As a Certified Master Integral Coach(tm) I’m often asked about my connection to Ken Wilbur and Integral Theory and my take on some of the criticism and challenges to Integral Theory and the Integral Community. My work through the certification and training offered by Integral Coaching Canada (ICC) was rigorous. Their program is heavily influenced by Integral Theory and is the only coaching program endorsed by the Integral Institute and Integral Life.
Before my training I had limited exposure to Ken Wilbur’s work and Integral in general. Although I studied (and continue to study) philosophy and related disciplines, I never engaged Wilbur’s work with any sense of academic rigor or sense of scientific analysis. So if this were a binary “true/not true” system I have nothing to say. Fortunately, the world is more nuanced.
What I found at ICC was a program focused on rigorously developing highly effective coaches, and although Integral Theory provides a large part of the framework, the focus within the program was on the practical application – the way in which coaches can use Wilbur’s AQAL to shape the developmental aspects of a clients program. AQAL (All Quadrants, All Levels…) refers to part of Wilbur’s theory, which when practically applied allows a coach to meet a client with a broader view of the client’s developmental needs and engage them within a language that honors their values and with an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.
What Integral Coaching is able to offer, what its roots in Integral Theory provide, is a way in to the clients way of thinking and being in the world, and the tools to develop a map to guide them from where they think they are to where they really want to go. And unlike other tools like the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs, Integral is a system that is about more than a basic personality type. It is inclusive of the full range of the client’s experience, and consciousness – how we think, the language we use, the values we have and the aspects of our lives that we attend (or avoid) attending to.
Which is to say, I can’t speak for its validity as a developmental system from a scientific view point and I have seen its effectiveness with in the practical applications taught by Integral Coaching Canada(tm). One of the dangers of placing too much reliance on any one system, or any one person’s view, is that it will never be perfect (100% accurate). Language is a signifier, an arrow pointing toward something. It is never the thing itself. Systems, like Integral, which try to capture the infinite possibilities of thought and action into a container can only get so much right. In the end, whether by time, competition, or adaptation systems evolve and the framework and language they use becomes something else.
I have no opinion on Wilbur himself. I’ve never met the man, and while the bulk of criticism around the web seems to be reactionary to choices he has made in his personal life, the gurus he has supported (particularly Andrew Cohen and Adi Da) and the sense of how he holds himself apart from criticism, most (not all) of those critics still hold Integral Theory itself, with a sense respect and validity.
One of Integral’s great strengths is the idea of evolving consciousness. Evolution needs a catalyst, an the sunlight in an ecosystem that drives the need to change and adapt. It allows for the kind of awakening that leads to purposeful choices while maintaining that consciousness alone isn’t enough. We need our emotions, communities, morality, beliefs, unconscious, and physical bodies to join in if we are to evolve completely. Simply knowing something is not enough. If we do not attempt to embody it we never uncover the reality of it.
Personally, I’m wary of any system which chases some sense that enlightenment can only be attained by separating ourselves from the meat and chaos of living. So often ‘non-dual’ experiences are framed in the same sort of Cartesian language that places the spiritual or rational above the physical. An embodied non-dual is something entirely different than a transcended one.
Regardless of where an evolution of our consciousness or physical bodies may lead, we need to start where we are. Here, today, more likely than not, the consciousness you are applying to reading this is tied to some physical being that needs food and exercise and shelter. In some form or another you need to work to provide those things. You have dreams and desires, fears and doubts, that arise from the marriage of your consciousness and your physical body.
When our consciousness evolves every aspect of our lives should be moving along with it, including our physical bodies and our connection to the world around us.
As a coach what I can say is, its in that wet and dirty space where the real work gets done. Our thoughts, our breath, our energy, all add to the wonder of who we are and what we can do, and Integral can provide that compressive backbone for a whole body/whole life transformation.
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