For the past 25 years, Ken Wilber has studied the world's systems of transformation—spiritual and psychological, East and West, North and South—in order to discover the essential elements that create growth and development in a human being. The author of over 20 books, here he talks about his new Integral Operating System—a multimedia program to quickly, deeply, and thoroughly understand his core teachings and start living what he calls “the integral vision.”
Sounds True: One of the themes that you talk about in The Integral Operating System is the difference between states of consciousness and stages of consciousness. Can you explain this difference and why this is an important distinction?
Ken Wilber: States of consciousness are things like waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. There are also meditative states, contemplative states, spiritual experiences, spontaneous experiences, and so on. And most states of consciousness don't show any necessary progression or specific series of unfolding. So you can have a state experience, a religious experience, or a spontaneous peak experience. And states of consciousness are very important; we want to be able to look at those and utilize those in terms of growth and development.
But then there's also something called stages of consciousness, and those are things that unfold—not in a rigidly linear way—but in a series of waves or stages. And the classic example of those are what Jean Gebser called archaic, magic, mythic, rational, pluralistic, and integral. Integral is the beginning of several higher waves as well.
And so these are two aspects of consciousness—both stages and states—that we want to include in an integral approach. And most approaches to spirituality do just one or just the other. Some people look at merely having an experiential state and a feeling of oneness or some spontaneous forms of feeling or awareness; others look at actual stages of unfolding. And the two schools don't get along very well. I believe both of them are equally important, and so we include both states and stages in an overall integral approach.
Sounds True: One of the very useful features of The Integral Operating System is an introduction to how you can bring integral theory into everyday life through integral practice and engaging four core modules. Can you talk about this?
Ken Wilber: The four core modules of integral practice that we find are absolutely essential to human development—and research spells this out time and again—are meditation, bodywork, shadow work, and the understanding of a view or a framework in order to hold these components together.
The meditative module is perhaps self-explanatory. But you can use any spiritual approach that you want; at the Integral Institute, we kind of have gold standards that we use that are the quickest, most effective ways of gaining a meditative or spiritual understanding and being able to practice that in your daily life.
And then alongside of that we want to do bodywork. Now again, we do a little bit different, more comprehensive form of bodywork. We actually call it “three-bodywork.” Because all of us have at least three bodies: a gross body, a subtle body, and a causal body. Your gross body is the physical body that you are aware of. Your subtle body is all the subtle energy and feelings and awareness and luminosities that you can learn to exercise as well. And your causal body is the very, very subtlest, most infinite, radiant, luminous, blissful body that you possess. And you want to exercise all three: your gross, subtle, and causal bodies.
And then an extremely important module is shadow work or unconscious work. Most of us who study primarily within the meditative traditions don't have an understanding of what's called the psychodynamic unconscious or the kind of personal repression or unconscious shadow elements that you can't uncover through meditation. You want to be able to work on these separately because the shadow will mess you up all the way to enlightenment and back if you don't deal with it. So we have a module of practice specifically for dealing with shadow issues.
And finally, but certainly not least of all, is a framework, a view that can hold all of these together—and for us that's the integral view. And research also shows, time and again, that if you don't have a framework to hold experiences, they slip away. They just don't stick. So a lot of people have great meditative or spiritual or transformative growth experiences, but they fade unless there's a view that will help hold them all together. And that's what the integral view tries to do.
We recommend that people work with all four of these basic modules, and this creates a kind of integral cross training. You simultaneously train in all of these components, and by simultaneously exercising all of them, they each grow faster… and that's basically what cross training means. So integral practice is the ultimate in spiritual cross training, if you will, exercising body, mind, and spirit in self, culture, and nature.