Ken Wilbur | Aloneness of the spiritual Path

There is no duality

when you are relaxed
in self-awareness
is that clear.

Wilber’s model

Lange began his story with an introduction to Wilber’s work, briefly recalling books such as “Without Borders”, “Surrender and Struggle” and “A Brief History of Everything”. The first two books were his first acquaintance with Wilber. After reading “Transformations of Consciousness” he was sure: here is a new perspective on the development of psychopathology, diagnosis and treatment. As a psychiatrist, he had been struggling for some time with the often contradictory views of various psychotherapeutic schools. Wilber’s work showed that an integration of visions was very well possible within the spectrum model of human development. In short, Lange guided his audience through the different stages of development that characterize Wilber’s theory.

The child that is born experiences itself and its environment as a whole. There is no differentiation between the world and the child. This is the sensory-physical level. The child’s first important developmental task is to differentiate itself from its environment. This is a transformation in the true sense of the word. It is a task that involves risks, but like any well-completed transformation, it is rewarded with a higher degree of psychological integration and a broader vision of itself and its environment. In this context, Wilber speaks of “the flucrums of development”. If the child succeeds in differentiating from his physical environment and is able to form a Physical Self, he will reach the fantastic-emotional level. There the next task awaits him: the development of an Emotional Self. It must learn to distinguish one’s own emotions from those of the other. When this task has been completed and the child has reached the level of representation thinking (rep thinking), the child can work on the development of a Mental Self. With the help of language the child learns to differentiate feelings from thoughts and this mental Self can develop. Thoughts and emotions can be brought under control. These first three levels are seen as the pre-personal developmental levels of the spectrum of consciousness. From there the way is cleared to the personal levels of development and mental maturation.

The Mental Self, if all went well, forms a solid basis for rule-role thinking. At this level, the child learns which rules to follow in order to be part of the world in which he or she lives. A membership awareness is created in which the ties with the primary care system and the larger living environment (school, church, sports club) are shaped by means of rules and standards. Please note that these are the external norms of the external environment and not so much the internal prohibitions that take shape in an earlier development phase and that can lead to serious neurotic problems. A good course of consciousness development then brings an individual to the level of formal-reflective thinking. This is the first level at which it becomes possible not only to think about the concrete world and concrete objects, but also to think about thinking as a process in itself. This is the level at which reasoning along the lines of “if a then b” becomes possible. This further development of consciousness leads to a broadening of views and is the basis for critical considerations from a more pluralistic point of view. The earlier rule-role thinking is thus powerfully transformed. The last level of personal development that Wilber outlines is that of thinking logic. This level is characterized by a cognitive structure that goes beyond formal-reflexive thinking. Wilber denotes this level with words such as “dialectical”, “integrative” and “creative synthetic”. Where formal thinking reveals interrelationships, visionary logic creates networks of this kind of relationship to create higher order truths, a kind of panoramic logic.

In Wilber’s view, the highest stage of personal consciousness is nothing more or less than the bridge to the transpersonal stages of human consciousness development. The transpersonal levels begin with the Psychic level. Wilber describes this level as a culmination of vision logic and visionary insight. He refers to the sixth chakra, the “third eye”. The cognitive and perceptual possibilities become so pluralistic and universal that they reach beyond the individual consciousness with its limited perspectives and concerns. In a way, personal thinking is transcended. The road to the last two transpersonal levels in Wilber’s model is then open to those who know how to persist in one of the many forms of contemplation. He calls these latter levels Subtle and Causal, respectively. When the development of consciousness penetrates to these levels, one becomes part of a direct perception of reality as it is according to mystics. The domination of the central ego feeling, so laboriously built up through the pre-personal and personal levels, will eventually completely fade in the experience of unity that characterizes the Causal level.

This is a brief summary of Wilber’s model of consciousness development. To return to psychotherapeutic practice, it is important to see that a spectrum of psychopathology can be described on the basis of the outlined development phases. Any moment of transformation, any “fulcrum” or split, can lead to problems. In short, problems during the development from the sensory-physical level to the fantastic-emotional level lead to psychotic or autistic disorders. If the differentiation of an Emotional Self is insufficient, this is a breeding ground for personality problems, especially narcissistic and borderline personality disorders. An inadequate development of the Mental self can be the basis for serious psychoneuroses. Problems at the level of rule-role thinking were expressed in what Wilber calls script pathology: lack of clarity about roles and rules, lack of clarity about identity within the social context, fear of non-conformism. Identity problems can also arise at the level of formal-reflective thinking. The possibility of hypothesis formation may give rise to doubts about one’s own identity compared to that of others. The level of vision logic, when problems arise in the transformation to that level, becomes a source of existential suffering. The agonizing search for meaning and meaning can give rise to very specific complaints and problems. Finally, the transpersonal levels also have their own pathology, such as that of “The dark night of the soul”, which can present itself as a serious depression after, for example, a brief but uncontrolled mystical awakening.

Finally, it was noted that for every pathology at every development level specific therapeutic techniques are available to treat the complaints.

From theory to practice

Based on Wilber’s model, a number of guidelines for therapeutic practice can be formulated. It is important to get an impression at what level someone functions in their life. This gives an indication of the possibilities for therapy. Someone who has not progressed beyond rule-role thinking will not feel addressed by meditation techniques. Someone who has achieved vision-logical thinking has less need for structuring psychotherapy. In addition, it is very important to assess at which specific level the complaint originated. To which “fulcrum” does the problem refer. If someone is constantly flooded by violent, uncontrollable emotions, then one should think of borderline problems. How is the contact with reality? Is someone psychotic or not. Do depressive complaints refer to an existential problem or do they draw the emptiness of an immature Mental Self? The level of the complaint and the level reached by the client determine the choice of the therapeutic approach. It is also important that the therapist is well aware of the level at which he functions and of his own defects and shortcomings. You cannot lead people along roads that you have never walked before.

Another important aspect of the spectrum model is Wilber’s assertion that “you have to become somebody before you can become nobody”. In practice, this means that a lower level problem should not be treated with higher level techniques. A psychotic client should not meditate, a depression caused by narcissistic problems cannot be treated from an existential framework. This once again confirms the importance of good diagnostics and assessment with the Wilber spectrum model as a frame of reference.

After discussing Wilber’s model, an interesting discussion from the audience followed, demonstrating the practice of working with this model using examples. Fortunately, this showed that spirituality is no longer a bad word for many regular psychotherapists and psychiatrists, even though a few had left the room early when the higher, transpersonal stages were discussed. A great advantage of Wilber’s model was the integral vision contained in it. Wilber gives every common form of psychotherapy a place within the spectrum. From pills, via Freud to Buddha. Any approach can be valuable, if the indication is right.

As a psychiatrist and Wilber supporter from the first hour, it was a positive observation that his work is slowly but surely being brought to the attention of the bastion of Dutch psychiatry. In a short meeting with colleague Lange after the workshop, he expressed the hope that in the near future it should be possible to set up a section ((transpersonal) psychiatry and spirituality) within the Dutch Association for Psychiatry that will focus on keep implementing the ideas from the transpersonal sciences within traditional psychiatric thinking. In any case, I will wholeheartedly support this resolution.


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