I'm surprised to find myself saying yes! so enthusiastically to a book by Ken Wilber. Though I'm just four chapters into "Integral Spirituality," it's producing more positivity in me than irritation – a big change.
If you aren't familiar with Ken Wilber, his life work is to figure out how everything fits together. And I do mean everything.
I've read quite a few of Wilber's previous books. I've written an article, "What Wilber Gets Wrong About Plotinus," that's slated to be published as part of a collection of essays exploring his integral vision. Here's the article in Word and PDF formats; it'll be edited somewhat for publication.
I didn't like how Wilber tried to cram Plotinus' Greek Neoplatonism into a Buddhist/Advaitist/nondual understanding of reality.
I got the sense that Wilber wasn't so much honestly positioning Plotinus' philosophy in his own integral framework, as bending Plotinus' teachings to fit into a favored Wilberian mold.
There's a different slant in "Integral Spirituality," though. It's almost disturbing how much I've enjoying the book. I don't know whether I'm becoming more like Ken Wilber (scary!) or if Wilber has softened his over zealous trumpeting of his conceptual schemas.
Regardless, I've gotten quite a few intuitive flashes of Oh, yeah; right on! in just the first 100 pages. Wilber is saying pretty much the same thing as in his previous books, but I'm hearing his message more clearly now.
What I like most about his all-encompassing vision of physical, mental, and spiritual reality is this: it doesn't exclude anything. Which makes great sense. Why throw out obvious aspects of existence?
Yet lots of people do this. As noted in my previous post, they unjustifiably elevate one or the other of the "I," "It," and "We" perspectives.
Subjective, communal, or objective reality – the domains of beauty, goodness, and truth (art, morals, and science) – aren't recognized as co-equal. So extremist positions are taken: Truth is relative. Science doesn't know anything. Mysticism is just imagination. What can't be observed isn't real.
Wilber, bless his integral soul, is trying to show that nothing needs to be excluded from human knowledge and experience. What we need to do is figure out how it all fits together.
What if we took literally everything that all the various cultures have to tell us about human potential – about spiritual growth, psychological growth, social growth – and put it all on the table? What if we attempted to find the critically essential keys to human growth, based on the sum total of human knowledge now open to us?
What if we attempted, based on extensive cross-cultural study, to use all of the world's great traditions to create a composite map, a comprehensive map, an all-inclusive or integral map that included the best elements from all of them?
Whew! The pressure would be off. No need to agonize over whether to embrace modern science or ancient religion, matter or spirit, body or mind, break dancing or meditation, whiskey or herb tea.
It's all a part of life. It. I. We. Objective. Subjective. Communal. Different ways of experiencing existence. All just as it/I/we should be.
Wilber asks, "Where is Spirit located?"
Here's a simple thought experiment. Picture the following men (or make them women if you like), and then tell me which you think are probably the most spiritual?
1. A man in an Armani suit.
2. A man driving a red Ferrari.
3. A man pitching baseball in the major leagues.
4. A professional comedian.
5. A mathematician.
6. A man in a tank top lifting weights.
7. An Olympic swimmer.
8. A college professor.
9. A model.
10. A sexual surrogate.
Which do you think is the most spiritual? Which do you think is the least spiritual?
It's funny, isn't it, the things we think are not spiritual? Why do we picture most of these people as not being very spiritual? Or conversely, why do we have such a hard time seeing them as being spiritual? Aren't we actually just giving our own prejudices about where we think spirit is or is not to be found?
Or worse: aren't we really just announcing how old and fragmented and NOT INTEGRAL our ideas about spirit are? Why is telling jokes not spiritual? Why is something beautiful – a car, a suit – not spiritual? Why is physical excellence not spiritual? Why is sex not spiritual? Why is…
It's a new world, it's a new spirituality, it's a new time, it's a new man, it's a new woman. All of the above categories are deeply spiritual. Mostly all that list is, is a list of things we are afraid to allow spirituality to touch.
Dead from the neck down, with no humor, no sex, no aesthetic sensibility whatsoever, wasting away, spending one's days and nights ignoring the world and lost in prayer…what a strange God, that.
SF Gate columnist Mark Morford has the same message, expressed in a more earthy fashion. I liked his "How to abandon your God."
And what of the other big question, the one no one really talks much about and certainly no one really teaches you? It is this: How does one actually abandon a religion? How do you dump your God and choose another, or none, or the one deep inside yourself? I mean, besides lots of wine and Yeats and education, open-throated sex and experimental drugs and sitting on the lap of the Buddha sipping absinthe and reading old Tom Robbins books and meditating on the nature of stillness and the divine feminine and Cate Blanchett?
Tentative answer: Maybe you don't. Maybe it's not about abandoning God at all, and instead merely broadening your definition of the divine so as to encapsulate and swallow it all, every God, every dogma, every attempt to corner the market on belief and parse it and put it into cute little boxes and break us all up into angry tribes who stomp our feet and wave our little gilded books and launch screaming bloody wars over promised lands and chosen peoples and crucifixes and crusades and witches and pagans and gays.
In other words, maybe you abandon God by realizing it's all God, it's all divine, all hot, thrumming, vibrating connection in all places in all things at all times. And hence, to try and parse it and restrict it and beat it into submission and claim it for one people, one history, one country or church or authoritarian body, is actually the highest form of divine insult.
Or, you know, grand cosmic joke. Same thing, really.