Open Practice: Why Ken Wilber is So Awesome (I Think)

It’s been a while since I’ve written about integral stuff on this blog. I guess it’s high time that I break this pattern. And this is a perfect serendipitous timing…

Integral Life just published an audio of Ken Wilber tracing back his developmental stages and making a matter-of-fact self-assessment of his shadows and current stage of development. I find this to be very juicy. I’m already familiar with Ken’s history regarding his spiritual practice but this audio revealed more dimensions to his personal story. This is my new fave Ken Wilber audio. It’s a must-hear for all integral geeks out there. Here’s the blurb:

The Many Faces of Ken Wilber

“As merely an autobiographical account of Ken’s own vertical development, spiritual growth, and shadow work, this story stands as a compelling account of his early psychoanalytic work with Bob Young, his journey through Gestalt, dream, and Jungian therapies, and his first satori with Soto Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi. It then unfolds through his subsequent work in the Vajrayana tradition, where he encountered his root teacher, Chagdud Tulku, along with his second major satori, which extended his exploration into a relationship with Trungpa and Kalu Rinpoches, along with Pema Norbu, who offered the Longchen Nintig teachings, some of the highest transmissions in Dzogchen. He completes the journey with reflections on Adi Da, the most recent teacher who he had considered engaging in a formal relationship, before ending with a summary of his personal psychograph and brief insight into his current inquiry practice, which is a composite of Ramana Maharshi’s “Who am I?” inquiry, Zen’s Shikantaza, Da’s avoiding inquiry, and the core of Dzogchen’s Maha Ati teachings.”

(Note: This is premium content. You need to be logged into your premium Integral Life account in order to listen to this dialogue. Also, Ken uses the latest coloring scheme for describing his developmental level. For more details on colors and altitudes, read up on “An All-Inclusive Framework for the 21st Century – An Overview of Integral Theory” – by Sean Esbjorn-Hargens)

Like I said, very juicy.

As I expected this generated some discussions on Facebook. One of my FB friends wrote:

“…first bit of Wilber for a while – really liked it. What I wondered is whether Ken still has the guys around him to kick his butt, as he critiqued Da for not having…

Even though Ken has been really explicit that he does not see himself, or want to be treated as a guru…and that he doesn’t have ‘students’, I do have this impression that a lot of people defer to him as a supreme authority. Somehow I don’t hear in him the humility I used to, and it makes me wonder…”

That comment is a very honest and valid observation from someone who is looking from the outside of Ken Wilber’s circle. So it compelled me to open up and share my first-hand, albeit brief and limited, experience with Ken. So here’s what I wrote (with some edits and spelling corrections):

i can’t speak for everyone, but based on my own experience with my brief involvement with the Integral Institute years ago, i could confidently say that Ken is very open to criticisms. he’s open to hearing people (including young people who are in his circle) voicing their opinions and ideas. i used to have email conversations with him along with others challenging him and he often gets our opinion on things. that said, being the de facto head of I-I he calls the shots on important decisions (from this perspective you can think of Ken as channeling his inner Steve Jobs). from a leadership perspective it’s just natural to call the shots.

also, understand that there’s another level of circle that Ken has, those of his old friends and intellectual peers, who could really call Ken’s b.s. whenever necessary (e.g. Roger Walsh, Frances Vaughan, and others).

let me point out that most people who are attracted to Ken’s work are highly intelligent and are aware of the cultic mentality. we often joked a lot how cultic we were, or how cultic we were perceived by other people. i believe that a lot of us were there because of his *ideas*, his call for *awakening*, not his personality or “guru” authority. for me, it’s a bonus that Ken’s personality is very likeable. he obviously is freakingly intelligent but he also has a sick sense of humor. and i could sense that there’s a deep calm and serenity behind his passion for sharing his ideas.

but that’s just my impression when i was there. i wasn’t really that close to Ken to witness and experience a deeper side of his personality (or whatever personality issues he has). maybe people who got up-close to him have a different picture. but from what i know based on my conversations with people who really got close to Ken, he, in general, is really a wonderful human being. and that’s why i love that bald guy.

And here’s my follow up comment:

Gearoid said: “it’s also worth noting that he’s often said that if he didn’t lay down AQAL theory someone else probably would have”

it’s true. i think he sincerely means that. however, AQAL is the result of Ken’s genius and his obsessive personality (btw, if you’ve seen his scribbles and diagrams on paper, you’d think that the guy is way out there… but that is a feature that a lot of geniuses share: obsessive focus on the chosen subject). there other integral theorists out there whose done a fine job, but in my opinion, nothing comes close to the comprehensiveness of AQAL (and therein lies both its strength and weakness).

anyway, for those who don’t have the opportunity to meet Ken but want to get a sneak peek at his personal side, i highly recommend the following: “Grace and Grit”, “One Taste”, “Simple Feeling of Being”, and “Kosmic Consciousness (CD audio series)”, and this classic interview by Jordan Gruber (which is the first audio interview i’ve listened to) –

Ken’s personality shine in those books and audio. that said, of course, those are only partial look at the many faces of Ken. but that’s the closest thing you can get without actually meeting, working with, and/or living with the bald guy.

Now, for those of you who have been following my blog, you might wonder why I’ve categorized this entry under “Open Practice.” Two reasons: First, my own psychological development has been in a sort of quantum entanglement with Ken Wilber’s work ever since he blew my mind away back in the early 90s. Second, I think that Ken’s openness in the audio is an excellent example of how one should critically approach one’s self-evaluation. Ken exemplifies what my vision for Open Practice is all about–radical openness and honesty about our practice and self-assessment, as best as we possibly can.

This reminded me once again how profoundly I was influenced (and continue to be influenced) by Ken’s writings. I am quite sure that a lot of people out there feel the same.

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