Re-thinking “integral”

Weirdly enough, I’ve recently felt disconnected from “integral theory” in any form. The question that’s started to be raised in my head was: without the theory, what is integral?

I couldn’t think of an answer. Besides a highly abstract/rational system, a meta-theory, what’s left? The answer was just…

Here now, however and whichever way human beings reflect on themselves, whichever adaptation, new insights we discover. To be honest, the one major thing I’ve come to grips with is… I don’t need integral theory, or integral in general in order to be “more human” or to “evolve” or grow.

The spiritual/contemplative essence:

When you remove the theory, it seems that integral bases it’s core, shining ideas on the teachings of the mystics; their perennial insight into the unfolding of God, the evolution of the universe, and the “ever present now.” It is what might be called Being and Becoming. The more conscious we are of this processes, directly and not abstractly, the more we participate in this unfolding. That is the evolution of consciousness in a nutshell.

Now Wilber’s model could be seen as an hyper-abstraction of that, additionally trying to integrate theories and perspectives in conceptual frameworks. We inevitably come out with matrixes and levels, stages of consciousness and so forth. But I don’t think we need to stuff all theories into one meta-theory. To me that’s just one “rational” form of integral.

We might also want to ask ourselves to be comfortable with abandoning the terminology altogether and try to see what’s really there.  Leaving the artificial system for the living, breathing experience of consciousness. Isn’t this already being done by mystical teachings? Spiritual teachings? Do they need to be updated? Sure, so why not work with people out there who are doing just that? For example, Alan Wallace’s Shamatha Institute, or the Noetic Sciences. The idea is to find a common ground, to let go of the mythology and superstition and discover some true, timeless insight in mystical teachings of enlightenment, God satori, kensho.

The developmental/evolutionary process:

It seems to me that the true focus is in studying and understanding our own consciousness, not just in logical maps or systems but scientifically, as well as contemplatively. “Contemplative science,” spiritual investigation, the expansion of “deeper” teachings that reflect across all religions. These things, which represent a much more broad, dynamic “shift” in understanding, does not easily fit into any one paradigm, integral or otherwise, and could represent a great unfolding. Some call it integral, others call it awakening, etc.

The terminology can get in the way. If you have too much of it, it might become harder to see that your map, which attempts to cover everything, might be too top heavy. If integral is anything, it is the intuitive and natural maturity of our consciousness. This has many names, facets and descriptions. So why not align with them rather than try to engulf them?

Some general themes: more awareness, more self-consciousness, collective awakening to the once unconscious dimensions of ourselves, and spiritual intuition appears to be more perennial than maps, diagrams, matrixes.

Maps are good for common ground, I suppose, but secondary, not primary. Investigation and open-endedness is first. If maps and diagrams and systems become primary focus, we become superficially involved, like automated systems mimicking a living thing.

Too much abstraction can directly get in the way of natural and direct understanding. That is why it is secondary, meant as milestones and markers, navigators.

Organic philosophy, or beyond frameworks and paradigms:

If you like philosophy, and want to explore new paths in that road, because new philosophy is certainly a part of this, and not all “logical” or abstract…

Deleuze’s work on postmodernism is a good place to start. He, like Delanda, is not content to accept infinite relativism. Instead he takes a bottom-up approach, seeing paradigms as really messy, living and interactive systems. Interdependent systems which, together, create what we simplify into “paradigms.” Understanding the organic, non-linear processes helps us recover from the categorical, rational simplification of living systems, human beings included.

This is balancing the current “top down” approach in philosophy with a “bottom up” understanding.

Integral theory, as it stands now, is a series of generalizations about human consciousness and our value systems. It has paradigms, stages, states, levels and lines. One great way to help this theory is to unearth the complexity, the non-linear messiness that exists beneath the “boxing” frameworks. This could help integral theory evolve into something more intuitive and connected.

If integral is to survive as a real theory, the theory itself has to be a reflection of real processes, real, direct experiences.

To resemble the phylogenic tree of life when talking about culture and consciousness, rather than a simplistic, linear ladder or diagram–this would reflect a theory that has acknowledged the messy reality of life, of culture, of consciousness. This is considerably difficult, but possible…

Bringing it all together, not as a meta-theory but as phenomenon and exploration:

Take away the theoretical language and you have the mystic’s unfolding, Being, space, the absence of perspective, and the direct-perceiving of the Whole, satori. Take away the theory, and you also have an emerging “spirit of the age,” which bridges one language or another and begins to be understood as the “sensibility” of the times. Cooperation, interdependence, planetary culture.

Spiritually, it is humanity returning to the Source, now fully conscious.

This is how Gebser described integral. If this is the case, then the evolution of collective consciousness could be seen similar to (but not identical) the maturation of a single human being:

gradual awakening, self-consciousness, growth and spiritual maturity. That’s not too heavy on the lingo. The only big claim here is that this is happening to human beings as a whole, rather than just individually.

But there is some evidence for this. The phenomenon for culture, and for that matter life as a whole (phylogenic), to resemble individual development (ontogenic) is a reality worthy of study. Human beings, in large numbers, embody a developmental phenomenon. Life, in large numbers, gets more complex or developmental (just look at the layered structures of the human brain). So consciously, physically, biologically there is development as a whole. What is this phenomenon? Why?

Life, as a whole, grows like an organism. Humanity, as a whole, matures like a person. To me this is the phenomenon worthy of great exploration, from which we might better understand life and human consciousness together. By merely openly exploring this, it resonates with the culture, puts us in a new point of view. This also might resonate powerfully with perennial spiritual teachings. Science and spirituality may have potential, right here, to intertwine.

These are new plateaus, new horizons, not to be domed off with polished frameworks or ideologies. Nature, life, Spirit will always give us a kick in the butt when we stagnate ourselves…

The idea is not to get lost in abstraction, but to remain somewhere in between heart and mind, to find spirit.

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2 thoughts on “Re-thinking “integral”

  1. I’ve been disenchanted with Integral Theory for years now, mainly because I think it’s becoming increasing convoluted instead of increasingly applicable and useful. The basic concept of the Four Quadrants is pretty simple, as are the notions of development and depth. In “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality” Wilber laid out an interesting, useful perspective, putting these concepts together in a powerful way. But instead of engaging other people and perspectives full-on in open dialogue and focusing on concretely engaging the many intractable problems and issues facing humanity, Integral Theory has instead become increasingly insular, convoluted, bogged-down, and focused on itself and its own consistency and validity. Since the publication of SES, I personally could not be more disappointed with the evolution of the Integral Enterprise. Of course, it’s up to me to take whatever insights and perspectives I personally find useful and apply them in ways that suit my skills and talents. And I’m trying to do that. But still, I can’t help wonder what might have been if Wilber had stuck with writing great books, and engaged the world with his big mind, openly in true dialogical fashion. That entails learning multiple languages and commencing dialogue, but Integral Institute seems more interested in creating its own new language, translating everything into it, and then marketing itself as much as possible so everyone will engage it on its own terms. In my opinion, this approach is ass-backwards and ultimately self-defeating. It all could be so much simpler than that! Just open up and engage! Then whatever is useful in Integral Theory will be put to use, and what isn’t won’t.

    Practice, open up, engage. The rest is just hype.

  2. I will soon read what you said in that post, but for now, the real trans third chakra mental masturbatory integral is in the 4th dimension and 5th dimension, you know, where Bashar and other extraterrestrial beings freely and without unconscious limtations, reside.

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