Dennis Wittrock, M.A. (philosophy), partner at encode.org, founder of Integral Europe, director of the Integral European Conference, certified Holacracy® Facilitator, MeetingDoctor consultant, served 5 years as CEO and board member of Integrales Forum and the Integral Academy in Germany. His purpose is to create spaces for the emergence of integral consciousness. www.integral-con-text.de
Eric: Hi there Dennis! I wanted to connect and talk to you by first introducing you to our readers a little bit more, maybe just a little bit of background about yourself, and then hearing about what your expectations were for the Integral European Conference, how that worked out, and how you see that effecting Europe moving forward both in general and the Integral movement specifically. So that’s kind of the scope of what I would like to perhaps cover. So maybe start with introducing yourself to the readers of ILR.
Dennis: I’ll introduce myself as co-director of the Integral European Conference now for the 2nd time, after 2014 and 2016. I’ve previously been a board member and CEO of Integrales Forum and Die Integrale Akademie, both German Integral. I worked there for 5 years and then I transitioned out and moved into the Integral Europe/Integral European Conference project and did that for the last 3 years. I have a Master’s degree in philosophy, English, and Art from the university of Bremen. My master’s thesis was basically on how bring together the fields of interdisciplinarity / trans-disciplinarity with an Integral approach, namely Integral Methodological Pluralism. Apart from that I’m also a certified Holacracy-Facilitator and aspiring Holacracy coach. I am also a writer.
Eric: It’s safe to say you’ve been part of the Integral movement for a while as an academic and a practitioner!
Dennis: Yes, I hopped on the wagon around 2002. That’s when I read my first Ken Wilber book and got hooked. I very soon started to engage in groups. Well, I just wanted to join groups actually, but I always found I had to create them. I created a study circle at university and then I joined Integrales Forum. I then ascended the ranks, if you will, to board level and CEO. Meanwhile, together with friends I created an integral youth group, iMove, kind of a youth integral movement. While I was young I did that! These are some of my activities in the Integral field. I have also lead a local salon here for many years.
Eric: Very cool!
Dennis: Then IEC came along and Integral Europe, so I invited some folks to come to the German conference back then in 2012, some European contacts I had collected, and that was the birth of Integral Europe, and soon after that the idea of the conference was born. Then Bence Ganti and I started to form a team and create a vision for this conference, and now we’ve had it for a 2nd time, as you know.
Eric: Yes. I was happy to be there. It seemed to be well attended by the German contingent, although that’s 1 of 30 countries represented.
Dennis: I think we had around 430 to 450 people, I don’t know exactly. In 2014 we had around 500. Our vision was to grow this conference to 600 people and we didn’t achieve that but we’re still very happy with the outcome of the conference. Everything went according to plan, more or less.
What was definitely better was the location, compared to the first conference. In 2014 we had a huge venue, which was kind of cool, but it was not so practical because we had to build all the rooms ourselves, and those rooms didn’t have ceilings, so the acoustics suffered. The most negative feedback was about the acoustics for 2014. And this time we had proper hotel that had proper rooms and was actually ready to receive conferences like ours and not a venue that was somehow unprepared to do that. So that was a big plus and also to have the people stay at the same place mostly. That was definitely good for community building. So, from that regards, very nice.
We had many highlights as you know. We received really good feedback for the constellation and people continue to send in their one-page or two-page reports on how they experienced it from their role.
Eric: So you should be able to pull together a pretty good-sized report from that then, sounds like.
Dennis: Yeah I think it’s kind of now the main job. The real work will be to distill it, read everything, take everything in, and then give the summary on that dispersion of those forty, sixty pages, whatever they are, even though the individual reports themselves are quite detailed, nuanced, and interesting to read.
Eric: I know there was a lot of recording going on, were you able to record most or all of the presentations?
Dennis: We attempted to record every section presentation and workshops to the degree that it was appropriate to record. And to the degree that presenters were willing to be recorded. So I would say we recorded around 80% to 90% of what happened there. It’s a lot of work to pull it all together and we also want to publish the slides still, so that’s where we are.
Eric: A lot of media to pull together, for sure. I know in your opening speech, one of the highlights of it was definitely calling the Integral community in general to walk their talk and stand up and act like adults, which I very much appreciated. I’m curious how the feedback has been for you on that and if you feel like the conference helped to contribute to that.
Dennis: Yeah, so it was definitely a highlight for me and for many people, apparently, because I got tons of good feedback on this. So it seems that it struck a chord here for people. It’s not just my sense as you know, immature things are happening in the Integral scene and we could use some more collaborative spirit and some more working together, setting aside our individualist agendas and just gathering behind a shared purpose, something that we all can feel is valuable and worth supporting. Something like contributing solutions to tackle the world, the globe, problems that we’re all facing. I mean I just can’t believe that we are so fragmented as an Integral community and we haven’t really come together in a deep enough way to work on this.
So of course there are really cool initiatives and really great practitioners out there doing great work. I don’t want to belittle their work, but there’s a yearning that I at least feel and that there is some higher union or some broader alliance of sane people on this planet, kind of leading some change and or presenting Integral to a broader mainstream maybe even and getting our act together as humanity!
Eric: Totally! Speaking to the bringing it to broader mainstream, one of the highlights was the Teal track and bringing in that language. I felt like those people were more interested in integrating things practically in business as opposed to a lot of us who have a more academic or theoretical interest in Integral. How did that work out from your perspective?
Dennis: Very nice. So it was a very deliberate move to bring in Teal and to catch this emerging wave and consciously introduce these movements or separate movements, however you want to see it, to each other and make them consciously aware of each other. So yes, to foster change and understanding because my sense is that there are lots of Integralists out there who don’t know about Teal really, the Teal movement, or that Teal works. And there are a lot of Teal people who don’t really know so much about Integral, Ken Wilber, and AQAL.
And I think it’s mutually beneficial. So we had this track curated by George Pór and Chris Clark from the Enlivening Edge. I think that was a great catalyst to bring in these people and I have a sense they really did good work to engage them and make them come. And also, during the conference I visited one of the sections and I had the sense it was really high level, quality stuff from people who were already were talking not only talking about the concepts, but who were really out there in the world, having tried it in business and then sharing their learnings and engaging in a co-creative way with each other in the spirit of learning. So that was really impressive for me to see. It’s like wow, did we really bring this together? Sitting there like wow, this is so cool, really good people and I’m really happy with how it turned out.
I hope the next IEC will be in 2018. And then I hope that the Teal movement will be represented again in this way, which would be really nice and really uplift everybody.
Eric: I was kind of thinking as you were talking about the bringing together of worlds and the fact that you had Jos de Blok as one of the panelists, and as the speaker, someone who’s featured in Laloux’s book, but probably wasn’t aware of, obviously not Teal, but any of these movements and is someone who just made things happen at a new level. Afterwards, we described it as Teal.
Dennis: Yeah and that is really, even more hopeful for me because it shows that Integral seems to be now a structure that’s universally accessible, so there’s people tapped into this and growing into this and expressing this without even knowing about any of the theory. And acting in that spirit from these values with this mission.
And there’s not yet this, I would call it, crystallization of knowing or of recognizing yourself as something. So this identity of being Integral didn’t occur to them. It’s doing what they’re doing and that’s great, but probably you know, “Oh I’m that. Oh, there are more of me.” I think that’s something that I hope to see on a larger scale in the future that more and more people wake up to this recognition and almost like the Boomer generation or like the post-modern tribe found itself in the throes of the protest movements of the sixties, the Civil Rights Movement, they kind of identified each other as “Oh, that’s us.” That’s our tribe or that’s how we are.
So I think Integral can help to catalyze this Integral movement, but it happens outside of it and Jos de Blok is a wonderful example. Especially the way he breaks it down and makes it really simple for people and fun and engaging and of course success is the best argument you can have! I mean he’s ultra-successful and at the same time comes across very sympathetic and compassionate and human and funny. So that’s certainly one of the best advertisements for Integral, if you will, out there in the world, running around, doing what he does.
Eric: For sure. I don’t have any other questions specifically, except if there’s any great takeaway or learning for you through this process.
Dennis: Hmmm, great learning for me. Well, many levels. There’s of course my individual learnings and the process of making, creating the conference, and then there’s the content of the conference and what actually emerged there, or what we kind of created there.
So let’s start with the content. First of all, the relevance of the topic of Europe and the European crisis really stood out more and more for me. The refugee crisis and all the problems we’re facing and all the stuff that became apparent in the constellation work, all the complex dynamics that we have collectively… The guilt and shame and violence, terrorism, etc. Of course, the history of Europe, that’s still undigested to a large part. All that stuff that we need to look at really came to the forefront for me.
Now, as we’re talking, Britain ponders about leaving the European Union. I think we were right with choosing reinventing Europe as a topic. The constellation certainly worked this deeply, but also I think it was helpful to pick some of these issues like the refugee crisis and really take the classic lens and the Integral approach, and apply them to such a problem. Like Ken did so beautifully in his keynote speech, basically looking through it the levels lens, the most neglected lens we have. It’s like, nobody is talking about it and no Integralist can go without this. It jumps at you. So that was certainly helpful and saved time. Having people like the Spiral Dynamics folks, a kind of fraction of the Integral movement educate us about how to view it from the Spiral Dynamics levels and look at the Middle East from that perspective. So where did the refugees come from and why is the region so unstable? What are the reasons for that? And what can we do about it? As well as looking at economic patterns.
Looking at those conflicts from a levels perspective really helps and informs anything. Learning about levels is also helpful for the two movements to really see that there is more nuance that’s behind these colors, even though there’s an argument around, is it teal or is it yellow, and copyright issues.
And we have Thomas Hübl looking at it from more of a spiritual perspective. I can’t quite remember what he said, but it was good. It’s just this being is what he so embodies that is really the transmission.
Dennis: What else?
Eric: Is anything else pressing or important that you feel that people need to think about moving forward in terms of Europe and Integral.
Dennis: While we were doing the conference we saw this email from MetaIntegral and Sean said they don’t know about the next conference and how it will continue, so I think that one of the most important things is that it happens, that it actually took place, we actually did it and that we brought together the whole global tribe and not just the European tribe but actually the global scene, South Africa and Canada and all these countries. Australia, New Zealand and all those people came and showed up and connected and so that was really amazing. I think we need such a global meeting once every two years just to reflect with each other and also to recharge our batteries and finally, to relate freely without translating down our level of intellectual or our emotional, spiritual lines, translating them down constantly to the mainstream, to just to in, to not alienate other people. It’s really good to just be around people with whom you can be yourself and authentic and learn so much because everybody’s so open and doing such interesting stuff. It’s very precious and I’m very glad we did it. I hope that we will be able to continue these gatherings for Europe and let’s hope the constellation has an effect! Who knows on which level this works. We definitely need some healing and there was a lot of healing in the room so at least for the people there, I think it had the effect that it opened their eyes for all these levels and affections which we hang together and look at the collective suffering and be mindful of that. I think that was already worth it if nothing else.
Eric: Well, they’ll be bringing that home with them.
Dennis: Yes, of course. Talking about being together: the community was very sweet and to do all of these community events. The goulash party and the bonfire and the Gala dinner, and after that, of course the tour. It’s important to bond and to make connections and to deepen. To reach alliances. I think it’s the marker of an Integral gathering, really paying attention and creating opportunities for people to connect.
Eric: Thanks for doing the work of leading in that space and making it so that we could all come together. Certainly, it was a profound experience for me and my wife Natasha. My mother-in-law, Tonja, as well. We all very much enjoyed it.
Dennis: Yeah, it was really a family trip, wasn’t it?
Eric: It was, it was.
Dennis: I’m curious too, can I ask you some questions too?
Eric: Sure, please!
Dennis: What stood out for you?
Eric: What stood out for me?
Dennis: Top three, top five things that you think of that …. boom! …. That pops into your head.
Eric: One, for sure, the European feel and reality of this conference. It’s one thing to have conferences in Europe, but sometimes they still have a very heavy North American influence. Having thirty countries from around the world represented, having a very strong European influence, and also a very strong Eastern European contingent, for me it was really lovely to feel the different kind of integration, the different perspectives. That was great!
Also, meeting up with all of the people I’ve been in contact with virtually over time and across the integral movement, especially in Europe, because I’ve been to the Integral theory conferences, but some more of the European side…. that was really great!
The biggest thing for me though is that there was a conference. Now a second time of building up these traditions, there’s a node and a critical point, or enough people there that we can actually meet and have a conference of that size and quality.
Eric: I’m looking forward to this issue coming out. We’ve a number of paper’s from the conference for this next release. Certainly a lot of, like you said, quality individuals who came together, so I’m looking forward to seeing what it brings into the field for sure. Any other questions for me?
Dennis: So meeting people, connecting, is high on your list?
Eric: For sure. Connecting in ways to build relationships, to have meaningful collaborations going forward. I’m hopeful!
Dennis: And Natasha and your mother-in-law, any reflections from their side?
Eric: It was great. Tonja is 75 and first read Wilber in the seventies and has a gestalt therapy background, as well as having trained with Marion Woodman, among other things. Her husband died recently and she hasn’t been much in those circles. I think this really reawakened a whole, I think, world for her it seemed, and she certainly came back from the conference with a new lease on life. And this is someone who’s got a great deal of life energy to begin with! I think in terms of family healing and family dynamics it was definitely useful and also for Natasha. Her talk on women’s adult leadership development was her first ever public talk.
Dennis: Oh, really?
Eric: Yes, which was a thing for her because she’s never really wanted to be in the public, never necessarily even wanted to be an academic and this is just her path and part of where it’s brought her. She’s really great one-on-one, she’s an executive coach and MBA and that direction, so that experience for her was good to step into that.
Dennis: Yeah. Cool.
Eric: I very much appreciated my session. It was small, the integrated business theory group had a very lovely dialogue with some really grounded, smart Integral people.
Dennis: Was it a good choice of chemistry between the presenters?
Eric: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, yeah. I unfortunately missed Marco Antonio Robledo’s talk because that was when my wife’s was, but then I came back and caught Detlev Bohle’s. The two of them, one after the other, was really cool. For me, because I hadn’t finished my research project, I led a dialogue with the group, building on where they had been. It was great, it was a wonderful group and certainly integral business theory is where I’m at home, so it was good to meet those who geek out on that the most.
Dennis: I also had a geek out meeting with several people who are also applying IMP to their academic work, which is rare it seems and difficult to get traction on. You meet a lot of resistances, so I connected nicely with Veronica Bohac Clarke, Maria Prieto, and Regina Nelson. She did something on cannabis use and used IMP to analyze how the medical use of cannabis is being suppressed and so on. That was really interesting.
Suddenly, you write this thing and you don’t really have an audience. You write this thesis and then you meet people who actually think it is meaningful and who work in the same field. Owen Okie did this pluralism and medicine, kind of healing. That’s just good to be with people who get you, and who knows, so I stay in touch with Veronica and she has talked about the next conference, asked some questions about applying for grants and what have you, so we’ll see where that goes. She’s doing great work I feel. We had her on an academic panel to judge the papers and she did a great job. She’s kind of doing too much, she’s pretty busy, but still she cranked out the time to do this, which I’m really grateful for.
Individually, I’m just reflecting on how the conference changed me and I’m not sure if that should make it into the interview. Personally ….
Eric: Well you cut your hair, for one.
Dennis: I cut my hair, so it’s over [laughs]. I really feel like the last few years I spent on IEC, the two IEC’s, and I enjoyed the work but it was just poorly paid so I’m now trying to divert from that and go to totally different direction that would create a new basis so I could engage with IEC like Bence does, from a basis of not just stability, where he can freely dedicate his time, which is a great position to have, to volunteer and to give your time freely for such a project.
I’m curious, it kind of puts a question mark on me on the execution of IEC 2018, because it needs a team to do that and needs capable people. I’m not sure I can be there because I would have to be paid better than I was. I hope it will continue and Bence is really determined to do that and certainly there is a lot of momentum. I think we won a lot of fans with this event. People will want it to continue, but we have to see how, who. We’ll see. It’s just open for me at the moment and I’m a little… It’s too bad that ITC doesn’t exist because if IEC does not come together where do we all get together?
Eric: For sure.
Dennis: That’s a bit of a question, but I trust that the forces that brought us together will pull us together again somehow.
Eric: Something will emerge.
Dennis: Some form or the other. Maybe a world conference.
Eric: I like the idea. Maybe it’s time.
Dennis: We actually thought about IEC 2016 being the world conference, but we said no let’s continue in the European focus and establish a tradition first and then we may join forces with others. Give it a little more time because you can only meaningfully merge with other streams if there is another stream and if there isn’t an Integral African conference then there’s nothing to merge with, it’s premature. It hasn’t been differentiated out so it would only be fusion and not mature integration. The seed has been sewn I think with the guys stepping out and saying they want to do a South African conference. So great, do it, it’s a lot of work [laughs]. But sure, go ahead. We’ll see where that goes and maybe someday some Asian activities.
Eric: It’d be great. South East Asia.
Dennis: Or Australia.
Eric: South Pacific.
Dennis: Brazilian or South American. Anyway, so that would really then be a really good world conference that deserves the name. Otherwise it’s just putting on a label.
Dennis: It’s not reflecting the true reality. I think really the problem is the global south because things are moving slower I feel, but maybe it’s not really true. Maybe I’m just ignorant.
Eric: Things are moving at all speeds. We shall see.
Dennis: Right. Yeah, that’s my reflection, more or less.
Eric: Awesome. I appreciate you taking the time late in the evening.
Dennis: Oh yes. And especially during European Championship times.
Eric: Oh no! Exactly!
Dennis: Oh no! [laughs] If Germany played today I would have cancelled, but they play tomorrow.
Eric: Fair enough!