Due to a technical glitch the first two minutes of the podcast are low quality, then it gets better. 


I start this week’s call with a brief review of a new movie that I would nominate as an integral masterwork: Boyhood, by Richard Linklater.

Shot over a period of 12 years, Boyhood traces the life of Mason, an ordinary Texas boy in his development from first grade through high school graduation. The actors, featuring Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and the lead character played by Ellar Coltrane, grow and age through the movie. The story and dialogue were written over time as well, sometimes shortly before a scene was filmed, and are designed to bring forth the essence of the actors themselves, especially the young leading man.

Mason grows up in the movie right before our eyes, from an introspective yet spirited six-year-old, to an awkward adolescent hiding behind his hair, to a wry, thoughtful young man seeking to understand the world as he records it with his ever-present camera.

Though much happens in the movie none of it is extraordinary. And Mason himself isn’t particularly interesting — which allows him to be interesting in every particular. He has his problems to be sure, with his sister, friends, parents, stepparents and a girl, but the movie is not about that. It’s about growth itself, which alone turns out to be a potent narrative driver. We literally get to watch Mason grow. We see the shape of Mason’s face change in real time, along with his voice, his mannerisms and his thinking, creating an emerging, essential Mason-ness that is unique in all of time and space. In this way Boyhood reveals the most astonishing secret of all: everybody is fascinating. Every life is worth penetrating and appreciating.

Also of interest to evolutionaries, the movie revolves around the fourth dimension: time. Virtually all stories have a trajectory that unfolds over time. But with Boyhood, the passing of time is the theme, and it invites us to feel into the power of emergence in our own lives. I just hope Richard Linklater, the wise, sweet genius behind this movie is busy on the sequel, Adulthood.


“How can I be fully happy when I know anybody on the planet is suffering? The answer is I can’t be fully happy. I ought not be fully happy. I have to hold what’s going on within the larger field, in the greater space of…joy? Bliss? There are other names for it but it includes suffering. It’s not the opposite of suffering anymore. When we have that online then actions in the right quadrants, what we can do to help people, become more clear and useful.” ~Jeff Salzman

I think one of the main challenges we face as we enter integral consciousness is that we become aware of two realities that are often unseen and irreconcilable at first tier.

The first reality is that from the larger perspective of history the human condition has gotten better, in all four quadrants, steadily and dramatically. Today, those of us living in the developed world are blessed with lives of astonishing ease and plenty relative to virtually any time, place or people.

On the other hand children are being blown up by bombs. The 24/7 footage from Gaza is just the most immediate example of the ugliness of the second reality: that for millions of people in pockets around the world life is as desperate and abject as the worst of anything we have seen in history. Good thing we can take multiple perspectives.

In the podcast I address the challenge of suffering more as an inquiry than as a commentary, and invite listeners to share their thoughts. The topic was stimulated last week when I received this message from a long-time listener, Peggy Babcock:

I was glad to hear that you’d be talking about both Ukraine and Gaza yesterday. And I confess to a certain level of disappointment in what felt like a deliberate choice to speak about it in a detached, clinical sort of way. I know Integral has been criticized for doing that, but given the very real global angst of the last week, it felt pretty pronounced.

For one, I’ve read Steven Pinker’s book [The Better Angels of our Nature, which makes the case that violence has decreased in history] myself and, while I agree with his conclusion, there is no way we can turn away from the grief of war, loss, fear, death itself. It seems to me that a truly integral approach would be to both hold the larger view AND include the deep pain that people are experiencing…whether Jewish, Muslim, as parents, as Americans, etc. at whatever level of development.

It would help if you could name this innate deeply felt desire to protect ourselves (and your listeners) from emotional distress. But the way beyond our current state is not to avoid, but to go through our experience. How we are each navigating that would help all of us to gain clarity…even if it means understanding that it’s all too complex for us to wrap up in one neat and tidy package! How do we, as integralists, hold the paradox of knowing many details and still NOT knowing what the solution should be?

Peggy also shared this gem from Tibetan Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron:

As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity. To the degree that we’ve been avoiding uncertainty, we’re naturally going to have withdrawal symptoms—withdrawal from always thinking that there’s a problem and that someone, somewhere, needs to fix it.

I was also happy to hear from noted developmental psychologist Susanne Cook-Greuter, who was on the call. In a message to me yesterday she makes a fascinating point about the expanding capabilities of integral consciousness to hold suffering:

Could it be that the much greater amount of resources later stages have available makes it easier to deal with the many more hurts one registers? At least that is how I have explained it to my students in the past. While we pick up much subtler forms of suffering, we also have become more resilient as well as skillful (metta meditation, tonglen, breathing techniques, tolerance for ambiguity and helplessness etc.) and aware that suffering and joy are two sides of the same coin.

We consider comments from a number of other listeners as well, working our way to a better understanding of how we can not only relate to suffering, but actually be helpful. I hope you are stimulated by the podcast and moved to share your thoughts as this important and ongoing discussion continues.