Bringing awareness into everything


Open your mind… and look inside.

I have continued reading Integral Life Practice, which I guess is a small form of integral life practice on its own.

I mean, there is reading and there is reading and there is reading. On one end of the spectrum there is escapism reading, the “trashy novel” and such, which lets the reader enjoy a freedom from the normal restraints, and escape into what I call “lower worlds” where you feel powerful and your surroundings easily conform to your fantasies. On the other extreme is the contemplative reading of Holy Scripture, in which your purpose is to ascend to a “higher world” which is greater than you and commands your awe and obedience. And of course in between these you have the purely informative non-fiction, which sets out to inform us about the “real world” in which our bodies already live.

Integral Life Practice does not qualify as Holy Scripture – Ken Wilber’s AQAL is a philosophical system rather than a religion – but neither is the book purely informative. It seeks to inspire the reader to grow toward his highest potential. As such, it transports the mind to a slightly higher reality which you then have to move your real life into by living a disciplined life to some extent. The discipline in this case is the Integral Life Practice from which the book has taken its name.

I have now come to the Mind module, the second of the four main modules. A central tenet of ILP is that you have to practice something from each of the four modules every day, even if it is just a tiny 1-minute exercise. The Mind module centers on the AQAL system itself. It sees reality as consisting of four quadrants. Things can be either internal (to the mind) or external (physical). They can also be either individual or collective, or should we say singular and plural. But all these things are explained lucidly by Wilber himself for free on the Net. Likewise the concept of lines, in this case lines of development. For instance you can be highly developed along the cognitive line (you’re smart!) but poorly along the moral line (you’re a scoundrel). Likewise you can be spiritually advanced but neglect your body. And so on – there are a number of lines, mostly taken from decades of science done by others.

Now the idea is that you can use the “practices” to shore up the lines that are lagging disastrously, especially if they are main lines. (Your musical skills may or may not have a bearing on your life, although they could certainly enrich it if you have the opportunity. Your interpersonal development is pretty much essential, unless you are a hermit in this life and aiming for Nirvana – extinction – in the next.) Besides getting out of trouble with your weak spots, you can also identify your special talents and develop these for the good of the world. Evidently mediocrity does not command much sympathy in the AQAL camp – there is little mention of the lines where you have just trudged along passably.

The authors make special note of the fact that several spiritual teachers of great repute have had their life and teaching marred by sexual misbehavior. This is not a purely American thing, I remember the elders in the Christian Church pointing out the same trend among the more airy wing of the Pentecostal movement. This is what happens when one thinks spiritual growth can run ahead without Shadow Work. The Church was big on Shadow Work, at least in its early years. The thing is, if you have this kind of weak spots, they can totally ruin all the good you thought you could do.

The purpose of the Mind module is basically to make the reader aware of all the different facets of daily life: The quadrants, the lines, the levels and the types. By bringing awareness into everything, we get new choices. We don’t need to react automatically, as we often do. Merely knowing that things have different sides, and that people are different in so many ways, can be helpful. But awareness is something more than just bookish knowledge. It requires us to be present and witness the things we are aware of. This is where the practices – exercises, if you will – come in. And that is why we should think of AQAL every day.

I think this is a most excellent idea, to shine awareness into every corner of our daily life. Whether this really is the ultimate Theory of Everything, and whether it does a better job than certain other life practices, is open to debate. But given the human tendency to shrink back from awareness and into an automated life, I can only cheer on this attempt to go in the opposite direction.

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