Essential Integral–Lesson One (Introduction)

The following summary of the Integral model is an adaptation of a speech I gave at the Toastmasters club on January 24th, 2012 based on the introductory material in lesson 1 of the Essential Integral course.

The purpose of this post is to explain the Integral Model of human consciousness which acts as a map of the mind.   The Integral model contains five elements:  quadrants, states, types, lines and stages.

1.  Quadrants

Quadrants are the ways that consciousness views the world.  All natural languages have one grammatical feature in common, which is pronouns.  The pronoun “I” represents the internal part of my consciousness which looks out on the external world and sees “you”.  So consciousness splits the world into the internal and the external.

If I talk to you, a relationship may be formed in which case the pronoun shifts to “we”.  So consciousness also splits the world into the individual and the group.

These two dimensions, internal/external and individual/group, when crossed form a quadrant.  The quadrants are important because in order to solve a problem you need to look it from the standpoint of as many quadrants as possible.  For example, if I want to change a habit of mine, I need to change not only my internal motivation, but I also have to match it with a change in external behavior.  If I want to solve a problem in society, I have to look at the internal values of the society (its culture) as well as its external relationships (its politics or economics).

So those are the different ways consciousness sees the world.

2.  States

You are all familiar with states of consciousness.  There is the waking state, the dream state, and the state of dreamless sleep.  Other terms for these in the Integral model are “gross”, “subtle”, and “causal”, respectively.  An interesting thing happens, however, when these states of mind start to blend together.  An artist is someone who in taps into the unconscious or dream state of imagery while in the waking state, and someone who meditates is trying to bring that sense of calmness from the state of dreamless step into the waking state.  Every once in a while, when we’re seeing something like the beauty of a sunset, we get into an altered state of consciousness that the psychologist Abraham Maslow referred to as a peak experience, and is sometimes referred to as a “nondual” state in the Integral model.  This state of consciousness is a lot rarer, but anyone has access to it under the right circumstances.

3.  Types

States of consciousness are the short-term patterns of the mind, like its weather, if you will.   If states of mind are the weather, then the type of consciousness is its climate, or long-term pattern.   The simplest example of a type of consciousness is “male” and “female”.  I don’t need to tell you that it is not just biology but psychology that differentiates the two.  Men may be from Mars and women may be from Venus, but they both have to peacefully coexist right here on Earth.   Knowing the difference between male and female psychological patterns helps one to avoid misunderstandings.

4.  Lines

Different people have different abilities, and these form along different lines of development.  Our culture tends to emphasize cognitive development, which is the kind of thing you measure when you are taking an SAT test:  primarily mathematical/logical and linguistic ability.  Howard Gardner of Harvard University developed his theory of multiple intelligences, which take into account other lines of development such as artistic or athletic abilities.   Recently, Daniel Goleman in his books on Emotional Intelligence has shown how the ability to handle relationships is a key factor in success both in school and later on in the workplace.  Finally, moral development is another line of development which shows how people react to others and society in general in matters dealing with ethics.

The practical thing to realize here is that just because you may be highly developed along one line, let’s say, cognitively, that doesn’t mean you are highly developed along the other lines.   Developing the other lines will make you a more balanced individual.   This also has practical implications for team building, because it is often beneficial to have people on your team that are highly developed along the lines that you yourself may be deficient in.

5.  Stages

Finally, the last part of the integral model is that of levels or stages.  I can explain this by using an example from the Toastmasters organization I belong to.  When you want to become an effective speaker at Toastmasters, you have to go through several stages of development.  There is the Competent Communication level of achievement, which you complete by doing 10 speeches, and then there are the advanced level of achievements, the Advanced Communicator Bronze, Silver, and Gold level, after which you can reach the level of being a Distinguished Toastmaster, the highest level of development within the Toastmasters club.   It  is done in a process that is both step-by-step and sequential, meaning you can’t skip steps.

Humans progress along lines of development in stages in a way that is also step-by-step and sequential.  The details of development states can be complicated.   However, to illustrate with a relatively simple example, the stages of moral development can be boiled down to three major stages: pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional.  Pre-conventional defines morality as “what’s it in for me?”, and the self is the standard for defining morals.   Conventional morality says “what is right and wrong?” and it centers on the society, which is considered the arbiter of moral standards.  Post-conventional morality says “what are the principles at stake?” and it centers on more universal principles which apply to human beings in general, and not just the ones in a particular society or group.   If people develop morally beyond the pre-conventional stage (and not everybody does), they go to the conventional stage first, and then the post-conventional stage; they don’t skip from pre-conventional to post-conventional morality.


People are like snowflakes; no two of them are exactly alike, although they are fundamental built on the same basic model.   Integral Model is a map of the mind which helps account for a lot of the human variation you will encounter when you deal with other people or try to solve problems.  Being aware of these dimensions will allow you to be a more skillful communicator, because you will be able to tailor your message to the “wavelength” of the person you are talking to.

Welcome to the Integral Approach

The Integral Approach is a way of mapping the various dimensions of human consciousness onto a framework which can then be used as a common reference point for discussing various issues.

Example 1:  Dieting

Let’s take the example of someone who wants to try to lose weight as a New Year’s resolution.

Many people take the approach of a restrictive diet by simply cutting calories and using their willpower to maintain that diet.  As Bill Phillips puts it in chapter 3 of his book Transformation, it’s like trying to hold your breath underwater.  No matter how much willpower you have, your body’s need for oxygen will overcome your resolve.  You will eventually surface and start gasping for air.

In a similar way, if you try to cut calories without consuming a sufficient amount of essential nutrients, your body’s need for those nutrients will also overcome your resolve.  You will eventually start eating and when you do, your built-up hunger will most likely cause you to overeat.  So just paying attention to psychology and willpower won’t work.  You have to know something about nutrition and how the body’s physiology works in order to make dieting effective.

The Transformation approach to weight loss by Bill Phillips combines attention to psychology plus knowledge of the body’s physiology to create an effective weight-loss program.  Or to put it in terms of the Integral Approach, it succeeds where most diets fail because it takes an integral approach of the internal (psychological) and external (physiological) factors involved.

Example 2:  Obesity Epidemic in U.S

What if you decided to make it your life’s work to help an entire society lose weight rather than simply a single individual?   Bill Phillips not only wants to help individuals lose weight through his Transformation program, but he also wants to work on creating solutions to the societal problem in the United States where 70% of the entire population is overweight.

To understand the roots of this societal problem, you have to approach the cultural factors as well as the political and economic factors that contribute to it.   In other words, you have to take an integral approach of the internal (cultural) and external (political and economic) factors.

The difference between the two examples shows the same problem of being overweight but related to an individual (singular) vs. a group (plural).  These two dimensions, the  internal vs. external and the singular vs. plural create a total of four quadrants or ways of viewing an issue.

And that is where I get the title of this blog called “4squareviews”.