There isn’t much talk of “soul” in Integral Theory, is there? Integralists who concerned themselves with soul matters have tended to drift away from the thick of the theorizing and philosophizing characteristic of the mainstream Integral movement. Has integral lost touch with something important?
I think so. Clearly there was a rush, encouraged by Ken Wilber himself from what I have learned, to distance the Integral scene from overly metaphysical language. After all, if you start talking about “soul”, scientists will scoff, psychologists will scratch their heads in confusion, and businesswomen and businessmen will leave the room to go freshen their coffee.
Moreover, the term soul is alienating to many Buddhists because it signals attachment to them, even some who do not subscribe to the no-self notion, and Integral philosophy has strong affinity with the Buddhist lineage. American Buddhists and Zen folks, especially, would rebel at a term that sounds not only too superstitious, but too religious, too Christian.
In Wilber’s map of the higher states of consciousness beginning with his 1977 book The Spectrum of Consciousness on forward, there is a soul level sandwiched between the psychic and causal states of consciousness in a sort of “stepladder to heaven”. Soul, then, is a mere way-station on the route to enlightenment (perhaps even a distraction or a dangerous “intermediate zone” as the followers of Sri Aurobindo say). Wilber hardly invented this idea; he synthesized quite a large number of traditional metaphysical maps on the route to forming a more general, comprehensive overview.
Spirit was in, for integralists, and soul was out of fashion. For example, Marc Gafni, the author of the remarkable book Soul Prints, changed the central focus of his teaching from “soul” to “Self” after aligning himself with the Integral Spiritual Center and its projects, and he’s continued to keep this orientation at his think tank the Center for Integral Wisdom (under the banner of Unique Self theory).
If I am correct that the Integral movement has lost something valuable by swapping the soul for the Self, what has it lost? Unfortunately, there is no way for me to speak with the clarity I desire on this topic at this point in time. I must allow new Integral Konstructs of The Kalendar and the Lingua-U to enter into the conversation about human nature first.
But I will tell you my frank suspicions. Integralists have by and large forgotten that good maps of human nature do not come strictly from scientifically-vetted, empirically researched psychological studies performed through rigorous developmental studies. On the other hand, good maps do not come strictly from adopting pre-scientific traditional metaphysical maps either which conflict with each other and contain many superstitious or obscurant accretions.
No. Good maps of human nature come from paying close attention to the rhythms and pulses of nature, especially to the ways that human speech and symbol mirror these visible and invisible processes, and then generalizing and theorizing about the common patterns so observed through yantras of wholeness.
Integralists have dismissed, for example, astrology, by misunderstanding its nature as a pseudo-scientific theory about processes of personality-type causation or by objecting to its lacking a basis in the science of astronomy. (And I have learned from these critiques and have not made the conclusions of astrologers into assumptions of my own way of thinking.) However, many of the less nuanced thinkers have overlooked the genius of the astrologer’s method, which at its most elevated form is fundamentally a subtle realm technology (when speaking of stages as integralists so often do, this is the Violet altitude or the Meta-Mind stage of Aurobindo’s cosmology).
The Meta-Mind does not need astrology, of course. It can apply its way of entering physically into the energies of thought to experience a simultaneous “lightning strike” within the personal-body and Spirit-body alike towards the development of any number of affirmative paths of consciousness (yang), negative paths of consciousness (yin), or ambiguous/animating paths of consciousness (yung).
Among these meta-mental methodologies — nuanced moreso than complex, networking rather than synthesizing, natural rather than environmental — there are mainly negative paths of Spirit-unity that I think of as paths of Nur (to borrow the Arabic term for Divine Light). The paths of Nur at their most mature do not avoid talk of the soul in the noun form, though they may speak of “soulfulness” moreso than “the soul”, or they may distinguish their form of soul-talk from metaphysical or superstitious understandings.
Nur-talk does not seek to get the self to enlightenment through a quick jaunt into the psyche and soul and then on upward to spirit; instead, it seeks to get the self to Nur (Divine Light) by meandering in obscurity and the vibrations of Naada (Sound, Tone, Universal Pulse of Life from Sanskrit) until there is no self, only soul infused with spirit, physically embodied as a walking angel of darkness and light.
It’s hard to think of any spirituality writer today who is a greater teacher of Nur than America’s own soul doctor, Thomas Moore. I have always found his approach wonderfully integrative and seemingly all-befriending (but thankfully, not all-assimilating). I saw him once in Seattle, and one line from his talk has stayed with me more than a decade later. An audience member asked him if he believed that everything happens for a reason (as so many New Age spiritualists believe), and he said, “I don’t know. What I don’t know, I don’t know.” To those who walk in the path of Nur, an admission of ignorance is not a sign of deficiency, but an admission into the banquet hall of Education.
An excerpt from “The Soul of Education”, a journal entry by Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul:
In our day, most people seem to think of education as stuffing the mind with facts and training the body with skills. Brain and hands. The purpose is to prepare a person to find a good job and make a good living. But the result is that we have a population that can do specialized work but doesn’t reflect on the bigger picture—the nature of things, how to become a person, how to love and relate, how to be in community, where to find meaning, and how to bring up children. The human side of learning is generally left to experience and unconscious experimentation.
Philosophers of the past taught that we have a depth that goes beyond emotions and passions, a sensitivity to events that deepens us into people of character and profound understanding. They referred to this important dimension as the soul, and they included the soul in all levels of learning. Aristotle wrote an important book on the soul; Emerson, Thoreau and Emily Dickinson described the soul in considerable detail. This little sparkling poem of Dickinson, for example, tells us how sudden threats remind us of the soul’s connection to the eternal:
The Soul’s distinct connection
Is best disclosed by Danger
Or quick Calamity –
As Lightning on a Landscape
Exhibits Sheets of Place –
Not yet suspected – but for Flash –
And Click – and Suddenness.
To be human and to contribute to a more humane world we need to learn about the soul, about our depth and the precious vitality inherent in the world itself and in all its particulars. Without this soul, we live in a dead environment and feel that death within ourselves. Some things have to be learned. You don’t become aware of the soul in your unconsciousness. And so we have to teach it, both as a subject in itself and as a dimension of everything else. We could teach literature and art as means for discovering our souls and we could teach science as a source of the wonder needed to live in a world that is not just a fact but that has meaning and value.
And so for me, personally, I would put Thomas Moore into the ranks of esteemed contributors to a robust Integral Spirituality. Other integralists and all seekers would do well to learn from teachers of Nur — paths of raising razing negativity into Rays of Light — so that their enlightenment can be made whole in light, dark nights, and soul.