We’ve already explored how consciousness evolves from birth into a fully mature ego, plus some of the problems encountered on the way. To finish, we’ll look at where we can go next. Assuming all has gone well and we don’t have too many hang-ups or kinks in our development, it should be possible to evolve to higher stages of consciousness and move beyond ego into awakening.
The vast majority of people in the world today are at the Ego level of consciousness, but many are beginning to grow towards the higher, or more inclusive, levels. To do this you need to become whole, which means facing, accepting, and then integrating your shadow. Once you’ve done this, evolving to the next stage becomes more straightforward – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy!
Let’s remind ourselves of the territory we’ve already covered. Here’s the chart from Ken Wilber’s Integral Spirituality which shows the levels of consciousness:
In How to Grow a Person we looked at the levels up to and including the Individualistic Self (or Green level). These are what Spiral Dynamics calls 1st Tier, which is ego-centred and thinks: “what I believe is right and everyone else is wrong”. When you begin to transcend the ego you move into 2nd Tier which is more inclusive and open to other perspectives, as we’ll see.
Before we look at the different stages, it’s important to remember that these aren’t distinct steps like a ladder. The whole process of development is fluid and flexible, and works more like a spiral.
Higher Stages of Consciousness
Quick recap on the last stage of ego consciousness: the Individualistic Stage (Green) is transitional because it begins to shift us from rational to transrational consciousness – in other words, mysticism. The Green stage is where we develop a pluralistic perspective and see how everything is relative and open to interpretation, which is an important step towards what comes next…
In the previous stages rationality was fairly straightforward and linear. Logic and reason are useful, but can be narrow in focus. In Low Vision-Logic, or Autonomous, rationality branches out and becomes aperspectival – aware of multiple perspectives. We can see how everything is interconnected and interdependent, and that life works as a network or system. Everything is seen to exist within a context and all is relative. This is the post-modern mind.
To establish at this level we must heal our shadow and accept everything we’ve previously disowned. The self is integrated, and the body and mind work together in harmony towards authenticity and self-actualisation. We begin to confront the ultimate existential concerns of death, meaninglessness, freedom, and aloneness. Individuals at this level are non-conformist, flexible and spontaneous, and don’t care about status.
Key points for Autonomous/Low Vision-Logic (Teal):
- Focus: Being and Authenticity
- Self-identity: Self Integration
- Worldview: Holistic
Key ideas: Spontaneity, flexibility, interdependence of systems, egalitarianism, aware of paradox, complexity theory, dynamic systems theory
Possible Problems: existential crisis, inauthenticity, boredom, bad faith
This is really a continuation from the previous stage, also known as High Vision-Logic. Our thinking becomes increasingly complex, holistic and truly integral. The mind begins to see through itself and becomes transparent. We’re moving away from the personal towards the universal. Soul is beginning to emerge into conscious awareness.
Individuals at this stage think in terms of energy systems. They understand the wholeness of matter, mind and spirit, and are motivated to work on behalf of Life itself. Spirit at this stage is conceived as a planetary holarchy.
Key points for Integrated/High Vision-Logic (Turquoise):
- Focus: Global Spiritual Renewal
- Self-identity: Self Transparent
- Worldview: Integral
- Higher Mind
Key ideas: Integrative, compassionate, holistic, global awareness, spiritual transformation of self and others, integral-holistic systems such as Gaia theory, morphic fields theory, string theory, quantum technologies.
Possible Problems: resistance to the emerging higher levels, ego temper tantrums when it glimpses its own demise
Illumined Mind Stage
We’ve now made another leap to the next level of consciousness, from 2nd to 3rd Tier. This is a massive shift. We’ve finally transcended the ego. This can happen briefly in peak experiences and awakening when you’re functioning from a lower level but get a glimpse of a higher level as an altered state or experience of grace. But it’s also possible to stabilise at this stage permanently, as embodied by shamans and yogis.
If Vision-Logic was extra-logical (the inclusion of feeling and emotion with reason), Illumined Mind could be called hyper-logical. Perception at this stage becomes clairvoyant, highly empathic and extra sensory. There may be feelings of awe and rapture, and experiences of nature mysticism – a sense of oneness with the physical world. Spirit is seen as infinite Light/Love.
Key points for Illumined Mind (Indigo):
- Focus: Nature Mysticism
- Self-identity: Ego Transcendence or Witness Self
- Worldview: Psychic / Shamanic
Key ideas: shamanic consciousness, trans-global and psychic perception, mega-tribes, trans-global social ideals, compassion for all – human and non-human.
Possible Problems: psychic inflation (believing you are Jesus, etc.), energy disorders in the body, split-life goals (conflict between soul path and ego wishes), yogic illness (disorder that won’t heal until you surrender to this stage), Dark Night of the Senses (first level Dark Night). Problems can also be caused by peak experiences and/or awakening, followed by an inability to integrate what you’ve seen.
Intuitive Mind Stage
This stage of consciousness is blissful and ecstatic. It’s the level of the Bodhisattva and the saints, with feelings of compassion for all beings and universal love. It features deity mysticism and archetypal luminosity, which is a feeling of oneness with all subtle level phenomena. This involves audible illuminations, haloes of light and sound, visions of angels and other archetypal forms. Spirit is seen as a radical interiority (everything has an interior) and infinite holarchy.
Not many people stabilise at this stage of consciousness, but many have glimpsed it in peak experiences and altered states.
Key points for Intuitive Mind (Violet):
- Focus: Deity Mysticism
- Self-identity: Soul
- Worldview: Subtle / Archetypal
Key ideas: spiritual discipleship and surrender to a higher power, trans-dimensional perspective and perception of trans-dimensional beings. Compassion and social ideals includes all sentient beings – human, non-human, and trans-dimensional.
Possible problems: archetypal fragmentation and soul-level sub-personalities which split from the self (see the latest craze for channelling ‘entities’ and spirit guides) which is a symptom of failed integration of previous levels, Dark Night of the Soul (second level Dark Night).
This stage of consciousness includes formless absorption states and awareness of emptiness. It features the dissolution of subject/object duality in the mind and experiences of formless mysticism. This is oneness with all of unmanifest reality and is experienced as luminous darkness and cessation of all thoughts and perceptions. This stage can be seen embodied in the sages. Exceedingly rare.
Key points for Overmind (Ultraviolet):
- Focus: Formless Mysticism
- Self-identity: Pure Self
- Worldview: Causal / Formless
Possible problems: further disintegration caused by failed integration and unstable foundations, Arhat’s disease (getting stuck in the unmanifest or emptiness), Dark Night of the Spirit, or Self (third level Dark Night).
This stage of consciousness is Non-dual. It involves a realisation of emptiness in form, and form in emptiness. Nirvana is samsara and samsara is nirvana. This is the Big Mind of Zen or the unio mystica, as embodied by siddhas and Buddhas. This is non-duality mysticism and oneness with all phenomena, both manifest and unmanifest, and is characterised by the experience of constant consciousness. The siddha is capable of maintaining awareness even in deep sleep.
Key points for Supermind (Clear Light):
- Focus: Non-Dual Mysticism
- Self-identity: Non-Dual
- Worldview: Unity
Possible problems: no such thing as a problem at this stage!
And that’s about as far as you can get… (as a human, at any rate.)
You may have recognised some of the features of these stages of consciousness because you’ve experienced them as part of your spiritual practice and awakening process, or perhaps just day-to-day. It’s possible to dip in and out of these levels as peak experiences and get a glimpse of the territory. But this doesn’t mean you’re functioning from that level. After a peak experience you usually return to your previous stage or level.
For example, you might be at the Orange level of Developing Ego where you’re focused on achieving your goals and making something of yourself in the world. Then out of the blue you have a peak experience that briefly pulls you into the Violet level – you’re overwhelmed with bliss and compassion for all beings. Afterwards you return to your normal functioning level of Ego and perhaps begin to incorporate your new found compassion into your ego. Whatever happens, you’re likely to interpret what you experienced through the lens of your current level, distorting some of its contents in the process. (Refer: the history of religion to see how that works out – i.e. badly.)
Growing Beyond the Edge
In How to Grow a Person I wrote that our experience of consciousness changes as we evolve, becoming more inclusive as we transform in response to life’s challenges. Each stage of consciousness seems to exist as a potential, enfolded into the fabric of reality. These archetypes are animated and made manifest when we choose to grow into them. But whatever level you’re at, to grow to the next stage you have to be willing to let go.
If you use any of these higher levels to boost your own ego or sense of self-importance, you’ll get stuck. You could end up going round in circles for years, or even lifetimes – trapped by your own ignorance and karma.
Awakening is a process where you become increasingly aware of your true nature which is always present, even at the lower stages of consciousness when you’re trapped in the clutches of the ego. You can dip in and out of this truth at any time. It’s there in the gap between thoughts, or when you fall asleep at night, and in the moments just after waking in the morning. To awaken you don’t need to become someone or something else. As the Buddha said, we are already enlightened – we just have to wake up to the fact. But to stabilise in the awakened state of being takes time and practice.
There seems to be an evolutionary imperative at work in human consciousness. Life is always growing and seeking out new frontiers. It is ruthless in its pursuit of more life, more consciousness, more experience. The driving force behind this is Love – the only force powerful enough to counter entropy. Love is always transgressive and ultimately, completely impersonal.
We build walls, Love tears them down.
We create barriers in our minds to the truth, Love turns them to fire and ash.
Spirit wants us to evolve. It wants to know itself and play through us.
Who are we to stand in its way?