“Dive into reality to reach its most secret heart
and capture within it the echo of the universal order” – Tseng-tzu
Integral psychology in this context refers to the study of human psychology through the lens of Ken Wilber’s AQAL model: all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, all types.
AQAL is a map that defines explicitly the meeting between the developmental focus of Western psychology and the broadening illumination of Eastern spirituality. While not new, Wilber’s presenting of an Integral perspective through this theoretical and practical framework supports a new kind of languaging that allows experts in a myriad of fields to view and develop their contributions through a common lens.
Integral developments incorporate daily practices that support the health of our physical and subtle-energy bodies, our minds and our spirits. Any practice that could be described as restorative to any of these parts of the self would therefore be described as integral when used in support of the whole. This allows for the forming of a self that has an overall perspective much greater than the combined perspectives of its parts.
The four Quadrants are the minimum number of perspectives into which all phenomena in the world of form can be categorised. A ‘body’ or object in the world of form has by definition an inside and an outside and there are no entities (objects) that arise within a type as a singularity. The quadrants are defined as follows:
Upper left quadrant - the inside (experience) of the individual. 1st person perspective.
Lower left quadrant - the inside (culture) of the collective. 2nd person perspective.
Upper right quadrant - the outside (definable aspects) of the individual. 3rd person perspective.
Lower right - the outside (definable aspects) of the collective. 4th person perspective.
Whilst any entity in the world of form necessarily co-arises in all these perspectives or quadrants at once, these 1st-4th person perspectives are also the first four levels (or stages) of development. When a new layer of functionality is forming within any entity in the world of form, it is experienced first as simply something that is part of the entity (1st person being). That functionality is then practiced or expressed in relation to at least one other (2nd person relating). The functionality is then incorporated as an ‘object’ (a repeatable feature or recogniseable layer in the functionality of the entity (3rd person integrating). The 3rd person perspective is an integrating of the first two – a feature is experienced relative to the interior of the existing boundary of the entity, then relative to the outside of the boundary of the other/s, which allows for the perception of that feature as recognisable from the inside and the outside, which gives it a knowable, discreet form. Any learned behaviour is learned this way. Whether that behaviour is hydrogen meeting oxygen and becoming water, or a limbic system evolving in an animal brain out of the reptilian brain stem or a human being learning any new capacity, any new feature can only arise out of the relating of existing features in the interior of an entity (individual or collective). Growth simply has no other way of happening. An atom cannot become part of a molecule until it is a functioning atomic entity in its own right. When two hydrogen atoms bond with one oxygen atom, it is clearly because the higher level of functioning (water) is calling forth the incorporation of the sub-elements. How does that happen? Is it a memory of the past? The future? As these new neural pathways in the individual lay down new morphic fields in the collective, the called forth emerging functionality becomes easier to form in the individual or collective entity. A baby learning to form words talk may look different from hydrogen becoming water but, viewed from the emerging higher functionality or the subsumed functionality, it’s the same. Both are upward growth towards complexity of form through increased layering. Apparently disconnected elements forming a relationship that then creates functionality that cannot be predicted merely through the functionality of its components but is to my mind unlikely to be random. I can only surmise that the fifth, sixth etc person perspectives are an iterative flow around the quadrants in a spiral movement.
Just to reiterate the growth model, a potential new feature or element of functionality is originally experienced subjectively relative to the interior of the existing boundary of the entity (any individual or collective body in the world of form), then subjectively relative to the outside of the boundary of the other/s, which forms a 3rd person objective perspective on the emerging feature. For example, a child learning to talk firstly experiences the new emerging feature as part of itself. Then it notices a response from beyond itself that seems related to this emerging feature. As the child plays with the noise it makes in relation to the external responses, it gradually recognises that a specific sound shaped into a specific word elicits a specific response. In this way the word learned becomes an object in the subjective awareness of the child. It forms a layer of functionality that is an observable feature that can never again not be there, even if it is forgotten, because it is integrated into the overall functionality of the child and other features of functionality form on top of it.
Lines of development are strands of iterative development in a particular overall field. Any area of learning can be categorised into a line or type of intelligence, whether it’s cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, musical intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence, or one of many others. Some people can be highly developed in one and lacking in another. Given that the AQAL framework is an attempt to model the elements of a human whose cohesive cooperation support equilibrium and optimum functionality, lines can be a useful way of seeing what’s missing.
States of consciousness are waking, dreaming and deep sleep, or gross, subtle and causal. Measurable through the tracking of brain wave activity, states have historically been the domain of interest to Eastern schools of meditation and mysticism, whereas levels of consciousness have been of more concern to Western psychology. Levels help us grow the capacity to see things through multiple perspectives (1st person, 2nd person etc), whereas state training supports the growth of equanimity in the face of unfamiliar or uncomfortable emotional or physical sensations. This is done by increasing one’s access to subtle and causal states of consciousness in a waking state (gross is a given). This is the main function of meditation but it is also increasingly the concern of many types of western therapies, just as levels of development are increasingly of interest to Eastern schools in the West. This cross fertilisation is in large part due to the influence of Ken Wilber and his Integral Institute.
Types refers to aspects of an individual or collective that define it specifically, such as gender, the morphic body types of William Sheldon and enneagram typologies among many others.
How Integral Psychology influences my perspective and my work
I am excited by the sense of progression in the AQAL model. I am enthralled by the capacity of conscious life in humans to become ever more cognitively aware of broader and more inclusive perspectives alongside an expanding capacity to choose these perspectives from a deeply personal embodied core in any given moment.
My excitement is about people becoming more ‘real’ as they identify with and become responsible for the life that is increasingly embodied in them as they transcend a preoccupation with the thoughts that develop in early life as an interpretive (and perhaps essential) response to less than conscious behaviour in others. This shift from identifying with a wrong view (about one’s own wrongness or insufficiency) to identifying with the life that constitutes and flows through us is the ultimate liberation. I am reassured by the view as I look down from the perspective of wholeness drawing life up into ever more coherent functioning and I feel tender when I take the perspective of any prevailing stage turning towards that wholeness like a blind animal seeking care.