, when (per the King James version) he "came to his senses", turned about or repented, he was Forgiven, automatically. The key is waking up, coming to our senses, turning around. Forgiveness is always given if we open our eyes. That doesn't mean that we cannot have a powerful, personal relationship with what Matthew Fox calls the Cosmic Christ. Surrendering into this connection may in fact be the key to navigating the transformative path to waking up, to transcending yet including our very separate ego selves, to entering second tier consciousness, of which the first level is integral.
  • There are a number of things Obama says in his interview that help me conclude that his is the faith voice of an integral leader: his interest in, experience of and respect for other faith traditions; the absence of any language that would privilege his faith over another; his suspicion of dogma; his easy tolerance; his intense dislike of certainty untouched by doubt, especially the sort that seeks to impose itself on others; the importance of values expressed in all faith traditions, not just as rule, but as guiding North Star that is alive within us and serves as a kind of spiritual/magnetic force helping us constantly course correct, moving always closer to the true destination; his view of prayer, not as an act of doing, rather as a way of being, in regular, even constant relationship with his God, expressed as his moral compass or North Star; the power he feels within when his actions or his words are truly in alignment with his deep moral intuitions and direction - because God is not a random or occasional visitor at the integral level - God is a constant presence within us, and we can access her energy, power and joy when we align ourselves (inside and out) with the divine force and guidance within; and finally, there is heaven, which may or may not be later, but is certainly available right here, right now, when we tuck our children into bed and see that they are growing in health, wisdom and spirit - for the first words Jesus said, when he came out of the Wilderness, were, "Repent. For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand", and "The Kingdom of Heaven is here and now within you." The Kingdom of Heaven is not somewhere far away, or available only at some distant time. It is right here, right now. Anytime and Always. It is a state of elevated and transformed consciousness that gives us access to the great joy Jesus said he was leaving us as gift, available to all those who recognized and aligned with the Divine and Cosmic Christ within.
A spiritual teacher once told me: "Darkness hates the Light." This is the essential reason Obama is vilified by so many on the Right. I'm not talking about economic conservatives who don't agree with him and actively want to reduce the size of Government, not because they are mean-spirited, but because they feel the country would be stronger. I'm talking about the significant numbers of people who hate him, and whose skin literally crawls when they see him or hear his voice. These people are aroused by and ultimately deeply angered by his Light. Obama is, in fact, transparent. The Light of who he is shines out brightly to everyone. Only for many on the Right, this Light shines into their Dark Places, exposing, then releasing waves upon waves of anger. All there is to do is to try to destroy him; and when in cool and collected composure, he constantly refuses to hit back, or to anger, the Right's anger becomes an unquenchable fire.

This is where we are right now. Fortunately, the American people as a whole are more balanced and sensible than the Right seems to believe. Either this Fall (low probability) but definitely in November of 2016, the American people will reject Republicanism in this angry form in a resounding expression of its essentially moderate center. Republicans will have to reform, which they eventually will. One possibility is a split in the Party, which could emerge before 2016, (split into a Moderate and a Tea Party wing). The rebuilding would then be effected by the Moderate wing, which could happen quite quickly.

In closing, I want to offer a wonderful short poem I first encountered over 50 years ago, as a senior at Princeton:

by Jack Gilbert

What if Orpheus, 
confident in his hard found mastery,
should go down into Hell,
out of the clear light down,
and surrounded by the closing beasts,
and readying his lyre,
should discover, suddenly,
that they had no ears.

Obama, like Orpheus, thought his task was doable. And like Orpheus, he did not know that the "beasts had no ears." Fortunately there are quite a few of us who can hear the music!

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