Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Where are you on the Spiritual Spectrum?

Ken Wilber is a proponent of integral consciousness, a branch of the new age movement which incorporates evolutionary spirituality. According to Wilber, integral theory is ‘the Big Picture view;’ i.e. the culmination of man’s spiritual history and method of seeing ultimate reality: ‘Integral theory allows us to see the patterns that connect all the various dimensions of our lives, offering the most comprehensive and fully integrated view of reality that we have ever seen.’[1]

It has also been described as post-modern and the most advanced spirituality to have evolved to date.  People who are in this ‘advanced station of life’ are ‘able to better understand, navigate and participate with all different kinds of perspective', allowing them to truly see themselves, each other and their world with 'more wisdom, openness and inquisitiveness than ever before.'

It appears that integral consciousness is theorising that there is a spiritual distribution out there and every one of us lies somewhere on it, akin to the income distribution, intelligence distribution or educational attainment distribution.  Those people who are at the far right tail are those who follow and practice integral, evolutionary spirituality.  Therefore, everyone else (80% of the world’s population) falls somewhere to the left of the spiritual elite.  Wilber says, ‘every field of human inquiry continues to move through wave upon wave of increasing accuracy, fidelity, and applicability’ so that to be behind the integral curve, as it were, would place one in a less sophisticated spiritual position.

Human beings obviously make progress in terms of knowledge in many areas, but spiritual progress up some hierarchy is a dangerously flawed idea, calling to mind ideas from Nietzsche or the Hindu caste system. 'A Brahmin,' noted a Hindu lawyer, 'is entitled to exactly five-and-twenty times as much happiness as everyone else.' [2] Ultimate reality, like happiness, isn't fungible and it doesn't change over time. In John's gospel, Peter questions Jesus about John's spiritual status and his response is that Peter mustn't compare himself to others, but to focus on his own personal relationship to Jesus (John 21:21,22).

Many people aspire to be on the inner ring of their career and among their peers.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the danger is when this strategy is applied to spirituality.  It sounds as though many new age gurus appeal to the aspiration of exclusivity that the new age/integral/evolutionary consciousness promises.  The difficulty is that often when people believe they have entered that privileged club, they can move from a sense of spiritual growth to spiritual arrogance, looking down on the rest of the spectrum. 

[1] Ken Wilber, ‘A Brief History of Integral,’ Integral Life+, 8 June 2012.
[2] Deirdre N. McCloskey, ‘Happyism: the creepy new economics of pleasure,’ The New Republic, 8 June 2012

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