Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Jan Brouwer is webmaster of "The Mystical Site" and editor of the online forum Integral Mysticism. His review of Jeff Meyerhoff's book "Bald Ambition: A Critique of Ken Wilber's Theory of Everything" has been published on Integral World. He lives in the Netherlands. He can be contacted at [email protected]

The Wilber-Combs
Lattice revisited

Jan Brouwer

States of consciousness and their correlations

Wilber V is definitely an improvement on earlier stages. In Wilber III-IV there always lurked in the background of his theory some slight uneasiness. For it remained somehow a puzzle how psychological development stages (structures) are to be matched with (higher) states of consciousness. The relative simple answer to this question at the time was: higher states of consciousness, like the ones exhibited by the mystics of world culture, are merely higher stages/structures of psychological development. You first have to go through all of the lower stages of development before the ripeness settles in to realize some of the higher spiritual states. Second tier development can only begin after consolidation of first tier growth. And so it is with third tier development: it can only come after first and second tier development and not before or in between.

This solution to the problem of how states and structures were to be related ('stack the first on top of the latter' as Wilber himself now describes this earlier theory rather derogatively, making higher states of consciousness somehow equivalent to higher stages) was in itself the outcome of a deep crisis in Wilber's philosophy. For Wilber I-II still adhered to Jungian and neo-Romantic notions of spirituality being a return to the glory and innocence of childhood. Enlightenment in this phase was seen as a kind of home coming to 'the trailing clouds of glory' (Wordsworth) of our golden childhood. Children were seen as still possessing spiritual treasures we adults somehow seem to have lost. In this earlier view spirituality is to be defined as the art of finding those lost treasures again. This was Wilber at the beginning of his career.

But this made Wilber himself (and others) rather uncomfortable at the time. For the data of zone #2 research about psychological development did not match this theory. Researchers like Piaget, Baldwin, Loevinger and others had busted the myth of childhood spirituality being a higher kind of realization. The 'trailing clouds of glory' were proven to be rather chaotic meteorological phenomena, with archaic dark thunderstorms and sudden magical lightings, instead of enlightened celestial glory all of the time. Childhood was proven to be more of a tentative beginning within a gradual spiritual process than the acme of it.

So Wilber dismissed Jung on this point, called him an elevationist and began to see the extolling of childhood spirituality as the a pre/trans fallacy par excellence. This has brought us to Wilber III and IV where we saw the higher states 'stacked on top of' the lower structures of the psyche, which means that to become enlightened we somehow have to outgrow and transcend the childhood and adolescent stages of development. But Wilber V was not all too happy with this solution either:

It was a start –at least some people were taking both Western an Eastern approaches seriously- but problems immediately arose. Do you really have to go through all of Loevinger's stages to have a spiritual experience? If you have an illumination experience as described by St. John of the Cross, does that mean you have passed through all 8 Graves value levels? Doesn't sound quite right.[1]

Other questions arose: what about earlier cultures that had not of yet developed higher first and second tier structures? How was it ever possible for these cultures to produce enlightened human beings? Are we to question the enlightenment of the Shankara's, the Buddha's, the Rumi's and the Eckhart's of world history and deem them less enlightened than the sages and mystics of today? Just because they were not connected to the Internet and did not participate in the World Parliament of Religions? Doesn't sound right either.

And what about childhood spirituality? For this issue also presents us with some problems. Children do indeed seem to have some gift of having higher state experiences. At times their whole world can be filled with the star dust of their magic dream wands. Wordsworth was certainly right on this point: childhood (when under the right circumstances) may abound in subtle state experiences of luminosity, perhaps not of a sophisticated nature as the illuminations of Teresa of Avila, but certainly forming a spirituality of its own. It even fooled Karl-Gustav Jung into thinking that children were little mystics of some sort.

So Wilber gave in to his own doubts and the doubts of others and recently presented the Wilber-Combs Lattice, which is here re-presented:


In this diagram the states of consciousness (gross, subtle, causal and non-dual) are no longer placed on the vertical line of psychological development but on the horizontal, making the psychological stages of consciousness into variables that somehow define the experience of the (higher) states. In this way you can have a state experience of the gross, subtle, causal or beyond at virtually any stage you happen to be, simply because everyone has access to these states, since everyone has a waking mode of consciousness, a dreaming mode, a deep sleep mode and possibly various subtle modes in between these states. These states may not be realized as permanent (wakeful, aware) traits of consciousness, but still they can be peaked at by every individual alike. This explains the fact that children do have subtle state experiences (in peaks), although they are as of yet at the beginning of their psychological development. The same holds for so called 'primitive' cultures that have not developed up to higher post-conventional, world (or cosmos) centric levels. You may be at infrared or magenta level, but that does not preclude you from having mystical experiences (of whatever kind).

This diagram is, as Wilber himself admits, still very hypothetical and speculative, though it is definitely an improvement on former models. So the purpose of this paper is to make a contribution to this important subject, by showing that more variables are to be included somehow, if we want to present an adequate picture of the correspondence between states and stages. So what we'll do is this: we're going to discuss these variables one by one, showing how the different state experiences are deeply influenced by the variables and AQAL model they are imbedded in.

Variable I : the psychological levels/stages

Wilber himself presents this variable as the general outcome of the lattice. For the diagram intends to show how state experiences are experienced differently, following the level/stage of development you're at. Since mystical experiences are open and empty as their referents and signifieds are concerned (and also to a certain degree as signifiers), they depend for their general meaning on the way they are interpreted by the knowing subject. So suppose you are at an early egocentric, red, power driven level of development. You will then interpret your subtle or causal state experience differently from the way someone at, say, a green level does interpret the experience. This has been discussed by Wilber at length in IS and elsewhere. It is one of the great contributions the lattice has to offer. It e.g. shows how spiritual teachers in history and all over the world may have had authentic, deep mystical experiences and even realizations, but nevertheless translate and explain these experiences in ethnocentric or even fundamentalist or narcissist terms (which very often is a cause for frustration and misery in the spiritual group they belong to).

But the influence of this variable is much wider. For the development stages seem not only to influence the way spiritual experiences are interpreted, they also are greatly responsible for the ability to consciously have state experiences. It is true that our consciousness at all stages, from infrared all the way up to the third tier levels, may function in gross, subtle, causal and non-dual mode, simply because we all wake, dream and sleep. So everyone may have a peak experience of higher states of consciousness. These states are more or less categorically given in consciousness itself. But the way the subject reacts to an experience of higher states of consciousness depends largely on the level of psychological development s/he has attained. If we have not come to a certain level of psychological ripeness, if we have not become familiar with higher state experiences and their meaning in our lives, it will not cross the threshold of our awareness that we are having any. It will remain to a greater or lesser degree sub- or unconscious, because we have no way of mentally grasping the experience and explaining it to our selves. We then do not know what to do with the experience, which in the inward life amounts to virtually not having the experience.

For let's take a person at a rather low level of psychological development, say, a young child. This young person may indeed have the ability to peak into formless causality, like everyone does in deep sleep, but, because of its consciousness still being totally absorbed and identified with the concrete world, it has not the ability to mentally grasp emptiness and nothingness. This inability will in fact annul the experience. It would be like it never happened to the child. The experience did not even enter its consciousness, or when it did for a moment, it was immediately swept under the carpet of the subliminal. For it takes some level of psychological development to be aware of higher state experiences. The only thing a child may be capable of doing is making a higher state experience concrete, which is what magic in fact does. It turns a subtle state experience into a fairy tale. But this is how far as it gets at the lower rungs of the ladder. And the peaking probably does not go all the way up into the non-dual. At least not consciously.

This is so crucial a variable that at first we were inclined to believe that states of consciousness were really nothing but higher stages/levels of development (Wilber III-IV), since the higher we climb the ladder, the more conscious we become of all of our inward experiences, including the higher spiritual ones. And the consolidation of higher states into higher realizations can still be seen as higher stages of development, since they have the capacity to grow out into traits of character. In that case a state becomes a stage, a level on our life's curriculum. This happens when we begin to identify with a higher spiritual state of consciousness. As is now rightly diagnosed by the W-C lattice, spiritual experiences are both states and stages.

Variable II : age

States of consciousness are also to a large degree dependent on age. Because of reasons already discussed persons of a younger age may experience states of consciousness differently from older people. This is not to say that older persons have them more frequently or that age is a variable determining the intensity of the experience. The child or the young adolescent may have spiritual experiences that far outweigh the experiences of a riper age as their emotional impact is concerned. The spiritual experience of falling in love for the first time in young adolescence (which very often is a subtle state affair at that age) or the nature mysticism of young children may be just as intense and emotionally moving as higher spiritual experiences later in life. But because of the cognitive and other lines of development being not yet fully implemented, the young child has far less the ability to integrate such experiences into the total make up of his psychology. When we are older we know more about their meaning and are more able to relate them to other life aspects. Later in life subtle, causal or non-dual experiences make more sense and are therefore more integrative, healing and transformative.

The factor age is a rather neglected value in the Wilber-Combs lattice. The lattice as it stands might give the impression that all persons at a certain level of development show the same psychological characteristics, even if we take their different psychographs into account. The lattice seems to suggest that all persons at, say, magenta or red level show the same psychological characteristics, irrespective of variable factors as culture or age. For though it is true that ontogeny (the inner levels of an individual) follows the same evolutionary blueprint as phylogeny (the development of consciousness in the human race), and that a child therefore develops psychologically along fulcra that have already been laid down by human evolution (from infrared to magenta to red to amber to orange to green and perhaps higher, in the future), it is also true that a magenta child is something completely different from a magenta older person, who has ripened with age.

The Integral community must be aware of -to phrase a term- 'color absolutism', the fallacy of heaping all persons of the same psychological color on one stock pile. A magenta child in our Western culture may show characteristics that are comparable to the psychological structure of someone living in a tribal community (especially in its tendency to interpret life in a magical and animistic way), but that is not to say that a child is identical to such a person or that a tribalist or a pastoralist thinks and behaves as a child. This is not only because all colors are AQAL embedded. It is also because there are huge differences between persons of a different age, irrespective of their cultural background. Psychological development is very much dependent on age, the world over, of whatever color. The way levels and states interrelate will perhaps become more clear when we discuss the way different age groups respond to state experiences.

a childhood

Although childhood may abound in subtle state experiences, mostly of an early or middle psychic type, this is not say that children are already spiritually enlightened at this early stage in their life (though they may show some profound wisdom now and then because of these inner experiences). The most important reason for this is the fact that they do not master their state experiences. They have no control over them. They cannot bring understanding and wakefulness into their experiences. They are more like 'victims' to their own inner experiences, passively subject to the enchantment they now and then receive. Because of this, their spirituality is momentary, fleeting, unsubstantial, without profound meaning and philosophy.

But suppose we would offer state training to these children (like e.g. schools of the TM movement give courses in meditation to their young pupils), would that not make them (more) enlightened? Do they not have, like everyone else, the capacity for enlightenment? Is this not what the Wilber-Combs lattice suggests? Well, state training and meditation will certainly prove to be beneficial to young children, but it will not turn them into enlightened human beings. The reasons for this are manifold and are to be found in all four Quads: in the UR they have the problem that their neurological system is not yet fully developed, that they may receive the high energy of enlightenment. Their biology is not yet capable of producing it. All energy is still focused on biological and psychological growth. In the UL their self is still in the process of building and consolidating ego structures. In the LL they are still too much embedded in hierarchical structures, making them unfree, accommodated and too much dependent on others. These conditions are detrimental for enlightenment to occur. In the LR they are too much part of a social school system shaping them in all kinds of forms except the form of an enlightened human being.

b adolescence

At this age the conditions become far more conducive to the stabilization of state experiences and their enlightenment. The adolescent's cognitive skills have now (generally) developed up to a formal-operational level, making integration of state experiences possible. They now can actively be put into service of the self. Other lines of development have also taken on a more definite shape, making the way for spirituality to become something of a factor in one's life. Adolescence is also blessed with a natural sensitivity for state experiences, mostly of the subtle type. Now and then even higher state experiences become conscious. The world of the adolescent is thrilling, exciting, elated by an experience of the new and full of 'boundary lapses', often frightening and disturbing, but also now and then awe inspiring, even in a mystical way. There is at this stage in life more freedom, more independence, more authenticity and individuality than in early childhood.

Nevertheless, adolescence is full of insecurities, tentative beginnings, failures and frustrated hopes. An adolescent is extremely fearful at heart about the future. His whole culture is knocking at his head to prepare him for his future role in society. There is already a heavy load on his shoulder, though he does not of yet have a clear picture of its actual content. In the UR his body and nervous system are ravaged and tormented by the wants and needs of incipient sexuality, a further cause for insecurity and destabilization. In short: an adolescent is not mature enough to turn peak experiences into plateau experiences and plateau experiences into permanent realizations. An enlightened adolescent is a very rare phenomenon indeed. Adolescents seldom succeed in successfully completing a state training program, though they are often very curious about higher states of consciousness.

c adulthood

Here we find the most favorable conditions for enlightenment to occur. The self is full grown, individual, authentic and self supporting. All the vertical lines are developed to their max, through the whole rainbow spectrum of consciousness (as far as it goes for most people). The body is in full strength, with a nervous system capable of supporting higher realizations, if the adult should want to opt for consolidating his/her state experiences. With the acquirement of a stable social position the basic life needs are met. The work conditions are supportive by now. Especially when private circumstances are favorable too –with a stable home and a caring network of friend and relatives-, there is no impediment for life to reach its spiritual fulfillment. Enlightenment now becomes a real possibility.

But the dangers coming from the Lower Quadrants are still considerable. There is an enormous pressure on the adult to fit in to an already established pattern of cultural and social behavior. It is often very difficult for an adult –especially when s/he has the role of care giver in a family or elsewhere- to make time for spiritual training and devote one's life to state building. Work in society forces the adult to accept and identify with a definite 9-5 role, something not easily put aside when off-work. The adult is often, because of his social obligations, compelled to be a 'someone' and cannot be the 'nobody' mysticism wants her to be. Enlightenment presupposes a kind of life style that is hard to realize for most adults.

But things may not be as gloomy as here presented. Life is all about making choices. The adult may also opt for a different life style, more in accord with the demands of spirituality. Working hours may be reduced. More time may be devoted to meditation and other spiritual practices. An adult is wise enough not to become the victim of his own society. When reaching the post-conventional levels of morality he will learn more to go his own way. Then maturity has settled in.

d maturity

At this stage in life, provided the right conditions of good health and general well being are met, nothing stands in the way for enlightenment to be realized. There is now plenty of time to devote one's self to spiritual study and training. The demands of society and the others are reduced to a more manageable degree. A post-conventional attitude is set up as a healthy safety valve against the world driving us nuts. The mature person has learned to go his own way. And this way may also be a mystical way.

When we talk about the higher vertical levels we must realize that they are often maturity levels, in most cases coming with age. This was one of the great contributions of Wilber III-IV and there is no reason to discard these findings. So, whatever the outcome of the average color of a psychograph may be, the highest stages of psychological development are reached at an older, more mature age. But this is also a variable making the Wilber-Combs lattice more complicated. For an older person born and living in a magenta culture, with a general psychograph in accordance with his surroundings, may still be psychologically more advanced than a child, an adolescent or even an adult born and living in a green culture or higher. This problem is partly covered by Wilber's theory about lines of development differing from stages/structures, but the contention of this paper is that the level and general wisdom of older persons is to a large degree irrespective of the color of their culture and general psychograph.

And this conclusion has also, in my view, bearings upon states of consciousness. We must somehow differentiate in the lattice between the state experiences of different age groups. The state experience of a child is different from the state experience of a mature person, even apart from formal training, when merely peaked at.

Variable III : personal excellence

In every culture -of whatever color level- there are outstanding individuals who somehow manage to outgrow the average level of their surrounding culture: the (spiritual) geniuses of history (but also the more humble ones who have escaped notice, but were also truly exceptional in their own right). These exceptionally gifted individuals were always one, two or even more color levels ahead of their times. As state experiences concerns, we're talking here about the famous mystics and religious founding fathers of world history, who, probably because of their advanced state training, were high on the vertical line. The average of their culture may have been magenta, red or amber, but I honestly think that these individuals were well advanced into green, turquoise and indigo levels, though these levels were still not laid out phylogentically, but were only in the making, so to speak. These excellent individuals served as attractors making evolution possible.

Behind the obvious realization and mystical genius of a Christ, a Buddha or a Shankara we will not find, on closer inspection, red or amber personalities hidden, though they were completely imbedded in red and amber cultures and must have been influenced by red and amber thoughts. Somehow they managed to outgrow their contemporaries by an astonishing quantum leap in consciousness. Just one look at their social criticisms and their pluralistic notions of all men united under one God or exhibiting one Buddha nature the world over, irrespective of race, gender or caste system, will make this clear. It is not just a trendy hyperbole when we describe these men as green peace fighters, environmentalists or turquoise integralists. For they already showed some of these later features of consciousness.

Spirituality is in a way comparable to the art forms: some people have a gift for it, but others are born callous for spiritual experiences and stare blankly out into the blue on hearing the first spiritual cuckoo in spring. Like with music, there is probably some natural talent involved. There have been child prodigies in spirituality also (though they seem to be more rare than in music). There is talk about Shankara having already at a very young age outstripped the elderly of his religion with his debating skills. The well known story of the boy Jesus in the temple, discussing the Torah with the older people and receiving admiration for his young wisdom, may also point in this direction. The young boy Krishnamurti was at the time elected by the Theosophists for his extraordinary spiritual quality, to be their future leader. In Tibet the clergy is on the look-out for children with exceptional eyes to be the next lama.

The Wilber-Combs lattice was initially set up to cover phenomena of personal excellence and childhood spirituality: state experiences may occur at all levels, stages and ages. This is what child prodigy also shows. State experiences are not dependent on higher vertical structures of consciousness (because we all wake, dream and sleep and have access to spiritual states of consciousness). This may be so. But a defender of Wilber III-IV might object that personal excellence and childhood prodigy affirm the rule (rather than refuting it) that higher levels of consciousness are a conditio sine qua non for experiencing states of consciousness, since this is what excellence and prodigy is all about: the gift for skipping levels. Some persons are so exceptional –even in childhood- that they are in no time at a fully integrated level, which may account for their deep spiritual experience and wisdom. Granted, this does not explain the occurrence of childhood spirituality generally –for even non-exceptional children have sometimes profound state experiences- but this objection may well justly show that personal excellence is not an exception to, but an affirmation of the rule.

Types of states of consciousness

So far we have been expanding the Wilber-Combs lattice by putting states of consciousness on the horizontal line and correlating them to a number of variables on the vertical line. We did so because putting only levels/stages of consciousness on the vertical line is not enough when we are to define states of consciousness. States of consciousness are also to a great extent influenced by training, age and personal excellence. And this is the case throughout the whole spectrum of consciousness. So at every stage level we do not only have to define what the color of the person having a state experience is. We also have to define other variables, like the ones discussed. As we have seen, this complicates the overall picture considerably (which is of course to be expected when we bring more variables to bear on the outcome of a study; but we have to do so when we want to give an adequate representation of the (psychological and other) dynamics involved).

But the next thing is: variables are not only to be found on the vertical line, but on the horizontal line also. For states of consciousness do not only have definite stages/levels (gross, subtle, causal and non-dual), they also have various types. Here the question is: what kind of a state experience are we talking about? So let's take a look at three of these types and see how different types of states can be.

Type I: sympathetic and parasympathetic states of consciousness

In a pivotal article in Science[2] the psychologist Roland Fisher has done research into states of consciousness and their correlation with the nervous system. His research suggests that we have to differentiate between two types of states of consciousness, depending on the way our nervous system is activated. For both the sympathetic branch of the nervous system as well as its opposite, the parasympathetic branch, are able to generate higher states of consciousness. This means that we find states of consciousness activated as a result of ergotropic/sympathetic hyper-arousal, like in manic states (e.g. in the case of people with a bipolar disorder), when we fall in love, in adventures and dangers, or in the great excitement of ecstatic dancing and music making -to name a few causes-, but also as a result of trophotropic/parasympathetic hypo-arousal, like in different states of deep relaxation and meditation. Both excitement and deep tranquility/relaxation, at both ends of our neurological pole, can generate higher states of consciousness. This is because of the fundamental bipolarity of our nervous system and the way both branches mutually respond to and interrelate with each other (also in the process of generating higher states of consciousness).

So, strange as it might seem, both meditation and going to a rave party or attending a football match may bring about higher states of consciousness (of whatever level). They both may generate mystical feelings of oneness, completeness, sheer bliss and ecstasy. They both are able to suspend the existing level of self and bring us to higher levels of transpersonal Self. This is what the word ecstasy in Greek means ('stepping out of our self') and it works both ways, both parasympathetically and sympathetically, both in hypo-arousal and in hyper-arousal.

Now, apart from the difference in the way these states of consciousness are generated (hyper-excitement or hypo-relaxation), there is a further difference in experience type and also, I believe, to some extent in content. For though they may show the same features and resemble each other in their mysticism and ecstasy, they also show some differences: first, the state experience in the excitement of sports, dancing, music, festivities etc. is always a peak experience, while state experiences generated by the parasympathetic nervous system, e.g. in meditation, are more stable, more plateau like (or, when peaks, generating structures of a plateau type); second, parasympathetically induced states of consciousness seem to be more like the 'flow' experiences described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which show a high amount of so called 'action awareness merging': the person having a state experience of the parasympathetic type, enters into a flow-like state, merging with her actions and her surroundings. Though peak experiences of the ergotropic type are sometimes also accompanied by 'flow', the latter type is felt as less 'smooth', 'mellow', balanced and merging than experiences of the first, trophotropic type (possibly because of the high amount of excitement involved, which may lead to loss of concentration, self awareness and being en rapport with the situation); third, as to their content, state experiences of the trophotropic type tend to be more translated into spiritual and religious imagery, which is only rarely –or indirectly- the case with state experiences generated by sympathetic excitement.

To differentiate between these two types of states is essential to the transpersonal study of enlightenment and mysticism, because research has shown that stable realization of enlightenment is all about parasympathetic activation of the nervous system and not about sympathetic activation, though the latter may certainly have played a role in the process (like e.g. in so called yogic 'flying'). Plateau experiences and further stabilization of the enlightenment process is to a very large degree dependent on hypo-arousal and not on hyper-arousal.

Type II: gender related states of consciousness

All experiences are closely related to the body, not only the physical experiences of our gross body, but also the higher, more subtle experiences of the dream state and deep sleep. In these states of consciousness the vehicle for the experience is the so called subtle or causal body Vedanta informs us about. Though these bodies are more subtle than our gross, physical body and cannot be detected with the eye, they nevertheless share a number of characteristics with the physical body they are related to. One of these characteristics is gender. So when you inhabit a female physical body, your subtle -and also to some degree your causal- body will also show female characteristics. These gender characteristics gradually dim and lessen as we approach the realm of formless emptiness, but high into the subtle and lower causal realms the experiences you'll have will be gender related.

Though Teresa and John of the Cross share many essential characteristics in their mysticism, a sensitive reader will notice that Teresa's Interior Castle is more feminine in its feelings of love and eroticism than the rather dry and distant enumerations of John. Her books are certainly also a hallmark in philosophical speculation. His books are also full of poetical feelings and driven by eroticism. But still there is a difference. And the simple difference is that the one is written by a woman and the other by a man. The subtle illuminations of Teresa are definitely a woman's and they are different from the illuminations of John. Things should not be otherwise. For there is tremendous beauty in the way a woman translates the inner experiences of the subtle realm. They are full of intimate love and are strongly body related.

Here is an example of a subtle state experience related by a female mystic.[3] Notice the strong eroticism and the bodily feelings associated with the experience:

'The inner-conjunction [Sex with Eros] is the most intense kundalini experience, when it feels like thousands of volts are tearing through one's system. There are many ecstatic experiences during a kundalini awakening, but the shooting up the spine and its associated 'Silver Cord' or 'Sex with Eros' is the most extreme experience one can endure energetically. (….) I liken it to 10,000 orgasms pouring through every cell of one's body and gushing out the top of the crown, threatening to explode one's head. I say that it is 10,000 orgs up the spine to convey its huge quantum jump from the normal experience of our body. Thus in this book [BoK] you will see me refer to the charge of the inner-conjunction as 10,000 orgs. But if someone did actually have the equivalent of 10,000 orgasms all at once it would kill them instantly. The degree of ecstasy is inexpressible, other than to say that every cell in the body is lit up with God...with bliss in the extreme.'

Though there are also a few cases of males having experienced such deep, body related, spiritual orgasms, I do think that the close relation between subtle state experience and sexuality is more female than male. The 'Sex with Eros' experience may help us in understanding the eroticism and erotic symbolism in the works of other female mystics, like Teresa or Hildegard of Bingen. Notice that the 'Sex with Eros' experience is not only an experience of the gross body:

'The Sex with Eros event is an inner-conjunction that includes genital contractions. Since inner-conjunctions are the most intense energetic kundalini experience, having this energy activate the sex organs also makes for the most intense sexual experience possible. But you must understand that because it is a spontaneous event and is part of the entire body lighting up, such an event is not sexual in the normal sense. Thus the most extreme sexual experience possible to humans is not even sexual and it is this realization that helps one to intuit the larger purpose, meaning and direction of life beyond all our conditioned assumptions, concepts and self-centric myopia.' [4]

The advantage of putting gender types of states of consciousness on the horizontal line and matching them out against variables on the vertical line is that it enables us to see when gender plays a role in experiencing states of consciousness and when it doesn't. Intriguing questions in this respect might be: do gender characteristics play a role in the experience of states across the whole spectrum of consciousness or only at the lower levels? Are gender characteristics transcended when we develop higher up the scale, to second and third tier colors? The research of Jane Loevinger and Susann Cook-Greuter suggests that generally gender differences weaken as we develop to transpersonal, post-conventional levels. But how about states of consciousness? Are they also neutralized in their gender oppositions, when we climb up the colored ladder? How about age? Do older women experience their states of consciousness differently from younger women? And is the factor personal excellence capable of transcending gender differences? These are all interesting questions presenting themselves from within an expanded Wilber-Combs cartography.

Type III: altered states of consciousness

States of consciousness can be, both from the inside as well as from the outside, artificially altered or provoked. When they are changed or generated from the inside we call them endogenous states of consciousness. When from the outside, they are called exogenous states of consciousness. The most important form of endogenous states are the trained states of consciousness, the ones generated by meditation and other similar techniques.

a endogenous (trained) states

What will be the correlation between this type of state and the variables on the vertical line, like psychological level, age, excellence etc.? When the state of consciousness is actively provoked and sought for, like in meditation, it is reasonable to conclude that there will be more awareness and understanding about the state experience. In that case we must know to some degree that state experiences are good, beneficial, healthy, to be desired for etc. So this presupposes a higher level of cognitive and emotional development, than with someone who merely receives state experiences involuntarily (as peaks). From this we may infer that state training is something taken up when we are higher on the vertical line of development. This is I think proven by the facts: spiritual techniques, aimed at realizing state experiences as permanent traits, are more employed by people who are to some degree advanced in their psychological growth. Meditation is not something children or, say, people at low magenta level do willfully and out of their own accord. Only people with serious spiritual and mystical aspirations (mostly second tier) do purposely train themselves in having higher state experiences.

The Wilber-Combs lattice, as it is now presented, with the same bold dots at all levels, may suggest that everyone, at any given level, may experience higher states of consciousness with the same intensity. But, as we already saw, these experiences are highly dependent on the amount of awareness (wakefulness) one has accumulated (in other words: do we consciously (wakefully) know that we are experiencing them?). This knowledge, this wakefulness is greatly enhanced by training generating altered states of consciousness.

The way training, levels and states mutually interact and correlate comes perspicuously to the fore when we see that intense state training speeds up psychological development considerably. Research has shown that meditation (or comparable successful techniques) works as a kind of catalyst in bringing us from a lower to a higher level in a more rapid pace than mere aging would do. A person at, say, amber level, taking up meditation, will arrive more quickly at a green level than an amber person not engaged in spiritual training. The same holds for a green person who is heading towards teal or turquoise, etc. The causes for this phenomenon are mainly to be found in the Upper Quadrants, such as the gaining of broader perspectives and the accumulation of general wisdom, because of a widening of consciousness in the Upper Left, but also through biochemical and neurological changes in the Upper Right Quadrant effected by meditation. Here we see meditation and training effecting the vertical levels, but notice also that this raising of the levels has rebound effects of itself on the states of consciousness: the higher leveled we train ourselves to be, the deeper and more intense our state experiences become.

This points to the paramount importance of endogenously altered states of consciousness in the Wilber-Combs cartography. The greatest discovery in consciousness was already made in Vedic times, when the shamanistic rishi sages of ancient India found ways to endogenously and naturally generate state experiences –by way of yoga, meditation and other techniques-, that were formerly only accessible to drugs like soma and amrita. This may well prove to be the greatest scientific discovery ever made. The future of mankind owes a great deal to this discovery.

b exogenous states of consciousness

To this category belong the various hypnagogic states brought about by external hypnagogic agents, like a hypnotherapist or an alpha brain wave machine. But the most familiar exogenous states are the drug induced states of consciousness. The so called entheogenic drugs, whether in pure form or as plant-derived substances, include cannabis, mescaline, DMT, LSD, psilocin, psilocybin, ibogaine, and salvinorin A. They are capable of inducing various subtle state experiences of a spiritual kind, even producing plateau like effects on the person taking the drug. For that reason they are often used in religious ritual contexts. But though the content, the effect and possibly the general experience of entheogenic drugs may show similarities with parasympathetically induced trained states of consciousness, this equation is in most texts about entheogenic drugs simply taken for granted, but never scientifically proven. In fact a drug experience may be something completely different from parasympathetically generated forms of enlightenment, but since so few people have experienced real spiritual enlightenment, nobody really knows what it is and one is tempted on forehand to assume that enlightenment is the same as the effect of a drug experience (which may not be the case). This may well be the major fallacy in the work of writers like Walter Pahnke, Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley or Huston Smith (to name only a few of a plethora of writers who have written about the connection between spirituality and drug induced states of consciousness).

This being said, it cannot be denied that drug induced states of consciousness are subtle state experiences of a kind and are therefore to be accounted for from within a Wilber-Combs cartography. Matching this type of state against variables on the vertical line, may tell us something about the way states of consciousness are influenced by variables like psychological color or age. Here drugs have a further advantage that they can be more easily employed in controlled settings like a laboratory. So administering entheogenic drugs to different level groups or ages, may give us information how different levels or ages experience states differently. But there is one important caveat in research of this kind: the results may only tell us something about drug induced states of consciousness and not about states of consciousness an sich.

An expanded Wilber-Combs cartography

So far we have discussed a number of variables –on the vertical axis- that influence the occurrence of states of consciousness and the way they are rationally translated and interpreted. We also differentiated between various types of states -on the horizontal axis-, to make sure what kind of higher state we are dealing with in our research. All these variables and types taken together amount to something of an expanded Wilber-Combs lattice, which we shall now present as a cartography, since it is composed of more than one table. Putting these tables all together on one chart, will eventually look like a Periodical System of a kind, not of the elements of chemistry, but of states of consciousness. Such a cartography may be used in psychological and spiritual research (whether cross-culturally, culturally or with individuals) and may be helpful in visualizing the way cultures or individuals generate and respond to (different levels of) states of consciousness. Experiential findings may be set out across the tables of the cartography and thus present us an overview of the spirituality of a given culture or individual. Such a cartography may be scientifically viable.

Like the Wilber-Combs lattice itself, this cartography,[5] as it is presented in this paper, does not claim immortality. It is only one way of looking at the correlation between states and stages. There are probably more ways to study states of consciousness. Refinements will surely be made in the future. But his cartography is something of an elaboration of the original Wilber-Combs model.

Table I

  • On the horizontal line: natural, non-trained (peaks and plateaus) states of consciousness (gross, subtle, causal, non-dual),
  • On the vertical line: (variable I) levels of consciousness (infrared, magenta, red, amber, orange, green, teal, turquoise, indigo, violet, ultraviolet etc., with all of their line characteristics)

This table visualizes the way levels of consciousness determine states of consciousness. It may give us answers to questions like: does the ability to experience states of consciousness increase as we go higher up the ladder? Or are all levels equally capable of generating state experiences? Are the states the same at all levels of consciousness? Do all levels of consciousness have access to all levels of states of consciousness or do some stop at subtle and others go further? And in what way is the interpretation of a state of consciousness influenced by the level of consciousness a culture of an individual has acquired?

Table II

  • On the horizontal line: natural, non-trained states of consciousness (gross, subtle, causal, non-dual)
  • On the vertical line: (variable II) different age groups (e.g. 1-7, 7-14, 14-21, 21-28 etc.)

This table informs us about the relation between age and states of consciousness. The intuition is that with age we become more capable of entering higher states of consciousness (esp. causal and non-dual states) with awareness. But intensity is also a factor to be accounted for. Younger age may well have more intense subtle state experiences. This is open to research.

Table III

  • On the horizontal line: natural, non-trained states of consciousness (gross, subtle, causal, non-dual)
  • On the vertical line: (variable III) personal excellence

Questionnaires can be set up testing the spiritual excellence of a given culture or individual. This can be done rather easily and objectively by testing the heuristic skills in explaining moderately difficult to extremely difficult spiritual texts (all the way up to the ability to make some sense out of Nagarjuna or Bataille). The findings of such questionnaires can be set out on scales ranging from 0 to 10. This is one way of testing personal excellence. It has the caveat of not testing spiritual, but intellectual excellence, so questionnaires of this kind may be flawed to some degree and other methods will have to be set up. Notice also that in the questionnaire we do not test the ability to enter into higher states of consciousness with awareness, since this is the demonstrandum and not the demonstrans.

Table IV

  • On the horizontal line: (type I states) sympathetically or parasympathetically induced states of consciousness (gross, subtle, causal, non-dual)
  • On the vertical line: (variable I) levels of consciousness (infrared, magenta, red, amber, orange, green, teal, turquoise, indigo, violet, ultraviolet etc., with all of their line characteristics)

Is there a difference in the way states of consciousness are neurophysiologically generated throughout the spectrum of consciousness (in the UR Quadrant)? Do the lower levels have more sympathetic activation of states and the higher levels more parasympathetic activation? This is an interesting question to which this table perhaps might give us some answers.

Table V

  • On the horizontal line: (type I states) sympathetically or parasympathetically induced states of consciousness (gross, subtle, causal, non-dual)
  • On the vertical line: (variable II) different age groups (e.g. 1-7, 7-14, 14-21, 21-28 etc.)

Here the intuition is that the state experiences of children are more parasympathetically induced than the experiences of adults. This is deduced from the naturalness of the child's nervous system and its ability to switch more easily to parasympathetic mode than the neurophysiology of an older person (the ability for rapid switching is often lost over the years). So this table may well give us clues in understanding the underlying physiology of childhood spirituality.

Table VI

  • On the horizontal line: (type I states) sympathetically or parasympathetically induced states of consciousness (gross, subtle, causal, non-dual)
  • On the vertical line: (variable III) personal excellence

Has personal excellence in spirituality bearings upon the physiology of higher state experience? Do the more spiritually competent individuals have a more active parasympathetic nervous system? Is this the reason that they are competent or is their competence the reason that they are more parasympathetically activated? This table may well be of paramount importance in our study of spirituality and higher states of consciousness. The intuition is here: spiritually gifted persons have a more strongly developed (or a more natural) parasympathetic nervous system. This is in need of testing.

Table VII

  • On the horizontal line: (type II states) gender related states of consciousness (gross, subtle, causal, non-dual)
  • On the vertical line: (variable I) levels of consciousness (infrared, magenta, red, amber, orange, green, teal, turquoise, indigo, violet, ultraviolet etc., with all of their line characteristics)

This table shows how levels of consciousness determine the higher states of consciousness in their gender oppositions. As a person climbs higher on the psychological ladder the gender typology of state experiences diminish. Male and female merge more and more into one. This is reflected in one's spiritual experience of a God transcending all gender differences: the union of Shiva and Shakti, the highest wisdom of Tantra, or the union of Christ with Sophia in Gnostic Christianity.

Increase in synergy between the two brain hemispheres, together with altered biochemistry and neurophysiology in the UR Quadrant, may account for this coinciding of gender oppositions. But also more wisdom and awareness in the UL and even changes in the lower Quadrants of cultural and social life may account for a person transcending gender oppositions as s/he spirals higher. This is all reflected in the way a person experiences states of consciousness.

Table VIII

  • On the horizontal line: (type II states) gender related states of consciousness (gross, subtle, causal, non-dual)
  • On the vertical line: (variable II) different age groups (e.g. 1-7, 7-14, 14-21, 21-28 etc.)

Interesting findings about the way boys and girls interpret their state experiences differently may be set out in this table against data of adolescent, adult or mature males and females. This may give us insight in gender differences of various age groups. Perhaps a trend may be discernible that will tell us something about the way higher spiritual consciousness evolves in males and females differently (or indifferently). Since level and age are in most cases correlated variables, this table may well overlap with the findings of table VII.

Table IX

  • On the horizontal line: (type II states) gender related states of consciousness (gross, subtle, causal, non-dual)
  • On the vertical line: (variable III) personal excellence

What does it mean to be a spiritually gifted female? Is it different from being a male genius? And where does male and female genius overlap? This is perhaps a difficult table to make operational in test settings, but since so many excellent female mystics have made contributions to mysticism and the psychology of higher states, we do indeed have a plenum of written data telling us something about the way gender differences influence excellence and vice versa, how gender differences are influenced (e.g. annulled) by personal excellence.

Table X

  • On the horizontal line: (type III a states) endogenously altered (= trained) states of consciousness
  • On the vertical line: (variable I) levels of consciousness (infrared, magenta, red, amber, orange, green, teal, turquoise, indigo, violet, ultraviolet etc., with all of their line characteristics)

This table will show how psychological levels are influenced by spiritually training. The results and repercussions of findings presented in this table cannot be easily exaggerated. It may have a lasting effect on the field of developmental psychology, once research will be able to show how spiritual training greatly enhances psychological growth and maturity. What does it mean to become a fuller, a more deeper person? Tables X-XII give us some important clues.

Table XI

  • On the horizontal line: (type III a states) endogenously altered (= trained) states of consciousness
  • On the vertical line: (variable II) different age groups (e.g. 1-7, 7-14, 14-21, 21-28 etc.)

What are the effects of spiritual training on the different age groups? Do children respond positively to meditation techniques, or does their lack of awareness and wakefulness prevent them from making any progress in spirituality? Suppose children do benefit from spiritual techniques: in what way does this influence their experience and interpretation of higher states? Table XI may also answer questions like: at what age does spiritual training have the greatest effect and why?

Table XII

  • On the horizontal line: (type III a states) endogenously altered (= trained) states of consciousness
  • On the vertical line: (variable III) personal excellence

States of consciousness can become levels (permanent traits) of consciousness. But in the present state of affairs there is no guarantee in our evolutionary blueprint making this happen. We are not born with third tier levels of consciousness in the bud, in the same way as we all e.g. have an inborn capacity for language. Formal operational structures and language develop naturally. A child only has to wait a while and there they are. But not so with enlightenment. It takes painstaking effort to reach that level of development. Maybe one day in the future, when enough people have evolved to third tier structures, will there be enough morphic resonance to make higher states of consciousness something natural and spontaneous for everyone. Till that day it takes personal excellence to become enlightened.

This table makes visible that personal excellence in spirituality is closely linked to state training. We will see the influence working in both ways: it takes personal excellence to successfully complete state training; but state training also enhances personal excellence. So where there is successful state training, there is also personal excellence and vice versa. The famous mystics from the past and present owe their genius and excellence to training.

Table XIII

  • On the horizontal line: (type III b states) exogenously altered (= drug induced) states of consciousness
  • On the vertical line: (variable I) levels of consciousness (infrared, magenta, red, amber, orange, green, teal, turquoise, indigo, violet, ultraviolet etc., with all of their line characteristics)

Do exogenously altered -drug induced- states of consciousness have the same effect on our stages/levels of consciousness as endogenously altered –trained- states of consciousness? Do they also make 'level skipping' possible? The intuition is: not as effectively as state training. But there are examples from literature where the taking of entheogenic drugs had a lasting effect on the spirituality of the person having the drug experience. So further research is needed.

We may also investigate the way the different levels experience and interpret a drug experience. This may show some divergence, both with the levels themselves as well as with the way natural or trained states of consciousness are interpreted. This table may well show that drug experiences are something completely different from ordinary (natural) state experiences. But again: it may not.

Table XIV

  • On the horizontal line: (type III b states) exogenously altered (= drug induced) states of consciousness
  • On the vertical line: (variable II) different age groups (e.g. 1-7, 7-14, 14-21, 21-28 etc.)

This table shows the correlation between age and spiritual drug experiences. There may be an overlap with table II and table XI, but there are great differences also between these three tables of the Wilber-Combs cartography.


This paper presents an expanded version of the original Wilber-Combs lattice. On the vertical axis two more variables have been added. On the horizontal line six different types of states of consciousness have been distinguished. The possible correlations betweens these three variables and the six different types can be graphically represented in about fourteen tables, each dealing with one special type of consciousness as it correlates with one of the three variables on the vertical axis. This gives us more than 800 (856 to be precise) ways of correlation between states of consciousness and variables like psychological development, age and personal excellence.

This cartography may serve as a theoretical model for scientists in studying states of consciousness. Such a 'Periodical System of Spiritual Consciousness' can be fully integrated in Wilber's suggestion of an Integral Operating System, working fully AQAL embedded. Every individual scientist may contribute to the cartography by focusing in on one table at a time. In due course their research will enrich the PSSC with definite knowledge of the way (spiritual) consciousness works. The most interesting tables are perhaps nr. X-XII in telling us how spiritual training effects psychological development, age characteristics and personal excellence (and also vice versa). Spiritual training is closely linked to the building of so called third tier structures. These third tier structures will play a decisive role in the future of mankind. This will prove to be no science fiction. For somehow they have already been promised to us.


[1] Ken Wilber: Integral Spirituality (Boston & London 2007) p. 88

[2] Science Vol. 174 1971 pp. 897-904

[3] Jana Dixon: the Biology of Kundalini (Lulu publishing 2008) p. 69 ff.

[4] Jana Dixon in a letter to the writer explaining the experience

[5] A graphical representation of the XIV tables could unfortunately not be processed, due to various reasons. But the writer encourages everyone with accomplished graphical skills to draw out the graphics for us (using Chartmaker pro?). He humbly confesses to lack the prescribed technical know-how to do it.

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