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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
Following a dynamic U.S. mid-term election that continues to unfold, the heart-breaking destruction and death from the worst wildfires the state of California has ever experienced, and the ongoing madness of the US national political scene, I read a news headline that prompted me to ask myself, “how can we free ourselves from the either/or thinking that has us trapped in a downward free fall?”
We, Americans and all peoples, live in a complex and interconnected world. We face unprecedented challenges to our quality of life and the lives of future generations such as climate change, natural resource depletion, political corruption, growing inequality, mass extinction of species, global terrorism and numerous economic challenges, war, and world hunger.
Given the scale of our challenges, it is essential that we all join hands to address our collective problems. Unfortunately, America’s current political climate and tone are divisive and regressive. How can we overcome the toxic and dark forces to effectively respond to our challenges and usher in a positive future? Our religious traditions have called humanity to live in unity throughout the ages. For example:
Christianity: God hath made of one blood all nations of men.
Judaism: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
Islam: All creatures are the family of God, and he is the most beloved of God who does most good unto His family.
Hinduism: Human beings all are as head, arms, trunk, and legs unto one another.
And, in Taoism, the theme of unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events, represented in the religious symbol itself, is fundamental.
With all this encouragement for unity from our religious traditions, where might we start to begin to unify? The American Heritage Dictionary defines unity as the arrangement of parts into a whole. Thus, to unify as a people and solve our most pressing global problems, we must first unify our thinking.
We cannot solve problems at the same level of thinking that created them. We must learn to see the world anew. Albert Einstein
Unified thinking requires us to move from either/or thinking to both/and thinking. Actualizing this third way of thinking about and responding to the challenges before us – shifting from fragmented parts to an interconnected whole – -is the evolutionary imperative of the 21 Century, which does not mean everything is equal. It is not. Both/and thinking requires discernment of breadth and depth. How inclusive and how deep?
Much has been written about this urgent need to move from either/or to both/and thinking (i.e., from fragmented parts to wholes)- thereby expanding our thinking and creating comprehensive frameworks to guide our lives. A few such authors include Hazel Henderson, Fritjof Capra, Buckminster Fuller, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Duane Elgin, and Ken Wilbur.
Ken Wilbur, one of the most widely read and influential American philosophers of our time, has written over a dozen books, including, A Spectrum of Consciousness; A Brief History of Everything; and Up from Eden. He developed a unified field theory of consciousness, a synthesis, and interpretation of the world’s great psychological, philosophical, and spiritual traditions. Wilbur refers to his approach as Integral which is synonymous with the concept of unified thinking. In his Integral Theory, he identifies four essential quadrants of reality and argues that we must integrate the truths of all four quadrants to solve our most urgent social problems and fulfill our potential. In other words, each quadrant is only a part of the whole. Standing alone, each quadrant is incomplete.
The essential message is that we face unprecedented and complex challenges to our quality of lives and the lives of future generations. We will not and cannot successfully overcome these challenges with the same fragmented thinking that created them. Starting with our own lives, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to help lead the essential shift from either/or to both/and thinking at every level of society. Three areas that beg for unified thinking are reason and faith; the economy and the natural environment, and the individual and the common good (To be continued).
There is a criterion by which you can judge whether the thoughts you are thinking and the things you are doing are right for you. The criterion is: Have they brought you inner peace? Peace Pilgrim
While the term spiritual is used in different ways, I often use the term to refer to a sense of relatedness or connectedness to others, life, and all that is and ever shall be (i.e., God, Spirit, Source, Allah, etc.). Also, my use of the term spiritual includes finding meaning and purpose in a way that contributes or benefits others or life beyond the self.
Cindy Wigglesworth, in her 2014 book, SQ 21: The 21 Skills of Spiritual Intelligence, expands this working definition to include a sense of inner calm and peace regardless of circumstances, internal or external while also having a sense of relatedness to life in all its diverse expressions. Wigglesworth proposed that spiritual intelligence (SQ), along with intelligence quotient (IQ), emotional intelligence (EQ), and physical/kinesthetic intelligence, is a core intelligence for living a healthy and fulfilling life in the 21st century.
Wigglesworth’s proclamation about the essential nature of SQ in the 21st century is highly significant for individual leaders and organizations given that the topic of spirituality is often undiscussable in the work environment. Interestingly, the mindful leaders in my 2015 study identified the dimension of SQ, greater inner calm and peace, as well as the increased capacity to tolerate uncertainty (Theme 10) as a result of their mindfulness practice as demonstrated in the following narratives.
It’s interesting, through a downsizing, I started practicing (mindfulness meditation) formally, approximately 2, 2 and a half years ago, almost 3. In the middle of that time period, we had a major reshuffle or reorganization by my employer, so my role expanded in size by about 40 to 50% of what it was previously. So we had two smaller departments, the two were merged and became one super department. We still had the same amount of hours in a day to get the work done, still the same amount of limited resources, however, I found that that through mindfulness I’m able to better handle and focus on the different tasks that are coming at me at any given time. I’m able to free my mind to keep that calm atmosphere and a particular focus on the paths [projects] given, and I’m also able to complete more tasks in a more timely manner. (Male middle manager working in higher education in New Zealand)
I think too there’s a sense of peace you get when you meditate. It really is a stress reducer and anxiety reducer. And, I don’t know if you [have to] do (experience) that necessarily….but it’s a really nice byproduct that I think allows you to be a better leader. (Female middle manager and marketing researcher)
Oh, there is a much bigger sense of calm for me because there is time. There isn’t as much frantic energy being expended. It is a lot more–softer. It’s not a hard push. There is an acceptance, a peace around it that I know the resolution will come. Let’s just give it the time and the opportunity and staying with it. (Female senior manager in information technology).
Perhaps, we can borrow from Peace Pilgrim’s quote at the beginning of this essay and extrapolate that the criterion by which you can determine if a developmental practice is right for you is: Has it brought you greater inner calm and peace? For the 20 mindful leaders in this 2015 study, the answer is yes and perhaps unbeknownst to them, all the while cultivating spiritual intelligence!
Note: This essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Ten Developmental Themes of Mindful Leaders by Denise Frizzell, Ph.D. Denise offers leader/leadership and organizational coaching and consulting for progressive change agents and organizations. Visit https://metamorphosisconsultation.com/schedule-a-coaching-appointment/ to schedule a FREE exploratory appointment.