The wonderful thing about Integral Consciousness (stages Teal and Turquoise in Integral Theory) is that we realise we are continually evolving individuals in a continually evolving world. As such, we can consciously participate in our own growth. We make conscious the unconscious process of stage development as it unfolds decade to decade, year to year, week to week, and moment to moment.
From this perspective, Integral Consciousness is not an end, but a means, a practice. And the six practices we look at today will assist you in your own consciousness project. Over time, these practices will positively alter your modus operandi.
If you’re unsure what Integral Consciousness is, I’ve written about it at length in these articles:
- Spiral Dynamics Stage Yellow and Spiral Dynamics Stage Turquoise
- Stages Teal and Turquoise in the Altitudes of Development from Integral Theory
- Stage 5 in Cook-Greuter’s Ego Development model
- The Integral stage in Jean Gebser’s model
- The A’N’ and B’O’ stages in Clare Graves’ model.
To be clear, Integral Consciousness means the Teal/Yellow/A’N’ level and the Turqouise/B’O’ level. I’ll say Integral when referring broadly to both levels, and be more specific when need be.
And a warning – I can’t fully define Integral Consciousness. My interpretation and embodiment will have their own strengths and weaknesses, their own bright spots and blind spots. So I encourage you to take these descriptions somewhat loosely and not get caught up in the minutiae. Let your own experience guide you.
Let’s get to those practices.
Integral Theory Practice 1: See Healthiness and Necessity of All Stages
I often like to think of Teal and Turquoise as stages that reverse the tide of development.
During all prior growth, we fully identify with one stage at a time, often in a near fanatic way, then eventually become aware of its limitations and move beyond it. At this point we often shun or deny it, before fully identifying with the next stage and become equally fanatic. At each point in the journey, all other stages seem barbaric, silly, childish, blind.
We crawl our way through these levels in a one-dimensional, mono-perspectival way, our vision only narrowly expanding with each successful crawl.
But this trend is reversed once we hit second tier. We loosen up, we reach back and forward, and we open our hearts to all previous stages. We don’t think we’re the best, the highest, the greatest human expression possible. And we realise we’re the best, the worst, the good and the bad all wrapped into one.
We realise that all previous levels were crucial building blocks in the grand puzzle that is us – and this goes for culture too.
We see the deep truths in all the stages, whether it’s Green’s sensitivity and desire for justice, Orange’s rationality and fact-finding, Blue’s dichotomising, literalising and need for belonging, Red’s anger, power and wrath, or Purple’s magical enchantment. The extent to which we fail to see their validity and necessity is the extent to which we fail to embody Integral Consciousness.
At Teal, seeing the stages is an intellectual endeavour. We try to synthesise them in thought. At Turquoise this is a visceral endeavour. We try to synthesise the stages in lived, moment-to-moment embodiment and connection.
Integral Consciousness Practices: In You
The practice involves deeply observing yourself as you function across all of these levels and consciously tapping into each of them, without judgment, and with skill and discernment. It’s not mere observing. It’s living, regurgitating, reviving, flexing and flowing.
If you need to set boundaries and be lion-like, can you tap into all your wrathful, visceral Red energy? In a complex situation, can you go to rational analysis and objective stance? When feelings, togetherness and sensitivity are required, can you adopt the Green self?
Even more, can you do this all with a heightened perspective, with a spirit of love for yourself and others, and without getting contracted around these consciousness structures as they wax and wane inside you? The possibilities are as endless as the complexity and nuance of all the situations you encounter as a human.
Integral Consciousness Practices: In Others
And you can do this with other people and the world at large. Why is this person displaying Red combativeness? Why does this person cling so hard to Orange rationality, logic and evidence?
This not as a closed, condemning “Why?!” but as an open, empathetic, heart-infused “Why?“. All stages have their raison d’etre, as does our obsession with them. Seek to deeply understand them and resonate with them.
In consciously living and viscerally embodying each of these levels, you’re downloading the Turquoise self: the self that not only thinks and sees the levels that have yet emerged in your evolution (which is a Teal capacity), but is a gorgeous, multidimensional amalgamation of them.
My experience: I’ve studied dozens of developmental models, including integral theory, spent years analysing my own levels, and try every day to flex and flow between them. It’s now quite apparent which levels dominate in other people, and this opens my heart to them. Sure, I might disagree strongly with their views and ways, but I realise that they are where they need to be. I don’t try to change them. And I always ask what pieces of their world I’m missing from my own.
Integral Practice 2: See The Spectrum of Stages
Jeff Salzman, the man behind the Daily Evolver podcast, where he uses Integral Theory to analyse current events, describes a wonderful practice for connecting to the entire energetic, developmental spectrum in the body and mind. He recently described it in the context of the Israel–Palestine conflict, and we can apply it to any life situation.
In any situation, our reactions are always brought by many different levels in the evolutionary spectrum. Bear in mind that each higher level, in principle, includes all previous perspectives. Here are our typical reactions and the levels they are based on.
The spiritual self. Sees everything to be no more and no less than the manifestation of spirit.
- Turquoise: the loving, grandfatherly self. It sees the chaos and churning and loves it as an inevitable part of life as it evolves and plays out.
- Teal: the developmental–analytical self. It sees the levels of complexity and development in the situation and wants to analyse and figure them out.
- Green: the victim–oppressor self. It wants to right the wrongs, bring justice, punish the aggressor and aid the victim.
- Orange: the rational self. It wants to analyse, dissect, fact-find, think.
- Amber: the dichotimsing, righteous self. It takes the moral high ground, searches for who’s right and who’s wrong, jumps to conclusions, and seeks to punish wrongdoers.
- Red: the aggressive self. It reacts with anger and wrath.
You can see this in all life situations, but Jeff’s application of it to political events was particularly fruitful to me. For a long time, I was frankly confused by current events. Part of me was aloof. Another part of me deeply cared but didn’t know what to do. Part of me didn’t trust reporters not to twist and skew events. Another part simply saw it all as maya, the artful work of God.
Instead of being lost in all my conflicting perspectives and reactions, I can now simply witness them as they arise and pass. I don’t have to give any weight to them. I realise they’re all valid, yet I’m utterly free of them.
Try this practice of seeing your reactions to current events, life challenges, new situations, and so on.
One practice is to witness them all as they arise together, coalesce, fight with each other, then die off. Another is to focus on one level, fully experiencing it inside yourself, even expressing it through words or movement, then letting it go.
More powerful, to my mind, is seeing these reactions to your own circumstances. They all arise as you navigate the multidimensional, infinite video game of life.
Also notice they all have their signature in the body. The lower stages in Integral Theory live in the stomach and gut, while the higher stages live in the head and beyond. Each has their own emotional resonance: Red feels angry and energetic, while Green feels light, airy, warm. Look for all these qualities as you roam up and down your inner spiral.
Integral Theory Practice 3: Zoom Out
Our tendency is to overidealise the past and catastrophise the future. We yearn to return to childhood or a past form of society. We dread change and get fearful about the future of humanity.
The problem is that these views are usually based on a very narrow view of life, both of terms of time and scope. We think in terms of years, not decades or centuries. We pick and choose what we give attention to, only reinforcing our fear-ridden narratives.
Yet despite all our catastrophising, culture and society continue to advance. Evolution and change are built into the universe, and part of our job as the leading edge is to consciously embrace and encourage them.
And at Integral Consciousness, the long stretch of time becomes our concern. We look beyond the present and our lifespan and see how it fits into the bigger context – that of life unfolding over centuries and millennia.
Integral Consciousness Practices
Here’s your first practice. Before you leap to judgments about politics, technology, climate change and racism, open up your time span. Go back to the Big Bang, when objective reality didn’t exist. Then think 1000 years into the future, when human civilisation will have changed beyond all recognition. Now return to the present, and see how your current situation is intertwined with these two distant endpoints. Things look a lot different now, right?
A second practice is to always ask how everything is working together for good, even if it seems terrible on the surface. I believe everything has a deep wisdom to it. We might not understand it, we might hate it, and we might question the wisdom of it. This involves everything from AI, to Covid, to Donald Trump’s election for presidency, to World War II and The Holocaust. And on a personal level, all our personal ups and downs, and life’s seemingly cruel twists of fate.
Everything ultimately plays a role in the unfolding of life. We must look beyond our inbuilt fear- and problem-oriented vision so that it doesn’t blindside us. We must continually connect with the bigger context to see the deeper wisdom behind it. Can you see that life is one great evolving organism?
This doesn’t mean we become meek or passive or indifferent. Our earlier levels are active, and they allow us to deal with the here and now. But doing so with Integral Consciousness equips us with a bigger heart and greater trust.
Integral Theory Practice 4: Make Distinctions and Complexify
This practice is particularly useful when we’re beginning to download the higher levels. During the download, we’re likely to still be dominated by Green, postmodern thinking, which tends to incessantly categorise and pigeonhole. Anger and conflict = bad. Feelings and inclusion = good. White men = oppressors. Women, blacks, LGBTQ = oppressed. And so on.
We must become much more nuanced in our thinking if we want to embody Integral consciousness. None of the sociopolitical issues that our Green self gets uppity about – capitalism, oppression, the dark side of human history, hierarchies, the patriarchy, LGBTQ – is anywhere near as simple as that self likes to believe.
Our Green self also tends to muck up the entire developmental spectrum. It mistakes magical thinking for transpersonal godliness. It puts gut feeling, sensitivity and emotion at the top of the tree. Anger, rationality and masculinity are out, reserved for devils and godzillas.
Yet all human qualities can be both healthy and unhealthy. Though Green’s sensitivity enables greater inclusion, warm interpersonal contact, and greater contact with our emotional life, it can leave us utterly paralysed when faced with directness and combativeness.
Integral Consciousness Practices
You must embrace and embody sensitivity when necessary, yet be prepared to be decidedly unsensitive if necessary. Apply this same principle to all human qualities, and you enact Integral Consciousness.
As a practice, complexify your thinking. Look at the situation from perspectives that appear to completely contradict your own. Watch how your mind likes to blame the same old people and put others in the same old categories. Though the Green self rallies against rigidification and rules, it falls hook line and sinker for its own rigidity. And all prior levels possess something of this narrowing, as Integral Theory notes. Try to counteract this tendency.
See life as a matrix of levels of complexity rather than an egalitarian soup. Start to realise that some levels are simply better in certain situations. Realise the profound limitations of all the levels in Integral Theory, including your dominant level.
Naomi Perera says that Teal complexifies while Turquoise simplifies. And only by complexifying beyond the Green self can we get close to the loving simplicity of Turquoise.
Integral Theory Practice 5: See Your Tendency For Othering
Human consciousness is built on one fundamental illusion: the distinction between self and other. This is perhaps the defining attribute of our consciousness. We feel ourselves to be on “this” side of the body and the world to be on “that” side. It is ever-present, direct, visceral, and it skews everything we think and everything we do. We are constantly othering, othering, othering.
This distinction is baked into almost all altitudes of development. Though we need it to successfully navigate those levels, I believe that at Teal and Turquoise we ought to begin to permanently transcend and dissolve the illusion of self and other. Not only is this growth a marker of higher development, it’s a fundamental part of understanding who you really are and why you’re here.
The degree to which you “other” is the degree to which you fail to embody all prior levels.
There’s another form of othering we all engage in: the habit of splitting the world into categories. We pigeonhole events and people as being good or bad. We divide people into those that are like us and those that are strangers. We’re highly tribal, especially when it comes to divisive topics, like politics and religion.
In the end, we constantly interpret and judge the world according to our own standards, and inevitably this creates issues.
Integral Consciousness Practice
Though I won’t claim we can forever undo this habit – I think it’s far too ingrained for most of us – we can see it and start to notice just how much we filter and categorise.
Can you be aware of your own views and how you automatically cling to them? Are you able to see that these views have a life of their own as they appear and disappear in your first person? Can you watch how this creates a dividing line between you and the world, a kind of limitation? You don’t see the world, you see YOU.
Practicing this will help you drop this tendency and take you further into multiperspectival Integral Consciousness.
Integral Theory Practice 6: Love Thy Neighbour
Jeff Salzman also beautifully outlines a practice that wears down a particular kind of othering: our indifference or repulsion towards other people.
We humans tend to focus on contrast in all things, including fellow humans. We mainly pay heed to everything that makes them different to us, as though constantly scanning for threats.
This practice is about undoing that tendency. Jeff did it in the context of Ted Cruz, using Integral Theory as his framework, and you can use it on everyone – from people that cause you light aversion to those that make you feel physically sick.
Run this process:
- try to see that they sincerely believe in the rightness of their actions,
- see their various lines of development, noticing where they are higher and lower,
- contemplate their family and economic background,
- if they display extreme characteristics, realise this may be a genuine disability,
Does this mean you don’t have grounds for dislike? No. But it does mean you can see the person and yourself from a greater perspective.
No matter how detestable others may be, they have their own story and reasons for their ways. Understanding these reasons is a mark of empathy, and it greases the rails for Integral Consciousness and real embodiment of Integral Theory.
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