It is one of the great gifts of being alive today that for the first time in history all of the knowledge that has been developed by all the world’s cultures are available to us for the first time. The Inuit Eskimo, the Chinese peasant farmer, or the medieval aristocrat lived exclusively under the direct influence of their culture. No other worldview was available to them. No learning from outside that culture could occur.

Every culture on earth has today been studied with result that the collective knowledge of humankind is now global. Everything that has been thought and taught, all the ideas, reflections and experiences of the great individual and collective minds throughout history are available to be studied and applied to daily living by anybody now.

However, this is quite an overwhelming prospect. Where does one begin? It would take a few lifetimes to get through even a miniscule amount of what is known.

Integral theory, pioneered by Ken Wilber, grew out of a desire to take all that is known from all the various cultures about human potential and organised it into a synthesis relating to optimal psychospiritual and social growth. Integral theory aims to find the key to human growth and apply it in our lives and in our societies today. From this study emerged an integral map based on all known systems and models from the wisdom of ancient traditions to modern science. This knowledge has been distilled into five factors that aim at facilitating the evolutionary growth of humanity.

These factors are quadrants, levels, lines, states and types and all five factors are present in your awareness right now. They are not abstract intellectual concepts but permanent parts of your experience. In any domain of life whether education, law, medicine, or business, the integral map aims to ‘touch all the bases’ as Wilber puts it. The map aims to help you access the full range of resources available to deal with any situation and increase the likelihood of success. Given that these are immediately accessible and present in your own awareness, you can appreciate and exercise them in all situations.

Wilber claims this can accelerate your own growth and development to deeper and wider perspectives on self and the world, and facilitate greater excellence in all domains of life. Integral theory helps you see self and the world more fully and comprehensively. The map is not the territory but a good map is a useful guide.

There is an implicit assumption within modern cultures that growth and development is just something that happens naturally. Physical growth, for example, would seem to be a biological imperative that just occurs. Does the same not hold for our moral, social and spiritual growth?

When we think about it a little further, we can see that physical growth actually does need to be nurtured through the right nutrition and the constant exercising of the body. So too cognitive growth only occurs through the use and development of the cognitive capacity. The same for emotional and aesthetic growth. If we kept someone locked up in a box all day, we would not expect their physical growth to be optimal but instead they would likely be stunted and deformed. The same can be said for growth in the spiritual or musical domain. What we do not exercise, does not develop.

Wiber talks about the Internal operating system which he describes as an information network. When taking part in any activity – work, play, relationships – you want the best operating system you can find. The IOS allows for the most effective programs to be used. The features of the map refer to subjective realities inside of each person (me), objective realities in the world (It/Its), or collective realities that we share communally with others (We).

In the next post we will begin exploring this operating system by looking at states and stages of consciousness.