TRANSLATE THIS ARTICLE
Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Jaap Schaveling (1956) works at Nyenrode Business University (www.nyenrode.nl), where he is a programme manager and teaches Organizational Dynamics and Leadership. Jaap also has his own practice as an Organization Coach (www.aikima.com) and is the author of several publications on organizational dynamics and leadership. An earlier verson of ths article appeared in The Circle, the magazine of the School for Being Orientation.
A Summary and Some Critical Comments
Ken Wilber's new book, Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World, appeared in November 2006. This article summarizes the book and offers some of my comments. During the last couple of decades Ken Wilber has been developing what he calls the Integral Approach. His masterpiece, Sex, Ecology and Spirituality (1996, 2000) prepared its groundwork, and in the many books he has written since then he has developed this approach in far greater detail. The same is being done in his newest book, Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World (henceforth abbreviated as IS), whose purpose it is to apply to spirituality the integral approach that he has been developing in his previous books.
The essence of IS, Ken Wilber sets down on page 210:
Spirituality—Your own deepest I-I in this We of Mutual Awakening—embraces not only states and experiences, but stages and stations on life's way. And those stages—from archaic God to magic God to mythic God to rational God to pluralistic God to integral God and higher—are indeed the stages and stations of a conveyor belt from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric to Kosmocentric, with religion being the only institution in all of humanity's endeavors that can do this.
AQAL is a Story, No More, No Less. It is a pity that Wilber seems to have lost the ability to keep that perspective himself.
After introducing the Integral Approach through his familiar Quadrant-Model, Wilber offers an overview of several of the methodological approaches through which spirituality can be investigated, developed, described, and so forth. In IS he is quite consciously emphasizing the Interior-Individual, upper left quadrant, which is why the introduction is followed by three chapters dealing with stages and states of consciousness and their interrelationship. In fact, for Wilber the words spirituality and consciousness are interchangeable. It is possible to 'slip up' in any of the phases of consciousness; it can go wrong at any time. The chapters five and six on Boomeritis Buddhism and The Shadow and the Disowned Self deal with all the things that can go wrong.
Following these chapters we arrive at chapter 7, which deals with the book's “We” component, or the lower left quadrant. Although it is the individual that develops spirituality, all individuals exist within a social context, with worldviews and independent levels of consciousness. It is Wilber's contention that, in their development, individuals must go through stages of consciousness but social structures are not required to do so.
In chapter 8 Wilber then moves on to the Exterior-Individual, or upper right quadrant, which addresses the traditional scientific facts of holons and describes what can be seen of the development of an individual's consciousness from the outside (brain development, behavior, etc). In chapter 9 Wilber's attention goes to the subtitle of the book: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World. Here, he concludes that religion ought to reassume its role in people's practice of spirituality, allowing it to become the conveyor belt of society that will transport it from its current ethnocentric phase toward a more pluralistic locus. Ken Wilber then concludes with a summary description of his Integral Life Practice; it comprises suggestions and methodologies for individual development based on his four-quadrant model. The book concludes with three appendixes that delve a bit deeper into some of the themes broached in IS.
Introduction of the Integral Approach
As discussed in previous works (Wilber, 2000: XVI), Wilber has learned from the criticism leveled at earlier works that he had assumed too quickly that the Integral Approach could be taken as being familiar territory to all. Accordingly, he begins IS with a 32-page synopsis of the Integral Approach. He takes his time to explain that the Integral Approach is based on five elements: quadrants, levels or stages, developmental lines, states and types. He also refers to this approach as AQAL (All Quadrants All Levels).
The quadrants are the best known and most often used component of Wilber's body of thought. He has analyzed many developmental lines from existing literature, and discovered that at least four main categories can be discerned. He then concludes that, if you are speaking of development and evolution, you must always remain aware of these four vantage points. If you divide a circle into four parts representing aspects of the evolution or development of each holon, then in the upper left corner Wilber places the interior-individual, which represents the subjective aspect of consciousness. In the upper right quadrant you will find the objective or exterior-individual aspects of the interior components of consciousness, such as brain mechanisms and neurotransmitters that support consciousness, in short: traditional scientific facts regarding any given individual organism. The lower left quadrant captures the interior-collective, which refers to the values, meanings, worldviews and ethics shared by any given group of individuals; culture, in other words. These components are all solidified in objective, material, institutional forms, which are to be found in the lower right quadrant: the environment or the system. Belonging to these social systems are material institutions, geopolitical formations and productive forces (ranging from hunting and agriculture to information technology).
The evolutionary levels or stages of consciousness represent actual milestones of growth and development. Every individual must go through these stages; in this sense you can say that they are a fixed requirement. You go from being egocentric by way of ethnocentric to being worldcentric, or from body via mind to Spirit. Once you have transcended a given stage, you own it as a permanent characteristic.
All four quadrants exhibit several developmental lines, each sub-divided into several levels. In the upper left quadrant, for example, we can identify an emotional, cognitive and moral line. Each of these lines will pass through all levels or stages just identified. Yet, development along several lines will not necessarily occur at the same pace. It is possible to develop faster along one line than another. Which helps to explain why you are good at some things yet not at others.
We experience each moment—with all of its quadrants, levels, etc—in a certain state. In fact, every moment we will experience in one of the following states of consciousness: awake, dreaming, or in deep formless sleep. The world's Great Wisdom Traditions maintain that these natural states of consciousness actually represent a veritable treasure trove of spiritual wisdom and spiritual insight, if we use them adequately. These three states of consciousness encompass the entire spectrum of spiritual enlightenment.
The fifth aspect of AQAL deals with types. Meredith Belbin's Team Roles are an example of types that are often used in the business world. It is possible to be any one of these types at any level and in any state. Let us look at an example using the familiar types of “masculine” and “feminine”. The following story will serve to illustrate the difference. A boy and a girl are playing together and the boy says, 'Let's play Pirates!' The girl responds with, 'Let's play that we are neighbors.' The boy retorts with, 'No, I want to play pirates!' 'Okay, you can play the pirate who lives next door to me,' is the girl's response. According to Gilligan (Wilber, 2006: p. 13), boys will push aside feelings in order to maintain the rules, while girls will break the rules to spare feelings. Boys and girls will progress along developmental lines in different ways. Every stage has both a feminine and a masculine type, which are independent of stages and states. For example, in terms of Belbin's team roles you could be a Team Worker at an egocentric, ethnocentric or a worldcentric level.
Definition of Spirituality
Wilber does not address what he means by spirituality until we have progressed quite far into his book. It means that readers are left empty-handed at the beginning, since they are not being provided with any kind of frame of reference for the actual theme of the IS. Only much later does it become clear what he means by spirituality.
To Wilber, spirituality has a multitude of meanings, which are all necessary and have an equal right to exist. Starting on page 100 he finally offers four meanings for spirituality, which, by the way, he had already covered extensively in one of his previous books, Integral Psychology (IP):
To that list we can add a fifth definition that Wilber does mention in IP but not in IS: Spirituality is the sum total of the highest stages of developmental lines.
Wilber describes spirituality with a definition of enlightenment: '…is the realization of oneness with all states and all stages that have evolved so far and that are in existence at any given time' (p. 95), with which he integrates all meanings that he gives to spirituality. But he does not do so explicitly. So I find it disturbing that, after naming these descriptions of spirituality, Wilber remarks that 'we absolutely MUST identify which of those we mean, or the conversation goes nowhere fast,' but then does not himself summarize what his selection is, instead leaving it implicit by stating 'here are the 4 important uses, all of which I believe should be honored (…) you just have to specify which or you get endlessly lost.' (p. 101)
Integral spirituality is therefore neither defined nor described in any other manner during the outset of the book, and the term is being used interchangeably for concepts as consciousness and enlightenment. If the main topic of IS had not been about spirituality, I don't think this would have been a disaster, but the fact is that in this case it does represent the central theme of the book: you cannot leave its explanation until somewhere halfway through. The result is that it leaves the reader with the impression that this book is really no more than a further development of the four-quadrant model. What specific meaning Wilber's ideas have for spirituality is in any event not being made clear right from the beginning.
Involution and Evolution
Having knowledge of the concepts of involution and evolution is essential, given Wilber's definitions of enlightenment and spirituality. According to the world's Wisdom Traditions the entire process of evolution or “un-folding” could never occur without a prior process of involution, or “in-folding” (p. 215). Not only can the higher not be explained in terms of the lower, and not only does the higher not actually emerge “out of” the lower, but the reverse of both of those is true. Lower dimensions or levels are actually sediments or deposits of the higher dimension, and they find their meaning because of the higher dimensions of which they are a stepped-down or diluted version. This is also known as involution: from Spirit-as-spirit to Spirit-as-soul, to Spirit-as-mind, to Spirit-as-body, etcetera.
According to the Wisdom Traditions, evolution or un-folding of the spirit only takes place because involution or in-folding of the spirit took place prior: higher stages are folded-into lower stages. It is not possible to get the higher out of the lower unless the higher was already there, in potential, waiting to emerge. 'The “miracle of emergence” is simply Spirit's creative play in the fields of its own manifestation' (p. 216). Wilber appears to be increasingly exchanging the word stage for the word altitude. He deliberately opts for the concept of altitude because it has no content. It is empty of meaning in its own right, but does indicate the relationship of phenomena being ordered by it. The same applies to consciousness when it is being used in the following manner: 'Consciousness is the emptiness, the openness, the clearing in which phenomena arise, and if those phenomena develop in stages, they constitute a developmental line. The more phenomena in that line that can arise in consciousness, the higher the level in that line' (p. 68). Consciousness on its own is not a spatial phenomenon, but the space in which phenomena arise.
Chapter 1, Integral Methodological Pluralism, provides an overview of methodologies available that can be used to reconstruct spiritual systems of the Great Wisdom Traditions. Wilber gives us eight of them and claims that 'any approach that leaves out any of these 8 paradigms is a less-than-adequate approach according to available and reliable human knowledge at this time' (p. 33). We shall see that his descriptions in this book of spirituality following this criterion represent a 'less-than-adequate approach'. Not that I would mind that all that much; my objection is that he doesn't live up to expectations he creates.
Before introducing these methodologies, Wilber emphasizes the existence of eight perspectives. Having up to now used four quadrants, based on the internal-external and individual-collective dimensions, in IS Wilber adds a nuance to this foursome by describing how you can observe each quadrant from the inside as well as from the outside. This approach gives you eight perspectives that also encompass the eight methodologies. Let us look at an example. The “I” (individual/internal) can be seen from the inside and the outside: 'I can experience my own “I” from the inside, in this moment, as the felt experience of being a subject of my present experience [phenomenology is characterized by this; JS]… But I can also approach this “I” from the outside, in a stance of an objective or “scientific” observer [structuralism is characterized by this; JS]'. This creates the following figure 1.
Meditation is a methodology based on looking at the “I” from the inside. Spiral Dynamics for example is about looking at the “I” (and “We”) from the outside. Both methods are used to study someone's consciousness, but with the one you will see entirely different things than with the other, because you are inhabiting a different stance or perspective.
Stages of Consciousness
Chapter 2 is about the upper left quadrant, where there are many developmental lines to be found. These lines will provide an answer at several levels to questions such as, “What am I aware of?” (The cognitive line), “What do I need?” (For example Maslow's pyramidal hierarchy of needs), “What do I value most?” (The values line), and “How should I relate to others?” (The social interaction line). After offering a quick sketch of some of the more familiar classifications of stages/levels in these developmental lines, including preconventional – conventional – postconventional, or selfish care – universal care and egocentric – ethnocentric – worldcentric, Wilber stresses how important it is to make a distinction between preconventional and postconventional, or between prepersonal and transpersonal. If you do not keep these two concepts sharply separated and clear in your mind, confusion will reign. In short it all boils down to this: if you confuse pre and post/trans with each other, you will get the impression that everything which is not rational, is Spirit. As soon as this confusion of “pre” and “trans” occurs, either the transpersonal domains are being pulled down to a prepersonal level, or the prepersonal domains are being elevated to a transpersonal level (see also Eye to Eye, pp. 201 ff.).
Both research of the internal component and of the external component are of importance, because you can only see the stages or levels by looking at them from the outside. And if you cannot see the stages, then you will also not be able to see the patterns that connect phenomena. The further result will be that possible dysfunction (dys-ease) will also be bypassed unnoticed.
States of Consciousness
Chapter 3 addresses the topic of states of consciousness and makes a comparison with the structures or stages of consciousness. This may seem like dry stuff, but according to Wilber it might very well be one of the most important keys to understanding the nature of spiritual experiences (and hence the role of religion in the modern and postmodern world). States are immediately available and capable of being experienced by the awareness. Vedanta, a philosophy that plays a major role as a foundation for many of the Hindu traditions, for example, gives five states of consciousness: gross-waking, subtle-dream, causal-formless, witnessing en ever-present Nondual awareness. In addition to the natural or ordinary states, there are heightened states, also called peak experiences. All of these states of being and consciousness, according to Wilber, are more or less available to all human beings at virtually any stage of growth.
It is possible to train or exercise these states of consciousness, and it mainly deals with the internal area of an individual. Regarding opportunities for growth, Wilber says, 'natural states do not show development. (...) Natural states and most altered states do not show stages.' (p. 75). Yet, he remains unclear on this, also saying: '“peak experiences” can be stabilized into so-called “plateau experiences.”' (p. 76) and a few pages further along he then goes on to refer to some old research to which he had already extensively referred in 1986 with two Harvard co-authors (Transformations of Consciousness): 'What we see is a general progression of Wakefulness from gross to subtle to causal to nondual—' (p. 82). So he is not being clear whether growth of states is or is not possible.
States and Stages
Chapter 4 addresses the crucial question, 'What is the relationship between states and stages?' Any definition of enlightenment must be able to explain what is meant by being enlightened today, but also how the same definition of enlightenment could have been equally valid in the past when we had not yet made as much progress in the area of stages as we have today. Although some parts of humanity are more advanced than before, are enlightened people of today more enlightened than the enlightened ones of yesterday because they have achieved a higher level?
The essential key we need to unlock the answer is that we must realize that enlightened states can always be present at virtually any phase of growth. Putting it in terms of being: the surface view, the Spirit view and the nondual view, which are different in terms of depth or freedom of observation, can be deployed at every level of development.
So, the answer to the crucial question is the Wilber-Combs Lattice (pp. 90 ff.).
It basically is a fairly simple matrix, where the vertical dimension has stages of development running up the left side (Figure 2 has been taken from the internet, the actual version being used in IS adds a final stage on top: super-integral), and the horizontal dimension representing states. This means that states such as gross, subtle, et cetera, are no longer piled on top of the conventional Western phases/stages, but can be placed next to any one of them. A person can have all kinds of peak experiences, but they will only be able to interpret that state using the equipment they have available to them at that moment, i.e. the instruments of the phase/stage of development they are in at that moment. An example of this would be the idea “Jesus”.
The interpretation of the mental-rational stage is invisible to those who find themselves at the magic stage.
And this is the way that Wilber has related the stages of development to the states of the spiritual/meditative traditions (p. 94).
Now that he has related states and stages to each other, the important question arises whether enlightenment can have any meaning if evolution occurs. Enlightenment means something like “being one with everything”, but if everything is evolving and I become enlightened today, won't then my enlightenment be only partial tomorrow? You could say that enlightenment means, “being one with the timeless, the eternal and the unborn”, but that would create an undesirable duality for the timeless versus the temporal. The answer that Wilber posits is: “Enlightenment is the realization of oneness with all states and all stages that have evolved so far and that are in existence at any given time” (p. 95).
State practice promotes development
According to Wilber we cannot skip the phases of development, but we can speed up our development by practicing state practices, such as for example, meditation (p. 11). Unfortunately, Wilber does not back up this proposition with any fundamental support, either here or elsewhere in the book. Notwithstanding that, there do exist an increasing number of scientific indications that meditation does indeed matter (see for example Slagter et al, 2007). Margriet Sitskoorn (head of the Cognitive Neuroscience Unit of the University Medical Center Utrecht - Netherlands) has the following to say on the topic: “Meditation also has a clear effect on the brain. With people who are experienced in Vipassana or Insight Meditation it appears that the areas of their brain that are involved with concentration, interception and sensory perception are larger than those of people who do not meditate.” Meditation has a clear effect on the brain, the senses as well as the immune system (Sitskoorn, 2006: p. 169). Boomeritis Buddhism
Chapter 5 deals with dysfunctions in the developmental lines. Boomeritis (simply put: a dysfunction of Baby Boomers) refers to the fact that, for example, identical reactions from civilians who have been called up to go to the front as soldiers (“Hell, no, we won't go”), in the one case can be a protest at a pre-conventional level, and in the other case a protest at a post-conventional level. In digging deeper for the protester's motivation, in the one case it then appears to be only the ego at work (“This is going to wreck my career”), and in the other case a more worldcentric view came into play (“War is no solution”). Boomeritis is a special case of pre/trans-confusion whose symptoms are about having post-conventional/worldcentric levels that have been infected with pre-conventional/egocentric levels. It was thought that you were more spiritual the harder you could feel your ego, emote your ego and express your ego with real immediate feelings, whereas in fact, you would actually be operating at a pre-conventional level. This kind of confusion of levels requires a particular knowledge of, and insight into, the levels to be distinguished. It is not possible to make this kind of dysfunction visible by meditation, because it is a problem on the outside. If you cannot see the phases, you can therefore also not see the dysfunctions. And in any event, you must be accomplished at the post-conventional level if you are going to fathom pre/trans-confusions in any real depth. We just cannot see any farther than the phase we happen to be in right now. The various instructions contained in, for example Buddhism, but also those of Christ or other teachers, is being read at the level where the reader resides at that moment, even though they were written at far higher levels.
Boomeritis is a symptom of a much broader problem. If any system is based on one of the eight perspectives or methodologies, then I, as a practitioner of that system might not be able to spot any dysfunction in the other seven perspectives of my own being. Spirituality encompasses more than one internal perspective, it also encompasses the other perspectives. In that same vein Buddhism is often unjustly seen not to be based on concepts or intellect, but merely as a school based on feelings only. Pre-conventional levels are therefore being confused with post-conventional levels. Another thing that is of great importance for spiritual development is cognition: “cognition as co-gnosis is the root of the development that is necessary for the full awakening of gnosis, of jnana, of nondual liberating awareness' (p. 113). Cognitive development in fact is of importance to the development of all developmental lines.
Cognitive development can be identified as an increase in the number of others with whom you can identify and an increase in the number of perspectives you can take. “The deepest Buddhist teachings—Mahamudra and Dzogchen—maintain that the nature of the mind is not in any way different from the forms arising it. (...) That which is Emptiness is not other than View; that which is View is not other than Emptiness” (pp. 114, 115). Wilber gives the advice to particularly let your view be integral, if you are to avoid Boomeritis. In other words, it is of the greatest importance to carefully select your view and give it an integral development.
The Shadow and the Disowned Self
Chapter 6 is about our shadow side. The chapter opens with the observation that having an understanding of our subconscious, of our tendency to project our shadow side etc, is something contributed exclusively by Western psychology and definitely not coming from the Eastern Wisdom Traditions. Wilber has a bit of a habit of making these kinds of sweeping statements. He then proceeds to discuss what 'projection' is, suggesting that it is important to take back your projections, to “re-own the shadow” (p. 122). Or, putting it into Freud's original words, “Where it was, there I shall become” (which is not the way this quote is usually given: “Where id was, there ego shall be”).
Wilber offers us the following summary on how to deal with our shadow side, our neuroses (p. 136): 'The therapeutic “3-2-1” process that Integral Institute [his own Institute; JS] has developed to help in these cases consists of turning those 3rd-person monsters (or “its”) back into 2nd-person dialogue voices (“you”)—which is very important—and then going even further and re-identifying with those voices as 1st-person realities that you re-own and re-inhabit using, at that point, “I” monologues, not voice dialogues. You end up with, “I am a very angry monster that wants to kill you!”'
Using what I would consider to be a fairly customary therapeutic procedure for dealing with our neuroses, it is possible to continue a healthy developmental process that can be characterized as follows: “the subject of one stage becomes the object of the subject of the next stage' (Kegan, 1982).
Wake up instead of Grow up
The School for Being Orientation, founded by Hans Knibbe in the Netherlands, has added some steps. The School makes a very deliberate choice to have this process of taking back, re-owning, take place at a trans-personal level. In Knibbe's words (Knibbe, 2006b: pp. 127, 128): “As part of the progressive trans-ego route we will choose working methods that will help us in letting go of identification with whatever ego-level, and that will encourage us in escorting ourselves from a higher perspective than the perspective of the body and the mental ego. (...) So, it is not about the idea that the client [or student; JS] must grow up in “his parents' house”, but that the client must begin to see that something like this is fundamentally impossible. It is not that he must “grow up”, he must “wake up”.' Students are continuously invited to tune into Spirit level, in order to re-own the neurosis from that perspective, or better yet: to wake up. That is the way to own up to the unrecognized 'Buddha-qualities' of our neuroses: “this is Buddha-quality, we will not engage in any analysis of the feelings or moods with which we are working” (Knibbe, 2006b: pp. 364 ff.). This, however, should be done in an atmosphere of devotion, which enables us to get in touch with our smallness as compared to the enormity we observe with Spirit. It is only by maintaining a devotional posture that you can enable the Buddha-qualities to emerge from a cramp. Only by opening yourself up in a respectful manner and by the surrender of “I-cramp manipulation” will the “Being-quality” manifest itself. The quality that is hidden within the cramp emerges, and all of a sudden we feel grand, autonomous, regal and brilliant. I find that these steps are missing in Wilber's work.
A Miracle Called “We”
The Culture, or “we” quadrant, in the lower left, is particularly important in connection with spirituality, according to Wilber, because he believes that, 'Spirit surely manifests itself in everything that arises, but it especially manifests itself in this miracle called a “we.” If you want to know Spirit directly, one of the ways to do so is to simply and deeply feel what you are feeling right now whenever you use the word “we.”' (p. 149).
What is that miracle called “we”? Individual holons have a dominant uniqueness or identity, a monad. Social holons do not experience that phenomenon, instead having a dominant resonance allowing participants to become attuned to each other, to the whole. Not only does this require the use of signifiers, for example, the cackling of a gaggle of geese, but also shared signifieds; an interior, mutual resonance of these geese. The only way possible to participate within the group is by being tuned into the same material resonance of that wavelength (p. 150): 'the group does not have a dominant monad or “I”.'
It is important that Wilber makes an express distinction between individual and social holons. Individual holons have four quadrants, social holons do not, and 'individual holons go through mandatory stages, social holons don't.' (p. 151). In the case of an individual, it is necessary to go through a number of developmental stages as part of individual development, but individuals do not each need to go through the developmental stages of an organization again every time (p. 153): 'if I am in a social system that has developed to, say, informational, I myself do not have to take up hunting, and then farming, and then industry, and then I can use my informational computer'. In another example, if a group is at the mythical stage and four people at the rational stage join that group, then, according to Wilber, the group would rise to that higher level. So, a society can make the transition from a magical stage to a pluralistic stage, but the individuals comprising that society must make the transition via a mythical and a rational stage.
I question whether organizations can indeed skip stages. From organizational culture research being done we know that bringing new people in really does not mean the culture will change. This is aptly illustrated by research done at a zoo in London. A group of monkeys is hosed down every time they try to get at a banana by way of the stairs. The first new monkey introduced to the group will be plucked off the stairs by the other screaming monkeys, because they obviously have no desire to be hosed down again. But even if all monkeys who have first hand experience of being hosed down have been replaced by new ones, meaning that the group now only contains monkeys who have second hand knowledge of being afraid of the stairs, still no monkey will attempt to go up them (“that's the way things are done around here”). You can find examples of this phenomenon in many organizations.
Even though I am frequently in contact with organizations that, because of the pressure of circumstances, make a transition from being a power-centric culture to being a cooperative culture, I would not presume to maintain that a group could skip several steps. In fact, Wilber also does not show us any research on this topic. The organizational sciences are actually providing an increasing body of indications that organizations also go through different developmental stages (see, for example, Greiner, the EFQM-model). I do agree with Wilber that, 'There are phases and cycles in the development of collectives, but those are very loose and generic, and they usually apply to horizontal development' (p. 152).
Bringing about a culture change is a bit more complicated than Wilber would have us believe. Which means that he is even more right when he says, 'This is why you can't really use individual structure-stage theories (…) to describe groups or social holons' (p. 151).
Wilber does not provide us with a lot of insight into the relations/correlations of the “we”-quadrant with spirituality, yet he does have the gumption to judge others on this failing: 'The question has always really been, “Now what exactly is that relationship?”' And he pronounces judgment on many well-known authors writing on the Great Web of Life (such as Laszlo, Deepak Chopra, Capra, et cetera), 'And all of them are deeply, deeply, deeply confused' (pp. 143-144). Well, that promises quite a lot, unless you are brave enough to write that you don't exactly know the answers yourself yet either. Wilbur does not live up to this promise.
Spirit in 1st, 2nd and 3rd Person
Wilber emphasizes the importance of having a first, second and third person perspective. Spirit in 1st -person 'is the great I, the I-I, the Maha-Atman, the Overmind—Spirit as that great Witness in you, the I-I of this and every moment. (...) Spirit in 2nd -person is the great You, the great Thou, the radiant, living, all-giving God before whom I must surrender in love and devotion and sacrifice and release. (...) Spirit in 3rd -person is the Great It, or Great System, or Great Web of Life, the Great Perfection of existence itself, the Is-ness, the Thusness, the very Suchness of this and every moment.' (p. 159). People's preferences will often be quite clear. The religious traditions will often choose for Spirit in 2nd -person, but find it very difficult to experience the dimension of the present moment, that is to say, Spirit in 1st -person. Nowadays we can also see that people are turning their back entirely on Spirit 2nd -person, instead surrendering entirely to Spirit 3rd -person, also known as Web of Life, Gaia, Systems theory, Chaos theory, et cetera. And often this is linked to the practice of Spirit 1st -person through meditation, contemplation, Big Me, Big Mind, et cetera. 'But [there are] no conceptions of a Great Thou, to whom surrender and devotion is the only response' (p. 160). To Wilber, this represents a repression of the “We/Thou”-aspect (the lower left quadrant) of each holon: 'a repression of a dimension of your very being-in-the-world. (...) Spirit in 2nd -person is the great devotional leveler, the great ego killer, that before which the ego is humbled into Emptiness.' (p. 160). Having consciousness requires consciousness on all of these three perspectives.
The World of the Terribly Obvious
Chapter 8 deals with the right hand quadrants: the outside of holons and the outside of spirituality; the study of objective organisms and objective groups of organisms.
We are given a brief description of the existence of four separate methodologies in the two right hand quadrants: cognitive science and organisms as autopoietic system (self-referential, self-organizing and self-maintaining) developed by Maturana and Varela (zone 5), neurophenomenology (zone 5), social autopoiesis (zone 7) and the dynamical systems theory and chaos//complexity theory (zone 8).
Wilber doesn't get around to applying knowledge of these areas to spirituality, which is one of the goals of this book. One example of relevant knowledge would be that being constantly attuned to Spirit is indeed desirable, considering the results of brain research. In fact, our brains are partly characterized by a certain degree of plasticity derived from experience. Our brains do not merely develop on the basis of one's genes (see for example, Rutter, 2006), they are also the result of the life we live and things we encounter along the way (see Sitskoorn, 2006: p. 68). Such experience-dependent plasticity allows our brains to be very flexible indeed, something which is necessary, because we are living in an environment that constantly demands different things from us. The things you happen to be exposed to influence your brains, but paying attention to something, and undergoing real training can develop your brain in the direction you choose yourself. Good training will bring about change, but the student must be fully aware of the fact that undergoing such training is not without danger. Chances are quite good that he will actually begin to follow a different path. Or, better: because of the many structures that are aimed at experiencing, the chance is quite large that he will begin to see life's path from a higher level of development, from the level of Spirit.
I don't see Wilber making these kinds of connections. All he does is make a statement at a general conceptual level that such a connection would be necessary. This, to me does not seem to be much of an integral spiritual stance at the transpersonal level. Again Wilber does not live up to the challenge he had already formulated back in 1998 as being the task at hand (Wilber, 1998: p. 319): 'There still remains the task of making a beginning with correlating this data with the simultaneously occurring, corresponding changes in the remaining three quadrants, thereby creating an integral vision that encompasses all levels and all quadrants.'
The Conveyor Belt
Chapter 9, which has the title, The conveyor belt, finally deals with the subtitle of the book: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World.
In it, Wilber describes how religion is of importance in making the transition for humanity to a new level of development. More and more people are getting involved in practicing spiritual practices; people who are about thirty years old are most interested in topics such as personal mastery, consciousness etc, but, on the other hand, organizations are continuously being made more machine-like, barring a few exceptions. With terrorists, too, you can see that they might have highly elevated ideals, but that their subsequent destructive acts represent a functioning at a much lower level (see also Richardson, 2006): 'The modern (orange) world will not make room for my sacred (amber) beliefs, and therefore I am going to blow up that world every chance I get, in God's name and with His blessings.' Wilber indicates how not only terrorists, but also other large parts of society are not making the transition to a worldcentric level, 'as they could be making a shift from mythic/ethnocentric spirit to worldcentric/rational spirit, they [the terrorists; JS] hit a “steel ceiling”. Amber myth is owned by premodern religion, and orange reason is owned by science and the modern world' (p. 181).
According to Wilber, what we have here is a level-line-fallacy, that is to say, the confusion of a level in a line with the line itself: 'modernity confused the mythic level of spiritual intelligence with spiritual intelligence itself (...) all of science was identified with the orange level (rationality), and all of spirituality was identified with the amber level (mythology)' (p. 184). What happens then is that there no longer is religion at a mythical level and science at a rational level, but instead religion equals mythical. The same thing applied to spirituality: 'Spirituality, due to an LLF (Level/Line Fallacy; JS), was frozen at the mythic level, and then that mythic level of spirituality was confused with spirituality altogether.' (p. 184).
In what is to me a believable way of describing it, Wilber discusses how this repression caused by the Level/Line Fallacy, particularly as it regards religion, has held us back from further development. Re-casting that in a more positive note: if we can start seeing this restriction we have placed upon ourselves, we can begin giving religions back their true role.
In the case of a Level/Line Fallacy, it becomes necessary to give the higher levels of spiritual intelligence more visibility, recognizing and appreciating them more. It would be possible for religion to be playing a crucial role in this, one that could be of use in helping individuals make the transition from having ethnocentric beliefs and ethnocentric convictions to having worldcentric convictions; from having an identity based on a role, to having an identity based on the person. This would be a veritable unfolding of religion not just as an ethnocentric expression of beliefs, but also as a true and universal expression of belief.
Wilber states that, 'religion alone, of all of humanity's endeavors, can serve as a great conveyor belt for humanity and its stages of growth' (p. 192). He cites the following reasons for this:
Not only must religion be the conveyor belt for our society that brings us from a mythical level to a worldcentric level, but religion must also promote contemplative states among its followers.
If religion lives up to its promise as being that endeavor in humanity that allows Spirit to speak through it, and Spirit is indeed evolving in its own manifestation, then religion becomes a conveyor belt for humanity, carrying it from the childhood productions of Spirit to the adolescent productions of Spirit to the adult productions of Spirit...and beyond that into the great tomorrow of Spirit's continuing display (p. 200).
Integral Life Practice
In chapter 10 Wilber describes Integral Life Practice (ILP). In this case it does not involve more than providing a figure containing a schedule, together with a brief description of ILP, and which, by the way, had already been given extensive exposure in 2003 on several DVDs. His description isn't focused on the theme of IS. In a chapter with this title I would expect to be getting tips for my daily life, practices I can follow to develop my spirituality along integral lines. ILP appears to be exclusively concentrated on the upper left quadrant: individual development. Integral Life practice deals with the core areas of body, mind, spirit and the other areas of shadow, ethics, sex, work, emotion and relationships. ILP is not about objective, scientific, outside-sourced knowledge. ILP only partly ventures onto the collective level, but then only in direct connection with the individual. In daily practice Wilber more or less forgets the other quadrants, the ones about which he constantly says how important they are for the individual's development. Accordingly, his criticism of many other books, which he says are not sufficiently Integral, to me comes across as a rather remarkable statement.
The Most Important Criticisms of Integral Spirituality
On the previous pages I have summarized what to me were the most useful ideas from IS and added some critical comments here and there. My most important general criticisms are the following.
Repeating Earlier Work
In addition to a 32-page prologue summarizing his earlier works, something that can be handy for a 'new' reader, Wilber also is repeating a lot of his earlier work in the rest of the book. For example: he concludes chapter 1 with a reflection on the influence of postmodernism and science, because of which, according to him, 'what was left of the Great Traditions could be put in a teaspoon' (p. 46). These reflections are a repetition of earlier work, such as Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution, where he picks up the topic right off the bat in the introduction, and also for example The Marriage of Sense and Souls: Integrating Science and Religion, where he says: 'Since modern science in essence had destroyed two out of three value spheres (the “I” aesthetic and the “we” ethic), postmodernism then rather thoughtlessly made a further attempt to also murder science, in a bizarre attempt to arrive at “integration” in that manner' (p. 188). Not that he is being inconsistent, but I would say that as far as I am concerned these are needless repetitions. Other examples would include his reflections on Flatland (a worldview that sees the world as being flattened to mere objective knowledge by science and by a focus on 'facts'), Boomeritis and Integral Life Practice.
Wilber indicates that a primary topic of IS will be the relationship among the eight Zones (p. 40). Unfortunately the book gives us no more than a description of the eight hori-zones, and sometimes Wilber does not even make the link to spirituality at all.
In the chapter on the right hand quadrants Wilber restricts himself to mentioning the fact that there are indications that mind states are accompanied by specific brain states (delta-waves, theta-waves, etc), as well as a study dating from 1970. What he does not mention is that since that time neuroscience, for example, has made considerable progress (see for example Cozolino, 2002, 2006). When you think about it, basically all of his books share this characteristic. He deals very extensively with the upper left quadrant, pays a good amount of attention to the lower left quadrant, but particularly as it relates to the upper left, whereupon he only deals with the right hand quadrants in a general sense and mainly stressing the fact that the right hand quadrants are making attempts to destroy the upper left hand quadrant.
Wilber is so obsessed with the Flatland theme in all of his books, that here again he fills many pages, of chapter 8, addressing the fact that these scientific approaches entirely forget that consciousness also exists at the individual level, that consciousness has depth: 'all of these approaches are still caught in the myth of the given and the ignoring of intersubjectivity. Indeed, those approaches give no indication that they even know what it means' (p. 177). Well...precisely those people, also mentioned by Wilber, such as Maturana, Varela and Luhmann understand that connection quite well. It would seem that Wilber likes to be the only silhouette on the skyline. Of course there are scientific areas where its practitioners are still card carrying flatlanders, but there are also a number of areas, and trends, seeking a more integral approach, or in any event they are trying to be more connected (see for example Cozolino, 2006; Damasio, 2006).
If you are as convinced as Wilber is of the need for an integral approach, if you have an entirely negative view of people who don't because they are missing one or more of the quadrants (see pp. 284 ff.), then you really cannot restrict yourself to treating only the left hand quadrants with the rather lame excuse, 'Because this book focuses especially on the interior or Left-Hand quadrants, I won't go into many details about the Right-Hand Quadrants, so forgive the high-level abstract summaries' (p. 163). And yet, on the next page he is already saying, 'The point from an AQAL (integral; JS) stance is that both Left Hand and Right Hand are equally real and equally important. (...) Every state of consciousness (including every meditative state) has a corresponding brain state' (p. 164). But he practically does not say a word about how the relationship works, what science has to say about it, or what science has since discovered about brains and systems.
The purpose of this book is to apply integrality to the theme of spirituality. That means that you will have to include data coming from the scientific areas in your descriptions. Wilber appears to be making the conscious choice not to do so: a lost opportunity I think, meaning that he ends up not giving us a truly integral approach to spirituality.
Inadequate Referencing or Support for Cited Research
Occasionally the book refers readers to www.kenwilber.com for additional footnotes, but it is impossible to locate them in the site. An investigative email message to the publisher received no reply.
His literature references and research bases contain barely any new material in comparison with his previous books. His references are far too general and a bit too thin on the ground. This makes it very difficult to check whether one of his propositions has indeed been properly supported by good research.
Here are some examples of inadequately referenced propositions:
Those are pretty heavy pronouncements that do not appear to be supported by research. Or, at least I cannot find any of it through the references Wilber provides.
Less than Rigorous Reasoning
The biggest problem I have with the chapter on Integral Life Practice (living life on the basis of his AQAL-model) is that he makes an argument that in any event is unsound scientifically. Wilber's entire AQAL-edifice is based on many developmental lines with concomitant stages, which he found in available literature. He then goes on to state that these hierarchies can be organized along an interior/exterior and an individual/collective dimension, simultaneously noting that some of the developmental lines scramble/confuse a few of the quadrants. For example, to the spirit – soul – mind hierarchy many would still wish to add body and matter, even though those are exterior aspects of the individual. Slowly but surely the AQAL-model is distilled to its essence on the basis of these many lines; actually, quite a brilliant piece of synthesis.
But here it comes: Wilber then goes on to use ILP to turn his argument upside down, something that cannot be done. What he says is that, if you pay attention to all quadrants, you would be practicing a full me. 'This transformational cross-training accelerates growth, increases the likelihood of healthy development, and vastly deepens one's capacity for transformational living' (p. 202). Wilber doesn't give us any research indications suggesting any kind of basis for these claims. I would have staked my claims with more circumspection. It almost seems as if a marketing machine is being rolled into position.
AQAL is a Story, No More, No Less
Wilber calls himself a Pandit, or a storyteller. To me, AQAL represents a very usable story or frame of reference, through which to observe reality and act within it. There are more stories on how evolution unfolds (WIE Magazine, 2007), such as for example Neo-Darwinists, collectivists, competition theoreticians, deistic evolutionists, et cetera. It is quite useful to keep on reminding yourself that Wilber's story is just that: a story. It is a pity that he seems to have lost the ability to keep that perspective himself, even though he frequently repeats the need for it in his books and DVDs. In fact, the ranting tone he sometimes strikes in his website these days reinforces his diminished perspective as well. In IS Wilber also reacts to other literature (appendix pp. 284-299), but in an unusual manner. I do not profess to understand why he feels the need to take others to task on the integral approach in such severe manner, but fair is fair, it does clarify Wilber's integral approach, to me, that is. A reader's implicit conclusion might be, however, that the other approaches are no good. But the only conclusion you actually can draw is that they are not integral according to Ken Wilber's Integral concept.
Offensive Use of Language and Undesirable Condemnations
I would consider Wilber's use of language and his condemnations to be a little undiplomatic sometimes, to put it euphemistically; sometimes it's roundly offensive. He seems to be placing higher demands on others than on himself.
Occasionally I have found his choice of words to be unnecessarily aggressive, such as his continued use of words like kill, killed, slammed, onslaught, to devastate, destroyed ('modern scientific materialism that killed meditative introspection and phenomelogy'…'postmodern attacks on…', pp. 46 ff.) At the opening of chapter 9, for example, he goes on to say at least three times that the largest part of humanity is at the level of Nazis (p. 179): 'Depending on which scales you use, somewhere between 50%-70% of the world's population is at the ethnocentric or lower levels of development (...) this means around 70% of the world's population is Nazis [sic].' Now, aside from the fact that Wilber cites no research evidence to support his claim, I consider these types of comparisons to be highly distasteful, undesirable. He then goes on to make things worse (p. 180), 'But it gets a bit worse. Who owns the ideas and beliefs that are subscribed to by this 70%? Basically, the world's great religions.' Perhaps this is all a matter of taste, but I find it highly improper. Furthermore, he contradicts himself, because he is also saying that every level or stage is an involution of the Divine. The fact that we might slip up at those levels, making it possible for us to do terrible things is also true, but that has more to do with a distorted form of differentiation (or, dissociation) than with a normal, healthy phase in development. What makes it even stranger is that a bit further on he writes (p. 197): 'An enlightened society would always make room for that by recognizing that stages in development are also stations in life. And somebody can stop at any of those stations (of Spirit's own unfolding) and they deserve honor and respect at whatever station they are at.'
Here is another example of improper condemnation. On page 258 he says, 'All those approaches that do not specify the Kosmic address (the perspective from which one observes; JS) of the referents of the signifiers of their assertions are caught in meaningless assertions and abstractions.' Well, now, that would mean that practically all of the literature upon which Wilber says that he bases himself would consist of meaningless assertions and abstractions. Surely that can't be true?
Aside from that, Wilber actually describes how difficult it is to specify what Kosmic address is. When he is describing a line with different levels (from magical via egocentric to meta-mind), he excuses himself with, 'the following list is meant to be extremely schematic and generalized' notwithstanding the fact that he is giving us a full page's worth of description here. So it is quite complicated to give a description of lines, not to mention knowing where your Kosmic address is on all of those lines in all of those quadrants. Not terribly realistic, this, and surely not being capable of being realized by Wilber. What I really didn't care for is the fact that he does not specify what his own Kosmic address is, other than saying it is 'integral'. He is covering himself in a rather feeble way by saying, 'All of the foregoing is, as I have often mentioned, done in the most general of orientating generalizations' (p. 269). Not that I think this is a problem, but then you cannot be condemning others if they happen not to be specific enough, or only are describing aspects of the AQAL-model.
Unnecessarily Complicated, At Times
Every now and then Wilber makes matters unnecessarily complicated, thereby demanding too much perseverance from his readers. He lost me for a bit in chapter 1 with his paragraph about 'an integral mathematics of primordial perspectives'. He is trying to make clear in a terribly complicated manner that every zone in fact is made up of three major perspectives. Francisco Varela's approach (known for using such concepts as self-organization, autopoiesis, etc), for example, is described as having an 'outside view of the inside view of the exterior view'. Now I am fairly sure all of that is quite right, but it is making things a lot more abstruse, especially when describing it as 3-p x 1-p x 1p. For me an unnecessary complication, which does not even get used again in the remainder of the book. Skip it, I'd say.
Let's take a look at another example (p. 269): 'in order to escape metaphysics, all Spirit(+) language must be replaceable with Spirit(!) and Spirit(ka) language, with the Spirit(!) language simply being the instructional and injunctive language necessary for the subject to enact the Kosmic address of the spiritual object or referent or datum, given by the Spirit(ka) language (such as Ayin(1-p, S/c), big Mind(1-p, S/nd), or Gaia(1-p, L/8), itself determined by various types of GigaGlossaries grounded in Integral Methodological Pluralism.'
Are you still there…? Occasionally I would have to put the book down to catch my breath. Actually, skipping over sentences like this one did not leave me with the impression that I had been missing anything.
Stepping Off the Ladder Onto a Wave?
An individual holon is made up of four quadrants, and each quadrant will experience growth, development or evolution. For this you could use a 'ladder' metaphor, something that Wilber is gradually distancing himself from: 'they all show some sort of stages or levels of development, not as rigid rungs in a ladder but as fluid and flowing waves of unfolding' (p. 23). He might be right in a strict sense, but I find the ladder-metaphor, where you gain a broader perspective each rung up the ladder, to be most practical. That it is 'not as rigid' is something everyone knows from their own development path. The disadvantage of the wave-metaphor Wilber uses is that waves usually appear to flow horizontally, or even in a descending manner, thereby losing the hierarchical character of development, which is something I would find undesirable.
In fact, Wilber himself continues to stress its hierarchical aspect. In chapter 1 for example, he explores extensively the idea that the manner in which you act and the things that you see are determined by your 'address', i.e. where you are in the four-quadrant model, whereby your address is determined by altitude (degree of development) and perspective (the perspective or quadrant from which the seeing is done).
The Mystery of Evolving Transformation Remains
In conclusion I think that IS is somewhat of a disappointment, in light of my expectations from reading the title. Well, OK, perhaps my expectations were aiming too high. Spirit and spirituality, to me, have a strong connotation with the essence of life. More clarity on Spirit, and a real integral approach in particular would bring us nearer to the essence of life. Although we are constantly confronted with the results of evolution, the actual process of evolution continues to elude our observation. Or, as Wilber puts it, 'As for transformation itself: how and why individuals grow, develop, and transform is one if the great mysteries of human psychology. The truth is, nobody knows' (p. 87).
Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World mainly provides us with a conceptual framework, a frame of reference that can be used to evaluate what aspect of spirituality is being brought into focus, thereby improving the chances that everyone will dare to, and be able to, assume their role with respect to Spirit in this, our unfolding society.
Cozolino, L. The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy; Building and rebuilding the human brain. Norton, 2002.
Cozolino, L. The Neuroscience of Human Relationships; attachment and the Developing Social Brain. Norton, 2006.
Damasio, A.R. Ik voel dus ik ben; Hoe gevoel en lichaam ons bewustzijn vormen. Wereldbibliotheek, 2006.
Greiner, L. Revolution as organizations grow. Harvard Business Review, 1999.
Kegan, R. The Evolving Self. Harvard, 1982.
Knibbe, H. Handboek Zijnsoriëntatie. School voor Zijnsoriëntatie, 2006a.
Knibbe, H. Zijn en Worden; Over Zijnsoriëntatie en levenskunst. Servire, 2006b.
Richardson, L. Wat terroristen willen; De vijand begrijpen, de dreiging beteugelen. Contact, 2007.
Rutter, M. Genes and Behavior; Nature-nurture interplay explained. Blackwell, 2006.
Sitskoorn, M. Het maakbare brein; Gebruik je hersens en word wie je wilt zijn. Bert Bakker, 2006.
Slagter, H.A., et al. Mental training affects distribution of limited brain resources. PLOSbiology, june 2007, vol. 5, issue 6. 0001-0007.
Visser, F. (2006) 'Lord give us integral but without the hype'. Accessed via www.integralworld.net on March 10, 2007.
WIE editors. 'The Real Evolution Debate; everything you always wanted to know about evolution but the mass media wouldn't tell you'. What is enlightenment, Jan-March 2007, issue 35, pp. 86-100.
Wilber, K. De integratie van wetenschap en religie. Servire, 1998.
Wilber, K. Sex. Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution. Shambhala, 2000 (revisited edition).
Wilber, K. Integrale Psychologie. Ankh-Hermes, 2001.
Wilber, K. Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World. Integral Books, 2006.