An Experiment In Consciousness

I have been working on a book with a working title of “Living Consciousness” for just over two and a half years now. During the course of that time, it has evolved a lot. Last fall, I began meeting weekly with a Focus Group to talk about the book, and the learning experience and evolution intensified. Yesterday when we met, we talked about a specific stage of consciousness for the fifth time, and witnessed it change and evolve once again. As we’ve talked about each stage, the shallower takes on consciousness, the ones driven by dominant cultural values, have disintegrated and the deeper material moves in.

The Focus Group began talking about the educational process we’ve undergone together through our discussion of the material each week. We started wondering if this evolution in our understanding of what consciousness is will ever stop. And ultimately, we wondered if this material would ever stop changing enough at any point to become a book.

Here’s the experiment.

I’m going to expand the Focus Group to include those of you who might be interested in this discussion. I’ll be publishing this book, Living Consciousness, in weekly editions of chapters, on my website (reginaleffers.com), on social media, and on Medium.com. If you are reading this and you’re interested in exploring consciousness, this invitation includes you. Read and comment. Let’s embark on this educational experience together. It has been the most interesting, satisfying, and fulfilling project of my life so far.

Here is the Introduction to Living Consciousness.

Introduction

My intention in writing this book is to create something like a roadmap in consciousness. In my experience, books written about stages of consciousness are written in academic language making them inaccessible to anyone who isn’t primarily a student of psychology or neuroscience.  The topic is important enough that every person should have access to this body of knowledge.  It’s something we all undergo—every single one of us. For that reason, we should all get a good idea about where we’ve come from, where we’re headed, and where we are right now.

I use my own experience as examples of the different stages of consciousness in the hope that you will be able to think about them in your own experience and relate to them. If you do, you will be able to use it to recognize when a part of you feels stuck and assist yourself in the process of growing your own consciousness through the pain of being stuck. If you don’t know where you’ve been and have no idea where you’re going, it’s very difficult to know where you are, right? It’s simply a guessing game inside of a landscape crapshoot if there’s no map to refer to. This material is important enough that it ought to be included in every high school and college psychology course. 

I am working from these Truths:

  • Consciousness is experienced in the body; it is not just an intellectual concept.
  • We are all human beings, not human angels, or human “perfects.”  We all make mistakes, some of us make really big mistakes that hurt people, and some of us make really, really big mistakes.  (I’m not talking about sociopaths, here—people who don’t know the difference between right and wrong, and don’t care.)  I am speaking about most of us human beings who are trying to do our best in life, and who fail miserably in those efforts at times.
  • Every parent will make mistakes with their children. When we become parents, we all carry our own wounds into the experience. Those wounds will be unconscious mediators in our relationships with our children.
  • Every parent and child has a distinct relationship with each other. It will be different than the other parent-child relationships, even in the same family.
  • We can heal from emotional/psychological wounds using some form of the following abbreviated and very simply stated process:
    • Tell the truth, as you know and understand it to be.
    • Reach to understand.
    • Forgive.
    • Experience gratitude for who you have become on the other side of the wound.
  • We can love and feel grateful for our parents AND recognize and tell the truth about our experiences with them, whether loving or painful.
  • We all have frailties.  We all inflict pain on others, sometimes consciously, but more often than not, unconsciously. 
  • We can accept our parents as they are/were, in all of their imperfections.
  • We can accept ourselves as we were/are/will be, in all of our imperfections.
  • Loving ourselves wholeheartedly is one of the single most important tasks we have to accomplish in life. This sets the interior stage for us to be able to love others wholeheartedly.
  • Staying open and vulnerable is also one of the single most important tasks we have to accomplish in life.
  • When we live these truths, the experience of compassion—for ourselves, for others—will be one of the natural outcomes. The experience of inner peace will be another.

These truths are interwoven into and through the map of consciousness developed in this book.

We move into and through stages of consciousness[1] as we respond to different life conditions, which have unique problems that need to be solved. Each stage of consciousness is developmentally important in its own right. In order for us to be healthy human beings, each stage is essential for us to grow into, learn how to solve the problems we encounter at that stage, and then, to grow through and into another stage.  As we move through each stage of consciousness, we develop problem-solving skills that we will dip back into and utilize for the rest of our lives. 

Problems can occur for both self and society when we are stuck in any given level of consciousness. 

If we are stuck and unable to move from one stage of consciousness in an area of life, we may be rationalizing a situation to ourselves to try to maintain the status quo, or we may not have the insight needed to see our way out of a problematic situation. This condition of being stuck is painful. In order for us to overcome the existing barrier, we would have to do something uncomfortable. I’ll give examples of this in the following chapters, but just briefly, the uncomfortable action we will need to take almost always requires that we face a fear.

If closed in a stage of consciousness, we are literally blocked from movement. The pain we experience is usually acute. The condition of being absolutely unable to move could be caused by an earlier traumatic psychological experience.  It might also be caused by anything that renders us incapable of being able to recognize a barrier for what it is.  If we can’t recognize it, we can’t overcome it.  People who are terrified of change can be imprisoned in living life from the inside of one stage of consciousness forever.

If we find ourselves feeling pain, stuck and unable to move, we can gain insight from doing internal work, like therapy, journaling, or meditation, or from a life jolt, like losing a job or being in a car accident. The insight we gain must be large enough to cause a critical level of internal psychological dissonance that essentially wakes us up and urges us to take action. 

This book is divided into four sections. In the first section we’ll talk about consciousness and discuss how we grow.  Old models are linear and hierarchical. That’s a good way to explain the stages of consciousness, but it doesn’t accurately describe the way consciousness grows in us. All stages are essential to our own development as individual human beings, and to the development and growth of the consciousness of the larger group/society to which we belong. It would be nice to think that the growth happens in a very neat, stepwise progression, right? We’ll talk about what really happens in chapter two.

The second section holds the next six chapters and covers the first six stages of consciousness.  I use examples from my own experience to help explain each stage, and talk about what it might look and feel like to be stuck there.  By using examples from my own life, I am hoping that you will be able to identify the stages expressed in your life as well as areas in which you may be stuck. 

The third section holds three chapters and covers the seventh, eighth and ninth stages of consciousness. The ninth stage is the most expanded stage of consciousness that has been identified to this point in our human story.

The fourth section of this book, along with the Appendix provides some guidance for getting unstuck. The pain we experience in life can be directly correlated to being stuck in a stage of consciousness that no longer works to address the demands of our living conditions.

And the last bit you should read about consciousness in this Introduction is that at each stage, and in every area of life we make a choice to live from love or to live from fear at any given moment in time. Because of that, each chapter on the individual stages begins with a statement about what love is and what fear is in that stage. This may become a powerful rubric for you to use in your exploration of consciousness, especially if you develop the ability to feel love and fear in the body.


[1] My reasoning process began with Spiral Dynamics, a system developed by Psychology professor, Claire Graves, just after World War II. Two of his students, Don Edward Beck and Christopher C. Cowan explained the system in their book, Spiral Dynamics, published in 1996 by Blackwell Publishing, Ltd. The system of Spiral Dynamics has been further developed most profoundly by Ken Wilber.

copyright: Regina Leffers, Ph.D.