Feature Article: Awakening the Integral Self: A Historical Sweep of Human Emergence

Rafael Nasser

Rafi NasserThe recent discovery of bones at Ethiopia’s Lake Omo indicates that our species is approximately two hundred thousand years old. That observation suggests that 10,000 generations of anatomically modern humans have roamed the planet. During this span of time humanity has undergone six discernable Waves of Emergence with a seventh underway.

Historically this process unfolded at a measured pace, each wave propagating and maturing leisurely over millennia and more recently over centuries. But the frequency of emergence has increased past the generational threshold, which suggests that from this point onwards more than one wave could propagate within the span of a single lifetime.

Consider the following table:

Awakening the Integral Self:

Table 1: Emergence and Spiral Dynamics

Developmental theorists suggest that human emergence is prompted when the delicate balance between life conditions and the coping strategies of a social group are thrown into disharmony. When a social system is confronted by new challenges a new coping system develops that transforms all aspects of daily life including attitudes, behaviors, culture and social structures. The dialectic of human emergence moves in the direction of greater complexity.

Table 1 suggests history is singling out this moment as a critical juncture. An impressionistic gloss of newspaper headlines confirms the monumental degree of complexity we face as a species; environmental upheavals, social turmoil, mass ecological extinction, global epidemics and nuclear Armageddon cast shadows that grow longer daily. For the first time ever the physical wellbeing of the entire planet is being threatened.

It appears that the coping strategies of the past are incapable of taming our new life conditions and arguably they are worsening the problems. The groundswell of collective anxiety forming as a result of this realization signals the formation of the next wave of emergence, the Integral wave.

Integral leaders will be tasked the Herculean labor of subduing the hideously complex problems bedeviling our planet. Some of the characteristics associated with the Integral Leadership have already been identified by developmental theorists: high creative intelligence; the ability to find the order in chaos and the chaos in order; the capacity to consider multiple perspectives simultaneously; and the facility to adapt instantaneously to dynamic complexity.

The characteristics of Integral consciousness are simple to list. But here we raise our sights above merely establishing a cognitive understanding of the concepts, and seek to invoke the direct experience of Integral consciousness. The welfare of the planet depends on a critical mass of leaders representing all ethnicities, religions and nationalities undergoing the sort of dramatic transformation that in prior ages played out unevenly over long stretches of time. This article is intended as a spark thrown in the highly flammable reservoir of Integral awareness.

Our strategy: To explore the story of human development by tracking the Waves of Emergence within the context of Spiral Dynamics. Spiral Dynamics is a conceptual framework based on the pioneering work of Professor Clare W. Graves and refined by Don Beck and Chris Cowan. The model traces human development across stages of increasing complexity. Every level is assigned a color code for ease of reference: Beige, Purple, Red, Blue, Orange, Green, Yellow and Turquoise (

We begin by tracing the first six stages of human emergence and when we generate enough contextual momentum we’ll leap across the chasm that separates the sixth wave Green, and the seventh, Yellow. Professor Clare W. Graves referred to this event as “the momentous leap to 2nd Tier”. The leap to 2nd Tier represents the awakening of the Integral self.

Our story begins 2,000 centuries ago with the dawn of our species and reaches a historical climax in the present moment, as our globe accelerates towards an uncertain future

1. Beige– Elemental Consciousness (10,000 – 2500 generations ago): Anatomically modern humans appear in the fossil record about 200,000 years ago. Incredibly, for the first 150,000 years our species exhibited behavioral patterns and manufactured tools similar to archaic humans such as Neanderthals and Homo erectus. Elemental consciousness is characterized by Elemental Intelligence, the ability to understand the relationship between the four elements, water, fire air and earth. This cognitive skill is implicit in fire mastery. But Beige campfires lacked storytelling and shamanic drumming circles. The tongue evolved to taste food and the lungs to oxygenate blood, not to shape breathed air into enchanting stories that animate imaginary worlds or chants to summon ancestral shades and animal spirits. Symbolic thinking had not yet emerged at this stage of human evolution. Elemental consciousness was bound by the immediacy of sensorimotor experience. Their universe extended to the edge of the biosphere.

2. Purple – Symbolic Consciousness (2500 – 600 generations ago): Around 50,000 BP climate conditions worsened. Ice sheets advanced robbing the air of precious moisture. The cooler temperature and the arid atmosphere applied extreme developmental pressure on a group of humans who coped with the new life conditions by evolving Symbolic Consciousness. Incredibly, a clan of elemental humans dissociated from the felt reality of the physical environment on which their survival depended. They built an imaginary world made of symbolic artifacts; they invented culture. The tool they used to create this fantastical universe was the metaphor. Geneticists believe that every human being alive today descends from this primordial maverick tribe. The shift from Elemental to Symbolic consciousness was extraordinary. Sympathetic magic and music, animism and totemism, tattoos and taboos, complex tools and weapons, sculpture and art enter into the archeological record at this stage. Paleontologists refer to the emergence of Purple culture as the Upper Middle Paleolithic Revolution. The evolutionary advantage brought by this wave of development is uncontestable. By 30,000 years ago the brawny hominids that once populated Australia, Asia and Europe had been decimated by the articulateTribal Creatives who had spread Purple culture across the face of the planet.

3. Red– Egoic Consciousness (600 – 125 generations ago): The last major Ice Age peaked 20,000 years ago. The ice sheets retreated and the moist climate improved life conditions. As the human population grew the number of large game dwindled. Some settlements appeared and the inhabitants experimented with animal and plant domestication as alternative sources of food. About 10,800 BCE the climate suddenly deteriorated. A thousand year long Ice Age shocked the planet and life conditions worsened once again. Population pressure and lower food supplies forced the larger settlements to disband. Some members relocated to the river valleys of the Near East, Egypt and India which were rich in alluvial soil. These people developed new horticultural techniques and when the climate became temperate again by 9,600 BCE, they thrived. By 3,500 BCE metallurgy was invented. Metal could be shaped into plows that yielded richer harvests than digging sticks and wooden hoes. The river valley civilizations flourished. Graineries were created to store the surplus goods. Metal was beat into swords and armies were created to protect Mother Nature’s bounty. The transformation of consciousness that accompanied this development was formidable: the emergence of the ego. For the first time in human history a sense of steadfast confidence in human power arises. The felt sense of control over the environment greatly contributed to this development. Kingship, institutionalized egotism, develops as a new form of governance. New mythologies emerge in which solar Heroes battle and defeat fearsome creatures. Codes of honor and shame rather than superstitious taboos govern behavior and fate comes under the purview of a pantheon of anthropomorphic power gods. During this period writing is invented and the adventures of the Red gods, heroes and kings are inscribed on clay tablets, painted on temple murals and immortalized on stone monuments still standing.

4. Blue– Logical Consciousness (125 – 20 generations ago): Egoic religion was centered on the person of the king, whose destiny was fused to the destiny of the kingdom. Teams of priests scrutinized signs and omens which were interpreted as messages from the power gods. The movements of the celestial bodies were carefully observed. Any irregular activity was cause for serious concern. Eclipses were viewed as particularly virulent omens and especially feared. Thales of Miletus is known as the Father of Philosophy. According to legend, he earned this moniker by correctly predicting an eclipse that took place on May 28, 584 BCE. This prediction heralded the emergence of the next worldview, Blue. Thales’ prediction proved that the seemingly sentient Red sky gods were in fact governed by a superior power that maintained an orderly, predictable Creation. A singular omnipotent, God was conceived, the Logos, whose behavior was conceived as rational and moral. The idea developed that humans, created in God’s image, possessed a rational soul, the source of god like logic and reason. Philosophers and theologians argued humans could discern God’s will through the faculty of reason. The Truth could be reached through logic, the Good through rationality and Beauty through justice. As this worldview spread Societies emulated the Kosmic order by rationalizing all aspects of daily life including law, ethics, warfare, architecture, governance, art, theater, history, cosmology, religion and education. The Blue worldview formed the vanguard of human consciousness from late antiquity through the Renaissance twenty generations ago when the next wave of human evolution emerged.

5. Orange– Instrumental Consciousness (20 – 8 generations ago): Aristotle (d. 323 BCE) was the great innovator that formalized logic. His works were revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims sages. Learned men of all three faiths referred to him as, “The Philosopher”. His philosophy formed the backbone of their metaphysical models. Religion invested heavily in his cosmological model. Aristotle envisioned the Kosmos as a series of onion like etheric spheres that moved the planets. The Earth formed the lowest point of creation and was subject to different laws than the divine Heavens. God resided in the Empyrean, the topmost of the Heavenly spheres. According to this model the universe was geocentric, closed andfinite. About 400 years ago thinkers began to propose new cosmological models. Copernicus developed a sun centered model of the universe that was a better predictor of planetary motion. Galileo pointed a telescope at Jupiter and noticed moons in orbit around the giant planet – this observation contradicted Aristotle and orthodox religious dogma. Newton’s discovery that the same mathematical formulas could be used to describe heavenly and earthly motion shattered Aristotelian cosmology. A new worldview emerged that championed empirical knowledge over reasoned truth and privileged the insights of empirical science over the reasoned arguments of theology. This forward-looking system stressed that scientific innovation, and technology could help humanity fashion a better future. The Doctrine of Progress inspired social transformations. The Industrial Revolution, The American Revolution and the French Revolution represent the popular outpicturing of the spirit of the Orange wave. The Modern Age was born.

6. Green– Communicative Consciousness (8 – 4 generations ago): Modernity had replaced the religious belief of a glorious afterlife with the promise of material rewards in the present one. But the French Revolution was an ugly, bloody affair that ended in the coronation of Napoleon and the Industrial Revolution drew millions to urban centers from the pastoral hinterlands to work in overcrowded factories in miserable conditions. When it became clear that the promise of Modernity would not materialize a cloud of dark anguish settled over collective consciousness. A new worldview emerged around the need to communicate the existential trauma suffered inwardly. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was a social critique written in Green ink about the monster creation of Orange science and technology terrorizing the people. Other artists, writers and philosophers began to paint wretched portraits of the dark face of progress. They gave the dispirited anguish suffered by friend and neighbor a shrill voice. A felt sense of collective responsibility for social wellbeing and reform emerged. Romanticism, transcendentalism, idealism, naturalism, socialism, and spiritualism were some of the 19th century movements that developed in order to bring back a sense of dignity, sensitivity and meaning to human existence. Post-colonialism, postmodernism, environmentalism and multiculturalism are more recent perspectives that ride on the same Green wave. The Green wave consciousized the inward personal and cultural realms where humans live out their stories. Contemporary film and media feed the postmodern fascination with the interior dimension of human experience. And with the heartfelt recognition of the suffering that characterizes the human condition the circle of identity closes around the entire planet.

The Precipitous Fall: With great empathy and a far-reaching global perspective mature Green becomes increasingly aware of the monumental problems facing humanity. The perception that the planet is heading towards a precipitous fall crystallizes. The structural integrity of the planet is continuously being tested as the pressure on the world system increases: naïve Green liberal policies are aggravating social ills for millions of third world citizens; profit driven Orange industrialists are engineering an environmental catastrophe; Blue religious ideologues are marching toward the apocalypse armed with space age weapons; power hungry Red warlords are terrorizing, raping and threatening genocide; Purple ecologies are being decimated in the name of Orange and Green progress.

The urgency intensifies with the realization that none of the previous coping strategies are capable of effectively addressing systemic Global problems: A Blue mythic God didn’t prescript this drama, so it can’t be fixed with a miracle; Orange business leaders, technocrats and scientists can’t solve a problem they are haplessly perpetuating. Green goodwill initiatives fall on deaf ears and politically correct half measures are impotent attempts to band aid fatal wounds.

Consciousness is standing on the edge of the Green system staring down at the abyss. The planet is streaming towards an unsustainable future.What happens next? There is no one to turn to for help. There is no magic switch we can flick that will transform the midnight hour of history into dawn. Darkness floods awareness. One option remains, human consciousness can rekindle anew through the emergence of a new worldview.Would you risk stepping off the edge of Green into the unknown for the sake of humanity? Are you prepared to leap into the void, naked and uncertain, for the welfare of the planet? If you are…

…then welcome to 2nd Tier.

7. Yellow– Integral Consciousness (this generation): The capacity to consciously jump with intention into a chaotic maelstrom is a defining mark of the awakened Integral leader. Embracing dynamic change as a way of life represents the embodiment of the leap to 2nd Tier. An Integral leader honors the virtue of Purple vision, Red ambition, Blue discipline, Orange innovation and Green sensitivity, and envelops all those prior structures of consciousness within a new form of intelligence that can flow in adaptive harmony with dynamic change. Intuition is the capacity that emerges at Yellow to address nonlinear complexity. This capacity differs from previous forms of intelligence in that it requires an ever-present vigilance and a constant grounding in awareness. At the Integral level the quality of one’s Being becomes central to the process of knowing. This perspective requires an ongoing commitment to personal growth and transformation. At this stage the focus of decision making shifts from thinking in terms of ethnic, religious and national categories to an evolutionary view that recognizes the dimension of vertical development that cuts across all human societies. The overarching value that guides Integral Leadership is actualizing human potential at all the levels of the Spiral of human emergence. Integral leaders who understand the dynamics of human emergence and are informed by trans-rational intuition may be able to steer human history towards a safer future.

8. Turquoise – The next wave that will emerge after the Integral wave matures has already been assigned a color, Turquoise. But until the Integral wave reaches a tipping point and ripens the characteristics of this system will remain vague and mysterious. We can predict that Turquoise will awaken a higher form of human intelligence than intuition and develop social systems capable of managing unimaginable levels of complexity. Table 1 suggests that human emergence is accelerating towards a singularity. Perhaps this indicates that at the Turquoise level a new form of intelligence emerges that shifts the focal point of time from the model of a consequential past that extends into the future, to an enduring present moment that includes the past and transcends the future. Some recent scientific studies suggest human consciousness is part of a unified field that exhibits non local properties. Maybe collective human consciousness possesses the power to mold the future by seeding the present moment with intentional awareness. The further exploration of consciousness may lead our species to reframe the linear relationship between space, time and history. Humanity may develop the capacity to consciously anticipate emergence, turning time inside out and transforming history from the study of yesterday to the art of forming tomorrow, today.

Given the generational speed of human evolution there is a fair chance that within the span of our lifetime many of us may live to see the emergence of Turquoise. However, for now the Integral chapter of human emergence remains unfinished. The next twist in the plot is still being penned. The stakes are high and time is shrinking. Planetary wellbeing depends on a critical mass of Integral leaders that can redress the imbalances of the past and push linear history towards a brighter future. Whether the human adventure is just beginning or about to end depends on how many souls alive today are prepared to lead the way by diving into tohubohu with a crystal clear conscious intention.