Over the past thirteen years, I have taken part as a participant and as a citizen-leader in the so-called Integral movement, a loosely related group of authors, scholars, artists, organizational consultants, online discussion forums, academic conferences and journals, and even a few relatively small spiritual organizations. There are many dozens of prominent figures including Ken Wilber, Don Beck, Steve McIntosh, Frank Visser, and Robb Smith (not to mention the controversial gurus Andrew Cohen and Marc Gafni).
This movement has been considered an intellectual school and an interfaith and interspiritual lineage with a focus on the body of teaching of Ken Wilber (b. 1949) called AQAL (Integral Theory) when applied to interdisciplinary research and scholarship and specifically Integral Spirituality for topics related to religion and the evolution of consciousness. Wilber himself has deep credentials as a Buddhist practitioner and pandit (“defender of the dharma”) and has given notable commentary both critically and appreciatively of Adi Da Samraj.
Some attempts to define a spiritual lineage for the Integral philosophy extend back in time to Nagarjuna, Plotinus, Aurobindo, Charles Peirce, Alfred North Whitehead, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jean Gebser, and Clare Graves. One wonders whether all these figures would agree with being “baptized” Integral after death, but in any case they are representative historical figures with similar interests and proposals.
Wilber’s seminal contributions to the fields of psychology, philosophy, and religious studies are manifold and beyond the scope of these remarks. But if there is one thing Ken has clearly NOT done is to found a spiritual order, organization, sangha, or church. Nor has he ever publicly endorsed a particular religious organization so far as I know.
For these and other reasons, despite its original and groundbreaking approach to matters at the core of human existence, the Integral movement has not yet produced a notable new religion or organized spiritual institution. The movement so far seems content to stay largely meta-theoretical by welcoming a wide plurality of potential philosophical and spiritual orientations and maps for growth while remaining agnostic regarding the particular commitments of its members.
Thus the word “Integral” has been attached to everything from magic to The Matrix, Christianity to Satanism, existentialism to anti-capitalist ideology (to say nothing of over a dozen major academic fields of study). Moreover, within generally orthodox AQAL Integral practice overall, the theoretical model for boots-on-the-ground spirituality is very broad. Attention ought to be paid to developmental levels, but individuals choose from approaches by many different theorists with models ranging from 3 to 16 or more levels (each theorist providing their own distinct names and descriptions for the levels). Similarly, individuals bring their own type model of choice and pick and choose from models of multiple intelligence as well. And if you don’t like quadrants, you can work with the Big Three instead. A variety of theoretical approaches exist as well to the number and definition of states of consciousness.
All this pluralism within the AQAL Framework is by design. It is a meta-theory, not a theory. Ken Wilber wrote: “The word integral means comprehensive, inclusive, non-marginalizing, embracing. Integral approaches to any field attempt to be exactly that: to include as many perspectives, styles, and methodologies as possible within a coherent view of the topic. In a certain sense, integral approaches are “meta-paradigms,” or ways to draw together an already existing number of separate paradigms into an interrelated network of approaches that are mutually enriching.”
The pluralism within the meta-theory allows for individual latitude, creativity, and a nearly unlimited variety of potential ways of customizing an Integral Life Practice (ILP) to fit one’s own preferences and goals for growth. And if you don’t want to grow up, you can join the Integral theorists who focus on “waking down” and practice shadow work using an unsurprising variety of models. It has good and bad qualities. It’s generally very good if you are shopping for a movement that allows you tremendous latitude for individual self-expression. It’s not so good if you are frustrated that the disparate groups under the Integral umbrella have been slow to develop norms, customs, traditions, and distinctly preferred-paths-within-the-meta-paths.
Every integral theorist and author has their own brand, their own preferred schema, and in the marketplace of ideas and attention they compete with each other to find new ways to stand out. As each new Integral leader emerges through their business, organization, or creative work, they in turn establish new silos which help them to attract readers, fans, clients, followers, donors, or supporters. Sometimes they build bridges from one silo to another, but that way can be a path with thorns. It is well known within the movement that many of the prominent leaders (Wilber, Beck, McIntosh, Smith, etc.) are not on the best of terms personally, requiring individuals to navigate political minefields.
All of this is what is, as I see it. I have tried to be neutral and give an uncontroversial account of things. I love the Integral movement, but the time has come for me to separate from it a bit. I cannot be agnostic about Levels, Types, States, Quadrants, Zones, and so on … their essences are now organically embedded in the structure of my Meta-Language and Kalendar and Atlas.
The reasons for my shift do not require a long explanation. My oeuvre as a World Teacher is exploding with creative ideas that have one foot in the Integral movement and one foot at the next level of its evolution. Integral attracts people at certain types and levels of spiritual orientation. My forthcoming Lingua-U and New Kalendar and New Zodiac / Medicine Wheel and New Tarot and Wheel of Wholes and Jiu Gua Zhang and Divine Scripture and still other Tai Hsuan Integral Arts to come are going to appeal to people at a wider berth of levels and orientations.
As marketers would say, they have different target markets. The farther I develop technologies with a “Violet” tint (such as Lingua-U’s capacity to expand language awareness into a seamless whole with a New Map of Subtle Energy), the more people within the mainstream of the Integral fold will find my ideas challenging. They do not simply add to the sort of “Teal/Turquoise” intellectual and ego orientation that many Integralists possess, they transform it. Some will not be ready for it, and they should stay with the old Framework that they know and love. Some will be ready for it, and they won’t be content to just receive wisdom from on high. They will want to deeply co-evolve and integrate their own unique visions, personality, and knowledge into the birth of a holistic organism. So I am endeavoring to create a flexible structure which will allow everyone who is a part of the future Dojo to bring their own Unique Gifts seamlessly and fully as possible.
Meanwhile, I am writing this to say goodbye to the assumption that I would always identify myself as “one of the Integralists”. That term is too vague for me now. In the past year, as my own path as a World Teacher evolved and some of the online communities I enjoyed came to devolve, I’ve realized that I have less in common with folks wearing this label than I realized. The next phase of the Integral movement’s path will include the emergence of more than one “Integral Organism / Wholes”. I don’t know the name others will use. I’m calling my path “Tai Hsuan Integral” for reasons that I am writing about on my new blog.
Words are important, and this is not a time to don or wear them lightly. I’m trying on the suit “Tai Hsuan Integralist”, part of the emergent “Tai Hsuan Integral” spiritual movement, which itself is part of the “Integral movement”. I hope it fits. I don’t mind if sociologists call it a New Religion. In fact I’d be thrilled if actual sociologists started to wake up and notice Integralists for a change.
If “Tai Hsuan Integralist” doesn’t wear well, I’ll find something better down the road. It’s just a label.
Thank you for reading this. God bless you on your Integral journey where ever it may take you.