Be hear now
Integral Transformation, Part One
Tami Simon: You’re listening to “Insights at the Edge.” Today I speak with Ken Wilber in the first of a two-part series. Whenever I speak with Ken, it seems that our conversation goes on and on in an engaging and illuminating way. So here we go, the first of two parts.
Ken is one of the most influential and widely read American philosophers of our time. He’s the founder of the Integral Institute and has published over twenty-five books, including A Brief History of Everything and The Simple Feeling of Being, as well as the Sounds True Audio Learning sets Kosmic Consciousness and The One, Two, Three of God.
I spoke with Ken about a topic that is very dear to me here at Sounds True: what is genuine transformation? Well, first Ken, thank you. Thank you for coming on “Insights at the Edge” with me.
Ken Wilber: My pleasure. As I have said many times, you’re one of my favorite people in the whole wide world, and I’m delighted to be here with you.
Tami Simon: Thank you, Ken. I know it’s your generosity to show up and spend this time with me, so thank you.
Ken Wilber: You bet.
Tami Simon: I want to talk to you about genuine transformation, this whole idea, what is genuine transformation? And I know in your work you’ve made this interesting distinction between transformation and translation.
Ken Wilber: Yes.
Tami Simon: Can you explain what that is, the distinction?
Ken Wilber: Sure. Basically human beings consist of several components, including body, including mind, including spirit. And the mental dimension is the dimension that we interpret the world from, the dimension that we create meaning with, that we create values with, and generally our self-identity on the relative plane. And one of the interesting things about the mind of course is that it develops, and it develops through several stages or levels of development. And each level has a different need, a different motivation, a different value structure—generally a different worldview. And these worldviews have been investigated by Western developmental psychologists.
And to give one simple example, because the wording is so easy to understand, is the pioneering genius Gene Gebser, and he found these levels of development to move from archaic to magic to mythic to rational to pluralistic to integral. So mythic is the basis of traditional value systems, particularly fundamentalist views on literal Biblical values, and they take the mythic events of the Bible to be concrete, literal realities. So Moses really did part the Red Sea, God really did rain locusts on the pharaoh, and so on. But that’s the source of traditional values.
And then the next level, the rational, is the source of modern values. And this includes individual achievement and scientific truth and business and entrepreneurship, and generally speaking individual achievement and accomplishment.
And then the next stage or level, the pluralistic, is the basis of postmodern values. And so they are so-called cultural creatives and have to do with multiple realities and multiple cultural realities, the idea that there are no major universals, that reality sort of varies from culture to culture, and no one culture is better or worse than another. And that value structure is relatively recent, but has predominated the leading edge at universities and liberal politics and social services for the last twenty, almost thirty years now.
And then the next and the highest level to date is just emerging, and that’s referred to as the integral. And the thing about the integral level is all of the previous levels believe that their truths and their values alone are real. The integral level understands that all of the previous levels have some degree of truth, that there’s some important values in all of the previous structures; that individuals are born at square one, everyone’s born at archaic, and moves through the magic to the mythic to the rational to the pluralistic to the integral.
And so that is one of the main definitions of transformation, is this vertical movement through these structures or levels of consciousness, so there’s a genuine change in values, a genuine change in worldview, a genuine change in the way the world is perceived and experienced and felt.
So for example, if we look at the traditional value structure, it tends to be ethnocentric. It believes that there’s one true way, one and only one true way, and all the other approaches are those of infidel, basically are wrong or blasphemous. And so that ethnocentric value structure is the way that individuals at that stage are going to view the world. But when they move to the next stage, the rational stage, that’s the first that is world-centric. And that includes the notion that all men and women are created equal, regardless of race, color, sex, or creed. So that’s a very different shift; that transformation from traditional to modern is a very profound transformation, and it is indeed a transformation, a move upward.
And that is contrasted with translation. Translation is the moves that you make on any particular level. So if we think of these stages as, say, a ten-storey building, then moving furniture around on one floor is translation, whereas moving from one floor to another floor entirely is transformation. And that’s generally one of the things that we want to do when we get into personal growth and development, is we want to transform. We don’t want to just continue translating from the level we’re at; we want to move to a higher, broader, deeper, wider level of awareness, level of care, level of consciousness, level of concern. And so that is indeed a transformation. And it’s essentially different from translation.
Tami Simon: Now, I can imagine the person listening to “Insights at the Edge” is thinking, “Well, you know, I’m probably an integral person. Maybe I’m pluralistic moving into integral.” How does somebody know the difference, whether they’re at the pluralistic stage of development or the integral stage? What is that transformation?
Ken Wilber: The pluralistic stage is still part of what’s called first-tier stages. And this was based on the research of Abraham Maslow and Clare Graves among others, and what they found is that as development continued, when it got to the pluralistic stage, then the next stage of development into the integral was what Clare Graves called “a momentous leap in meaning.” And Abe Maslow found that it was a jump entirely from being motivated by deficiency needs to being motivated by being needs.
Now, deficiency needs means that I’m motivated by I lack something, I need it, I get it, I’m fulfilled. So I lack food, I get it, I’m satisfied; I lack sex, I get it, I’m satisfied. All of these—I lack self-esteem, I get it, I’m satisfied. But then all of a sudden, with the integral level or the being level, one’s motivation becomes that of abundance, becomes that of overflowing. You are motivated to do something not because you lack something, but because you are full. There’s a superabundant overflowing of motivation. And it’s sort of as if somebody gave you a million dollars or even a billion dollars, and so instead of operating from a scarcity drive, you are operating from an abundance, and the first thing you do is share this money with all your friends.
So that’s sort of the emotional difference between pluralistic and integral, but it comes down to the essential definition between first tier and this second tier or integral tier, and that is that as, still being part of first tier, the pluralistic value structure thinks that its values are truly the only real and believable values in the world. And so the pluralistic stage is antimodernity, antienlightenment, antirationalism, it’s anti-traditional-values, and doesn’t have quite a big enough mind-space to allow there to be some truth to all of these value structures.
And so there’s still, if you’re at the pluralistic stage, there’s the beginnings of an integral move in that there is an attempt to not marginalize individuals, there’s an attempt to overcome oppression, an attempt to overcome repression and social injustice, but it still doesn’t include all the other value structures. Whereas when you get to the integral level, all of a sudden the mind expands, and there’s a place for everything, there’s room for everything. There’s a sense that everybody’s right, although some truths are more right than others.
Tami Simon: Can you explain that? What do you mean, Ken, how can some truths be more— If everybody’s right, but some are more right. I don’t get that.
Ken Wilber: Right. The idea is that each level simply transcends and includes its predecessor. So we can take a simple developmental sequence, from atoms to molecules to cells to organisms. So when we’re at the molecule stage, if that’s the highest stage of development we’re at, then the world is full of molecules. And that’s the only truth there is, that’s the highest truth. Molecules also contain atoms, so atoms are included in molecules. So there’s a partial truth of atoms, and then the total, highest truth of molecules.
Then when cells emerge, molecules are taken up into cells. So cells now transcend and include molecules. So the particular molecular truth is now a partial truth; it’s part of cellular complexity. It’s part of a cellular existence, it’s part of a cellular worldview.
And cells at that point in time are then the highest truth that there is, until organisms emerge that contain many cells. And so then organisms become a higher truth, but it doesn’t deny the existence of atoms; it doesn’t deny the existence of molecules; it doesn’t deny the existence of cells. There’s a partial truth in all of those. All of those are necessary to create an organism, but each level is more complex, more inclusive, more transcendental.
And when we see that in mental structures, it shows up as each stage of development has more consciousness, takes on more perspectives; doesn’t deny the perspective of that level, it just adds new perspectives. So there is an increase in capacity for love, increase in capacity for care, increase in capacity for concern and compassion and inclusiveness. So in that sense, every level contributes something is partially true, but each higher level is more true, more inclusive, and encompassing.
Tami Simon: Now, let’s say I want to know if I’m a pluralistic or an integral person, and I’m listening to this and I think, “Well, at the emotional level, you know a lot of times I feel a sense of overflowing fullness and the limitlessness of my life and capacities, but then other times, you now, I definitely feel a lack.
Ken Wilber: Right. Right.
Tami Simon: You said, you know, “Have sex, have—” Yeah, I know exactly what that feels like, a sense of lack. And then the— So how do I know internally which of these levels I’m truly at?
Ken Wilber: It’s a combination of looking at your overall sense of value structures, of how you relate to traditional values, how you relate to modern values, how you relate to postmodern values. If you’re at an integral level, there’s an intuitive kind of OK-ness with all of these values. It doesn’t mean you necessarily like them, but you understand that there’s a fundamental place for them. You understand that somebody coming from a traditional value system is coming from a level that is true at that stage; there’s a relative amount of truth to that. And they are simply in the process of accruing and developing. And so there’s a sense of commonality with all of humanity, a sense of fundamental OK-ness with the value structures that you see running around out there. And even though ultimately the value structure you have, which is the one that is inclusive of all of those, is itself a fairly rare achievement. The integral level itself is just emerging over the last couple of decades. There’s probably only about 4 or 5 percent of the world’s population at integral.
But you’re right. People listening to this podcast are most likely have a good deal of integral in them, or they wouldn’t be interested in all of these kinds of ideas. And the integral level is behind this sort of enormous interest in various cultures and different types of mediation and the truths that come from mediation and contemplation, as well as their traditional modern and postmodern values. So individuals even sort of asking themselves “What stage am I at?” are probably have a fair amount of integral awareness in them, and that’s driving this interest in all of these things. And particularly driving an interest in how to see all of these things fitting together, how to find a worldview that is inclusive, a worldview that makes room for everything and finds place for everything. Like room for atoms and molecules and cells and organisms. And that’s one of the exciting things that’s happening over the last couple of decades is the increasing emergence of this integral level of understanding.
Tami Simon: Now what about the sense of identity, one’s own personal sense of identity, moving through these different stages of transformation?
Ken Wilber: Right. That sense of identity gets bigger and bigger and broader and broader, and more and more inclusive. So when we’re at the magic or egocentric level of development, one’s identity is essentially just that, egocentric. I’m identified with myself, my own narcissistic powers, and don’t have an identity that extends much beyond that. When I move up to the next level, the traditional value structure, it’s ethnocentric. So it moves from egocentric to ethnocentric. And ethnocentric means that my identity expands from just me to my family, my tribe, possibly my nation. But it’s a more expansive sense of identity with a broader group of people. And that sense of identity is very real, and it can be felt, you know, right through to the bones, and is an essential expansion of the size of your identity, if you will.
And this is headed in a particular direction. The next stage, the modern stage, is world-centric. And that means an identity, a fundamental self-identity with all of humanity, regardless of race, color, sex, or creed. So we’ve gone from egocentric to ethnocentric to world-centric. And that means going from first-person perspective to second-person perspective to third-person perspective. So each of these is an expansion of identity, and that continues into the postmodern stage, which for all of the world-centric nature of the modern stage, it still can tend to exclude other cultures, whereas the postmodern stage is very, very careful to be multiculturally sensitive and to find an identity with all cultures, regardless of whether they’re east or west or north or south, or premodern, modern, or postmodern. So that’s an expansion again into a fuller world–centric identity.
And then with the leap into integral, one’s identity starts to expand even beyond humanity to all sentient beings, and that’s called cosmos-centric. And so that’s an identity where you literally start to feel one with all of life, one with all of nature, one with the Divine, one with Spirit, and an identity that therefore at times you will actually feel one with everything that’s arising. You feel one with the entire manifest world, and that’s a very powerful state of one taste or oneness, is often experienced in cases of flow states where individuals get involved in a flow state that takes them beyond themselves to a oneness with everything that’s arising. And that’s a very powerful experience, and it’s essentially a peak experience of an integral, cosmos-centric state. And so what we see is a continuing growth and evolution of consciousness, with each stage transcending and including the previous stage. So that each stage gets bigger, bigger, bigger, deeper, wider, higher, more inclusive.
And that has brought us to this present stage of the emergence of integral, which for the first time in history is a stage that self-consciously includes all previous stages. And that is indeed a transformation that is unheard of. All of the previous stages were very important, each one was wider, deeper, more inclusive, but each previous stage still believed that its values are the only real values in existence. And so postmodernity disagrees with modernity’s values, it disagrees with traditional values, it disagrees with tribal values. Likewise modernity itself disagrees with postmodernity, it disagrees with traditional values, and so on. Whereas the integral level finds some degree of truth and value to all of them.
So for the first time in history, we’re coming upon an evolution of consciousness that is dramatically more inclusive than anything that we’ve seen in history, and this is going to have, and is starting to have, profound impact on all human activity, and will increasingly show up as a demand for integral medicine, integral education, integral politics, and so on. And we’re right at the verge, starting to see these integral movements emerge, and it’s really quite extraordinary.
Tami Simon: Can you give me one example so I’m sure people are tracking with you when you say something like “integral medicine.” What makes that type of medicine integral?
Ken Wilber: What we find as we’re at an integral stage and looking at the worldview that the integral stage creates is that many, many more dimensions of being become obvious. And so in simplified terms, and these really are simplified, but we can say that an integral worldview definitely includes body and mind and spirit. And in all of them in important proportions. And that in itself is unlike any previous structure. The modern structure, for example, believes in mind but not spirit, and the traditional structure believes in spirit but not mind, and so on. So actually having a worldview that wants to include body and mind and spirit is itself something fairly unheard of.
But that will change the way that we look at every discipline that we get involved with, and medicine is one of them. Medicine right now, is as it’s practiced, was created during the modern era, the rational era, and believes essentially in scientific materialism. So it believes in medicine that looks only at the material body. So medicine does not look at your mind, your interior, your mental values, or any personal values that you hold and that can be contributing to the illness. Nor does it look at all at spiritual components to illness, and spiritual components to cure.
So a truly integral medicine accepts all of the truths of material medicine; it accepts all the truths of modern medicine and the importance of physical body and physical cures. But it also looks at mind and mental values and motivations and techniques that can help cure illness from the mind, including visualization techniques and motivation techniques. And it also looks at [the] spiritual component of illness, and helps individuals get in touch with the Ground of Being—however they wish to conceive it, Spirit, by whatever name—that can help play an important role, not only in the cause of illness, but certainly in the cure of illness.
And so we’re starting to see an increasing demand for integrative medicine. And there actually is a movement called integrative medicine, and that’s a start in that direction. It’s not quite integral; it’s not really fully, fully, fully taking into account all of these dimensions, but it’s a very, very powerful move in that direction. And it is now of course the third major movement in medicine: we have orthodox medicine, we have alternative medicine, and now we have integrative medicine. Integrative medicine takes into account both of the other two. So we see again the transcend-and-include nature of these more integral movements.
And we see the same thing in politics, a desire to instead of having constant battle between Democrats and Republicans, to find a third way of politics that understands the strengths and weaknesses of both parties, both of their values, and both of what they’re doing. We see the same things starting in education, which is instead of educating just for the modern view of education, which is just cognitive-mental, that there are many multiple intelligences—musical, kinesthetic, emotional intelligence—and all of these need to be addressed, and are addressed in integral views. So those are just some examples of the types of human disciplines that are starting to be redone because individuals are moving into these integral levels.
Tami Simon: Now Ken, you’re one of the hardest working, most productive, and most passionate writers and teachers that I know. For real; I’m not blowing smoke here.
Ken Wilber: Thank you.
Tami Simon: You’ve been working your tushy [off] for decades.
Ken Wilber: Yes.
Tami Simon: And all your work seems to focus in one way or another about this momentous leap into integral, the integral vision.
Ken Wilber: Right.
Tami Simon: Why is this such a passion for you? What’s fueling your own commitment to the integral vision?
Ken Wilber: Well, the only thing I can guess is that it’s my own— You know, not to pat myself on the back, but it would be my own integral awareness. I think I stumbled, transformed into this stage rather early in this. Wrote my first book twenty-three years old called The Spectrum of Consciousness, and it was an integrative view of all the psychotherapy systems that were out there, East and West, and showed how they could all be brought together into one comprehensive, truly holistic system. My same consciousness has a spectrum consisting of indeed different levels, and with different psychotherapies being correct in addressing a particular level that they were created for. So the six or so major schools of psychotherapy in the world, it wasn’t just that one was right and all the others were wrong; it’s that they were all right when dealing with their own level.
And from that early book through some twenty-five books, it’s been the same kind of theme. Looking in different disciplines, looking in anthropology, sociology, philosophy, psychology, science, and looking for this integral, more comprehensive worldview. And how that could create a view of the world that was not fragmented, not partial, not broken, not piecemeal, but it was indeed whole and united and one and harmonious. And that that is indeed the direction that evolution is moving. So for better or worse, I just appear to be one of the early surfers on that evolutionary wave.
And I kind of stayed with it ever since, and have been very delighted to see the influence of integral views slowly spread, but indelibly get more and more influential year by year, until now where it’s really kind of a worldwide awareness, and people from all over the world are starting to wake up to their integral possibilities. And that ultimately is what is required for our worldwide problems, whether we’re looking at climate control or economic meltdown or culture wars. We’re either going to approach those from a truly holistic, comprehensive stance and find ways to approach this in a whole fashion, or we’re going to continue to approach them in piecemeal, fragmented, broken terms, in which case we’re not going to solve them at all. So it’s not only a time that integral is growing, it’s a time that we desperately need it. So it seems to be kind of coming along, sort of more or less, right when it was needed.
Tami Simon: I’m curious. Here you’ve been working on bringing the integral vision forward for three-plus decades, what do you think has changed in your own thinking over this period of time? What thoughts did you have three decades ago that you say, “You know, actually I really have to change that; that’s not correct.” Over this period when you look back, what’s potentially disappointed you in how the integral vision has been brought into the world? So changes and potentially disappointments—or surprises.
Ken Wilber: Right. As for changes, I have to say that I’ve been fairly lucky. When I was asked to do my collected works, I went back through and read everything that I had written to edit it for the collected works, and I was happily surprised to find that I still believed in about 95 percent of what I had written. What I noticed is that each book covered a particular area, and then when it got to an area that at that time I really didn’t know something about, I tended just not to say anything. So I never overextended my own integral vision, and so it always stayed within limits that were accurate, and are still accurate today. I still stand behind virtually all of the major books and statements that I’ve made over the years. So in that regard, I’ve been fortunate. And for some reason my mind just won’t make comments about things that it doesn’t have a lot of evidence for, and I think perhaps that’s maybe one of the reasons that people trust my books, and one of the reasons that all of them are still in print is that there is an enduring kind of truth quality to them.
But now as for surprises and disappointments, ups and downs, those have been many. And many of them have been positive as well as negative. You can sort of, depending on kind of what angle you look at it, you can see the spread of integral ideas as either happening at an extraordinarily fast pace, and sometimes I see it that way. And other times I feel like it’s just dragging its ass along the ground and it’s just going so slow. And it’s such a disappointment not to see it grow faster or wider or larger.
But in terms of the positive, the number of people that have increasingly become attracted to an integral view, are creating their own integral views, are using mine, or in some way or other are becoming integral themselves—this has in some ways been really astonishing. Five years ago, I would never have guessed that both a sitting president and vice-president would publicly endorse my work. And yet both Clinton and Gore did so. Clinton at a recent world economic forum said that what the world needs now is integral consciousness as described by Ken Wilber in his book The Marriage of Sense and Soul, and then he went on to lament the fact that there were relatively so few people at that stage, and he worried about that because it clearly had something to offer the world, and yet with only 4 or 5 percent of the world there, that was cause for concern. Al Gore called The Marriage of Sense and Soul his favorite new book. This is all utterly surprising, and something that I say five, six years ago would not have thought possible. But the spread of integral ideas, looked at from that angle, has been surprisingly positive and widespread.
I still— Today I’m on one of the days where I think it’s going too slow. And that’s disappointing and irritating and it’s just sort of, you know, all you can do is kind of take a breath and get meditative and let what is arise. So there have been some real ups and downs in terms of how I view the movement itself.
Integral Transformation, Part Two
You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today, I speak with Ken Wilber in the second of a two-part series. Ken is one of the most influential and widely-read American philosophers of our time. He’s the founder of the Integral Institute, and has published over 25 books, including A Brief History of Everything and The Simple Feeling of Being, as well as the Sounds True audio learning programs Cosmic Consciousness and The One Two Three of God. I spoke with Ken about shadow work, the importance of meditation, and other practices that help us on a path of genuine transformation.
We started off, Ken, talking about transformation, and you described that the levels we were talking about were really levels of worldview, levels of thinking. I know, when sometimes I talk about your work with other people, they say, “You know, Tami, I’m interested in transforming my being, not just my thinking, not just my mind. This is a very mental map, what Ken has to offer. If I study the Integral vision, will I really transform, or will I just think about transforming?”
Ken Wilber: Right. Well, the Integral vision, as I’ve put it forth, is based on—and I make this clear in book after book—practice. It’s not based on theory. It’s based on actually going out and doing the practices. And so we have something called Integral Life Practice—that you can find at MyILP.com—and consists of the practices that you can do, from an integral level, to help open up to the integral and higher stages of development. It’s kind of a common misunderstanding, I think, that because my books are academic, I mean I have chosen to write scholarly books, but I vision they’re still accessible. I think that’s one of the reasons they sell quite well and are all still in print: It’s that they’re very accessible, very readable. But they are complex. They do cover all of the bases, but one of the bases is, “Don’t just think about this. Go out and practice it, and here are our practices.”
So I think that people that really don’t know my work well, it’s common to hear that, “Oh, he’s just that cognitive guy. He’s just doing that intellectual stuff.” And that’s just not true! Basically all I can say: I do do academic work, but the popular versions of it, and the works themselves, make it really clear that the intellectual understanding of this material is pretty secondary to the actual practice of it. So it’s sort of like tap dancing. You know, you can write academic books about tap dancing, or you can learn to tap dance, and I recommend both! But the fact is, I have written histories of tap dancing, and rational analyses of tap dancing, and aesthetic discussions of tap dancing, and so on. I’ve done all of that, but the bottom line is: “Now go out and learn how to tap dance! And here are ways to do that.”
That’s kind of an important distinction, and is one that I think people that are familiar with my work will recognize immediately.
Tami Simon: One of the practices I know that is offered in the Integral Life Practice approach has to do with shadow work, and that’s particularly interesting to me, because you know that I, for whatever reason, am always seeing other people’s shadows, and working on my own, as well. So I’m curious: Can you explain how shadow work is taught in ILP, and then how you work with it yourself, both?
Ken Wilber: Sure. Shadow is just a general term for any unconscious aspects of yourself. These aspects are not just, they don’t just find themselves in the unconscious. They are put there. They are disowned aspects of the self. They are qualities of the self that are too threatening, or too dangerous, or sometimes just too positive and almost too beautiful to be accepted as part of myself. So I push them into my unconsciousness, and that basically takes them from a first-person quality—that means something that belongs to the “I” or the “me”—I push them away into a second-person—second-person means “you”—and then into a third person—where it can become “him” or “her” or “they” or “them”: “It belongs to them, not me.” It becomes an “it,” a third-person “it,” something that I don’t own, but that belongs to the world out there, and so some part of my “I” has been converted into an “it.” I’d say, for example, “The anxiety: It’s stronger than I am!” “My compulsion to eat: It’s more powerful than I am!” “My fear: I can’t control it!” so all of these things that actually belong to “I” now are perceived as being third-person, shadow “its.”
It’s interesting that Freud, when he was writing about the Ego and the Id, he never used those terms, never used Ego or Id. He used the pronouns, the “I” and the “it.” The idea was that some component of the “I” gets split off and experienced as an “it.” And so Freud was a very powerful phenomenologist here. He was getting some very, very strong understanding of what happens in the psyche. When he was asked, “What is the actual aim of psychoanalysis?” it’s typically translated as, “Where Id was, there Ego shall be,” and what he actually wrote was, “Where ‘it’ was, there ‘I’ shall become.”
So the process of shadow work is re-owning all of these unconscious facets of yourself, whether they’re negative: anger, aggression, sex, power . . . Any of those can be disowned, pushed on the other side of the self boundary, and turned into an exterior “it” that appears out there in the world. Or positive things: Individuals are sometimes both much more beautiful and caring and loving than they admit, and so then they push those on the outside, and then they tend to hero worship. They shadow hug, whereas, if you project negatives, you tend to shadow box, and find demons out there in the world. You will then react to those demons in extremely negative ways.
Now, it doesn’t mean, if you are sort of reacting to a very controlling person out there, and you don’t like them, that’s very likely a shadow projection of your own controlling qualities. Now that doesn’t mean that that person isn’t also controlling. It’s just why does it bother you when it doesn’t bother other people? The answer is, because you are projecting some of your own controlling aspects onto this person. Precisely because they are controlling, they make a good projection hook for your own shadow. And so then, instead of seeing one controlling person out there, you’re seeing two. You’re seeing the actual controlling person and your own controlling shadow, both put onto this one person, and so you react to this person extremely negatively. That’s one of the tip-offs to shadow material: It’s material that you react to in an extremely negative way, and that can be material that shows up in dreams, or material that shows up in day-to-day living.
There are many ways to work with shadow material—standard psychoanalysis, or Jungian, or Gestalt therapy is a very powerful, quick way of working with it—but, in spiritual practice, we want to include some type of shadow work, because spiritual practice, itself, doesn’t always get at the shadow. It can get to our transpersonal unconscious, and our spiritual unconscious, and help us awaken those, but it doesn’t necessarily get at disowned and repressed material. For that, you have to actually do a little bit of shadow work, itself.
One of the simple ways that we introduce shadow work in Integral Life Practice is called three, two, one. What that simply means is third person, to second person, to first person. So it’s reversing the order that the shadow was projected. Remember, the shadow material started out, you’re identified with it as part of your first person. Then you pushed it away as a second person, pushed it away as a third person, so it showed up as a “Doesn’t belong to me. I know somebody’s angry, but since I don’t get angry, it must be that guy. He’s the one that’s angry all the time!” So you’re reacting to something “out there” that is really you, so you see as some third person.
What we do in the three, two, one shadow work is—you can do it at any time, but we recommend when you wake up in the morning—finding, for example, some image in the night’s dream that was particularly moving. It can be frightening, nightmarish, or extremely positive, but whatever it was, it was emotionally charged. Then you first locate it—it could be a monster, a monster that’s trying to eat you—so you locate the monster, and that’s finding “it.” Then you locate the monster and you put it in an empty chair in front of you, and you talk to it. So now you’ve converted it from a third person into a second person, to a “you”: “What are you doing here?” “What do you want from me?” And listen to what it says. Re-establish connection with this negative shadow, this monster image, and then after you’ve done that for a while, then switch chairs with it, so that you are the monster, you identify with the monster. Now it’s gone from a second person to a first person. This is taking it back.
You will tend to find that a monster that causes great fear in you is actually a type of aggressive energy that you have, that you are not in touch with, and aggression, itself, is not negative. The dictionary definition of aggression is “to move toward.” That’s different from hostility, which is “to move against.” But a lot of people are uncomfortable with aggression because it feels like anger, it feels like hostility, and so they project it, they disown it. And so it’s going to show up out there as all these angry monsters who are trying to get at you. By re-owning that energy, you can reconvert it into its more positive forms and befriend it, and so you stop populating the world with angry monsters, and start finding your own interest and desire to approach the world aggressively, with energy, with a positive drive.
You can also do that at the end of the day, with whatever person upset you the most or attracted you the most. First of all, find them, identify them as the third person, and then face them, put them in the chair as second person, talk to them, and then be them.
So that’s reversing the order that it was generated, and then reclaiming the shadow for yourself. That’s a very important part, not just of everyday mental health, but it’s a very important part of spiritual practice, because your shadow, every time you split off your shadow, you are in a sense taking energy away from your consciousness and putting it out of reach, putting it in the basement. Let’s say, if you’re born with 100 units of consciousness, 100 dollars in a bank, and when you’re three or four years old, you split off five of these units—you project them—now you’ve only got ninety-five dollars in the bank. Maybe, when you’re nine or ten, you split off another ten dollars. Now you’ve got eighty-five dollars in the bank. Every time you do that, you’re taking away your capacity to grow and develop, because you’re losing strength, you’re losing awareness, losing consciousness. And it might be that, in order to get enlightened, for example, you need eighty dollars, and if you’ve projected twenty-five dollars, you’re not going to make it. Too much energy is going to be expended on protecting your shadow, on protecting the aspects of yourself that you can’t acknowledge and admit and include, whereas when you do that, you take that money back, you convert the shadow into its more positive and beneficial forms, and therefore can more effectively and more powerfully continue your growth and development.
So this three, two, one process that we use is just a simple way to quickly get in touch with many shadow elements. It doesn’t cover all of the bases, but it covers a great deal of them, it’s easy to learn: You can find out about it in both The Integral Life Practice Handbook and MyILP.com. As for how I do this, I have really, during my thirty years of writing and studying these topics, I’ve done an enormous amount of different kinds of therapy—anything from traditional analysis, to transactional analysis, to Gestalt therapy, to Jungian, to narrative therapy, and on down the line—and I still find the simple three, two, one process to be one of the simplest and most effective ways to get in touch with that emotional core of yourself, and particularly the aspects of it that you don’t want to face, that you are disowning, because those disowned shadows show up out there in the world. You can find them real easy. They’re the things that bug you the most and the things that attract you the most. All of those are going to be shadow driven. Remember, it doesn’t mean that those things aren’t really out there. It means that, when you project your shadow onto them, you then get a double dose of what’s out there, and that’s what’s so upsetting and anxiety creating and depression creating about shadow projections. So I just continue to work with the three, two, one process, and find it just endlessly useful and very effective.
Incidentally, it works really well with meditation techniques, because in meditation, in a sense what you’re doing, ultimately, is expanding your awareness, from gross states of consciousness, into subtle states of consciousness, into causal, and ultimately unitive and non-dual states of awareness, and that ultimate non-dual, unitive state is, indeed, to feel a fundamental identity with everything that’s arising, moment to moment to moment, and is to feel connected with your own infinite self, your own truly timeless, spaceless, infinite ground. That sense is an overwhelming presence and oneness and luminosity and what the Sufis call “supreme identity,” identity of the soul and godhead. That identity, that being one with everything, that works really well with the three, two, one shadow process, because in the shadow work, you’re working with your finite self, and becoming one with things that were split off your finite self. You actually feel, when you do three, two, one work, that you are becoming one with something that you have split off. You feel enlargement of your identity and your awareness, and just of the finite self: You’re making the finite self larger by taking back its projections. And then, in meditation, you’re taking the finite self and having it, in its entirety, become one with everything that’s arising.
So it’s sort of a two-part process of becoming one: The three, two, one process helps you become one with things in the finite realm, and meditation helps you become one with the infinite. They work really well together, and you actually, if you end up sitting and meditating, as things arise in the mind, you can both do three, two, one work on them, and then you can do meditative work: disidentifying, letting go, releasing, transcending, and generally dropping the individual body-mind. But then, when you come back into the individual body-mind, you want to make sure that it’s as healthy as possible, and that means keeping the shadow clean. So it’s an important work that we do, again, just for everyday mental health, and spiritual work.
Tami Simon: And just tying back the loop to this idea of moving and transforming through the stages of development: Can you make explicit how doing something like shadow work in combination with meditation would push somebody, potentially, up through the stages of development?
Ken Wilber: Yes. Here, I want to just briefly mention that there are two general types of development. The one that we’ve been discussing refers to structures of consciousness, and then there is another one that refers to states of consciousness. So structures are these actual structures in the mind that give it structure, give it form, give it motivation, give it interpretation, give it values, and so on, you know, archaic, mythic, magic, rational, pluralistic, integral, and so on. But then, at any of those structures or levels of consciousness, there are available four or five main states of consciousness. In the meditative traditions, these states, in their natural form, are referred to as waking state; dreaming state; deep, formless sleep state; then turia, or the pure witnessing, unqualifiable awareness state; and then turiyatita, or the state of oneness, the unitive state where emptiness and form, subject and object become one. Now, meditation has the capacity to increase development along both of those scales.
Traditionally, the meditation texts work with the gross waking, the subtle dreaming, the causal, the formless, and then turia and turiyatita. If you look at the stages of meditation in the meditation manuals that you find around the world, you’ll find that those are the main stages they talk about. They don’t talk about magic and mythic and rational and pluralistic. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to see those stages by introspect—those are the result of developmental studies on large numbers of people over time—but the meditative states are states that you can see, yourself. You can look within and see a series of gross, material images, or subtle, luminous dream images of light and bliss and wonder and energy, and then a complete, dark night, a complete cessation, a formlessness, one with pure, formless spirit. And then coming out of that emptiness, and aware of all three of those states, is spirit, itself, is called turia, which means “the fourth state” or “the witness,” and it’s that in you and I, right now, that literally are witnessing everything that’s arising. It’s the ever-present, true self. Relative self is the self that we can be aware of as an object, so when somebody says, “Who are you, Tami?” and you say, “I’m a practitioner, I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a this, I’m a that . . .” those are all relative objects that you can see with your mind’s eye. That’s not the true self. The true self is that which is doing the seeing. It’s that which is aware of the objective self and the finite self and all of the objective arising world. That true self, or pure self, is radically unqualifiable, empty, clear, transparent, open, infinite, and has no qualifications at all, including that one. The discovery of that true self is traditional enlightenment, because it means that you are no longer identified with a small, finite self, even a small, finite, integral self, because that’s still, the integral self is still a finite self. But you are truly that which is aware of your finite self, so if you get a good grasp of yourself right now, and somebody says, “Who are you?” everything you see is exactly who you are not. It’s exactly the false self, because the real self is that which is witnessing, which is pure, steady, unwavering presence and awareness, free of all objects, free of all subjects, and ever-present openness, transparency, in which everything is arising moment to moment. So you can look out and see clouds passing through the sky of your awareness, you can have feelings passing through the sky of your awareness, you can have thoughts passing through the sky of your awareness, and your true self is that sky through which everything is arising moment to moment, and which is identified with none of it, but it’s the ground and openness of all of it.
So what meditation does—and this does come back to your question—what meditation does is speeds up development in both of these scales. We have empirical evidence that meditation increases the development of structures of consciousness, and it primarily increases development through these states of consciousness. One of the easiest ways to describe that is Robert Keagan, one of the great developmentalists from Harvard, defined development as “the subject of one stage becomes the object of the subject of the next stage.” What that means if we look at structures, for example, is the self, your finite self, starts out identified with the archaic mind, and that’s your subject. And you stay subjectively identified with the archaic mind, in today’s world, for the first, oh, one to three years, and then the next mind, the magic mind, starts to emerge, and your self disidentifies from the archaic mind and identifies with the magic mind. The archaic mind is now an object. It’s something that can be seen by the magic mind. The subject of this level is now seeing the previous level as an object. In today’s world, the average individual stays with the magic mind until about five or six years old, and then the mythic mind starts to emerge. So while you’re identified with the magic mind as subject, you can’t see it, because it’s what you are. You are looking at the world through the magic mind, and therefore you can’t see the magic mind. It’s something you’re seeing with, until the mythic mind starts to emerge, and the self disidentifies with the magic mind—that now becomes an object—and it identifies with the mythic mind, which is the new subject. So now the self can’t see the mythic mind, but it can see the archaic mind, it can see the magic mind. In each of these cases, what’s happening is the subject of one level is becoming the object of the subject of the next level.
Now that turns out to be the key to how both ordinary development works in the structures of awareness, as archaic goes to magic, goes to mythic, goes to rational, goes to pluralistic, goes to integral, and also the key to meditation. In meditation, the reason that meditation works for both of these scales, generally—and incidentally, meditation has been the only thing that’s been demonstrated to move adults vertically through these structures of consciousness, and we can come back to that if you want to, but virtually, transformation through these structures occurs quite rapidly for children and up to adolescence, where people ordinarily go through three or four or even five transformations. They transform from archaic, to magic, to mythic, to rational, and somewhere around rational or pluralistic, transformation tends to die down, and they enter adulthood, and then, if you do hatha yoga, or if you do psychoanalysis, or if you do Gestalt therapy, or if you do any number of things that have been tested, you don’t transform. You won’t move higher in this scale. All those things help you do is translate in a more healthy fashion. They don’t help you transform. The only thing that’s been shown to help adults transform vertically through these levels of consciousness is meditation. A person meditating an average of four years on a daily basis can move an average of two stages in terms of transformation. That’s remarkable. That, in itself, is a truly remarkable finding.
The reason that meditation does that is that it is this way to introspect. It looks within, and when you look within, you’re looking at your present subject, and therefore you’re making it an object. You’re looking at your present subject; you’re making it an object. Every time you become aware of your self, every time you give it awareness, you’re making it an object, so you are transcending it, you’re moving to the next higher structure or state, and starting to see it from there. So you start out, and you’ve fundamentally identified with a waking, gross state of consciousness. When you introspect on that, that subject becomes an object of the next higher state, which is the subtle state, and so now you have a subjective identity with the subtle, you’ve disidentified with the objective, gross realm, you’re now identified with the subtle realm, and you introspect on that. You make that subject into an object. You see it objectively. You become aware of it. You give it attention. You give it awareness. It becomes an object, and that next higher subject moves into place. That continues until there is pure subjectivity, until there is pure awareness that cannot become an object anymore. You’ve objectified every possible subject, you’ve transcended every possible finite self, and all that is remaining is the pure witness, the pure, infinite, true self. Now, of course you will retain a conventional self, and if somebody calls you “Tami,” you will turn and respond and so on, but you will know that your fundamental identity is not with this body-mind, it’s not with any thing that this finite self is doing, but it’s with the pure center of awareness that is aware of this finite self.
And so what we try to do with the Integral Approach is look at both the growth in structures of consciousness and the growth in states of consciousness. The reason shadow work helps is it is another way to make subject object. It’s a way to look within, to introspect, to feel and be aware of the present subject, the present self, whether that’s an archaic self, a magic self, a mythic self, a rational self, a pluralistic self, or an integral self, structurally; or whether it’s a gross self, a subtle self, a causal self, in terms of states; in both cases, making subject object and therefore transcending it. And so doing shadow work is an important way, particularly with the finite self, to become aware of it, and become aware of it in its healthy forms. That lets you let go of, helps you drop it, and then move on to the next higher structure, to transform—transform, meaning to literally change levels of consciousness, move up on the scale of growth and development.
Tami Simon: So one more aspect of this I just want to make sure that I understand: You know many times, meditation teachers will tell you that, you know, “Just meditate. That’s all you need to do,” and yet you’re saying that meditation won’t get to these unconscious shadow pieces. You have to do something like shadow work. Why is that?
Ken Wilber: Right. Well, apparently much of the shadow, when it’s disowned, is done so through very strong psychodynamic repression and other types of defense mechanisms, and these mechanisms, themselves, are unconscious. They’re not something that you really can see, so they’re a defense mechanism that then hides itself, and it tends to be very strong. It tends to be very powerful. Simply introspecting, turning within and introspecting, isn’t enough to penetrate these repression barriers. I know, in the general field, itself, particularly a field called transpersonal psychology, which studies these things a lot, thirty years ago, when transpersonal psychology started, it really was thought that meditation would do everything. Meditation would not only show you the royal road to the superconscious, it was a royal road to the subconscious, and that it would lower the repression barrier and allow all shadow material to surface, and so it was really thought to cover all of the bases. But as the years went on, and we both looked at the theory of that, it sort of became more and more unbelievable on theoretical grounds that meditation could do all of this stuff, but then also we had—you know, and there’s sort of no way to talk abut this except embarrassingly, in personal terms—we had several decades of meditation teachers practicing meditation all the time, and their shadows just as big as they ever were, and in some cases, bigger! Clearly something wasn’t working here, and so it’s just one of the things that we have found out the hard way. How many people know great, great meditation teachers that have shadows following them around and getting them into trouble? So we learned that the hard way, and that’s why we make the sort of mental Integral Practice cover body, mind, spirit, and shadow. It’s just too important, and long experience, both theoretically and particularly personally, has shown us that meditation doesn’t get at all or even most of the shadow.
Tami Simon: Now this idea that mediation is the only proven technique that moves people through structures, can you think of any other techniques that you would nominate, that maybe we don’t have proof for yet, but have potential?
Ken Wilber: Well, that’s a good point, because this does mean all of the practices that we have done studies on. Now there have been a lot of studies done, but that doesn’t mean that they are exhaustive, and so there could be things out there that would have an effect on helping to transform. Right now, again, it’s meditation is the only one that we have actual empirical data on—and a fair amount of data on it. It also shows things, for example, if you take college students, and we find that a percentage of college students that are at second-tier or integral stages can be ten to fifteen percent, after four years of meditation, it goes to an astonishing thirty to forty percent, so it really is a powerful transformative technique.
Others that are out there would be, as far as I’m concerned, types of therapy that consistently are practiced that then work with introspection. One of the reasons meditation tends to work is that it’s done on a daily basis. Most forms of psychotherapy are done weekly. So one of the things that would have to be included in this is something that’s done for twenty to forty minutes once or twice a day, and that could apply to a fair number of techniques, but that would have to be one of the main things that would have to occur. Most forms of psychotherapy, most other forms of practice, just don’t work, aren’t practiced that often, so it makes it a little bit more difficult to get a constant transformative pressure up and running.
Tami Simon: I’m thinking of things like, let’s say somebody does a writing practice every day, and they’re distancing themselves from themselves as the writer, because then they’re going back and reading and reflecting on themselves as an object after, couldn’t some kind of writing practice?
Ken Wilber: You bet. Remember that this is an average study. The studies have shown that practices other than meditation move people, at most, an average of 0.25 structures, but that doesn’t mean that people can’t transform. It just means that the vast majority don’t. You’ll find any number of practices that, for the people that do transform, are helping them transform, and for some people, it really could be something as simple as jogging, jogging in nature on a daily basis. Others could, indeed, be writing. Others could be journaling, and others could be raising sane kids. Transformation does occur. It’s just, as I said, we found it’s much harder than we thought, and takes, generally speaking, a little bit more work than we thought over the past ten, twenty, thirty years, where basically you see advertisements for weekend seminars that are “A complete transformative experience in all realms!” kind of thing. That’s probably not going to happen over that weekend. A peak experience, perhaps, yes, but a permanent transformation, plateau experience? Probably not. And so it’s just getting a little saner, more realistic about both what transformation is—which is the actual change in structures or states of consciousness—and that it takes to have actual transformation kick in. It absolutely can be done, and forms that are known generally as Integral transformative practice, including Integral Life Practice, are the ones that have the best chance of doing that. For people that do transform, it could be, indeed, something as simple as creative writing.
Tami Simon: Now Ken, just finally, you said that today was one of those days when you were looking at the Integral movement over the last period of time and thinking, “Ah, it’s taking longer than I had hoped, it’s,” you know, “We’re dragging our ass.” So here people are listening, and it’s your chance to communicate directly to that person. What would be your aspiration for the listener? So we can turn your day around, right here.
Ken Wilber: Well, the aspiration would be, indeed, to look within yourself and attempt to find the widest, deepest, most encompassing presence, awareness, that you can find. Of course, we would love to have you come and join us at IntegralLife.com and see if you can’t find ways to take this awareness in your own being and start applying it in the world out there, because we really are at a point that is a turning point in many ways, both in many very positive ways—this is, after all, the emergence of a truly integral transformation that’s starting to occur, that’s never happened in history, and has extraordinary consequences—and it’s also happening at the time that we are facing, really for the first time, global problems, problems that don’t just affect one nation or another, as in all historical past, but problems that are affecting every nation, every human on the planet, and demands someplace, somehow, a cosmo-centric, integral awareness. I would call on everybody to look within themselves and look for that broad and open and wide and deep reservoir of emerging integral awareness, and then start practicing it, start applying it to your life, check out groups on the ‘net, and generally come and join us in what’s becoming a worldwide movement.
Tami Simon: Thank you, Ken. You know, as we’re talking, I’m thinking of the first time I met you, which was, I don’t know, maybe fifteen, twenty years ago?
Ken Wilber: Yes.
Tami Simon: And went up to your house in the foothills of the mountains, and talked with you for about seven hours, and I just kept asking you questions, and I said, “I’ve learned more in seven hours than I’ve learned in the past seven years.” It was really true at the time. It was so incredibly eye opening, and it continues to be every time I talk with you. You’re a true, unique gem in our cosmos, so thank you. Thanks for bringing us your time and worth.
Ken Wilber: My pleasure, Tami. As usual, I love you dearly, and this was wonderful, so any time.
Tami Simon: Okay. Thanks Ken.