My Yellow Pad Moment

By: sean@metaintegral.com

I'm teaching an exciting new course on TetraDynamics, a groundbreaking meta-analysis of Integral Theory's four quadrants. The following post is my Introduction to the TetraDynamics Handbook, which you will receive for free when you sign up for the course. Sign up today! 

I have been teaching students and professionals for over a decade how to apply Integral Theory. Much of this time has centered on the four quadrants of the AQAL model, in part because the quadrants are very intuitive and provide immediate support in integrating various aspects of reality. As a result, the quadrants have become iconic of the Integral approach in general. Over the years I have noticed patterns in how people apply the quadrants and the resulting successes and mistakes made along the way. Sometimes I have looked at a quadrant chart by a student and felt that something was off but I couldn’t put my finger on it. As the years went by I started to notice that there seemed to be about a dozen common ways that the quadrants are used. Thus, a couple years ago I said to myself, “One day I’m going to get really clear what these 10 to 12 ways are and write a book with a chapter devoted to each way.” Somewhere along the way I began referring to these different quadrant uses as “TetraDynamics.” One of the first times I recall using this term in a conversation was with Lauren Tenney, an Integral Research student at the time. Looking at my notes for that call reveal that it occurred on November 14, 2009. So I’ve been thinking about TetraDynamics for many years.

Finally, last July I decided to sit down for an hour and see if I could diagram out these assumed dozen TetraDynamics. I had been doing integral consulting work for a company and was using several TetraDynamics on various projects. I felt moved to take some time and get more clear on how many TetraDynamics there are. At the end of an hour I had 50 yellow post-its around my desk with different TetraDynamics drawn on them. I was stunned! Both at how many there were and that there were so many inside me and I didn’t know it. After all, I had only thought/felt that there were around a dozen. This process was a powerful experience of witnessing content moving from “subject to object.” So there I sat, like Ken Wilber did while writing Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, with dozens of holarchies on yellow pad paper spread out in front of him—the only difference was I had used yellow post-its and was staring at quadrants (instead of levels). Interestingly, Wilber had his eureka moment and “discovered” the quadrants when he noticed that all of the level charts fell into four categories—the four quadrants.

In the following weeks after that initial creative hour I produced around 20 more Tetra-Dynamics and then over the next couple months produced another 10. So the total number at this point is 81. I suspect there are more and that they will reveal themselves in due time. Maybe even you are aware of some that I should include. I’ve organized these TetraDynamics into over a dozen categories. Of course, many of them could go into several categories. Some of the TetraDynamics make a lot of sense at first glance and some of them are quite abstract and require detailed explanation. For now I’ve included them all without any explanation, but I plan to produce useful descriptions for all of them. I want to begin to teach this material to others and apply it more systematically and further develop our understanding of these TetraDynamics in this kind of applied context. I suspect some of the TetraDynamics will prove quite useful and others not so much. But all of them serve as a profound invitation to consider the interrelated complexity of reality. And some of them in particular are windows into quite stunning vistas of conceptual and embodied understanding.

In addition to the 81 TetraDynamics, I have included an appendix with 14 quadrant diagrams that serve to provide an initial genealogy of these four-squared wonders. As a reference point I’ve included the two classic quadrant charts from Wilber’s magnum opus, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. A number of things stand out when you examine the charts in this appendix: there are nine charts before and three after Wilber’s that emerged independent of his work, with most of them being nearly identical to Wilber’s. The quadrants in these models often appear in a different order, with most of them coming out of sociology, and some of them represent the four quadrants in very unfamiliar ways. A lot can be said about each of these points and others. But for now I will just say I encourage you to engage all 95 diagrams and to begin to apply them in your own integral efforts and to add to the collection. Meditating on these 95 mandalas is a powerful invocation of the inherent irreducible wholeness of reality.