Inhabit: Your Speech

with Corey deVos and Ryan Oelke

What are the unique challenges that prevent you from inhabiting your most authentic and embodied voice, and how can integral thought and practice help us to overcome those challenges — in our society, in our communities, and in our own consciousness?

Ryan and Corey begin by taking a look at some of the central cultural, technological, and behavioral challenges that take us further away from our most authentic expression, wonderfully illuminated by Jonathan Haidt’s recent article, “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid”. We were both very excited about Jonathan’s piece, which resonates deeply with so many of the critical themes we’ve explored in the Inhabit series over the months and years.

In his article, Haidt identifies three primary factors that bind society together: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. He then explores how each of these became so compromised in our civilization, and suggests some possible interventions (what I often call “enfoldment mechanisms”) in order to get things moving in the right direction again.

“We must harden democratic institutions so that they can withstand chronic anger and mistrust, reform social media so that it becomes less socially corrosive, and better prepare the next generation for democratic citizenship in this new age.” —Jonathan Haidt

And here is how Haidt describes these “enfoldment mechanisms” as they are supposed to exist in our governing institutions:

“It was just this kind of twitchy and explosive spread of anger that James Madison had tried to protect us from as he was drafting the U.S. Constitution. The Framers of the Constitution were excellent social psychologists. They knew that democracy had an Achilles’ heel because it depended on the collective judgment of the people, and democratic communities are subject to ‘the turbulency and weakness of unruly passions.’ The key to designing a sustainable republic, therefore, was to build in mechanisms to slow things down, cool passions, require compromise, and give leaders some insulation from the mania of the moment while still holding them accountable to the people periodically, on Election Day.” —Jonathan Haidt

In our conversation, Ryan and I try to pick up where Jonathan left off, suggesting that we need to install these sorts of enfoldment mechanisms in our own interior operating systems, as much as in our exterior/collective operating systems. In other words, we cannot transform these systems “out there” unless we work to transform our own consciousness and communities “in here”. How do we do so?

Ryan and I try to answer this question by looking at two fundamental lines of development — the intrapersonal line (how we relate to ourselves), and the interpersonal line (how we relate to each other), and using those to help supplement the advice given by Haidt in his article so we can engage these problems in all four quadrants simultaneously.

We begin with the intrapersonal, distilling some timeless wisdom from two different spiritual lineages — the notion of “Right Speech” in Buddhism, and the Quaker practice of “letting your next words come from your highest Self” — two complementary micro-practices that can help us to better align ourselves with our own inner source of wisdom and compassion, to communicate with greater purpose and authenticity, and to bring as much conscious embodiment to our online interactions as we unconsciously do when we are face-to-face.

Here are some basic tips to help you practice speaking from your own highest Self, however you might define it:

Integral Life strives to provide a community space that is integral—comprehensive, open, inclusive, and transparent. The quality of this integral space depends on the quality of your participation. Therefore, like all communities we have guidelines, and ours are integral. The following guidelines are designed to help make everyone’s experience in this “we-space” a fulfilling one:

Let your very next communication in this space come from your Highest Self.

If you understand what “integral” means, then let the next words out of your mouth be from your own integral mind or integral awareness. If you don’t know exactly what integral means, then use “Highest or Higher Self,” “True Self that is no-self,” “Spirit Mind,” “Big Mind,” or whatever you are comfortable with that evokes the highest or deepest or brightest You.

Feel the thinker.

Feel your self, feel your ego, feel the self-contraction. That which feels the thinker is beyond the thinker, that which feels the self is beyond the self, that which feels the ego is beyond the ego, that which feels the self-contraction is free of the self-contraction. When you feel the thinker (or ego, etc.), you engage your Higher Self. You take the stance of the Witness, the I that is aware of I, the I-I in you that is beyond you. And the Witness, although itself empty, takes on and speaks integral at any level.

Therefore, feel your ego, or feel your self-contraction, and then speak and act from the awareness that’s doing the feeling; that sees the ego as an object like any other; that impartial Mirror Mind reflecting and embracing the universe in its brightness and luminous equanimity, the higher perspective that is no special perspective but open to all. Make the subject object whenever you can, and this will help you come from your Highest Self.

But don’t make a big deal out of this. Simply try to feel the thinker or feel the self-contraction every now and then, and sooner or later it will make sense and feel natural to act from a higher level that is not the ego but is aware of the ego.

(Those rules help with your Higher Self, however you understand and intuit it. And now, a few rules to help with your lower self (aka, your unconscious, your shadow, the disowned self, or the self that will sabotage your every move, given a chance).

Discern your “emotional buttons,” or the things to which you overreact.

In many cases, whether or not your judgment is true, a hyper-emotional recoil often means that shadow elements have been triggered, or as everyday parlance has it, somebody “pushed your buttons.” Simply notice this happening; try to make the subject an object (which, as we know, is the fundamental rule of development). In other words, try to make the reactive self (the lower self) an object of awareness. Just see and feel your emotional reaction; you don’t have to do anything else. It’s that simple. Don’t worry whether something spectacular happens or not; that very act has already caused a small transformation and disidentification, and repetitions of that simple act will have a profoundly cumulative effect. Of course, you can do more work on it if you choose, but most essentially, they are ways to just further that process.

You can investigate this more if you want. If someone or some comment gets on your nerves, what are you pushing against? Seek the underlying value in you that is trying to be expressed in your emotional charge. If you’re experiencing strong recoil, resistance, or rage, odds are what you are experiencing is a symptom of your own shadow. If this is so, we recommend doing a little shadow work with your response (ahhh, so that’s what the Shadow Channel is for!). Again, don’t make a big deal out of this, but work on it in whatever way you know how.

If you don’t want to do shadow work, or don’t have the time for it, not to worry: as we said, simply feel the self that is recoiling and acting negatively. Simply try to make the subject an object. And then go on about enjoying the community.

Don’t wait for others to make the experience you’d like; ask explicitly for what you want and take steps yourself to help create it.

Before you offer your wisdom to or about others, remember that your perspective is yours, and just one of many.

Can you admit that your perspective is a limited one? Can you distill out your clear observations from your interpretations and assessments? Are you still curious about other perspectives? Are there any shadow elements in any of your interactions in the community? Before pointing out the negatives in others, we try to clean our own house first. Don’t be afraid to make judgments—we want your opinions and judgments very much—just try to have the next judgment that comes out of your mouth be a discernment from your Higher Self.

It is your imperative to do your best to understand and accurately represent other people’s viewpoints. It is also your imperative to clarify your own viewpoint if you are feeling misrepresented.

Next we take a look at our interpersonal engagements, and how we can use Integral ideas to facilitate more healthy and rewarding community experiences. While interviewing Stefan Schultz for our Integral Journalism in the Disinformation Age discussion, he included some different strategies that each developmental stage uses for what he calls their “conference culture”. Ryan and I unpack this idea a bit more in this episode, noticing how these different cultures often play themselves out in our various online community spaces. We therefore thought it may be helpful to make some of these mutually-shared subjects into objects of awareness, in order to create more shared agreement between us around the sorts of standards we want to hold ourselves to while interacting with each other:

Amber stage — this a top-down communication style. Perspectives are handed down through a perceived media or institutional “authority”, and then talking points are repeated uncritically by adherents to a particular ideology.

Early orange (expert) stage — this is “debate culture”, where the goal is always to compare the most idealized version of your own perspective (which is often established via Amber top-down communication), to the most negative straw-man depiction of the other’s perspective. Believes “critical thinking” primarily means to be critical of all perspectives that are not your own. The goal is to feel like the smartest person in the room.

Late orange (achiever) stage — this is more like “dialogue culture”, where the point is not necessarily to “win” a conversation (though that can take place as well), but rather to learn more about each other’s views and values. These dialogues can certainly take the form of debate, of course, but not the “bad faith” debate of early orange, which likes to make caricatures and straw-men out of opposing views. Instead there is more emphasis on “steel-manning” each other’s point of view, rather than straw-manning them, since “critical thinking” means we need to be even more critical of our own ideas than we are of other people’s ideas.

Green stage — this looks something like “discourse culture”, where the dialogue is opened up to far more perspectives, which can produce a far more robust conversation with a pluralism of informative perspectives across a wide spectrum of thought. At this stage, “alternative” perspectives are often actively prioritized over “mainstream” or “orthodox” or “dominant” perspectives. Often lacks a way to navigate these accumulated perspectives, or to recognize which perspectives may be more relevant/germane/legitimate (that is, a lack of a real “enfoldment mechanism”). This is the stage that many/most of our social media platforms currently run on.

Teal stage — I like to call this “enfoldment culture”, where participants have done the inner work to dislodge their identity from their political or ideological views, allowing them to have more robust conversations, to rethink or enhance their own positions, and to distinguish partial-truths from less-partial-truths, whether in themselves or from others. Can still be passionately invested in a discussion or a set of ideas, but there is much less “grasping” since that passion is yet another subject to be made into object. Has much more capacity to fold together seemingly irreconcilable truths, often by using methods such as polarity management, integral truth claims, and stage-specific interpretations of truth.

We hope you enjoy this discussion! Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Written and produced by Corey deVos

Given the metaphorical second coming of the Tower of Babel as Haidt’s article suggests, “right speech” is probably one of the most important practices we can engage at this time. This splendid write-up by Corey and the conversation he and Ryan had on the topic is yet another of many examples of Integral, far from being all lofty theory, pointing the way towards how to have ‘real world’ impact. Timely and practical teachings in an Integral framework for each of us to use in our own lives, with family and friends and colleagues, etc, face-to-face and online–and that’s one way that Integral helps transform the world.

As was suggested in this conversation when focusing on Quaker and Buddhist concepts of ‘right speech,’ religions and mystical traditions worldwide have addressed speech, and from various stages of development. Most familiar perhaps from the Magical stage is the “abra kadabra” phrase, which in Aramic (Avrah Ka Dabra) means “I will create as I speak,” and in Arabic is thought to mean “Let these things be destroyed.” This differentiated meaning is carried through in other stages, in other traditions, the point being that speech spans the gamut from desecration to potentially a sacred, creative act.

In some shamanic traditions, the throat through which words travel and pass is thought of as a tunnel connecting ‘worlds’ or realities, and connecting the heart to seeing, including transpersonal seeing.

In Jewish mystical teachings, the mouth is the gateway to freedom, and the throat, echoing those shamanic ideas, is a dark, narrow passage connecting the wide spaces of heart and mind.

This “gateway” idea is also reflected in the chakra systems of Eastern traditions, the throat chakra called the “gateway to liberation” in some systems, the place in which one chooses between “nectar and venom.” The throat, with its connection to speech (and hearing) is said to be a ‘twilight zone’ of sorts, the place where light and dark intermingle before one or the other takes over.

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, King Janaka questions the sage Yajnavalkya as to “what is the light of man?” While Yajnavalkya ultimately gives the answer that the (divine, true) Self is the definitive light of man, he answers sequentially that the sun, then the moon, then the fire, and then speech is the light of man. (And had this not been written some 3,000 years ago, I’m sure he would have inserted ‘electricity and batteries’ before speech…:slightly_smiling_face:; still, we can see the significance that was placed on speech in that time period.)

And of course, we have the Biblical focus on speech or minimally sound and its vibration: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God…” And numerous direct and indirect references to speech throughout, speech being understood as part of that injunction “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

And then we reach the Rational stage, with its de-emphasis on religion/spirituality, and our embrace of the right to free speech in the secular world, which has become something of a rabid issue, a divisive one at that, with all the mis- and dis-information and some people being absolutist in their view around free speech, either for no constraints at all or for far too many. Qualitatively, it seems we no longer have much respect for any of this earlier intelligence coming from the world’s major religions/traditions around speech; I feel almost (but not quite, or really :slightly_smiling_face:) like a social pariah for even bringing it up, as if I now need to say “of course it’s okay to argue, to swear (a little), to…etc.etc”.–in other words, to prove I’m not an absolutist or rigid moralist, and you know, I’m just not going to do that in this post. Bottom line, my view is that the right to free speech is wildly abused, and I think we could take some pointers from these traditions, along with those given by Corey and Ryan and Jonathan Haidt.

The other thing I would add to this conversation is around silence, just for our fun consideration.
Silence is both the opposite of speech/language/conversation, and a part of it. Silence is both present and absent in any conversation. Some linguists have formulated speech and silence as speech being figure, silence being ground; or speech as form, silence as formlessness; or speech as something, silence as nothing. While that view is certainly not embraced by all linguists (e.g. silence can speak volumes; is “full”), that speech and silence live in symbiosis, are inseparable, and together make a whole, pretty much is. And here’s a stark image for you from a postmodern linguist: “There is something violent about speech, in contrast to silence. Articulation must be torn from silence, the Said from the the Unsaid.” And another: “Silence stands in the way of the speeding up of life.” And: “Social media destroys silence.” Just for our consideration…

A last word to Corey and Ryan: when you directly address the viewers to teach something, as was done on occasion in this podcast, I think that is a good thing. It engages people more, and, in my opinion, you both are credible in the ‘teacher’ role. Just my two pennies. Thanks again; great topic, well-presented.

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Always appreciate the wonderful supplemental wisdoms you wrap around discussions like these. Thanks LaWanna, both for your deepening of the conversation, and for your kind feedback!

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I know a guy fluent in both. I’ll ask.

P.S. Oops, should have said “ethnocentric cultural appropriation of knowledge for power dynamic manipulation and oppression” :wink:

Nah, because there’s no reason to insert political grievances into a 100% non-political discussion. There are plenty of other topics for us to find common ground around in this community :slight_smile: