top of page


Stages of Development


In this section we will learn about stages of human development. Our understanding of stages of development is relatively new (in terms of the entire history of humankind). It is the result of psychological research conducted in the last century. There are many different models of stage development, in part because different researchers have studied different areas or aspects of human development. (We will consider more about these different areas of development in Section 3: Lines of Development.)


When considering stages of development it is important to remember that growth through stages is a fluid, ongoing process. It does not happen in a rigid, stair-step manner. Rather, if we are "at" a particular stage of development, that means that about 50% of the time we act from that stage. About 25% of the time we act from the stage before that one, and about 25% of the time we act from the stage after that one. In times of stress we may regress to earlier stages of development. To capture the fluidity of this process Wilber sometimes calls stages of development “waves” of development.


The integral model often uses the individual stages of development identified by psychologist Dr. Clare Graves to make general statements about stage development. The stages identified by Dr. Graves are stages of development in one’s values and worldview. These stages are explained in detail in the book Spiral Dynamics, by Don Beck and Christopher Cowan. In this section we will explore these stages of values and worldviews. In the next section (Lines of Development) we will explore other models of stage development that also relate to spirituality.


Spiral Dynamics gives each stage a color. These stages are:


1.  Beige: The Instinctual Survival Stage



  • Home of the instinctual self, who values survival above all else.

  • An autonomic state of existence centered around the satisfaction of biological needs.

  • Energy is devoted to staying alive and meeting basic physical needs.

  • Food, water, shelter, and safety have priority over everything else.

  • Behaviors are driven by deep brain programs, instincts, and genetics.

  • Essentially amoral: do what you must to stay alive.


Where Seen:

  • The first humans

  • Newborn infants

  • The senile elderly, late-stage Alzheimer’s patients

  • Mentally ill street people

  • Starving masses

  • People in "shell shock"


2.  Purple: The Tribal Magic Stage



  • Home of the magical self, who believes in “the way of the ancestors.”

  • Values tribal belonging.

  • Is the home of egocentric drives and a magical worldview.

  • Allegiance is shown to tribes, elders, customs, and clans.

  • People begin to ask why things happen, and find answers in invisible forces and the actions of powerful spirit beings.

  • The lines between fantasy and reality are blurred.

  • People are superstitious.

  • People rely on tribal customs and taboos for direction.


Where Seen:

  • Religious ritual and ceremony (This is the stage at which religious ritual and ceremony are first seen in human history, in their most primitive form. At this stage they are believed in a literal/magical way, whereas at later stages ritual and ceremony are understood to have symbolic meaning.)

  • Parental bonding, the nuclear family, family rituals and reunions

  • Chanting, trance dancing, dream walking

  • Nepotism, blood oaths, blood brothers, tribal belonging in a street gang

  • The placebo effect

  • Ethnic superstitions, voodoo-like curses, religious relics, crosses, a dashboard Jesus, a lucky rabbit's foot

  • A toddler with a security blanket

  • Saturday morning cartoons

  • Halloween, Santa Clause, and the Easter Bunny


3.  Red: The Power Gods Stage



  • Home of the powerful self, who believes in "my way or the highway."

  • Values personal power and autonomy.

  • People break free from any and all domination or constraints to please themselves, and stubbornly resist any power exercised over them.

  • Aggression rules: strong individuals take unilateral control, and use charisma, intimidation, or physical force to impose their will without guilt. Power is based on "might makes right."

  • “No,” means “HELL NO!”

  • The capacity to take the perspective of another person is limited.

  • Belief in survival of the fittest – the weak deserve to lose because they are weak.

  • People may act on immediate impulses without regard for the consequences.


Where Seen:

  • Jim Bridger, frontiersmen, epic heroes, soldiers of fortune

  • The NFL

  • The terrible twos

  • Rebellious adolescents who feel they are immortal

  • Bullies, violent crime

  • Political dictatorships

  • Prison populations

  • James Bond villains, The Godfather, Rambo, The Terminator

  • Wild rock stars


4.  Blue: The Law and Order, Higher Truth Stage



  • Home of the mythic self, who believes in “the one right way."

  • Blue ethics emerge to help control the impulsiveness and narcissism of red.

  • Values truth, stability, a higher purpose, and doing the right thing.

  • Believes in a single Higher Truth, Power, or Authority who rules the Universe, sets human destiny and limitations, prescribes what is "right" and "wrong," and gives meaning and direction to human existence.

  • Holds a traditional worldview.

  • Is absolutistic – has absolute belief in the one (and only) right way and believes in unquestioned obedience to authority. (Mythic worldviews are almost always held as the absolute, universal truth.)

  • Black and white, polarized thinking. Understanding and tolerance are limited.

  • Ethnocentric (my people are right no matter what)

  • Fundamentalist (my God is right no matter what)

  • Fascist (my country is right no matter what)


Where Seen:

  • Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, Andy Taylor’s Mayberry

  • Puritan America

  • The military, codes of chivalry and honor

  • The Salvation Army

  • The Boy and Girl Scouts

  • Monarchies, theocracies, and other hierarchical organizational structures


5. Orange: The Modern, Rational, Scientific Stage


  • Home of the rational self, who believes in “the most effective, successful way."

  • Individuals break free from blue conformity.

  • Faith in dogma is replaced by experiential data and evidence.

  • Ideas and actions are evaluated based on how intelligent or effective they are, not on whether they are orthodox or heretical.

  • Ethics begin to embrace all people: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . ."

  • The belief in human perfectibility through intelligence, hard work, and the constant testing of ideas.

  • People are expected to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.


Where Seen:

  • The scientific method; scientific materialism

  • Multi-party democracies, free markets, entrepreneurism

  • The Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution

  • Corporate America, Wall Street & Rodeo Drive

  • "Success" ministries, both religious and secular; motivational seminars

  • The self-help industry, The Power of Positive Thinking


6.  Green: The Post-modern Pluralistic, Multicultural Stage



  • Home of the sensitive self, who believes that “all ways are equally valid."

  • Values diversity, harmony, and compassion toward all living things.

  • Where orange sees universal truths, green sees multiple truths – different truths for different cultures.

  • Green ethics continue, and radically broaden, the orange movement to ensure equality for all.

  • Focuses on problems of inclusion, equality, and large-scale harmony in the world.

  • Focuses on the need for controlled growth and protecting endangered living things.

  • Believes the earth's resources should be spread equally among all. Rejects the displays of affluence and success that make orange happy.

  • Relativistic and anti-dogmatic. Many different beliefs are acceptable, and no single truth is "It." Believes everyone is right in his or her own way.

  • Displays tolerance for differences and a legitimizing of alternative lifestyles and behaviors, so long as they do not harm others.


Where Seen:

  • America in the 1960s

  • The Civil Rights, Feminist, Gay Rights, and Animal Rights Movements

  • Environmentalism; the Sierra Club; GreenPeace

  • Doctors Without Borders

  • Amnesty International

  • Canadian health care


The Move to 2nd Tier Stages


Green marks the last of what Clare Graves called “1st tier” stages of development. He made a distinction between 1st tier and 2nd tier stages because of the significant differences between the green, pluralistic stage and the next stage. He called the move from 1st tier stages to 2nd tier stages a “momentous leap.” (This distinction is similar to the distinction Abraham Maslow makes between “deficiency needs” and “being needs.”)


People in each 1st tier stage tend to believe that their values and worldview are the only "right" ones, and that all other values and worldviews are in some way wrong. We see this 1st tier attribute today in our culture wars. Often people who hold green postmodern values reject both orange capitalism and blue fundamentalism. Those who hold orange rational values often reject green for being hypersensitive and overly "politically correct," and blue for being irrational. And those who hold blue traditional values often see those who hold both orange and green values as having lost sight of basic principles of right and wrong, and destined to either hell or ruin because of it.


The move to 2nd tier brings with it the ability to see all of the previous stages of development from a “systems” point of view. In 2nd tier stages we can see that each of the previous stages is a necessary and positive step forward in human evolution and development. From 2nd tier we are able to see that each of the previous value structures and worldviews fit together in a larger evolutionary pattern.


Second tier thinking sees the whole system of human development, and realizes that each stage forms the developmental foundation or scaffolding upon which the next stage is built. And because everyone is born at stage one (beige), we will always need healthy institutions at every stage, in order for each new human being to evolve through these stages and reach their full potential. This 2nd tier realization results in a valuing and befriending of all of the previous stages of development. 2nd tier stages are the first stages that let red be red, blue be blue, orange be orange, and green be green. 2nd tier values don’t contend with or reject the values or worldviews of any of the previous stages, or the people who hold them.


Clare Graves called 2nd tier stages "universal donor" stages, because they give to each stage whatever is needed at that stage. At 2nd tier stages the "prime directive" becomes ensuring the health of the entire developmental spectrum, and ensuring that avenues exist for the healthy expression of the values of every stage.

There is less information available about later stages of development, especially 2nd tier stages, than there is about 1st tier stages. This is because stage research is usually conducted by following a sampling of individuals and their perceptions, abilities, and understanding over time. Because the latest stages of human development are just now emerging, there are fewer people in the general population at these later stages. This means that researchers studying human development with subjects representative of the general population will have fewer individuals from whom to glean information about these later stages. As more people develop into these stages, researchers will be able to gather more information about 2nd tier stages.


Of the emergence of new stages of development, Wilber has written:

Magic never in its wildest dreams thought that it would be trumped by mythic. And the mythic gods and goddesses never imagined that reason could and would destroy them. And here we sit, in our rational worldview, all smug and confident that nothing higher will sweep out of the heavens and completely explode our solid perceptions, undoing our very foundations. And yet surely, the transrational lies in wait. It is just around the corner, this new dawn. Every stage transcends and includes [the previous stages], and thus inescapably, unavoidably it seems, the sun will rise on a world tomorrow that in many ways transcends reason. – A Brief History of Everything, pg. 60


The first 2nd tier stage is the yellow or integral stage.


7.  Yellow: The Integrated Systems Stage



  • Home of the integral self, who follows “the best way for now, all views considered."

  • Holds a systemic view of reality.

  • Can explore many systems, cross compare them, and select appropriate bits and pieces from each.

  • Sees that each one of the previous stages, beige through green, plays an important role in human evolution.

  • Honors the insights of the green worldview but places them in a larger context that allows for healthy hierarchies (“holarchies”) and healthy value distinctions.

  • Values lifelong learning and exploration.

  • Follows the beat of its own drum and measures self against self rather than self against others.

  • Thinks and acts from an inner-directed core, thus becoming relatively immune to external pressures or judgments. Experiences an increase in behavioral freedom, without harm to others or excessive self-interest.

  • People have strong ethical anchors of their own reasoned choosing that may be derived from many sources.

  • Experiences a dropping away of the fears, compulsions, and anxieties that plague the first six stages.

  • Is tolerant of the needs of people at other stages of development, and respects each stage's worldview, values, systems, and culture.

  • Works to make possible the healthy coexistence and expression of all of the previous stages.

  • Works to facilitate the movement of people through stages, when they are ready.


Where Seen:

  • Carl Sagan’s astronomy

  • Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time

  • Eco-industrial parks (using each other’s outflows as raw materials)

  • Early episodes of TV’s Northern Exposure

  • Governance structures which support and facilitate the progression of individuals and organizations through stages of development, when they are ready


The second 2nd tier stage is the turquoise holistic stage. Because it is such a new stage, a complete picture of turquoise has not yet fully emerged. Some things can be said about it now, but there will be much more to say in the future as turquoise continues to unfold.


8.  Turquoise, the Global Holistic Stage



  • Home of the holistic self, who follows “the way that includes all ways.”

  • Values collaborative synergy and mutual interdependencies.

  • Sees that the huge amount of raw information available to humans calls for a renewal of collaborative energy if the information is going to be useful. Engages in joint activities across groups, factions, and communities.

  • Defines the world community broadly, with a view that centers on life itself – all forms of life, not just human.

  • Embraces a global communitarian sensibility without attacking an individual’s right to be.

  • Sees that individuals are not separate, and neither national boundaries, ethnic peculiarities, or elitist privileges can be allowed to divide people destructively.

  • Where Yellow attempts to stitch together people and functions into networks, Turquoise detects the energy fields that flow throughout everything naturally.

  • Provides a “big picture” view of reality, like a satellite detecting the flowing patterns of clouds and wind on a weather map. Searches for the macro view that seeks to “see everything at once” before taking specific action. Looks at many dynamic forces before working on any single part of the system.

  • Recognizes that energy and information permeate the earth’s total environment. Everything connects to everything else in ecological alignments, and the behavior of any element in the universe impacts all others.

  • Perceives the mutual interdependence of all systems.

  • People in turquoise are not necessarily better, nicer, or more intelligent people. But what they have is more expansiveness in their thinking, and a broader repertoire of behavioral options.


Where Seen:

  • Theories of physicist David Bohm

  • McLuhan’s “global village”

  • Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic fields

  • Gandhi’s ideas of pluralistic harmony

  • James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis


Second tier worldviews are able to see the value and necessity of each one of the previous stages. For example, blue mythic consciousness must establish law and order, and some higher authority that takes people beyond the egocentrism of red, before orange science and rationalism can emerge. And both blue stability and orange rationality are needed in order for green social transformation to succeed.

If we were to characterize each stage with a motto, it might look like this:

  • Purple Tribal Values -- The way of the ancestors.

  • Red Power God Values -- My way or the highway.

  • Blue Law and Order Values -- The one true way.

  • Orange Rational Values -- The most effecient and effective way.

  • Green Postmodern Values -- All ways are equally valid.

  • Yellow Integral Values -- The best way for now, all views considered. 

Appreciating Every Stage


We will use the example of a train to illustrate the importance of each stage, starting with red. Red brings with it the emergence of individual power and the will to assert that power. Red energy seeks to conquer nature. The raw power of dynamite blasting through a mountain to create a tunnel for a train is a good metaphor for red energy. Without red energy the United States would not have been settled by explorers and pioneers.


A Train at Red



But red energy alone is not enough. Red not only blasts a tunnel through the mountain, it brings outlaws with their “might makes right” mentality and naked aggression, who rob the train without regard for the property or well-being of others. This takes us to the need for blue values and the blue worldview. Blue establishes order and the rule of law, so that it is safe to ride the train. Blue also brings the discipline and stability that establishes a schedule for the trains and keeps them running on time.



A Train at Blue


And now that we have a safe train that is running on schedule, orange emerges and can see that the trains don’t have to just run on time, they can be made faster! And they can be mass produced to be more cost effective. Orange energy brings the innovation that puts wi-fi, CNN, and a Starbucks inside the train.



A Train at Orange


And now that we have a safe, on schedule, technologically state-of-the-art train that is manufactured in a cost effective way, green values begin to emerge and ask important questions about the train. For example:

  • Is there a seat for everyone on the train, and are people free to sit wherever they want to, or are some people expected to sit in the back of the train?

  • Is there help for people who need to ride the train but can’t afford to?

  • How are the trains made? Do the workers in the train factories make a living wage, or are they exploited by wealthy factory owners who put profits before people?

  • Do the trains or the train factories pollute the environment or destroy the natural habitat of other living things?



A Train at Green


These are important questions, but questions that could not claim our full attention if red hadn’t laid down the tracks, and blue hadn’t made it safe to ride the train, and orange hadn’t mass produced the trains in a cost effective way and created stable jobs in the train factories.


And now that all of the previous stages have done their work, 2nd tier stages emerge and can see that our trains are  just one component of a larger national and even global transportation system. Second tier sees that in order for the train system to really do everything it's capable of doing, it needs to be integrated with all of our other transportation systems into one integrated system. And 2nd tier sees that in order for our transportation system to function effectively, we must continue to embrace and value red power and assertiveness, blue law and order and stability, orange efficiency and industry, and green concern for equality and all living things.


















A Train at Yellow

Part 1 Intro, Quadrants, Stages-12.tif
Part 1 Intro, Quadrants, Stages-13.tif
Part 1 Intro, Quadrants, Stages-14.tif
Part 1 Intro, Quadrants, Stages-15.tif
Part 1 Intro, Quadrants, Stages-16.tif
2nd Tier

Healthy and Unhealthy Expressions of Each Stage


Each stage has both healthy and unhealthy expressions. Below are some of examples of healthy and unhealthy expressions of each stage.


Beige: Archaic Survival Values

Less Healthy:

  • People in war zone shell shock; post traumatic stress disorder

  • Mental illness; senility


More Healthy:

  • Sensitivity to intuition about impending harm

  • Heightened physical senses and abilities


Purple and Red: Magic and Power Values


Less Healthy:

  • Baseless superstitions

  • The tribal mentality and loyalty of street gangs

  • Tyranny, violent crime, dominator hierarchies, exploitation of the weak

  • Indifference to the harm you inflict on others


More Healthy:

  • A sense of familial belonging

  • Awe at the mysteries of nature

  • Rich imagination

  • Personal empowerment and courage – the inner strength to overcome challenges and explore new territory

  • The free flow of liberating, creative energy


Blue: Traditional Mythic Values


Less Healthy:

  • Rigid dogmatism, close-mindedness

  • Self-righteousness, judging others, intolerance, hypocrisy

  • Unrealistic demands for perfection


More Healthy:

  • Stability and order brought to chaos

  • Service to a noble cause, having a higher purpose in life

  • Fulfilling responsibilities and keeping commitments

  • Honor, integrity, and self-discipline


Orange: Modern Rational Values


Less Healthy:

  • Scientific materialism (denial of inner realities)

  • Extreme competitiveness that damages relationships and/or the environment

  • Manipulation and exploitation of others to advance one's personal success, unethical shortcuts


More Healthy:

  • Healthy independence, finding your own voice

  • Rational objective thinking and scientific discoveries

  • Personal achievement and excellence


Green: Postmodern Pluralistic Values


Less Healthy:

  • Hypocrisy: the exclusion of those who do not share pluralistic values

  • Extreme relativism, the inability to make any value judgments or distinctions

  • The tyranny of consensus, being a slave to "group-think" – the inability to take individual action when it is needed


More Healthy:

  • Working for equality and the full inclusion of all, including the disenfranchised

  • A commitment to the well-being of the environment and all forms of life

  • Embracing diversity

Yellow: Integral Values


Less Healthy:

  • Arrogance

  • Elitism

  • Isolation and alienation


More Healthy:

  • Mental and emotional flexibility

  • The ability to perceive the whole and understand how all of the parts interact, big vision thinking

  • The ability to accept, appreciate, and respect the values of all of the previous stages, the and people who hold them


The Pre-Trans Fallacy


There are stages of development before the orange or rational stage (pre-rational stages), and stages of development after the rational stage (post-rational or trans-rational stages). Pre-rational and trans-rational stages have something in common: they are both “non-rational.” Pre-rational stages are non-rational because the full capacity for rational thinking has not yet developed. Trans-rational stages can be non-rational because the ability has developed to move beyond rational thinking (while still retaining the ability to use rationality when appropriate).


If we do not understand the difference between pre-rational and trans-rational stages, we may make the mistake of lumping all phenomena and experience into two broad categories: rational and non-rational. We are then in danger of taking something that is pre-rational and attributing it to a trans-rational stage of development (as some aspects of the New Age spiritual movement do). Or, we might take something that is genuinely trans-rational and attribute it to immature pre-rational stages of development.

Wilber believes that Freud had a tendency to attribute all non-rational phenomenon (both pre-rational and trans-rational) to infantile pre-rational stages of development, and that Carl Jung, on the other hand, sometimes attributed pre-rational impulses and experiences to trans-rational stages of development. Understanding the difference between pre-rational and trans-rational stages and phenomena can help us avoid this mistake.

Hierarchy, Holarchy, & Holons


One of the characteristics of the green stage is that people at green tend to dislike hierarchy. When green looks at each of the previous value structures, it sees “dominator” hierarchies in which those at the top hold the most power and can oppress and exploit those below them. Extreme green thinking rejects all hierarchy, and in doing so can become uncomfortable with the idea of stages of development, believing that such a concept privileges those who are judged to be at higher or later stages of development. In other words, green is the first stage that may reject the notion of stages altogether.

Making a distinction between “hierarchies” and “holarchies” can help to resolve this concern. Typically we think of a hierarchy as taking the shape of a pyramid or triangle, with a few privileged people sitting at the top oppressing those below them. Another way to think of hierarchy is as a hierarchy of inclusion, or holarchy. Instead of a pyramid, we can think of a holarchy as a series of concentric circles, with each larger circle including but also transcending the previous circles.













                                       Dominator Hierarchy                              Holarchy

In a holarchy, each new stage of healthy development embraces all of the stages that came before, while also expanding beyond them.


The idea of a holarchy brings to mind the words of the poet Edwin Markham:

He drew a circle that shut me out —

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in.


In The Eye of Spirit Wilber writes:


During the evolutionary process, that which is whole at one stage becomes a part of the whole of the next. Each and every thing in the Kosmos is thus what Arthur Koestler called a “holon,” a whole that is simultaneously a part of some other whole, indefinitely. Whole atoms are part of whole molecules, whole molecules are part of cells, and so on. Each is a whole/part, a holon, existing in a natural hierarchy, or an order of increasing wholeness and holism. – The Eye of Spirit, pg. 67



In human language we can see a holarchy of letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books.


Wilber writes the following in response to the green postmodernism concerns with the notion of hierarchy:


The hard part had to do with hierarchies. Granted, rigid social hierarchies are deplorable, and oppressive social rankings are pernicious. Postmodernism has fortunately made us all more sensitive to those injustices. But even the anti-hierarchy critics have their own strong hierarchies (or value rankings). The postmodernists value pluralism over absolutism – and that is their value hierarchy. Even the eco-philosophers, who abhor hierarchies that place man on the top of the evolutionary scale, have their own very strong hierarchy, which is: subatomic elements are parts of atoms, which are parts of molecules, which are parts of cells, which are parts of organisms, which are parts of ecosystems, which are parts of the biosphere. They thus value the biosphere above particular organisms, such as man, and they deplore man's using the biosphere for his own selfish and ruinous purposes. All of that comes from their particular value hierarchy.


Feminists have several hierarchies (e.g., partnership societies are better than power societies; linking is better than ranking; liberation is better than oppression); systems theorists have hundreds of hierarchies (all natural systems are arranged hierarchically); biologists and linguists and developmental psychologists all have hierarchies.   – Introduction to Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, pgs. xii-xiii


Wilber’s integral theory is, in part, an attempt to create a map of reality large enough to include all of these hierarchies (or holarchies), and show how they relate to each other – and how together they comprise a larger, systemic, evolutionary whole.

Returning to the idea of a holon (a whole that is simultaneously a part of a larger whole), Wilber writes:


. . . that which transcends can repress. And thus normal and natural hierarchies can degenerate into pathological hierarchies, into dominator hierarchies. In these cases, an arrogant holon doesn’t want to be both a whole and a part; it wants to be a whole, period. It does not want to be a mutual part of something larger than itself; it does not want to share in the communion of its fellow holons; it wants to dominate them . . . Power replaces communion; domination replaces communication; oppression replaces reciprocity. – The Eye of Spirit, pg. 67

Movement Through Stages

The impetus to shift to a new value structure has been called “The Humpty Dumpty Effect.”  Humpty Dumpty has had a great fall, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men (in other words, all of the resources available to us at our present stage) can’t put Humpty together again. Movement into a new stage begins when our present level of thinking is inadequate to solve the problems we face, when our problems can only be solved with a shift into a new way of thinking. This process repeats itself over and over as we move up the spiral, as changing times repeatedly demand new ways of thinking.

Attempts to change how people think or what they do, while ignoring the stage they are at, are likely to be unsuccessful. Attention must be paid to the underlying stages that govern not just what people think, but how they think and what they value. 

The following is a list of factors that can cause a person to be ready to move from one stage to the next.

What Moves People from Beige (Instinctual Survival) to Purple (Tribal Magical): 

  • Successful beige living permits curiosity about the larger world out there, and more awareness of the threats to safety and security that it holds. With time to think about why things happen, direct observations begin to link cause and effect.    

  • Memories begin connecting now with then.

  • New-found feelings bring attachments to persons and objects.

  •  Social needs for belonging begin to emerge.

What Moves People from Purple (Tribal Magical) to Red (Power Gods): 

  • Greater exposure to the world reveals how baseless many of purple’s superstitions really are, challenging the credibility of purple leaders. Placating the spirits does not always work – they can be unreliable and whimsical. The spirits are not all-powerful after all. 

  • The purple value structure begins to lose some of its fear-based control over people. 

  • With basic safety and security needs met, the need for personal autonomy arises. People begin to think of taking individual action, apart from the tribe, and the individual ego emerges.

  • There is a growing sense that a powerful individual can actually influence the world.

  • As personal autonomy begins to assert itself, in order to keep people under control purple leadership pours on more and more control, stifling individual yearnings to break free of the clan or tribe. The chief takes on a new authority, that of a powerful leader of the pack.

  •  When natural competition for resources pits purple groups against each other, those who assert themselves prosper the most.

What Moves People from Red (Power Gods) to Blue (Law and Order, Higher Truth): 

  •  There are some problems in the world that a tough individual alone cannot solve.

  • When blue first begins to creep in, it is used to justify or legitimize red actions. My good fortune or privileged status becomes the result of God’s will. A higher divine order determines one’s station in life, and anoints the rule of the elite. 

  • The have-nots justify their long-suffering with the hope that everything will be set right “in the great by and by.”

  • Awareness of others begins to creep in, along with a growing understanding of consequences, and how our actions affect others. Other people begin to be seen as relevant beings with inherent worth and rights.

  • Guilt and doubts about unbridled desires and impulsive acts begin to emerge.

  • Energy begins to be put into rationalizing one’s actions.

  • Formal rules (not personal whims) begin to appear, and prescriptions for righteous living replace the arbitrary demands of the ruling elite, and transcend classes of people. At first, these new blue standards are enforced with red force. Higher laws are forced on the masses by the ruling elite “for their own good.”  [This is what the Taliban and other religous fundamentalists attempt to do.]  

  • Blue is needed to stabilize the tumultuous rivalries of red. Individual egos must be subdued by a Higher Authority that is stronger than them and any of their lesser Gods. In both Judeo-Christian and Islamic history, purple and red tribes required the appearance of an all-powerful monotheistic blue God to bring them out of chaos and move them toward a stable authoritarian order.

What Moves People from Blue (Law and Order, Higher Truth) to Orange (Rational, Scientific, Individual Achievement):

  • Once blue has stabilized the world and brought order, the scales begin tipping toward autonomy again, and the pendulum begins to swing from an external locus of control back to an internal locus of control.

  • There is an initial cautious, inoffensive, and controlled movement back toward independent thinking. It becomes possible to deviate from the One Truth, as long as one remains in close proximity to it.

  • True believers begin to voice quiet uncertainty among some of their peers. One may be respectful of authority when it is present, but critical when it is not. 

  • People begin to seek freedom from the limitations that accompany faith in the One True Doctrine, or from the restraints imposed by relationships with other true believers. They may become increasingly angry and resentful over limitations imposed on their personal freedom.

  • “I’m tired of being ‘right.’  I just want to be happy.”

  • The ability to distinguish among different versions of the truth emerges. Questions arise about exactly where truth resides, and who is authorized to interpret it. Truth becomes open to the masses, not just a privileged priestly hierarchy. 

  • Doubts about the infallibility of authority allow for reinterpretation of the truth to better fit the “real world”. 

  • God wants us to use the brains he gave us, not just blindly obey. 

  • Real improvements begin to seem possible through independent thinking and a little less restriction from authority. The trains don’t have to just run on time; they can be made to run faster, too. Believers begin discussing reforms they would like to implement. 

  • We come to believe that we ourselves are a better authority than the established authority. Newly emerging autonomy layered over a blue belief in absolute authority can lead to a strong sense of our own total rightness. 

  • People search out the failings of established authorities, whose feet turn out to be made of clay. Whistle blowers appear. The misdeeds of those in authority are publicly reported.

  • Self-made martyrs appear who need to be punished by the system so they can be reborn even stronger. By reacting against these critics, blue establishes their legitimacy. If martyrs are ignored, they will find a way to somehow be punished or made victims of the authority.

  • One begins to accept that overt rejection of authority will cost them the support of those who still believe in it.

What Moves People from Orange (Rational, Scientific, Individual Achievement) to Green (Equality and Sensitivity): 

  • People begin to wonder if there is more to life than scientific materialism or financial success.

  • Feeling the pangs of loneliness and isolation brought on by constant competition.

  • The realization that divisive competitiveness makes peace of mind hard to find. 

  • Experiencing an increased need for others, and not just as means to an end.

  • Increased awareness of feelings. What others think and want begins to matter more. 

  • The pendulum begins to swing from an internal locus of control back to an external locus of control. Polls, surveys, and discussions begin to inform one’s decisions, rather than one’s own judgement alone.

  • The realization that there is not equality among human beings. Many people have far more than they need, while others go without basic necessities.

  • A growing awareness of the environmental fallout of human technologies and consumption.

What Moves People from Green (Equality and Sensitivity) to Yellow (Integrated Systems): 

  • Doubts about the effectiveness of collectivism begin to surface. Green consensus-building makes quick, focused, responses to changing conditions difficult, even when they are badly needed. Individuals are able to get things done, and done well, all by themselves.

  • Larger issues appear that are beyond the scope of any one community to handle itself. The collective process no longer matches up to the complexity of the problems being faced. One begins looking outside of the group for alternative solutions. 

  • The price of keeping everyone happy becomes too high. One begins to feel frustration and impatience at the group’s needs.

  • The pendulum begins to swing from an external locus of control back to an internal locus of control.

  • Tempered individualism begins rising from the collective, without confinement to orange islands of independence or tough red exploitiveness. This results in an interdependence that frees one to be as he or she chooses on their own individual terms, sometimes seeking inclusion and cooperating when the situation warrants it.

  • Positive relationships with others begin to be seen as one important component of being, but not the sole purpose of it. What others think is interesting, but no longer critical. There is no deliberate rejection of belonging, but the need to be part of a group just begins to fade. 

  • A certain amount of disharmony becomes natural, and one’s tolerance for open contradictions grows.

  • Spirituality meets up with quantum physics.

  • One begins to feel the power of a mind that can reach out to the universe without hand-holding from the group. The interactive universe is becoming more intriguing than either autonomy or community.

What Moves People from Yellow (Integrated Systems) to Turquoise (Global Holism): 

  • Much of the time yellow will stand alone, relying on the power of knowledge and information, not colleagues. But as the spiral zig-zags once again between a focus on “me” and “us,” a new sense of community begins to replace individualism, but this time without the heavy emotional loadings of green communities. 

  • The recognition that there are some problems that cannot be resolved by yellow individuals alone, no matter how much they know or learn. This requires a return to the communal, only this time on a global level. Turquoise, the global collective of individuals, rises to enfold yellow, the information elites.

  • There is heightened respect for the greater holistic wisdom apparent within living systems.

  • Yellow concerns with “what?” and “how?” are supplanted by questions of “why?” and “who?”

  • Spirituality begins to creep back in amongst the likes of astrophysicists, advanced philosopher-thinkers, and high-order mathematicians. 

  • The search for universal causality and the means necessary to reorder the chaos of the world are revived.

A Culture's Center of Gravity


Well-entrenched worldviews create powerful supporting structures and institutions around themselves. These supporting structures may include family, community, political, social, and religious groups that embody the values of a particular stage. The stage that an organization or culture as a whole is at acts as a kind of developmental magnet for the people in that organization or culture. This means that the culture will tend to pull people up to its current stage – up to its cultural "center of gravity." But if individuals try to move beyond the current stage of their culture or organization, their culture's center of gravity usually tries (overtly or covertly) to pull them back to its present stage. 


We may be deeply embedded in relationships, groups, and institutions that are built on the values and worldview of our current stage of development. When this is the case, a painful uprooting may be required before growth to a new stage can happen. Organizations and families can split in two when new stages emerge in only some of their members.

Part 1 Intro, Quadrants, Stages-17.tif
Part 1 Intro, Quadrants, Stages-18.tif

Application to Integral Spirituality: Evolving Godviews

The integral model can be applied to any discipline -- education, politics, law, etc. Wilber has applied them to spirituality and created a model he calls integral spirituality. Below is one way the idea of stages of development can inform an integral approach to spirituality.

Each of the world’s major religious traditions have members and groups or denominations at each stage of  development. Because each stage of development has its own unique worldview and values, our understanding and experience of God or Ultimate Reality will be different at each stage of development. This is true of both religious institutions and individual believers. As we consider these different understandings and experiences of God, keep in mind that the stage an organization is at will act as a “cultural magnet” for its members. In other words, it will support its members in moving up to its current stage of development, but it will likely try to pull them back down if they attempt to move beyond its current stage.

God or Ultimate Reality at the Purple (Tribal) and Red (Power Gods) Stages 

At these stages of development God is either a vengeful being (most often a male) who punishes those who disobey or displease him, or a heavenly magician who bestows favors and performs miracles for his chosen people. He establishes strict commandments that must be obeyed without question. He is understood to be a literal supernatural being “out there” in the sky who must be feared, appeased, obeyed, and worshiped, much like the Gods of ancient Greece. 

For individual believers at these stages, the motivation to obey God comes from either the fear of punishment or the desire to earn favors or go to heaven after death. Believers in these stages of development experience God in much the same way young children experience their parents – as an all-powerful being who controls everything, who must be obeyed, and who can impose their will with force, if necessary.
The notion of offering a blood sacrifice to appease an angry God stems from the way of thinking that is characteristic of these stages. Much of the Old Testament reflects this understanding of God. Holy wars, the Crusades, and the Inquisition are all examples of the kind of violence in the name of God that is characteristic of religions at these stages.


John Shelby Spong writes of this stage:

The marks of a tribal deity are certainly visible in the early stories in the Bible. A tribal deity always has a chosen people – namely the people of the tribe for which this God is God. This tribal God reflects tribal values. This God is jealous and demands loyalty. This God hates everyone the tribe hates. This is the God who sends plagues on Egypt and who stops the sun in the sky so that Joshua will have a longer period of daylight in which to slaughter more enemies of the Jews.  – Eternal Life: A New Vision, pg. 94

God or Ultimate Reality at the Blue (Traditional, Law and Order) Stage

Blue values are ethnocentric and absolutistic, which means that at this stage whatever one's religious beliefs are, they are held to be the one and only truth, a single truth that applies to all of humankind (whether all of humankind acknowledges it or not). Traditional thinking is black and white – there are no gray nuances in traditional thinking.


Believers at this stage of development hold many of the same beliefs as believers at earlier stages, but they no longer attempt to enforce their beliefs with force or violence. Believers at this stage seeks to induce obedience to God through teaching and enforcing orthodox beliefs and practices, inducing feelings of duty, responsibility, and guilt, and political activism.

For believers at this stage God is understood to be a literal mythic God – a divine being who lives in heaven and intervenes in the lives of humans to bring about his purposes. He is believed to be the creator and ruler of all things. People at the this stage believe that God is all knowing, all powerful, and that he rewards obedience and punishes disobedience. They take comfort in the belief that God is aware of each one of us individually and intervenes in our lives in answer to our prayers and faithfulness, though we may not always understand his ways. 

One difference between purple and red versus blue understandings of God is that at the blue stage God becomes less capricious. At earlier stages anything that angers or offends God is, by definition, a sin. At the blue stage universal law and order replace the dictates of the tribal God’s changing moods. At the blue stage, God is believed to have established universal, unchanging laws and principles, and we can be assured that if we adhere to these we will not incur God’s wrath and will receive God’s blessing. Further, God’s universal laws apply to everyone. They apply to king and peasant alike. God is therefore experienced as more predictable and less emotionally volatile at the blue stage than at earlier stages. At the blue stage God becomes the “Rock of Ages” – a sure and steady foundation upon which we can safely build our lives and our understanding of the world and our place in it.

We can see in this evolution of our understanding of God that as humans move from egocentric stages to ethnocentric stages, so does their God. God goes from being a jealous, unpredictable egocentric God to being an ethnocentric God who chooses one people to be “his” people. And he gives his one chosen people the job of taking his universal truth and law to all non-believing outsiders so that they, too, can become one of God’s special chosen people.


John Shelby Spong writes:

As time passed these [tribal] deities began to expand in power and new human qualities were added to their characteristics. In the Jewish tradition it fell to the role of the prophets to transform the tribal deity of the early Jewish tradition into a larger universal presence . . . It was the prophet Hosea who redefined God as “love.” It was the prophet Amos who redefined God as “justice.” It was the prophet Micah who helped people understand that God’s focus was not on proper worship, but on effective lives. It was the prophet Malachi who finally stretched the God of the Jews out of its tribal mentality and into a universal presence . . .                                                                                                                                                   – Eternal Life: A New Vision, pgs. 94-95

God or Ultimate Reality at the Orange (Rational, Scientific) Stage

As people move into the modern rational stage faith in dogma is replaced by experiential data and evidence. Ideas and actions are evaluated based on how intelligent or effective they are, not on whether they are orthodox or heretical. Authority is derived from proven successful experiments and one's own thinking mind. For a person at the modern stage, truth is not delivered from a higher omnipotent source; rather, it is discovered through exploration and experimentation. These characteristics of the modern rational stage cause religous practitioners to begin questioning the absolutistic blue version of their tradition. Modern values embrace the discoveries of science, even if these discoveries conflict with the blue religious dogma of their tradition.

One reason that the move to an orange understanding of religion is so crucial is because of the violence that has so often resulted from the exclusive truth claims that are found at the earlier stages of all of the world’s religions. The purple, red, and blue mythic and literal interpretations of each tradition claim to be the one and only truth about God and reality, and a person’s “knowledge” of this ultimate truth is based on private, internal experiences. Because of this, there will never be agreement about the nature of ultimate truth or reality at the blue mythic literal stage, or at any of the stages that precede it.

For believers at the modern stage beliefs about God may evolve in several possible ways. What they all have in common is that at this stage people begin to test their beliefs about God against objective evidence and rational thought, and revise their understanding of God to better fit with what they observe and experience in the world. 

Some possibilities for a revised understanding of God at the orange stage include:

  • We may adopt a Deist view of God. Deism, which has also been called natural religion, takes the position that knowledge of religious truth is inborn in every person and that it can be acquired by the use of reason. Deism pictures God as the great “clockmaker” who created the clock, wound it up, and let it go. Deists believe that God exists and created the world, but beyond that God does not intervene in the world except through the creation and action of human reason.

  • We may come to understand God something other than an anthropomorphic being. For example, we may view God as the life force that permeates the entire universe, and find peace and personal power in learning to flow with this force rather than struggling against it. Or, God may be understood as the unseen energy and force of love itself, in all the ways love manifests. In this view, to the extent that we love, we experience God. 

  • Because of the growing ability of science to answer basic questions about the nature of reality that used to seem like mysteries or miracles, some people embrace agnosticism or atheism when they move into the orange stage. This may be more likely if the only religious institutions they see are purple, red, or blue institutions.

God or Ultimate Reality at the Green (Postmodern, Multicultural) Stage

Because this is a stage at which full human equality and embracing diversity are highly valued, people at this stage are more inclusive in their beliefs than at any of the previous stages. People at this stage view other faith traditions as offering spiritual paths that are as valid as their own. They recognize that they remain in their tradition by preference or familiarity, but no longer believe theirs offers a better or more valid path to Spirit than other faiths. Going beyond the religious tolerance of the orange stage, people at the green stage seek to build bridges with other faiths and look for ways that their practice of their own tradition can be enhanced by the understandings and experiences of those in other faith traditions.

People at the Green stage realize that their experiences of God are at least partially culturally constructed, as are the many different experiences of God or Ultimate Reality found in all of the world's spiritual traditions. People at this stage can appreciate that the traditional Judeo-Christian image of God as a bearded white Heavenly Father and the Hindu image of the multiple-armed Goddess Kali can both be representations of the same Ultimate Reality, filtered through different cultural lenses. 

Because the postmodern stage often brings an interest in exploring states of consciousness, people at this stage might come to understand God or Spirit as a state of consciousness, or as pure consciousness itself. 

God or Ultimate Reality at the Yellow (Integral) Stage

People at the yellow stage are able to value and incorporate the strengths and gifts that each of the previous stages offer. They do not reject any of these earlier stages in their healthy forms. People at this stage understand that beliefs and experiences of God will naturally be different at each stage, and that each stage has value because it gives people a place to grow into as they evolve out of the previous stage. They can see God as the common Spirit that is experienced in the depths of every spiritual tradition, and by people at every stage. They understand that, while people’s interpretations of their experiences will differ at each stage and in each culture, it is the same ultimate Reality or Ground of Being that they are experiencing.

bottom of page