Integral Books (an imprint of Shambhala), 2006, hardback, 318 pp
Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain
You can read everything ever written about green spirituality but it won’t afford you the same spiritual experience of it as walking alone through the rainforest. However, rainforest walking can teach you nothing of the chemical transactions taking place in your cells as you walk. Nor can it teach you about the social structures, habits, or history of rainforest dwellers—unless you meet some and can chat with them. Even then, you can’t extrapolate that knowledge to tribes you haven’t met.
Many readers will be familiar with the fundamental premise of Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory. Which is that any phenomenon you care to name can be understood in four different, mutually exclusive ways (diagrammed in a four-cell table), expressed as subjective experience (“I” – upper left quadrant), objective study (“it” – upper right), intersubjective experience (“we” – lower left) and interobjective study (“its” – lower right). Add in the different male and female ways of experiencing the world (some subtle some obvious) and four perspectives double to eight. That’s before you include time-related dimensions like the one-way trajectories of evolution and levels of personal development. So the complete, multidimensional understanding of anything requires an AQAL (‘all quadrants, all levels’) approach.
This book puts spirituality under the lens of Integral Theory. Not to examine different spiritual traditions per se but to show how all spiritual and religious phenomena can be comprehensively mapped and understood.
The author’s personal beliefs, as revealed in some of his earlier, more autobiographical books, particularly One Taste, fall clearly at the transcendence end of the spiritual spectrum rather than the immanence end more typical of GreenSpirit. And although it has been out quite a while, I’ve never reviewed it before because I was turned off by One Taste and only recently came back to reading Wilber. Like his critics—who are legion, for he is a very tall poppy intellectually, with an IQ in the stratosphere—I have some issues with his approach.
However this book does deserve our attention. For, despite its shortcomings and imperfections, the Integral model is, I believe, the most comprehensive framework yet devised for understanding anything at all, from aardvarks to zygotes—or more appropriately in this spiritual context, Advaita to Zorostrianism.
Plus, the Integral approach, which is intrinsically value-free, is a healing one with the capacity for breaking up socio-cultural and ideological logjams. It could be the best one available, right now, for achieving religious tolerance, peace and (when applied to ecological issues) sustainability.