Sri Aurobindo developed a powerful philosophical perspective which he called Integral Yoga. His unique contribution was to unite spirit and matter. Unlike many spiritual teachers, he did not deny the reality of matter. Unlike most materialists, he did not deny the reality of spirit. His work integrates spirit and matter to produce a picture of the healthy person. He has outlined a path to wholeness.
Teaching Organization Development and Transformation in a school founded by a student of Aurobindo, the California Institute of Integral Studies, I came to wonder what integralism means for organizations. The following discussion is a beginning to what I hope will be a long and fruitful process of discovering what constitutes an integral philosophy of organizations. The article borrows freely from Aurobindo's work, his students, particularly Haridas Chaudhuri, (founder of CIIS), and many others who have elucidated the Integral Philosophy.
In the beginning there is Spirit. Spirit devolves into a more dense form and becomes matter. Matter continues the cycle evolving upward into the lighter form of Spirit.
Humankind is the most evolved form of matter. As such, it is the most advanced form in the movement towards Spirit. The purpose of humankind is to flower into Spirit.
From this we derive the first principal of organizational consulting is to assist organizations to become more effective in their role as vehicles for individual evolution. The focus is on the organization as a means to the central goal of serving the individual.
The path to health, wholeness, and spiritual realization is balance. Balance between all the essential components that constitute the life of the person. These components may be defined as the spiritual, the mental, the emotional, and the physical.
For an individual to be whole and healthy there must be a balance, an integration of the four elements. Each must be given full attention and developed. One cannot live only in the world of ideas and ignore the body. Disease will follow. Health is a product of attending to and integrating all four elements.
Similarly, organizations must focus attention on all four of its constituent parts. Attending to only one, two, or three will not allow the institution to endure in health. Western institutions tend to emphasize the mental and physical components. Little attention is given to developing the emotional or spiritual elements. Thus organizations do not serve their full needs and are destined to perish or live in disharmony. Some innovative organizations are attempting to be integral in addressing all of their components. They are likely to succeed and endure.
An integral organization nurtures the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical components of itself and its participants. An Integral organization finds ways, in an ever-changing manner, to achieve balance within its four dimensions and across the dimensions of the organization and the individual. That is, not only must the organizational elements be in balance, each dimension must be in balance with that same dimension at the individual level. That means the spiritual element of the organization must support the spiritual element of the individual. The physical element of the organization must nurture the physical dimension of the individual. The emotional climate of the organization must support the emotional life of its participants. And, the spirit of the organization must support the spiritual growth of the individual.
Since supporting the development of balance within the organizations and between the organization and its participants is the primary emphasis of integral consulting, what does this mean for organizational intervention? This is a difficult question and one to which I am just beginning to develop answers. One level of intervention that is clear is that we must look for the organizational components that are not being attended to and lead the membership to that awareness. For instance, the organizational culture may emphasize that emotions are not appropriate to the world of business and thus significantly inhibit true emotional expression in the workplace. Or rational-systematic--scientific thinking may be seen as the only form that legitimately supports action. Thus intuition, the language of the spirit, is effectively blocked.
In the above case the emotional and spiritual elements of the organization are severely underdeveloped. The organization does not support the healthy emotional and spiritual development of its participants. The consultantís job would be to identify this gap, bring it to awareness, and encourage the growth of these underutilized elements to achieve a healthy balance.
An integral philosophy of organizational health recognizes that there is truth in all positions, and that all truth at the human level is partial. While we may think and feel we have the truth, actually we have one perspective--one view in. Others have other perspectives and other views in. Each view is valid, from that unique perspective.
Therefore, conflict resolution from an integral perspective is the transformation of apparent opposites into harmonious complements. The integrally oriented consultant does not push for the victory of the 'correct' point of view, but remains open to the development of the creative alternative. The 'third way' which integrates the truth of the apparent opposites. 'There is neither this truth nor that truth, rather relatively valid aspects of the undivided primordial truth.' (Enoch Haga, An Introduction to Integral Education..)
Integral philosophy implies that the consultant himself must seek to achieve balance. Our primary intervention is with our Selves. Our most important interventions are attending to the development of our own spirit, our own emotions, our own mind and our own body. We ourselves are the most powerful transformative tool. It is the presence of our balance that can help awaken the balance in the client. The consultant does not tell her client what is right, she shows them by making her life the living embodiment of her philosophy.
Integral organizational consulting is primarily an educational process. It is not so much a "doing" as a 'demonstrating.' Demonstrating the possibility of balance through one's own example and reflecting back to the client the balance, which they have already achieved.
As organizational consulting is an educational process, it is useful to remember the three principles of Aurobindo's education:
In summary, an Integral philosophy of organizations holds that the main purpose of organizations is to support the evolution of spirit in humankind through supporting the flowering of spirit in its individual members. The means to this end are the nurturance of each of its four aspects and balance between them. Further, each aspect of the organization must support the development of that aspect in the individual. Therefore, the physical component of the organization must nourish the physical component of its participants, and so on.
Finally, because it is integral this model does riot undervalue the material. It calls for attention to, and integration of, both the material and the spiritual. In the business organization this means that quality goods and services are strongly emphasized. Profitability is critical. Similarly, in the non-profit and government sectors the quality of services is essential. Not only are quality and profitability seen as critical components in each of the four aspects. Both quality and profitability are outcomes of organizational balance and the development of the human spirit.
The author eagerly Invites comments and suggestions regarding the
theoretical foundation of an Integral philosophy of organizational consulting.
"What is thy secret?"
'It is myself,' says the lotus,
"Steal it and I disappear"
This article is a reprint of the article as it appeared in
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