“To break out of prison you need a good map.”Ken Wilber
The Integral Framework (sometimes called “AQAL”) is a map of the territory of your own awareness. It’s not the same as the territory, but it will help you navigate that territory more effectively, because it is the most comprehensive map we have to date. Some call AQAL a “psychoactive” framework, due to its ability to light up latent aspects of consciousness and to facilitate the process of awakening. Here is a brief overview:
Notice how virtually every human language uses 1st-person, 2nd-person, and 3rd-person pronouns to indicate three basic dimensions of being. The “I” dimension includes the personal experiences and intentions occurring within the interior of an individual. The “We” dimension (you and I) involves shared meaning and mutual understanding among people—the interior collective. And the “It” dimension entails all exterior, objective manifestation.
These “Big Three” reality dimensions may appear ridiculously obvious when pointed out because they are the three principal perspectives on any occasion, the three basic contexts of manifest existence, and the three fundamental dimensions of a sentient being. The four quadrants are just another way to represent the Big Three dimensions. Subdividing “It” into singular “It” (exterior individual) and plural “Its” (exterior collective), along with “I” (interior individual) and “We” (interior collective) make up the four quadrants.
Development unfolds through waves of increasing consciousness, care, and concern, from physical to emotional to mental to spiritual. (The word “spiritual” has many different meanings; “wave” or “level” is only one of them. We also use it in a different sense as a line or module.) These are levels of development. All are necessary, and none are “wrong,” hence the phrase “all-quadrants, all-levels” or AQAL.
This approach simply suggests that we consciously touch the many waves of consciousness, and to do so in relation to our individual selves, to others, and to the natural world. In short, an Integral Life Practice exercises body, mind, and spirit (the “all-levels” part) in self, culture, and nature (the “all-quadrants” part).
When you intentionally endeavor to embrace, balance, and develop these facets of reality, you are simply making friends with aspects of your Self.
Consciously following the deepest contours of your very own nature is the foundation of any Integral Life Practice. In any moment, you can feel these basic dimensions of your being, simply by noticing what is already present:
- Feel your present I-space or individual awareness. What does it feel like to be an “I” right now? Feel that I-ness.
- Feel your present We-space or intersubjective awareness. What does it feel like to be in relationship to others right now? (If no other people are present, you can imagine a significant other, your family, or your coworkers. You can even try to feel what connects you to someone on the other side of the world.) Feel that We-ness.
- Feel your present It-space or objective world. What is physically surrounding you? What does the ground feel like beneath your feet? Feel that It-ness.
- Now, feel your body—your feelings and sensations.
- Feel your mind—your thoughts and images.
- Finally, feel the witness or Spirit of this and every moment—that which is aware of your I, we, it, body, and mind, right now.
- Silently remind yourself, “These are all dimensions of my being and becoming, all of which I will include, none of which I will reject.”
You have just felt a very brief version of AQAL—all quadrants (I, We, It) and all levels (Body, Mind, and Spirit). This is exercising body, mind, and spirit in self, culture, and nature.