Evolution of Consciousness: How to Grow a Person

Growing a person is a mysterious process. Most of it happens in the dark, but we have discovered certain patterns that unfold in all people in more or less the same way.

Imagine you’re building a house. This is less complicated than growing a person, but it’s a useful metaphor. We’ll leave aside the problem of the architect for now and just say the blueprint is ready for construction.

The first thing you need to do is lay the foundations for your house. The depth of your foundations depends on how high your building is going to be and you also need to make sure the ground is fit for construction. You don’t want problems with subsidence or old mine works caving in under your conservatory. Once your foundations are secure, you can start on the structure above ground – the walls, support structures, windows, doors and roof. Only when the building is up and water tight can you start decorating, personalising it to your taste and needs.

Stages of Human Consciousness

When it comes to a person, various structures in consciousness have been found and these unfold at pre-determined times. We grow from birth as unconscious, symbiotic babies to egocentric teenagers, and then hopefully into rational adults in relationship to others and society. So our experience of consciousness changes as we evolve, becoming more complex and inclusive in response to the challenges of life. As we adapt to the world around us, new organising principles, or archetypes, are activated in consciousness. Spiral Dynamics calls them memes, but they could also be genetic structures hard-wired into our brains, or perhaps morphic fields which encourage growth according to evolutionary memories.

Or all of the above. Or something we haven’t even imagined…

Let’s look at how this works in practice. Here’s a chart from Ken Wilber’s Integral Spirituality which shows the levels of consciousness according to various systems.

Integral Psychograph
Integral Spirituality © Ken Wilber

Before we get into the differences between these levels, it’s important to remember that the stages aren’t discreet and the ages are approximate. This is just a model. Movement from one stage to the next isn’t rigid and the whole process is fluid and flexible. The stages aren’t like rungs on a ladder. It’s more like a spectrum of probability waves or chaotic attractors. We spiral into growth, and plenty can go wrong along the way…


Symbiosis Stage

Before we become aware we have a body in the world, we exist in a state of fusion or unity. There’s no sense of self, no ego, no objects or objective events in consciousness. Stuff happens, but we have no way to differentiate it from ourselves – it’s all world. There’s no sense of time or boundaries. We begin in the archetype of Unity, and then birth brings the archetype of Initiation. This is our first experience of Eden and the Fall.

Key points for the Symbiosis stage (Infrared):

  • Age: pre-natal to 18 months
  • Cognitive development: Sensorimotor
  • Focus: Survival
  • Instinctive
  • Pre-personal
  • Pre-rational
  • Self: Undifferentiated
  • Worldview: Archaic
Impulsive Stage

This is where we begin to separate from the world and become aware that our body is different from other bodies. This creates a lot of anxiety and our survival needs kick in. If we don’t win the love and attention of others we’ll die. This stage is all about issues of trust and feelings of safety. The self here is rooted in the body and functions through images and emotions. This stage constellates the archetype of Love. It arises here because love can’t be experienced as such without the appearance of separation.

Key points for the Impulsive stage (Magenta):

  • Age: 1 to 3 years
  • Cognitive development: Preoperational (symbiotic)
  • Focus: Safety and Security
  • Pre-personal
  • Pre-rational
  • Self: Emotional
  • Worldview: Magic or Animistic
Self-Protective Stage

This is where the mind begins to differentiate from the body and emotions. We begin to ask the ultimate koan: Who am I? The ego starts to form and we begin to test our limits and find out who we are in relationship to our family, exploring the world and playing power games. This stage is about socialisation and how we relate to authority, self-assertion and self-control, which often focuses around the dreaded toilet training – to pee or not to pee?! The archetype constellated here is Will as we fight to discover the limit of our power, and our self begins to be defined through language and mental construction.

Key points for the Self-Protective stage (Red):

  • Age: 2 to 6 years
  • Cognitive development: Preoperational (conceptual)
  • Focus: Power and Action
  • Egocentric
  • Pre-rational
  • Self: Membership
  • Worldview: Early Mythic
Conformist Stage

Now the ego really starts to take shape as our understanding of language grows. This stage is about developing different roles to play in society and is when our persona forms. We start to function more in time, learn to control our impulses and take our place as a member of a group. The self is starting to transcend the body, so our body and the world become more objectified and our mental maps and constructs help us to gain some control over our world.

Key points for the Conformist stage (Amber):

  • Age: 6 to 12 years old
  • Cognitive development: Concrete Operational
  • Focus: Approval and Social Acceptance
  • Ethnocentric
  • Pre-rational (with Rational waiting in the wings)
  • Self: Mental or Role self
  • Worldview: Late Mythic
Conscientious Stage

During adolescence our thought process starts to objectify itself. This is the truly human stage of development, only possible because we have self-reflective consciousness. The mind is transcending itself: we can think about what we’re thinking and so change what we think. We are learning to become rational and goal oriented.

Key points for the Conscientious stage (Orange):

  • Age: 12 to 19 years old
  • Cognitive development: Formal Operational
  • Focus: Success and Autonomy
  • Worldcentric
  • Rational
  • Multiplistic
  • Self: Developing Ego
  • Worldview: Rational
Individualistic Stage

This is really a transitional stage to take us from rational into trans-rational consciousness (which we’ll look at in a later post). It follows on from the previous stage as the ego continues to develop and mature. This is where we become more individualistic and aware of how relative our self is in relation to everyone else. The self is defined in relation to multiple systems, and our understanding is more complex. We tend to see things in terms of interpretation rather than absolute truths.

Key points for the Individualistic stage (Green):

  • Age: 19 to 21 years old
  • Cognitive development: Pluralistic Mind
  • Focus: Community, Harmony and Equality
  • Worldcentric
  • Rational
  • Post-modern
  • Self: Mature Ego
  • Worldview: Pluralistic

And this is where most people stop.

The Individualistic or Green stage is generally considered to be the highest stage of development for an individual, at least in Western culture. With a Mature Ego you’ve reached adulthood and you’re a normal, well-rounded individual – assuming nothing went wrong along the way.

However, this isn’t the end of the story. There are many more levels of consciousness to explore, but society in its current form doesn’t recognise them. In fact, not everyone will even make it as far as Green or Mature Ego. It is possible for this stage to evolve from the late teens/early twenties, but in many cases, it simply fails to materialise, or only develops much later in life.

There are many reasons for this and we’ll look at some of them next time in: Kinks in the Mind

Read the whole series here: Evolution of Consciousness

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20 thoughts on “Evolution of Consciousness: How to Grow a Person

  1. This is such a well written article, I had no idea about the stages or depth of our consciousness. It is impactful to see the growth of the ego come into play as we grow older and I can personally relate to the individualistic stage of consciousness, I was there not too long ago.

    This is very similar to the early stages of Erik Erikson’s theory behind his 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development and how external stimulus affects our development as young adults and beyond.

    Great post, seriously! We should connect, come check me out! Just search “Toronto Life Coach” on Google, I am studying under Master Life Coach Bruno LoGreco. Keep up the inspiring work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s very similar to Erikson’s theory. I based it on Ken Wilber‘s work on the stages of consciousness and I think he incorporated Erikson’s stages into his. Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for stopping by!


  2. Very fascinating and well written. When I looked at the color gradient in the chart I couldn’t help but think of the correspondences between it and the colors and psychic/subtle energetic issues of the chakra system. And your very correct in saying that most people stop at what is termed as a “healthy” form of individualization. Ancient humans realized that this was only half the journey, and that the movement through these stages and associated archetypes should continue in ever more refined levels of consciousness, as we knowingly begin the dismantling duality and conceptuality of the thought forms ( literally the body or the biology of beliefs we inhabit ) in order to prepare for the return to source.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eastern philosophy and cosmologies like the Hindu and Buddhist systems are much more complete than our Western ideas about the mind and consciousness. It’s interesting where they overlap and it’s only more recently we’ve started to realise how far ahead of us these ancient systems are. It really is a process of stripping away or dismantling all the crap that gets in the way of us seeing who we already are.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s really interesting to see how chakras and astrology relate (yogananda wrote quite a bit on this). It’s actually also possible to connect physiology with chakras/astrology. I’ve found that Dan Siegel’s interpersonal neurobiology maps quite nicely both onto spiral dynamics and the chakra system. Some day I’d like to write a post connecting all these, but meanwhile, here’s one that sort of playfully explores some possible connections:

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks for the link Don. Some useful tables and correspondences there – although some of them aren’t displaying all the columns – not sure if it’s my browser.


      2. Indeed. Peeling the glass onion. The western mystic traditions evolved from a very healthy and eclectic mix of both eastern and western spiritual philosophies. The Ancient societies of Greece, Rome and Egypt at certain periods were astonishing melting pots of spiritual experimentation of all kinds, from all over these cultures Empires, which were much more global than the conventional consensus view of has taught us. In the mid-east for example, there were even Pagan and Gnostic Christian cults that included Buddhist teachings, sadly however, the intellectual and religious persecution of monotheism, the burning of the Library of Alexandria and numerous other events in Western history conspired to drive such spiritual openness into obscurity in Western culture. The good news is however, a healthy resurgence of spiritual cross pollination seems to be growing in the US and other places in the world recently, with some progressive non-denominational churches, supporting a B.Y.O (bring your own god) form of worship.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. hi, wonderful stuff. Spiral dynamics is interesting. I just wanted to add a note that Ken Wilber gets Sri Aurobindo’s terms not just wrong, but almost inverted. To take two examples, the “higher mind” as defined by Sri Aurobindo is a “level” (terrible word, but will have to suffice for now) at which one is aware of “All in the Self and the Self” in all, which is the equivalent in Wilber’s terms to the highest stage of enlightenment.

    Well, obviously if the Higher Mind is the highest level in Wilber’s language, there is something wrong with his translation of all the rest of Sri Aurobindo’s terms. In fact, there is nothing equivalent in all of wilber’s writings to the “Supermind”.

    We (Jan – my wife; and I) have gone into this in great detail in our book, ‘Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness: Seeing Through the Eyes of Infinity”. There’s also a few excellent essays on the ways in which Wilber misunderstands Sri Aurobindo over at – particularly the ones by Rod Hemsell and Alan Kazlav.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Glad you liked it. I mentioned it mostly because I find Wilber’s work to be at times quite at odds with the spirit of Tibetan Buddhism (and Buddhism in general) which, if I recall correctly when i first came across your blog, is quite beautifully shining through quite a few of your posts.

        Wilber tends to “reify” (make overly solid, self-existent?) these various levels, which really aren’t levels” at all but an incredibly beautiful, symphonic play of different tones, harmonies of Consciousness which, when translated into our hardened conventional rational language, can be very misleading (and easy prey for our vital egos to latch on to – ‘see, I’m at Turquoise, and you’re only at Orange!).

        Anyway, lots of “grist for the writer’s mill”:>))

        Liked by 1 person

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