10 Things I learned from Ken Wilber, the great philosopher (2/3)

Image from Integral European Conference.

In a first article, I outlined Stages of Development and Quadrants as two key elements to Wilber’s Integral Theory. In this article, we will go further in exploring Lines of Intelligence, States of Consciousness, and Types.

4) Lines of Intelligence

Humans are incredibly rich and complex creatures. They can develop skills and abilities in a wide array of ways, and researchers have had the tendency to focus only on one kind of intelligence: cognitive intelligence. Fortunately, things are shifting, thanks to the works of researchers such as Howard Gardner and others. Ken Wilber integrated this key element in his model, as well as the works, to show that humans can develop in all sorts of ways. Here are some of the lines of intelligence humans can develop (among 26+ forms of intelligence, number growing as research progresses):

Hence, to feel and become whole we can grow all sorts of intelligences, learning to tune into our bodies (somatic intelligence), develop our sense of purpose and meaning in life and connecting to something greater (spiritual intelligence), to becoming better people (moral intelligence – see my article explaining Kohlberg’s model), to growing our wisdom based on our feelings (emotional intelligence), …

Recently, it has been a joy for me to reconnect more with music, drawing and painting, and not only by appreciating other’s art, but by creating my own. That develops aesthetic intelligence.

What line of intelligence would you like to develop?

What is one tiny step you could take to go in that direction?

5) States of Consciousness

What is the size of a jellyfish?

That is the question I ask students in the Conscious Business class I teach at ESSEC, at the beginning of the session about States of Consciousness.

How much do you weigh?

Well, it depends on when you measure it.

The truth is, it varies, so does your state of consciousness throughout the day.

The key idea with states of consciousness is that you can learn to play with them, and master them. We are not a fixed being who goes through life. We are beings with a high potential for evolution, and we have the ability to expand our consciousness (such as when we are in deep awe, joy, gratitude), or contract it (when we are in fear, doubt, struggle, suffering).

Practices allow us to gain more mastery over our state of consciousness, and thus over our lives and our daily experience as well.

States of Consciousness are altered by what we eat, and what we ingest in our minds.

Eat a huge meal and see how you feel.

Need to take a nap? That’s your consciousness contracting.

Just ate raw foods and don’t feel the need for coffee, because you are exuding prana and feel all awake already? That’s your consciousness expanding.

If you would like to explore practices related to living an Integral Life (a life dedicated to wholeness), you can pick practices from Integral Life Practice: A 21st Century Blueprint for Physical Health, Emotional Balance, Mental Clarity and Spiritual Awakening (co-authored by Ken Wilber, Terry Patten, Adam Leonard and Marco Morelli).

If you would like to learn more about States of Consciousness, read Stealing Fire, by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheel.

6) Types

As we have now seen, The Evolution of Consciousness moves through different stages of development, each stage transcending and including the previous one. This establishes a spectrum of consciousness, from more inert, unconscious matter to more conscious beings. Some authors such as Wilber and many others view it as a form of natural hierarchy (which is called the perennial philosophy). Others disagree with the hierarchical view, such as Jorge Ferrer among others.

Yet, in his Integral Model, Wilber talks about non-hierarchical distinctions which he calls Types. For instance, the polarity man-woman (and as a matter of fact, any other gender), would be a Type, since the man is not the evolution of the woman, nor is the woman the evolution of a man. One Type doesn’t transcend and include the other.

There are different types of bodies: ectomorphic, mesomorphic and endomorphic.

Different personality types:

For instance with the nine types of the enneagram. (If you don’t know yours and want to find out, take the test here) or the 16 MBTI personality types (if you want to know yours, take this test).

After thinking about Types, it occurred to me that there are some cases where the lines get blurry.

For instance: jazz and blues are two different Types of music. Yet, jazz stemmed from blues (and from ragtime), and we could say it transcended and included blues. In this sense, jazz and blues are both Types of music, but can also be seen as two Stages of Development of music.

In another field: some transgender people might consider that they transcend their masculinity and their femininity to be both male and female, transcending this duality.

Hence, in some cases, it can be useful to look through both of these lenses of Types and Stages of Development.

Now I have shared 5 key elements to Wilber’s theory, I will explain more lessons I learned from Ken:

7) You can mix up East and West

When Ken was 23 years old, he published his first book called The Spectrum of Consciousness, where he gathered “not only the insights of the proverbial Freud and Buddha, but also those of Piaget and Patanjali, Kohlberg and Confucius, Skinner and Shankara, Neumann and Nagarjuna, Bowlby and Bodhidharma, plato and Padmasambhava, to mention but a few illustrious names.” (as cited in Frank Visser, Ken Wilber – Thought as Passion, p. 1).

In one of Wilber’s talks, Ken answers a question on conscious reincarnation, and went into detail in explaining the conception of a new human being through both the Western Freudian Psychoanalytical and the Eastern Buddhist perspectives simultaneously. I was amazed by the agility of this thinking and by the new dimension this perspective offered on how we perceive and understand the world. In Grace and Grit, Ken described several perspectives on his now passed wife’s disease:

  1. Christian – The fundamentalist message: Illness is basically a punishment from God for some sort of sin. The worse the illness, the more unspeakable the sin.
  2. New Age – Illness is a lesson. You are giving yourself this disease because there is something important you have to learn from it in order to continue your spiritual growth and evolution. Mind alone causes illness and mind alone can cure iti. A yuppified postmodern version of Christian Science.
  3. Medical – Illness is fundamentally a biophysical disorder, caused by biophysical factors (from viruses to trauma to genetic predisposition to environmental triggering agents). You needn’t worry about psychological or spiritual treatments for most illnesses, because such alternative treatments are usually ineffectual and may actually prevent you from getting the proper medical attention.
  4. Karma – Illness is the result of negative karma; that is, some nonvirtuous past actions are now coming to fruition in the form of a disease. The disease is “bad” in the sense that it represents past nonvirtue; but it is “good” in the sense that the disease process itself represents the burning up and the purifying of the past misdeed; it’s a purgation, a cleansing.
  5. Psychological – As Woody Allen put it, “I don’t get angry; I grow tumors instead.” The idea is that, at least in pop psychology, repressed emotions cause illness. The extreme form: illness as a death wish.
  6. Gnostic – Illness is an illusion. The entire manifest universe is a dream, a shadow, and one is free of illness only when one is free from illusory manifestation altogether, only when one awakens from the dream and discovers instead the One reality beyond the manifest universe. Spirit is the only reality, and in Spirit there is no illness. An extreme and somewhat off-centered version of mysticism.
  7. Existential – Illness itself is without meaning. Accordingly it can take any meaning I choose to give it, and I am solely responsible for these choices. Men and women are finite and mortal, and the authentic response is to accept illness as part of one’s finitude even while imbuing it with personal meaning.
  8. Holistic – Illness is a product of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual factors, none of which can be isolated from the others, none of which can be ignored. Treatment must involve all of these dimensions (although in practice this often translates into an eschewal of orthodox treatments, even when they might help).
  9. Magical – Illness is retribution. “I deserve this because I wished So-and-so would die.” Or, “I better not excel too much, something bad will happen to me.” Or, “If too many good things happen to me, something bad has to happen.” And so on.
  10. Buddhist – Illness is an inescapable part of the manifest world ; asking why there is illness is like asking why there is air. Birth, old age, sickness, and death – these are the marks of this world, all of whose phenomena are characterized by impermanence, suffering and selflessness. Only in enlightenment, in the pure awareness of nirvana, is illness finally transcended, because then the entire phenomenal world is transcended as well.
  11. Scientific – Whatever the illness is, it has a specific cause of cluster of causes. Some of these causes are determined, others are simply random or due to pure chance. Either way, there is no “meaning” to illness, there is only chance or necessity. (Ken Wilber, Collected Works, Grace and Grit, p. 56-58)

Using these multiple lenses enrich our worldview and give us more accurate ways of understanding reality, and acting in it. I enjoy how it breaks down barriers we had in our minds.

A friend of mine in San Francisco, when asked of what religion he is, replies:

“I’m a Bujew. A Buddhist-Jew.”

In the same vein, Frank Herbert mentions religions (in the appendix of Dune called “Religion of Dune”), such as “Zensunni” and “Buddislamic” among others. I firmly believe that the future will be the source of more hybrid religious views and spiritual paths. Several scholars have talked about this, including Jorge Ferrer in one his insightful article on The Future of World Religion.

What do you think about this?

What if it was OK for you to have/create your own unique faith?

When you are ready for Part 3, click here.

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