Saturday, November 12, 2005

Buddhist Meditation Changes Brain Structure

Artist: Alex Grey

Reported by Yahoo News: Sara Lazar, assistant in psychology at Massachusetts General Hospital, conducted a small study (20 subjects) involving people with extensive training in Buddhist meditation practice. The results are published in the November issue of NeuroReport.

Results of brain imaging "revealed increased thickness in cortical regions related to sensory, auditory and visual perception, as well as internal perception -- the automatic monitoring of heart rate or breathing, for example.

The study also indicates that regular meditation may slow age-related thinning of the frontal cortex.

"What is most fascinating to me is the suggestion that meditation practice can change anyone's gray matter," said study team member Jeremy Gray, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale. "The study participants were people with jobs and families. They just meditated on average 40 minutes each day, you don't have to be a monk."

This confirms the widely held belief that meditation practice can alter brain physiology. It's a perfect example of UL quadrant influencing UR.

Wilber has maintained that meditation practice and the frequent exposure to higher states of consciousness can lead to a movement toward higher stages of consciousness development. [Wilber's view on states and stages is available here.] I have been skeptical of his position in this area.

I do believe meditation practice is essential to experiencing higher states of consciousness, and it may make the transformation to higher stages possible, but several other factors must be present for any movement up the Spiral to occur. First, as Wilber has often pointed out, cognitive development is necessary but not sufficient for reaching higher stages. Second, there cannot be any severe traumas or unhealthy lower vMemes in the stack, or else transformation will be partial or blocked. Any early wounds to the ego must be healed before the ego can be transcended. And third, life conditions must be such that the individual can make the transformation to a higher vMeme or stage of consciousness. As an example: an inner-city gang member, no matter how much he meditates, isn't likely to make any significant leap in consciousness without a change in daily life conditions. A Red Meme environment is not conducive to Meme change without some Blue structure and order.

I have argued in the past that meditation is necessary but not sufficient for major Meme change, and I still hold that view, even in light of this new research.

Related Story: Some neuroscientists are bent out of shape about the Dalai Lama speaking at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting this weekend. They have some valid complaints related to "soft science" as opposed to "hard science" (not many of the studies to date have been well-designed or of a large, untrained population), but the protest was initiated by several Chinese scientists, so the real motivation for their objection seems rather obvious.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Clarification: More on the Inner Critic

In the last post, Part Two of Learning to Respect the Blue vMeme, I mistakenly conflated the Freudian superego and the inner critic. While speaking with Maude Foster, a therapist in Sante Fe, NM, she clarified for me that the superego is a natural structure that begins developing very early in the child's life. On the other hand, the inner critic is an introject that comes from parental and cultural rules and expectations. It develops as a way to avoid punishment and ridicule. The inner critic, like all subpersonalities, emerges as a way to protect us from external criticism. By internalizing the criticisms, we can "head off" external criticism by beating ourselves up first--at least that's what the critic will try to tell you.

I hope that clears up any confusion I created.

One other note: the Blue vMeme makes for a perfect inner critic because of its reliance on rules and structure. However, it is the dominant vMeme of the parents that determine the tone of the inner critic.

For example, my father also had a strong and unhealthy Orange meme, so he despised emotions as a form of weakness and praised reason and rational thought. I internalized that as part of my critic.

If the dominant parent has a strong Green vMeme, the child might develop a critic that denies value structures, favors inner exploration over science, and can't function very well independently. This child might crave group experience and feel anxious or depressed when faced with doing something alone. The child might also refuse to place value judgments on things and feel very uncomfortable having to choose which friends to invite for a sleepover.

An angry and abusive parent might create a strongly Red inner critic, and so on. The point is that the parental style determines the voice of the inner critic. Not everyone has a loud critic, but everyone has a critic.

I hope to explore how each of the vMemes might manifest as an inner critic. If anyone would like to share their experience with me, please leave a comment or email me directly at Integral Options for Life.

UPDATE: Since I originally posted this, I have heard from a woman (my wise and lovely girlfriend) who had a dominantly Green mother. These are her observations on how her mother shaped her inner critic:

I didn't relate to most of what you said about a green inner critic, but here are two things from my experience that really stand out:
1. Getting the message that being with others is preferable to being alone -- the impulse to be alone is pathologized -- it's not that I can't/couldn't do it -- it's that it was always judged.
2. Getting the message that the only way for my life to be worthwhile is to be doing good in the world.
I DID get the message about denying value structures -- no one way is better, more aware, more evolved, etc., than any other way.

I haven't had a chance to speak with her about this, but I will try to get her to post (or give me further insights) on the topic. My guess is that there are a lot of children of boomers, ages 25 to 40, who may have had this type of parent, and therefore might be dealing with a Green version of the inner critic.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Learning to Respect the Blue vMeme, Part Two

Please see Part One of this discussion before reading Part Two.

[Prefatory Note: Ken Wilber argues that Spiral Dynamics is simply a values line, one of many developmental lines. I would counter that within the Spiral framework, all the developmental lines can be expressed and contextualized.]

In the previous installment, I provided a long-winded explanation of how the Blue vMeme works at the cultural level (lower left quadrant). We saw that Blue emerges to provide order and meaning to a world that, at the Red level, is experienced as chaotic, violent, and meaningless.

At the individual level, Blue works in a very similar way.

As children, we are born into a Beige state, focused purely on survival. Very soon, however, we begin to learn rules for acceptance and belonging. As the emotional self emerges, the world becomes a mysterious place filled with unseen forces. We begin to create stories to explain the world around us. Slowly, at around 12 to 24 months of age, an ego begins to form as a way to distinguish the self from the world around it. This rudimentary version of the ego is what Freud identified as the id, a self-structure focused on fulfilling needs and wants with little concern for anyone or anything else. We are attracted to power, and we want to be the people who appear to have the most power or prestige. Parents have generalized this developmental period as the "terrible twos."

During the time when the Red Meme is dominant, the child is exposed to parental limitations on behavior. Since the child is unable to think rationally (by adult standards), the limitations are internalized as a way to appease parental authority (to make Mommy and Daddy like me). This is the first development of the Blue vMeme.

As the child goes to school and learns a whole new collection of rules and expectations, the Blue vMeme becomes dominant, and along with it the ability to think rationally for the first time. This emergence varies from age five to eight, depending on a variety of factors. For the most part, the Blue Meme remains dominant until pre-adolescence, although the time line seems to be changing in recent years (the Indigo Child phenomenon, which is partly Green idealism and partly real).

As a child grows older and moves beyond Blue social structures and parental rules, the Meme is "transcended and included," which means that it is no longer dominant (transcended) but still a part of the child's "Meme stack" (included). If there were any "pathologies" in the Blue system as it developed, they will appear as rigid thinking, need for authority, or a tough inner critic, among other possibilities.

The Blue Inner Critic

I had a rigid father who used his authority to create behavioral compliance with the threat of punishment, and he usually followed through on the threat. It was "his way or the highway." In order to guarantee his love, I internalized his expectations and learned to anticipate his reactions to my behaviors. As I grew older, those rules and expectations (including his phrasing: "boys don't cry," "stop goofing off and get to work," "stop complaining or I'll give you something to really complain about," and so on) became my inner critic.

As a child, nothing is more important than parental love and affection. A child will do ANYTHING to guarantee that love. When children are learning rules and their relationship to them, a tolerant parent who can give a child space to explore boundaries is crucial. An authoritarian parent can create all kinds of trauma in the psyche.

It is important to understand that I am not assuming a victim mentality. All children go through differing degrees of this process, and some must endure unspeakable abuse (both emotional and physical). But it is important to understand that children are vulnerable and that they are sponges. No human being reaches adulthood without some form of pathology. This does not make us victims--but it does reveal the challenges parents face in doing the best they can for their kids and the results of failing to do so. As the world becomes more and more complex, with higher and higher possible levels of psychological development, it becomes increasingly crucial that parents get the early stages "right" so that children have fewer "issues" as they mature.

My authoritarian father created an authoritarian inner critic. The voice of that critic, because of the stage at which it emerged as a self-structure, is Blue. Until recently, I was unaware of this fact, but I knew that any manifestation of Blue in the world pissed me off (projection, as noted in Part One). Now that I have identified the source of my hatred for all things Blue, I have started cultivating an appreciation for the value of the Blue Meme, both culturally and individually.

Blue still disturbs me in a variety of ways, but I find myself defending the role of the Blue Meme when others attack it (especially Green). As I work to become more conscious of the inner critic and how it dictates my behavior, I become increasingly tolerant of Blue manifestations around me.

There are some good things about a tough inner critic, especially having a strong work ethic, loyalty, organizational skills, and so on. It's the bad things, such as intolerance of my weaknesses, fear of being "not perfect," rejection of emotions (partly an Orange issue), and a host of other things, that keep me from being the person I want to be.

Therapy and sitting meditation have been crucial in working on this, as has mindfulness practice. It's a slow process, but it is a process--not something that has an end.

Learning to Respect the Blue vMeme, Part One

There is very little that sets me off as quickly as religious fundamentalism. In fact, most Blue vMeme versions of religion have irritated me in ways that seem out of proportion to their influence. I assumed it was because I was raised Catholic. I was wrong.

It recently became clear to me that my hatred of the Blue vMeme was not about religion, or Republican politics, or that vMeme's general need for order and control. It was about me -- it was a classic case of projection. I have a very rigid inner critic (Blue vMeme rules and structures introjected as the superego), and when I see that rigidity mirrored in the world around me it triggers my own discomfort with having such an unyielding inner voice.

I recognize that the Blue vMeme is crucial to the health and development of the Spiral, although holding that as a thought and feeling it as a belief are two very different things. I have only recently been able to feel it as a belief.

I want to explore the role of the Blue vMeme in individual development (see Part Two), but in order to do that I am first going to post some thoughts from Elizabeth Debold published in the new issue of What Is Enlightenment? ("Spiritual But Not Religious"). I want to work from the macro (cultures) to the micro (individuals).

In this selection, Debold is talking about the Axial Age, the great period in human history when nearly all the world's great religious traditions emerged. Debold cites Robert Godwin (One Cosmos Under God), who has documented that era with precision and understanding.
Miraculously, as if in response to a crying human need, the great religious traditions either emerged or transformed in the span of about one thousand years to embrace humanity in a new vision of the future. The era is what historian Karl Jaspers identified as the Axial Age, seeing in it the dawning of "what was later to called reason and personality." We are still indebted to the insights of the sages and saints who walked on earth then: Lao-tzu, Gautama Buddha, Jesus Christ, Socrates, Confucius, Jeremiah, and Muhammad. From approximately 800 BCE to 200 BCE, there was a dramatic shift away from identification with one's tribe and toward the development of individual consciousness--giving birth to the first truly individual sense of self. Before this, as Godwin explains, a human being "felt his own impulses were 'not truly part of the self, since they [were] not within man's conscious control.'" Tumultuous emotions, like rage, envy, and lust, were thought to be "a supernatural attack [by gods or demons] from the outside." So, for example, it wasn't your own lust driving you to distraction over an attractive neighbor, but the zing of Eros' arrow. It was only during the Axial Age that human beings gradually began to recognize, and take responsibility for, those forces of good and evil that they had projected onto the gods. As theologian Ewert Cousins tells us, "'Know thyself' became the watchword of Greece; the Upanishads identified the Atman, the transcendent center of the self. The Buddha charted the way of individual enlightenment; the Jewish prophets wakened individual moral responsibility." Practices of inquiry, meditation, petitionary prayer, and confession were developed to give humanity the practical means of cultivating an inner sense of responsibility and, most importantly, a moral conscience.
What she has revealed here is the shift from a Red-dominated world, still influenced by Purple magical thinking, to an emerging Blue worldview. In the next passage, she explains why this shift was crucial to the development of human beings in their quest toward the higher stages of evolution.

Strange as it may seem to us today, it was the development of an individual sense of conscience--accompanied by the painful experience of guilt--that enabled us to step out of the shadows and begin to author history. As long as we humans felt ourselves to be mere victims of powerful and uncontrollable forces, both internally and externally, there was no way to be responsible or to make choices that would lead toward salvation--in this life or the next. "Only an independent self has the power to recognize its guilt and confess its wrongdoing," write social scientists James and Evelyn Whitehead, and that recognition makes each person "responsible for his [or her] own actions." . . . . As Richard Tarnas writes in his brilliant opus The Passion of the Western Mind, "By granting immortality and value to the individual soul, Christianity encouraged the growth of the individual conscience, self-responsibility, and personal autonomy relative to temporal powers--all decisive traits for the formation of the Western character." . . . . But this [salvation] demanded strict obedience to one's relationship to God and to the extraordinary order of God's creation, manifested in the dazzling perfection of the Great Chain of Being [body, heart, mind, soul, spirit]. For the first time, we had a moral obligation to bring ourselves in line with that perfection. And if we broke that sacred covenant, thereby sinning, which literally means "missing the mark," we felt guilty, and that guilt propelled us to do right . . . .
This is the power of the Blue vMeme. What is missing from this discussion is the state of the world before the emergence of the world's great religions. It was the brutality of the Red life conditions that necessitated the emergence of Blue.

Imagine being bound in a rigid social hierarchy to the small group of people with whom you share a language and customs, living in a frighteningly violent and disease-ridden world teeming with demons and supernatural forces. Murder and mayhem are common; demonic forces throw people into uncontrollable rages and lusts. Strange and unpredictable things happen--your child is born deformed, bringing disfavor on your tribe, which leads to a drought that ruins the crops. You don't know why these things happen or whether your people will be successful in appeasing the gods. Skirmishes with other tribes may result in your death or your capture and enslavement. Most of your life is spent trying to avoid the wrath of the gods or anyone above you in the social hierarchy, as you toil in backbreaking labor just to eke out survival.
This the world of the Red vMeme. There are still hundreds of millions of people living exactly like this on the planet today. When well-meaning Green, with its hated of rigid moral structures and all forms of traditional religion, tries to help these people by removing the emerging Blue structures (which Green sees as oppressive) from their world, they are condemning these people to an endless existence in Red life conditions.

Blue emerges, as we saw above, precisely to ease human beings out of the violence and unpredictability of Red life conditions. Whether we like it or not, Blue offers stability, order, and, on the interior level, the first experience of a unique self that has value and worth before the eyes of God. These things are crucial to allowing a person or a culture to emerge from Red into Blue.

On the African continent today, Islam, Catholicism, and evangelical Christianity are competing for the souls of people who have only known a tribal existence. As much as some of us despise missionaries for the ways in which they destroy native cultures and traditions, the people they seek to convert need to be exposed to the Blue vMeme, and they need to be allowed to evolve through that stage of growth.

[Note: Red is a valuable and crucial stage in human evolution as well, marking the first emergence of the ego and the possibility of a distinct self that emerges in Blue. Humans need to experience Red in order to grow out of the "tribal mind" of the Purple vMeme, with its intense focus on the life of the tribe.]

Please see Part Two for the ways in which the Blue Meme works at the individual level.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Wilber's New Color Scheme

From "What Is Integral Spirituality?" Copyright Ken Wilber, 2005.

Is Wilber Corrupting Spiral Dynamics?

Ken Wilber is without a doubt one of the most important thinkers on the planet. On top of that, he has done a lot to bring attention to Beck & Cowan's Spiral Dynamics model, one of the most comprehensive models available for understanding human beings.

However, I have been growing increasingly frustrated with the way Wilber has been using Spiral terminology in ways inappropriate to the model. The biggest issue so far had been his use of "second tier" and "third tier." In Wilber's scheme, which is presented in Boomeritis, second tier is reduced to the Yellow and Turquoise vMemes. Wilber then proposes a third tier that would begin with Coral (the next identified emergent vMeme).

In Clare Graves's original model, the second tier would have been a recapitulation of the first tier, but at a higher level. This means that the second tier would have six vMemes just like the first tier, with each one being a higher-order version of its first-tier version. (Example: Yellow is the second-tier, higher-order version of Beige, and Turquoise is the second-tier, higher-order version of Purple.)

The real problem with Wilber's version is that he has a much wider audience than either Beck or Cowan, so his version gets all the attention. This is further exasperated by Andrew Cohen's adoption of the Wilber scheme in What Is Enlightenment?

The newest frustration comes from Wilber's new Integral Spirituality project (there used to be a PDF by Wilber explaining his new system, but it has been taken down in the last couple of days). In this new approach, he has attached colors to the developmental levels -- much like Spiral Dynamics -- but the colors move upward parallel with the chakras (also, the visible light spectrum). Parts of Wilber's color system match the Spiral, but most have been changed, which is bound to create a huge amount of confusion.

Wilber clearly has seen the popularity and ease-of-use of color coding, but his new system loses some of the subtlety of SD, especially the warm color/cool color alternation, which maps the shift from self/outer focus to group/inner focus and back again.

I like Wilber's new system, and I see the value in what he is doing, but I dislike the impact this will have on Spiral Dynamics. It feels like a betrayal. But then, Wilber has always viewed SD as a simple values line system, not as a whole and complete system.

I'd love to hear any thoughts SD or SDi followers have on this topic.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Is Hillary Clinton the First Integral Politician?

During the SDi II sessions in Boulder last month, Jean Houston (who never misses an opportunity to mention her relationship with Hillary and Bill Clinton) suggested that Hillary is a second-tier thinker pretending to be blue-ORANGE. Houston spent a lot of time working with Hillary during the writing of It Takes a Village, so she does know a bit about the Senator from New York.

I might have dismissed Houston's comments if not for an article in The Nation back in May of this year. Greg Sargent wrote a piece called "Brand Hillary" about how she is recreating herself, what is referred to as "branding" in the business world.

From the article:

The political classes tend to offer us two tidy Hillary narratives to choose from. The first (courtesy of Dick Morris and company) is that Clinton has given herself a moderate makeover designed to mask the fact that she's really a haughty left-wing elitist, in order to appeal to moderate Republicans and culturally conservative, blue-collar Democrats who are deserting their party. The opposing narrative line (courtesy of her supporters) is that Clinton, a devout Methodist, has revealed her true self as a senator; she's always been more moderate than is generally thought, and, as Anna Quindlen wrote recently in Newsweek, "people are finally seeing past the stereotypes and fabrications."

Yet if you watch Clinton on one of her upstate swings, as I did earlier this spring, it becomes clear that neither story line gets it right. What's really happening is that Clinton, a surprisingly agile and ideologically complex politician, is slowly crafting a politics that in some ways is new, and above all is uniquely her own.

Clinton's evolving approach--call it Brand Hillary--is sincerely rooted in her not-easily-categorized worldview, but it's also a calculated response to today's political realities. In effect, she's taking her husband's small-issue centrism--its trademark combination of big but often hollow gestures toward the center, pragmatic economic populism and incremental liberal policy gains--and remaking it in her own image, updating it for post-9/11 America with an intense interest in military issues.

This is the political context in which Hillary must work. The Republicans have made her the most targeted Senator up for re-election in 2006, but they could find no one who could give her a real race for her seat. She's that popular in New York.

As the most hated woman in the Republican world, she still must convince liberals that she hasn't sold out her base of support.

For liberals it remains to be seen whether this transaction will prove to be a good deal. Yet for some Democrats the trade is indeed worth it, as you could easily see during one of Clinton's first stops on her upstate swing, a speech to Democrats at a re-election fundraiser north of Albany. The event was closed to the press, and the Senator shed her typically demure, bipartisan approach and launched a sharp attack on the GOP. Yet she knew her audience--these were hardly red-meat-craving Democratic activist types. They were rural, moderate Democrats--small-town schoolteachers, librarians, general-store owners. So Clinton's assault was spirited, but even-tempered and larded with patriotic language.

"We're seeing the slow and steady erosion of what made America great in the twentieth century," Clinton told her audience in an even tone. "When I got to the Senate I asked myself, What's going on here? At first I thought the President just wanted to undo everything my husband had done." Clinton waited a beat, then added, "And I did take that personally."

The audience laughed. "But then I thought, Wait a minute. It's not just about turning the clock back on the 1990s.... They want to turn the clock back on most of the twentieth century. They want to turn the clock all the way back beyond Franklin Roosevelt. Back beyond Teddy Roosevelt. That's why they're trying to undo Social Security. Make no mistake about it.

"What I see happening in Washington," Clinton continued, "is a concerted effort by the Administration and the leadership in Congress to really create absolute power. They want to control the judiciary so they can have all three branches of government. I really don't care what party you are--that's not in the American tradition.... Right now young men and women are putting their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting for the America we revere. And that is a country where nobody has all the answers--and nobody should have all the power.... We all need to stand up for what made America great--what created a wonderful set of values that we revere, that we exported and tried to really inculcate in people around the world!"

Wild applause rolled over Clinton now, although it was unclear whether the crowd had appreciated the political subtleties of what they'd witnessed. She had offered a critique of the GOP sharp enough for any progressive--even as she'd given an approving nod to American exceptionalism and a paean to US troops defending our "values" abroad. She'd stoked the partisan passions of her audience--even as she'd sounded an above-partisanship note of concern about the state of the Republic. Indeed, she'd managed to pull off what many Democrats struggle to do these days: She'd weaved her criticisms into a larger narrative about America's past and future, criticizing the GOP leadership without sounding as if she wanted America to fail--when she said she was "worried" about America, you believed her.

Let's look at this last paragraph from a Spiral perspective. She feeds the Green vMeme by attacking the GOP, while supporting Orange vMeme economic concerns and Blue vMeme patriotism. She activates Red vMeme passions (the source of all revolutions), but she manages to sound as though she isn't a radical whose mission is the destruction of American values (which is how some heavily Green-based Democrats are often--if unfairly--perceived).

She correctly read the Meme base of her audience and gave them what they wanted to hear--without misrepresenting her positions. So what happens when she must face an audience filled with much more conservative constituents, such as farmers?

Not long after that speech, Clinton appeared at a dramatically different event, a speech to a roomful of around 300 farmers. These were hard-bitten people who were fully prepared to believe that the Senator from Chappaqua is who her caricaturists say she is. When Clinton strode into that room, she was an entirely different Hillary from the one who'd addressed Democrats only hours earlier. Anyone accustomed to seeing Clinton on TV--where she sometimes seems stiff and insincere--would have been flabbergasted by her sudden transformation. She instantly, and effortlessly, became Homespun Hillary. Her vowels grew flatter, more rural-sounding. "Little" became "li'l." "Get" became "git." Entire pronouns vanished, as in: "Heard there are some places in California selling gas for three dollars a gall'n." She poked fun at city folk. Speaking about how farmers could make money supplying the specialty produce that New York restaurants need, she mimicked a demand made to her by city restaurateurs: "We need all those little funny things you don't know what they are when they put 'em on your plate."

The crowd seemed especially impressed with her command of their pocketbook issues. She talked about fuel prices, protecting farmers from foreign competition, the Senate's neglect of New York agriculture in favor of Western agribusiness. She touted an initiative she'd spearheaded making it easier for local businesspeople to sell products via the Internet: "Fella made fly-fishing rods and lures--all of a sudd'n found there were people in Norway who wanted to buy th'm!"

By the end, you could feel it: Her audience had been won over. Her listeners filed out, murmuring approval of what they'd heard. As Robert Madison, a Republican and owner of a small local dairy farm with his three sons, put it: "Real down-to-earth person. Knows what she wants to do for the farmer."

Some may call this manipulation of the audience. So? The measure of any Spiral Wizard is the ability to meet the audience where it lives, to seem as though you are one of them. That is what Hillary has learned to do.

Beck and Cowan talk about the POA factor in building positive relationships. P--politeness; O--openness; and A--autocracy. The autocracy element makes people uncomfortable, but as the authors explain, "Autocracy simply means taking charge, accepting responsibility, knowing where 'the buck stops,' and being willing to put one's self on the line" (SD, 121). The autocracy element is where most Democrats fail (look at how Kerry lost in 2004 to a man who should have been very easy to beat).

Hillary is comfortable with power. She knows how to be polite and open, as the above passages from The Nation article show. As we saw above, she can read the vMemes of her audience and meet them where they are, even changing her speech patterns to make them more comfortable.

Is she integral? I don't know, but we do know that Bill has read a lot of Ken Wilber and has met with Don Beck in the past. She likely has been exposed to the ideas.

Is she a Spiral Wizard? Looks like it, even if she isn't familiar with Spiral Dynamics.

Is she second tier, as Jean Houston claims? Probably not in any whole-self sense, but if she can think politically in second-tier ways--meaning that she can perceive and value each of the vMemes--then she's probably second-tier enough to defeat any politician who doesn't share that skill.

The 2008 presidential election could be very, very interesting.