Friday, July 27, 2007

Soul in Intergal Theory

When I began Integral Options Cafe back in June of 2005, it was intended to be the place where I wrote about all things integral and Buddhist. At the time, I already had a politics blog (now defunct) and a fitness blog (now inactive), so this was the place for the more intellectual and theoretical stuff.

This is now the only blog (aside from Elegant Thorn Review -- which is poetry, flash-fiction, and photography) that I am actively involved with. For long time readers, you've probably noticed the drop-off in integral-related posting. My interest in all things integral has waned (largely beginning with the Wyatt Earpy episode last June). Don't get me wrong, I still think AQAL is a great model for making sense of the world -- but it's only a model.

One of the things that has moved me away from Integral Theory is that it's highly theoretical, intellectual, and based in agency and transcendence. That's all well and good -- those things are important. But Soul couldn't give a rat's ass about theory and agency and all those other things that Spirit is tied to.

Integral theory, in my experience, is heavily biased toward Spirit at the neglect of Soul. Lately, I have been feeling the need to have a more balanced relationship with the world -- I want transcendence and translation, agency and communion, autonomy and interconnectedness, knowledge and experience, and so on.

I'm not going to gender the distinction between Soul and Spirit, but this is how I see it:

Soul seeks communion, interconnectedness, experience, inclusion, and darkness. This is what Jung called the anima, which is the original Greek word for soul.

Spirit seeks agency, autonomy, knowledge, distinctions, and light. This is what Jung called the animus, the original Greek word for spirit.

In my experience -- and this might be just how I have approached it -- Integral Theory is very focused on Spirit. Maybe this is because it has largely been formulated by people interested in how to bring more Spirit, and especially transcendence, into the conversation. In one of the first magazine interviews I remember seeing with Ken Wilber (back in the mid-1990s), he was heavily intent on demonstrating that most of the New Age movement was worthless because it was just a bunch of different translations of the same basic developmental level. He argued strongly, and I bought the argument, that Integral Theory offers a path to transcendence rather than merely another translation of the same basic material.

Integral Theory does offer a basic series of assumptions that can be built into a solid spiritual practice -- the ILP model. It's a good model that I know from experience offers a lot of foundational practices, all of which are geared toward transcendence in one way or another. Sure, there is a shadow module, but it's there to remove obstacles, not because swimming around in our shadow material might actually be something the Soul needs to do on occasion.

Soul doesn't follow the dictates of intellect -- it has its own agenda that usually remains baffling under the best of circumstances. One thing I know for sure is that whatever Soul takes interest in is usually something to which we should pay attention.

When soul is neglected, it doesn't just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning. Our temptation is to isolate these symptoms or to try to eradicate them one by one; but the root problem is that we have lost our wisdom about the soul, even our interest in it. We have today few specialists of the soul to advise us when we succumb to moods and emotional pain....

~ Thomas Moore, Introduction to Care of the Soul

Thomas Moore is one of the New Age types that Ken Wilber would probably dismiss out of hand. But there is quite a bit of value in his little book (not so much in the later ones). We do neglect soul in this culture. We're all about materialism, surfaces, motion, and action. Even our spiritual practices are more about transcendence and God than they are about being and soul.

Soul likes to simply be, without having to do. It likes fine foods, nice scenery, sensuality, and lots of other things that we often do not make time for -- or if we do, we do not value them as expressions of Soul but as mind-altering addictions. We do not eat for pleasure so much as we eat to self-medicate. We have sex, but we seldom make love. We travel to beautiful places and take photographs (I'm really bad about this one), but we do not sit quietly and allow the place to work its magic on us.

All of this is missing for me in Integral Theory. Certainly, Wilber has identified 24 or more developmental lines, and some of them are lines that feed Soul rather than Spirit: socio-emotional capacity, creativity, joy, and so on. He even defines Soul as "the aspect of self that adapts to the psychic/subtle realm" (Integral Psychology, 126). Further:

Alongside those developments [of self], the soul (the psychic/subtle self) can follow its own trajectory, unfolding in its own holarchical stream. The soul or deeper-psychic line includes all the self-streams that adapt consciousness to many facets of the subtle sphere. The soul is the self that depends on the subtle line of cognition (which includes, as we saw, imagination, reverie, daydreams, creative visions, hypnogogic states, etheric states, visionary revelations, hypnotic states, transcendental illuminations, and numerous types of savikalpa samadhi), and thus the soul is the self-stream that orients and integrates consciousness in the subtle domain. (126)

I don't know about you, but my Soul reads that and says what the hell does any of that have to do with me? I'm willing to give KW the benefit of the doubt, but this is a case where I think Moore offers a better definition:

It is impossible to define precisely what soul the is. Definition is an intellectual enterprise anyway; the soul prefers to imagine. We know intuitively that soul has to do with genuineness and depth.... Soul is revealed in attachment, love, and community, as well as in retreat on behalf of inner communing and intimacy.

Tradition teaches that soul lies midway between understanding and unconsciousness, and that its instrument is neither the mind nor the body, but imagination. (CS, Introduction)

I suspect that Moore and Wilber are saying essentially the same thing, except that Wilber is using the language of intellect and Moore is using the poetry of the imagination.

I've grown weary of the language of intellect being the only language I speak. When I stopped writing poetry several years ago, it was at the same time that I began to seriously study Wilber's books. It was also when I quit drinking. I had used alcohol as the key to unlock the door to Soul-level experience and language -- without the key, there was no more poetry.

Lately, I have been trying to write again (not very successfully) and spending more time doing things that feed my soul (sitting outside watching storms pass over, visiting with friends, cooking, reading poetry, and so on). There should be some kind of a "Soul Module" in the ILP Kit -- I'm sure many of us could benefit from allowing ourselves more time to be rather than always having to do.

Even meditation can be an active pursuit rather than a way of being still and allowing soul to have some solitude. My last therapist asked me not to meditate as an activity when I was working with her. She was trying to unplug me from a compulsive need to DO things, and meditation at the time was one of things I was doing. She asked me to just sit, nothing more. No counting breaths, no returning my mind to my breath, no visualizations -- just sit and let my mind wander anywhere it wants to go, but to notice where it goes, because that is the path to learning what is going on beneath the surface -- it's a useful approach.

So, that's the deal on the lack of Integral posts here. As some balance returns to my life, I'm sure the interest will return -- but right now I'm interested in other things.

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