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The way of integral wisdom

 Posted: 2:00 AM September 22, 2012

All of our world's wisdom traditions have valuable insights into the way of inner peace. The Native American, Celtic and Taoist traditions in particular emphasize inner peace, personal wholeness and right relationships through the cultivation of harmony and balance. Aristotle, Buddha and Confucius also spoke of "the golden mean" or the "middle way."

We can apply the universal principle of harmony and balance to various dimensions of human experience. Six important dimensions of "integral wisdom" that are worth exploring include introversion and extroversion, spirit and nature, identity and relationships, work and leisure, culture and society, essence and emergence.

1. An integral approach to inwardness and outwardness will seek to complement contemplative awareness and critical reflection with creative expression and constructive dialogue.

2. An integral approach to spirit and nature will seek to complement the nurture of a felt-relationship with the deepest meanings of life with an appreciation for the mystery and beauty of nature and the cosmos.

3. An integral approach to identity and relationships will seek to complement the quest for the universal human in its many psychological facets with the practice of loving kindness and gracious hospitality in our relations with others.

4. An integral approach to work and leisure will seek to complement the challenge of discerning our greater purpose in meaning and creative work with celebrating the gifts of relaxation, rejuvenation, leisure and play.

5. An integral approach to culture and society will seek to complement the task of becoming culturally literate and intellectually curious lifelong learners with the importance of building a good, healthy, sane, civil, just and free democratic society.

6. An integral approach to essence and emergence will seek to complement the value of honoring that perennial wisdom that is timeless and unchanging with the value of respecting and advancing the cause of rational knowledge and creative emergence of human consciousness and civilization.

In addition to "integral" (or non-dualist) approaches to human and social dilemmas there are also "dualist" and "pluralist" approaches. Each approach seems to have its own advantage in dealing with different kinds of situations. "The integral" (middle way) approach works best where there are pairs of complementary binary values that can be integrated into a greater whole, thus overcoming unnecessarily extreme positions. The dualist approach works best where there are mutually exclusive and opposing visions, values, policies and commitments that demand a clear choice and that cannot be reconciled with each other. In the dualist model decisions are made through persuasion and debate, and when this does not work by coercion and conflict. The pluralist approach works best where there are irreducible multiple options that may each be partly right on its own level of being or in its own dimension of existence, whether or not they can be integrated into a single coherent view or reality. If the integral, dualist and pluralist approaches are like different tools for solving problems, the real challenge is figuring out which tool works best for which situation. In any case, the integral approach of harmony and balance is one way to inner peace and to greater peace in the world.

Rich Lang is the founding director of the Society for Integral Culture. He is offering a free public lecture series at the Talent Library Community Meeting Room on Thursday, Oct. 4 through Nov. 8, from 3-5 p.m. Contact him at 541-941-4394 or

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