Jul 092010

spiritual Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World – by Ken Wilber. I’ve read this book several times now, and need to return to it periodically to incorporate more of it’s insights into my thinking. I’ve previously explained that Ken Wilber is probably the most comprehensive thinker around. His writings lay out a system (a continually evolving system) that integrates science, psychology, spirituality and all the major streams of thought from all disciplines. If you think you have some great new insight or philosophical system you want to unleash on the world, read some Ken Wilber first, because he probably got there before you.

While many of the chapters in the book review material that Wilber has already written about, there are some important additions to his system. One of these is the post-modern insight that ALL of our truths are dependent on our cultural context and perspective. There is also new material on the lost “spiritual” line of development in our culture, and why it was lost. And don’t skip the appendixes to this book, because they contain critical material on “post-metaphysical spirituality”, which is a shocking but liberating concept.

All this comes together in a chapter on the “conveyer belt”. Wilber explains that only the major religions are equipped to become the vehicles that move the world into a higher level of consciousness, because religions own the great mythologies that speak to 70% of the world’s consciousness. Because of this, they can become the conveyors that usher humanity through difficult passages of transition.

Many people would find this book a bit complex, but for me, it’s going to become one of the most essential books in my library.

Nov 132009

Ken_WilberI owe a lot to Ken Wilber. Ken was recommended to me at a stage in my journey when I was quite dogmatic and narrow minded.  I went to the library and checked out “Up From Eden” – one of his earlier works. It was completely transformative.  Over the course of a month as I read the book, Ken Wilber systematically knocked all the walls out of my personal philosophy and opened me up to the beautiful scenery waiting outside my previously cramped spiritual quarters.

It’s difficult to know where best to classify Ken on this page. While his “base” is probably in trans-personal psychology, the whole point of Wilber’s life-work is an approach he calls “integral”, or “AQUAL” (All-Quadrant, All-Levels). The idea is that reality consists of several different perspectives. In early philosophy, these were called the “Good”, the “True” and the “Beautiful”.  Wilber has expanded them somewhat into four: the individual outside, the individual inside, the collective outside and the collective inside.

As the simplest example, take a human being. A behaviorist  or biologist might examine that human being in terms of his individual external aspects, examining behavior, cellular mechanics, blood chemistry, height, weight, etc.  This is the individual outside. But if we engage in this person in dialogue, as a psychotherapist, religious counselor or meditation teacher might, we get an entirely different set of information from the individual INSIDE.  Then we can look at the person’s collective outside with a systems theorist, and note such things as housing, transportation systems, communication infrastructure – physical things that make up the system of which this person is a part. Finally, with anthropologists, ethicists  and other students of the collective INSIDE, we look at the cultural groups of which the person is a part. We look at the interactions on a mental and spiritual level with other human beings.

The point is, each of these perspectives gives us different truths, and (most importantly), NONE of these truths is privileged over the others. We live in a time and culture that tends to favor individual external truths – hard science. Proponents of “flatland” as Wilber dubs this perspective, want to collapse everything else in the universe down to physics and chemistry. By doing so, they squash three additional quadrants of equally important truth out of consideration.

Wilber also spends a lot of time discussing developmental levels and states. This was particularly eye-opening to me. Individuals and societies can all be classified along a spectrum of development, and the attitudes and characteristics of individuals and cultures at the various stages of this spectrum are quite predictable. After reading Ken Wilber, you can observe the world around you and recognize that what you thought were differences in opinion among people and cultures are actually different stages of development.

Wilber’s writing is prolific. His goal is no less than creating a system into which all truths can be placed in their proper perspective and relationship. Wilber’s work really IS a “theory of everything”. Once you read Ken Wilber, you will find, when encounter a new idea or worldview, that you are mentally plotting it out on Wilber’s giant map of reality. And it always fits.

Wilbers work puts politics, science, religion, business, education and everything else into a new and interrelated perspective – one that you ignore at your peril. If you need a map to base your view of reality on, there is no better researched map than Ken Wilber.

Wilber has attracted some criticism, which is to be expected considering his system swallows up the truths of so many others. The fans of each piece of his jigsaw puzzle protest that their piece is much more important than Wilber credits – in fact, the  ONLY important piece. There have been some personality clashes at his institute and on some of his projects. The fact that Ken has coined so many new concepts and words tends to make a discussion among wilberians sound like some kind of secret cult language.  And if you don’t like getting into the details,  Ken Wilber isn’t the writer for you.  Someone like Eckhart Tolle or Alan Watts are better at simple profound generalities.

But you really MUST read him. See if you don’t find his concepts immediately useful.  Below is a brief clip of Wilber discussing spirituality in the modern world:

Feb 132009

As some of my readers know, I’ve been a reader for some time of philosopher Ken Wilber. While the level of detail in Wilber’s system can be annoying, I find it’s always good to check any new ideas against his criteria, because if you don’t – you’ve usually missed something.

One of the key components in Ken Wilber’s philosophy is the notion of quadrants, and what it says is this: Most things can be looked at in four different ways. They can be looked at either from an inner perspective or an outer perspective, and they can be looked at as individuals or as members of a group or system – giving four perspectives. Like this:


The left-hand side is the interior perspective, the right-hand side is the exterior perspective. The upper half is individual, the lower half is collective.

The easiest example of these perspectives is a human being. We can look at a human being and study him from the outside (upper right) and study his brain structure, his biology and its underlying chemistry. This will give us a great deal of insight into him. We can also study his environment and how his organism interacts with the atmosphere, the food supply, the traffic flow, etc. (the lower right). We now have a different set of insights, equally important.

But this leaves out an entire half of the picture. What is it like to be this person from the INSIDE? What are his thoughts and feelings? What meanings does he attach to things? What does he feel? These questions are all in the upper left quadrant. Finally, what is his relationship to other people, seem from within the group? What are the values and beliefs of his family, his community or his social group?

Our tendency as modern people is to focus on only one quadrant (often the upper right) to the exclusion of or devaluing of everything else. All quadrants are important, and none should be reduced or folded into another or important insight is lost.

Ok, after this overly-long introduction, how do we apply these principles to spirituality? Let’s analyze first the case of the fundamentalist. This person may believe that he or she is deriving all of their truth from the Bible or the Koran. But in fact, they are focused almost entirely in the bottom left quadrant – the inner social group. They are relying – not on the Bible, but on the meanings and values attached to the Bible by their group. The idea that another group can attach entirely different meanings to the same Bible is confusing to them.

They are also unwilling to actually examine the Bible externally in the right-hand quadrants. Objective examination of the texts would show evidence of copy errors, redactions and multiple sources. Objectively comparing the text with history and science would show evidence of historical and scientific errors or ignorance. These objective incongruities are all ignored or pushed aside in favor of the values and beliefs of the group.

Certain kinds of skeptics, on the other hand, privilege the other quadrants. They assume that the ONLY value the Bible can possess is objective factual value. That it can be a useful source of poetry, mysticism, meaning and value is ignored. That it can be a basis for community interaction,  and social solidarity – providing a literary and mythic vocabulary is likewise unimportant. Their focus is entirely on the right-hand quadrants, particularly the upper right.

Those of us attempting to live spiritually in a modern world had best be able to live in all the quadrants at once. We must be open to the mystical, the poetic and the metaphorical, and value inner spirituality. We must be aware of the prejudices and preconceptions our group mentality may lead us into. We must be willing to accept the insights of objective insights of history, science and textual scholarship without blindness. But we must also be aware of the potential blindness of those who try to live only in the upper-right quadrant of the individual externals.

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