Vertical development and Integral theory

Before reading this page, I recommend reading the Vertical Development page, because this is a follow-up development to the work described there. This page is largely based on STAGES model which is developed by Terri O'Fallon, she is the founder of Reading resources include and It may also be interesting to read this critique and the reply A sizeable amount of information can be found here

STAGES theory extends the Ego Development Theory by Susanne Greuter, while incorporating aspects of Integral Theory by Ken Wilber. This combines the data driven work of Greuter, with a theory heavy approach of Wilber, producing a model that more structured (with several extra stages that were missing from Greuter's data driven work). The model is founded upon several polarities:

  • Individual - Collective, which looks at interaction between "objects".
  • Exterior - Interior, which looks at the boundary of an "object".
  • Inside - Outside, which is similar to what is often called Being - Doing polarity, or the feminine-like - masculine-like polarity.

These three polarities are then presented in a four quadrant representation.

4 quadrants of stages model
The four quadrants that contain the 3 polarities that STAGES theory is based on. The 4 quadrants allow for 2 degrees of freedom, while the arrow represents the 3rd degree of freedom.

This figure is merely intended to give you a way of relating to the 3 polarities. The STAGES model itself uses a slightly different representation.

stages model 4 quadrants
The 3 polarities of the STAGES model represented in a 4 quadrant picture containing 8 perspectives. Each quadrant contains two perspectives, one for "being" which is represented by the circle, the outside of the circle represents "doing".

The STAGES model is built upon several essential concepts, that of states and stages. States reflect the ability to perceive in a specific way, the states are:

  • Accident
  • Practice
  • Conscious usage
  • Part of life

The specific ways to which these states apply are:

  • Concrete sensory states
  • Subtle internal sensory states
  • Focus attention/concentration
  • Awareness
  • Awareness of awareness
  • Non-dual
  • Awakening

A stage requires certain ways of information processing to be in place, the opposite is not true, a non-dual perception can be combined with a concrete stage for example. But the non-dual perception will only cover concrete phenomena. Each stage (1st person perspective until 6th person perspective) can be in the following level of development:

  • Receptive, or passively experiencing.
  • Either-Or, seeing in others or how others see it in you, but not being able to do both at the same time.
  • Both-And, seeing in others, and seeing how others see it in you at the same time. This is also called reciprocity.
  • Interpenetration, deeper insight preparing you for major transitions such as concrete to subtle.

There is however an explicit constraint that you cannot get (for example) a 4th person perspective without having developed a 3rd person perspective.

If you consider the picture shown earlier with the circles in it, and then apply this to the most developed forms of Concrete, Subtle and MetAware, then you would get three pictures. The odd numbered perspectives are focused on the individual/singular, while the even numbered perspectives are focused on the collective/plural. Early stages allow you to be something, but to effectively use in a setting where other people are involved requires the later stage. Typically the more developed version of a stage grants the ability to prioritize the new insights, which up to that point were something you were aware of, but couldn't really fully use in daily life.

stages concrete
All concrete stages, where the circles represent "being" and the outside represents "doing".

Lets start with the concrete stages:

  • Stage 1.0 - Early first person perspective, that is at the receptive development level.
  • Stage 1.5 - Late first person perspective, that is at the both-and development level. 
  • Stage 2.0 - Early first person perspective, that is at the receptive development level.
  • Stage 2.5 - Late first person perspective, that is at the interpenetration development level. 

Stage 1.0 is pre-language, pre-ego, and is so old that it concerns itself with realizing that what parts our body is made up. It's about forming a very early sense of what is part of yourself and what is not. Stage 1.5 essentially grants essentially an idea of what is me and what is not me, but at this stage other people are considered in the same way as a tree or any natural object. There is no notion of other people yet.

Stage 2.0 is where the awareness that there might be other people, who have similar experiences to me. And these people might actually see me when I don't look at them or don't see them. It opens the door for communication, because now there is more than one person that you talk with, ask questions, and make agreements with. At this point the first human shaped gods are also shaped, rather than gods as an aspect of nature. Stage 2.5 adds priority and hierarchy, and institutionalizes the stage 2 insights. A lot of religions were born out of stage 2.5, and religious experiences are very much focused on concrete experiences. This included concrete gods and concrete demons, and a lot of collective rituals to act out these concrete beliefs. Like the Christian communion, where the body and blood of Christ was taken.

stages subtle
All subtle stages, where the circles represent "being" and the outside represents "doing".

There are also 4 subtle stages, which are:

  • Stage 3.0 - Early third person perspective, that is at the receptive development level.
  • Stage 3.5 - Late third person perspective, that is at the both-and development level.
  • Stage 4.0 - Early fourth person perspective, that is at the receptive development level.
  • Stage 4.5 - Late fourth person perspective, that is at the interpenetration level.

Stage 3.0 allows a person to discover their subtle body (what is me, what is not me), it is at this stage that people start to develop the ability for formal operations (see the work of Piaget). Purely symbolic thought based capabilities start entering into the awareness. The focus on inner mental phenomena is formed, and focusing on things that are not concrete (but subtle instead) becomes possible. People start describing the inner states of human beings, sages such as The Buddha come into arena and describe things using mental phenomena such as equanimity. The discovery of the inner human has started. Stage 3.5 adds the ability to recognize both the subtle in themselves and in other people, but not yet how other people perceive their subtle phenomena, because that requires doing both at the same time. Stage 3.5 corresponds with the "Achiever" mentioned in Vertical development. It is perhaps surprising to see that the conventional stages stops at half concrete, half subtle. Globally speaking many people never go beyond this stage.

Stage 4.0 comes with the awareness that just as you have the ability to view your own subtle world as objects (rather than subject, in which case you cannot reason about it, because it just "is" without any awareness of why it is), other people have this ability as well. It is therefore symmetric with stage 2.0, except that it applies to subtle phenomena instead of concrete phenomena. As you now gain the ability to use simultaneously consider subtle you and subtle other person, a new ability to communicate  is formed. Stage 4.0 corresponds to the "Individualist" mentioned in Vertical Development, and thus we have stepped into the Post-Conventional stages. This is to give you an idea that from here on out the number of people that will understand this is going to be lower. Stage 4.5 is the first stage that can be considered Integral, it integrates, categorizes  and prioritizes subtle phenomena. This is similar to saying perspectives are prioritized. Understanding of complex systems of systems is formed at stage 4.5 (systems can be anything, mechanical systems, electrical systems, physics systems, human systems such as organizations or societies), it brings insight into complex inter-dependencies that are the reality of our lives.

stages causal
All MetAware stages, where the circles represent "being" and the outside represents "doing". Note that "MetAware" in the past was called "Causal", but that terminology proved problematic.

Now we arrive at the MetAware stages:

  • Stage 5.0 - Early fifth person perspective, that is at the receptive development level.
  • Stage 5.5 - Late fifth person perspective, that is at the both-and development level.
  • Stage 6.0 - Early sixth person perspective, that is at the both-and development level.
  • Stage 6.5 - Late sixth person perspective, that is at the interpenetrative development level.

Stage 5.0 comes with discovery of the MetAware body. The process of awareness of awareness comes into play, and subtle objects mature into MetAware objects. Stage 5.5 expands that with seeing MetAware objects in other people, but not yet being able to see how other people see your MetAware body.

Stage 6.0 allows you to communicate in terms of your MetAware body, a new collective arises. Experiences of non-duality comes into play, but it is not yet a non-dual stage (something which hasn't been properly observed in real people, and thus only part of theory).

Two important terms are used for MetAware stages, namely emptiness and fullness. Specifically the emptiness and fullness of concrete and subtle objects. The MetAware interior is connected to emptiness and the MetAware exterior is connected to fullness. Emptiness and fullness are MetAware objects, just as thoughts and feelings were subtle objects. Surprisingly and perhaps unsurprisingly, O'Fallon does not define what emptiness and fullness mean, probably to avoid the trap of defining them from the perspective of the language mediated ego. The terms have their original in some ancient traditions from Asia, and are for example used in Buddhism. Humans are many things, you might be an employee, a parent, a child, but is that really all that you are? Ofcourse not, humans cannot be defined in words. That is sort of what emptiness is (bearing in mind that words can be deceptive). On the other hand, if you don't try to pin down a human in ideas or concepts (essentially avoiding reification, which means to avoid assuming concepts are reality) then you will see humans are full, so many possible expressions, in a way all are possible. Emptiness is the void in which nothing has specific meaning, in which all things can express their potential, their fullness. The ego's tendency to generate stories makes that most people are not used to the neutral state of consciousness through which emptiness can be understood. As I write this I realize the sometimes desperate need to fill life with ego-generated stories. This would remove the emptiness, and leave no space for the expression of all the possibilities of life (i.e. fullness). It is like the story of zen master who overflowed the students cup, because there was no space in the students head to actually experience what the zen master was trying to teach, and the student would always fall back on the "stories" that were already in the students head. 

So far we talked about the horizontal poles interior and exterior, the vertical poles individual and collective, also require some elaboration. The MetAware individual is the witness, while the MetAware collective is the sum of Concrete, Subtle and MetAware existence. The witness is beyond identification with the ego mediated realm of language and typical thoughts, it witnesses everything (including thoughts), but does not get attached to them. This collective is sometimes called "Kosmos" by O'Fallon. Stage 6.5 brings experiences where your own MetAware body is projected into the "Kosmos". The other way around, taking the entire "Kosmos" (the collective experience of the Concrete-Subtle-MetAware body) into yourself also happens. This is supposedly a preparation for the non-dual.

To wrap this up, this is still an early version, although I've tried to clarify the MetAware as I gain more insight into that. As always, I put the references I used at the top of this page. As a reminder, a lot of people in this world are at stage 2.5, 3.0 and 3.5, this is what is often called the conventional realm. A fair amount of people (order of magnitude 10%) are at stage 4.0, and about half of that are at 4.5. And from there on out the amount of people is less and less. On the one hand there are people who haven't moved into the Subtle (i.e. those people who never move beyond stage 2.5), and there are people (like myself?) who are at the transition to MetAware (stage 4.5 -> 5.0). The gap here is pretty big, I honestly cannot say if the most exciting thing this is getting more people to 4.5, or getting relatively fewer people into stage 5 and 6. Both are valuable, it would ease communication a lot (for me) if the baseline is closer to 4.5, because few people seem to posses the ability to really deal with the subtle collective in an "objective" way, rather than being fully contained within it as a subject, which makes those people ignorant of what is happening in the subtle realm of other people as the experience happens. Realistically speaking I think we're looking at a slow process of development. People can only develop by their own choice, if they don't want to grow into subtle for example, then they most likely never will put in the required mental energy to deal with all the paradox that becomes transparent to the mind as subtle stages develop. And I'm not even considering people those who might be mentally unable to deal with the more complex subtle stages.