Today, we continue our 3 part series on integral theory.  Yesterday (What the Heck is Integral Theory and Why Should I Care?) we looked at why I was drawn to it and find it beneficial for us to understand.   Today, we are going to look at Ken Wilber’s AQAL model (which is at the center of Integral Theory but by no means conveys all aspects of it) and break it down into simple terms.  Most folks avoid it as it seems at first blush to be overly intellectual.  But, at its core, it is fairly simple to understand as you will see (but, yes, alas, a bit “heady”….tomorrow we take it to “heart”).

So let’s get into the details….Wilber’s AQAL map begins with four quadrants (consider simply a box that is divided into 4 internal boxes and you have the four quadrants!).  These are areas of our life we can stop and experience in any moment.

The upper left of the quadrants represents an individual’s interior (our sense of  “I”) which for humans is our sense of self and consciousness.  The upper right represents an individual’s exterior (or “It”) which for humans is our brains and all of our physical body.  The lower left represents a collective interior (or “We”) which for humans is our culture and worldviews.  Finally, the lower right represents the collective exterior (or “Its”) which for humans is our social systems and environment.

Wilber then looks at how we are evolving or growing.   This growth is occurring in all four of the quadrants, along what he calls “lines” of development.   Stated simply, these lines incorporate what we commonly refer to as “multiple intelligences”.   These are areas such as our intellect, emotions, morals, spirituality, musical ability, interpersonal skills, kinesthetic ability and so forth.

Each of these “lines” or “intelligences” appear to have a common path of development that all humans move through as they grow.   For example, humans have been shown to grow morally through the same stages.  Children are first concerned with only themselves (egocentric) but later expand their care and concern to their larger group (ethnocentric).  If they are able to transcend this level, morally they begin to care about all humans (worldcentric).

As we gain life experience and grow in an individual line or intelligence (such as this moral path), we attain and retain that growth in what Wilber terms “levels” or “stages”.  Egocentric is a level, ethnocentric is a level, etc.   Think of anything that you have learned and you can see that you progressed through certain levels as you learned more.  We do not have access to the “higher” levels of development until we have moved through the prerequisite experience of the “lower” levels.  However, once we grow into a level, it has a degree of permanency even though we can temporarily shift back to lower levels.

Next in the AQAL model,  “states” refers to our various states of consciousness such as awake, dreaming or deep sleep.  We also experience other “states” such as ones induced via meditation, spiritual experiences, peak experiences or drugs.  These “states of consciousness” can be experienced by everyone without any training and they are temporary and fleeting.

Finally, “types” refers to any kind of classification that generally speaking is not a state of consciousness or line of development.  We are either male or female.  We all have some type of indicator on the Myers-Briggs instrument.  We all have a specific enneagram type.  Normally, all types can have both a “healthy” or “unhealthy” (shadow) manifestation.

So that’s the model in fairly simple terms.  There are other aspects to Integral Theory that I have obviously omitted, but if you understand these key concepts, you can put it to use right away.

As mentioned yesterday, the value in the theory comes from  mixing and matching different concepts onto the map and seeing what it offers us.  The advantage is that in everything—from spiritual growth, to medicine, to business, law, psychotherapy, and so on—integral theory reminds you to consider how the various elements of Truth are at play in your life.  This way, Wilber says you “can more easily appreciate them, exercise them, use them.”  If you only consider something from one perspective, then you are limiting the  possibilities for attaining the highest solution.

To make this more real, let’s look at a brief example.  One area where the integral view has been employed immediately is in the world of medicine.  Traditional western medical treatment has generally focused exclusively on the upper right quadrant.  That is, it seeks to treat the individual’s body without concern for their inner world or the person’s relationships. Drugs, surgery and other body focused treatments are helpful, but are they the highest possibility for how we can provide health care?

Yet, looking at health care integrally calls us to consider the patient’s inner states of awareness (emotions, attitudes, spiritual beliefs, etc.) and  how they have a bearing on health.  Hence there has been an increase in treatments such as counseling, visualizations,  meditation and so forth which consider this.  An integral approach also requires we look at the impact of our interpersonal relationships (attitudes of the family, communications between doctor and patient and so on) and our social systems (impact of health insurance coverage).  Failure to consider the interplay of all of these factors leads to our providing health care that may not lead to healing the whole person.   If we are to look to what are the highest possibilities for providing health care we must look at all of these factors and how their interactions are at play in healing.

So then for any issue with which we are trying to determine the best course of action, the challenge is for us to expand our awareness beyond the myopic way we might normally have approached it simply because it’s the way “I know” or it’s the common practice (etc.) and to ask how we see it with fresh eyes and a new perspective.  It opens us to new solutions and a reinforces within us an awareness that  everything really is connected.  Now, let’s connect the head and the heart…..[link to article].



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