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The Integral Map - Part 3 - Mind


Mind includes every possible aspect of our interior experience.  This runs through a “spectrum of consciousness” that looks something like this: sensations, sense perceptions, emotions, thoughts, systems of thoughts, spiritual experiences, and even enlightenment.  Usually we consider mind to be our thoughts, but mind also includes our experience before thought (pre-rational), and our experience beyond thought (trans-rational). Even our physical sensations are experienced subjectively, as are emotions such as anger and joy. 

A primary aspect of mind is attention.   Are we able to concentrate on things?  Where does our attention usually go?  This fundamental ability of mind, and how we use it, will say a lot about our “mental health”.  Cultivating attention and applying it in life-affirming ways is an important challenge in developing our potential as human beings.  In recent years we have seen an explosion in “attention deficit disorders”, and medications to remedy the problem.  There are also many other ways to work with attention deficits.  A primary objective of integral care is to develop one’s attention and help foster this strength in others.  Right now my objective as a writer is to try to hold your attention.  How am I doing?

Memory is also a fundamental aspect of mind.   Being curious about a person’s memory might involve asking ourselves some questions, such as:  How strong and accurate is this person’s short and long-term memory?  What do they choose to remember, or to forget?  Do they remember things that never actually happened?  Do they live in their memories, either reliving past glories or dwelling in traumas and regrets, instead of preparing for the future?  Do they seem to learn anything from what they are able to remember?  Pop quiz: Do you remember, from the introduction, the six factors that I suggested have made caring for others more complicated?

From the raw materials delivered to our minds through attention and memory, we build a notion of the kind of world we live in and who we are.  Our self-concept is how we think about ourselves.   Do we see ourselves as basically worthy of respect, appreciation, and affection; or do we believe we deserve to be ignored and neglected, or even punished?  Do we see ourselves as resourceful and capable of meeting whatever challenges come our way, or do we feel inadequate, impoverished, and likely to fail at any endeavor?  Some of the factors that contribute to our self-concept include:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Family
  • Race/ethnicity
  • Social/economic class
  • Sexual preference
  • Religion
  • Political affiliation
  • Organizational membership
  • Profession
  • Psychiatric status (i.e. “normal/abnormal)

Our identities also form around particular social roles.  When caring for others we should consider:  Are they a father, mother, brother, sister, therapist, patient, carpenter, recovering addict, or political activist?  In order to maintain our identities in any of these categories we have stories we tell ourselves about who we are.   These stories are usually woven together with memories of events in our personal history.  I began this book, for instance, with my own story to let you know something about who I think I am.  We all have some way that we think about who we are, and it is important when caring for others to notice this, and not assume that people see themselves or us in the same way that we do.

Along with self-concept, comes worldview.  How does a person make sense and meaning out of their experience of the world?  Do they see it a hostile, grudging place where they have to fight just to survive?  Is it full of mysterious forces that must be placated with their prayers and ritual offerings?  Is it a territory they are trying to conquer by brute force?  Is it a divinely ordered world where their obedience to spiritual law earns them group protection and blessings?  Is it an oyster to be had by those clever and assertive enough to take what they want?  Is it a place where divergent beliefs and needs should be given equal value and embraced within a universal human family?  Is it all an illusion to be seen through and transcended altogether?   How we construct meaning out of our experience of the world is a huge aspect of the territory of mind.  Just as with a person’s self-concept, it will be helpful when caring for others not to assume that they see the world the same way that we do.  Understanding that people have their own way of constructing their identity and the meaning of their experience will make us more sensitive and effective.  Rather than responding just from our own perspective, we will more likely connect with people where they are.

Executive Function
Our ability to have an overview of any situation or challenge and have an organized plan for how to respond is called our executive function.   This allows us to conceptualize a sequence of steps toward completing complex tasks, i.e. develop a strategy and carry it through.  Maybe we want to build a bridge, prepare for a tropical vacation, or organize a rally at City Hall.  We can be strong or weak in our executive function, and when caring for others it is helpful to have some sense of their ability in this area.  This is especially helpful in preventing us from having unrealistic expectations about what someone ought to be able to do in caring for themselves. In describing the integral map I am hoping you will find it useful for whatever executive functions you may need in providing care. 

Other aspects of mind include:

  • Multiple intelligences (per Howard Gardner)
  • General fund of knowledge
  • Specialized knowledge
  • Intuition
  • Insight
  • Humor
  • Morality
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Emotional intelligence


Please visit The Integral Nap - Part 4 - Body

Wilber, K. Spectrum of Consciousness

Basic reference on attention

Basic references on memory

Basic reference on identity formation

Theses examples roughly follow the sequence of stages suggested by Spiral Dynamics.

Basic reference on executive function



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