FAQs > Integral

Ramblings on "Spiral Dynamics" and its relationship with the "integral" movement.


Integral and the Spiral

The Spiral and the Ken Wilber crowd 

About the SPIRAL DYNAMICS® Brand, Integral, and business


Changes and correlations


Caveats for the integrals and integralism

The Spiral and spirituality

Spread of the Spiral and the term "Spiral Dynamics"

Graves's approach was integral before integral was trendy

"Integral" is the hot new word for many people. In the 1996 Spiral Dynamics book, a similar term, integrative, was used to describe a way of thinking (Yellow) which can accept learning from many sources in many ways; a freedom from compulsiveness - to attach or detach, to have or not have, to do or not do; a break away from the traps of irrational fears about to be or not to be, to belong or not, to have faith or lose it; and a willingness to tap the strengths and see the weaknesses of the many ways of thinking that coexist in this world and then to take appropriate action for the good of self, others, and especially the future. (The handy but often-unreliable Wikipedia reports it as integral, which is in error.)

So for some people, it is a very sensible declaration that things need to connect, and that recognizing complex systemic linkages is vital to solving our problems. For others it becomes an intellectual approach, often a hyper-intellectualized one, for reconceptualizing things they don't yet understand but need to frame without attaching too many emotions. Many see it as rejoining the spiritual and material into a better balance wherein science and soul are not contradictions but complements - physics and metaphysics decompartmentalized so that both contribute to understanding our universe and ourselves, and ancient wisdom expands modern discoveries and vice versa. A great oneness, a complete integration into a singularity. (One reason the Gravesian approach is appealing for those intrigued by Integral is his hypothesis, ala Maslow, of a transformation from subsistence to being - new levels of existence, tiers in Spiral language.)

For others, the word describes an organized movement which embodies a new path to enlightenment and a break from the givens that seem to put human nature at an impasse. By exploring what they term an "integral" way of living they feel they are coming to find the peace of mind for which they have been searching, often a substitute for religions that no longer serve to answer questions. For a few of these folks, it has become an article of faith and hub around which to build a self-concept ("I must be Second Tier or else!") and a quasi-cult of obedient true believers out to save the world - on their terms. And still others see it merely as a useful descriptive adjective suggesting openness to interactions, consequences, and synergies among many kinds of knowing and learning, and not a proprietary brand or exclusive association at all. When someone says "integral," demand an operational definition.

Uses of the word vary so much that it is nearly impossible to know what any user means by the term without asking for their operational definition; many of the most faithful have difficulty providing one. For other users, it's simply a favorable descriptor that suggests pulling things together in an and, nor either-or, way. Much of the so-called Integral movement takes large chunks of the Spiral model (especially the color scheme) and uses them as the core elements of its "new" psychology and social agenda, a borrowed lingua franca used to describe what an ambiguous adjective cannot. 

Although we avoid the branding and connotations, nobody denies that the Spiral can be used as an integrating model; that's why Dr. Graves spoke up for a "bio- psycho- social systems" perspective forty years ago when he tried to bridge disciplines and make sense of the "quagmire" of theories about human nature. It's hard to get much more integral than that. How can anyone object to efforts to find connections and synergies among fields and knowledge sets, or to showing how seemingly separate things actually impact on each other profoundly, and on the overall living system? 

That hunt for links has been in process since the alchemists and the Enlightenment, of course. (In terms of this theory, it begins in earnest with Graves's fifth level where the search is for the best of many possibilities and learning comes from a combination of experimentation with tried-and-true experience rather than obedience to priestly pronouncements or authorities.) Searches for ultimate unity and theories of everything abound because Homo sapiens is a meaning-making creature. Today, a web search will yield literally millions of 'integral' this's and that's, just as it yields thousands of hits on the phrase, "Spiral Dynamics". 

The interest in interconnectedness is surging today everywhere from consciousness studies and pop psychology to efforts to find new political and governance models. The down-side is that a perfectly fine term is being over-used and diluted as it's applied without clarity or finesse to everything from neo-Buddhist-chic spiritual cults to multi-grain 'integral' sandwich breads! To these folks, anyone throughout history who has ever done anything good or significant is suddenly ordained "integral" - without regard to how they think, the context in which they functioned, the life conditions, cognitive complexity, or very much else that matters in a Gravesian analysis. When the integral urge goes overboard, its rush to unity produces over-simplification and glib nonsense by forcing a grand synthesis before complex interrelationships are even recognized, a contrived whole before the parts are understood. That's problematic, because both forests and trees matter. 

We are in no way opposed to integralness, only to the worship of it as a panacea since both accurate differentiation and wise integration are important, not one or the other. And we object to the term's commercialization as a proprietary product by folks who lay claim to creating an idea that pre-dates their discovery of it by generations. Integral is not a new discovery, only an approach that finds greater resonance than compartmentalization and rigid categories in these times.

"Integral" is a meme. It has spread like a virus; memes do that when there are hungry minds that are willing and ready to host them, copy them, and pass them on. They meet needs. (It resonates especially well in both the DQ-ER and ER-FS transitions. In the first it fits an awakening of self without need for external authority; in the second the move from excessive reliance on an internal self to recognition of community and the external.) As a result, today there is a broad and eclectic slice of people who want to be "integral" beings. Some have had enough of obedience and submission, others of differentiation and isolation. They are searching for connections, for things to come together, for themselves to come together - mind, body, spirit. Many are weary of fragmentation and feelings of being disconnected and misunderstood, loners in a confounding world. This meme helps them to explain their predicaments, to provide a gathering space, and hope for something better ahead. Good on them.

For some people, it's become a singular purpose and a raison d'etre - to be an integral and participate in a well-promoted fashion trend promising a new order in a chaotic age, a brave new integral world, to be a participant in the exciting process of mega-change to a new kind of human being. (The Spiral model/Graves theory helps disclose the secret of the success of this meme with the awakening of more human problems that demand solutions which stretch across the artificial bounds of disciplines, cultures, and narrow interests. The swing of emphasis between express-self to sacrifice-self also factors in, along with a drive from individual success to individualism in context of something bigger than self or the need to free self from constraining -ism's.) 

Thus, the adjective, integral, has been turned into a highly complimentary adjective as well as a commercial tag - "if it's integral, it's got to be 'the good'" - and a valuing position - "if it's good for the integral movement, it's good for the country, and the world." At the same time "integral" has become a kind of branding and a generic term for a wish-list of attitudes and beliefs, and a modifier for a wide range of product offerings. For many, it's the key to enlightenment and personalized self-consciousness, directed evolution toward their ultima thule, often a variation of salvation or chance of immortality outside conventional religions. 

Others take it further. Integral is the name of a social movement and, for some, a quasi cult, complete with gurus and patriarchs and all the in-group and out-group characteristics and ethical challenges that produces. Wise leaders lead wisely; flawed ones replicate their flaws. Start-ups often fall prey to the foibles of their founders as their prejudices and pathologies become embedded into the unquestioned central dogma; sometimes they pass beyond their founders, sometimes they're trapped with personas. 

But for many, integralism is a sensible goal of bridging artificial gaps between bodies of knowledge - physical and metaphysical, behavioral and mathematical - and aligning paths to insight so they can intersect and synergize, a laudable enough end. But even then, without comprehension of the opposite bank, a would-be bridge is just an extended pier that carries forth the givens; it seems that many true believers leading the "movement" are uninterested in seeing much beyond their own viewpoint, and the opinions of their mentors. Thus, much that is most integral and integrative does not wear the label; some that does, is not.

Integral and the Spiral
Why is the integral buzz so resonant for many who also interested in SPIRAL DYNAMICS® programs? And why was much of the Spiral model fused into the integral movement? SD material, especially when understood in conjunction with the underlying Gravesian theory, is consists of many integrative models - 'everything connects to everything else.' Those who are drawn to it tend to be curious about behavior and the human condition, and to have eclectic views of what makes us tick. For them, human knowledge is best handled as a field, not in pockets or compartments, absolute rights or wrongs. Neither scientism nor religiosity holds all answers. They recognize an overlap of theology with natural science which goes back before Newton's efforts to bring earth and heaven together. In other words, knowing is being, and being is to join the field of living things. 

The need to integrate knowledge for a better grasp of human behavior was a goal voiced by Abraham Maslow and others. Graves shared the view, and this cross-disciplinary approach didn't set him in good stead with some of his more parochial colleagues who set psychology apart from other disciplines, and who found singular approaches to psychology sufficient. Graves found value in many approaches, and applicability in most. He relied on General Systems Theory as a foundational element to help draw them together. Newer work in systems, chaos theory, and complexity add a great deal to his point of view and elaborate some of the principles he set forth. 

The foundation beneath the models taught in SPIRAL DYNAMICS® programs are based, as we continue to say, on the integration of biology, psychology, sociology, and systems theory. Thus, the integral nature is not in dispute; nor does that come as a surprise to those who know the theory well and aren't involved in competitive positioning or rebranding efforts. As pointed out above, long before the integral marketing machine took off, we referred to the GT or A'N' (7th) system with the word integrative, as well as systemic and existential. Breaking the boundaries between academic fields and ways of knowing makes sense, so long as it doesn't dilute and cross-contaminate in ways that obscure and cloud more than they reveal and distinguish. In some respects, though, the rush to integral has taken wind from the sails of further Gravesian research and distracted some people who could have contributed to furthering the work because the devout see challenges and questions as tests of their faith and fight to defend their truths mercilessly against heresy and divisive critics. That we find deeply regrettable, and we await the inevitable sea change when the tide turns.

The Spiral and the Ken Wilber crowd
Many approaches complement the Gravesian point of view quite well; it's a theory, not of articles of faith. Our position is that there is a treasure trove of information and research yet to be done within the Gravesian legacy and point of view, and that the work of Ken Wilber, leader of the integral pack, and others can be better understood within it rather than the reverse. Others believe the reverse; that's fine. When Wilber first encountered the Spiral Dynamics book a few years ago, he seemed enamored of what he grasped of it and wrote extensively about the fragments, applying chunks of the theory with varying degrees of success and accuracy. But like many things absorbed into the Wilberian world, the Spiral model became folded into his vision and some bizarre things were attributed to it, things never part of the original work or its intentions. He seems never to have quite grasped the ideas behind the work, and now his tone has changed to being dismissive while promoting his own renditions of the Spiral and redefined tiers through his consciousness conglomerate they call the Integral Institute. 

About the SPIRAL DYNAMICS® Brand, Integral, and business
Spiral Dynamics is the title of a book, a trademark for seminars, products and services, and it is a brand depicting an identity for NVCC programs. These encompass models that describe approaches for looking at human development and how we change, a short-hand for biopsychosocial systems. SPIRAL DYNAMICS® products and services are our business since direct applications of theory to practice support the scholarship and things like this website, research, and other activities. For many years, it spoke with a fairly unified voice. Today there is a cacophony of self-proclaimed experts and authorities spouting their own versions of the Spiral with widely varying quality and integrity. Do a web search and look at the huge number of hits. What was once a relatively well-controlled and reliable brand (thus the attempt to maintain some quality control with trademarks) has been diluted to the point of near-meaninglessness. It's a mess because, like "integral," Spiral Dynamics has come to mean so much to so many that it reliably means nothing.

Within the "Spiral Dynamics" world, we (NVCC) continue to focus on elaborating, researching, and building SPIRAL DYNAMICS® training, consulting, services, and materials while furthering the Gravesian point of view. Another branch promotes its version as Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi) as a "movement". There, the word 'Integral' implies the incorporation of the Wilberian slant - AQAL (all quadrants, all levels, née 4Q8L then inflated) and often emphasis on spiritual elements. The differences are a matter of branding and emphasis, as well as differences in approach. As integral is used by many for many reasons it is impossible to judge usefulness simply based on that term. Fine work is done under an integral banner bringing disciplines together (such as the California Institute of Integral Studies, founded way back in 1968). So the word 'Integral' in context of "Spiral Dynamics" (SDi) denotes a version which departs from ours in many respects, and not in others. Thus, it's as much a commercial differentiation for competing seminars and trainings that has arisen since the co-authors of Spiral Dynamics, Chris Cowan and Don Beck, went separate ways in 1999. In addition to Wilber, the SDi branch seems to be aligned with spiritual teacher/guru Andrew Cohen and his group which publishes What is Enlightenment?/EnlightenNext magazine, as well as others tapping what has come to be called the "integral movement." For reasons explained above, it has done quite well because it fits the needs of many. How much that will ultimately add or detract from understanding the nuance of models like the Spiral and extending work like Dr. Graves's, however, remains an open question. 

This branch of SPIRAL DYNAMICS® programs, operating this website (NVC Consulting - Chris Cowan and Natasha Todorovic with their associates), concentrates primarily on expanding and continuing Dr. Clare Graves's foundational point of view while trying to incorporate new information and research to augment it and bring it to life. Our primary interest is in helping clients to understand and apply the material - with its strengths and its shortcomings - in the most ecological way possible. Those interested in studying the work of Dr. Graves need to do their homework and decide which approach meets their needs better. This is not an easy theory, and we make no claims of offering simple or easy SPIRAL DYNAMICS® courses, though we do try to make them thorough, as well as fun and exciting, so you will get a solid grasp of the material. 

It is also important to differentiate the underlying theory of Dr. Graves from Spiral derivatives and the personalities and personal issues of their proponents. We ask that objective viewers keep the theory and models separate from the personas attracted to them, and invite those interested to read as much of Graves in his own words as possible. 

With the spread of the SD name, we have become concerned by the absence of standards and controls to ensure competence, quality, and ethical limits among those using the Spiral Dynamics® materials. Obeisance to gurus or abundant self-confidence does not qualification make; even good intentions do not necessarily equate with depth of knowledge. Sadly, we find much of what we hear about how some others use it deeply troubling, even appalling. Whereas our efforts five years ago used to center on broadening recognition of this model, now too much of our energy goes to damage control as a result of charlatans and exploiters who lack rudimentary expertise. (Some basic guidelines and knowledge fundamentals are forthcoming here.) 

On the positive side, many people expressing interest in things "integral" are thoughtful scholars who recognize the strengths and weaknesses, overlaps and discontinuities, without zealotry and fanatical obedience or guru-worship, or the need to prove their egos with hyperbole or grandiose claims. Integral and integrity need not and should not be at odds; perhaps the integral movement will sort itself out one day. Some members clearly are complex and open-systems thinkers, and prove very sincere about drawing energies together and making connections. We applaud their interest and engagement, and regret deeply that their efforts are polluted by aggressive charlatans and unscrupulous practices from a few. Telling the difference is now the big challenge. 

So, we caution readers that something which purports to be "Spiral Dynamics" or based in "Spiral Dynamics" might not have much relationship to authentic Gravesian theory or to the SPIRAL DYNAMICS® program as it was built. It's far more than a spiral graphic with a color code, folks. Debates about improvement versus contamination can be endless, of course. And subtle differences can impact understanding significantly. Our advice is that serious students read through the 1996 Spiral Dynamics book while looking for and ignoring the dated and naive examples, as well as reading some of the original Clare Graves papers on the website we maintain for public reading. Keep an open mind about any claims or promises you might hear, especially from secondary and tertiary "authorities." Just as in purchasing a dog, check the well-being, the temperament, and the pedigree to be sure that the version of SPIRAL DYNAMICS® training you're getting is from a decent line and not churned out of a profiteering puppy mill.

Changes and correlations
Although much has been discovered since Dr. Graves's day, very little contradicts most of his hypotheses, and much has been published which illuminates and expands this remarkably insightful theory, especially in the neurosciences. Psychology has changed very little in some respects, and many of the revolutionary ideas proposed by Graves and his peers are yet to be explored and put to the test. Much of the work in developmentalism reinforces the approach with little to refute anything about it except in terms of the neurosciences which evolve faster than computer chips. Thus, there is much work to be done and many useful things to be made of EC theory and its applications taught in SPIRAL DYNAMICS® workshops as new discoveries in a number of fields expand our understanding of human nature and the mind. 

For example, the collision between fourth and fifth level thinking in today's geopolitics is something Graves anticipated, and which the theory explains quite well. As talk of terrorism and fundamentalisms going head-to-head preoccupies many of us, the Spiral model lays out some reasons for it and paths to solutions. At the same time, the resurgence of interest in something beyond competitive individualism - a return to community and sense of spirit - is also predicted by the theory and explicable in Gravesian terms. Indeed, much of the integral enthusiasm is attributable to two transitions at work today - one group of people leaving authoritarian absolutism to try and discover an independent self and another finishing with independence and looking for the comfort of transcending interdependence, instead. 

The 'integral' wing also using SD seems to emphasize the fusion of a core element of Ken Wilber's work, a four quadrant model - internal/external, individual/social - with the emergent levels of SD, yielding a four-quadrant, eight-level approach variously called 4Q/8L and then AQ/AL. Read Wilber to explore his opinions further. He incorporated/assimilated the levels to explain degrees of differentiation and levels within his quadrants. While two-by-two matrixes work well enough in business school, force-fitting spiraling Gravesian systems over them is sometimes quite a stretch. 

However, for those enamored of quadrant models, the Graves term "biopsychosocial systems" theory can easily be converted into one. Add some diagonal scales with interesting interval markers, and you're there. Wilber (below) has developed and refined a quadrant model which has remarkable similarities to a Gravesian view, though he divides at cultural and social and Graves, instead, included the behavior of systems as a central element since he took culture to be a product of psychological and sociological elements, a difference which could be debated endlessly to little consequence. 

(biological elements) 
 (psychological elements)
(sociological and cultural aspects) 
 (systems theory in human nature)

While Mr. Wilber periodically expands, rewrites, or recants his opinions ('Wilber 1.0', 'Wilber 6.0' or ' Wilber as of Last Thursday,' take your pick), the quadrants seem to be a central tenet of his perspective. In our view, most of this is implicit in the 'emergent, cyclical, double-helix model of adult biopsychosocial systems development.' Wilber and his acolytes offer a simplification and compilation of some aspects of Graves and attempts at elaborations of others, but they leave out some of the real meat of the Gravesian theory and confuse others as they conflate beliefs and memes with value systems. Graves is more than intervals and typology. The essence of his point of view is the quest for the engine that drives human emergence - why we are and what leads us to change to be something different. The types and categories are merely artifacts of that process. This is a point the Wilberians never seem to have grasped in using Spiral color language as their categories for differentiation.

Caveats for the integrals and integralism
Despite suggestions otherwise - and we are often utterly amazed at the false reports of our opinions and views from some people in this crowd who never seek our views directly or even ask for clarifications - nobody denies that Dr. Graves's emergent-cyclical biopsychosocial systems theory describes many ways to be integrative since that suggests inclusive and connective. What we do suggest, however, is that the so-called integral movement has a long way to go before it legitimizes itself, and that it risks self-destruction through hubris and arrogance. There's a lot of pontificating based in rumors and propaganda rather than open questioning.

From our perspective way outside of the integral club (but based on our years of experiences with members of that august fellowship), the term 'integral' is at risk of becoming discredited, even as it becomes popularized. (See Paul Ray and Sherry Andersen's Cultural Creatives for some better explanations of the forces at work in what's become the 'integral movement' and even an 'integral lifestyle,' as well as the urge to conscious evolution - the notion that we can, though our thoughts and subsequent actions, impact the evolutionary process and guide who we might become. SD is less a means for accomplishing such ends as explaining why such ends become appealing for people at particular levels of psychological emergence.) 

One of the traps we all can fall into is 'do as I say, not as I do.' It is easy to confuse the ability to cognitively describe a process and to write about it well with being that which is described or behaving in the idealized ways being offered up. Talking the talk versus walking the walk. For many people, being integral is a delusional dream state - it is their aspiration and fantasy akin to salvation in this life. Walking the talk is somewhat more difficult. When a movement becomes too wrapped up in one personality, it is subject to that personality's foibles, for better and worse. For true believers and guru hunters, integral becomes a rallying cry and an article of faith. When it becomes overly attached to personas, beware. There are stars and favorites in the integral world, including Harvard education professor Robert Kegan (whose viewpoint is quite Gravesian and well worth reviewing), spiritual guru Andrew Cohen, and, of course, Ken Wilber. Because of the growing popularity of 'integral' anything, joining that bandwagon is potentially good for business; we are frequently told what a mistake it has been not to just go along with it and have been called "evil people" for daring to question the emperors' new clothes. 

Many of the integral crowd took to the Spiral model like puppies to a bone because it was exactly the kind of tasty morsel they'd been hungry for; no fault in that. But then they tossed the theory around like a chew toy and dropped the name without a clue what it is actually about; but the cursory taste they got offered them a useful typology, a trajectory with some content, and a bit of substance which 'integral' philosophy lacks without assimilating content from elsewhere. Relatively few have bothered to figure out the material in any depth, and many, including Wilber, have remained satisfied with shallow views of convenience rather than exploring fully from many angles; to be blunt, a highly non-integral approach has prevailed in much of the integral world. That must change if it is to endure. 

Yet the Spiral color code has been called the "lingua franca" of the integral movement which had not built a differential language of its own. If borrowing is the best they can come up with, we'd be the first to say a scheme of eight or ten colors is a pretty weak language for complex phenomena. They're using what began merely as decoration for critical terminology. No doubt more colors are in the offing - pastels? - to remedy that shortcoming as they think up new levels and invent a new-and-improved lingo with a revised state-of-the-art color scheme which can transcend and include, as well as confuse. Rather than continuing to bastardize the Spiral, how about some original research instead of assimilation, mimicry and rewrites?      

An altitude-loving inflationary consciousness - higher, ever higher, upward toward godliness and the saintly existence - is not unusual in human nature. Since Turquoise (B'O', Level 8) was the 'upper' end of Dr. Graves's theorizing (though he had scant data in support, and assuming you model it vertically up rather than an alternative), it should come as no surprise that some of these folks deem themselves to be at least of that top level, maybe beyond it, and most definitely beings of 'the second tier' meaning they have achieved no less than seventh level (Yellow) status and probably eighth (Turquoise) or beyond. (The assumption is that meditation or study increases one's level of consciousness rather than expanding one's knowledge about consciousness and comfort with it.) The more narcissistic take themselves to be well qualified to look down upon lesser mortals with a degree of condescending scorn mixed with plans for their eventual upliftment, anger when it is rejected. To get out of this impasse, we need to break from the 'or' logic trap and recognize that ideas and people are not either first tier or second tier, but interconnected systems and complexes - 'and' logic. Human nature is just not as simple as committed, True Believing tierists would like.

Frankly, we remain unconvinced of the validity of the tier notion at all. Seeing an untested hypothesis used as both an article of faith and to separate self-appointed elites onto their own Olympus is amusing at best, especially when clay feet are in full view. Aloofness and emotional blinders mixed with intellectualized pretension are not markers of enlightenment. Neither are hypocrisy and arrogance attractive traits, so aspiring godlings ought avoid those before mounting high horses. Still, in some instances, 'the Second Tier' meme has become such a central identity element with believers so highly ego-involved in their post- trans- Turquoiseness that the very idea that they might not be thinking in that exalted way (or higher) is traumatic. Anyone who raises dissonance about either the greatness of Turquoise or its frequent synonym, Integral, is anathema. 

The Spiral and spirituality
It's quite true that Graves paid relatively little attention to the realm of mysticism and spirituality, religion or religiosity, because he viewed the expression of those aspects of human nature as sub-components of our psychology, not driving forces in themselves. While he had some ideas about what might be, neither his life experience nor his data lent itself to deep explorations in this domain. His studies were about how people conceptualize spirit, religion, religiousness, etc., not the specifics of their beliefs. In other words, how people think about spirituality and why some need it.  

For those who believe this is a serious void and yet find more traditional and doctrinaire religions inadequate, there are many legitimate spiritual teachers and schools following many paths with openness and flexibility. We suggest studying some of them if such is your need. There's nothing in our SPIRAL DYNAMICS® programs or in the Gravesian theory that denies spirituality, but the theory does say that people at different levels have differing needs for it, and different approaches to it. Thus, trying to turn the Spiral into a spiritual path to salvation is myth-metaphor level of understanding and application. Graves argued that the need at G-T Yellow was scant because the drives and fears that produce that need have dissipated. In earlier levels, the path is very goal-oriented and aimed at deliberately "becoming" something or other. In what he termed "being" levels - GT, HU, etc. - the task is to be with what is fully and authentically, yet without compulsion or drivenness. Students of Graves should recognize how the different approaches and need sets fit into levels of existence theory. 

The human need for religiosity and a bridge to the immaterial (and immortal) is amply filled by a plethora of neo-Buddhist, New Age, neo-spiritual, frequency-bending, consciousness-seeking approaches, in addition to the traditional theologies and traditions. Indeed, long-established and reputable "integral" schools such as the California Institute of Integral Studies take the closing of gaps between the physical and spiritual, between scientism and mythology, as a central purpose with the aim of showing that these domains are not mutually exclusive or contradictory, but synergistic ways of exploring being holistically. Esoteric psychology and depth psychology (ala Pacifica Graduate Institute) offer another path that closes the material/immaterial gap. Mystery schools and even spiritualism (ala Cassadaga) serve to inform those intrigued by "the other side" or anxious to do "soul work." For many aspiring Integrals looking for a more cerebral and activist approach, Ken Wilber's philosophizing and affiliation with guru-driven movements such as Andrew Cohen's fill the bill very nicely. We offer no opinions on any of these other than to say that a healthy skepticism (without cynicism) is a good idea, and that the Spiral model can help knowledgeable users frame why different approaches fit different people at different times in their life experiences. As usual, the test is congruency in context.

If one takes the view that mind and consciousness are more than electrochemical activity with a genetic underpinning, then understanding origins and extra-organic energy is potentially useful. The surge of spirit-in-business and the post-TM fascination with meditation and other mind-modifying practices help break the scientism/humanism/cosmic consciousness barriers and bring the inner and outer closer together. The line between learnings gathered through shamanism and quantum physics becomes fuzzy. But the substantive answers about what spirit and soul are or are not do not lie within the Graves perspective, and trying to conflate the Spiral model with a spiritual staircase creates a real mess which diminishes both. Ask how the person approaches the questioning process, not what answers they might find. The spiral is not a new religion nor a cult, only a theoretical point of view about human nature and how it changes, why spirituality interests us or not, and how we might approach the quest for knowing.

If one doesn't recognize that within the Gravesian levels are many ways of conceiving the esoteric, spiritual, and metaphysical, then it easy to confuse the Spiral with a pathway to heaven: higher on the spiral, closer to God. Within this point of view there are expressions of spirituality throughout many of the systems, each with a different form and purpose - different ways of thinking about, and each with elaboration, wisdom, and insights in its own right fitting the context of that level. The verticality trap is a common blunder in integral land, and one which the neo-Buddhist philosophy promulgated by Wilber and others seems to facilitate. For those in search of personalized salvation and energy-eternity without the dichotomous burden of hellfire or heaven (the more FS rather than DQ rendition), there is plenty to hope for and believe within the Church of the Spiral, or the Integral Circle. But thinking 'up' the spiral equals up in spiritual understanding is erroneous; it merely means a different way of contemplating contemplation. 

Graves was interested in how people thought about religion/spirituality and why they had a need for it, but not particularly in their specific beliefs except as examples of conceptions of maturity. His focus was more on understanding the containers for ideas than the specifics of their contents because it's the changes of the the frame which shift our sense of how the mature adult functions. Recognizing that the future is simply to the next (or sometimes previous) stage, not to some idealized end state which is so often defined as perfection or god-like existence by people struggling with their own mortality and growth, the stage shifts become crucial to analysis.  

The practical side of the work focuses how to achieve systems which congruently match people with their worlds, their capacities with their situations; it actually offers very few prescriptions for what to change, though many descriptions and suggestions on how to approach it if and when that is appropriate. The Spiral model does not define optimum outcomes because they will differ among situations and contexts, though the viewpoint always looks to movement up the levels of existence overall, in the long run of time because the increasing complexity of existential problems and the expansion of human experience demand it. While some argue that this, of necessity, implies spirit and out-of-the-body doings, others will propose that the mind/brain/body complex that is us creates our sense of the mystical as a coping strategy, too. Either way, there are better ways to delve into matters esoteric than the Graves approach, though the Spiral model can expand on how people approach the search, how their search can be facilitated, and why the searching is likely to matter or not.

Spread of SD
Today, in part thanks to the integrals' popularizing and other spin-offs that seem to proliferate like intellectual hydrilla, the number of bizarre references to "Spiral Dynamics" on the web is simply astounding. As we say above, because of the uncontrolled spread and negligence in protecting it, the term "spiral dynamics" has come to mean almost anything anyone would like it to with the Spiral model acting as a colorful Rorschach test. It can be argued that's good for marketing - "so long as they spell the name right - all publicity is beneficial;" but it can also be argued that the brand dilution, trademark dilution, and content dilution now being attached can destroy any credibility the term "Spiral Dynamics" might have, thereby making the term meaningless and ultimately discredited as pop-psych, neo-spiritual mumbo-jumbo - a cheap, simplistic, color-coded typology for sorting friends from foes and fans from critics - all wrapped in quasi-theology and a mix of neocon and neolib political views pretending to represent something forward-looking but dwelling in the past. We get emails asking if Spiral Dynamics is a religion or a cult because of some attachments, and find resistance now and then in organizations because of some gibberish people have read on the Internet from 'authorities' we've never even heard of, or who are our direct competitors.  

Graves's approach was integral before integral was trendy
It is our contention that Dr. Graves's approach was quite integral before "integral" became fashionable and an extensively marketed, even cultish, term; and that there are many contemporary theorists whose works complement Graves's and the Spiral model, including Ken Wilber's philosophy. The challenge is for a next generation - or a current generation capable of a mind change - to begin exploring and applying the work with openness, curiosity, honesty, and integrity from a blend of perspectives. It's not a theory of everything (despite being called such back in 1967 by a Canadian reporter), but it is a theory that can be applied to almost anything.

Much of the 'new' is actually rediscovery and re-labeling of what's been done before. Thus, it has been our opinion that the addition of "integral" to the Gravesian point of view is redundant except for promotional reasons, and to distinguish brands and commercial offerings. It is also our suspicion that the need to "integrate" and seek connections is another cyclic phenomenon like others that characterize the different levels in the theory (personality variables, etc.), and that the integrate-differentiate-integrate-differentiate dynamic warrants further study as a curious theoretical chunk of emergent human systems as they cycle. [For a discussion of "premature integral," click here.] Two comments by Graves from the late 1970's are pertinent: 

"[The E-C theory] sketches a theoretical trellis upon which, it is hoped, the confusing behavior, the contradictory information and the conflicting explanations of adult human behavior can grow with time, into an integrated network. It considers the adult behavioral system of the past, the systems of the present and projects that new systems will appear infinitely in the future...In other realms, academics preached the sermon of integration of all knowledge yet continued to devise curricula which fractionated all learning and failed to achieve the educational goals they so righteously proclaimed."

"At each stage of human existence the adult man is off on his quest of his holy grail, the way of life by which he believes men should live. At his first level he is on a quest for automatic physiological satisfaction. At the second level he seeks a safe mode for living, and this is followed, in turn, by a search for heroic status, for the power and the glory, then by a search for everlasting peace, a search for material fulfillment in the here and now, a search for personal fulfillment here and now, a search for integrated living and a search for spiritual peace in a world he knows can never be known. And, when he finds, at the eighth level, that he will never find that peace, he will be off on his ninth level quest... The lower [level] does not disappear, it is integrated into and subordinated to the higher." 

Dr. Graves's 'trellis' was intended to be an integrative work in progress on which many ideas could grow and flourish. Hooray. We strongly support both testing it and adding to its richness with new perspectives based on some solid research (with some data, rather than opinions and guesswork), and much prefer that to philosophizing and punditry. We do view Clare Graves as the primary theorist, and choose to focus on his original point of view rather than others' second hand reinterpretations or projections of what might be because there is so much yet untapped there for study and debate as new findings in psychology and the neurosciences pile on to flesh out the framework. What we do find is that there are now many minds asking the questions that Graves's approach addresses. Though it was out of its time in his day - he often felt that he was answering questions few were asking - this point of view now fits. More and more people find it useful. Excellent, we say. 

Is there such a thing as "the Mean Green meme?"

This is an ongoing argument and debate, for some a hobby horse. In our opinion, the MGM exists mostly in the minds of those who need and profit from one. The whole "mean" terminology is a relatively new creation within the SDi faction, not part of the core work. While there are mean people centralized around Green just like everywhere else, FS (Green) is no "meaner" than any other part of human nature and far milder than some, although people with strong Green do react strongly to dishonesty and those who are arrogant, pompous, or hurtful to others. There is a huge abreaction to doing harm to others, although since emotions and relationships matter so much, FS often uses feelings and disaffiliation as its weapons.

Much of the conversation we have seen about "MGM" actually involves confusion of ER and even DQ with FS, and especially a failure to recognize the characteristics of the transitional states around them— dq/ER, ER, ER/fs and er/FS. Just as the emphasis on exaggerated first tier/second tier differences fails to recognize how close FS and GT (A'N') actually are and builds, instead, a gap of convenience, this usage reflects a poor and, in our opinion, very destructive and harmful use of this model. It has, however, become a core business in some quarters.

The idea of a fusion of FS with CP is not plausible from a Gravesian perspective, though it's quite possible to have a person centralized around FS acting like a total jerk, and even aggressively verbally. What's being missed is that aggressive behavior can come from many levels for different reasons, certainly not just from Red (CP), and that hostility, if that's what the users of the term are talking about, can comes from many sources for many reasons.

We have strongly opposed this bastardization of the theory since first reading about it and voiced strong objections to little avail with the “true believers” and those who make a business out of hyping an imaginary "MGM." Our position that the "mean Green" construct is prejudicial nonsense, based far more on personal biases and unpleasant experiences than sound Spiral Dynamics theory, remains unchanged. Uncompromising fanaticism comes in many guises; closed minds exist at many levels. That's not an exclusive product of the 6th level of human existence any more than eco-consciousness, leftist politics or disgust at doing harm to others and supporting aggression fall only there. These are memes, not vMEMEs. 

Furthermore, we view this painting of FS with a negative brush—denials and rationalizations aside—as extremely destructive to the overall process of emergent human systems. This mischaracterization and name-calling puts barriers in the way of people ready to exit ER who are misled into believing that FS is a bad thing rather than a necessary developmental step, and it provides ammunition for those who want to demonize opponents with a glib label or who can't fathom thinking that is two steps ahead.

It is important not to confuse the label of FS (Green) with "Green" politics or "Green" environmentalism. It appears that many people are not differentiating the vMEME system from the memes that are sometimes, but not always, attracted to it—a further reason that insistence on muddling up those two terms is not at all helpful. People in left-of-center political movements or who are active in opposition to global corporatism may or may not be operating at the FS level. Some are more in DQ authoritarianism and absolutistic oppositional stages, and others in a transformative and competitive ER trying to promote their version of something better.

The perception of 'meanness'—and some members of lefty groups can be vicious, as can the extremists of the right—is a judgment as much in the mind of the beholder as in the actor. To grossly stereotype based on the Gravesian model is to misunderstand the intent of the theory. It has now devolved to a general and misguided bashing of "Green" in some circles, and the argument that it's a great problem rather than a necessary part of the whole. We find this inaccurate, objectionable and detrimental to both the theory and the future of people who need to go through that transition as part of their whole-Spiral evolution. MGM is predicated on a bizarre and superficial take on the theory, and has now taken on a life as a "meme" in itself. 

We believe that use of the "mean Green meme" language not only distorts the theory, but that those have promoted it fail to differentiate what people do from why they do it, something basic to the this point of view. This toss-off pejorative causes observers to miss the real dynamics in situation—where CP, DQ, ER or even A'N' might be involved at the deeper level, though the surface might look "Green." In addition, this negative construct (and others like it) will ultimately slow down necessary transitions and create roadblocks to transformation rather than serve to facilitate the emergence of a "healthy Spiral". What is often depicted as "mean Green" is a hodgepodge description drawn from several systems, including naughty bits of CP, DQ and even ER, then framed as "MGM" with a bunch of unpleasant temperament factors unrelated to Gravesian levels, behaviors and attitudes—even fanaticism and anti-fanatic fanaticism—tossed in. Recognize that the entering and exiting phases of all these systems are high-energy times, and those transitional mixed energies are being miscategorized with the put-down term, "mean.”

Can people thinking in the FS way be obnoxious and closed-minded, even extremist? Of course. But so can people centralized at many levels; there's plenty to pick on throughout the Spiral. These are factors of temperament, style and attitude; everything about personality cannot be hung on a Gravesian level. All systems have expressions that are ecological, and other forms that are not. We sense that many people are now in the ER to FS transition, and we repeat that concentrated attacks on FS by those still struggling with it, even if intended to enlighten “lesser mortals,” are misguided and counterproductive. FS is an integral part of A'N' as it introduces situationalism, relativism, contextualism and sociocentrism. People actually operationalizing at the Yellow level, rather than talking about it, would quickly recognize this.

Furthermore, the FS to A'N' gap appears to be far narrower than many, including Dr. Graves, believed. As an integral part of A'N', it must emerge fully rather than be squashed, demeaned or confused by people trying to be cute or clever, or who actually project what is within FS with what they suppose A'N' (Yellow) and B'O' (Turquoise) to be. (Most of what we hear proclaimed as "Turquoise" is actually more like an extrapolation of FS, and sometimes even DQ with lots of "existential jargon," to borrow a Graves term.) While writers and revivalists are free to use whatever words they want, we do not and try not refer to "mean Green" except in these paragraphs offering refutation, or to "the MGM" except as regards a movie studio with Leo the Lion as its mascot.  

For more about our opinion of the "mean green meme" meme, click here for a .pdf.

What do you think about writer Ken Wilber's representation of the Spiral and Graves?

Overall, the Spiral model and integral philosophy are quite compatible, and we view integral honcho Ken Wilber as one of many contributive philosophers, compilers, and idea promoters. That said, we do not consider him an essential or authoritative part of our Spiral Dynamics® programs, nor as qualified as most of our students to speak about Gravesian theory. In a recent piece on "What is Integral Spirituality?" Ken has written quite a lot about the Spiral model - as he sees it. Unfortunately, he seems to be still caught up in the same trap as many NLP practitioners and insists on Graves as a values model (i.e., content - what one values) with emphasis on the eight levels and an over-emphasized color code. By superimposing a cross section of the Spiral onto a 2x2 matrix model, he continues to miss the essence of this point of view. The question so central to Gravesian studies - the how and why one values - continues to elude him. He does a fine job of criticizing his own misconceptions, but little that reaches the actual model. 

No doubt Wilber will soon dismiss the Spiral altogether - or rather, his own rendition of it - as being flawed and too simplistic. We couldn't agree more, on those terms. What will be sad is that he will likely frame the model as an over-engineered typology that misses the big picture which his work, in his opinion, encompasses far better. (It's not a competition, folks.) There will be charges that the Spiral model is not what we have never claimed it is - a stairway to enlightenment or sure path to heightened spiritual planes; that was others' marketing, not ours, and we've been troubled with it since day one. 

To our deep regret and disappointment, it seems that Mr. Wilber still has not found the essence of either the biopsychosocial systems theory or its application, remaining at a superficial level and criticizing both for failure to be panaceas. As he moves through his sequence of recreations of himself, Wilber will surely slough off the Spiral model and move to a new flavor. Too bad he doesn't seem as willing to recognize changes in others: SD1996 isn't the same as SD2006, either. And what a shame that the essential Graves point of view has been largely omitted from such a popular niche writer's works and its artifacts instead recast and spread about as something lightweight and hollow, a mess for others to try and clean up. 

Despite some suggestions otherwise, SPIRAL DYNAMICS® programs, training, materials and services are not a spiritual practice. It's not a stairway to godliness; it's a process of teaching emergent psychologies of the mature adult human being in operation - an approach to finding answers, not THE answer to anything. Godliness is a different dimension. Dr. Graves probably couldn't have meditated himself out of a paper bag and was not especially interested in the esoteric consciousness studies that fascinated many of his humanistic and transpersonal-oriented peers. His curiosity was more as to why they were so fascinated, and whom transpersonal approaches might help and why. Rooted in his theory, the Spiral is not a systematic theology. It is not a category scheme or quadrant model. There are more than enough of those already, though we would propose that the means and motives of most can be better understood with the addition of a Graves-like window.  

Using meditation as an example, the question is not 'to meditate or not to meditate?' The more Gravesian question is: why might someone choose to meditate, how would they think about the practice, why might such practice impact them, and what changes might it effect in their being? Or not? How does meditative practice impact people at various levels of psychological existence? What other forms of spiritual practice fit people centralized differently? Just like Gravesian management, the study is of congruence and facilitating transitions when and if they are appropriate, not setting a target destination and pushing people that way. 

Let us be clear that we do greatly appreciate the fact that many fine, intelligent, and well-informed people have first met our work and emergent, cyclical theory through philosopher/pundit Wilber's writings, and we welcome their interest. (We've also come across a few fanatics and cultish true believers who take Ken's writings as inerrant gospel to be defended at all costs, the organizing principle of their lives; plus a few equally devoted to undoing him as if he were a diabolical figure rather than just a writer/philosopher with the right to speak his piece.) We extend our sincere thanks for the publicity he has given to Dr. Graves's work and the brand recognition of "Spiral Dynamics" in the market segment he reaches. We have personally enjoyed his musings since the 1970's, some of which were brilliant and insightful. As a philosophical assimilator/compiler, Ken is hard to beat, and he has done some important original work making connections and promoting connectedness. Thus, the more disappointment in his treatment of this work.

Although we're listed as critics of the thin-skinned Mr. Wilber by himself and on one prominent website dedicated to his work, our criticism only extends to his rendition of material in Spiral Dynamics and Graves's theory, and with considerable irritation with the way he has chosen to do it; beyond that, we really couldn't care less and leave it to others to speak up for work that matters to them, or to dig into the phase-shifting opinions of Ken for themselves. We really haven't doubted his overall positive intentions, nor the good intentions of most of his followers who seek a better world. We suspect he has not been particularly well served by those close to him in this matter, and have come to be more skeptical about the whole thing. 

We do remain convinced that if he had chosen to learn more about this point of view in a less narrow-minded way, Wilber wouldn't be in a position of needing to 'transcend and discard' a deficient and twisted version of a Spiral model, one of his own construction thanks, apparently, to poor teaching. Either way, though, we do believe strongly enough in the core Gravesian notions that having them more known and accessible - so long as they aren't messed up too badly in the adaptation - is better than keeping the theory shut away or demanding absolute purity; this, too, is a work in progress, not a fixated body of doctrinal truth. 

It should be clear by now that we have no direct connection with Mr. Wilber or his organization, the Integral Institute. We do not necessarily support nor have we been consulted about what he has chosen to write of the colors and their examples and Dr. Graves's theory in context of his so-called "integral" work. Offers to be of assistance were declined. Some of what he has written about the Spiral is OK and some is definitely not, in our opinion, wobbling between a somewhat puny representation of the theory to simply awful distortions echoing neoconservative nonsense. Thus, we again need to say that we do not count Ken Wilber among the authorities on this model, though his interest in exploiting it is obvious and many of his more devout followers will surely take offense at such a blasphemous statement in the belief that Wilber created "Spiral Dynamics" rather than assimilated bits of it. 

In his book, Boomeritis (which seemed like a marketing piece for his organization), there is frequent confusion of values (content) with Value Systems (containers). He also seems to have trouble differentiating the levels of psychological existence from personality traits - always a difficult task - and grossly misunderstands and overplays the "tier" notion; shuts down the open-ended aspect in favor of a target end state (like the Utopianism trap); crams in his spiritual views as if they were inherent in the Spiral or the Gravesian theory; and frequently confuses the eight hypothetical nodal states with the transitional conditions, as well as with each other. Simply put, he doesn't seem to understand what's Orange (E-R), Green (F-S), Yellow (G-T or A'N'), and Turquoise (HU or B'-O') very well, so readers are cautioned to rely on his SD theory representations with great care, popular as it might be. Finally, Wilber and his followers tend to claim any and all good ideas as "Integral" or Second Tier, and attribute the bad to their fabrication, "mean Green," a misconstruing of Red as the seat of violence and aggressiveness, or merely to the First Tier - quite a combination. We find much of it seriously misleading, as well as offensive. 

Frankly, it appears that Wilber and his group have tried to force the Spiral into their model of the world and political views, and in the process they pollute and constrain it. We do wish he could have learned to differentiate between memes and vMemes (i.e., behavioral traits and ideas from the reasoning and the existential states behind them) when citing Spiral Dynamics and stopped confusing readers with sloppy and confusing terminology. (See FAQ comments on "Mean Green Meme," a construction which pulls bits of DQ, ER, FS, and transitional elements into a grand demonic put-down.) 

Readers of the SD book should note that some of the materials he has copied essentially verbatim would not even be included were the SD book being properly redone today, especially some rather poor and over-simplistic examples for the levels described as "Where Found" and the political analyses because a great deal more has been learned about the theory since the writing in 1994-5 which is not reflected in that volume. After spending tfive years working on The Never Ending Quest and digging deeply into both Graves's writings and those of his sources, we find some glaring errors in previous renditions of Spiral Dynamics which we are trying to address. 

Many people doing a web search have come to see SD as quasi-spiritual mumbo-jumbo rather than a useful program incorporating a theory of human behavior that can apply to many realms of life from personal growth to business and politic, including religion. Many others get stuck with a color-coded eight-step typological staircase most useful for assaulting critics instead of the overlapping moving sidewalks and fields the theory suggests, and thus reject the model as categorical junk.

On the contrary, we will contend that the bio-psycho-social systems point of view pioneered by Clare W. Graves and then popularized in the Spiral Dynamics book offers a lot of insight for those willing to grasp its depth. The interplay between an external milieu and neuronal systems, even latent genetic programs, is still cutting-edge stuff with huge potential.    

Do you have any connection with Andrew Cohen's organization or their What is Enlightenment magazine?

None whatsoever. They actively sponsor and support our competitors.

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