Many of us approach our own development in a rather haphazard way: we read a book here, an article there, blogs, podcasts, documentaries etc. We have the resources at our fingertips but not much of a plan going in. Often this works out ok, but our development can easily become unbalanced and unfocused when we don’t invest anything in the design of our pathway.

What also tends to happen with this “intuitive” approach to development (go with the flow, oh, this looks interesting!) is that we begin to interact with content reflecting a similar perspective and avoid anything that might intelligently challenge it. We start to assume we are really on to something and anyone that disagrees is clearly full of it. Here it becomes common to pick out the “easy targets” of any contrasting viewpoint — the clear shortcomings — and use them to validate our view (often disregarding any shortcomings that our view may also possess).

With the U.S. presidential campaign heating up, this tendency becomes very visible on social media and elsewhere — but we’ll leave that alone here.

In this post we will take a look at a model that comes from Integral Theory, first introduced by Ken Wilber and since adopted by others in a variety of fields. In Wilber’s words:

“The word integral means comprehensive, inclusive, non-marginalizing, embracing. Integral approaches to any field attempt to be exactly that: to include as many perspectives, styles, and methodologies as possible within a coherent view of the topic. In a certain sense, integral approaches are “meta-paradigms,” or ways to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching.”  – Ken Wilber

In other words, Integral theory is about recognizing that every perspective has something of value to share, and that no one perspective is complete. It argues that in an increasingly complex world there is a need for multiple viewpoints, and we are largely lacking the skills for synthesizing these views in a productive manner. The examples abound and again, we’ll leave those alone and focus on co-creating solutions to what very may be the root to many of our most dangerous problems.

Back to the model, known as AQAL: all quadrants, all levels. It represents four irreducible perspectives that must be considered when trying to fully understand any issue, topic, or element of reality. These four perspectives are the subjective, intersubjective, objective, and interobjective. Any one perspective is a product of two fundamental distinctions: it is either interior or exterior, and it is either individual or collective.

Much has been done to expand and elaborate on this model in different contexts, including the educational. We will save much of that for future posts. For now let’s look at how we might use it to strategically develop our capacities to hold multiple perspectives in order to increase our levels of understanding.

Perhaps the best approach is to illustrate an example:

Let’s say I want to learn how to garden. One common approach might be to do some Youtube and Google searches, maybe even buy a book or two and read some gardening blogs. Doing so I quickly come up against contrasting perspectives and a plethora of techniques — who do I trust? Were do I begin? Some of us may be brave enough to get out there and experiment until we find what works for us while others become discouraged and overwhelmed.

What if we began that journey instead by attempting to fully understand our desire to learn to garden? To do so we can look at that desire itself through each of the four lenses:

Upper Left, Interior – Individual, I, Intentional, Subjective, Experiential Phenomena
What are the psychological structures and somatic feelings associated with this desire?
For example, gardening is perceived as a joyful or relaxing experience that will reduce stress and lead to a greater degree of mental/psychological well-being.

Upper Right, Exterior – Individual, It, Behavioral, Objective, Behavioral Phenomena
What is the neuronal activity, brain chemistry, and bodily states associated with this desire? What behaviors will occur?
For example, gardening will release endorphins and be a source of exercise leading to a greater degree of physical well-being.

Lower Left, Interior – Collective, We, Cultural, Intersubjective, Cultural Phenomena
How is gardening viewed in my community/culture?
For example,  let’s say I live in a upper-middle class suburb with strict rules and a well-groomed-lawn culture. There is a stigma against installing a garden and it is generally perceived as a lower-class activity. From the culture’s perspective, (at least certain gardening techniques) would decrease the cultural well-being with its untidiness. This creates a hesitation in me, even a fear of becoming alienated from the group.

Lower Right, Exterior – Collective, Its, Social, Interobjective, Social & Systemic Phenomena
How does my desire to garden relate to my role within the community or larger systems?
For example, I imagine it would be great to produce a surplus of squash to give as a gift or trade with my neighbors for some of their lemons (seeing as I don’t have a lemon tree), resulting in a greater degree of social/systemic well-being with enhanced meaningful interactions and decreased dependence on destructive food systems. I also might save money on groceries, leading to greater economic well-being and more self-sufficiency.

Going through this exercise, I get a better understanding of my desire — and hidden fears — related to learning how to garden. For each of us this will look different, depending on our own unique and complex circumstances or the context in which we are operating.

Now I could now take my new depth of understanding and start to design a plan for my development as a Gardner (or whatever it may be). The AQAL model again can help us balance our approach and identify areas that may need attention. It can also help us to create a more holistic, effective and profound experience for ourselves and others.

To do this we need to really dig in from each perspective. One approach is to identify strengths & weaknesses (for the interior perspectives) and opportunities & threats (for the exterior perspectives), followed by the identification of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Focused, Time-Bound). Let’s see how this might look in a (simplified) example:

Upper Left, Interior – Individual, I, Intentional, Subjective, Experiential Phenomena
Strengths: Curious, excited
Weaknesses: Lacking basic gardening knowledge, sometimes feel disconnected from nature
SMART Goals:
– Read Gaia’s Garden by the end of the month
– Read book on Deep Ecology by end of next month
– Spend at least 30 minutes outside every day only observing nature

Upper Right, Exterior – Individual, It, Behavioral, Objective, Behavioral Phenomena
Strengths: In good physical shape, some experience using related tools
Weaknesses: Tendency to procrastinate with tasks, lacking experience in gardening
SMART Goals:
– Take 4-week online course on Project Management & experiment with techniques
– Spend 1 hour each day working in the garden
– Start a journal documenting what’s working and what’s not

Lower Left, Interior – Collective, We, Cultural, Intersubjective, Cultural Phenomena
Opportunities: To create a culture with a stronger connection to nature and sources of food
Threats: Cultural stigmas around gardening associated with class
SMART Goals:
– Research how others have approached this challenge and compile a list of success stories by the end of two weeks
– Organize a neighborhood barbecue with locally grown food and present a short video on community gardening

Lower Right, Exterior – Collective, Its, Social, Interobjective, Social & Systemic Phenomena
Opportunities: Stronger relationships, saving money, decreased reliance on fragile systems
Threats: Regulations (Homeowner’s Association, local laws, etc.)
SMART Goals:
-Read book on Resilient Food Systems by the end of two months
-Attend a local Homeowner’s Association meeting in 3 months and present what you have learned
-Study the local zoning regulations and identify loopholes — compile report in 2 weeks

As your goals are all time-specific, they can be mapped out on a calendar and broken down into smaller tasks. Using tools like Google calendar or iCal can be great for this and you can set reminders to help you keep on track. Another technique is to share your plan with someone close to you and ask them to check in from time to time, creating a sense of accountability.

This can all take an infinite number of forms and this is just one approach that you may want to experiment with or adapt to your own preferences and situation. But ask yourself: how do you imagine this approach could result in a more holistic, meaningful and effective experience than the one described at the beginning of the article? What else could be added (or taken away) from the approach to make it more effective?

By | 2018-07-31T14:24:07+00:00 October 28th, 2015|Featured, Uncategorized|