Integral Life Practice–Chapter 3: Integral Awareness

Before going into the four core modules (Shadow, Mind, Body, and Spirit), the third chapter discusses the most basic part of Integral Theory.   As a reminder, the shorthand for Integral Theory is AQAL, meaning All Quadrants, All Levels, All Lines, All States, All Types.   The first of these five dimensions of consciousness is that dealing with quadrants, and this chapter tries to get the reader to get a feeling of awareness of these quadrants.

1.  Quadrants, the Four Dimensions of Being

Individual Interior = I Individual Exterior = IT
Collective Interior = WE Collective Exterior = ITS

If you take the two basic ways of dividing the world, into the dimensions of the individual vs. the collective, and the interior vs. the interior, and cross these two dimensions, you get the four-fold division of consciousness as seen in the above chart.

  • In the upper left corner, you have the individual interior (your thoughts, feelings, intentions and psychology)
  • In the lower left corner, you have the collective interior (your relationships, culture, and shared meaning)
  • In the upper right corner, you have the individual exterior (your physical body and behaviors)
  • In the lower right corner, you have the collective exterior (your environment and social structures and systems)

By the description of each quadrant, there is an equal sign with a one-word shorthand for each of the quadrants.   The individual interior quadrant can be referred to as the “I” quadrant, the collective interior can be referred to as the “WE” quadrant, the individual exterior can be referred to as the “IT” quadrant, and the collective exterior can be referred as the “ITS” quadrant.

The basic idea behind integral life practice is that doing exercises that allow you to explore each of the four quadrants of experience, you will be learning how to engage in your life in the most holistic or integral fashion.

2.  The “I” quadrant

The “I” quadrant represents your interior as a conscious individual.    You do not have direct access to the conscious of others; you can only infer their conscious thoughts through their external behaviors.    In a similar way, your “I” space is invisible to others.

What are the contents of the “I” quadrant?   Your thoughts, ideas, intentions, motivations, purpose, vision, values, worldview, and life philosophy.

The best way to access your own “I” quadrant is to practice introspection and stillness so that you become aware of the contents of your interior consciousness.

3.  The “WE” quadrant

Any relationship you have constitutes a “WE” space, because it consists of the shared feelings and emotions you and the other person share.   In order to share a “WE” space with another person, you need to have mutual recognition, communication, and shared understanding.   Language is a tool for creating and maintaining this “WE” space.    If you are just stuck in an “I” space, your may have feelings, but there is no way for you to have any confidence that the person you are in a relationship with understands what feelings you have or indeed shares them unless you create a “WE” space that allows you to communicate those feelings.

The best way to access your “WE” quadrant is to engage in some form of communication.

4.  The “IT” quadrant

As opposed to the “WE” space, where you try to understand the interior of another person, the “IT” space is the perspective where you look at the surface of things and/or people, and sense their properties or behaviors.    For example, you may get clues to the person’s interior space by observing their exterior behavior.    Seeing a person smile may give you a clue that they are happy, or seeing that person frown may likewise give you a clue that they are not.

The best way to access your “IT” quadrant is to engage your various senses and observe the outside world.

5.  The “ITS” quadrant

The “ITS quadrant is where you look at the exterior, but not of individual things or people, but groups of them.    You become aware of their interactions, which form a system.    Nature or society are what are found in the “ITS” quadrant.   Rather than communications themselves, which connect the interiors of people, the communication medium is what connects them externally.

The best way to access your “ITS” quadrant is to observe the interactions or connections between the objects and/or people of the world.

6.  A Feel for Integral Awareness

Rather than process your understanding of the quadrants on an intellectual level, you can get a more intuitive understanding of them by doing the following exercise:

  • Picture the four quadrants in your mind, or refer to a diagram of them like the one listed above.
  • Start with the “I” quadrant.   Gain an awareness of this quadrant by examining your thoughts and your intentions using introspection.
  • Now expand your awareness to the “WE” quadrant, by imagining your relationships with various other people in your life.
  • Next expand your awareness to the “IT” quadrant by feeling the state of your physical body–are you hungry, sleepy, comfortable, etc.?
  • Finally expand your awareness to the “ITS” quadrant by thinking about the interactions you have with others and with your environment.   You are part of the physical environment and interact with it, and you are part of the social environment and interact with that as well.
  • Think of your job, your health, or your relationship with a partner.   Which of the quadrants tends to come up in your awareness?
  • Now try thinking of your job, your health, or your relationship from different quadrants.
  • All of those different types of awareness are arising within the larger space of your own integral awareness which connects these four types of awareness or quadrants.    That open awareness is what Ken Wilber sometimes refers to as Big Mind, as opposed to the smaller mind we sometimes inhabit when we are looking at ourselves or the world from only a single quadrant.

The AQAL framework is the theoretical basis of Integral Life Practice, but this exercise is a great introduction to understanding the connection between Integral Awareness and Integral Life Practice.    It is the endeavor of engaging in different practices which exercise those different types of awareness that were outlined in this section.

And with that, I will start on the next 4 chapters, which cover the four core modules of Integral Life Practice.




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