1. Introductory Essay: The Lover and the Skeptic Inter-embrace

I started creating this blog and then got consumed with other projects before it was officially ‘released.’ Read and enjoy, but know it is a draft; and I will be officially starting it up any time now, I hope!

essay-1-image [About: "the mind of the heart and the heart of the mind;" the purpose of this blog.]
[Length: Approx. 1,400 words; 6 minutes to read.]

I am a skeptic, always questioning: Is that True? How did you come to believe that? Should I believe it? Are there other perspectives? What are we assuming? Can I believe myself?

I am a lover, wanting to trust you, believe in you, stay with you, celebrate you. I have a deep longing to meet you in a place of mutual understanding, compassion, and play.

How are these two parts of me, of each of us, to be reconciled–the skeptic and the lover? Valued, sometimes coexisting in harmony, but often at battle within, each holding court at a different time and place, each forgetting to invite the other when the other is most needed.

This blog will reach into many territories, but at the center of it all is a curiosity about the development of what I call “the mind of the heart and the heart of the mind.” The contrast between mind and heart, intellect and emotion, has been written about over millennia and acted out on countless stages1. Is there anything new to be explored–to be understood? The capacity to fully embody both reason and compassion in human understanding and action is called wisdom. We could say that the core sensibilities of wisdom are perennial and, as there has never been a surplus of wisdom, that each generation and each day bring new opportunities to embody these sensibilities. But in addition, I believe that the human species is evolving culturally, intellectually, morally, and spiritually, so that this time in history presents unique opportunities for deeper and wider forms of wisdom.2

Emotions can overcome us, envelope us in a fog, and lead us astray of our best interests. The intellect can also over-function, suppressing the life energy of emotion, crafting the cold calculations of our undoing. Perennial wisdom teachings speak of balancing intellect and emotion, of moderation, of building character traits such as perseverance and tolerance. What is new at the dawn of the 21st century? Those who study the evolution of human wisdom3 see a gradually evolving depth of understanding and skill. Increasingly people understand how their emotions affect them, the impact of their unconscious beliefs, and the flaws in everyday reasoning processes. Increasingly people step outside of their cultural conditioning to reflect on its usefulness, and step inside themselves in contemplative inquiry. The mind itself becomes an object of our awareness. We are seeing a gradual movement away from rigid black and white, either/or, us/them modes of thinking, toward a more nuanced and complex understanding, an appreciation of the fuzzy boundaries around the categories we impose through language, a longing to open to multiple perspectives, and a tolerance for the ambiguity and paradoxes inherent in life.

Physicist-philosopher David Bohm suggests that “underneath [humanity’s dilemmas] there’s something we don’t understand about how thought works” and that what is needed is a “very deep” and “very subtle” awareness of thought itself.4 His friend and colleague Albert Einstein famously said that “the significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”  In other words, the foibles of human thought and emotion got us into the various debacles that we are in, and we must understand more about the nature of individual and group thinking processes to be able to extricate and heal ourselves onto a more hopeful path. Bohm and Einstein made these comments in urgency, but also in hope, aware of humanity’s emerging capacity for self-understanding.

I am inspired and encouraged by this emerging trend in self-and-other systems-understanding.5 It is in this context that I inquire into the mind of the heart and the heart of the mind. The shift in focus is subtle. Its is not about identifying the right time to engage logic vs. care, and it is more than finding their balanced application–the inquiry is about feeling into their interdependence.

I will describe my goals for this blog for myself, for you the reader, and for the greater good. For myself, posting regular essays is my strategy for moving an accumulating pile of ideas off of those scraps of paper and uncompleted articles and “out the door;” and a way to engage others with these ideas. For the reader, my goal is to share ideas about “how the mind works” that might contribute to a more caring, deeply connected, and ethically, even spiritually satisfying life. I will mostly draw from books and articles by others, from a world of fascinating ideas that I hope you find useful but may not have had the time to find and read yourself. My own contribution will be in the weaving, in the connections that I perceive between others’ ideas, and in what I highlight, especially in considering the ethical implications of findings about “how the mind works.” My hope is that you will apply these ideas to yourself as well as learn something in general. My deepest goal is at a systemic level: to support the emergence of groups (“communities of practice” or “learning communities”) that embody higher levels of collective wisdom (what the Integral Theory community calls “second tier communities”).

Thus, my ultimate goal in this work is as follows. To explore how contemporary theories of mind (in the large sense described below) can contribute to the quality of communication, decision making and collaboration. I believe that a deeper understanding of mind, including reason, emotion, will, and intuition, can help groups, whether they be families, companies, or countries, improve both the ethical quality (the mutual understanding and care) and the material quality (effectiveness, sustainability) of their collective work.

In focusing on “how the mind works,” mind is given its broadest psychological, sociological, and even spiritual or transpersonal meanings. I will explore rationality, the emotional body/mind, conscious and unconscious processes, language and knowledge, neurobiology and the evolution of thought. My exploration will include the collective manifestations of mind, such as the sociology of how groups function, psychological theories of human relationship, meta-mind, communication skills, and knowledge building activity. You might imagine that it is an impossibly vast terrain to cover, but I will be blazing a very particular winding path, or set of connected paths, through it. As I share these theories and concepts, I will encourage you to reflect upon how these insights apply to you directly. We all know that they will do no good sitting on the self of our intellectual understanding, and will do mostly harm if only taken down to use as lenses through which to judge the all-too-human beliefs and decisions of others. I hope to open up a space allowing for the vulnerability inherent in any authentic self-exploration.

Why is this blog called “Integral Perspectives?” I will say more in another post, but briefly, I have been influenced and inspired by a body of work called integral theory, which integrates the systemic dimensions of body/mind/spirit, nature/self/culture, science/morals/art, or thinking/feeling/doing/being/becoming into any inquiry. It explores models and methods for holistic and transdisciplinarity topics that allow for the co-existence of truth claims from multiple perspectives in a generous yet rigorous way.6 As I will discuss more later, the art and skill of opening to, evaluating, and integrating multiple perspectives and meta-perspectives is a central theme in my work.

I will offer these morsels sequentially two or more times each month, as blogs do, but I will also be using them to build a “hyperbook.” The primary posts will be essays of 10-30 minutes reading length, with quick posts thrown in between them.  I will start with preliminary and background ideas, and gradually build and spiral toward more integrating and culminating ideas.  Welcome aboard for this journey!

In addition to scrolling by and disappearing off the time-indexed window of the blog’s limited attention span, the entries will form an accumulating body of interlinked ideas, in which the relationships between the ideas are as important as the ideas themselves.7 Once the entries reach a critical mass you will be able to start from any segment and easily find related ideas, prerequisite concepts, deeper explorations, and broader themes.

I hope that reading this blog will bring you enjoyment, occasional pangs of disequilibrium, and bits of insight, as I have experienced in reading the thinkers whom I will include, and that you will come back often and share your reactions.

If you have general questions about this Blog and my essays, see the links to the About and Help/FAQ pages.

  1. For example, in the West, an Age of Faith begets an Age of Reason begets a Romantic era begets a postmodern rejection of the intellect, in a spiraling cultural tug of war. []
  2. This evolution is not guaranteed or predictable for any given culture or era, but a general trend is observable over the long haul of history, as undeniable as life’s evolutionary progression to ever more complex and interdependent forms. []
  3. For example see Beck & Cohen’s <em>Spiral Dynamics</em> and Kegan’s <em>In Over Our Heads</em> []
  4. Bohm, D. (1996). On dialog (L. Nichol, Ed.). New York: Routeledge. []
  5. The seeds of these trends have been spouting for millennia, visible in the writings of a few famous thinkers, but only in recent historical times have begun to flower in the general population. []
  6. See the free online journal at Integral-Review.org, for which I am an Associate Editor, and other blog links to “integral.” []
  7. Past academic work includes research in hypertext design; see http://www.tommurray.us/cv.html#refHM []