By Ken Wilbur
At this point I am going to drag y’all through the convoluted mess that we had to go through in order to arrive at some sort of clarity on this issue [i.e. how to properly integrate states of consciousness and stages of psychological development]. I’m going to do this because I had to slug through this rotten mess and I don’t see any reason you shouldn’t.
What was so confusing to us early researchers in this area is that we knew the stage conceptions of people like Loevinger and Graves were really important; moreover, some of these stages (e.g., Kohlberg) had been tested in a dozen or more cross-cultural studies; either you included these models or you had a painfully incomplete psychospiritual system.
But we also knew that equally important were the phenomenological traditions East and West (e.g., St. Teresa’s Interior Castle, Anu and Ati Yoga), as well as the recent studies like Daniel P. Brown’s on the commonality of certain deep features in meditative stages. And so typically what we did was simply take the highest stage in Western psychological models—which was usually somewhere around Spiral Dynamic’s GlobalView, or Loevinger’s integrated, or the centaur—and then take the 3 or 4 major stages of meditation (gross, subtle, causal, nondual—or initiation, purification, illumination, unification), and stack those stages on top of the other stages. Thus you would go from Loevinger’s integrated level (centaur) to psychic level to subtle level to causal level to nondual level. Bam bam bam bam. . . . East and West integrated!
It was a start—at least some people were taking both Western and Eastern approaches seriously—but problems immediately arose. Do you really have to progress through all of Loevinger’s stages to have a spiritual experience? If you have an illumination experience as described by St. John of the Cross, does that mean you have passed through all 8 Graves value levels? Doesn’t sound quite right.
A second problem quickly compounded that one. If “enlightenment” (or any sort of unio mystica) really meant going through all of those 8 stages, then how could somebody 2000 years ago be enlightened, since some of the stages, like systemic GlobalView, are recent emergents?
All of our early attempts at integration were stalling around this issue of how to relate the meditative stages and the Western developmental stages, and there it sat stalled for about two decades.
Part of the problem centered around: what is “enlightenment,” anyway? In an evolving world, what did “enlightenment” mean? What could “enlightenment” mean?—and how could it be defined in a way that would satisfy all the evidence, both from those claiming it and those studying it? Any definition of “enlightenment” would have to explain what it meant to be enlightened today but also explain how the same definition could meaningfully be operative in earlier eras, when some of today’s stages were not present. If we can’t do that, then it would mean that only a person alive today could be fully enlightened or spiritually awakened, and that makes no sense at all.
The test case became: in whatever way that we define enlightenment today, can somebody 2000 years ago—say, Buddha or Christ Jesus or Padmasambhava—still be said to be “enlightened” or “fully realized” or “spiritually awakened” by any meaningful definition.
This complex of problems formed something of a Gordian knot for, as I said, the better part of two decades. The first real break came in understanding the difference between states and structures, and then how they might be related (once you figured out that you had to stop equating them). A few years after I introduced a suggested solution, my friend Allan Combs, working independently, hit upon an essentially similar idea, and so, in a painfully transparent bid for history, we named this the “Wilber-Combs Lattice” (after months of me having to explain to Allan how silly the “Combs-Wilber Lattice” sounded).
Here is the general idea. The essential key is to begin by realizing that, as we earlier noted (and emphasized), because most meditative states are variations on the natural states of gross-waking, subtle-dreaming, and causal- formlessness, then they are present, or can be present, at virtually all stages of growth, because even the earliest stages wake, dream, and sleep.
Accordingly, if you take any structure-stage sequence (we will use Gebser’s—archaic, magic, mythic, rational, pluralistic, integral) and put those sequentially developing structure-stages (which we will again simply call stages unless otherwise noted) running up the left side of the grid or lattice, and then put the major states across the top (gross, subtle, causal, nondual), you get a simple version of the W-C Lattice (see fig. 4.1). There are many variations on this general idea, and I do not want to imply that Allan agrees with all of mine; but the general idea that structures and states overlap in complex ways is indeed the point. Most of these diagrams and the following discussion are my particular take on that general notion, and I think Allan agrees with these, but, again, I don’t want to speak for him in these details, since we have each developed the germinal idea in various directions.
What you can see in figure 4.1 is that a person at any stage can have a peak experience of a gross, subtle, causal, or nondual state. But a person will interpret that state according to the stage they are at. If we are using a Gebser-like model of 7 stages, then we have 7 stages × 4 states = 28 stage-interpreted / state experiences, if that makes sense. (And, as we’ll see, we have evidence for all of these “structure-state” experiences).That bold sentence was for us early researchers the breakthrough and real turning point. It allowed us to see how individuals at even some of the lower stages of development—such as magic or mythic—could still have profound religious, spiritual, and meditative state experiences. Thus, gross/psychic, subtle, causal, and nondual were no longer stages stacked on top of the Western conventional stages, but were states (including altered states and peak experiences) that can and did occur alongside any of those stages.(What was doubly confusing to us is the fact that there are also 3 or 4 higher structures beyond the centaur and its vision-logic, and because these structures have characteristics that appear similar to those of the 3 or 4 higher states, it was almost impossible to spot the differences. So we kept stacking higher states on top of structures—and calling them higher structures—and we could not for the life of us figure out why that didn’t work. This really drove us nuts. The W-C Lattice was so hard to see, even though the data were right in front of our eyes, because of this overlap.)
The point is that a person can have a profound peak, religious, spiritual, or meditative experience of, say, a subtle light or causal emptiness, but they will interpret that experience with the only equipment they have, namely, the tools of the stage of development they are at. A person at magic will interpret them magically, a person at mythic will interpret them mythically, a person at pluralistic will interpret them pluralistically, and so on. But a person at mythic will not interpret them pluralistically, because that structure-stage of consciousness has not yet emerged or developed.
But the 5 major states of consciousness are available more or less from the start, because everybody wakes, dreams, and sleeps, no matter what stage they are at. Putting those together immediately gives us something like a W-C Lattice.
Let me give one simple series to show what is involved. Take a subtle-state experience of intense interior luminosity accompanied by a sense of universal love. Let’s say this person is Western and Christian, so that the Lower-Left quadrant (which is also intimately involved in providing the contexts for interpretation) has primed this experience of interior luminosity to be interpreted as an encounter with Jesus Christ (or the Holy Spirit). That subtle- realm religious experience can occur at virtually any stage—the magic, mythic, rational, pluralistic, or integral—but in each case, it will be interpreted according to the basic limiting principles of that stage.
Thus (to give some quick and stylized examples), at the magic stage, Jesus is experienced as a personal savior who can miraculously alter the world in order to satisfy my every desire and whim: Jesus as Magician, turning water into wine, multiplying loaves and fishes, walking on water, and so on (we are not talking about the ontological content, if any, of the interpretation; Jesus may or may not have walked on water, but at this stage, this is the thing that would mean the most to me). This stage is preconventional and egocentric, so this Jesus cares only about me.
At the next stage, the mythic, the same kind of subtle-state experience might be interpreted as communion with Jesus the Eternal Truth bringer. This stage is absolutistic in its beliefs, so you will either believe the Word exactly as written, or you will burn in hell forever. This stage is also ethnocentric, so only those who believe in Jesus Christ as their personal savior can be saved.
At the next stage, the mental-rational, Jesus Christ becomes a humanized figure, still fully Divine and fully human, but now fully human in a more believable way, as a teacher of the universal love of a deistic God (who has read Principia Mathematica and knows where to draw the line). Because this stage is the beginning of the postconventional and worldcentric stages, this is also the first of the stages of development that can find salvation through Christ Jesus but also allow that others might find equal salvation through a different path. You will be moving in a Vatican II fashion.
Have a series of profound spiritual experiences at the pluralistic stage and you will likely find yourself one of the authors of The Postmodern Bible, a wonderful example—out of thousands that have sprung up—of interpreting Jesus Christ and the Christ-experience through the lens of the green stage of development.
The integral stage for Gebser was one stage, but for us is simply the opening to at least 4 higher structure-stages of development, any of which will insist on integrating its experience of Christ-consciousness with other expressions of the Holy Spirit around the world, and if so in your case, you might likely find yourself reading a book like this. (Frankly, any earlier/lower stages would simply not find this topic interesting. But if we do pat ourselves on the back, let it still be with humility: whatever stage we might be at, there are always higher stages; and somewhere, someplace, in some universe or dimension, somebody is writing a text that is over our heads….)
Excerpted from Integral Spirituality by Ken Wilber