The Gemstone Integration Process is designed to help clients leverage our understanding of how people make meaning of the world and what they see as being possible. Psychological theories tell us that adults progress through stages of maturity that allow them to see more broadly and handle more complexity. Leaders with powerful visions have often progressed to later stages of mental complexity than many of the colleagues they need to inspire and convince to join them on the journey to realize the vision. By understanding these stages of mental maturity, we can both address the individual’s old beliefs that come from an earlier stage of mental complexity and get in the way of stepping forward, and we can tailor language and information-sharing techniques to meet audiences where they are more effectively.

Adult Development Theory* tells us that everyone has a “center of gravity” that defines how we see the world, what is important to us, how much complexity we can hold in our mind’s eye, how long term we can contemplate, and how inter-connected we see things as being. Our center of gravity gives us insight into reasons for sources of joy and suffering. Developmental work involves pushing the limits of our meaning making to be more and more expansive. While we never stop being affected by the world around us, the more we develop in this way, the more we can transcend the suffering caused by things that used to affect us negatively. We call this “vertical development” because it involves moving to the next level of perception of the world and our place in it. The more we develop vertically, the less attachment we have to our own sense of self-worth, that is, our ego becomes less and less of a factor. This is why vertical development is also called adult ego development.

We all progress through stages of development sequentially, but different parts of ourselves can progress at different speeds. Experiences we face and beliefs we form can mean that in some dimensions, we “come from” an earlier place, meaning that a particular facet can be “stuck” at an earlier level of developmental maturity than we are generally capable of seeing from. Those earlier-stage facets can keep us from moving forward to fulfill the bigger-picture vision we have for the future.

We are all made up of many different dimensions, including many different aspects of our professional lives, personal lives, interests, responsibilities, learning, self-care, etc. We can think of a person like a gemstone with many different “facets” representing these different dimensions.  “Facets” that are causing fear, uncertainty, or other discomfort are often “stuck” at earlier developmental points; by uncovering and examining them, we can use what we know about developmental stages to help them “catch up” with the rest of one’s ability to think about the present and envision the future. Once these facets have “caught up” with the rest one’s meaning making ability, the person can continue to challenge one’s limits of their own meaning making to develop even more capacity to see more and handle more complexity and uncertainty.

It is helpful to think of each person having many facets that have reached a level of mental complexity at the perimeter of the multi-faceted gemstome, with some facets closer to the center. These facets that are closer to the center need to be focused on explicitly to help them move out to meet the perimeter of the fully developed facets. This movement of all facets to the same level is known as integration. Once these facets are at the same distance from the core, further development of the whole person is possible.

Internal work involves helping the visionary leader identify dimensions of themselves that may be limiting their ability to fully execute the vision. Usually, these “facets” of the person are areas that are “held back” by old ways of seeing the world and thinking about what is possible. We work to identify areas that are at an earlier point of development, to move from coping with the feelings they produce to transcending them, so they no longer create an impediment to fully stepping forward into the unknown of the broad vision. These areas often the source of anxiety, fear, and other forms of discomfort that get in the way of stepping fully forward into the unknown with confidence and trust. Integration is the work of inviting these earlier-stage facets to “catch up” with the rest of us.

Facets that come from an earlier stage often stem from one of the following:  values that have been accepted without examination from one’s culture; early-life experiences; expectations placed on one from elders or other close family and friends; physical or emotional trauma; and beliefs about the way things “should” be that are operating under the surface. There is nothing inherently wrong with having facets that come from an earlier stage – we all have them. They cause us discomfort and discontent, though, so our work to transcend those negative feelings involves bringing them to light, allowing emotions and physical sensations to inform us about what is really happening, and working with what comes up as the real drivers of our discomfort unfold. Doing this internal work makes it possible for us to take action that could not be contemplated previously.

Often, clients find it difficult to understand why they are able to see, think, and be so much more than they can in the less-developed domains. Examples of earlier-stage facets include how one feels treated by family members; how one feel treated by colleagues; how one feels about one’s own knowledge and capabilities; how one believes they should be recognized; how one thinks about their accomplishments; etc.  In many cases, these are sources of unhappiness, even anguish, that do not align with one’s bigger picture view of the world. While many people are good at coping with the feelings that arise in these situations, they believe that there is no alternative. However, it is possible to move beyond coping, to move to a later place in which they no longer cause suffering.

Addressing the complexity of our mental, emotional, and physical landscapes allow us to move toward more wholeness. Integration happens when we work with our less-developed aspects explicitly to allow them to “catch up” to the rest of ourselves. The process is not linear, yet we can describe some steps necessary to undertake the integration process.

Steps in the Gemstone Integration Process include:

  1. Understand stages of mental complexity, discuss where the individual is coming from in their most expansive self, and form a hypothesis about their “center of gravity”, that is, the level of complexity they are able to mentally hold.
  2. Name what is causing discomfort, and inquire about the underlying values and beliefs that seem to be the source of that discomfort in that “facet” of one’s whole being.
  3. Form a stage hypothesis about the earlier-stage “facet”, and ask questions about it to address perspectives not previously taken in order to learn more about what underlies the discontent and suffering that comes from it.
  4. Explore more deeply what the client is clinging to, avoiding, or thinking “should” be different than it is. Identify “competing commitments” that exist between the current stage and the next-later stage, and work with the polarities that emerge to develop a system to manage the negative emotions and sensations that arise in honoring both what has been valued in the past and what can be important in the future.
  5. Consider what would be different if the client were coming from the next later stage, and develop practices for the client to undertake that will generate a shift to that next stages.
  6. Over time, undertake practices that shift thinking from the earlier-stage “story” to the next later-stage “story”; use this process to shift from stage to stage in the “left-behind” facet so that, over time, it will “catch up” to the person’s center of gravity.
  7. Recognize that neural pathways are being “rewired” in the process – new thinking may not feel “true” initially, but over time, new pathways will be laid down through practicing new thinking.
  8. Use this cyclical process to integrate less-developed facets; as they “catch up”, continue to work in a similar fashion to continue the vertical development process, pressing against the limits of one’s meaning making to expand the capacity to hold more and more complexity, uncertainty, ambiguity, variability and rapid change.

Throughout this process, the individual becomes more capable of handling the discomfort that comes with complex situations. Therefore, they are able to “be with” the discomfort more fully, not shutting down when things become difficult, so become able to stay open and address more of the situation.

This self-knowledge not only expands possibilities for the individual who has done the integration work – it also reveals how others might be thinking that is limiting their ability to comprehend what is being asked of them to realize a broad vision. The leader who wants others to appreciate and be able to contribute to fulfilling their expansive vision can leverage this understanding to meet others where they are. Doing so enables them to help others “wrap their heads around” the increased complexity that is out of the tolerance range others are currently operating in. They can then better lead the way for others, helping them to stay open in their discomfort, and knowing when and how to simplifying things when others cannot follow them into the higher level of discomfort. Ultimately, this leads to others being able to stay open in the face of complexity so that more can be achieved toward realizing the broad vision.

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