Abstract: This paper highlights the major collective and individual threats faced by humanity today and argues that money alone will not provide the desired relief. Instead, it contends that only sustainable solutions that consider all life perspectives and are rooted in higher levels of consciousness can succeed. After introducing Wilber’s Integral Framework as a theoretical foundation for this kind of sustainability, the paper emphasizes the importance of leaders and leadership. It presents leading edge research performed with top business executives from Fortune 500 and other companies. Furthermore, it explores the phenomenon of becoming a consciousness leader as a premise for creating sustainable businesses that transcend the current socio-economic, geo-political, and environmental challenges. Consciousness leaders are people who have evolved beyond post-conventional levels of human development. As a result, they have become integrally informed human beings who feel, think, and act in globally sustainable ways for the benefit of all. The exploration of becoming a consciousness leader in business reveals not only the interiority of exceptional leaders, but supports a paradigm shift in leadership, business, and sustainability. This understanding may also provide encouragement, inspiration, and hope to those who are actively involved with wealth creation in a business environment as well as to those who struggle to live a life of meaning within the same context.
PART I: THE CALL FOR A PARADIGM CHANGE
Systemic Threats or Unprecedented Opportunities?
We live in a time of major unraveling on our planet; a time in which developed countries have joined the so called third world in facing tremendous challenges that threaten even the very source of wealth creation including businesses, financial, socio-economical, and geopolitical structures. These new developments exacerbate already existing global problems such as the ones identified by the Copenhagen Consensus from 2008 and that include malnutrition and hunger, subsidies and trade barriers, education, women and development, global warming, sanitation and water, political conflicts, air pollution, diseases, and international terrorism. These threats corroborate also the global concerns outlined by the Club of Rome in its “World Development Program ” and the 15 global issues identified by the Millennium Project (Figure 1).
Figure 1: 15 Global Challenges Facing Humanity
Yet, how can these overwhelming issues be addressed, let alone solved? Recently, I attended an event organized by Mission Future, a German innovative forum dedicated to providing inspiration, guidance, and access to thinkers, visionaries, and teachers presenting ideas and solutions to burning questions of our time. One of the speakers was a clerk from the European Patent Office in Munich, who talked about climate change, the challenges associated with it, and what should be done to address them. He finished each slide by emphasizing how difficult it is to change anything because it is all too expensive, extremely complicated, and there is no money to do it. Yet, is this a question of money alone, or is there a better way to solve problems in the future?
According to a study commissioned in 2006 to Sir Nicholas Stern by the British Government, the total global cost of climate change, to focus on only one of the global threats mentioned earlier, could run to US$9 trillion and if proper action is taken the cost “can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year,” Stern argued. US$9 trillion necessary to address our climate challenges is an enormous amount of money yet it pales when compared for instance with the projected US$3 trillion—equivalent to US$12 billion per month—which the US government is currently spending in the Iraq war. “Because we live in a global economy,” said Joseph Stiglitz, the co-author of The Three Trillion Dollar War and Peace Nobel Prize laureate, “the current financial crisis worldwide is tightly connected with such military spending that gives a false sense of security.” Such action diverts from what’s truly important for humanity, and – as we can see – it has disastrous consequences for us all leaving not only 2 million U.S. Americans without a home but also skyrocketing unemployment rates, high food prices, and budget deficits of unprecedented proportions. It is time to awaken to the truth that we are all interconnected, interdependent, and that our individual or collective actions will sooner or later, affect everybody else on this planet. The main question still remains: Could money alone help us overcome the current challenges or is there a better way to solve problems in the future?
Individual and Cultural Threats
Whereas we risk losing our jobs, homes, healthcare, financial and other securities, including a healthy environment, we tend to become self-centered and forget about our moral responsibility toward the future of the planet and humanity. The truth, however, is that our global/exterior threats are only mirroring our personal/interior challenges including those at the physical, emotional, relational, and psycho-spiritual level. In trying to find out whether money alone might bring the solution or not, let us take a closer look at what financial and material abundance has brought to the industrialized world over the past few decades.
According to a 2005 paper of the American Heart Association—and the numbers are similar in other developed countries—one in three (actually 2.6) adults are currently dying of cardiovascular (i.e., heart) disease. Furthermore, in keeping with a study performed in 2002 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Center for Disease Control, and the National Cancer Institute, one in four people is currently dying of cancer .
Moreover, obesity and its health devastations including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are already some of the most significant public health challenges of this century. The World Health Organization stated in a recent study that the prevalence of obesity has tripled in most industrialized countries since the 1980s. Obesity is already responsible for 10-13% of deaths in different parts of Europe and takes 2-8% of European health care costs. According to a study published in July of 2009 by the Policy Journal of the Health Sphere, the annual medical spending attributed to obesity and its devastations in the United States of America, is as high as US$147 billion, which represents a doubling-up the cost of 1998. Moreover, The European Association for the Study of Obesity stated in 2002, “…significantly more than half the adult population [in Europe] is overweight and up to 30 percent of adults are clinically obese .” Furthermore, the U.S. Surgeon General pointed out that more than 64 percent of U.S. adults are overweight or obese with obesity “reaching epidemic proportions in America .” Like Europe, 30 percent of U.S. American adults are considered obese according to the scientific definition of obesity and tragically the prevalence in overweight and obesity among children is rising significantly with as many as one in four children that are being affected . The sad part is that while most people in the developed world are literally killing themselves with excess, more than one billion people on this planet live on the brink of starvation with one child dying from hunger-related causes every five seconds . In trying to answer our original question, we must realize that financial and material abundance lead to tremendous health challenges that now require even more money to address them. The past has shown that point solutions have failed to bring about the desired results and we must awaken to the fact that the exterior dimensions represent only half of the problems we are facing.
The Interior Dimensions
As we can see, most approaches focus on the challenges related to the exterior dimensions such as the physical body and material world because they are more obvious. What is often left out are the interior, emotional devastation, mental health problems, and spiritual deprivation along with their impact that often includes loss of self-esteem, depression, violence, addictions, social isolation and destroyed relationships. To give one example, according to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri, 50% of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages in the United States of America end in divorce . The numbers are similar in Europe. Ironically, despite our wealth and abundance, Westerners are among the unhappiest people on Earth with U.S. Americans being on average unhappier than the people of Bhutan, which is one of the poorest countries in the world . Although the overall economic growth over the past decades has lead to greater democratization, more gender equality, increased social tolerance, and thus a higher happiness index worldwide , Aburdene , Kofman , Klein and Izzo , Mitroff and Denton , Pauchant , Secretan , Senge et al. , and Soros , illustrated even before the financial crisis from 2008 that material abundance had ceased to be the ultimate goal in developed countries. Further research published in the 2002 Journal of Public Economics by Blanchflower & Oswald showed that even the happiness indices in the U.S. and U.K. have decreased despite increased material prosperity .
Hence, in the light of today’s economic downturn and tremendous global challenges, we can safely conclude that humanity’s sacred cow number one, namely money, has ceased to feed the hope for security, joy, and happiness. Why is that so? Is there anything wrong with money? No, there is nothing wrong with money for it has no intrinsic value in and of itself. Money is a thing to which we attach value depending on our own interior level of consciousness. Money is as good, or as bad, as we are. The challenge lies in how we use money to solve our problems. We are the source of our problems. In order to know how, when, and where to use money to address our individual and collective issues in a holistic way we must take all perspectives into consideration not just the exterior aspects that are in front of us. The problem is not money, but humanity’s perspective on itself, this planet, and our place in the universe. To change our predicament we must expand our point of view. In Einstein’s words, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.” Like Einstein, we must break out of outdated thinking models and expand our level of consciousness to develop solutions that transcend our challenges in an integral manner. As long as we are not able to take an integral, world-centric view on life, we will continue to address the symptoms of our problems instead of addressing their causes. We will continue to struggle and feel imprisoned by exterior forces, scarcity thinking, and fear.
For example, we must expand concepts such as Triple Bottom Line and Corporate Social Responsibility to include more interior perspectives on life as outlined below. Otherwise, they will soon resemble the current financial bailouts that keep throwing good money after the bad without changing the underlying structures that led to the crisis. The same is true with respect to our war on terror, our attempt to extend our access to fossil fuels by invading foreign countries, or with using antidepressants, liposuction, or stomach stapling in trying to alleviate the diseases of our civilization. Thus, the overarching criterion must be a different kind of sustainability; one that is integral and that helps identifying most, if not all, significant components that could influence the intended outcomes. But, what does this mean and why would an integral approach be better than anything else available so far? The simple answer is that it would honor the truth in everything, the interior and exterior aspects of both the individual and the collective, social, geo-political, ecological, and cultural values of humanity; it would transcend past point solutions in a sustainable manner. Yet, how can we define the word “sustainability” to avoid falling into the old traps?
In his article The Cybernetics of Crisis and the Challenges of Sustainability, Buckminster Fuller’s friend, student, and one of the world’s most renowned sustainability experts Michael BenEli, calls for strategic leadership and “deep transformation in managing human affairs on the planet.” The current financial crisis, as real and threatening as it seems, will, BenEli argued, “pale in comparison to collapses of the planet’s life supporting ecosystems” if we do not change. In reflecting upon an integral definition thereof, BenEli viewed sustainability as pertaining “to a dynamic equilibrium in the process of interaction between a population and its environment such that the population develops to express its full potential without producing irreversible adverse effects on the carrying capacity of the environment upon which it depends. ” BenEli considered that we can find our way out of the crisis through a radical systemic change that leads to a complete corrective structural adjustment and to a paradigm shift as articulated by Kuhn in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions .
Ken Wilber’s Integral Framework provides arguably the most evolved integral roadmap for integral sustainability as outlined by Brown . This integral map credits past successes while helping us view the world from a more world-centric perspective by honoring the truth in everything. In Wilber’s view, integrally sustainable solutions can only work if they are endowed by “integrally informed leaders ” operating from the perspective of “Integral Leadership ” and within the context of an integral model that ensures that nothing important will be left out in the final result. Yet, what exactly are integrally informed leaders, what is Integral Leadership, and what is an integral model that could pave the path to such ambitious endeavors like integral sustainability? These terms will be explained next from the perspective of phenomenological research performed with top leaders from Fortune 500 companies who have grown and awakened to higher levels of consciousness and who now serve humanity while operating from the core of wealth creation, namely business.
Figure 2: Wilber’s Integral Sustainability Framework.
In other words, a model that would serve humanity’s needs for sustainability must look for solutions in all four quadrants with their psychological, behavioral, cultural, and systemic influences, as well as their developmental aspects including lines, levels/structures, states, and types of consciousness evolution. These quadrants will be explained next.
Social Systems and the Environmental Aspects
(The Collective External)
The Lower Right quadrant is the exterior collective quadrant and represents the social, the global, and the ecological realms along with their legal, political, and civil systems. It represents the evolution of social systems from foraging to informational societies and is the area of the external objectives in which institutions, businesses, and geopolitical organizations are traditionally operating. All challenges outlined in the beginning of this article are to be positioned in this quadrant. This is also the domain in which science has conventionally been active, but in a social context. If the human race and our civilization are to survive, the new leadership paradigm must implement a radical systemic change at this level—a change that brings the intelligence of the heart together with the understanding of the brain into our collective awareness.
This quadrant can be best understood from a systems theory perspective made familiar by von Bertalanffy’s work on general systems theory. Being an interdisciplinary field of science, systems theory studies the nature of complex systems such as nature, society, and science, and provides a framework through which complex systems can be better understood, analyzed, and influenced. This quadrant is significant within the context of integral sustainability because it expands the common definitions of both sustainability and leadership to include the global perspective and to address the financial, geopolitical, ecological, and environmental impact of our collective actions in business and otherwise.
Individual Action and Behavioral Aspects
(The True, also called the External I)
The Upper-Right quadrant in Figure 2 refers to the exterior, the more objective realities of the individual as well as behavioral aspects. These characteristics are more easily measurable with the scientific methods available today, and include brain waves, neurotransmitters, and other organic computations that support the empirical representation of human consciousness. This is the domain of experiential science and technology, which bases its findings on standards of observation to discover and measure objective truth. In this quadrant belongs physical health and metabolic responses of the individual, energy levels, skill sets, nutrition and diet, problem solving capabilities, personal management, learning and training of new skills, as well as the application of rules, laws, and regulations at the individual level. This quadrant determines how each individual acts in the world. Thus, Integral Leadership refers to the way a leader leads by being informed through the integral map. It manifests within this quadrant.
Interior Collective Culture and Worldview
(The Good, also called the Collective Internal)
Wilber’s Lower-Left quadrant represents the cultural domain and includes the interpersonal subjective, justness, goodness, and moral areas of culture. It contains the values, meanings, worldviews, norms, and ethics that are shared by any group of individuals. The cultural context in which businesses, politics, science, and education operate are at the heart of humanity—it gives our existence meaning–we become almost inseparable from it for it turns into our absolute reality. This quadrant drives our worldviews and what we collectively value in the world and evolves from pre-modern/archaic to scientific-rational and post-post-modern/integral cultures. Cultural dysfunctions from high divorce rates to short-term oriented Wall-Street institutional disasters have their roots in the moral levels of consciousness that are located in this quadrant.
Interior Individual Self and Consciousness Aspects
(The Beautiful, also called the I)
The Upper-Left quadrant (Figure 2) in Wilber’s Integral model refers to the psychological influences, the felt-experience/personal subjective, and the inner life of the individual. It evolves along various lines, states, structures, and types of development from egocentric to conformist, to rational, to integral, and the transpersonal self. It includes the entire spectrum of human consciousness from bodily sensations to mental ideals to soul and spirit. Figure 3 shows some of the most significant lines of individual evolution including the cognitive, emotional, moral, and spiritual lines of development.
Figure 3: Upper Left quadrant of the Integral Model with some lines of interior development.
The Upper Left quadrant is of essential importance within the context of integral sustainability discussed here for it relates to the interior evolution of the leader toward higher levels of consciousness. It refers to self-identity, ego consciousness, personal values, morals and levels of care, core belief system, levels of responsibility, personal goals, and self-understanding vis-à-vis the environment.
In summary, the premise for integral sustainability in business or otherwise is the interior transformation of the leader. In order to lead toward integral sustainability rather than react to challenges, the leader must evolve to higher levels of consciousness. In Gandhi’s often quoted words “We must be the change we want to see in the world.” As we will see from some of the most successful business leaders of Fortune 500 companies, personal transformation is more often than not an “ugly and messy process” that occurs behind the scenes within the individual interior. This is arguably the most important and most overlooked aspect within the integral sustainability concept discussed here. It is the source of a new humanity. Therefore, an integrally informed leader is one who makes his or her decisions based on all perspectives contained in Wilber’s Integral Framework and map of consciousness.
PART II: THE MAKING OF A CONSCIOUSNESS LEADER
A recent phenomenological study performed with top business executives from Fortune 500 companies who demonstrated Integral Leadership competencies, revealed the triggers to individual transformation, uncovered the evolutionary process, and confirmed that the interior evolution toward higher levels of consciousness occurs along various lines of development including the cognitive, moral, value, physical, emotional, and psycho-spiritual (Figure 3).
The evolutionary journey toward becoming a consciousness leader will be represented using Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey should be familiar to most of us because it is depicted in most myths, cultures, and most recently in movies such asStar Wars, Matrix, and The Lion King. Joseph Campbell identified three major stages of the Hero’s Journey—namely Departure, Initiation, and Return—all of which containing several sub stages that will be highlighted below.
Phase I – Departure: The Awakening of the Consciousness Leader
The 16 researched top business executives (8 males and 8 females) were all American citizens between the ages of 35 and 65. There were two former presidents and one vice president of Fortune 100 companies, seven current presidents of Fortune 500 companies, 11 serial entrepreneurs, Venture Capitalists and angel investors representing the following industries: High-tech, clean-tech, music, beverage, health care, Wall Street financiers, law, music, and entertainment. Without exception, they were all active philanthropists and social entrepreneurs with top academic degrees (5 doctorate degrees, 6 MBAs or other Master’s degrees) from some of the most reputable universities in the world including, MIT, Stanford, and Harvard.
All consciousness leaders had high levels of intelligence that enabled them to take advantage of the social and cultural opportunities, were driven by their cognitive line of development, seized their opportunities, and became life-long learners. Their desire to grow was fueled by their innate curiosity and creativity as well as the willingness to work very hard. Furthermore, their social conditioning led over time to belief systems and “self-created myths” about the leaders’ unique abilities to manifest financial and material abundance. The self-reinforcing “outside-in mentality” was nourished by high-intelligence, high education, drive, tenacity, hard work, outcome-orientation, competitiveness, and the ability to become an achiever. It helped build outstanding reputations, highly admired social statuses, extraordinary wealth, strong egos, and the belief that one is in control of life.
The Call to Adventure
The upward spiral of external success seemed secured until it was not. The Hero’s Call to Adventure occurred when the consciousness leader was made aware of the place beyond the familiar world. The Call to Adventure was triggered by pain with the source of pain being physical in nature. It showed up as simple dysfunctions such as “back problems,” “heart hurting,” “migraines,” “colds and sore throats,” weight gain, or more serious diseases such as multiple sclerosis or acute food allergies.
Some other times, the source of pain was of emotional nature and caused by a “horrible divorce,” the “death” of a loved one, a challenging relationship with a parent or significant other, and of course, business “pressure.” The emotional pain showed up as a “high-degree anxiety,” “worry and fear,” “heartbreak,” tension between “fear and desire,” “grief,” the “need” to be accepted by the outside world, and frustration. The pain was fueled by “unhappiness,” lack of fulfillment, “deep sadness and almost shame,” lack of “love,” “unrest,” lack of trust, and lack of “joy.”
Refusal of the Call
At first, most leaders refused to break out of and go beyond the known world. Instead, they tried to control the situation and its outcomes. They attempted to address their pain using their cognitive abilities and some of the same skills that helped them become outstanding achievers in the business world. One of these skills is their ability to be in control of people and outcomes. Thus, some began “being a control freak,” others tried to exercise control by “closing down” their hearts, “never” being emotionally available, “wearing a coat of armor,” and raising “such high barriers” around them that “no one would ever get close” to “hurt” them again.
They started “dealing with the symptoms” of their pain by studying books, consulting with experts, and taking better care of their bodies through yoga exercises, massages, and better nutrition. As soon as the pain went away, they went back to the old behavior until the next painful challenge showed up. The pain increased over time and therefore, more resources were needed including better “teachers,” transformational “seminars,” “counseling,” and “therapy,” many of which provided a glimpse of a different reality and unfamiliar spiritual openings.
A further fact common to the researched consciousness leaders is their inner conflict regarding their religious environment or upbringing. The cause of this conflict may be rooted in the inner yearning for a common sense spirituality that transcended traditional religion and conflicted with their scientific and/or academic education and background. Therefore, the consciousness leader began deeply questioning or even rejecting outdated religious values and dogmas. Yet, even if the family background was “not religious,” all consciousness leaders confirmed that their “roots” were spiritual, not religious. They all seemed to yearn for a new and different language to express their “natural desire” for being connected to the “source” of life or the “light.”
Because their new spiritual foundation had not yet been fully formed and their old emotional, physical, and cognitive adaptation abilities failed to show the desired results, the consciousness leaders were forced by their pain to face their worst nightmares, namely their own shadows.
The Tipping Point for Crossing the Threshold
The tipping point for Crossing the Threshold toward higher levels of consciousness was mostly triggered by cognition, courage, and the conscious decision to face straight on the challenges at hand. Among these challenges were significant emotional events such as wife “diagnosed with cancer,” loss of “second wife to cancer,” death of “mother,” the birth of a “baby,” being “fired” from a prestigious position, or not being promoted to the desired job.
The process of facing the shadow was different for each individual research participant. It ranged from the decision to experience the “dark night of the soul” through holotropic breathwork, over the willingness to face the “worst [emotional] pain” after 5 hours of “chopping wood,” to meditation, “vision quests,” and asking essential questions regarding the true meaning of life. In any event, the sum results of the shadow work were significant experiences and are known as Maslow’s transcendent or peak experiences, meditative or contemplative experiences,near-death experiences, out of body experiences, experiences of flow, state or unity consciousness experiences, exceptional human experiences, transpersonal experiences, or other spiritual emergencies. These events were described as a “lightning bolt [that] moved through my body,” a “feeling [that] would be so powerfully strong that it was almost to the point where you couldn’t walk,” a “mystical experience,” “divine light,” “divine intelligence,” the “heart was exploding with love,” “my body turned into an intense beam of light,” “my heart opened and I could feel every bird and insect as part of me,” receiving “an energy that’s greater than we are,” and as having other “grand [spiritual] openings”
When relating to the extraordinary human experiences described by the research participants, it is important to note that these people are non-religious people who had enjoyed high academic, scientific, and/or business educations. They were running extremely successful businesses and in some cases even multi-billion dollar companies. At that time, many of them did not have any framework or the proper language to explain or make sense of the extraordinary experiences they were having. Moreover, the entire worldview of the consciousness leader was shattered as soon as he or she gave up control and surrendered to the shadow, the unknown, and to “unbearable fear” and pain. It caused a “major shift” and “quantum leap in consciousness.” Life would never be the same again.
Psychological and neuro-scientific research indicated that such exceptional human experiences can move the participant to higher levels of ego development and even beyond duality, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. It is important to note that all research participants grew up and evolved in democratic Western societies. Thus, the environment of the consciousness leader was mostly characterized by financial abundance, material orientation, and outer success all of which were achieved through sheer determination and “very hard work.” After facing their shadow, the lives of the participants were “never the same,” and they were ready for phase II of the Hero’s Journey, the Initiation phase.
Phase II: The Initiation of the Consciousness Leader
Once they have received a taste of the deeper interior dimensions of life, the consciousness leaders pursued their further growth with the same dedication with which they developed their careers. The initiation into exceptional states of consciousness and other extraordinary human experiences had a tremendous impact on them.
One of the most significant impacts was related to fear transcendence. For instance, after having an out-of-body experience, the research participant Chuck, who has a Ph.D. in distributed computer systems and was a co-founder of a major Silicon Valley company, realized that he has “absolutely no fear of death.” Hence, he sees death as a “great opportunity to move forward” on his path. To various degrees, all consciousness leaders have transcended their fear of death or failure because they realized that (a) “nobody can take” from them who they are, (b) “fear of failure is not sustainable,” and (c) they are no longer “not afraid to go” into fear. Facing their worst fears taught them how to “listen to [their] inner voice” and connect with their “divine nature” to access their “unlimited potentials”.
The Meaning of Life
These transpersonal experiences lead the consciousness leader to ask essential questions such as “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Is this it?” and “Why do I let the mob psychology tell me whether I was having a good day or not?” Their transpersonal experiences induced significant doubt regarding their current worldviews and encouraged them to question more deeply the status quo of their lives. They noticed the “collective insanity” of the “money game” and questioned whether the “standard operating procedure” for a “successful” person was still the game they wanted to play. Furthermore, they noticed that they were not “manifesting” their raison d’être, the values they “adopted” were not “self-selected,” and they were “following a script that was not” authored by them. As they “looked into the future” and saw the “endless stream of closing quarters” that are the essential driving force in the business world, they detected the “almost mind numbingly impossible monotony around the trajectory” on which they were. They comprehended that the rewards “were running out,” the next “gold ring” was no longer tempting, that there were “fewer [attractive] jobs left” for them in the world, and that “maximizing shareholder value” was no longer enticing.
Again, the cognitive drive guided them toward identifying and taking advantage of the best available resources such as teachers, books, therapy, counseling, and seminars. Having been significantly impacted by visceral experiences of the “divine,” the consciousness leader focused on repeating the experience. This is why, for a while, they lived the life of a spiritual seeker or as Jade called it the life of a “spiritual dilettante.” They learned and exposed themselves to a whole host of techniques, philosophies, and teachings. However, at some point, the leaders discovered one certain teacher and/or method with which they could identify and which they practiced for a longer period, sometimes for several decades.
Yet, using the mind to go beyond it and experience the ineffable is not easy for a person who is a master of the cognitive ability. The time to grow to higher “stages” of their interiority had arrived and only a good teacher seemed to be able to show the way. Among the personal teachers chosen by the research participants in the current study were Swami Satchidananda, Bubba Free John (also known as Adi Da), Donald Rothberg, Donna Markova, Doc Childre, Deepak Chopra, as well as various Native Americans, and other shamans. However, some consciousness leaders also chose nature, dancing, gardening, and other Integral Life Practices to help them on their paths.
Trials and Tribulations
When on the Road of Trials (Campbell, 1949/1968), the consciousness leaders evolved from “personal limitations” to realizing their “unlimited” potentials. The road of the transpersonal transformation was paved with trials and tribulations. They learned new disciplines such as meditation, yoga, and how much more pain had to be experienced as they “tried to take the old model into the new paradigm,” which did not work. More often than not, the pain originated also from the clash between the Eastern teachers and their Western disciples. The mostly Eastern philosophy-oriented and spiritually highly evolved teachers were often operating presumably from premodern cultural centers of gravity that were often patriarchic, sexist, or androcentric.
As novices, the consciousness leaders trusted them and followed their teachings that led to countless transpersonal and “unitive experiences” that transformed them even further and in significant ways. The promise of “enlightenment” kept them on the path for many years and gave them both a language and an infrastructure for the new territory. During their training, the consciousness leaders (a) learned how to “reconnect to that authentic self,” (b) realized that we are all “part of oneness, a greater whole,” (c) developed the ability to understand their “own consciousness,” the “collective consciousness” and how we “are part of that greater human consciousness and then beyond,” (d) understood the dimensions and interconnectedness of body, mind, and spirit,” (e) became more “rounded [and] balanced,” and (f) received more “structure and specific knowledge” and more importantly underwent the “experiential process of learning” to deal with “the emotional/spiritual side” to which they had “very little exposure” before. In short, the consciousness leaders became “much better,” happier, and more “joyous” people.
Clashing With the Teacher
Yet, in several cases, “the closer” they “got to the guru,” the more they saw “his manipulation,” “the suffering,” the “sexual abuse,” the “flaws,” and the “hierarchy” in the “oneness.” In the mind of the postmodern person, these were contradictions that their teachers should have been able to reconcile; but they did not because they could not. Based on their Eastern training or upbringing, it would be fair to assume that these teachers lived at a different cultural stage and center of gravity than his extraordinary disciples; this assumption would have to be researched further. In any event, the consciousness leaders took the teachings and moved beyond their teachers.
Whether the personal teachers continued to be in their lives or not, the consciousness leaders learned how to unleash the unlimited potentials within their own interiors. With or without a personal teacher, the consciousness leaders realized that the Initiation phase into their Hero’s Journey was significant. As one executive expressed it, it was:
…like going through a college program, which is a rapid introduction to something and exposure to something—Like turning on a fire hose. This was like drinking out of a fire hose. In this area, MIT and Stanford Business School were like drinking out of a fire hose for academic and business issues. This was like drinking out of a fire hose for emotional, spiritual and consciousness issues.
Following the Own Mission in Life
Equipped with The Ultimate Boon such as new tools, skills, and a deep understanding about their “unlimited potentials,” the “interconnectedness, the oneness, and the holistic nature of things,” the consciousness leaders were ready for the next step in their lives. There was “no going back” because “change became unavoidable,” and the consciousness leaders had to take these changes into the real world to follow their higher calling. That calling was in all cases driven by “the realization of what a purposeful life actually means” for the individual as a “soul.” That calling “evolved into something” significant such as leveraging their “talents to make a meaningful and impactful contribution to the sustainability of the planet.”
The Closet Mystic Existence
In some cases, the consciousness leaders declared their new path publicly through an action or event that “felt” like a “coming out party.” In other cases, they quit their jobs to leave the unsupportive old business environment to pursue solely the newly discovered spirituality for a while. However, in most cases, the consciousness leaders led for several years the existence of a closet mystic. During this phase, they led a double existence. While preserving their business façade, they pursued their spiritual paths. While being on this journey, their creativity and courage continued to help them integrate their double identities. For instance, Jade used his “creative side that was always crying to emerge” to create a movie of his life and its integration. One leader used “the creative process” to write several books that helped him intellectually “move from one paradigm” to another and out of his “historical bias,” which is his language for social conditioning.
However, all steps of the Initiation phase (II) prepared the consciousness leader for the Apotheosis, which consisted of the final departure from old business structures that were no longer acceptable. This act happened quietly or through a public declaration.
A common characteristic of consciousness leaders is their financial abundance. This financial abundance enabled the inner transformation to take place in a financially secure environment. More research would have to occur to know for sure, but financial abundance seems to be one key reason that enabled the consciousness leaders to leave their conservative business environments for a while. It helped them focus on their inner growth and integrate their interiorities with their exteriorities before coming out to “change the world.”
Changing the World: The Return of the Consciousness Leader
Having recognized their true meaning in life and having integrated their interiorities with the exteriorities through the trials and tribulations of the Initiation phase of their journey, the consciousness leaders appear to have become the Masters of the Two Worlds, namely the interior and exterior, the heart and the mind, and the cognitive and the psycho-spiritual. They are now ready to Return to and share their gifts with the world.
Sustainable Change: Integrating Life’s Purpose and Mission
With the identification of their unlimited potentials, the consciousness leaders were ready to implement their new life purpose and passion that consists in bringing “consciousness into the domain of business in a way that creates sustainable change relative to the human beings on the planet and ultimately bringing spirit into manifestation.” After having left the old business environment, after having been “rewired,” after receiving new skills, and after having integrated their new interior structures with the outer ones, the consciousness leaders “are back to business,” as the old adage has it.
They see their new lives’ purpose as having an even “bigger impact” in the business world than before and in a much more integrated way because they now see business as an “incredible laboratory of consciousness.” They (a) regard “societal analysis [as] a spiritual discipline,” (b) see business and “understand the economy” as part of “deep spiritual practice,” (c) want to “move capitalism beyond the pure maximizing of profits,” (d) desire to “explore and lead and show different ways of creating social enterprises and different financing mechanisms that are behind that,” (e) believe in “engaged spirituality,” (f) want to work on “different governance models and different business models” to start integrating their social mission with their evolving “human condition,” and (g) continue to be inspired and make sure they are “taking care” of themselves and their “community at the same time.”
In short, they seek to lead a “purposeful life” in which they can use their talents and the process of “consciousness development, to make an impactful contribution to holistic sustainability.” It is important to note another important common characteristic regarding the integration between their interiority with the exteriority. One leader expressed it succinctly in the following way:
The new purpose is ‘not so blatantly devoid of my personal own interests. But I think I’ve become much more decentralized in my thinking to where it’s much easier for me to have other people have certain things and not worry about myself…I’m about mission and I’m about helping.’
Moving Beyond Ego Boundaries
Having gone through The Hero’s Journey, the consciousness leaders appear to have not only recognized their unlimited potentials, but they could see that they have been “rewired” toward a “unity consciousness” identity or service orientation that is generally characterized as having “shifted from a mentality” from “what’s in it for me to what’s in it for us.” One of the leaders, who ran the marketing division of a multibillion-dollar company before his transformation, described his process of awakening, surrendering, and becoming a consciousness leader in the following way:
At the time, I had no clue what was going on. Basically, I was being rewired. Everything I used to think was important was no longer important to me. It was me, me, me and my fabulous career and how do I help create more money for the company, so I can create more money for me and more success for me and more power for me? I was never a bad guy, but it was just a small game. It felt like a big game. I thought it was the biggest game in town. But suddenly when I was rewired, it felt like the smallest game in the universe. When you really make that shift and you start playing for an idea bigger than yourself and you start sensing into what is that divine creative impulse that’s seated within me that is my gift to the planet? Within that surrendering was recognizing that there’s something unique within me that I was born to become and that by surrendering to that, by paying attention to that, by allowing that to emerge within myself, that I could play a much bigger game, a much more fulfilling game, a much more meaningful game in terms of being able to create from that space in service to a much deeper and broader concept.
Values, ethics, and morals. The tremendous transformation of consciousness leaders resulted also in having new and consciously chosen, or “self-selected,” values. The values that are at the foundation of being of service in the world are integrity, authenticity, truth, truthfulness, honesty, humility, and unity consciousness. These values go hand in hand with high ethics and moral standards that help consciousness leaders “stick” their “neck” out, perform “social justice,” and “do the right thing whether it’s popular or not.”
Self-confidence increased. Along with a new sense of identity, the self-confidence of the consciousness leaders studied increased. They grew beyond being “ego-driven” to feeling “more comfortable with whom” they are, to be able to “take the risk” of declaring “more fully” what they want, and to trust the messages from their increased sense of awareness and consciousness.
Furthermore, consciousness leaders have moved beyond the boundaries of their egos by learning how to achieve more with less effort, releasing their outcome orientation, by letting go of control, accepting what is, changing their material orientation, learning how to be present and open, giving up resistance, being in flow, and taking responsibility.
Achieving more with less effort. After many years of trials, tribulations, and testing, the consciousness leaders researched here have arrived to the realization that they achieve much more when they let go of efforting.
Having intentions rather than outcomes. Through their transformation, the studied consciousness leaders realized that they became even more successful if they let go of their goals, their need to control people and situations, and stopped working hard. As a result, they have learned to “get rid of” their “outcomes,” “life plan,” or even “personal career.” As they set intentions instead of outcomes, they became more open and were able to “see [more] opportunities” than before. If they “simply get out of the way,” “the universe constantly positively surprises” them “with its potential.”
Letting go of control and accepting what is. The more they were willing to let go of control, the more success they had, and the more accepting they became of themselves and life in general. As they began meeting “people where they are,” they had a great sense of “relief,” realized that “everything is perfect,” and that “there are no tragedies. It’s how you look at it.”
Changed material orientation. Having enough money and being financially independent is another common topic to all participants in the current study. However, after their transformation, all leaders confirmed that they are “less concerned with material things” as they were before. They do not “need as many things as” they “used to need. In fact, things sometimes get in the way of what” they are “trying to do.” Furthermore, they seem to not “care about showing off” or “accumulating things” anymore.
Through their transformative experiences encountered along their Hero’s Journey, they also “saw the hollowness” of money and material orientation. They realized there are “a lot of problems that money doesn’t solve,” and that “it’s not all about the money” but instead “freedom of expression and creativity.”
Openness and creativity. Being “very curious and very open” is a key characteristic of consciousness leaders in business. All research participants have entrepreneurial spirits and as they became even more open, they were able to see and hone synchronistic events, which they did not notice before. As they realized that “there is no real truth” they became “less dogmatic” and understood that “everything happens” in “a very wonderful way” if they “allow it.”
Cultivating presence. This is another significant structural change of which the participants in the current study were cognizant. Cultivating presence and “being the observer” has become a key transformative practice in the lives of consciousness leaders because it helps them “stay sane” in the stressful business environment in which they live. Presence supports them to become the “vessel” through which the “divine” can “operate.” It helps them connect with nature, their “surroundings,” feelings, and their senses. By being present they can stay in the here and now, can get “down into the basic elements of life,” and connect with the people in their lives at a much deeper level. Presence helps them “quiet” their minds and in doing that they “feel absolutely grateful and joyful to be alive in this moment.”
All of these newly acquired abilities constitute the foundation of the “unity consciousness” of consciousness leaders. It represented their “one essence” awareness and their deep understanding that “we are all unique representations” of our divine nature. Another significant common characteristic is the emotional component that will be summarized subsequently.
Emotional Intelligence: Bridging the Head with the Heart
The main characteristics of the emotional transformation of consciousness leaders are: (a) being driven mostly by positive emotions, (b) willingness and courage to face their shadows, (c) having better emotional skills to transcend suffering, (d) fear transcendence, and (e) higher emotional awareness.
It could be argued that the most important emotional accomplishment is the realization that they have the power of emotional choice. One leader spent almost 4 decades of his life in the human potential movement and the last 2 decades researching this subject scientifically. In his view, life is:
…about making emotional choices. Emotions are reactions to some degree and there are emotional triggers, right? So you can instantly feel a lot of things. But then you have a choice immediately after that to feel something else. In many cases, you have a choice to feel before, you know, a certain way. You can choose an emotion more—people can choose an emotion more than they think. Instead of it simply being something of a reactive process.
Impact: Becoming Pioneers of Change
Through their transformation, these leaders view “the world in whole terms today;” they “integrated the world,” and they learned to “no longer overly segment things.” They “started thinking and making much more real-time connections between people, places, things, events” because they “saw the patterns” governing the world. Following their transformation, the consciousness leaders realized that “everything is either moving towards that state of expanded consciousness or is retarding it.” Their consciousness leadership abilities enabled them also to transform both their culture and social environments. They became better relationship people because they are able to build a bridge between the mind and the heart, between the inner and the outer, between having an “enjoyable business as well as make money.” They became active with social philanthropy parallel to or alternative with “business as a service” to humanity.
Furthermore, they became involved with the creation of sustainable businesses (a) by promoting long-term versus short-term thinking, by realizing that it “was not necessarily the shorter term end state you are working towards but the greater good, the greater end state that we all are,” (b) by “creating social enterprises and different financing mechanisms that are behind that,” (c) by “bringing spirit into manifestation,” (d) by working toward ceasing the “ideology” of “rampant consumerism,” and (e) by creating social justice and seeking appropriate “political leadership.”As they evolved over several decades, the consciousness leaders have developed an understanding of “interconnectedness” and “unity consciousness.” In an unassuming way, their mission in life has become more important to them that personal achievement and success.
In summary, through the Hero’s Journey, the consciousness leaders researched here appear to (a) have awakened to and embraced life and humanity in all its dimensions, (b) be able to live with paradoxes and be joyous, fulfilled, and serene, (c) accept reality as “is,” (d) make no separation between their spirituality and their personal or professional lives, (e) cultivate their capacity for compassion, empathy, and unconditional love through integral practices, (f) be able to live in the present and day by day, (g) be humble and display an unassuming presence, (h) have moved beyond emotional and spiritual mastery, (i) be detached from their outcomes and set intentions instead, (j) have transcended money and the material world, (k) live simple lives of global service, (l) experience genuine joy, gratefulness, and have a life-affirming attitude, (m) have the ability to live life in the present moment, and (n) have a sense of interconnectedness with others and the source of life.
Moreover, the main lesson learned from consciousness leaders is that we are all looking into a bright and exciting future if we are willing to grow and reinvent ourselves anew every single day. It is a future in which the new emerging paradigm in business is but one significant aspect of the new overall paradigm change in the world today. From the global perspective, businesses, next to politics, are the driving forces of the world economy, because they are at the core of wealth creation. Therefore, those of us who actively participate in the business world in a conscious manner feel not only the need to challenge the way it is currently being performed, but have the responsibility to change it. There could be too much at stake if we do not.
Along with the shifting worldview in modern science, consciousness leaders in business have the responsibility to define and implement a new worldview that is based on the essence of all existence. This realization is oneness rather than separateness, gratefulness rather than deprivation, abundance rather than scarcity, and love rather than fear. These are essential pillars of a wise humanity that is able to ensure a glorious future for our children and our beautiful planet.
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