Integral Understanding of Emotions
Chris Alder’s intro
Chris Alder is passionately dedicated to all forms of human growth and development, personal, professional, and spiritual. He graduated as an Integral Master Coach™ with Integral Coaching Canada (ICC) in 2011 and went on to join the faculty in 2015. He is also an Integral Zen Priest, executive coach, leadership facilitator/trainer, and dedicated father to his 2-year-old girl. His presentation style has been described as enthusiastic, engaging and thought-provoking
Nelson Doshin Michael is an Integral Zen master of no rank. He fully embraces the Integral framework and the exquisite processes of Mondo Zen™ and Integrating Zen™ in his teaching. Utilizing his passion for Jung, Wilber and Zen, Doshin uses contemporary Integral Koans, to work with individual and collective shadows, trauma, and attachment issues from the groundless ground of timeless wisdom and selfless compassion. Doshin Roshi received Inka, Dharma Transmission, from JunPo Roshi in 2011.
Experiential workshop at IEC 2021: Integral Understanding of Emotions
Let’s begin by doing something that is very difficult for us Integral thinkers to do. Let’s stop thinking for a moment and become really curious about our immediate experience. Direct your attention, animated by curiosity, toward your immediate experience. Now, create some space for emotions to arise. Notice the next emotion that arises and allow yourself to feel it as it enters your direct experience. Focus your attention on the emotion and get curious again.
Now ask yourself: is this emotional experience more of a mental state or a physiological body reaction?
Let’s say for a moment that there are two kinds of people:
Group A, those that believe emotions are mental states.
Group B, those that believe emotions are phsysiological body reactions.
Make a note of which group you would belong in, and then consider an experiment on your own. Invite some people you know to do the same thing above. This might be a very interesting thing to do, but please proceed carefully. I caution you to just accept what they say without questioning or worse yet arguing with them about what they feel. Just talking about emotions, seems to be quite emotionally charged for many people I have worked with. This difference in how we experience emotions is seldom a topic of conversation and when you make it a topic, you can ironically, trigger some very strong emotional reactions that suprisingly, have the potential to explode into hostility. I have been amazed how polarizing this subject can be and how quickly things can escalate.
Now let’s look at our common language regarding emotions and feelings and see what we can learn. Will we find clarity and precision in our collective understanding of emotions or will we find ambiguity, muddy definitions and confusion. And how does that impact our thinking and experience interacting with each other?
Here is a definition of emotion, according to Merriam-Webster:
1.1 a conscious mental reaction (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body
1.2 a state of feeling
1.3 the affective aspect of consciousness: feeling
2.2 obsolete: disturbance
When I look up emotion in Microsoft Word’s thesaurus I find: Feeling (n.); Sentiment; Reaction; Passion; Excitement; Sensation
The word emotionseems most synonymous with the word feeling. When I look up feeling in Microsoft Word’s thesaurus I find:
Sensation(n.); Sense; Sensitivity; Touch; Numbness (Antonym)
Emotion (n.) Sentiment; Mood; Reaction; Sense; Impression; Response
Opinion(n.) View; Belief; Impression; Consideration; Attitude; Sentiment; Point of view (Dictionary Form)
Affection(n.); Regards, sympathy; Attachment; Concern; Sensitivity; Compassion; Pity; Empathy; Love; Antipathy (Antonym)
Hunch(n.); Suspicion; Instinct; Idea; Intuition; Presentiment; Notion; Cut reaction (Dictionary Form)
Atmosphere(n.); Feel; Ambiance; Mood; Impression; Quality; Air; Aura; Character; Ambience
Touching(n.); Fingering ; Stroking; Caressing; Handling; Fondling; Sensing; Manipulating
Sensing(n.); Experiencing; Suffering; Undergoing; Bearing; Be aware of (Dictionary Form)
Thinking (n.); Believing; Considering; Deeming; Suspecting; Comprehending; Understanding; Knowing; Be of the opinion (Dictionary Form)
Notice that emotion and feeling are often considered to be synonymous. Also notice that there is an incredible amount of ambiguity and incongruity in the multitude of meanings of the word feeling. So much so that the meaning of the word “feeling” has become for all practical purposes, meaningless. When I am engaged in a conversation with someone and they use the word emotion or feeling, if communication is the intention, then I must stop them and ask: “What exactly do you mean by the word Feeling?”
Do you mean a body sensation, a mental state, a rational cognitive function you are using to make decisions, a sense of emotional sensitivity or intuition, a direct knowing, a state of passion, a belief or opinion, an impression, a perspective, a judgment or evaluation, etc.?
Perhaps we can find some Integral tools that can help us minimize the confusion, miscommunication and the conflicts that can arise out of such imprecise language and messy articulation of our experience.
Well Let’s look at the AQAL conceptual tools of Integral Theory. AQAL is short for all quadrants, all lines of intelligence, all states and all levels of consciousness. The quadrants are a representation of the whole universe. The external physical universe is represented by everything on the right side of the vertical line and the interior universe is represented by everything on the left side of the vertical line. Above the horizontal line are all instances of individual things and below the horizontal line are all the instances of collective or social groups of things.
The Upper Left Quadrant is the interior experience of individual holons like each one of us, and the Lower Left Quadrant is the beliefs and values that characterize collective groups and cultures. The Upper Right Quadrant is the exterior form of individual physical things, and the Lower Right Quadrant is the exterior manifestations and structures associated with collective groups and social structures.
Now, we are going to use these Four Quadrants as a conceptual tool to help us better understand and articulate the many aspects of emotions. This show us the people who experience emotions as mental states, which are internal experiences of mind, and people who experience emotions as Upper Right Quadrant body oriented, physiological currents of energy which cause reactive responses driving individual behaviors.This four-quadrant conceptual tool enables us also, to examine and imagine the collective internal realms and exterior manifestations of emotions that are often ignored and minimized. We can think of collective cultural interior realms of emotional fields operating like gravitational fields pulling in those with similar beliefs and values into the center of a singularity. These collective realms polarize, attracting and repulsing like magnetic poles into periods of collective peace and times of conflict and war where whole populations are driven by collective patterns of what appears to be hysterical madness.
By looking in the Lower Right Quadrant we can get a feel for and imagine the social dynamics of emotional energy. The great sociologist Emile Durkheim named these manifestations of collective emotions, “Collective Effervescence.” It is the basis for his explanation of religions in his 1912 book, Elementary Forms of Religions life. The psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich coined the term “Emotional Plague,” which is a term that really highlights the way negative collective emotions spread through a group like a virus. Carl Jung himself was fascinated by collective emotions. He borrowed a term coined by Lévy-Bruhl, “Participation Mystique.”
The further we go back into history, the more we see personality disappearing beneath the wrappings of collectivity. And if we go right back to primitive psychology, we find absolutely no trace of the concept of an individual. Instead of individuality we find only collective relationship or what Lévy-Bruhl calls participation mystique (Jung,  1971: par. 12).
Earlier in the evolution of consciousness, before the sense of the individual ego emerges, there is only a sense of participation in the collective mystery. In modern individual development that would be about the age of 2 or 3 years old with the emergence of language and the ego complex of personality. Collectively that would be in a group or culture governed by a powerful despot such as a gang leader, war lord, king, queen, emperor or empress.
Neuroscientist Lisa Barrett (Barrett 2017) after more than 20 years of research, concludes that most of what we think we know about emotions is based upon the work of Charles Darwin, which he laid out in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, that was published in 1872, and is simply wrong. (Darwin 1872).
We are going to use her conclusion as a starting assumption: Most of what we think we know about emotions is simply wrong. We actually know very little about emotions.
Now, we can begin to ask what would be helpful to form a more complete understanding of emotions? First of all, I have not been able to find an adequate theory of emotions, let alone one that is Integral or even Integrally informed. There is certainly room in Integral theory for such a comprehensive theory of emotions. Second, I have developed a rather unique perspective on emotions, after studying emotions and working experientially with what my root Zen Teacher calls “Emotional Koans,” for the last 16 years. I have completed over 5,000 Mondo Zen sessions using Emotional Koans working with students many of which were attracted to and studying Integral Theory. I have found emotions, especially the disgusting ones, to be useful and fascinating gateways, allowing us to explore deeper levels of Integral Shadow Work. I am currently teaching a five-part webinar entitled “The Whole Spectrum of Shadows.” We are creating a stand-alone Internet Course from the same material. I am also using some of the Ideas and information developed for the webinar and course as I’m writing a book with the same title.
For me it is clear that our emotionally charged points of reactivity can become a path of Integral Awakening that can lead us directly to the deep work we need to do in order to be: adequately awake, truly compassionate, as grown up as possible, whole, healthy, confident, productive, self-confident and self-sufficient human beings. I further propose that a real Integral view of emotions and emotional energy helps us get to the deep roots of our individual and collective traumas and shadows. It seems certain to me that such a comprehensive Integral Theory of Emotions will be especially useful at this particular time in human history filled with so many profound changes. This new Integrally inspired holistic understanding of emotions including their multifaceted manifestations particularly the dynamics of our prejudices, biases, addictions and allergies, is so important that it may even prove to be essential to our very survival on this planet.
Beginning with our assumption that most of what we think we know about emotions is just wrong, allows us to start a journey into new territory in a state of “beginners mind.” This state of “not knowing” creates fertile soil for curiosity and clears the inner space in which there is room for an Integral understanding of emotions to begin to grow directly out of our experience, rather than our “Belief Systems.” An individual or collective belief system is comprised of a set of ideological beliefs and moral values. Collective Belief Systems can be categorized as traditional religious, modern secular, and postmodern egalitarian. There are many examples of traditional Religious Belief system throughout the world today. An example of a modern collective Belief System is scientific materialism. Here we have an ideology based on reducing what we consider real to only what can be found in the Upper Right Quadrant populated by individual things and behaviors. It includes a set of moral values that have a strong bias for empiricism (the 5 senses) what can be measured by instruments) and the scientific method and bias against anything in the two Left Quadrants. An example of a postmodern collective Belief System is what Wilber calls Postmodern Egalitarianism. Jonathan Haidt identifies two ideological perspectives of this postmodern group “victimism” and “safetyism.” (Haidt- Lukianoff 2017) And Wilber identifies what he calls the dysfunction of aperspectival madness, which includes the two ideologies of “nihilism” and “narcissism.” (Wilber, 2017)
This ideology of victimism, safetyism, nihilism and narcissism combined with moral values of radical social justice, caring for victims, diversity, egalitarianism, radical equality, intense environmentalism, feminism, socialist-tending, sustainability.This is an interesting Belief System that is aggressively turning into a postmodern evangelistic movement that seems to insist on nothing less than total conversion. The importance of collective emotions relative to the interactions of group dynamics is largely ignored in modern and postmodern thought.This is a huge mistake that we are intending to bring out of shadow into the light.
We see the usefulness of the Four Quadrants, and there are other contributing factors that can be viewed from an Integral Perspective. Levels of consciousness, for example, let’s look first at what defining human capacity emerges at each Level of ego development. This type of information is interpreted and displayed differently by each “expert” of conscious development, depending upon what it is that they are studying, for example Maslow studied human needs, Piaget studied cognitive development, Graves studied human values, Kegan studied what he called orders of consciousness, Loevinger and Cook-Greuter studied ego development. In the following chart, I am roughly comparing approximate individual age ranges, perspectives, altitudes, along with chakras, giving particular attention to the specific human characteristic that emerges and at each level of individual development of consciousness.
During the Infrared period what emerges is sensory motor skills. During the magenta level, the sensory motor development is included and continues and is transcended by the emergence of a primitive sensitivity to feelings and magical influences. It is the red period where the ego structures and individual volition begin to clearly develop along with the emergence of human language. At the Amber level, what emerges in the individual is the capacity to understand and follow rules and the parents busy themselves indoctrinating their children into the world the parents live in. Those sets of rules are all the shoulds and shouldn’ts of a collective Belief System. This collective Belief System the individual is indoctrinated into, could be a traditional religion, a modern secular ideology or a postmodern egalitarian ideology. In the individual the qualities of the cultural beliefs and values often slip back into shadow and block future healthy development. They are the very collective beliefs and values of the culture the child is indoctrinated into. I love the blank look on many Integralist’s face, when I ask them: “What color is your amber?” Some never get it and walk away scratching their head in confusion and a few get it, their eyes sparkle and a new deeper conversation about levels of consciousness begins.
Individually at the orange modern level, the most important thing that emerges is reason, precision thinking and the capacity to understand and use the experimental method. Collectively, the obsessive emphasis on reason ironically created an emotionally charged reaction to reject everything that isn’t reasonable. That included all superstitions, all emotions, along with everything in the Left Quadrants because they are not reasonable and can’t be measured.
The ideology of scientific materialism took root and became the prevailing ideology replacing religious rituals, dogma, beliefs and values. What actually happened in the west is truly tragic. This is what Wilber calls a “level/line fallacy.”That occurs when development is arrested or something gets stuck in a particular line of intelligence, and then, the fallacy is that the whole spritual line of intelligence was rejected along with the amber belief in God, rather than evolving through the stuckness. (Wilber, 2006) This is what happened to the spiritual line of intelligence in the age of enlightenment. Rather than simply discarding the mythic God, the whole spiritual line of development was discarded.
And here they particularly made a crippling error: in correctly spotting the immaturity of the notion of a mythic God—or the mythic level of the spiritual line—they threw out not just the mythic level of spiritual intelligence but the entire line of spiritual intelligence. So upset were they with the mythic level, they tossed the baby of the spiritual line with the bathwater of its mythic level of development. (Wilber, 2006 pp. 446-447)
The tragedy in modernity is this rejection of the spiritual line of intelligence resulted in an Orange form of cultural nihilism. In postmodernity the nihilism continues, and a form of cultural narcissism is added to it. This results in the postmodern affliction of aperspectival madness and a plethora of performative contradictions which is just another way to say shadows. This deeply impacted the moral line as well as the emotional line. At the green postmodern level, the individual often begins an exciting new journey of inner self- exploration. A new capacity to see whole systems emerges, as well as emotional sensitivity.
In the modern and postmodern world there is a tremendous amount of individual confusion and collective miss-communications, regarding most human interior experiences.We will focus our attention on our direct experience as we explore ways of guiding awareness with language into the many different aspects of experience that we refer to as: thoughts, feelings, emotions, affects, sensations and intuition. We will be using a combination of guided meditations and experiential exercises, using AQAL conceptual tools and some of the 6 Templates developed by one of the teachers of Integral Zen. This enables us to use guided mediations and exercises that will bring some of these following experiences directly into conscious awareness. For example, consider these internal experiences: emotions as a mental state, as individual moods, as collective moods, as collective “emotional plagues” that spread like viruses through populations, Feelings as sensations or intuitions, etc.
Once we have shared some direct experiences of what these words (emotions and feelings), are pointing to, we will use the framework of Integral Semiotics to actually work with them. First, we must arrive at an agreed upon ontology (an agreement on what is real) and epistemology (an agreement on a methodology of verifying truth, or our validity claims). Then we work with the common experiences we have shared, and then articulate clear precise definitions for the words we will use in our new common language to describe the common experiences we have shared.
Our common ontological context of what is real is everything that human beings can experience as represented by AQAL and our epistemological methods to validate truths are the four validity claims in all four quadrants. With this in place, we can explore and experiment with making both our experience and articulation with language more visible and precise using Kosmic Addressing. All this will help us clean up much of the ego confusion and muddy thinking that is endemic in our modern and postmodern cultures surrounding our human capacities and internal experiences. Then we can move into new territory by exploring how these feelings and emotions are experienced and appear in different combinations of the cognitive, moral and emotional matrixes. We will examine at least two radical perspectives on controversial topics after our experiential exploration and integral semiotic articulation. Now, to Zen it out:
A Shadow of Teal and the Integral Community
There is a general agreement in the Integral Community that consciousness evolves, and there is a huge blindspot and shadow. Most in the Interal Community can see the evolution of consciousness, but no one seems to have even considered the possibility that emotions also evolve. There seems to be a cultual belief that emotions are given. And, isn’t it interesting that the emotions that seem to be ”given” to us in this Integral Community seem to be stuck in postmodern green? Get curious, What color are your emotions?
The Myth of Spiritual Awakening.
I propose that there is no such thing as spiritual awakening. I would say however, that there is something that we can call spiritual growth. It involves ego development into the higher realms of human experience where we begin to add more spiritual human virtues to our very character structure that outwardly manifest in our behavior. Awakening, on the other hand, is not a process of development. Awakening actually occurs when all mental processes unite as one unified field of immediate “selfless” Awareness beyond the prision of ego delusions, including the mental constructs of space/time. It is often accompanied by feelings of vast empty infinite spaciousness, and timelessness. This is not a sense of eternity but a sense of no time, a distinct, undeniable experience of the absolute absence of time.
Barrett, L.M (2017). How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Jung, C.G. ( 1971). Psychological Types, Collected Works, Volume 6, Princeton, N.J.:
Jung, C. G. (1971). Psychological types (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.) (H. Read et al., Eds.),
The collected works of C. G. Jung (Vol. 6). Princeton University Press. (Orig. work published 1921)
Wilber, Ken (2006). Integral Spirituality. Integral Books.
Wilber, Ken (2017). Trump and a Post-Truth World. Shambhala Publications, Inc. Wilber, Ken. (2017). The Religion of Tomorrow. Shambhala.
Darwin, C. (2005). The expression of the emotions in man and animals. (S. Messenger, Ed.). Penguin Classics. (Original work published 1872)
Divine, L. (2009). Looking At and Looking As the Client: The Quadrants as a Type Structure Lens, Journal of Integral Theory and Practice, Vol. 4(1), 21-40.
Haidt, Jonathan. (2012). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Pantheon.
Haidt, Jonathan Lukianoff, Greg. (2017). The Coddling of the American Mind. Penguin Press