Looming battle over the future reincarnation of the Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama (Credit: Kochivibe)

I can’t imagine a secular Western government today saying, “We have the right to appoint the time and place of the next pope” not to mention, “We have the right to dictate when the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will happen and who it will be.” Therefore I have to stretch out of my non-Chinese cultural mindset to try to appreciate a simmering clash in the Far East.

Buried in the article “Two Tibetan Monks Set Themselves on Fire in Protest,” Edward Wong of the New York Times writes:

Further underscoring the political tensions, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing on Monday rejected an assertion made by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, that he will decide how his reincarnation is chosen.

The Dalai Lama, 76, said on Saturday that he would leave clear written instructions on how the reincarnation will be found. Around age 90, he said, he will consult with other Tibetan Buddhist leaders to see whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue.

In recent years he has suffered bouts of ill health, which have stirred concerns among Tibetans about his future role. Tibetans in exile recently elected a layperson, Lobsang Sangay, as prime minister; he is in charge of the political side of the exile movement.

The Chinese government, ruled by the Communist Party and officially atheist, has long asserted that it has the right to approve any reincarnations of the Dalai Lama.

“I would like to point out the title of the Dalai Lama is conferred by the central government and is otherwise illegal,” Hong Lei, a foreign ministry spokesman, said at a news conference on Monday, according to The Associated Press. “There has never been a practice of the Dalai Lama identifying his own successor.”

The Xinhua News Agency provides additional context in an article today:

According to the Dalai Lama, his reincarnation could be chosen when he’s still alive, or be stopped altogether. His reincarnation could be designated, or elected in a papal-style conclave, and could be a girl, inside or even outside China.

The issue has been brought up nearly every month since the Dalai Lama transferred his political role to Lobsang Sangay, the new prime minister of the “government-in-exile” in April.

On the latest occasion on Saturday, he said he will consult Buddhist scholars — 14 years from now — to evaluate whether the institution of the Dalai Lama should continue at all.

The reincarnation of Living Buddhas has always followed strict historical conventions and religious rituals, and all the Dalai Lamas have been approved by China’s central regime since 1653.

Now the 14th Dalai Lama, eager to pass on his “Tibet independence” attempt, is ready to defy these rituals.

From a distance it looks like the spiritual tradition of a major branch of Buddhism is approaching a watershed. The result could be the end of the institution of Dalai Lama or a turf battle of major historic proportions, according to the article.

I have many questions about what I’ve read. I have to wonder why it is that both the Buddhists and Chinese government officials believe they can control the process of reincarnation (or at least convince people that they can so that they retain political power over religious adherents).

I’m curious about their reasoning and how it aligns or doesn’t with traditional teachings. I wonder what possible basis they appeal to, and how much of it is sincere religious belief and how much of it is cynical or intentionally manipulative of Buddhist opinion. Or are these questions irrelevant. Anyone out there know?


Read my reviews of Ken Wilber’s The Integral Vision and “Integral Politics” (from The Many Faces of Terrorism)

The Integral Vision-(Credit: InnerSelf)

As an expression of my desire to build bridges between an often insular Integral community and mainstream discourse, I’ve contributed nearly a dozen articles to the OpEdNews.com progressive website over the past three years.

If you want to express your support for this effort to bring Integral perspectives into wider circulation, visit my author page and become a fan.

One of the articles I published to OpEdNews.com in 2007 exclusively appears on the site, a review of two works by Ken Wilber. Here’s an excerpt:

Review: Ken Wilber. The Integral Vision: A Very Short Introduction to the Revolutionary Integral Approach to Life, God, the Universe, and Everything. Shambhala. August 2007.

Review: Ken Wilber. “Integral Politics: A Summary of Its Essential Ingredients”, excerpt from Book Two of the forthcoming Many Faces of Terrorism trilogy. www.kenwilber.com. April 2007.

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” — Winston Churchill

Ken Wilber would probably agree with Churchill’s famous dictum. He would catalog the failures of anarchism, monarchy, republicanism, aristocracy, socialism, communism, and all other forms of government. Then he would add to them the failures of liberalism, conservativism, and democracy. All these political movements create a “fragmented, broken, partial, tortured mess of political chaos.” None are integral enough.

What does it mean to say that every political system and movement in history is tortured? What alternative is there, if even democracy is a sorry mess? What does integral mean? And who is this Ken Wilber, anyways?

The last question is the easiest answered. Wilber is a prolific author of more than twenty books of psychological theory and philosophy. He’s one of the most widely translated authors in the world today, and his influence extends from leading mystics and teachers of Enlightenment to the world of former presidents and vice presidents (Bill Clinton and Al Gore have praised his books).

Now Wilber is writing a treatise on politics called The Many Faces of Terrorism. According to kenwilber.com, the treatise “is actually a trilogy of books … with each book, to be published separately, being around 450 pages long.” The excerpt “Integral Politics” outlines an Integral Political Theory and has already been made available in draft form through Wilber’s blog.

The terrorism trilogy is premised on a political theory that gives prominence to four major scales, not all of which are included in mainstream politics. The four: the tension between externalist and internalist views of the causes of human suffering; translative or transformative approaches to the nature of change; the role given to individual versus community or collective; and something called altitude. The first three scales are fairly self-explanatory and familiar to most students of political theory; however, Wilber’s theory may be the first in history to accommodate the relative altitude in which various political movements are grounded.

Altitude refers to a stage of human development, either individual or collective. Basically Wilber is arguing that the reason there is so much wrong about politics is that current thinking is too partial and limited. He points out that various political movements are based on a spectrum of developmental stages. Lower rungs on the ladder are fraught with pathologies of egocentrism. Middle rungs succumb to pathologies of ethnocentrism. And — yes — even the higher rungs are cursed with pathologies of their own. Any political theory that wants to connect to reality will need to pay attention to the different stages of development that support all political movements, according to Wilber.

In the Integral Political Theory, the fundamental conflict in American politics today is not between Democrats and Republicans or progressives and conservatives (those categories blur critical distinctions and can’t account for the diversity of actual political thought). Instead, Wilber sees the most central conflict as that between internalists and externalists. Internalists see the cause of suffering in the self’s motivations, values, and human nature whereas externalists see the cause of problems in forces external to the self. The Right blames you for your own misery, whereas the Left blames other people.

Integral Politics rejects the partial distinctions of Right and Left in favor of a more complex analysis. The first step in such an analysis is to index or catalog very political system in history, and then identify its ingredients according to a comprehensive map of consciousness: the integral map. And what, pray tell, is the integral map?

It’s a model called AQAL (short for “all quadrants, all levels”). As Wilber envisions AQAL, it is the most revolutionary philosophy today because it’s probably the first in human history to take advantage of all known cross-cultural research into human evolution in personal, cultural, and social domains.

The Integral Vision (Shambhala, 2007) is Wilber’s most recent effort at presenting the AQAL model to a fresh audience in relatively simple (but not overly simplistic) terms. In just over 200 pages of a 7 by 5.7 inch, full color book filled with beautiful art and helpful illustrations. The AQAL model is introduced in five short chapters, with a sixth discussing a practical application called “integral life practice”. A seventh chapter is a guided tour through a spiritual practice called a “Witnessing meditation”. …

The rest of my review of these two works by Ken Wilber can be found in “Beyond Liberal, Left, and Progressive: An Inclusive and Revolutionary Politics for Tomorrow” published on OpEdNews.com on August 2, 2007.

Is Barack Obama’s integral politics dead?

David Brooks (Credit: The New Republic)

The pundits say President Barack Obama’s political brand is that of a “post-partisan uniter,” in the mold of George W. Bush’s compassionate conservativism and Bill Clinton’s triangulation. Broadly speaking, I think that’s right. I just call Obama’s political brand “integral.”

Broadly speaking, that is. I don’t think anyone really knows the political philosophers who have been most influential to Obama’s thinking, or if he’s read Ken Wilber’s books as Al Gore and Bill Clinton did. When I say that Obama is integral, I am talking about his sensibility and style, not necessarily his theory of governance.

Starting with liberal Ezra Klein of The Washington Post and conservative David Brooks of The New York Times, the pundits are now declaring the death of Obama’s identity as a post-partisan, “uniter not a divider” president. I have to ask, is integral politics dead?

Klein writes:

The [Obama] administration was initially pleased to see press reports detailing their willingness to compromise and surveys showing the American people thought the GOP far more intransigent. In their theory of politics, that meant they were winning. But they soon learned that voters aren’t interested in compromises that don’t lead to results. Obama looked like a nice guy, and that kept him personally popular. But he looked like an ineffectual leader, and that led his job approval to dip below 40 percent in some polls.

Perhaps the final and most conclusive evidence that the strategy had failed came last week, when Democrats lost special elections in Nevada and New York….

That isn’t how the White House would prefer to govern. It’s not how they would prefer to campaign. It is, let’s admit it, politics-as-usual. It’s the triumph of the old way of doing things, an admission that Washington proved too hard to change. But it’s also the only option they have left.

Brooks writes:

Yes, I’m a sap. I believed Obama when he said he wanted to move beyond the stale ideological debates that have paralyzed this country. I always believe that Obama is on the verge of breaking out of the conventional categories and embracing one of the many bipartisan reform packages that are floating around.

But remember, I’m a sap. The White House has clearly decided that in a town of intransigent Republicans and mean ideologues, it has to be mean and intransigent too. The president was stung by the liberal charge that he was outmaneuvered during the debt-ceiling fight. So the White House has moved away from the Reasonable Man approach or the centrist Clinton approach.

It has gone back, as an appreciative Ezra Klein of The Washington Post conceded, to politics as usual. The president is sounding like the Al Gore for President campaign, but without the earth tones. Tax increases for the rich! Protect entitlements! People versus the powerful! I was hoping the president would give a cynical nation something unconventional, but, as you know, I’m a sap.

Klein and Brooks are both talented analysts, and they are some of the first pundits to focus on a critical shift in the administration’s tactics. Something is changed in Obama Land, and they think they know what it is: a retreat to the old politics of left v. right. Politics as usual. But they’re both wrong.

Obama is not retreating to “politics as usual”

Greg Sargent of The Plum Line blog makes a most indispensible contribution to the discussion by highlighting that Obama is not merely playing politics as usual. He’s actually making a new play for the political center.

While summarizing the results of six distinct opinion polls on the subject of American attitudes towards taxing the rich, Sargent writes:

[S]trong majorities of moderates and independents support tax hikes on the wealthy as the best way to close the deficit….

Now, Republicans tend to think such polling isn’t that meaningful. Even if it shows public support for high-end tax hikes, Republicans are happy to target Democrats on the issue, because they can continue to make the general charge that Dems are tax-hikers, furthering the narrative of profligate Big Government liberals running off the spending rails. Republicans believe this narrative is very potent with moderates and independents. And there very well may be something to this.

But Obama and his advisers look at the same polling and they bet that they can overcome this hurdle. They are betting they can persuade moderates and independents — who are willing to tell pollsters that they want higher taxes on the rich — that they should turn on Republicans for blocking their balanced approach to deficit reduction. Even if Republicans have had past success tarring them as tax and spend liberals, they are betting they can win the argument with middle of the road voters — and that those voters’ instincts suggest they will come to embrace Obama’s balanced vision.

In other words, Obama is still a coach reading out of the “trans-partisan uniter” playbook. He’s just betting that he can convert a lot of new fans at the center of the field to root for the Democratic team. His play, on this reading, is to take the fight to Republicans on their core issue of taxation, and show that middle-of-the-road Americans are willing to vote for a “balanced” approach that creates jobs and lowers deficits.

It’s yet another face of an integral politics. Republicans have shown that no matter how reasonable and compromising a Democratic president they have to work with, they prefer to wage war along old ideological fault lines (attacking “class warfare,” “Big government,” “Liberal elitists,” etc.) rather than adapt. They’ve created the most hostile, divisive, and ineffectual federal political environment in decades, maybe even the most hostile ever.

In this situation, “politics as usual” would be for the Democratic president to run for re-election on equally divisive populist themes. Obama could still do so, if he begins attacking Republicans’ motives in the way that liberal bloggers routinely do, accusing them of wanting the economy to tank and grandma to be tossed out of the nursing home so that Exxon-Mobil can get a tax break for buying a tenth corporate jet.

But it seems Obama is cooking up a more integral strategy than that. He intends to run for reelection offering a middle-of-the-road policy prescription of deficit reduction, tax increases, and targeted investments in infrastructure and education. And he will probably promote this tonic (consisting in Democratic and Republican ideas) as the true center of American politics, while painting his opponents as ideological extremists who would return Washington to “politics as usual.”

The new Obama sounds an awful lot like the old Obama to me. And I’m not complaining.

Stockbox, integrative consciousness in a shipping container

stockbox-grocers-mainA new Seattle startup is designed to bring fresh, healthy foods to an urban neighborhood where the nearest grocery store is 45 minutes away. Stockbox might think they are bringing food, but they are also bringing consciousness.

Stockbox is one of the latest efforts by entrepreneurs to provide a for-profit and socially conscious response to “food deserts,” low-income neighborhoods with high concentrations of people far from a grocery store. But to succeed they must do more than sell cigarettes and potato chips; they must educate potential customers in nutrition who have been getting what they need in another way. They have to sell the message, “Change your eating lifestyle… or die from diabetes or heart disease.”

Fast Company’s Ben Schiller writes:

According to the USDA, 23 million Americans live in “food deserts” – areas without ready access to fresh, affordable, and healthy food. And that doesn’t just mean a less interesting diet. One study, focusing on Chicago, found that residents who lived without proper grocery stores, but within range of fast food, were more likely to die, or suffer, from diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

But one group of enterprising business school graduates thinks the answer could be shipping containers – a popular choice for social initiatives these days. Stockbox Grocers has a plan to sell a range of fresh food, meat, and dairy in converted shipping containers, stationing mini-outlets on rented parking lots. The group opened its first prototype two weeks ago in the Delridge area of Seattle. It wants to open two permanent sites in early 2012, and at least two more later in the year.

Carrie Ferrence, Stockbox’s co-founder, says the response so far has been promising. “The community has been really supportive of having access to good food. There is a level of education we need to do. But in the short period we’ve been in Delridge, we’ve been blown away by the level of engagement people have around food, and this as a food option.”

When we see something new arising like Stockbox, it’s natural to try to peg it into a map of reality; in other words, to make sense out of the bigger picture. It’s possible to ask of a phenomenon like Stockbox, “Is this Orange? Is this Green? Is this Teal? Is this Turquoise?” or “Is this modern? Is this postmodern? Is this post-postmodern (i.e., Integral)?”

Let’s say that the socio-economic forces which create “food deserts” arise out of modernist trends in our society. As food distribution becomes centralized in national and international grocery conglomerates, they add new stores where there are attractive, rich consumers and they move stores out of less profitable low-income areas.

If this assumption is correct, then the emergence of Stockbox and the like is either post-modern or integral, because it is a response to the modernist trend. And offhand it seems much more likely to be integral than post-modern; after all, postmodern ideas have been shifting urbanity in the US since before the creation of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1965. If postmodern ideas could have delivered Stockbox, they would have done so well before 2011, I expect.

Postmodern ideas were powerful in identifying the problem of “food deserts,” because (a) they were suspicious of modernity’s entrenched power, embodied in the grocery conglomerates, and (b) they were genuinely concerned to alleviate the suffering of those marginalized by modernity, the inner city poor.

But postmodernity was impotent to create the Stockbox because it’s an enormously ineffective philosophy. It’s good at deconstructing structures, not creating new ones via experimentation and adaptation. It’s good at empathizing with the poor’s victimhood, not conducting expeditions in consciousness raising among them. It’s good at villifying the evils of big business, not empowering entrepreneurs to start new ventures without drowning in government red tape.

Integral is the trend behind the trend. Stockbox … quite a post-postmodern arising. Go for it, guys!

What do Integral philosophy and hand soap have in common?


I’ve taken a few weeks off from blogging this month in order to focus on other areas of my life. At the same time, I’ve been reflecting on how to best integrate blogging with my work in career services and the full gamut of my creativity. Now, thanks to soap, I’m returning with greater clarity on what I aspire to achieve with Awake, Alive & Aware.

A few weeks ago, I framed this blog’s mission like so:

Awake, Alive & Aware is committed to practicing, exploring, and advocating Integral ways of living as conscious beings in an evolving universe.

The idea of blogging as a practice for building greater awareness and understanding of “Integral” ways of living is still quite important to me. But I think there was something in my messaging that wasn’t quite working. And when I read an article about how a company gets people excited about toilet bowl cleaner and other mundane household goods, I began to better understand the issue.

In “Making People Passionate For Toilet-Bowl Cleaners And Other ‘Low-Interest’ Products,” Erik Ryan and Adam Lowry describe the dilemma they faced in marketing cleaning products:

We believe in making the act of cleaning more enjoyable and, if we may say so, aspirational. But virtually every commercial treats cleaning as if it were a huge hassle, virtually screaming promises of convenience and ease. Pandering to women with images of grinning maids in aprons, it was as if taking care of your things was something to be ashamed of, something you’d rather leave to someone else. This is typical problem-solution marketing, in which you set up a problem (mildew in the bathroom) and then present your product as the hero solution (Pow! mildew gone). The problem with this approach is that it forces the consumer to enter through the problem, so your brand will always live in low-interest land.

What I realized is that too often I’ve been thinking of “Integral” with a problem-solution framework, and then applying that framework implicitly in my blogging. Integral politics provides a Third Way between liberal and conservative, Integral spirituality provides a way beyond the dichotomy between “spiritual, but not religious” and fundamentalist, Integral health provides a way of reconciling alternative and Western medicine, Integral psychology provides a model for bringing Freud and Buddha together, etc.

Whatever the problem, if there’s a solution, it can be better seen from an Integral lense. From this framework, I began to blog without need for artificially restricting my focus to any one area. When the focus of the blog is basically methodology, then anything is fair game. I could even write about baking bread integrally so long as I was looking at the consciousness infused in the baking process and how a distinctively developmental or otherwise integrally oriented mindset resulted in tastier, better, or more economical bread.

Ryan and Lowry describe how they rejected the problem-solution approach to marketing Method products:

Even if you don’t find an ounce of joy in cleaning, virtually everyone loves the end state, a clean home. So we focused on talking about the aspirational end state of cleaning, and we found that, to many people, cleaning is an important part of life. It’s the ritual of connecting to their homes and families by putting life back in order. To many, cleaning is a form of caring for their children or pets by providing a safe haven for those they care about most.

It turns out that the Integral worldview has more in common with Method cleaning products than I would have guessed. Most people don’t enjoy reading meta-psychological, meta-cultural, and meta-sociological models steeped in arcane terminology seemingly requiring two Ph.D.’s to decipher. But they do like a tidy worldview.

Integral philosophy as a cleaning product

The point to the extensive philosophical modelling is not theory for theory’s sake, but connecting people to themselves and their world by putting life into good working order. Integral philosophy is a form of shampoo that helps people to create safety and sanity and health for ourselves and people we care about.

But Integral isn’t often thought of in this way, or marketed like this. Integralists have frequently been selling hand soap by listing all the ingredients and saying, “Isn’t that the most comprehensive and inclusive list of ingredients you’ve ever seen?”

Or we have focused on the benefits to be had in applying the Integral method. Its like integralists have been selling hand soap by showing how moisturized, germ-free, and nice-smelling it makes one’s hands. That’s an improvement over cataloging ingredients, but it’s still not quite working, I suspect.

Ryan and Lowry continue:

Seeking to draw out our audience’s inner clean freaks, we filled our ad campaigns with young, great-looking naked people in gorgeous, hip homes, using (or maybe just caressing) a rainbow of beautiful Method products. Rather than the “quick and painless” promises in our competitors’ ads, we communicated with clever, cheeky messages intended to promote the aspirational idea that cleaning could be cool (gasp!). Flying in the face of decades of traditional cleaning commercials, the ads resonated with people of all ages.

Now I’m not suggesting that Integral philosophy ought to consist merely in advertising copy, nor would I usually recommend the splashing of hot naked people to sell Integral-themed wares. (Though ads for integral pornography might be an exception!) What I am sensing, however, is the importance of communicating ideals through exemplars to create resonance.

A hand soap advertisement communicates the aspiration to cleanliness through Method products to inspire the desire to be like hip, cool figures in the advertisement. Similarly, an Integral blog communicates the ideal of integration/holism through Integral ideas and practices to inspire the desire to be like the blogger and/or the blog’s subjects.

So you may not be an Integral blogger, but if you are a therapist, coach, business person, consultant, minister, artist, writer … or whatever it is you do … you encounter a similar dynamic. You may not think of yourself as marketing, but if you want to do what you do Integrally, you can’t avoid the challenge of positioning your offering in relationship to the Integral brand.

Integral is beautiful

Everyone wants a house that’s beautiful and well ordered. The house is the world and the Integral philosophy is the cleaning solution that helps to put it back into order and working better; it’s not an obviously sexy thing to sell, but it can be done.  Those of us who are in the “Integral business” in one way or another can’t hide behind a list of product features for Integral meta-maps; we need to embody and exude the qualities that we are promoting.

Creating demand for Integral products and services can only go so far by offering problem-solution or features-benefit comparisons. We must communicate not that Integral Theory is the Best Theory, but that “Integral is cool,” or “Integral is beautiful,” or “Integral is clever,” or “Integral is ___,” where that ___ is YOU.

There are spiritual and intellectual fads that come and go. In One Taste, Ken Wilber said that Integral was pretty much a trend, but one that was not going to be going out of fashion. Some of us lonely integralists are wondering when the trend is going to get into fashion the first time! We’d all love our books to be bestsellers and our conferences to sell out and our art to be widely appreciated … if only the wide world would open its eyes!

In fact, there’s a sense in which Wilber is non-controversially correct: if “integral” means whatever comes after post-modernity, then by definition it is arriving on the scene with a sort of undercover but celebrated status. It is new and original, like everything hip and cool. A trend fades, but the trend-behind-the-trend becomes ever more apparent with the appearance of every new post-postmodern arrival. And Integral is the name we are giving to that trend-behind-the-trend.

So I’m returning to duty at Awake, Alive & Aware with a bit more humility. I don’t want to assume that I already know the mysteriousness with which “Integral ways” move. I am more curious about discovering the values and ideals and aspirations of the post-postmodern spirit … and less interested in advocating any fixed model of those ways. (Not that there are many “fixed” Integral models out there. The ones I know are quite dynamic.)

The experiment which is Awake, Alive & Aware continues.

Infant research suggests malleability, evolutionary potential for attention. Old news for some thinkers.

Baby (Credit: Jefield)

The history of science is the unfolding of people learning to ask better questions. As soon as one question seems answered, many more questions pop up. Advances in knowledge are seemingly met with an equal but opposite force: advances in ignorance. The wise know this and are humble.

Recently scientists asked the question, “Can you train an infant to improve her powers of attention, awareness, and concentration? And if so, what will be the impact on her later education?”

The answer they discovered, it happens, suggests that human nature is malleable and its evolution can be directed and re-directed by training in techniques for developing consciousness. None of this surprises meditators or contemplatives, naturally. But it’s news on ScienceDaily. Today the blog reports, “Infants Trained to Concentrate Show Added Benefits”:

“Research suggests that differences in attentional control abilities emerge early in development and that children with better attentional control subsequently learn better in academic settings,” said Sam Wass of the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development at Birkbeck, University of London….

The researchers trained 11-month-old infants to direct their gaze toward images they observed on a computer screen. For example, in one task, a butterfly flew only as long as the babies kept their eyes on it while other distracting elements appeared on screen. Infants visited the lab five times over the course of 15 days. Half of the 42 babies took part in training, while the other half watched TV. Each child was tested for cognitive abilities at the beginning and end of the study.

Trained infants rapidly improved their ability to focus their attention for longer periods and to shift their attention from one point to another. They also showed improvements in their ability to spot patterns and small but significant changes in their spontaneous looking behavior while playing with toys….

The fact that the babies’ improvements in concentration transferred to a range of tasks supports the notion that there is greater plasticity in the unspecialized infant brain.

By implication, nobody knows what leaps forward are possible in the human child’s capacity to be more aware. What one study learned in 15 days could be only the tip of the iceberg regarding our ability for focus. Regarding the nature of awareness, Ken Wilber once said,

The first fear of dealing with fear is not to avoid it. Bring it to attention. Awareness touches it, and all contact is love-based. So to the extent that you can bring awareness into any situation, you are also bringing Love into it because you’re touching it, aware of it. (Not an exact transcript.)

Of course, not everyone believes that all contact of awareness is love-based. But if you do, as I do, then it’s possible to recognize that enhancements in the human capacity for attention are capable of more than meets the eye. Maybe “changing the fabric of the universe” kind of stuff, if you are inclined to think metaphorically.

Paying attention to the fabric of the universe

An integral perspective sees the world as more harmonious than conventional thought suggests it is, woven together by underlying connective patterns. Even when those patterns are recognized as themselves a construct of reality, not a metaphysical glimpse into Reality itself, they are nonetheless still taken as useful signposts at the very least.

And so if you an improve an infant’s capacity to spot patterns and maintain their attention by 10%, you increase their ability to learn in school. But what else do you improve? Their capacity to meditate with 10% fewer distractions or, for Buddhists, to reach a state of Satori 10% faster? The ability for Christians to experience the presence of God, the Divine’s loving and omnipresent embrace, with 10% more lucidly or 10% more often?

These are great questions, but perhaps ones few of us would have been asking before the research results were published online today. We can ask questions at this level of specificity today, but tomorrow the questions will be more and more interesting as new possibilities for research arise. Consciousness research is surely one of the most exciting interdisciplinary fields to be watching these days.

Integral approaches to consciousness depart from the norm in a number of ways, but none so central as their indictment of the ideology of scientific materialism’s insistence that awareness must only be described in terms of brain states. Instead, an integral approach makes room for scientific, medical, spiritual, and philosophical perspectives without limitation.

Integral thought can do so because it recognizes both interior and exterior perspectives, as well as both individual and collective methodologies. Scientism offers merely exterior perspectives (so it’s sometimes called “flatland.”) Nothing about an integral approach invalidates the scientific findings into attention, but it tells us that reality is wider and deeper than is picturable only by what is measurable by the senses.

Transcendence evolves

As I see it, integral perspectives suggest the possibility of transcendence, but not an ultimate and final realization of transcendence. Even Enlightenment is evolving. Even Salvation evolves. The Kingdom of God evolves. And so the merry-go-round of existence turns, leaving us to occasionally look around and ask, “Where did it all come from?” and “Where is it all going?”

Integral philosophy is not particular about the answers one might give to such questions, but it is generally concerned with the way in which we view the ways that the questions are asked and answered. In other words, an integral thinker notices something about Enlightenment or God that other perspectives have missed: that there are different ways in which people conceive of the worldviews in which we talk about such things, and those ways arise in a developmental trajectory.

Part of an integral orientation’s distinctiveness is its ability to make room even for perspectives which refuse to sanction its own inclusive and comprehensive vision. Don’t believe in a telos to evolution? Don’t believe in God? Don’t believe in Enlightenment? Well, that’s fine and good. There is plenty of room for rational discussion about the merits of different philosophies and worldviews. But all that discussion takes place in different worldviews corresponding to various states, types, and structures of consciousness.

William James saw part of this picture: he saw the importance of recognizing different “types” or “forms” of consciousness, and the way that they determine our understanding of what is real. In an often-quoted passage of The Varieties of Religious Experience, he writes:

One conclusion was forced upon my mind at that time, and my impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken. It is that our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these other forms of consciousness quite disregarded. How to regard them is the question,–for they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. Yet they may determine attitudes though they fail to give a map. At any rate, they forbid a premature closing of our accounts with reality.

William James seems here to be talking mainly about altered states of consciousness, but integral perspectives generally include room for developmental structures (Piaget, etc.) as well as psychological types (Jung, etc.) And so when someone say they disbelieve in God or Enlightenment, an integral perspective wants to know what that statement means relative to its “coordinate” in a matrix of evolving consciousness.

By taking a big picture view that allows for some skeptics to be modern, other skeptics to be postmodern, and still others to be integral, etc., the nature of skepticism begins to emerge as a developmental phenomenon. And then something else becomes clear: as one maps the ways of being skeptical from egocentric to ethnocentric to worldcentric perspectives, one sees that Doubt itself becomes more flexible, more tolerant, and more inclusive.

Polarities of faith and doubt

At late stages of development, indeed it can be difficult to distinguish between doubt and faith, because both are part of a polarity rooted in the fabric of the universe. One organizational consulting firm describes polarities in this way:

Polarities go by a variety of names: paradoxes, dilemmas, or wicked problems. High performance leaders and organizations have developed a tacit wisdom about managing polarities. Their experience and intuition has led to a natural ability, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, to “… hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

No polarity is excluded from consideration in an integral worldview, not even the polarity between evolutionary and cyclical worldviews. On the one hand, the integral worldview is the first to understand that consciousness is evolving in ways that are bringing about greater levels of complexity and integration; and on the other hand, it begins to become aware that its own perspective is relative to its own partiality.

In order to integrate this insight, an integral awareness begins to doubt its former focus on growth. It makes space for staying still, refusing growth, and even relishing in the exact coordinate you are at and desiring nothing to be different. It insists that “more developed” is not necessarily “better,” and evolution is not necessarily taking us to “Utopia.”

In short, a mature integral worldview appreciates a developmental diversity, including a stage of its earlier growth which recognized the fact of evolution but which had not yet recognized a timeless and essential and cyclical quality to the fundamental polarities of existence.

The dissolution of evolution itself

And then … there can be yet a further signpost along the highway of consciousness: a falling away of the polarities themselves, relaxing into the awareness that even Self v. Other, Masculine v. Feminine, or Creator v. Creation are all simply facets of something universal which unites the apparent opposites. It is from a place not unlike this, I suspect, that Ken Wilber’s statement, “all contact is love-based” must be situated.

Knowledge (if it can be called that instead of Knowledge/Doubt) that awareness is based in love is not an orthodox or heretical belief as a traditionalist might say, senseless as a modernist might say, a “myth to be taken ‘as if'” as a postmodernist might say, a High Level of Conscioiusness as an early-stage integralist might say, or an unbalanced polarity as a late-stage integralist might mistakenly believe.

Love and awareness are what is, what was, and what will be … and little else can be said without taking a perspective situated in a worldview seemingly less involved in the immediacy of the Knowledge/Doubt. Indeed, even the phrase “Love is,” is two words too many to be without constructs, contexts, and intentions.

There are many other ways of looking at all of these matters, but this is one overview of what an integral worldview looks like. It is in itself emerging out of postmodernism bit by bit, showing itself more clearly every day. Integral is in its infancy.

Today, we discover that the brains of infants are more plastic than we thought, capable of being trained to higher stages of awareness. How much more can we learn about the potential for humanity by asking new questions and conducting more studies? At some level, we all already know the answer to the question: we are becoming more aware, we are becoming more loving, we are becoming more God-like, and we are becoming more fully who we are.