Ken Wilber’s “Trump and a Post-Truth World: An Evolutionary Self-Correction”

An overview and critique by Cynthia Bourgeault.

Now that Ken Wilber’s paper on “Trump and a Post-Truth World” is officially posted and making its rounds on the internet, I feel at liberty to share my initial “cliff notes” and comments a bit more widely.

Trump and a Post Truth WorldMy comments below were generated originally (and somewhat hastily) for a group of senior Wisdom students who are already working their way through this tract. It is still to be regarded as primarily a “working draft” for limited circulation, not a formal response to Ken’s thesis.

The first part is a quick overview of the main points of Ken’s argument as I understand it. The second part raises a few points for feedback/critique/further reflection.



Ken Wilber’s wide-ranging and fundamentally hopeful monograph is an analysis of the recent presidential election from the perspective of levels of consciousness as developed primarily according to his own Integral Evolutionary Theory. The powerful contribution he brings here is to move us beyond the reactivity gripping both sides of the political spectrum and offer a much broader perspective. He proposes that Trump’s upset victory reflects an “evolutionary self-correction” necessitated by the fact that the leading edge of consciousness, the so-called green level, lost its way in a mass of internal self-contradictions and gradually failed to lead. His 90-page paper is a lengthy, often verbose, occasionally brilliant analysis of how this situation came to be and what needs to happen to heal it.

To enter this discussion, one first needs to have some familiarity with the general schematic of levels of consciousness which Wilber has been steadily developing and refining for more than thirty years now (since his Up from Eden, first published in the early 1980s.) Wilber summarizes this in an early section of his paper, but here’s the cliff notes version:

Levels of consciousness are “color coded” as follows:

Red: egocentric, self-referential, instinctual

Amber: (alias “mythic membership): ethnocentric, authoritarian, premodern

Orange: world centric, rational, individualistic, modern

Green: world centered, pluralistic, postmodern

Green, the highest evolutionary level consistently attained to date, began to emerge in the 1960s and has gown steadily for the new five decades, to the point that by Wilber’s estimate, some 25% of the population are presently functioning at that level (how does he generate this data?) But along the way, green began to wander off course, increasingly caught in some internal contradictions that were inherent in its worldview from the start, i.e:

  1. Its inherent tendency to relativism, which progressively morphed into the claim that there is no such thing as universal truth or universal values.
  2. An inherent “performative contradiction” between its claim that all values are equal and its inner assurance that its value (“that there is no universal truth”) is nonetheless normative and binding.
  3. A failure to distinguish between “dominator hierarchies” (based on oppression) and “growth hierarchies” (based on evolutionarily necessary differentiation), and a general dislike of all hierarchy
  4. A growingly hyper-sensitive political correctness that consistently stirred the pot of resentment and anger (both within green itself, the so-called “mean green meme,” and certainly against it, among the other levels of consciousness.

This “aperspectival madness,” as Wilber terms it, left the ostensible evolutionary leading edge caught in an increasing cul de sac of “nihilism and narcissism.” Trump was able to successfully fan the smoldering fires of resentment building at all three lower levels—red, amber, and orange—into a roaring blaze of anti-green sentiment—an “anti-green morphogenetic field” that went on to torch the entire green value system. However apparently contradictory and volatile Trump’s agendas may be, Wilber points out, the common denominator is that they are always anti-green.

Without condoning these agendas, Wilber does lay out a scenario through which it is possible to discern a coherence (I’ll stop short of saying a “justification”) behind the otherwise unfathomable upheaval that awaited the world on November 8. Rather than simply further demonizing Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” that put the man in office, or resorting to ominous and paralyzing specters of Hitler and Armageddon, Wilber’s hypothesis offers a way to make sense out of what happened—and to cooperate with evolution in making the necessary adjustments.

In the final section of his paper, Wilber does exactly that. He lays out several steps (some theoretical, others quite practical) whereby green could help heal itself and get back on track. In the end, however, Ken’s conviction becomes increasingly transparent—and finally explicit—that the basic performative contradictions inherent in “green-think” are so deep as to be unsalvageable, and that the only longterm and truly satisfying solution will come only from a robust emergence of the next level of consciousness: Integral, (color-coded turquoise or teal) which is truly “second tier” (i.e., transitioning to the non-dual), capable of integrating and including all perspectives, unafraid of healthy hierarchy, and hence truly able to lead. It is from this level, he believes, that the ultimate evolutionary resolution will emerge—once a “tipping point” of about 10% of the population functioning at that level is stabilized.

If it takes the Trump election to create this evolutionary jolt, so be it; the important thing is not to miss the window of opportunity now that it has so dramatically opened.Open Window

Comments and Critique from Cynthia

  1. The greatest contribution of this paper is that it gets the scale right: it “nails” the arena in which events are actually playing out and offers a plausible hypothesis as to the underlying causes, a hypothesis which restores both coherence and an empowerment. Virtually every other analysis I have seen—political, sociological, Biblical—is working from too narrow and limited a perspective (that’s the nature of intellectual discourse in the postmodern era; you either get rigor or breadth, rarely both). While I do not share all of Ken’s conclusions, I am totally in agreement that the evolutionary frame offers our best shot at a coherent explanation and a mature and skillful resolution.
  1. And as Teilhard discovered a generation before, it is at the evolutionary scale—i.e., over deep time —that “deep hope” becomes possible. I am gratified that Ken seems to agree with Teilhard that evolution is intrinsically purposeful (and in much the same terms as Teilhard sees it: moving toward greater “complexification/consciousness”—not specifically so-named— and an ever-fuller manifestation of Love (or “Eros,” in Wilber languaging.) I wish Teilhard were more generally cited in Wilber’s work; it would certainly draw the dual streams of Teilhardian and Integral evolutionary theory into a more creative and ultimately illumining dialogue.
  1. I continue to suspect that Wilber often conflates “levels of consciousness” with “stages of growth.” The two are not identical, at least according to the criteria I have gleaned from my own Christian contemplative heritage. I remain to be convinced that orange and green are actually different levels; to me they look more like simply progressive stages of the same level. Orange may be individualistic while green is pluralistic, but both are relying on the mental egoic operating system (“perception through differentiation”) to run their program; green’s “groups” therefore, are merely “individuals writ large,” (which “co-exist” not a new holonic unity (which “coalesces.”)) Or another way of saying it: green is simply orange looking through a postmodern filter.

This, incidentally, I believe to be another fatal “performative contradiction” undetected by Wilber; greens think FOR oneness but FROM “perception through differentiation;” how crazy-making is that? It’s a pretty significant developmental gap to navigate, causing their minds always to be out ahead of what their psyches can actually maintain. Hence the anger, the arrogance, and the hypocrisy.

  1. I’m no political historian, but I think Wilber takes some pretty large leapfrogs through the history of the political parties in the US. I’d be highly skeptical that he can make his assertion stick that Democrats by and large function in a higher level of consciousness (green/orange) than Republicans (orange/amber). This may be true of the past few decades, but given that prior to its infiltration by the Religious right, The Republican part was more often the standard bearer for the leading edge of consciousness case in point: Abraham Lincoln), while the Democratic party was the home to most ethnicities and nearly all of the South. Thus, it’s difficult to see how it would be without its share of well-entrenched ethnocentric (amber) perspectives.
  1. Finally, and most substantively, the most important corrective Christian mystical tradition has to bring to current secular or Buddhist-based models of “second tier” (and higher) states of consciousness is the insistence that the leap to this new level of conscious functioning is not simply an extension of the cognitive line but requires “putting the mind in the heart,” not only attitudinally but neurologically. There is a supporting physiology to each tier of consciousness (which is why I think green and orange are still basically at the same level), and that all-important shift from 1st tier to 2nd tier will only happen when grounded in an active awakening of the heart.

And this means, basically, it will happen in the domain of devotion—i.e., our heart’s emotional assent and participation in the ultimate “thouness” of the cosmos and the experiential certainty of the divine not simply as “love” but as Lover. That is to say, I believe it happens beyond the gates of secularity, in the intense, holographic particularity of the upper echelons in each sacred tradition. This is for me the profound strength of Teilhard’s model, as over and against Wilber’s more secular model; it unabashedly is able to stir the fires of adoration and spiritual imagination as it “harnesses the energy of love.” Striving to light this same fire with metaphysical matches, Wilber is left essentially “anthropomorphizing” evolution, transforming it into a new version of the classic demiurge, the creative and implementing arm of the logoic omniscience.

I look forward to hearing your comments and feedback. I repeat: this is a groundbreaking and heartening essay, at the right scale, and headed in the right direction. It’s worth taking the time to grapple with.


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55 thoughts on “Ken Wilber’s “Trump and a Post-Truth World: An Evolutionary Self-Correction”

  1. Cynthia writes: “However apparently contradictory and volatile Trump’s agendas may be, Wilber points out, the common denominator is that they are always anti-green.”

    This is the fundamental error. Trump was anti-green in a number of rather superficial ways, e.g. with respect to race, sex and so on. But his main message was: Make America Great Again (MAGA), which appealed to the increasingly-large economically disenfranchised portion of the population, seeking relief from what seems like endless downward mobility. His “MAGA” addressed the gross inequality and collapsing quality of life that has developed in “green” (actually mean orange) America over the last 30-40 years, doing so in a way that could be understood and acted-upon by ordinary, non-intellectual Americans.

    The truth is, and I think this should be obvious: America has not been even remotely green since the 1970s at the latest (when the big anti-green backlash developed). It has been all mean orange or worse since then. If green had been in ascendence, or if it had any real power at all, then it would have been expressed in decreasing inequality, larger share of GDP to labor, ever-decreasing military-security-prison spending and operations, etc., etc.; but the opposite has happened, and to a high degree. Trump addressed these problems and expressed THE CORE green value of equality — albeit in very poor, partial, and intellectually bankrupt way. As weak and inferior as his appeal was, it was better than the slavish neoliberalism and mean orange-ness of Hillary, and voters sensed this.

    Further, Trump made many statements suggesting that he would reign-in NATO, stop the endless wars, re-establish good relations with Russia, etc. — all of which reflect decidedly green values, indeed core green values. This was as opposed to the shameless warmonger Hillary who, memorably, cackled like the wicked witch of the West about the bloody murder of Gaddafi (“we came, we saw, he died”).

    You could object that Trump’s actual behavior since the election has failed, quite completely, to live up to his pre-election rhetoric. Of course that is true. But it is not the point. The point is his basis for winning the election. He won the election, in part, by being more green than the thru-and-thru mean orange Hillary. There were other factors, but that was a big one.

    One more thing of note: the incredible rise of the self-described “socialist” Bernie Sanders, railing against the “wall street billionaires” and generally articulating a MUCH clearer and better green message than any other candidate. He came out of nowhere, with zero name recognition and low-single-digit vote percentages in early primaries, to near-parity with Hillary before the convention. His resoundingly GREEN equality message was resonating with everyone. Most informed analysis suggests that Bernie would have won against Trump. In any case, the significance is that the American electorate was fed up with mean orange neoliberalism — personified by Hillary — and the way it has nearly destroyed America. Americans were ready and willing to go green in a big way in 2016. But, denied the option of Sanders — MUCH more, and much-more-authentically, green — they were forced to go with next best, the awful Trump. The fact that Hillary was less of a racist and sexist than Trump was of minor import, relative to her absence of support for truly core green values. (And, btw, since the record clearly shows that Hillary has no problem with the mass murder of women, black and brown people the world over, just how non-sexist and non-racist IS she? I daresay that she does not have an authentic green bone in her body; only a few fake ones for PR purposes.)

    For purposes of this post, I just downloaded Ken’s (“post truth”) essay in entirety, and guess what? Search for “Sanders”: no hits! He does not even mention the Bernie Sanders phenomenon — one of the greatest outbursts of pure green energy in the U.S. in decades! This is beyond oversight; this is sheer fucking blindness! I’m sorry to be so blunt, but I can’t hold it back. There is no excuse for this, from someone supposed to be an intellectual leader and analyst.

    Wilber is totally off the beam, apparently informed by his enormous over-estimation of the significance of university philosophy departments and the pomo navel-gazers that tend to populate them. He has failed to understand that the core green values and concerns are equality and peace (at minimum, in practice, less inequality and fewer wars), NOT postmodern philosophical abstractions, and NOT the narrow “pluralism” that elevates issues of interest largely to upper-middle-class people. Perhaps this is because (it is probably because) Wilber is himself an upper-middle-class person, and is seemingly obsessed (at least some of the time) with postmodern philosophical abstractions. That he is blind to the Sanders phenomenon, while taking the execrable Hillary to represent green, indicates that he has little conception as to what green really IS.

  2. I just finished reading Ken Wilbur’s book and while it offers an explanation regarding hierarchies of consciousness. I don’t see how it offers a way out or thrugh the present dilemma, which I suspect has gone on in way way or another forever.

    It doesn’t offer an truly practical insight in how to interact with it except to take some position that I must be part of the green and therefore more aadvanced in thinking. This is the basis for conflict that Wilbur is trying to assuage. I could just go on and be more tolerant and understanding but then there are some very real issues regarding human rights, morality the environment and so much more. If I didn’t think that practically everything Trump’s presidency does not represent an attack on my personal values I could sit back and muse on an evolutionary process as proceeding according to plan. But then I’m a part of that process.
    One can fabricate all kinds of plausible reasons how and why this crisis came about but finding a way through or out requires thoughtful but decisive action. I don’t see any of this in Ken Wilbur’s color fabrications.

  3. KW seems to put most of the blame for Trump’s election on the reaction of the proletariat to the “mean green meme.”While this is certainly a factor (witness the latest upheavals at Evergreen College which are being shown nightly on Fox News), I think the main revolt was against the “orange” stage- the rational efficiency of globalism and neocapitalism that has stripped this nation (and most European nations) of productive jobs and a sense of hope for the future. Trump’s victory was due in large part to people who could not stomach more of the same on the Democratic ticket.

    Ken says that the “green” level took over in the 1960s, but I think that beginning in the 1980s there was an orange backlash that allowed identity politics (gender, race, orientation)to be discussed as a ruse, but in no way allowed real equality issues to be brought up. This “mean orange meme” has been in control for many years in matters political and economic, while the goofy green contingent is carefully ensconced in ivory towers and for the most part does not filter down to the common people.
    I think that he is 100% correct in thinking that the leading edge of greens committed suicide with the deconstructionists and has never recovered.

    1. “Ken says that the “green” level took over in the 1960s, but I think that beginning in the 1980s there was an orange backlash that allowed identity politics (gender, race, orientation)to be discussed as a ruse, but in no way allowed real equality issues to be brought up. This “mean orange meme” has been in control for many years in matters political and economic, while the goofy green contingent is carefully ensconced in ivory towers and for the most part does not filter down to the common people.”

      Precisely right. I would go farther and say that Ken has never really understood what green IS, fundamentally. It sure as hell is not bunch of ivory tower postmodernists, your “goofy green contingent”. Ken never addresses in a deep way, to my knowledge, the socialist and communist movements of the 20th century, and related economic justice thrusts (real GREEN). All the crap about feminism, LGBT, etc., is, at best, at the periphery of green, not at the core. Ken never got to the core.

  4. Cynthia, I don’t know if you remember me, but I was a co-founder of Boulder Integral, and was there when we hosted you to have a conversation with Ken about the masculine/feminine dynamic and relationships between men and women. I was sitting in the back (with Ken’s former girlfriend) while Ken read from a paper for a full hour and 55 minutes of a two hour session, with all the women angrily pacing in the back of the room waiting for some kind of dialogue with you or at least an opportunity for you to speak. I think you got maybe 5 minutes, and were very gracious in both your listening and your response. We should have done something to control this, and I do apologize for not breaking in on Ken and giving you an opportunity to share your wisdom. He was talking all about relationships with women, but could not see or interact with the one (you) sitting right next to him.

    I think that this is a symptom that Integral has not developed or matured past the problem that you put so well:

    Orange may be individualistic while green is pluralistic, but both are relying on the mental egoic operating system (“perception through differentiation”) to run their program; green’s “groups” therefore, are merely “individuals writ large,” (which “co-exist” not a new holonic unity (which “coalesces.”)) Or another way of saying it: green is simply orange looking through a postmodern filter.
    This, incidentally, I believe to be another fatal “performative contradiction” undetected by Wilber; greens think FOR oneness but FROM “perception through differentiation;” how crazy-making is that? It’s a pretty significant developmental gap to navigate, causing their minds always to be out ahead of what their psyches can actually maintain. Hence the anger, the arrogance, and the hypocrisy.

    With all of these Integral papers, and all of this talk, we are still working from ‘perception through differentiation,’ constantly differentiating, making ourselves superior in some way, setting up the constructs of others as straw men then knocking them down, and differentiating to the nth degree. What we are currently doing is blasting the world (now the green meme in particular) with a firehose of elaborate constructs and distinctions. This is reaching a point where we are blinded by our construct-thicket, and what once was a useful map to see the world from a clearer perspective has become a club to attack others who do not see the world through all of our differentiating constructs. It’s on the verge of becoming another believing and belonging system, where doctrinal constructs divide, and we see others only through our constructs and mental representations of them, and do not see who is actually right in front of us.

    I’d go a step further, and say that, having hung out in the center of the Integral space for the last decade, we have in no way gotten out of “green” or done any kind of a jump to a 2nd tier. We are still in the ‘perception through differentiation’ mode, and like all such systems, tend to put ourselves on top, differentiated from the rest (we believe) in some unique way, and blaming green here for it’s failures, while being in green ourselves for the full ride.

    I am with you that the sign of the next movement of the human soul (whether we call it a level or a stage or a growth in maturity) is to put the mind in the heart. I think this next place will be one in which we become construct-aware, and use our elaborate constructs as servants of the heart.

    I think a moment is coming where we, as boomer seekers, will give up on our transcendence project, give up on our desire to clear a highjump bar to some state achieved in the long-running Buddhist monastic project, and instead begin to focus on immanence, which as you say requires a rewiring of the physical system. We are talking about things constantly noq that our psyches and bodies cannot maintain, therefore the big gap between talk and walk.

    I’m eager to get out of this adolescent phase, and make the move to a focus on immanence and what this requires of us. I am beginning to experience this next human ecosystem as a form of Field Consciousness, Interbeing, Interconnected, Interpenetrating—not as concepts, but as a lived truth.

    I think what we have to offer from a Christian background is that this feels like being inside of God, one unit or cell in an interconnected whole. This is not an idea—it’s a felt and ‘realized’ truth. This does not mean that the cell is particularly healthy, or fully mature, but that it can draw health from the One Being that it is within.

    Opening the heart, putting the head in the heart, speaking from the heart, acting from the heart—this all necessary to put the distinctions and constructs in their proper place. Working in this deeper, powerful frequency is an essential practice.

    The interesting thing is that we may have to give up Integral in it’s current construct making and distinction making form to actually get to Integral. I hope we can turn to this task without blame or recrimination, and become what we’ve been speaking about now for so, so many years.

  5. There is a very important point which is totally overlooked in these assessments in my opinion. Trump requires to be seen in the context of Bannon. Trump represents turqouise and is an expression of the new order coming through. Anyone who understands turquoise is able to see that. Turquoise has strong capacity to correct the narcissim and lack of true transparency which rests in green. To understand this all you need to consider is the profound corruption that lies at the heart of the hegemonic travesty of the Clintons – this represented green at its most flagrant stretch, about to sieze power again, but seen through by the collective eye willing to weigh up the good and the bad in proportion. Clinton lost due to her corrupt nature. T|rump wants to ‘drain the swamp’ – bring correction to this gross distortion, not to get swept up in the narcissistic idealism of the Clinton lies requires to be able to see through them……..the liberal left, democrats and Clinton supporters are not able to see this….or I should say are unwilling to see the shadow. This is the narcissistic zenith of green – the full expression of its absolute shadow, and therefore the begining of its demise.
    Bannon has seen this for a long time, he also understands the internet and was able to use this technology as an extension of his ideas…..a return to a normailsed new ground, not a regression… the great lie of liberalism is that they are right, peaceful, multiculturalism as a norm. They are war mongers, capitalistic and corporatist and non individual….individualism in body identification – feminism, LGBTQ etc…..these are superficial, and only relevant for a short period of time.
    Narcissism is defined by an inner object relation perspective of alignement to the idealised self – a false self, but identified as their true self. This paradox of self deception – seen in the outing of the corrupt core is what won Trump the seat of President. The narcissist can not see their own vulnerabilities – they project. What was the Democrat campaign about, but projection of devaluing attacks on Trump. By comparison Clinton has a long record of self serving corruption, modelled also so well by Bill Clinton. Their followers are in denial of this. Therefore to see this, and to make a balanced decision, not an emotional one of simple identitfication, one needs to be able to equally percieve both and balance accordingly.
    The split in the political realm, the protests, the knashing of teeth the denial of acceptance all symbolise the inability to accept reality. To have swallowed the narrative of all those projections – racist, sexist etc – devaluing statements. The tools and trade of narcissists.
    The liberal left can not see beyond itself and thus cries despair – ‘not out President’ – the split in itself, unable to see ‘whole object relations’ – to see reality and weigh up accordingly.
    Trump and the alright accept the normative and daily issues associated with unbriddled multiculturalism – they are not in denial, not supress those concerns, unlike the left – who claim ‘racism’ to supress discussion……blind to their own shrinking and defunct value system of diversity. They only accept the diversity they decide upon, and miss the irony in this, so blind to their own love of their own reflection. Thus the reality of Trump destroys their sense of self – the depression begins to emerge……this is classic psychoanalytical material. For the narcissistic bonds to be transcended and resolved, true self perception is required – green does not have this faculty at this level – only turquiose does, therefore it represents true insight.
    This begs the question, how could a less intelligent stage as supposedly represented by Trump percieve the inner workings of green better than they can see themselves?
    Answer – it can’t.
    Trump is the new stage, as represented via Bannon, master architect.

  6. Don, some of the best people in our entire Wisdom network are right there in Asheville, teaching, organizing, and praying! Check out the website, and be back in touch with me for specific contact details if you can’t get a direct contact with site organizer, Robbin Whittington. You’d definitely be a welcome addition to the Asheville cell!

  7. ah, one more thing, something I mentioned at your contemplative site. I love your use of the phrase “operating system.”

    A great way to put my main point very simply: The changes that occur (to use the unfortunately over-simplistic Spiral Dynamics terms) from Blue to Orange to Green, etc, are all **within** the same operating system (the refinement of the pre-frontal cortex or “Buddhi” and progressive freeing from the sub-cortical neural networks, or “manas”). The change that occurs in very early childhood from pre-verbal to verbal (from manas to Buddhi) is a change in the operating system (I wonder, though, if opening to non-duality might not be seen as stepping out of all operating systems altogether – while maintaining a thinking/feeling/acting relationship to whatever OS is functioning at the moment – our current phrase for this is simply “open, heartful Awareness” – with which one can have a Relationship as well as “merge” in union).

    We’re going to use this (“change in operating systems”) in public talks (we’ve already substituted “instinctive, emotional and mental programming”) for the highly problematic “3 brain” usage that’s become so popular. I’ve tried it out on a few people and they “grok” the distinction almost immediately.

    I’m sure we’ll explore it in our contemplative practices group as well. It’s going to be very interesting as the “mission” is to reach out to the seven thousand households in the East Asheville neighborhood, so given this is “weird” Asheville – we’ll be presenting to fundamentalist Baptists, hard-core dogmatic atheists as well as soft-core secular humanists, Wiccans, Taoists, neo-Vedantin New Agers, Sufis (New Age and otherwise), every brand of Buddhism imaginable, semi-Vaishnava kirtan enthusiasts, and no doubt various “denominations” unique to Asheville:>)

    (By the way, In case any folks here might feel the need to defend Ken Wilber – note that I appreciate very much his work – I’ve followed it closely since the late 70s. His heart’s in the right place:>)

  8. HI folks, great conversation.

    I just sent this comment to Cynthia’s blog (where her comments on Wilber’s essay were posted). As a psychologist whose dissertation adviser received his doctorate in development, with a specialization in Piaget, I’ve long had misgivings about the way Ken Wilber talks about developmental stages. In this light, I found Cynthia’s critique exceptionally well done.

    Apologies for the length:

    I love your point about the “leap” required for the new era is from the heart, rather than merely cognitive. Ultimately, it’s certainly clear, from the evolutionary perspective, that the only sustainable solution to the global crisis is a shift to a new consciousness. Jean Gebser had a “vision” of this in the early 1930s, himself acknowledging that, on the inner planes, he had been influenced by Sri Aurobindo’s “field of force” in the emergence of this vision. Franklin Merrell Wolff also recognized what he referred to as “Recognition” as the only solution; and of course, Sorokin and de Chardin (along with, more recently, Joanna Macy and David Korten) have said the same.
    What struck me about the Wilber article is the same problem with the concept of “stages of development” that he has struggled with since the 1970s (by the way, in his “Wilber-Combs lattice,” he does attempt something like a distinction between stages and levels, but the problem remains there as well).
    The essential problem is that Wilber began writing in the 1970s, at a point when Piaget’s ideas about stages had not yet been completed rejected. The “cognitive revolution” had already, in the previous decade, begun to view development in terms of increasing complexity of information processing, but the ‘stage’ idea continued to linger (in 2003, I spent some time researching the newest ideas on development – I was struck by a 1000+ page book published by the American Psychological Association, “A Century of Developmental Psychology,” which, apart from a dozen or so pages reviewing Piaget, had not one word to say about stages of development!).
    In the 1990s, TM researcher Charles Alexander edited the book, “Higher Stages of Development.” The majority of the authors continued to hold on to the by-then completed outmoded views of stages. Alexander began the book with a section that included several authors who held the “information-processing” theory. This did not seem at all promising to me, but one author – Ellen Langer – stood out. For the most part, she rejected the concept of stages of development, with one exception – those that occurred in early childhood. Though she is now mostly known as the major proponent of the allegedly “Western” form of mindfulness, her proposal was almost identical to that of Indian psychology from over 2000 years ago.
    To take it back “just a bit”
    If you look at the beginning of the cosmic evolutionary process, and consider the 370,000 or so years when elements and the ‘laws’ (patterns!?) of nature were forming, you can already see an “increasing” manifestation (emergence) of consciousness. Jumping ahead 10 or so billion years, we now know that plants have a rather marvelous “nervous system” of sorts and clear signs of conscious response to their environments. Similarly, we continue to discover more and more marvelous signs of consciousness even in one celled organisms. With the increasing number of mainstream cognitive scientists and philosophers beginning to look at panpsychism seriously, and the clear evidence of a phylogenetic “ladder” in biological evolution, we’re on the verge (just in time for the transition to the new era) of an evolutionarily-based science of consciousness which, in tandem with contemplative science and the emergence of contemplative disciplines throughout the existing world religions, provides a strong foundation for the age to come.
    The ethologist Frans de Waal suggests that some kind of “centering” of experience appears even in fish, and grows stronger in amphibians and reptiles. With mammals – and most likely birds, at least, African Gray parrots like Alex Pepperberg! – we have clear signs of “reasoning” though for the most part, still very little “self-awareness” if at all. This kind of emotionally and “vitally” based reasoning is almost exactly what Indian psychology refers to as the “manas.” This same “manas” (“sense mind” or “emotional mind” – “emotions” here being the passions, not necessarily complex human feelings) is predominant in the infant.
    What seems to happen in a few animals – chimpanzees, dolphins, Alex, and a few others – is the first glimmer of self-recognition, very much along the lines of what starts to occur in human infants somewhere between 18 months and 3 years (“No!” is one of the great signs of this:>). This is the emergence of the Buddhi, represented physiologically by our pre-frontal cortex (“PFC” for short) with its capacity for abstract thinking, planning, deciding, judgment, self-awareness, empathy and self-regulation).
    But in Indian psychology, the Buddhi was never understood along purely cognitive lines. In fact, as the Buddhi becomes progressively illumined, a number of stunning things begin to happen: (1) with the freeing up of consciousness from the “tamasic” (ie inert, dull, subconscious) influences of the physical and instinctive consciousness) and from the “rajasic” (ie hyperenergetic) influence of the “life” (pranic, chi) consciousness, its innate sense of the whole, of unity, of integrality, begins to emerge, with an increasingly refined balance of cognition, volition and affect (‘knowing, willing and feeling’ in classic Aristotelian and Kantian terms).
    Two more profound things begin to occur. Through contemplative practice, as one gains the ability, through the purified Buddhi, to enter more and more into Silence, the “knowing/feeling” of the Heart awakens, and one more and more acts “from” the Heart rather than relating to it as something essentially separate. At the same time (it’s not really time – it’s synchronous, outside what we ordinarily conceive as “time”) the Light of the Spirit begins to irradiate the now “enlightened” Buddhi and the world and the “self” are seen in an utterly and profoundly new way.
    So to get back to the early “phase,” it is not so much stages that have been popularized as blue, orange, green, etc, but a progressive (and non-quantifiable – at least, not through Loevinger’s “sentence completion” test!) refinement of the Buddhi, as it becomes freed from the influence of the manas and the “indriyas” (senses), opens to the influence of the Heart within and the Spirit above.
    The key to all this is the understanding of the true individual, which has nothing to do with the separative ego. It is the soul, or as Sri Aurobindo refers to it, the “psychic being” which is the Divine spark progressively, over the course of evolution, developing a vehicle to manifest the Divine “on earth, as it is in heaven.”


    (Following up on previous point on stages of development) A very easy way of looking at the problem with “stages” of development is to use a great phrase that Cynthia has used:
    The shift from “manas” (the sense mind or emotional mind of Vedanta) to “buddhi” (that which is “enlightened” in the Buddha) is a shift from one operating system to another. The changes in spiral dynamics from blue to orange to green to yellow are all changes within the same operating system. If manas is mountain lion, and buddhi is yosemite, then blue, orange, etc are simply yosemite, 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, etc.
    By reaching an ever-widening circle of individuals with mindfulness and more importantly, truly contemplative practices, the inner cultural world will shift to a new operating system.
    At the same time, this can be facilitated with “outer” institutional or structural change. When building new institutions, when creating community structures, when devising new economies or political structures, to look at what facilitates the shift from manas, to buddhi, and beyond (see the end of chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita for more on this ancient “developmental” process), and to look further at what facilitates the emergence of the new OS beyond buddhi (beyond – the higher intuition; and within, the Divine spark, the soul or evolving psychic being).

    1. Wow, Dave, I am stunned and grateful beyond measure for this extensive additional data and the confirmation that my instincts have been leading me in the right direction. Thank you and bless you!

      1. Thanks Cynthia. Jan (my wife) and I are thoroughly enjoying your newest “Heart of Centering Prayer” book – we discovered your work last fall, watching the 4 videos of your Boston College talks. Not being “institutionally Christian,” we’re relying a lot on you at the moment to learn enough about Christian contemplative practice so we can feel ok about leading a “contemplative practices” group as part of the (Methodist-based but interfaith/interspiritual/trans-spiritual) Missional Wisdom project at the Haw Creek Commons in Asheville. I actually asked Jim Duggins for a recommendation for more writings (I borrowed one of Elaine Heath’s books to learn more) and he wrote me and said, “You should look at Cynthia Bourgeault’s latest book”:>))

        So I guess we’re on the right track!

        stop by at our site if you feel like it – it’s got a lot of Dan Siegel’s “interpersonal neurobiology” (though in the last year, developing our e-course, we’ve radically simplified – neuroscience apparently seems to be leaving the “localization” tendency (the amygdala’s the fear-center; the hippocampus is for long term memory, etc) and moving toward complex, intertwined neural networks. interesting stuff!

  9. I’ve been vacationing in The Keys for the last month, trying to catch-up on my LS reading (Ken Wilber in fact) (not a favorite) My discipline is social work and I am familiar with, and taught developmental theory, psychology, economics, and social justice issues. I find that Ken Wilber tends to focus on formulating complex theory, that pulls a little from each of the above, and loses me in the process because of all the assumptions and offshoots of ideas. I am so happy I took the time to read these posts.
    The wind and rain is severe, and I am enjoying the awe of its being. (How true that LS experience enhances everything)
    I’ve found this series of posts very informative. My beginning level understanding was clarified by reading through the various opinions. As a member of Harry’s cohort, the last two contributions from Harry and Cynthia were particularly meaningful as they talked to me from where I am. I don’t want to leave the head and the world of theory. I am just trying, with difficultly, to transcend and include the essence of theory by falling into the heart and seeing these various theories in relationship to contemplation and action. Integration?

  10. Thank you to all of you for your deep and thoughtful responses. I will respond in kind as I can, but I did want to say, Harry, that I agree with your analysis pretty much 100%, including both the “plausible” and “legitimate criticism” parts. I really appreciate your insight that the classic conditions for growth beyond one’s present level of consciousness are always, as you say, swimming upstream against the grain of immediate self-gratification, and I think you’re right that the tide of our culture has seriously eroded those capacities in a goodly segment of our populace. And yes, I concur with your foreboding that it’s going to be a lot more grim than many of us can even imagine, way more than just a slap on the hand of poor, misdirected green. We need to be ready to take in stride, without having it destroy either our hope or our faith, significant societal collapse. A project well worth your remaining life energy–mine as well. thanks

  11. [cont.]
    Now, the legitimate challenges. The first is what seems missing to me. Most developmental models emphasize the role of destabilizing life events which serve to draw worldviews and life processing systems into question. While I do see the Trump election as an eruption of Shadow as well as a direct response to the Mean Green Meme of condescension and disrespect for flyover country, I think Wilber avoided the implications of this eruption. Fear usually makes people loathe to move developmentally. They hunker down and fight. Might it be that the only way developmental movement can occur here is by virtue of calamitous change making the former paradigms untenable? Has Kali Yuga arrived right on schedule?

    It’s important to view those at the red/amber and to a lesser extent orange levels as suffering and meriting compassion. But in the end, the hard work of responding to the evolutionary demand for change is theirs. And it occurs in a culture that makes such growth difficult. F. Scott Peck’s work The Road Less Travelled argues that evolutionary growth is always possible but unlikely in a culture with consummate consumerist values of instant gratification (as opposed to long, delayed change), presumption of entitlement to comfort (as opposed to the willingness to endure suffering) and the demand for convenience (as opposed to the willingness to persist in the hard work of growth).

    In all honesty, the immediate future looks pretty grim to me. And here is a second challenge to Wilber’s model. While it is important not to awfulize the rise of Trumpland (as I have no doubt been guilty of in a series of public hand wringing posts on my own blog, ) it’s also important not to engage in avoidance in seeing the gravity of our situation in all its negative potential. The analogies to 1984 and mid-20th CE totalitarianism may not be on all fours, as we said in the law business, but there are decidedly some similarities in ideation and construction of the other that we ignore to our peril.

    Finally, I would pose a question. In terms of this discussion, how do you engage in compassion for those who are espousing constructions of the Other that distort who they are and obscure the image of G-d that they bear? How do I in good conscience pray for “Donald, our president,…” each week in the Prayers of the People when I find him to be a moral monster? How do you confront the problematic thinking of those who would deny climate change even as the storm drains in nearby Miami Beach are bubbling up seawater each high tide separating out a respect for their person even as their unrespectable thinking is confronted and rejected?

    I apologize for my verbosity. These subjects are among the highlights of my two years at Living School and the problems I raise here are the focus of my remaining life energies and time (think Integrative Project). I am extremely excited they are being discussed here and I look forward to your thoughtful responses.

  12. Let me begin by saying thank you to the Living School for making Wilber’s essay and Cynthia and Richard’s summaries/responses to it. I also found the comments very helpful in seeing the wide range of responses to these ideas. So, my gratitude. Now, a couple of thoughts.

    I have used the models from Kohlberg, Gilligan, Haidt and to a lesser extent Fowler and Wilber in my ethics and humanities undergraduate courses for years. I find the developmental model helpful in understanding moral and spiritual development. Many of my students have often seized upon these models as a beginning place for their own reflections on development. The inclusion of these ideas in the curriculum is part of what drew me to the Living School.

    One of my students years ago provided me with a format for critically assessing course materials. Rather than asking where the argument is right/wrong, she suggested the following: “Where is this argument plausibly correct?” This allows for a consideration of the matter without presuming anything about the final outcome. And “Where might this argument be legitimately challenged?” This requires the challenger to do more than simply dismiss the argument and offer reasons why the argument might have holes in it, as virtually all of them do.

    So where is Wilber’s argument plausibly correct? As a recent retiree from a philosophy department at a public mega-university, I cannot agree more with Wilber’s critique of the Green POMO meme. Not only have we lost sight of the role of deconstruction as a means of critique aimed at better understanding our world, we have largely elevated it to a revealed religion which, as Wilber accurately describes, has become a logjam for further evolution.

    Being able to see the partiality of any truth claim and the contextual contours that shape it are important. Leaping from there to a rather mindless relativism in which no truth claims can ever be taken seriously, particularly not on any kind of universal basis, is not the mark of critical thinking, it is the mark of avoidance and intellectual laziness.

    That truths are hard to ferret out does not mean we get to excuse ourselves from that calling. And while one of our posters here suggests that deconstruction is irrelevant to anyone outside the academy, I would point to the past election with the rise of false news sites readily embraced by many as their basis for voting and the acceptance of the painting of the election’s most honest candidate as the liar by the election’s least honest candidate as a sign that the Green meme has indeed “seeped” into public consciousness.

    Wilber is also plausibly correct on the hypersensitivity of audiences generally (students are mere reflections of the larger culture, I think) and the difficulty this proves in holding any kind of critical conversation about any aspect of our personal and collective lives. Admittedly, this hypervigilant attitude arises in the face of the demonic which has emerged gradually over the past two decades of the information age but gained momentum in the last election. The reference in one of the responses to the Jungian shadow is right on target here, I think. Whether we will take the opportunity to own up to that Shadow and recognize its detrimental effects on us personally and on the body politic is another question.

    Finally, he’s plausibly correct on asserting that compassion is the appropriate response to the anguish emerging from the red, amber and, to a lesser extent, orange levels. Being displaced socially and dispossessed of one’s lifelong identity in the process is painful. As our Buddhist bikkhuni taught our sangha in San Jose, “Everyone knows what it feels like to suffer. So when we see suffering in the other, the only genuine response can be compassion.” [cont.]

  13. Hi Cynthia,

    All very interesting, and though I’m not fully schooled in developmental stages but see how they generally follow stages of spiritual growth, I’m sensing that too much is being forced into this model, trying to make things fit–as it seemed you were implying in softening the distinction between orange and green. That Trump either rallied or regressed voters to amber I think may miss the more urgent imperative of people just needing jobs. It’s amazing how much human evolution vanishes at the dinner table. People without jobs will generally follow someone promising work. Occam’s razor here: the simplest explanation tends to be true, though certainly there are amber voters in the Trumps ranks, as I imagine there are among Clinton voters as well.

    Secondly, seems I never hear anyone talking about the contexts of macro and micro requiring justice and mercy respectively to maintain human cohesion. For a group, justice is the highest good, a balancing of the scales, but for individual relationships, mercy and compassion that deliberately unbalance the scales in favor of the beloved is the highest good. Both are love tuned to different contexts. As greens with best intentions work to legislate compassion in the macro, they are losing the cohesion of the group, which it seems Trump exploited. Unless there is some unprecedented shift in human nature, it seems there will always be the need for justice and rule of law in group settings–which may also mean borders and immigration regulations–to maintain the integrity of groups in which mercy and compassion can be protected and practiced in individual, micro settings. I’m not sure we evolve beyond certain realities in our group relations even as we grow in our collective spiritual consciousness.

    I’d love to hear any of your thoughts along these lines. And thanks for all the work you do for us.

    1. Wow, Dave that’s a terrific thought about the needs of micro and macro and how they are different….and perhaps even balancing. Had never thought of it from that perspective. Thank you!

      1. Hi Lisa. Making that distinction helped me work through a lot of issues with more balance and brought Scriptures into new focus as well…(OT a macro book/nation of Israel/justice–NT/micro/compassion). Thanks for letting me know it helped.

      2. Cool. Interesting. I get it with regard to Old Testament/New Testament. Again, thanks! : )

  14. Just what I was looking for. Ken’s writings have helped me so much and I’m really needing to make sense of this dramatic turn our country has taken. This will be helpful. And thanks, cynthia, for your input and perspective on this.

  15. Thank you all for this rich and fruitful conversation. I have read each comment and am weighing, sifting, and taking all to heart. We are just finishing up a very small ingathering of Wisdom students to feel our way deeper into this discernment. One clear and stunning truth: Christic love is powerfully and intimately present with us in the NOW regardless of outcomes, allowing Wisdom to configure (rapidly if necessary) as the “holding” energy whatever may ensue. I am grateful and awestruck by the courage, compassion, and preparedness of our folk.

  16. With the exception of the last two amazingly nondual-thinking paragraphs, for me, Ken Wilber’s essay hit his main two points over and over – that the leading edge ‘green’ developmental stage, by accepting everything as true according to its context, set up an actual paradigm where nothing is ultimately true in all contexts; and that again, the leading edge ‘green’ contradicted this premise by feeling only its own truth was valid, resulting in a narcissistic disregard for everyone and everything else.

    Wilber’s perceptions feel right – the mean-green-meme classism is seen in media ad nauseam. The narcissism is equally on display in ego-driven comments following news stories, editorials, and on Twitter. That the leading edge developmental stage needs to step up to the challenge of changing course, and accept their responsibility for derailing evolution’s forward momentum, and most importantly, as Wilber implores, show only Compassion to those individuals in earlier developmental stages, is good advice to implement in real-time practical ways. It helps me to realize, as Wilber points out, that so many people live within extremely constricted inner and outer worldviews that cause them fear and pain, resulting in wounds that need balm, not acid. I would add that applying balm, however, does not preclude non-violent resistance to policies that constriction engenders.

    An essay cannot address everything, but I do wonder about a couple of omissions. I felt as if the Damocle’s sword – in our time, a double-edged sword – hanging over us was nearly ignored: potential nuclear disaster and impending climate change disasters. It seems both need to motivate the regenerated leading edge, whether ‘green’ or ‘integral’, to work diligently, first on their own further development, striving beyond the “egoic operating system” to the mind/heart aligned system that Cynthia teaches, and secondly, to seriously get practical in including and coordinating different disciplines s. a. medicine, art, history, business, economics, education,and politics (all of which Wilber lists) for state of the art answers. Wilber’s short foray into the business regulation debate, advocating a rollback of regs, seemed to me lacking in current research and understanding. For example, there is not a consensus that regulations have hampered small business growth, and to roll back regulations targeted by the current administration s. a. the Waters of the U.S. Rule (which protects rivers and wetlands) would be devastating for the precarious environmental gains made up to this point. In addition, more small businesses than ever have gone under since 2008 because with the economic meltdown, people who lost their jobs were looking anxiously for an income source, and gave start-ups a try in massive numbers – start-ups that were generally underfunded and not well planned.

    My thought is that we spend time on the meditation mat and apply ourselves to practices, so that we can be compassionate toward individuals and clear in our hearts and minds when we advocate for change. Then we turn to analysis of information presented by disciplines, and realise that facts are still important in a Post-Truth World.

  17. I’m wondering if people are aware of the source of integral perspective that is Jean Gebser. If so, I think it would be interesting to compare and hear from Ken Wilbers and how he arrived at his thesis.

  18. Hi Cynthia,

    In thinking about ways in which the Green needs evolutionary correction, I’ve been thinking about how well-meaning politicians are handling the current administration. Just as an example: the Elizabeth Warren and Betsy Devos encounter. The folks at the orange level are looking to Betsy, regardless of whether this is who she is or not, as the “millionaire with the grade 8 education”. America loves that kind of story a lot more it seems than the intellectual who becomes rich. You see this with people accepting the term “blue collar billionaire” for the president. Regardless of whether he’s ever been blue collar, he sort of acts that way.

    So let’s call Betsy the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

    Then you have Elizabeth Warren, smarter than all get out with a look on her face that says “I’m going to roast you.” While her heart is in the right place on the issues: the protection of education in America, etc. her tone begets violence to those who see her as the one that the “grade 8 millionaire” is going to rise above.

    Let’s call Elizabeth the sheep in wolf’s clothing.

    What would happen if she became the sheep in sheep’s clothing?

    Is there a way to make it known that this person is not qualified for the job, but doing it such a way that she is still shown love and somehow thus showing love to the millions of people on the defence? Is it even possible at this stage? It seems that the orange levels are on the defence for reasons of patronization. Their guy is in the house right now so a deeply hurtful, provoking tone is coming from the orange level and is wreaking havoc. The greens don’t know how to combat this provoking tone with anything other than patronization, because they’re not yet at the level of kenotic love, so will protect themselves with strong intellectualism that walks circles around those who are less able (which may or may not be an act).

    I may be wrong, but it seems that patronization can feel equally violent to an orange. So they end up paddling the same boat toward toxicity and violence and taking up all the air in the room.

    When I am at my worst, I resort to patronization to defend myself. It is its own form of abuse and its own form of violence.

    I know what dropping the guard of patronization looks like personally for me, but I have no idea how that would play out in the political field. Just some thoughts.

    1. Also, in thinking about this further, I would like to make a change: wherever I say “orange” – replace it with “amber”. It is interesting to point out that the new administration is being led by a red level and most of the team is probably amber. The leaders who we vote for mirror our own level to some degree. Which is probably why there were many “orange” level Christians who either didn’t vote or voted third party. Something else interesting is that we might say Sanders represents the one who is most able to speak across to the people at different levels, which is why some greens who sense a need for a corrective (though they wouldn’t call it that) might have been drawn to him.

  19. Cynthia, this article and your comments have been a lifeline. I want to go deeper with the concepts, and am reaching out to others through different communities. Please let me know if there are specific others I might approach.

    I also want to flag this article, which I think has real relevance to Wilbur’s premise of the failure of green as the evolutionary edge.


  20. Cynthia and others, my understanding of Wilbers Levels of Consciousness continues to grow. His analysis of President Trump makes sense on so many levels. However, as you have stated in #5, heart consciousness is a totally new way of seeing. Moving our seeing from the mind to the heart will be essential in understanding and going forward to bring about the change that we are working for.

    I am grateful for Teilhards emphasis on Love and am looking forward to Illia Delio’s year of focusing on Love in the year ahead. it is always interesting to read these intellectual analyses but Contemplatives are reframing all this so they can see from Oneness and Nonduality. We try do it automatically but then look to scholars like Cynthia to help us along the way.

    Thank you. Love is what it is all about, Kay B.

  21. Hi Cynthia,

    Thanks for bringing this issue and Wilber’s work to the discussion. Here is my (less than) 2 cents worth:

    Regarding Teilhard, I do recall seeing a chart on the Integral Website that listed representatives of each of the color-coded growth stages. Teilhard was the example given for the 2nd tier turquoise/teal level. So I believe his genius and contributions are recognized in the Integral circles.

    In terms of lines of development, I think Ken is running with Howard Gardner’s work on Multiple Intelligences. Ken seems to hang with the criteria Gardner used to have a certain “quality” meet the criteria to be labeled as a line of intelligence. Initially, the “Spiritual” line was not on the list. It was added later, as I recall. Yet Ken is quick to point out that the meaning of “spiritual” and its evolution are tricky to grasp, because of so many different running definitions (much akin to the term soul). Spiritual can be seen as a speparate line of development/intelligence, but it can also be seen as the Eros-engine that actually fuels the growth along each of the lines. Furthermore each line may have a significant interplay with the others such that a dynamic psycho-spiritual graph emerges. As an example, most highly developed moral people are cognitively mature as well. Yet, the reverse is not true (the classic mad scientist archetype comes to mind). I could argue that the glue that combines the lines is a good definition of Spiritual. It gets rather confusing.

    I’ve heard Ken describe himself foremost as a cartographer. But he is quick to add that the map is never the territory, nor is the menu ever the meal. His writings suggest that maps will hopefully continue to evolve and improve.

    For me, what has been one of the useful ideas from Ken’s maps is the recognition that the second tier/teal level is that major operational system shift where contempt begins to float out the window. Perhaps the greatest error of the mean green meme is that it hates the haters. As they say in Zen, that mode of being/perspective is like washing out blood with blood. It ultimately doesn’t work, as we have seen. Jesus’ message is radically different. I can’t claim to love God on the one hand and hate something else (neighbor, the environment, the “other”). That is perhaps THE performative contradiction, from the Christian Wisdom perspective.

    Just some thoughts. By the way, your new book “The Heart of Centering Prayer” is stunning. Really top notch. Thanks for that offering. I could blabber on and on about how rich it is. Everyone else on this thread should get it.


  22. a train of thoughts that just came by:

    “politics and elections” turned from rational truth and decisionmaking into expressing emotional truth and suppressed emotions and traumas

    isn’t that green in itself?

    are attempts to ‘get back’ to fact based truth a longing for an amber style of (factual) order and clarity?

  23. Hi Cynthia,
    Thank you for this wonderful response to Ken’s offering. I just finished reading Ken’s essay, and in true Wilberian fashion the movement toward Integral and Second Tier is proposed as a way forward. Being a pastor in the Lutheran Tradition, I also have seen a need for the head/heart connection in moving us toward a greater connection with neighbor and God, and am strengthened by those who are engaged in ‘widening the perspective’. In thinking about your comment on the cognitive line, I was reminded of Ken’s insistence on growth across the whole AQAL map. His mentioning of “Showing up”, “Growing up”, “Waking up”, and “Cleaning up” in the last pages of the essay helped me to again see that it is in working toward wholeness as we “differentiate and integrate” that is the aim for our strivings.
    Thanks for all that you do in your work and calling.

  24. I read Wilbur new age thesis and really think the only thing I come away with it is growth comes out of death like the lotus from the rotted humus of the bottom of the pond- if one believes the Buddhas can emerge from a lotus one or believe in the resurrected Christ who will come again -but if your a malignant nihilist who only consumes the world well he is a king as Ginsburg said moloch- the new Age philosophy will not stop a second American civil war which seems to be happening in slow motion

  25. Wilber to be sure makes some good points but at the risk of being simplistic and a little crude:
    1. Nobody outside of academia and a narrow intellectual glitterati gives a shit about truth as a cultural construction or inherent philosophical contradictions or nihilism. Wilber mistakes his own world (speculative philosophy, academia) for the larger one.
    2. While (correctly) decrying greens who see “deplorables” and the great unwashed, he sets himself up as the new “integrated” vanguard. Maybe, maybe not. But is this really the road to recruiting the troops needed for the battle today?
    3. What most people around the world have cared about is material wellbeing. The world has enjoyed enormous economic expansion since WWII under a system that was made possible in no small measure by the productivity of America’s farmers and factory workers. America made the world great (or at least moved it along). But as the system morphed, some people in our country didn’t get credit or what they think is their fair share and they’ve watched a dubious elite that generally produce nothing tangible go way off the greed and dishonesty scale (2008, CEO pay ratios, crony capitalism, generally the 1%).
    4. There’s nothing new in what we are seeing. It’s just new in our own experience. When elites become greedy and corrupt, populist autocrats rise up or worse things happen from the outside— Roman republic, Ottoman empire, France (“let them eat croissants”), Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba, Jerusalem, Sodom and Gomorrah.
    5. What people also care about is identity and a sense that it’s respected. There’s a demographic that doesn’t get much respect. This is a complicated problem but here are a couple of thoughts, one inspired by Gurdjieff.
    —For the most part, our elite are one-centered (intellectual) beings (so many spiritual practices are aimed at “getting us out of our heads”). But for a lot of people the moving center is the most important. Thus, tools, making things with your hands, guns, fishing, cars, 4-wheelers, sports and sport events, feeling the earth in your hands or an animal between your legs —these are moving center activities and give a lot of satisfaction as well as a way of bonding with others who enjoy the same. As heady people, we often just don’t get it.
    — Religion is an important element of identity. As Teilhard reminds us, we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Since the Enlightenment, our elite culture has downgraded religion. Today, it’s often ridiculed. In reaction, to preserve the spiritual component of identity, many at home and abroad have battened down the hatches into fundamentalism .
    6. Fear—for decades our government and elites have fed fear — fear of communists, fear of terrorists, fear of failure, economic uncertainty—into the culture. That combined with distorted histories taught in most schools has made it remarkably easy for a demagogue to intensify them.
    I could go on but in a phrase: shouldn’t we concentrate in cleaning up the mess we left in our own culture before dreaming of being at the vanguard of the new evolutionary leap?

  26. My own understanding of consciousness is relatively simple. My concluding remarks are decidedly narrower than this forum has presented; and admittedly and transparently political in explaining factually how I believe the election was engineered.

    Cynthia Bourgeault is more than fair in her critique of 5 points of the Wilbur model. I take as my starting her fifth observation: “the leap to this new level of conscious functioning is not simply an extension of the cognitive line but requires ‘putting the mind in the heart,’ not only attitudinally but neurologically.”

    The evolution of the human mind has occurred in “leaps.” It manifests as three discontinuities. First came simple consciousness which humans share with the animals; second, self-consciousness which distinguishes humans from animals. It is an ordinary consciousness possessed by every human being. Third is the leap to Cosmic Consciousness, Supra Consciousness or Christ Consciousness.

    Levels, color codes and grades are not terms that convey the unique experience and evolutionary leap that is a transformation of the human being. Richard Maurice Bucke wrote: “Upon self-consciousness is based all distinctly human life so far, except what has proceeded from the few cosmic conscious minds of the last three thousand years.”

    In the East it is the “Brahmic Splendor.” Dante described it as capable of trans humanizing a person into a “god”. Walt Whitman experienced his cosmic sense as “ineffable light”. Carl Jung advanced our understanding of consciousness through his notion of individuation a pesonal experience he arrived at through the exploration of his own unconscious mind. One that led to his experience and encounter with his higher Self.

    While I consider Pierre Teilhard de Chardin among the leading scientific and spiritual luminaries of our time I do not bring him into these remarks. I have not read the Wilbur analysis to appreciate whether: “The greatest contribution of this paper is that it gets the scale right: it “nails” the arena in which events are actually playing out and offers a plausible hypothesis as to the underlying causes, a hypothesis which restores both coherence and an empowerment.”

    I attempt to narrow the scale in my following remarks. I also offer empirical causes which I think Teilhard de Chardin would appreciate from his scientific training.

    I have read many analyses and I understand the conclusion by Cynthia Bourgeault: ”Virtually every other analysis I have seen—political, sociological, Biblical—is working from too narrow and limited a perspective.” I would add that one Jungian analyst I read sees the incumbent president as a projection of our dark psyche – which may have some truth.

    Notwithstanding the aspiration for a broader perspective, I do think that the present crisis can be and initially needs to be appreciated from a narrower and limited perspective; a technical narrowness which draws upon neither Wilbur nor Chardin. When appreciated this narrower perspective may lend itself to the evolutionary framework of Chardin where I agree one needs to evolve the discussion – but give narrowness its due because it helps an appreciation of causes.

    My perhaps narrow, but by no means shallow nor ill-considered, perspective draws upon the journalistic reporting, books and films of Greg Palast and the editorializing of Palast’s research by Thom Hartmann.

    I present the Hartmann synthesis of the Palast research:

    The election of 2016 may well have been stolen—or to use Donald Trump’s oft-repeated phrase—”rigged,” and nobody in the media seems willing to discuss it.

    The rigging was a pretty simple process, in fact: in 27 Republican-controlled states (including critical swing states) hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of people showed up to vote, but were mysteriously blocked from voting for allegedly being registered with the intent to vote in multiple states.

    Greg Palast, an award-winning investigative journalist, writes a stinging piece in the highly respected Rolling Stone magazine (August 2016 edition), predicting that the November 8, 2016 presidential election had already been decided: “The GOP’s Stealth War Against Voters.” He also wrote and produced a brilliant documentary on this exact subject that was released well before the election, titled The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.

    He said a program called the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck had been quietly put together in Kansas and was being used by Republican secretaries of state in 27 states to suppress and purge African American, Asian and Hispanic votes in what would almost certainly be the swing states of the 2016 election.

    Crosscheck was started by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach back in 2007 under the guise of combating so-called voter fraud. In the ultimate thumb in the eye to the American voter, the state where Crosscheck started was the only state to refuse to participate in a New York Times review of voter fraud in the 2016 election, which found that, basically, there wasn’t any fraud at the level of individual voters. Turns out, according to Palast, that a total of 7 million voters including—

    • Up to 344,000 in Pennsylvania
    • Up to 589,000 in North Carolina
    • Up to 449,000 in Michigan

    (These numbers were based on available Crosscheck data from 2014

    These eligible voters may have been denied the right to have their votes counted under this little known but enormously potent Crosscheck program.

    Those numbers are way more than enough votes to swing the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. But no one seems to care.

    That summary from a much longer researched document and video was from Thom Hartmann.

    So this analysis points to causes that are not by any means superficial but are structurally the foundation of the way voting actually works or did not work in this previous election.

    The election has sent millions of people pouring out onto the streets to protest a man they think is a racist, misogynist, xenophobic bully who will destroy US democracy in his quest to establish himself as supreme ruler of the country.

    Maybe they’re right. Maybe the incumbent embodies all these tendencies and is one who will destroy America. But where were these people when his predecessor was:

    1. Bombing wedding parties in Kandahar
    2. Training jihadist militants to fight in Syria
    3. Abetting NATO’s destructive onslaught on Libya
    4. Plunging Ukraine into fratricidal warfare
    5. Collecting the phone records of innocent Americans
    6. Deporting hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers
    7. Force-feeding prisoners at Gitmo
    8. Providing bombs and aircraft to the Saudis to continue their genocidal war against Yemen

    Where were they? How do these facts inform an understanding of consciousness of individuals and by extension the collective unconscious of this country?

    We need to understand the length and breadth; the height and the depth of this situation. I agree with the imperative of a consciousness perspective. It can only benefit from an appreciation of causes which are indicators of a much darker and deeper unconscious which affects us all.

  27. Thanks to all! Not sure I grasp all the intricacies of the comments, yet know that when sense am coming from Oneness that all is well and all will be well.
    Further, am decided to fast from so much cable and constant news of Trump and instead hold human family before Yeshua,
    befriend anew Silence, and by Grace, seek to be more fully alive, aware and available to whatever is. Of course, will continue justice endeavors, particularly on local level here.
    Asheville, NC

  28. Wonderful analysis of what is currently going on from an evolutionary perspective–both Wilber’s and Teilhard’s. Wilber’s writings have been very helpful for me in helping me to see how science and religion went their separate ways at modernity’s birth, and how they might reconcile for human and earth well-being in this crucial time.
    It’s clear that Wilber has been influenced by Teilhard–insides-outsides and evolution of consciousness–and I appreciate your leadership in helping Barthian trained pastors like me understand what Teilhard was up to.
    I read The Heart of Centering Prayer which brings so much more clarity around what we might mean by non-dual consciousness and how we might find a way to it. That we may find our way into this next tier through the domain of devotion rings so true to my experience.
    I am grateful for Wilber’s road-map and your Teilhardian and Wisdom clarifications as I try to provide some spiritual guidance and light in this turbulent season.

  29. Dear Cynthia,

    Thanks for responding to Ken’s statement, which has been making the rounds in my circle of spiritual friends, although I myself haven’t read it yet. However, I will take the opportunity to raise an observation/question from my own experience and reflection rather than as any kind of intelligent consideration of Ken’s model. I wrote a few years ago that working with you on Centering Prayer, Desert Fathers and Mothers material, etc, that I sensed that a devotional aspect was a point of departure from my previous diet of Borg, Spong, Jim Wallis at Sojourners as well as the more secular Wilber or the Spiral Dynamics people. Writing about teaching for spiritual activation, I concluded:

    “Encourage a devotional disposition towards daily life: Despite the dissatisfactions and injustices evident to all in the visible world, the appropriate response to an interconnected world that “appears as an integrated whole, a continuum of energy that shows itself to be massive, unfathomably complex, extravagantly beautiful, single organism” (Bache, 2008, 31) is awe, wonder, and a sense that on another level all is right with the universe. Thus, devotion is an appropriate response to the state of the universe. Worship of God as transcendent is complemented by a joyful appreciation of life’s essential goodness in God’s immediate presence. In the end, it is the quality of lived experience that speaks for itself. Cynthia calls this a “recognition energy,” which is “the capacity to ground-truth a spiritual experience in your own being” (2004, 8). Such inner knowing is the basis of Cynthia’s and Chris Bache’s writings, and presumably the place from which the teacher as spiritual activator carries out their work.”

    Now when I have been on retreat with you, you have described yourself as an “iconoclast,” as one whose preference is on the Quaker end of the spectrum. This causes me to redefine what “devotional” means, which, as I said above, is more about a posture of the heart towards life rather than more external displays of worship or devotion. Perhaps I’ve always understood devotion more as an outward manifestation rather than an inward movement.

    The simple parallel to my own life is that in the last 5 years or so that I’ve been regularly committed to Centering Prayer, I have felt a gradual lessening of general life anxiety being replaced by a quiet sense of gratitude. Along with this has come an attention to aliveness in its many manifestations: in nature, in the call of children on the playground, in the smell of my coffee.

    Finally, I would note that the feeling tone of Teilhard and Wilber reflect this difference. Whereas Wilber’s work has been intellectually thrilling in places for its clarity, it doesn’t leap off the page the way that Teilhard’s writing does. While the latter is harder to understand, there is an animation beneath the words that is palpable in a way that is absent in Wilber’s more easily understood prose.

    So, I guess I’m trying to understand what devotion really means when one “puts the mind into the heart.” I happen to be reading at this very moment Helminski’s The Knowing Heart, where he writes: “Many gifts are bestowed upon those who learn to be in continual remembrance. The loveliness of this world may increase. Taste, sight, fragrance, and sound intensity and are experience as gifts from infinite Being. Even the senses are brought to spiritual ecstasy. Simple pleasures become infinitely rewarding” (55). This seems to be very much in line with your understanding of devotion.

    1. Thank you, Marty, for these beautiful words. It made a difference in looking at daily practices. It put beauty into them. I can also see that a practice has not outcome, no goal so it can be used by my ego in the same way that much of what I “do” can be used.

  30. Cynthia, thank you for this analysis of Wilber’s essay and for your book “The Heart of Centering Prayer”. Wilber’s analysis utilizing his well-worn path I think accurately illuminates the unexpected and provides hope during our “evolutionary correction”. And I agree that the ultimate escape is through the difficult path to non-dual awareness that seems to indeed be edging to reality at a palpably quicker pace. As you develop in the book, directing oneself to sense the heart and through the heart in contemplation and simply remaining there, experiencing the world in a non-attached state is on of the easiest precepts for me to follow to achieve a meaningful connection with this next step of a deep sense of unity.

  31. Cynthia, a great job, very helpful, thank you. One observation. Regarding your critique number three: Wilbur says in his latest book, the green level is “half integral –” this is more in line with this understanding of the structures not as “chunky” but as probability waves.

    1. Cynthia, one other point: you mention in your summary that you do not know where Ken Wilber gets his “tipping point” of 10%. He mentions this in several of his books including the most recent. It comes from the experience of the 60s when the tipping point of 10% was reached and brought the cultural structure from the from the Amber to the green

  32. Humanity must find a way to express and live by simple CORE TRUTHS—Humanity is good. We are family. We are blessed beyond measure. Life is beautiful.

    Holding that in my heart. Humanity is good. We are family. We are blessed beyond measure. Life is beautiful.


  33. Cynthia, thank you for posting this and sharing your thoughtful commentary. I found it very, very thought provoking. Could you address how to fit into Wilber’s analysis and your commentary the fact that the plurality of consciousness (I am sure that is incorrect wording) did not drive the change and elect Trump? Can’t one very legitimately conclude that his election does not reflect the bigger picture of the evolution of consciousness but a smaller picture of a procedural glitch embedded in a written constitutional structure and history from over two centuries ago? That while consciousness did evolve, the operational system or framework in which it acted did not? Thus, we experienced not only his election but also the resultant unprecedented push back? In summarizing Wilber’s analysis, you write that he concludes “Trump was able to successfully fan the smoldering fires of resentment building at all three lower levels—red, amber, and orange—into a roaring blaze of anti-green sentiment …” But he didn’t. The majority rejected his “smoldering fires” and he lost the popular vote and was elected with less votes than Romney and McCain lost. I would very much welcome your thoughts, as I question whether the analysis is very different if we incorporate this fact into it.

    1. Great comments Roy, I do think Trump fanned the fires of anger and resentment amongst a large section of the American voting population. But as you astutely point out the operating system is broken. Again as in the case of George II we get a president elected by a minority of those who voted! Enough with the electoral college already. It is outdated, dysfunctional, and antidemocratic. as a resident of Utah my vote never counts in the general election because the majority here always vote Republican. And when there are apparent discrepancies we have a court system that will never allow a recount! Our electoral system is broken and our Constitution is way outdated. And I think the founding fathers would agree that they could see our country today and the world we live in.
      and only by embracing deep evolution can we come to deep hope. And the only way that I see that enough us can get to and embody second tier consciousness that can re – member our shattered world, is if enough of us engage in daily effective courageous and gritty transformative practice: Body mind emotions shadow spirit soul heart. I think it takes grit to get to the grace. I think God and the universe are routing for us. Let’s give them some help, take responsibility, and do our part. Shall we?

      1. Chris, thanks for correcting me! It was unconscionable of me not to double check my sources! While I will still argue my fundamental point that Trump’s election occurred by operation of the law, not a change in consciousness, I surely won’t do so by sharing that misinformation.

  34. Since first discovering Wilber twenty years ago I have had a great love for his brilliant mind and analytic ability and a hesitation about what feels to me to be his arrogance. So I share the reservations about how he comes to some of the sweeping generalizations he makes. But there is something he is saying in this essay that I have also been trying to say that I want to raise up.

    One of the things we must be about if we are to participate in the healing of our society is to move from what Wilber defines as green to turquoise or teal or what Bourgeault [and many others] refer to as the move from head to heart. This is a profoundly transformative move personally and socially. But there is something else.

    We have the opportunity and the imperative to become present to the other. Our contemplation can become action that constructs conversations with the “deplorables.” We can, by the Practice of Presence, transform alienation into alliance.

    I have recently read Judi Picoult’s great small things. It is a book about personal and interpersonal transformation around our attitudes about race. But in a larger sense it is a template for transformation.

    My brother and sister both voted for Trump. We grew up together but see the world through vastly different lenses. I was blessed to see through the eyes of some very wise and generous people and almost without exception these were people I met in the context of a community of faith.

    Each of our personal efforts is potentially salvific but it sure helps to be surrounded by a community that shares a larger sense of purpose. More than protecting the building or increasing the membership or conducting services that preserve the traditions, we need communities that are committed, at least those who speak in a Christian idiom, to “growing into the fullness of Christ.” The path ahead is full of potholes, Jeff. Let us travel the road together.

  35. Cynthia, your points fill-out (for me) the picture Wilber put to canvas. A common area of agreement that I see in your summary, in other comments from R. Rohr and was certainly present in WIlber’s writing is that a more substantial path to “health” for everyone at all levels is really needed. Green has got to get to a more accepting place and that as long as it is stuck in its contradiction, the head-winds will prevail to stall progress. Contemplation offers each the peace and grace they can absorb and it may well be the yeast that causes this dough to rise! At a minimum, it improves the probability that more will get to a place of greater potential – which (from your most recent book) is a view from oneness that embraces the entire rainbow of colors.

  36. The teachings of Vajrayana, (esoteric Tibetan/tantric Buddhism) training also parallels the mystical stages/ Models in a lot of ways.. “In this training, practitioners accept negative concepts and emotions and their sources and transmute them as enlightened wisdom and wisdom power. This approach is like transforming the poison of the tree into medicinal potion. This is the path of tantra….” This is the path of bodhisattva observing bodhichitta (love,compassion). You move deeper in the practices of “various kinds of visualizations that center around the motif of inner fire the meaning of Tummo. These all work with the basic heat, the life force.” It’s purpose to burn away conceptualized notions.

    These practices are powerful and I did not get to the advanced stages. I abandoned my practice when I began having “kundalini” symtoms, 3 hour long body orgasm with concurrent excruciating headache. My teacher at the time said stop and only focus on grounding, which I did. The path of the bodhistattva requires an attitudinal stance but does not feel as intimate as the Christian path of Christ to me, yet it still very much resonates. While you do take Bodhisattva vows “to save all sentient beings” i.e. by saving your self, vowing to stay “awake”, I never was able to move out of the mind in many ways, but I still do certain practices. I still hold a dialectical stance with multiple contemplative practices.

    Through my Christian beliefs I do deeply feel a “fierce particularity” yet also a still point within my heart that at times can see without words into the hearts of others without the mind, it happens randomly and unsolicited and floods me with such intimate love that everything stops for a few minutes and unites as one beautiful energy, maybe this is the hallmark of the Christian faith versus herd mentality with a bad case of echolalia. Because of particular experiences like these of “seeing with the heart” I felt a “knowing had been downloaded into my spirit and knew that Divinity lives within each of us with the deepest intimacy . Thank you Cynthia for your comments on Wilbers paper, excellent. I went to Wilbers book after Trump was elected looking for awareness and had just surmised that Trump was vibrating at the egocentric,red/amber stage and let it go though it did not satisfy me. This paper and your comments have greatly helped. Love.

  37. Thank you, Cynthia! I’ve been sitting here writing, rewriting, on and on – trying to say how deeply your beautifully expressed analysis Ken Wilbur’s post touched me – no words are working for me. You are so gifted and we are so blessed to have this connection with you. MANY thanks and blessings!

  38. Dear Cynthia,
    As always, I find your reflections/critiques of Ken’s work illuminating of both his very important work, and yours – a new light emerges shining from both. I am immensely grateful for the evolutionary framework of Teilhard + Ken + the current Heart understanding you bring: a place to stand in Love during this time of often terrifying and maddening events. Love always, Faye

  39. Road goes on forever and can be filled with lots of potholes,but too it can be smooth fresh pavement, either way our hearts must be swept and cleaned daily. Some of us have much clutter to clean (me) before considering the road trip,Considering all of the green lights, yellow lights and red lights along the road. It can be a painful road.
    What we put back into our hearts once they’ve been swept clean must be the lover within .
    For some this is gonna be a hard road to travel. I am currently running into potholes on a daily basis.
    Let’s all be there for one another red,yellow ,orange ,green, and turquoise.

  40. Yes, I’m familiar with Ken’s map, but I disagree with it in this case precisely because of the issue you raise in point 5: he sees the cognitive development as a separate line entirely, and by inference related principally to the mind (too often conflated with the brain.) Western mystical models make clear that this is not the case. Within the progressive developmental stages there are quantum leaps based on a second parameter Ken does not explicitly deal with: the rewiring of the physiology of perception itself, neurologically detectable as “putting the mind in the heart.” In the Eastern Orthodox models, at least, the transition to second and third tier STAGES (not “states”)—known as “contemplation”—does not and cannot happen without the overriding of the operating system of the mental/rational level of consciousness, brought about by the gradual moving of attention lower, to the region of the heart, together with the increasing capacity to perceive in the “objectless awareness” mode. I believe Buddhism is well aware of this as well, particularly in Tibetan teaching, but modern translations of Buddhist sacred texts, inevitably operating through our own Western intersubjective filters, fail to detect that in Buddhism the mind is not the brain, but the brain/heart synchrony.

  41. Hi Cynthia! Very helpful summary which is much appreciated. A few thoughts. Regarding #3 in your Comments and Critiques, Wilber is explicit in seeing levels of consciousness as developmental stages (I just checked on this in his book Integral Spirituality, as one source.) Regarding#5, Wilber sees cognitive development as a separate line entirely. Here it seems to me you are comparing apples and oranges in his work. Further, he asserts that the experience of Oneness will be different for those at the amber, orange, green, turquoise, etc. developmental levels of consciousness. So I encourage a more careful reading of his work before drawing some of your conclusions here. What he calls second tier is, it seems to me at least, what you are pointing to in the experience of putting the mind in the heart. Second tier consciousness is that inclusive, though it will be expressed differently in Buddhism and in Christianity.
    It is so helpful to weave Wilber and Teilhard together as you do in your comments — I agree that it’s Wilber’s loss that he doesn’t draw on Teilhard.
    With love,

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