"Spiritual Energy": Exploring a Gray Area between the UR and UL Quandrants

Just wanted to share a segment from my book in progress. Thought the topic would be good for thinking about interactions between Integral quadrants.

The below excerpt deals with the quad-conflating term of "spiritual energy." In addition to the potential problem of quad-conflation, if the word "energy" (in the phrase "spiritual energy") is used without sufficient qualification, it would indicate an indescriminate metaphysical assumption about spirituality instead of staying true to our shared value here of defining a set of operations or frame of reference about spirituality.

I believe that my concept (shared in the text below) of "thinking like energy" ends up qualifying as being an articulation of a frame of reference or set of mental operations.

At any rate the following segment seems to be a pretty interesting exploration of a gray area or two between two major Integral quadrants. This segment is an excerpt from a larger section where I explore various other "gray areas" as well.

While writing this section I was fascinated by the spaces between "objective" and "subjective" thought. My years and years of writing poetry on the one hand and philosophizing on the other hand seemed to lead me to a moment in time when I explore spaces of possible convergence of the two. That time is now, during the writing of Your Third Nature.  

Here's the excerpt exploring the quad-crossover nature of the phrase/concept "spiritual energy." 

from Your Third Nature (in progress): 

Shifting perspective to the neutral eye of the storm is more a chance to learn about really real reality than it is an excuse to escape or anesthetize the suffering while using the defense mechanism of intellectualization (“These things happen.” or “One encounters such unfortunate events.” or “In the vast scheme of things it's not that bad.”). To paste the deeper, calmer, view onto the surface zones of the ever-unfolding flares without differentiating which depth location the perspective is coming from is not “deep” and is not integrative; it's screwing up one's depth continuity and crippling one's third nature. Like prescription drugs, the neutral view and mental state can be abused. Intellectualization is an abuse of this otherwise healthy prescription for third nature insight and growth.

Now, lets shift from this UL, psychological perspective back to a more systems-thought view of a deep, multi-layered, and unfolding reality. The systems view is quite intellectual, without being intellectualized―it is one based on “sincere thought” (Taoism term), instead of thought used to cover-up of emotions. It does not require that a person stay forever at a distance, looking from afar in a state of aboutness. Instead it allows a person to, sooner or later, use the aboutness in the service of withness. I-it can be put to the service of I-Thou. To think that a person must choose one quadrant or the other (UL or LR) as an answer or as a means of meeting human needs would be a false dichotomy. Both views can serve human development and wellbeing. Inputs and energies from various depth levels of the flare/self are needed in order to be a whole, fully-actualizing, person. Same applies to groups of people.

All this to give us mental permission to shift from a deeper, more intimate, vantage point to a considerably less deep and closer-to-surface veiwpoint. It's okay to shift from the warmth and wisdom of a fireside chat to a more intellectual discussion similar to those occuring in scientific laboratories and college classrooms. Going “there” can (and will, if you let it) actually help “here.”

One specific topic of discussion which shifts from “here” to “there,” is the popular notion of “spiritual energy.” While the word “spiritual” is rather “here” or subjective, the word “energy” is rather “there” or objective. A person shifts from thinking about a personal-like presence to thinking in terms of spiritual energy moving about. It is a view about the workings or dynamics of spirituality, rather than about the feeling tone and specific experiences of “spirituality.” The mental shift from thinking about the intimate relationship aspect of spirituality to thinking about the workings of spirituality is not unlike a parent kissing his or her children goodbye in the morning to head off to work. Sometimes we long to simply stay at home and be with our family. Saying goodbye is not always easy. And yet there is a reason that we do so, day after day.

Likewise, there seems to be a compelling reason why we consistently refer to inner (UL) spiritual experiences in terms of spiritual “energy.” The “working” view has the potential of adding value. Some would argue that this is the result of a mere semantics errorthat when it comes to spirituality the “energy” is really just a feeling sensation like a loved-one putting his or her hand on your shoulder. “Energy” is just a metaphor to describe the feeling of that comforting sensation.

But if it is just a matter of the misuse of a word or concept, why is the misuse so dern prevalent? Why that particular metaphor over and over again? Could it be that there is in fact a quality shared by both the comfort of a hug and the flow of electrons through a wire? Is it possible that something similar to flowing electrons passes from one person to another during the spiritual act of showing affection and support?

It’s not like this use of the word “energy” is limited to flakey, overly dramatic, New Age talk. It pops up all across the spiritual philosophy spectrum—so prevalent that an underlying link between external forms of energy and inwardly felt psychic energy is suggested.  

Like a Mobius strip, whose continuous loop twists from inside to out, energy seems to twist the observer from the outside-looking-at perspective of the right two quadrants to the inside-looking-out perspective of the upper left quadrant.  This quad-crossing tendency is, I believe, due in part to the fact that energy seems to closely match qualities of the human mind. The mind intuitively sees itself reflected in the external forms of energy. It's like gazing into a pool of water. Yes, water is a pretty decent energy metaphor, and one that has been used a lot to describe spiritual energy.

Perhaps mind sees itself reflected in energy because the slippery stuff (energy) "out there" matches the slippery stuff in here, in my subjective mind realm; so much so, that the two, like a couple of lovers, just can't seem to leave each other alone! Those slippery little devils called thoughts seem right at home in an energy field or stream of energy. Mind and energy can't seem to stay in their respective "corners" of "the known." Like the story of Romeo and Juliet, the “family traditions”our established classification schemes―just can't keep these lovers apart.

Here's one reason why the lovers sense so much compatibility in one another. Both energy and mind can be especially good portals to the unknown. Neither limits itself to the known. Using our flare analogy, both a low resistance, high frequency, variety of energy and a fully functioning, open, mind would be likely to move freely (or at least much more freely than matter) from the surface "knowns" at the top of the flare to the deep "unknowns" at, or near, the base of the flare.


Sure, you can see from the upper right quadrant's perspective that a particular type of energy consists of particles such as molecules or electrons. This much is known about certain forms of energy. But the exact nature of the attracting or repelling forces which make those particles move is not really known. As soon as more tiny particles or discrete packets of energy are found (or inferred) deeper down inside the force, more questions arise about new forces that might be operating on those "particular" particles!  

Scientists can observe how each new level of forces act. They may even eventually identify and measure those forces. But the "why" always seems to end up escaping us.

Here's what David Bohm and his co-author Basil J. Hiley, in their book The Undivided Universe, has to say about the elusive “why”:

What has been a constant in this overall historical development is a pattern in which at each stage, certain features are regarded as appearance, while others are regarded as of an essence which explains the appearance on a qualitatively different basis. But what is taken as essence at any stage, is seen to be appearance of a still more fundamental essence. Ultimately everything pays both the role of appearance and that of essence. If, as we are suggesting, this pattern never comes to an end, then ultimately all of our thought can be regarded as appearance, not to the senses, but to the mind.

In fact, it seems that such mere-appearance elusiveness is part of the definition of the concept of the alleged essence called a “force.” The term is used to describe a result, but the exact content of the force seems, for the most part, unknown. It is often a hypothetical essence without known substance.

To say a force is elusive is almost a tautology, like saying water is water, or mind is mind. Or maybe it's more like the near-tautology of "water is wet." A force is a force (and a horse is a horse, of course, of course!), and a force is, by definition, somewhat elusive. We might just as well call a force a ghost. We know what the ghost does. We know the ghost's effects on non-ghostly things. But we often don't have a handle on what the ghost is.

We do know that at the deeper levels of observation and analysis, energy is very slippery stuff. Furthermore, energy at any level seems to be a slippery slope to that slippery "stuff" down deep inside. Like a gateway drug that begins an addict's descent into heavier and heavier drug states, energy—even at its more superficial and "known" levels—is a gateway for descending into deeper and deeper states of not knowing.

The more we get to know energy's characteristics and to think like those characteristics (mentally imitating energy's ways, which is the natural result of being with and taking in such a metaphor), the less it seems appropriate to conceptualize energy exclusively in the right quadrant's category of individual things observed from the outside. A trained dog version of energy (superficial level of understanding) may fit there, but not the real energy. A portion of the "truth" about energy may fit there, but not the "whole truth."

I suppose that could be said about anything. At the deepest levels of observation and analysis, nothing—no thing—passes the knowing test. That was the whole point of Bohm and Hiley's comment above. But energy seems particularly good at getting us to this point sooner. If wine is fine, but liquor is quicker, then matter (and “thinking like matter”) is the wine. Energy (and “thinking like energy”) is the liquor!

The concept of a system is invariably and inescapably a pattern in our mind. Does the external system actually have a “pattern,” or is that just our minds' way of representing or understanding the system? Who really knows?

But we do know that a pattern has that same structural-like quality which the objective things in the UR quad appear to have whenever you investigate their parts in relation to one another. The pattern of a system is the mental representation of the relationships of separate or relatively separate objects within systems. If no such pattern were to appear in the mind as it looks at collections of things, then there would be no LR quad to speak of or to use as a way of knowing. The objects are dependent upon the mind's patterns, in the a priori manner that Kant went on and on about many years ago.

And yet the collection of objects themselves seem to exude this patterness. A system seems to operate according to a pattern. Its pattern is not merely or only “dreamed up.”

Hence patterns live in one of those gray areas between the objective and subjective domains.

But patterns, like thoughts, aren't stuck limbo. They move in and out of the gray area. It should be of no surprise, considering that these patterns seem to be a subtype of thoughts in general. A pattern is a thought. It appears to be a “right-brain” type of thought, since the right brain is known to specialize in whole patterns or “gestalts.”

Ken Wilber's integral quadrants and our “quantumized” version of them here create one of those systems-related patterns. The quads as a whole form a dynamic pattern which has the potential to move information about from one quad to another and which constitutes a system of organized ways of knowing and approaching reality. It's one thing to have an open and disorganized mind. Quite another to have an open but organized mind.

In my previous field of clinical psychology, the openness to use any theory or approach which works was called “eclecticism.” While eclecticism does not preclude an organized method of inclusion, neither does it require it. For the most part, eclecticism in psychotherapy has been intuitive and somewhat random or disorganized.

In contrast, the quadrants-as-a-system is organized. You might say that the Integral approach and the Quantum Quad approach is “organized eclecticism.” It is more systematic than undifferentiated eclecticism.

A conceptual model or pattern pertaining to a system is just a fancy metaphor or analogy. We talked earlier about what happens when you spend quality time with a metaphor. In time your mind begins to take in and then take on the model/metaphor's qualities. You begin to think like the model/metaphor, in a mode reflecting the qualities of the referent-object being used as a metaphor. In a way, the contemplativeness extracts the referent-object's qualities. It's sort of like squeezing the juice from a lemon, except the “juice” is not as tangible.

Because of the intangibility of it, the extracting ends up being abstracting. Just as the lemon juice can be moved beyond the lemon itself, your mental abstraction can be moved from its original location to new places. You are free to make conceptual lemonade from the original lemon-thought.

But there must be something to carry the juice in. That's your mind. As vessel it is directly exposed to the qualities of the lemon as unleashed in the juice. The lemon poured its heart into that juice! Now the mind is exposed to the heart of the matter. In the process of abstracting and carrying the lemon's juice your mind gets a bit sticky and/or tart. It begins to think more like lemons.

Or perhaps it had to think like lemons before it could squeeze out the lemon juice in the first place. Either way, a thinking-like-lemons occurs.

This contemplative process is, of course, a subjective, UL quantum quad, activity. No one else can see direct evidence of you thinking like the “lemon” or metaphor.

However, indirect evidence may be seen in the form of a new quality to your thought/thinking. You may approach things differently than before you spent quality time with the metaphor.

Our mind metaphor or “lemon” here is energy and energy fields. The mind is seen as being an energy field and/or an energy process. This mind-as-energy view is highy compatible with the notion of an ever-unfolding flare/self. It becomes easier to see mind and self as energy which is flowing from in to out.

But that's when we are thinking about mindabout mind as being like energy flowing in the general form of a flare. What happens if the mind itselfthe very thing doing the thinkingspends enough quality time with the mind metaphor of an energy-based flare that it can start to think like (instead of merely about) the energy and like an energetic flare? Instead of just “seeing” the image of mind-as-energy-in-the-form-of-an-ever-unfolding-flare, we feel itexperience it as it unfolds. Mind experiences itself in terms of the metaphor.

At first glance the energy/flare metaphor appeared to be but a projection of the mind. But then the projector is informed, or rather, transformed, by its projection. This process seems to be an example of Kevin Kelly's “up creation,” in which the parts help create the whole.

When the mind is transformed by its own projection it begins to act more like its true nature, no longer pretending to be composed of static parts called individual thoughts, images, percepts, or other object-like “parts.” The mind no longer pretends to be like a physical “body.” It doesn't just sit there like a bunch of rocks; it flows like a river and spreads out like an ocean.

In turn, this flowing/spreading essence within, behind, and through the metaphor is realized as being mind itself. The projection is reclaimed.

Now that the mind knows itself better, it begins to exhibit a more dynamic way of thinking. It is a different approach to how we see, interact with, and feel about reality. It allows for new sets of questions and, therefore, new sets of answers. It is a qualitatively different mode of thought than our previous mode of “thinking like matter.” Concepts such as “non-dual” or “unity consciousness” make much more sense in this thinking-like-energy mode. But the potential benefits go beyond merely understanding certain concepts.

There is a real, almost practical, advantage to “thinking like energy” (TLE). TLE can help us feel and be more “spiritual.” It can also make our thoughts more porous, more open to experiences and thoughts which were previously ignored or filtered out. Thus TLE helps with both spirituality and the search for truth in general.

One way it helps me grow spiritually is in my capacity to fully love. TLE allows the me over here to see how I overlap with the you over there. It allows us to be together in some unseen but sensed, felt, and intuitively understood, unified field. The energy metaphor not only has wings which stir the imagination; it has down-to-earth legs which help me form better relationships with others. Like the spirituality which it helps facilitate, TLE is as practical as it is fun and aesthetically pleasing.


Views: 132

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

I have yet to read the entire post yet so this may be redundant. Have you seen this post and the two following it, discussing some problems with the Lingam's differentiations between mind-body, energy-body and inner-outer?

You might also appreciate Edwards' essay Through AQAL Eyes, part 6, which deals with these issues.

Particularly the 3rd section of Edwards' paper, where he notes the following:

"To begin with, it's clear that some of the energies that Wilber is including in the Upper Right refer to exterior physical phenomena and some of them refer to interior mental phenomena. [...] I suggest that Wilber is having trouble finding labels for them because these subtle energies he is referring to are actually interior energies."

Will investigate that link tommorrow. Look's promising, as though "barking up the same tree" I've been barking up recently. 



theurj said:

I have yet to read the entire post yet so this may be redundant. Have you seen this post and the two following it, discussing some problems with the Lingam's differentiations between mind-body, energy-body and inner-outer?

You might also appreciate Edwards' essay Through AQAL Eyes, part 6, which deals with these issues.

But is there overlap between external and internal energies? Perhaps at a deeper, substratum, level of reality the difference between external and internal energies is either minimized or absent altogether. If Mind is the essence of all else, then the "interior" is actually a kind of "exterior" as well. Or the terms inner and outer, subjective and objective, just don't apply all that well that deep down/in. 

Interesting that Wilber's Integral Map includes developmental levels or stages of understanding. While we see them in terms of various "hieghts," there is an assumption also that a "higher" level of understanding reality and the world is also a "deeper" level of understanding. So, in a way, the color-coded stages in the Integral Operating System (or "map") actually hint to a depth dimension. I simply cut to the chase by including it into a metaphysical model of reality, in the form of an "ever-unfolding flare." It is like a little bang version of the big bang. A holographic sort of whole in the part. Each being or self is a little bang, like a solar flare erupting from a Sun/Source. We continue to unfold into a cooling atmosphere where things act in standard Newtonian physics ways as "classical" objects. But the unfolding is also continuously from a non-local, non-Newtonian, Source at the core of self. So this non-dual, or possible or probable nature is also continuously outpouring into the more static surface reality. We Things are not alone! Just the other day, I had the notion of "quantum brimming." By that I mean that for every actual thing I do or act like, the possiblities are kind of pushed to the side. It would be like sticking my fist into a small bucket of water which was full. The water will be displaced and flow over the brim/rim (perhaps tea cup and finger would be better?) of the container/bucket/teacup. Water respresents the fluid possiblities. Actual choices and acts limit and displace the possibilities not acted upon. Do these possible mes or possible acts-by-me merely disappear when decisions collapse the possiblities into particle-like descrete acts? Or do they overflow and hang around me like an aura which I might be able to somehow tap into mentally/intuitively/spiritually? As I was running (when the insight occured -- endorphin-facilitated?) I meditatively gathered up the displaced possiblities and/or probabilities immediately surrounding me. It opened up my system to new possiblities, while not making my fist in the water or finger in the tea go away. I was still running, but also "accompanied" by possibilites. Instead of the "satelite dish" metaphor which picks up signals from a deep quantum and sub-quantum realm (a metaphor I forward in the book), a "saucer" metaphor came to mind. When I either meditate in the way I was doing or when I relate with others my saucer catches some of the displaced possibilities. Others may act as I didn't. By relating with them, I collect some of my own displaced potential/possibility. I get the me I could have been from them. To the extent than I can love then I have a bigger saucer to recapture the potential I lose whenever I narrow things down to a specific action or thought or way of being. My participation in spacetime almost requires a certain amount of "part-icularity," and this particularity limits my possiblilities and potentials to some extent. Fortunately due to quantum brimming, I have a means to recycle the lost potential/possiblities. I always have my trust saucer. Yes, tea cup and finger and spilt tea is the better analogy. 


Here's a related exploration of that possibility. Another excerpt from my book-in-progress: 

Perhaps even projection is not as destortive as we originally assumed. We started off asking “Are the quantum theorists just projecting their own subjectivity onto the objective matter being investigated?” Perhaps that is the wrong question if we hope to achieve a new understanding which might explain the observed anomalies of the atomic and sub-atomic realm. A more productive question might be “Does the mind have within it the same or similar structure as the so-called objective reality at the atomic and sub-atomic level of investigation?” Whereas the subjective realm of mind may have all sorts of fantasized images and thoughts in it, that doesn't preclude it from having access to a deeper structure of reality. If somehow the mind really does have access to a deeper structure (by being able to go deeper in the flare), then that which was “merely” projected was not fantasy; it was deeper fact. Also if the mind is connected to a deeper substratum of reality, that just might explain why it seems so adept at (as Kant would say) “informing objects.”

From the perspective of a quantum realm, the real fantasy might be the notions we have about objective reality! Instead of the quantum scientist being delusional, it's the rest of science which is delusional! The rest of science assumed that the questions and answers which applied to surface reality really is reality as a whole, when in fact those views were never the whole truth about reality.

Not only was it not the whole truth; it may not even been the essential truth. What science thinks it knows here at the surface of reality make not even be the essence of reality. Objectivism has to some extent been a myth. A useful myth as far as it goes, but a myth in terms of what the essence of reality really is. If there really is a “quantum reality,” then we can't get there from here (“here” being from the laws that apply to the surface level of reality).

Or perhaps, as we hinted to earlier, the distinction between objective and subjective reality no longer serves us well, nor has much meaning, at the deeper zones of reality, whether it is the reality of the deep parts of an individual human flare or the deep parts of other objects or beings. Convergence of the different ways of knowing―the quads―happens near the core of the flare.

The reason that the objective way of knowing and the subjective way of knowing seems to blur at the quantum level of reality is because those ways of knowing aren't really separate that deep in. The assumption of a difference between these two ways of knowing is no longer valid there. It is not correct to say that either subjective or objective reality exists there. It may seem to have many of the characteristics of what we call subjective knowing from our perspective up here at the surface, but reality that far in cannot be said to be subjective any more than it can be said to be objective. Neither category applies. 


theurj said:

Particularly the 3rd section of Edwards' paper, where he notes the following:

"To begin with, it's clear that some of the energies that Wilber is including in the Upper Right refer to exterior physical phenomena and some of them refer to interior mental phenomena. [...] I suggest that Wilber is having trouble finding labels for them because these subtle energies he is referring to are actually interior energies."

I added this (below)  to the post where the link led. Placed comment here also, for convenience. 

"Would medium or vessel or dharma be a better term than 'body?' Did I use the word dharma correctly? Not sure. Seems I've heard it described as being a sort of vehicle of expression. Work is dharma. Like a car to deliver spirit to earthly manifestations? " 


theurj said:

I have yet to read the entire post yet so this may be redundant. Have you seen this post and the two following it, discussing some problems with the Lingam's differentiations between mind-body, energy-body and inner-outer?

You might also appreciate Edwards' essay Through AQAL Eyes, part 6, which deals with these issues.

Reply to Discussion


What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

Notice to Visitors

At the moment, this site is at full membership capacity and we are not admitting new members.  We are still getting new membership applications, however, so I am considering upgrading to the next level, which will allow for more members to join.  In the meantime, all discussions are open for viewing and we hope you will read and enjoy the content here.

© 2023   Created by Balder.   Powered by

Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service