AQAL Map by Ken Wilber Integrates the Unnamable and Namable

Chapter 7

" “An integral vision” – or a genuine Theory of Everything – attempts to include matter, body, mind, soul, and spirit as they appear in self, culture, and nature” (Ken Wilber)

In Chapter 4, I pointed out how healing thinking in terms of non-identity can point beyond thinking, from the thinking mind to no-mind, the unnamable and silence. After an interlude on the potentialities of language in Chapter 5, Chapter 6 delves into the unnamable. Since Being comprises both the unnamable and the namable, in this chapter, I use the AQAL map by Ken Wilber to discuss the relation of the unnamable and all the levels and dimensions of the namable with regard to healing.

The AQAL Map

To better understand the relation between the unnamable and the namable and the relation between different aspects of the namable it is useful to have a map. Ken Wilber devised such a map, called AQAL, which comprises four major dimensions and a number of levels of reality (see below). This map is well suited to show how the level of the thinking mind is related to other levels and how healing thinking is related to and affects healing at other levels and dimensions. Thus, let us first have a closer look at the AQAL map and then examine healing thinking in a wider context, which includes the body and emotions.

The AQAL map provides a comprehensive, integral view of reality. Often we see only one aspect, only one dimension of reality. But reality is multidimensional. Unless we become aware of at least the major dimensions, we lead impoverished lives – we remain one-dimensional men and women. For many this one dimension is science; for others it is art or culture. Even if more than one dimension is recognized, a balance between the dimensions is often lacking. For example, although art and culture may be acknowledged, the overwhelming emphasis may be on science. Not only individuals but also whole societies suffer from such imbalance. Thus, western and westernized societies place enormous emphasis on science and technology at the expense of art and culture: trillions of dollars are spent for science and technology, whereas art and culture receive very little or nothing.

Wilber attaches great importance to a balance between different dimensions of reality. In his AQAL map everything – every entity or event – has three or four dimensions. The three dimensions are self, culture, and nature; or art, morals, and science; or the Beautiful, the Good, and the True.

The self comprises the subjective dimension of reality: what we experience inside ourselves: our feelings, emotions, thoughts, visions, and so on. Art and the Beautiful may arise out of such subjective experience.

Science engages the objective view of reality, of nature, including us as part of nature. According to Wilber, it may provide objective truth (but note that this objective truth is only tentative because nothing can be absolutely proven in
science; and also note that objective truth is only one aspect of Truth, hence not Truth).

Culture is the background for both subjective and objective experience and truth.

Wilber distinguishes different levels in each dimension. In the most elaborate version of his map, he distinguishes 16 or 17 levels, in the simplest version only three: body, mind, and spirit (for the self); me, us, and all of us (for culture); and gross, subtle, and very subtle (for nature).

In most versions of his map, Wilber distinguished a fourth dimension, in which the three levels are group, nation, and global. Since four dimensions can be represented as four quadrants of a circle, Wilber called his map AQAL, which is shorthand for “All Quadrants, All Levels.” This means that for an integral vision of reality all quadrants and all levels have to be recognized and included. Furthermore, as I shall explain below, AQAL also includes streams (or lines), states, and types.

The two left quadrants represent interior views, whereas the two right quadrants are concerned with exterior views. The upper quadrants represent individual views, whereas the lower quadrants deal with collective views. Hence, the four quadrants represent “the inside and outside of the individual and the collective”(Ken Wilber. 2007.
The Integral Vision. Boston: Shambhala, p.70). In his most detailed version of AQAL each quadrant is subdivided into two zones (Ken Wilber. 2006. Integral Spirituality. Boston: Integral Books, an imprint of Shambhala).

If more than three levels are distinguished, some of these levels are as follows: in the upper left quadrant (that represents the interior of the self), sensation, perception, impulse, emotion, symbols, concepts, rules, formal reasoning, vision-logic; in the lower left quadrant (that represents the interior of culture), archaic (corresponding to symbols), magic (corresponding to concepts), mythic (corresponding to rules), rational (corresponding to formal reasoning), centauric (corresponding to vision-logic); in the lower right quadrant (that represents the exterior view of the collective), tribes (corresponding to archaic), tribal village (corresponding to magic), early state/empire (corresponding to mythic), nation/state (corresponding to rational), planetary (corresponding to centauric); finally, in the upper right quadrant (that represents the exterior view of the individuals of nature), the gross level can be subdivided into atoms, molecules, cells, organisms. Beyond the uppermost levels, that is, vision-logic in the upper left quadrant and its corresponding levels in the other quadrants, Wilber distinguished three or four transpersonal levels. Especially with regard to human development, he also presented other conceptualizations of the levels (compare figures 6 and 7 in Ken Wilber. 2007. The Integral Vision. Boston: Shambhala, pp. 71-72).

The levels up to and including the rational and its correlates in the other quadrants are called first tier.
Vision-logic (the centaur) and its correlates is second tier. And the transpersonal levels beyond vision-logic are third tier. Often a pluralistic and relativist level is interpolated between the rational level and vision-logic. This level still belongs to first tier. It represents postmodern values, whereas the rational level is characterized by modern values, and the mythic level by traditional values. Since representatives of each of these levels claim to have the right values and thus reject the values of the other levels, we have had and continue to have bitter culture wars between the adherents of these first tier levels. These culture wars can degenerate into actual conflicts and wars between nations that defend traditional or modern values. Furthermore, there are tribal conflicts and wars at lower first tier levels.

The evolution to second tier consciousness is seen as an enormous step forward because this level seems more inclusive and thus goes beyond the mutual antagonisms of the first tier levels. Finally, in the third tier, consciousness opens up to the infinity of the Kosmos.

Although AQAL may sound somewhat abstract to the novice, its major components are easily available to our present awareness. The three major dimensions reflect the pronouns of many languages. The pronoun “I” (that is, 1
st person perspective) refers to the self, the subject. The pronoun “you” (that is, 2nd person perspective), in the singular, refers to another person, and, in the plural, to many others that constitute the “we” of culture. Finally, the pronoun “it” (3rd person perspective) refers to an object, “its” and “they” to many objects, that is, the objects of scientific investigation. Thus, we can see a relation between the use of pronouns and art, morals, and science, or beauty, goodness, and objective truth: “I” refers to the self and its expression in art and beauty. “You/we” refer to goodness, “or the ways that we - that you and I – treat each other, and whether we do so with decency, honesty, and respect” (Ken Wilber. 2007. The Integral Vision, p. 67). Finally, “it/its” refer to the objective truth of science (I would prefer to call it objective evidence). According to Wilber, every event in the universe has these three dimensions: we can look at it in terms of “I” (how I personally experience the event), “we” (how it is perceived in a culture), and “it/its” (how it is seen objectively in science). A break appears, if we leave out one or two of these dimensions. And this break needs healing, which can occur through the awareness of AQAL and its practice in our lives and society (see below). (For a critical appraisal of Ken Wilber’s AQAL map see Wilber’s AQAL Map and Beyond).

Why a Map?

One might ask: Why do we need a map? The function of a map is to guide us. If a territory is not represented on a map, this map fails to guide us to this territory, and consequently we may remain unaware of the existence of this territory. For example, if Florence in Italy is not represented on a map, this map cannot help us to find Florence, and thus we may remain unaware of the existence of this beautiful city. Similarly, if certain dimensions and levels of reality are not represented on a map, this map cannot lead us toward these dimensions and levels, and we may remain unaware of them. For example, if, as it is often the case, a scientific map of nature represents only its gross level, that is, matter, as it is usually understood in our culture, then the subtle and very subtle levels of reality cannot be seen and are excluded. If, in addition, objective scientific knowledge is considered the only valid knowledge, then we exclude also the other three dimensions and their levels. This means that out of four dimensions with three levels each, that is, twelve levels, only one level in one dimension is recognized, which is less than 10%. What an impoverished view! And what is even worse is the illusion that this impoverished view presents the total picture! Wilber refers to quadrant and level absolutism when one quadrant or one level is taken as the absolute. When others consider another dimension or level as the absolute, then the stage is set for conflict and war.

Now let us look at a human being as one concrete example to illustrate this situation. According to many materialist scientists, a human being is simply a part of physical reality. All of the following is ignored: 1. Besides its gross material form, the human being comprises a subtle and very subtle energy field that allows for telepathic and other subtle phenomena. 2. The human being is not only an object that can be investigated objectively, but has also different levels of subjective experience, including body sensations, emotions, thoughts, visions, and transpersonal meditative experiences. 3. A human being is in relationship with other human beings and the environment at different levels of cultural and social expression, that is, culture and society form the context in which humans experience themselves subjectively and objectively. Thus, for example, the materialistic view of humans is conditioned by a materialistic culture and society.

Academic philosophy, academia, and large segments of mainstream Western society are mainly restricted to the rational level, which excludes vast areas of Wilber’s map and reality. This narrowness is perpetuated in education. Only in the alternative culture do we find a broader spectrum, but even there the full spectrum of the AQAL map is often missing.

Beyond Dualism

The AQAL map has many other merits besides drawing attention to many dimensions and levels of reality, which includes the whole Kosmos and human existence. (Wilber spells Kosmos with a capital K to distinguish it from the cosmos of most astronomers to whom it is only gross matter, the lowest level of the objective dimension). One merit is that it leads us beyond dualism and its oppressive consequences. I explain this with regard to the dimension of the self. Here we find body, mind, and spirit (in the simplest version of the AQAL map). In dualistic philosophies and religions, spirit is often opposed to the body. Spirit is often considered pure, and the body sinful. The aim then is to go against the body that is seems as opposed to spirit.

In contrast, in the AQAL map, the higher levels include and transcend the lower levels. Thus, spirit includes and transcends body and mind. Furthermore, spirit is the ground of all levels and therefore body and mind are also spiritual. Since the spiritual can be experienced as sacred, our mind and body and all of nature can be experienced as sacred. Native peoples have known this for a long time and therefore have treated nature with respect and reverence. However, in dualistic philosophies and religions, nature has been seen as devoid of spirit, which explains why it has been so badly misused and exploited.

Sacred Sex

If, according to dualism, our bodies are devoid of spirit, then sex is simply a bodily act that is pleasurable and serves the preservation of the species. If, however, the body is also an expression of spirit and thus sacred, then sex becomes also sacred. More precisely, sex becomes sacred to the extent to which there is awareness of the sacredness of the body. If the body is just considered a material mechanism devoid of spirit, the sacredness of sex cannot be appreciated.

It is well known how much sex has been degraded in dualistic interpretations of religions such as the dualistic interpretation of Christianity. Consequently, it would be blasphemy to have sex in a Christian church. In contrast, there are Hindu temples in which sculptures of the lingam (male organ) and yoni (female organ) and even various postures of sexual intercourse figure prominently. There are even tantric temples in which sexual intercourse is practiced as a means to liberation and enlightenment. However, it would be naïve to assume that all one has to do there is to take off one’s clothes and copulate. Tantric sex requires a radical transformation of the materialistic mind-set into the awareness and practice of sacred union.
In that union healing can occur that, of course, transcends the thinking mind without excluding it.

Yin-Yang, Male-Female

The AQAL map not only offers vertical integration through the various levels from body to spirit, but also horizontal integration within each level. At each level types can be distinguished such as male and female, which can be seen as an expression of Yang and Yin. Since, like Yang and Yin, the male also contains the feminine principle and vice versa, there is a connection between male and female. This connection becomes increasingly integrated as one moves from lower to higher levels. Conflicts between men and women that are due to an exaggeration of gender differences can be healed through this increasing integration and the awareness of the connection between the male and female poles.

In addition to male and female, there are many other types such as the types of the enneagram that can play a role in the AQAL map.

Stages and States

Now let us return to the vertical direction. The AQAL map is meant to be evolutionary and developmental, that is, it refers to the evolution of the Kosmos and the development of organisms. With regard to humans, the levels represent stages in their development. Once a stage is attained, it is permanent, according to Wilber. In contrast, states are considered temporary. This means that when a high state is reached, it will disappear again. However, as it develops into a stage, it will be retained and more permanent healing can occur.

Let me illustrate this through transpersonal states and stages of the self, that is, in the upper left quadrant. Wilber distinguishes three or four transpersonal levels beyond vision-logic. If any one is reached temporarily, it is considered a state, but if it becomes permanent, it becomes a stage. For example, the level just above vision-logic is nature mysticism, which is the experience of oneness with nature. We may have such an experience spontaneously while watching a sunset, or we may attain it after prolonged meditation. If we cannot retain it permanently, it was just a state. But as the state experiences become more and more common, they may eventually develop into a higher stage that, according to Wilber, can be permanently retained.

Healing in the Transpersonal

In transpersonal realms we become aware that we are connected with our environment or the whole Kosmos. This awareness heals the wound of isolation and alienation that is so deep-seated in our culture, which emphasizes separation and fragmentation. Being aware of the oneness with the Kosmos finally brings us home. At first we probably will reach this home only temporarily and then lose it again. But once we have had at least a glimpse of it, we want to return. And the more often we return and the longer we can stay there (“there” is not the right word because “there” is neither here nor there), the closer we will come to making it our permanent home, which will further our healing. But there are nonetheless complexities and challenges that Wilber explains through the integral psychograph.

The Integral Psychograph

Human development is complex and challenging because it is not just one stream of development that passes from the lowest to the highest level. On the contrary, we can distinguish many streams (also called lines) that traverse the levels in the developmental hierarchy (or holarchy as Wilber prefers to call it). These streams are not necessarily correlated, which means that one can be at different levels in the different streams. In the extreme one could even be at the highest level in one stream and at the lowest level in another stream.

Over a dozen streams have been distinguished, some of which are the following:
the cognitive stream (that is awareness of what is)
the moral stream
the emotional stream
the interpersonal stream
the psychosexual stream
the values stream
the spiritual stream (here spirit is not seen as the highest level or the ground of all being, but as a stream that unfolds through the levels of the hierarchy; needless to say that at the lowest level this is only the most rudimentary spirituality).

The psychograph of particular persons shows all of the streams and their degree of development, thus indicating which levels they have reached in the developmental hierarchy. Although the streams develop relatively independently, there is also some connection: through cross-training, development in one stream can have a beneficial effect on advancement in another stream. For example, according to Wilber, one’s spiritual development can be reinforced through bodily exercise such as weightlifting. However, since the different streams need not develop at the same rate,
healing in one stream does not necessarily have a major effect on healing in another stream. For example, someone may be at the highest level in the cognitive stream and thus be healed cognitively, but may retain emotional and/or physical wounds because of retarded growth in the emotional and physical streams. In the extreme someone may be enlightened and still at relatively low levels in moral, psychosexual, and other streams. Someone may be enlightened and suffer from cancer or other illnesses because the physical stream, the health of the body, has not reached the highest level.

Although for any particular person it may be difficult or impossible to progress to the highest level in all or even the majority of streams, the AQAL map and the integral psychograph are important and helpful in this respect because they create more awareness of our strengths and weaknesses in various dimensions and streams. Thus, if one recognizes that one is weak in the moral stream, one would - hopefully! - not want to become a teacher of morality, but one would want to further develop this deficient stream. This brings us to Integral Life Practice (ILP), which is the practical application of the AQAL map for personal growth, transformation and healing.

Integral Life Practice

The purpose of Integral Life Practice (ILP) is to develop a balanced integral life that cultivates and heals body, mind, and spirit in self, nature, and culture, or, in other words, to embrace all the four quadrants, all levels, all states, all streams, and all types. To facilitate this ambitious endeavor, Wilber’s Integral Institute developed an Integral Life Practice Starter Kit that includes three workbooks, one reference poster, two CDs and five DVDs on a variety of modules. The core modules (representing the upper two quadrants) deal with the body, the shadow (emotions), mind, and spirit. Auxiliary modules(representing especially the lower quadrants) deal with ethics, relationships, sex, emotions, and work.

The body module (called 3-Body Workout) includes exercises for the gross, subtle and very subtle body. There are, of course, many other techniques available for bodywork such as Hatha Yoga, Qigong and Taiji for the gross and subtle body, and aerobics and diet mainly for the gross body.

The mind module deals with the AQAL framework that I described above. There are, of course, other ways to train the mind, but training through an integral model such as AQAL seems rather comprehensive (for limitations of the AQAL framework see, for example,
Wilber’s AQAL Map and Beyond).

The spirit modules include various spiritual practices. I want to draw special attention to the Big Mind Process, developed by Zen Master Genpo Roshi. This process integrates Zen training with voice dialogue, a Western therapeutic technique. Dualistic voices (aspects) of the ego that live within us - such as the protector, the controller, the victim, fear, desire, and the seeking mind - are not suppressed but fully engaged to explore their function in life before moving beyond them and the ego to the transcendent nondual voices of the Way, Big Mind, Big Heart, and the Integrated Free-Functioning Human Being, which includes both transcendent and dualistic voices.

The shadow module (called 3-2-1 Process) is one of the most important modules. If we do not do the work of this module, all the other modules can get sabotaged. The shadow that we want to clear up through this module is deeply rooted in the unconscious. It represents emotions that have been buried, dissociated, and are often projected unto others. The purpose of shadow work is to uncover and befriend these repressed emotions and thereby remove the painful physical and emotional symptoms of the shadow. There are many forms of shadow therapy. The 3-2-1 Process of Integral Life Practice is one powerful tool for working with difficult emotions. It comprises the following three steps: 1. Facing the shadow as an it, in 3
rd person, 2. Dialoguing with it as a 2nd person, and 3. Being it as 1st person and integrating it into Big Mind. In short: Face, Talk, Be. This process can be carried out whenever we encounter a strong negative or positive emotional charge. For example, after a disturbing dream or real life experience in which a man became very violent, we can first hold that man in our mind, then dialogue or resonate with him, then be that man by taking his perspective, and finally integrate his perspective into a larger me, into Big Mind.

According to Wilber, most forms of meditation cannot uncover the shadow. For this reason, even longtime, advanced meditators may still be haunted by their shadow. Therefore, shadow work is required. In its various forms of psychotherapy, it complements meditation. According to Wilber, in the pursuit of personal growth, psychotherapy is the great contribution of the West, whereas meditation is the great contribution of the East.

Applications in Society

Wilber’s integral vision as expressed in his AQAL map is not only relevant to transformation and healing of our personal lives but also to social and global transformation and healing. It applies to all aspects of society such as environmentalism, law, medicine, art, business, and politics. Let me take medicine as an example to illustrate the fundamental importance and relevance of the AQAL map. It clearly shows the limitations of conventional (mainstream) medicine and indicates how they can be overcome. Conventional medicine is situated almost exclusively in the lowest level of the upper-right quadrant, that is, it tends to treat patients as material objects. This approach works to some extent, but fails more or less for many diseases. Thus, the problem with conventional medicine is not that it is wrong but that it is limited and that this limitation is not sufficiently acknowledged. Other ways of healing that could be more helpful to the patient are often rejected and even ridiculed.

There is much evidence that subtle energies, emotions, the mind and spirit play an important role in sickness and health. Even illness of the body can be drastically influenced by these factors. This means that the higher levels of the upper-right quadrant and the levels of the other quadrants are of crucial importance for healing. Unless this is clearly recognized by the medical establishment and governments, we will not be able to solve the health care crisis that is becoming increasingly threatening to many sick people who cannot get appropriate medical care.

The lower-left quadrant that deals with the “you” and “we,” that is, community and culture, is of great importance. A patient can feel much better if the doctor, family, friends, and the community treat him or her lovingly. Furthermore, the perception of a disease such as AIDS in the community and culture also plays a role in the healing process.

The lower-right quadrant deals with the social dimension, which is also crucial for healing. We need social institutions, health care policies, insurance, and a healthy economy to facilitate the health care that is offered in the other three quadrants. Furthermore, a healthier, less polluted environment would help to prevent many diseases in the first place.

In all quadrants there are correlates of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels. They all need to be addressed for a comprehensive healthcare because all of these levels play a role in health and sickness. Comprehensive health care is far more effective than any partial and fragmented approach. And because it is more effective, it is also more cost-efficient, and therefore it is highly relevant to the present healthcare crisis with ever increasing costs that are an increasing burden on the taxpayer.

Unless we have a comprehensive and balanced view, we cannot provide optimal health care because we risk that important aspects are ignored to the detriment of suffering patients.
The AQAL map reminds us of major dimensions and levels of healthcare.


Wilber’s integral vision as expressed in his AQAL map is of fundamental importance for the beneficial transformation and healing of individual lives, society, and the world. It should be taught in schools and universities, not as a new dogma, but as a tool for further exploration. The AQAL map can contribute to healing of our thinking. It appears very comprehensive, but in my opinion it could be rendered still more balanced as I tried to show in my free ebook Wilber's AQAL Map and Beyond and various articles (see below). According to Chinese thinking, health is balance. If our thinking is more balanced, this is already a great step toward general health because thinking is considered so important in Western and westernized cultures.

Wilber’s integral approach can also be helpful for healing of the emotions and the body. As I pointed out in the Introduction, both emotions and the body are influenced by the mind. Hence, healing the mind also helps healing emotions and the body. Furthermore, Integral Life Practice includes a module specifically for healing of the shadow, and another module for healing of the body. Fortunately, there is increasing recognition even in conventional medicine of the importance of physical exercise. It is, however, not sufficient to train only or mainly the gross physical body. It is equally important to train the subtle and very subtle body. The 3-Body Workout addresses all 3 bodies, that is, all levels of the upper-right quadrant. Much disease could be avoided through a regular practice of comprehensive bodywork.

Shadow work helps to deal with difficult emotions. Think of how much conflict and violence could be avoided if people practiced shadow work or other therapies. It should also be taught in schools and universities.

many forms of meditation offer the ultimate healing, but even this healing can be sabotaged if we do not deal with our shadows.

Note: This chapter is only a very brief outline of Wilber’s integral approach. For a more thorough treatment the reader is referred to his book The Integral Vision, his web sites, and his other books. For Integral Life Practice consult The Integral Life Practice Starter Kit (available from Sounds True,, Tel. 800-333-9185).

For my critical appraisal of the limitations and shortcomings of Ken Wilber's AQAL map and his integral vision see the next chapter on
Complementarity of Maps and Mandalas of this book manuscript on Healing Thinking and Being,
my free ebook on
Wilber's AQAL Map and Beyond,
Ken Wilber and Healthy Thinking,
Ken Wilber’s AQAL Dogma
Ken Wilber's AQAL Map and Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics,
Ken Wilber, Humor, and Laughter


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