How does one move up the Spiral? And evolve in general


Its been almost 10 years since I gave spiral dynamics a read and even then I was just skimming the surface. I’m dipping my toe back in, but before I do I’m hoping to get a practical application view. Maybe a pointing to an article or your own experience on how once you understand the colors, how they think, behave and how they got there, if this info can be used for personal or collective development. Like how does someone in blue transition to orange, like if you wanted to help the process is there actual practices/practical steps and things that can be done, or is this just a evolutionary life thing that we don’t have a lot of control over. I recall Ken at one point making a statement that we have TONS of information on various models and that there seems to be a step by step transition that takes place in all of them and that these have many area’s that they line up with eachother, but the actual practical of how and the time it takes is really unknown, but that there are a lot of things that seem to help (Integral life practice seems to try to hit as many of these).


An important thing to keep in mind is that the stages happen in a particular order because what develops at a particular stage is being reacted to and built upon in the next stage.

For instance, one line of development may be defined by how you form your opinion about what is true about the world. At a magenta stage you may just go with whatever impulses you may have. However, as you find that the world does not always behave the way you would expect it to or desire it to you start to come under the influence of a different style of determining things about the world.

At the amber stage you may look back and see that the impulses you have tell you something about yourself and how to achieve happiness but including the opinions of a group and following their rules makes it easier for you to satisfy your impulses and achieve control of how you experience the world.

The amber stage may eventually begin to show its weaknesses when you realize that there are situations in which the social conventions of your group are not sufficient for predicting things about the world and achieving satisfaction of your needs. You may also become the target of rival tribes who have different conventions.

You may then transition to a orange rational stage where you start to wonder about why other group’s conventions sometimes get good results too. You may start to see that some rules of logic and styles of collecting evidence allow you to describe, control, and predict things about the world that your old group conventions were not able to address very well. At this stage you may suspect that you’ve uncovered the only true way to know about the world. You may not master any particular science or apply formal logic to every situation, but you understand that you should try to not contradict yourself and that you should look for evidence to support your understanding of the world instead of accepting anything you receive through tradition or that you invent in your imagination.

Interestingly, this stage of development can sometimes be mistaken for magenta! It’s what Ken calls a “pre-trans fallacy”. The reason it can be mistaken for magenta is that from the outside someone operating at orange may not follow the conventions of society just as those operating at magenta do not. However, the difference is that at orange you realize the value that following conventions can bring (e.g. everyone deciding which side of the road to drive on) however, you understand that there are many possible conventions that may get good results and measuring them using empirical methods is perhaps a better guide for choosing which conventions to follow then blindly following whatever the traditions are of the group you happen to belong to. Magenta doesn’t understand the value of conventions at all.

After developing your life around the rules of logic and accepting the value of the scientific method you may start to notice that how these tools are applied has a particular history and the latest results often overturn previous results. You may also start to notice that there are things in your life that are important to you that you can’t apply logic and science to in a practical way. These limitations may lead you to suspect that a rational approach might be to start noticing what types of approaches to life and what experiences have been had by many different individuals and in many different communities. The logic being something like taking a statistical sample of different types of experiences and finding evolved solutions that could give you a more complete picture of the world. Instead of uncovering absolute truth at this stage you may be focus instead on what works well in a particular context. You may also feel that the scientific community has its own history of trials and errors and that it could have developed much differently and that it should therefor not be accepted as complete or inerrant. This takes you to the green pluralistic stage where you look for multiple perspectives on the world. Lower case “t” and plural “truths”.

As you attempt to include many sources of truth in the world you may start to become confused about how to value the different sources that you encounter. You may feel very powerful emotions about not excluding the narratives of others and not placing them in a ranking that would indicate the one is better than the others. However, you get the sense that not every way of being has the same consequences, at the very least you feel that a worldview that enslaves others and suppresses their ability to communicate their narrative would be inferior to a worldview that does not do those things. This is an import step in the development because it reintroduces a hierarchy or ranking of things where you are able to look back at your progress through the different stages and see that each one provides something useful and that each one has limitations and that they need to occur in a particular order. This is what is called 2 tier since you are aware now that there are sequences that people pass through like the one I’ve described and you have compassion and empathy for those at each of the stages of development. This is beginning of teal or integral.

I hope you found this helpful. Best of luck!


My experience has been that an Integral Life Practice facilitates moving through and integrating the stages. Cognitive maps give meaning to experiences and frame them as learning steps.

Life itself seems to lead me to where I need to heal. Hindsight reveals what occurred, but in the middle of things the pattern is not so clear. For example, I was anchored at Red, with lots of anger and unhealed trauma. I had issues with authority figures and what I saw as rigid rules and power hierarchies of “Blue” or traditionalist values. What happened is I ended up working in a procurement office for several years, literally studying rules, laws, procedures. Many in the office were regular church goers. It was deeply Blue. And it was a good experience. I saw what was going on because of Integral Theory. I got over my judgments of “Christians,” for the most part, although I could see the downsides of the meme and understand better the dynamics at play.

The Red issues took a long time to integrate. A lot of it was shadow work, trauma release, and balancing masculine and feminine. Still some patterns there, but we transcend and include.

Your post makes me think of how posts might be structured to help with co-learning. A case study format might be useful, under the heading of “practical application of integral theory and integral life practice.” A simple format such as “What Happened, How I worked Through It, How It Resolved, and Lessons Learned” might provide some consistency and cohesiveness. Comments could provide further insights.


So would you say Spiral Dynamics was more of a way for you to understand what was going on that allowed you to make choices and react in a way from understanding, as a opposed to not know what was happening and come from a place of frustration and reaction to a world that made no sense?

Beautiful story of Red transformation by the way :slight_smile:


Thank you very much for that big view, it was helpful. However I’m still left wondering (no fault of your own) if there are appropriate approaches/practices that are helpful at each color to help move up a color or is it a slow evolutionary life thing that is pretty much dictated by the society your in. I’m getting that Spiral Dynamics is more of a map with land markings and not a system within itself to move up or down. I also imagine in the real world people have things to learn at particular points of these color circles, even though they have aspects of many of the colors at the foundation of their thinking. Like someone may be highly yellow, but have for what ever reason a strong red influence.


Sorry for misunderstanding the original question. I responded with information about integral development instead of focusing on Spiral Dynamics in particular.

I think that having a diversity of experiences that help you to understand the positive aspects of a particular stage and its limitations might be a good approach. It would be nice if people had catalogs of books, classes and communities with stage labels so that you could learn a particular stage and then start to explore its limitations in a very deliberate way.


I’m happy this topic was brought up and i’ll share an experience I had with a friend recently. A friend of mine (25, born and raised in super liberal Portland) confessed to me of being deeply homophobic - a trait he possessed since he was a child. He said he wanted to get over his profound hatred for gay and transgender folks, since it was causing him to suffer, and he didn’t know what to do. So we probed into it for about 3 hours, and at a certain point in the conversation, we hit the spiral gold: a deeply amber/blue bedrock of foundational beliefs, especially in concern for what it means to be a man, male/female identity and sexuality, and his perceived nihilism and chaos that would ensue in society should LGBTQ issues become normalized. He described how he saw the leftist support for transgenderism as a kind of “mental illness,” and described it as the “biggest sin of society” to let that become acceptable. He continued to spontaneously regurgitate precise descriptions of amber values, which inspired me to ask him this:

“On a scale of -10 to 10, -10= absolutely hating something on an emotional/visceral level, 0 being neutral, and 10 being total support, how would you rate your feelings towards gay/transgender people?” He said around -9. So I asked: “What would it take for you to go from a -9 to -7?” He started envisaging ways to become more tolerant, more accepting, and generally opened this mind a tiny bit, and I also presented him with several rational arguments to see if that changed his perspective, which would theoretically result in lessening his strong emotional/moral judgements.

What we discovered as a result of this exercise was that his entire identity was predicated on being a man, and that his entire journey of spiritual development and maturation was focused around becoming a man in its fullest sense. Therefore, the underlying driver of his apparently amber/blue values was all based on his attachment to being a man; his anger/hatred/disgust towards LGBTQ peoples was because his own identity was threatened. We then explored ways of expanding his sense of identity to include more than just his definition of being a man, and also played with slightly loosening his rigid attachment to the idea of “man.” At the end of the conversation, he reported dropping down to a -5, which wasn’t bad given that this was accomplished in 5 hours.

I would love feedback in refining or further developing this exercise, as I believe that working with peoples emotional/moral reactions can strike to the heart of their development. For example, I presented my friend with a bunch of Green concerns, and he said he didn’t care or see the moral importance of any of them (kids being separated from their parents at the border, care of the environment, dislike of racism and oppressive power dynamics – none of that registered, which his why he deems every concern of green a mental illness), which of course implies he lacks any sense of Green. Can people reason their way up the spiral, and then develop or understand the moral sentiments of that level? Maybe. But I think the key to development is to reveal how the values of a certain level are entangled with one’s personal identity, and to then loosen or expand their sense of self around that level. With my friend, it seemed that both the negative deconstruction of his identity was helpful (lessening the rigid attachment to being a man) and presenting orange and green worldviews and arguments in the positive to fill in the hole we just created in his identity. But the key to all of this was to ask him what it would take for him to move from -9 and down, which I believe opens up a tiny window of spiral ascension as they begin reimagine their moral beliefs and core identity, if only for a moment.

My next project is to develop a systematic moral test by asking people to rate on the -10 to 10 scale how they emotionally feel about a whole range of social/political/ethical issues, and then systematically catalogue their responses in a Spiral framework. From there we can experiment with ways of playing with development in different ways, and report what works and what doesn’t.

I hope this was helpful or at least a interesting. Mahalo and good luck!


Mu1: Re: moving up through the colors/stages of development-- There is largely agreement among integralists/developmental theorists that growth and development tends to stop somewhere in the mid- to late-mid 20s, except for a very few rare people. But by this time, most people have already developed through 4 or 5 stages, usually to at least orange-rational. That’s a lot of growth in a relatively short amount of time.

The mid-50s into the 60s is considered a second opportune period for growth and development. Between the mid-20s and mid-50s or thereabouts, people, again with the exception of a few, are largely engaged in translation activity, rather than transformation, meaning they are not developing vertically, but horizontally (to use Cook-Greuter’s term for translation), such as gaining new skills and more knowledge.

But around the mid-50s, with duties and attainments in the exterior world–work/career, raising family, making money, etc.–having been at least partially or largely satisfied, and also, these activities being of less personal satisfaction overall, and also with the fact of one’s physical mortality bearing down, there is a tendency to open again to the natural process of growing/developing/evolving.

And you are right, studying Spiral Dynamics or any developmental model will not necessarily transform you. It may help you speculate as to the stage/level you (and others) are at, and that can be useful; it can also help you understand the world, but actively transform you, not necessarily. The reason being is that to study SD or any model is to use your cognition to take a 3rd person perspective, to view it from the outside as an “it,” whereas true transformation of self-identity is an interior 1st person reality, an experience of your “I.”

But there are ways to hasten your movement through the stages of development, and those ways involve state training (not stages, but states of consciousness). Per Wilber in “Integral Spirituality”: “…research indicates, meditation can engage vertical development (or the unfolding of stages in the self line). In fact, meditation can move you an average of two vertical stages in four years. That is just a very general finding, but it is illustrative. Thus for example, if you are at red, meditation can help move you two stages to orange; if you are at amber, it can help move you to green, and so on.”

As withiniswithout stated, Integral Life Practice can be helpful. It addresses body, mind, spirit, and shadow (minimally), along with ethics, sex, work, emotions, and relationships. Or you can just piece all this work, these elements, together yourself.


Did some thinking and writing on this subject down in Amsterdam;
How can I attach my article on this subject?

Dieuwke Begemann


Really cool stuff man, thank you for sharing.


Thank you, that is in line with what Ive read as well.


Thanks a lot for so interesting question and so useful answers!


Post a link or copy paste? I dont know of another way.


Thanks for the post. Very concise summary, very cogent.Regarding the original query from Mu1, post:1, about “…a practical application view” I think of three main things: 1) Precipitating causes for growth or the impetus to begin evolving and integrating; 2) Means and methods to facilitate the process of growth into new stages (and repair work on places that are stuck), and 3) Mental models that shape and help frame the arc of life, e.g. SD.,

As far as kick starting the process and intentionally accelerating evolution and integration, first there has to be some sort of willingness, and enough trust to brave the imagined hazards of the journey. Often, the ball starts rolling because the pain of remaining the same has become greater than the fear of the unknown. Facing deep-seated trauma and core fears, such as coming face to face with the certainty that you are truly unlovable, is not easy. So first there’s surrender, and faith, and usually desperation. The journey does lighten, but we’re talking here about the mechanisms of transformation.

In my experience, when I’ve been at a place where it feels like my face is pressed against a wall, I have no idea how to progress or what to do and I cannot tap dance past the wall, and I truly say “OK, I surrender, I let go, and even if I don’t make it and I actually physically die, I accept that too. I hold no cards up my sleeve. I’ll face it. Dear God, lead the way,” something shifts and the means appear.

The Integral Map, including SD, gives faith that there is a way and others have done it and the fears that may be present are likely an illusion. But transformation seems to require real skin in the game, real risk, and some version of jumping into a void. Now, after having done this umpteen times, the process is not nearly as dramatic. But it could get that way. Screaming fucking panic is just a breath away.


Ah, good old surrender. I know all to well the mugging that takes place in the alley called life. Surrender that wallet or get stabbed repeatedly by the hand that feeds us. And yes that void, is it always part of those surrender times? I’ll have to look at that one more, because it does seem to be part of many of those surrenders. Thank you for sharing.


Great reference here- Integral Spirituality is one of the few Wilber books I haven’t read yet, so I haven’t heard this finding shared before.

Meditation can certainly be a sort of meta-practice that serves multiple (or even all) areas of an Integral Life Practice. John Dupuy certainly presents it as such in his Integral Recovery book (which I heartily recommend to all my friends looking to better understand addiction and support loved ones, or to those who are struggling with addictions of their own.)

Even beyond the obvious mental/cognitive, spiritual, and emotional/shadow benefits from meditation, Shawn Phillips and Rob McNamara have made some great observations on how meditation can be used in the Body line of ILP as well. There’s also the recent Integral Tantra talk from KW on this site that speaks more on meditation in the Sex line.

I’d highly recommend those interested in their own evolution to take up a meditation practice that suits them. There’s so many out there that it’s almost guaranteed you’ll find one that clicks with you nicely. (Personally I currently enjoy several variations of basic mindfulness meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and using BWE audio from iAwake’s Profound Meditation Program. But I’d love to explore zen and transcendental meditation more in the future!)


withiniswithout, I appreciated your sharing your “prayer” when you’ve “been at a place where it feels like my face is pressed against the wall…” I relate to the desperation, humility and the willingness to physically die you describe in your surrendering/letting go process. I hope that if you, or any of us, ever again “come face-to-face with the certainty that (we) are truly unlovable,” that the beauty and wisdom evident in your words of surrender, and your asking that God lead the way, also arise for you/for any of us. I hope that you, and all of us, when in a difficult inner state, remember the “better angel” in ourselves as well.

I recently listened to Dr. Keith Witt’s interview with Corey, discussing Witt’s book “Loving Completely.” One of the “5-stars” or principles pointed out by Witt for a loving relationship with another is to cultivate the capacity to return to love as quickly as possible during/following a conflict. I think this applies to our relationship with ourselves as well.

Some of what you wrote reminded me of a passage in Wilber’s “The Atman Project,” on Eros and Thanatos:

“Once this false, individual, and separate-self sense is created out of prior Wholeness, then that self is faced with two major drives: the perpetuation of its own existence (Eros) and the avoidance of all that threatens its dissolution (Thanatos). This inward, isolated, pseudoself is fiercely defended against death, dissolution, and transcendence (Thanatos), on the one hand, while aspiring and pretending to cosmocentricity, omnipotence, and immortality on the other (Eros). These are simply the positive and negative sides of the Atman project: Life and Death, Eros and Thanatos, Vishnu and Shiva.”

As integralists, I think there is a tendency to view Eros as simply and only the desire and drive towards Wholeness, which it ultimately is. But Eros also operates at the level of the small, false, separate self; this small self, due to Eros, wants to sustain and preserve itself indefinitely (Vishnu energies), and avoid anything that would threaten its death (Shiva energies).

So when we surrender or let go, from my point of view, this is ultimately what we’re letting go of, what we’re surrendering: the separate, small self. We may call it a lot of different things–letting go attachment to this or that, or letting go aversion to such-and-such; letting go plans, hopes, dreams, ideas, control, desires, etc. While addressing any of these relevant specifics gives us better self-knowledge and self-understanding, and while it may in certain circumstances be necessary to indeed address the specific forms, in the end, we’re simply letting go and surrendering the small, isolated, separate-self sense. To remember that can provide a “shortcut” to the process of “something shifting and the means appearing” (to paraphrase your words).

Personally, I work both sides of surrender; as judging from your statements, you do also. There is the letting go side, letting go the small self, and there is the embracing side. In my own language, it’s “embracing the truth of what is.” Like letting go, this too can be worked in its specific particulars if and when needed, and often it is needed. But sometimes we can just take the short route again, go directly to and embrace the highest “truth of what is,” however we define that Ultimate What Is–as God, or Wholeness, or Void, or Spirit, etc.

While letting go and embracing can seem to be, and can actually be, two separate acts, in my experience, they sort of meld into one, with enough practice.

Again, I appreciate the depth and intelligence of your sharing. Thank you.


I had some additional thoughts on the development from magenta to integral.

  1. This developmental line I’m describing is about epistemological approach
  2. At magenta people tend to accept whatever they imagine as true
  3. At amber they accept whatever the group tells them is true
  4. At green one recognizes that there is a plurality of epistemological methods that may produce interesting results
  5. At teal or Integral you see that epistemological methods you saw at green are not simply a random collection. You see that they relate to one another in a particular developmental sequence.

Best Regards!


Can you elaborate on 4 and 5? I would love to know more of your thoughts on the epistemological methods and how they might sequence or interweave in personal development.


After reading about the stages of development that were discovered through empirical methods, I started looking for a theory that tied the stages together. It occurred to me that each stage might be viewed as a shift in epistemology, or how one goes about acquiring knowledge.

  1. At green one sees that there are many different ways that people experience and make sense of the world. Because at this stage one has a sense for the limits of rational and empirical methods, one starts to attempt to cast the net wider and include narratives from those who use a different epistemological approach than the scientific method. At this stage one is aware of how contextual knowledge can be and you might conclude that since everything is contextual then no narrative deserves the status of “true” any more than any other narrative.

  2. At teal you see that instead of a random collection of contextualized narratives there is actually a developmental processes at work that connects several different epistemological methods in a “transcend and include” way. This healthy hierarchy awareness is what makes it distinct from the other stages of development and is why we call it “Tier 2”. According to Wilber this stage of development might not be visible to someone who does not have access to the empirical research that identified the existence of these stages.

It’s interesting to imagine a new stage of development that refers to integral. Perhaps once you are aware of developmental hierarchies you could attempt to build new ones deliberately along with a set of rituals and institutions that guide individuals through that developmental hierarchy. Perhaps the “Fourth Turning” of Buddhism that some are talking about could be the establishment of such a hierarchy that would focus on ways of knowing about the world that relate to the epistemic method of contemplation - with some inspiration from the scientific method.