By Suzanne E. Harrill
Each of us is on a journey to learn and grow and evolve, to realize our spiritual wholeness. Each individual has their own path to this realization, yet the journey has many similarities that all have in common. There are different stages or passages we go through and certain things are learned in these stages. It’s like being in school. You move to second grade when you master most of the things first grade has to offer. When mastering a level of growth there is always another. Completing a passage builds awareness. Each time we move forward there is confusion and discomfort because the next level is unknown to us personally. Maps are helpful when journeying into new territory.
The map presented here, though simplistic, describes major passages one moves through, beginning with birth and progressing along the journey to awakening, or reawakening – you already are what you are becoming. In reality, consciousness does not evolve with distinct levels of awareness. It is similar to your age – you are aging every day, not just on birthdays. You are a composite of all your ages. I will explain stages of growth as if there are separate thresholds that are obvious and concrete. They are not because it is a process. This map is simply one way to describe the journey of life with encouragement to keep going when challenging times find us.
Understanding the greater themes in each major passage has helped me understand the human journey better and my life specifically. Until I experience something on my own, I really do not have true understanding. Some of the things written in this map I have not experienced and give you what I have learned from others and are approximations. If you were writing this map you may have a little different take on what floor to put certain lessons. I use this map as a general guide to the many degrees of awakening.
It can be comforting to find a higher order or pattern to Life, especially during unstable, challenging times of change where there is confusion, disappointment, fear, doubt, and discouragement. Growth and expansion characterized by the crumbling of old beliefs and patterns causes insecurities as we seek new ones. Holding on to the old can make the changes difficult and we all do this at times. I have found Truth expands as I evolve. Consider this map when struggling with personal challenges in order to keep going. Understanding the process from a larger perspective fosters the courage to explore and expand further. Some people make choices not to move to the next degree of awareness and prefer to play it safe. I personally chose to keep growing my world larger. It doesn’t mean it is always easy to find my way or to know what direction to take. It makes more sense to me when I look back and see where I was and what I know now. When I don’t understand I seek teachers who have gone before me to help me understand how to swim in deeper waters. Many times it is the teacher within showing me the way, giving me insights, and helping me not get too caught up in the impermanence of the human experience. May you find something of value for your journey as you read further.
Imagine a house with seven floors as a metaphor for the different levels of awareness. We all enter through the front door when we are born. Each floor has many rooms to explore. When the lessons are mastered on one floor, there is a stairway to the next floor. People grow at different rates, sometimes zooming through lessons in certain rooms and sometimes needing to learn at a slower pace. At times you even have to go back and relearn the lessons of a room when you have tried to skip steps or not assimilated the key points. You can also be working on more than one level at a time. Maybe there is a room that is challenging to you on the third floor. It keeps you going back when stuck to the third floor even when you are mainly operating on the fourth or fifth floor. Another point to keep in mind is that we have to be where we are and we can only take the next step and then the next for ourselves. Comparison is not a good idea. Some people are tortoises and some hares, and many in between. All are perfect. Our study begins.
LEVELS OF DEVELOPMENT AND AWARENESS
1. PHYSICAL LEVEL OF AWARENESS. This floor deals with physical survival and psychologically is a place of dependency. We learn about safety and security. Infants and children are dependent on parents and caregivers to physically care for them in order to survive. Throughout childhood good parents provide shelter, protection, food, and clothing and the child thrives. Most people in our society receive enough safety and security to explore and master their physical environment, the first floor of the house.
Some people were not cared for properly and are children in adult bodies, needing to learn lessons missed in early childhood. Fear and mistrust are common as a result of not being welcomed and cherished at birth or cared for properly. If growth is arrested here, there is great difficulty moving to the second floor where bonding emotionally with others is learned. These individuals did not learn to trust in the first year of life because the adults were not reliable in responding to the basic needs of feeding, bathing, holding, or providing a home on a consistent basis.
Since there are no perfect parents, most of us have some rooms on our foundation floor that are not fully mastered and integrated. As adults we must continue to do the inner work necessary to support ourselves to take care of our physical body and its needs. As healthy adults we have to be the good mother and the good father to our inner infant/child/teenager/young adult. For example, we must regularly drink water when thirsty and feed ourselves when hungry instead of expecting anyone to do this for us, even when the good parent shows up in a partner or friend. The bottom line is, it is wise to learn to meet basic physical needs for survival by ourselves.
There are growth stages of moral development also on the first floor. Young children learn the mores of the family by imitating parents and by the parents setting age appropriate limits on behavior. Some individuals were not taught consistently what acceptable and unacceptable behavior were. Good behavior became what did not irritate mom or dad and not trigger their anger, which was really about the dysfunction and immaturity of the parent. It is common to find someone arrested here to be motivated by fear of punishment. A common belief might be, “What I can get away with is okay, as long as I do not get caught.” Our welfare and prison system have many people functioning at this basic level of survival.
Children who are cared for and responded to physically develop a healthy emotional attachment to parents or adult caregivers. Under normal conditions a mother bonds with her baby soon after birth and wants to take care of her baby. As a caregiver responds to the needs of the newborn, trust is established and the infant develops a healthy attachment and knows survival is not a problem. With a healthy attachment to the parents, the growing child wants to copy the parent’s beliefs and values which also contributes to feeling safe and secure. At other stages a healthy, growing adult can question the conditioning to update beliefs and values that may be limiting.
Before I go further, remember that we are Spiritual Beings and much, much more than meets the eye. It is important to know that each of us can move forward and heal ourselves from the mishaps of unaware parents. No one is stuck permanently if a choice is made to grow, heal and transform. Many have gone before us showing us new pathways. Trust can be learned from a caring partner, therapist, teacher, or friend. It is a choice to do the inner work necessary to heal and grow past early trauma and unaware parenting.
2. EMOTIONAL LEVEL OF AWARENESS. The second floor of our house is about emotional development, feeling part of a group and forming relationships. Young children develop social skills at this time, which is in conjunction with the physical care and safety that caring parents or care givers provide. Children who have proper love, attention, and care feel included and that they belong in the family – this can be a two parent or single parent household. The child, especially during the first six years of life, is like a sponge copying the parents and following in their footsteps, thus conforming to their values, beliefs, and behaviors. This grows to include the extended family, neighborhood, church, and school. Following group rules and mores are important at this time for survival.
To be included in the group can cross the line and become dysfunctional and damaging if there are overly strict rules and sever punishment for questioning, acting out, or thinking outside the family norm or religious teachings. It is easy to indoctrinate a young person with shame and guilt which can easily arrest development at this level. Here you find adults who only socialize with people that think as they do. It is common to arrest development with some political systems and religious groups that do not encourage diversity. There is not much room for deviation from the group expectations, so one learns to offer unquestioning obedience to the group.
Parents who have graduated beyond the second floor of their own house accept more deviation from the group norm and encourage autonomy in their children, accepting individual differences.
The child experiences, in this stage, a total dependency on outside authority, which extends beyond the family to other authority figures, such as teachers, doctors, ministers, priests, or rabbis. It influences ones interpretation of God as well. God is seen as outside oneself.
There is a strong desire to be good on this floor. Good is based upon the rules of right and wrong as agreed upon by the consensus of authority figures in the group such as parents, teachers, or religious figures. People arrested at this level of awareness can be overly nationalistic or attached to the ethnic or racial group within which one is born. There is a “me versus them” posture. Everything that is in my group is good and I give strict loyalty to this group. After all my survival is dependant on my compliance.
Those of us who came into this world with adequate care physically and emotionally learned to master and integrate most of the first two floors of our house the first years of life. Following the rules of our group reaches a peak around age ten or twelve. Developmentally it is natural to look outside of your group to see what other groups (families or peers) are doing. When this happens, the third floor of the house is entered. If one is not ready to think for oneself, then the individual may return to the second floor to receive love and acceptance from the consensus thinking of the “home group.” There may be a shift in loyalties to another “family or religion in adulthood,” however there is still conformity and obedience to the new group.
Many people never move from this place where love and acceptance is the reward for conforming to the rules, beliefs, and values of the group. If you never question the system giving emotional support, you may never learn to discover who you are as an individual.
Adults operating here may not be happy but are comfortable. Awareness and risk taking are lacking as there is fear of looking outside of the comfort zone. The need to be accepted makes them a “good” and obedient group member and they look no further. Badness has to be hidden and denied. This sense of external control makes this group of people motivated by rewards, love, money, approval, and acceptance. The masses of humanity live in this place of awareness; they willingly accept poor relationships, abuse, and low pay for hard work and do not take risks to develop their skills, talents, or educational level for something better. Codependence and emotional bondage is common. Adults living at this level of awareness often feel powerless and like victims. They experience power outside themselves, do not take responsibility for their own lives, and at the same time get trapped in power struggles and project unconscious conflicts onto authority figures, such as, parents, teachers, bosses, partners, or the government.
The family that gives proper emotional support, love and acceptance, age appropriate discipline, along with a lot of autonomy allows the individual permission to become independent. The ability to question encourages developmental progress to the next level of awareness. Here parents are interested in what their children think and feel.
3. CONCRET THINKING LEVEL OF AWARENESS. The third floor is about the process of being independent, an individual separate from the family or group. You begin thinking for yourself, which may be different from what you were taught. Here you question, observe, and make your own conclusions. There can be a certain randomness to exploring and thinking at first, yet there is constant feedback from consequences of new choices both good and bad. Reasoning is important. There is an emphasis on logical, rational thinking and using your five senses. “What I can see and prove are now true for me.”
As you grow from level two to three you progress from a dependency on family to a reliance on self. As you learn to think for yourself, you are able to make choices based on your own rational, critical thinking skills. There has to be enough ego strength and emotional security to be able to forgo approval and acceptance from the group in favor of the growth of your own will. A strong ego is formed here. Taken to an extreme you can become egotistical.
For many, this is a very self-centered stage with a strong need to do it “my way.” Developmentally you see this starting in older adolescents and young adults. It is common in your 20’s to break away from your tradition and try your hand in new directions. Here you develop a new sense of good and bad. “I am right” is the new attitude because life is being questioned and new rights and wrongs are being established using, observation, reason, logic, and scientific proof. They may be just as rigid as the rules followed in the previous stage, however, they are your rules. The important issue on the third floor of your house is developing independent thinking to grow in the direction of your specific desires.
This stage likes to be in charge and right without much introspection. One avoids other parts of themselves, such as their feelings, how to manage unexpected anger or boredom, or solve the dilemma that intimate relationships require more skills than only knowing what is right for yourself. Interdependence is learned on the next floor.
It is common to find competition strong with over achievers. It is common to explore a religion outside of the one raised with, be anti-religious, agnostic, or even an atheist. The positive intention is to break away from tradition and have the freedom of choice. This stage is a necessary progression that moves you out of mass consciousness (conforming and dependency) by questioning the rules and mores of your group in order to develop a sense of independence. If a person misses this stage, it can be triggered later in life by an outside event, such as an illness, divorce, job loss, going to college, having a teenager act out, etc. Once a new set of rules is in place there is not much need to question or explore. The down side of living on this floor and not progressing is that people can become very powerful and very rigid.
The concrete thinking stage is an important stage to learn to think for yourself and know your individual self. When one is ready to grow to the fourth level things are not so black and white.
4. HIGHER MIND THINKING OF AWARENESS. You are ready now to progress to the fourth floor of your house where you learn to think and act in a broader, holistic, and abstract way, moving beyond rigid rights and wrongs. Truth is not firm and concrete. Critical thinking and facts are still important here, but it includes more than what is obvious with the five senses. Pondering things that do not meet the eye, considering possibilities, gathering information to solve problems, intuiting, and contemplating are important.
The mind grows to understand the place of paradox where two opposites can be true at the same time. For example, there is no place where hot ends and cold begins. Hot and cold are two aspects of the same thing, temperature. There is no place where goodness ends and evil begins. They do not have concrete boundaries, but are on a continuum of goodness and evilness. Therefore, on the fourth floor, you would not see people as simply good or bad, but see that everyone has the potential for both. It is understood that “good” people, or people we perceive with good behavior, habits, and traits have a disowned or unconscious side. There is the potential for “bad” behavior, habits, and traits. It is understood that “bad” people, or those with bad behavior, beliefs, traits also have a shadow side, where there is potential for goodness. Another paradox is that God or the Universe is one and God is many, or that God is within me and I am within God. In both cases the fourth level teaches they are both true, opposites are different aspects of the same thing, the larger whole.
On this floor you might be interested in comparative religions or Jung’s depth psychology, as I am. In depth psychology there are many constructs to describe the human experience. One example is that men have an inner female, the anima and women have an inner male, the animus operating in the personality. When we integrate the inner male or inner female we become more androgynous and whole as a person. A very simplistic example is that roles are not rigid with many shades of grey, men can be nurturing in the home and women can be ambitious in the outer world. The shadow is another of Jung’s ideas that helps us understand the unconscious side of a person in which parts of self are disowned. They go unconscious to us because we have judged a trait or habit or value or belief or emotion as wrong, bad, or impossible to achieve. These traits then are projected outward and we only see them in others. For example, some people do not own their own anger and see it only in other people, or do not own that they could be loving and nurturing and only see it in other people. Again these are polarities, flip sides of the same coin and are potentials in all people.
To continue our discussion of this fourth floor level of awareness, symbols are important here, both in dreams and in waking time. Symbols are the language of the unconscious and they give us clues to deepen our understanding of ourselves. The unconscious mind has a big influence on us. Picture an iceberg where the tip on top of the water is the conscious mind and the larger part that is underwater is the unconscious mind.
The higher mind stage is one of resolving problems and differences. Doing inner work to heal past hurts, injustices, traumas, and conditioning is a big part of life now. Discovering ways to improve primary relationships is important. There is motivation to find help and information outside of your frame of reference to learn such things as, how to improve communication with a partner and to be a better parent.
This stage can be a rich, expansive stage of development. A search for meaning is important now that the door to the higher mind is opened. Now it is time to move to seeking more.
5. THE SEEKING LEVEL OF AWARENESS. On this floor complicated questions need answering. It is common to ask, “Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why do bad things happen to good people? You automatically progress to the fifth floor of seeking once you have a degree of mastering the lower floors, or you may be like I was, a natural born seeker after the mysteries of life and understanding of the human experience. Others of you become a seeker when a challenging situation showed up on your path, such as a health challenge, a family member had an addiction problem, or you lost your job. Remember you are working on more than one floor at the same time and this crisis opened you early to exploring. I must say that many years ago when curiosity moved me to this floor, I learned a lot intellectually; it wasn’t until much later that I could understand more of what I had learned seeking Truth. I first had to have the experiences of my life and learn many of the lessons from earlier floors. Even when we find answers that satisfy us it is humbling to remember the mysteries of life can never be fully understood. Things are revealed as we grow in consciousness.
You may have entered this floor early because you were in an emotionally abusive relationship. It moved you to read books or go to therapy to make it work. You stayed in the relationship long after you realized it was not working because you had to grow through lessons in other rooms on other floors of your house. No matter what feedback therapist, friends, and family gave you about being in an abusive situation that probably would not change, you thought you could change the situation. It took several years of your own growth and expansion to be strong enough to admit to yourself it was time to leave – to know it and feel it.
On the fifth floor, you may realize you need to go through a deep healing process. Clearing and cleaning the rooms on the lower floors of your house that still have cobwebs or skeletons in the closets that need to be faced and dealt with. A few of the rooms may need to be opened for the first time. The need for healing the physical, emotional and mental aspects of yourself is clearly important. On this floor you may check out ideas that are very different and out of character for you. You may for the first time be interested in that strange friend of yours that likes the spiritual teachings of Abraham channeled through Ester Hicks. You are open to new places to find new answers to your problems.
To continue you may rework problems and issues you became aware of on earlier floors. Maybe you have worked on loving and accepting yourself in the past. Here you may make some shifts to really do this. You may be drawn to check out things to help release hidden emotions and balance your body. Some examples are bodywork, reiki, or EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping, as it is called.
It is common on this floor to aspire to actualizing your potential once you have some degree of who you are. Having opened your higher mind you now want to take risks to explore new ideas as you grow and transform.
Now you want to know who you are and why you are here. The mysteries of life draw you forward. You may study eastern meditation or the mystical traditions in an organized religion. The mystical sciences, such as astrology or numerology, may catch your interest, even if in earlier times you found them wrong or bad. You may be drawn to experience past life or intuitive readings from people who have the ability to read your soul records. Your search for deeper meaning motivates you. If you have never had a reading and want to find someone who is good at this, I recommend you ask a friend that is on this journey who has explored a step ahead of you. A helpful book on this subject is How to Interpret a Psychic Reading, by Bruce Way.
On this floor you are hungry for spiritual truths, not religion. The catalyst or personal crisis that opened you up in the last level and got you started thinking outside of your boundaries now brings a bigger need. You are hungry to deepen your understanding of Self or soul. Meditation and contemplation are very important as you choose to do the inner work necessary to know yourself. Quiet time to read and journal write are helpful when you want to make changes and uncover places where you need to heal. You may join a support group or seek psychotherapy. Support from like-minded others is important on this floor, where you recognize and accept there are others on this path. Helpers are easy for you to find. Instead of reading about a healing treatment, you come in contact with a friend who actually attended these sessions and encourages you to go. Teachers, books, ideas that you need for your next step seem to magically come to you.
At the Seeking Level you begin to really explore outside of your frame of reference. You not only use your thinking but also pay attention to your feelings and your intuition. You are motivated by the freedom to explore and to break out of old patterns of thinking and behaving. You make a shift to building your self-esteem based on an internal place of control rather than depending on others to give it to you. Here you internalize the change in beliefs that you started thinking about in the previous floors of your house.
6. DISCIPLE OR DISCIPLINED LEVEL OF AWARENESS. As you enter the sixth floor of your house, you know you are on the spiritual journey. You are usually conscious that you are seeking enlightenment or Self-realization; however, you may not use these words if you are part of a more traditional spiritual path. Here there is a firm commitment to your spiritual path. You may settle on one path of teaching after so much exploring at earlier stages. You may even go back to your original religion and practice the teachings in a deeper spiritual, personal way. You are learning the difference between religious dogma and deeper spiritual Truth. Many times you find a guru or spiritual teacher to follow on this floor of your house.
The information gathered in the last level of awareness needs to be put into practice personally, in day to day living. Discipline is important. Spiritual routines or rituals learned earlier are now a high priority, such as meditating or journal writing daily. You may follow a special diet for reasons, such as healing and correcting imbalances. There are strong belief systems here again supporting your spiritual path.
Intuition is very important on this floor. Learning to follow your own inner guidance steadily increases as you explore this level of consciousness, actualizing more and more Truth into you life. Living consciously in the present is important. Most people spend much of their life not present to the current moment by daydreaming, rehashing the past, wishing to be in the future, etc. This is a time to discipline the mind to stay present, even when uncomfortable, so as not to miss the subtleties of the learning experiences of life. It is a time to discipline negative thinking patterns, personality traits, and emotional reactions to people and events. It is a time to discipline your behavior so it is congruent with your value system. Integrity is a key word here.
The note of world service begins to ring inside you now. You may resonate with a group or volunteer your time working to make the world a better place. Unconditional love and giving motivate you as does unconditional forgiveness.
On the sixth floor there is the need for self-discipline to keep your life on this new path. While you are expanding your knowledge and understanding of who you really are, you somehow cannot live it all the time. Yes, when you go to a support group, meet with your therapist, read an inspirational book, or go on a spiritual retreat, you can live from the soul or spiritual level of your being. You experience joy and light and love and a personal connection to God. However, when back in your everyday reality at work or in your relationships, it just doesn’t click like you would like. One moment you are up “there” loving and transcending the unhealthy actions and thoughts of others; the next moment you wonder if you can get up and climb the mountain of joy and inner peace again. At times you may not want to discipline yourself. For example it gets old, observing your negative thoughts and replacing them with affirmations to move you to a new place. It feels like things will never change. This is normal because it takes a lot of courage and energy to change your reality. There are so many parts of you that need understanding and healing and integrating. It is important to go easy on yourself on this floor and take one step at a time, even if it is a step you have done over and over before. You will eventually maintain your new level of balance and awareness. Over time as more rooms on this floor of your house are explored, it will take less energy and discipline to maintain your new life. Then you will be ready to move to the top floor of your house.
Eventually, you will no longer need to depend on outer teachers to show you the way. You will have a deep connection to the Divine Presence in you and live life as an expression of God. If you are on a Christian Path you see the Christ in every person you meet. If you lean more towards Buddhism you may practice Mindfulness and send prayers and blessing to all humanity. You are in alignment for the greater good for all.
7. INITIATE LEVEL OF AWARENESS. Not much can be said of the seventh level, the path of initiation. You may not recognize someone at this level as it is common to blend back in with others to live a “normal” life. You will know more from observing and feeling their love and acceptance. An initiate will never tell you they are operating at this level of awareness.
This seventh floor leads to mastership of the lessons learned in your whole house and being a clear instrument for good and healing on the planet. There is a continuance of growth in spiritual power, love, and understanding of the mysteries of life. You move out of a personal focus to that of a universal focus of Love and Service, without ego. Unity consciousness is understood and lived, where the personal soul is united with the greater soul, the One Self.
Christian terminology gives us peak points of expansion that are the major initiations: the Birth, The Baptism, The Transfiguration, The Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Assentation. An initiation is simply moving from one place of awareness to a more expanded place of awareness, similar to learning the personal lessons on earlier floors, yet with an emphasis on the greater whole and connection to the Source.
Jesus was one spiritual teacher that showed us the way. Increased responsibility comes with each initiation. You eventually become Truth, Love, Light, Compassion, and Forgiveness. Service to others is the motivator. You learn to understand and trust the higher purpose and plan for humanity, knowing that each of us has our own unique place in the larger whole. When reborn into Higher Consciousness at the Birth Initiation, the initiate surrenders to the higher authority of The Divine. This surrender is an act of free-will choice; you are “in control” of this surrender and choose it joyfully. You become the Path as you walk the pathless path. You and the Source are One where God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient.
May this map help you on your life journey as you grow and develop. The metaphor of a house with seven floors helps us see the many different levels of consciousness on the spiritual journey. This map can help as you awaken to the fullness of who you really are. It gives you an idea of where you are developmentally and the next stage for you. It can help you choose proper teachers for yourself and recognize others a step ahead of you. You also recognize those a step behind you on the path that need your assistance. Try not to take this information too seriously, humor and laughter are a big part of the spiritual journey. It is a good idea to read the map and then put it away and not try to put yourself or anyone else in too tight a place, as there are many rooms on each floor.
As a note of lightness, remember the process of enlightenment and to not be goal oriented. Be here now where you are and only concern yourself with the next step for you, because there is always a next step. Smile as you release the need to hurry. Hurry to what? The next circumstance only leads to the next. Part of being enlightened is to understand the truth in paradox.
There is a point in time where we finally understand that, yes, there are definite stages to our journey; however, there is really no place of ending our journey. It keeps going. We commit to living each day to the fullest being present to what life brings; some of which feel good and others not so good. We focus on living in the Now, with love for ourselves and all others.