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A new view of Integral Spirituality 2010-Sep-29 at 03:22 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.

I think there’s a problem with spirituality as it’s seen and practiced in the Integral movement today.

It’s going to take a bit to explain what I mean… so this is going to be a long one.  I post it as a work-in-progress.

Evolution and Involution

Let’s start with the idea of evolution and involution.  Although the definitions of these terms change in different systems, I’ll define them this way: evolution is the process through which matter returns to Spirit, and involution is the process through which Spirit returns to matter.  In evolution, the sequence that is put forth (by Ken Wilber, among others) is, roughly speaking: matter to life to mind to soul to Spirit.  In involution, the sequence is reversed: Spirit to soul to mind to life to matter.

Both evolution and involution are taking place, in every moment.  And this is crucial to Integral Philosophy; without both evolution (the Ascending path, the Path of Wisdom) and involution (the Descending path, the Path of Compassion), held in balance, we cut ourselves off from one of the two crucial flows contained in our Universe.  So far, so good.

Let’s take a deeper look at involution, and at what we might call the levels of complexity that arise as involution unfolds.


At first, before taking the first step into manifestation, I exist as Spirit itself.  You exist as Spirit itself.  Nothing other than Spirit exists, in fact.  The worldview that arises from this point-of-view is what we typically call nondual.  If I hold myself as Spirit-prior-to-manifestation, then a nondual view is precisely the worldview that must arise.  When I inhabit a nondual worldview, I see everything – my house, my body, the computer I’m typing on – as undifferentiated Spirit, arising within a consciousness beyond all labels or description, a consciousness where, as Ramana Maharshi said, "That which is not present in deep dreamless sleep is not real."  In this worldview, there is no Witness because nothing real has ever arisen to be Witnessed, and nothing has arisen that is not, itself, Spirit.

This worldview has the least amount of complexity in it.  The forms of spirituality that arise from this worldview reflect it and teach it, such as Advaita Vedanta and the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools of Buddhism.

Witness and Form, or Self and Other

The first step into manifestation is to create a split between Self and Other.  At this level of awareness, I exist as Witness, seeing all that arises as undifferentiated Manifestation.  In this worldview, I exist as a pure Witness, never entangled in the vast field of arising, aware that all that arises is not Me, aware that all arises with no boundaries, able to sit apart from it with no attachment, and in complete Wisdom.  I can also arise as Manifestation being Witnessed, allowing myself to be unbroken Compassion for all that manifests without boundary.  Either way… there is at least the split between Self and Other.  This worldview is no longer nondual, but is the simplest form of duality… only Two exist.  No suffering exists in this worldview, because there are no separate entities in Manifestation… only Form with No Boundary.  (Someone ought to write a book with that title….)

This worldview is just that slight bit more complex than a nondual worldview,.  Again, the forms of spirituality that arise from this worldview reflect it and teach it.  The Hinayana forms of Buddhism, such as Theravadan, hold this view.  Really, any religion that holds that there are Two comes from this worldview: Witness and Form, Emptiness and Fullness, Atman and Brahman, Yesh and Ayin, Peanut Butter and Chocolate… if your spirituality has Two, your worldview is of this level of complexity.

The Few Things

The next step in involution is to create a Universe that has some small number of fundamental things at play.  At this level of awareness, I begin to see things arise as manifestations of combinations of a small number of different energies or elements.  From here, I believe, we see some of the great traditional systems, like the Five Great Elements of Ayurveda, the Chinese Five Movements, and the Sefirot in Kabbalah, among many others (most of which, no doubt, I’m not even familiar with).

From this worldview, we clearly see the beginning of separation, and therefore suffering.  But all entities that appear separate are made up of, and therefore closely linked to, the fundamental elements or energies.  Healing and wholeness are always available through balancing these fundamental elements.  Although separation between objects seems to exist now, each object retains a connection back to the fundamental energies, and so can be seen as an emanation of those energies, leaving an enchantment within the manifest world.

[A note: this doesn’t mean that all healing modalities that arose in these times are therefore better than the ones we have today… it just means that they dealt with things from a different worldview, one that indicated that it was important to view the world through those fundamental energies.  The good news is that those worldviews are native to all of us.  Of course, our Western societies have been locked in a predominantly modern and postmodern view of science, medicine, and the body (in other words, a purely UR view), and so we’re only now starting to see the effectiveness of these modalities, as we re-access the intelligence existent through this worldview.]

The Many Things

Eventually, through involution, we arrive at a level of complexity in manifestation where it appears to us that multiple things exist.  We come to believe, for instance, that there’s such a thing as a separate self, and that you are a separate thing from me, and that we are separate from other things that are arising, and that those separate things have an intrinsic existence.  In this worldview, suffering arises because separation arises.  We look at other people and see them as suffering.  We look at the planet and see that parts of it are suffering.  We look at ourselves and see that we are suffering.  And everywhere we look in what is now a world of gross manifestation, we see separate entities arising.

This worldview has still more complexity in it.  The forms of spirituality that arise from this worldview also include separation and separate entities.  Here, we start to see things like angels, faeries, elementals, guides, ghosts, spirits, advisors; in other words… an uncountable number of independent entities of varying degrees of awareness and helpfulness.  We see some of the mainstream religions.

We also see separate souls arising.  We see those souls arising both incarnated in gross bodies in this universe (bodies like yours and mine), and we see those souls not incarnated in this universe, in some sort of subtle or causal world.

It’s all about worldview

What I’m arguing for is that if worldview determines the relationship we hold to gross manifestation, then that worldview also must determine the relationship we have to subtle and causal manifestation.  Do I believe that there are separate objects arising in manifestation at the moment?  Well then, the world looks one way.  Do I view it all as undifferentiated sensation, with no boundary arising between those objects?  You can, and if you do, the world looks another way.  Do I view it as lacking an intrinsic existence apart from the arising of Consciousness?  I hope you do from time to time… and as if there could be such a thing as time in the first place.

And don’t lie to yourself about it… we walk around in one of these modes at all times.  We spend different amounts of time acting like one worldview or another is real.  Some spend all of their lives believing in complete separation, and never taste a nondual worldview, for instance.  Some spend years cultivating a Witness / Form worldview, and eventually walk around with this view the vast majority of the time.

No matter what your path, you’re in one of the worldviews that corresponds to one of the levels of complexity we might perceive in manifestation.

What’s right about Integral Spirituality

The greatest contribution of Integral Spirituality to the world is that it allows us to put all of the different expressions of spirituality on one map, and view how they complement each other, and how much territory they overlap on.  It helps us see that the mystic forms of each path, while having different vibrations because they wear different cultural clothing, all lead to the same awareness.  We can give space for each of us to follow the path that feels and works best, while deeply enjoying the one that we walk.

And it also identifies a hierarchy of awareness that these expressions of spirituality sit within.  Noticing this natural hierarchy does help us to remain oriented towards paths that feature the most pure expression of nondual awareness, and those that include some subtle or even gross duality in them.

The Confusion

Noticing that there must be some sort of natural hierarchy running from nondual, to slightly dualistic, to more dualistic, to very dualistic is a crucial piece of Integral Spirituality.  This noticing is required if we’re to get the most benefit from taking an Integral perspective on spirituality… without it, we’re running a Flatland version of spirituality where every path is equal to every other path.  We know that’s simply not true… we’ve seen that different paths arise in, and therefore run through, different worldviews.

What I believe we’ve done, though, is that we’ve misused that hierarchy.

We’ve heard the message that the hierarchy exists, and that certain paths create state experiences from various degrees of duality (and nonduality, which has no degrees).  In fact, many of us have identified our favorite versions of those, and we’ve invested some time and money into exploring what life would look like in accordance with those teachings.

But then we turn around and spend most of our lives living from a worldview that most certainly includes many things.  Most of the time, we imagine ourselves as separate entities.  Most of the time, we believe that others exist.  We believe in separation, and therefore we believe in ideas like: the planet is suffering.  Or populations are suffering.  Or animals are suffering.

Or <insert-your-favorite-cause-here> is suffering, and we must help!

We seem to believe in that worldview, don’t we?  I assume we do, because we sure do believe in the suffering.  But then many of us turn our eyes to what seems like a distant high mountain, towards a form of spirituality that arises from a different worldview, and from a simpler level of complexity.  We turn our attention to Buddhism, or Kabbalah, or Sufism, or whatever seems to work for us.  When we do this, we commit ourselves to spending some of our time in a worldview that reflects that (simpler) level of complexity, which is good for us on many levels.  But we should notice that these kinds of paths have not been revealed from the more complex worldview we normally walk around with, and instead they take a perspective on it, so they can’t really help us when we’re living from inside the more complex story (which, I observe, most of us spend most of our time in).  They function only when we’re not locked into the more complex story… this is exactly what "being present" means.

We create a mismatch for ourselves… we spend most of our time believing in more complexity, we seek solace in less complexity, and therefore we cut ourselves off from the two sources that would give us a much smoother flow through this life.  We cut ourselves off from actually acting like the less complex world is possible, by being locked in a world with time and doubt.  And while we’re locked in that world, we don’t allow ourselves to believe in the arising of a spiritual world that’s appropriate to that worldview, and to that level of complexity.

It stands to reason that while we’re locked in the worldview of the many, we should also imagine a subtle realm occupied by the uncountable many spirits, souls, guides, elementals, and angels (call them whatever you want) who also arise within this worldview.

The people I know who have some facility for communicating with these entities —souls who may or may not be incarnated in gross bodies at this moment – all report that these entities carry a very high vibrational frequency, that they’re rooted in connection with each other and with all things, and that they reside in and reflect to us only love.  Only love.  (And that any scary encounters are our projections on that experience.  Duh, right?)

And I think it’s crucially important to remain intellectually honest about the worldviews we’re holding, and to act as if they’re true when we’re in them.  When I’m in a state from a nondual practice or path, and I’m not acting as if that state were true, then I’m not quite all-in, am I?  And that works both ways… in one direction, our spiritual view brings along a valid worldview, and in the other direction, our worldview brings along a valid spirituality.

I see no contradiction in believing that I have spirit guides, or advisors (because I do), at the same time I believe that Mirror Mind is an important vehicle for seeing the truth of Witness and Form, at the same time I know, because I have experienced it, the absolute truth of the nondual perspective.

If, however, I’m acting as if the gross world contains separation, and I’m not including a spirituality in that worldview that’s also made up of separation, them I’m engaged in some self-deception.  There’s room to add some new forms of spirituality into the mix.

The Promise

The sad, crushing part of that self-deception is that we cut ourselves off from the very source of all of our hope and love within this worldview.  We don’t believe that there are any others who arise to help us through the suffering, but how could the suffering exist if there weren’t others to begin with?  We therefore try to become Big Mind and Big Heart ourselves and alone, hoping that that move will magically make things better in this world.  The very fact that we see the suffering, though, is our indication that we must also have an uncountable many souls aligned with us, supporting us, helping us, as we navigate the gross, manifest world.  It is the indication of the arising of a particular worldview, and that worldview includes separation and suffering… and it also includes multiple souls both in and out of incarnation at this time.

I invite each of you to feel into the rightness of this for yourselves. Does it feel more accurate to imagine these kinds of plentiful subtle and causal realms, or does it feel more accurate to imagine that they don’t exist?

For me, I know they exist, and I know that they’re full of souls.

They’re full of souls who have been around the wheel of existence enough times to carry a higher vibrational frequency than we’ve ever seen in a large group on this planet before.

They’re full of souls who carry such a high vibrational frequency that they only choose to incarnate at times when they’re needed to make a significant shift in consciousness on the planet.

They’re full of souls who are choosing difficult circumstances of birth all around the planet so that this consciousness arises in all places as it’s needed.

And they’ve already been coming.  We’ve heard about the Indigo Children.  Or the Crystal Children.  Or the Ages of Aquarius and Pisces.  Or a thousand other labels indicating that something interesting and new is happening with some of the children these days.  I’m guessing they’re all different ways of saying the same thing:  souls that have been around the block more times than some others are starting to show up in large numbers, and they’re showing some incredible ability to be present through whatever is arising.

They’ve been coming for some time, and now they’re coming in growing numbers – and if my prediction that we can get 10%-20% of the world’s population operating from an Integral center-of-gravity is right – then they’ll be coming in much larger numbers very soon now.  They’ll have to be adults as some of the amazing new technology comes online, so that they can partner with it from a very present place.  They’ll also carry the kind of vibrational frequency that allows what seem like intractable issues on the planet to be solved with quite a bit more grace than we’ve seen, because they’ll natively see a global – dare I say Integral – perspective.

They’re arising as the Integral movement is arising, because all timing is perfect, and because they must in order to help us navigate the incredible new worlds of technology that are coming.  Things are just getting good around here.

A final plea

If you believe nothing else that I’ve said about how our world is going to be fine, if you think that technology and artificial intelligence will harm us, if you think that nanotechnology-based manufacturing will never happen, and solar power is too far off to prevent permanent damage, and even if you think that spiritual development won’t come soon enough:  I tell you, those souls are coming, and they’re coming in large numbers, large enough to make a difference.  You probably already know a few.

Nice to meet you, too.

So hold all of the perspectives of spirituality with me, as we all remain aware of the level of complexity we’re seeing at any given moment, and act as if they’re all true, without disowning any of them.  This ride through manifestation can go far more smoothly for all beings than it has thus far, and it’s in our ability to see that it happens at all levels.  We can’t get there if we have a large hole in our lives where the spirituality of the many should be.



1. John Churchill - 2010-Oct-02 at 08:46 PDT

Enjoyed the blog scott. Let me throw in my two cents.
There is a natural hierachy in how the mind is organized coarse, subtle, very subtle(causal), and awakened. This hierachy is expressed in those practices of the yogi, saint, seer and siddha (as Wilber likes to organize it). The non-dual view of the siddha transcends and embraces all other views. So whilst rested in the natural innocence of the non-dual mind there arises the very subtle bodymind(witness), subtle bodymind, body coarse bodymind. The view embraces all prior views and yet is free from them.
An integral context is so important because it allows for the deep value of increased complexity, it values the evolutionary process, without which the nondual view would not be fully engaged and there would be a non-dual disease.

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