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Jim O'Connor has had an interest in theories of everything and the integral worldview since the mid 1990's. He can be contacted at

A Mandalic Approach to Development

Part 1: The Structure of the Psyche

Jim O'Connor

1. Introduction

It baffles me as to why issues around the centaur do not command the discussion within integral circles that they clearly warrant.

In this essay I attempt to develop a new model of the individual psyche based upon the twin concepts of holarchy and mandala. I believe that by taking this approach we can arrive at a conception of the psyche and of development that integrates the work of both Ken Wilber and Michael Washburn, and which significantly recontextualises them both in the process. This new model can account for all the major features of these existing schemas, while explaining many facets of psychological and transpersonal growth that they leave unaccounted for.

Not being an academic or a scholar, just a student of integral issues who thinks he has spotted something being missed, I admit that I find it difficult to present my model clearly and to marshall as many facts in its support as I would like. This being the case I ask for the reader's sympathy as they work through the essay, and that they would look past any failures of presentation or scholarship toward the merits (or otherwise, of course) of the model I am advocating before raising criticisms.

As readers of my previous essays on this site will be aware, my prefered holarchical model is based upon a one-scale approach, derived from the work of Andrew Smith [1], but with my own particular organisation of the transpersonal level. I have developed this model in a step-by-step fashion over the last ten years, prompted initially by the recognition of certain problems inherent in Wilber's schema that cannot be resolved using the hierarchical approach that he has adopted. This being the case I will attempt to lead the reader from Wilber's model to own in as logical manner as I am able.

With this in mind, I will start by outlining the main problem as I see it with Wilber's view on individual development, which is his position on the nature and structure of the centaur.

2. Problems With Wilber's Conception of the Centaur

2.1 The Centaur Has a Different Structure to the Other Stages

The structure of the centaur has long been point of contention between Wilber and Washburn, as has the nature of the transition that leads to it from the mental-ego. Although not discussed in integral circles any more, this debate has not been resolved and continues (or at least, should continue) to trouble anyone looking for a consistent and parsimonious model of the psyche.

Wilber's position since The Atman Project is that the centaur has the same overarching structure as any other stage of development, namely a hierarchy in which the basic structures of previous levels are embedded within the it in a nested fashion, as shown in diagram 1.

Yet one of the key properties of the centaur, cited even by Wilber in that book, is that it integrates the body and other lower mental-level stages in a superior fashion to the mental-ego and the stages that came before it. For example, here is Wilber himself describing the centaur:

"That is, because consciousness is no longer identified with any of these elements to the exclusion of the others, all of them can be integrated: the body, the persona, the shadow, the ego - all can be brought into a higher-order integration" [2]
"This stage is variously referred to as the "integration of all lower levels", "integrated", "self-actualized", "autonomous" [3]
"Presumably, then, actual autonomy (and self-actualization), would result, and could only result by definition, with the conscious emergence of this totality - a type of shift of identity from any of the fragments (ego, personal, body) to their prior and higher integration." [4]

The problem with this is that if development proceeds as a simple nested hierarchy there should be no need for the centaur to re-integrate the lower stages in a deeper fashion. They should have been comprehensively integrated as development proceeded through those lower stages themselves, and the centaur should be a simple transcendence of the mental ego. Here is how Washburn describes the problem:

"If normal development includes rather than excludes lower levels at each stage transition, why do we need to wait until the centauric stage to integrate all lower levels? In normal development, according to Wilber, each psychic level attained is already an integrated totality including all previous levels; each stage transition to a new level simply integrates a lesser totality within a greater totality. If human development follows a normal course, then, transition from the physiosphere to the biosphere should integrate the physiosphere within the greater totality of the biosphere, and transition from the biosphere to the noosphere (the level of the mental ego) should integrate the physiosphere-biosphere totality within the greater totality of the noosphere, and so forth. Nothing would be lost along the way; there should be no need to wait until after the noospheric or mental-egoic stage to integrate lower levels. But Wilber says there is such a need..." [5]

In other words, while Wilber acknowledges the superior integration of the centaur, his model can't actually explain it. Washburn quite rightly, in my opinion, uses this as evidence in support of his own model of linear-development-followed-by-regression, as presented in his book The Ego and the Dynamic Ground. [6]

2.2 The Similarities Between Pre-Personal and Centauric Stages Call For An Explanation

The other issue with the centaur, closely related to the first, is that many of its properties mirror closely those of lower stages, although at a higher level of functioning. For example, the vision-image seems to be a higher-order version of what Wilber terms the "low phantasy process" of the typhon; the centaur's spontaneity seems to be a higher-order version of the impulsiveness and inner-directedness of the child; the centaur's groundedness in the present moment, but with knowledge of linear time, also appears to be a higher version of the present-boundedness of the infant; and so on [7]. These qualities or traits are present in the child but then disappear at the transition to the egoic stages, only to re-appear in a higher form with the emergence of the centaur.

Washburn claims, and again I agree, that these similarities suggest a degree of structural identity between the centaur and the lower stages, again pointing to the possibility that the centaur is attained through a re-integration of those levels (or "potentials", as Washburn refers to them). Washburn frames the issue thus:

"The question — which I shall call the pre/trans question — is, as I understand it, this: Do apparent similarities between preegoic and transegoic states imply that these states are expressions of the same or similar psychic structures?" [8]

Washburn is obviously claiming that it does, but whether or not he is right about this the point I would like to stress here is that these similarities at the very least call for some kind of an explanation. Why should the centaur share all these properties with lower levels? Surely it cannot be mere coincidence. Yet Wilber is silent on this issue and his linear schema can't shed any light on it. If, however, we want our models to actually explain things and to have explanatory power, which of course we do, they it is clearly encumbent upon us to investigate the matter further.

It baffles me as to why issues around the centaur do not command the discussion within integral circles that they clearly warrant. It's as if no one thinks they are of any significance, or that they must have a simple explanation, even if we don't yet know what it is. Yet they strike right to the heart of Wilbers model, and Washburn is keenly aware of this fact, calling it "the most important theoretical question for transpersonal psychology" [9].

3. Resolving These Problems — The Move To a Mandalic Model

3.1 The Move to a One-Scale Approach

After the exchange between Wilber and Washburn in Ken Wilber in Dialogue the issues around the centaur remained unresolved for many years, with each holding to his own model and pointing out the problems inherent in his opponent's. However, a simple solution to the problem did eventually present itself, but seemed to pass the majority of integralists by.

This solution was the existence, to my knowledge first pointed out by Andrew Smith, of two distinct classes of holons, which he termed the intermediate and the autonomous [10].

Put simply, an intermediate holon is one that integrates holons from only stage immediately below it, leading to the nested structure so loved by Wilber; while an autonomous holon is made up of holons from all the previous stages of a given level.

And this is the rather obvious solution to the problem of the centaur. It is quite possible for us to see mental-level stages of development upto and including the mental ego as being structured in a nested form as intermediate holons, while viewing the centaur as being structured in a non-nested form, made up of all prior mental-level stages (or potentials, if you prefer) interacting in a relatively free fashion, as an autonomous holon. Viewing things in this way immediately resolves the issues, within a holarchical framework, of how the centaur could exhibit a superior integration of previous stages, and of why it appears to share so many properties with those stages.

I strongly suspect that if Wilber, being keenly aware of these issues, if publicly silent about them, had discovered the distinction between intermediate and autonomous holons when he was first developing his holarchy, he would have gladly seized on it to explain the centaur, and that the whole course of his future work could have been different.

As many readers will know, Smith has extensively critiqued Wilber's overall holarchical model in great detail and in many articles, and put forward his own, which is based upon a one-scale approach. While I consider his criticisms to be completely valid, I should point out that it is not necessary to accept them all to adopt the schema of development I will be presenting in this article.

3.2 The Autonomous Holon as Mandala

In writing an earlier paper, Development in the One-Scale Model: A Unifying Theory? [11], which was a first attempt to show how Smith's holarchy can resolve the points of contention between Wilber and Washburn, it occurred to me that at the stage of development where the autonomous holon emerges (the centauric), it has often been found that the image of the mandala appears in consciousness to represent the emergence of the new decentralised, non-nested structure. This was of course studied most famously by Jung, who developed his own model of the self based upon the mandalic concept.

This observation led me to realise that every level of Smith's holarchy can be thus represented as a mandala, and that reality as a whole can therefore be seen rather elegantly as a series of such mandalas nested within one another. For example:

3.3 The Centaur as Mandala

This modified and, I would argue, more parsimonious and accurate conception of the centaur can thus be represented diagramatically as follow:

We can make this diagram more general by replacing the stage of mental-level development at each cardinal point with its related psychic potential or mental-level attribute, giving us the following:

We can also further generalise this to give us what I will argue is the structure of the autonomous holon of any level of interior development (i.e. mind, soul or spirit):

To anticipate later arguments, generalising in this fashion will allow us to show that a similar structure and pattern of development exists on the level of the soul as exists on the level of the body-mind, but at a higher level and based on the development of consciousness rather than mentality.

4. My Overall Model

4.1 Overview of the One-Scale Model — Overarching Principles

I feel that it is important before discussing the structure of the individual psyche to recap a few of the basic principles of the one-scale model, so that the picture I am presenting can be more easily conveyed and understood.

4.1.1 Intermediate and Autonomous Holons

As I stated earlier, in the one-scale approach a distinction is made between two types of holons, the intermediate and the autonomous. Intermediate holons are made up by transcending and integrating holons from only the stage below, whereas autonomous holons consist of holons from all stages of the level, closely integrated yet interacting with much greater freedom.

4.1.2 Levels and Stages

Another of the key principles on which Smith has constructed his holarchy is that reality is divided into levels and stages. A level is a whole discrete sphere of existence, such as the physiosphere or the biosphere, or, in individual development, the mental-level versus the transpersonal level, each of which has certain properties that distinguish it from the levels above and below it. Further to this, each level has a similar structure, namely of an autonomous holon which forms the basic building block, followed by a series of intermediate holons, termed stages by Smith, followed finally by another autnomous holon which forms the culmination of the level. This culminating autonomous holon then forms the basic building block of the next higher level and so on, until the whole holarchy is constructed.

For example, here is how Smith's physical level looks:

  • atom (autonomous)
  • molecule (intermediate)
  • peptide (intermediate)
  • supramolecular structure (intermediate)
  • subcellular organelle (intermediate)
  • cell (autonomous)

And here is how Smith's biological level looks:

  • cell (autonomous)
  • simple cell unit (intermediate)
  • complex cell unit (intermediate)
  • simple organ (intermediate)
  • complex organ (intermediate)
  • organ system (intermediate)
  • organism (autonomous)

We have already shown how these levels can be represented as mandalas. But note here again how the culminating holon of one level (in this case the cell) forms the initial starting point and building block for the next. This is a pattern that we will see repeating in individual development.

4.1.3 Interiority Results From "Lookup Up" At a Higher-Order Holon

In Smith's one-scale model there are no quadrants. This is due to Smith's assertion, supported by copious arguments, that they are not necessary. A full discussion of this issue is beyond the scope of this essay and the reader is refered instead to Smith's papers on the subject [12]. The important point for our purpose here is that in Smith's model an individual's experience of interiority does not come from him possessing an interior quadrant, but is derived from him "lookup up" at a higher-order holon in which he is embedded. In my version of the model, this means that a person's mental structures come from him looking up at the worldspace in which he exists; and that his structure of consciousness comes from him looking up at manifest existence as a whole. I realise that this point may be rather opaque to readers coming to the one-scale approach afresh. If this is the case I can only once again refer them Smith's book Worlds Within Worlds for clarification.

4.1.4 Holon Substitution and Octaves of Development

Another key insight upon which Smith's model is based is that a similar pattern of development is followed on each level. Once again, a full treatment of how this principle operates on the physical and biological levels is beyond the scope of this essay, but the principle itself is very important to the model of the psyche I am presenting here. This is because we will see that it is fully operative in the realm of interior development, manifesting itself as a similar pattern of development being followed on the level of the soul as played out during the development on the level of the mind. In my earlier essay, Development in the One-Scale Model, I referred to this as "octaves of development", and still stand by that particular aspect of the paper.

4.2 Where I Differ From Smith (Higher Levels)

While I am in no position to criticise Smith's treatment of the physical and biological levels of the holarchy, and am in agreement with them in any case, I do differ with him on the nature and structure of the higher spiritual levels. In Worlds Smith finalises his holarchy at the top of the mental level (the noosphere) arguing that the culminating holon of this level is only just now beginning to form. I disagree with this, and believe that at least one, and quite possibly several, higher levels already exist and are accessible to human interior development; they are: the level immediately above the mental, usually referred to as the transpersonal (or soul level) and which relates to the development of consciousness; and the level above that, which as far as I know currently has no generally-accepted name, but which could be termed the "spirit level", and which relates to non-dual awareness and the development into "emptiness". I am still, however, in agreement with Smith that development through each of these levels results from the individual "looking up" at a successively higher-order holon, firstly the worldspace or realm in which he is embedded, and then the system of interacting realms which forms the next higher level and the overarching entity that the eastern traditions refer to as samsara.

5. My Model of the Psyche

5.1 A Mandalic Model of The Bodymind
5.1.1 The Basic Approach

As I pointed out earlier, it is possible to represent the mental-level psyche as a mandala, as follows:

Or, to state psychic potentials rather than worldviews:

There are two points I would like to make here.

Firstly, notice how the culminating holon of the level, in this case the centaur, is formed from the free interaction of each of the elements shown at the cardinal points. This shows that it is an autonomous holon.

Secondly, as discussed earlier, notice how the culminating holon of the previous level, the body, forms the starting point for development through the next. In a moment we will see this pattern repeated on the level of the soul.

5.1.2 Functions of the Psyche

Notice also that the capacity shown at each cardinal point in diagram 8 is a function of the psyche and not a stage of development. This means that the individual has full access to this capacity from the moment of their birth, and they do not have to somehow develop up to it to experience it. For example, babies have libido and emotions even before they reach the magic and mythic stages; children have thoughts even before they reach the rational stage, and so on. These are aspects of the total being which we all have access to by virtue of having bodies and minds. This is a point that will become important later on when we discuss the soul.

What I would strongly suggest at this point is that it is only when each of these functions becomes identified with and invested with attention and focus (i.e. "cathexed", to borrow a Freudian term) that it then manifests as the corresponding Wilberian stage of development. So, when energy or libido is cathexed we get the magic structure and worldview; when emotion is cathexed we get the mythic structure and worldview; and when thinking is cathexed we get the rational structure and worldview; but each function still exists before this point. Again, this observation will become relevant in discussions on the structure of the soul.

5.1.3 How This Approach Solves the Problems Noted

I will not labour this point as I am repeating myself, but I would argue that viewing the centaur in this manner resolves all of the problems already noted that are inherent in Wilber's conception of the centaur as well as offering an explanation for why this structure shares so many characteristics with the lower stages.

To illustrate this claim with an example, here is how the centaur's sense of time results from integrating each of the time-senses of the lower stages in a higher-order embrace [13]:

5.2 A Mandalic Model of Any Internal Level

Generalising from the mental-level mandala, I would like to repeat my suggestion that any level of being has the following form:

We will now look at how this plays out at the level of the soul.

5.3 A Mandalic Model of the Soul

Applying this generalised mandala to the transpersonal suggests that the soul has the following structure:

Notice again how the culminating holon of the preceding level, the centaur, forms the starting point for the new level. In this case, the centaur is now a mere component of the higher-order self, forming roughly one-quarter of the total being at this level.

And if we recall how I argued that each mental-level stage of development results from the cathexis of a particular function of the psyche, notice how this phenomena also occurs at the transpersonal level. That is, as the cardinal point representing energy is cathexed, the result is the psychic structure and worldview; as affect (love) is cathexed, the result is the subtle structure and worldview; and how, as insight is cathexed, the result is the causal structure and worldview.

Also note that lower-self-sense (self-actualisation), energy (bliss), affect (love), cognition (insight) are functions of the soul, not stages of development that have to be developed up to. They are available to any individual as soon as the transpersonal domain is entered. Thus, just as on the mental level we note that a child has access to thinking even before they reach the rational level, likewise on the transpersonal level the individual does not have to "develop up to" the subtle level to feel love or the causal level to have insight — they have access to all these capacities as soon as they awaken their soul. However, each of these functions can certainly be cathexed and developed further, which I will later argue is what the great spiritual traditions do.

This is a crucially important point, which will be used later to argue for the abandonment of Wilber's hierarchical model, and it's replacement with a mandalic one.

5.4 Why the Psyche is Non-Hierarchical

So, then, I am arguing that the soul is formed from the free interplay of self-actualisation, bliss, love, and insight. This can be represented as follows:

We can note that as these qualities can be represented on a mandala, that none of them is to be considered higher than any other. They are all equal and indispensible attributes of the transpersonal self.

Notice also that the first cardinal point, on the right-hand side of the diagram, represents the centaur, which forms the interface between the soul and the body-mind. Now, we have already seen that the centaur is itself made up of the free interplay of body, vital energy, emotion and thought. So expanding this structure recursively, we can say that the soul is itself made up of the free integration and interaction of all of those potentials, i.e. of bliss, love, insight, self-actualisation, thought, emotion, libido and body, with none of them being considered higher than any other. This can be represented diagramatically as follows:

Notice also how this diagram shows that in transpersonal development, the self-actualisation of the centaur is transformed through being combined with bliss, love and insight, into the capacity for self-realisation, which can be seen as a higher-order version of the same drive.

5.5 The Level Above Transpersonal (of Spirit, Moksha, and the Non-Dual)

I will not say too much about the level above the transpersonal, except to make two observations.

Firstly, notice that as transpersonal development in my model results from the individual looking up at manifest existence, or samsara, when she transcends the transpersonal level she is thus liberated from this system. This offers us an explanation for how and why the experience of moksha or liberation comes about at this transition. Wilber's model offers no such explanation.

Secondly, through the principles of holon substitution and "the octaves of development" we would expect the pattern of growth through this next higher level to match that of the mental and transpersonal levels as already described, and for the Spirit to have the now familiar structure:

Not being at such a lofty level of development myself, and not being able to find too many individuals who are, and who have written about, I am unable at this point to say categorically that this is the case. It is matter for further research and I'd be keen to hear the opinions of others on this issue. I'd be particularly interested if anyone could outline how energy, affect and cognition manifest on this non-dual level to complete the diagram.

6. Neurosis, The Self-Contraction and How It is Overcome

6.1 Resolving Neurosis of the Bodymind
6.1.1 How Neurosis Can Be Resolved Through the Body

If we now come back down to earth a bit, I would like to once again look at the mental-level self and make an observation, the purpose of which will soon become relevant, about how it functions in states of neurosis.

Firstly, we know from the work of people like Wilhelm Reich [14] and his student Alexander Lowen [15] that neurotic patterns in the total psyche result inevitably in a chronic contraction of the musculature of the body. Reich famously termed these patterns "the muscular armour". These two researchers believed that through the direct manipulation and releasing of, these patterns, a normal flow of energy and emotion could be restored, resulting in the return of healthy psychological functioning. Both Reich and Lowen based schools of psychotherapy on this belief, which were known as Vegetotherapy and Bioenergetics respectively.

My reason for pointing this out is twofold. Firstly it is to show that patterns of neurosis in the total psyche can result in the contraction of one of its cardinal points (in this case the body). And secondly, it is to show that by relaxing the contraction in that area, healthy psychological (i.e. centauric) functioning can be restored.

Other techniques for releasing the contraction of the body include such practices as hatha yoga, rolfing and its off-shoots, and the various other bodywork techniques.

6.1.2 What is Neurosis?

Stating things more generally, it is my contention that neurotic patterns in the body-mind can be viewed as a contraction of the total self in the face of some original trauma, and that this results in a contraction in the functioning of each individual aspect of the psyche (i.e. in the body, energy, emotions and thought). The psyche is a unitary entity, and therefore a contraction in any one sphere will result in the contraction of every other sphere, as well as in the self as a whole.

It is also my contention that the neurotic contraction in the total psyche can be released by addressing it through any one of these aspects. We have just seen how this occurs for the body, now let us look at each of the other spheres as I have defined them.

6.1.3 Resolving Neurosis Through Energy-Work

Again, as the term Bioenergetics suggests, Lowen developed an extensive theory of how early trauma and deprivation cause the energy system of the body to become dysfunctional, as it contracts in the face of suffering too difficult to bear [16]. This results in energetic weaknesses and blocks becoming endemic throughout the system. Again, Lowen's system of therapy aims at restoring a normal flow of vital energy and when this is achieved, psychological health also returns.

As further proof of this concept, turning to the east, it has long been known in the Toaist tradition that healthy psychological functioning can be attained by directly freeing-up and strengthening the flow of vital energy throughout the body. The Taoists have developed numerous techniques for accomplishing this, such as the practice of the internal martial arts of Tai Chi, Ba Gua and Hsing-I, the practice of Qigong, special forms of breathing, and various meditation techniques to be carried out while sitting, moving or during sex. Balancing and strengthening the vital energy in this way does not just affect the body, the Taoists know that it has a profound effect on the total being, and can be used to realise the centaur and even the soul.

Taoist lineage holder Bruce Frantzis has written extensively on these topics and the interested reader is referred to his works for more information [17][18][19].

Again, my reason for pointing this out is to show that neurotic patterns in the total psyche can be addressed by freeing up the functioning of just one of the cardinal points — in this case, bio-energy, chi, prana or libido.

6.1.4 Resolving Neurosis Through Thought and the Emotions

I have grouped thought and emotion together here because, although in my model they are technically different spheres, they are both usually addressed through psychotherapy, and the two are so closely linked in this area that separating them proved troublesome.

That the neurosis of the total self can be released through therapy, often based upon the practice of free association, is a point so well accepted that it hardly needs stating, so I will not say too much about it. The key point is that, once again, we see that a contraction in the entire psyche can be released by addressing its manifestation in just one of the psyche's functions, in this case either emotion or thinking.

Looking at this sphere from a different angle, an issue becoming discussed more and more in integral circles is the possibility of freeing up the emotions through the arts and the cultivation of aesthetic experience. Many of the world's greatest artists have at least realised the centaur, and some of them have even gone into the realm of the soul. And this is without any specific spiritual practice on their part other than developing their talent. I would argue that we can ourselves free up our own emotions through the contemplation of their work and perhaps also through engaging in creative pursuits of our own.

Likewise, thinking can be freed up to a certain extent by intellectual study. Again, many of the world's greatest philosophers have realised the centaur, and many of the really great ones have produced work that has come from the soul. Engaging with their material at whatever level we are able is, I would argue, a valid approach toward releasing the contraction in our thought-faculties, and thereby contributing to the realisation of the centaur.

6.2 The Contraction of the Soul

This view of neurosis as a contraction in the self can be pushed up to the soul level. Wilber, following the teachings of Adi Da, has written about the existence of a "self contraction" at this level, and of how it is the root cause of human suffering. I suggest therefore that by analogy with the mental level, that we view this self contraction as a type of "neurosis of the soul" in exactly the same way that contraction on the mental level is a neurosis of the mind, and that it can also be similarly addressed through various therapies.

By analogy with the mental level, I would like to contend that this contraction of the total soul results in a contraction in each of the component spheres of centaur (self-actualisation), energy (bliss), affect (love) and cognition (insight). Further to this, I would also like to argue that it can be relaxed by addressing it in any one of these spheres, and that this is what spiritual practice is primarily designed to achieve.

6.2.1 Soul-Contraction Can Also Be Resolved at Any Cardinal Point

Leaving aside the issue of addressing the self contraction through the centaur for the moment (I will return to it later), we can look at addressing it through the sphere of psychic energy.

As an example of a practitioner who achieved realisation through this sphere is Tibet's great yogi Milarepa. Milarepa's sole practice was Tummo, or the Practice of Vital Heat, a technique based on the control of the energetic processes of the body [20]. Even though this practice is confined to the psychic / energetic aspect of the soul, it led Milarepa all the way to enlightenment, a fact which is difficult to explain in Wilber's schema. I would argue that it was able to take Milarepa all the way to enlightenment because it accomplished what was important, namely the relaxing the self contraction of the soul through releasing the contraction in one of the soul's aspects or cardinal points, in this case the psychic / energetic sphere.

Likewise, the contraction of the soul can be released by the development of strong compassion and loving-kindness, which is addressing it through the subtle sphere of affect, or through insight meditation, which is addressing it through the causal sphere of cognition / insight.

Releasing the self contraction through one aspect releases the contraction in them all, just as addressing psychological neurosis through the body alone can release the contractions of other spheres such as thought and emotion. When this happens at the soul level there is a profound relaxation in the total being as each of its dimensions is freed-up and allowed to express itself individually and in harmonious union with the others.

6.2.2 Why Different Paths Achieve the Same End

With this in mind, the issue of ranking spiritual paths clearly becomes pertinent. We have been under the influence of Wilber's model for so long that we take it for granted that some paths are higher than others. For example, we believe that the practice of developing insight (causal stage) is a higher practice than that of shamanism (psychic stage). Yet the model I am developing here unequivocally refutes that view. If I am correct then each of the major spiritual paths can be seen to be addressing the same self contraction through releasing it at different cardinal points of the soul.

Holding some paths to be higher than others is analogous to, on the psychological level, judging one practitioner to be superior to another because he is addressing his neurosis through verbal-therapy (emotional-rational) rather than bodywork (physical). And yet the truth is that the end result is the same — the releasing of contraction in the total self and all of its spheres.

Many people in the integral field feel uneasy about the tendency to rank some paths as higher than others, and in particular the ranking of Indian and Asian spiritual traditions as higher than indigenous approaches such as Shamanism. The model I am developing here shows that this uneasiness is well founded and that such ranking is both incorrect and unnecessary.

Transpersonal attributes such as bliss, love and insight are functions of the soul that are available to anyone who has attained this overall level, and which can be further cathexed and developed, and are not stages of development. Certainly insight meditation will release the self contraction by addressing it through the sphere of cognition, just as loving-kindness will release it by addressing it through the sphere of affect, and Milarepa's Tummo, will release it by addressing it through the sphere of energy. Therefore it is a fundamental mistake, and one based on an erroneous linear stage-conception model, I believe, to rank some of these paths as higher than others, as they all aim at the same goal, but address it through different spheres.

6.2.3 Can "Lower" Paths Have "Higher" Effects?

With reference to diagram 10, notice once again how the entire psyche can be mapped out by recursively by expanding the centaur. Now, if we recall that the self contraction in the total self of any level can be relaxed by relaxing it in any of its spheres, this suggests that the "higher" self contraction of the soul can itself be addressed through practices working on the "lower" faculties of the body, vital energy, emotions and thought-processes. This is because these techniques will release the contraction of the centaur, which is an aspect of the soul and which will therefore have a releasing effect on the self contraction of that soul. So perhaps practices such as hatha yoga, qigong and analytical psychology are in themselves complete practices that, given enough time and a deep-enough commitment, have the potential to lead all the way to enlightenment. Advanced practitioners of these paths would certainly claim that they have spiritual import, and with this model we have an explanation for why this is so.

6.2.4 Adi Da's Taxonomy of Spiritual Paths

I am not an expert on the teachings of Adi Da, but it is well known that he has divided the great spiritual traditions of the past into three categories: The Path of the Yogi, The Path of the Saint, and The Path of the Sage. I don't know if Adi Da believed any of these paths to be higher than the others, but in the context of the model I am developing here they clearly are not. Each of them is addressing the self contraction in a different sphere: The Path of the Yogi is addressing it through the sphere of energy (bliss); The Path of the Sage is addressing it through the sphere of affect (love); and The Path of the Sage is addressing it through the sphere of cognition (insight). Here is how Adi Da's taxonomy can be represented on a mandala:

The reader may note that one of the cardinal points currently has no path associated with it, namely the point associated with the centaur. However, as the primary motivation of the centaur is self-actualisation, I think it entirely reasonable to associate it with the Path of Action, or karma yoga. We could also add a path to the centre of the diagram, which represents the integration of all of the other paths. This, I suggest, would be the Path of Self-Realisation, or in Tibetan terms The Path of the Bodhisattva, the path of one committed to the full development of all of the soul's faculties. Taking these additions into account, our mandala of spiritual paths would look as follows:

6.2.5 Ranking Individuals

As the reader will have observed, in the model I am presenting here the individual psyche can still be separated into mind, soul and spirit, with each of these being structured as mandalic, autonomous holons, and forming discrete entities and levels of development. However I do not split each of these spheres further into individual gradations within them as Wilber does. For example I do not split the soul level into psychic, subtle and causal and rank individuals according to that schema. I see these Wilberian stages as being separate dimensions of the soul, and the resulting worldviews as arising when each of those dimensions is identified with or cathexed.

The most important ranking of individuals in this model is based on how little self contraction they have, and of how free each dimension of their being is.

6.3 Agape, Or How Relaxing the Contraction Filters Down Through the Holarchy
6.3.1 Relaxing the Contraction in a Level Automatically Relaxes the Contraction in all Component Parts

To restate a point I made earlier, when the self contraction is released in, for example, the soul, it is released in each of the aspects represented at the cardinal points of the soul mandala also. Thus it is released in the sphere of energy (bliss), affect (love) and cognition (insight). It is also released in the other point, the centaur. This is crucial because by recursion we can see that releasing the contraction of the centaur will release it in all the aspects of the centaur too (i.e. in the body, libido, emotion and thought). Thus spiritual realisation has a profound affect on the total being, releasing neurosis and contraction wherever it exists. Working on the soul level through spiritual practice (in any sphere) would therefore be expected to result in the self-actualisation of the mental-level self.

While it is not immediately obvious how, for example, practicing Tummo (soul level, sphere of energy) would result in the freeing up of the individual's thought processes (mental level, sphere of cognition), we can now see how and why it in fact does achieve this, and it is all down to the release of the self contraction and how it ripples down through the holarchy and expands out to the various faculties.

We could even go further and point out that the first cardinal point of the centaur is the body, and that releasing the contraction in the soul would therefore release it in that sphere too. By continuing this process of recursion we could also say that it would release it in the organs and cells, maybe even down to the constituent atoms, if such a concept has any meaning.

6.3.2 The Higher Will Attempt to Reproduce Its Structure in the Lower

The obverse of this principle is that as long as the soul remains in a state of contraction it will continue to hold in place this contraction in each of its facets, including the centaur. Thus the centaur will never become absolutely free until the root contraction of the soul is addressed and released.

6.4 Is the Ego a Necessary Stage of Development?

One corollary of the model I have put forward is that the from the moment of birth, in the absence of trauma and repression, the individual should be able to live and develop as a centaur. The mental-ego, if by this we mean a structure alienated from the body and world, is a pathology based on contraction in the face of suffering, and thus is totally unnecessary. If by ego, however, we mean more generally a strong and healthy sense of self, then that is certainly accounted for in this model as the centaur, soul or spirit.

7. Very Brief Comments on Other Models

7.1 Washburn's Model

Washburn's work has a certain validity in the context of the schema I am putting forward. However, contrary to his view, I believe it is possible to be centauric from birth, to never develop an alienated ego and to always be in touch with the non-egoic potentials of the psyche. Washburn's model is basically describing what happens when this healthy development does not occur, resulting in the development of an alienated ego, and demonstrates how a regression occurs to heal the split.

As far as I can tell, Washburn also does not recognise the existence of a transpersonal level of development as distinct from the mental level, at which a similar pattern of growth repeats itself at a higher level.

7.2 Wilber's Model

If the model I am presenting here has any validity, then it shows that Wilber has basically traced individual development as a movement around the mental-level mandala, and then towards its centre (the centaur), followed by a corresponding movement around the transpersonal mandala and then towards the centre of that also, culminating in entry into the realm of Spirit. He has then flattened out these spirals into a linear path that ranks each successive stage as being higher than the previous one. But I would suggest that development does not have to proceed in this fashion, and that to rigidly assert that it does is to misunderstand the nature of the psyche, which is based on developing attributes, potentials and functions and not on levels and stages. We can develop any of the soul's faculties at any time because we always have access to them, and not just in Wilber's step-by-step progression.

As I stated earlier, the Wilberian stages and worldviews result from cathexing each aspect of the psyche and as such do not really form a progression, although they can be seen that way if one has a hierarchical model in mind when looking at them.

8. Prescriptions for Development

8.1 Which Practices We Should Adopt

In theory the model I have put forward suggests that to develop spiritually we should simply adopt whichever practice we personally find most useful in addressing the self contraction in the mind and soul, whether that be The Path of Action, The Path of The Yogi, The Path of the Saint, The Path of the Sage, or The Path of the Bodhisattva, and trust that the releasing of this contraction will ripple down through the psyche, relaxing contraction wherever it encounters it in lower holons. But I stress this is just "in theory". In practice Spirit has to deal with the effects of resistance at each point, which is not to be underestimated. The results of childhood trauma, for example, can be difficult to overcome, even through the descending action of Spirit. Thus it is not uncommon to encounter practitioners of high spiritual paths who still have significant neurotic elements in their mental-level personalities.

So the question of which practices to adopt for an integral approach is not a straightforward one, and I am open to any suggestions that the readers who have made it this far may have.

One approach, if we wanted to be "uber-integral", would be to attempt to address the self contraction in every possible sphere at the same same, in which case we would adopt one practice for every dimension of our being. This would results in a system of practice including, for example, hath yoga or bioenergetic therapy for the body, qigong for the vital energy, psychotherapy for the mind and emotions, service and self-actualisation for the centaur, concentration practices for the psychic energy, loving-kindness meditations for affect, and inquiry techniques for insight. However, such a program would obviously be so complex as to be unwieldy and completely impractical.

Another approach might be to look for individual practices that themselves have the greatest effect on the total contraction of the being. I have in mind techniques such as Tonglen, which are specifically designed to overcome self grasping. It may be that if we looked at the practices of the great traditions with this end in mind, that we could determine which of them are most effective for this purpose.

8.2 Does Spirit Deconstruct Hierarchies Wherever It Encounters Them?

In a video presentation [21], Elias Capriles puts forward the view that the higher practice of Dzogchen is incompatible with Wilber's model because it is based on the deconstruction of structures rather than on building them up. I think Wilber's response to this argument would be to ask rhetorically if Capriles believes that babies are therefore enlightened as they are born with no inner hierarchies. However, this point aside, there does seem to be a degree of truth to the view being stated. Many teachers do teach that spiritual growth is about a return to naturalness, basic goodness and simplicity and not to some high state or fantastic attainment. Again, it is beyond my own level of development to comment on this, except to say that the model I have presented here is completely compatible with Capriles' view, as it is based on the concept of deconstructing psychological hierarchies and replacing them with decentralised mandalas.

And in terms of "basic goodness", the view I have put forward sees the psyche as already coming into existence with the attributes it requires as innate faculties and potentials, and not as having to develop them through the building up of hierarchies. As spirit works to release contraction in all spheres these faculties are freed-up to develop naturally and organically and to integrate themselves with the emerging psyche. In this regard I believe we should look at the argument point forward by Capriles more closely.

9. Why Our Models Are Important

I will finish this essay by agreeing with a point that Wilber has made in the past, namely that the models we choose are crucial in determining the nature and form of our development, and that we should therefore select them with care. They are crucial because as we contemplate and utlilise them they act as attractors in our consciousness, pulling all aspects of our beings into the form they prescribe. For nearly thirty years Wilber has been the leading writer in the transpersonal field, putting forward a hierarchical model at every turn. This can only have the effect on his readers of pulling their consciousness into a hierarchical form also, in which higher stages constrain the lower and prevent their becoming integrated into free and harmonious forms. Washburn has stated that the danger of this approach is that it leads to the pathology of the Ascender, of attempting to reach the transpersonal heights without integrating the depths, a point with which I agree.

Many have questioned this hierarchical approach over the years but have been unable to find something cogent to replace it with. I believe that that something may well be the mandala. Combining Smith's approach to holarchy with a mandalic conception of body, mind, soul and spirit has, I believe, the potential to transform our understanding of human development. Whether the specific model I have put forward in this essay contributes to that or not, I believe that such a mandalic approach is an idea whose time has come.

Footnotes and References

[1] Andrew P. Smith, Worlds Within Worlds: The Holarchy of Life. Smith's book is available in e-book form from

[2] Ken Wilber, The Atman Project, Quest Books (1985). p. 45

[3] ibid. p. 45

[4] ibid. p. 47

[5] Michael Washburn et al, Ken Wilber in Dialogue, Quest Books (1998). p. 74

[6] Michael Washburn. The Ego and The Dynamic Ground, SUNY (1995)

[7] The Atman Project. Ch. 7

[8] Ken Wilber in Dialogue, p. 66

[9] ibid. p. 66

[10] Smith also refers to intermediate and autonomous holons as "social" and "individual" holons respectively

[11] Jim O'Connor, Development in the One Scale Model: A Unifying Theory? This paper is available in the Reading Room section of the website

[12] Andrew Smith's papers can be found in the Reading Room section of the website

[13] These time-senses are taken from the relevant chapters in The Atman Project and its companion volume Up From Eden, Quest Books (1996)

[14] Wilhelm Reich, Character Analysis, Noonday Press (1997)

[15] Alexander Lowen, The Language of the Body, Collier Books (1971)

[16] Alexander Lowen, The Betrayal of the Body, Collier Books (1969)

[17] Bruce K. Frantzis, Opening The Energy Gates of Your Body, North Atlantic Books (1993)

[18] Bruce K. Frantzis, Relaxing Into Your Being, North Atlantic Books (2001)

[19] Bruce K. Frantzis, The Great Stillness, North Atlantic Books (2001)

[20] W. Y. Evans-Wentz, Tibet's Great Yogi Milarepa, Oxford University Press (2000)

[21] This video interview with Elias Capriles, Ken Wilber's Distortions of Buddhism and Dzogchen, can be accessed through the Reading Room of

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