Integral Life Practice–Chapter 5: The Mind Module

The purpose of the Mind Module is to introduce you to practices which expand your capability to take different perspectives, and to provide a mental framework to organize them.

Let’s start with the mental framework of Integral Theory, which is summarized in the shortened acronym AQAL, which stands for:

  • all quadrants
  • all levels
  • all lines
  • all states
  • all types

Let’s go through each of these five elements of AQAL.

1.  All Quadrants

There are two simple distinctions you can make when dividing experiences up into different types of phenomena:

Interiors (thoughts, feelings, meanings, meditative experiences) vs.

Exteriors (atoms, brains, bodies, and behaviors)


Individuals (each with its own distinct form and experience) vs.

Collectives (which interact together to form groups and/or systems)

When you combine these two distinctions, you end up with four dimensions which are summarized in the four quadrants below:


“I” Space



“WE” Space



“IT” Space



“ITS” Space

Social Structures

Let’s take an example of how you can look at any problem from any or all of these four perspectives.   Suppose you want to discuss the problem of obesity in America, to come up with a solution.  You could point to the problem that people need to have greater will power when it comes to eating snacks, etc., that cause their obesity.   That would be a problem of “intentions”, something from the Upper Left quadrant.

Now someone could say that the problem is with behaviors that contribute to obesity, such as eating after 9 PM.   That would be a problem from the Upper Right quadrant.

A third person could say that the problem is with our culture that promotes obesity by emphasizing quantity over quality when it comes to portions at restaurants.   That would be a problem from the Lower Left quadrant.

Finally, a fourth person could say the problem is with our government that subsidizes companies that produce junk foods.   This is a problem with our social structures, and is a problem from the Lower Right quadrant.

ALL of these are problems, of course, and recognizing that they each stem from a different perspective is an important mental capacity to have if you are going to attempt to solve a multi-faceted problem like this.

2.  All Levels or All Stages

For any line of development, there are various levels or stages that represent the “altitude of consciousness”, if you will, along that line.

Let’s take an example of moral development.   The four stages are


Developmental  Stage

Focus of Concern
1. Pre-conventional Egocentric Self
2. Conventional Ethnocentric Clan, tribe, or nation
3. Post-conventional Worldcentric All people
4. Global Kosmocentric All sentient beings

One starts out as an infant in the pre-conventional or egocentric stage caring about only oneself and one’s immediate needs.   Later on, the infant begins to care about others in his or her own family, and then larger and larger groups in the conventional or ethnocentric stage.   In this conventional moral stage, compassion is reserved only for those in one’s own ethnic group, and enmity is reserved for those outside of one’s group.   The post-conventional or worldcentric stage has one eventually including all human beings in the circle of one’s concern, and the final stage includes all sentient beings, i.e., all life on the planet.   Here are some principles behind evolution from one stage to the next:

  • It takes time to go from one stage or level to the next.
  • It takes effort to go from one stage or level to the next; progress is not automatic, and some do not evolve beyond a certain level and remain stuck at that level.
  • Stages or levels are attained in order; no stage or level is skipped.

In communicating to people, you need to determine what stage or level they are at in order to tailor your communication to be effective.   If I am trying to convince you of the necessity to take measures against global warming, I will get nowhere by trying to evoke your sympathy for the increasing lack of biodiversity (due to various species dying off) if you are at the conventional stage of morality.   I will get nowhere by trying to evoke your sympathy for the suffering to be borne by generations to come if you are at the egocentric stage of morality.

3.  All Lines

Each human being goes through several lines of development.   There is the obvious physical development as one goes from being an infant to an adult.  But there is cognitive development, moral development, emotional development, etc.   One of the more popular comedy shows on television is The Big Bang Theory.   In this comedy, a genius-level physicist named Sheldon is extremely highly developed cognitively, but he remains emotionally and morally on the level of a child.   He and his physicist roommate Leonard interact with their neighbor Penny, who is cognitively on an average level, but who is very savvy when it comes to emotional and interpersonal development.   This mismatch between lines of development is what forms the basis for a lot of the comedy on the show.

4.  All States

States are temporary, changing levels of consciousness.   Sometimes people can receive “heightened” states of awareness that may shock them out of their complacency, but any permanent change in consciousness requires one to go through the slow, steady development mentioned in the paragraph above on “All Levels or All Stages”.   This is why when people go on retreats for weekends to seminars or workshops on spiritual topics, then can sometimes experience temporary states of heightened awareness, but can also be disappointed afterwards when they return to their normal lives and that state disappears.   They have left that state of consciousness, and are back at the same stage of consciousness they were in before the weekend retreat started.

However, these heightened states can motivate and inspire people to put in the effort and work required to go to the next stage or level in their development, so they are beneficial from that standpoint.

5.  All Types

Within each line of development, there are horizontal differences, that is, differences within each line, that divide people into different types.   The most common type experienced by all people is the difference between men and women.   Another more complicated typology that divides people into 16 groups is the Myers-Briggs typology, a combination of 4 dimensions.

The 4 Dimensions of


Extraversion (E)

(I) Introversion

Sensing (S)

(N) Intuition

Thinking (T)

(F) Feeling

Judging (J)

(P) Perception

Understanding your own typology in Myers-Briggs (mine is INTJ, for example), and those on your team, is important for becoming an effective leader.


Knowing these five elements of Integral Theory is important because it is essentially a map of consciousness which can be used to understand how to communicate to others who are in different places than you are on that map.





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