Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Bookmarks, Mystic Gunslinger: Ken Wilber May Be Obnoxious, but He Wants Us to Know It All

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

Bookmarks, Mystic Gunslinger: Ken Wilber May Be Obnoxious, but He Wants Us to Know It All

Article excerpt

face=+Bold; Bookmarks face=-Bold; By Richard Handler

face=+Bold; Mystic Gunslingerface=+Italic; face=-Italic; face=-Bold; face=+Italic; Ken Wilber may be obnoxious, but he wants us to know it allface=-Italic;

face=+Bold; Integral Spirituality face=-Bold; By Ken Wilberface=+Italic; Integral Books. 313 pp. ISBN: 1-590-30346-6face=-Italic;

face=+Bold; A Brief History of Everything face=-Bold; By Ken Wilberface=+Italic; Shambala. 339 pp. ISBN: 1-570-62187-Xface=-Italic;

face=+Bold; The Essential Ken Wilber: An Introductory Readerface=+Italic; face=-Italic; face=-Bold; face=+Italic; Shambala. 199 pp. ISBN: 1-570-62379-1face=-Italic;

When you pick up the books of Ken Wilber, his bald, shining head and intense gaze in the cover photo suggests he doesn't take himself lightly, nor does he think we should. He resembles a hip academic, who wears a T-shirt under his tweed sports coat. His well-muscled neck and broad shoulders tell us he's a jock. Here's the man, with brains and brawn to burn, whom some have called "the Einstein of consciousness."

He's a cult figure for many readers of his more than 20 books. But his reputation is contradictory. A class valedictorian and a self-described "geek," he left graduate school in biochemistry to write his first book, face=+Italic; The Spectrum of Consciousness,face=-Italic; at the tender age of 23. He's a practicing Buddhist and mystic who wants to combine the best of Western science and Eastern spirituality. Yet despite all the praise--the veneration, even--he receives, he isn't really academically respectable. He rarely publishes in peer-reviewed journals. You'll never see him in face=+Italic; The New York Review of Books.face=-Italic; But he's a one-man publishing industry, who's written dozens of articles, book chapters, journals, blogs, and whatnot along with his books, mostly directed toward his project of constructing a grand synthesis of human knowledge--spirituality, science, philosophy, transpersonal psychology, business, politics, ecology.

On a personal level, he's an odd blend of noisy recluse and exhibitionist. He spends almost all his time at his house outside of Boulder, where he meditates, lifts weights, reads, and writes in a disciplined, even obsessive manner. Only rarely does he submit to personal interviews--it takes months to get an audience, if you're lucky. But his written interviews appear frequently on the web and in magazines. In his blog, he gives way to a good old fashion rant at his critics, mixing fancy philosophical terms with adolescent insults and curses. He has many critics, and when he fights back, he becomes a new American archetype: mystic as gunslinger.

How can he be so prolific? Isaiah Berlin, the great historian of ideas, tells us (echoing Leo Tolstoy) that there are two types of writers: the hedgehog and the fox. The hedgehog has one big idea and the fox has many. Simply put, Wilber is a hedgehog on steroids. He always writes the same book, trying over and over again to get everything into it. Or more precisely, he writes several kinds of books within his one big volume. What's apparent from even a brief visit to any of his books is that he always has the last word on anything. He fits all knowledge into his schema, sometimes in excruciating, convoluted ways. He's kind of a mad classifier. He wants to sort all of existence into neat categories--create what he calls a "periodic table of consciousness." But nobody must classify him! He's a master at being one up on everybody else's writing and thought. Anyone reading him might think he's is an egomaniac, a genius, a madman, or a little of each.

                 Fortunately, Wilber is sometimes capable of writing for a general audience in simple, one-thing-at-a-time exposition. face=+Italic; A Brief History of Everything, face=-Italic; in spite of its grandiose title, is the best way to get a fix on him in his own words. He's written it as an interview with himself (Norman Mailer, possessed of another giant ego, is fond of this self-interrogation technique). …

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