The Momentous Leap to Integral Consciousness

Ken Wilber and Corey deVos explore some of the unique challenges that come with the transition to Integral stages of development — “the momentous leap” as it is often called.

What makes this particular transformation so momentous? For one thing, it requires a total restructuring and realignment of our own interiors, our own sense-making, and our relationship with the rest of the world “out there”. Which tends to require a great deal of rethinking, self-reporting, anti-fragility, and epistemic humility — all of which have become increasingly scarce resources here in the social media attention age.

Watch as Ken and Corey try to bring a little bit more light to this particular path of transformation, and maybe leave a few signposts for fellow travelers along the way.

Part 1 — When Re-Integration Becomes Regression

One of the things that makes the transition to Integral stages so unique, is the fact that previous stage transformations typically require one single ascending vector of growth — we are consciously pushing against the excesses of our current stage and "reaching up” to find a handhold in the next higher stage. Pre-integral stages aren’t aware of the fact that they are stages, so there is nothing telling us that we need to re-integrate prior stages we’ve already developed through. We don’t need to reckon with these prior stages — when we move from the Orange rational stage to the Green pluralistic stage, for example, we don’t concern ourselves very much with “re-integrating” the Amber traditional stage, at least not consciously. We’re simply figuring out how to get from one stage to the next, and once we get there, we rarely look back.

However, when we are transforming into integral stages of thinking, views, and values, it’s not just a “reaching up” that brings us into 2nd-tier, but also a “reaching down” to re-align and re-integrate all previous stages of development that remain alive within us — and therefore to befriend other people who may still be at these stages themselves, get them out of our shadows (and try to keep ourselves out of theirs).

And if we don’t allow that descending self-love to fully take root, then we risk carrying all sorts of 1st-tier shadows, allergies, and addictions with us into Integral stages, or even sabotaging our own transformation into those stages.

However, the need to re-integrate prior stages as we move into Integral stages can sometimes lead us to some fairly regressive places. So I wanted to talk to Ken about the different kinds of regression that are possible within both individuals and groups.

True regression within an individual — that is, regression within a particular intelligence or line of development, such as the cognitive line for example — is rare, and usually only seen in cases of head trauma, brain damage, excessive drug addiction, etc. The wiring of our brains changes, and so do our capacities.

But there are some facets of self that CAN regress without this sort of UR quadrant biological disruption. Particularly our worldviews, which are often informed and influenced not by our brain chemistry, but by the sorts of groups that we identify with. And groups can get activated and radicalized in all sorts of ways — and when they do, this tends to shift the worldviews of every individual who is a member of that group. This is particularly pernicious for pre-integral stages of development, since there is no notion of vertical development that can act as guardrails in our own ongoing growth and/or regression. We certainly see this sort of thing happening on both political extremes these days.

And this kind of regression becomes even more likely when we are carrying unexamined shadow material from previous stages in our psyche. These are often shadows that remain submerged until our life conditions arrange themselves in such a way that they come to the surface and hijack our overall center of gravity. For example, we might have a hidden Amber shadow that causes us to unconsciously separate people into us vs. them groups, and that shadow can easily become inflamed when our own surrounding group begins to perceive another group as enemy. In which case, we still retain our higher developmental capacities, but those capacities are then bent around an early-stage shadow fixation that our overall self-system continues to trip over.

Meanwhile, groups remain messy as ever, and can easily and quickly progress and/or regress in all sorts of ways as soon as some central dynamic within the group shifts. As we often say, the center of gravity of a group is sort of like playing a game of poker, where the players decide the rules of the game between each hand. If you have a table of green individuals at the poker table, the rules will be more or less green. But as soon as half the green folks leave, and are then replaced by amber folks, the game goes on but the rules change quite a bit, and the table’s center of gravity drops. We can see this in things like identity groups and political parties all the time.

And of course our personal shadows can then be doubly reinforced by our surrounding groups. If I have an amber shadow, and that shadow then attracts a larger amber audience who consistently rewards me for my amber shadow, that shadow then becomes reinforced by my surrounding group and my future expressions are more likely to conform to that pattern. Especially in the attention age, when my livelihood depends on having an audience who will pay that attention to me. We begin to tailor our expression to the groups who are most receptive to our brokenness, which can seduce us into thinking our brokenness is in fact a different kind of wholeness. (This relates to a point we made in our previous episode together, where we talked about how a pursuit of wholeness can cause us to associate with groups that are, in reality, less whole than ourselves, because they are being driven by stages that would otherwise be regressive to us.)

We also discuss the idea of a “regression in service of the ego”, which describes a very temporary, typically deliberate (and guided) regression in order to redress some injury or shadow that remains in our system. Not the sort of thing we typically see in groups, however – because again, the overall views and values of the group are determined by the shared interiors between members of that group.

It’s sometimes the case that people think they are “regressing in service of” all sorts of different things — in service of society, of culture, and yes, of their own ego. And they can trick themselves into thinking they are doing it for “integral” reasons. For example, they might suddenly see the excesses of green, and then push that green entirely out of their own self-system, instead aligning themselves with all sorts of anti-green worldviews (that are really pre-green). But if I can only see green “out there” and I can’t find any of it “in here”, then I’m probably not taking any real momentous leaps into integral consciousness, because my own allergies are preventing me from doing so.

Part 2 — Broken and Whole: Integral Attracts Its Opposite

Another challenge we should always be mindful of as we are growing into these integral stages is the actual source of our attraction to this material in the first place. To many of us, Integral represents a new kind of wholeness — many kinds of wholeness, actually, as Ken and I talked about in our previous episode. And many of us are deeply attracted to this idea and possibility of wholeness – largely because of an innate sense of brokenness that we feel, either in the world around us, or more often, in ourselves.
Integral, as a vision of wholeness, often attracts its opposite.

And I think this is a critical thing for us to keep an eye on. We are all wounded healers in our own way, and it’s often a race to see who will win — our wounds, or our healing. We’ve seen more than a few casualities in this space over the years, including everything from suicides to borderline personalities to full-on psychotic breaks in the middle of integral conferences.

Which is why the paths of waking up and cleaning up are so critical, because both of them can help keep our own sense of “brokenness” in check. Cleaning Up reminds us to keep a careful eye on our own sense of brokenness, real or imagined — especially those broken parts we cannot yet see within ourselves. Meanwhile, Waking Up exposes us to the timeless wholeness that we always already are, whether we consciously know it or not, which not only connects us with this timeless Absolute awareness, but also helps us tap into a Ground of Being that becomes an inexhaustible source of radical acceptance, forgiveness, mindfulness, and anti-fragility in the relative world, which in turn helps assist our efforts to heal the various wounds we may still be carrying in our separate selves.

Part 3 — Updating Our Maps, Inhabiting the Territory

Here we talk about one of the common challenges that we’ve seen over the last two decades of working with the online integral project — particularly the challenge of learning the integral map before we are actually familiar with the integral territory that it describes.

Almost all of Ken’s books have some caution about this — he reminds us again and again that “this is a map, and the map is not the territory.” But one of the most common dysfunctions we see in this space, is a purely cognitive enactment of integral without the sorts of interpersonal, intrapersonal, moral, and spiritual intelligences (among others) that are required for a fully-embodied integral consciousness (which basically describes the path of Opening Up, where we begin to nourish and nurture any number of developmental capacities, often using something like an Integral Life Practice to do so.

This challenge often seems to arise when we receive this integral map while still largely at a pre-integral stage of our own development, which likely describes a great many people who are watching right now. We naturally enact these maps according to our current stage — if our overall worldview or center of gravity is orange, we enact the map in a predominantly orange way. If our view or center of gravity is green, we enact it in a green way. And at these stages we are often blind to the deeper territories that map actually represents, because we have not yet fully developed the interior referents for those signifiers.
And because we are using the sorts of signifiers and terminologies that correspond to the integral territories these maps are describing, we can easily convince ourselves that we “get it”, that we must be successfully inhabiting that territory, thinking we are integral because we think we know what a “quadrant” is. But sometimes we forget that our actual perception and enactment of these quadrants, or the developmental stages, or any other territory described by this map, continues to grow and deepen. We don’t get that we might only be using it as a mere conceptual tool rather than, say, a way to perceive and inhabit the fundamental perspectives that comprise the fabric of reality itself. We’re pushing boxes around on a piece of paper while telling ourselves we are doing real integral work.

And this becomes really challenging, because when it comes to the path of Growing Up, at every step we need to closely re-examine and re-assess our own cherished maps of reality, as well as the various assumptions and presuppositions that we’ve drawn from them, while keeping ourselves open to the idea that our current understanding may not be the fullest understanding possible. Our pre-integral enactment of the integral map can become calcified — which means that, when some of us are inevitably confronted with the limitations of their own currently-partial enactments of these maps, we forget that we are supposed to be growing into the territory, and instead begin to believe we are growing out of integral altogether. But we’re not, we are just outgrowing a lower-resolution enactment of these maps, because we believe we’ve already achieved the highest-resolution view possible. We’re looking at a sphere, but only see a circle.

Which is why it’s often the case that the people who believe they have outgrown the integral project, have in reality only just begun to scratch the surface. It’s another reason why we’ve seen some casualties over the years among people who are trying to grow into this territory — the momentous leap becomes a bridge too far, and sometimes people can fall through the gaps as a result. Hopefully, discussions such as these can provide some sort of safety net.


Perhaps one of the reasons there’s rarely any discussion of these Ken Sho episodes is that they, and the write-ups accompanying them, are so thorough and wise, there’s little to add. But I can usually find something :slightly_smiling_face: Starting with:

*Shadow. I had a poignant moment during the conversation on shadow, remembering a few years back at this site populated by a gentler crew than now where quite a few people spoke of the shadow work they were doing. So I just want to give a shout out to those people if they’re still around and to everyone who is conscientious about their own shadow work. I also want to reiterate Corey’s remark that just because one can locate in themselves in present-time (or by remembering a past time) a degree of a “negative” quality such as controlling-ness or anger doesn’t mean that the person you’re interacting with isn’t expressing or being that way. And it is a matter of degrees, I think; a rare or momentary turn of anger is quite different from anger being, not a temporary state, but a persistent trait in our “base note” of personality, to reference Dr. Witt.

Once we’ve located these certain qualities in ourselves–and every quality, imo, does exist in ourselves–we’re less likely to unconsciously ‘act out’ the quality and less likely to project it onto others. Awareness is protection, for both self and others, and also enables greater acceptance or empathy for those who unfortunately aren’t doing their own shadow work.

Also, while it’s always briefly mentioned in these conversations about shadow, as it was in this episode, I think it would be worthwhile to spend more time talking about the golden shadow, helping people reclaim aspects of their own goodness, truth, and beauty that have been projected onto others. Cleaning up to me is about more than owning the ‘dark side,’ it’s about owning our light too.

*On regression. While this conversation focused largely and appropriately on regression of worldviews and regression in service of the ego, just a mention here that there is also “regression in service of transcendence” in which repressed elements of psyche and libidinal energies are retrieved/reclaimed in service to spiritual transformation or development. Perhaps not relevant to a lot of people reading this, but nevertheless, perhaps one or two.


You’re going to love Part 2, I think. It’s currently titled “Brokenness and Wholeness: Integral Attracts Its Opposite”. We (well, Ken mostly) go pretty deep into working with both “dark” and “light” shadows. Should be available later this week!

“regression in service of transcendence”

It’s a great phrase, I’m going to chew on it for awhile. Is it the “curative regression” that is directly making the transcendence possible, or is it stabilizing the person’s current center of gravity and/or operating system, which ITSELF makes the transcendence possible? Either way, I think you are on to something important — if we carry too much shadow with us, dark or light, when we are on the transformative/transcending journey, we risk a big explosion soon after we get off the launch pad.

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While you’re chewing on it, let me mention that the term “regression in service of transcendence” was coined by Michael Washburn, somebody you may know as he has an affinity for Integral and Wilber (and maybe has been featured in Integral Life content?). From what little reading I’ve done, his premise is that ‘suffering’ can be placed within the larger context/container/paradigm of spiritual unfolding (vs. mere psychological disturbance, although Washburn does of course acknowledge that severe psychological pathology does exist). His point is that experience of any kind is never severed from the dynamic Ground. A very tantric idea–nothing is rejected, nothing can be separated from or exist outside of ‘Spirit.’

I do not have enough in-depth knowledge of Washburn’s work to know how he handles the question of when is psychological work vs. spiritual practice warranted for apparent regressive ‘suffering.’

Aside from Washburn, the kundalini literature, for instance, is full of examples of regressive thoughts, emotions, behavior, both in ordinary people with “road of fire” kundalini awakenings and in well-know spiritual teachers. There is Irina Tweedy’s beating a mouse to a pulp in a fit of anger; Swami Muktananda’s “hateful and sinful thoughts;” Krishnamurti’s incapacitating fear, and countless other examples (not to mention the animal identifications and sounds that can arise). Regression, a la Freud, is a defense mechanism in response to stress and difficulty that results in less mature behavior. One cannot say with any certainty that the regressions associated with kundalini are a defense mechanism; rather, they supposedly are due to the kundalini piercing various chakras in order to dislodge and expel “impure” subtle material. So, in the best of people, these are, or so it seems to me, examples of regression in service of transcendence. Stabilization of the person’s “operating system” is what DIRECTLY makes the transcendence possible, I would say, but the regression is what DIRECTLY leads to the need for stabilization, so regression INDIRECTLY makes transcendence possible. Regression and stabilization can hardly be separated in the context of what I am speaking of here, their being part and parcel of a whole process–transcendence.

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