Why Can’t I Change (Part 3 of 3) – Transformational Practices and the Integral Model

December 8, 2012 — Leave a comment

By: Patrick Goonan

In the first article of this series I talked about an unconditional attitude of friendliness toward yourself as a condition for deep transformation.  In the second, I talked about skillful means, gave some examples and spoke  about working with our past conditioning.  In this last post in the series, I will talk more about working on all levels of your being and across various life domains together in order to increase the probability of a transformation taking place.  If you haven’t read the other two articles, you can go back to my blog and read them first.  I recommend doing this to get maximum benefit from this more complex discussion and in-depth discussion.

In Part 2, I mentioned that in order to move up a level along a line of development you need to first disidentify from the level you are at and then identify with the new higher level. In other words, you have to transcend, then include the lower level as you move up.   As I explained earlier, you will have to pass through a transitional period of discomfort because you have separated from a lower level, but haven’t fully stablized the next level as part of self or your identity.  In other words, this desert period may provoke anxiety because it will seem to threaten your ego.  This point is very important and the attitudes I discussed in Part 1 of the series will help you cope with the discomfort.

This going up in steps is called a stage conception of development and you can talk about the upward path as a developmental line.  Some examples of developmental lines are cognitive, emotional, social and spiritual.  I also talked about conditioning and how to work with it in this series.  Besides reading this earlier post, I suggest looking at the 3-2-1 shadow process video also posted on my blog.  You may also find other useful material under other various categories on my blog.

Here in Part 3, I want to elaborate on a helpful map of reality that is particularly suited for personal growth.  This model is known as the Integral Model and was developed and popularized by Ken Wilber.  I believe it’s a an excellent map of the territory of deep change because it includes all the irreducible aspects of reality inherent to the human conditon.  In other words, it looks at the interior of things (e.g. your own thought process, feeling life, etc.) and the exterior (your body, observable effects in the world).  It also considers interactions between individuals and single objects, which is to say the collective aspects and the emergent properties of  systems.

Emergent properties can’t be explained away in terms of just looking at the parts that make up a whole.  Two good examples are life and intelligence.  You can’t explain life completely by just considering the large molecules that constitute a living organism.  Similarly, you can’t explain consciousness and intelligence in terms of the sum of physical structures that make up the brain or the electrical impulses occurring within it.

In simpler terms, the Integral Model takes into consideration individuals and how they interact in collectives such as a group, organization or society.  The model also assumes that collectives have interiors and emergent properties.  For example, a society has shared values, beliefs and other qualities that can’t be observed via the sense or their extensions.  Also, a collective has  emergent qualities that can’t be explained in terms of the sum of the parts.

It is easier to understand this model if you can see it visually.  Here is a simplified diagram that will help you grasp the points I have made so far.  Notice, the horizontal axis separates the individual dimension from the collective and the vertical axis separates the interior from the exterior.


Again, one quadrant of this model can not be reduced or completely explained in terms of another.  That is to say that you can’t completely understand the nature of consciousness (Quadrant 1) in terms of measuring physical correlations such as neurons firing in the brain (Quadrant 2).  You also can’t completely explain the dynamics of a society (Quadrant 3) by looking at the sum of observable behavior of the individuals that make it up (Quadrant 2).  In other words, all phenomenon have these four irreducible aspects and many of the irreducible complexities in systems correspond to emergent properties of collectives or systems as I explained.

Therefore, when we look at our own behavior, we must consider what is going on inside of us in terms of thoughts, feelings and other Q1 parts of ourselves.  At the same time, we need to deal with our outer behavior Q2 and also consider the systems we are embedded in such as our families, work environments and society.  These of course are all Q3 areas and then each of these external systems has it’s own value system, worldviews, etc. (Q4).  This is a fancy way of saying that everything is interconnected or interrelated.  In other words, to understand something you must look at the inside, the outside, the parts, the whole and how they all interact.

This model can be helpful with respect to personal development because it is largely  the systems we are embedded in and their interior aspects held as unexamined assumptions that keep us stuck.  In general, systems resist change and when an individual in a system tries to make a change, the interconnected nature of the whole system tends to pull the individual back to the status quo before any personal development work was attempted.

However, by examining an issue against the four quadrant model, you get an awareness of the systems you participate in, how they effect you and your unconscious cultural assumptions.  This allows you to overcome the almost magnetic pull of the systems dynamics and cultural beliefs on your values, beliefs and behaviors.  With this increased awareness, you have increased freedom via the process of disidentification as I explained in Part 2.  If you think about it, conditioning is a cultural phenomenon.  It is a belief or value or system of beliefs and values programmed into you by a group.  This is another reason why it’s so difficult to make a permanent change.  There are many forces you are mostly unaware of acting to preserve the status quo.

Another dimension of the model is developmental lines which I discussed above.  Since this article is about personal growth, one of the Q1 lines such as cognition, morals or emotions are what you are most likely seeking to change.  You can consider these various lines like spokes on a wheel originating from the center and moving outward in a stepwise fashion.  Since we are considering a stage conception, each step will look like a rung in a ladder. Moving up a stage is not like moving along a continuum, you are either alive or not, have self-reflective capacity or not.

Certainly, evolution follows this stepwise progression from fish, to reptiles to mammals.  Depending upon your personal beliefs, you can also consider a progression like matter, life, mind, soul and spirit as a stage progression.  Certainly, the worlds great wisdom traditions agree on this basic progression and you can consider these worldviews as part of the model.  Specifically, as organized religion or worldviews they belong in the fourth quadrant.

You can also see this type of progression in a collective such as a societal progression from hunter-gather to agrarian, agriculture to industrial, etc.  Interestingly, you will also observe a correlative developmental line in each quadrant for each of these stages!  Therefore, in Q4 or the interior of the society, you will see belief systems corresponding to each stage a civilization goes through i.e. magical beliefs will be found in hunter-gatherer societies and mythical beliefs in agrarian ones.  The quadrants are all related and we can use this knowledge to help us overcome the resistance of systems to changes and create some reflective distance between us and our shared beliefs.

Here are two diagrams, one simple and one more complex that will give you a deeper sense of how this all works together.  In the first one you can see developmental lines without a label and understand each as having steps like a ladder.

aqal_quadrants w lines

In this diagram, the yellow concentric circles represent levels, the green lines the various lines of development in each quadrant and you can see how each quadrant relates to but is not reducible to the other.  That is, each quadrant requires skillful means unique to this aspect of reality.  For example, a microscope (Q2-instrument) won’t help you to study love (Q1).  Studying social interactions (Q3) won’t help you to understand the underlying religion or worldview (Q4) that drives a lot of social behavior.

At this point, you probably have a good feel for the Integral Model.  However, it could get very complicated and while it’s good for self-development work, it also lends itself to extremely complex studies of organizations, living systems, etc.  If you think about it, it has the potential to integrate the arts, science and morals into a comprehensive unity and it has the same power for integrating the different aspects of a human life.

For your own edification and curiosity, here is a more complete four quadrant model diagram that fills in even more detail.  You don’t need to learn it at this level, but having an appreciation of it will help you understand its potential integrating power at the individual level and for analyzing complex modern day problems.  Just look over this diagram and move on unless you have a deep interest in the theory or applying it in a more complex context.

Integral Model

Integral Model

The most interesting thing about this diagram is the levels are represented by different colors and you can see some specific developmental lines and how a particular line in one quadrant corresponds to another line in an another quadrant.  I talked about this above, but here you can see specific examples in a visual context.

However, you may be asking yourself what does this have to do about be making a change in my life.  The answer is that by choosing growth practices for each quadrant and expressing them in each quadrant, you are more likely to have a transformation that is long lasting.  That is, if you work in this way you are more likely to stabilize the things you are working on into a permanent trait rather than a temporary altered state.  This integration also implies embodying your insights by expressing them deeply in each quadrant – self (Q1), culture (Q4) and nature (Q2 and Q3).  In other words, with this approach you get synergistic effects and integrate the new capacities into all the domains of life.  In this way, you get the systems working for you rather than against you.

On a practical level, this means picking one or several developmental lines to work with, choosing practices that help to develop those lines and finding ways to exercise the developing capacities in each of the four quadrants.  I realize there is a lot of new vocabulary and concepts here, so again a diagram might help.  This diagram is where the rubber meets the road in terms of applying and benefiting from the theory.


With this matrix, you can take advantage of the Integral Model without having to do a deep dive on all the theory because by your choices, you are working on different lines across quadrants and in all the domains of your life.  The specific instructions for using this matrix are in the diagram’s caption.  You simply pick one practice for each of the four core modules.  This gets you working in both your interior and your exterior dimesnions.  Then you add auxiliary practices which are collective by their nature and involve both interior and exterior dimensions too.  The point is that by working across all quadrants and on various lines, you are more likely to grow and stabilize that growth into permanent change.  This method of working also encourages and integration of your various capacities and intelligences.  As such, it is a holistic approach that touches you and your relationships in a very deep way.

The specific approach to transformation practice above is called an Integral Life Practice or ILP.  The model that comes from the diagram is a simplification of applying Integral Theory and is called the Integral Life Practices Matrix.  However, you can substitute your own practices, areas you wish to emphasize and specific means.  Technically, you can call these ILPs or whatever you wish.  The model is a useful guidelines, but when push comes to shove, you are the expert on how to apply the theory. The diagram above, however, is a very useful starting point for experimenting with this type of integrated approach.  What counts in the end is transformation or a permanent level change in one or more developmental lines.

I know this was a long article, but I hope you got a lot out of it and that you consider trying the approach I recommended.  As I said in Parts 1 and 2, I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences working this way and I invite back to leave a comment or subscribe.  If you would like further information on the integral model you can see some of my other postings including a video with Ken Wilber on Integral Life Practices.  He developed this model over decades and now has over 20 book titles in continuous print.

In my opinion, the integral model is a very important tool for understanding and working with differences across various disciplines and solving complex real world problems.  The Integral Institute is dedicated to applying the principles of this model in education, politics, business, psychology and other areas.  My experience is that it is a powerful and effective way to work on your own personal growth or a group in any domain of activity or interest.

If there are any critical aspects of this work I left unexplained or you have any questions, please leave me comments.  I will be writing more on integral theory, but if I have your input I can target my blogs to your interests more precisely.  If you would like to contact or work with me, you can find my contact information under the contact information menu heading.

No Comments

Be the first to start the conversation!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s