One of the advantages of Integral Theory is that it tries to bring previously divergent or distantly related models together in an integrated manner.

There are many graphic models that can provide us with guidance for our relationship with reality, such as the Yin Yang symbol, the Kabala or the Enneagram. One of the symbols that has always provided me with guidance is the Native American Medicine Wheel. The Medicine Wheel describes a process of the cycles of life and Nature. It varies a bit in its specifics from tribe to tribe, but the underlying ideas remain the same.

The Medicine Wheel is divided into four directions, in its simplest form, each of which represent a certain stage of development and the energy which is embodied in those stages. In the East is the energy of vision and beginnings, of birth and infancy, of spring and of morning, to mention a few specifics. In the South is the energy of doing, of youth and young adulthood, of summer and of noontime. In the West is the energy of consolidation, looking forward and backward, of mature adulthood, of fall and evening. And the North is the time of celebration and thanksgiving, of Elders and their wisdom, of winter and midnight. This is a very cursory description and each of these directions could merit a full essay on their own. However for the purposes of the point I’m trying to make here, it will do. Further information is amply available by Goggling “Medicine Wheel”, although there’s a lot of crap out there.

MedWhl-2

The “All Levels” part of Ken Wilber’s AQAL Integral Model, based on Spiral Dynamics, meshes with the Medicine Wheel in an interesting way. (Admittedly, it is probably only interesting to those who have a special interest in Integral Theory.) These levels can be simplified to the Pre-Rational (Red and Amber levels, Mythic and Mystic), Rational (Orange, scientific and materialistic) and Trans Rational (green, pluralistic), sometimes referred to as Pre-Modern, Modern and Post-Modern. One might also add to this the next level in altitude, which would be the Integral level (turquoise). Again, this is a cursory description.

AQAL chart 8

When you combine these two models, not only do the mesh well but, as often happens when you combine models, the result yields some interesting new insights. Pre-Rational is a good fit for the east, where there idea of infancy and childhood definitely matches. The East is a place of vision and insight which can offer initiative and guidance for a new endeavour. This too seems to be a good match for a Pre-Rational mind set. It also helps to make you realize that this Pre-Rational stage, while often ignored or maligned by those with a “Rational” view, is in fact very significant and important to the process. Inspiration, intuition and vision all have their places and are ignored with great risk. The South is the place of doing and of young adulthood, and so seems a good fit for the Rational stage. This is where problem solving and scientific method plays its best role. Those at this stage of life often value their newly found reasoning ability, sometimes with too much tunnel vision. The west is a time for middle aged adults to contemplate and consolidate the various components of their lives. As such it has the potential of being more pluralistic, enabling multiple perspectives and greater empathy, and perhaps admitting that there could be things beyond pure reason in heaven and earth. It has the makings of a Trans-Rational world view. It is also a time for looking backwards and a time for looking ahead to insure proper care in old age. This is a special time for preparation, which will return to shortly. And finally, the North is the time when Elders can view the broad spectrum of life with wisdom and perspective.

The West has always held a special intrigue for me. If you take the example of a squirrel, it is born and frolics in the Spring, it gets down to business, perhaps mating, in the Summer, and in the Fall it has the special job of building a nest and gathering food for the winter, which then comes as a time of dormancy and waiting for the renewal of the next Spring. If the squirrel does its Fall job properly, preparing for the Winter, then it is likely to survive and take another turn around the wheel. If it does not prepare, then the North becomes death and finality. I’ve always felt that to be a special lesson of the Medicine Wheel, that the West is time where special consideration has to be given to the future and to the past. Bringing in another model altogether, one can see here the work of Gurdjieff’s Law of Octaves, where he says that the third step in the eight step process requires a special input and kick in order for the process to continue to the fourth step and beyond. (Think of the musical scale.) The West is the third stage and the North is the fourth. If the squirrel does not pay attention in the West, it is not likely to survive the North. This is true of all endeavours. Any process requires special attention in the West in order to proceed or continue to evolve through the North and around the circle again. (Taking Gurdjieff’s model more in depth, one might think of a complete process as two trips around the Medicine Wheel.)

The West and the Green, Trans-Rational stage is also an opportunity to gain wisdom from the past. The Orange, Rational stage has a tendency to quickly throw out and reject everything that came from the Pre-Rational stage. All the myth and magic and the traditional religious dogma are often strongly condemned and discarded, refusing to accept anything that cannot be proven by their new passions, science and materialism. Sometimes this involves throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The Trans-Rational stage retains the logic and respect for science that characterizes the Rational stage, but is more willing to accept two important conditions. The first is that science, and especially our understanding of it, may paint a limited picture of reality. The second is a beginning of understanding that the magic and mythic beliefs of the Pre-Rational stage may in fact have some basis is reality, and some function in the cycle of life. (This becomes the first kernel of the Integral stage.) The Trans-Rational is willing to re-examine some of the Pre-Rational beliefs and views, salvaging bits in a new, more enlightened perspective. (There’s a danger here too, though, as described in Ken Wilber’s discussion of the “Pre-Trans Fallacy”.) Seen in a new light, such re-examination paves the way to the more Integral (North) stage of development, encouraging greater wisdom and perspective. Without it the North may become the domain of the curmudgeon and old age bitterness. The wise Elder is reduced to the cranky Elder.

I love to mix and match different models as I find that, when you do, they yield new insights.

Determinism, an offshoot of the materialism that is prevalent in the Rational (Orange) world view, states that human action, individual and collected, is as predetermined and a result of scientific laws of causality as is the movement of the planets, or of billiard balls on a pool table. Consciousness and will power, it seems, are an illusion for many reasons, not the least of which is that it smacks of a “soul” or an unknown spiritual (i.e. non-physical) power, and that would be contrary to materialism. It is a reaction to the Pre-Rational, religious ideas of soul, spirit and self determination, wanting to throw out Will with the rest of the bathwater.

And yet Rationalism and Materialism value, above all else, scientific and empirical data, setting the objective high above the subjective.

This is important because, to my mind, what could be more empirical than each individuals personal experience of making a decision and carrying it out? My empirical experience of having the ability to carry out my decisions, along with similar experiences felt by almost all humans, belie the idea of Determinism on the most basic level. If fact, if there was a person who strongly felt and acted that he was a “robot”, strictly controlled by external forces, we would suspect that they were mentally ill in some capacity. Even staunch Determinists do not live their lives as if they had no will power.

In response, Determinists might claim that I’m using a subjective experience as if it were an objective one. I disagree. The universality of the experience is objective. Plus, the experience of being in control is no more or less empirical than experiencing, say, the colour red. While scientists may wish to qualify the experience of colour, or explain it in terms of physics, its existence is still accepted as fact.

Neuro scientists have done many studies showing that often an impulse from the brain will arise from its depths (sub-conscious or primitive brain stem), moving us to action before consciousness kicks in. But, on the other hand, there are also studies that demonstrate that conscious, decisive action can mediate such automatic responses and even work to influence and change them.

Hence, it seems, the Pre-Rational world believed that, as a divine being, man was a self determining animal. In fact it was the thing that placed him above the other animals. The Rational world view threw all of that out in the name of materialism and science, yielding Determinism. But as we dig deeper, we find that while many of our actions may be determined by subconscious or purely automatic reflexes, there is still an element of self-determination, which can be called consciousness. There is still the ability to make decisions and, more importantly, to self program those automatic reactions. This begs the question “Who is doing the self programming?” To which we have to respond, some conscious element of ourselves which is beyond determinism. This is the Trans-Rational view, which includes an acceptance of the Rational, but also returns to an aspect of the Pre-Rational in an informed and more enlightened way.

I think this is a common trend. When one explores the Rational to great depths, such as Quantum Physics or Neuropsychology, one begins to understand that the purely rational, logical interpretations that originated with Newton and Descartes have limitations. These are often the result of the Objective view completely denying the Subjective view. Even Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.”

Let’s start with some facts. Something which some news media outlets don’t consider important.

  1. There is very little specific information about the content of the new curriculum available to the general public. That is not surprising as it has been made clear that it is still in the formative stage, with parent input still being sought and utilized. With such a politically and socially charged topic, parading it too early in the media would only lead to a circus which would hinder any kind of intelligent discussion. It eventually must be presented to a wider audience, before implementation and as a final formative stage, but at this point in time it would be counterproductive. Take the Sun Media pouncing on the “Anal 101” graphic behind one of the posters, with absolutely no context or explanation involved. Sex education is an easy target for sensationalism. Case in point, the Charles McVety attacks back in 2010, supported and advanced by the Ontario PC part, subsequently condemned by the Canadian Boadcasting Standards Council as shamelessly bigoted. Currently we see the same kind of shamelessness. It is interesting that a thorough Google shows that only SUN News and the various blogs that have simply cut and pasted their article, have any mention of the “Anal 101” issue. I find this unusual in that SUN is not the only conservative media outlet in Ontario, …just, I guess, the only tawdry one.
    The fact seems to be that parents are still being invited to provide feedback and input regarding this curriculum. If there are suspicions that this might not be a fair vetting, then address that and ask for a better representation of parents in that process. One parent from each school seems to be a good deal, although I can see how some religious groups might fear being left out of the process. There is a Catholic School system in Ontario, though, so they should easily be able to manage adequate representation. The truth of the matter is, though, that many of these religious groups would not be satisfied with anything less than abstinence based education and little more. Their cries of “secrecy” at this stage are not valid, and weren’t with the 2010 document where, clearly, enough was revealed about it to result in protests leading to its cancellation.
    However, I admit that after proper vetting, the provincial government does have a responsibility to release the final document to the public for more general scrutiny. There’s no scenario where that will go well. We live in a social structure with too many divergent values and world views. However, if the majority agrees (-not a majority of parents, but a majority of our society-) then moving ahead with it is the nature of social progress.
  2. This is an old story. As part of Wynne’s campaign when becoming leader of the provincial Liberal Party, she made it clear that she’d supported the scrapped 2010 curriculum document and that it was her intention to reintroduce it in some form. There are news articles to that effect prior to the last provincial election, and yet the Liberals won a majority. There are no transparency issues here. One can’t help but wonder to what degree Wynne’s own sexual orientation may be playing a role in the views of some more conservative critics.
  3. Most educators agree that the 15 year old Sex Ed. curriculum is woefully outdated for the changes that have taken place in that time. A little statistical research (not to mention anecdotal) shows how much of a shift there has been in the level of access to sexual material as a result of social media. Sexting and cameras on everything from home computers to laptops to tablets to phones are a game changer. Attitudes towards sexual engagement have changed and become more open, with the very definition of sexual activity having changed with terms like “wheeling” and “friends with benefits” becoming common place for lunch room banter. Access to pornography has become progressively easier and more commonly sought out than ever before, with most parents powerless to block it short of simply denying kids access to any form of technology. (And then they still have to contend with access that friends may have, -or as I’ve often hear, kids finding it on their parents computers, not realizing that kids are more tech savvy and better able to investigate search histories and hidden files than are the parent.) Having been a teacher (now retired) and a leader of several youth groups, I can say with a degree of authority that I’ve noticed a dramatic and significant shift in this whole area specifically over the past ten years.
  4. When creating and vetting a curriculum guideline, while parents certainly have the right to provide input, so should education experts and teachers. The indication is that most education experts feel that the new curriculum is largely a good thing. Now, I can hear the protest out there, the old adage of “What do experts know, anyway.” Well, I’m sorry but I’m reluctant to bow to the right wing, anti-intellectual movement that seems to be so prevalent in the U.S., and give experts the respect that they are due. It is too easy to disagree by simply dismissing the words of those who have made it their life’s work to study and understand education. What do you replace it with; folk lore and religious dogma?? I can assure you that while such people might be busy asserting such “values”, it will make no difference to the sexual activities of their children. The states in the U.S. with the most dogmatic and repressive attitudes towards sexuality and sex education are also those with the highest incidence of teen/unwanted pregnancy. In Canada it’s Quebec, which, coincidentally, has a largely Catholic school system.
    It is a sad fact that many parents, and especially the parents of kids that are in the highest risk category for early sexual activity, pregnancy and STDs, do not adequately exercise their responsibility of providing information and guidance in sexual matters. At the same time, they are often, though not always, the same people who object to sex education in schools. In many cases this is because they feel that exposing children to information about sex will encourage them to become more promiscuous. As stated above, the statistics are clear the ignorance about sex is directly related to unwanted pregnancy and STDs. By contrast to more conservative areas in the United States and Canada, in The Netherlands, where attitudes about teen sexuality are very open and liberal, teens are 15% more likely to use protection when having sex and the teen pregnancy rate is one sixth what it is in the States. There is one third the STD rate and The Netherlands has less than 1% the incidence of Gonorrhea. Ignorance does nobody any good.

I some ways it can be said that the need for the schools and the sex curriculum to step in is necessary for the very reason that many parents are ill equipped or often unwilling to do it themselves. If they were, the school curriculum would be less essential in properly equipping students to cope with the social media world. It needs to be done tactfully and with a measure of consensus and sensitivity, but it needs to be done.

One of the insights that hit me a short while ago came as I was reading a part of Daniel Siegel’s book, Mindsight.  In it he talks about how younger children and teenagers (and I would suspect adults as well) can help to integrate feelings and other mental experiences into a wider awareness in their brains/minds by verbalizing them.  Siegel calls it “Telling The Story” when relating the technique to kids, but that about sums it up for anyone.  By going over an emotional incident and relating it in words to others or self, it provides the brain/mind with the opportunity to integrate the experience into the more rational parts of the brain, thereby giving that rational part more control over both the experience and the consequences of the memory.  Or in plain terms, it leads to better understanding and self control.

After reading this I immediately thought of a story told by Tom Brown Jr. in his Tracker classes, where his mentor, Stalking Wolf, would tell him to do something unusual whenever he turned up angry about something or emotionally preoccupied. Stalking Wolf would direct Tom to “go tell the trees”.  So Tom would go to a secluded place in the forest and proceed to rant at the trees, expressing his emotions, sometimes yelling at them.  It would, he said, always make him feel better.

It is interesting that this practice, suggested by someone following an ancient aboriginal tradition, is so similar to a practice suggested by a modern neurologist.  The practice and the outcome are identical.  It is only the conceptual perspective that is different.  In “tree preaching” the understanding was likely that the trees would listen to your problems and provide you with soothing understanding and energy.  The trees were seen as animate and helpful in and of themselves.  In the verbalization practice suggested by Siegel the explanation is a neuroplasticity and an integration of brain function.

From an Integral Studies point of view I find this fascinating.  It is an example of a single practice that functions the same at different world views.  The “tree preaching” is looking at it from a Mythical or Magical perspective, while “telling the story” is from a rational and scientific perspective.  The truth of the matter, though, is probably that the mythical practice predates the scientific one by centuries.  A lesson to be learned that those ancient practices deserve great respect in spite of the fact that their context may no longer seem valid in our scientific world view.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Been gone a while….

Posted: November 10, 2014 in Personal Whining

I was churning out posts pretty well for a few months and then there has been a long dry spell.  Truth is, for those who are following this, that I am in the middle of a slow motion moving experience.  Moving not only takes up a lot of actual time, packing and such, but also, it seems, really imposes on your mental head space.  Hopefully I will have more time for “contemplation” once I’m settled in.

Recently a friend and colleague made an interesting comment when saying, “You can’t teach wisdom.” We were talking about the idea that parents and teachers who are concerned with the developmental evolution of young people, had a responsibility to seek the same kind of evolution and development for themselves. They needed to both work on the rough edges that they themselves might have as a result of their own past development, and also should embrace the idea of personal development by recognizing that it continues throughout life. But when I suggested that this be a required part of teacher training and ongoing professional development, that’s when the “You can’t teach wisdom” comment came up.

I don’t agree. I think there are at least three methods available for “teaching wisdom”, specifically in so far as it applies to personal development and understanding the development of others.

 

1. While lecturing and instructing about wisdom may not be effective, it is generally understood that life experience is the main way that life wisdom develops. Such experience can be random events, or can be directed by carefully considered events. When a young troubled person is sent to a demanding program like Outward Bound, which forces them to confront personal challenges in a controlled environment, it is the experience that does the teaching as that person grows new insights. This is why corporate training activities including everything from laser tag to teambuilding games are persued by companies. It is why the social climate and day to day process of interaction should be carefully considered in schools.

Authors such as Jon Young and Mark Morey have done a lot of work concerning Rites Of Passage and their importance as people progress through the stages of life. They have identified several through childhood and adolescence, but have also pointed to many others spanning lifelong development. Each important life stage, they say, should be accompanied by a rite of passage that symbolizes and celebrates the new skills and responsibilities achieved. We often think of the adolescent rites of passage, with some cultures having maintained them, like the Jewish Bar Mitzvah, but often these are anchored in religious responsibilities rather than societal ones. For many adolescents, the only rite of passage that they experience is getting a driver’s license, getting drunk or losing their virginity, -of which only one comes anywhere near the defining requirements of symbolizing and celebrating new skills and responsibilities.

I am speaking about adolescent rites of passage because it is the one we are most familiar considering, but there are many achievements both earlier and later in life that equally demand such recognition.

 

2. Related to the engineering of experience is the role of the mentor. A mentor is a person who has already achieved some of the qualities of development which may still be lacking or weak in the person being mentored. A mentor not only engineers experiences which might assist a person in their development, but also can be a sounding board and feedback system in day to day life. It is generally accepted by psychologists and sociologists that people develop more effectively if they have good feedback that encourages them to reflect on their progress. In many arenas of life we call this a coach.

Mentors are used a little in the teaching profession, although my experience is that they are not used effectively or deliberately. They are sometimes introduced in situations where a teacher is experiencing difficulty. The idea that all teachers, even the best ones, might benefit from mentors (and may act as mentors) is dealt with very superficially. The idea that parenting might benefit from mentors is all but absent, except maybe for the sometimes good, sometimes bad advice that might come from grandparents. It’s basically a crap shoot.

Both teachers and parents would benefit from formal mentoring programs with established standards and goals.

 

3. Those standards and goals could come from a variety of sources, but there are a few that I’ve come across in my own development which I think are extremely valuable.

As I’ve noted in previous posts, there has been a lot of brain and neurological research and discovery done in the past two decades. In addition, and in a way that compliments that work, there has also been a surge in the consideration of mindfulness and meditation, largely spearheaded by Jon Kabat-Zinn. His book, Wherever You Go there You Are is a foundational block in this work. Over the past few years I have been researching a lot of material on these two subjects, most notabley Eagleson’s Incognito and some of the work done by the Integral Life people. Also, I’ve been strongly influenced by the work of Hal and Sidra Stone on multiple self theory.

So it was a delight to find a psychological writer and theorist who combined all of these different facets into one main model. Dr. Dan Siegel has written a several books over the past decade on an approach that he labels “Mindsight”, including The Mindful Brain, Brainstorm and Mindsight. In this model Siegel combines recent advances in brain theory and neurology with theories about the mind and how we experience influences and impulses from different parts of our brain. To that he applies the practices of mindfulness and meditation, noting their relationship to the idea of neuroplasticity, which is the ability for conscious intention to have an impact on the neural connections in the brain. Reading this material was like a vindication of so many of the ideas that have guided my own teaching over the past decades. It seems to be a distant cousin of NLP theory, although Siegel never mentions it.

The application of this model and its well laid out techniques and practices, would be a formidable tool for self development and evolution. It is also a demonstrated method of encouraging empathy. I would easily argue that these kinds of personal advancements qualify as a way of “teaching wisdom”.

 

Ken Wilber’s Integral Life theories and techniques are also relevant here. Integral Theory, based on Spiral Dynamics, is a road map for personal evolution. Siegel’s work actually dovetails excellently with Integral Life Theory, although he doesn’t mention it at all in his writing. Integral Theory lays out stages of personal development in a hierarchical fashion (which some people find hard to accept) and describes ways in which to advance through those stages. Here, mindfulness and meditation are also important to the process, although Siegel does a better job (for me at least) in providing the specifics of the means for doing this. An advantage that Integral Theory has is that the larger model can be applied to almost anything imaginable. It is relevant to personal development and world economics, equally. In addition, another facet of Integral Theory is the 4 Quadrant view of epistemology and reality, which Siegel uses extensively, although never really describes it.

Here, then, are the maps and means of “teaching wisdom”. It is perhaps the most important thing to teach, and it is seldom given the priority that it deserves. School curricula pay lip service to it if they don’t outright ignore it. Parents are expected to absorb these kinds of parenting skills as if they were genetically implanted, which we all know they are not. For the most part, random experiences rule, when deliberate consciousness is what is needed.

I think any 21st Century initiatives in education have to seriously consider these issues and practices.

In my attempt to look at realistic crisis scenarios which our society could face, some kind of pandemic has always been at the top of my list. With all of the new concern about the spread of Ebola in Western Africa and its recent migration to N. America, I think that this situation needs some specific examination.
Our medical system should be able to take care of any Ebola crisis which may arise. But that’s like saying that our nuclear scientists are capable of taking care of any crisis involving a nuclear power plant. And I give you Three Mile Island as the warning for taking a statement like that too confidently. Our science is capable of doing a lot of things, however human nature and fallibility is still a very strong factor.
I have two concerns about Ebola in North America.

1. Ebola does have a more restricted contagion level as it is only spread by direct contact with bodily fluids. Given that, it is more contagious than AIDS and about on a par with Mononucleosis. (It is more contagious than AIDS because it can be found in bodily fluids other than blood and semen, like saliva, and also because it can sustain itself outside of the body on a physical object far longer than can AIDS.) Given that it is about as contagious as Mono, one might think it relatively safe. After all, as one friend stated, it’s not hard to avoid “making out” with an Ebola patient. Except that we all know that Mono’s distinction as the “kissing disease” is not really accurate. I’ve known many people with Mono, and intimate contact was not how they were exposed. It was more from sneezing or drinking from the same glass. (The reason teenagers are more likely to get Mono is not because they are more indiscriminately intimate, but because their bodies are more susceptible.) Not only that, but medical research shows that 95% of the population tests positive for the Mono virus, but only a small number succumb to Infectious Mononucleosis. So we’ve all been infected by it.
If Ebola is on a par with Mono, then I don’t have much confidence in statements that its contagion level is below a level worth worrying about. As addition proof of this concern, we have the cases in Africa of two doctors and most recently a news camera man who have contracted the disease. All of these people are very likely to have taken all reasonable precautions to protect themselves from infection, and still they contracted the disease.
If this disease ever escaped into an urban setting, attempts to control it would be far superior to what is happening in Africa, but would it be enough.

2. Add to this the sheer incompetence of the hospital that turned away the first America Ebola case, and of the CDC who left an infected room and a possibly infected family unattended for days, until the media finally forced them to do something about it. While we like to think of our emergency response system as being “state of the art”, the sad truth is that it falls quite short. Just look at FEMA. Human ineptitude seems rampant. I’d like to think we’d do better in Canada, -and the SARS response suggests that we would-, but I think I have good reason to be skeptical. Once this epidemic has a foothold, it will be a monumental task to control it.

And so what happens if the proverbial shit hits the fan? Here are the potential consequences, as I see them.

First, there will be a fear of any sort of congregation, which may effect parents willing to send their kids to school, people willing to go shopping and many other things. Stock up on food, water and medications, and make some appropriate plans and arrangements. The situation may develop to a point that you want to isolate yourself.

Second, services may be disrupted. If there is a priority of dealing with an epidemic, hospitals, police and other services will be maxed out. This may lead to some social unrest, to say the least. Deliveries of food and other goods may be interrupted, causing shortages. When there are shortages, and when police services may be preoccupied, there are always people who will want to solve their own problems by giving you problems.

Third, all of this can’t happen without there being an impact on our already delicate economic and financial system. At its worst it is the kind of thing that could easily result in another recession.

Hopefully our society is up to the task of controlling and/or dealing with what is now a clear and present danger. But, as I’ve said before, some prudent and realistic preparation is a good idea.

***And nobody has yet addressed the idea that it is only a matter of time before terrorists see that biological weapons are a lot easier to utilize than explosives. A deliberate ”suicide infector” who purposely evades the safeguards on airlines and airports, would be able to infiltrate our society and possibly contaminate many people. I have no doubt that this will become a problem.