What is Integral: The transition and “acausal leap” that is happening now

by editor

Defining the “Integral” is difficult. It is not a doctrine with its own theories, discipline and practices. Neither a dictum that can be advocated or has a standard, fixed view or perspective. It is a perspective without perspectives. “Aperspectival” as Jean Gebser calls it. A series of posts titled “What is Integral” will offer an insight into Integral Studies along with a comprehensive mapping of the most important Integral theories, theorists and their worldview. The current post, the first in the series, is an argument about the question “What is Integral” and why it is crucial to know about the “transition” we are going through. It is almost like what Sean M. Saiter mentions as “a call to awareness” for the Integral approach in his essay, “A General Introduction to the Integral Theory and Comprehensive Mapmaking” in the The Journal of Consciousness Evolution (2005).

What is Integral?
The primary argument that needs to preoccupy our minds before we step into Integral studies is – what is Integral vision and why we need it. A definition of the term “Integral” would reveal that Integral means “a bringing together and strategically linking of apparently contradictory or seemingly divergent worldviews, concepts, practices in an attempt to create a realistic, workable, fluid, and dynamic ‘meta-vision’” (Sean M. Saiter). Integral, in brief, means a “bringing together” of things, without differences or distinctions. Unlike any other term, it is not integrating based on which is right or wrong. It is putting “partial truths together ”and not on “how to pick one and get rid of the others”(Wilber in his The Eye of Spirit). As pointed out by theorists, it is “grand unifying theory” as opposed to a grand unified theory. A unified theory would be absolute in itself, with no room for growth. It means an end. It would be absurd and closed. But a unifying theory has scope for tremendous growth. It marks a togetherness with everything, not just one or 100 worldviews, but all that is there and all that is to come. Integralism in the modern sense of the term, speaks of this “unifying” and “aperspectival”  quality. Wilber explains it in his AQAL, Don Beck and Cowan do it in their Spiral Dynamics, while Gebser postulates this in his five structures of consciousness.

An “acausal leap” in consciousness: If an Integral perspective is an aperspectival view of things, an integration and acceptance all kinds of worldviews, why is there need to talk about it now? In Jean Gebser’s terminology, we (the world) are going through a “mutation” in consciousness. There is a paradigm shift happening which is transforming our view of things. This “transition” is taking us from a linear, causal perspective to a non-linear, aperspectival way of thinking, wherein our vision is to integrate to see the Truth in things. The Integral way of thought is not just rational but also spiritual and marks a profound shift in human consciousness, an end to the linear model and beginning of a new level of development. Integralism is “holonic.” It transcends the current level of thought, yet does not exclude it, but includes it. While the previous era was an era of rationalism, the era we are moving into, say the theorists, is one of Integral/aperspectival will.

The very birth of Spiral Dynamics is an instance for the emergence of an Integral worldview. In Spiral Dynamics, Don Beck and Charles Cowan talk of a view that is at once linear and cyclical. This is why they represent the development of human consciousness in spiral. The Integral worldview encompasses everything, offering a comprehensive overview of human consciousness and development. While Jean Gebser terms this shift as “Integral/aperspectival”, Wilber calls it “vision-logic” and Beck calls it “second-tier” thinking. But the Integral vision cannot be fitted into a historical context and we will see why it is so.

The “perennial” nature of Integral vision: Saiter says, “The integral vision rides the crest of the leading developments in our postmodern world. Every era has its most sophisticated, highly developed, and ultimately influential expressions. The European Renaissance and the legacy of Ancient Greece are but two examples. However, unlike these, the integral vision is difficult to place within the context of history and time. The reason for this apparent ambiguity is simple. It is merely a matter of perspective.” Though Integral vision has emerged prominently as a result of the modern and postmodernist way of life, it has been prevalent throughout every era and culture. Since it is just a matter of multi-dimensional, multi-level thinking and being, Integral worldview is not new, but only now it has started emerging amongst the general population. This is why it is said that Integral view is rooted in the perennial philosophy of the world. It is “perennial” because it is ever-present and is “unifying, timeless, spaceless, formless and encompasses all of existence.” Unlike the European Renaissance or the legacy of the Ancient Greece, it cannot be fixed to a context. It can only be said that Integralism has gained greater prominence all over after the postmodern era.

Ken Wilber defines this “perennial” quality of Integral philosophy in his The Eye of Spirit, “In other words, the perennial philosophy is not, at its core, a set of doctrines, beliefs, teaching, or ideas, for all of those are of the world of form, of space and time and ceaseless change, whereas very Truth is radically formless, spaceless, and timeless, encompassing all space and time, and thus it could never be enunciated in formal or doctrinal fashion.”

Integral Studies:
Integral studies involves the study of how an Integral approach can be applied to things and includes theories of development – development of individuals, societies,  communities, cultures, nations, ecosystems, biospheres, plants, cosmos and consciousness. The primary objective is to create a new model of approach to every other available field of knowledge. This is what is exemplified in Integral Art, Integral Politics, Integral Business, Integral Psychology, Integral Medicine, Integral Feminism etc.

Sean A. Saiter points out another aspect of the Integral movement – “it is a reaction, but not reactionary to the pathologies of modernism and postmodernism.”  The highest ideals of Integralism is that it does not reject or abstain from anything. It is fluid, open, all-encompassing, open-ended, all transcending yet all-inclusive, and is “deeply holonic.” Right now, only individuals in the “higher order” of thinking, ones in the Turquoise realm are “Integral” in spirit. It is these individuals who proclaim the birth of a movement and a shift that is becoming more and more visible now. But why now? This is an age of information and rationalism. The variety of spiritual practices available today and the tremendous amount of knowledge flow among the world populace, along with rapid growth in communication, has stirred up the Integral movement. More on the Integral theory and theorists in Part II of the post.

Reference Links:

1. Sean A. Saiter’s A General Introduction to Integral Theory and Comprehensive Mapmaking

2. M. Alan Kazlev’s  Redefining Integral

3. Five Orders of Consciousness

4. The Wilberian-inspired Integral Community or The Integral Movement

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