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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 2: Releasing Contraction

Jim O'Connor

1. Introduction

In a previous essay ["A Mandalic Approach to Development — Part 1: The Structure of the Psyche",1] I highlighted several problems with Wilber's model of the individual psyche, many of which had already been noted by other writers in the field[2].

The main issues I raised are that Wilber's hierarchical model is:

  1. inconsistent with our understanding of the centaur as being largely decentralised and non-hierarchical in nature;
  2. unable to account for the fact that various capacities that it ascribes to higher stages of development are actually available (even if only in rudimentary forms) at lower stages;
  3. unable to offer an explanation for the existence of similarities between pre and trans structures (including the so-called "pre-trans fallacy")
In this paper I would like to discuss a few further thoughts on this mandala model and to draw out more of its implications for individual development.

I went on to argue that modeling the psyche as a mandala instead of as a nested hierarchy and placing it in the context of a one-scale approach solves these problems, while still being able to generate the various Wilberian structures of consciousness as we currently understand them.

In this paper I would like to discuss a few further thoughts on this mandala model and to draw out more of its implications for individual development.

To repeat the caveat I gave in the first essay, not being an academic I am not able to bring the same degree of rigour to the discussion as other contributors here. But having said this, I still believe that putting forward this alternative view of development has some value despite my limitations as a writer, even if for not other reason than it may prompt more competent members of the field to begin exploring the general approach.

2. Summary of My Model

2.1. Introduction

I do not intend in this paper to give yet another summary of my model, as I have done so in several others available on this site[3]. I will just reiterate my view that a one-scale approach as first proposed by Andrew Smith in his book Worlds Within Worlds[4] and elsewhere offers the most promising avenue for the development of integral theory, and that it solves many of the problems that have been noted with Wilber's holarchic model.

However, in order to refresh the reader's memory, I will reproduce a couple of diagrams outlining my mandalic model of the psyche. Firstly, of the mental level:

Secondly, of the transpersonal level[5]:

And thirdly, the abstract schemata of any level, of which the last two diagrams are specific instances[6]:

2.2. Contraction Equals Neurosis

As I argued in the first paper, this approach views the primary task of psycho-spiritual development as being the relaxation of contraction in all aspects of the individual's body, mind and soul.

A contraction in any one aspect (i.e. at any cardinal point of the mandala) will result both in a contraction of the core self and a contraction in all of its other aspects (physical, energetic, affective and cognitive).

Contraction in the sense I am using the term is identical to neurosis, whether that be the neurosis of the body-mind studied by psycho-analysis, or the "neurosis of the soul" that is self-contraction and self-grasping as studied in the world's wisdom traditions.

The relaxation of this contraction can be achieved by addressing it either in the core self through practices which directly undermine selfishness (such as Tonglen), or by addressing it through its manifestation in any particular sphere, whether that be the physical (e.g. through hatha yoga), the energetic (e.g. through Tummo), the affective (e.g. through loving-kindness meditations), or the cognitive (e.g. through self-inquiry).

Although this model differentiates between the physical, energetic, affective and cognitive spheres, it should be obvious that these are really just different lenses through which to view the same entity or territory (the Self). It is for this reason that addressing the contraction through any one particular sphere will also relax it in the others.

And because the culminating structure of one level (for example the body-mind) always constitutes one of the cardinal points of the next (for example the transpersonal)[7], the effect of relaxing the contraction in a higher level is to ripple the relaxation down through the lower levels. So for example, releasing contraction in the soul will eventually lead to it being released in the mind and body, also.

3. Further Points

Drawing on these principles, I’ll now make a few further points about the implications of this model for our understanding of individual development.

3.1. The Path Chosen Influences the Structure Attained

Limiting the discussion to the mental level for the moment, it can be observed that although the centaur can be attained by addressing neurosis through any of the four spheres of body, energy, emotions and thinking, the sphere that is chosen tends to lend a certain bias or flavour to the self-structure thus attained.

So for example, an individual who attains the centaur through the practice of Qigong will exhibit a degree of energy and vitality not available to the individual who approaches the centaur through the study of philosophy. And conversely, the philosopher will demonstrate a level of intellectual ability beyond that of the Qigong master. This is the case even though they have both attained the same basic structure.

To use a visual metaphor for this, it is as though the self of both individuals were situated in the centre of the mandala, but oriented slightly towards differing aspects.

Of course, this principle is also operative on the transpersonal level, with practitioners of different paths exhibiting different qualities of realisation. As Wilber puts it:

"In the presence of a psychic-level yogi, you tend to feel great power. In the presence of a subtle-level saint, you tend to feel great peace. In the presence of a causal-level sage, you tend to feel massive equanimity." [8]

Acknowledging the existence of these different biases on the transpersonal level enables us to understand how different paths can be equally valid approaches to the same goal of spiritual realisation.

3.2. Awakening is Irregular

Having said this, it should also be obvious that choosing one particular sphere through which to address the self contraction does not preclude us from experiencing openings in the other spheres during the process. So for example, it is not uncommon for hatha yogis to experience energetic or emotional openings, and practitioners of, say, loving-kindness meditation will almost certainly have experiences of samadhi (i.e. of the energetic path) as their practice progresses. This is due to the fact that releasing the contraction in any one sphere releases it in both the core self and in the other spheres too, drawing us into them for periods as it does so.

3.3. Each Sphere Has Primary and Secondary Aspects

I should also at this point acknowledge that although I have shown only the predominating aspect of each sphere on the simplified diagrams above (for example, I equate the subtle sphere with affect), I do recognise that each sphere actually has its own energetic, effective and cognitive sub-aspects that a more detailed treatment would take into account.

So to again use the subtle sphere as an example, it could be noted that this structure has cognitive and energetic sub-aspects of its own - in this case the high archetypes and subtle energy currents. However, these are secondary to the main aspect of the sphere which in this case is the experience of love.

It is possible to release the contraction in any sphere through practices that involve these sub-aspects. For example, although the predominant experience of the subtle sphere is love, its cognitive aspect is of these archetypal forms, and contraction in this sphere can be addressed through practices that invoke these (e.g. through the visualisation of the yidam in Tibetan Buddhism).

In The Atman Project[9] Wilber catalogues the cognitive and affective aspects of each sphere (both mental and transpersonal) and the interested reader is referred to that work for more detail. However, to my knowledge he does not anywhere explicitly describe the energetic aspects, although I am sure that he and/or others would be well able to do so if required.

One other thing that can be observed is that in realisation all of these aspects and sub-aspects interpenetrate one another in a mutual play, with none predominating over the others. So for example, while the affective sub-aspect of the psychic sphere is joy, the affective aspect of the subtle sphere is love and the affective sub-aspect of the causal sphere is peace, the full range of effect experienced by the transpersonal self is the interpenetration of all of these. Jack Kornfield describes this transpersonal self as being like a multi-faceted jewel that takes on different appearances when viewed from differing perspectives. As he puts it:

"Awakened consciousness has different facets or different dimensions, a bit like a crystal... In the crystal of the awakened consciousness one facet is love [subtle] and when you rest in presence at times everything is love... If you turn the crystal one more facet everything is emptiness [causal] and you feel its transparency, and everything that arises, arises and passes away like a dream... If you turn the crystal another facet everything becomes silence [causal], this enormous silence that surrounds all of our activity and our words that is always here. If you turn it another facet it becomes tremendous joy, bliss, ananda [psychic]... And another facet and it's clarity [causal], the awakened heart and mind is simply clarity itself... And you turn it another facet and it's absolute peace [subtle]." [10]

(Note how none of these aspects are considered higher or superior to the others, as would be the case in a literal interpretation of Wilber's model).

I have purposely left these sub-aspects out of the discussion up to this point in order to keep things simple. And now having acknowledged their existence, I will do so again to keep the remainder of the discussion more straightforward, too. Doing this does not change any of the forthcoming arguments in any way.

3.4. Releasing Contraction as a Process of Resolving Conflicts

Returning to the mental level for the moment, it can be observed that one of the main tasks involved in resolving neurosis is the re-awakening and working through of previously repressed psychological conflicts.

I would argue that this is true regardless of which sphere the individual chooses through which to address her issues, and that, true to the principles of this model, every conflict always has physical, energetic, emotional and cognitive aspects, and that it can be resolved by working through any of them.

I would also argue that these conflicts are closely related to the personal shadow; that bringing to the surface the repressed aspect of any conflict is therefore equivalent to facing that particular aspect of the shadow that is tied up in it; and that shadow work therefore also has physical, energetic, emotional and cognitive aspects.

3.4.1. Mental Level

Just to give a break down of how this might work on the mental level, I would suggest that one view of how conflicts manifest could be as follows:

  1. Physical sphere. It has been extensively studied, for example by Wilhelm Reich[11] and the other analysts in his tradition that inner conflicts manifest in the physical body as patterns of chronic muscular tension. This school holds that by working directly on the body (often with simultaneous analytical work), that these conflicts can be brought to conscious awareness for resolution.
  2. Energetic sphere. As Alexander Lowen has shown[12], in states of neurosis certain aspects of our bio-energy actually become antagonistic to one another, with one part seeking free expression and another holding it back. Lowen eventually developed a school of energy work that he called Bioenergetics that attempts to resolve such conflicts. And as I pointed out in Part 1, the Taoist tradition also addresses pathological energy issues through the practices of Qigong and its related arts.
  3. Emotional sphere. Emotional conflicts have been extensively studied in the psycho-analytic tradition, for example by thinkers such as Karen Horney[13] and others.
  4. Cognitive sphere. Conflicts in this area are re-awakened and worked through when the individual is confronted with the opposites, or shadow aspects, of her current beliefs and attitudes about herself and the outside world. While this is also an important aspect of traditional analytical work, I would argue that the deep study of almost any intellectual field can enable the individual to make progress in this area[14].

Again, each of these spheres is addressing the same territory, but utilising a different lense through which to view it. And in the final analysis all of these various approaches are ways of resolving the dichotomy at the very heart of the mental level mandala, which is the existential conflict between life and death confronted by the centaur.

3.4.2. Transpersonal Level

Moving up to the transpersonal, I have been unable to find any literature detailing what the conflicts may be in each of the spheres of this level, and do not have the personal experience to make suggestions. However, I would put forward the view that the conflict at the heart of the transpersonal self, and of which all the others would be aspects, is between Being and Non-Being, a higher-order version of the centauric conflict between life and death just noted.

3.5. Releasing Contraction Requires Combination of Discipline and Relaxation

Just to avoid misunderstanding on one point, when I talk about “releasing contraction” I am not suggesting that this process occurs through an attempt at mere “relaxation”, or through a completely laissez-faire approach to life in general. This would be a very one-sided view.

For example, when addressing contraction through the physical sphere, lying on a couch and simply attempting to relax the body, for example, is likely not going to start the process of repressed traumas arising.

What is actually required is a combination of relaxation and discipline, with the latter involving the putting forth of effort.

For example, although hatha yoga has a deeply releasing after-effect, the actual practice, as anyone who has attempted it knows, requires much physical exertion and discomfort, with many of the postures involving a large degree of tension in order to pull contraction out of the muscles and fascia.

Likewise, Qigong and other forms of energy work, although they may look gentle and relaxing to the outside observer, are actually very hard work. For example, moving through a low Tai Chi posture in a controlled manner requires a great deal of muscular exertion and tension, with this being the key that opens the energy channels.

Similarly, intellectual work requires disciplined thinking as well as periods where we let the mind wander and flow where it wishes to. Eventually we aim for an integration of the two modes into a single process in which self-discipline and a more laissez-faire approach become one, a kind of “disciplined relaxation”, if you will.

And finally in the emotional sphere, effective psycho-therapy demands free association combined with relentless discipline and perseverance on the part of both therapist and client in order to bring the latter through his resistances and into contact with repressed, painful material and to see the process through to resolution.

So in all four spheres, relaxation is only half of the story in bringing traumas to the surface, with a putting forth of disciplined effort being the other half.

To use the well-known analogy from Buddhism, the mind and/or body must be held in a state that is a balance between relaxation and alertness, in a manner similar to that in which the strings of a lute must be held in the right state of ease versus tension for it to play well.

4. Secondary Mandala

During the course of thinking about the implications of this model for individual development, I stumbled upon an interesting way of looking at the health (or pathology) of any particular sphere (physical, energetic, emotional and cognitive) on a given level.

I noticed this while looking at the energetic skills and capacities that become available to individuals practising Qigong (energetic sphere), and then realised that it can be applied equally to all of the other spheres too.

In order to attempt to describe this as clearly as I am able, I’ll start by outlining these energetic skills and then showing how they apply more generally.

4.1. Skills Developed Through Energy Work

It is possible to observe four major interrelated skills or capacities that become available to the practitioner as they progress in Qigong, with each of these actually being more highly-developed versions of processes that are continually occurring in all of us. Drawing on the work of Qigong adepts Bruce Frantzis[15] and Master Lam Kam Chuen[16], I'll briefly describe each of these capacities below.

4.1.1. Storing

The first capacity is that, after a period devoted to energy work, the practitioner usually gains the ability to store energy within themselves.

In Taoist philosophy it is held that the body's energy system contains certain key centres, called the dan tien. There are three of these, the upper, middle and lower, and each has a different role within the overall system. However, they all have the function of storing energy, like batteries, and making it available for future use.

While in untrained individuals the dan tien remain largely undeveloped, in Qigong practitioners and martial artists their capacity can be increased to a tremendous degree, with the energy thus stored contributing to the overall health of the organism as well as being available for healing others.

Although I have been unable to find one good work where the function of the dan tien are discussed comprehensively, an understanding of them can be gained by reading two or three books, particularly Frantzis' Opening the Energy Gates of Your Body[17] and The Power of Internal Martial Arts[18].

4.1.2. Strengthening

Another effect of Qigong practice is to strengthen the energy of the practitioner. This is one of the major goals of the practice of Zhan Zhuang (pronounced "Jam Jong"), or "Standing Qigong", as taught by Frantzis and Master Lam. This strengthening occurs naturally as chi is repeatedly circulated throughout the system, in a manner analogous to the way a tree grows stronger when nourished through its roots, and is a literal increase in the capacity of the nerves and meridians to mediate energy, and of the dan tien to store it.

The energy system thus strengthened increases the resilience of the individual, as well as bestowing a measure of "internal power" that can be used in the activities of daily life or, for those practising with the martial arts in mind, to increase physical power in sparring or combat.

4.1.3. Purifying

A third effect of Qigong practice is to purify the energy of the individual. This process occurs as the circulating chi clears out blockages and traumas and expels toxin and other impediments to its flow. As it does this it is not uncommon for the practitioner to experience physical symptoms as impurities are released[19].

4.1.4. Exchanging

The final accomplishment of the Qigong practitioner that I would like to draw attention to is the capacity to consciously exchange energy with the natural environment and with other people. Such a process is continually occurring below the threshold of awareness in everyone but at a certain stage of chi development the individual gains to ability to take in and project energy more deliberately.

In The Way of Energy Master Lam discusses how to cultivate this capacity with respect to the elements of the natural environment including trees and bushes, and also how it can be practised in relationship with the wider cosmos as a whole[20].

In terms of exchanging energy specifically with other people, this can be done either to heal or to harm, with both of these applications being discussed by Bruce Frantzis in his book The Power of Internal Martial Arts[21].

4.2. Arranging These as a Mandala

Whenever we find four of anything (in this case, energetic skills), it is always interesting to place them in a mandalic arrangement to see if this shows us anything about their relationship with one another. In this case, I suggest we do so in the following manner:

4.3. Releasing Contraction

To preview an argument I will make in greater detail later, I am suggesting that when these four activities are kept in balance, that the relaxation of the contraction in the core self proceeds naturally and harmoniously.

4.4. How The Capacities Complement One Another

From the previous diagram (which I will refer to as the "secondary mandala" to easily differentiate it from the "primary mandala" of physical, energetic, affective and cognitive spheres), we can see that in one sense the capacities on opposing sides are indeed opposites of one another.

For example, the act of storing or withholding energy is obviously antithetical to the act of giving it. Having a "full tank", so to speak, also renders impossible the act of receiving it, as to receive it requires spare capacity within which to place it, which does not exist at that point.

However, seen from another point of view, if these opposing qualities are kept in balance they actually complement and augment one another. For example, in order to receive energy from the environment it is necessary to have somewhere to store it, which requires such a capacity even if that capacity is currently spare. When no such capacity is available nothing can be taken in. And of course to give energy to the environment, there must first be stored energy to give, which also requires the existence of storage capacity.

This demonstrates that when kept in harmony, the opposing qualities actually support one another, making possible the further development of each. It is only when one is cultivated to the exclusion of the other that they become antagonists.

Looking at the second pair of skills, we can observe that activities of purifying and strengthening are also generally considered opposites, with purification being a refining and "ascending" approach, and strengthening a grounding or "descending" activity. However, in Qigong the capacity to purify energy is dependent upon the ability to have it flow strongly throughout the body, removing toxins as it does so. Without such a flow, no purification can occur. And similarly, energetic strength is dependent upon the flow of energy not being blocked at any point, which is a function of the system's purity. So these qualities of purity and strength can be seen to be dependent upon one another, too.

So as long as the four capacities are kept in balance and harmony, their development can continually move to higher and higher levels. But when one or more of them become out of balance, this acts as a hindrance to, or a break on, the growth process.

4.5. Generalising

At this point I would like to suggest that rather than being confined only to the sphere of energy development, these capacities, or versions of them at least, become available in all four spheres as the overall contraction of the body-mind-soul is released.

Keeping the discussion to the mental level for the moment, I'll outline a possible interpretation of how these qualities might manifest in the other three spheres.

4.5.1. Physical

Firstly, in the physical sphere (i.e. the body):

  1. Exchanging. The capacity to derive energy and nutrients from the environment, as well as to return waste products to it efficiently. Manifests as good digestion and elimination, and good respiration.
  2. Storing / Regulating. The ability to store physical energy in the organism for future expenditure.
  3. Strengthening. The strength of all physical systems, including motor, immune, organ, cellular and so on.
  4. Purifying. The ability of the body to keep itself free from physical toxins. Often maintained through dietary controls and fasting.
4.5.2. Emotional

Next, in the emotional sphere:

  1. Exchanging. The capacity for full emotional spontaneity of expression with others. The capacity also to receive emotional expression from others without neurotic involvement.
  2. Storing / Regulating. The capacity for emotional depth and to withhold emotional expression when appropriate.
  3. Strengthening. Emotional strength and resilience.
  4. Purifying. Emotional clarity. Being free from emotional conflicts and confusion.
4.5.3. Cognitive

And finally in the cognitive sphere.

  1. Exchanging. The capacity for full rational exchange with others.
  2. Storing / Regulating. Intellectual restraint. The capacity to withhold thoughts and opinions until their truth can be established or the evidence to back them up is gathered. Also includes the capacity for mental contemplation.
  3. Strengthening. Holding intellectual opinions that are firmly grounded in the available evidence, facts of the situation and accepted axioms.
  4. Purifying. Lines of reasoning being clear and rational.
4.6. Why The Secondary Mandala Is Important

In an effort to convince the reader that this secondary mandala is not an arbitrary arrangement of four arbitrary skills, but is touching upon something more fundamental, I'd like to present two further diagrams, both of which show correspondences between each of the capacities and the other facts of development as we currently understand them.

4.6.1. Superimposing

Firstly, let's look at what happens when we superimpose the secondary mandala upon the primary mandala:

Firstly, we notice that in this arrangement the capacity to exchange with the material and social environment is correlated with the archaic sphere of the primary mandala. This makes sense as the archaic stage is one in which self and world are fused with one another.

Secondly, the magic aspect is correlated with the function of strengthening. There is also some correspondence here as the magic stage of development in Wilber's model is associated with power, self-protection and the Spiral Dynamics Red vMeme[22], in which strength is highly valued.

Thirdly, the mythic aspect correlates with the function of regulating and storing. Again, this makes sense as the mythic structure is related to the Spiral Dynamics Blue vMeme (Amber in Wilber's current model)[23], which is the conservative, conformist worldview, and is concerned with issues of self-restraint, saving (usually money!) and conserving available resources.

The fourth aspect, the rational structure, relates to the function of purifying. This correlation is not as obvious as the other three, although I would point out that rationality is often considered by those identified with this structure to be in some sense pure or, at least, purifying, as thinking through our views has the effect of purifying our minds, and so it is not entirely unreasonable to suggest a correspondence here, too.

The aspect I have placed at the centre of the mandala, the integral structure, corresponds to the function of releasing contraction. This seems reasonable as the integral structure is one in which each of the other spheres is allowed to exist with a degree of autonomy, and free of excessive interference from the others.

4.6.2. Agency, Communion etc.

In an effort to further bolster the evidence supporting this model, advocates of Wilber's holonic approach, as laid out in Sex, Ecology Spirituality [24], may also be interested to see another set of correspondences that can be observed when we relate each of the capacities to the four aspects of any holon as laid out in the Twenty Tenets (these being agency vs communion and ascending vs descending):

In this case, I would explain these correspondences as follows:

  1. Exchanging = Communion. The ability of the individual (holon) to exchange with the environment.
  2. Regulating / Storing = Agency. The capacity to withhold, being slightly towards the individualistic side, is the ability of the individual to pull back from others, to look after their own resources and to focus them towards their own needs.
  3. Purifying = Ascending. Purification is usually seen as a process of refinement, leading to higher states of being.
  4. Strengthening = Descending. Strengthening can be seen as a process of becoming more grounded.

Again, I suggest that the existence of these correspondences indicate that the capacities themselves, particularly when arranged in this mandalic form, are touching on something real and fundamental.

4.7. Applying This Mandala More Widely

One of the uses of this model is to allows us to look at any particular sphere of our being and to analyse where it may currently be out of balance.

I am, of course, not suggesting that we sit down every Sunday morning and do a four-capacity breakdown of all eight spheres (that would clearly be over zealous). However, if some aspect of the sphere we are currently working with is holding us back, or otherwise becoming problematic, this model may be useful in helping us to determine exactly what is going wrong and which capacities we are perhaps over-or-under-emphasising.

In states of harmony, when everything is going well, of course, the model says that all we need to do is to continue to release contraction as much as we are able, and that the capacities of all spheres will then develop in harmonious unison with one another. However, they must then be kept in balance in order for this process to continue unchecked.

The secondary mandala of capacities can also be applied to other areas of our lives in order to assess their current level of functioning, and I'll now give a couple of examples of how this can be done (once again, confining ourselves to the mental level).

4.7.1. Sangha / Department

The first example is using the model to analyse the current functioning of a group of people, maybe a sangha or, to use a more worldly example, a department within a company of which we may be a member. In this case, applying the four capacities could break the situation down as follows:

  1. Exchanging (Giving and Receiving). Is the group able to take in new members easily? Can they be assimilated without disrupting the group's current functioning? Likewise, are members able to leave the group easily (a problem with some cults), and without the group falling apart?
  2. Storing / Regulating. Is the retention of existing members adequate? (or is your sangha hemorrhaging practitioners!?)
  3. Strengthening. Is there good group cohesion? Are the links between members strong?
  4. Purifying. Do all members of the group share a commonly agreed upon purpose? Are members who do not, or who perhaps have become antagonists, able to be re-oriented or if not, ejected from the group?

(I will return to this example in the final section where I suggest some prescriptions for development that follow from this model).

4.7.2. Money

Another example of an area that can be analysed using this model is an individual's (or, again, a company's) financial life. Confining ourselves to the individual case, this may break down as follows:

  1. Exchanging (Giving and Receiving). Are we able to spend or give money when appropriate, without a neurotic holding back? Similarly are we able to receive money, either in renumeration or as a gift, without guilt or other negative reactions interfering?
  2. Storing / Regulating. Are we able to save money when necessary in order to make it available for a more valuable purpose? Or are we caught in compulsive patterns of frivolous spending?
  3. Strengthening. Is our current cash flow healthy? Are we receiving renumeration adequate to meet our own needs as well as those of any dependents we might have? Likewise, are we spending adequate amounts?
  4. Purifying. Are our finances focused towards our long-term objectives and goals, with no confusion in our spending and saving patterns? Or are we wasting money on unnecessary items, when it could be better utilised?

5. Prescriptions

I’ll now look at what some of the implications of this model may be for the issue of individual spiritual growth. I am not in any sense claiming to be a guide to others in doing this, just someone who likes to think about these models and what they may tell us about the development process.

That having been said, there are two main recommendations that I think this particular schema brings to the discussion, and I’ll take them one by one.

5.1. Find a Conducive Environment

In the one-scale model the society in which an individual lives is seen as being a higher-order holon in which she is embedded. This idea caused controversy when it was proposed by Andrew Smith, although discussion of both its merits and problems has somewhat fizzled out in recent years.

Ken Wilber has, without specific reference to Andy's work, stated that if adopted this view would lead to the individual being seen as nothing more than a cog in the machinery of the State. Andy and myself have both rebutted this particular criticism by arguing that society is more than just government[25], and I would further point out that societies in which there is no centralised control at all can still be modeled as holarchies. Andy has also demonstrated[26] that even if the implications of such a view were indeed pernicious (although I don't believe that they are), that would hardly constitute evidence that the view itself was false.

My opinion, first expressed in Development is that Andy's view of the relationship between the individual and the collective is the correct one, and that adopting it leads to a model that is both more parsimonious and more powerful than the Quadrant Model. However, I do expand our conception of this higher-order holon to include the material as well as the social environment as I believe that the former is a projected aspect of the latter. And I think that it is fairly clear once pointed out that the physical world we find ourselves in can quite reasonably been seen as a higher-order holon in which we are embedded.

With this view in mind, it can be observed that there has been a long line of thought in the psycho-analytical tradition that holds that the society in which the individual lives has a profound effect on the nature of their consciousness. Interpreting this tradition in the context of a one-scale approach we could say that the higher is continually attempting to reproduce its own structure in the lower. It does this, so the argument goes, through the mediating agency of the family.

In the terms of the current discussion, this means that the level of contraction exhibited by the physical and social environment has a direct affect on the level of inner contraction experienced by the individual living within it.

Physical and social environments that are open will tend to encourage the individuals within them to become more open themselves; while environments that are closed and contracted will likewise tend to reproduce a closed state within their inhabitants and members.

This means that the environment chosen by the individual within which to address his own contraction would be expected to have a significant effect on the ease with which this work would progress.

5.1.3. Physical Environment

With this in mind, we could suggest that an uncontracted material environment may have the following qualities:

  1. Physical. Should be open and not confining or claustrophobic.
  2. Energetic. The energy of the environment should be strong, healthy and free-flowing.
  3. Emotional. Environment should ideally be aesthetically pleasing.
  4. Cognitive. Should not require contracted or defensive patterns of thinking in order to navigate and survive within.
5.1.4. Social Environment

Similarly, an uncontracted social environment (for the sake of argument, let's assume this refers to the individual's sangha) may have the following qualities:

  1. Mental-Level - Physical. The dietary and exercise regimes of the group would promote good physical health and resilience.
  2. Mental-Level - Energetic. The Sangha would be vibrant and alive.
  3. Mental-Level - Emotional. All emotions would be allowed free expression.
  4. Mental-Level Cognitive. Full intellectual investigation would be encouraged, including the questioning of group norms and teachings.
  5. Transpersonal Level - Physical (i.e. the Centaur). The Sangha would facilitate the full self-actualisation of its members.
  6. Transpersonal Level - Energetic. The Sangha would largely maintain itself in a state free of negative energies, and the predominant atmosphere would be one of joyfulness.
  7. Transpersonal Level - Emotional. The overriding emotion between group members would be love.
  8. Transpersonal Level - Cognitive. No aspects of reality would be denied by the group.

With these points in mind, we could summarise them by suggesting that an open sangha within an open environment and open society would be the ideal place for the awakening of the individual to take place.

For those of us unable to find such an ideal environment and social setting or who may be forced by circumstances to live in ones less conducive, I believe we should still attempt to approximate it as best we can. This may mean no more than keeping our own living quarters clean, vibrant and aesthetically pleasing, and attempting to associate with the best friends we can find.

5.2. Work on Core and One Aspect

As far as our own individual practice is concerned, my own interpretation of the implications of this model is that we should seek to address our own contraction through practices for the core self as well as perhaps one or two that address it through whichever sphere we have an inclination towards.

The reason I believe that both the core and one other aspect need to be addressed is because although practices such as hatha yoga or psychotherapy may be effective at releasing traumas in their various spheres, if a core grasping remains their end result may ultimately be unsatisfactory. It is not uncommon, for example, for experienced hatha yogis to still have an element of grasping in their personalities (often toward their own states of physical openness or purity), or for therapy clients, despite years of work, to be unwilling to relinquish ingrained compulsive patterns in their being. I believe it is only through work on contraction of the core self that such issues can be fully resolved.

Practices that relax the grasping at the heart of the core self could perhaps include service, generosity and meditations such as Tonglen, which I would suggest, for these reasons, should be an essential part of any integral practice regime. I would also argue the case that Tonglen develops all four capacities we noted above in the realm of this core self:

  1. Exchanging (Giving and Receiving). By taking in the suffering of others and giving back peace and well-being, the individual exercises this fundamental relational capacity.
  2. Strengthening. In his book Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso teaches that by repeatedly taking on the sufferings of others we develop "a very strong mind that can bear adversity with courage"[27].
  3. Purifying. In the same section, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso also states that one of the effects of Tonglen practice is to "purify our negative karma".
  4. Storing / Regulating. This practice also creates a certain depth of heart in the practitioner, as her compassion for others becomes deeper and stronger.

6. Criticisms

After writing Part 1 of this article, I received some constructive feedback from Rolf Sattler, with Rolf raising two main criticisms of the model. The first of these was that I was marginalising the large amount of evidence pointing to individual development being a linear process, while the second was that I was being overly optimistic about the spiritual and cognitive capabilities of children.

While I am not able to give an absolutely firm refutation of these criticisms, I will make a couple of points in my defense and point towards where I believe a rebuttal of them may lie.

6.1. Ignoring Evidence for Linearity

With respect to the criticism that there is evidence that development is a linear rather than a mandalic process, I would make two points.

Firstly, child development is a biological as well as a psychological process, and these two aspects need to be separated from one another in order for us to understand which facets of growth are caused by each.

It may turn out, for example, that those aspects of development that are linear are actually due to the biological organism growing and maturing, rather than to the individual traversing of a series of inner hierarchical psychological stages.

For example, we know that early in his life the child goes through various stages of psycho-sexual development such as the oral, anal, phallic and Oedipal. My question would be, are these stages the result of a process of psychological growth, a la Wilber, or are they the result of biological (i.e. hormonal) changes programmed to take place in the developing organism at certain ages?

It could turn out that if they are the latter, and we are confusing them with the former, then we are seeing a linear psychological process in what is really a linear biological one.

Secondly, as I pointed out above, and as both Wilber's and Smith's models agree, the development of a child is fundamentally influenced by the structure of the society of which she is a member. Therefore, if a society is heavily enmeshed in the rational structure, as Western society currently is, a child born into it is certain to get pulled in the direction of that structure from the beginning of her life, particularly through the influence of the family and education system.

Now it could be that this process of her getting pulled away from the centre and towards the periphery, so to speak, is a linear one. If we therefore view this as healthy development (as Wilber largely does), then we will view "development" as being a linear process. We may even study it in great depth, analyse its dialectical nature and so forth, without realising that what we are seeing is actually an unnecessary process of an individual being pulled "off centre".

If we keep these two points in mind - the dual influence of biology and of society (and consider the additional impact of them both occurring together) - I believe that the issue of whether development is linear or not becomes more complex than perhaps many in the integral community currently realise, and that at the very least there needs to be further debate on the matter. To repeat a well-known Jung quote:

"There is no linear evolution; there is only circumambulation of the self. Uniform development exists, at most, only at the beginning; later everything points towards the centre." [28]

6.2. Children Not Enlightened

Secondly, the criticism that I have overstated the capacity of children for rational thought and spiritual development.

On the first of these I would draw attention to an aspect of Andy’s one-scale model that is generally overlooked. This is that the culminating holon of a particular level must generally be structurally complete before development through the next level can get underway[29]. I realise that Andy may wish to set me straight on this, but my understanding is that this implies that the physical basis of rational thought should be in place even in a baby, if only in a rudimentary form that requires a great deal of further development in order to become mature.

And as far as the spiritual capabilities of children are concerned, it is equally true that not all experiences of childhood spirituality are of the mere “peak” type. Many children, for example those raised in the Tulku tradition of Tibet, exhibit stable access to higher stages from a very early age. Not only is this fact not handled at all well by Wilber’s model (at least in its earlier, more basic form) but points to the validity of the model I am presenting, or at least to the existence of a large degree of “soul access” in all individuals regardless of age or stage of mental-level development.

6.3. Separating Structure from Etiology

Whichever way the consensus on these points may fall, my contention here is not so much about the development of the psyche, but is instead about its structure, which I believe is the important issue[30].

These two issues are often conflated in integral discussion due, I believe, to the overriding influence of Wilber's approach, in which there is a close identity between the two. This conflation often reaches the point where it is assumed that if you believe in stages of anything you must be advocating a hierarchical model, which is not necessarily the case. Washburn's schema of development, for example, is heavily stage-based[31], yet his model of the psyche is also inherently non-hierarchical. It is therefore entirely possible for us to separate the two issues and see development as progressing through a series of sequential stages, but to see the self undergoing this development as being non-hierarchical in structure. Wilber always seems to overlook this possibility, arguing that his critics are denying "stages" of spiritual development. This is not always true or, at least, it doesn't have to be.

But to adapt an analogy that he has used with respect to viewing spiritual development as a process of opening, akin to a flowering bud, Wilber is right, flowers do indeed open in a series of clearly delineated stages, and this lends credence to a stage-based model. But it's also true that these stages are not structured as a nested hierarchy in which subsequent ones transcend and include the previous ones. So here we have an allegorical distinction between stages and structure that I believe we should take on board.


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Frantzis, B.K. (1998). The Power of Internal Martial Arts. North Atlantic Books.

Gyatso, K. (2003). Eight Steps to Happiness. Tharpa Publications.

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Lam, K.C. (2003). Chi Kung: Way of Power. Gaia Books Ltd.

Lowen, A. (1971). The Language of the Body. Collier Books.

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[1]. O'Connor (2015)

[2]. Visser, F. (2003); Washburn, M. et al (1998)

[3]. O'Connor, J. (2001, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2015)

[4]. Smith, A. Worlds within Worlds

[5]. When I refer to the Psychic Sphere, this has nothing to do with the various supernormal abilities such as clairvoyance, clairaudience and so on. It is merely a generally accepted label for the first of the transpersonal stages.

[6]. As I stated in the first paper, I do recognise a level higher than the transpersonal. However I am leaving this out of the discussion in this paper in order to make the model easier to understand. The "Spirit Level", as I term it, could well be included without changing the substance of these points significantly.

[7]. This is a general application of one of the principles of the One-Scale model.

[8]. Wilber, K. (2000a). p209

[9]. Wilber, K. (1985)

[10]. Insights at the Edge. Difficult Times and the Crystal of Liberation. Sounds True. Quote begins around 00:40:00.

[11]. Reich, W. (1972)

[12]. Lowen, A. (1971)

[13]. Horney, K. (1993)

[14]. In this regard it can be observed that those thinkers whom we consider to be serious "weighty" intellectuals (i.e. who tend towards the "thinking" side of the centaur) are almost always those who go out of their way to debate (usually publicly) with those holding a point of view opposing their own. I would argue that in so doing, these individuals are constantly having their opinions tested and are deliberatly facing the opposing (shadow) side of their current position. When these debates are public it's also true that the participants are putting their ego on the line and facing the constant risk of public defeat.

[15]. Frantzis, B.K. (1993; 1998)

[16]. Lam, K.C. (1991; 2003)

[17]. Frantzis, B.K. (1993) pp69-70

[18]. Frantzis, B.K. (1998)

[19]. Lam, K.C. (1991). p57

[20]. Lam, K.C. (1991). pp134-136

[21]. Frantzis, B.K. (1998). Section 8; pp62-69

[22]. Wilber, K. (2007). Fig 2.4

[23]. Wilber, K. (2007). Fig 2.4

[24]. Wilber, K. (2000b)

[25]. O'Connor, J. (2001)

[26]. Smith, A. (2001)

[27]. Gyatso, K. (2003). p148

[28]. Jung, C.G. (1961). p188

[29]. Smith, A. Worlds within Worlds

[30]. Discussion of the development of the child from birth to adulthood, while interesting, is, I believe, given too much importance in integral debate, and that the structure of the self in maturity should be the more important concern.

[31]. Washburn, M. (1995; 2003)

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