Spiral Dynamics – my understanding

In the tradition of this blog I am going to attempt to Learn Out Loud by explaining my very basic understanding of both Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics. A few years ago I was introduced to Integral Theory by a podcast and I have shared it here a few times. Integral Theory posits that evolution is not limited to the exterior forms of reality (matter and organisms), but is also evident in the interior spaces of reality, namely in the development of culture and consciousness. (From the Daily Evolver website)

An integral view of history maintains that the collective consciousness of the human race has evolved through pre-modern (archaic, magic, mythic), modern and post-modern structures, and is emerging into a new structure of consciousness, the integral stage, which is characterised by an ability to think and act from multiple worldviews.

The founder of Integral Theory Ken Wilber noticed that while modern Western Psychology offered opportunities for humans to become more balanced and aware of behaviours, or grow up, it lacked a pathway for (spiritual) waking up, a path offered by most religious doctrines. Equally, religions failed to offer a path for followers to grow up, which unfortunately can result in all kinds of delusions of grandeur and god-complexes among those who have peak spiritual experiences but lack the maturity to understand them. After all, we’ve all heard of the stereotypical enlightened guru who abuses their followers, even those who are bona fide awakened masters. (Although there are those who deny the possibility of awakening or enlightenment but I’ll get to Orange stage in Spiral Dynamics later.)

Integral Theory involves integrating all facets of our existence through dedicated study, personal enquiry and what would be considered more traditional spiritual practices like meditation. As attractive as Satori or enlightenment might be, it’s so important to grow up first. The growing up in Integral Theory is partly based on Jean Gebser’s work and Spiral Dynamics, a prominent theory of the evolution of consciousness which has far-ranging practical applications, in education, conflict resolution, recruitment, and cultural development.

“What I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating, SPIRALLING process, marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behaviour systems to newer, higher-order systems as man’s existential problems change”

Dr Clare Graves

The idea is that from birth to adulthood we pass through and integrate various ‘levels’ or stages of maturity. We are born utterly dependent on our caregivers and this stage is called Beige in Spiral Dynamics. (Archaic in Jean Gebser’s The Ever-Present Origin.) Beige is basic survival and the theme is “Do what you must just to stay alive.” This is the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy and possibly describes the first few thousand years of human existence on this planet when we painted the walls of caves. It also describes the situation for millions of refugees and other displaced peoples after natural disasters, people who just need a roof over their heads and some clean water to drink.

The next level is Purple and aligns to the Magic phase in human evolution. We worshipped the forests, the celestial bodies, the springs. I sure could do with a re-visitation to this level! This is ritual, grounding, astrology. Our ancestors in this stage made amulets for strength and luck, and goddess totems. The basic theme of Purple is “Keep the spirits happy and the tribe’s nest warm and safe.” A character, Gallice, a neolithic-era acolyte in my work-in-progress is in this level. Most three-year-olds are in this level, too. We can find ourselves in this level when we create a shrine filled with crystals, observing seasonal rituals or joining a drumming circle.

This is a good time to add in that as we grow and mature, we transcend and include all previous stages so even those who are most evolved among us have the need for those basic elements that ensure physical survival and can benefit from a nice walk in the forest even if they don’t know why.

Red. The theme of this stage is “Be what you are and do what you want, regardless.” Yikes. This is seen historically in people like Caligula or Genghis Khan but also in teenagers. According to the documentary series The Ascent of Woman this period of history saw wholesale destruction of matriarchal societies and systematic oppression of women. The art of this period was stone circles, large scale monumental processionals, pyramids and temple complexes. Philosophy, sciences, and mythology became mostly male domains or so they tell us. History is written by the victors after all.

Religion in this time is pantheistic. Think Hinduism, the Norse, Greek, Mayan, etc and even some ancient Jewish texts that have numerous names for God but these have been interpreted as one God by later scholars. The art is dominated by depictions of gods and goddesses.

I highly recommend this documentary series.

Many people found themselves retreating to Red when Covid-19 lock-down started, hoarding toilet paper and pasta regardless of the impact on the rest of the tribe. There is a tendency to indulge the self in Red. Consider the booze, Uber Eats and Netflix binge phase of lock-down. These first three levels were obvious in the book Lord of the Flies and many of the worlds’ parliament buildings.

This might be a good time to note that as we move through different stages we can be appalled or triggered by each others’ world views. Imagine the seven-year-old who can’t stand the whining toddler or the teenager who thinks his parents are the lamest things on the planet. We see this same impulse in our revulsion of road-rage (Red) or the desire to roll our eyes at someone following astrology (Purple.) We all have attributes we can trace back to any of the stages because we include and transcend the stages that have come before.

Speaking of which, Blue would definitely roll their eyes at someone in a drumming circle. Beginning around 5000 years ago, Blue is still within the Magic/Mythic phase where the Messianic and monotheistic religions evolved. The Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam and the various sects of those religions, Sikhism, Buddhism and interpretations of Hinduism and Judaism rose up. Most of these religions were started by leaders (think Jesus of Nazareth or Siddhartha Gautama – The Buddha) who were far more evolved than Blue but the dogmas and systems that grew up around them are what defines blue. The art is mosaics and frescoes to the glory of God and King. Those who followed the rules in Nazi Germany were blue.

Blue’s theme is ‘Life has meaning, direction, purpose and predetermined outcomes.’ There are sacrifices, sure, but not like in the ‘old days’ Red and Purple days when there were literal sacrifices. Blue manifests today in the devoutly religious, the rule-makers and followers, the faithful voters and the law-abiding, those who follow the rules even if they don’t understand them. Religious extremists, Pro-Life activists and self-immolating monks are Blue but then so is my mum. Apparently 40% of the population of the planet are currently at Blue. This is shifting quickly in Western Countries with the massive upheavals surrounding racism and misogyny.

We can only hope this will all lead to something positive. But the next step is Orange and everyone must go through all stages.

Thanks for sticking with me til the end. I’ll cover Orange, Green, Yellow and Turquoise in the next post. I’ll also discuss how and why we can all level up.