Friday, November 12, 2010

Phases of Consciousness

In the spiritual world, particularly in the wisdom traditions of the east, there are a lot of road maps to developmental evolution. Most of them are pretty difficult to understand.

I tend to talk about this work in a few distinct phases. Of course, any model is a generalization, a conceptualization that we have to be very careful using.

The first phase is when our life is on auto pilot. We see things and react to them. We are in many ways operating based on scripts and triggers that we are not even aware of. Some of this programming comes from our parents and childhood. Some of it comes from society and our environment. There are a lot of fundamental assumptions here that we never question. Things like "there are countries that are good and countries that are bad," or "there is a correct religion," or "I need people to like me," or "if I get enough of the right stuff (including knowledge), I will be happy." These are the stories that we believe about the world. We are unconscious of many of them.

The second phase is when we begin to see some of these stories and question them. We bring them into our consciousness. We see our reactions and realize that it was our story that caused the reaction, not the person who triggered the story. We might begin to see, for example, that we need people to like us, and see that need as motivating us to do a lot of things that we might not otherwise do, and often don't actually want to do.

Some people go through a third phase, where they see that they can change their stories. They may use things like affirmations or neurolinguistic programming to change the way that they behave. Sometimes, these methods can have dramatic results. And they have both the advantage and disadvantage of involving conscious choices about what we are going to value in life. This might also be the phase where we set very detailed goals for ourselves. Sometimes those goals can be incredibly helpful, and sometimes they can cause us frustration.

The fourth phase is when we not only see our stories, but we see through them. The stories are there, and they pop up from time to time, but we are able to catch ourselves. We are able to see, more and more, when we are in the grip of a story or a reaction or a trigger. We're not perfect--this is not about perfection--but we are slowly working through things that might have caught us in the past.

The other part of this fourth phase is that we become less afraid of not having a story. We are more willing to step into the void of simply not knowing what it is that we are supposed to do, and recognizing that the idea that there is something that we are supposed to do is just another thought. We are learning to be able to rest in not knowing, and we begin to see the wisdom that arises in this space.

In the fifth phase, we no longer think about stories. We just are. And we just do. There is no way to know what we are going to do until we do it. Life is one spontaneous surprise after another.

The funny thing is that we are already in the fifth phase. We may think that we know what we are going to do, but how often have you thought one thing and done another? The only thing that seems to be missing is our trust in this not knowing. And the joy that can arise in that spontaneity.


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