Integral Coaching Online

This excerpt from a conversation on the co-active coaching network applies the quadrant dimension of Ken Wilber’s Integral theory to address an obstacle to bringing curiosity to a coaching relationship: over-simplification.

“I now work with clients with depression and strongly encourage them to find a professional to explore medication options. It is a long process of trial and error but well worth it. You wouldn’t just give up on medication if you had cancer or diabetes. Depression is physical, just like a broken arm and needs treatment. All the best, Judy”

Dear Judy, it sounds like you are pretty sure that depression is JUST physical. Does that resonate?

Dear Community, in reading this message I am reminded of the criticality of us expanding the way that we use perspectives in certain moments. Ken Wilber’s work in Integral Theory showed me this… specifically the concept of quadrants.

Basically, Wilber argues via the Quadrants concept, which is one of the 5 fundamental concepts in Integral Theory, that phenomena tetra arise. This is to say, that there are 4 views one can take on any occasion that are fundamentally irreducible to each-other.

What this is NOT saying is that we cannot reduce any occasion to being caused by phenomena or influences that arise from that perspective-view. This, of course, is a typical way of seeing, and yet inhibits the field of our awareness and thus is to be avoided by individuals seeking to expand their awareness, according to wilber. Simply put, this process is called reductionism.

The 4 perspectives I am speaking of are illuminated when we take into account 2 distinctions at the same time. The distinction between interior and exterior (such as intent vs behavior) and the distinction between individual and collective (such as a single stone tossed at police during the Occupy Protests vs the systematic and coordinated behaviors of the police in response to that.

The 4 fundamental views revealed by these distinctions are exemplified by the terms: intentional, behavioral, cultural and systemic.

Depression, for example, does have physical correlates. There are chemical patterns in the brain that give form to it. It also has interior correlates… it feels a certain way, certain ways of orienting ones intentions influence it, etc. It also has cultural influences… such as whether a person surrounds themselves with mentors vs other depressed people, and it has systemic influences, such as what programs the person is involved in.

In my personal journey in relation to depression I find the following examples.

Interior/Individual (or intentional, for example)

When I was resisting my experience of depression, it amplified. As I welcomed it, it changed.

Exterior/Individual (or behavioral, for example)

When I attempted to fill my depression with seeking validation from beautiful women, it amplified.

When I took actions in support of cultivating my sense of vocation, it softened. When I coach and hold space for people, it softens.

Interior/Collective (or cultural)

When I surrounded myself with people devoted to living and embodying their vocation (my mentors) it softened and dissolved.

When I surrounded myself with people who were not interested in authentic, transparent, presence based, and curiosity based communication, it intensified.

Exterior/Collective (or Systemic, for example)

When I ran out of money to participate in the financial systems of my locality in order to feed and nourish myself, depression amplified.

When I volunteered at the Integral Center and received access to its courses my depression softened.
b Theoretical Foundations and Context

You can learn more about quadrants and non-reductionism through any of Ken Wilbers books, through his site or through my site (see below).

Robert Kegan pulls from the distinction between interior and exterior elements in the transformative process and illustrates the criticality of such in facilitating transformative change in his book “Immunity to Change”

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