Exploring Spiral Dynamics in South Africa

My takeaway from a lived experience of human reality

I had never been to Africa before. Italy, where I live, is only a few hundred kilometers away, but I never crossed the waters. Until now, when I was following the call of the Integral Community and my passion to learn and understand life better.

I flew to the far end of Africa. Arrived in Johannesburg, I couldn’t find  the shuttle service I had booked. What to do in such an unknown country? Whom could I trust? I am used to not be blinded and credulous by my 30+ years in Italy, and what I found at the Joburg airport didn’t look much different from Rome, except that people there seemed less stressed, more alive and friendly. So I found someone to take me to the far away hotel and trusted that I would arrive there, which I did.

Far outside the city, fenced twice and with guards at every gate, the car brought me to a beautiful place where monkeys run around, even giraffes, exotic birds and oversized lizards, green meadows with lakes and waterfalls, beautifully kept, but somehow asleep. They could not find my booking and for a short moment I thought I was in the wrong place (panic?- not really). A name I knew showed up in the list of bookings, so it must be right and I got a bed for that night. The official beginning of the Integral African Tour was scheduled for the following day and until then all uncertainties were cleared out and I enjoyed the place and the beautiful nature.

I had come from Italy during the last days of May where spring had had a hard time to take hold. Why did I believe that it would be warmer in South Africa? Maybe because we Europeans connect “south” and “warm” automatically. It was not warm at all, in the shade and in the hotel rooms, and my freezing mode continued except the few hours during the day when the sun burnt the northern skin without pity while in the shade the next layer of clothing was due. Yeah, it was their sunny winter and that was also the reason why the hotel area was almost deserted and the swimming pool not at all inviting.

This was the first hint for me to check my automatic assumptions and realize that what we take for granted, might need some more consideration within a different context. The entire two weeks of my stay were a crescendo-experience of learning how limited my (our?) ideas are of life, of the world, of everything: For example my being struck by the fact that, down there, the sunrise is in the west and sunset in the east. Really? Strange! It took me some time to realise that down there the sun is in the north. In our mindset the sun is in the south, always, a never doubted constant.  Bang! A severe hit for our habitual beliefs and “biases”.

Don’t wear jewelry or expensive watches! Keep your camera and cell phone in your front pocket! Keep a tight hold of your stuff! – These were the instructions before going downtown Johannesburg. Sounds pretty dangerous! Probably the same instructions are true for any city in the world, at least for certain areas of the cities, and in Joburg happens the center to be such a place. It is a strange mixture between third world colorfulness and huge modern buildings, an attempt by the government to regain a “normal” atmosphere in the city which, once upon a time must have been beautiful and safe…

We Europeans (and Americans for that matter) complain about refugees and migrants. We have no idea how much more of that is present in countries which are far poorer than we are. Or maybe we don’t want to see it in our self-centered blindness? South Africa is full of immigrants and refugees who try very hard to survive. And a means for survival is stealing to get some food into your stomach – or would you decide to starve instead, if you were in that situation?

It is a little bit like the “American dream”. People arrive as refugees or come into the country with the hope – or illusion – that they would find their luck there, their “real life”, which they couldn’t find in their home countries. It doesn’t seem to work any more in America as it did decades ago, Fortified borders make sure that few people have the chance to try it out nowadays. No walls in South Africa. People are streaming in from the surrounding countries. South Africa had been very well off, the gold and diamond mines offered work to people and wealth, too, at least to those who were leading and organising all that. Too bad that, in the 40ies, apartheit poisoned the coexistence of people of different races and skin colors. This inevitably caused a deep separation into groups which had little or no awareness of the respective other and the master-servant dynamics got ingrained into people’s consciousness. No wonder that it led to upheaval and severe problems which are still ongoing with no certainty if a solution can be found at all.

South Africa is not as well off as it used to be, the infrastructure is deteriorating. In some areas of Johannesburg, or further in the countryside, I was reminded of eastern European countries before the breakdown of communism: neglect of existing goods, missing maintenance, missing skills to handle the problems or just unwillingness to play the game “functional society” and preferring the “filling my own pockets” trajectory. We call that corruption, even theft. As we know from Spiral Dynamics and Integral Theory: People with a certain mindset don’t see their game as something “wrong”, it had been played before, the most natural thing for them, nothing strange or wrong with it. It is hard to understand for us who believe to have a sense for justice and fairness and a heart for the dispossessed and cheated.

There are some beautiful residential areas in Johannesburg where you can go only by passing a checkpoint. Lovely big houses and gardens, paradisical, – if there was not the huge wall around each of them and 6-fold electric fencing on top. I am wondering how it feels to live in your own jail, when you have to close yourself inside a fortification to make sure that no one can steal your possessions from you. It must be somehow like entering into the wilderness where we humans have to close ourselves in our cars or fences, where the relationship animals – humans is upside down, where the humans are in the Zoo, the animals watching us.

This is another reminder to drop our arrogance about believing to be able to dominate either animals, nature or other humans. The throwback comes, sooner or later. In the era of climate change we, finally, should understand that we are overestimating our capacities and, by doing so, we are  blending out all rational foresight of the consequences of our doing. It is magical thinking to believe that we get away with our careless hybris!

Back to South Africa and the reminder that our “western” countries are incommensurate in believing that they are the norm for everything. Walking through the streets you better miss the beauty of what you could perceive around you! You better keep your eyes in front of your feet! From one moment to the other you could break your legs! Unexpected holes in the sidewalk or streetside, due to neglected construction sites, broken pavement or stolen pieces, the iron lids which should cover the underground infrastructure. When we think to have a “right” in our countries to be warned of holes in the road, we are far from reality – and presumptuous.  And when falling over a sidewalk edge because it was not evidenced yellow-black, in the “West” we get upset and sue the “responsible” for having caused us harm. No one to sue in South Africa and you better pay attention! It would be a good lesson for all the self righteous people in our countries to witness reality in other places – and to show a little more gratitude for what they get in their own countries instead of wanting always MORE!

Btw: I fell twice on the pavement in these 2 weeks. Two years of Aikido about two decades ago seem still to be in my body memory and so I didn’t really hurt myself, thank God!

For me the recipe to be open to reality worked well. During the Integral African Conference I finally understood that the West, Europe and America, are still dominating the rest of the world in a profound way. It is not any more about colonialism, religious missionaries and not even so much about exploiting the  material goods or the human labour of other countries – although this is a truly important topic. The real issue lies much deeper than that: We Europeans have exported our ways of thinking, our philosophies, our theories, our value systems, our approach to our planet, our economic thinking and systems.

The worst thing is: we are totally unconscious of our belief that we have the only truth, that our way of thinking and doing is the only valuable way, even the only possible way of living on this planet. And the even worse thing is that the rest of the world buys into our ideas and ways of being and tries to “grow” as we are modeling for them.  So they neglect and lose their own unique way of approaching life, they give up their own fundamental axioms and beliefs. Not good!

This sort of colonisation is far more detrimental than anything before. The world is becoming a narrow one-way road and the richness of existence is willingly impoverished. The massive extinction of species is a symbol for this development. At the end of this fatal road are we: self extinction by ignorance and arrogance. Inexcusable!

In the video interview which Ryan Nakade did with me, I share many moments of my experience, while in this blogpost I am writing about the conclusions which I have reached so far. If you feel uncomfortable with them – and you probably will because I am questioning our “normality”, our own hidden axioms about existence – don’t worry! On the video I am less rigorous and share more the wonder and magic of the experience. Enjoy! And if you are familiar with constellations: Towards the end of the video I share my experience in the role of the “Have-Nots”. This really shook me to the bones! The felt experience of being at the bottom of society, of dying because of lacking everything: I was astonished, shocked, moved, incredulous and grateful to now understand how people feel in that situation!

Meeting Loraine Laubscher at “Da Vinci”. She was the essential collaborator of Don Beck in the transition from Apartheit and is still working on the social situation in her country. A living example!

Children passing their afternoon in a social initiative for enhance learning and education in the Marble Towers


Heidi about South Africa

1:00 Context: Why South Africa?

3:00 Missing revious experiences

4:00 Chronological description of the first days.

5:30 The project of the tour: Rica, Ruan, Rene and Leon, the organisers who were with us all the time and showed us their country from the point of view of Spiral dynamics.

7:50 Homeless people, refugee and migration reality is huge. The attempt of creating one’s life from the very bottom. The beige level.

9:50 Blue level initiative for children. Selforganising children in a safe space.

11:28 Orange level: luxurious shopping mall. 

12:16 Apartheit Museum. Experience of entering through your “race-gate”. Race attributions changed by law. Absurd. When the distinction is color? How can color change?

14:45 The race distinctions were written into the law and so created a hugely absurd situation where peaceful co-existence was programmed to be impossible.

15:30 We are habitual creatures: an experience.

17:10 Going north. The Safari in open car was so cold! Tzaneen and the village. The Sargomas, shamanic practice answering your questions. A mindblowing experience.

21:00 the reality as it was 100 years ago in our countries: no toilet and fetching water from the well 15 min away. Insight: we are spoilt in our cultures and should be more grateful for what we have.

22:15 A new look on purple. Radiant, friendly, laughing people. Energy to create something out tof their situation, also going into red (rebellion).

23:40 Ryan asks: How is that experience transformative?

24:00 The struggle for survival. The gap between have-nots and haves. The education problem: not enough skilled people come out. Better education only for richer people (again). Socialist ideas which aim to short term and miss the mark on the long run.

27:40 I am touched and able to connect with the reality. Assumptions became relative by seeing how people try to encounter life and how big mistakes are being made. An ongoing human condition.

29:55 Paul asks about Shamans and radiance. 

29:30 A constant open experience without having had stereotypes and fixed ideas before.

30:25 People in the village were so “normal”, the family life. Sacrifices for a better life. Existence of a King parallel to the government. Tribe-government.

32:50 Children come home from school. Playing without sophisticated toys having a lot of fun.Childlike joy in playing and moving – which seems to be lost in our western world. A baby seeing the first time a white person.

35:05 Installing things from above (government) doesn’t work. Selforganisation for safety. Structures created from the bottom up seems to be very promising. No police visible. Better take care for yourself and your things. Difficulty to handle crime. Resentment against white people. Lesson of the different ethical understandings.

39:10 Paul: What is it like to come back home?

40:40 The wonder of the different world. It is differently better there. Our ideas of life is so relative and NOT universal. The colonialisation of the world by ideas, our ways of thinking and seeing the world. Our western arrogance. BAsic axioms of life: ours are the only and right ones.

45:00 Adopting the values and ideas and way of being of others instead of developing their own way. Also women imitated men instead of developing their own way. RElating to climate change.

46:15 Seeing existence and the world in a much more relative way and with less arrogance.

47:20 carrying the energy of Africa? Getting in touch with more primal ways? What we are missing. Do we need tribes to do what we couldnÄt do on our own.

38:35 Tribal consciousness had human scrifices. But we should cherish the good parts of what was. I tapped into the life energy which I found there. A whole body experience. Theories seem to not really connected to reality, framework instead of theorizing all the time.

51:15 Ryan: loosing of implicit frameworks: integrating, what is the next step?

52:00 Shamanic experience. Doubt get levelled. There is more to life and the world than we normally thing. Not needing doubt but develop the energy and capacity of sensing.

53:40 Role of “Have-Nots” in the Constellation at the conference. My initial approach and what happened as soon as I entered into the role.

1:01:00 The invisible fields of energy exist! A more real outlook for the future: exploring more these spaces!

1:02:00 Ryan expresses to feel something. The fields are contagious! A comment by Paul: lost in some space.

1:03:30 As a normal tourist you probably wouldn’t have this kind of experience. 


0:00 Heidi intro

0:50 The hierarchical structure of the present models. Rica Viljoen: we are all the time in all the levels of the spiral. Expression of yourself in a certain way.

2:00 Level of development: it is going “better”

2:40 We were shown the people and the “colors” of the spiral. LEVELS seems to be qeird now.

3:20 Dr. Loraine Laubscher, collaborator with Don Beck. She understood and translated “purple” to Don Beck. 

4:50 Loraine and Rica are speaking about the Spiral in a different way and they express it in their being and saying. A felt understanding, not only theory.

6:18 Heidi reads the description of the conference of Dr. Loraine Laubscher.

8:50 closing words: Understanding Spiral Dynamics differently.

An addition to this post from July 28th, 2019

There are only 2 Opera Houses in Africa, one of them in South Africa. By the initiative of a private dutch person A school was founded in Cape Town to build african voices into opera singers. Most of the African singers, winning prizes and working in international opera houses, come from that school. From townships and community choirs into the world of  western opera music.

Two of them were present in the 2019 edition of “Operalia”, Competition founded and directed by the world famous opera singer Placido Domingo. One of them were present in the final round concert. Although not winning a prize, the excellence of his voice, technique and musicality, his immersion in the music which is far from his tradition, is absolutely remarkable and excellent.



The original documentary is available on for subscribers. This Youtube version, unfortunately, has distorted Video