A first person account of creating the 1st Integral European Conference, May 8-11, 2014 in Budapest
So it’s over now. We did it. What a blast, what a joy, what an amazing conference experience this has been! What a ride!
Let’s rewind the tape right back to the beginning. Where is the beginning anyway? It seems arbitrary for me to pick up the story at any point since this event felt so much like a culmination of my life’s purpose – literally everything that I came here for – that leaving out any aspect of my story is a bit painful. It all seemed to have converged, conspired, condensed to prepare me to help give birth to this expression of Integral Consciousness on a European level. So actually I should start the story with my birth – or better even – with that eternal moment before I was born, divine silence, utter beingness, ultimately bursting into the joy of creation – for the sheer fun of it.
The Birth of Integral Europe
Berlin, June 2012, Monday evening 6 pm. Church bells are ringing while a flood of summer rain washes the air right after the first gathering of European Integralists has ended. In my former function as president of Integrales Forum Germany I had followed my impulse to invite all the people I was aware of in Europe to finally be able to see and meet each other to report on the state of Integral in our respective countries. I wanted visibility. Over 20 people from 14 countries came and presented their reports. Integral Europe was born. A team of five volunteers – among them Bence and me – started dreaming big.
For more information about IEC and their next conference, go to:
“To IEC or not IEC?” – that is the Question
By then I had the experience of organizing a half dozen of annual integral conferences in Germany under my belt, Bence had built up the Integral Academy in Hungary with a stable team and a large, supportive community. But it definitely would be a lot of work. Nobody had tried such format on a European level before. It involved taking a major financial risk to make it happen. After gracefully leaving Integrales Forum in March 2013 I was without a job. It was an act of faith – faith in integral consciousness. “Screw it, let’s do it!” We believed in it and were crazy enough to take it on and follow our soul’s calling.
Conceiving a New Conference Format
Right from the beginning in the design and conception Bence insisted on correcting some of what has occurred to him as painful omissions in more traditional conference formats. He wanted way more time for deep experiential workshop offerings and juicy personal growth-oriented therapeutic group work (a special gift that Integral in Hungary brings to the table), and also more time for just hanging out and enjoying each other’s company. I found it important to have solid academic contributions (inspired by previous Integral Theory Conferences) and to use the opportunity of coming together to trigger people into actually producing new content – papers, posters, presentations that would not have been brought into being without a proper audience or event format. With our call we cast out the net all over Europe to bring to light all the great integral work that has been going on at a national level for over a decade. At first not much happened. But then after sending out the call for presenters and workshop leaders a within weeks we were literally flooded with abstracts and proposals – counting 165 in the end.
Another thing was important for us: this time it would be primarily about Europe. After years of being US focused and self-negligent we would finally feature Europeans, give each other the main stage and appropriate airtime – grateful to all the marvelous contributions from America, yet assertive and articulating our own European voice – becoming a real partner in a real dialogue, rather than being a passive recipient or merely being perceived as a market.
We wanted to set a counter-example against a pathologic orange twist in the integral community. We wanted to allow our precious, yet marginalized and often condemned green communal aspects to be able to come out of the closet again to be cherished and reclaim their rightful place in the spectrum of human values and authentic self-expression within the integral community. As Bence explained afterwards:
Often integralists associate green with its shadow sides of avoiding leadership and level-differentiation. Not here: we had clear leadership, very potent and dynamic steering and collaborative organizing forces. The healthy green is daring to open up a little deeper to each other, with heart to heart connection that many felt almost ashamed for or being unnecessary in the sometimes overly-intellectual integral world. We simply decided to heal this shadow of the integral movement of outcasting or ignoring authentic green needs that is a doorway to opening to authentic teal on the relational level. It is not just about thinking integral. It is also about being together integrally.
Building the Team and Laying Down the Tracks
Step by step we put together our core conference organization team – consisting of a Hungarian and a German fraction most of which have never met in person before – over months only connected through thin cables, wireless connections, evening Skype calls and Hangouts, invisible threads of love and a strangely similar yearning in our hearts. Quite miraculous if you think about it…
The amazing core conference organization team, which worked for months on a regular basis, included
the legendary master of ceremony “MC Flow-walker” conference director, integral master of all trades – visionary, shaman, therapist, entrepreneur, musician, … (you name it), Bence Gánti,
“Baba D.” – conference director, Integral Europe torch-bearer, integral swiss-knife, cliff-jumper, Holacracy-nerd, and secret chant master Dennis Wittrock
“integral businessman, pulling all the strings in the background” – Örs Horváth
“Hannu-Mum” – content curator and process co-designer Hanna Hündorf
“Anicca / Anchur” Anikó Mag, conference backbone in every conceivable way
“crazy Ali” international marketing guru Alistair Langer
“throw whatever you want at me – I’ll do it”- general assistant Gyöngyi Bolbás
“beloved stage commander”, IEC movie maker and media production director Csilla Dalton
“Slavy” – venue- and event-master Szilvia Szlavitsek
“Franksy” – registration and bookkeeping angel Szilvia Frank
“Bobsy” – registration and marketing angel Szilvia Bobák
“Marci” – recklessly fearless volunteer coordinator Márton Visi
“Syska” – recklessly fearless volunteer coordinator Szilvia Tóth
“Rita, Mrs. Integral Tourope” – travel group coordinator Rita Kutasi
“Attila the Hun(garian)” – 24/7 available graphic designer Attila Viszkok
There were other professionals and volunteers I would like to mention here for their valuable contributions: Uwe Schramm (webmaster), Felix Krolle (webeditor + major tech coordination volunteer), Péter Póth (all things tech), “Groundhog Anda” – webshop creator Andrea Szokács and Krisztián Bódis (photography). To all the other unmentioned ones: forgiveness is a great spiritual practice!
We were already a bit late in the game when we started announcing the date one year ahead in summer 2013. This feeling of trying to chase a train that has already started rolling out of the station became a constant companion. Just like the feeling that we should better quickly lay down the railroad-tracks for it while trying to catch up. Our call for papers launched late. Our webshop launched late. Our website launched late. Our full program launched late. It must have been about this time when we stumbled over a wise phrase of a Tibetan lama and meditation master that has become our team’s favorite IEC mantra ever since: “Relax – nothing is under control.”
Let’s now zoom into the event itself. When I think back I tend to get lost in my personal conference highlights in such a number and frequency that it actually renders the word “highlight” pretty ridiculous – for what does “high” even mean if almost everything seems “high”? The most convenient way to go about this is to take the chronological approach of reporting along the official program. At a certain point the conference experiences split up into hundreds of possible paths that individual people have actually chosen – IEC as a “multiple object” (if you like the term) enacted by all the participants in their own way. I will simply stick to describing my own path here.
We started off on Wednesday afternoon with eight preconference workshops, none of which I was able to attend unfortunately. I would have loved to hear Susanne Cook-Greuter speaking about the levels of Adult Development and all the dangers of projecting all our hopes onto the late stages of development. I also heard good things about the Circling workshop led by Sean Wilkinson and John Thompson – a we-space practice that is gaining traction in integral circles.
Welcoming Boat Party on River Danube
When dreaming up the design of the conference, Bence came up with the idea to kick off the event with a socializing boat party on the river Danube and to end it with a VIP party in a posh Buda hills villa on the last day. In between we had planned an Integral Lounge on Thursday evening and a traditional Gulyás Party on Friday evening. We started joking that IEC would simply be one big continuous party from the beginning to the end. It turned out that actually this was not too far from the truth…
When I stepped out into the dark on the deck of our boat gently floating on the Danube, I breathed in the cool air feeling a slight drizzle of rain on my face. I was already drenched. Drenched in rich conversations with previous strangers, drenched in the amazing night-vistas of Budapest like the surreal golden glow of the Parliament building, drenched in love. I had arrived. I was exactly where I needed to be, surrounded by friendly souls with a similar spark in their eyes. I truly had found my tribe. Strangely, it felt like the end of the conference to me – as if it was already over and we were just enjoying the last bits of it. I was at peace. I think I simply had allowed myself to arrive in the moment fully, despite the usual tendency to cloud my perception with thoughts of the past or future. I had called off my search that night. Boat, night, drizzle, integral friends – more than enough for my soul to simply be.
Preconference Workshops on Thursday
Holding preconference workshops on Wednesday and Thursday turned out to be a good idea. Our huge volunteer team (50+ people) and all the staff members had time to connect and rehearse for the official conference-opening day – on a smaller scale. We were able to create space for non-European friends like Terry Patten (Integral Soul Work), John Dupuy (Integral Recovery) and Marilyn Hamilton (Integral City) and in general offer more people the chance to hold an in-depth workshop. I was still busy organizing on Thursday morning, but couldn’t help to stop by in the Integral Recovery Workshop of my dear friend John. It is just so rewarding to see people like him with pioneering applications of the Integral Approach that literally save and improve dozens of lives of addicts and their families by blending and using ancient wisdom, good old science, cutting edge brainwave entrainment technologies and sophisticated integral maps of the Human potential. It’s just so much better than what we had up until now – we just need to put it together. That’s what John and his wife Pam do so beautifully by using an integral approach. I bow to you guys.
Slowly the space was filling with people. I haven’t mentioned the venue yet. We had chosen the Millenáris as our IEC venue. It formerly used to be an industrial building where trains were assembled. Later it was turned into a major event location by the state with a little park nearby. In terms of architecture it is a very playful, postmodern space with a lot of unexpected room shapes, windows and other accessories – certainly not a standard boring hotel conference venue. A downside was that we had to construct most of the workshop rooms out of thin air with rented walls. In several cases this led to bad acoustics – which is about the only negative feedback about the conference I have heard so far.
Opening the Conference Flow
At 2 pm Bence officially opened the conference with a brief plenary address and laid out his inspirations and visions for the audience. I was to go next. The night before I had thought about what I would like to say. I decided not to come up with a pre-planned speech but to freely speak from what the moment required. I had expected to be more nervous but actually I was as calm as never before when organizing a conference. Everybody on the team did their best and – as the mantra goes – ultimately nothing was really under control – so I could fully relax. In my introductory talk I likened organizing IEC to throwing yourself off a cliff and assembling an airplane on your way down. If IEC has taught me anything then this: leap and the net will appear.
Ervin László Keynote
Our first highlight was the keynote address by Club of Budapest founder Ervin László: “Integral Consciousness in a Self Actualizing Cosmos”. His physical age stood in no relation whatsoever to his mental alertness, his soul presence and the relevance of his message. At some point he delivered his “Ten Point Credo of an Evolved Consciousness” – a beautiful distillation of decades of insights as one of the leading systems scientists combined with his heartfelt beliefs on what the highest expression of our human dignity on this planet should be about.
Ken Wilber is “soooooo American”!
After the break we had the delight to watch a pre-recorded video message by Ken Wilber offering his “Thoughts on Europe and on Integral”. In it he shared his heartfelt appreciation for the depths of the European mind, heart and spirit, the rich cultural heritage, its pioneering role in pushing into more embracing value sets, stages as well as states of consciousness. In a slightly ironic manner he deplored about “unfortunately” being an “outsider here” – quoting embarrassing research results on the generally widespread cultural ignorance among Americans.
In his own words:
I used to be on the board of directors of Naropa, a Buddhist oriented college founded by Trungpa Rinpoche, which had many students from all over the world, especially Europe. And I often hang out with them. They all had an expression that I eventually came to understand quite well I think. The expression was with a slight roll with the eyes: ‘That’s sooo American.’ It meant brash, youthly arrogant, lacking deep wisdom, cocky, almost totally ignorant culturally, and stupidly courageous. Courage? Yes, but one that came from not knowing any better.
Wilber mentioned his admiration for the philosophers of German Idealism such as Hegel, Fichte and Schelling who pushed into early forms of integral or “vision-logic” thinking as well as witnessing awareness. But he did also find some positive aspects about America as well to be proud about: “Virtually every other country or nation on the planet was founded along racial and ethnic lines, with particularly similar tribes banding together to eventually form what would be a nation. But from the start America was born based on a universal philosophical principle, not on ethnic or racial or tribal lineage.” In his view this grand cultural experiment has succeeded wonderfully in many ways.
He described Europe and America as being “kissing cousins” with a similar structure-stage path (“Because both went from mythic to rational and in pluralistic, they are both the most open and most likely to include the next higher structure level: the integral”) heading towards a higher and higher percentage of integral awareness present in their populations with Europe having a “slight edge” in this race.
My personal conclusion: yes, Ken Wilber is “sooo American” for sure. But I would add that his level of cultural ignorance is significantly lower than average, he does certainly not lack “deep wisdom” and the seemingly hubris-driven courage he displays in his work (daring to integrate ‘everything’) is not at all based on “stupidity” but rather on the relentless (com)passion to embrace as many truths as humanely possible. I bow to the wise philosophy cowboy pioneer with all the arrows in his back. The act of bowing is “sooooo un-European”, but I don’t mind…
From Transpersonal to Integral and Schedule Surprises
The next to go was Iker Puente from Spain. In his brief presentation “The Relationship of Transpersonal and Integral” Iker, psychologist from Barcelona, PhD graduate of the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco and a lover of both the transpersonal and integral approaches shed some light on the first years of Ken Wilber’s work within TP, his first publications and his separation from TP. It is difficult to fully understand Integral Theory and its roots without also looking at the important work in the field of Transpersonal Psychology (TP) – a spin-off of the Humanistic psychology movement that expanded our understanding of what optimal psychological health looks like – beyond merely focusing on curing our pathological patterns (like conventional psychology). Ken Wilber helped to give birth to this field of inquiry with seminal contributions (like the concept of the pre-trans-fallacy) and pioneers like Stanislav Grof, Frances Vaughn and her husband, Roger Walsh greatly enriched our understanding of the higher reaches of human development and spiritual experiences.
We had originally planned to continue with Roger Walsh live and in person on stage but as the mantra goes: “nothing is under control”. Unfortunately, Roger had to decline a few days before the conference for personal reasons. Instead he had sent us a high-quality video recording of his own keynote that we decided to drop completely that evening for schedule reasons and also to let people’s mind rest and rather upload it somewhere for everybody to enjoy later.
The Gift that We are to Each Other
What followed was yet another schedule surprise – but only for the audience this time. We had titled it “Playful Intermezzo” – simply as a mysterious placeholder for a large group process – turning out to be an “Integral Gift Exchange Ceremony between Europe and the United States of America”. One of our photo-album descriptions on Facebook nicely captures the essence of what happened there, so I simply include it here:
Integral Theory comes from the USA and has fertilized many thinkers and professionals in Europe. The Soul Movement Ritual guided by Bence Gánti gave space for Europeans and Non-Europeans to play out their encounter on an energetic level and arranged a soul-movement based gift exchange between the chosen focus person who became the representatives of Integral Europe (Dennis Wittrock) and Integral USA (Jeff Salzman and Terry Patten). The idea was a symbolic yet embodied experience and field programming of Europe giving its integral gifts to America and America its gifts to Europe to establish a cross-continental bilateral cross-fertilization in the integral movement. The process started with greeting and introducing Jeff and Terry on stage and setting the context together. This was followed by crowd work on the ground including raising the group energy to second and third tier – thereby entering higher stages of subtle awareness of self and others. From here we worked on Dennis and Jeff to open and be ready for the gift transfer. The gift of the Europeans was a flag with all European countries’ flags on it saying “Integral Europe”. From the American side the gift was a MacBook with all of Wilber’s works and dharma on it in digital form. The group served as a live resonance field for the exchange and participants had their individual experiences and processes intertwined with group processing.
The Jazz of Groupwork
That for sure was an interesting place to be in – a representative focus person for Integral Europe. For those who haven’t stumbled upon it yet: these groupwork-, psychodrama- and constellation-methodologies are really powerful interventions that can take you beyond your usual psychological functioning into deeper individual and collective spaces. Bence has certainly reached a very advanced level of refinement, skill and mastery in these techniques, allowing him to freely engage any of these (and more) spontaneously on the spot in what he calls “the jazz of groupwork” or “Integral Flow Therapy”. He is very sensitive for synchronicities and the faint whispers coming from the soul level, the universal wisdom of the field and amplifies those for the group. Leaning with trust into this flow enables all participants to become a channel for each other, to mirror each other as souls in full authenticity of expression, usually in a non-verbal embodied fashion. In his best moments Bence totally steps out of his own way allowing the group process to play itself out freely and fully. This is a rare and precious gift. It opens a door for grace to take over and lead the group into deep unity.
In my case I ended up in the middle of the group doing my own process supported by the field. One of Bence’s spiritual mentors Brigitte Wingelmayr, an Austrian Sufi-Shaman also showed up in the conference and he intuitively decided to involved her into the process as a co-facilitator. People were to breathe and wave into the center to send me energy. I was startled when the wise lady started crying, yelling (or was it singing?) at me – somehow mirroring some deep old pain in myself that I had been carrying around with me like a burden for a long time. It became more and more intense with tears streaming down my face. At the height of intensity the whole thing flipped over in my perception – it became totally hilarious and I had to laugh really hard. What a release – it seems like in her acting out I had objectified my personal drama, so I was finally able to let it go in a burst of laughter. Beautiful. Such is the power and the magic of this exciting and juicy kind of transpersonal groupwork.
Infotainment with the Integral Roadshow
The following break was designed for digesting this experience and the dinner while Martin Bruders and Axel Perinchery were getting ready to perform the Integral Roadshow. This furious mix of stand-up comedy, sketches, transmission of integral and spiritual concepts as well as impro-theater engaged the audience in a full-body way – massaging the brain, the belly-muscles, the heart and yes, even the back. Both are students of Thomas Hübl and trained to sense into the audience and themselves frequently to make sure they are aligned and not “off” what is needed or really going on in the moment. When the presence of the audience waivered (it had been a long day already!) they threw in a collective partner massage exercise to get back on track. Memorable for me as well was their terrific shadow-boxing performance in ultra-slow motion in order to illustrate the red value meme of the Spiral Dynamics model. Hilarious.
We clearly went into overtime on Thursday but most people did not seem to bother much and stayed to hang out with each other in the Integral Lounge. Örs had organized a bean-bag chillout zone and a lot of local sponsors with free energy drinks, tea, salads, massages as well as a daily gift raffle where people were able to win free rides with electric cars and weekends in five star hotels and stuff like that. I have no idea how on earth he arranged it, but it was fun – especially when his own name was drawn out of the raffle-box eventually. He didn’t even try to look embarrassed…
Thomas Hübl or “Sometimes Israeli Airports can be a Real Hassle”
Indeed. Especially if you try to bring over one of your main keynote speakers in the short time-window both parties had eventually settled upon. On Thursday night I discussed it back and forth with the assistant of Thomas Hübl but to no avail. The ground-personnel at the airport in Tel Aviv were determined to strike that day. Thomas Hübl was not coming. All other options did not make much sense. After Roger Walsh another one of our keynote speakers was unable to make it in person. What would happen next? An earthquake maybe?
Breathe, baby. Our mantra “Relax – Nothing Is Under Control” came in handy again to adapt to the flow of life and solve the problem creatively. Bence stepped up the stage and explained the situation to the audience. We decided to simply show the keynote video that Roger Walsh had produced for us instead. I heard no complaints then or afterwards and it is certainly not because people would not have loved to see Thomas, I’m sure. It simply seamlessly weaved into the flow of the event that by that point had already been so rich that really nobody seemed to miss anything anyway. “No icing on the cake this time? Whatever, it’s delicious anyway!”
Roger Walsh – Gnostic Intermediaries, Psycho-Technologies and Perspectival Therapists
In his succinct keynote address video “The State and Future of Integral” beloved integral elder and bearer of perennial wisdom, Dr. Roger Walsh summed up what it takes for us to optimize the impact of integral ideas in the world. First of all, to be taken serious by the mainstream world we need to become really good in our own professional discipline or field, practice rigorous thinking, refine and test our ideas and publish our work in mainstream outlets. This alone takes years of dedication and high-quality work. Further, we need to master integral ideas themselves and apply them in our field.
C.G. Jung once coined the term “Gnostic Intermediary” referring to the English translator of the I-Ching. In order to capture and transmit the spirit of the I-Ching he himself had to transform and embody its wisdom in order to effectively communicate it in another language, not sticking to the exact letter, but to the spirit of the message. Walsh pointed out that the same is needed for integral to become effective in the mainstream world. We ourselves need to become Gnostic Intermediaries for Integral by “marinating” ourselves in its wisdom and knowledge, by mastering the concepts and language of our target audience and by translating these new integral insights and ideas into their concepts and language.
He asked us to reflect on the question what the most valuable integral idea is for ourselves. What integral idea am I called to get out in the world the most? What integral idea is the world most calling for? Walsh made clear that this type of question is not a question with a definite answer but rather an ongoing “wisdom question”, like a koan, with an ever changing, ever deepening answer. He then proceeded by outlining his six most precious insights and concepts from Integral Theory:
Integral ideas are crucial in a time of information overload in order to make coherent sense of the world as a whole.
Adult development is possible.
Contemplative practices and disciplines can foster psychological and spiritual growth and maturity.
There are two very different kinds of religion: conventional and trans-conventional. Their confusion and lumping together is nothing less than tragic.
Spiritual disciplines are effective psycho-technologies to train, tame, transform and altogether transcend the mind and don’t require blind faith – only willingness to experiment with them.
The psycho-technologies of all the great religions and wisdom traditions from all over the world universally share seven common qualities and accompanying practices or injunctions to embody them:
develop emotional maturity
refinement of awareness
If we want to develop these we should take heed of the advice of the Buddha to seek good company and hang out with the right people. For Roger this is one of the invaluable gifts of gatherings like the IEC. In order to address the many global problems and win the “race between consciousness” and catastrophe he urged us to simultaneously work on healing the exterior and the interior worlds and their pathologies, simultaneously dealing with the right-hand and left-hand quadrants, as well as resting in the transcendental awareness, the background radiation of ever-present Spirit. Not only do we need to become “Gnostic Intermediaries”, but also “Perspectival Therapists” who recognize partial, limited or destructive perspectives and intervene by bringing to bear wider, deeper and more encompassing ones. Walsh underscored that we are forever called to continue our own path of maturation in order to be able to do so.
As the most effective way of merging work in the outer and inner dimension simultaneously and transforming it into a spiritual practice Roger recommended the time tested practice of Karma Yoga. It has three steps:
offer your work to a higher purpose
do your work as impeccably as you can
let go of any attachments to the outcome.
If done well and consistently this practice will gradually transform us and the world and eventually even dissolve the arbitrary split between the two.
This keynote was an extremely rich spiritual and intellectual feast that was gratefully received by the audience. In the end Roger’s lack of physical presence was more than compensated by the density and precision of his video message and the clarity of his transmission. What a great role model of an integral Gnostic Intermediary!
Parallel Thematic Sections
In the program we had reserved the morning hours for the mental input, the afternoons for deep experiential group work and the evenings for socializing events. The response to our call for papers was as heart-warming as it was heart-breaking. We asked ourselves how we could possibly enable all or most of those wonderful contributors to show up and bring their gift to the table. We certainly did not want to throw out half of the contributions and frontally lecture our audience to death with the remaining half. So we came up with the idea to group presenters into 25 thematic sections (7 – 8 sections running parallel per day) with 4 to maximally 5 contributions per section and ask them to boil down their input to 15-20 minute presentations each. But we did not want this to be a one-way street between presenters and audience. Our process-design and content curator colleague Hanna Hündorf took care to brief the section leaders so that each two-hour section would involve a “CET” (Creative Emergence Time) of 40 minutes dedicated for participants to exchange around the section topics.
We were dedicated to make visible the wealth of contributions for everybody on the main stage. For that purpose we asked each presenter to deliver a 30 second pitch for their topic in the context of their section. After hearing this energetic transmission the visitors were prepared to make their final choices about which room to go to. It came out really well and was very appreciated by the audience.
The topics of the eight sections on Friday were
Psychology – Adult Development Research
Political Renewal 1 – Transition to Democracy, Civil Society, Peace Promotion
Leadership / Organizational Development 1
Transformative Community 1
Metatheories / Alternatives to Integral 1
We documented each section via audio recording and are looking forward to make the MP3s available via our website to share the rich content with the larger world.
After lunch we served a rich feast of eight different 3 hour workshops – among them Bence Gánti with his “Integral Flow Therapy” as well as Hungarian group therapy master Béla Daubner and the younger-generation “guru” Nóra Pecsenka with their “Integrative Group Therapy”. We decided to offer these two as in-depth workshop tracks across two consecutive days with closed groups. Bence’s intention was to breach from the more traditional conference concept of talking, talking, talking with a decidedly psychotherapeutic, somatic, non-verbal experiential part that would touch and open the heart, soul and emotions of the participants and weave that into to the talkative understanding part of the integral self. There were more and less intense offerings in order to accommodate the different degrees of openness of the audience and not to force anything onto people who are not yet ready to plunge the depths of their interiors.
Subtle Energies? Hold it Lightly!
I chose to visit the workshop of Peter Merry titled “Systemic Energy Tuning: An Experiential Exploration of Working with the Subtle Energetic Architecture of Place and Organism” which was more focused on teaching particular skills. In this case we learned a couple of exercises to familiarize ourselves and above all play with subtle energetic realities. Those involved group experiments trying to influence a random number generator into producing deviations of the norm into certain directions. Think of trying to influence the stock market curve – only on a small scale. It was fun to see the line deviating in real-time while holding a certain intention. One key aspect of it was to the ability to hold it lightly and playfully without trying to force something with your willpower – certainly a lesson in non-attachment to outcomes if nothing else.
Other experiments involved kinesiologic methods of muscle-testing the effect of random objects, thoughts and also certain symbols that are believed to exert a certain subtle influence. The body was used as instrument and sensor. Peter recommended this for practical questions and making everyday choices as prosaic as asking “which fruit is good for me today – apple or banana?” He further described how he uses these methods to detect and influence the subtle architecture of physical locations or organizations to shift it to healthier patterns. We clearly are just beginning to see the contours of this exciting field of research. I can recommend Ken Wilbers “Excerpt G” on Subtle Energies as a starting point, theoretical grounding and general map of this emerging territory that certainly deserves further scientific exploration apart from the already existing practical approaches.
The Legendary Original Tribal Gulyás Party
I will never forget this night. Never. Ever. It was simply a legendary, emblematic and iconic event that left a deep soul-imprint on everybody who was lucky enough to run around in the same space-time-locale in this vast Kosmos.
It began when we took the participants directly out of the conference hall and brought them with buses into nature near Budapest in the beautiful Hungarian grasslands, the Púszta, where herdsmen originally invented the famous Hungarian Gulyás Soup. An amazing warm sunset greeted participants upon arrival, the smell of grass and soup filled the fresh air. It was simmering in several traditional iron cauldrons while a traditional Hungarian folk band was already rehearsing on the open-air stage.
May 9th- a Special Day for Europe
As the lights faded a large bonfire was prepared. The Austrian shaman performed some blessing rituals before we lit the fire of Integral in the heart of Europe. It was a deeply symbolic moment on this 9th of May which co-incidentally turned out to be also “Europe Day”(also known as Schuman Day, commemorating the historical declaration by French foreign minister Robert Schuman) as well as the day of the “Eurovision Song contest” (for all you fans of transsexual Austrian singers out there). I also heard rumors about it being Buddha’s Birthday. Whatever else it may be – from now on I consider it as the birthday of the larger Integral European Community Spirit. A whole new tribe has come together, broken bread together, danced together, sung together.
When the music started playing, people spontaneously started dancing around the fire. As the rhythm became wilder so did the dancing. Later we got taught some essential folk-dance lessons and song verses. Everybody joined in this spirit of joy. It was simply heart-opening and the warm Hungarian cultural spirit was facilitating it beautifully.
A Way to Live in the Presence of the Lord
Later the stage was opened for the sacred songs coming from within the integral community. I wanted to die right on spot while beholding the perfection of two of my most beloved friends, Bence together with John Dupuy, hidden Integral Rockstar and passionate blues-guitarist performed live on stage. What a sight. Later we had the pleasure to listen to Nick Hedlund de Witt singing and playing guitar, followed by the charming “Iberian Singers” duet consisting of Raquel Torrent and Paula Soares. After that the lovely Miriam van Groen from the Netherlands sang for us.
To my own surprise I stepped up the stage at this point as well – a real world premiere and coming-out for me as singer. Despite my nervousness and the fear to make a complete fool out of myself, I followed my impulse to perform the chanting practice I had taken up during the time of organizing IEC out in the open, invocating some lines of “God is Real / Hare Ram” by Krishna Das, mainly:
I have found a way to live in the presence of the Lord
Hare Ram, Ram, Ram, Sita Ram, Ram, Ram,
I messed up the text a bit and even though I was not striking all the right notes it came straight from my heart and really hit home for people as it seems. One woman even came up to me afterwards and asked me to record it for her because it had touched her so deeply. Wow, I didn’t know…
I’m sure that the memory and effects of the Gulyás Party will ripple on in the hearts and minds of this emerging community – an expression of sheer joy and gratitude for being in this integral adventure together.
Redeeming All Human Beings – Irrespective of their Developmental Stages
Saturday Morning we had the great pleasure to listen to the wisdom of another beloved integral elder, Harvard postgraduate and developmental researcher Dr. Susanne Cook-Greuter. She currently works and lives in the US but originally was born and raised in Switzerland. She combined her curiosity in human nature and her all-time fascination with language in researching the “highest” or “latest” stages of adult development by building on and expanding the work of Jane Loevinger. As an effect of the work in this field people oftentimes turn to her in order to satisfy their curiosity about the higher reaches of human development and advanced intelligence and maturity that seem to be available to most of us. Almost always people assume that “being higher” on the developmental ladder is necessarily “better” or the only legitimate direction to expect more beauty, truth or goodness to come from.
In her keynote address Susanne exposed and questioned similar trends she perceived in the Integral Scene in general – always being on the verge to going higher, up and beyond, towards the “Superhuman” even – a certain form of Evolutionary Evangelism that can become problematic at times (especially in Europe which finds it “sooo American”) if not put into perspective. This exactly was the gift Susanne brought us with her speech: putting our adoration of the higher stages of development and our evolutionary enthusiasm into a “Human, all too Human” perspective.
In a very moving way Susanne shared her experience with her sister Theresli, who had Down syndrome and had just passed away in April at age 72. In her own words:
Although her passing was not unexpected, I felt more lost, and empty than I thought possible. Lost, because Theresli has been part of my life from the day I was born. She was a shining star in my living firmament. She was as significant a shaper of who I have become as probably all my education combined. I am just beginning to fathom in how many ways our lives were and remain intertwined.
Later Susanne shared a video showing an amazing art performance by Myolo-Shida asking the audience “What does perfection like hers add to our experience of being human? I hope my talk today emboldens you to ponder this question. Is second-tier development really necessary to be a contributing and exemplary human being? My sister did not have it. Myolo Shida may not have it either, but watch, marvel and be inspired by the exquisite beauty of her performance!“
The whole keynote culminated in a guided meditation. Susanne described the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer that is overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro. She invited us to step into his position watching and sharing in the joys and worries of everyday people in this mega-city, young and old, rich and poor, healthy and sick:
Feel into your posture of the statue: arms spread-out, soft belly, gentle gaze; heart wide open, and yet standing grounded and firm as a rock.
You are the still point…you are benevolence…You are equanimity…… With this gesture you are blessing everything that is around you: the people with their triumphs and failures, their joys and sorrows, their beginnings and endings.
You bless the earth, the water, and the sky; you bless the good and the bad, the true and the false, the beautiful and the ugly alike without judgment.
Thereby you sanctify all existence with your solid, unwavering presence, your equanimity, benevolence, and compassion.
Bless you too, Susanne.
Parallel Thematic Sections
In this block I attempted the impossible: to see every single presentation (if only for a minute or two) in order to form an overall impression of the energy and quality of the presentations and the atmosphere in the room during the Sections on that day. So basically I had 4 x 20 minutes to check out 8 parallel rooms and a total of around 32 speakers (+ the Integral Youth Section) – which meant I had to run. I was playing the conference butterfly … only on steroids. Obviously, with this approach you can not reliably gauge the real depth of the content, but it was a great horizontal slice of the span of the offerings, the sheer variety, the abundant richness of topics that IEC had to offer in this block:
Medicine & Health – Integral Medical Practice
Ecology / Sustainability
Finance / Economics
Transformative Community 2
Academia 1 – How Can We Renew Academia in an Integral Manner?
Metatheories / Alternatives to Integral 1
Integral Youth (18-35 and Everyone interested)
One image from the “Transformative Community” Section stuck with me – seeing the two community leaders Bence Gánti and Veit Lindau briefly touching their foreheads in a gesture of respect and appreciation. Beautiful.
There is not much I can report about the workshop block on Saturday, since I was busy preparing some stuff for the main stage. Again, participants were able to choose between eight experiential workshops. Just a brief remark about one of these: Sunil Singh, Stefan Schoch, and Chris Alder, all members of the European Consortium of Integral Coaches (ECOIC), offered their version of the “Integral Incubator” – a workshop format dedicated to coaching the participants in uncovering and realizing their vision with the help of the Integral Coaching Canada methodology. Jeff Salzman originally pioneered the “Incubator” format and now he was able to witness how it catches on in different ways in Europe.
Honoring the Hungarian Integral Academy
After dinner the local event host and main conference organizer, the Hungarian Integral Academy gave a short presentation. Bence and his team have created a remarkable and thriving school for Integral Psychotherapy in Budapest in the last 9 years. It teaches the original models and theories that Ken Wilber is referring to in his own synthesis of Integral Psychology. In their 3-year-program there is a strong focus on first-person experiences of a broad variety of spiritual traditions (including a 10 day meditation retreat), deep integral growth-oriented psychotherapeutical group work and thorough personality transformation with the explicit goal of helping students to reach and stabilize second-tier awareness. The fact that this first IEC took place in Budapest underlined the fact that these efforts have been very successful so far, leading to a stable and dedicated community life. During the presentation all the current and former students of the Academy lined up on stage to greet the audience, give their account of what the school means to them and express their gratitude towards its founder.
The IEC Award Ceremony
When conceiving the conference we came up with the idea of creating an IEC Award. Not only did we want to set an incentive for the best academic contributions – we also wanted to honor and recognize all the amazing people who had tirelessly worked for many years in the background in order to create spaces and communities for integral consciousness to emerge in their own countries throughout Europe. Without being at least faintly aware of all these people we would never have started pulling together this conference in the first place. My former Integrales Forum board member colleague and creator of the European Integral Academy Foundation (EIA), Hilde Weckmann from Berlin joined Bence and me on stage to hand over the certificates and yellow roses to this year’s IEC Awards winners.
It is obvious that we were only able to give awards to the contributors we were aware of up until that point. The goal was to make visible who is out there in Europe doing great work in the integral field and hopefully those we may have missed out on in this first round will announce themselves at our future conventions.
Awards for Outstanding Integral Community Organizers
First on our list was our Integral Europe board colleague and “mother” of Integral in Spain, Raquel Torrent. It came as a big surprise for her and she was obviously very touched for being seen and appreciated for her relentless work in promoting the integral worldview during all these years. To me this was the whole point of creating this award: to create visibility, to reinforce the (sometimes lonely) pioneers and give back to them by honoring and thanking them.
“And the winners are…”
We decided not to notify the winners in advance. In the case of Raquel it turned out to be a beautiful surprise – in the case of ID Academy founder, Ole Vadum Dahl from Denmark it was a bit unfortunate, since he was temporarily absent and could not come up to the stage. Ole has created a school for integral psychology and coaching with three centers as well as his own publishing house for translations of integral books to Danish.
The next winners were certainly around. Even though it was a bit odd I handed over an award to Bence for his great work in Hungary and he handed me one over for my years of work in Germany. According to the criteria we had set up this was certainly fair and justified. Nevertheless, I still can’t help but smile when seeing my own signature on that award certificate…
Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and Russia
The next round of winners was honored in absence as well. Sonja Student from Germany had founded the German Integral Academy (DIA) and was a long-term board member of Integrales Forum, Michael Habecker from Germany is an outstandingly productive integral author, scholar and seminar leader and has recently been re-elected to the Integrales Forum board. Monika Frühwirth from Vienna has been to Integral in Austria what Raquel has been to Integral in Spain: a loving and nourishing mother. She has also been the first chief editor of the German speaking print magazine “Integrale Perspektiven”.
Then we awarded Mihaela Myhaylova and Simeon Simov, the founders of the Institute for Integral Development and pioneers of integral consciousness in Bulgaria for many years. Going even farther east we chose to honor the young Russian integral scholar, translator and activist Eugene Pustoshkin [Associate Editor and Bureau Chief for Russia, Integral Leadership Review] from St. Petersburg for his outstanding efforts to get the word out in this part of the world.
IEC Awards for the Best Academic Papers
Our Academic Advisory Board consisted of Prof. Marzanna Kielar and Dr. Aneta Gop from Warsaw, Poland. Of all of the academic papers we had received two stood out in particular. We awarded the authors Kristian Stålne (Sweden) and Svein Horn (Norway) for their paper “An Integral Perspective on Peak Oil and an Energy Perspective on Integral Theory” because of the quality of constructive criticism it brings to the field. The second academic paper award went to Simon Sirch from Germany for his paper “Extreme Sports: An Integral View and Quest for Applications” for his novel and thorough integral approach in the field of sports. We thank the EIA Foundation for kindly sponsoring 800€ for awarding the best papers.
Europe Constellation Ritual
After this more formal part of creating visibility for the integral players in Europe it was time to explore the intersubjective multicultural landscape from the opposite hemisphere in a soulful and intuitive way. Again Bence stepped up to facilitate a long group process involving the whole crowd of attendees present in the room. Holger Fuchs from Germany supported him in this. The four phases of the process were:
Babylon. Finding my nation
Who are you Europe? Searching Europe’s identity.
Country process – what does it mean to me to be a…<country>
Universal Soul – multicolor global unity at the level of the Soul.
For the “Babylon” phase the participants were asked to walk across the room while speaking in their mother tongue, to identify each other and group together with their national peers.
“Who’s on the Other End of the Line Anyway?” or “15 Minutes of Fame”
The former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once famously said that he wanted to call Europe, but when picking up the phone he simply couldn’t figure out whom to call. In the “Who are you Europe?” phase Bence facilitated a psychodrama work in which we found a representative for America – or more precisely for Henry Kissinger. Mark Davenport who has only some remote similarity with Kissinger took his place in a fictive dialogue with two empty chairs in the middle of the room. He refers to this appearance as his “15 minutes of fame”. In his “love-letter to IEC” he wrote us:
“Though I did not personally speak my own opinion, I was amazed at how easily I could speak for the ‘Tribus Americanus’ with all the automatic gusto, with that voice of the twentieth century Rulers of the World, that innocent and presumptuous U.S. ‘centricity’ that I grew up with and automatically identified with for decades. I couldn’t count the number of times that I was addressed as ‘Henry’ afterward, perhaps by more that knew me as Mark. And after I got home and some Facebook friends made contact, the ‘fame’ continued.”
We also had a few people who stepped up to speak as the voice of Europe and answer the phone from the other chair. But those voices were not terribly unified, sometimes heavily nation-centric and often contradicted each other – what a surprise…
Befriending the Shadow and the Light of our National Identities
In the “country process” phase participants first were asked to constellate and locate themselves within a big map of Europe in the room (with surrounding nations present) and then drill deeper into their national identity by asking questions like “what was the last highlight / shameful experience with your national identity?” Despite some tendencies for dissociation of aspects of our ethnocentric identity it became clear that these deserve to be lovingly embraced in order to move on to a more world-centric or even kosmo-centric identity in a healthy and authentic way.
The Centripetal Force of Spirit
In the “Universal Soul” part of the process we moved from the verbal sharing mode into a non-verbal mode of spontaneous soul-level expression. The national clusters and the structured map dissolved into a free flow movement of people across the room, dancing, singing their national songs, moving into humming familiar melodies. The melody of “Frère Jacques” emerged as common musical denominator that everybody was familiar with in their own language and was able to hum along with in a larger European and international choir of swirling voices, bodies and movements.
The centripetal force of Spirit created a powerful attractor magnetically joining together hands and their owners in a spiraling movement towards a center of Universal Soul unity. As the human spiral came to a halt in the middle of the room the melody slowly dissolved merging the sound into a universal humming with increasing volume. As the sound died down into a sweet closed-eye silence a sacred moment of soul unity emerged underneath our beautifully unique personal and national identities, gently releasing them into our true identity as Spirit itself.
“ThriveAbility” and Mapping the Field
Our Sunday morning keynote was mainly a co-creation between “Renaissance2” founder Robin Lincoln Wood (a true cosmopolitan currently based in France) and the Hungarian spiritual elder “Eldor” László Honti who is also an expert in cybernetics and information technology (an intriguing mixture in itself), supported by Bence Gánti.
If the current ecological situation on planet earth is so desperately screaming for a more sustainable lifestyle why is it that sustainability is not really catching on more rapidly? Are we missing something important here? The German sustainability professional Ralph Turm writes in his blog:
While Sustainability and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) are a step in the right direction, they are largely incremental and failing to deliver the transformations needed for a thriving future. Breakthrough innovations at business model and ecosystem levels must be catalysed by top management through strategy, design and quality processes, to deliver positive impact growth. Investors will only support well thought through, highly measurable initiatives. ThriveAbility is a response to the failure of sustainability to address this psychological challenge, and integrates existing disciplines in creative ways, leading to innovative, game changing outcomes. Personal and organisational transformation is the key to a Thriving Future. What motivates people to change lies at the heart of ThriveAbility. (http://aheadahead.wordpress.com)
Why “Sustainability” is Actually Unsustainable
Robin eloquently laid out why focusing on “Sustainability” alone will not sufficiently motivate people to implement the changes needed for our planet today. Merely advocating steps to avoid our collective disaster is kind of ‘unsexy’– as any NLP coach would readily testify. It is an unintended reinforcement of this gloomy image that hampers joyful action. In this mindset the “best” we can hope for is to barely survive. While this works as a driver for some people for some amount of time (post-modernity is deeply in love with it, as Jeff Salzman points out) it will certainly not create the impact needed to resolve our global multi-issue crisis situation. Quite paradoxically, “Sustainability” is actually unsustainable in motivational terms for most people (especially for those who haven’t reached a post-conventional stage of value-development). It’s a total drag – let’s face it!
Unleashing the Irresistible Pull of a Brighter Future
It takes an explicitly positive image like the vision of a thriving human family that is irresistible enough to catalyze a shift in our thoughts, feelings and actions. Moving from “Sustainability” to “ThriveAbility” means moving from the “push” to “pull”, moving from “teaching people on how to build boats” to “igniting their love for the sea” as the proverb goes. Essentially this love is what Robin shared in his beautiful “Integral Prayer for ThriveAbility” with the audience. Tears flowed, minds were opened and hearts touched as the dawn of a brighter future for humanity gently announced itself. As always, it lies in our very own hands to enact it. (For more info make sure to check out the work of Robin’s ThriveAbility Foundation.)
Tapping and Mapping the Intelligence of the Field
If this is the case, it would certainly be really useful to get to know that “We” much better. There is a lot of buzz about “a higher We”, “the field”, “collective intelligence”, etc in integral and spiritual circles these days, so it was very refreshing for me to see a less speculative, much more pragmatic and data-based approach being applied to that topic. In László Honti’s contribution “Mapping the Social Field of IEC – a Software Assisted Communal Experiment” he merged cutting-edge technology with his rich experience as psycho/spiritual group leader. (Actually, Bence considers Eldor as one of his mentors and continuous sources of inspiration.)
Eldor and his team have developed a technology for assessing and visualizing the properties of any given group in real-time by using instant feedback via their electronic devices (smartphones, tablets or PCs) analyzing that data according to complicated algorithms and in the end unveiling what Bence calls the “hidden spiritual king or queen of the field”- the person most aligned with what the group feels and wants. If this isn’t super-geeky I don’t know what else is. (Stereotypically speaking one would expect green to be at least mildly suspicious of such a methodology, only trusting their own inner feelings and distrusting anything looking like technological crutches to arrive at conclusions about intersubjective group realities. Integral consciousness seems to be more open to the use of technology in these contexts.)
After some technical difficulties (it was a premiere demonstration) most of the participants had hooked up to the network, and logged on to a very simple page with two visual sliders left and right of the screen. Then we took the lines of Robin’s ThriveAbility Prayer as a basis for determining the degree of resonance of the underlying value of the given statement along two parameters. Those parameters were delineated by the questions to what degree we ourselves resonated with that statement and to what degree we considered it to be relevant for the world at large. For those answers we used the sliders to indicate our level of agreement – a visual way of retrieving immediate gut-reaction feedback. In a matter of minutes we saw a graphic displaying the top-rated values of this group.
Leadership of the Field Through the Field
This was impressive but not terribly spectacular. The interesting part of the data-crunching was the deeper insight into the invisible group dynamics – namely who are the people most aligned with the group’s opinion and therefore the best equipped to express the will and speak on behalf of the group? So this was not only about finding the “spiritual king / queen” of the group, but also the “princesses and princes” and their followers. Bence sees this methodology as a viable path to arrive at a more holarchical understanding of group leadership. It means that not the person who is at the top of the dominator hierarchy leads, but that rather the person who is most aligned with the intention of the field should get the most authority – actually naturally holds the highest legitimacy within the group anyway – often times without being even aware of it. These new technologies can help us to identify who those people are more easily and to replace ego-domination with leadership of the field through the field by consciously turning to those who are most receptive to it.
Would the Queen of the Group Stand Up, Please?
Receptivity is usually considered a “feminine” quality and so it was actually not surprising that a woman turned out to be most sensitive to the will of the field. Cili Lohász, a student of Integral Academy in the second year was asked to come up to the stage and reveal her identity to the group along with her “princesses” and “princes”. Everybody seemed quite surprised – including Bence – about their role within the larger group.
It will be interesting to watch if and how this technology will be used in the future to arrive at more organic ways of leading groups, managing organizations or even political bodies.
Parallel Thematic Sections
For the sake of completeness here are the titles of the eight parallel sections on S