Developing an Understanding of Spiritual Consciousness
by Erik Weaver (one of our frequent Gnostic Seminary contributors)
The subject of how we formulate our personal views of the world hasÂ been on my mind of late. The lens through which we see the worldÂ greatly effects how we choose to interact with others. And they withÂ us, as colored by their own lenses. To the degree we better understandÂ our own lens, and are able to imagine the world as seen throughÂ through the lenses of others, we should be better able to understandÂ and communicate with others even when there seem to be great gulfsÂ separating our respective world views.
My premise is that the forthcoming models provide a relatively simpleÂ yet useful means of categorizing and comparing different types ofÂ human interaction. The question of Fundamentalism prompted thisÂ exploration, but I believe the approach should lend itself to anyÂ number of “-isms.” While this line of thought rather naturally flowsÂ into ideas surrounding esoteric (inner) spirituality andÂ introspection, I will restrict the subject matter of this post toÂ exoteric topics which we may use as analytic tools.
Recognizing Levels of Spiritual Consciousness
I find Prof. Ron Miller offers me a useful way of thinking aboutÂ spiritual perspectives in describing a four story building asÂ representing our levels of consciousness. I think this model offers aÂ good starting point for a lot of conversations, including trying toÂ understand Fundamentalism. It is simple enough to easily keep in mind,Â its thresholds are well defined, yet despite its simplicity, I find itÂ useful in organizing my thoughts. His four levels of consciousnessÂ are: basement, first floor, second floor, and roof top garden.
The lowest state of consciousness is the basement. Prof. Miller oftenÂ refers to this as “tribal” thinking. Everything is 100% Right or 100%Â Wrong. When viewing the world in this way it is exceedingly easy toÂ dehumanize others, and in extreme cases to even see them as Satan orÂ some other embodiment of Evil Incarnate. From there it is quite aÂ small step to embrace murdering them in the name of God. (IntoleranceÂ of others is maximized.)
Raising our consciousness to the first floor affords us greaterÂ perspective. This is largely a rational/intellectual lens throughÂ which we view the world. We begin to understand there are many ways ofÂ looking at the world and instead of a world of Black and White weÂ begin to observe shades of gray between these extremes. The worldÂ becomes larger, inter-related, and increasingly complex. (Tolerance ofÂ others begins to replace intolerance.)
In raising our consciousness to the second floor we gain emotionalÂ empathy. The ability to feel in our heart as we imagine others mightÂ feel. We begin to walk in their shoes. This has an obvious effect uponÂ us, because we now see each person as an individual, who like us, hasÂ feelings, and we begin to appreciate how our behaviors and actionsÂ effect others emotionally. One might say we begin to live in ourÂ heart, as well as in our head. (We begin to move from merelyÂ tolerating others, toward accepting them. A subtle yet importantÂ distinction.)
Finally, we come to the roof top garden. Few people spend much timeÂ here. This is said to be where we really see the world and all thoseÂ in it as One. We no longer see enemies… how could we when all areÂ One? This is the view offered to us by all great spiritual traditions.
Spiritual masters and “mystics” help us look within our own hearts toÂ find an in-dwelling spark of the Divine (although there areÂ differences of understanding as to what one should do with thisÂ insight). Perhaps most importantly, they teach this is equally true ofÂ everyone and everything around us. (Sincere appreciation of othersÂ increases, and ultimately is maximized.)
One may have noticed that I ended each “floor” of consciousness with aÂ parenthetical statement. These comments outline another very simpleÂ way of seeing others. I use it to remind myself to be moreÂ open-hearted. In adapting it to a four-fold model I began withÂ intolerance, but normally I only consider the three later stages:Â tolerance, acceptance, and appreciation.
First and foremost, I must â€œtolerateâ€ others and their ways. I wishÂ others to give me the privilege of thinking as I do, therefore I mustÂ pay others the same respect. To my mind, peacefully living with oneÂ another begins with (optimally, mutual) tolerance.
Over time, I find that I move from simply tolerating others toÂ accepting their ways, even when they differ from my own, and even whenÂ I have no intention of adopting them. This may seem like a subtleÂ distinction, but I think it is very important. In addition to openingÂ my mind to others, I now open my heart to them, and I believe this isÂ why shifting into this state of awareness is so powerful. I feel thisÂ offers better healing, both for myself and the other party, regardlessÂ of whether the feeling is reciprocated. Besides, we are all connectedÂ at a very deep level, anyway, right?
And finally, I may come to appreciate some aspects of previously alienÂ views. Sometimes I feel that I discover another piece of the “DivineÂ puzzle” allowing me deeper spiritual insight to my own search for theÂ Divine. When this happens I have begun to learn from what I, at first,Â merely â€œtolerated.â€ I have to think this is healthy as it offers aÂ grander view of both the physical world and my inner spiritual life.Â (Such is my goal at any rate.)
Framework for Understanding Discussions
By blending these two sets of “lenses” upon consciousness, I like toÂ think I have a tool for achieving a better understanding of how othersÂ appear to be interacting with one another. And to the degree oneÂ better understands another person’s perspective, one should be betterÂ able to communicate/interact with them. The first three lines areÂ arranged in a four column display. The last two lines are arranged asÂ continuums of Communication and Violence, each of which is veryÂ important with regard to informing me of how effectively I may expectÂ to interact with the person or group under investigation:
Basement….. First Floor…… Second Floor… Roof Garden
Tribal……. Rational/Mental.. Empathy/Heart.. All as One
Intolerance.. Tolerance…….. Acceptance….. Appreciation
None <————> Communication <———–> Oneness/Love
Maximum <————> Violence <————-> Minimum
The continuum of degrees of communication ranges from no communicationÂ taking place at the basement/tribal/intolerant end of the spectrum, toÂ finding an increasing ability to communicate across the central areas,Â to moving toward sincere concern for others at the opposite end ofÂ this continuum; one might name this end of the spectrum Love.
Returning to Prof. Miller’s metaphor, we find that as one raises theirÂ consciousness higher, one has a wider, more understanding perspectiveÂ of our interconnectedness with one another. From the roof top gardenÂ we see we are all One. So the “more evolved” views of the worldÂ inherently have greater flexibility and provide greater understandingÂ than those restrained to lower floors. Whereas, from the basement,Â there is no outside view at all. For those in the basement there is noÂ communication with the wider world… their eyes, and worse, theirÂ minds are closed.
This allows us to understand that violent persons trapped in tribalÂ thinking are not Evil. They simply have a very limited scope of visionÂ and are operating from a very limited level of consciousness. And itÂ seems to be much more difficult to raise one’s actions above one’sÂ level of consciousness, than to reach out to a less evolved level ofÂ consciousness from a higher one. However, if they are open toÂ meaningful communication we may mitigate these negatives. But if theyÂ have no interest in communicating with us and in fact wish to harm orÂ kill us, mitigation becomes increasingly difficult to impossible. SeenÂ in this light, the continuums of violence and communication mutuallyÂ limit and expand one another. Both are highly dynamic and I think weÂ are amply rewarded by paying them due attention.
Stages of Faith
A more complex model for understanding our developmental stages ofÂ faith is presented by James W. Fowler in his book “Stages of Faith:
The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning.” I haveÂ been working with his ideas too, in the hope they may allow me toÂ better understand how I have come to view the world, and my place inÂ it. To the degree I am successful in this, I believe I will be betterÂ able to understand others, thus enabling more effective communicationÂ with them. (This remains a work in progress.) Fowler presents six orÂ seven stages of faith, depending upon whether one counts our earliestÂ days of infancy, which I do, but I label it as zero, so as to keep toÂ Fowler’s stage designations:
0. Infancy & Undifferentiated Faith
1. Intuitive-Projective Faith
2. Mythic-Literal Faith
3. Synthetic-Conventional Faith
4. Individuative-Reflective Faith
5. Conjunctive Faith
6. Universalizing Faith
Fowler argues that all normally healthy adults will progress to atÂ least stage three. At this point one may adequately function inÂ society so one may or may not mature beyond this. And as one mightÂ expect, a person generally matures to the average stage of faith ofÂ those who make up one’s world with relative ease.
I should also point out that in using the word faith Fowler is notÂ limiting it’s meaning to faith in the Divine. He uses it in a broaderÂ sense. Faith is that which provides us meaning in life, be it God,Â baseball, or a larger bank account. This brings to mind ViktorÂ Frankl’s work in developing logostherapy. Frankl emphasizes faith isÂ not just something we believe in, but is that which provides deepÂ meaning to our life… it is the very reason we exist.
The main difference I see between these two authors is that FowlerÂ does include such seemingly trivial ideas as baseball and bankÂ accounts as constituting one’s faith provided one organizes one’s lifeÂ around it. Whereas, I believe Frankl would argue that this is aÂ delusionary perspective; that when truly pressed for a reason to liveÂ another day, baseball and bank accounts pale. They lack sufficientÂ depth to keep a person alive against all odds and reason. Frankl is aÂ holocaust survivor. He has personal experiences none of us would wishÂ to share, which profoundly inform his insights.
So the the way Fowler uses the word faith, it is not as weak as mereÂ belief, nor does it require that it includes a depth of purpose andÂ spiritual meaning that keeps one alive against all odds (although itÂ does not preclude this, while it does preclude the weak form ofÂ belief).
I am not going to try to summarize Fowlers book in a few paragraphs.Â Instead, I will point out that the early stages appear to be ratherÂ simplistic and two dimensional. For example, God is an old guy with aÂ beard living up in heaven. God’s behavior and rewards and punishmentsÂ are seen as simple extensions of one’s own world view. One may pray toÂ store up favors to be paid back during times of need, much like aÂ spiritual savings account. Thinking is rigid: God is good; man isÂ evil. (Which we may recognize as the black and white thinking of thoseÂ living in Ron Miller’s basement.)
As one begins to develop more refined stages of faith, the literal GodÂ in the sky kind of thinking falls away. Spiritual concepts become lessÂ anthropomorphic, and more abstract. This makes it easier to work withÂ the underlying ideas and symbols which form the building blocks of theÂ simpler ideas surrounding one’s faith. One might say one begins toÂ work with archetypal images. And as one continues their developmentalÂ progression, this allows one to compare and contrast an increasingÂ number of archetypal images, from one’s own faith and those outsideÂ one’s faith. Eventually, one may even begin to incorporate archetypalÂ images from other paradigms. And ultimately, one begins to correlateÂ disparate paradigms and to appreciate the ocean of images sharedÂ within and across the entire human community/condition. (Which weÂ might recognize as the roof top garden view, in which we are allÂ really One.)
The reason I find these ideas useful, is there is little point inÂ speaking to a stage three/basement dweller in terms of a universalÂ Divine plan affording everyone equal access to spiritual Oneness. TheyÂ cannot see that view from their perspective. This is not the sameÂ thing as saying they will never be able to share that perspective, butÂ it is to say if one wishes to communicate meaningfully with them rightÂ now, one’s symbols and language will have to be modified accordingly.
In this way, I see what we frequently label Religious FundamentalismÂ as an early, undeveloped, and unrefined stage ofÂ consciousness/spirituality. They are living in the basement, withÂ little to no view of the outside world. They may or may not have anyÂ interest in communicating with others, and they may or may not resortÂ to violence to retain their (basement) view of the world, and/orÂ attempt to force it upon others. Of these two continuums,Â communication is fairly harmless to others, because others have theÂ option to largely ignore those who are vocally adamant and closeÂ minded. But should they resort to violence, this must be properlyÂ addressed by others. After all, it is pretty difficult to ignoreÂ someone who is trying to split your skull, and certainly dangerous toÂ ignore them. The trick, of course, is in identifying what constitutesÂ a proper response. Optimally, there will be more spiritually evolvedÂ members of their own group who take this upon themselves.
Â X-Y-Z Plot of Violence, Communication, ConsciousnessÂ
I feel it is important we consider the Continuum of Violence moreÂ closely. Violence could alternately be labeled as intolerance. HoweverÂ I feel intolerance is already a form of violence; to my mind it isÂ merely a subset within the category of violence. If we plot “Violence”Â along the vertical axis, “Communication” along the horizontal axis,Â and start each at zero we have something like the following graph (IÂ think negative values make understanding this more difficult; so allÂ values are positive, and rated as a percentage from 0% to 100%):
0,0Â Â Â CommunicationÂ Â Â 100%
With the continuums of Violence and Communication set up as opposingÂ axes, we may begin plotting the “relative danger” of a givenÂ Fundamentalist position/group. I have plotted four points: A, B, C,Â and D.
Point A: This is at the extreme bottom-left of the graph. ItÂ represents zero communication, and zero violence. Because there is noÂ violence it is mostly harmless. However, since it is totally lackingÂ in communication, it is also of no practical value. To provoke growthÂ it would seem we need some combination of friction to stir things up,Â combined with effective communication to discover a new equilibrium.
Point B: Moving vertically to the extreme upper-left corner of theÂ graph, we find maximum violence with minimum communication. I wouldÂ argue this represents the most dangerous extreme we face. Here theÂ violence has reached murderous levels and there is no communication toÂ mitigate this violence. This is the region of Holy Wars, Crusades, andÂ the Salem Witch Trials. It is the worse world humans have to offer.
Point C: Moving along the upper limit of the graph to the far right,Â we come to the most dynamic region of the graph. Here we still findÂ maximum violence, so it is terribly violent and murderous by nature,Â but we have some ability , or hope, to mitigate this because we alsoÂ have maximum levels of communication. There is however no guaranteeÂ one will be able to effect positive communications sufficient toÂ overcome the violent nature of this region. Therefore, this remains anÂ incredibly dangerous and murderous region in which to find oneself.
Point D: Dropping now to the extreme bottom-right corner of the graphÂ we find the most stable and I would imagine the most desirable regionÂ in which to live. Communication is maximized while violence isÂ minimized. Here we find the greatest ability to communicate with oneÂ another, and with no fear of violent retribution for holding aÂ difference in opinion. This is the peaceful, pluralistic region inÂ which I would wish to live. It is my opinion the long term safety andÂ continued growth of the human race requires our taking up residence inÂ this region.
I should perhaps point out that when I use the term communication IÂ imply dialog. Simply broadcasting one-way without listening to theÂ other party does NOT constitute effective communication. Shouting downÂ another person is merely another form of violence, and broadcasting inÂ place of communication is a simply more mild form of this violence.
A logical extension of this two-dimensional graph, would be to createÂ a three-dimensional graph with consciousness plotted along the newÂ Z-axis. The levels of consciousness are Prof. Ron Miller’s four storyÂ building: basement (0%), first floor, second floor, and roof topÂ garden (100%). I imagine this dimension as helping us to define theÂ spiritual quality of the communication shown above. And as I am usingÂ the terms, I feel one may consider consciousness as being roughlyÂ equivalent with spirituality, and I believe it offers great healingÂ vitality. My hope is that it trumps violence.
I believe we should find this to be a very useful tool for diagnosingÂ a given situation, as it allows us to compare and contrast the mixtureÂ of violence, communication, and consciousness. Much like using X-Y-ZÂ coordinates to describe our physical location in space (North-South;Â East-West; Up-Down), we can now describe some important qualitiesÂ found in human interactions (using Violence; Communication;Â Consciousness as our value coordinates).
For example, if plot 90,0,20 describes a given person or groupÂ (meaning either the average value of the group as a whole, or that ofÂ the group’s leaders), I know they are 90% violent; 0% communicative;Â and 20% conscious (still using triable, 100%-right/100%-wrongÂ thinking). This tells me they are incredibly dangerous, andÂ effectively impossible to speak with because they have zero interestÂ in communicating with others. In such cases, my options in dealingÂ with a person/group of this kind will be severely limited. On theÂ other hand, an 80,70,10 group will be much easier to deal with becauseÂ we now have a fair ability to communicate with one another. They areÂ still very violent, and their thinking is not very consciouslyÂ evolved, but where there is meaningful two-way dialog there is hope ofÂ improving relations.
I can mentally refer to this X-Y-Z graph when dealing with others. AsÂ I better understand “where they are coming from” I can better modifyÂ my behavior and communication techniques to effect more productiveÂ communications. I should also be able to use this model to understandÂ why I experience difficulty in working with another person or group,Â and modify my approach accordingly, or perhaps realize our ability toÂ dialog is nearly zero.
Perhaps most importantly, I can use this to self-evaluate my ownÂ spiritual progress. I suspect as we mature in our first and secondÂ floor stages of development we begin to appreciate how we may cause aÂ number of our own problems, which we previously only saw as somethingÂ others did to us. As as we become co-conspirators in our life asÂ opposed to innocent/powerless victims, we embrace the ability andÂ responsibility to effect change in our own lives. This is a criticalÂ component in our development, social as well as spiritual. I feelÂ certain if I honestly evaluated and plotted my own value coordinatesÂ throughout my life, I could plot my trajectory along this graph andÂ gain insight to past (and hopefully future) experiences contributingÂ to my spiritual development.
I think this pretty well sets the table for a discussion ofÂ Fundamentalism, at least as I see it. I do not think we have a chanceÂ of understanding Fundamentalism until we develop a useful model ofÂ various and sometimes competing ways of seeing the world. And we mustÂ remember we can only see that which lies at our own line-of-sight andÂ below. My perspective is also limited by my elevation (degree ofÂ Spiritual/Consciousness development). Sometimes I think I can catchÂ the scent of the flowers growing in the roof top garden, but IÂ certainly do not share that vista. On the other hand, at least I knowÂ the garden is up there! 😉 heheh….
With blessings for peace and harmony,