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Kosmic Questions

“Ask me anything,” Ken told our curious editors. So we did. . .

Q: Any emerging worldview always faces a number of challenges and dangers, from within and without, as it comes to prominence in society. Will it survive? Will it flourish amid controversy and critique? Will its essential message remain coherent and intact, even as more and more individuals take up the banner?

What do you foresee as the major challenges and dangers that an integral spirituality will face over the coming years as it becomes more commonly accepted, in both theory and practice, in our postmodern culture? How will it need to evolve to weather those storms?

KW: Keep in mind that there is one very interesting thing that integral spirituality has going for it. If developmental studies are correct, then an integral consciousness itself is not an idea, not an approach, not a belief, but an actual level or stage of development. A stage is, by definition, something that everybody passes through as development continues. This means that an integral awareness is not dependent upon me or any particular writer or researcher, but is something that individuals at large will inhabit as evolution continues. There are other factors that make up a specifically integral spirituality, but the central one is that it stems from turquoise or higher altitudes, and because these are levels that everybody will pass through if development continues, then an integral future is everybody’s birthright.

Right now, it is estimated that approximately five percent of the population are at integral waves (teal or higher), with about twenty percent at the postmodern-green wave, forty percent at the modern-orange wave, and thirty percent at the traditional-amber wave. As the “center of gravity” of our culture continues to move up, that five percent will continue to increase, and thus integral approaches to various disciplines—from spirituality to medicine to politics to education—can be expected to increase.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that my particular version of integral spirituality will be among those that survive. Other versions may come along that show more truth, goodness, and beauty, and if so, I hope to be the first to adopt them. But any specific approach will face all the standard difficulties of any new approach, foremost among which is animosity from existing approaches. Since existing approaches have the power, the following, and the finances, new or emergent approaches face stiff resistance and often persecution. New truth is always attacked.

Of course, once any new approach becomes more widely accepted, it faces an entirely new set of obstacles, mostly coming from itself: how not to become routine, fixed, boring, preventing new truths, fixated to its own truth or dharma, stuck in its own past. All I can say is, I hope to live long enough to see those problems!


Q: In Integral Spirituality, you make the striking statement that in light of an integral spiritual framework, “it becomes apparent how well-meaning but still meaningless virtually everything being written about spirituality is.” Could you explain what you mean by that?

KW: One of the basic messages of the book is that spirituality and metaphysics must be brought into the modern and postmodern world. Simply condemning the modern and postmodern world is extremely unfortunate, especially since the major insights of the great wisdom traditions can, in fact, be made compatible with the modern and postmodern discoveries, and then add their own extraordinarily important truths. As it is now, in trashing the modern and postmodern approaches to knowledge, the great traditions have consigned themselves to the philosophical dustbin, which is extremely unfortunate.

The modern and postmodern worldviews, however much they may otherwise differ, are united in the conclusion that any sort of spiritual realities, or metaphysical realities, are caught in a series of epistemological illusions, the most common of which is called “the myth of the given.” Integral Spirituality shows that we can take that advice to heart—and we can avoid the myth of the given-—and yet still embrace virtually every major truth of the great traditions, and we can do so using an integral framework. But if we don’t do that, then, at least in the eyes of the modern and postmodern world, everything that is being written about spirituality continues to be shot through with the myth of the given and with deep illusions about truth and reality. And I think they are right. So I attempt to show how we can avoid the myth of the given (and other related problems) and yet still get across a deeply spiritual message.


Q: Integral spirituality calls us to develop across many different aspects of our humanity—what you call the “lines of development”—such as moral, cognitive, emotional, interpersonal, spiritual, self, values, etc. What aspect of ourselves is most instrumental in initiating and driving higher development and higher integration?

KW: The capacity of the self to take other perspectives. The capacity to take the role of others, to see perspectives different from our own, to put ourselves in others’ shoes—these are all ways that consciousness stretches and grows. Secondary contributors to growth include a capacity for awareness training (such as found in meditation) and the capacity to tolerate ambiguity. But those take a distant back seat to the capacity to take perspectives other than one’s own.

Part of the problem is that the capacity to put oneself in another’s shoes and see the world through another’s eyes is a mental or cognitive operation. You can’t see the other’s view by using your feelings or your emotions or your sensations. Rather, putting yourself in another’s shoes is a mental operation. Once you have cognitively taken another’s view, then you can empathize with that view and expand your feelings to include it, love it, care for it, and so on. But the capacity for compassion, love, and care for another person all rests on being able to see the world as they see it, or else you’re just loving an extension of yourself and your feelings. Unfortunately there is a huge anti-intellectual mood in too many spiritual movements in this country. This is not trans-rational but anti-rational and even pre-rational, and this is incredibly unfortunate, in my opinion. But I am optimistic that many of the alternative approaches to spirituality are slowly overcoming this prejudice.


Q: In the book, you refer to four major states of awareness that are available to human consciousness—gross, subtle, causal, and nondual. Gross is associated with waking consciousness, subtle with dream states, and causal with formless states and dreamless sleep; nondual is referred to as the “ever-present ground of all states.” You also give a historical context for the spiritual emergence and mastery of at least the last two of these states of consciousness, pointing out that causal-level realizations emerged in the Axial period of human history (around 2,500 years ago) and nondual realizations almost a millennium later.

Could we be witnessing the emergence over the last century of a new formation, a new kind of state of consciousness? At What Is Enlightenment? we have been tracking the development of a new form of evolutionary spirituality that also seems to have a corresponding state experience that is quite distinct. It is an experience of radical nondual awareness and enlightened consciousness that is nonseparate from a powerful, creative surge of evolutionary passion and potential. In the first half of the twentieth century, Christian author Teilhard de Chardin described exactly this kind of experience, as did Indian sage Sri Aurobindo. More recently, various evolutionary thinkers have also written about peak experiences that sound remarkably similar to the states of consciousness recounted by these two pioneers. WIE founder Andrew Cohen refers to this new consciousness as the realization and/or experience of the “authentic self.” So could this newly emerging state of nondual, evolutionary consciousness qualify as evidence of the existence of yet another “state-stage” in the integral model, a new and more inclusive state of consciousness now available to human awareness?

KW: I think the authentic self that Andrew describes is a combination of a nondual state and a third-tier stage (indigo or higher). It is in part a state because individuals at several different stages have access to it. But it is not just a state, because states of consciousness are exclusive. You cannot be drunk and sober at the same time; you cannot be in the dream state and formless state at the same time; and so on. States don’t usually show development, which is why they are fragmentary, no matter how “whole” they might feel at the time.

Structures or stages, on the other hand, are inclusionary. Like all developmental holons, they transcend and include their predecessors (e.g., cells transcend and include molecules, which transcend and include atoms; likewise, orange transcends and includes amber, which transcends and includes red, etc.).

This is why I think the authentic self experience is a combination of both. At its fullest, it is a nondual state (because subject and object are one), and yet it is not really genuine until at least an integral or turquoise stage is reached, and doesn’t really blossom until third tier. The “evolutionary” component is simply the aspect that comes from the turquoise (or higher) stage components, because only at those stages does holarchical evolution enter the picture in terms of consciousness understanding.

So, in my opinion, it is neither a state nor a stage, but what is experienced when, at the turquoise stage (or higher), one is also in a nondual state. The combination is experienced as: being one with the manifest world, and grounded in nondual Emptiness, one is also deeply moved and ecstatically driven to be part of evolution by directly contributing to it.


Q: Finally, we’d like to ask you to let your imagination run wild. Please describe, in a stream of consciousness, an unabashedly utopian vision of a truly enlightened future . . . a world theocracy in which the nondual God becomes the organizing principle. Picture the year 2316 . . .

KW: Right, but my imagination jams at the beginning on the word “theocracy” because in the past that has meant mythic-theocracy, which is what we don’t want now. Go to Iran if that is what you want. But a truly enlightened future, in my opinion, would be one in which the center of gravity of the culture is at violet or higher, and states of consciousness are navigated at will, which would almost certainly be accompanied by brain/computer interfacing. Virtually all material wants will have been vanquished by nanotech (I’m with Ray Kurzweil on that), and the environmental crisis is long ended. The main concern for such a society is how to help individuals move up the great spiral of development and spectrum of consciousness because all exterior goods and needs have long ago been met. So what’s a poor culture to do?

Interior growth alone will answer that call. And interior growth demands structures and stages, which—unlike states—cannot be induced by drugs, meditation, or brain/mind machines. Addressing this need for interior growth will be the call of tomorrow’s integral culture.

Once that challenge is met, and I believe it will be, the second major problem will be the simple fact that, even in an ultraviolet culture, everybody is still born at square one, at infrared, and must begin their evolution and development from there. Even in today’s society, whose center of gravity is orange/green, everybody is born at square one, which is why we still have pockets of red culture (in street gangs, for example) and amber culture (in all of Kansas, it seems). But those types of problems will not disappear in any conceivable future, so they will need to be addressed creatively.

Then, the extraordinary states and stages available today only to those who work incredibly hard (via meditation, therapy, yoga, etc.) will be commonplace to all. The very Ground of All Being will be as obvious as one’s original face, as vast Emptiness announces both Freedom and Fullness for all souls, an ecstatic release and quiet riot of spiritual radiance drenching each and all, as eternity falls in love with the productions of time all over again, so that looking deep within, one can find only the entire Kosmos, with galaxies swirling where you thought your heart was and supernovas exploding in the middle of what used to be your mind, and spirit itself as simple and obvious as the sound of the rainfall on what is left of the old and forlorn world, long gone in time, never found in space, this simple and ever-present feeling of Being, now and now and endlessly now.


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This article is from
Our Ken Wilber Issue


June–August 2006


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Evolution of Consciousness