This is a thought experiment, a piece of ‘mental gymnastics’ that I thought of while swimming in the pool yesterday.
I thought of the question – What do we mean when we say “high conscious” or “low conscious” – then I thought “Wouldn’t it be nice to categorize these things somehow?”
So I came up with this sort of progression of ‘levels’ of consciousness that I wanted to share. A couple things:
– The point of posting this isn’t to make claims about what is true or not or how things should progress for an individual. It’s just a thought experiment. And although there’s a progression (1-5) I’m not really making claims that certain states are better than others, with the exception of Stage 1, which sucks for anyone. But besides that, these are just states you can be in and not ones you necessarily should be in.
– This is informed by my own experience in life so far. Consciousness is so subjective that some bias like this seems impossible to avoid.
– I’m not trying to be comprehensive and describe every aspect of each state – just trying to give a general idea. The 5 stages are also not as clearly delineated as I’ve laid them out. There’s definitely some overlap, especially as you are transitioning from one to another – at least up until #5. Again, just a thought experiment.
With that out of the way, here’s my conception of the 5 levels of consciousness.
1. Victim mindset – “Things are happening to me”
At this stage an individual views themselves as a victim of their circumstances, and they are completely controlled by external people and events. They complain, bemoan their “bad luck”, believe that life is always unfair, and so on.
They see things fundamentally as “happening to them” (usually bad things) and blame all their problems on someone or something else. People at this stage generally have poor relationships, financial situation, health and so on because their external circumstances reflect the state of their inner world.
2. Taking control of self & circumstances [Mainstream self-improvement/personal development]
At this stage an individual starts to take responsibility for their own life, and begins to exercise control over their external circumstances and their internal ones. This involves the realization that you are autonomous, the “central actor” in your own life, and that you have the power to improve your situation. You start learning to control your thoughts and emotions, and this leads to positive results in the world.
This process includes setting goals and achieving them, developing good habits, practicing positive and constructive thinking, getting in shape, becoming more attractive, overcoming fears, addictions and bad habits, and so on. This is what most traditional/mainstream self-help/personal development is based around.
(For more on this see my book Self Improvement in Practice – a concise, practical guide to positive personal development, with some spirituality in there too.)
This is a good place to be, generally. The reason it’s “Level 2” is because here it’s not necessary to realize that there is anything outside of the mind. There is no distinction between “mind” and “consciousness” – they are still perceived as the same thing. Your thoughts and feelings are positive and empowering, especially compared to Level 1, but you are still completely “in” them.
3.1 “I’m not my thoughts”
This stage is about getting out of the mind – realizing that thoughts themselves are just things passing through your field of awareness (consciousness). Thoughts are not “you”, and you don’t have to get attached to them or even pay attention to them if you don’t want to.
3.2 “I’m not my emotions”
A corollary to the above is realizing that emotions are the same way – just something that arise and pass through awareness. An emotion is not “you”, in the sense that you don’t have to act on it when it arises. Sometimes we understand that this applies to emotions first (before thoughts), because from a young age we are taught not to act on ‘negative’ emotions (anger, etc.) but we are not usually taught that we are not our thoughts.
Practicing some type of meditation, along with an understanding of what “being present” or presence/present state awareness is, are what brings about Level 3.
4. “There’s no me at all” (It also turns out I don’t have free will)
This stage is the recognition that there is no ‘you’ at all. Not only are thoughts and emotions temporary phenomena passing through consciousness – everything is.
This encompasses all thoughts, feelings, emotions and sensory perception – as well as the feeling of there being a “you” at all. The feeling of there being a self (an ego) that is ‘experiencing your experience’ and separate from everything else is simply another temporary (yet recurring) occurrence within the field of consciousness.
This comes along with the understanding that there is no free will, in the traditional sense. ‘You’ are not making autonomous decisions, because there is no you to be doing the deciding. Things are just happening inside consciousness – including that feeling of a self making choices and decisions.
Here you understand that you are a tiny expression of the totality – the ‘universe’ or whatever you want to call it – and that you exist simultaneously as this one little piece of consciousness as well as everything in existence.
At this stage there is an intellectual understanding of these things, and maybe also a feeling or “knowing” [which is really just the feeling of knowing] that it is the case. This feeling may come and go, or it may be there all the time, sometimes stronger and sometimes weaker.
This stage can be brought about by reading and learning about spirituality, practicing a moderate amount of meditation, or experiencing a strong psychedelic trip (or a combination of all three).
5. Permanently living in accordance with #4 – Quote on quote “enlightenment”
This stage is living in accordance with the recognition that there is no self and that ‘you’ are just an expression of the whole – 100% of the time. This is what some people might call ‘enlightenment’.
What this state actually consists of – and whether it is possible to exist in it permanently at all – is up for debate. I can’t do much more than relay other people’s experiences here, because obviously, I am not in it.
This state may consist of:
– Complete cessation of thoughts/internal dialogue (No voice inside your head)
– Being completely present 100% of the time (corollary to the above)
– Feelings of boundless/infinite love for everything and everyone
– Feeling of complete ‘oneness’ 100% of the time – a complete dissolution of the boundaries between self and other – and/or the ability to go between that state and the state of feeling like a separate self (could also be referred to as nonduality)
Again, this is largely speculation on my part. The extremely subjective nature of consciousness (and the limitations of language) make it difficult even for people who have achieved this kind of state [claim to have achieved it] to explain what it is like.
As of right now I’m completely open to the idea, but also not sure if 1) it’s really possible, especially permanently or 2) the qualities of the state would be the same for everyone who reaches it.
Stage 1 vs. 5 – ‘Happening to’ -> ‘Happening through’
So in a sort of ironic way, you actually end up not that far from where you began. You are not an autonomous actor in either Stage 1 or Stage 5 (you never really are) – but in 1 you believe yourself to be separate and isolated, a victim of circumstances that things are “happening to”.
By Stage 5 you recognize and behave like you are not you at all – rather you are an expression of the totality and “you” the ego doesn’t really exist or have control – rather things are “happening through you” [your consciousness]. It’s almost circular in nature and you end up, in some ways, not that far from where you started, just with a few very key differences.
A few final notes –
Chronological progression through these states varies greatly. Going from one to another could take many years, or it could happen instantly. For me personally, for example, going from Stage 1 to 2 took a few years, while some people stay in Stage 1 their entire lives.
Many people spend long years meditating or in spiritual practice with the hope of reaching ‘enlightenment’ – and yet there are accounts of individuals becoming enlightened instantly in a split-second.
And again I want to make it clear that there’s no value judgement about which of these states is better or worse – with the exception of Stage 1, which just consists of a lot of excessive and needless suffering.
Stage 2 may in fact be the best place to experience the most happiness and ‘success’ in the material world. Many highly successful people go their whole lives without ever realizing that they are not their mind – and they make lots of money, achieve their dreams, have a massive positive impact on the world, and so on.
Whether someone should pursue ‘enlightenment’ at all (whether/how worthy of a goal it is) is a question that I really don’t have the answer to.
What do you think?
So this post isn’t really “useful” in the traditional sense – most of my posts are meant to be helpful in some practical way and provide something you can take away, but this one is more just because I’m really curious about people’s opinions on this topic.
So what do you think…??