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Circling & Integral Altitudes

circling theory grow up integral theory jordan myska allen ken wilber Sep 25, 2017


(Link to a higher resolution diagram)


Here’s a new way to look at the question “What is Circling?”...

Answered from 8 different developmental frameworks of making meaning: Can you find where all of these perspectives have a relative truth inside of you right now?

Can you see where Circling can honor these parts of your being, while also providing the nourishment for you to evolve to increasing levels of embrace?

Our intention: More nuance and appreciation

These diagrams are intended to inspire you to feel the inside of the universe with more nuance and appreciation; to feel the developmental contours within your own Being as you read. I also hope to:

  • Allow us to embrace more of ourselves and have a wider developmental range
  • Allow for more discernment of allergies and addictions while still embracing the beauty of the deep structure (throw out the bathwater but not the baby)
  • Evolve our community to be more deeply intimate with All That Is
  • Show off my (and our) philosophical prowess
  • Inspire you to care more about integral thinking by seeing how it can be used
  • Stimulate meaningful thought and discussion

A Tool, not a Weapon

On the other hand:

  • This is not intended to be a complete accounting of how one can use integral theory to understand Circling
  • Try not to typecast or stereotype other people
  • This is not a set of rules on how to be with other people
  • Please don’t look at the chart and decide: “I’m at this high level and therefore I’m better than everyone below me”

Circling is many things to many people; one of the insights of modern philosophy and psychology is that the multiplicity of perspectives are actually arranged like the rings of tree in concentric circles of increasing care and inclusivity.

In other words, while there is infinite creativity in the form that expressions can take, we see distinct groupings of perspectives that relate to each other by embracing what came before and going beyond it—just like when we first learned to walk, we didn’t forget to crawl.

Contextualizing “Beauty, Addictions, and Allergies”

Some people will read this chart in rows, and some people in columns. Others will find more creative ways to read it—all are welcome! In the next two sections I'll go into a bit more context of the columns, since I imagine that is the greatest potential for confusion.

The temptation of moral judgement

You might be tempted to read through this list and immediately think of others in our community or at our events who have exhibited these kinds of addictions and allergies.

Noticing these habits in others is a great way to start seeing more clarity, but doing that alone can make your life more miserable. Especially if you begin to think of yourself as superior to others, or at the whim of their habits.

To really use this tool for liberation—for a more loving, aligned relationship with life—you must go one step further than seeing these patterns in others.

Notice the truth inside yourself

Our invitation is to feel the truths of these patterns operating in your own being.

As you examine this chart, see if you can find at least one instance where you clung to an aspect of that level’s perspective (addiction), or vehemently pushed one away (allergy). If you want to take the challenge to the next level, see if you can identify at least one instance of each in the past 48 hours :).

This is likely because you never get rid of the old structures. Just because you start walking doesn’t mean you forget to crawl—you just stop using crawling as your exclusive way to navigate the world. (In Integral Theory we often refer to this concept as a process of “transcend and include.”)

Innocence and Transcendence

In other words, we all have these allergies and addictions at times and in places!

Noticing this gives us a chance to be more compassionate to ourselves while simultaneously offering us a firm direction to move in. We get to be more humble while rising to greater excellence.

Seeing the shadows on the wall for what they really are, we discover that we can step out of our cave and live more freely.


Contextualizing “Working Skillfully with Yourself and Others”

Whenever I'm making a bunch of abstractions, I also look for ways to operationalize them. How does this knowledge actually help you in a Circle? What do you do when you're faced with someone who seems stuck in a particular perspective (which is always the case for all of us?) Perhaps even more importantly, what do you do when you notice that you yourself are stuck in a particular point of view?!?

These columns are an attempt to bridge the gap between theory and action—something I think Circling is constantly doing.

We could list "use the Five Principles" for each and every level, and that would be appropriate. That's the purpose of the principles—to guide you in any given moment to more elegantly interact with the present moment and be more aligned with truth.

And I wanted to show how these might look in response to particular levels. So I've focused on three categories for each level: modeling what a healthy expression of that level looks like, owning your experience of being with the person, and being with them in their world, wondering with awe into the innocence of their current experience of reality.

I hope this opens us up to a greater embrace of all the life offers, and a deeper embodiment of the radiance and emptiness of existence.

One final note: The earliest stages are in all of us, so we have a lot of experience with them in Circling. The higher we get, the less observational and phenomenological data we have—so consider the highest stages as hypotheses: meaningful, fun, and subject to much revision as we grow.

If anyone wants to dive more into developmental psychology and Integral altitudes, my highest recommendations go to Suzanne Cook-Greuter's 9 Levels of Increasing Embrace, which is based on decades of research with thousands of subjects across the world, and the meta-view from Ken Wilber's new book The Religion of Tomorrow.

I'll also note that I intentionally did not include the "infrared" survival level in this chart.

This article is cross-posted on where it was originally published, available here.
With love, Jordan

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