Greater Tolerance for Ambiguity: A Developmental Theme of Mindful Leaders

Integral Life Practice: A Comprehensive and Holistic Approach to Leader Self-Transformation

Integral Life Practice or ILP is a comprehensive and holistic approach to leader self-transformation rooted in integral theory, developed by U.S. philosopher and writer, Kenneth Wilber II (born 1949). Wilber born in Oklahoma City, currently resides in Denver, CO, where he continues to study, write, and present his work primarily through the Internet and Colorado-based outlets, albeit on a limited basis due to a severe and chronic illness. He is the author of more than 30 books and countless articles on consciousness, mysticism, psychology, science, religion, and his integral theory, a comprehensive synthesis of Eastern and Western knowledge.

Wilber refers to his version of integral theory as AQAL, the abbreviated acronym for all quadrants, all levels (all lines, all states, all types, etc.). The elements of quadrants and levels refer to the key explanatory principles Wilber uses to examine the development of individual mind, body, soul, and spirit in self, culture, community, and nature. The four quadrants include the Upper Left or individual interior, the Upper Right or individual exterior, the Lower Left or collective interior, and the Lower Right or collective exterior (see Figure). Wilber further simplifies the four quadrants with the “three basic domains” of I, we, and it.

Figure: Integral Theory and AQAL

ILP, informed by Wilber’s AQAL, is an approach to enhanced personal wellness, development, self-actualization, and spiritual awakening. ILP addresses the whole person and all of life through four basic modules of practice and five auxiliary modules. The four foundational modules are body, mind, spirit, and shadow. The five auxiliary models are ethics, work, emotions, relationships, and soul (see Table).

An ILP approach to self-transformation does not include core practices per se. Rather, the ILP framework invites adherents to select at least one practice from each of the four core modules and to add practices from the auxiliary modules, as highlighted in the Table above. The practices listed in the matrix offer example practices for each module; however, options are not limited to those listed. Developers of the ILP approach outline five principles on which it builds:

·          The Ultimate in Cross-Training, working synergistically in body, mind, and spirit in self, culture, and nature.
·          Modular, allowing you to mix and match practices in specific areas or modules.
·          Scalable, adjusting to however much—or little—time you have, down to 1-Minute Modules.
·          Customizable to your lifestyle: you design a program that works for you and adapt it on an as-needed basis.
·          Integral, based on AQAL technology, an All Quadrant, All Level framework for mapping the many capacities inherent in human beings (See Integral Life Practice by Wilber, Patten, Leonard, & Morelli, 2008).

Furthermore, all modules include Gold Star Practices, recommended as “distillations of traditional practices minus the religious and cultural baggage” (Wilber, Leonard, & Morelli, 2008). Also, quick versions of the Gold Star Practices, 1-Minute Modules, are offered for times when practitioners are pressed for time.

Table. Integral Life Practice Matrix

Source: The Integral Life Practice Matrix, by K. Wilber, 2007, retrieved from

Integral Life Practice along with the Fourth Way, and Psychosynthesis (see previous essays) represent three different contemporary and universal systems of self-transformation. Mindfulness meditation, the transformative practice I focused on in my 2015 research and highlighted in Chapters 3 and 4 (of my book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders), is part of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism as well as an element of a growing body of secular Western approaches to stress management (e.g., Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), and psychotherapy (e.g., Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and Acceptance Commitment Therapy). While a primary purpose of this essay and my book is to inspire and support readers in embarking upon the inner journey of self-transformation, doing so is not without risks. Thus, I offer words of caution in my book and will also do so in a future blog essay.

This essay is an adapted excerpt from my book, “Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders.”

The Fourth Way: A Modernly-Ancient Path of Self-Transformation

The Fourth Way is a term used to refer to a body of teachings and practices with roots in the work of G. I. Gurdjieff (1866?–1949). Gurdjieff, born in Armenia, is a bit of an enigma and controversial figure, but writings about his life consistently report that he studied various schools of religious and philosophical thought as a youth and traveled extensively as a young adult throughout the East (reportedly areas of Central Asia and the Middle East) in search of spiritual truths. He then returned to Russia and began sharing what he had learned and experienced. He developed The Fourth Way as a path of self-development and transformation that integrated singular paths of the body (the fakirs of Sufism), mind (the yogis of Hinduism), and emotions (the monks of Christianity) that he studied and encountered in his travels.

Shortly after he returned to Russia, Gurdjieff met P. D. Ouspensky who became one of his most well-known pupils until they parted ways in 1918. Ouspensky then relocated to England and became a teacher of The Fourth Way in his own right, through lectures and writings. Gurdjieff, whose life was greatly impacted by social upheavals and military conflicts (revolutions and World Wars I & II) traveled and taught in Germany, England, and France throughout the 1920–1940s and visited the United States during that period as well. He had two serious and life-threatening auto accidents during this period but recovered from both. Gurdjieff died in France in 1949.

The Fourth Way teachings are powerful and highly supportive of self-transformation. The Fourth Way posits that the majority of people live in mechanical or sleep states. Consequently, most of humanity resides in lives of quiet desperation, filled with suffering, and destructive habitual patterns of thinking, speaking, and acting. According to The Fourth Way and other systems of self-transformation, this “fundamental infirmity of man” referenced by the founder of Psychosynthesis, Roberto Assagioli (see January 2019 blog essay or TDT), is so because we do not remember who we are and why we are here because of longstanding dysfunctional patterns, particularly overidentification, negativity, and internal considering; blocking self-remembering (or self-awareness).

Overidentification is a fundamental obstacle to self-remembering and occurs whenever we lose ourselves to an identity such as a belief, characteristic, demographic (e.g., race, gender or political affiliation), personality, or role. Overidentification occurs so unconsciously and quickly that most of us are completely unaware when (which is most of the time), we are stuck in overidentification. Indications of being in a state of overidentification include feelings of defensiveness, anger, resentment, self-pity, and self-indignation. When overidentified, one can easily feel they are in a constant state of attack, which locks us into a toxic state of negativity.

Negativity refers to thoughts, emotions, words, and actions that constrict our minds and hearts and cause harm to ourselves and others. Negativity is so toxic because it infects our inner and outer environments and locks us into destructive patterns. Negativity closely aligns with overidentification and internal considering. Internal considering refers to a degree of self-absorption and narcissism that sees life only from the impact events will have on oneself, with little or no concern for the impact events may have on others or our planet. The consequences of living in a state of sleep and being trapped in overidentification, negativity, and internal considering include misery, suffering, loss of energy and power, a sense of disconnection from oneself, others, and God/Spirit/Light, and ultimately, violence.

To begin to awaken from sleep and cultivate self-awareness requires self-observation, the main transformative practice associated with The Fourth Way. Writings and teachings of The Fourth Way offer numerous practical exercises to cultivate self-observation, including an activity frequently referred to as “divided attention.” Divided attention instructs aspirants to periodically place attention on their inner experience and outer experience of a select phenomenon. For example, as a practitioner enters a doorway, he/she would place attention on an aspect of their internal experience (e.g., thoughts, bodily sensations, or feelings/emotions) as well as an aspect of the external experience (as experienced by the five senses). Repeated practice of such exercises builds one’s capacity for self-awareness such that over time, the practitioner can eventually use divided attention in more challenging life circumstances (e.g., an interpersonal conflict) thereby increasing the likelihood of constructive social interactions and outcomes.

Essential to all self-observation exercises is an objective and nonjudgmental attitude toward all noticings or observations. A nonjudgmental attitude toward one’s observations allows a healthy disidentification from them as well as an expanding psychological space in which to choose more constructive states from which thoughts and actions can arise. Over time, sensitivity to and dislike of negative states and attraction to positive states act as motivational forces for the ongoing relinquishment of lower or negative states in favor of more positive states.

This essay is an adapted excerpt from my book, “Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders.”

Psychosynthesis: A Much-Needed Holistic & Hope-Filled Framework for Healing and Self-Transformation

Psychosynthesis is a holistic approach to psychology, developed by Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974) that incorporates psychoanalysis, but significant transcends it by emphasizing health, development, and spirituality. Assagioli illustrated his view of the human psyche in his “egg-diagram” (see Figure) with seven elements:

Figure. Assagioli’s Egg Diagram

Source: Kenneth Sorensen, Used with permission.

1.   The Lower Unconscious

The lower unconscious, according to Assagioli, contains the basic psychological activities that conduct the operative and intelligent coordination of the body and bodily functions. This dimension of the psyche also holds one’s foundational drives and animalistic urges, as well as emotionally intense established thematic patterns (i.e., psychological complexes), dark dreams and fantasies, and some pathological disturbances such as paranoid delusions, uncontrollable urges, obsessions, and phobias.

2.   The Middle Unconscious

The middle unconscious, according to Assagioli, includes psychological dimensions comparable to waking consciousness with ready access to it. Life experiences are integrated, and standard cognitive and creative intelligence activated in a type of psychological incubation before entering the field of conscious awareness.

3.   The Higher Unconscious or Superconscious

The higher unconscious or superconscious is the region that holds our highest inspirations, aspirations, and intuitions for ourselves, humanity, and our world. This realm is also the source of our higher emotions such unconditional love and higher intelligences. It also holds the deeper experiences of insight, contemplation, and bliss, as well as potentials for higher spiritual experiences and psychic abilities.

4.   The Field of Consciousness

For Assagioli, the field of consciousness, a term he thought useful but not quite precise, referred to the part of our personality of which we are conscious, including the thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions, desires, and impulses we are able to see and evaluate.

5.   The Conscious Self or “I”

The conscious self or “I” is the term Assagioli used to refer to the “the point of pure-awareness,” not to be confused with the field of consciousness highlighted above, which refers to the content of experience. The conscious self or “I” refers to the experiencer. He compared the “I” to a projector light and field of consciousness to a screen onto which images are projected.

6.   The Higher Self

Unlike Freud’s psychoanalysis, which only includes a lower unconscious, Assagioli’s psychosynthesis includes the Higher Self or soul depicted above the conscious self in the egg diagram. According to Assagioli, one can experience the Higher Self through the use of psycho-spiritual practices such as meditation.

7.   The Collective Unconscious

Assagioli’s collective unconscious, similar to Jung’s conceptualization of the term, refers to universal, nonpersonal common forms or archetypes that surround and influence us on a collective level. Assagioli distinguished between primitive, archaic forms and higher, progressive forces of a more spiritual nature.

Although not depicted in Assagioli’s original egg diagram (though some contemporary illustrations do include it), another key element of psychosynthesis is the concept of subpersonalities. Subpersonalities, similar to Jung’s persona, refers to parts or formed habit patterns in the human psyche, conscious and unconscious, that we repeatedly express in our lives. For the healthy person, subpersonalities are conscious and in the field of self-awareness and self-regulation. In psychosynthesis, subpersonalities may reside in the lower, middle, or higher unconscious, unlike Jung’s persona or false self. Additional fundamental concepts of psychosynthesis, which highlight stages of Self-realization, include self-knowledge, self-control, disidentification, unifying center, and psychosynthesis, as the peak stage in his model.

Disidentification refers to the necessity of separating oneself (the conscious I) from overidentification with everything outside or beyond oneself. Overidentification can happen any time we identify with an aspect of our life experiences such as a subpersonality, our ethnicity, fear, anxiety, or a role to such an extent that it dominates our lives. Thus, healing and growth opportunities lie in seeing when and where one overidentifies and, with the help of exercises and practices, severing the control of the overidentification on oneself or “I.”

Over time, former objects of overidentification can be healthily integrated into the middle unconscious and accessed more intentionally. The unifying center refers to the discovery or creation of an ideal around which one can reach or reorganize one’s life. Psychosynthesis, in addition to referring to Assagioli’s entire approach to psychotherapy, refers to the peak of the developmental process that establishes a new personality around a primary unifying center: one that is “coherent, organized and unified” (2000, p. 23).

Consequently, personal will (the Will) is a highly significant concept in psychosynthesis such that Assagioli dedicated a book on the topic entitled, The Act of Will. The will is an element of Assagioli’s Star Diagram of Six Psychological Functions (see Figure 5-2/Not included in this essay), which he developed later in his life to complement the egg diagram of the psyche. Lamenting the state of psychology in 1958, Assagioli is quoted as stating, “After losing its soul, psychology lost its will, and only then its mind and senses” (2007, Foreword).

Furthermore, Assagioli held the view of the existence of a transpersonal will, which he viewed as a dormant potentiality for most people. Assagioli’s transpersonal will aligns with what Maslow referred to as “higher needs” and the growing field of transpersonal psychology refers to using a variety of terms that include Christ consciousness, unitive consciousness, peak experiences, mystical experiences, spirit, oneness, and other such similar concepts.

As mentioned above, psychosynthesis proposes a dynamic five-stage healing and realization process (see Table—Not included in this essay). Stage zero highlights the predominate stage of humanity, characterized by what Assagioli called, the “fundamental infirmity of man.” John Firman (?–2008) referred to this human condition as “primal wounding”; wounding resulting from not being seen and heard for who we truly are by significant others in our lives. Stage 1 relates to the tuning in of one’s inner experience and the cultivation of greater self-awareness. Self-awareness is the foundation of all growth and development. Without self-awareness, we tend to react out of instinct and habitual responses or what Firman referred to as, the survival personality. As self-awareness expands, we start to see our tendencies, preferences, and shortcomings.

Eventually, we (often with the help of supportive practices or a skilled guide) begin to free ourselves or disidentify from our habitual thoughts, feelings, reactions, and roles, thereby cultivating the witness or individual observer “I” (Stage 2). Over time, we may start sensing a more expansive identity or connectedness to life and begin to feel new vocational urges, creative impulses, or directive promptings (Stage 3). From a psychosynthesis perspective, this involves surrendering and inviting a more intimate, conscious relationship with the Highest Self or soul. The fourth stage of psychosynthesis corresponds to a period in which we are formally responding to the invitations of the Highest Self (in contrast to the personal self or ego in its contemporary usage) and developing more spiritually.

Survival of wounding, exploration of the personality, the emergence of I, contact with the Highest Self, and response to the Highest Self represent the five stages of psychosynthesis. However, Assagioli and others (e.g., Firman & Gila, 2002 and Brown, 2009) cautioned that these stages do not represent a set developmental sequence, but potential responses to the human condition that can occur at any age.

It is important to note that Assagioli presented psychosynthesis in two subcategories: personal psychosynthesis and transpersonal psychosynthesis. The emphases of personal psychosynthesis are self-awareness and self-regulation. The foci of transpersonal psychosynthesis are on the realization of one’s Highest Self/soul and the actual psychosynthesis, the reformation of the personality around a new unifying center or ideal.

Numerous practices and exercises align with psychosynthesis overall and in these two categories. Thus, to identify a narrow set of core practices is inconsistent with this reality. However, it is fair to say that visualization, drawing, self-observation, and meditation are common practices among psychosynthesis-oriented counselors, therapists, and coaches. In addition, as highlighted above, disidentification is a core concept of psychosynthesis and activities aimed at freeing oneself from overidentifying with a dimension of our being or life other than the center of pure awareness or “I.”

Given today’s pressing global challenges and the subsequent demands on human beings, psychosynthesis offers a holistic and hope-filled paradigm for the journey toward healing, well-being, self-actualization, and Self-realization.

Note: Modified excerpt from my book, “Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders”

This Week’s Mindful Living & Leading Reflection