Posted by: Monkey | September 6, 2013

An Introduction to Integral

Recently I have been diving into the works of Ken Wilber and the Integral Worldview. After banging my head a few times against the headier and intellectual nature of it I found my in-roads with a few amazing books. Firstly was the book “The Elegant Self” by Rob McNamara which is not so much a book about Integral theory, rather writing from the Integral worldview a map and practical/experiential process to consider adult development. This book challenged me and shifted my personal orientation so dramatically, which I will write about at some later point, that the obvious next step was to learn more about the over-arching Integral worldview. My next approach was Ken Wilber’s “A Brief History of Everything” which I found to be a less intense dissection of what makes up an Integral philosophy.
Since reading this book and continuing onwards to read, watch and listen more about Integral it has become a contextual framework that I discover myself holding my ongoing unfolding experience within and making sense of everything in my life that has occurred up until this point. From this place I feel moved to offer a brief introduction to my understanding of that framework as it is my intent to allow it to color everything I write from this point onwards both fictional and non-fiction.

I am not sure how well I will do justice to this intricate and highly nuanced system of organization as really I am merely an Integral novice at best and it is likely that within a short time span my understanding will shift such that parts of what follows may become outdated. Such is the nature of life.
Transcend and include (Integral reference).


AQAL – The Backbone of Integral Theory
Pronounced with an awful American short A (as opposed to our drawling long Aussie A’s) AQAL stands for All Quadrant, All levels, All lines, All states, All types (yeah it should probably be AQALALASAT… try saying that!). This is sort of like a map, not necessarily of how to get to a destination rather of where things fit, why they fit and how the tendencies they have in their never-ending unfolding. I will do my best to unpack this briefly and concisely. Any Integral experts who stumble upon this feel free to correct me in the comments and I will happily amend accordingly as new understandings coalesce.


All Quadrants – The two handed and multiplicious tetra-arising of God
The universe, it seems, is made up of interiors and exteriors. To put it simply an exterior is something we can see, observe and measure while an interior is what is that is seeing, observing and measuring. Exteriors are what we can call objective reality while interiors are what we can consider subjective reality. As humans we are subjective individual beings in an object-body interacting with other subjective beings in a world full of systems, networks, etc. And this is essentially the four quadrants.
God is two handed, dual, and offers the arising of things and something that witnesses those things. From that place there is the singular – subject and object, and also the plural – intersubjective and interobjective.
The following figure breaks it down for us.


In the upper left quadrant, the “I” space, we have our individual experience. My experience of this universe as I sit here with tired eyes, a brain slightly buzzing from being in front of the computer for several hours writing today, knees slightly hurting… is the arising of this quadrant. My experience is interior to me, no-one can come along and measure my actual experience although you may be able to monitor signs of it such as heart rate, brain waves, eye movements, etc. I am a singular being engaged in the experience of this universe through the immediacy of this moment.
Moving down to the lower left quadrant, the “We” space an easy way to consider this is to understand my experience you have to interact with me. You have to talk to me, ask me questions and at some point there may be a moment where shared reality arises… we both agree about something. Now we are in the intersubjective sphere together. This is what arises when individual beings interact with one another and is the driving force, as the figure indicates, of language, relationships and culture. Consider culture, this is our agreed perceptual framework for ethics, morality, behavior, etc. Different cultures are going to hold a different set of these things and depending on the culture we are in our behavior, as an individual, will be normal or abnormal. We are living the “We” space of intersubjective human experience.
When you are interacting with me and having a chat we are going to be making sounds from our vocal chords located within our throats and a part of our body. My body and all that it is made up of, including my brain, is an example of the upper right quadrant the “it” space. There is a reason we refer to our bodies as a possession like in the expression “my body” because it is literally an object to us that our interior subjective experience interacts with, operates from and manipulates to experience the world. This quadrant is pretty simple… it’s stuff. All the stuff we measure and describe, this fits here.

Lastly; as complex subject-object configurations intersubjectively interacting in this now slightly more complex (potentially as you read this) arising of existence there are natural systems occurring that are held by AND holding all of the stuff I just said.
*Deep breath*
Ok so in order to go about our day-to-day existence we function within an organized, although granted at times it seems chaotic, set of structures and systems. Examples include governmental systems, the predominant mode of human production (we are currently moving from industrialization into techno-informational), monetary systems, the natural ecosystem, the internet, etc. These things have substance of some form or another, we can measure track and follow patterns and predict trends in an objective and scientific manner. In other words we can obtain data without any interpretive framework necessary. This is not possible with the subjective and intersubjective side of reality.

And so we can say that God or the Universe or whatever it is you would like to call this entire thing that is existence, tetra-arises. It arises in four distinctly differentiated domains, simultaneously.

To illustrate this is a simple example. I go to the supermarket and after purchasing all my items I line up at the checkout. As the cashier gets to me I notice my mind checking her out, she is pretty cute and I entertain a mild fantasy of asking her out on a date. I am experiencing my internal ‘I’ space. There is also my body, her body and all the stuff I have bought which is the ‘it’ space. She begins to serve me and begins with the customary and mechanical “hello how are you today?” (Probably without really being interested in how I actually am). Deciding to be a little different I ask her if she actually wants to know and this out of the ordinary response causes her to look up and engage me… ahh we now have a little more depth in the ‘we’ space. This is the obvious manifestation of the ‘we’ space, there is also a subtle arising such as that we are both Caucasian Australians and relating to one another from a shared worldview accepting what that means for us in this country. She scans my items and they make a blip sound as they enter the computing system that tracks the selling of goods in the store. Likely this system is linked up to a whole purchasing/ordering system and a bunch of other systems that allows the day-to-day functioning of the supermarket as a whole to continue, this is the ‘its’ space. She finishes my order, tells me the price I pay using another ‘its’ in the form of money, our accepted (and quite ridiculous) form of currency. And I leave, without ever asking her out (I was too shy).

So what? I’ve just described a pretty ordinary and normal situation in our life. What does it matter that it is a tetra-arising???

Well apart from indulging my geeky side and the enjoyment I have from getting my cognitive faculties stretched it is valuable in the inherent sense that greater awareness allows greater freedom. The more aware and conscious we are of what is arising in our experience, the freer we are to interact authentically with our world. Perceiving and distinguishing these separate quadrants of arising allows us to work more intimately and consciously with them. We can now imbue our activities with a conscious choice of what we wish to occur in each quadrant in any given situation.

Secondly the distinguishing of all four quadrants is a huge step forward in our capacity to evolve both individually and collectively. There are still many people who believe that science is the only truth in the world and anything that cannot be objectively measured does not truly exist. This quite literally collapses half of the universe and cuts off an essential part of what is the very essence of our being. By acknowledging the inner and outer facets of us we gain greater freedoms to grow.

This leads us into the last point I wish to make, that is when we do grow/evolve/develop as humans it will occur across all four quadrants. We cannot move forward beyond the current problems occurring on our planet, particularly in regards to the environment, without this tetra-development. We must develop our individual inner subjective abilities, our nervous system and brain needs to continue to develop to support that occurring (I mean we wouldn’t have got this far without the development of a frontal lobe! Inevitably as we continue to evolve new brains structures will arise). We cannot move forward as a species without the arising of more wholistic cultural worldviews (how can we possibly expect to heal and nurture our relationship with the environment when there are still so many of us that cannot see outside of their own ethnic groups!) and lastly we will need new and more complex systems to sustain in this ever-ongoing climb up the spirals of development.


All Levels – The spiral journey
The next important acknowledgment that we must make is that there are levels of development that we progress through, perhaps forever. A baby grows into a child which grows into a teenager which grows into an adult. For many in the world there is a belief that it stops there, we reach adult and we are done now we simply wait to get old and die.
There is evidence however, and a lot of it, that suggests even as adults we have the potential to continue to develop. I do so potential because many people stall and never truly move into the higher reaches of adult development that is available to us as a species.
Our level of development is going to dictate a number of things about us, generally speaking though when we talk about levels we are talking about our prevalent worldview. This is going to be the context on which we perceive and interact with the world as an individual, culture and society (the I, we and its respectively).
The idea of development gets some peoples hackles up, however, and there has been a tendency for this to be collapsed so we can merrily all go around pretending we are all equals, which we are in potential… just that some of us have grown a little more than others.

How we develop is where it gets interesting, to me anyway. We develop in a way that is explained using holons and a holarchy.
A holon is a word used to describe well… everything. I am a holon, you are a holon, this word is a holon, this article is a holon. Yeah right ok. A holon is simultaneously a whole and a part. The simplest way to explain this is to say there are atoms which are whole and yet part of cells which are whole and yet part of organs which are whole and yet part of me which is whole and yet part of society which is whole and yet part of a nation which is whole and yet part of Earth and so on.
Or we have letters which are whole yet part of words which are whole yet part of sentences which are whole yet part of paragraphs and so on.
Get the idea?

When we develop we develop holarchically. This means that our new stage of development encompasses our prior stage. This is the expression transcend and include. We move beyond where we once were yet we keep it as a part of us internally. Thus a higher stage of development has access to the stages lower to it but not vice versa. Same as in my body encompasses organs yet my organs don’t encompass my body.

The picture below shows the major stages outlined by Beck & Cowan in the book “Spiral Dynamics” which was a continuation of the work done by the developmental researcher Clare Graves.



I’m not going to describe these stages or say anything more about any of the defining features present in each stage. My point is that we develop and have the potential to continue to develop far further than merely becoming an adult and that each higher stage of development has access to everything prior to it plus a bit extra.


All Lines – Where things get bloody complicated (and fascinatingly rich)
So we develop through quite well defined stages of development. Now where it gets tricky is that there are many lines of development that we have available to us. Many.
For example commonly accepted lines of development can include: cognitive, mathematical, musical, kinesthetic, ethical, sexual, emotional and so on.
The point about acknowledging all these lines of development is that growth in each line is independent of growth in another. This means, for example, I can be extremely musically developed, say a world-class pianist, and yet have really shitty ethical development and be a racist.

So there are stages of development as outlined above, which can be considered our overarching worldview or perhaps altitude, and there are independent lines of development. Our stage is likely a result of the combination of all these lines in some way or another yet not utterly dependant on development in any specific one of them.

**Hint** It seems that to rapidly accelerate our growth as a human that cross training in a number of these lines of development really assists this movement. The more important ones are thought to be our spiritual development through some kind of meditative practice, our cognitive development through the study of more complex intellectual materials like Integral Theory, our physical development through some kind of body practice like yoga or strength training and our shadow development which is a whole other topic on its own yet can be addressed through working with a psychotherapist or transpersonal counselor for example.


All States – Glimpses of what lies beyond
We have a rigorous climb up the ladder of stage development, none of which can be bypassed. If we want to grow as an individual, culture or society we gotta put in the hard hours of clambering up and through each stage there is no skipping ahead.


At any stage of development there is the potential for the arising of higher states of awareness. This means that regardless of where we are we may have a peak experience that shows a temporary glimpse of what it is like to be functioning from a higher stage of development. This is considered a state because of its temporary nature, it doesn’t last. It may be drug induced, which is why many people relate experiences of higher consciousness while under the influence of DMT, Ayuhasca, psilocybin or LSD, or it may occur spontaneously.

Where it gets interesting is that the current stage of development of the individual is what will interpret this temporary state. For example if an individual was at an amber stage of development (where much religious zeal occurs) and was a Christian it is likely they would interpret this experience as seeing Christ. An individual at a green stage of development (where free-loving pluralistic hippies tend to occur) on an LSD trip and into the groovy New Age stuff may interpret it as the pleidians coming down for a visit.

While these higher states are probably a lot of fun and perhaps even scary sometimes, the real work is to be done in other areas. There ain’t no shortcuts!


All types – the not so individual individual
We are all beautiful wonderful and unique expressions of the manifest arising of God… and yet the Universe seems to have patterns to it. No two snowflakes are the same yet a snowflake is still a snowflake.
There are trends of consciousness to act in a certain way which is what we can think of as a type. The moment-to-moment unfolding of any individual will undoubtedly be unique and never to be repeated yet the tendency of that individual to behave in a certain way will follow some kind of trend.
This is why there are so many methods of typing that exist such as astrology, numerology, the enneagram, myers-brigg, etc.
Somehow we recognize that such tendencies exist and efforts have been made, for a long long time, to put us into these categories. As far as my own personal experience goes I have found that some of these typing systems seem to be pretty accurate and definitely provide a framework for how my particular type tends to move through the world as well as grow.


The not so conclusive conclusion
Great I have given you a bunch of info and now what? What do we do with all of this, what does it mean, why is it important, who actually cares?

If we are content with living our life under the miserable shadow of live, get stuff and die then sure it doesn’t really mean anything and by all means go ahead and continue to do so. Actually I doubt you even read this far if that’s you so mehhh (I am sticking my tongue out at the computer screen for all those people who haven’t read until this point and so will never see that I just made fun of them).

If development and growth excites you, as it does me, and you have that spark inside saying there is more there is more and I want to know it, feel it, be it… well then this introduction is nothing but the tiniest tip of an iceberg that awaits should you decide to swim deeper. Its relevance is in the framework it provides and the efficiency in becoming more effective and conscious in our spiritual choices that is made possible by understanding such a framework (plus it’s an awesome way to exercise the cognitive line of development – seriously your brain will grow bigger just by studying Integral Theory and with that growth is the possibility of new understanding and higher levels of meaning making).

I wrote this article because, to the best of my ability, I am attempting to imbue my creative endeavors from this point forward with an Integral perspective (don’t worry this doesn’t mean I’m gonna be spouting theory in my fictional writings… however it does mean that there will be elements of quadrants, stages, lines, states and perhaps types interwoven within any story I may write).

Confused? Maybe this diagram that details every point I made above, plus more, will help.

AQAL chart 9

Ooooor maybe not.

Thanks for reading!



  1. good one Damien 🙂 enjoyed reading this.

  2. […] nature of evolution, as I pointed to in my discussion on Integral Theory, works simultaneously in all four quadrants (I, it, we, its). Spiral Dynamics is speaking primarily […]

  3. I love that I’m not the only one up late at night processing the great simpleness of the complex universe.
    Archetype study had taught me to recognize the patterns that do exist in me, that are me, yet are a part of the greater we.
    So much goodness. You’re awesome.

  4. Thanks Tabitha!

  5. Awesome info! This is right in line with what I am working on! I am coming into consciousness that I am the seed of my fractal / holon. I am all four quadrants at once – merging my differentiation into balance. I would appreciate it if you checked out my blog and gave me some feedback. It would be great if we could collaborate further. Peace!

  6. […] an article a while back I documented the basics of a theory, called Integral theory, by philosopher and synthesist Ken Wilber. From the moment I discovered and began diving into this […]

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