The Survive Stage of Consciousness

“Phoenix Rising from the Heart”

Love = Feelings of security and safety. I have enough of what I need.


Fear = Feelings of insecurity and that there won’t be enough of something essential. Fear is present in the background, often experienced as an unnamed feeling in the gut.


This stage of consciousness is focused on surviving. Our priority is in satisfying the basic human needs of food, water, warmth, sex, and safety. When we’re functioning in this stage of consciousness, we cannot think about anything other than these basic needs. If we feel physically threatened by a set of existing circumstances, all that we can think about is to do whatever is necessary to preserve our own lives.


It helps me to think of this stage of consciousness as describing all of the following:


  • It is a stage of human development that we continuously go through, in every aspect of life, throughout our lives; and because of that, it is also
  • A stage in which an aspect of ourselves can either participate or be stuck, while the dominant part of us lives in a different stage of consciousness;
  • And can be the dominant stage of consciousness expressed by a group, while individual members may be living from within another stage.


In the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center buildings that occurred on September 11, 2001, many people inside the buildings were immediately thrown into survival mode. They ran down the stairs with ferocity. They ran as fast as they could, the need to survive being the only one they could act on. We also have evidence that not everyone that day went into survival mode. We’ve heard about people who felt compelled to stop and stay with folks confined to wheelchairs who were physically unable to run down the stairs.


Is one action right, another wrong? For me, the answer has to be no. If there is only one option that presents itself, one internal call to follow, then it’s neither right nor wrong. It simply is the only thing we can do.


For those who clicked into the Survive stage of consciousness, saving themselves was the only possible choice they could make. They couldn’t have done anything but fly down those stairs as fast as they could go. Other options were simply unavailable to them. Whereas, those who stayed with folks who were unable to descend the stairs had clicked in to the Care & Empathy stage of consciousness, and because of that, the only possible choice they could make was to stay, to provide friendship and comfort. For these folks, the option to save themselves was unavailable.


We currently have circumstances in this world, in which human beings have been thrown into the life problems that accompany this stage of consciousness—trying to figure out how to survive, how to get enough food, water, and shelter for themselves and their families. There are huge camps of refugees, fleeing for their lives from countries at war in various places on this planet.


In the United States of America, we have children who don’t have some of these basic needs met. They go to school hungry because there isn’t any food for them to eat at home. We also have a large population of homeless people. The causes are varied, of course, from veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, folks who are mentally ill, some people who are addicted to alcohol or another substance, and some who’ve lost a job and lack a support system of family or friends to give them an assist.


One example from my life of how a person or family who normally lives from a different stage of consciousness, can move into life conditions that call for problem solving skills and strengths learned at this Survive stage, happened when I was just a kid.


I was in the fifth grade when my dad had his first mental breakdown. That’s what they called it at the time. When I read about post-traumatic stress syndrome, the condition many soldiers came home with from the Vietnam War, it sounded a lot like my dad. He served his country during World War II as a Marine in the South Pacific, and was the Radioman for his battalion. He told planes where to drop bombs. He witnessed men sacrifice their lives to save his. He was one of thirteen Marines left alive and physically unharmed in the battle of Sugarloaf Hill. The memory terrorized him.


To give you some idea of the horrifying conditions my dad, and other survivors, lived through, 1,656 Marines died and 7,429 were wounded during the twelve days that it took to secure Sugar Loaf Hill. World War II ended shortly after that battle, but for my dad, and others like him, the internalized war never did end. Dad died when he was only sixty-six years old. A former Marine and fellow survivor of the battle for Sugar Loaf Hill came to Dad’s funeral. He asked us why Dad’s obituary didn’t mention that he had been a member of the Sixth Marine Division. He felt that Dad should have been honored for his service. And he should have. In many ways, that experience defined his life, and had a profound effect on the way in which he lived with his wife and children.


My mom was completely deaf. Until she was in her forties, there was no hearing aid strong enough to help her hear. Because of that, Dad talked to us kids. Many nights at the dinner table, beginning when I was in second grade, my dad talked about his experience during World War II. It was obvious, even to a six year old, that my dad was tormented by his experience. He also displayed episodes of extreme violence toward Mom and to many of us kids.


After one of those extremely violent episodes, Dad was admitted to the VA Hospital for treatment. He was given a diagnosis and an antipsychotic prescription that eventually helped him to live more of a normal life.


When Dad entered the hospital, Mom went to talk to the company Dad worked for to find out how to go about getting his disability pay. There were six of us kids at home at that time, and Mom and Dad lived from paycheck to paycheck. She was told it would be two weeks before a check would be available. I remember Mom being shocked. For the first time in her life, she was faced with the task of having to put food on the table, with no money in reserve and no time to waste. She scrambled!


Mom went to get food stamps and came home furious! She hated having to ask for a handout! She also went to a food bank and got huge containers of Velveeta cheese and peanut butter. And she hated doing that too! She went to the day-old bread store and bought outdated loaves of bread for ten cents a loaf. She sold our upright piano for $50, and that helped some. After my older sister and I got home from school, she left us to babysit while she went door to door in the neighborhood selling a very good brand of clothing called Minnesota Woolens.


Mom had been raised in a blue-collar working class family. Her parents were very proud of the fact that they made it through the depression without having to ask for help. When Mom’s dad was laid off, he knocked on the doors of the largest homes in town and found work painting the exteriors of houses. Their pride at not having had to ask for a handout, and the disdain they voiced about those who did, shaped Mom’s values and made it very hard for her to ask for and accept help.


With Dad in the hospital, Mom clicked into this Survive stage of consciousness. She was determined to do whatever she had to do to keep us fed and sheltered. A new resolve was born in her too.


When Mom graduated from high school, she had been offered a full scholarship to Saint Francis College, but because of her hearing, her mom and dad had encouraged her to marry my dad instead. They wanted her to be taken care of because of her hearing impairment. During this time, when she had to scramble for food and money to take care of herself and us, her lack of education and ability to hear, meant that any job she might have been interested in doing was unavailable to her.


She became determined to get an education so that she would never be in a situation again in which she couldn’t support herself or her kids if anything happened to my dad. When Mom was 40, she applied to college at Indiana University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history and then went on to earn a master’s degree in library science. She also got her dream job, which was to work as a librarian.


This piece of my own life story is a perfect example of someone who was living predominantly in another stage of consciousness but because of new life conditions, was thrown into Survive.


What it looks like to be artificially stuck in Survive:


Remember, this stage of consciousness has to do with finding food, water, warmth, sex, and safety. Given the rising rates of obesity and diabetes in the United States, I think it’s safe to say that many of us are artificially stuck in Survive regarding food.


There are good reasons for it, of course. All we have to do is understand that sugar is addictive, then read ingredients on everything we buy that is a manufactured food. What we’ll find is that sugar in one form or another is included in almost everything we eat. In the body, these foods break down very quickly, leaving us hungry and searching for more food. We’re constantly on the hunt for something else to eat.


A couple of years ago, I was in this quandary myself. The doctor informed me that I was pre-diabetic. I could turn it around, he said, but in order to do so, I could not eat sugar in any form. That included all of the sugars that are supposed to be good for you as well—sugars like honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, and etc. The doc also told me to stay away from all grains. All grains! Even the organic, whole grains! Unfortunately, at that time, my favorite breakfast had been toast made from a whole-grain, organic, molasses bread that I’d been buying at the local farmer’s market. Other foods I was not allowed to eat were white potatoes, pasta, or rice—neither white nor brown. I was only allowed to eat whole foods—more vegetables than anything else, and fruits that are low-glycemic, meaning they don’t break down quickly in the body.


I was cranky and crabby for about a week when I stopped eating this stuff.


The benefit of eliminating these foods is that I feel full longer and am not hunting for something to eat all the time. The artificial condition of being stuck in Survive was eliminated.



One Action to Take Today to Explore Consciousness:


Take a moment to think about whether you feel safe and secure. Do a head to toe body scan and ask yourself what safety feels like in your body? Do you fear not having enough of any basic human need—food, water, shelter, warmth, or safety? Just become aware. Now take a moment to feel thankful for basic needs that are met in this moment, and now in this moment. Repeat gratitude daily.

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