Political Philosophy for the Future

Wilber’s Integral Spirituality – Part III: The Wilber-Combs Lattice

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Talk on Wilber now mainly centers around Wilber Phase V. One of the major works of Wilber V is Integral Spirituality, the startling new role for religion Wilber suggested/discovered for the modern, postmodern world. In this series of posts on “Wilber’s Integral Spirituality” we discuss on the various dimensions of integral spirituality and the possibility of arriving at the same. According to Wilber, integral spirituality is a spirituality/religion devoid of metaphysics. Postmetaphysical religion with an acute interest in perspectives is the core idea behind Integral Spirituality. The main thesis of the book is the Wilber-Combs Lattice, a matrix which explains how even higher states of consciousness can be achieved from lower stages/structures of psychological development. In Part I, we discussed primarily about the emphasis on “perspectives” and the need for a postmetaphysical model of consciousness development. In Part II, we analyzed the Wilber-Combs Lattice in detail, including the different variables that influence the lattice.

Variables that influence spirituality: Inspired from Jan Brouwer’s “The Wilber-Combs Lattice Revisited”, this post will detail on the diverse variables that influence the stages (vertical) and the states(horizontal) that influence the lattice. In his essay, Brouwer has discussed in detail on how the lattice is heavily influenced by variables like age, personal excellence and one’s psychological level of development. That is, a person in the Red level of growth (archaic/passionate) will take time to attain Green Level than a person in Orange. Similarly, spiritual experiences vary depending on the level one inhabits. For a primitive person, even the highest of the spiritual states may not be felt consciously on account of his/her under-developed mind/psychological level.


In much the same way, age influences one’s state experience. An older individual may consciously experience a higher state than a child to whom even the highest state maybe a passing meteorological/magical state which comes and goes without notice. Just like age and psychological level, a person may go through spiritual experience based on their personal excellence. The experience of one who consciously seeks spirituality is different from that of one who happens to elevate to a higher state accidentally. On the other hand, if one has personal excellence, s/he will never be shadowed by age/psychological level/gender and can bypass these variables to reach higher states without any obstacles.

As Brouwer himself puts it, “Behind the obvious realization and mystical genius of a Christ, a Buddha or a Shankara we will not find, on closer inspection, red or amber personalities hidden, though they were completely imbedded in red and amber cultures and must have been influenced by red and amber thoughts. Somehow they managed to outgrow their contemporaries by an astonishing quantum leap in consciousness. Just one look at their social criticisms and their pluralistic notions of all men united under one God or exhibiting one Buddha nature the world over, irrespective of race, gender or caste system, will make this clear.”

Apart from the above variables, there are others too. And the Wilber-Combs lattice was initially set to clear the phenomena of childhood spirituality and personal excellence, but only later, with many critiques, it has come to explain the various layers of variables that affect/have a bearing upon one’s spiritual experience. But the thing to be noted is, variables are not to be found along the vertical line alone. “They do not only have definite stages/levels (gross, subtle, causal and non-dual), they also have various types.” Even state experiences can be of three types:

States of Consciousness

1. Sympathetic/Parasympathetic:
Roland Fisher, in one of his findings, differentiated between two states of consciousness – the sympathetic kind and the parasympathetic kind. The sympathetic branch of the nervous system is activated as a result of the ergotropic/sympathetic hyper-arousal, while the parasympathetic branch is activated by the trophotropic/parasympathetic hypo-arousal. The sympathetic branch can occur as a result of diverse situations – from manic states (people with bipolar disorders) to the excitement involved in falling in love, attending a rave party, participating in a gala event, ecstatic dancing, music making, adventuring, trekking etc.  Whereas, the parasympathetic branch of states of consciousness occurs only during deep states of meditation, relaxation and complete surrender. While one is about excitement, another is about relaxation. Both the ends of the neurological pole generate higher states of consciousness on account of the fundamental bipolarity of consciousness. So, what is the point behind analyzing all this? If meditation and partying can both generate a mystical feeling of completeness, oneness and ecstasy, which is the best of the two? And what are the differences, basically?

First difference – the state experience in case of hyper-excitement is always a peak experience, whereas one generated through meditation is always a plateau experience (even if it peaks, it generates only structures of the plateau type). Second, parasympathetic states of consciousness induce a “flow” like state with the individual merging him/herself into the surroundings. It is also comparatively “smooth, mellow and balanced” with respect to sympathetic states. Third difference – only parasympathetic or trophotropic experiences are more spiritual or religious, whereas the sympathetic experiences are not of that kind. Plateau experiences are the ones that can yield a stabilized and balanced spiritual state. Hence, hypo-arousal is always better than hyper-arousal.

2. Gender Influences on States of Consciousness: Consciousness is not all mind related. Your body takes part in it too. Even dream sleep and deep sleep states play a role. The vehicle for these state experiences is what is called the subtle or causal body. In lower realms of transpersonal states of consciousness, this subtle or causal body can carry traits of the gender it inhabits. However, that is not the case in formless emptiness, the higher most states of consciousness. When the causal body is gender-influenced, it expresses in different ways – that is, the masculine gender and feminine gender has specific ways of expressing the mystical experience. Brouwer notes it in these lines, “Though Teresa and John of the Cross share many essential characteristics in their mysticism, a sensitive reader will notice that Teresa’s Interior Castle is more feminine in its feelings of love and eroticism than the rather dry and distant enumerations of John….there is tremendous beauty in the way a woman translates the inner experiences of the subtle realm. They are full of intimate love and are strongly body related.”

One advantage of finding out gender’s influence on states of consciousness is to raise “intriguing” questions like what Brouwer does – what role does gender play in the states across the spectrum of consciousness? When are gender characteristics transcended? Does the transcending take place at transpersonal or post-conventional states? What is the experience of older women, compared to that of younger woman mystics? Does age play a role in feminine mysticism?

3. Altered States of Consciousness (ASC): Altered states of consciousness refers to the ability to artificially induce or provoke or achieve particular states of consciousness. ASC can be endogenous or exogenous, that is, induced from the inside or provoked from the outside.

Endogenous states: Trained states of consciousness are referred to in this way. Anyone can train their mind to achieve a particular state of consciousness through meditation, pranayama and other spiritual practices. Such training to condition the inside or internal state of your mind is endogenous and hence states achieved through such training are termed endogenous states. The correlation between these types of states and the variables along the vertical line would be psychological stage, age and personal level of excellence. One can analyze a state experience across these variables. Endogenous states, however, require a high level of psychological maturity. Hence, this becomes a territory for adults, mostly of the second and third tier levels. Endogenous state experience can be achieved easily through meditation and it also helps make a leap between stages. A person at even amber level of development, says Brouwer, can reach Green level easily.

Exogenous states: Exogenous states belong to the “hypnagogic states brought by external hypnagogic agents like a hypnatherapist or an alpha wave brain machine.” But the most familiar of these states are caused by entheogenic drugs like “cannabis, mescaline, DMT, LSD, psilocin, psilocybin, ibogaine, and salvinorin A”, which, according to Jan Brouwer, are capable of producing plateau like experiences. However, since it is a drug experience, it may be very different from parasympathetic state experiences. One thing that these exogenous states can help us do is identify the various factors that influence (like psychological level, age, gender etc.) the states of consciousness. Most probably, exogenous states are helpful with research on spirituality and the realms of higher states of consciousness.

Jan Brouwer’s “The Wilber-Combs Lattice Revisited” is a great take on integral spirituality, which offers an expanded Wilber cartography that can be helpful in correlation of stages and states of consciousness. This is just one way of looking at the relationship between psychological levels of maturity and states of consciousness experienced. But many have criticized this model owing to its complexity, confusing stand and failure to explain other variables involved. Frank Visser has written an exceptional critique titled, “Lord. Give Us Integral, But Without Hype”. Let us discuss that in our next post in the series.

“Wilber’s Integral Spirituality” is a series of posts on integral spirituality, Wilber-Combs Lattice and the need for postmetaphysical religion. You can read the Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV to know more.


1. Frank Visser’s “Lord, Give Us Integral, But Without the Hype: A Review of Integral Spirituality” here

2.  Thomas Maxwell’s “Integral Spirituality”

3. Jan Brouwer’s “The Wilber-Combs Lattice Revisited”

4. Wilber Revisited: From Wilber I to Wilber V – Wilber Phase V

5. Frank Visser: “My Take on Wilber-5”

6. Wilber’s Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World

Tagged as: Integral spirituality, integral states of consciousness, Ken Wilber Integral Spirituality, Postmetaphysics religion, WC Lattice, Wilber Combs Lattice, Wilber I, Wilber II, Wilber III, Wilber IV, Wilber V