Highlights from “Integral Spirituality”

Cross-posted from Map and Territory

Apologia

A cou­ple months ago a friend gifted me a copy of Ken Wilber’s In­te­gral Spiritu­al­ity. At first I was skep­ti­cal about read­ing it: I’m pretty busy and didn’t have much con­text to think I would learn from it. But he talked me into it, prod­ding me to at least just read the in­tro­duc­tion, which he promised was rel­a­tively short (35 pages, so ba­si­cally the length of a long blog post) and densely packed with in­ter­est­ing con­tent. At the time I was al­most done read­ing an­other book, and figured “what the heck, I’ll just read the in­tro and can de­cide from there”.

Given that you’re read­ing a post with “In­te­gral Spiritu­al­ity” in the ti­tle, I think you can guess what hap­pened next.

I mostly want to share a lot of things I high­lighted in the book—pas­sages I thought could stand to be more widely read—be­cause Ken Wilber has put words to many of the thoughts I would like to share but haven’t made the time to write about. How­ever, I need to give these pas­sages a lit­tle con­text, so I’ll do my best to give you a very high level, whirlwind tour of Wilber’s themes.

The nom­i­nal pur­pose of this book is to dis­cuss spiritu­al­ity, and Wilber does that plenty, but I hon­estly think of this book as more about Wilber’s in­te­gral the­ory and just hap­pens to use spiritu­al­ity as a topic to ad­dress in­te­gral the­ory. So what is in­te­gral the­ory? In short I’d say it’s a way to work with all ev­i­dence so you can up­date on it so you aren’t forced to ig­nore or dis­miss ev­i­dence that doesn’t fit with your wor­ld­view. That is, most of the time most of us start from a place of un­der­valu­ing some in­for­ma­tion and over­valu­ing other in­for­ma­tion we en­counter be­cause it sug­gests that our un­der­stand­ing of the world (on­tol­ogy) is wrong or right, re­spec­tively; in­te­gral the­ory helps re­ha­bil­i­tate this ten­dency by show­ing how to in­te­grate ev­i­dence that has differ­ent pur­poses. A pithy way to put this would be: ev­ery­thing is ev­i­dence of some­thing, noth­ing is ev­i­dence of ev­ery­thing. There’s a lot of sub­tlety I’m elid­ing here be­cause I don’t think I can do jus­tice to the whole the­ory with the amount of effort I would like to ex­pend, but you can find a few primers on­line, and I worked to­wards the same end in my “Meth­ods of Phenomenol­ogy” post, albeit by liber­ally abus­ing the proper scope of the word “phe­nomenol­ogy” to do it.

I should warn you, though, be­fore div­ing too far down the Wilber hole that al­though I think Wilber is of­ten right, his ideas are eas­ily mi­s­un­der­stood. In Wilber’s ter­minol­ogy he’d say some­thing like peo­ple are un­der­stand­ing his Indigo ideas through a Green, Orange, Am­ber, or even Red per­spec­tive, but that’s hard-to-pen­e­trate jar­gon. So think of it this way: you know how you feel when that thing you care about a lot gets talked about in the news and all the sub­tlety and nu­ance and real value is stripped out and rounded off and the ideas get flat­tened down to some­thing the least ed­u­cated mem­ber of adult so­ciety could un­der­stand? That’s how I feel read­ing 90% of what’s writ­ten about in­te­gral the­ory, in­clud­ing stuff Wilber writes be­cause for all his in­sight he re­lies heav­ily on jar­gon that’s eas­ily mi­s­un­der­stood and with­out already hav­ing some idea of what he’s point­ing at it can eas­ily sound like woo (we can de­bate whether this is bet­ter or worse than do­ing the philoso­pher thing of us­ing jar­gon that’s difficult to un­der­stand at all, which is my preferred tact). This is ex­tremely un­for­tu­nate but it’s an old prob­lem, and I don’t ex­pect it to be solved soon, so I en­courage you to press on any­way for the nuggets of wis­dom—that’s mostly what I’ve pul­led out here in the quotes and tried to min­i­mize the woo and jar­gon, al­though there is still some.

Also be warned that Wilber is also not very good at cit­ing sources even if he does of­ten have valuable in­sights. Bet­ter to think of him like a Rib­bon­farm blog­ger than a re­search sci­en­tist be­fore you jump all over him. Put an­other way, he goes in hard for fake frame­works that are some­times use­ful nonethe­less.

Fur­ther, if talk of spiritu­al­ity, re­li­gion, and other things you might find in the meta­physics sec­tion of a book­store put you off, you might just bounce and not be able to look through your ugh fields to see if there’s some­thing here in these quotes. He’s writ­ten other books I’ve not read, and I sus­pect In­te­gral Psy­chol­ogy and the more re­cent In­te­gral Poli­tics would be of in­ter­est to many read­ers if they dis­like talk of spiritu­al­ity. How­ever, Wilber very much treats spiritu­al­ity as a hu­man-uni­ver­sal that is of­ten mi­s­un­der­stood, so if you feel some ugh about spiritu­al­ity I’d en­courage you to read the quotes any­way be­cause you might find them sur­pris­ingly tol­er­able from his per­spec­tive. Plus, some of these quotes aren’t di­rectly about spiritu­al­ity any­way, just neat in­sights he shared. You might say I rounded up all best “in­sight porn” in In­te­gral Spiritu­al­ity to share with you here.

Okay, that’s enough con­text and caveats, on to the quotes!

Quotes on Men­tal Development

On mi­s­un­der­stand­ing stages of de­vel­op­ment that are two stages apart:

For just that rea­son, they are of­ten con­fused. Con­fus­ing pre and post—or con­fus­ing pre and trans—is called the pre/​post fal­lacy or the pre/​trans fal­lacy (PTF), and we will see that an un­der­stand­ing of this con­fu­sion is very helpful when it comes to the role of re­li­gion in to­day’s world. In any de­vel­op­men­tal se­quence—pre-ra­tio­nal to ra­tio­nal to trans-ra­tio­nal, or sub­con­scious to self-con­scious to su­per­con­scious, or pre-ver­bal to ver­bal to trans-ver­bal, or preper­sonal to per­sonal to transper­sonal—the “pre” and “trans” com­po­nents are of­ten con­fused, and that con­fu­sion goes in both ways. Once they are con­fused, some re­searchers take all trans-ra­tio­nal re­al­ities and try to re­duce them to pre-ra­tio­nal in­fan­tilisms (e.g., Freud), while oth­ers take some of the pre-ra­tio­nal in­fan­tile el­e­ments and ele­vate them to trans-ra­tio­nal glory (e.g., Jung). Both that re­duc­tion­ism and that ele­va­tion­ism fol­low from the same pre/​post fal­lacy.
This is a con­stant prob­lem with, and for, spiritu­al­ity. Par­tic­u­larly when you deal with the med­i­ta­tive, con­tem­pla­tive, or mys­ti­cal states of spiritual ex­pe­rience—most of which in­deed are non-ra­tio­nal—it might seem that all of the non-ra­tio­nal states are spiritual, and all the ra­tio­nal states are not spiritual. The most com­mon ex­am­ple is di­vid­ing the states into Dionysian (non­ra­tional) and Apol­lo­nian (ra­tio­nal), and then iden­ti­fy­ing Dionysian with spiritual. But that con­ceals and hides the fact that there is not just “non-ra­tio­nal,” but “pre-ra­tio­nal” and “trans-ra­tio­nal.” Even Niet­zsche came to see that there are two dras­ti­cally differ­ent Dionysian states (pre and trans). But once the pre/​trans fal­lacy is made, it ap­pears that any­thing that is not ra­tio­nal, is Spirit. In­stead of pre-ra­tio­nal, ra­tio­nal, and trans-ra­tio­nal, you only have ra­tio­nal and non­ra­tional, and the trou­ble starts there.

On the im­por­tance of some un­der­ly­ing axis of de­vel­op­ment that is nec­es­sary but not suffi­cient for de­vel­op­ment along all other axes:

Namely, re­search has con­tinued to demon­strate that growth in the cog­ni­tive line is nec­es­sary but not suffi­cient for the growth in the other lines. Thus, you can be highly de­vel­oped in the cog­ni­tive line and poorly de­vel­oped in the moral line (very smart but not very moral: Nazi doc­tors), but we don’t find the re­verse (low IQ, highly moral). This is why you can have for­mal op­er­a­tional cog­ni­tion and red val­ues, but not pre­op­er­a­tional cog­ni­tion and or­ange val­ues (again, some­thing that can­not be ex­plained if Spiral Dy­nam­ics vMEMEs were the only lev­els). So in this view, the al­ti­tude is the cog­ni­tive line, which is nec­es­sary but not suffi­cient for the other lines. The other lines are not vari­a­tions on the cog­ni­tive, but they are de­pen­dent on it.

On de­vel­op­men­tal stages still be­ing mod­els and not di­rect re­al­ity (your reg­u­lar re­minder that the map is not the ter­ri­tory):

But in all of this, please re­mem­ber one thing: these stages (and stage mod­els) are just con­cep­tual snap­shots of the great and ever-flow­ing River of Life. There is sim­ply noth­ing any­where in the Kos­mos called the blue vMeme (ex­cept in the con­cep­tual space of the­o­ret­i­ci­ans who be­lieve it). This is not to say that stages are mere con­struc­tions or are in the real world and that we call de­vel­op­ment or growth. It’s just that “stages” of that growth are in­deed sim­ply snap­shots that we take at par­tic­u­lar points in time and from a par­tic­u­lar per­spec­tive ( which it­self grows and de­vel­ops).

On how ev­ery hu­man has to de­velop from noth­ing up to some­thing (made in the con­text of point­ing out how we need in­sti­tu­tions to help with this de­vel­op­ment):

Hu­man be­ings, start­ing at square one, will de­velop how­ever far they de­velop, and they have the right to stop wher­ever they stop. Some in­di­vi­d­u­als will stop at red, some at am­ber; some will move to or­ange or higher. Some in­di­vi­d­u­als will de­velop to a stage, stop for a while, then con­tinue growth; oth­ers will stop grow­ing around ado­les­cence and never re­ally grow again. But that is their right; peo­ple have the right to stop at what­ever stage they stop at.
I try to em­pha­size this by say­ing that ev­ery stage is also a sta­tion in life. Some peo­ple will spend their en­tire adult lives at red or am­ber, and that is their right . Others will move on.

Quotes on States and Stages

Wilber makes a dis­tinc­tion be­tween states (tem­po­rary ways of be­ing that you move through for a time) and stages (ways of be­ing that are per­sis­tent).

On the re­la­tion­ship be­tween states and stages:

Be­cause states by their very na­ture are much more amor­phous and fluid than struc­tures, this stage se­quenc­ing of states is very fluid and flow­ing—and, fur­ther, you can peak-ex­pe­rience higher states . fur­ther train­ing, “peak ex­pe­riences” can be sta­bi­lized into so-called “plateau ex­pe­riences.”) Thus, if you are at a par­tic­u­lar state -stage, you can of­ten tem­porar­ily peak-ex­pe­rience a higher state-stage, but not sta­bly hold it as a plateau ex­pe­rience.
On the other hand, re­search re­peat­edly shows that struc­ture -stages, un­like state-stages, are fairly dis­crete lev­els or rungs in de­vel­op­ment; more­over, as re­search shows time and time again, you can­not skip struc­ture-stages, nor can you peak-ex­pe­rience higher struc­ture-stages . For ex­am­ple, if you are at pre­op­er­a­tional in the cog­ni­tive line, you sim­ply can­not have a for­mal op­er­a­tional ex­pe­rience—but you can have a sub­tle-state peak ex­pe­rience! (Again, we will re­turn to the re­la­tion of states and struc­tures shortly.)

On the difficulty of figur­ing out how states and stages are re­lated:

What was so con­fus­ing to us early re­searchers in this area is that we knew the stage con­cep­tions of peo­ple like Lo­ev­inger and Graves were had been tested in a dozen or more cross-cul­tural stud­ies; ei­ther you in­cluded these mod­els or you had a painfully in­com­plete psy­chos­piritual sys­tem.
But we also knew that equally im­por­tant were the phe­nomenolog­i­cal tra­di­tions East and West (e.g., St. Teresa’s In­te­rior Cas­tle , Anu and Ati Yoga), as well as the re­cent stud­ies like Daniel P. Brown’s on the com­mon­al­ity of cer­tain deep fea­tures in med­i­ta­tive stages. And so typ­i­cally what we did was sim­ply take the high­est stage in Western psy­cholog­i­cal mod­els—which was usu­ally some­where around SD’s GlobalView, or Lo­ev­inger’s in­te­grated, or the cen­taur—and then take the 3 or 4 ma­jor stages of med­i­ta­tion (gross, sub­tle, causal, non­d­ual—or ini­ti­a­tion, purifi­ca­tion, illu­mi­na­tion, unifi­ca­tion), and stack those stages on top of the other stages. Thus you would go from Lo­ev­inger’s in­te­grated level (cen­taur) to psy­chic level to sub­tle level to causal level to non­d­ual level. Bam bam bam bam. . . . East and West in­te­grated!
It was a start—at least some peo­ple were tak­ing both Western and Eastern ap­proaches se­ri­ously—but prob­lems im­me­di­ately arose. Do you re­ally have to progress through all of Lo­ev­inger’s stages to have a spiritual ex­pe­rience? If you have an illu­mi­na­tion ex­pe­rience as de­scribed by St. John of the Cross, does that mean you have passed through all 8 Graves value lev­els? Doesn’t sound quite right.
A sec­ond prob­lem quickly com­pounded that one. If “en­light­en­ment” (or any sort of unio mys­tica ) re­ally meant go­ing through all of those 8 stages, then how could some­body 2000 years ago be en­light­ened, since some of the stages, like sys­temic GlobalView, are re­cent emer­gents?
All of our early at­tempts at in­te­gra­tion were stal­ling around this is­sue of how to re­late the med­i­ta­tive stages and the Western de­vel­op­men­tal stages, and there it sat stalled for about two decades.
Part of the prob­lem cen­tered around: what is “en­light­en­ment,” any­way? In an evolv­ing world, what did “en­light­en­ment” mean? What could “en­light­en­ment” mean?—and how could it be defined in a way that would satisfy all the ev­i­dence, both from those claiming it and those study­ing it? Any defi­ni­tion of “en­light­en­ment” would have to ex­plain what it meant to be en­light­ened to­day but also ex­plain how the same defi­ni­tion could mean­ingfully be op­er­a­tive in ear­lier eras, when some of to­day’s stages were not pre­sent. If we can’t do that, then it would mean that only a per­son al­ive to­day could be fully en­light­ened or spiritu­ally awak­ened, and that makes no sense at all.
The test case be­came: in what­ever way that we define en­light­en­ment to­day, can some­body 2000 years ago—say, Bud­dha or Christ Je­sus or Pad­masamb­hava—still be said to be “en­light­ened” or “fully re­al­ized” or “spiritu­ally awak­ened” by any mean­ingful defi­ni­tion?

On a very im­por­tant point about how states and stages are re­lated and how they get con­fused:

What you can see in figure 4.1 is that a per­son at any stage can have a peak ex­pe­rience of a gross, sub­tle, causal, or non­d­ual state . But a per­son will in­ter­pret that state ac­cord­ing to the stage they are at. If we are us­ing a Geb­ser-like model of 7 stages, then we have 7 stages × 4 states = 28 stage-in­ter­preted /​ state ex­pe­riences, if that makes sense. (And, as we’ll see, we have ev­i­dence for all of these “struc­ture-state” ex­pe­riences).
That bold sen­tence was for us early re­searchers the break­through and real turn­ing point. It al­lowed us to see how in­di­vi­d­u­als at even some of the lower stages of de­vel­op­ment—such as magic or mythic—could still have profound re­li­gious, spiritual, and med­i­ta­tive state ex­pe­riences. Thus, gross/​psy­chic, sub­tle, causal, and non­d­ual were no longer stages stacked on top of the Western con­ven­tional stages, but were states (in­clud­ing al­tered states and peak ex­pe­riences) that can and did oc­cur alongside any of those stages. This is sug­gested in figure 2.5 by plac­ing the 3 ma­jor state/​clouds to the right of the stages.

On mak­ing that same point in a slightly differ­ent way that might con­nect bet­ter:

The point is that a per­son can have a profound peak, re­li­gious, spiritual, or med­i­ta­tive ex­pe­rience of, say, a sub­tle light or causal empti­ness, but they will in­ter­pret that ex­pe­rience with the only equip­ment they have, namely, the tools of the stage of de­vel­op­ment they are at. A per­son at magic will in­ter­pret them mag­i­cally, a per­son at mythic will in­ter­pret them myth­i­cally, a per­son at plu­ral­is­tic will in­ter­pret them plu­ral­is­ti­cally, and so on. But a per­son at mythic will not in­ter­pret them plu­ral­is­ti­cally, be­cause that struc­ture-stage of con­scious­ness has not yet emerged or de­vel­oped.

On still re­ally driv­ing this point home:

Any­body fa­mil­iar with the monas­tic tra­di­tions, East and West, from Zen to Bene­dic­tine, will rec­og­nize those souls who might be quite spiritu­ally ad­vanced in Un­der­hill’s sense (very ad­vanced in con­tem­pla­tive illu­mi­na­tion and unifi­ca­tion) and yet might still have a very con­formist and con­ven­tional men­tal­ity—some­times shock­ingly xeno­pho­bic and eth­no­cen­tric—and this goes, un­for­tu­nately, for many Ti­be­tan and Ja­panese med­i­ta­tion mas­ters. Although they are very ad­vanced in med­i­ta­tive states train­ing, their struc­tures are am­ber-to-or­ange, and thus their available in­ter­pre­tive reper­toire is loaded by the Lower-Left quad­rant with very eth­no­cen­tric and parochial ideas that pass for time­less Bud­dha-dharma.

If you’re much fa­mil­iar with de­vel­op­men­tal mod­els, they tend to end pre­ma­turely rel­a­tive to where you might think they would end if you are fa­mil­iar with, say, maps of en­light­en­ment.

On the lack of these stages in most de­vel­op­men­tal psy­chol­ogy mod­els:

Such are some com­mon state-stages. As for Fowler’s struc­ture -stages, no­tice that Fowler is pre­sent­ing the ob­jec­tive re­sults of only a few stud­ies, and hence his data thin out at the top very quickly. It’s not that there aren’t any higher stages up there, but that there aren’t many peo­ple up there.

Quotes on Psy­chol­ogy and Shadow

On how the psy­cholog­i­cal shadow de­vel­ops via dis­so­ci­a­tion in re­sponse to cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance:

If I be­come an­gry at my boss, but that feel­ing of anger is a threat to my self-sense (“I’m a nice per­son; nice peo­ple don’t get an­gry”), then I might dis­so­ci­ate or re­press the anger. But sim­ply deny­ing the anger doesn’t get rid of it, it merely makes the an­gry feel­ings ap­pear alien in my own aware­ness: I might be feel­ing anger, but it is not my anger . The an­gry feel­ings are put on the other side of the self-bound­ary (on the other side of the I-bound­ary), at which point they ap­pear as alien or for­eign events in my own aware­ness, in my own self.
I might, for ex­am­ple, pro­ject the anger. The anger con­tinues to arise, but since it can­not be me who is an­gry, it must be some­body else. All of a sud­den, the world ap­pears full of peo­ple who seem to be very an­gry . . . , and usu­ally at me! In fact, I think my boss wants to fire me. And this com­pletely de­presses me. Through the pro­jec­tion of my own anger, “mad” has be­come “sad.” And I’m never go­ing to get over that de­pres­sion with­out first own­ing that anger.

On what the phe­nomenol­ogy of what dis­so­ci­a­tion, pro­jec­tion, and the shadow looks like:

Ah, but if they could just see what a to­tal con­trol freak this guy is, they would loathe him too, like I do! But it’s my own shadow I loathe, my own shadow I cru­sade against. I my­self am a lit­tle bit more of a con­trol freak than I care to ad­mit, and not ac­knowl­edg­ing this de­spised qual­ity in my­self, I deny it and pro­ject it onto my neigh­bor—or any other hook I can find. I know some­body is a con­trol freak, and since it sim­ply can­not be me, it must be him, or her, or them, or it.

On the gen­eral mechanism of deal­ing with the psy­cholog­i­cal shadow so that it may be over­come:

The goal of psy­chother­apy, in this case, is to con­vert these “it feel­ings” into “I feel­ings,” and thus re-own the shadow . The act of re-own­ing the shadow (con­vert­ing 3 rd -per­son to 1 st -per­son) re­moves the root cause of the painful symp­toms. The goal of psy­chother­apy, if you will, is to con­vert “it” into “I.”

On a bet­ter in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Freud (this is not ex­actly a novel in­sight, but most read­ers for­get they learn about Freud via trans­la­tion and the trans­la­tion has had a pretty dra­matic effect on how his ideas are un­der­stood in the An­glo­sphere):

This is not a far-fetched read­ing of Freud, but it is a read­ing ob­scured by the stan­dard James Stra­chey English trans­la­tions of Freud. Not many peo­ple know that Freud never—not once—used the terms “ego” or “id.” When Freud wrote, he used the ac­tual pro­nouns “the I” and “the it.” The origi­nal Ger­man is liter­ally “the I” and “the it” ( das Ich , “the I,” and das Es , “the it”). Stra­chey de­cided to use the Latin words “ego” and “id” to make Freud sound more sci­en­tific. In the Stra­chey trans­la­tions, a sen­tence might be: “Thus, look­ing into aware­ness, I see that the ego has cer­tain id im­pulses that dis­tress and up­set it.” Trans­lated that way, it sounds like a bunch of the­o­ret­i­cal spec­u­la­tion. But Freud’s ac­tual sen­tence is: “Look­ing into my aware­ness, I find that my I has cer­tain it im­pulses that dis­tress and up­set the I.” As I said, Stra­chey used the Latin terms “ego” or “id” in­stead of “I” and “it” be­cause he thought it made Freud look more sci­en­tific, whereas all it re­ally did is com­pletely ob­scure Freud, the brilli­ant phe­nome­nol­o­gist of the di­s­owned self.
Per­haps Freud’s best-known sum­mary of the goal of psy­chother­apy is: “Where id was, there ego shall be.” What Freud ac­tu­ally said was: “Where it was, there I shall be­come.”

On the in­suffi­ciency of med­i­ta­tion to deal with the shadow (sadly I wasn’t able to find a good quote with­out a lot of jar­gon that makes this point, so to sum­ma­rize, Wilber ar­gues that psy­chother­apy is im­por­tant be­cause it deals with some­thing that is in­visi­ble if you only med­i­tate, a method­ol­ogy that fo­cuses on how you ex­pe­rience the world, be­cause it will on its own con­sis­tently fail to help you no­tice how you are mis­per­ceiv­ing your­self):

Amidst all the won­der­ful benefits of med­i­ta­tion and con­tem­pla­tion, it is still hard to miss the fact that even long-time med­i­ta­tors still have con­sid­er­able shadow el­e­ments. And af­ter 20 years of med­i­ta­tion, they still have those shadow el­e­ments. Maybe it is, as they claim, that they just haven’t med­i­tated long enough. Per­haps an­other 20 years? Maybe it’s that med­i­ta­tion just doesn’t get at this prob­lem. . . .

More de­tails on how the shadow is ad­dressed, first by re-own­ing it (end­ing the dis­so­ci­a­tion) and then tran­scend­ing it (de­tach­ing from it in a healthy way):

Thus, for ex­am­ple, a per­son might say, “I have thoughts, but I am not my thoughts, I have feel­ings, but I am not my feel­ings”—the per­son is no longer iden­ti­fied with them as a sub­ject, but stills owns them as an ob­ject—which is in­deed healthy, be­cause they are still owned as “my thoughts.” That own­er­ship is cru­cial. If I ac­tu­ally felt that the thoughts in my head were some­body else’s thoughts , that is not tran­scen­dence, but se­vere pathol­ogy. So healthy de­vel­op­ment is the con­ver­sion of 1 st -per­son sub­jec­tive (“I”) to 1 st -per­son ob­jec­tive or pos­ses­sive (“me”/​“mine”) within the I-stream. This is the very form of healthy tran­scen­dence and trans­for­ma­tion: the I of one stage be­comes the me of the I of the next.

And a bit more on that last point:

Whereas healthy de­vel­op­ment con­verts I into me, un­healthy de­vel­op­ment con­verts I into it. This is one of the most sig­nifi­cant dis­clo­sures of an AQAL per­spec­tive. Those study­ing the psy­chol­ogy of med­i­ta­tion have long been aware of two im­por­tant facts that ap­peared com­pletely con­tra­dic­tory. The first is that in med­i­ta­tion, the goal is to de­tach or dis-iden­tify from what­ever arises. Tran­scen­dence has long been defined as a pro­cess of dis-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. And med­i­ta­tion stu­dents were ac­tu­ally taught to dis-iden­tify with any I or me or mine that showed up.
But the sec­ond fact is that in pathol­ogy, there is a dis-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion or dis­so­ci­a­tion of parts of the self, so dis-iden­tify is the prob­lem , not the cure. So, should I iden­tify with my anger, or disi­den­tify with it?
Both, but timing is ev­ery­thing—de­vel­op­men­tal timing, in this case. If my anger arises in aware­ness, and is au­then­ti­cally ex­pe­rienced and owned as my anger, then the goal is to con­tinue dis-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion (let go of the anger and the self ex­pe­rienc­ing it—thus con­vert­ing that “I” into a “me,” which is healthy). But if my anger arises in aware­ness and is ex­pe­rienced as your anger or his anger or an it anger—but not my anger—the goal is to first iden­tify with and re-own the anger (con­vert­ing that 3 rd -per­son “it anger” or “his anger” or “her anger” to 1 st -per­son “my anger”—and REALLY own the god­dam anger)—and then one can dis-iden­tify with the anger and the self ex­pe­rienc­ing it (con­vert­ing 1 st -per­son sub­jec­tive “I” into 1 st -per­son ob­jec­tive “me”—which is the defi­ni­tion of healthy “tran­scend and in­clude”). But if that re-own­er­ship of the shadow is not first un­der­taken , then med­i­ta­tion on anger sim­ply in­creases the aliena­tion —med­i­ta­tion be­comes “tran­scend and deny,” which is ex­actly the defi­ni­tion of patholog­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

On how all this talk of shadow and psy­chol­ogy re­lates to spiritual, cog­ni­tive, and psy­cholog­i­cal de­vel­op­ment (this will sound very fa­mil­iar if you’re fa­mil­iar with Ke­gan’s The Evolv­ing Self):

More speci­fi­cally, we saw that in each stage of self de­vel­op­ment, the I of one stage be­comes the me of the I of the next stage. As each I be­comes me, a new and higher I takes its place, un­til there is only I-I, or the pure Wit­ness, pure Self, pure Spirit or Big Mind. When all I’s have been con­verted to me’s, ex­pe­ri­en­tially noth­ing but “I-I” re­mains (as Ra­mana Ma­harshi called it—the I that is aware of the I), the pure Wit­ness that is never a seen ob­ject but always the pure Seer, the pure At­man that is no-at­man, the pure Self that is no-self. I be­comes me un­til there is only I-I, and the en­tire man­i­fest world is “mine” in I-I.
But, at any point in that de­vel­op­ment, if as­pects of the I are de­nied own­er­ship, they ap­pear as an it , and that is not tran­scen­dence, that is pathol­ogy. Deny­ing own­er­ship is not dis-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion but de­nial. It is try­ing to dis-iden­tify with an im­pulse BEFORE own­er­ship is ac­knowl­edged and felt , and that dis-own­er­ship pro­duces symp­toms, not liber­a­tion. And once that prior dis-own­er­ship has oc­curred, the dis-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and de­tach­ment pro­cess of med­i­ta­tion will likely make it worse , but in any event will not get at the root cause.

A bit more on how de­vel­op­ment can hap­pen via psy­cholog­i­cal work:

That is the sec­ond ma­jor con­tri­bu­tion of the mod­ern West, namely, an un­der­stand­ing that, in the early stages of a psy­cholog­i­cal de­vel­op­ment that should con­vert each I into a me, some of those I’s get dis-owned as its—as shadow el­e­ments in my own aware­ness, shadow el­e­ments that ap­pear as an “ob­ject” (or an “other”) but are ac­tu­ally hid­den—sub­jects , hid­den faces of my own I . Once dis­so­ci­ated, these hid­den-sub­jects or shadow-its show up as an “other” in my aware­ness (and as painful neu­rotic symp­toms and dyseases). In those cases, ther­apy is in­deed: Where it was, there I shall be­come.
Where id was, there ego shall be— and then, once that hap­pens, you can tran­scend the ego . But try tran­scend­ing the ego be­fore prop­erly own­ing it, and watch the shadow grow. But if that iden­ti­fi­ca­tion has first oc­curred in a healthy fash­ion, then dis-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion can oc­cur; if not, then dis-iden­ti­fy­ing leads to more dis­so­ci­a­tion.

On how med­i­ta­tion can help with de­vel­op­ment, given the con­text we just ex­plored:

The rea­son that state-med­i­ta­tion can help with ver­ti­cal stage-de­vel­op­ment is that ev­ery time you ex­pe­rience a nonor­di­nary state of con­scious­ness that you can­not in­ter­pret within your pre­sent struc­ture, it acts as a micro-disi­den­ti­fi­ca­tion—it helps “I” be­come “me” (or the sub­ject of one state-stage be­comes the ob­ject of the sub­ject of the next)—and there­fore helps with ver­ti­cal de­vel­op­ment in the self line. But no­tice that the sim­ple fact that you med­i­tate does not guaran­tee ver­ti­cal growth, let alone En­light­en­ment. Whether in­di­vi­d­u­als or the tra­di­tions them­selves en­courage or dis­cour­age this ver­ti­cal de­vel­op­ment de­pends largely on the cen­ter of grav­ity of their View or Frame­work—so again, choose your Frame­work care­fully.

Quotes on So­cial Systems

Many of these quotes are about thing that I ex­pect many of my read­ers are not con­fused about, but I nonethe­less find them in­ter­est­ing be­cause there is much to learn from un­der­stand­ing why you are not con­fused about some­thing even if you are already not con­fused about it.

On how the so­cial is not like the in­di­vi­d­ual:

Many the­o­rists had re­al­ized that you can’t stack so­cial on top of in­di­vi­d­ual (which is the first mis­take both of those two ear­lier lists make), as if so­cial holons were com­posed of in­di­vi­d­ual holons. The ex­am­ple I usu­ally give, of why in­di­vi­d­ual holons are not the same as so­cial holons (or, why the Great Web is greatly con­fused), is that of my dog Isaac, who is definitely a sin­gle or­ganism on most days. Sin­gle or­ganisms have what White­head called a dom­i­nant monad , which sim­ply means that it has an or­ga­niz­ing or gov­ern­ing ca­pac­ity that all of its sub­com­po­nents fol­low. For ex­am­ple, when Isaac gets up and walks across the room, all of his cells, molecules, and atoms get up and go with him. This isn’t a democ­racy. Half of his cells don’t go one way and the other half go an­other way. 100% of them get right up and fol­low the dom­i­nant monad. It doesn’t mat­ter whether we think this dom­i­nant monad is bio­chem­istry or con­scious­ness or a mini-soul or a ma­te­rial mechanism—or whether that nasty “dom­i­nant” part wouldn’t be there if we were just all friends and co­op­er­ated—what­ever it is, that dom­i­nant monad is there, and 100% of Isaac’s cells and molecules and atoms get right up and move.
And there is not a sin­gle so­ciety or group or col­lec­tive any­where in the world that does that. A so­cial holon sim­ply does not have a dom­i­nant monad. If you and I are talk­ing, we form a “we,” or so­cial holon, but that “we” does not have a cen­tral “I,” or dom­i­nant monad, that com­mands you and me to do things, so that you and I will 100% obey, as Isaac’s cells do. That just doesn’t hap­pen in so­cial holons, any­where. You and I are definitely not re­lated to this “we” in the same way Isaac’s cells are re­lated to Isaac.

On how the so­cial and the in­di­vi­d­ual in­ter­act and re­flect each other in some ways and differ im­por­tantly in oth­ers:

Thus we ar­rive at yet an­other ma­jor differ­ence be­tween in­di­vi­d­ual and so­cial holons: in­di­vi­d­ual holons go through manda­tory stages, so­cial holons don’t .
There are sim­ply no in­var­i­ant struc­ture-stages for groups, col­lec­tives, or so­cieties. This is why you can’t re­ally use in­di­vi­d­ual struc­ture-stage the­o­ries—like Lo­ev­inger, Graves, Maslow, Kohlberg, etc.—to de­scribe groups or so­cial holons. I re­al­ize that some of the fol­low­ers of those the­o­rists say that you can. The rea­son it su­perfi­cially ap­pears that you can is that the group has a dom­i­nant mode of dis­course, and the struc­ture of that dis­course is ba­si­cally fol­low­ing the struc­ture of the dom­i­nant monad of the in­di­vi­d­u­als who run the dis­course in the so­cial holon. Hence, you can loosely speak of the poker game as a “green group” if the dom­i­nant mode of dis­course is struc­turally green. But, as we saw, the group can jump those stages if the in­di­vi­d­ual mem­bers change, and hence no group nec­es­sar­ily goes through those in­di­vi­d­ual struc­ture-stages. The group it­self is fol­low­ing all sorts of very differ­ent pat­terns and all sorts of very differ­ent rules.

On the power of “we” de­spite it not be­ing a “su­per-I”:

There are many ways to talk about these im­por­tant differ­ences be­tween in­di­vi­d­ual and so­cial, but per­haps the most sig­nifi­cant (and eas­iest to grasp) is in­deed the fact that the we is not a su­per-I . When you and I come to­gether, and we be­gin talk­ing, res­onat­ing, shar­ing, and un­der­stand­ing each other, a “we” forms—but that we is not an­other I. There is no I that is 100% con­trol­ling you and me, so that when it pulls the strings, you and I both do ex­actly what it says.
And yet this we does ex­ist, and you and I do come to­gether, and we do un­der­stand each other, and we can’t help but un­der­stand each other, at least on oc­ca­sion.

Quotes on Spirituality

On the differ­ent ways spiritu­al­ity is in­ter­preted (sorry for the heavy jar­gon in this quote; I hope the main point still comes across):

I’ve got a pretty bad at­ti­tude on this my­self, so for­give a 15-sec­ond rant. You can take vir­tu­ally 99% of the dis­cus­sions of “the re­la­tion of sci­ence and re­li­gion” and put them in the mush cat­e­gory. I’m sorry, but that’s how it seems to me. Th­ese dis­cus­sions never get very far be­cause the defi­ni­tions that the dis­cus­sants are us­ing con­tain these 4 hid­den vari­ables, and the vari­ables keep slid­ing all over the place with­out any­body be­ing able to figure out why, and the dis­cus­sions slide with them.
Espe­cially when you re­al­ize that us­age #3, which is a valid us­age, con­tains—by its own ac­count— lev­els of re­li­gion or lev­els/​stages of spiritu­al­ity , then things spin to­tally out of con­trol (there is ar­chaic spiritu­al­ity, mag­i­cal spiritu­al­ity, mythic spiritu­al­ity, ra­tio­nal spiritu­al­ity, plu­ral­is­tic spiritu­al­ity, in­te­gral spiritu­al­ity, transper­sonal spiritu­al­ity . . .). Some­body says, “Reli­gion or spiritu­al­ity tells us about deep con­nec­tions and eter­nal val­ues,” and I have no bloody idea which re­li­gion or spiritu­al­ity they mean, and all I’m sure is, they don’t ei­ther. There are at least 5 or 6 ma­jor lev­els/​stages of re­li­gion—from magic to mythic to ra­tio­nal to plu­ral­is­tic to in­te­gral and higher—across 4 states (gross, sub­tle, causal, non­d­ual), which are also types or classes ( na­ture , de­ity , form­less , non­d­ual ), not to men­tion the four us­ages great You or Thou, spiritu­al­ity as great It or Other).
Be­fore you tell me about sci­ence and re­li­gion, or re­li­gion and any­thing, please tell me which re­li­gion you mean. Even us­ing just the W-C Lat­tice, there are some two dozen differ­ent re­li­gious or spiritual truth-claims . Which of those two dozen do you mean, and on what grounds are you ex­clud­ing the oth­ers?
This is NOT an overly com­pli­cated scheme. It is the MINIMAL scheme you need to be able to say any­thing co­her­ent on the topic.

On the mul­ti­plic­ity of spiritual paths that, de­spite differ­ent ways of in­ter­pret­ing them, seem to point to­wards a core, shared spiritual path that man­i­fests differ­ently in differ­ent tra­di­tions:

This was Daniel P. Brown’s point, so badly mi­s­un­der­stood at the time, but brilli­ant and right on the money, as Traleg in­de­pen­dently agrees. Brown said that there were the same ba­sic stages on the spiritual paths of the so­phis­ti­cated con­tem­pla­tive tra­di­tions, but these same stages were ex­pe­rienced differ­ently de­pend­ing on the in­ter­pre­ta­tion they were given. Hin­dus and Bud­dhists and Chris­ti­ans fol­low the same gen­eral stages (gross to sub­tle to causal), but one of them ex­pe­riences these stages as “ab­solute Self,” one as “no-self,” and one as “God­head,” de­pend­ing on the differ­ent texts, cul­ture, and in­ter­pre­ta­tions given the ex­pe­riences. In other words, de­pend­ing on the Frame­work, the View.
Those in­di­vi­d­u­als who as­sume oth­er­wise are sim­ply as­sum­ing a pre-mod­ernist episte­mol­ogy, that there is a sin­gle pre­given re­al­ity that I can know, and that med­i­ta­tion will show me this in­de­pen­dently ex­ist­ing re­al­ity, which there­fore must be the same for ev­ery­body who dis­cov­ers it; in­stead of re­al­iz­ing that the sub­ject of know­ing co-cre­ates the re­al­ity it knows, and that there­fore some as­pects of re­al­ity will liter­ally be cre­ated by the sub­ject and the in­ter­pre­ta­tion it gives to that re­al­ity. Amer­i­can Bud­dhists at the time were par­tic­u­larly up­set with Brown be­cause his work showed similar stages for Chris­ti­ans, Bud­dhists, and Hin­dus (gross, sub­tle, causal, non­d­ual)—even though they ex­pe­rienced them quite differ­ently—and this im­plied that Bud­dhism wasn’t the only real way. But time and ex­pe­rience have vin­di­cated Brown’s ex­traor­di­nary work.

On how to avoid be­com­ing trapped by a par­tic­u­lar spiritual frame­work:

No­tice in­di­vi­d­u­als who have been prac­tic­ing one path for a decade or more, and you will of­ten see a grad­ual clos­ing of their minds, a nar­row­ing of their in­ter­ests, as they go deeper into spiritual state ex­pe­riences but don’t have an in­te­gral Frame­work to com­ple­ment their plunge into Empti­ness, or Ayin, or God­head, or Holy Spirit. The re­sult is that they be­come closed off to more and more parts of the world, which can ac­tu­ally lead to a re­gres­sion to am­ber or fun­da­men­tal­ism or ab­solutism. They be­come both deep mys­tics and nar­row fun­da­men­tal­ists at the same time.
You know ex­actly what I mean, yes?
And the cure for that part is so easy: sup­ple­ment! Just ex­pand the Frame­work, widen the View—in­clude Spirit’s pre­mod­ern and mod­ern and post­mod­ern turns—and sim­ply make it in­te­gral.

On the re­la­tion­ship be­tween post-En­light­en­ment Western so­ciety and spiritu­al­ity:

The Western in­tel­lec­tual tra­di­tion, be­gin­ning around the En­light­en­ment, ac­tively re­pressed any higher lev­els of its own spiritual in­tel­li­gence. His­tor­i­cally, with the rise of moder­nity, the mythic God was thor­oughly aban­doned—the en­tire “Death of God” move­ment meant the death of the mythic God , a mythic con­cep­tion for which ra­tio­nal moder­nity could find lit­tle ev­i­dence.
And here they par­tic­u­larly made a crip­pling er­ror: in cor­rectly spot­ting the im­ma­tu­rity of the no­tion of a mythic God—or the mythic level of the spiritual line—they threw out not just the mythic level of spiritual in­tel­li­gence but the en­tire line of spiritual in­tel­li­gence. So up­set were they with the mythic level, they tossed the baby of the spiritual line with the bath­wa­ter of its mythic level of de­vel­op­ment. They jet­ti­soned the am­ber God, and in­stead of find­ing or­ange God, and then green God, and turquoise God, and in­digo God, they ditched God al­to­gether, they be­gan the re­pres­sion of the sub­lime, the re­pres­sion of their own higher lev­els of spiritual in­tel­li­gence. The in­tel­lec­tual West has fun­da­men­tally never re­cov­ered from this cul­tural dis­aster.

On how moder­nity both suc­ceeded and failed (cf. Chap­man):

This very pos­i­tive achieve­ment—which is one of the many ex­traor­di­nary gains of the Western liberal En­light­en­ment—is of­ten called the dig­nity of moder­nity. And it has long been known that this differ­en­ti­a­tion (which was good) went too far into dis­so­ci­a­tion (which was bad), so that the dig­nity of moder­nity be­came the dis­aster of moder­nity.
Among other things, when the 3 value spheres did not just sep­a­rate but flew apart, this al­lowed the hy­per-growth of tech­ni­cal-sci­en­tific ra­tio­nal­ity at the ex­pense of the other spheres, and this re­sulted in what is called the coloniza­tion of the life­world by this tech­ni­cal ra­tio­nal­ity. You can find vari­a­tions on that theme in most of the so­phis­ti­cated cri­tiques of moder­nity by kosher Western in­tel­lec­tu­als them­selves , from Hegel to Hei­deg­ger to Horkheimer to Haber­mas.

On how the spiritual baby got thrown out with the re­li­gious bath­wa­ter:

And that hap­pened for one rea­son in par­tic­u­lar: So hor­rify­ing was the mythic level of God—and so ex­ten­sive were the gen­uine ter­rors the Church had in­flicted on peo­ple in the name of that mythic God—that the En­light­en­ment threw re­li­gion over en­tirely. “Re­mem­ber the cru­elties!,” as Voltaire ex­horted the En­light­en­ment, refer­ring to the mil­lions that the Church had tor­tured and kil­led, and re­mem­ber they did. The mythic God was taken to be God al­to­gether. The mythic God was iden­ti­fied with the hor­rors of the In­qui­si­tion and the liqui­da­tion of mil­lions (all true), and in a lead­ing-edge cul­tural con­vul­sion and re­vul­sion—a cul­tural trauma writ large—re­li­gious any­thing was an­grily sup­pressed. Spiritual in­tel­li­gence was frozen at am­ber, a mas­sive Level/​Line Fal­lacy set in place, out went that bath­wa­ter, and with it, the baby of ul­ti­mate con­cern.
Freez­ing the spiritual line at am­ber mythic-mem­ber­ship is ex­actly what pre­vented the spiritual line from mov­ing into the mod­ern liberal En­light­en­ment, with the other ma­jor lines, and be­ing de­vel­oped at an or­ange level, so that there would in­deed be or­ange sci­ence, or­ange aes­thet­ics, or­ange morals, and or­ange spiritu­al­ity. In­stead, the Big 3 emerged and differ­en­ti­ated, not the Big 4. Spiritu­al­ity was in­fan­tilized, ridiculed, de­nied, re­pressed, and kept out of moder­nity al­to­gether.

On how sci­ence be­came sci­en­tism and ac­ci­den­tally dis­so­ci­ated from an im­por­tant part of the hu­man ex­pe­rience (rather than de­vel­op­ing a healthy de­tach­ment from it):

Thus, ul­ti­mate con­cern was dis­placed to sci­ence, a con­cern that its meth­ods were sim­ply not ca­pa­ble of han­dling. And sci­ence it­self was always com­pletely hon­est about its limi­ta­tions: sci­ence can­not say whether God ex­ists or does not ex­ist; whether there is an Ab­solute or not; why we are here, what our ul­ti­mate na­ture is, and so on. Of course sci­ence can find no ev­i­dence for the Ab­solute; nor can it find ev­i­dence dis­prov­ing an Ab­solute. When sci­ence is hon­est, it is thor­oughly ag­nos­tic and thor­oughly quiet on those ul­ti­mate ques­tions.
But the hu­man heart is not. And spiritual in­tel­li­gence, meant to an­swer or at least ad­dress those is­sues, is not so eas­ily quieted, ei­ther. Men and women need an Ul­ti­mate be­cause in truth they in­tuit an Ul­ti­mate, and sim­ple hon­esty re­quests ac­knowl­edg­ing the yearn­ing in your own heart. Yet if the mythic God is dead, and spiritual in­tel­li­gence frozen at its child­hood stage, the only thing left that ap­pears to give an­swers to those ques­tions of ul­ti­mate con­cern is sci­ence. There is a well-known term for what sci­ence be­comes when it is ab­sol­u­tized: sci­en­tism . And the liberal En­light­en­ment, for all its enor­mous good and all its ex­traor­di­nary in­tel­li­gence in other lines, be­gan with sci­ence and ended with sci­en­tism, and that be­cause of the prior LLF that de­liv­ered to the En­light­en­ment a set of tools bereft of spiritual in­tel­li­gence.

On how athe­ism is a form of spiritu­al­ity:

And let me point out, strongly, that both athe­ism and ag­nos­ti­cism , if ar­rived at via for­mal op­er­a­tional cog­ni­tion, are forms of or­ange spiritual in­tel­li­gence. Spiritual in­tel­li­gence is sim­ply the line of in­tel­li­gence deal­ing with ul­ti­mate con­cerns and things taken to be ab­solute; and if a per­son’s con­sid­ered con­clu­sion is that, for ex­am­ple, you can­not de­cide whether there is an ul­ti­mate re­al­ity or not (ag­nos­ti­cism), then that is or­ange spiritual in­tel­li­gence. But what or­ange ra­tio­nal­ity usu­ally does is one of two things: it claims that sci­ence proves there is no ul­ti­mate re­al­ity—which it cat­e­gor­i­cally does not—or im­putes ab­solute re­al­ity to finite things like mat­ter and en­ergy, an im­pu­ta­tion that is noth­ing but an im­plicit spiritual judg­ment dressed up as sci­ence—put bluntly, is noth­ing but hypocrisy. Both of those are due pri­mar­ily to the re­pres­sion of healthy spiritual in­tel­li­gence, which does not nec­es­sar­ily em­brace the ex­is­tence of an ab­solute re­al­ity, but does deal with its ex­is­tence openly and hon­estly, even if it says “I don’t know” or “I be­lieve not.”

Quotes on Consciousness

On the re­la­tion­ship of the phys­i­cal and the men­tal:

Every state of con­scious­ness (in­clud­ing ev­ery med­i­ta­tive state ) has a cor­re­spond­ing brain state , for ex­am­ple—they oc­cur to­gether, they are equally real di­men­sions of the same oc­ca­sion, and can­not be re­duced to the other.

On the in­di­rect­ness of ex­pe­rience:

That is some­thing de­vel­op­men­tal­ists have known all along: there isn’t a sin­gle pre­given world ly­ing around out there wait­ing for all and sundry to see. Differ­ent phe­nomenolog­i­cal wor­lds— real wor­lds—come into be­ing with each new level of con­scious­ness de­vel­op­ment.

On the na­ture of con­scious­ness it­self:

Con­scious­ness is not any­thing it­self, just the de­gree of open­ness or empti­ness, the clear­ing in which the phe­nom­ena of the var­i­ous lines ap­pear (but con­scious­ness is not it­self a phe­nomenon—it is the space in which phe­nom­ena arise).

Fi­nal Thoughts

I hope you found the above quotes in­sight­ful. My guess is you found your­self nod­ding along to some things, sur­prised by oth­ers, and dis­agree­ing or even an­gered by some of the oth­ers (“how dare Gor­don make me read this bul­lshit!”). Like much in­sight porn, I think much of the value of these quotes is as jump­ing off points for ex­plor­ing your own think­ing about these top­ics by giv­ing you differ­ent ways of look­ing at fa­mil­iar top­ics.

If you choose to com­ment, please take a look at my mod­er­a­tion guidelines be­fore you do. I’m pretty pa­tient, but I ask peo­ple do a bit more than just ex­press them­selves. I ask that you com­ment in good faith and try to un­der­stand both what you may be com­ment­ing on in the post and what you are re­spond­ing to in other com­ments. I’m not sure if this post will land with a quiet thud or a loud crash, but if it tends to­wards the lat­ter please keep this in mind be­fore you jump into the com­ments.