Notes from the Field: Blind Spots and Pathologies at the Top of the Spiral

Robin Reinach and Barbara Larisch

Blind Spots and Pathologies at the Top of the Spiral—Notes From the Field

Robin Reinach and Barbara Larisch

Barbara Larisch

Robin Reinach

Integral New York started spring 2011 with an exploration of the possible flaws, foibles, and shadowy missteps of individuals at 2nd Tier. One question that arose at the beginning of the meet up was about splits that occurred during the last few years at the highest levels of Integral leadership. How have these splits trickled down to effect the international Integral community and the global emergence of the Integral movement? This issue was not addressed in further detail, but for a long sober moment we held the question openly among us.

Next, we acknowledged that it is not often that a culture is willing to turn the flashlight on itself and examine its own defects. With all our flaws, Integral is such a culture. Not only does Integral allow space for this kind of self-reflection and feedback, but Integral theory actively encourages shadow work processes and considers the uncovering of pathologies and blind spots essential for sustainability and growth.

Integral theory recognizes that there are blind spots and pathologies at each level of the spiral. These challenging aspects of self continue to arise as individuals evolve. Some pathologies seem emergent at particular altitudes; others seem to span the spiral. The discovery of blind spots and the working through of pathologies can also be understood as smaller steps in the longer process of our unfolding growth and evolution.

At the onset of our exploration, our facilitator, Gilles Herrada, invited the group to approach the topic from a 1st person perspective, and this created an immediate shift in the energy of the room. In the blink of an eye, it felt as if we were immersed in a shared we-space filled with trust. This new level of intimacy allowed each of us to come forward as vulnerable beings, holding the intention of embracing all self-aspects that might arise during the meet up, including our individual and collective shadows.

Eros: Multi-Perspectival Thinking Leads to Multi-Potentiality

One of the newcomers to our group bravely stepped forward and acknowledged that oftentimes he feels overwhelmed by opportunities and possibilities. Most people in the room readily agreed that the ability to prioritize and stay focused was a challenge. This is not surprising, given that our intuitive and curious nature often leads us down many paths and, as Integralists, we are actively seeking out multiple perspectives as we journey. In a way, the self-actualizing individual may feel a bit like a small child looking out at the world with wonder and amazement, eager to experience the many hidden gems the universe undoubtedly has in store.

Thanatos: The Journey Within and the Many Deaths along the Way

Paradoxically, another theme that arose from a different corner of the room was a concern about disassociation and/or disidentification. We spent quite a bit of time trying to understand whether these psychic maneuvers represented pitfalls to be mindful of or natural outcomes of later-stage development. In addition, at many levels of the spiral including Integral altitude, there is the possibility of conflating of disassociation with disidentification. As a result, we thought it might be helpful to tease these two apart—as a service to ourselves and as an offering to the integral community.

Disassociation means being numb or blind to (disassociated from) aspects of self. These disassociated self-parts end up in shadow. In contrast, disidentification means the individual recognizes these self-aspects, takes responsibility for them and then releases his/her attachment to and identification with them. The difference between disassociation and disidentification can be understood as a pre-trans fallacy. Using dissociation (pre), the self-aspect is split off by an ego defense and remains in shadow; in disidentification (trans) the self-aspect is transcended and included, although its power to influence behavior is greatly reduced because the individual is no longer emotionally identified with this aspect. The pre-trans fallacy of disassociation vs. disidentification seems to be a common confusion that could easily result in pathology, even—or especially—at the level of Teal/ YELLOW. One nickname for the less than desirable result of this pre-trans fallacy is “spiritual bypass.”

On a more personal note, quite a few people shared experiences of dissociation and other ego defenses used during their childhood. It became apparent that many well-intentioned GREEN parents subtly communicated that aggression and rage were unacceptable. As a result, many of us (as children) struggled with anger, without developing the capacity to experience and express this important human emotion. Instead, we did our best to distance ourselves from anger, as we had been taught. Further, some well-meaning GREEN parents went so far as to emphasize the importance of empathizing with the bully in the classroom (or on the playground). We decided this represented an example of the way GREEN tends to skip over BLUE (rules) and deal with RED using its own set of values. One participant discovered that the only way to cope was to distance himself from his tormenter; in so doing, he found solace from meditation. Another participant shared that he endured long periods of isolation, but fortunately he used the time alone to immerse himself in philosophy and mystical literature.

As a group, it became apparent that we all had the need to integrate fragmented aspects of ourselves, our emotions and our energy that had been left behind at previous developmental levels. We acknowledged the need to recapture the subtle energy held by these aspects in preparation for the leap to 2nd tier. Simultaneously, we acknowledged how challenging it can be to confront these shadowy feelings of anger or disappointment, especially since BLUE so often squelches RED (energy) and GREEN so often disassociates from it.

Next, we explored the role of shadow work and the process in which it unfolds. As a group we asked, “Is it necessary to do the shadow work of reclaiming sub-personalities or self-aspects from lower altitudes in order to have sufficient energy to effect the next fulcrum shift?” A question was raised about whether all self-parts can be included. Or are there aspects of ego that need to be “liberated” instead of included? This author (Robin) wonders whether by embracing and including a shadowy self-aspect we can create the conditions necessary for that aspect to integrate and in so doing self liberate.

One participant remarked that only after receiving unconditional regard for a shadowy self-aspect in group therapy was he finally able to transcend and include a long repressed shadow piece. In this author’s opinion (Robin) the field of unconditional regard melted the boundary between the individual and the energetically frozen and cut off subtle energy complex that had been coalescing over the years as a shadowy self-aspect. Once this pattern was met with unconditional regard, it was finally absorbed into the whole, freeing up the previously frozen energy for use by the individual.

It seems that the work of re-owning disavowed and shadowy self-parts continues in 2nd tier. Pathologies may arise from the emergence of any sub-personalities left behind at earlier levels of development in response to triggers in the now. The more self-parts the individual can re-own, the more stable his or her realization of 2nd tier becomes, and the more smoothly this stage can be “held” in the face of the triggers and conflicts that life continuously provides. Meet up participants acknowledged that there is a big difference between accessing 2nd tier cognitively in a discussion group, and inhabiting 2nd tier in day-to-day life.

After acknowledging that certain types of pathologies show up at many levels including Integral, we turned our attention to those pathologies that might especially be emergent at higher levels. What in particular do we dissociate from as we move from GREEN to YELLOW/Teal? What about the tendency for YELLOW/Teal to privilege agency over communion and how might that generate pathologies? And why are beginning 2nd tier folks so often “allergic” to GREEN?

Second Tier is supposed to be capable of honoring each level of the spiral, but we noted a distinct impatience (often to the point of snobbery) with GREEN’s inability to see the hypocrisy in espousing lack of hierarchy as the “best” value. Might the tendency toward impatience be a YELLOW/Teal pathology? Do we fail to emotionally embody the cognitive knowledge that every color on the spiral is legitimate and of value by getting angry at GREEN for making the exact mistakes that we ourselves have just overcome? Might beginning 2nd tier allow impatience and frustration to block compassion for GREEN dealing with issues we have just clarified ourselves? These issues include: acceptance of hierarchy, willingness to act with agency (instead of being “nice” to stay communal), and allowing a deeper level of honesty and less false diplomacy to smooth things over when dealing with conflict. This author (Robin) believes there is often a failure of compassion at the level of YELLOW/Teal for the dilemmas of GREEN.

Evolution, Involution and the Ascending and Descending Paths

Toward the end of our time together, we noted that there was a common tendency for aspiring Integralists to privilege ascending paths over descending and to favor evolution over involution. However, it immediately became clear that there was a great deal of confusion regarding these terms and we wrestled with these concepts quite a bit. During our discussion, various definitions of involution were offered and an attempt was made to distinguish involution and regression.

Dylan Newcomb, the creator of Uzazu, generously offered us a framework in which to better understand these two fields of energy and he invited us to think of evolution as Yang energy and the impulse inside of us that yearns to be creative and skillful and to experience involution as Yin energy or the realization of Divinity in all things. Another participant kindly stepped forward and invited us to experience the ascending and descending path (and ultimately the non-dual) through Kabbalah and the Tree of Life.

The point was made that a truly Integral approach would naturally value and include both evolution and involution, but this author (Barbara) can’t help but to wonder if many individuals experience involution as being a painful process, and if so, might this explain why we tend to favor the ascending path over the descending path? Dylan suggested that involution can be beautiful, and he assured us that many of his students have experienced it as such. I (Barbara) have no doubt that embracing this path leads to fullness and suppleness of body, mind and spirit.

On the other hand, if a shift was to take place in the integral movement and evolution was no longer privileged over involution, what might that look like? What are some of the practices that we would pursue in order to redress the current imbalance in the integral community? Some members suggested that embodiment is an example of involution, if we become evolved enough to welcome the experience as an opportunity for insight and growth. As we become more embodied, we may encounter aspects of ourselves that are painful, and that we were too afraid to look at in the past. Another participant suggested that Mother Theresa’s caring for the poor (and the lepers) was a good example of involution and it could be that reaching out and embracing that which has been cast aside with love and compassion (on an individual and collective level) will help us immensely and serve humanity as a whole.


In conclusion, Integral New York was happy to have merely begun what will clearly evolve into a much longer, on-going discussion. We were, however, able to discern a few general categories of pathologies. The first distinction offered was: thinking you’re integral when you’re not. Perhaps this is not an Integral pathology, in the truest sense, because by definition an Integralist will not fit this category. Next, we made a distinction between pathologies that exist throughout the spiral and show up at 2nd tier as well, and pathologies that are more specific to 2nd tier.

We further acknowledged that we will need to deal with pathologies on the individual level, as well as collectively. On a personal level, each of us will seek to do our best uncovering our own blind spots, as they manifest in the unique ways our personality types and histories give rise to. The grand narratives we grew up in influence us, but they need not tell our final story. We can bring awareness and authenticity to our Integral psychographs and gain a clearer sense of purpose, as we self actualize and eventually self transcend.

On the collective level, we acknowledged the importance of being mindful of the potential traps and pitfalls that are unique to later stages of development. More work will be needed to map these out and, perhaps, to name some red flags along the way that can call our collective attention to the imminent emergence of 2nd tier shadow. What might some warning signs be? How can we best alert ourselves and each other when these pathologies begin to manifest in destructive behaviors? What are we looking for and how do we know when we’ve found it—if it’s a blind spot?

In the end, the relationship between the individual and the collective seems crucial. Here is the potential for a dialogue that will advance evolution. Individuals can point to collective blind spots and help awaken the collective from the trance of consensus consciousness. The collective on the other hand, can support an individual through the shock and pain of discovering and re-integrating formerly disowned and undesirable self aspects.

For many participants, the conversation at the March Integral New York Meet up represented the first step in just such an on-going dialogue. Both authors look forward to continuing this discourse, learning how to grow in compassion, and deepening in our realization of Integral—as we clarify not only what Integral is, but what Integral is not.

About the Authors

Robin Reinach is passionate about integral theory and its application. Her special areas of interest are Integral community building in New York City and across the globe, as well as Integral Life Practice. Robin has hosted events with Ken Wilber and other integral notables at her home, and she has helped co-sponsor many of the larger workshops and trainings that have been offered in and around NYC. She is also a writer whose memoirs and short fiction appear regularly in literary magazines. Robin lives in New York City with her daughter.

Barbara Larisch served as the General Organizer for the Integral NYC Salon from 2005 to 2010.  She holds a Masters Degree in Organizational Behavior from the Polytechnic Institute of NYU and is a certified MBTI â  practitioner and yoga instructor.  Barbara has been a long-time integral enthusiast who has traveled far and wide to satisfy her love of learning.  In 2004, she completed her Spiral Dynamics Level 1 Training in Washington DC, and later on enrolled in Pacific Integral’s Generating Transformative Change (GTC) program in Seattle. Most recently, Barbara earned a certificate in Susanne Cook-Greuter’s Developmental Coaching Intensive and is currently authorized to use the LMF and SCTi-Map to work with clients. She is the New York Associate Editor and Bureau Chief for Integral Leadership Review. Barbara resides in Forest Hills in New York City and joyfully pursues the study of human nature from across a spectrum of systems that range from astrology and the Enneagram to neuroscience.


  1. Tricia Kameika on June 7, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Thankyou so much for sharing your notes. I can personally testify by personal experience the imbalance of evolution vs. involution in my personal life. It appears that if you are interested in developing an inner life over an third person value system you appear to be a bit strange to our culture.

    The most obvious clue to an integral person is there ability to understand many view points and to feel comfortable with and understand all the levels of awareness. However, I have not been able to graciously respond to other people’s hostilities and fears without having them feel as if they are being threatened. The integral movement is so new and limited to so few. However, I am committed to using these valuable tools to shine the light on myself and others.

    Thanks so much Robin and Barbara.

    • john davis on June 12, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      Thanks to Barbara and Robin for the great summary of the meet up. Having been to that event and learned much from the discussion I want to add a reflection. Recently I came across Zach Stein’s work and it appears that second tier development gets really messy. He takes us to task for making stereotypes( you are so green!) He claims it is inaccurate to think of someone at a level.We are performers in various contexts with a cluster of skill sets.. Are we trying too hard to make our models neat and tidy? According to Stein, the clearly defined lines pf multiple intelligences on a psychograph begin to get tangled up the higher up we go. The separate lines begin to loop into each other looking as dense and knotted up as a Brillo pad.

      On further reflection, I hope we can clarify perspective, perception and perciever which often get lumped together in strange ways. Perspective because it is cognitive can get decoupled easily from the perceptual, sensory based, embodied awareness.The more perspectives we take the more careful we have to be. Taken to extremes we can get dissociation not integration a hazard that we have had to deal with a lot in our community. And we have different percievers to take into account from the inner teacher, to the inner child, to the flock of birds flying over our heads. Is it any wonder that we get overwhelmed?

      Thanks once again to Robin and Barbara ad Gilles for the lively exchange of energies.

  2. Doug Wallack on June 22, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    Yes indeed, thanks Robin and Barbara. I can relate to similar experiences at some of our integral group meetings in Los Angeles. Certainly feels like the moving, messy edge of my own growth (especially with my significant other). Not just a coastal thing, eh 😉