Integral Spirituality, Ken Wilber’s latest book, landed in my mailbox on Friday, and I have enjoyed reading the first couple of chapters and browsing later chapters as well. As always from KW, it is very well written, simple, clear, to the point, with just enough to chew on to keep my interest for a while.
I am moderately familiar with the AQAL model and the modern/postmodern/premodern dynamics he writes about, from his earlier books.
Many contemporary approaches: missing exterior views on interior territories
It seems that this time, what will give me something to chew on is how the postmodern insights are left out of many contemporary approaches to spirituality, and especially zones #2 and #4, exterior views on interior territories, such as models of individual psychological/spiritual development, and an understanding of the many filters of experience, interpretation and expression.
Development and cultural filters
On the one hand, both seem to be a given in today’s world.
We know that humans develop, that we do so in many areas (lines), that this development goes through predictable stages, and that there are that there are many overlapping/complementary models of this development.
And we know that our experiences (in any quadrant) and the way we interpret, talk about and model our experiences are filtered through – among other things – our biology as human beings, our level of individual development, and our culture, traditions and worldviews.
At the same time, these two are indeed left out of many of the approaches to spirituality today, amazingly enough. And that is exactly what KW points out, if I understand it correctly.
Need to acknowledge to be taken seriously
For any contemporary approach to spirituality to be taken seriously by those familiar with post-modern insights, and just about anyone with a college degree or less are, they need to take these two into account.
At the very least, they need to show that they know about, acknowledge and are compatible with insights from studies of human development and filtering of experiences, interpretations and expressions of these. And even better: explicitly show how these fit into the (rest) of their approach.
Ten books and the myth of the given
I enjoyed reading his integral review of ten different books and movies in appendix iii, and find that what he says about these are similar to my initial impressions of them, although with more detail and precision.
For most (all?) of these, he points out that they reflects a lack of understanding of the myth of the given, or, as I read it, zones #2 and #4 are left out.
I am not sure if I understand the myth of the given completely, although it seems to refer to an impression that whatever arises in our experience, how it is interpreted, and how we finally express it, somehow reflects some absolute and universal truth, not filtered through innumerable filters including our culture and, in this context, our spiritual tradition.
Don’t understand, or just leave out?
In today’s world, that seems an impossibly naive view, and it is difficult for me to imagine that the writers of these books are not aware of it. Their main crime may be one of omission, rather than ignorance.
And as KW points out, only a small adjustment is needed for these approaches to align themselves consciously with the basic contemporary insights from zones #2 and #4. It doesn’t take much.
Some are more limited in focus
It also strikes me that some of the books and approaches he mentions have a more narrow focus, they do not attempt to be comprehensive in the AQAL way.
This may be the case for Loving What Is by Byron Katie, which outlines what BK calls The Work, one of my favorite ways to work with projections and the shadow.
The Work aims at unraveling beliefs, working with projections, integrating the shadow, revealing the Ground under and within all of the possible relative truths.
It is not a worldview. It is not a framework for anything besides a specific practice of examining beliefs. It is not comprehensive in an AQAL way, and does not aspire to be so either.
To the contrary, it aims at unravelling attachments to any particular relative truth, and allow us to see that any belief, any idea, any model, any framework, is only a relative truth. Useful, practical, invaluable for functioning in the world of phenomena, yet still only relative truths.
So to say that it accepts the myth of the given seems a little weird to me right now, although that may change as I digest it some more. The Work really does not accept anything as given. It doesn’t accept any experience, interpretation, or wording as more than a relative truth. They are stories, and each of the turnarounds of these stories also have some relative truth to them.
It is obviously correct to say that The Work leaves out zones #2 and #4, yet it also seems to miss the point to some extent. The Work is a very specific approach to working with projections and beliefs. It is targeted specifically at zone #1. That’s it.
What seems true is that The Work – along with many other approaches – may be even more useful if it is integrally informed, if it explicitly acknowledges the AQAL model and where it fits in. It will make it more easily accepted by those already aware of either the AQAL model, or the current insights into zones #2 and #4. It will remain the same tool, yet reach a wider audience.
The myth of the given, relative truths and postmodern insights
I am also not sure if the myth of the given is really believed in, in the way and to the extent he presents it as. In most – or at least the seasoned and mature, spiritual traditions, it is a given that any experience, interpretation, and expression is in the realm of the relative, it is relative truth.
Any experience, any interpretation of this experience, and any expression of this interpretation is by necessity only a relative truth. There is nothing absolute or final in it. It can be helpful, it can be an invaluable pointer, but still only a relative truth.
There may not be an explicit acknowledgement or awareness of the specific filters, such as culture and the levels of human development. The postmodern contributions are partly in describing more in detail the specific filters and their effects on experience, interpretation and expression.
But there is at least an explicit acknowledgment that whatever is perceived or spoken is not any final, or absolute, or absolutely universal, truth.
My own naive assumptions
As I write this, I see that I need to work more with KW’s writings.
Also, I see that assuming that most folks today are aware of (a) the levels and lines of human development, and (b) our many filters of experience, interpretation and expression, is a little naive.
I grew up in Norway, where most people indeed seem to understand this, at least the people I know. I went to the university, where these are seen as a given. And even now, I am almost exclusively exposed to and know people for whom these are a given.
Yet, I know that most people in the world have not gone to a university. Most people are not very much interested in these things (they have more urgent issues to take care of). Many people are at developmental levels where such a fluidity is still in the future.
And there may even be people writing and teaching about these things who are not much aware of it. That is a little harder for me to swallow, although I certainly have seen some examples of it.
Please post comments
If anyone happens to stray into this blog and is more familiar with KW’s work than I am, or have any insights on any of this, please comment here. I hope to gain some more clarity on it after a while.