The Five Blind Men, the Elephant & the Integral Vision.
“The mystics ask you to take nothing on mere belief. Rather, they give you a set of experiments to test in your own awareness and experience. The laboratory is your own mind, the experiment is meditation.” – Ken Wilber.
Once upon a time, five blind men came upon an elephant.
“What is this?!” asked the first one, who had run headlong into its side.
“It’s an Elephant.” said the elephant’s keeper, who was sitting on a stool, cleaning the elephant’s harness.
“Wow! So this is an Elephant! I’ve always wondered what Elephants are like!” said the man, running his hands as far as he could reach up and down the elephant’s side. “Why, it’s just like a wall! A large, warm wall!”
“What do you mean, a wall?” said the second man, wrapping his arms around the elephant’s leg. “This is nothing like a wall. You can’t reach around a wall! This is more like a pillar. Yeah, that’s it! An Elephant is exactly like a pillar!”
“A pillar? Strange kind of pillar!” said the third man, stroking the elephant’s trunk. “It’s too thin, for one thing, and it’s too flexible for another. If you think this is a pillar, I don’t want to go to your house! This is more like a snake. See, it’s wrapping around my arm! An Elephant is just like a snake!”
“Snakes don’t have hair!” said the fourth man in disgust, pulling the elephant’s tail. “You are closer than the others, but I’m surprised that you missed the hair. This isn’t a snake, it’s a rope. Elephants are exactly like ropes.”
“I don’t know what you guys are on!” the fifth man cried, waving the elephant’s ear back and forth. “It’s as large as a wall, all right, but thin as a leaf, and no more flexible than any piece of cloth this size should be. I don’t know what’s wrong with all of you, but no one except a complete idiot could mistake an Elephant for anything except a sail!!!”
And as the elephant stepped aside, they tramped off down the road, arguing more loudly and violently as they went, each sure that he, and he alone, was right; and all the others were wrong.
Whereas the truth is that the elephant is… the elephant.
The Integral Vision of the new age seeks to integrate all the views into a tangible whole so that the elephant can be seen. Seeking a bigger picture is proving to be imminently crucial.
Suppose we took everything that all the various world cultures have to tell us about human potential—about psychological, spiritual, and social growth—and identified the basic patterns that connect these pieces of knowledge. What if we attempted to create an all-inclusive map that touches the most important factors from all of the world’s great traditions?
Ken Wilber’s Integral Vision provides such a map. Using all the known systems and models of human growth—from the ancient sages to the latest breakthroughs in cognitive science—it distills their major components into five simple elements, and, moreover, ones that readers can verify in their own experience right now.
In any field of interest, such as business, law, science, psychology, health, art, or everyday living and learning—the Integral Vision ensures that we are utilizing the full range of resources for the situation, leading to a greater likelihood of success and fulfillment. With easily understood explanations, exercises, and familiar examples, The Integral Vision shows how we can accelerate growth and development to higher, wider, deeper ways of being, embodied in self, shared in community, and connected to the planet, which can literally help with everything from spiritual enlightenment to business success to personal relationships.
Or in Wilber’s words;
We live in an extraordinary time: all of the world’s cultures, past and present, are to some degree available to us, either in historical records or as living entities. In the history of the planet earth, this has never happened before.
It seems hard to imagine, but for humanity’s entire stay on this planet—for some million years up to the present—a person was born into a culture that knew virtually nothing about any other. You were, for example, born a Chinese, raised a Chinese, married a Chinese, and followed a Chinese religion—often living in the same hut for your entire life, on a spot of land that your ancestors settled for centuries. From isolated tribes and bands, to small farming villages, to ancient nations, to conquering feudal empires, to international corporate states, to global village: the extraordinary growth toward an integral village that seems humanity’s destiny.
So it is that the leading edge of consciousness evolution stands today on the brink of an integral millennium—or at least the possibility of an integral millennium, where the sum total of extant human knowledge, wisdom, and technology is available to all. But there are several obstacles to that integral embrace, even in the most developed populations. Moreover, there is the more typical or average mode of consciousness, which is far from integral anything, and is in desperate need of its own tending. Both of those pressing issues (the integral vision as it relates to the most developed and the least developed populations) are related directly to the contents of this volume of the Collected Works.
See more of the article on Ken Wilber’s “The Integral Vision at the New Millennium.” Alternatively, you can see an easy to understand yet insightful introduction to Integral Vision Spiral Dynamics on these youtube videos:Levels of Consciousness 1, Levels of Consciousness 2, Levels of Consciousness 3.
Throughout this post I’ve included links to several youtube videos that help make these exciting ideas easily comprehendable to the general audience. Now here is a fascinating take on Politics using the Integral Vision – A youtube of Ken explaining with uncanny clarity how liberals and conservatives interact on a fundamental level.
“The integral approach is committed to the full spectrum of consciousness as it manifests in all its extraordinary diversity. This allows the integral approach to recognize and honor the Great Holarchy of Being first elucidated by the perennial philosophy and the great wisdom traditions in general… The integral vision embodies an attempt to take the best of both worlds, ancient and modern. But that demands a critical stance willing to reject unflinchingly the worst of both as well.” – Ken Wilber.
“AQAL (pronounced ah-qwal) is a “theory of everything” that includes how our mind, body, culture, and society fit together at multiple levels of complexity and awareness.” – John Dupuy, Integral Recovery.
“In other words, the real problem is not exterior. The real problem is interior. The real problem is how to get people to internally transform, from egocentric to sociocentric to worldcentric consciousness, which is the only stance that can grasp the global dimensions of the problem in the first place, and thus the only stance that can freely, even eagerly, embrace global solutions.” – Ken Wilber.
Spiral Dynamics is a theory of human development introduced in the 1996 book Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck and Chris Cowan. The book was based on the theory of psychology professor Clare W. Graves and Ken Wilber has popularized these ideas. These Youtube videos are a clear introduction to the theory; Don Beck Illustrates the Value Systems, The Value Systems, Spiral Dynamics 2.0.
“What I find striking is how close their view is to the core Buddhist principle of interdependence, the teaching that there are no self-sustaining, permanent, inherently existing entities; that everything emerges as part of a great web of interlocking relationships. Suzuki Roshi referred to it as the interplay of ‘dependency and independency.'” – Barry Boyce.
A good starting point into Ken Wilber is to read his “A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science & Spirituality.”
What is an Integral Approach?
Outline of Integral Psychology.
Cosmology, Involution & Evolution.
Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory.
Holonic Logic and the Dialectics of Consciousness.
Maps Gallery for future reference:
“Are the mystics and sages insane? Because they all tell variations on the same story, don’t they? The story of awakening one morning and discovering you are one with the All, in a timeless and eternal and infinite fashion. Yes, maybe they are crazy, these divine fools. Maybe they are mumbling idiots in the face of the Abyss. Maybe they need a nice, understanding therapist. Yes, I’m sure that would help. But then, I wonder. Maybe the evolutionary sequence really is from matter to body to mind to soul to spirit, each transcending and including, each with a greater depth and greater consciousness and wider embrace. And in the highest reaches of evolution, maybe, just maybe, an individual’s consciousness does indeed touch infinity—a total embrace of the entire Kosmos—a Kosmic consciousness that is Spirit awakened to its own true nature. It’s at least plausible. And tell me: is that story, sung by mystics and sages the world over, any crazier than the scientific materialism story, which is that the entire sequence is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing? Listen very carefully: just which of those two stories actually sounds totally insane?” – Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything, 42–3.
The following is a summary of Ken Wilber and Spiral Dynamics by Mark Michael Lewis:
Ken Wilber is perhaps the most fundamental influence on the Rational Spirituality perspective, both because of his overarching developmental model, and his focus on the relationship between non-dual consciousness (experiential spirituality) and physical//social/material reality. His use of Spiral dynamics to simplify and communicate the essence of a developmental model in a way that not only explains but also illuminates is one of his most important contributions to the popular understanding of both the existence and importance of STAGES in Human Development.
Shambhala Pulbishing has a number of pieces available for public consumption that Ken has written on their website at http://www.shambhala.com. This piece is from one of those publicly available documents, and includes an extended quote from Ken’s book: “A Theory of Everything.”
KW: In Integral Psychology I present charts that summarize over 100 developmental psychologists, East and West, ancient and modern and postmodern. Spiral Dynamics is only one of the 100, but I have recently been using it quite a bit because it is simple and fairly easy to learn, even for beginners. Based on extensive research begun by Clare Graves, Spiral Dynamics (developed by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan) sees human beings evolving or developing through eight major waves of consciousness. For convenience, I will reprint my brief summary of these from A Theory of Everything.
SPIRAL DYNAMICS AND THE WAVES OF EXISTENCE
The first six levels are “subsistence levels” marked by “first-tier thinking.” Then there occurs a revolutionary shift in consciousness: the emergence of “being levels” and “second-tier thinking,” of which there are two major waves. Here is a brief description of all eight waves, the percentage of the world population at each wave, and the percentage of social power held by each.
1. Beige: Archaic-Instinctual. The level of basic survival; food, water, warmth, sex, and safety have priority. Uses habits and instincts just to survive. Distinct self is barely awakened or sustained. Forms into survival bands to perpetuate life.
Where seen: First human societies, newborn infants, senile elderly, late-stage Alzheimer’s victims, mentally ill street people, starving masses, shell shock. Approximately 0.1% of the adult population, 0% power.
2. Purple: Magical-Animistic. Thinking is animistic; magical spirits, good and bad, swarm the earth leaving blessings, curses, and spells which determine events. Forms into ethnic tribes . The spirits exist in ancestors and bond the tribe. Kinship and lineage establish political links. Sounds “holistic” but is actually atomistic: “there is a name for each bend in the river but no name for the river.”
Where seen: Belief in voodoo-like curses, blood oaths, ancient grudges, good luck charms, family rituals, magical ethnic beliefs and superstitions; strong in Third-World settings, gangs, athletic teams, and corporate “tribes.” 10% of the population, 1% of the power.
3. Red: Power Gods. First emergence of a self distinct from the tribe; powerful, impulsive, egocentric, heroic. Magical-mythic spirits, dragons, beasts, and powerful people. Archetypal gods and goddesses, powerful beings, forces to be reckoned with, both good and bad. Feudal lords protect underlings in exchange for obedience and labor. The basis of feudal empires –power and glory. The world is a jungle full of threats and predators. Conquers, out-foxes, and dominates; enjoys self to the fullest without regret or remorse; be here now.
Where seen: The “terrible twos,” rebellious youth, frontier mentalities, feudal kingdoms, epic heroes, James Bond villains, gang leaders, soldiers of fortune, New-Age narcissism, wild rock stars, Atilla the Hun, Lord of the Flies . 20% of the population, 5% of the power.
4. Blue: Mythic Order. Life has meaning, direction, and purpose, with outcomes determined by an all-powerful Other or Order. This righteous Order enforces a code of conduct based on absolutist and unvarying principles of “right” and “wrong.” Violating the code or rules has severe, perhaps everlasting repercussions. Following the code yields rewards for the faithful. Basis of ancient nations . Rigid social hierarchies; paternalistic; one right way and only one right way to think about everything. Law and order; impulsivity controlled through guilt; concrete-literal and fundamentalist belief; obedience to the rule of Order; strongly conventional and conformist. Often “religious” or “mythic” [in the mythic-membership sense; Graves and Beck refer to it as the “saintly/absolutistic” level], but can be secular or atheistic Order or Mission.
Where seen: Puritan America, Confucian China, Dickensian England, Singapore discipline, totalitarianism, codes of chivalry and honor, charitable good deeds, religious fundamentalism (e.g., Christian and Islamic), Boy and Girl Scouts, “moral majority,” patriotism. 40% of the population, 30% of the power.
5. Orange: Scientific Achievement. At this wave, the self “escapes” from the “herd mentality” of blue, and seeks truth and meaning in individualistic terms–hypothetico-deductive, experimental, objective, mechanistic, operational–“scientific” in the typical sense. The world is a rational and well-oiled machine with natural laws that can be learned, mastered, and manipulated for one’s own purposes. Highly achievement oriented, especially (in America) toward materialistic gains. The laws of science rule politics, the economy, and human events. The world is a chess-board on which games are played as winners gain pre-eminence and perks over losers. Marketplace alliances; manipulate earth’s resources for one’s strategic gains. Basis of corporate states .
Where seen: The Enlightenment, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged , Wall Street, emerging middle classes around the world, cosmetics industry, trophy hunting, colonialism, the Cold War, fashion industry, materialism, secular humanism, liberal self-interest. 30% of the population, 50% of the power.
6. Green: The Sensitive Self. Communitarian, human bonding, ecological sensitivity, networking. The human spirit must be freed from greed, dogma, and divisiveness; feelings and caring supersede cold rationality; cherishing of the earth, Gaia, life. Against hierarchy; establishes lateral bonding and linking. Permeable self, relational self, group intermeshing. Emphasis on dialogue, relationships. Basis of value communities (i.e., freely chosen affiliations based on shared sentiments). Reaches decisions through reconciliation and consensus (downside: interminable “processing” and incapacity to reach decisions). Refresh spirituality, bring harmony, enrich human potential. Strongly egalitarian, anti-hierarchy, pluralistic values, social construction of reality, diversity, multiculturalism, relativistic value systems; this worldview is often called pluralistic relativism . Subjective, nonlinear thinking; shows a greater degree of affective warmth, sensitivity, and caring, for earth and all its inhabitants.
Where seen: Deep ecology, postmodernism, Netherlands idealism, Rogerian counseling, Canadian health care, humanistic psychology, liberation theology, cooperative inquiry, World Council of Churches, Greenpeace, animal rights, ecofeminism, post-colonialism, Foucault/Derrida, politically correct, diversity movements, human rights issues, ecopsychology. 10% of the population, 15% of the power. [Note: this is 10% of the world population. Don Beck estimates that around 20-25% of the American population is green.]
With the completion of the green meme, human consciousness is poised for a quantum jump into “second-tier thinking.” Clare Graves referred to this as a “momentous leap,” where “a chasm of unbelievable depth of meaning is crossed.” In essence, with second-tier consciousness, one can think both vertically and horizontally, using both hierarchies and heterarchies (both ranking and linking). One can therefore, for the first time, vividly grasp the entire spectrum of interior development , and thus see that each level, each meme, each wave is crucially important for the health of the overall Spiral.
As I would word it, each wave is “transcend and include.” That is, each wave goes beyond (or transcends) its predecessor, and yet it includes or embraces it in its own makeup. For example, a cell transcends but includes molecules, which transcend but include atoms. To say that a molecule goes beyond an atom is not to say that molecules hate atoms, but that they love them: they embrace them in their own makeup; they include them, they don’t marginalize them. Just so, each wave of existence is a fundamental ingredient of all subsequent waves, and thus each is to be cherished and embraced.
Moreover, each wave can itself be activated or reactivated as life circumstances warrant. In emergency situations, we can activate red power drives; in response to chaos, we might need to activate blue order; in looking for a new job, we might need orange achievement drives; in marriage and with friends, close green bonding. All of these memes have something important to contribute.
But what none of the first-tier memes can do, on their own, is fully appreciate the existence of the other memes. Each of the first-tier memes thinks that its worldview is the correct or best perspective. It reacts negatively if challenged; it lashes out, using its own tools, whenever it is threatened. Blue order is very uncomfortable with both red impulsiveness and orange individualism. Orange individualism thinks blue order is for suckers and green egalitarianism is weak and woo-woo. Green egalitarianism cannot easily abide excellence and value rankings, big pictures, hierarchies, or anything that appears authoritarian, and thus green reacts strongly to blue, orange, and anything post-green.
All of that begins to change with second-tier thinking. Because second-tier consciousness is fully aware of the interior stages of development–even if it cannot articulate them in a technical fashion–it steps back and grasps the big picture, and thus second-tier thinking appreciates the necessary role that all of the various memes play . Second-tier awareness thinks in terms of the overall spiral of existence, and not merely in the terms of any one level.
Where the green meme begins to grasp the numerous different systems and pluralistic contexts that exist in different cultures (which is why it is indeed the sensitive self, i.e., sensitive to the marginalization of others), second-tier thinking goes one step further. It looks for the rich contexts that link and join these pluralistic systems, and thus it takes these separate systems and begins to embrace, include, and integrate them into holistic spirals and integral meshworks. Second-tier thinking, in other words, is instrumental in moving from relativism to holism, or from pluralism to integralism .
The extensive research of Graves, Beck, and Cowan indicates that there are at least two major waves to this second-tier integral consciousness:
7. Yellow: Integrative. Life is a kaleidoscope of natural hierarchies [holarchies], systems, and forms. Flexibility, spontaneity, and functionality have the highest priority. Differences and pluralities can be integrated into interdependent, natural flows. Egalitarianism is complemented with natural degrees of ranking and excellence. Knowledge and competency should supersede power, status, or group sensitivity. The prevailing world order is the result of the existence of different levels of reality (memes) and the inevitable patterns of movement up and down the dynamic spiral. Good governance facilitates the emergence of entities through the levels of increasing complexity (nested hierarchy). 1% of the population, 5% of the power.
8. Turquoise: Holistic. Universal holistic system, holons/waves of integrative energies; unites feeling with knowledge; multiple levels interwoven into one conscious system. Universal order, but in a living, conscious fashion, not based on external rules (blue) or group bonds (green). A “grand unification” [a “theory of everything” or T.O.E.] is possible, in theory and in actuality. Sometimes involves the emergence of a new spirituality as a meshwork of all existence. Turquoise thinking uses the entire Spiral; sees multiple levels of interaction; detects harmonics, the mystical forces, and the pervasive flow-states that permeate any organization. 0.1% of the population, 1% of the power.
With less than 2 percent of the population at second-tier thinking (and only 0.1 percent at turquoise), second-tier consciousness is relatively rare because it is now the “leading-edge” of collective human evolution. As examples, Beck and Cowan mention items that include Teilhard de Chardin’s noosphere, chaos and complexity theories, universal systems thinking, integral-holistic theories, Gandhi’s and Mandela’s pluralistic integration, with increases in frequency definitely on the way, and even higher memes still in the offing….