What hooked you into Integral Theory?

I’ve been thinking about the difficulty in getting people interested in Integral Theory. For me, and judging by the people posting here, it is a life-changing process. Yet, I don’t know good ways to get my friends intrigued. It occurred to me that asking you what your seminal, aha, eureka moment or series of events were might provide some ideas that we could all benefit from. Thanks for any ideas you can share.


My search for something like integral begin in the late 70’s when I first started grappling seriously with religion and spirituality. (I had been grappling with science since I could barely walk.) I wanted a way to be spiritual without doing violence to a scientific understanding of the world. Ken Wilber got on my radar in the 80s, along with other writers who informed my search.

All of that went on the backburner for me in the mid 90s because I became 110% occupied with raising kids and paying bills. In the last couple years, I reengaged with it, because the kids are grown and the bills are largely paid. Surveying the current cultureal landscape, I have no strong affinity for either side in the US culture wars (and partial affinity for each side), so I favor frameworks that go bigger. Integral is one of those.


For me it was while studying psychology 13 years ago and reading Jane Loevinger, Laurence Kohlberg and Abraham Maslow and it clicked for me. I was somewhat put off/embarrassed to like or talk about Jane Loevinger’s work though as it had a hierarchical aspect in terms of ego development. Because development in morality is so obvious, spoken about and affects other people so much this doesn’t have that aspect, nor does a hierarchy of needs for similar reasons… Well, to me growth in morality and a hierachy of needs had been quite apparent for a while.

I kind of thought all grownups would know about the hierachy of needs when i was 12 or so but started to realise they didnt as I got older and became extremely dissapointed in reasons people gave for why things were unequal in a society where equality is possible. A thing that really stuck out to me was speaking of equality only as equating to social mobility…


This is something I ponder quite frequently. For me, it was being forced to look at alternatives to a view of life that I could not justify from reason, experience or science. Growing up in a conservative Christian home indoctrinated me into a world of certainty that I was on God’s side and anyone that didn’t agree was going to burn forever. There were always nagging questions but life (e.g. finances, marriage, raising kids, etc) always got in the way of a serious search for answers and at any rate, since I was “saved” it was all good, so no worries.

Eventually it became necessary to answer these questions myself, as I was appointed an elder of a small church. When I had to study and read the scriptures seriously, I realized that much of what I had been taught was suspect. As an elder, I was tasked with revising our church’s constitution to create a doctrinal statement for the purpose of defining membership acceptance. During this process, I found a few “certainties” that I could not honestly force others to accept as biblical fact. My desire was to admit a diverse fellowship that could challenge each other’s beliefs through non-dogmatic sharing of viewpoints. This ultimately led to my removal, but also fueled a desire within myself to find “the Truth”. I now realize that the truth is not found in static certainty but is an evolving journey of enlightenment. I call it revelation(s).

My initial search led to reading alternate interpretations of scripture and exploring other faith traditions. I think my first encounter with Integral was from a mention of Ken Wilber in one of Richard Rohr’s books. I obtained a copy of “Integral Spirituality” and have continued on the journey of discovering a more inclusive and loving world that is possible, without scapegoating and violence.

Given that my initial introduction to Integral was through wanting to search beyond my upbringing and indoctrination, it seems to me that the only way that people grow is through recognizing an insufficiency in what currently drives their life’s wants and desires. For most people, this realization will only come if they sense a need to expand awareness of their place in the world and seek to grow beyond their current state. For those that think they have everything figured out already because they adhere to what is told them by their parents, pastor, rabbi, imam or favorite politician it can be very hard, if not impossible to break out of the dualistic mindset.

For me, reading and contemplation was key, but it takes time. If all your time is taken up with emails and texts or binging episodes your favorite show, YouTube video, TikTok or Instagram it will be hard to move beyond whatever level you happen to be at. We all need time to think and that time is very rare in our current culture.

Life is a journey, but those that feel that they have all the answers already are not going to even leave the house and it is almost impossible to convince them to leave the comfort of their certainty couch. In my experience, a person wakes themselves up as a result of suffering or other life difficulty and realizes that a true fulfilling life is passing them by. No amount of rhetoric or convincing will persuade otherwise. A person has to want to get up off that couch and jump on the Integral train (hopefully avoiding divisive echo chambers and rabbit holes). A wise person once told me, “Don’t get on the train to Baltimore and expect to arrive in San Francisco”.

This journey never ends. The journey is the goal.


This is such a thoughtful reply. Thank you! I want to reply to your response and then add my own; it parallels with yours.

I appreciate your comment, that “a person wakes themselves up as a result of suffering or other life difficulty and realizes that a true fulfilling life is passing them by. No amount of rhetoric or convincing will persuade otherwise. A person has to want to get up off that couch and jump on the Integral train…” I swing back a forth, sometimes agreeing with this judgment that the time needs to be right, and while it was for me, no trains were showing up for me until a fortuitous sequence of events:

  • My wife was attending the Living School in Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation. One of her reading assignments was Suzanne Cook-Greuter’s “Nine Levels of Increasing Embrace in Ego Development.”
  • The title didn’t grab me, but my wife’s insistence got me started and the article led to the life changing discovery of Integral Theory. This article was my Inegral Hook! Before this, I had no idea why Uncle Jim was so $#%*!
  • That led to Rohr, Wilber, Jeff Saltzman, Steve McIntosh, et cetera. As you so rightly say, this theory takes time and work, and the disaggregated nature of our lives is antithetical to absorption of integral thinking and living.

I’ve gotten some folks to read books by Rohr in a spiritual reading group I organized. Falling Upward is a good entry for some of my “religious allergic” friends and it has the added benefit of being very developmentally oriented. Rohr also has a nice series on Spiral Dynamics in his daily meditations on the CAC website.

Nowadays, I find myself in frequent conversations where people ask questions like “how can people believe these things (we hear on cable news)?” The discussions often go south with personal and judgmental attacks that continue to divide us and confirm our biases. Every once in a while, I might get one person to spend time with me over coffee for a longer answer, but I don’t see that flash of insight I experienced with Cook-Greuter’s article. What insight? That people at the different levels have the cognitive and perceptive abilities up to that level, and not the abilities of those one or two levels later. It seems like the theory is just difficult enough to make it hard to find the right size of hook (I think that is a fishing analogy. I should have listened better to my father).

I want to hook more people into the organic, compelling, learning experience you describe and that I have also experienced. Right now, my best success has been by planting seeds and being available a year later when someone comes back and says “about that developmental thing we discussed a while back…I’ve been thinking.”


Hi Gary,

Yes, I have to think about how I got to this place and be sensitive to the views of others and respect their journey. As I reflect on what led me to change, it was a desire to find answers to questions I had. Without those burning questions I would have stayed in the station, waiting for a mythical, promised conductor to furnish all the answers and lead me to the “promised land”. When I finally realized that my life purpose was to be fulfilled on this planet, in this lifetime, I saw that it was time to leave the station.

A few of the people that have been my spiritual guides along the way are Richard Rohr, Ken Wilber, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Ilia Delio, Rene Girard, Raimon Panikkar, Cornel West, James Baldwin, Simone Weil, Bishop John Shelby Spong, Matthew Fox and Albert Murray. These thinkers have given me a rich landscape of thought to ponder as I make my way toward understanding the purpose and reason to hope for my life.

As we seek to influence those we love to a more Integral life, a humble and loving acceptance of where they are will bear fruit if we are patient. We just need to look back to where we come from to give us the wisdom to accept others that are struggling with the same issues that we had and give them the space to grow.

Theories of Integral maturity levels are informative and give us a certain clarity for understanding the inevitable evolution of thought but real life is many times more difficult to navigate and messier to make sense of. Include and transcend my friend!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate the dialog.

+1 on Richard Rohr and CAC.

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For me, it was reading Spectrum of Consciousness in 1993 and finding that Ken had so beautifully articulated so much that I had been thinking about (but in an inarticulate way). I remember the shock and awe well! I tried to get others to read him too, writing charts on napkins, etc. but I met with mostly dead ends. I think, as someone has mentioned here, that it takes a some level of intellectual development plus stage development (probably exit orange to be interested at all and likely exit green/integral to really grasp it). As an example, I gave it to my son at one point but it wasn’t until probably a decade later that he picked it up with real interest. He just wasn’t ready. That said, Grace and Grit may be an entry point since the theory is encased within a gripping story.

And I agree about just accepting people where they are on this. There’s no way to force it and there are other paths to goodness that people find that may be equally beneficial. It’s a great path, but not the only one.

I am 67 and came across Ken Wilber in EnlighteNext magazine he was putting out or was associated with some 25 years ago. I have always been seeking and developing since finding Maslow in college. Spectrum of Consciousness was a very important book and led me hop scotching through many of Wilber’s books. Back then, not many people were “translating” or “interpreting” Wilber’s writings and so I am pleased with all the books that have come out and reframed Wilber’s thoughts. I have a hard time keeping up with the AQAL theory, but I am intrigued with the views of the Metamodern world that are developing and I keep reading to grab whatever insightful nuggets I can. It is all a blessing.

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Helo. I was introduced to Integral thinking by Ken Wilber. Reading his notes, and books, or seeing his videos. The idea of seeing reality from the four quadrants was shocking. Then the maps of development (growing up), the waking up, the cleaning up, the lines. I took the challenge and applied it in my life. There is a lot of work to do. I mean, there is work, no time for speaking about it. That is why I am not very interested in the many published applications. In summary, the Integral way of perceiving reality became so important, that I will always be grateful for this contribution.


Our teachers overlap about 60%. Regarding this insight from Wilber: “Everybody is right. More specifically, everybody — including me — has some important pieces of truth, and all of those pieces need to be honored, cherished, and included in a more gracious, spacious, and compassionate embrace,” I have found so many other facts, trends, memes, etc that fit in and confirm the general narrative of Integral, I know it is working in the background. I think–but I’m not sure–the “psycho-active” nature of Integral means that learning the overarching ideas facilitates understanding and self-application of the principles.

Your reminder to be patient with others is wise. Sometimes I get ahead of myself…

I appreciate everyone’s responses and invite more feedback on this question, including thinking back to those moments when something clicked that led to digging deeper. It occurs to me that Integral is never going to go viral because it is too big. But the little big moments we’ve had are the stories that might go viral. Wishful thinking?

Another issue that might drive indifference is the disaggregated nature of our current reality. Most of us struggle with our monkey minds that don’t allow us to focus long enough that we can understand an integrated theory that has many moving parts. As much as I concentrate and focus on understanding and writing about Integral, I have to put a lot of effort into it. Who wants to do that? I’m lucky that I enjoy it.

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We could say from an academic standpoint, that integral has “prerequisites”. I do think it’s useful to distinguish “integral theory” - a formal model - and “integral practice”, which could roughly be defined as holistic living. Practical integral can be open to life in all its dimensions, without having theoretical definitions for all of this. I’m not sure that sort of personal integration is designed to go viral either. But it does have a long history. The whole idea of “going viral” implies a kind quick and easy superficiality which is not really compatible with either integral theory or practice.

I just remembered today the critical academic attitudes towards Integral and especially developmental theories that Wilber has often mentioned. That’s probably stronger now than when he first identified it 20+ years ago. Combine that with the difficulty funding social science research and I find little evidence of research in developmental psychology or developmental social psycoholgy research in the last 15 years. Without new research coming out, how can the field attract attention or new, young researchers to do this work? I am not convinced this is drying up because the theories are not panning out, but I am stumped to explain it.

One other thing. In the Integral Saging meeting this morning it was suggested we find less specialized or technical language to describe Integral concepts. For example, describing the quadrants as Consciousness, Culture, Science and Society. That’s a start.

It exists, but the emphasis lately has been on postmodern conceptions of race, gender, and personal identity. The idea that people, individually or collectively, are on a growth path towards something more than they are now is not congenial to this outlook. My engagement with developmental theory dates from 1980s. I never quite realized how out of favor it became in the academic mainstream until fairly recently, trying to sort of DEI issues, I realized that the DEI movement in general lacks a developmental model. Working in a school, this is a problem, because presumably the curriculum exists for a reason and people are trying to grow into more than whatever their current identity is. I’ve being using integral and related frameworks to reground DEI concerns in something more developmental and more compatible with education as a social practice. There are communities of people involved in similar work, but in the larger academic world, this is all rather counter cultural at the moment.

It sounds like the research is not in developmental psychology or social psychology, but in something related to DEI concerns, which sounds unrelated to “how people grow.”

My college experiences where in the '70s and '90’s. We had the freedom to be candid about the goals of our research in those times. I appreciate your efforts to reframe DEI in developmental terms. It’s hard to imagine that stance being considered counter cultural.

I would have loved to have discovered this when I was 42! At the same time, I wonder if I could have understood it well enough to take on the Integral worldview and developed with it without a community. As it turned out, I was about 65 when I first opened a book by Wilber. I know that “the transmission” has been easier at this stage, but I still get confused and tangled up at times!

Here is what the APA is highlighting: https://www.apa.org/pubs/highlights/spotlight/topic-developmental

Some of this is straight up developmental theory in the Piaget tradition. But as you can see from the titles, there is also a strong element of race and gender studies.

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Since I was a teenager I’ve been interested in Philosophy, Psychology, and Neuroscience. That journey was fueled by extreme traumas during my formative years. At a very young age(13 to 17) I had many experiences with LSD and Psilocybin mushrooms.(I would never recommend doing that at such a young age but in my case it may have saved my life.) By the time I was 18 I was looking at the world Holistically embracing Meditation and Eastern philosophy. That led to diving into Joseph Campbell, Krishnamurti, Carl Jung, etc. Fast forward to 2001 and I had heard of Ken and someone recommended I should read his work. It wasn’t until 2012 that I finally dove into it.

What completely blew my mind was that it made sense to me immediately and wasn’t difficult for me to grasp. What I didn’t realize years prior to that is I was already at an Integral level and Ken’s work helped me make sense of myself and others and they way I interpreted the world. I had always joked that I was a freak because over the years people were confused by me and thought I was nuts. Some friends assumed that my PTSD had got the best of me because of they way I interpreted existence. Ken’s work has been a very important influence in my healing journey and helped me realized that not only was I not a freak I was actually more developmentally advanced than all those that threw me under the bus which included “so-called” family.

So I guess it’s safe to say that it’s Ken himself that got me hooked on Integral Theory. His theories activated my mind in ways that accelerated my growth and healing. I’m forever grateful for Ken and all he’s done. I consider him one of the most important influences in my life! Thank you, Ken Wilber!! :heart:


Brian, thanks for your reply. I had A Brief History of Everything on my bookshelf for years before reading it 6 years ago. I too feel like I’m outside so much or what we call normal: standard American male role, DEI-progressive, fun and entertainment seeking adult activities, traditional Christian beliefs. None of this hits my sweet spot like Integral.

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