Integral Theory or philosophy is a way of being holistic in a cognitive way… Contemporary American philosopher and spiritual intellectual, Ken Wilber, has spent most of his life pondering over why academics and laymen alike seem to be in disagreement about almost all topics in life, small and great. He realized that nobody could be wrong all of the time… and that most people probably presents a partial truth, a slice of reality, but never all of it.
He did a great deal of reading of all kinds of topics, not least focusing on psychology, human development and spiritual beliefs. But also all kinds of other topics, from biology, over art to business and politics. And then tried to formulate a “theory of everything”, a vocabulary or a map trying to categorize all of human knowledge to date. So that we do not need to argue with each other, but rather would be conscious of which perspective we’re speaking from in any given moment. So that if we see a situation from different perspectives, we should rather try to combine and synthesize the various view points instead of wasting energy arguing whose is the more true.
He also calls integral theory “AQAL”, meaning “All Quadrants, All Lines, All Levels, All Types, All States”. He sees the world as organic circles, holons, encompassing one another, adding complexity and action radius for each development level. So a human being for example is a complex system of tiny holons, such as atoms and molecules, being embraced by bigger holons such as cells, all the way up to the fully fleshed human being. Likewise with other matter.
AQAL can be applied to different types of matter and different topics. So for a human being, “All Lines” might mean all our many intelligences (cognitive, mathematical, etc.), if we look at it from our interior individual perspective. But if we look at it from our exterior collective perspective, it might mean different societal systems, such as political, economical or modes of production.
It took me a while to get the highlights of integral theory under my skin (I will never become truly proficient, I think, because it’s way to vast for that). But now I see that if I use AQAL as a check list, I am much more sure that I have observed something from as many angles as possible, instead of choosing my favorite and usual ones.
1. All Quadrants – the four perspectives, inside out:
This image is scanned from the book, Integral Life Practice, by Ken Wilber, Terry Patten, et al. (page 73). It shows the principle of the four quadrants, the interior and exterior, combined with the individual and collective.
So the “upper left” quadrant is the interior individual one, called the “I” space. This is the space in a human being that cannot be observed from the outside, only experienced from the inside. This is where thoughts, feelings and meditative states are taking place.
For a space holder, it is important to be as aware of this quadrant as possible, in order to understand that most of my feelings and thoughts are connected to my personal history and / or to my culture in general, and are thus biased. There is no such thing as an objective thought or feeling. The more I train my ability to introspect and practice my intrapersonal intelligence, the more I understand what is going on inside me and how this is connected with things happening in the outside world (outside my mind, that is). “No man is an island”, and the more we understand that in a direct, experienced sense, the less we let our biases and projections get in the way of collaboration.
It is also in this quadrant that we cultivate our cognition, our morals and our trust, all of which is needed to hold space. More about that when we talk about “All Lines” and “All Levels”.
The “lower left” quadrant is the interior collective one, called the “We” space. This is the space we share with each other in various groups and constellations. In each of these we-spaces we share a different culture, language, understanding and meaning. So in my home I share one type of we-space with my family, at my work place another with my co-workers and at the meditation centre or soccer club, a third and fourth.
For a space holder, this is an essential space, because as we’re typically holding space primarily for other people, we need to be very aware of what type of we-space we are navigating in. What types of biases do we have in our personal connections and how should I best communicate in order to reach the others in each of my we-spaces?
The “upper right” quadrant is the exterior individual one, called the “It” space. This is each our personal behaviors and functioning, including our bodily functions, which can be observed from the outside – either by using our senses or by using scientific measurement like measuring blood pressure. We might also be able to use more than our five senses to observe here, such as sensing into the unspoken energies, that can be felt rather than measured (even though it is often a blur whether this belongs to the upper left or upper right).
For a space holder, it is important to know his or her personal “It” space so that he or she doesn’t overstep his boundaries and become stressful, potentially diminishing the ability to relate and hold space. But also to observe the others’ “It” spaces, to look out for unspoken tacit energies, that might come in the way of relating and co-creating.
The “lower right” quadrant is the exterior collective one, called the “Its” space. This is the systems perspective. This is the organization and / or society that we operate in, which govern many of our interactions, such as legislation, economical systems, infrastructure, modes of production, etc.
For a space holder, it is important to be aware of how the systems perspective can aid or block our purpose. Especially in a team and for an organization, the systems perspective is essential to understand. Maybe the organization is structured in a hierarchical way which obstructs innovative improvement and creativity? Or induces stress in many individuals? If we don’t see this, we might spend our energy futilely, trying to solve a problem mainly in one quadrant, when another one needs just as much attention, if not more.
2. All Lines – the many intelligences:
From Howard Gardner, most of us are familiar with the many intelligences, and that there isn’t just one or two. However, Ken Wilber defines them a bit differently and also prioritizes them, explaining how some are more important to develop than others, all things considering.
The cognitive line – What am I aware of? Ken Wilber thinks this is the most important line to develop and expand, because if we are not aware of something we cannot manage it intelligently. The cognitive line also determines our ability to take multiple perspectives.
For a space holder, it is of course essential to be able to take the perspective of other, and the more the space holder is holding space for, the more important it becomes to be able to take multiple perspectives.
Intrapersonal intelligence – What is my internal condition right now? The ability to introspect and report clearly, concisely and brutally honest how I feel, and what I see, sense and think. As I have mentioned before, this line is essential to a space holder, not least to prevent projections and personal biases to get in the way of holding space for the other.
Interpersonal / Emotional – What do I sense and communicate? The ability to relate socially to others. To sense my interior as well as the exterior – what do I sense in myself, what do I sense in the other, and what do I sense in our joint field. And how is my ability to communicate with the other about it?
Somatic / kinesthetic – How should I physically do this? The ability to read the wisdom of my body, and to be aware of my different body states and conditions. To sense and use my gross, subtle and causal bodies. Body-mind consciousness.
Moral intelligence – What should I do, what is the right thing to do? The ability to assess what is universally right for all people, and to express this in all of my life actions.
Spiritual intelligence – What is of ultimate concern for me? The ability to assess what is most important to me: What is my higher purpose, why am I here – and how do I develop so that I can live it?
Self-identity – Who am I? The ability to understand who ”I” am – on all levels. How do I develop from a relative self to an ultimate self?
Will power intelligence – What is my motivation? The ability to set a goal and carry it through.
These are just important examples, there might be more lines of intelligence relevant for the space holder to develop, depending on the situation.
3. All Levels – human development from infant to sage:
Generally, we all grow through these levels, and the healthy individual transcends but INCLUDES each level. So none of these levels is “bad”, rather each is a necessary part of the development of a healthy and balanced human being.
Also, typically different parts of us are at different levels. So my cognitive intelligence might be very developed, while for example my emotional intelligence is still in its infancy (which would be the making of a psychopath). Etc.
Most of us does not grow altogether healthily through these levels, where we completely include the balanced parts and transcend the unbalanced. Either we develop attachments to parts of them (thus developing metaphorical or physical “addictions”) or we reject them, which is the opposite of inclusion (creating metaphorical or physical “allergies” in us).
Therefore, a healthy and conscious person evaluates him/herself regularly, in order to be aware or any addictions and allergies on each level. So that we can work actively to melt them – and also remember to ask second opinions in the areas where we know of our weaknesses, our blocks and “holes”.
Level 1: Infrared, Arcaic. Symbiotic, fusion, basic sensorimotor and physiological stage. A narcissistic & egocentric stage (stuck in 1st person). Consistent with a new born baby. Adults will rarely be on this level, unless they have severe brain damage, severe Alzheimer’s or similar.
However, it is very common to have blocks on this level. We see a lot of eating disorders, both overeating and anorexia / bulimia, and also other substance addictions, such as alcohol, drugs, etc.
So it is important for a space holder to understand his / her blocks in this developmental level. Because this might influence long-term prioritization: If immediate gratification of desires are prioritized over actions that support the organization’s purpose, this can harm the organization and the people in it as well as around it.
Level 2: Magenta, Magic tribal. Impulsive, magical, emotional-sexual stage. A narcissistic & egocentric stage (stuck in 1st person). Consistent with a baby about 18 months old till 3 years old – when the child begins to be capable of separating itself physically from its surroundings. Like the previous level, it is unlikely for an adult to be completely stuck in this level.
But blocks and lighter cases of stuckness is not unusual: Both when we are superstitious or when we attribute human qualities to nature (instead of allowing nature to exist in its own right). Or when we in other ways believe that nature acts as it does due to my magical thinking. For example in western societies where we have focused so much on rational thinking, you some times see a group of people overly attached to mystical thinking, seeing signs everywhere or convinced that they are not only unique (which we all are) but incredibly special…
The space holder needs to know him/herself well enough to understand when he/she is making decisions based mainly on rational thinking and mainly on magical thinking, respectively. And be sufficiently detached and cognitively aware to understand his / her own bias – so that they can seek out other opinions when necessary, in order to see a fuller picture.
Level 3: Red, Magic-Mythic. Self-protective, security, safety, power, opportunistic stage. A narcissistic & egocentric stage (stuck in 1st person). Consistent to a child aged 4-6 years old. Not uncommon to see adults on this level, at least in some areas of their lives, for example around their personal economy, around intimate relationships, around decision making at work, or similar.
So the space holder should be aware of any self-centered drives for power & control, an overly active inner critic, and drives to glorify power in all its form (including exaggerated forms of otherwise healthy activities such as martial arts, weight-lifting or business success). Or (if allergies): being weak-willed, feeling a victim and being power-allergic, not wanting to own up to their responsibility.
Level 4: Amber, Mythic traditional. Conformist, mythic-membership, diplomat, belongingness stage. An ethnocentric stage (stuck in 2nd person). Consistent with a child aged 7 to teenager. You are now capable of taking another’s perspective – and then moves from ego-centric (1st person me-perspective) to ethno-centric (2nd person we-perspective). Not unusual in adults, especially if they are dedicated to a traditional religion, and only can take the perspective of this religion / faith / belief, believing this is an absolute and undeniable truth.
A space holder should be aware of tendencies to the feeling of being right (beliefs and truths that you think are absolutely and unquestionably true), as well as the feeling of being undeniably wrong. Also the tempting and socially prompted feeling of being a “we”, the need for belonging to a group, should come into awareness and not allow you to act disaccording to what you know is morally and ethically “true, good and beautiful”. (Again, remember that we all need to be healthily anchored in each of these levels, so the need to belong to a group is not in itself a bad thing! However, we just need to “transcend and include” in a healthy and balanced manner).
Level 5: Orange, Rational Modern. Reason, rationality, formal operational, conscientious, achievement, excellence, self-esteem. A world-centric stage (stuck in 3rd person) – a switch from “us” to “all of us”. An emerging individuality. But still condemning all other stages as “wrong”. Consistent with a teenager, 13-19 years. In our part of the world, it is common that adults revolve around this level of development, especially when at work.
A space holder needs to look out for signs of wanting to grasp for “bigger and better”, for achievement. But also for allergies, if they abhor achievement all together.
Level 6: Green, Pluralistic Postmodern. Pluralistic, postmodern, relativistic, sensitive, individualistic, multicultural. A broader world-centric stage (stuck in 4th person) – a switch from “all of us” to a capacity to reflect on and criticize 3rd person perspectives. But still condemning all other stages as “wrong”. This is the last of the 1st tier levels, which are all partial, narrow, excluding, separative and driven by deficiencies. Late teenage years, young adult.
Many NGO’s have values from this level. They typically believe that everyone should be treated equally, no values are better than others. At the same time, NGO’s go out in to the world in order to change it – so they must believe that their own values are better than the part of the world they are trying to change? They do it to “help”, so it’s OK… But can you actually ”help” in an equal relation? Are you not rather cooperating, then?
Notice, that there are two types of hierarchies; dominator hierarchies which the integral community agrees with the green level should be abandoned. And then growth hierarchies, which is a natural part of life, and which allows atoms to become cells to become humans. And it’s worth more (yes!) to be more developed with all levels fully integrated, than to be stuck in a certain level. Because it allows us to be more whole, more free, more compassionate, more inclusive.
Growth hierarchies do not oppress each other, they embrace and love each other, because they know they cannot live without each other. What is a human without atoms and cells? This is the ultimate picture of “transcend and include” – we are much more than our cells, thus worth more than any individual cell. But we are utterly depending on our cells functioning well, so we love them and take care of them in order to give them the best conditions to thrive.
A space holder should look out for your humanistic all-inclusive values where they contradict themselves. Eg. if you judge people for judging others, or rank people for ranking. If you don’t like hierarchies and rank them as bad (because that’s also a hierarchy…). When YOU feel you have the truth, not others, eg. “What’s true for you is true for you – but anyone who doesn’t agree with this sentence, are wrong”. Or: ”I loath people who do not share my view that all people should be treated as equals”. We see a lot of that going around ♥
Level 7: Turqouise, Integral. 2nd tier: Inclusive, embracing, comprehensive, integral and driven by abundance and wholeness. The possibility for taking even more perspective (5th person). Ken Wilber estimates that about 5 % of the world’s population is at this level or higher. It is growing, so we might reach a critical mass for larger transformation within our lifetime. The primary method is to teach especially young people, spiritual teachers and change makers about integral theory. Knowledge about these topics ignites a spark for transformation, it is ”psychoactive”.
A space holder’s cognitive and emotional intelligence should primarily operate from the integral level, and of course, the more of the other intelligences that operates from here, the more the space holder is capable of holding space for all types of situations and people.
Level 8: White, Super-Integral. 3rd tier: Same as 2nd tier, but possibility of taking even more perspectives (6th person). Para-mind, meta-mind, over-mind, and super-mind. We just mention this level in order to indicate that evolution continues and that there isn’t a “last and final” level of development. In hundreds of years, humans may grow much quicker through the levels, thus maybe reaching the current integral level already when entering the teenage stage, who knows 🙂
4. All Types – feminine & masculine, as an example:
There are hundreds of different typologies, almost anything can be made into a typology. Typologies can be made based on biology, ways on thinking, somatic body types, diet preferences, social typologies, techno-economic mode of development, etc. And of course, we cannot go through all these here.
So a space holder should be sufficiently cognitively aware in order to discover which typologies that most might influence their role as a space holder, in order to consciously work with this. It could be their enneagram type, MBTI type, ayurvedic type, etc., depending on context, situation, etc.
If we use “femininity” and “masculinity” as an example: We all have all the virtues of femininity and masculinity inside us. One way of distinguishing between the two could be to say, that the feminine side of us is the one that listens, embraces, focuses on relations and process, and who values communion and inclusion. Where as our masculine side speaks, acts, focuses on agency and results, and values growth and transcendence.
If we do not have a certain balance between the two, it easily becomes unhealthy. We see that a lot in the world, because we have not learned to treasure the different qualities equally. And we have certainly not learned to develop all of the qualities in ourselves while growing up, including in our schools and universities, and later at our work places.
So a space holder should probably first and foremost be in contact with his feminine sides, so that he can listen, embrace, be compassionate and hold the space energetically in a way that creates a trustful relation. However, when it comes to holding space for anything more than one person (an event, a team and an organization), the value of the masculine qualities becomes just as important. And the balance between the two is essential.
5. All States – from body to soul to spirit:
In everyday language, we would refer to this as our awareness of “mind-body-spirit”, but it is defined a bit different in integral theory.
Gross state: The gross state is the waking everyday world. It is directly observable and verifiable by 3rd person observation. It is the physical world around us, our physical body, and the material realm.
When we are healthy and balanced, we might experience a sense of “flow” while performing everyday tasks. This is a healthy gross state consciousness.
So a space holder should know him/herself well enough to understand what brings him/her into a state of flow and how he / she keeps a healthy balance in their gross state of consciousness.
Subtle state: This is the state we experience every time we dream at night. When an athlete visualize winning, they also use their subtle state consciousness to do this. When we receive or give a holistic healing massage, we also tap into subtle state energies. The subtle states has to do with images, emotions, energies. It is an infinite source of potential and imagination – in our dreams, anything is possible.
A space holder should be able to access this realm in order to hold the space of the event or project purpose, or the evolutionary purpose of the organization. And in order to embrace “all” emotions and experiences in the constellation at hand. As well as to invite in innovation energy to seemingly unsolvable conflicts.
Causal state: This is our “contentless awareness, it is the pure formless empty state or self
without boundaries, or qualities”. We experience this state every night in deep sleep, when we are not dreaming. Some call this our true self, our “I am-ness”. Where we are pure being, nothing more, nothing less.
When a space holder is able to tap into this state and meet others from this place, there is no judgement, no soul appreciation, nothing else than a full and embodied presence. Meeting people from this place at the right time can help immensely in bridging gaps and embracing conflicts. So that ego-drives are suspended and something bigger and more universal is allowed to step in.
Witness state: This ever-present state is the canvas where all experiences appear and arises within, and thus operates like an opening or a clearing. This is the pure awareness of Self that perceives all the objects in the cosmos yet remains unidentified with them.
When a space holder is able to connect to his / her witness state in most situations, it is much more easy for him / her to acknowledge all perspectives, all world views, without identifying with any of them. Thus you can listen from an open and boundless place – and then later use your discriminatory powers to assess what to do in any given situation.
Non-dual state: This integrates everything that is present, and is not some other or separate realm. It is the union of all opposites and is simultaneously the ground of being from which all apparent objects and entities arise. It is one with both emptiness and form and is the greatest state that any tradition has confirmed exists. If you also are able to access and integrate the highest existing developmental level (see above), we might call this enlightenment…
When a space holder has experienced states of non-duality, he / she will be much better to prioritize without fear. Knowing that there are few absolute truths will make it easier to adjust if a decision proves to be not working. It is also easier to experience how we are all connected and how actions influence others. Which helps us being moral and ethical, as well as connecting to our evolutionary purpose.
The above explanations are partly my own understanding, and partly from sources such as the books “Integral Spirituality”, “Integral Meditation” and “Integral Life Practice” by Ken Wilber (et al), plus from the online course by Sacred Media and Ken Wilber, “Superhuman OS”.
PS! Another example of an integral analysis, is this – using a volunteer online knowledge database, The Reinventing Organizations Wiki, or “RO Wiki”, as an example: