About 13 years ago, BeliefNet published a column by Ken Wilber, the eminent psychological theorist and founder of Integral Theory, that changed my life. In less than 2,000 words, Ken offered an autobiographical book of mine, then not-yet-published, as an example of “Integral Spirituality in Real Life”.
The column begins with an apology for his feeling it necessary to explain why he, a straight man who had never met me, was writing the Foreword for a book by a gay man:
I am in the awkward situation of writing a foreword to a book by a gay person. This is an awkward situation not because Joe Perez is gay, but because I have to point it out. I feel the same damn irritation as having to refer to, say, Edmund White as a “gay writer.” Nobody has to point out that I am heterosexual, although now I hear that I am not a heterosexual but a metrosexual, although, in fact, I have never had sex with a metro in my life. But I’m sure it is a wonderful experience.
Nevertheless, because I am going to have to include that information—culture today demands it, from those who are both for and against homosexuals—then let me say this. Joe Perez’s book is perhaps the most astonishing, brilliant, and courageous look at the interface between individual belief and cultural values that has been written in our times. By a homosexual, or a heterosexual, or any other sexual I am aware of.
Let us assume, out of courtesy to this author if nothing else, that Ken was not merely using hyperbole. What made my book seem so significant to a man sometimes referred to as The Einstein of Consciousness that he would praise it so? After all, I was an independent writer with no academic standing and no published books to my credit. The education section of my résumé ended abruptly in Hyde Park, when I washed out of a Master’s in Divinity from The Divinity School at The University of Chicago just one language exam short of obtaining the degree (at the time, I suffered from clinical depression and grief from multiple deaths in my family).
The manuscript that Ken read collected many short writings written over a 14-month period written when I was just 33 years old and was just starting to find my authentic voice as a spirituality writer. At the time, I wrote a newspaper column “from a gay man’s perspective” and occasional articles published by LGBT publications in the U.S. Perhaps the book’s timing was of paramount importance: in the mid-oughts, there were simply no other book-length Integral Spirituality memoirs by any other thinker or mystic not named Ken Wilber. And when Soulfully Gay was published by Integral Books/Shambhala in 2007, it instantly gave the Integral Spirituality movement another pioneering voice with a confessional-style life story so important for social emergence.
As you will see if you read my early writings from this time, I was neither a paragon of saintly virtue nor a Zen master freely spouting Yoda-like wisdom to dutiful disciples. Although lacking years of disciplined training in contemplative arts or monastic refinement, by the time I was 34 years old, I managed to obtain a spiritual perspective that allowed me to come at long last to a new stage of self-acceptance and inner peace married with a complex understanding of my own station in the vast matrix of Spirit which enfolds the biological, cultural, socio-political, and moral-aesthetic evolution of our species.
The key to my transformation was the formation of something that we will call an “Integral worldview”. These are five of its most important hallmarks:
- An ability to take the conscious reigns of personal, cultural, and religious evolution by working with the many insights afforded us by looking at processes of change and growth. (Stages)
- An empathetic embrace of the diversity of humankind not only in terms of social categories (gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.) but in terms of developmental levels and psychological typologies, such that we accept the dignity and value of a vast array of ways of being human. (Types)
- A recognition that human experience cycles through an array of states of consciousness from ordinary being to the expanded awareness of artists, shamans, and mystics, and a commitment to training one’s self in various states in order to develop into new potentials. (Experiences)
- An insistence on breaking down the false opposites that too often dominate conventional worldviews, such as the divide between individual and collective or subjective and objective experiences. (Angles)
- A belief in multiple modes of human intelligence (kinesthetic, cognitive, moral, spiritual, etc.), at least as a useful tool for making sense of our capacities and appreciating the ways that development may proceed unevenly if we are not well-balanced in our strivings. (Modes)
These five hallmarks may be easily remembered by the acronym STEAM, which stands for Stages, Types, Experiences, Angles, and Modes. STEAM is not a religious worldview and not exactly a particular philosophy of life. It is a attempt to get “meta”, or self-aware, about the common patterns underlying different ways of being human, recognizing key useful similarities, and reminding ourselves that if we are not careful our views can easily become rigidly identified with views and actions that are less than they could be.
As integralists everywhere will easily recognize, STEAM is a mnemonic aid for referencing the central elements of Ken Wilber’s mature (mid-2000’s) Integral philosophy. Wilber’s own mnemonic aid is AQAL, which is short for “All Quadrants, All Levels, All Lines, All States, All Types”. There are many important books and websites containing educational material on this philosophy, with +kenwilber.com and Integral Life being excellent places to begin exploring.
In the 13 years since finishing Soulfully Gay, I have walked a life path which among other things has deepened my understanding of spirituality and religion. I have recorded some of my inquiries and findings along the way in numerous published blogs, articles, an epic poem called “The Surrender of Symbiosis”, and even a fantasy novel called “The Omphalos of Delphi”. (The poetry and novel were published under one cover as The Black Stone by Integral Publishers/Tangent Publishers in 2016). I have also designed several works of alchemical art (The Jiu Gua, The Wheel of Spirit, The Nine Square Kalendar, etc.) which are magical talismans of a sort. But much of my path has been an esoteric journey through occult mysteries involving language and subtle energy, psychic experimentation, paranormal investigations, and diving headlong into some of the unusual perspectives that are uniquely mine.
For a few years as I formulated a new approach to attempt to reconcile all the Sacred Word teachings of the Great Traditions into a new metalanguage called Lingua-U, I communed with a spiritual entity that I have called the Archangel Queibriel who was supported in his engagement with me by the Archangel Gabriel himself. Conversations with other entities followed, including peak experiences of connection with entities that I — born and raised a Roman Catholic — associated with Jesus, Mother Theresa, and God the Father. The God who spoke to me was one who I learned to usually address as Allah, for He spoke to me through an Arabic-speaking intermediary that I knew as Hafiz. Such odd experiences as these have forced me to new levels of confusion and complexity in order to separate authentic insight from mental illness. They have helped me to generate diaries that may or may not ever be published beyond a small private audience; whatever the case may be, I think it’s important for you to understand that certain of my life experiences have been extraordinary, even if you decide not to think of them in the same way that I do.
It hasn’t always been a pretty process to dance at the bleeding edge of my own potential, but even when it seemed sure that I was about to fly off the rails, I have managed to contain it all within myself/Atman. Along the way, I have written drafts of three unpublished works (another epic poem, a sutra/scriptural codex, and a semi-autobiographical novel). Respectively, these are The Great Mystery (slated for Spring 2019), Lingua-U: The Unitive Metalanguage (Fall 2019), and The Worldview Artist: A Novel (Spring 2020). What’s more, another significant new project will be announced on April 20 on my Facebook page.
Let me note for the sake of the integral philosophy enthusiasts who may read this that I have been for several years a sort of maze-runner in the Meta-Mind, utilizing meta-mental illuminations, subtle intuitions and systemic-alchemical imagination to find an exit from some of the theoretical challenges that long puzzled me. In the process, I developed some ways of looking at the “Integral map” (as that term is usually used) that are a bit heterodox. I hope that when I have written more about more topics and published my unpublished material, these theoretical innovations will be explained and subject to appropriate vetting. The Meta-Mind (Violet altitude) combined with high subtle, causal, and post-dual states of consciousness have afforded me a mountain-peak for gaining tentative views into the farther territories of the so-called Third Tier of consciousness based on a new technology for mapping the subtle whirl-fields and river-flows of Audi-Mind (a.k.a. Overmind) and Una-Mind (a.k.a. Supermind).
Of course, there are many ways that an Integral Spirituality can appear in an individual life. My own particular unfolding life story is an example of one particular ride, and your mileage will vary in degrees. I am offering my new writings and work in the world not as a template for you to follow, but merely as a living example with all the messiness that that entails (health and illness, clarity and confusion, light and shadow, etc.).
Welcome to Integral Spirituality as it looks from where I sit. I hope you will join me as I pick up the rest of the story en media res, near to the start of the Month of the Golden Egg, 2018 CE. At the Foyer of the Third Millennium of the Common Era, the world is teetering on the brink of a manifold reckoning at the Yin phase of the Throne of the Avatar, a period of time in The Kalendar which suggests that all that has come before may come crashing down into Myth and Misery or become elevated into a new, world-expanding Mission blessed by Miracles. Now is an excellent time to inquire into the Great Mystery at Golden Egg 1, the inception of the Second Tier of the Labyrinth of Spirit.