Guest Blog: On Integral Service (by David Zeitler)
July 19, 2007 08:00

The following is being posted according to Ken's generous offer. The posting of a submission doesn't imply that Ken or the editors of this site necessarily agree with any or all of it. Thanks, -Eds

On Integral Service
From Chapter 3 of the book, “Patterns in Clouds and Other Nonsense:
A Primer for Integral Life Practice in Psychotherapy”

By David M. Zeitler

I have often said that we all have a little bit of high-chair in us when we go out to eat. Yes, that’s right—the experience of dining out necessarily encapsulates, and therefore draws out, the experience of being fed by mommy as an infant or toddler. Dining out is an iteration of the dynamic first experienced as the giant boob of continued existence, the core value of Magenta. In both cases, you are looking up at an adult, to whom you dictate orders. Hopefully you will get better at this, but adults will also grunt while ordering, from time to time. Also, you are hungry, but feeling relatively safe. Therein lies the evolutionary dynamic that is replayed – for what is significant to the infant is fundamental to the developed adult. Until, that is, the fundamental is not being met. At that point, unless you are consciously engaged in a practice such as fasting, you will regress, and you will be sitting in your metaphorical high chair. And as a professional server, I witnessed this condition more often than I believed could be possible. Fully grown adults, unaware of their regression, blind to being carried away by the fundamental needs that have been ignored through coffee or stress or flat out unconsciousness.

Speaking of unconsciousness, here is a nice personification of a typical ego [shadow] restaurant dynamic:

UL: “I feel safe.” [“Hey…where’s the boob?”]

UR: Hungry and Thirsty. [“Where’s my friggin food?”]

LL: “What can I get for you?” [“That’s right! Run for me!”]

LR: Sitting down, someone gazes down at you, delicious food is passing you by…. [“Are you my mother?”]

Figure 3.1 – The Quadrants Personified [with possible Shadow] as your server greets you.

Any guesses as to which levels of development get lit up during such times? Ga ga goo goo! Yes, we all have a little bit of highchair in us when we dine out. Whether or not we misbehave depends on how much shadow we harbor, and how much alcohol our shadow harbors from us (how many drinks did I have again?). Knowing this has helped me be a better—dare I say, more compassionate—server.

I attempted to balance my ludicrously large student loan debt by being a server while I was in graduate school. I had already been a practicing Buddhist for three years at that time. Yet, I was not able to put together my “serving” as a source of income with my “serving” of sentient beings. That would take Integral consciousness, which I was only beginning to explore. The notion of service to all beings is arguably the most important part of all schools of Mahayana Buddhism, particularly for anyone who has taken Bodhisattva vows. Which I had. So what took me so long?

My income came from being a server; my life as a Buddhist quenched my spiritual thirst; and my work for Integral Institute gave me a chance to do what I love. Yet these areas were fractured—and I fancied myself Integral! The truth is that I didn’t want to bring these things together. I didn’t want my reputation as an Integral psychotherapist tarnished with food like my uniform at work. The shadow works in many ways….

I began to rectify my situation several years ago. As I deepened my Integral Life Practice, I embarked on a lucrative position as a server in Philadelphia’s number one steakhouse, which is also their number two restaurant overall in terms of nightly covers and yearly revenue. That was when I had my first compassionate insight about the high-chairs. Much of my mundane frustration could at least be re-contextualized (if not melted) because of this insight. Of course, much like the equanimity of parenting a toddler, it’s difficult to spot behind all the chaos and thrown food.

As a server, I must exist in many cultures at once. For example, I have days where I take an order in German (my not-quite second language), speak English to my manager, order in “Kitchen Spanish” from food prep, and settle into a nice conversation of “Ironese” with my coworkers. You probably speak or parent someone who speaks “Ironese.” It sounds like your native tongue, but it’s dripping with the blood of slaughtered sacred cows (“Oh, are you a ‘recovering Catholic’ too? That is just too rich….Let’s go make fun of the losers on table 42.”).

That’s right, if you want to be cool or “in” or not taken for a fool, you aren’t allowed to take anything seriously. So how many “cultures” was I taking part of? Well, just because I spoke German doesn’t mean that there was necessarily a different culture happening. Maybe a different sub-culture. But the conversation with the German table was much more a part of the same culture as the conversation I had in English with my manager, than the Ironese that I spoke later on. If a culture is more shared value than shared words, then our ability to navigate the cultures in our lives rests more on our own level of development than on our locution, Specifically, it rests on our capacity to embrace, negate, transcend, and integrate not merely as abstract developmental concepts, but in the lived moment. The self-test for the hardcore Integral is to unflinchingly see if you can do this when you are irritated, not when everything is going your way. Only then can you say you are moving into 2nd Tier. Can you maintain your integrity and the integrity of another, whose views are less than integral, even as you accept and simultaneously reject their efforts at including you in their circle of values?

So it is with each new table that I greet, where a new micro-culture greets me in return. I try to consciously consider all of these factors as I enter into my relationship with a table:


1) Red: Body Language; Tone; Cadence of Speech.

2) Amber: Timing of courses; Service Flow; Table Maintenance

3) Orange: Selling, Selling, and…oh yes, did I mention Selling?

4) Green: What can I appreciate about this microculture?

5) Teal: Limiting factors mitigate appreciation vs. repudiation. Some animals are more equal than others….

6) Indigo: Am I holding my table service in the context of service to all sentient beings? How have I slipped, let me count the ways….

Figure 3.2

If the Many and the One are not-two, then each occasion of micro-culture with each table has significance. I therefore try to behave the way that I behave [Red] because I believe this to be true [Amber]; a belief that is based on my own repeatable experiences [Orange]; which gives me the ability to see the value in all [Green], but also the ability to meta-evaluate each [Teal]; and in the end, the significance can be consciously co-created, but more often occurs in moments of severe stress, which can lead to disidentification from the self-system [Indigo], but more often to regression in the service of serving [Red, again].

Let me explain that last bit. I like to call it “forced transcendence.” I forget exactly which Bodhisattva it is that fires a gun at your feet and yells, “Dance, fool!” But that’s the Bodhisattva of restaurant work. As a server, you don’t get to put off extra work that piles up until the next day. You must learn to prioritze and re-prioritize “on the fly,” as we say in the biz. Your income depends upon it, particularly when everyone is as busy as you are, and you therefore get almost no help. You have two choices in those moments: cry/rage or transcend. I have seen the former happen many times (with female servers usually crying because they are overwhelmed, and male servers usually punching doors in rage because they cannot perform). If you do either of these, you will likely elicit help from others, but you also lose respect. But if you are in a rare state of consciousness, and you can transcend the limitations of your own translations—you can reach a flow state. Much like an athlete having a peak experience, a flow state is when everything slows down. Like Neo in The Matrix, the bullets of failure slow down, allowing you to maneuver your way through them, finding the path that sets you free. Of course, you have to get yourself out of the way for this to happen.

This has only happened to me three times since I have integrated my serving with my integral service. On both occasions, I had 30 minutes worth of work to do in 10 minutes; and I succeeded. In Server-Math, such a situation normally comes out to:

30 min. ∈ 10 min. = ~10%

I think we all know what that 10% means. (And by the way – it’s not 1975, so please feel free to update your tipping to the new standard of 20%. Feel free to tip 15% – but don’t feel free to think that you are leaving a good tip anymore.)

In the moment of my flow state, I felt fantastic. I simply worked at a brisk pace, without letting my thoughts and feelings crowd the clarity of what comes next. The more empty I became of my own translations, especially my attachments to those translations, the more I was able to remember and re-prioritize my tasks “on the fly.” This is the exact opposite of common wisdom, which maintains that you must hold tightly to your list in conscious awareness in order to act from it. Perhaps this is true with 1st Tier translations…but I know that I was not “myself” in that flow state (or, I was my highest self, at my own leading edge, and I could feel it). I only wish such experiences were the norm for me in stress. Wouldn’t that be nice, if stress took you “up” more than “down?” Perhaps some day it will. But more importantly, those moments felt to me like the future for all of us. Devoid of the common wisdom of “thinking-planning-acting,” the self-system seems to draw evenly from each. And of course, in order to do so, the self-system must transcend the normal linearity associated with conventional thinking-planning-acting, grasp the entirety of the process, and operate upon it. On the fly meta-action. (And of course, this marks the ability to consciously operate upon what had once been your subjective identity, and therefore is the very essence of transcendence.)

I think that this state—already common to athletes in their finest moments, to songwriters when the music pours out of them, or to writers who write entire books in their heads and then simply take their own dictation—will become more and more common as we evolve. The thinking-planning-acting exemplified by the Orange mental ego—or, I should say the linearity of this process—will be integrated with the cyclical inclusion that is exemplified at the Green altitude. This can only happen at a Teal altitude (or, when you are transcending your 1st Tier identification, and are literally translating at your own highest level of development). These form the foundation for the Inter-Individuated Self-System, whose attentions will be geared towards the complementary, heterogenous, and variegated dipoles of self-in-other. Whew. That was a mouthful. I can think of no other way that a 2nd Tier culture will move beyond the blind hierarchies of Orange and the impotent heterarchies of Green. There will be more on this later, as future chapters are devoted to outlining a general vision of that Altitude’s landscape.

What would it look like? Well, here are some topics that you might find in a Teal Group [written with all due humor J]:

* “Multiplicatives of resonance: Why we are so alike and different at the same time,” and other topics that can reveal the fabric of existence.
* “Imagine me in you, and you in me…,” and other not-necessarily-limited-to-sexual transcendences of boundaries.
* “Even a cut-gem can still be cloudy,” and other metaphors for taking your shadow into places where it is no longer welcome, like higher levels, and fuller state-stages.


I find the best way to access my table—that is, the best way for me to not be treated as an “other” by them—is to first consciously deal with Red. I might augment my body language, my tone, and my cadence of speech, all in an effort to mirror their gross-level energies. I might also mirror my perception of their comfort-zone; one highly successful way to do this is in eye-contact, where I can stay away from their Threat-Boundary. If you want to avoid looking at me, that’s OK—I won’t look at you either. Want to crack jokes with me? Great! So will I. For business dinners I am all business. For family meals I’ll be your second cousin twice removed. On your first date I will be invisible; but on your 5,000th I’ll give you complimentary oysters, and dessert that you must share off of one plate. (You’ll be frisky in no time….)
You Want Crabmeat With That?

Apart from liquor, crabmeat is my favorite up-sell. Crabmeat is like AQAL—awesome by itself, but it also makes every other course taste even better. One of the ways you can tell a veteran server from a newbie is by the number of different entrees they have been able to sell with crabmeat on top. After all, our salaries are based upon selling, so shouldn’t we first and foremost be selling at all costs? Well, I guess that depends on your values. In this way, the overall altitude of a server is easily spotted by more-developed servers. Not every server trying to up-sell you is only trying to up-sell you. Many of them will simply treat you like an object that holds their money (what the hell are you still doing with their money? Hurry up and PAY!!). But there are also a great number of servers who implicitly respond to the inverse of the high-chair phenomenon: they are there to take care of you, not to take you for a ride.

Restaurants in the United States have a built-in motivator for their servers: your entire salary is dependent upon how much you sell (LR), and how well you serve (UR), and whether or not your table shares the value system of 20% (LL; the common litmus test for standard service). If they could only include developing their consciousness (UL), they might all do much better for themselves. Servers in the United States make an average of $2.83/hr (Some hotels and all of California are exceptions, making about $5/hr). Remember that the next time you tip someone 5%. After tipping out the bar, bussing staff, food runners, and Uncle Sam’s cut, they have now paid you to serve you. Feel free to be punitive—just be informed as to when you are being punitive, and when you don’t know. 20% is standard; 50% and you are just showing off, and are probably trying to get laid (and you just might); 100% and you are crazy. The white coats are coming for you.

But there are other motivations for servers, if they can construct higher values. By connecting with my tables, I am much more likely to sell—not just sell more, but sell better, or more appropriately. I will pair wine with food using my expertise that has taken me years to hone. I will steer you away from food that does not look good (despite what my kitchen manager wants me to sell; part of my job is to protect you). So, there may be a built-in motivator for the salary of servers, but there is also a built in duplicity—your managers are technically your “boss,” but your salary comes from the people that are “bossy” to you (your tables). This is why servers floating at an Amber altitude are always conflicted, often in amusing ways. But this is not limited to serving. You are probably already self-generating your own experiences at work that match up with this clash of cultures (Amber vs. X), one that many of us will navigate in our day-jobs. But our day jobs also force us to adapt to different levels of development, and for that aren’t they providing us with opportunities to transcend-negate-include-integrate? Or at the very least, aren’t they providing us with ways to be better at whatever level we are at?

Whether it is as a server, or in any other job where someone at Amber is being asked to evaluate competing commitments, a struggle is bound to happen. Competing commitments have someone that gravitates about Amber. At Amber you are your commitments, and you hope that they never have to compete. But of course, they will. That ability to evaluate and make tough decisions about time and resources (including your time!) from two competing commitments offers someone at an Amber Altitude the opportunity to step into the uncomfortable arena of principled self-authorship. But it also affords their shadow the opportunity to displace and justify egocentric behavior in the name of integrity. (Instead of: “John is more in need of my time and support right now, even though I would personally rather help Suzie. I hope Suzie will understand.” The shadow says: “Fuck John! He can sink for all I care. I’ll make up some bull about how I was already helping Suzie, and I can’t leave her hanging, now can I?”). That is direct example of how our fixations, our shadow, hijacks higher perspectives, and utilizes them for lower ends. And it is something to which we must all pay attention, and even more so if we are 2nd Tier, for shadow-work is one of the most significant translations of Integral, 2nd Tier cultural values.
We Are All Servers

Connecting with people we work with is worthwhile and forms a solid foundation for efficiency and team spirit. But simple affiliation can only get you so far. Furthermore, the people with whom we work are also our customers, no matter what we do. I want to connect with my tables, but I also must sell—actually, I am compelled to sell, for myself and the restaurant. Beyond that, however, I want to serve with wisdom and compassion. It is not provocative to state that although I am literally discussing being a server in a restaurant, we all serve in our jobs ($$) and in our careers (♥)—even if you are lucky enough to have those roles in the same position.

We all serve, whether we like it or not. This is similar to Kegan’s charge for humanity to understand that whether or not you realize it, people are unconsciously constructing you as a “holding environment” or “culture of embeddedness” every day. And by implication, so do you. The ability to be self-authoring [Orange Altitude] does not mean that you are beyond this dynamic. Nor does it give you a free pass to ignore when it is coming from others. In fact, every 1st Tier level is completely and utterly ignorant of this process. So, another way of putting this is: you are 2nd tier to the extent that you understand and honor the constant co-creation of level-specific meaning in yourself and others. And, it doesn’t frustrate you, even when it bothers you. If it does, go right back to your shadow work.

What better way to serve is there, than to always be on the lookout for this process? Please take note that understanding the process does not grant you the wisdom and compassion to act appropriately. Only a culture can form a Kosmic groove around the norms that generate the proper supports and challenges for a given population. And only an Integral culture can do this for the future of humanity.
Integral Culture

Don’t you hate that low-grade anxiety you feel when a server doesn’t write down your order? “Oh sure, as if you are going to remember my high-maintenance ‘When Harry Met Sally’ parameters….” You must know of that anxiety if you are reading this book—it is an analogue of the anxiety you feel when you are around people that do not understand you, only parts of you. You are necessarily collapsed so that they can see you at all, but you still feel un-met, not-whole, and perhaps a bit unwelcome. It is the anxiety of not-knowing, of too much freedom. The most powerful attraction to the Integral culture is that you become more fully seen for the many facets of the brilliant gem that reflects your multiple perspectives on life and love and suffering. Perspectives that you can probably take simultaneously, and others seem to always interrupt you, just when you were starting to put the lenses together….and they are all of a sudden done with the conversation, having duly judged you according to the first thing that you said. Ever get that one?? If you are reading this, you probably get it all the time.

So what am I driving at here? To be specific, I am turning this discussion into a hearty call for shadow work. Our shadows will blind us. They will act as an anchor for our own development, as well. You are a better or worse holding environment depending upon your shadow. As Ken Wilber often says, the more you are able to bring forth the bright light of spirit, the more crisp and troublesome your shadow becomes—the more apparent, that is, your shadow is to others. But perhaps it is as true to say that it becomes less and less apparent to the holder of that shadow.

Group process rescued from the impotence of the Green swamp can be a powerful tool for the emerging Integral culture for exactly that scenario. I have been hinting at the “Inter-Individuated Self-System” throughout this chapter. I will be exploring its structure and process in more detail in later chapters. It should be clear by now, however, that the future of Integral culture involves an Integral Life Practice for its members, because an ILP has proven itself to be the best way of creating the necessary precursors for 2nd Tier living.

“I co-create. I have a shadow. I respond to others with my shadow sometimes. There is opportunity for growth when I do this. By accepting my own complexity, I can move beyond the limiting polarities of the 1st Tier. By embracing my shadow, I can operate with a more clear understanding of the appropriate applications of wisdom and compassion.”

When combined with the theoretical framework of AQAL, both the contents and the processes of level specific exchanges fall into place like figure-and-ground. So what is it like to actually experience the power of this process?

Remember the metaphor of the computer generated 3-D images? You stare and stare, but the more linear you are, or the more peripheral you are, the more frustrated you become. And then something clicks—the figure and ground become differentiated. And you wonder, “How the hell did I not see this before??”

Yeah….It’s like that.


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