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Last month, I went to Guatemala to visit the Integral Heart Foundation.  It was my first time visiting Central America and I didn’t quite know what to expect.  I imagined that the enormity of the poverty would shake me up, but my experience was that it didn’t.  While there is a lot of poverty, I found that the indigenous population where I visited was on average as happy or more happy than the people in many developed parts of the world.  They have a way of holding their economic situation in juxtaposition to some of the real riches they have – family, a sense of purpose, being close to the land, etc.

On the whole, I liked the atmosphere.  The most appropriate word I could put on it is “soulful.”  Rather than having a white-washed quality, everything was in the open, both the best of the country and the worse.  This is not to say that the poverty associated with Central America is in your face in tourist areas, but you don’t have to look far to touch upon both the warmth of the local people and the social injustice.

Although I was a bit on edge at times, on the whole I found their was a “spacious” and “alive” quality about the place and the culture.  Truly, Guatemala is one of the most physically beautiful places on earth.  I also think some of the lack of formal education is offset by the common sense and simple wisdom of the native people.  I found they carried themselves with dignity and an authenticity that is rare to find in the average American city.

While I stayed and slept in a nice environment, the Porta Antigua hotel, I spent a fair amount of time visiting various villages, schools and areas of poverty.  I thought that if I had this contrast, it would help me to better contemplate my experience and if I got sick from the water or contaminated food, at least I would be relatively comfortable.  I also had some safety concerns, but that’s another story.

My main purpose in visiting Guatemala was to visit the Integral Heart Foundation founded by Mick Quinn and Debra Prieto.  I liked the idea of applying Integral Theory in a difficult social situation and it seemed like this broad approach had a lot of potential for being effective as it utilizes a multi-dimensional approach.  Without going into a lot of theory, it focuses on individuals, their social situation, the beliefs of the culture and holistic tactics to deal with complex problems.

In a more concrete fashion, I found that the Integral Heart Foundation really walked their talk and began with fundamentals such as providing education.  This occurs at an early age as exemplified by their kindergarten program and continues on to high school.  While academics are a big part of their work, the development of self-esteem, critical thinking skills and tapping into a person’s inner wealth through meditation and other practices is foremost from the inside glimpse I received.

I also enjoyed seeing the results of the implementation of their solar program.  In remote areas, there is no electricity so this puts a limit on how long kids can study.  While candles are available, they cost money and families that make $8.00 per day or less are reluctant to burn there money in this way.  While we take light for granted, these people experience the availability of light as life transforming.


This program goes hand-in-hand with education and other social work, which is performed on behalf of the families involved in any programs.  Such basics as providing food is also part of the equation and therefore, it is easier to hold individual families accountable for their children’s attendance at school and other types of follow through that it takes to make the program effective.  Below, you can see some examples of a kindergarten environment and also a high school setting.


Here, Jen M. a volunteer appears with some of the youngsters.  She came to Guatemala to support the work of the foundation and to share her big heart in person.  While the Integral Heart Foundation has some great volunteers, they also need sponsorship, corporate volunteers and other sources of revenue.  Now, they help over a hundred families on an operating budget of approximately $100,000.  This is barely enough for a middle class family of four to live on in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I also found that cooperation between organizations to share infrastructure was one way to lower costs and make the most of donation dollars.  I toured one school that works with the Integral Heart Foundation where the infrastructure and environment was at least as good, if not better than some of the schools in San Francisco.  I think this is because everyone chips in, people are committed to the outcomes and even the indigenous people who can volunteer in the kitchen, cleaning or whatever else needs to be done.

I was also impressed that the high school had a garden, recycled water and was in essence a green environment.  This is completely in alignment with many of the values of organizations in the Bay Area including various companies that develop, sell or distribute solar products.  Wouldn’t teaming with this organization represent a win-win?

Another area of commonality we have with this community is that we all consume coffee.  Unfortunately, it is the coffee economy and historical complexities associated with it that causes a lot of the poverty and suffering in areas such as Guatemala.

These are the people that the Integral Heart Foundation serves and their living conditions are not impressive.  On average, a coffee worker in Guatemala makes as little as $3.00 a day and perhaps a bit more than twice this amount if they are in their prime.  These low wages are one reason why people keep their kids out of school.  The more hands there are to pick coffee beans, the more income a particular family can make.


Above, Deb Prieto during a lighter moment and below, Mick Quinn perhaps in a more serious one.  Philosophy, critical thinking and even Integral Theory are introduced at this level and therefore, some deep topics come up that help students related what they are doing to their social situation, fundamental place in the world and future.


If you want to know about Integral Theory and how it can be applied, I have written several articles that appear on this blog and my other at  You can also do a search on Amazon under Ken Wilber or read Mick Quinn’s excellent book the Uncommon Path, which although is not on Integral Theory proper complements and augments the concepts of this general approach.  The former focuses on the high level perspective and the latter on individual mental health and responsibility.

While I was visiting, I gave a talk to some of the high schools students and I found them to be polite, curious, well-mannered and glowing reflection on the results this organization gets.  Indeed, several of the kids I spoke too had been accepted into college programs which is saying a lot given the circumstances they were born into.  I also met the young woman that I personally sponsor and I felt very proud of her accomplishments and to be personally involved in her ongoing success.


Here, you can see me in a classroom with some of the Critical Thinking teens.  I was speaking to them about success, my life experience and trying to make a real authentic human connection with them.  I found they were open and engaged me at a deep level asking thoughtful questions and offering their own opinions freely.

I must say that while visiting Guatemala, I learned as much from these kids as perhaps they learned from me.  In fact, at times I felt humbled by their warmth, presence and attitude of gratefulness that they had.  They were clean, well-groomed and not just for this one day.  In general, I found the people in most of these villages very conscientious to details of outward appearance, not in a bad way, but in the sense of taking pride in themselves.  This surprised me given some of their living conditions.

If you visit the Integral Heart Foundation website or Facebook page, you can see a lot more pictures of the work they are doing, the families that their work touches and also of their hands-on projects.  The link for their website is  Below, I have posted one picture of the living conditions that are pretty typical:


Here, indoor fires are common and many of the children have respiratory problems at a young age.  You will note that the walls of this dwelling our corn stalks.  This is fairly common, but you will also see some buildings made out of stone blocks or adobe.  In one village, the people were living in a setup like this and the one building they had was used for supplies and food.  In other words, they put keeping these things safe above their own comfort and lived next to and around the supplies.

I feel a social responsibility to spread the word about this organization and to participate in their work to the degree I can.  As I said above, I am also a sponsor and I encourage others to get involved.  Unfortunately, to some extent it is U.S. intervention in Guatemala that has contributed to the social inequity here and our habit to demand cheap coffee without thinking of the potential consequences on the people who grow it.  So, if nothing else, please be a conscious consumer and consider buying shade-grown, free trade, organic coffee.  If you want to do more or meet Deb and Mick, they will be coming to the Northern and Southern California next week to talk about their work.

If you can make it to this event and/or spread the word that would help.  You can sponsor a kindergarten student for a month for as little as $35/month and this includes some nutritious meals.  That’s not a big sacrifice for many people to touch a life in such a deep and long-lasting way.

I mentioned above that Guatemala is physically beautiful.  You can find many examples of that on the Internet.  However, I thought I would leave you with a picture of me near Lake Attitlan.  The poncho I’m wearing was actually a necessity because the morning at lower altitudes was uncomfortably cold and damp.  I don’t know how well I fit in with the other tourists, but that handmade wool poncho felt like a heating pad.  I brought it back with me as a memory of Guatemala – a soulful place with equally soulful people who I will always hold in my heart with great fondness and respect.



Typical living conditions for many who pick coffee in Central America

Typical living conditions for many who pick coffee in Central America

By: Patrick D. Goonan

I had just landed in Dallas on my first leg of a journey back to California.  I had been visiting Guatemala to see the principles of Integral Theory popularized by Ken Wilber applied on the ground to complex social problems in Guatemala.  After landing, I knew I had a layover of several hours, so I decided to go outside and have a smoke.  Yes, this not a socially acceptable habit in some circles, but it is a vice that I still hold onto along with enjoying a coffee.  Some would say the two go together and once outside the airport, I looked around for the nearest coffee shop.

I happened to find a Starbucks back inside the airport a few gates down.  I ordered a latte and while I waiting for them to make it, I looked over the list of beverages and their prices.  The largest sized latte was $4.23 about one day’s wages for picking approximately 200 lbs. of coffee beans in Guatemala.  Those wages will get you something like a place pictured on the left usually without running water, electricity or even real walls!

Often 4-6 or more people share conditions like this out of necessity to supply our coffee habit and in order to survive.  Of course, some companies, countries and conditions are better than others.  However, in general it is rare to make more than $8.00 a day harvesting coffee in a Central American Country.  These numbers are according to the statistics found in the book UNCOMMON GROUNDS – A History of Coffee and How it Transformed the World.

Coffee was initially discovered in Ethiopia and from there spread to the Arab world.  Eventually it caught on in Europe and with the demands placed on working class in Europe during the Industrial Revolution, it became increasing in demand.  In fact, coffee is an international commodity that drives the economy, politics and social structures of entire countries.  This is certainly true of Guatemala and it has lead to an uneven distribution of wealth and the exploitation of the indigenous Mayan people.

In general, coffee is grown between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn at altitudes between about 4,5000 and 6,000 feet.  After the Spanish Conquest, the Mayans were pushed up the slopes of the volcanoes onto what was considered inferior quality land.  However, coffee grows best in this type of volcanic soil at about this altitude.  As a result, this land became valuable, but the Mayans were displaced and subjugated into cultivating this very same land by new landlords, companies and an often corrupt government.  Currently in Guatemala, it is my understanding that 10 families hold about 70% of the wealth.  That is a very telling statistic.

This economic system evolved slowly and as we all know, these types of complex social inequities are difficult to resolve in practice.  Indeed, various governments including the United States have intervened in Central and South America often with terrible results.  Guatemala specifically, has also been wracked by civil war and other political problems.  It also a place where drugs are cultivated and possesses trade routes between countries that grow and distribute various types of drugs.

Lake Attitlan in Guatemala

Lake Attitlan in Guatemala

At the same time, Guatemala is one of the most beautiful countries on the face of the earth.  It blessed with beautiful weather, volcanoes, rainforests, etc.  Almost anywhere you look, there is an abundance of natural beauty.  However, beneath this natural beauty and the veneer of civilization that is presented to tourists in places like Antigua lies enormous poverty.

Several years ago, Mick Quinn the Irish-born author of the Uncommon Path came to Guatemala with his wife Deborah Prieto on vacation.  After visiting Antigua and other areas, they were moved by the contrast between the physical beauty of Antigua and and the lives of many of the people struggling to survive.  To make a long story short, they ended up staying and created a foundation called the Integral Heart Foundation

Having my Masters in Integral Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, I was intrigued by the application of the principles of Integral Theory to the social problems in Guatemala along with those found in Mick’s wonderful book the Uncommon Path.  I wanted to talk to them, so I pursued my intuition!

When I first encountered the organization on Facebook I was intrigued and set up a Skype call with Deborah Prieto.  I wasn’t quite sure what was calling me to Guatemala, but I arranged to visit in order to see the work they were doing.  In a nutshell, they were applying sophisticated models that take into consideration the interior and exterior aspects of situations along with the systems that accompany and give rise to them.  Their work is with individuals at a deep level, but also looks at the more complex relationships between various systems, developmental levels and even the interior of the society, which is to say the culture.

You can read more about Integral Theory on my blog, but what is unique about it is that it considers the external and interior, individual and collective aspects of reality as inseparable and irreducible.  This gives this model tremendous transformational power and when I went to Guatemala, I saw their work in action in all of these domains e.g. education, direct social work, education and even a solar energy program.  I also witnesses wonderful cooperation between other nonprofits and productive partnerships with every level of society.  This can be an article in itself, but you can hear Mick Quinn talk about this work in more detail in about 7 minutes by following this link:

If you watched this video you get a sense of the work, people and synergy between the various projects they sponsor and how it all comes together to yield tangible life-changing results.  Moreover, they run the organization on a tight budget and although U.S. dollars donated go further in Guatemala, they are still running on a low operating margin and without larger donors or corporations they may encounter challenges in scaling their work.  Right now, they offer a sponsorship program for children and young adults and there are some companies and individuals who have been generous with their solar project.

I currently live in the midst of the wealth of Silicon Valley where the average person drinks a lot of good coffee from Guatemala and other similar countries around the world.  Per capita, I can’t imagine a population that appreciates coffee as much as it fuels the often late nights of the software engineers and other technical innovators as it did the working class during the Industrial Revolution.  I’m not sure exactly how many coffee shops are in the SF Bay Area, but it’s definitely in the hundreds if not thousands.

My thinking on this organization’s future is what if they partnered with coffee shops, coffee roasters and technical companies in Silicon Valley.  They have a solar energy program, it would seem it would be conscientious capitalism to raise awareness of the social issues that accompany the coffee economy and at the same time promote green initiatives, their companies products and further the education and survival of the indigenous people who are living at a subsistence level to supply us with our morning latte.  Again…. one latte is about a day’s wages for a healthy man working all day in the sun, walking long distances, etc.!

If that’s not bad enough because people are living at a subsistence level, they keep their kids out of school to pick coffee.  This implies that to break the cycle of poverty, you need comprehensive programs that include education, other types of aid and accountability.  This is exactly what the Integral Heart Foundation does and it works.

Critical Thinking Teens

Critical Thinking Teens

I have visited Integral Heart Foundations schools, witnessed the work of their programs and the wise use of their resources.  If you are interested in learning more, you can visit their website and become a sponsor or look for them on Facebook.  I am sure they would love to hear from you.

If you live in or near San Francisco or in Southern California, you can meet Mick and Deborah in person and see a presentation of their work, hear about their future plans and see pictures and video of their most recent work.  If you are interested in corporate sponsorship, partnering or just supporting them through your communication network or whatever is within your means, I know they would be happy to see your face in the crowd at their upcoming fundraiser –

I’m very proud I can play a small part in raising the visibility of this organization.  If you come out to attend their fundraiser please share your perspective.  Although the United States has hit some difficult times, we still are very fortunate compared to the rest of the world.  If we all share a little, we can help a lot and even sharing your well wishes or communicating with your friends sets causes in motion that lead to results.

Here…. you can see me with the young woman who I sponsor, Dinora.  After being in the program, she is self-confident and is planning on attending college for pre-law.  I met her in person when I went to Guatemala and I hope to go again soon.  If you are considering sponsoring a child through their organization, I would love to hear that in your comments.  It only costs $35 a month to sponsor a kindergarten child for a month and that even includes nutritious meals.

Dinora and Pat

Pat Goonan and Dinora

I appreciate Mick and Deb’s hospitality while I was in Guatemala and I wish them success with their upcoming visit to the Bay Area and Southern California.  You can see exact details below:

The first step is to join the INTEGRAL HEART FOUNDATION founders Deb and Mick for their perspective on poverty and
potential, but most importantly the SOLUTION in education and how you can help make a difference to many.

Sunday, February 17, 2013 – Los Angeles – Hosted by Malena Gamboa.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 – Berkeley – Hosted by our friends Terry, Valerie, Chris, Jeff, Lisa, Bill & Deborah at BAI

Who we are:
Topic of events:


Watch a 7-minute made-for-TV documentary on our humanitarian work in Guatemala
Learn about our four programs: Sponsorship, Integral Education, Kindergartens and Solar Power.
Talk and photo presentation by co-founders about our work with Q & A afterwards.
To raise funds for our work in Guatemala.
1.5 to 2 hours.
RSVP or questions to
Solar Energy

Mick and Debra – co-founders IHF

By: Patrick D. Goonan

We all have some habits we would like to change.  It is the human condition that we want to grow and in some way transcend ourselves.  Sometimes, we are successful, but other times we get stuck.  This article addresses why and how to overcome this tendency.

I believe with J. Krisnamurti:


“that seeing the truth deeply is what liberates, not our struggle to be free.”

In other words, the harder we try, the more stuck we seem to become.  It is only by letting go of this antagonistic orientation toward ourselves that will allow the mud to settle out of the water of the mind.  That is to say, in order to see clearly one must quiet the mind and let all the things that are obscuring clarity go.  It sounds easy, but in practice it is not because we are a prisoner of our own conditioned ways of looking at the world and by overidentifying with thought, we miss the deeper layers of experience.

So, how does one begin to unravel this?  I believe it starts with a compassionate orientation toward yourself.  If seeing the truth deeply is what liberates, it is the ability to hold what we see with compassion that limits the depth of your perception.  In other words, if you can’t handle what you see then your psychological defense mechanisms will kick in and obscure deep insight.

I think these two aspects of approaching your most difficult problems are the key to unraveling the knot of confusion and frustration that keeps you stuck.  As you have probably noticed, we all have an internal critic and it is difficult to quiet its voice.  An attitude of unconditional friendliness toward oneself needs to be cultivated.  From this loving stance, one can start to see below the level of conditioning to the truth as a state of consciousness rather than a concept to be grasped.

These two points are a good starting point, but one also needs to employ skillful means to deal with conditioning.  This is important because we all have assumptions we haven’t examined and automatic thinking that puts us on autopilot.  To overcome these tendencies, we need to quiet the mind, but also counter the internal hijacking with effective practices.  This will be the subject of part two of this article.

In addition, we need to be dedicated and invest time and energy.  This assumes we have identified what we want to change, the methods we are going to employ and made a commitment to working toward whatever our goal is with passion, integrity and accountability.

Inevitably, when we try to make a change, there is a point where we must pass through a desert.  Any change to our habitual way of doing things represents a threat to the ego and on a felt level this seems like a threat to our survival.  Therefore, a commitment to stay with the discomfort of being between two levels of understanding is essential.  While it’s possible initial insights might be enough to bring about lasting change, usually it requires persistence and determination to embody these changes into a stable trait.

When one has dedication, along with unconditional self-acceptance and deep penetrating wisdom a synergy starts to happen.  When these forces work together more of one, leads to more of the other and this energy can eventually carry  you beyond your own neurosis or limitations.

In order to speed up the process and make a transformation more likely, it is good to work on all levels of your being i.e. body, emotions, mind, soul and spirit.  While this doesn’t guarantee that you will reach a higher developmental level in whatever you are working on, it certainly goes a long way toward stacking the deck in your favor.  This is not an instant solution, but once achieved the change endures.

These combinations of practices applied at every level of your being are a part of Ken Wilber’s Integral model.  According to this model, one must first transcend the old pattern of being and then include it in a higher understanding that permeates all levels of the self.  These practices are called Integral practices because they allow all the fragmented aspects of your self to be brought together in a new coherent and healthier whole.

In other words, utilizing integral life practices allows you to become conscious of what was previously unconscious and integrate these parts of yourself into a higher order understanding.  The third part of this article will talk about integral life practices and integral theory in more depth.

This is a short article, but it covers a lot of ground in terms of how we sabotage ourselves.  It touches upon attitudes that favor a transformation and points to a method to work on ourselves at every level for the good of our entire being.

It is unfortunate that there is no instant solution to overcoming the obstacles in our life.  It is a journey that can take us to some uncomfortable places.  However, we need to cross these existential deserts in order to grow.  It is the process of growth itself that is the destination and a trap of the ego to believe that once you achieve the next step you will be happy.  Happiness is practice and in a sense how you do the path is the destination.  The time to be happy is now, as you are in this moment, once you realize this you cease struggling against yourself.

If you want to read the next two parts of this article, please consider subscribing to my blog.  I welcome your comments, feedback and personal insights.  In the meantime, I wish you happiness and peace of mind.