1. Consciousness as Ego / Suffering / The Dream
This is where most humans live. It is a world of conditioned thoughts and beliefs. The world and the self are seen through the filter of these thoughts and beliefs. The pure I Am, pure Being, is condensed into the limited appearance of a separate individual self. I am this and that. We identify with this body and mind. We identify with our thoughts, beliefs, personal stories and suffering. This is the human story. Our orientation is to the past and future, not the present moment, which is reality. Instead of the present we believe our thoughts are reality. We experience suffering. There are many levels of ego consciousness from purely material all the way to spiritual (soul orientation). What each level has in common are the experience of a unique separate self and suffering. Much spiritual teaching still happens at this stage of consciousness, as do all self help programs. It is focused on helping a separate self become a better, happier, smarter or more enlightened separate self.
Consciousness of an Object World / Duality
The world is perceived as an object separate from the self that perceives it. This is the consciousness of a subject and object world. We call this duality. It is the opposite of Oneness, which is the final stage of consciousness in this map. Each of the following stages of consciousness involve a progressive lessening of separation and increasing experiences of Oneness, progressively more spaciousness and openness, progressively more inner silence and stillness, progressively more happiness, peace and unconditional love and progressively less suffering until suffering ends completely.
Most humans live in this second stage of consciousness. It is how we have been conditioned to live and we believe that this is life. This is the filter we see the world and ourselves through. A few through spiritual practices, readiness or just good fortune have transcended this stage and moved on. Until we move to the next state of conscious awareness, our spiritual path to awakening has not yet begun. That is the point of this map and spiritual practice in general, to wake up to what we truly are.
To learn more about this stage, click here: The Dream
2. Consciousness as Personal Consciousness
This is the first stage where we experience awareness of our thoughts and the personal self / ego as something outside of what we are. Often this is accomplished through specific meditation practices. We can finally see our thoughts and the sense of a separate self / ego created by the thoughts. We experience some freedom from the suffering created by thoughts. We become aware of awareness itself. But this is still personal awareness, “my awareness”. Still, it is the beginning of true insight. We are finally separating from thoughts and the ego. At this point the unfolding of consciousness kicks into high gear. Transformations happen more quickly. There is still a great deal of back and forth experiences between freedom and suffering. The process is very rocky at this point. “I found it. I lost it.” We may experience great freedom on a spiritual retreat, but then find we are back in suffering a week later. This back and forth can go on for quite some time. But the corner has been turned. The limitation of the personal ego is in the process of transformation.
Here it is also possible and common to experience transmission from a teacher who is already awake to a higher state of consciousness than you are. The hard protective and resisting walls of the ego self are becoming more permeable. This transmission may happen not only in direct personal contact but also through books and videos. Transmissions are the silent teachings that occur beneath the mind’s radar screen. Your interest in reading spiritual books and engaging with spiritual teachers becomes very compelling at this stage. Both consciously through your efforts and unconsciously through Grace, everything is working to accelerate the revelation of the next stage.
For more information, practices and resources for this stage click here: The Journey to Awakening Begins
3. Consciousness as Love / Awareness of Something More
At this stage of awakening, we become consciousness of something more than the limited personal self acting in the world and in our own life. We may call this God, Life, Nature, the Universe or any number of other names. But it is clearly more than what we had felt and believed was running the show before this awakening. We may not understand what it is or how it is doing it, but it is very clear that something is happening far beyond what we had even imagined before.
The non-dual teacher Mooji described this stage as “sitting on the lap of God”. It is a truly wonderful and miraculous experience. Because something far wiser and more beneficial begins to guide our life, and the results of this are so outstanding, it becomes obvious we should surrender to it and so we do. There is enormous love at this stage, both being a recipient of this Divine unconditional love and the enormous love, devotion and gratitude we feel for it. We are simply bathing in love.
The world looks completely different now, more vibrant and alive. Everything is intensely beautiful. We feel connected to all we perceive in a profound, comforting and wonderful way. Previous fears evaporate in this love. It consumes everything.
We begin to realize how this perfection and simplicity in nature has also always been in affect in our own life. We just were not able to see this when we felt we, as the limited ego self, were the sole “doer” and that we were in control.
At this stage of awakening, there is still the experience of a separate self, even if much less in control, solid and arrogant than before. The master has become the willing, grateful and loving servant of something far greater.
Our belief in our thoughts and previous beliefs is falling away. As our minds open more, we begin to embrace the freedom of not knowing. The transition to higher states of awareness becomes easier and more fluid. We are now in the hands of something more that the personal “doer” and we know it.
4. Consciousness as Pure Being / I Am-ness / Bliss
Here the sense of a personal self who is this or that, gender, age, race, past, experiences, beliefs falls away and is replaced with the experience of Pure Being itself. This is the I Am without adding anything else, just pure Being itself. I Am-ness. We experience the absolute perfection of the world, the perfection of all life. There is an enormous and, at times in the beginning, almost overwhelming Bliss. This is often experienced in the meditative state called Samadhi. This is the beginning of freedom from the personal self/ego on the subtlest level. It often seems like this is the final stage of enlightenment. Suffering is almost completely gone and rarely, if ever, experienced. It is a wonderful stage of consciousness to live in or even just briefly glimpse from the lower stages when in meditation. This is usually experienced as the Big Breakthrough to awakening. Such enormous freedom is here. There is a complete transformation of one’s life. You are living in Presence. As we spend increasingly longer times in this state of Bliss / Pure Being, it permeates and saturates every aspect of our life and being. This transformation happens without our control or doer-ship. We have surrendered to something else, something more than our personal self and it does what needs doing perfectly. We begin to realize it always has. The next stage often comes as a bit of surprise, but by now we are completely used to and comfortable with surprises. We live in not knowing.
5. Consciousness as Emptiness / Void
This is more of a transitional stage. It can be met with some resistance if we become very attached to Bliss or unconditional all pervading Divine Love because here there is nothing, absolutely nothing. No self. No separate I or personal self to experience Bliss or Divine Love. This is before all existence. It is the falling away of the world and the sense of one who observes or is aware of the world. Nothing. Void. Emptiness. And yet Consciousness is still here. Without Consciousness there would be no awareness of this state of nothing. There would be no awareness of the disappearance of I Am-ness and Bliss, along with everything else except for the awareness that is aware of it. This transition can be met with some resistance if attachment to Bliss is strong as it often is and was for me.
The Emptiness / Void stage is a necessary transition stage. It’s purpose is to clean out the last and most subtle elements of the separate self-identification / ego. We can have a number of Emptiness / Void transitions on our journey. Older houses in Sedona, where I live, sometimes have tree roots break into the sewer pipe and clog it up so water can no longer run freely. To free the pipe so it can function as it is meant to, you must hire a plumber with a powerful rooter machine that moves through the pipe and cleans out anything blocking the free flow of water. The Void stage does this for consciousness. It cleans out the last and most subtle vestiges of ego self identification and attachment that are blocking the free flow of consciousness and limiting your awareness of what you truly are. If it is necessary and your attachment is still strong, this Void process may happen a number of times.
The way to go through the Void stage is to have Truth be your primary and only goal. This is important for all stages. We may begin with our goal being freedom from suffering, bliss, peace or unconditional love. These are all wonderful and are all part of the process of awakening. But when we reach the stage of powerful and profound bliss and suddenly that is gone in the Void stage, we’re going to resist that stage and not move on. If Truth is always our primary goal, we will accept and go through every stage realizing that every stage is part of the process of Truth no matter what it feels like. Consciousness is here in every stage. We are simply opening to it and letting go of what is obscuring it.
As you settle into the Void stage and get used to it, you find there is enormous beauty in this complete Silence and Stillness. From the next stage Pure Consciousness / True Oneness, you look back on the Void stage with great fondness, appreciation, gratitude and love. Not only is it a necessary transition stage to realize True Oneness, but once you stop resisting what is here and fall into this exquisite Silence and Stillness, you realize the true beauty of this stage of Consciousness.
6. Consciousness as Pure Consciousness / True Oneness
This is the stage of Pure Consciousness, Pure Awareness as Itself. It is impersonal and all-inclusive. Everything that exists appears in pure consciousness. There are many names for this: Cosmic Consciousness, God, Brahma, the Divine, Oneness, True Self. But these are just names. All names exist in Pure Consciousness, but Pure Consciousness needs no names. I am That I have searched for. All things exist in This including the search to discover It.
In the Void stage there was absolutely Nothing. Yet there was still a Consciousness aware of this nothingness. In the Void stage it becomes clear that the only thing that truly exists is Consciousness Itself. And this realization shifts us to stage seven, the realization of Consciousness as Pure Consciousness.
From here everything that exists is seen as Consciousness alone. And the seer is none other than Consciousness alone. This is the true experience of Oneness. On the lower levels, things can still be experienced as other than Consciousness, other than Self. Yet here it is clearly experienced this is not the case. Discrimination is no longer experienced, nor is duality. Good and bad, higher and lower, beautiful and ugly, self and other are meaningless here. Whatever the eyes set upon is the most exquisite beauty, far beyond anything seen or imagined before. It doesn’t seem to matter what it is. It is all Consciousness. It is all God. There is nothing but This. Physical pain may not be experienced as pleasant, but it too is not outside this complete Perfection that is all pervading.
The personal self is completely gone in terms of any identification. Yet, as in all stages after the Ego/Personal Self, it can still be used when it is appropriate. As long as we are in human bodies, there will be times when it is useful and even necessary. Where Personal Consciousness is aware of what is in the immediate environment, Pure Consciousness is aware of everything that exists. Although don’t ask the limited human mind to absorb, translate or understand this. There is no separate I or personal self in Pure Consciousness. There is nothing to be aware, just awareness itself. And nothing that arises in Consciousness is separate from Consciousness Itself. This is complete Oneness because there is no separation.
To learn more about this wonderful stage Consciousness, click here: True Oneness
7. Living Awake
Once we are awake, how does this awake consciousness function in the world for the benefit of all? In the famous Ten Ox Herding Pictures, this last stage on the path of enlightenment is called “Returning to the marketplace with bliss bestowing hands.” Without the sense of a separate, independent self we are one with all that exists. Whatever we do and wherever we go we are of benefit to all. With each step we take, the entire universe blossoms.
To learn more about Living Awake, click here: Living Awake