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"Beyond My Ken?" Personal Ponderings on the Philosopher Profound

 Let's get real about this. Or, at least, let me get real about this. The philosophical elephant in our psycho-spiritual living room at least needs to be recognized…

And so, let me start with an absolute, personal truth: Ken Wilber has probably had as great an influence on my mind as any living author. His integration of developmental psychology and Eastern mysticism, and several of his key concepts – the pre/trans fallacy, intersubjective hermeneutical verification, states and stages, levels and lines, and even the 4 quadrants as either a phenomenological or epistemological lense or orienting device – have proven to be of inestimable value.

Starting in 1982, I have recommended Ken Wilber to more friends, and later to more readers of this website [Enlightenment.Com], than any other author. And not just tepidly, but excitedly and enthusiastically. ("Enthusiasm" is a great word, with roots meaning "having a god within" or "god possessing.") Ken Wilber gifted me and many others with huge cognitive breakthroughs – on multiple occasions I had undeniable "Aha!" moments while reading Ken – and that's why I did everything in my power – and I mean everything – to make the first-ever interview with Ken – Enlightenment.Com's very own Speaking of Everything – happen. (You can read the story of this , where I describe what it was like to get through snow storms, lost luggage, malfunctioning equipment, and an extremely reluctant Ken, to be able to bring the Speaking of Everything interview to the world.)

The Speaking of Everything interview wasn't all that long ago, coming out in late 2001. That's just five years ago. Five years! (Bowie fans … are you listening?) A lot has happened with Ken since then, a whole lot. Integral Institute has blossomed, and there's more live Ken Wilber media – now including video – than you can shake a memory stick at.

A Confluence of Troubling News

Recently, however, a confluence of troubling news concerning Ken has come together. On the one hand, there is Ken's physical condition. As is well-known, Ken has an auto-immune disease that he has termed REDD, but the pictures that Ken released of his fall a few months ago, and the bruising that resulted, were fairly horrifying. Also, the reports that Ken frequently can't get up by himself, can't use his arms, has flu-like syptoms far worse than any normal flu, and so forth, can only be deemed sad and disturbing.

On the other hand, even worse than Ken's physical condition is the diminishing status of his reputation . Recently, he has embroiled himself in some highly distasteful attacks and counter-attacks on his critics, including what can only be described as an ad hominem or personal attack on Frank Visser, who runs IntegralWorld.net and who has long promoted interest in Ken's writings. Ken has used foul language completely unbefitting a thinker and spiritual celebrity of his stature, and all attempts to excuse him as having consciously been a "rude boy" or by espousing "crazy wisdom" fall flat and ring hollow. Whether Ken and his followers are exhibiting cult-like behavior or not, there's no denying that multiple critiques along these lines have sprouted up on the web. (See the list of links at the end of this last live link.)

What to Do?

So, despite my mentor's warning to stay out of this mess entirely, I'm going to go ahead and make a set of observations and recommendations so that those of us who love Ken Wilber (albeit now from more of an intellectual and energetic distance) can get on with our lives:

    * Pray for Ken: He really is sick with an appalling auto-immune disease, and he really could use some good energy. Whether or not Ken believes in distance healing and prayer, I – and probably a good many of you – do believe in the possibility of sending energy and healing via positive thinking and love. So, let's hit it. Put Ken in your prayers, put him in your prayer-group's prayers, and just love the heck out of him regardless of what's going on.

    * Use What Works For You from Ken's System: Personally, I stopped being 100% in accord with Ken's system once he adopted spiral dynamics and once Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality came out (the footnotes put me off). So, don't feel obligated to swallow Ken's whole system. For my money, a cogent argument has been made that what Ken presents is ultimately only a certain version of Hindu-Buddhist spirituality anyway, so it's not like you're missing out on understanding everything anyway, despite claims that Ken's work is an "integral" theory that integrates everything that is known better than any other theory. There are other integral thinkers, and there are certainly other human potential and psycho-spiritual authors who have a great deal to say, some of whom have expertise in areas that Ken has little experience in. But also, don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Much that Ken has written about is extremely useful. Segregate out what works, and keep using it.

    * Read Your Own Primary Materials and Do Your Own Practices: Ken is great at showing the way, and at suggesting new possibilities, but nothing replaces reading original source materials and undertaking your own practice(s). Find out what works … for you. Ultimately, that's all that counts anyway.

    * Forgive Ken: He may not need or want our forgiveness, but I am going to forgive him anyway. He is just a human being ... wait, that's not right! He is a great and magnificent and brilliant and warm and amazing human being. And, he appears to have made some mistakes in dealing with others who don't agree with everything that he has written or said. So, let's simply forgive him.

    * Forgive Yourself (and Ourselves): This is probably even more important than forgiving Ken. Really, the reason this whole "criticism thing" has become so dicey is that many of us who have been amazed and cognitively awakened by Ken have then gone on to put a whole lot of loading onto him, expecting more from him than is humanly possible . (Admittedly, Ken has exacerbated this situation by moving away from the pandit role and into the workshop leader and close-to-guru role.) One of the key points I tried to make in the Speaking of Everything interview was that because Ken is in fact so amazing, people unfairly (and impossibly) expect him to be able to deliver to them some kind of personal spiritual salvation. A related, collective (LL quadrant?) notion of what is going on with Ken now was recently put forth to me by a fellow named Jordan (wonderful name, eh?) on the Zaadz site, who goes by the moniker Lucid Life. This is what he wrote to me:

I've been thinking a lot about this since you first mentioned it. And it's actually put a whole lot in perspective for me. I think this was bound/meant to happen. But I don't think it's Ken's fault. I think Ken's followers, myself included, have done this to him. I have been constantly obsessed by “Ken's insights.” What's funny, is that I was attributing his ideas to his EGO. Haha. Sounds a bit backwards to me. I'm trying to transcend my own ego, and yet, I'm building up someone else's.

The reason I say I think this happened for a reason, is because of how it's profoundly affected my perspective on everything Ken has said. No longer is this “his” insight, but it is all of our insight (not in the egoic sense, of course). It is universal insight. It is wisdom that only now are we ready to hear. I think Eckhart Tolle does a very good job of reminding us of this when he speaks – almost too much so. Unfortunately, Ken maybe didn't do this enough.

But it's not his fault. In my opinion, we 'created' this egoic entity in Ken, and that's why he has so much trouble seeing it. He's transcended his personal ego, but the collective ego we've created for him snuck up in the process. And why have we created this ego? So we can borrow it. When we speak his teachings, we've got this collective ego behind us.

Fortunately, this downward spiral can teach us this, can make us question our beliefs and inherit them as our own, not simply ideas that we have borrowed – backed not by the ideas and experiences of others, but by our own revelations, insights, and feelings.

Conclusion: Beyond my Ken?

There are times when I think this whole Ken Wilber imbroglio is, in fact, beyond my ken, beyond my ability to understand and comprehend and know what to do about. But the reality is that I, personally, have been blessed by Ken's thinking, by his presence when I was fortunate to spend a few days with him, and by all the good he has done in and for the world. Despite any faults that he may have, or any trouble that he may have brought upon himself, Ken deserves to be honored and loved. While this new Ken, embroiled in a bit of trouble, is beyond the Ken of simpler times, he is still my Ken, and probably as a whole, for the readers of this site [Enlightenment.Com], he is still our Ken. So go ahead and pray, forgive, use what works, do your own reading and practices, and forgive Ken and forgive yourself individually and all of us, collectively. You Ken do it, if you want to.

Last updated by Jordan Gruber Mar 25, 2009.

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