SCT, Ken Wilber’s Integral Model and Spiritual Practice

SCT, Ken Wilber’s Integral Model and Spiritual Practice

Michael Robbins M.A., L.M.H.C.

Part 1

The Integral Model

Major Take Home Messages:

  1. Ken Wilber’s Integral model offers a structure that boundaries all of the major categories of human knowledge and potential in a way that encourages an optimal flow of energy and information and self-correction in the development of individuals, groups and human potential.
  2. An “Integrally informed” spiritual practice, integrates and differentiates all of the information and energy in the Quarants, Levels, Lines, States and Types in the integral model in a way that is self correcting.


What are the goals of your spiritual practice?

What are the major obstacles/restraining forces to reaching your goals?

5 Major Definitions of Spirituality

  1. A peak experience or a special state.
  2. The highest stage of any developmental line.
  3. The sum total of the highest stages of all of the developmental lines.
  4. A developmental line unto itself.
  5. An attitude such as universal care, Compassion, or Kindness.

An Integral model sees all of these perspectives has having validity.

The Basic Assumption: Everybody has a piece of the truth.

Start with the assumption that all of the great philosophers, spiritual traditions, scientists, artists, poets etc. all have a piece of the truth. The Integral Model integrates and differentiates the major insights from all major categories of human knowledge and potential. It is an inclusive map that helps to cross fertilize information from many points of view. This creates a synergy between many fields of inquiry which helps to recognize and integrate the differences. This is like an “operating system” for the human mind that allows the software programs of human knowledge to operate efficiently.

An SCT way of looking at it: This inclusive map has appropriately permeable boundaries between all categories of information. This structure contains the flow of information in a way that is stable, flexible and adaptive. It thus enables individuals, groups and organizations to transform from simple to complex in a way that is self correcting.

Building the Integral Model:

Start with the Big Three.

  1. Art – (Beauty)
  2. Morals (the Good)
  3. Science (Truth)

Avoid the error of reductionism. Each of these perspectives sees Reality from one position. Include them all. These three domains of inquiry are addressed in all the major wisdom traditions of the world.

Expand the Big Three to Four Quadrants

  1. Subjectivity: the perspective of the “I”, Art, Beauty, Intentionality, Self Consciousness.
  2. Inter subjectivity: The perspective of the “We” or “I/You” Morals, the Good, Culture, world view.
  3. Objectivity: the “It” singular, Science, Objectivity, brain Organism.
  4. Inter Objectivity: Systems of “Its”, Science, systems of organisms, social science, ecology.

All Sentient Beings have an I, We, It and Its dimension. If we neglect any of these we develop a reductionistic model. These Quadrants define the boundaries of the inside and outside of individual sentient beings and groups of sentient beings.

Lines of Development:

There are many lines of development. These lines have been empirically researched (Howard Gardner et al). Many of them are relatively autonomous and some are interdependent. (Most significantly the Cognitive and the Moral line are interdependent – in order to reach the highest stages of Moral development you must be cognitively developed, but the reverse does not hold true. You can be very highly developed cognitively and a moral toad!) As far as we can tell, no-one, not even enlightened Sages, are equally developed in all lines of development. The goal here is not to develop all of them equally, rather it is to be integrally informed about both your own and others development to correct for gross imbalances in the major lines.

Some of the most important lines of development are:

Cognitive (Piaget), Moral (Gilligan, Kohlberg), Emotional (Goldman), Spiritual (Fowler), Psycho sexual (Freud et al), Kinesthetic, Interpersonal

There are also musical, mathematical, linguistic, etc. About two dozen have been empirically researched.

All of these lines have there Subjective, Inter subjective, Objective and Inter-Objective dimensions.

Stages or Levels of Development in Each Line

Each line progresses through different levels or stages of development. Many stage models have been proposed and empirically researched in many lines. A stage is a relatively permanent accomplishment, unlike a state or peak experience. In a stage model the higher stages presuppose the lower stages. No Skipping Stages.


  • We learn language in stages, once we have acquired it, it is relatively permanent. We can access it at any time.
  • Moral Development: Gilligan’s 3 stage model: Egocentric to ethnocentric to Universal Care.
  • SCT is a stage model of systems development.

Integrating Levels (Stages) and Lines

If we integrate levels and lines we can create a graph of an individual’s, a group’s, or a culture’s, etc. development in many different lines.


  1. Waking: Gross physical body.
  2. Dreaming: Subtle energetic body.
  3. Deep Sleep: Causal body, or the Body of Emptiness.

These three great states are potentially available to all human beings all the time. Many traditions also identify a fourth great state which is often called “Non-dual awareness”. Like the other states, this is available to us all the time we simply “forget” about it.

States are available to everyone all the time – however, they can only be interpreted at the stage of development that you have achieved. Every spiritual philosophy is an interpretation of an experience in one of these states seen through the basic assumptions of a particular stage. Wilber and Cohns charted these using Jean Gebsers stages of cultural development. These “culture wars” have raged throughout history. For example, in this country we have a culture war between people who have a literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible and those who have a metaphorical interpretation. We are now seeing the emergence of an Integral and Transpersonal view that integrates and accepts all previous stages.

Non-Dual Awareness – Becoming One with Everything

In this state we integrate all of the polarities, we are both the seer and that which is seen, the witness to the flow of information and energy through all quadrants, levels, lines, states and types, and the information and energy itself. We are One with All That Is. Anything we say about this is going to be said in dualistic language, and is a limitation. It is “Not This, Not That” (Advaita) as well as “And This, And That” (Tantra).


Types: The different lenses through which we see the world. Many different typologies – male/female, Enneagram, Meyers Briggs, DSMIV, etc. Each Type also proceeds through different stages of development and will look different depending on the stage.

Masculine and Feminine types or modes of looking at the world – studied by Carol Gilligan, David Deida and others:

  • Masculine mode is concerned with agency, autonomy, justice, rights. Associated with the qualities of pure presence, stillness, emptiness.
  • Feminine mode is concerned with relationship, communion, care, responsibility. Associated with the qualities of radiance, movement, fullness.

Each type has gifts and limitations, healthy expressions and pathological ones.

Putting It All Together

(Chart of the Integral Model)

An Integrally informed Spiritual Practice is All Quadrants, All Lines, All Levels, All States, All Types (AQAL for short)

Such practice might include:

  • Study: to develop cognitive insight and understanding into the worlds wisdom traditions. Study of the integral model as a container to orient ones experiences.
  • Meditation: To develop the capacity to remain conscious in waking dreaming and deep sleep states and to move towards a non-dual awareness.
  • Diet: Informed by a scientific understanding of your unique body.
  • Exercise: Yoga, Tai Ch’i, Weight training.
  • Psychotherapy and “Shadow work”: To make the Unconscious conscious.
  • Social Service: To express the realization of universal care in concrete actions in the world.

A Working Definition of Integral Spiritual Practice

Integrate the energy and information available to you wherever you are in your development using an AQAL approach.

Move toward Non-Dual awareness, Awakening, Enlightenment in a flexible, stable and adaptive way.

Part 2

SCT and an Integrally Informed Spiritual Practice

Take Home Messages

SCT, a stage model of systems development, can be used to understand the development of of individuals and groups engaged in spiritual practice and help them to move towards the following goals:

  1. Developing an inner witness in relationship to self and context.
  2. Provide a map of systems development that illuminates and provides methods to work through the basic assumptions of each stage as it applies to spiritual practice.
  3. Provide concrete methods to work through restraining forces to spiritual goals particularly at the interpersonal level.
  4. Help practitioners to live at the edge of the unknown without constructs.
  5. Help practitioners to move from self-centeredness to Universal Care.


If a group or individual is stuck in compliance there may be:

  1. A rigid morality that is mistaken for a genuine sense of conscience.
  2. A giving over of authority to a charismatic spiritual leader at the cost of personal autonomy and freedom.
  3. A loss of creative spark and a dogmatic or rote repetition of “the Teachings”.
  4. A flight from the Unknown into the secure arms of an institution.
  5. Religion as the “opiate” of the people.

If a group or individual is stuck in defiance there may be:

  1. A countercultural spirituality that abhors all organization or structure.
  2. The use of spiritual philosophy to support impulsivity, undermining all expressions of internal or external authority.
  3. A condoning of antisocial, out of context behavior.
  4. The use of spirituality to support the angry, victim role inside of each of us.


If a group or individual is stuck in enchantment there may be:

  1. An addiction to blissful states of love and light that are used in the service of a flight from reality.
  2. The use of spiritual philosophies to support sexual acting out.
  3. A spirituality that ignores or actively scapegoats differences.
  4. Cults
  5. A spirituality that supports an illusion of “safety” and denies the real human potential within each of us to act out evil. Evil is projected out there onto the “nonbelievers”.

If an individual or group is stuck in disenchantment there may be:

  1. High levels of individual spiritual development and low levels of contact and relatedness.
  2. A dry, anti-sensual spirituality which denies sexual and erotic impulses.
  3. An emphasis on ones individual relationship with God to the exclusion of seeing God in other human beings.
  4. An experience and relationship with God which is disembodied or abstract.

Question: What is the image of God that a group will create if it is stuck in Compliance? Defiance? Enchantment? Disenchantment? By accurately assessing these images one may get a good picture of what phase of development a group is working in.

Work, Love and Play

  1. Have a highly permeable membrane between the apprehensive and comprehensive modes of knowing, i.e. there will be both a highly developed “common sense” and intuition available to the group or individual.
  2. Not be defended against any part of the human experience, and will not act out the strategies of the false self unconsciously.
  3. Will have a strong sense of membership in humanity.
  4. Will be able to experientially hold the existential paradoxes of human life.
  5. Will have access to tremendous creative energy and the practical know how of how to manifest creative ideas.
  6. Have a highly developed sense of existential humor.

Some Similarities and Differences between SCT and Spiritual Work


  1. A primary orientation towards the Unknown.
  2. A commitment to liberating the spontaneous core self from the restrictions of the false self or from acting out the defenses.
  3. A commitment to create a permeable boundary between apprehensive and comprehensive knowledge, and to extend the boundaries of each.
  4. A deep understanding of the idea and experience of isomorphy or the holographic universe.
  5. A sense of a developmental hierarchy of awareness.
  6. A variety of methods to train students and teachers and to assure the quality of the work.
  7. An deep understanding of the importance of attunement an presence.


  1. There is no sense of a “higher power” or of a relationship with the invisible world in SCT.
  2. There is no formal mechanism for functional subgrouping in spiritual work.
  3. There are no formal meditation, psycho-spiritual, or energetic practices taught in SCT.
  4. There is no reliance on a Transmission or Initiation of consciousness and energy from teacher to student to stimulate the awakening of the authentic self in SCT. (Although there is a tremendous emphasis on the attunement of the leader.)


Spiritual practice and the process of Systems Centered Therapy have tremendous similarities. The differences in the practices developed by each approach are complementary. SCT has a tremendous contribution to make to spiritual leaders, groups and practitioners in its understanding psychological defenses in both individuals and groups. Spiritual methods may extend the depth to which SCT group members can access the spontaneous self and may accelerate the cellular and energetic release of stuck defensive patterns and old roles in the body/mind.


Kosmic Consciousness, (Audio Tape series)
Ken Wilber, 2003
Sounds True
P.O. Box 8010
Boulber, Colorado 80306

The Integral Operating System
Ken Wilber, 2005
Sounds True
P.O. Box 8010
Boulber, Colorado 80306

Integral Psychology
Ken Wilber, 2000
Shambala Press
Boston and London

The Essential Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber, 1998
Shambala Press
Boston and London

Systems-Centered Therapy for Groups
Agazarian, Y. (1997)
New York: Guilford Press.

<< Back to Articles