Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Essay: Growing up with Ken Wilber

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Growing up with Ken Wilber

From the book: Chum for Thought: Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters by David Satterlee

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A personal journey through Integral levels.
Chum For Thought:
Throwing Ideas into Dangerous Waters

Growing up with Ken Wilber

Growing up is all about existential angst. Yes, that’s where to start. Not with the spitting up, crawling, and preverbal babbling. The real issues of growing up are: What’s it all about? To be or not to be? What do you want to be when you grow up? What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything? As a crusty old man looking back, I can see that I repeatedly died to myself and was reborn in progressive and incremental stages. [Below, I will assign colors to these stages for later reference.]

I grew up as “young brother perfect” in an unconventional Christian fundamentalist faith. The angels were watching and God knew everything I did. I wanted a pony in the Kingdom. If I wasn’t good, I couldn’t live in the New World. [purple]

I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Life was a constant struggle with “worldly” people. I wouldn’t celebrate your pagan holidays, enter one of your churches, and would not
spend much time with your children because they were “bad associations.” I knew in primary school that college would only corrupt my faith; it was clearly not for me. [red]

By my teen years, I was past “Aren’t you a cute little boy with your Watchtower,” and into earning approval inside the congregation. We were Bible students. We were committed to getting it right and we were better than you. To prove it, we would wake you up on Saturday mornings to tell you so right to your face. We wanted nothing much to do with your corrupt world. We were witnesses of our God and it was wonderful. [blue]

It was appalling. Something about it was not right. As a young adult, earning a living and caring for my family, I was determined to make a success of myself. Life was exciting. I had interesting technical work. I read the news, studied every new field that caught my interest. I still had ambitions to advance in the congregation, but it was not making me joyful. A life of Godly devotion was supposed to be as good as it got. I explored the self-help and leadership literature. I checked out books on psychology and relationships. I sneaked home books on meditation and Zen. [orange]

Somewhere in this process, some author mentioned Ken Wilber and I made a note of it. I searched him out at Borders Books and bought The Essential Ken Wilber. It was strange and hard to chew, but there was something essentially coherent in there.

I was hooked and read better than 2,500 pages of Wilber before my orgy of introspection and expanded horizons had wound down. My world had changed. I now belonged to all of humanity and could examine others’ beliefs without cringing and love them without reserve. [green]

Ken Wilber reports that he faced his own disillusionments (with science) but completed school with degrees in chemistry and biology. He explored Buddhism and tried to find a way to reconcile it with Western thought. In 1973, he wrote The Spectrum of Consciousness, and began lecturing and teaching workshops about the hidden unities and relationships of disparate scientific fields, philosophies, and world views.

After the death of his wife from cancer in 1987, Ken isolated himself and spent over a decade in intense research and voluminous writing.

He reads voraciously and writes loquaciously. He writes from depths of personal clarity, expresses himself with a mix of well-ordered precision and poetic exuberance, and exudes unabashed authority.
Ken Wilber has a special interest in mysticism and what Aldous Huxley called “The Perennial Philosophy.” The man walks his talk. He meditates and achieves altered states of consciousness at will. He does all this without abandoning Western standards of scientific inquiry. Any page in one of his books may discuss authorities as disparate as Sri Aurobindo, Jean Gebser, Clare Graves, Chogram Trungpa Rinpoche, Jean Piaget, or Plotinus.

Although this may sound like an unholy mess, Ken has borrowed, trimmed and constructed a philosophical framework for organizing his observations. He first assumes that every view has a discernible orientation and something worthwhile to contribute.

The first construct of his framework is a four quadrant matrix using internal vs. external orientation against singular vs. plural reference. Essentially, these indicate internal perception, external observation, closed cultural views, and open societal views. He adds multiple lines of progressive development such as emotional, mathematical, musical, and spiritual.

Development along any of these lines follows predictable stages such as Jane Lovinger’s stages of ego development. Wilber distinguishes between temporary peak experience states and permanently achieved stages. He allows for both feminine compassionate/relationship approaches and masculine agentic/justice approaches to achieved states.

Ken has also incorporated the research of Clare Graves (as developed by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan into “Spiral Dynamics.”) Spiral Dynamics describes and assigns color codes to the successive world views that are experienced as individuals and cultures mature.

Beige for instinctual reactions;
Purple for spirits and superstition;
Red for survival struggle;
Blue for obedience to authority (including religious conformity);
Orange for strive/drive ambition;
Green for sense of united open community;
Yellow for ability to observe the dynamics of complex systems; and
Turquoise for an integrated sense of being and belonging while within life’s chaos.

Now, I can see that I have been developing through predictable transformations of worldview. This suggests a structure for growing toward future stages. The existential angst is receding but not gone. I am a brother to all things. My responsibility is to learn and love; to improve myself and leverage that growth into the goal of enlightenment for all sentient beings.

There remain unimaginable mysteries. There remains too little time in this flesh. What can I do? What can it mean? What will come next?