Posted: December 17, 2014 in Integral Studies, Philosophical Debris

One of the advantages of Integral Theory is that it tries to bring previously divergent or distantly related models together in an integrated manner.

There are many graphic models that can provide us with guidance for our relationship with reality, such as the Yin Yang symbol, the Kabala or the Enneagram. One of the symbols that has always provided me with guidance is the Native American Medicine Wheel. The Medicine Wheel describes a process of the cycles of life and Nature. It varies a bit in its specifics from tribe to tribe, but the underlying ideas remain the same.

The Medicine Wheel is divided into four directions, in its simplest form, each of which represent a certain stage of development and the energy which is embodied in those stages. In the East is the energy of vision and beginnings, of birth and infancy, of spring and of morning, to mention a few specifics. In the South is the energy of doing, of youth and young adulthood, of summer and of noontime. In the West is the energy of consolidation, looking forward and backward, of mature adulthood, of fall and evening. And the North is the time of celebration and thanksgiving, of Elders and their wisdom, of winter and midnight. This is a very cursory description and each of these directions could merit a full essay on their own. However for the purposes of the point I’m trying to make here, it will do. Further information is amply available by Goggling “Medicine Wheel”, although there’s a lot of crap out there.


The “All Levels” part of Ken Wilber’s AQAL Integral Model, based on Spiral Dynamics, meshes with the Medicine Wheel in an interesting way. (Admittedly, it is probably only interesting to those who have a special interest in Integral Theory.) These levels can be simplified to the Pre-Rational (Red and Amber levels, Mythic and Mystic), Rational (Orange, scientific and materialistic) and Trans Rational (green, pluralistic), sometimes referred to as Pre-Modern, Modern and Post-Modern. One might also add to this the next level in altitude, which would be the Integral level (turquoise). Again, this is a cursory description.

AQAL chart 8

When you combine these two models, not only do the mesh well but, as often happens when you combine models, the result yields some interesting new insights. Pre-Rational is a good fit for the east, where there idea of infancy and childhood definitely matches. The East is a place of vision and insight which can offer initiative and guidance for a new endeavour. This too seems to be a good match for a Pre-Rational mind set. It also helps to make you realize that this Pre-Rational stage, while often ignored or maligned by those with a “Rational” view, is in fact very significant and important to the process. Inspiration, intuition and vision all have their places and are ignored with great risk. The South is the place of doing and of young adulthood, and so seems a good fit for the Rational stage. This is where problem solving and scientific method plays its best role. Those at this stage of life often value their newly found reasoning ability, sometimes with too much tunnel vision. The west is a time for middle aged adults to contemplate and consolidate the various components of their lives. As such it has the potential of being more pluralistic, enabling multiple perspectives and greater empathy, and perhaps admitting that there could be things beyond pure reason in heaven and earth. It has the makings of a Trans-Rational world view. It is also a time for looking backwards and a time for looking ahead to insure proper care in old age. This is a special time for preparation, which will return to shortly. And finally, the North is the time when Elders can view the broad spectrum of life with wisdom and perspective.

The West has always held a special intrigue for me. If you take the example of a squirrel, it is born and frolics in the Spring, it gets down to business, perhaps mating, in the Summer, and in the Fall it has the special job of building a nest and gathering food for the winter, which then comes as a time of dormancy and waiting for the renewal of the next Spring. If the squirrel does its Fall job properly, preparing for the Winter, then it is likely to survive and take another turn around the wheel. If it does not prepare, then the North becomes death and finality. I’ve always felt that to be a special lesson of the Medicine Wheel, that the West is time where special consideration has to be given to the future and to the past. Bringing in another model altogether, one can see here the work of Gurdjieff’s Law of Octaves, where he says that the third step in the eight step process requires a special input and kick in order for the process to continue to the fourth step and beyond. (Think of the musical scale.) The West is the third stage and the North is the fourth. If the squirrel does not pay attention in the West, it is not likely to survive the North. This is true of all endeavours. Any process requires special attention in the West in order to proceed or continue to evolve through the North and around the circle again. (Taking Gurdjieff’s model more in depth, one might think of a complete process as two trips around the Medicine Wheel.)

The West and the Green, Trans-Rational stage is also an opportunity to gain wisdom from the past. The Orange, Rational stage has a tendency to quickly throw out and reject everything that came from the Pre-Rational stage. All the myth and magic and the traditional religious dogma are often strongly condemned and discarded, refusing to accept anything that cannot be proven by their new passions, science and materialism. Sometimes this involves throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The Trans-Rational stage retains the logic and respect for science that characterizes the Rational stage, but is more willing to accept two important conditions. The first is that science, and especially our understanding of it, may paint a limited picture of reality. The second is a beginning of understanding that the magic and mythic beliefs of the Pre-Rational stage may in fact have some basis is reality, and some function in the cycle of life. (This becomes the first kernel of the Integral stage.) The Trans-Rational is willing to re-examine some of the Pre-Rational beliefs and views, salvaging bits in a new, more enlightened perspective. (There’s a danger here too, though, as described in Ken Wilber’s discussion of the “Pre-Trans Fallacy”.) Seen in a new light, such re-examination paves the way to the more Integral (North) stage of development, encouraging greater wisdom and perspective. Without it the North may become the domain of the curmudgeon and old age bitterness. The wise Elder is reduced to the cranky Elder.

I love to mix and match different models as I find that, when you do, they yield new insights.


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