How Do We Develop in Consciousness?

Experience of Oneness.
Magnificent Yosemite!

This is chapter two of the evolving book, “Living Consciousness.” I invite your thoughts and comments.

Developing in consciousness is neither linear nor hierarchical. We grow in consciousness in a much more organic way, often in response to different conditions life presents to us. When that happens, we are required to consider how we’ll respond. Will we choose to respond from an internal position of love? Or will we choose to react in fear?

As we become accomplished in solving problems presented to us at any given stage of consciousness, in any area of life, we take the skills we’ve developed along with us and dip back into them whenever life presents conditions that require similar kinds of solutions.

Here is a quick overview of love and fear at each stage of consciousness. We move from least expanded, in which we include just a small part of existence in our conception of who we are, to most expanded, in which we include all of existence in our definition of who we are in every area of life.

  • In the Survive stage of consciousness, the life conditions presented require us to solve very basic problems: the need for food, shelter, clothing, safety, and security. Love is equal to the feeling of having enough of what I need. Fear is of the unknown and feelings of scarcity in any area of basic need. Once we’ve experienced not having enough of something, fear is always present in the background. It is most often experienced as an unnamed feeling in the gut.
  • The life conditions presented in the Belong stage of consciousness require us to develop feelings of belonging to a group/family/religion/culture. Love is equal to feelings of belonging and loyalty. Fear is the possibility of being cast out or shunned by the group. Fear is present in the background of consciousness if we express disloyalty to the group, or if we observe another member of the group being cast out or shunned.
  • The life conditions presented in the Individuate stage of consciousness require us to do the work of individuating, most commonly from our parents, or the people who have raised us. Love equals the feeling of freedom and independence that we achieve by doing this work. Fear equals the feeling of being dependent on and perhaps being controlled by our parents. Fear is almost always present in the background at this stage and it looks like bravado.
  • The life conditions presented in the Comply stage of consciousness require us to learn and adopt the rules of our family/culture/society/religion/the road. Morality and ethics get instilled in and adopted by us. We learn and put the Golden Rule in to practice. Love equals loyalty and adapting ourselves to fit the rules of acceptable behavior we’ve learned—we want to be good. Fear is of losing acceptance of and connection to our family/group/culture if we don’t comply with the rules.
  • The life conditions presented at the Re-individuate & Risk stage of consciousness require us to think about the rules we adopted in the Comply stage, decide which of those rules no longer align with our core selves, and let go of them. At this stage, we become more self-referential. Love equals feelings of increasing empowerment, creativity, and willingness to take risks. Fear equals the possibility that I’ll lose whatever is important to me because I’m stepping away from what is acceptable to my family/group/culture.
  • In the Care & Integrate stage of consciousness our core self expands in such a way that we come into a felt sense of relatedness to a larger community than we had previously identified as ours. We grow to care about all human beings as deeply as we care about those who belong to our family/group/etc. We grow to care about all biological creatures as deeply as we care about our own dogs or cats. And we grow to care about the living earth as deeply as we care about our own back yards. Love expands to take the form of care and empathy. Fear takes the form of feelings of being overwhelmed and inadequate.
  • In the Be Authentic stage of consciousness, we realize for the first time that each previous stage of consciousness has a valid perspective from its point of view. We also understand that each perspective offers a necessary contribution to the health of the society in which we all live. We take actions that will contribute to the health of consciousness itself, and to the healthy expression of each stage in our culture. Love equals the ability to understand with the heart and as a felt sense in the body. Mind and heart work together and we work with purpose. If fear is present, as soon as it’s recognized, it is acknowledged and transmuted.
  • At the Be Oneness stage of consciousness we understand and likely feel the connectivity of all that is. It feels like Oneness of Being, and the actions we take, the choices we make, even the thoughts we think, take this underlying connectivity of All-That-Is into consideration. Love equals the experience of Oneness of Being, including the seen and the unseen world. Fear is felt as any disruption of this experience of Oneness. As soon as it is recognized, it is transmuted.
  • At the Be Creation stage of consciousness we experience everything-that-is as ourselves. A very small example that best explains this stage comes from Calvin Sauer, a member of this book’s Focus Group. He said, “imagine pouring water into a glass—the water expands to fill the space. That’s what happens in this Creation stage—our consciousness expands to fill the space of that which exists.” There is no difference between the seen and unseen world. Love equals the experience of creation. Fear exists, but is not personal. It is simply felt as a part of creation and is not separate from love.

The Shape of Consciousness

The Shape of Consciousness

The shape of consciousness has historically been shown using designs that are both linear and hierarchical. Spirals, triangles, and squares containing other squares have all been used. Because our brain works in both a linear and hierarchical way, those designs have made sense to us. In fact, it’s difficult to talk about consciousness in any other way. But we must try, because consciousness is neither linear nor hierarchical. In my experience it is much more fluid in the way that it interacts with us and in the way that we interact with it.

Members of the Focus Group for this book came up with this design to portray an idea of how consciousness actually grows in us. Notice that every stage of consciousness is connected to every other stage in some way. Notice that the Comply stage of consciousness is surrounded by soft blue cushions of post it notes. You’ll find out why we’ve done that when you read the chapter on Comply. This image from the Focus Group evokes the actual experience of how we grow in consciousness—it happens in the middle of the messiness of life itself, sometimes in just one area of life at a time, but most often in several areas of life at once. It is not orderly. And because life itself presents the conditions that demand growth from us, we can’t control how it happens. What we can do is learn to understand the stages of consciousness so we can recognize them as they occur, and perhaps be able to support ourselves in the middle of our own growth.

We might just be able to recognize when we are about to make a choice based on fear, stop ourselves and ask the question: “What would I do if I choose from love instead?” Use the handy-dandy brief description of Love and Fear at each stage of consciousness if you’re not sure what the fear is about. A fear from one stage can often be addressed by taking an action based on love from the stage that follows it. Another way to think about it is to recognize that a choice from love will always enlarge our world. Love includes, expands, and allows. Fear excludes, shrinks, and tries to control.

Think of consciousness as being an aspect of the unseen world that is formless and fills all existent space. We are born inside of this potentiality of consciousness and our movement in it is fluid, interactive, sometimes playful, and sometimes difficult. There are no hard lines between stages of consciousness. Even as we live and develop ourselves primarily in one stage, we will likely have flashes of insight, experience of, and access to knowledge from other stages of consciousness.

An example that I think nearly everyone will relate to is the experience of Oneness-of-Being that can occur during a moment in which we are extremely present. Moments of extreme presence can happen as an internal response to being immersed in Epic Nature. Many of us are filled with this experience of wonder when we stand at the edge of an infinite view: the Falls at Yosemite, the shore of an ocean, the vista of mountains, or a grove of redwoods. But extreme presence can come to us in many ways: lovers sharing a perfect moment just before the birth of their child; feeling like the end of an event can’t come soon enough and then being absolutely engulfed in a wholehearted hug from Aunt Marge; or singing Dad’s favorite hymns to him while he makes the journey out of his body.

The experience leaves us with a feeling of having been part of something Sacred, and it stays with us. It comes back to us periodically as one of our most memorable life experiences, and might even bring tears to our eyes. I remember having had this experience for the first time when I was about 26 years old. My husband won a trip from the Chamber of Commerce for five days and four nights on Maui. It was the first vacation I’d ever been on that required a flight. The wondrous moment happened one evening as I sat on the beach watching the sun set on the horizon over the Pacific Ocean. I had never actually been internally still and watched the sun set before, and the impact was profound. I had this very sacred experience of Oneness-of-Being as I sat there. It filled me with wonder. I carry that in my heart all these years later as one of the most profound and educational experiences of my life.

This Oneness-of-Being experience is continuous for human beings who live primarily in the Be Oneness stage of consciousness.

The experience of extreme presence, noticing the sun setting on the horizon, and being perfectly, internally still in that moment, began to direct and shape my life. Within a few years, I was immersed in studying both psychology and philosophy at Purdue University, and in the study and practice of meditation with a local group led by Conrad and Ilene Satala. The combination of these three disciplines equates to the study of consciousness. I didn’t know that at the time. I just knew that I was finally engaged in studying something that was profoundly helpful to me in the living of my everyday life.

Luckily, during the course of these last forty years, I’ve encountered others who have been deeply immersed in studying consciousness as well. They have each become lifelong friends and colleagues. Some of them belong to the Focus Group for this book. Their insight and intelligence helps to form this work.

One Action to Take Today to Explore Consciousness:

Take a few minutes to remember a time when you were extremely present in a moment. Let yourself bathe in the memory, using as many of your senses as possible—especially ask to feel it in the body. If you haven’t yet experienced this kind of awe, pursue it. Take a few minutes to just stop and watch the sun go down, ask someone you love for a wholehearted hug, or take a walk and place the palm of your hand on the bark of any tree, close your eyes, and get a felt sense of the aliveness of the tree. Bring all of your senses to the moment and notice the experience as completely as possible. Repeat every day.


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