“890 sq. ft. of reality, surrounded by Boulder”

The Village Coffee Shop, Boulder, COThe Village Coffee Shop in Boulder, Colorado is known as an “iconic” local landmark appreciated for crispy hash browns, tasty omelets, and a friendly atmosphere. Its slogan—“890 sq. ft. of reality, surrounded by Boulder”—is a catchy semi-tongue-in-cheek poke in the ribs that seems to have served owners Shanna Henkel and her husband Ryan well. In spite of the implied dualism, the pancakes and sausage are none the worse for wear and no one appears to be suffering. Who cares what’s inside and outside once the batter’s mixed? This is one humming, spirit-filled family-owned business.

Back at the Integral Center and the Fourth Turning Conference—just ten minutes away—such matters became the stuff of rich conversation in a Sunday afternoon big think. Diane Hamilton, Doshin Michael Nelson, and Andrew Holocek engaged Ken Wilber in conversation. Notes from a small sample of the larger conversation follow below. Over the next few days, more of these remarks will appear bit by bit, with context to fit them into a more coherent whole.

Diane Hamilton to Ken Wilbur. You’ve given us a great map in terms of practice. But across space and time, what can you offer by way of encouragement?

Ken Wilber speaking with participantsKen Wilber. It’s a pressing issue. Perhaps 500,000 to 1,000,000 people are integral. Many others may be, but don’t self identify. One of the first things that needs to happen is for people to self-identify. They tend to be closeted, flying at the level of the people around them. They fit in and talk the language, but that isn’t terribly satisfying. We can look to integral organizations that people can join to share ideas. We want to help this intermediate period of transition along. Over thirty countries have some form of integral organization. This might help people in this country see how they can become part of a weekly salon, perhaps divide into interest areas.

Andrew Holocek. In the modern world, [scientists] have sort of replaced the high priests of traditional religion. But scientism has a shadow. Buddhism is coming in on the coat tails of mindfulness and contemplative practices are taking hold, but this can be very damaging by shrink wrapping profound teachings and dumbing them down to the firing of neurons.

Ken. Science started out to give credence to religion or spirituality. They showed that all interactions with the world make changes to the brain. Looking at an apple does something to the brain waves, so the scientists say, “See, apples are real.” But when scientists also see that meditators are doing something to the gamma waves in the brain, some will say, “See, God is not real.” Spiritualities are reduced to brain patterns. Some deny that there is any reality in spirituality.

Andrew. So is there any hope [of recognizing the reality of spirit]? I’m inspired by some of the young contemplative neural scientists.

Ken Wilber with conference participantsKen. Max Planck once said that the old paradigms die as believers in the old paradigms die. I reworked this into “The knowledge quest proceeds, funeral by funeral.” …Harry Eagleton, a leader in the post-modern philosophical movement, said this movement is dead. What’s the next most believable philosophy? What’s next? It’s going to take a while to see what unfolds and the comprehensiveness of integral theory should help this process. But it’s all up in the air and there is a tendency to see technology as the driver. We can take integral spirituality and help Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism help us make our own lives fuller, richer, wiser, happier, and more effective—and take that into the world.

Look at protein molecules: when they fold into a particular form, that form is subsequently picked up by all other protein molecules. The innovation is being stored by the cosmos. …Any time any one of you lays down an integral structure, thinks integrally, or creates an integral model, what you create is being stored in the cosmos and it will have an impact of what will unfold in the future. Welcome to your place in history.


The gift of science is that it has been able to describe a lot of reality. The gift of spirituality is that it can describe much of the rest of reality. I’ve begun to realize that the first 70 years of my life and spiritual exploration have been just an appetizer to the fullness of what is to be discovered beyond words and doctrines. I’d say that the opportunity facing religious people in our time is seeking beneath words and doctrines for the human experience that animates them, lest they walk out on the feast after just the first course—mistakenly thinking the meal was over—having paid the full check, but never getting to the main course, let alone the desert.

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