Opening talk at Integral European Conference May 24, 2023

Welcome to this conference with the topic Planetary Awakening 2.0 – when Bence and I were brainstorming for the title, my original suggestion was Planetary Awareness, which is related to Awakening, but with a slightly different emphasis on the more than human world.


I am convinced this is the next step needed for humanity to survive and thrive on this planet. To awaken and become aware not only as separate individuals, not even as one humanity, - thought that would help a lot – but as expressions of the planet. To find global, planetary solutions together, as one – with each other and with nature.


I would like to run you through the structure of this conference, and explain the unusual format, which is really my baby, so let me tell you the story of it’s conception and birth.  


Almost 10 years ago in the autumn of 2013, when Bence, Dennis Witrock and I were preparing the first IEC, we unexpectedly received more than 200 applications to present, from presenters we had never heard of, most of which sounded really exciting. We did not know we had such a wealth of Integral thinkers and practitioners in Europe! So instead of rejecting 80% of them – this would have broken my heart and I couldn’t have chosen amongst them –  we decided to give them just 20 minutes to present their topic in a concise format, like a TED talk. We then found they could be clustered into themes like Politics, Health or Spirituality. 


We decided to give more emphasis on activating the audience – that is you guys – to form a “resonance body”. In every session, we create opportunities for you to share what really moved you in what you just heard and which questions and new impulses you take away.


So from tomorrow, each day will have the same structure:

At 7 there are several optional offerings for a morning practice. After breakfast at 9, we all meet in this room for 2 hours of keynote talks. During this time, there is the elevator pitch, which means that after the first keynote all speakers and workshop leaders of that day will be called forward in groups and each of them takes the mike for 30 seconds. Through this, everybody can get a sense of their topic and the way they present it, as well as a general sense of what will be offered in each of those rooms in a particular thematic category. 

For the presenters concerned: please don’t all get up when it begins, you will be called first to the side of the stage, one group after another, in the order that they appear in the program. We will practice it in a minute with the three evening events tonight and the morning events tomorrow morning. 


After the coffee break at 11 we ask you to please choose one thematic section room and stay there for the whole session. It is not going to work to switch rooms after the first or second talk, because we are going to activate the crowd intelligence during the second half of each session, to really get those juicy questions that drive evolution. And for that, you all need to have heard the same talks.


Each room will have a facilitator, who will guide you through the whole process. This year, we have a wonderful team of 24 well briefed and capable facilitators, some of whom you might remember from the online conferences – and they are really enthusiastic about facilitating the dialogue. So how it actually works is, that after the two or three 20 minute presentations, the facilitators will reorganize the room to form small circles of chairs with about 5 people and guide you into dialogue. 


Now when you hear this, you might feel uncomfortable. You don’t want to be told when to talk, and how to talk – you would rather just sit back and listen. And it is good to notice this discomfort! Let’s have the courage to step out of our comfort zone. 

For those of us – like myself – who developed the strategy to talk a lot, to always know best, it is important to hold our tongue. Not only that, but also hold our inner tongue. Really listen. Not just put on a kind face but internally already rehearse what we want to say next!  And for the introverts amongst us who have the strategy to always agree and be quiet, it is important to speak up. It is those silent ones, the invisible people, that hold the greatest treasures. 


I experienced dialogue for the first time at an Integral meeting in Germany in 2010, and saw how in a relatively short space of time, a large group of strangers can have a conversation in which everyone is heard, and the results are shared with everyone. Ever since that time, I have been really enthusiastic about dialogue. There are many different formats like World Café or Bohm’s dialogue, with new variations emerging constantly. What they all have in common is that you learn to speak from your own thoughts and feelings in the present moment, and to listen whole-heartedly. 


I feel very strongly about this: in order to tackle the wicked problems of this planet in an awakened manner, we need to grow up into mature beings that can take different perspectives. And it is not enough to study Integral Theory to have a conceptual understanding, to practice meditation, and do some shadow work, although all of these factors are essential to build an Integral Life practice. Maybe to the phrase Wake up Grow up Clean up and Show up we need to add Team up! 


In dialogue, we learn to listen to the other person, really try to feel what they want to express. At the same time we listen to our own body, heart and mind. We learn to notice when there is resonance, when there is resistance, when we are triggered, and when a new thought emerges. All of this is wonderful fuel for growth. We let go of the old habits of clinging to our opinion, of old stories we keep telling ourselves. We let go of wanting to be right, to win an argument. Instead we are more interested in what we don’t know yet. 


Please feel into that: when confronted with a new question, before trying to answer it, first admit to yourself that “I don’t know”. Allow that to sink in. Not knowing opens a wide space, full of possibilities and opportunities for emergence. And the new thoughts and ideas that emerge in this space can birth new solutions for the increasingly complex problems this planet is facing. 


Albert Einstein has often been quoted “a problem cannot be solved from the level of consciousness that created it.” By sharing different perspectives and opening our mind to ideas that we have not been able to think of before, we allow our mind to become flexible and alive, able to birth new strategies, new stories. 


My favourite Ken Wilber quote is: “Nobody is smart enough to be wrong all the time.” Or put differently: the question is not “who is right?” but how do all these different views fit together? Also: what is the positive intent of my opponent?  

And let’s be honest, there is so much competitiveness within the Integral Scene, proclaiming that my theory or method is the most leading edge, putting trade marks on words that should be communal and free, former friends and allies only talking to each other through their lawyers. Let’s acknowledge and accept that. We are human. We can be sure to be partly right and partly wrong. And instead of trying to prove the part that I am right about, let’s get curious about in which ways we have been wrong. Learn to admit to having been wrong, without shame or blame. 


My late Tibetan teacher Akong Rinpoche dedicated his first book to the growth of humility. This has been my guiding star for the past 41 years. To learn to be humble. To be quiet. To really listen with an open heart and compassion, especially when the person speaking makes me uncomfortable. When I feel they are wrong and that I have the right answers. As long as we think in such absolute terms of right and wrong, we don’t see the whole picture. The truth is found in the paradox. It is found in what makes us uneasy, because it is new and unexpected. And let’s hold these newly found truths lightly, not make them into a thing again that can be owned. Don’t crush the butterfly of emergence.


So here at IEC we are in a unique situation, meeting with several hundred people who are interested in the same weird stuff as ourselves. Throughout the day we can engage in this type of conversation with interesting people. And when I say conversation, words are not the most important part. It is the inner attitude, our body language, facial expression, what we see in each other’s eyes when we truly listen. It is safe here to practice this and develop these important skills for our real life challenges. 


Especially after the past years of social distancing, home office and home schooling, maybe months and years of not touching another human being, of seeing a smile only on screens. Let’s use this opportunity to be there for each other, to really allow ourselves to be touched physically, emotionally, intellectually. To feel safe and nourished. To feel useful and wanted. 

So that was the story of my baby, the section format and dialogue, but that takes us only up to lunchtime in the structure of this conference.


So after the thematic sections, we have a two hour lunchbreak, maybe a chance to visit the spa or the lake. Coffee will be served at three before the afternoon workshops, which are a chance to dive deep, give the intellect a rest and experience through body, soul and spirit. We decided not to record these sessions, so that you can feel safe to let go and maybe face aspects of yourself that you cannot reach by yourself. Again, you can choose between 10 different workshops. Of course the fear of missing out is triggered by this – but at least we had a chance to see the workshop leader at the elevator pitch. Many of them are also giving a short presentation, so even though you can’t dance at all weddings as we say in German, you get a taste of many different methods and theories to follow up later.


After dinner, starting from tonight, on all but the last evening we have an open socializer. Not like in the program in this room but in the lobby. (In this room we're actually rebuilding the stage again) You might have already seen the poster exhibition in the lobby – many presenters have brought a poster about their topic, so that is another way of making up your mind which thematic room and which workshop to choose, or to get some information on the topic you missed. We're still working on a place where you can put up your posters, but hopefully there will be a solution – or otherwise self-organize, find a way! The presenters will stand next to their poster – maybe they will have to hold it up if we don't have poster boards - and then you can engage in conversation about your topic or your workshop.


Each night, there are also some extra offerings like the singles events, prayer and movie nights on Wednesday and Thursday, and ecstatic dance on Friday. On Saturday evening will be the culmination of the conference with A Collective Turquoise Experience! - with surprise… I am already very curious because it will be something new, while keeping the elements of a choice of vegetarian or meat goulash cooked over an open fire, another huge fire to dance around and live music. 


On Sunday afternoon, the main conference will end, but some of us will stay for the Gala dinner with open mic stage or even join the tour. 


Thank you.