Tribute to Emine Kiray

Tribute to Emine Kiray

Emine Kiray, one of our IWB directors and long-standing contributors to the integral community, passed away last Tuesday March 1st after a year of receiving chemotherapy and Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment for lung cancer. She passed away in her own home in Cambridge, with her best friend from Turkey at her side and a good nurse that she’d come to know. She had recently come to the end of where Western medicine could go and had only just entered palliative care. There will be a burial first in Istanbul, and something else planned for Boston likely in early April, details of which are not yet released.

I visited her as soon as I found out last year and she kept me close in the loop on her progress through the year, during which time she had visits from many friends, she spent five weeks in Turkey at her beach house in Cunda on the Aegean Sea, and did another trip to Puerto Rico with friends last fall. Those high points aside, it has not been an easy journey, but Emine met each step of the way with fierce grace.


Abla Emine—‘abla’ being a term of respect for an elder sister in Turkish—held a central presence in Integral Without Borders since the moment she first got involved.

It was 2006, our first Integral Without Borders event intended to initiate dialogue on an integral approach to complex global issues with other scholar-practitioners. She registered for this inaugural event: ekiray was the name that popped up on the paypal receipt. Curious, I emailed her… who was this person, I wondered? We connected and I immediately recognized her depth of wisdom and adeptness of mind. We invited her to present at the gathering that was to occur that October.

Present, she certainly did. She opened the event with a lecture on Integral Methodological Pluralism. It was like a bomb went off in the room, in the best sense of the analogy. And really IWB was never the same again.

She struck a tone ever since that first moment that held us to a rigor of thinking and a complexity of engagement that we had to at least meet. And then, she encouraged us to go ever further in our thinking, until found myself in realms that I couldn’t have found on my own. That was the nature of our collaboration: such a true interaction that whole new worlds would arise. With a strong background in history, sociology, economics as well as Integral Theory, Emine was able to see the broader social contexts and more likely paths of social change—meshing the national terrain, the social center of gravity, dominant modes of discourse and the existing links to global social structures and culture—in ways that few can. Although myself and others often ended up being the forward-facing voice, she was actually the one who evoked and honed so much of the integral social change theory that we currently have at IWB.

Her drive into the deeper theoretical depths was one of Emine’s gifts in IWB, as well as throughout the integral community. There is the truly historic story in which she contacted Ken Wilber about ten years ago, who at the time was involved in a fundraising drive for Integral Institute, and said, “So, listen, I will gladly donate $200,000 if you can explain to me Zone 7!” (paraphrasing, so for those who know the complete quote, let me know!) She was part of many of the Integral Institute seminars and events, and would ever drive the conversation into more scholarly depths. Reflecting on this, Nicole Fegley recently remarked,

"What a mind. I will also remember her and Clint going at it at many an integral event, speaking in such depth and nuance about things that I could hardly hang let alone be a part of it. I seem to remember a couple times a little crowd gathering as the two of them furiously smoked cigarettes and took it deeper and further. What a mind. What a heart. She will be so deeply missed in this community."

And her bio as a mentor at Core Integral is simply perfect:

"Emine is wicked smart. And, by wicked smart, we mean Massachusetts Institute of Technology smart. She has a PhD from MIT, is heading up a major development project in Turkey, and is an expert in social development. Emine applies Integral to fields the rest of us barely knew existed. After six years of working with her, we've come to a simple conclusion: If you don't fall instantly in love with her warmth, wit, and humility, you need to do some shadow work."

For us at IWB, that is certainly true, and she really held a central pole of the tent in so many ways. She hosted two IWB events in Istanbul, one in 2008 and the other 2010, funded a year of writing and research for our team, continued to push the envelop through writings and presentations at these and other events, and brought a stable continued depth to our community.  She helped organize and facilitate IWB events Vancouver in 2010 and Boulder 2014, and braved the thin air at high altitude in Cusco, Peru during IWB’s field course there in 2012. Said IWB Co-Founder Paul van Schaik, “she leaves a big presence – and an enormous gap.”

This last year, despite having “chemo-head” and all the other physical discomforts of that treatment and the cancer itself, she continued to develop aspects of integral social change theory with us, particularly with me. These were sketched notes and jotted down ideas from conversations we almost-had amongst the rest of the intensity of life. It was wonderful. But I also feel there is a lot of unfinished work on the integral dynamics of social change that we never got down fully onto paper. Last summer, I connected some of her ideas with my own application experiences in a presentation at the Integral Theory Conference. I credited her then for her central role in those ideas. But here, I vow to bring her ideas and our shared work forth more fully and explicitly in the coming years, to dedicate it to her and see its manifestation in forms that the world can grab hold of. Through that, and in so many ways, certainly IWB will retain her historic, energetic signature for many years to come.

We are left with her huge presence, and the enormous gap of her passing, sitting with the koan that death presents. Ken Wilber, musing on this and grieving her loss this week, put it beautifully:

“No matter how much I have studied and practiced things like the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and—if that can be believed—I’ve experienced the major states that dying will bring—and see it is overall a truly beautiful process—I’ve always been curious that that didn’t make it any less sad when loved ones died. It’s just such a deep, dull ache. We can always relax into the Great Perfection of everything that is arising—and that still doesn’t make the sad times less sad….” (Wilber, March 3rd, 2016)

Please join us in grieving Abla Emine, in celebrating her place in our lives and community, and wishing her great wisdom and compassion for her transition.

~ Gail


I remember the earliest conversations that I had with Emine, right after I had met her and was wondering what she was really like.  The first thing that struck me was how naturally integral she was—her whole being just seemed to suck it in hungrily and yet also radiate it out, powerfully.  She would explain to me—using weekly anecdotes—incident after incident of a major problem her MIT colleagues were wrestling with—unsuccessfully—but that could be quickly handled with a more integral approach, which she would then outline, brilliantly.  Her reaction to this conventional institutional stupidity was wonderful: it was exasperated, irritated, yet suffused with levity, as if she got the whole joke of the conventional academic game and found it, in the end, enormously humorous—but definitely worth playing.  But what I was struck with most was the depth and brightness of her intellect. “Where on earth did she come from?!?”  From then onward, we’d have hours of conversations in the integral stratosphere, with Emine re‑interpreting virtually every problem she faced in integral terms. I’d often get lengthy emails of her in-depth integral analysis of this and that current issue, often focusing on specifics she saw going on in Turkey.  I often thought, this is what something that MIT would be like if it ever awakened to a truly Integral view—conventional brilliance but now coming from the leading-edge of evolution.
“Her passing came as something of a shock to those who knew her.  I’ve been practicing meditative-contemplative practices for four decades, and due to some exceptional teachers, I’ve been fortunate to have my Mind’s eye opened a fair degree.  But deaths of particularly special loved ones still hurt, maybe hurt more.  I’ve been quoted as saying that with higher development, painful occasions “hurt more but bother you less”—“hurt more,” because with increasing development you get increasingly sensitive, and  you feel everything much more intensely, including pain.  But “bothers you less” because you are also becoming more and more transcendental, and thus less directly identified with pain itself.  But somehow, with people like Emine, I find it hard to be bothered less—though it does manage to definitely hurt more. 
“According to the Tibetans, the typical bardo stay (the period in between death and rebirth) is 49 days.  Given a fair amount of variability, we might likely assume that Emine has just recently been reborn—somewhere.  She might even have gained her final Awakening in the initial bardo, and is reborn as an Enlightened bodhisattva (it wouldn’t surprise me).  But we can at least be sure that she has taken her deeply integral wisdom with her, and combined that with whatever additional Awakening she might have attained, and somewhere on this planet right now is a newborn child—I’m going to guess girl—whose eyes shine with the brightness of a thousand suns and whose heart beats just a little faster than most and whose head is pulsing with a radiant intelligence meant to impact the world she grows up in profoundly.  And for somebody my age (middle 60s), this is particularly good news, because at about the time that I will be dying for this time around, I will be feeling the Field of her Presence as a brightening, soothing, awakening Persuasion (called Love), and I will leave this world considerably happier than I would have without her.”
--Ken Wilber 


“My initial reactions are very much from Big Mind; a deep gratitude for the life I have been allowed to live, a vivid, luminous, very physical, deeply satisfying awareness of the life around me, coupled with a bittersweet sadness. All this interspersed with moments of grief, terror, utter confusion.” Emine Kiray Jan 31st, 2015

“I’m doing okay… I have been able to maintain that "uncertain mind" for the most part. Feelings tend to move through faster. We'll see for how long. It all will continue to unfold as it will, I suppose. But, I cannot tell you how important my experiences in Diane's lifeboat exercise have been. I am (for now) reliably able to find that non-dual place where life and death are equivalent.” Emine Kiray, Feb. 1st, 2015

Emine with the IWB team in Cunda, Turkey

Emine hosting an IWB event in Istanbul in 2010.

The three original direcors of IWB, Paul van Schaik, Gail Hochachka, and Emine Kiray (in order from left to right) visioning nothing short of a complete planteary transformation, while dining on the banks of the Bosphorus River (photo by Michael Simpson)

Emine and Gail in an ongoing dialogue on the nuanced dynamics of social change sparked in 2006, continued through the years right until the last email with "love" as the subject line in Feb 2016, and it is not over.

Emine organizing and hosting an IWB event in 2008 in the old city of Istanbul with participants from North America, Latin America, Europe, Middle East, and Africa.

Emine describing something riveting in Vancouver 2010.

Emine hosting an exclusive IWB think-tank at her house in Istanbul, 2010.

Much like her presentation on IMP at the inaugural IWB event in Perpignan, France in 2006 (this one in Istanbul, 2008).

IWB group in Amaru, Peru (Emine is far left of the photo) learning about a community economic development project, Sept 2012.

Emine presenting on social change dynamics in Turkey (Boulder 2014)

Emine (assisted by Anya) opens her antique wooden vendor's box originally from India--replete with stickers of Laksmi and Sanskrit writing--in which IWB friends had placed items she might need for her body, mind and soul on the chemotherapy journey this past year--ginger, chocolate, art, incense, teachings, books, notes, love... The wood box then became her altar.

Making the most out of life.

With her sweet dog Echo.

Rest in Peace.