August 2003 A Conscious Evolution Newsletter
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Volume 2, Number 8

Opinions presented in Metamorphosis are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others associated with the newsletter.

Practicing Conscious Evolution

by Gregory Ellison

“All larger organisms, including ourselves, are living testimonies to the fact that destructive practices do not work in the long run. In the end, the aggressors always destroy themselves, making way for others who know how to cooperate and get along. Life is much less a competitive struggle for survival than a triumph of cooperation and creativity.”

- Fritjof Capra, The Web Of Life

Conscious Evolution is about a new spiritual, loving, holistic state of consciousness emerging from our present fragmented awareness. Many different indicators, from ancient prophecy and astrological cycles to new breakthroughs in physical and biological science, all point to this particular moment in history as the time for such a dramatic shift in human consciousness: the Age of Aquarius. The awakening of the global mind.

In this site’s Mission Statement, I wrote: “The mission of the Conscious Evolution website is to support this transition, both intellectually and through concrete activities and spiritual practices that aid the emergence of the new consciousness.”

But what might these “concrete activities and spiritual practices” be? Certainly many of the spiritual and metaphysical disciplines of the “new age” movement are thought to be tools for spiritual growth ... disciplines like astrology, tarot, I Ching, yoga, meditation, and so on. But these disciplines have been around for thousands of years without producing a radical shift in human consciousness, except perhaps in isolated individuals here and there through the ages.

The same might be said for humanity’s major religions ... while the prophets and avatars of the great religions brought forth teachings of true enlightenment, the practice of these religions has not transformed human consciousness on a mass scale, even after thousands of years.

We can’t exactly “practice” conscious evolution in the same sense that we can practice roller-skating or playing the guitar, because evolution is not a skill, it’s a process.

So, is it possible to practice conscious evolution at all? Or can we do no more than talk about it and hope for its emergence? Certainly evolution has its own timetable. New evolutionary levels - conscious or biological - emerge from earlier levels only when conditions are right. It steam-engines when it comes steam-engine time!

But when the evolution of consciousness reaches a stage where our own free will is a part of the whole set of conditions for emergence - as I believe it is now - our participation is essential.

Evolution

Evolution is not simply growth or progress. Conscious evolution, like biological evolution, unfolds in spirals or waves, with each turn of the spiral representing a whole new level or “stage” of consciousness. It is not “more and better” of what went before, but rather the emergence of something new.

In fact, this very concept of an emerging, developing consciousness is an example of itself! Although long understood in spiritual traditions, the holistic understanding of modern science and philosophy is quite recent, and it has “transformed” scientific thinking to an astonishing degree.

In brief, the holistic model sees all things as “whole systems” which are made up of other whole systems and are in turn components of yet other whole systems. There no longer appear to be any separate “things,” only wholes within wholes within wholes. And this understanding allows us to comprehend both the “direction” of evolution and its “mechanism.” Its direction is one of wholes combining and integrating into ever more comprehensive wholes, and its method is to transcend and include. Elements combine into molecules, molecules combine into cells, cells combine into organisms, and so on. At each stage of evolution the elements that are evolving into newly emerging wholes are themselves wholes composed of lesser wholes! At each stage the newly emerging whole transcends the elements that make it up, and includes them in the new whole.

Depending on the particular aspect of evolution we are looking at, the same pattern applies to many different kinds of wholes. For example, in social organization we can see individuals combining as families, families combining as tribes, tribes combining as city-states, city-states combining as nations, and so on. Consciousness, too, develops in the same way, with raw senses integrating into perceptions, perceptions into concepts, and concepts into ever more expansive and inclusive states of awareness.

Stating all this in scientific terms doesn’t alter in any way the divine mystery of life, for it is life itself which is evolving.

Evolutionary Levels

Integral psychologist Ken Wilbur has done a grand job of collecting many of the ways different cultures, religions, sciences and other areas of human expression can be seen as manifesting progressive “levels” of emerging consciousness. The specific names of levels don’t matter, but the general pattern of development is widely agreed-upon by modern theorists and ancient spiritual traditions alike. To provide a common ground for discussion, Wilber borrows from the school of Spiral Dynamics to label the different stages of consciousness with colors. The following table is a greatly simplified presentation of his model:

First Tier
1 BEIGE (Archaic) Sensory/instinctual level based on biological urges/drives; physical senses dictate the state of being
2 PURPLE (Magical) Animistic/tribal level where nature is threatening and full of mysterious powers and spirit beings, which must be placated and appeased
3 RED (Egoic) Aggressive/competitive level of power and predation; the law of the jungle where the tough and strong prevail while the weak serve
4 BLUE (Mythic) Ethnocentric/fundamentalist level, controlled by a dogmatic Higher Power that punishes evil and eventually rewards good works and Right living
5 ORANGE (Rational) Materialistic/achievement level of logical planning, full of resources to develop and opportunities to make things better and bring prosperity
6 GREEN (Relativistic) Social/humanitarian level of equalitarian values, environmental concern, with love and purpose found through affiliation and sharing
Second Tier
7 YELLOW (Integrative) Systemic level that seeks to balance and integrate the needs and contributions of all levels for the well-being of the whole
8 TURQUOISE (Holistic) Human unity level where conscious awareness identifies with the whole of humanity rather than the separate individuals, parts and levels.

This model does not purport to be a description of all evolutionary levels; it represents the “personal” levels of embodied human awareness. Before this are many levels of “pre-personal” (pre-human) levels, and beyond this are the “transpersonal” levels of spiritual awareness where consciousness is no longer experienced as an individual in a body; but about these higher levels nothing meaningful can be known or said from our present state of awareness. Note that the last two levels are identified as “second tier,” meaning that they have begun the transition to the transpersonal levels.

It is also significant that the Green level, the highest level of “first tier” conscious evolution, is currently the highest level attained by humanity in meaningful numbers (there have always been rare individuals to attain higher levels). So, for human beings at this point in evolutionary history, the great transition to a new consciousness promised by the Aquarian Age is the crossover to second-tier integrative consciousness!

So what does that mean? Remember that the direction of evolution is always away from ego/separation and toward integration. At first blush that may sound frightening: the individual doesn’t matter, it seems to say, only the group, only the collective. But this turns out to be a misunderstanding based on the ego-centered perception that there is somehow a “conflict of interests” between the individual and the collective, and that we therefore have to “choose” between them. But the next stage of conscious evolution we are considering here is a different frame of reference entirely, one that is integrative rather than separative, and for the first time sees NO conflict of interest between part and whole - just as there is no conflict of interest between me and my liver!

I know this has all been highly abstract until now, so let’s see if we can make it a little more concrete by observing the manifestation of some of these levels in current human society. There is a danger here of too closely identifying a level of consciousness with its expression in social values, when every level is actually associated with many separate “lines” of human development (i.e., cognitive, scientific, aesthetic and so on) of which social structure is only one. However, it is one line that is easy to see objectively and is also an extremely important one in terms of our success as a species on planet Earth.

With that disclaimer, the dominant level of consciousness on the planet today is the Orange, rational/materialistic level. This is the level that emerged with the scientific and industrial revolutions, the level of capitalism, of democratic ideals, economic development, organized enterprise, technology, the quest for possessions and wealth. This is the primary “meme” (thought-form) of the dominant industrialized Western culture. However, there are also major pockets of Blue-level consciousness, which manifest as fundamentalist religion, racial pride (and prejudice), “my country right or wrong” patriotism, and so on ... often admixed with and supported by Red-level rule by brute physical force, violent crime, dictatorships and terrorist mentality. At the same time there is a substantial Green-level influence that makes itself felt in environmental activism, social reforms on behalf of the disadvantaged or underprivileged, equal-rights movements, anti-war ideals, globalism, pressure to control or regulate corporate business interests, and so on. All of these levels exist side-by-side in today’s world, sometimes interacting harmoniously, but often at violent odds with one another.

This is an important point to remember: multiple levels of consciousness will always be with us, regardless of the dominant level of humanity as a whole, and that is as it should be. For one thing, levels of evolution are developmental, and therefore each individual must go through all previous levels to arrive at the current “norm,” just as a human fetus goes through all the successive stages of biological evolution in the womb before being born into the current human biological form. Likewise, every child goes through all the various stages of conscious evolution in the normal process of development, and not all will ultimately reach the highest level of the current norm for human consciousness.

What we realize fully for the first time at the Yellow level of integrative consciousness is that all levels are good and necessary! All serve important functions, and all are needed to make up the whole that is humanity.

This is easier to see (if only theoretically) in a different model of conscious evolutionary stages, the astrological zodiac. Like the color levels laid out here, the signs of the zodiac also represent an ordered sequence of evolutionary stages, from the infantile innocence of Aries through the mystical and world-embracing Pisces ... but because the zodiac is depicted as a circle rather than a straight line, we don’t think of Pisces as “better” than Aries, nor should we. The circular form of the zodiac suggests that the stages of evolutionary development will be repeated on a higher level in a continuous spiral of unfolding consciousness.

Like the zodiac signs, each evolutionary level has its positive and negative sides. In the course of evolution, if we had not had the raw Red power to defeat our enemies and survive the challenges of predators and hostile environments, we wouldn’t be here now! Today there is still a need for the expression of physical force and energy, although it has a diminished role alongside more highly evolved levels. It becomes a “bad” thing only when it overpowers and dominates the other levels around it, and the same is true for all consciousness levels. Remember, the mechanism of evolution is “transcend and include.” Higher levels of consciousness transcend lower levels but do not replace them. Rather, they build on and include them. Molecules don’t replace atoms; they include them. Cells don’t replace molecules; they include them. The higher Yellow level of conscious evolution will not replace the lower Red, Blue, Orange and Green levels; it will include them.

This is why the upcoming Yellow shift in conscious evolution is such a big one. For a long time now we have seen the different levels as being at war with each other (often literally). The current Mideast conflicts can be seen largely as a clash between Orange capitalist-military-industrial levels and Blue fundamentalist religious/ethnocentric levels drawing on the Red and Purple aggression and tribal levels for support. Even the Green humanitarian level, which many equate with “new age” awareness, is a source of conflict. While proclaiming fairness and equality for all, Greens actively despise and oppose Orange values, and the equality they promote is their own version. In a dominant role, they would likely impose their own politically correct Thought Police to prohibit inappropriate speech, regulate commerce oppressively, and micro-manage behavior of all kinds to enforce “fairness to all.”

Yellow integrative consciousness is a different thing entirely. It is the next turn of the spiral to a new whole that does not seek to replace “wrong” values with its own “right” ones, but rather transcends all previous levels and includes them in itself. It seeks to allow all levels to express, disallowing only the coercion of any level by another. It identifies with the Whole of human consciousness.

Practical Practice

Okay, so enough theory for now. (Too much?) Let’s get down to what we started out to do: practicing conscious evolution! Now that we know what we’re aiming for (the shift to Integrative Awareness), we can “practice” it - using any of the techniques we mentioned earlier or many others.

And we should! Why? Because that’s the way conscious evolution works. Unlike strictly biological evolution, conscious evolution requires our conscious participation, our conscious free-will choice to evolve. Although the timing may be right, humanity will not make the leap to integrative consciousness until there is a “critical mass” of individual humans who have chosen to make this evolutionary leap and taken conscious steps to incorporate the new awareness into their lives. And, at this critical stage in the human saga, with very real pressures of environmental degradation, overpopulation, and species-threatening destructive capacity in the hands of competing ego-centered groups, the failure to make that leap in a timely manner could well mean the extinction of the human race before we have a chance to come to our senses and learn to cooperate on a global level.

The Importance of a Path

It is said that all paths lead to the same mountaintop. This may be true, but no path will lead anywhere unless it is followed. Which spiritual path you choose to follow is less important than that you have a path and that you follow it.

Jumping from path to path in search of the the latest, greatest spiritual revelation or the fanciest meditation technique is the biggest “trap” to keep us firmly locked into a limited state of awareness.

Whether you choose to follow a traditional spiritual path such as religious contemplation, meditation on astrology or Kabbalah, a body/mind discipline like T’ai Chi or yoga, or your own eclectic blend of spiritual practices that resonate with your own unique perspective, every viable path has certain elements in common. These include

  • An integrative model - a way to conceive of humanity as an expression of One. Although it is important to remember that a model is a set of concepts about reality rather than the “Truth” in itself, we must have a consistent way of thinking about transcendence in order to aim for it.
  • A meditative component - a part of the practice specifically devoted to withdrawing attention from the “external” world and focusing it inwardly. It is only through such internal exploration that we can directly experience ourselves as expressions of a greater whole.
  • An ethical ideal - here I am going to run the risk of sounding dogmatic by asserting that there is only one valid ethical ideal on which to build a spiritual foundation. Although known by different names in different traditions, it is most commonly known as the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • A “critical distance” from worldly life - it is not necessary to retire from the world in a cave or a monastery; the world is our teacher. But it is necessary to develop the ability to stand back from our immersion in the push-and-pull of physical life enough to objectively observe ourselves as we go about our daily business. Without this critical distance we remain enmeshed in a stimulus-response relation to the material world, believing ourselves to be acting and choosing freely but actually “programmed” by conditioned reflexes we have learned from our environment and upbringing. This is a subtle form of waking sleep or illusion (“maya”) to which we are ALL subject in the physical world. Objectively observing ourselves in relation to the world is an essential step in transcending it.

Beyond these few common elements, your own intuition and interests are the best guides to a spiritual path that is right for you, and that is the most important thing. As Carlos Castaneda said, you must find a path with heart. If the path does not have heart, it is useless.

Every major conscious evolutionary step, as far as we know, has begun with small numbers of individuals stepping outside the current norm to a new mode of being that was not supportable at the time. As Paul Tillich once commented, “What we call the ‘Renaissance’ was participated in by about one thousand people.”

Think of it! The revolution in human thought that set in motion the entire framework of modern culture was launched by less than half the number of people who have signed up to participate in the discussion forums on our website.

“Never doubt that a small number of dedicated people can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

- Margaret Mead