by Ken Wilber: This article is a Kosmos-edited version of a talk given at the Interspiritual conference From Self Care to Earth Care, July 2015…
Developmental Levels of Growing Up
The specific stages or levels of growing up have been given many different names. I’ll start with a variation on them given by the pioneering developmental genius Jean Gebser. We’ll see there are many others. But this particular version of the basic levels of development or growing up that apply to all the various multiple lines is archaic, magic, mythic literal, rational, pluralistic, integral, and super integral.
Each of these names mean pretty much just what they sound like, although we’ll give some specific examples as we go along so you’ll be able to see exactly what is meant.
Levels of Growing Up
- mythic literal
- super integral
Now to jump to one important conclusion very quickly and then we’ll explain it—the problem with the magic and mythic literal levels of spiritual intelligence is that they are some of the very lowest levels of spiritual intelligence available, yet they are by far the most common levels worldwide.
As you can imagine, the discovery of the existence of spiritual intelligence as one of the multiple lines of intelligences that all humans have is a major breakthrough and has enormous implications for religion and spirituality. There are numerous schools of developmental psychology, most of them focusing on a particular intelligence or line or group of them—Kohlberg focused on moral intelligence, Piaget on cognitive intelligence, Graves on values intelligence, and so on.
In my book Integral Psychology, there are charts of over 100 different developmental systems. And what is so striking is that you can see in the vast majority of them something similar to these same six to eight major levels. The many different multiple intelligences or developmental lines and the essentially similar developmental levels that they all grow and evolve through are some of the very most fundamental components of the human psyche.
Returning to the first type of spiritual engagement, the narrative belief system, what we find is that this type of religion relies primarily on spiritual intelligence in the path of growing up. But, and here’s the rub, the most common of these religions are not at a particularly high level in that line. Spiritual intelligence is defined as how we think about, picture, view, or conceive ultimate reality. Scholars like Paul Tillich and James Fowler call it how we view and relate to our ‘ultimate concern.’
Spiritual Growing Up and Spiritual Waking Up
We can contrast this type of religion, a belief system in growing up in the spiritual line of intelligence, with the second major type of spirituality, that of waking up. This involves direct spiritual experience and results in a direct enlightenment or awakening or metamorphosis in the here and now. Although they are often found together and intertwined, these clearly are two profoundly different types and practices of spirituality. And this leads to a large number of very important conclusions.
Spiritual intelligence and spiritual growing up through the major six to eight levels of development means that the narrative versions of virtually all major religions do not have to stop at the magic or mythic stage. The spiritual intelligence line goes from archaic to magic to mythic to rational to pluralistic to integral and super integral. There is an archaic approach to ultimate reality, a magic approach to ultimate reality, a mythic approach to ultimate reality, a rational approach to ultimate reality, and so on. Most of today’s major religions are stuck at the magic and mythic level. Now that’s an important realization. But just as important is that they don’t have to be stuck there. There are, in fact, several higher levels of spiritual intelligence available to them and there are, indeed, individuals in every major religion that are at these higher levels. In fact, there have been empirical studies, including ones like the extremely significant studies of stages of Christian belief by James Fowler, clearly showing that there are individuals at every level of spiritual intelligence. Other studies show unmistakably similar conclusions for religions including Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism, among others.
The evidence for these developmental levels is substantial—in some cases, overwhelming. For example, these major levels in the cognitive and moral lines, these six to eight major levels, have been tested in over 40 different cultures worldwide, including Amazonian rainforest tribes, Australian aborigines, Mexican workers, and individuals in India. No major exceptions have yet been found to these stages.
Developmental Levels of Spiritual Intelligence in Christianity
Most people, certainly in the West, think of religion as being a narrative belief structure. They see it almost entirely in its magic and mythic levels or stages because that’s where orthodox religion in many cases has remained for the longest stretch of its history. I will use Christianity as an example of these stages. Again, there are published examples of these same basic deep structure stages in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and so on, although, of course, the surface features are adapted to those religions. Let’s look at the stages of growing up as they manifest in the spiritual line or spiritual intelligence expressed in Christianity.
In its lowest stage or level, beyond archaic, which few adults possess, is magic Christianity. Magic is the belief that your individual self can magically alter reality just by thinking about it or performing simple rituals. The self and environment are not yet clearly differentiated. And so an image of an object and the real object are often fused and confused. To manipulate the image is to manipulate the object.
Voodoo is a classic magic religion. Make a doll representing a real person. Stick a pin in the doll and the real person is magically hurt. Or in other cases, do a rain dance and nature is magically forced to rain and you caused it.
In Christianity, magic beliefs show up in things like walking on water, raising the dead, converting water to wine, curing illnesses, and so on. Again, we’re not talking about actual paranormal events or siddhis, which are rare but real in some cases. We’re talking about the early magic stage of developmental growing up, also called narcissistic word magic. It occurs because the symbol representing a thing and the thing itself have not yet been fully differentiated. And therefore, to manipulate the symbol is to manipulate the real thing.
Modern day versions of this level of growing up in Christianity include sects such as the snake charmers who believe that if you handle poisonous snakes and your faith is pure, the snake magically won’t be able to bite you. By the way, the leader of one of the very largest of these sects just died from a rattlesnake bite.
Mythic Literal Level
The next higher developmental stage, mythic Christianity, is the stage or level that James Fowler calls mythic literal. It believes all of the myths in the bible are literally and historically true and are the absolute and unerring word of god. So Jesus really was born of a biological virgin. Elijah really did go straight to heaven in his chariot while still alive. The earth really was created in six days. Lazarus really was raised from the dead. And so on. To doubt any of this is a serious sin and can land you squarely in hell.
A positive occurrence at the mythic level is that one’s identity expands from egocentric to ethnocentric. Egocentric, which is present at the previous archaic and magic levels, means an identity that is self-centered and is concerned just with one’s self. One’s identity is with one’s own organism and one cares only for that. So egocentric likes magic because magic can magically protect or extend the self. But egocentric cannot see the world through another person’s point of view or walk a mile in another’s shoes. It cannot, as developmentalists put it, take the role of the other. The egocentric child will hide its head under a pillow and think that because it can’t see anybody, nobody can see it. And it thinks that its mumblings are absolutely understood by everybody.
But as growth moves from magic to mythic and one’s self boundary grows and expands, one’s identity expands from the self to the group. It expands from egocentric to ethnocentric—from ‘me’ to ‘us.’ Ethnocentric believes in the superiority or primacy of one’s own group—one’s race, color, sex, creed. It believes in a chosen people and has a very strong ‘us’ versus ‘them’ attitude. The ‘us’ has the one true god that is going to be saved for all eternity versus the ‘them’ who are infidels, unbelievers, non-believers, who believe in the wrong god or the wrong form of spirituality.
This level of religion is fundamentalist. The main job of the ethnocentric fundamentalist believers is jihad. Jihad is Islam for Holy War. Every true believer, in any religion, believes in jihad in one form or another ranging from more tepid forms of preaching or ministering or trying to convert infidels and unbelievers to a middle range of coercing a forced belief through one means or another, to truly violent, extremist torture and actual killing warfare. The whole point of jihad is to convince, convert, coerce, or kill the unbelieving ‘other.’ For an extremist, it’s not a sin to kill unbelievers because they have no souls.
The Crusades were a good example of two ethnocentric, mythic literal belief systems engaged in all out holy war with each other. And virtually all of today’s terrorist acts are committed by ethnocentric, fundamentalist mythic true believers against an ‘other,’ a ‘them,’ who are unbelievers. This can affect any individual in virtually any major religion in existence if they are at this level of development in their spiritual intelligence, whether this is a southern Baptist blowing up abortion clinics in the south; or ISIS murdering their countrymen; or Hindus attacking borders; Palestinians; or Buddhists putting poison sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system; or the horrid acts committed by Irish Catholics and Protestants; or Al Qaeda downing the Twin Towers; or the Sunnis and the Shiites in various proxy wars in the Middle East; or Hamas and Hezbollah and on and on.
All of these are acts perpetrated by mythic, ethnocentric true believers. Historically, such acts have been the single greatest cause of human suffering, torture, homicide, and warfare. And this is a religion. Some 60 to 70% of the world’s population is still at this mythic ethnocentric or lower level of development and growing up. It’s quite disturbing actually and made all the worse because developmental levels are not widely understood.
Modern or Rational Level
As we move to the next major level, one of its names is rational. But don’t let that term throw you! It doesn’t mean dry, abstract, logical, mathematical. It simply means the capacity to take a greater degree of perspectives, to see things from a larger view— expanding love, expanding care, expanding perspectives. The egocentric beginning stage can see just a first-person perspective that is self only. Ethnocentric expands its perspectives to a second-person perspective. It can see things through another’s eyes and can walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes, but this capacity is limited to one’s own ethnic group, one’s race, one’s nationality, one’s religion, and so on.
The level of rationality or reason can take a third-person perspective. It can imagine the perspectives of all humanity or a universal humanity. And so it strives to treat all people fairly regardless of race, color, sex, or creed—regardless of creed means regardless of religion. Historically, this level arose on a large scale with the Western enlightenment, which believed in ‘the universal rights’ of man and soon woman. In other words, not just the rights of Catholics or Jews or Protestants or Muslims or Hindus, but all humans. This wasn’t an ethnocentric view; this was a worldcentric view, for all human beings were deserving of the same basic rights.
Because the rational worldcentric level of growing up can take a third-person, objective, universal perspective, it was also the home of the burgeoning modern sciences, which depended upon this type of stance. The scene exploded starting around 1600 CE with modern physics, modern chemistry, modern biology, modern geology, and so on. The industrial revolution, for good and ill, was here and the world would never be the same.
For similar reasons, monarchy began to give way to representative democracy. During a roughly 100-year period around 1780 to 1880, slavery was legally outlawed in every single worldcentric, rational, industrial society on the face of the planet for the first time in history. The fact that most religions supported slavery shows that most of them were indeed originally coming from or were stuck in the ethnocentric stage, which finds slavery completely acceptable and, in fact, finds it the natural state of affairs.
Western religion in the time of the Western enlightenment largely remained at the mythic literal level. But there was no inherent reason for it to do so, and many of the pioneering scientists themselves adopted a rational form of Christianity such as Deism. Many theologians find Deism a little bit thin on the spiritual intelligence side, but the point is that it was a predominantly rational level of Christianity, embraced by scientists. More sophisticated versions of rational level Christianity today include the Jesus Seminar, a group of highly respected theologians who are attempting to decide which portions of the bible are literally and historically true and which are just mythic and symbolic in character. And also writers like Bishop Shelby Spong, who specifically rejects the mythic elements of the bible and approaches Jesus as a profound wisdom teacher who still has much to teach the modern and postmodern world.
One of the most significant characteristics of rational Christianity is its worldcentric nature. This is incredibly important. When Vatican II admitted that (paraphrasing) a comparable salvation to that offered by Christianity can be found in other religions, it took its first step from an ethnocentric, privileged in-group and chosen people to a universal, truly Catholic view. This had never happened before in its entire 2,000-year history. It is still a realization that is denied by every fundamentalist religion. But it’s obviously crucial that this type of developmental move from ethnocentric to worldcentric be made by every major religion if humanity is ever to find anything resembling world peace.
So what we look for in any religion, besides its access to waking up, is whether it is at a rational worldcentric or higher level of growing up in the spiritual intelligence line. Less than that, it will be involved covertly or overtly in some form of jihad. And it certainly will not be able to engage in any form of genuine interspirituality. How could it possibly be involved in an interspirituality that gives respect to all other religions?
Often with a rational level religion its previous mythic literal dogmas are called into question and replaced with more reasonable but still deeply held spiritual beliefs. As with the Christian Seminars, Christ is no longer seen literally as the sole son of god, but as a great world teacher who had and still has a tremendous amount of wisdom much needed in today’s world.
This level of rationality or reason was generally the world’s leading edge of evolution for the next several hundred years, until around the 1960s and the emergence in a significant number of people of the next higher level of growing up called by various terms such as the postmodern, pluralistic, relativistic, cultural creative, diversity, multicultural, participatory, and so on.
Postmodern or Pluralistic Level
Whereas the rational or modern level can take a third-person perspective, the pluralistic or postmodern level can take a fourth-person perspective. This means it can reflect on third-person perspectives, including science, and reach conclusions from a higher level. One of the first conclusions that this level reached is that strictly universal truths, like those claimed by science, are too rigid or too excluding of other types of truth. Each culture has many of its own truths and we have to be very careful about making judgments about just who has and who doesn’t have the correct or superior view. In fact, for most versions of this postmodern pluralistic level, there is no such thing as the one correct view. Rather, every view is relative or pluralistic, depending on a whole host of background factors and contexts, which means that each culture has its own various types of truth and what’s true for one might not be true for another. Likewise, you have what’s true for you and I have what’s true for me. And both of those can be right, even if they disagree with each other.
We have to be careful when approaching this postmodern level because it tends to take its conclusions just a little too far. This has been pointed out now by many social critics. A common conclusion is that postmodern pluralism itself commits acts that it says cannot or should not be done. For example, postmodernism claims that all knowledge, from science to poetry, is simply socially constructed and the result of interpretation, not any sort of universal validity. Postmodernism itself claims that that is true for all cultures in all places at all times. In other words, it claims that it is universally true, but that there are no universal truths. It claims there is no such thing as a superior view, but it believes that its views are superior to all the alternatives. We have to be careful about this self-contradiction in any postmodern view.
Aside from the performative contradiction, this pluralistic level did bring many of its own true, if partial, discoveries. Because it believed there were no universal values or truths, it was hypersensitive to imposing any system of values on anybody. Thus, it paid extreme attention to any oppression or marginalization of any peoples, especially minorities of any type. In fact, beginning in the ‘60s, it was this level that drove the profound civil rights movement, that was behind personal and professional feminism, that started the worldwide environmental movement as an ethical movement, and that started driving for increased rights for minorities in the world’s religions, including women and homosexuals.
The importance of cultural context for all of our knowledge remains an endearing contribution of this level. And this is worth keeping in mind for spirituality as well. As a quick example, note that Western mystical texts sometimes contain mention of luminous spheres of light beings, some of which possess things like two wings. But nowhere in any of those writings anywhere can you find mention of a being with 10,000 arms. Yet go to Tibet, a country permeated by Buddhist mysticism, and the image is everywhere. It’s known as Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion. The Dalai Lama is said to be an incarnation of that bodhisattva. Clearly, culture has an impact on what is perceived to be spiritual and on how it appears.
Postmodernism would claim that such things happen because all knowledge is a relative, culturally bound social construction. For integral metatheory, that’s only part of the picture. These beings when directly perceived in a meditative state represent a real reality—namely, what’s called a subtle realm. As such, versions of these luminous archetypes appear in virtually all of the world’s great traditions. But their surface structures, whether they have two wings or 10,000 arms, are molded by the AQAL address for those of you familiar with integral metatheory.
The deep structures have a real universal ontological existence. But their surface features are relative and culturally molded, as well as molded by other contexts such as race, sex, semantics, gender, creed, and so on, the entire AQAL matrix. In this fashion, integral metatheory attempts to rescue both a genuine reality and a cultural construction and give each its proper due. But this also anchors all of our spiritual realities and gives us reason to believe they are not merely symbolic or culturally made up, although it might be of a lower level than we imagine or that we like.
A postmodern pluralistic Christianity can be found in any number of texts such as A Postmodern Bible. It’s also found in the influential writings of Marcus Borg. This scholar flat out states that he doesn’t believe in virtually any of the mythic elements in Christianity. He doesn’t believe in the literal one and only son, nor the virgin birth, nor the literal resurrection, nor the Genesis account of creation, nor Noah’s ark and on and on. Moreover, he claims that not a single theologian he knows believes any of them either. This will come as news to many churches, but it simply points out how dramatically different interpretations of traditional material rest on the level of spiritual intelligence brought to the interpretation.
Yet Borg, as well as Bishop Spong, claims that he still considers himself in every important way a fully subscribed Christian. That’s a key point I would like to stress. No matter where the founder of a spiritual movement was in his or her own development in both growing up and waking up, subsequent individuals can be at a different level and still honestly and truly claim to be in the lineage tradition of the founder. You can be at any level of spiritual growing up in relation to Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and so on, and still rightly claim to be a member of that religion.
Lineages have a way of speaking to people. If a lineage speaks to you, that’s the only fundamental requirement, although its official dogmatic version will likely have several specifics that you disagree with. I believe this is fine, especially if the particular religion has instituted a conveyor belt of its own teachings. Now by ‘conveyor belt’ I simply mean since there are individuals at virtually every level of growing up in virtually every major religion, then each religion ought to officially institute as foundational the version of its primary teachings as they appear and are interpreted at every major level of growing up. That full spectrum of interpretations is what every religion should present as its official beliefs.
Integral Level of Christianity
What is this integral stage of development and why is it so different? As developmental researchers continued their examination of the various levels and stages of development, beginning just a few decades ago, they were perplexed by some new data that was so odd and so different from anything that they had ever seen, they assumed it was basically just some mistaken results. But the more they researched, the more the same odd data kept showing up. Finally, they were forced to admit that the data was real and that it actually indicated that, in fact, a radically new and different level of development was beginning to emerge—not just a new level, but an entirely different type of level.
To understand what was so new about this stage we need to look at what all the previous stages had in common. Each stage—archaic, magic, mythic, rational, and pluralistic—believes that its truth and values and its alone are really real. Because they all share that belief, they’re all called first tier. But this newly emerging stage, which was called second tier, believed that each of the previous stages were important. They all were significant and necessary stages in the overall human growth cycle. None of them could be left out and none of them could be skipped.
This made this new level an incredibly holistic, all-embracing, comprehensive level—the very first of this type of truly all-inclusive level that had ever existed. And that is what so puzzled researchers when they first started seeing this level. This second tier was radically new. Because of its inclusive nature it was given names like systemic, comprehensive, all embracive, integral. Clare Graves, a brilliant pioneering developmentalist, said that with this new level “a catechism of depth of meaning is crossed.”
This revolutionary level of development drives individuals at this stage to be motivated not by deficiency drives as are all first-tier stages, but rather by what Maslow called abundance drives, as if the person were overflowing with richness and resources and simply wanted to share them.
Such individuals began looking for all things integral. They want integral business, integral politics, integral medicine, integral law, integral education, and yes, integral spirituality. By integral spirituality, they mean a spirituality that includes virtually all of the theories and practices that have to do with transformation of their own consciousness, particularly if it helps put them get in touch with the ultimate divine. In other words, they are interested in paths of waking up.
We already saw very briefly what Christianity looks like to each of these major levels of development. This understanding would immediately have several profound—indeed, extraordinary!— benefits. First, religion would become a pacer of actual transformation, a conveyor belt that picked people up where they begin their lives at their own archaic and magic stages, emphasizing the superman and magic beliefs dominant at that stage. Then at the appropriate time, usually between the ages of 7 and 12, make available to them a mythic belief system that would help them shift from egocentric levels of development to ethnocentric levels and move them away from ‘me only’ concerns to ‘us’ or ‘we’ concerns, and shift beliefs from egocentric magic to group ethics and various commandments and laws.
Then as they begin to move away from those mythic literal beliefs, usually starting in adolescence, offer them a rational spirituality of, for example, the Jesus Seminar variety, or Bishop Spong. Much of Buddhism is already at least at rational, although not all of its followers are, since from the beginning it denied gods and goddesses and mythic divine creators and spoke mostly in very straightforward reasoned terms, in addition, of course, to its profound teachings on waking up.
As the individual enters early adulthood, a postmodern pluralistic teaching is made available with special emphasis on the multicultural importance of all the world’s great traditions, the importance of non-marginalization, participatory attitudes, and the deconstruction of hierarchies, which Jesus did with a fury. The meek shall be strong and inherit the earth.
The major religions could help individuals reach out to higher and higher stages of development and not keep them in arrested development at the magic or mythic, which has made religion in the modern and postmodern world synonymous with childish, regressive, anti-rational, and anti-science. It has also made the fundamentalist ethnocentric mythic stage a major driving force of terrorist acts in every major religion around the world.
- First, the major result of the conveyor belt would be to make religion not a case of arrested development at mythic literal but an overall transformation process helping each individual move to higher and higher stages and levels of growing up.
- Second, this would undercut terrorist acts that are based on a specific ethnocentric, fundamentalist level of interpretation because their religion itself would point out the ongoing road of the unfolding of spiritual intelligence and would point out the fact that this particular religion does not have the only way, a falsehood that is today the main motivation of terrorism in general.
- Third, this would end religion, particularly in its magic and mythic stages, from being essentially the laughing stock of the modern and postmodern world. The new atheists—Hitchens, Dawkens, Harris—have had a field day virulently attacking all religion when their arguments actually address mythic fundamentalism. Note, however, that most of their criticisms are true and correct when it comes to the unhealthy versions of those early levels of religious engagement. But how hard is it to argue that Noah’s ark didn’t actually contain one couple, male and female, of every species on earth? Did the ark really get all 180,000 insect species? And so on. It doesn’t take a genius to see the holes in that and other myths. The new atheist arguments do not even appear to be aware of both the higher levels of spiritual growing up and the entire range of waking up. Of these, we hear not a single word from these scientific materialists. This type of antagonistic attack between what amounts to postmodern levels of science versus pre-modern levels of spiritual intelligence will continue as long as religion itself remains dogmatically at the premodern mythic stage, cutting it off from reason and science, cutting it off from the modern and postmodern world itself.
- Fourth, the conveyor belt, by making religion much more compatible with a modern and postmodern world, would allow individuals to become both more aware of and more willing to try the waking up aspects of religion. Many people today are so put off by the mythic literal aspects of many religions that they don’t even think to try the waking up aspects of religion. So they remain unexposed to what is the real heart of spirituality to begin with, namely, waking up, enlightenment, awakening. This is a major cultural catastrophe. The conveyor belt makes the narrative more acceptable to conventional culture by pointing out its higher, post-mythic, science-compatible levels, thus making culture more open to the waking up aspects of spirituality as well.
Thus, the conveyor belt would help with the two biggest problems of religion in the modern and postmodern world. The first problem is that most known forms of religion in the West today are at versions of a mythic literal stage of spiritual development and at odds with all the higher levels of development, making it a truly regressive and anti-growth element in today’s world and a laughing stock of all higher levels. The second major problem is the general lack of awareness of waking up versions of spirituality, the true core of religion itself. So the conveyor belt would help with the two major problems of religion in the West: the mediocre level of spiritual growing up and the almost complete lack of spiritual waking up.
Waking Up Spiritually
That brings us to the second major type of spirituality generally available in today’s world, namely the spirituality of waking up. This is not a series of belief systems. Rather, it is a psycho-technology of consciousness transformation, a series of actual practices. These lead from the small, narrow, finite, skin-encapsulated ego to what is said to be a oneness with the ground of all being, what the Sufis call a supreme identity, a union of the individual with this all-pervading ground, a state known variously as enlightenment, awakening, metamorphosis, moksha, satori, emancipation, salvation, the great liberation.
I won’t go into this overall path in detail except to note that this was the province of the world’s great meditative or contemplative traditions, the paths of the great liberation, the paths of waking up. Just as there is a great deal of similarity around the world in the major stages of growing up, research demonstrates a strong general agreement as to the four to five major stages of waking up. These include Evelyn Underhill’s stages that all Western mystics are said to go through, what she called gross purification, subtle illumination, infinite abyss or dark night, and ultimate nondual unity consciousness or what the Sufi’s called the supreme identity.
Similar stages can be found in virtually all major Eastern traditions as well from Mahamudra to Zen, Theravada to Anuttara Tantra, Kashmir Shaivism to Vedanta, as demonstrated by many researchers such as Daniel P. Brown and my own work to name just a few.
Virtually all of the world’s great traditions began with their founder or founders directly experiencing these stages to profound waking up or direct unity consciousness of the individual with ultimate spirit, the supreme identity. These experiences remain more common in the Eastern traditions such as Zen,
Vedanta or Tibetan Buddhism. But many religions in the West, however, began identifying more with the religion found not in the path of waking up, but in the path of growing up, especially the lower or magic and mythic stages of growing up. These religions slowly gave up direct experiences in the path of waking up.
Today in the West, religion largely means mythic stories about a grayhaired gentleman sitting on a throne in the sky, which is why so many people now call themselves ‘spiritual but not religious.’ Twenty five percent of the American population now identify with the phrase “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” One poll showed a stunning 75 percent of millennials (age 18 to 25) identify with that phrase, which generally means they are looking not for childish stages of spiritual growing up, but for higher stages of direct, immediate, experiential waking up.
What we want is to develop both to the highest stage of growing up in spiritual intelligence, namely an integral stage, and the highest stage of waking up in spiritual experience, namely nondual unity consciousness. But strange as it seems, no path of growth, East or West, has ever included both of these paths of development. The Eastern or contemplative traditions are rich in maps and models of waking up and the various practices, steps, and stages useful for that realization. But there are no meditative systems anywhere in the world that have anything like the six to eight basic stages of growing up.
You can fully achieve waking up while still at almost any stage of growing up, which means you can be ethnocentric and mythic literal oriented and still pass through all the stages of waking up. You can even become a fully transmitted Zen master and we have abundant evidence of just that. But virtually no modern Western model of growing up includes anything like the stages on the path of waking up, so you can’t find enlightenment or awakening or Satori in any major Western system. This means that throughout our entire history and around the world humans have never trained themselves in a full degree of complete development. Rather, they have been training themselves in either growing up or waking up—training themselves to be partial, fragmented, broken people.
Only now approaches that include both the path of growing up and the path of waking up are starting to emerge. It means that, for the first time ever, humans can begin a full and complete path of development and evolution.
Four Quadrants: Integral Perspectives Evolving
As people begin reaching the integral levels of development, they want big pictures and full holistic accounts of all parts of reality. They want to know about the levels of growing up and the stages of waking up and the four quadrants because all of these are part of the real world. And that’s what integral folks really want.
The integral approach maintains that you can look at any phenomena in existence from four different perspectives: the inside and the outside of the individual and the group or collective. To look at an individual from a first-person subjective introspective view, we find their emotional, psychological, and spiritual experiences—their feelings, their ideas, their intuitions. So this quadrant includes all of the stages of growing up, all the stages of waking up, one version of which is gross to subtle to causal to witnessing to nondual unity consciousness. This includes shadow material, the psychodynamic unconscious.
That same individual looked at from the exterior, objective view shows us two lungs, one heart, neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, a reptilian brain stem, a neocortex, and so on. And if you watch an individual from this quadrant you can only see their exterior behavior and actions.
Likewise, the two collective quadrants are the group looked at from within and from without. From within the group consists of shared values, a common history, shared linguistic systems, mutual meanings, common rules and roles, shared feelings, a sense of membership and all the things that hold a group together from within. From the outside we see instead all the objectively existing structures and institutions that hold it together from without and all the objective facts about it: birth rates, death rates, monetary systems, as well as legal, political, environmental, and other surroundings. The interior view is generally called cultural, and the exterior view, social.
So each individual has interior, behavioral, cultural, and social quadrants. All four of those are rising together, interacting with each other and evolving together. Scientific materialism, which believes only in the exterior views of an objective ‘it’ and a system’s ‘its’ and not the interior views of an ‘I’ or a ‘we,’ thinks that evolution occurs only in those exterior objective quadrants and that the interiors of symbolic meaning and cultural factors are not really directly involved in evolution. David Sloan Wilson points out that, in addition to orthodox forms, mental symbolic forms and cultural forms are also inherently involved in evolution. In other words, integral metatheory maintains that evolution occurs in all four quadrants.
Evolution eros or spirit in action continues to build more and more order out of more and more chaos and drives the universe from dust to deity or the awakening in all four quadrants to ever more inclusive realities. Development in the I dimension drives an individual’s identity to ever greater embrace from an egocentric self-only I, to a group identity ethnocentric us, to a worldcentric all of us. In the cultural We dimension it drives increasing unities of ethical awareness: goodness, morality, and altruism, from pre-conventional to conventional to post-conventional to integral, or clan to tribe to empire to international nation state to global commons.
Every major study of love has shown that it expands and increases with every major level of development, from selfish meonly love to small group love to large group love to love of all humanity to love of all beings. In other words, evolution and love go hand in hand, an example of spirit in action if ever there was one. The more we love, the more we flourish. The more morally sensitive we are, the wider our own circle of identity goes from an isolated me to all sentient beings, and then the universe itself in total, a supreme identity with the ground of all being.
This is where evolution is taking us, driven by that self-organizing unity, that eros, that spirit in action, the love that moves the sun and other stars. Looking at that extraordinary, complex, beautiful, wondrous universe out there, how could we ever doubt it?