Notes From the Field: Integral Education Seminar Reflections

This presentation is focused on integral education. While the content of Jonathan’s report may be focused on education in the classroom andoutside of it, for children and adults, I see in it challenges to leadership education and leadership development. Jonathan, himself, teaches at the university level, so this connection seems obvious. But how can these ideas and perspectives enrich our approaches to leader and leadership development? As you read his report, see what comes up for you.

— Russ Volckmann

jonathan reamsOne way of looking at how integral shows up in the world, at least in my view, is to look at whether something has quality. What I mean by this is similar to the description of quality in Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. You can tell, if you pay attention, when quality is present. You can hone your sensitivities to quality and learn to distinguish it from hype and sensation. You can learn to trust your BS detector and develop a fine resonance that lights up in the presence of quality. This process can be contagious, and in a group of people with individual and collective intent to engage in an integral inquiry, it can gain momentum and raise the level of engagement for all concerned.

Of course one can have quality present at any level or line of development, not just integral. But there is a kind of quality that brings sensitivity and awareness to the full range of human experience that can be distinguished from other modes of quality. Applying this quality of awareness through service can support people’s desire for transformation.

I introduce my reflections on the recent Integral Education seminar – www.i-edu.org (hosted by Next Step Integral -www.nextstepintegral.org-an organization dedicated to bringing integral perspectives into action) this way as a result of the high quality of my experience at the event. The seminar took place from August 12th to 17th at the Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island in Washington State. My involvement was initially to be as a presenter, but expanded to include some organizing and on-site support roles. I was also able to witness the experience through my role as camera person, which provided me with a degree of remove from the events while capturing them on film.

In reflecting on how to convey my view of the experience, I have decided that a narrative style may best serve to pass on an unfolding sense of how the event was designed, delivered and experienced. I will aim to share my perspective through the notes I took during the event, covering my own perceptions along with a description of the events themselves.

To begin, the journey to the site was shared with event organizer and founder of Next Step Integral Stephan Martineau, his wife Miriam and their daughter Adonia (the cutest four-year old). I had been a small part of the conversations leading up to the event, particularly around fitting my presentations into the flow of the event. We arrived on Whidbey Island a couple of days before the seminar, to meet with the other members of the organizing group.

integral education seminar participants

Integral Education Seminar Participants

Day One (Sunday August 12)

I just spent the last two days with the organizers and faculty of the Integral Education seminar, and am now sitting here late in the evening, waiting until the last two presenters arrive. Listening to their conversations, preparations and intentions for the event over the last two days I can feel the palpable sense of anticipation as well as the hopes that have been pinned on the event. A field of quality and service begins to form through the interactions of everyone involved.

41 participants have arrived today, (two more make it the next morning) from all over Canada and the United States, as well as Australia, Brazil, Japan, Mexico and Finland. The quality of attention to welcoming them into the space and ensuring their needs are met has been obvious to all. Every detail has been attended to with care, thoughtfulness and love. The quality of the space matches this quality of attention. Whidbey Institute is a wonderful location, nestled in the forest typical of the Pacific Northwest, with tall evergreen trees, meadows, and the ambience of the old farm the land once was.

The opening welcome includes a wonderful piece of performance art by Thomas Arthur that weaves a visual metaphor for the feel of the region through the movement of curved pieces of driftwood. The opening remarks bring everyone’s attention to their highest intentions around the event. People are instructed to pair up and respond to questions aimed to draw out their experience of quality in education. Some whole group activities allow everyone to come to know a few things about the people who have shown up. Everyone settles in early after what has been a long day of travel for most.

Day Two (Monday, August 13)

The day began bright and early at 7am, with everyone being given a small taste of the variety of early morning offerings that will take place throughout the week. Jamie Wheal’s Qi Gong, John Gruber’s contemplative walk through the forest, and Miriam Mason-Martineau’s singing in the sanctuary building that smells of wonderful cedar trees all gave us a chance to open up to various aspects of being present. It seems to me to be a good way of attending to different aspects of our being, in preparation for lots of “cheeks in seats” time to come.

Clint Fuhs opens the main program after breakfast with a very well situated intro to AQAL theory. He is careful to distinguish the map from the territory and establish why we would want to learn it at all. He is also good to point out that delving into the territory at any given point and focusing there does not mean you are not being integral. His approach also emphasizes the motivation for learning the map to be the service of Love, in the ultimate sense.

Terri O’Fallon follows after lunch with a whirlwind tour of Susann Cook-Greuter’s nine action logic levels. Participants learn how to recognize each action logic within themselves through Terri’s clearly articulated distinctions and by doing paired role plays to get an experiential feel for each action logic (although not necessarily the highest levels ;-).

The evening opens up with another magical performance from Thomas Arthur, who takes a four-inch crystal sphere and allows his body to flow around its movement up, down and all around in a seamless gracefulness. Then it is time for the “star” attraction, in that Diane Hamilton brings a name and reputation that has been a factor in attracting many participants. She takes the group through a 3- 2-1 shadow process that moves from third person to second to first, thus enabling fuller integration and awareness of one’s shadows. After setting the stage and getting participants into an appropriate space to engage their shadows, everyone breaks into groups of three and works on allowing those shadows to come into the light, be shared and heard, and to some degree hopefully healed.

I’m not sure at this point how much of this will stick over time, but one thing is quite clear: After a couple of participants share their small group experiences with the whole group, suddenly a subtle clarity of energy emerges/settles/comes to awareness. We are all silent for a significant amount of time. Then participants express various degrees of awareness or recognition of what Diane points to as a sudden drop into a coherent causal state. There was certainly a degree of coherence in that everyone felt something. While I can certainly feel the shift in the energetic state present in the room, I am not certain that I would interpret it as a causal state, but I may have a different frame of reference for what that means.

After this experience Diane brings her presentation to a close, as there is not much worth saying while people are attending to such an experience. Those of us presenting and organizing gather later to check in on how things are going, what feedback is being heard, and which participants are needing special attention to help them deal with issues that have arisen for them. Conversation then flows to current goings on and issues for us in this circle and community.

Day Three (Tuesday, August 14)

While others participate in the various early morning offerings, I catch some sleep after being up quite late carrying on conversations with various people in our inner circle. The main program begins, and we are greeted with an introduction about the place we are in, and then a single flautist comes forward and plays a beautiful melody that soars in the high-ceilinged acoustics of the main hall.

Diane takes the stage again, and after taking care of small loose ends from the night before, introduces the Big Mind process. She takes the group through voices, beginning with the controller, whose permission is required to allow the other voices to come forward. After taking some time to help participants learn how to speak from this voice, the group goes through various voices such as protector, skeptic, hurt self, fear (which brings about hysterical laughter and feels like a standup comedy routine as the energy evokes a mix of responses).

After a break, she moves to the innocent child, desire, non-desire and non-seeking, evoking more transcendent voices and energies. At non-seeking/non-grasping, a hush falls over the group for a minute or more. Non-efforting follows, and continues the period of silence as participants allow themselves to soak in the finer qualities. The function of non-seeking is to not find, and the group appears to be settling in deep. Diane then calls forth Big Mind. How big is it, she asks? The audience responds: The heavens. Also the non-heavens. Never born, always here. When will you die? Never. All the time. I am. I am not. All is one.

What do you prefer? Nothing. There is nothing to change. As various other voices speak into the space, Diane asks who is speaking, and then asks to speak to Big Mind, bringing the focus back to Big Mind, and at the same time allowing the other voices arising to be okay. The self has difficulties dealing with what is. Self has preferences, and this is also part of Big Mind. Other selves have preferences arising, and they are all me as well. As Big Mind I am radically impartial. As the shadow, I have no relationship, I am.

She then evokes Big Heart. The view from here is compassion, the well being of all beings. In Japanese Big Mind and Big Heart are the same. From here things arise from participants like the Bodhisattva vow. Compassion on this scale is the function of Big Heart. I can feel the energetic shift in the group, an expansiveness of presence.

Another shift, and the voice of compassion is brought forth. The function is to be sympathetic, to see the suffering of others. Diane points to the way in which, as one moves from Big Mind to Big Heart, a subtle dualism creeps in which is radically un-present in Big Mind. And that the difference in degree in the Big Heart is from compassion, which bleeds. Compassion is Big Heart manifesting through an individual self, while Big Heart is not located in a self in the same way.

Diane then points out that all this is made up, in that these words are distinctions being used to help us notice contrasting. The group continues to sort out distinctions between Big Heart and compassion. This is furthered by bringing in the feminine and masculine voices of compassion, which brings out further qualities associated with compassion. This seems to bring the transcendent state of Big Mind into infusing the self.

Now the voice of integrated compassion is called forth. How does integrated compassion educate? This brings forth a list of ways in which participants engage this energy in their work as educators. Notions of fine balance between polarities are revealed.

The voice of the master, like a Zen master, is evoked. “Who are you?” evokes silence, and then a “who are you” in response. I don’t know? Not the small self, but smaller than Big Mind. The small self has been trying to know itself from the beginning. As the Master, function is to bring awareness to the moment, in charge of the other voices. What does the master identify with that little self does not? Big Mind.

Diane then brings up not being deceived by what we are not, which is anything less than total freedom to be who we are. This leads to the voice of the unique individual self. Who are you? One of a kind. Enlightenment always takes on perspective. One without a second. Rather than losing one’s qualities from spiritual unfoldment, one actually deepens them.

Participants are asked to then speak to how their unique self shows up in the world, and Diane points out how ego tries to appropriate and thus obstruct the manifestation of unique self in the world. What do you offer to the world?

Last voice, ordinary mind as the way. Simplicity, grounded, practical. Washes dishes. Integrates Big Mind into this world. Thus we are brought back around to who we are, infused by the journey through the variety of voices on the way to allowing their notness to highlight the ever-present wholeness of Big Mind.

After lunch, and another superb juggling display by Thomas Arthur, Miriam Mason Martineau brought attention to parenting as a spiritual practice (not her title, but how I see it). She brought the activity and role of parenting to bear on education, as it requires us to do our own development work to develop the capacity to be present to the fullness of a child – body, mind, soul and spirit. Parenting is fundamentally about relationship, as is education.

She uses an exercise of looking and being present into the eyes of another person (three different people) to allow people to experience how to get in touch with the place within us that we can connect from authentically. Core questions for acting with ever-greater awareness and presence as a parent are: “Who am I?” and “Where am I coming from?” Central to this is the simultaneous holding of the wholeness and partness of a child, treating the child from and with these two perspectives, riding the paradox of these seeming opposite approaches and views. It is from this place that we can be compassionate and firm at the same time. Miriam grounds this with two simple hand gestures. Being compassionate we hold our hand out with palm open facing up. Being firm we hold our hand up palm facing out, like motioning someone to stop. The energy present in each of these motions individually is clearly contrasted with the balance brought from integrating them.

Knowing Adonia since she was little, I have seen firsthand the impact of the quality of parenting that Stephan and Miriam bring to their role as parents. Her openness to experience, her ease of shifts into going to bed and taking naps are a remarkable contrast to the common experience of difficulties parents often face. The authenticity of Miriam’s experience is clear and present, especially as Adonia came into the hall from playing outside with her father and simply walked up the side of the room and to the feet of her mom and hung out there, quietly for five minutes.

Terry Patten takes the stage next, bringing a clear description of three ways of relating to God, from three major perspectives. Contemplation through a variety of forms provides us with a third-person experience of God. From there, the challenge of moving into a second-person relationship, truly turning to face that which is always already ever present. Facing this reality long enough can lead to a dissolution of the hyphen in the I-Thou relationship, and what remains is the first-person experience of God, which of course is still not able to capture or contain God, but shifts our perspective. Terry then moves the group into a large circle and invokes what feels to me a bit like a Pentecostal gathering, with a lot of emotional energy being evoked from participants. Afterwards, some music was put on and rather than the “integration sessions” that were planned, a spontaneous dance party emerged that lasted until dinner.

It seems to me that although I may not have resonated with the more emotional feel of the last part of Terry’s presentation, it did open up a certain area of flow in participants. Over dinner, a certain glow begins to radiate out from everyone I come in contact with. Smiles, introductions, and invitations come forth with a synchronistic grace.

Lynn Feldman opens the evening program by engaging the audience in an inquiry that helps participants recognize the myth that we “know” what education actually is. Her high energy style keeps the audience working to keep up, and draws them into a larger and larger perspective. What is the purpose or goal of education, especially if we don’t really know what it actually is?

Lynne Feldman then shifts into theatrically enacting a classroom scene to evoke different approaches to education. She begins by enacting the telling of myth with the kind of vibrancy one could imagine from storytellers of long ago. This pre-modern version of education embodies the kinds of pre-rational world that has mostly faded from our everyday experience. She then shifts to a full-blown modernist, scientistic teacher of knowledge who puts the myth in its place, exemplifying a logical positivist/modern/orange perspective to the dissemination of “factual truth” as the heart of education. From there, she throws off the robes of power, (literally!), gets everyone in a circle and exemplifies the postmodern perspective of education. The relativistic, feeling-oriented view that factual knowledge takes a back seat to individual perspective is enacted in a manner that has participants howling with laughter. She is totally in character at each level, finally arriving at the post-postmodern recognition of the fragmentation of the current situation in education and how integral can integrate and bring wholeness to this fragmentation. She ends with an impassioned call for a new kosmic story to support this approach.

We were then treated to a wondrous bubble blowing demonstration out on the lawn in the twilight. A participant from Australia en route to a gig in Hong Kong, has brought his professional bubble-making gear with him. Bubbles two feet in diameter and up to ten feet long hang suspended amidst an enraptured crowd. A sharing circle follows, and draws out participants’ feelings about the first half of the event. This evokes the level of sharing and gratitude normally arising at the close of such seminars. People spoke to having gotten their money’s worth before the first day was over, of gaining a clarity of the complexity of integral not available in the isolation of their everyday life, the normal feeling of finding community, and so on.

There was then a couple of videos and a performance from Thomas in the sanctuary that I did not attend, but that were reported to me as being magical, moving and inspiring.

Day Four (Wednesday, August 15)

After breakfast and the early morning sessions, Patricia Gordon presents a session on the eight teaching perspectives. This covers how each of the eight perspectives (the inside and outside view from each of the four quadrants) informs teaching. She provides illustrations, exercises and reflective questions to guide participants in developing an understanding of the eight perspectives. These personal and group experiences help illustrate and distinguish how each perspective arises and is distinguished from the others. Yet it is evident from questions arising from the audience that this is complex material, and that the ways in which these eight perspectives arise and how they work is not always clear. The complex interwoven nature of the eight perspectives does not easily lend itself to a brief introductory presentation, but participants came away with some insights into the depth and power of the AQAL framework being applied to education.

This flows directly into John Gruber’s presentation, which begins with slides and music. A short improvised routine between John (who handled all of the a/v requirements of presenters) as himself and as the voice of the tech guy (reminiscent of the Big Mind voices) brought gales of laughter from the audience. He then shows us how he helps students (in his high school science class) see the depths and connections/likenesses present in anything by asking them to come up with two things that have nothing to do with each other. He cites an example from students of a piece of fried chicken and asphalt roofing shingles. (The link was wonderful and obvious once gone into).

John’s presentation is done on both sides of the lunch break, and he gives us some instructions related to bringing a greater degree of awareness of our surroundings that we can apply over lunch. On our return, we debrief this experience, and then John goes on to give more exercises that can expand our sense of self in first space and then time, and finally in relation to others. He then explores how an integral curriculum can transcend and include the mutually exclusive particulars and the all-embracing universal reality through the interpenetration of all subjects.

By this time, it is very hot in the main hall, and you can feel the need for a break, yet there is another presentation still to go in the afternoon. A solution is found by moving the next presentation up into the sanctuary, where the shade of the forest has kept the building nice and cool. While some participants opt to take a break from the sessions, most find their way there and are relieved by the cooler temperature.

Nancy Davis presents a session on integral assessment that touches a hotspot with many of the educators present. Issues around assessment are quite controversial in these days of standardized testing and other pressures to show accountability in the educational process. Nancy brings these issues into perspective by showing how different assessment tools fit within the quadrants, and how to use this map to sort out the appropriate assessment tools to go with the intentions and motivations of what needs to be assessed, why, and who should be doing the assessing. The distinctions generated by applying the four quadrants to these issues were useful in making sense of the complex and often sticky issues educators face in this area. The discussion arising during the question and answer period is one of the most heated and intense of the seminar, bringing the sometimes abstract and subtle nature of integral theory into a very concrete and practical domain for educators.

The evening was divided into four case study presentations, which I hear were all well attended and engaging. I was busy doing one of them, talking about how the quality of presence of the teacher creates the space for education.

Day Five (Thursday, August 16)

After the early morning sessions, (which I never did make as the need for sleep after late night conversations and ongoing debriefing and checking in among the organizers after the evening presentations), Jamie Wheal took us through a series of activities to help us distinguish and recognize the movement from the stillness of being to the activity of the now. He did this by helping us find the still point of the center in our bodies and how to engage that. Doing an exercise called the weeping willow was a kind of trust fall where participants did a meditation while swaying and being held and moved by a circle of people. Another exercise had participants find and engage the still point between their centers through movement. A description of how changes in athletics and performances like Cirque de Soleil demonstrate our desire to engage in different forms of escape from everyday mundane movement, gravity etc., as well as how we can continue to evolve and push the edge in the realm of kinesthetic and physical performance.

Nancy Davis then did a presentation on using skillful means in communicating with educators, which I wasn’t able to attend, because I did my presentation. I spoke of my experience teaching with an aim to raise consciousness, and presented a structured dialogue process as a “liberating structure” to enable participants to experience a deeper quality of conversation, aiming to allow them to become aware of both their own reflex thoughts and their deeper intentions, aims and aspirations.

The afternoon was a facilitated open session wherein participants gathered according to interest groups, focusing on deepening their understanding of what they had been learning. There was a depth of engagement born of the rapid accumulation of insights among participants that field desires to engage as deeply as possible. There were plenty of synchronicities emerging in the growth of connections and organizing around them. Throughout the afternoon and over dinner I continue to notice a significant difference in the quality of presence everyone brings. There is an openness, a brightness that was far more authentic than the many faces I saw on arrival.

Thursday evening brought a dance and sauna for those who wished.

Day Six (Friday, August 17)

Friday has arrived, and the closing session brings expressions of gratitude from all for experiences, new relationships, breakthroughs and such. After the closing session, there is a second open session focused on next steps. (The closing happened first as a dozen or so participants had to leave for the airport by late morning). Three areas of focus emerged for next steps; another seminar next year, integral school/education projects and a website for continuing the linkages, project and tracking /mentoring and all sorts of things all aimed at keeping the sense of energy and connection moving forward. All of this is facilitated by Stephan, whose presence throughout the seminar has held the space and allowed everything to come together by drawing forth the best in all present.

Reflecting now at the end of this seminar, I am left with a feeling of having seen a virtuous cycle of everyone present rising to the occasion. There was a great deal of anticipation, hopes, projections and dreams invested on all sides. With such high expectations, it seems that the possibility of disappointment or being underwhelmed was very real. There were nerves for some of the presenters who were having a first opportunity to put forward their work or ideas in front of an audience that was both open to those ideas and savvy about what they were saying. There was a pushing of the envelope that involved risk. Knowing the incredible amount of preparation that had gone into some of these presentations, and the attention to detail that had gone into planning everything involved in the event, I was heartened to see people rise to the occasion and show up at significant levels of engagement.

One of the manifestations of this quality of engagement and service that I witnessed came from being able to see the changes in how people showed up as the seminar progressed. I drove a shuttle van to pick many participants up from the airport shuttle, and got to see the state in which they arrived. Many of the young people came with a cool or hip look to them, bringing the masks of personality that they wore to get along in the world from which they had just come. There was excitement and anticipation, but also a sense of guardedness. By the time I was driving them back on Friday, none of this was apparent. Even by the second day, these masks had worn off and a glow began to shine forth. By the end, most participants had their hearts open wide, with a glow and radiant shine to their smiles.

One thing that was apparent from my view was that some participants did not have experience dealing with the intensity of opening and flow of energy that the events of the seminar provided. In many ways it was a peak state experience for a week. Many of us faculty and organizers spent time with various participants helping provide counsel, support, or just a listening ear while they processed through the implications of major insights, openings and changes that their experiences brought.

The challenge and mark of the event will of course come in the aftermath. Will people be able to reintegrate into the world in a way that transcends and includes what made up their world before? Will they follow through on the commitments made during the event? Will their judgment of the experience change? Or more to the point from my past experience, how will they hold on to the space/state they gained? Will they remember? People will have gone back into communities that did not share their experience, and they will find it impossible to fully convey what they went through and gained. It is hard to carry such state experiences forward and stabilize them outside of the environment that facilitated them. But it can inspire people to do the work necessary to bring such states into stable manifestation in their lives.

In the end, as I finish the editing and polishing on this and reflect on my experience, I feel that a space was created through a quality of service that drew out the best in all involved. Presentations, while maybe lacking in some areas or needing polishing in other ways, overcame these potential deficits and brought out the best they had to offer through the commitment to service that they evidenced. Participants, while bringing a wide array of capacities, issues, insights and values, focused their engagement in ways that allowed for all of this to be absorbed and even transformed by the experience. I believe that this combination allowed this to be as integral of a seminar as one could have wished for.