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May 28, 2023

Board Meeting 2014: Ken Wilber on Integral Wisdom

At the 2014 Center for Integral Wisdom Board Meeting, Ken Wilber spoke about the different implications of the term World Spirituality versus the term Integral Wisdom.

In 2012, Marc and Ken initiated a two-year conversation with the leadership of the Center about what the think tank’s formal name should be. We began as The Center for World Spirituality, and then, the name evolved to The Center for Integral Wisdom. In the end, our decision is to call ourselves iEvolve: Evolving the Source Code of Culture: The Center for Integral Wisdom. Within that context, one of our lead projects is the World Spirituality Project.

You can listen to Ken Wilber’s talk on Integral Wisdom from the Board Meeting in February 2014 and read the transcript below:



Ken: One of the things that originally attract us to the general theme of something called a World Spirituality is — it just grabs you in terms of the notion itself because on one hand, there’s not that much respect given spirituality in today’s world. We have primarily a modern set of values or a postmodern set of values. Neither one of those are particularly spiritual. The place we find spiritual values is in the so-called traditional values and those are really not spirituality at its best, the spirituality with a mythic literal, what James Fowler would actually call a mythic literal stage of development.

And so if we look at the two fundamental types of spirituality that we have available to us, one is spiritual intelligence, which is a multiple intelligence, and space structures of unconsciousness and tends to answer the question: what is it that is of ultimate concern for me? And then we use Gebser’s stages. The stages of spiritual intelligence basically run from archaic, to magic, to mythic, to rational, to pluralistic, to integral and possibly higher. And most of the world’s major religions are still more or less stuck when it comes to spiritual intelligence at the mythic literal level.

And so in Christianity, for example, this means that the Bible is taken as the one true source of all ultimate truth and it is literally true. Everything in the Bible is the direct literal word of God and cannot be challenged or gainsaid in any fashion. And then if we look at the other major form of spirituality, which is direct spiritual experience, such as meditative or contemplative awareness, that’s just hardly well known in modern or postmodern world at all. It’s certainly not something that your kids get taught in Sunday school. It’s not something that you get at a regular mosque or Catholic Church or Protestant Church. They’re working more on the spiritual intelligence side of the street and then mostly on the mythic side of that.

And so we really don’t have very good representatives of the best of spirituality which would be a much higher spiritual intelligence coupled with a direct spiritual experience or meditative awareness or contemplative awareness of the ultimate divine and a direct and immediate experiential or actualization fashion. And so World Spirituality is kind of a striking concept because it goes against this general fact, and it tends to declaim (1) that there is spirituality that’s worth something; and (2) that it is essentially universal in scope or nature. It’s global in scope or nature so World Spirituality.

And even though the surface structures can vary from culture to culture, the deep structures are essentially similar. And that happens to be a general belief of an integral viewpoint which is that, first of all, an integral viewpoint of spirituality includes both types, it includes spiritual intelligence and it also includes spiritual experience or contemplative, meditative, direct realization. And on the spiritual intelligence side of the street, then that’s a multiple intelligence and it’s part of the process of what we call growing up; and on the spiritual experience side of the street, it’s part of the process that we call waking up. And of course, we also include cleaning up or shadow work and showing up or complete fully functioning unique self experience. At the same time, precisely because spirituality is still not well known in either of its versions, in a bright and better light.

Because of that, because spirituality on the spiritual intelligence side of the street is still generally sort of mythic, childish, fairy tales and since on the experience side of the street it’s just generally unknown, it’s just not really available that much at all; the exception being sort of the influx of some of the Eastern traditions and their meditative disciplines and those entered in the ’60s and have had a mild impact on Western culture. But it’s been very mild and not something that you can count on for many people at all to have actually directly experienced.

And so the general idea is that even though something like World Spirituality is crucial and would certainly be a part of whatever we would represent, that something more generically available in terms of terminology like integral wisdom might be a better choice for the overall institute and think tank or however we want to conceive it. But that might be a better type of terminology to go with and it, of course, would have several subsections and World Spirituality would be the spiritual subsection of an integral wisdom.

In other words, if you were displaying integral wisdom in a spiritual context, then this is what it would look like. But there’s also, as many sort of major disciplines as humans have, there’s an integral wisdom version of it. So there’s an integral medical version, an integral business version, integral art, integral therapy, integral politics, integral education, integral parenting, integral relationships and so on. And we could end up focusing on as many or as modest a number of those as we wanted to.

The Journal of Integral Theory and Practice has now published articles in over 50 different disciplines, re-interpreting those disciplines in a fully integral fashion and at a doctorate level. So that’s over 50disciplines that can be redone and can be done, in other words, from the viewpoint of an integral wisdom.

And so that’s one of the main factors that we thought about as we discussed it with several of you all and various other colleagues and friends and so on. And the general sense was that even the world spiritual itself can be a bit of a drawback. And it’s certainly the case that in the media, for example, they really only have two categories for spirituality. One is a fundamentalist nutcase, and the other is New Age nutcase, but it’s nutcase in either event.

And so I sometimes just get so flummoxed at the common culture and the media’s inability to distinguish between the various types of spirituality such as pre-rational magic and mythic and trans-rational meditative and contemplative. I mean they actually think that what Pat Robertson and what Father Thomas Keating are doing is the same thing. It’s just all that religious stuff.

And so it looks like it’s probably more of a drawback than the initial sort of striking a nature of the phrase itself, of there being a World Spirituality. But it can be definitely a component, a subset of integral wisdom as we’re now approaching it. And we can also include any number of other topics decided primarily by whatever you all decide you’re interested in.

So we certainly just as one quick example, because of John Mackey, we definitely have an interest in the business side of the integral wisdom; and the business side of integral wisdom is outlined quite well by John and Raj in conscious capitalism liberating the heroic spirit of business. And we could have just as well said, of course, liberating the integral wisdom of business.

But one of the things that they pointed out in that book, for example, is that all decent business, all good businesses, all great businesses tend to focus on the good, the true, the beautiful, and they add the heroic and those, of course, are the four quadrants, and what they go on to further point out is that actually any really decent business does all four. And, of course, that’s what we find with the quadrants, is that all four quadrants are present in every phenomenon, but you can also tend to focus on one quadrant a little bit more than another.

So they give some examples of businesses that focus on the good, and some businesses that focus on the true, and some businesses that focus on the beautiful, and on the heroic. And then they point out that actually all four of those are always present. And they go into some degree about how Whole Foods has really expanded its purpose and it’s overall mission considerably to include quite a few more areas than where it started, and in many ways is explicitly involved in the good and the true and the beautiful and the heroic.

And so that’s just one example of one subset of integral wisdom; and what we would say is literally what would business look like if all four quadrants in all major levels, an all-quadrant all-level approach was taken to the world of business itself. And the answer to that is exactly the way they outlined it in conscious capitalism. And so that is one example of how we can take virtually any topic that we particularly want to focus on, and take an integral comprehensive, inclusive approach to the topic.

And that’s one of the major things that is facing the world right now in a rather stunning fashion is that we really are undergoing genuine revolutions, and I mean that in a strong sense of the term in all four quadrants. And this is very, very rare if it’s ever happened before. Usually, you get a revolution in one major quadrant once a century or something like that.

But today right now we literally are facing revolutions in all four quadrants. In the lower right quadrant, we’re facing a technological singularity, which is revolutionary particularly in robotics and nanotechnology, genomics and so on. And we literally are on the verge of a profound digital revolution there. And in the lower left quadrant culturally, we are on the verge of, for the first time in history, moving into a global culture, number one. But number two, one that is on the verge of moving into second tier or a natural integral level of awareness itself, which has never ever happened in history. This is truly another revolution.

And we’re finding the same thing, the same sort in the upper left quadrant where we are seeing revolutions in consciousness and awareness that are including not only the leap to second tier and the extraordinary psychospiritual changes that are brought with that. But we are seeing the slow introduction of states of consciousness, and that means waking up and a realization of the importance of not just growing up. But the importance of waking up and combining that with shadow and cleaning up in unique self and full presence in terms of showing up all together, those are truly revolutionary. We haven’t faced anything like that in our history, and that means among other things.

Well, I’ll finish with the upper right. We’re on the whole verge of a revolution in understanding brain functioning and brain patterning and the whole process of neuroplasticity. I have no doubt that just as we have learned many of the brainwave patterns, for example, that go with different states of consciousness such as alpha, beta, theta and delta; and those in turn correspond with the traditional contemplative traditions breakdown in the gross, subtle, causal in witnessing nondual awareness.

But I have no doubt we are on the verge of two aspects that will finish that brain revolution, and one is brain, machine, computer connections; and the other is a further understanding of the neuropeptide transmission patterns of profound states of consciousness so that we really will be able to give individuals neuropeptide pills, for example, that would induce would induce sahaj samadhi or nirvikalpa samadhi or nana Samadhi and so on. But anyway you look at it, what we’re starting to understand, the brain is truly moving into a revolutionary area.

Now, what that means among many, many other things is that all of the disciplines in all four of those of areas have to be redone, they have to be rethought, and they have to be done in a way that includes each other. And in other words, they have to include all four quadrants. But yet again, they have to be subsets of integral wisdom. And if we don’t do that, then we are going to fail miserably at living up to the extraordinary promise that these revolutions are bringing and to even lead to negative consequences.

We’re at the point now where virtually every major human problem is a global problem. It’s transnational. Even 20, 30 years ago, if nation had a problem, the nation itself could take steps to remedy the problem and more or less fix it. That’s not true for a single problem that humanity faces today. If one nation reduced its carbon imprint to zero, that wouldn’t affect global warming at all. Virtually, every nation on the planet has to change its behavior, has reduce its gas emissions.

The same is true with worldwide monetary and financial problems; with worldwide terrorist problems; with worldwide environmental issues, water supply, food, extreme climate is going to be bringing about a lot greater number of droughts and food failures and collapse. Every one of those problems is a transnational global problem and that means they can actually only be approached with global thinking and that means, in other words, integral thinking.

And since we are facing these revolutions in all four quadrants, then we do have in many promising ways, we do have ways to deal with many of these global issues and global problems if we approach them integrally, if we meet a global problem with global solutions. And the only way to do that is to take advantage of revolutions occurring in all four quadrants, at all altitudes, at all levels. And that, of course, when we say fully global and fully integral, we mean, certainly my version, the entire integral map with quadrants, levels, lines, states, and types.

All of these are on the verge of extraordinary breakthroughs. And the astonishing thing about it is that to date, outside of those of us taking an integral approach, nobody has brought these different disciplines together under one roof. As a matter of fact, most people don’t even know about them.

Now, if you take the people who are actually doing work in the particular field. If you take people that are doing work in, let’s say, developmental psychology, there’s no doubt in their -minds whatsoever that these various stages exist and that they’re cross-cultural and that they show an enormous amount of similarity. There’s staggering evidence and support for that notion. But most people in academia, most people in the culture, most people in the media and the press haven’t even heard of developmental stages. They don’t even know they’re there.

These fundamental issues, these revolutions that are occurring in all four quadrants by and large known only to the specialists that work in the particular field; and those specialists are completely ignorant of all the other changes that are going on. So nobody is bringing this stuff together. Nobody is saying, “Hey, wait a minute. You can’t do spirituality and just do spiritual intelligence or just do structures of consciousness. That’s important and that’s how we grow up, but we also need to wake up. We need to do states of consciousness and contemplative practice.”

And then, yes, we can combine that with brain and mind machines that can help induce states of consciousness by changing brain patterns in the upper right, which will induce states of consciousness change; in the upper left, which will induce spiritual states simultaneously. So that’s fine. But again, nobody knows about all of these. Nobody has put these together. And the joke is these are all fundamental issues about human beings. This are just the absolute rock bottom facts about being human that ought to be in a book called Human 101 that you start teaching in first grade.

Marc: That can be our new title.

Ken: That can be the new title. But the sad fact is virtually nobody knows anything about it. And so we see culture wars going on all over the place and the media reporting them, but nobody pointing out that they’re coming from the three higher value patterns in first tier development. And people are talking about there has to be a spiritual renewal, but individuals don’t distinguish between waking up and growing up. And so they still get caught basically in traditional mythic literal beliefs.

And what they want to see is a renewal of those beliefs when spirit itself has continued developing and growing and evolving the traditional beliefs that these people asked us to believe in. When people literally thought the world was flat, the slavery literally was the natural state of affairs in nature; that women were second-class citizens, if citizens at all. In Greece, husband owned his wife and his sons. If he wanted to blind his sons, he could because they were his property. So that’s the belief structures that they’re asking us to revive. And so it’s just outrageous really.

So we have all of these extraordinary knowledge and information and yet nobody bringing it together. And so that, of course, is what we want to do with integral wisdom. And like I say, the various subsets of integral wisdom, we know there are at least 50. What it really means is there are as many subsets as there are human disciplines. And so that’s up for us to decide and for us to look at what are some of the really both pressing global issues but also pressing global opportunities that are awaiting those who can think globally, those who can think integrally, those who can think consciously.

And that’s what we have, a historic opportunity to bring the good and the true and the beautiful and the heroic together. And for some of these things, this is literally the first time in history. None of these has ever, ever happened. And so we’re standing on that verge of a revolution in virtually every major field of human knowledge and practice that can be brought together and that itself is sort of a mega revolution, the lives of which are simply unheard of.

And so that’s what we’re all here to do. That’s what we’re all excited about. That’s what we’re all bringing our talents and our capacities and our wonderful gifts here as this particular set of unique selves come together in an extraordinarily unique opportunity. And I know it’s my honor and pleasure and delight to be here with all of you, and I just can’t wait to see what comes of all these. It’s just going to be awesome.