William Blake's Integral Psychology: Reading Blake and Ken Wilber Together

By Adams, Will W. | Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

William Blake's Integral Psychology: Reading Blake and Ken Wilber Together


Adams, Will W., Journal of Transpersonal Psychology


ABSTRACT: Both William Blake's poetry and Ken Wilber's Theory of Integral Psychology articulate a grand path of individual, interrelational, and collective awakening: moving beyond one-dimensional caverns of habit, convention, and defense; realizing the holy, multi-dimensional nature of self, others, and world; and responding with awareness, wisdom, love, and justice. Blake embraced this great existential challenge with immense artistic and spiritual integrity. Likewise, each of us is called to explore the path directly. Guided by Wilber's model, the article demonstrates that Blake created an integral ("all quadrant, all level") vision of existence and body of artwork. Blake sought to cultivate well-being in all levels of consciousness (body, mind, soul, and spirit) and in relationships with others, culture/society/community, and nature. By presenting an integral psychological interpretation of Blake's art and a Blake-inspired exploration of Wilber's theory, the present work endeavors to foster a deeper appreciation of both.

* ". . . man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern" (Blake, 1988, p. 39)

* "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: infinite" (p. 39).

* "He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God" (p. 3).

* "God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is" (p. 3).

* ". . . every Minute Particular is Holy" (p. 223).

* "He who would see the Divinity must see him in his Children . . . in friendship & love" (p. 251).

With this profound testimony William Blake depicts a grand path of human awakening and liberation. Addressing us across two centuries, Blake makes an inspired plea for individual, interrelational, and collective transformation. At stake here is nothing less than the evolution of consciousness and culture. Indeed, Blake summons us to move beyond our one-dimensional caverns of habit, convention, and defense; to realize the holy, multi-dimensional nature of self, others, and world; and to respond with awareness, wisdom, love, and justice. Discovering that such a path exists at all, obscure as it can be initially, and then choosing to follow it as consciously as we can, even when it becomes obscure again and again along the way: This an awesome existential calling.

Answering the call in his own extraordinary way, Blake traversed this path with immense integrity. Yet it was far from easy. Born in 1757 and residing in London for most of his 69 years, Blake worked as a poet, engraver, and painter. His artistic and spiritual gifts, however, were little appreciated at the time. He experienced episodes of depression and mania, and tales circulated that he was mad. Yet those who knew him well held him in great esteem. Unable to sell much of his work, he and his beloved wife often lived in material poverty. Nonetheless, Blake cultivated an unwavering openness to the intense, revelatory visions that guided his art and his quest for human liberation.

Through his poetry and visual art Blake addressed many of the key ideas that later emerged in the discipline of psychology. Psychoanalytic, Jungian, existential, humanistic, and transpersonal insights are all abundant in his work (Singer, 2000; Adams, 2006b). Blake anticipated Freud's (1957) foundational views on repression and the return of the repressed. Like Jung (1958), he revered the wisdom and creativity of the unconscious, and was attuned to the power of archetypal symbols. Consistent with the existentialists (Heidegger, 1927/1962; Laing, 1967), Winnicott (Winnicott, 1971; Adams, 2006b), and critical psychologists (Fox & Prilleltensky, 1997), Blake warned of the dangers of excessive conformity to convention, of seeking (apparent) security and consolation while foreclosing individual freedom and collective social justice. Like Heidegger (1927/1962) and Becker (1973), he saw that by consciously confronting suffering and death we may be inspired to live more authentically.

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