Practice of a Lifetime, Or, Useful tool?

Allow me to briefly sing the praises of the Integral model. Not in its pseudo-formalization given by Mr. Wilber ( but in its idiosyncratic and the decidedly ‘informalization,’ given by me.

First, it is necessary to locate my move here via admission about my prejudices. De-capitalize the ‘I.’ The integral model, and Spiral Dynamics as well, is, in this guise, an informal sociology tending to employ folk psychologizing for the purpose of supporting intuitive navigation of the entangled systems from the scale of personal reflection all the way to the scale of group relations. This latter scale is limited to identifiable groups further described by their centering array of interests. Hmmm, this could include groups whose centering interest is decentering; but I digress in noting this.

From this position, certain qualities of my idiosyncratic re-deployment of the integral model are resolved. This model is: informal, not formal; subjective, not objective; reflexive-intersubjective, neither scientific or scientistic. No metaphysical or post-metaphysical warrants are implied in any of this. This wild version of the integral/SD model is aimed to merely be a pragmatic tool for the self-organization of an intuitive and phenomenological inquiry–conducted by daring investigators. The hallmark of the result of this application is–necessarily–extreme provisionality.

My hypothesis is the model is a good candidate for generating autopoietic data enabled to support transformational learning. This will not in any way require the learner to know the model very well. Thank you Pandit KW.


A book co-authored by Ken Wilber sits before me. Integral Life Practice. I guess I couldn’t help myself (in taking it out of the library,) but also I won’t be dealing with it. So: caveat emptor. This I will say: Wilber’s integral philosophy sometime ago fed a movement with adherents, and this book showcases the industrialization of the integral self-development technology aimed to extract smolians from true believers.

Starting in 1979, Ken Wilber’s opus has gained too much of my attention. Well, until 2000, and Wilber IV, and the AQAL map, and the intellectual point at which all the obvious shortcomings quickly fueled my disenchantment.

I stuck with the ‘Integral’ until the relentless combination of repetition, superficiality, and underspecification, in effect, buried my interest. This includes the niggling ways Wilber glossed the work of iconic psychologists, philosophers, spiritual masters, and sociologists. And, ignored others. The more I read into Wilber’s own sources the more unsatisfactory Wilber’s own propensity to gloss and reduce became. Then there were the obvious glaring blind spots: nothing much of the arts, or feminine contributions, or outliers, or anthropological turns, were given any due.

In a 2001 interview Wilber offered a vision for his work to enter the academic world–where it would be developed based in the rigor of academic research and refinement. Yet, Wilber himself slays this vision in his 2002 book Boomeritus.

Following this, the Integral framework becomes insular, and soon becomes an enterprise, and soon enough seems to come to be potted, and packaged, and, finally, the industrialization of his scheme for self-realization commences.

It came to be that whatever Wilber casts against the wall is made to the stick by the magical participation of the various layers of, by now, his followers. The framework itself no longer warrants pursuit of interesting problems. This last turn follows from the lack of specification, (about, for example, the position of interiority given in the controversies and uncertainties of meta-psychology and the philosophy of psychology.) And, from the folk psychological vanities implicit in the reifications and simplistic typology of Spiral Dynamics.

Ultimately, and ironically, romantic (albeit masculinist,) aspirational universalism is mashed with the (absurd) post-metaphysical conceit, to generate the astonishing “givens” that constitute the developmental technologies and product lines of Integral Life Practice. As it is with any ‘branded’ enterprise within the guilds overarched by spiritual materialism, it all turns about the concretization of a living chain of being. (Incidentally, chain-of-being being somewhat the interest Wilber entered with way-back-when.) It all adds up to naked, and unyielding charlatanry, snake oil, albeit with money to be made.

Not surprisingly, then, research ends and ‘developmental’ product lines arrive. Everything is in place too: you’ve got the founder, the board, the executives, the middle managers, and a scheme to channel lower level adherents and novice alike up through, as it were, the ranks.

I have to say this is okay. It floats some boats. People will sort out to what perceived aid on behalf of their own personal transformation each will gravitate to. Of course, the self-satisfaction inherent in aspiring to realize an integral persona only supports the growth in consciousness up to a point. With respect to actual self-development the proof, nevertheless, is–will be–in the pudding.

And, I’m reminded Idries Shah had a great term for this kind of teaching: power system.

(Wilber’s narcissism and bad behavior doesn’t bug me much because, in that, we’re fellow travelers.)

From Integral Life Practice. A 21st Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Awakening:

Turquoise individuals often find it difficult to locate peers who are able to understand and sympathize with their full dimensionality and depth of awareness. (p96)

To me, the problem of the integral echo chamber is all ‘there’ in this reflexive formulation of a warning about how Turquoise enlightenment will be misunderstood; presumably by those on lower levels.

I have been privileged to spend a modest amount of time around several people who seemed to have developed their awareness well beyond the norm. It is safe to say that none of them cared an iota about anybody understanding or sympathizing with their depth of awareness. Is it not a worthy truism that to be ‘vastly’ self-aware is to be unhooked from being touchy about how well one is understood.

I once suggested that the hallmark of 2nd tier awareness was the ability to be self-critical Even if I’m wrong about this, I’ll stick with the contrast between adept self-awareness, and, being touchy about being misunderstood.

Because Integral never penetrated the mainstream academy, no conventional (i.e. academic) critical culture had ever emerged. (Too bad.) Instead, critiques–most on the internet–have centered around a variety of independent observers, disgruntled adherents, and a handful of renegade scholars. Some of the criticisms hit various ripe targets squarely, other criticisms get caught up in heated shadow play.

Fortunately, the most gripping integral scholarship has long unfolded without any authorial intention to be integral. It simply results from highly intelligent interdisciplinary navigation and research. (James G. March comes to mind. See: The Pursuit of Organizational Intelligence. Blackwell, 1999)

Fortunately, there are break away centers actually endeavoring to vigorously advance the integral perspective. Russ Volckmann’s Integral Leadership Review, and, the Integral Review join The International Journal of Leadership Studies is home to many terrific examples of integral research and socio-cultural philosophizing. One of best examples of how to deploy the integral map in a disciplinary walk through is: Perspectives On integrating Leadership and Followership. (Wendelin Kupers; IJLS 2.3:2007)

The main thing with these three resources is that they aren’t trying to verify a theory of everything. Value varies of course, but much of the published thinking is modest and focused, open to other frameworks, and even where there is a kind of futuristic cast, for the most part the approaches are focused on real world circumstances and collective and collaborative solutions. None of the resources are much concerned with smart thrashing through the core assumptions, but, when necessary there are plenty of interesting moves to refine, better articulate, and even refashion integral conceptions for the sake of attending smartly to hypothesis or problem or instrumental prospect.

With respect to these resources, the integral is being developed independently. This is beautiful.

Wilber is ‘on’ about kosmic eros. What integral bloviating has contributed to the study of eros is set in its thimble by the briefest of experiential encounters with the art of Pauline Oliveros, Werner Herzog, Coleman Barks, and numerous other artists in every artistic field.


Besides my sense that the Wilber-centric integral field has not attended to shortcomings in Wilber’s (so-called) theory, my other observation is straightforward: apparently once a follower strikes out on the integral developmental path, there is incurred a strong likelihood that the heretofore map will be reified as ‘actual’ territory. (Spend sometime on Integral World to sample this phenomena.) This is a garden variety potential outcome when one is a ‘believer’ within the force field of any system that presumes its ontological suppositions do not require validation beyond intersubjective affirmation, i.e. group think.

(Twas ever thus; and it makes possible such a person as an integral fundamentalist. Weird in the integral context but time-honored in the context of adherents all looking up at the same time.)

Critics. Geoffrey Falk maintains a portal for critiques, some excellent, of Ken Wilber and Integral. As does Frank Visser’s essential critical resource:Integral World. Also: Rolff Sattler.

Matthew Dallman’s critical article, Ken Wilber, Hopelessly new Age, Hopeless For the Humanities, nails several key points, even if it grinds unneccesarily some other axes. More: Daniel Gustav Tim Boucher.

Brad Warner gets the last word:

Real practice is difficult and doesn’t always manifest itself in Big Cool Experiences™. In fact, any good teacher will smack those Big Cool Experiences™ right out of you if you bring them to her. Lousy teachers will charge you money to have those experiences and then try to hang on to you for as long as they can milk your wallet.

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