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Phase 1 - The Romantic Period (1977-1979)

Wilber refers to the first stage in the development of his ideas as his "romantic-Jungian" phase. This is exemplified by the books Spectrum of Consciousness and No Boundary.

The Spectrum of Consciousness was Wilber's first attempt to devise a unified theory of consciousness by correlating both Eastern and Western psychological, philosophical, and spiritual maps of consciousness (No Boundary recapitulates these themes in more concise form). The premise, long held by Theosophists, the Guenon-Schoun school of Esoteric Traditionalism, and others, is that there is a single, universal teaching running through the apparently conflicting spiritual, philosophical, and psychological traditions, and what seems to be conflicts are actually the result of addressing different stages of consciousness. (According to Esoteric Traditionalism (all religions are inspired by the same Logos or Godhead and so have the same esoteric truth, despite their exoteric differences). This idea that all the different teachings are just different parts of the one whole - as in the parable of the blind men and the elephant, has been a continual theme in Wilber's work, constantly refined and incorporated into ever more complex and sophisticated edifices of thought, but never rejected.

This first version of a grand unified theory presents a rather simplistic, but still interesting, thesis in which consciousness emerges from an underlying Ground of Being, a Wikipedia link transpersonal psychological idea, and that the further up one goes, the more consciousness is split up into progressively more limited dualistic opposites. The first split is between the Ground of Being and the Self, the second between organism and environment, the third between ego and body, until finally one gets to the fourth split, resulting in very limited persona-shadow of everyday consciousness. It reminds me a lot of an inverted version of the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky law of three (more laws with each level), although here there is a two-fold rather than a three-fold division.

The Spectrum of Consciousness

The goal in psychospiritual development here is to reunite each duality and reclaim the unity underlying each split until finally one attains the monistic cosmic consciousness of the consummate mystic and realises one's identity with the Absolute Reality. The different strata or divisions are each associated with different psychoanalytical methods, as shown in the diagram above.

The interesting thing about this diagram is that - at least to my emanationist way of thinking (and I'm sure others - including Wilber himself in later developments of his thought would say likewise) - is that it is upside down. The Godhead (cum Collective Unconscious) is at the bottom, which consciousness emerging from and eventually returning to it. No wonder Ken Wilber calls this his romantic phase. Looking back now on this early stage of the development of his ideas, he says that as with many romantic philosophers and Jungian psychologists, he saw spiritual growth as a return to an edenic condition which existed in the past, but which has been lost during the process of development and culturalisation.

Baby and Bathwater

Even so, Wilber may have been inflexible in rejecting his early ideas. As Stephen Dinan points out

Grof has found that authentic regression into the deepest layers of traumas, blocks, and neuroses is vital to healing and further growth. In this respect, his model of development aligns more with Carl Jung or Michael Washburn, who see adult development as a process of spiraling through origins to reaccess lost potentials of the psyche: a descent and return. The world of children, and especially fetuses, is charged with an enlivening numinosity (sacredness), something adults typically lack.
Stephen Dinan Post-Modern Monk and Modern Shaman: The Theories of Ken Wilber and Stan Grof, Originally appearing in The Inner Door

It is difficult to know how authentic this childhood or fetal numinosity is. I would tend to be extremely sceptical of it, inasmuch as (in Grof's work, profound as it may be) it is filtered through the lense of adult consciousness enhances or altered through psychotropic drugs, hypnotic recall, free association, and so on). Small children, like animals, live in a world of the immediate present, of sensation and association and strong feelings, but that doesn't mean they are necessarily spiritual or mystical (or conversely that they aren't, it doesn't matter either way. But the fact that the experience is so widespread mean sit must amount to something. As a pheonomeologist I accept the validity of all expriences first, and then fit them into a unified theory later.

Christian de Quincey in his paper, "external link The Promise of Integralism", in the Journal of Consciousness Studies (Vol. 7 No. 11/12 [2000]), sees Wilber's rejection of his early work as one of the indicators of his rejection of "the ontological significance of feeling....For Wilber, feelings are a lure for "regressive" Romantics who hark back to some mythical golden age." This criticism however is part of a larger "war" between Ken Wilber and the California Institute of Integral Studies, where the teachings of Grof and Washburn (which are in keeping with Wilber-I) are favoured

See also Gerry Goddard, external link Perspectives in Transpersonal Theory, for more on the Wilber - Grof controversy, and an attempt at synthesis

It should however also be emphasised that, despite holding some differences of understanding, Wilber doesn't reject Grof. To quote:

"Stanislav Grof is one of the world's greatest living psychologists. He is certainly a pioneer in every sense of the word, and one of the most comprehensive psychological thinkers of our era. Fortunately, Stan and I are in substantial agreement about many of the central issues in human psychology, the spectrum of consciousness, and the realms of the human unconscious."
Amazon com Eye of Spirit, Chapter 7, Page 151

Bibliography - 1977-1979:

The Spectrum of Consciousness
, Quest Books, 1977

No Boundary No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth, 1979 Shambhala Publications, 149 pp


Biography and Ideas
Phase 1 - The Romantic Period
Phase 2 - The Pre-Trans Cycle
Phase 3 - Multiple Development - Holographic Mind
Phase 4 - All Quadrants All Levels
Phase 5: Post-Metaphysical

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page uploaded 15 June 2004, last modified 15 September 2005