Note: Re-post from my now-defunct blog, Until, on April 21, 2007. Updated final paragraphs on the Quadrants and sacred time.
Whether we are talking about the vicissitudes of our emotional life, the history of our country, words in the Bible, sacraments at the altar, or any other thing, there are four fundamental perspectives we can take. They encompass everything we want to talk about.
Four Prime Perspectives
The integral Christian embraces four primary angles, called the Four Quadrants, as primordial or foundational. These angles are the “A” in the acronym “STEAM”, which is useful for remembering the essential ingredients of an integral approach (S = structures, T = types, E = experiences, A = angles, M = modes).
As Christians, we can choose to symbolize the quadrants as the sections of a whole divided by the Cross. This way of looking gives our traditional religious symbol a new spin. The symbol of the brokenness of the world, the location upon which God’s ambassador is crucified, also denotes the brokenness of ordinary reality into fragmented perspective. Nothing in the world as we commonly know it is wholly whole.
Of course, there are many more perspectives we could take, not just four–an infinite number! (Not to mention that taking a perspective is just part of recognizing what it means to be a human being. It is not a specifically Christian affair.) But the four perspectives that are called the upper-left, upper-right, lower-left, and lower-right describe human nature and destiny in a satisfyingly comprehensive quadratic embrace that resonates with our Christian symbolism.
The integral Christian strives to take into account, at the very least, four fundamental perspectives, in order to better operate in the world and understand God’s will. These points of view do not need to always be consciously recognized in every act (that would be absurd). But over the course of time, we can’t afford to leave any of these vantage points out.
The upper-left quadrant: our physiological sensations, emotional states, the sense of who we are, our memories, and states of spiritual awareness. This is the perspective in which the person encounters the soul, and through the soul, our personal relationship with God.
We look inward and ask, “Who am I in body, mind, soul, and spirit?” The answer is found through the discoveries of our conscious awareness, the preconscious shadow, and that which is beyond any individual person’s awareness.
Introspection, meditation such as centering prayer, and individual prayer and shadow work is useful for exploring this territory. Freud’s dreamwork, Teresa of Avila’s mysticism, and Saint Augustine’s confessions do not share the same understanding of sex and spirituality! But each of these persons, and many more, have navigated the inner domains of knowing and being.
The upper-right quadrant: look at detached, objective data about yourself, the brain, and the entire organism. This is the perspective in which the person looks for objective information about the individual self or any other individual thing.
We look at the world and ask, “What facts do I know about the nature of a human being?” The answer is found through objectivity, especially the scientific method by means of the senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Also included in the answer are data found by expanding the reach of the senses with microscopes, telescopes, and such.
Biology (including the neurosciences) is one useful methodology for exploring this territory about human beings. Cognitive science and neuropsychology take two different roads into researching consciousness. But their investigations into subjectivity each offer an approach to the territory of without.
The lower-left quadrant: look at the impact on others and how the boundaries of your decision are determined by interpersonal and cultural contexts beyond your control; cultural constructs; theologies, philosophies, and world views that we are not entirely aware of.
We look at the world and ask, “How do I know anything at all about myself, the world, and God? How shall I live?” The answer is encountered via intersubjective inquiries and responses (that is, relationships to others and our art, literature, and worldviews). Ultimately, the question is answered by our I-Thou relationship with God.
Hermeneutics (the science of interpretation), structuralism, poststructuralism, philosophy, and theology, are the major disciplines of knowledge used for investigating this domain. In Carl Jung’s psychology, for example, his understanding of mythic archetypes in the collective unconscious is probably best located in this area. Another view of the lower-left is Michel Foucault’s understanding that culture dictates power relationships through a complex system of controls for defining “normal” and “abnormal”.
The lower-right quadrant: look at your functioning as an agent in a wider system of concrete interlocking, social forces, economic structures, police and military institutions.
We look at the world and ask, “How do we all relate to each other objectively and to nature?” The answer is encountered via social scientific research into human societies, religions, and economic forces that attempts to be grounded in an objective science.
Anthropology and sociology are the major ways of investigating problems in this area. Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Talcott Parsons take widely divergent looks into religion and society, but each were making maps of this domain. More contemporary sociological researchers including Peter Berger and Robert Bellah have also looked at this part of life.
Within each quadrant, there are fascinating and sometimes radical and disturbing differences of opinion. But the main point remains unobscured: there are four fundamental perspectives for traversing the roads to everywhere, and integral philosophers seek to map the terrain.
Philosopher and psychological theorist Ken Wilber has made a profound contribution to the theoretical study of the four quadrants in his many books such as Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World (Integral Books/Shambhala, 2006).
Thinkers and researchers in a wide variety of disciplines have applied the four quadrants to their areas of expertise. Many of these thinkers (and their essays and books) can be found at Integral Institute, Integrative Spirituality, or ARINA.
The integral Christian is committed to the outlook that all four quadrants offer important insights into human nature and destiny. We cannot understand ourselves adequately without taking, at least, these four basic perspectives. At the very least, our worldviews are enriched and made more comprehensive by including perspectives that we would otherwise ignore. And our view of God must also accomodate each of these domains.
God and the Four Quadrants
Where is God in the four quadrants? God is everywhere; God includes and transcends each of the domains. In Jesus Christ’s proclamation of the Kingdom of God (or the Reign of Heaven), we can also find the gospel message includes each of the four perspectives. According to The New Testament, the Reign of Heaven…
• Liberates eternally the renews the body, mind, soul, and spirit of every person who accepts the gospel. Salvation is offered for the whole person, not only one aspect of a person’s identity (upper-left and upper-right quadrants)
• Enfranchises and heals the poor, the meek, and the oppressed. All who suffer will find redemption from their suffering. In the end of days, God will create a new Heaven and a new Earth (lower-left and lower-right quadrants)
The integral Christian is committed to the gospel teaching of hope for the soul’s eternal realization, healing of body and mind for every member of the Body of Christ. Salvation is for the whole person; the whole world; the whole kosmos; or it is for nothing at all.
The integral Christian is committed to evangelizing the gospel in all four prime domains of human nature, and we take other perspectives as well. It’s true that there are many different ways of looking at the good news of the gospel proclamation, but the word of Christ is always good.
The Quadrants and The Kalendar
Each of the four quadrants are represented as days on the Kalendar, an integral map in which the Kosmic coordinates of spiritual evolution are described as sacred time. The first day of every week is Half Sun, representing the upper-left quadrant (subjective individual); the second day, Full Sun, representing the upper-right (objective individual); the fourth day, Half Moon, representing the lower-right (objective collective); the fifth day, Full Moon, representing the lower-left (subjective collective).
Sun Moon, third day of each week, is the holiest day of the week from an intrinsic perspective. This day represents the aspiration, possibility, and experience of aperspecitval nonduality: the view from nowhere and everywhere.