Levels of Conscious Awareness

different levels of consciousness, plants, minature houseplants, levels
Any regular reader of this spiritual blog knows that I don't like talking about "levels" of things. It's simply too easy for the ego to grab onto this concept and think they are "better" or "worse" than something or someone else. Someone with self-worth issues may feel like they are "bad" or not "spiritual enough," and other people (often with very similar self-worth issues) may decide that they are better or at a higher vibration than others. So by and large, I find this concept useless or detrimental to people's spiritual development.

With all of that said, there are times when understanding spiritual development through levels of conscious awareness is very useful. Perhaps it is best to understand them like elevations on a mountain. But rather than thinking the 10,000 foot peak is the best place to be, think of it more as an appreciation of where you are and the challenges you find at the "elevation" you are at while seeking to find the most natural "elevation" for your soul to thrive.

And I bring this all up because as many of you may have noticed, someone can awaken at any level of consciousness. Spiritual awakening can arise at any time and any where and for anyone. The prison inmate convicted of murder can awaken just as much as the devoted priest, but clearly, these two are operating at very different levels of conscious awareness. That will require different types of spiritual tools and work. So what these two may be doing after awakening could be very, very different.

In general, awakening--as far as how I discuss it--is a shift towards greater levels of conscious awareness. It is an intelligent and involuntary movement towards ego dissolution and spiritual freedom. As the ego dissolves, we become more and more conscious of ourselves and reality. However, nothing is guaranteed. People can become more or less conscious at any time, and choosing to want to become more consciously aware is an important choice and requires a certain amount of work.

Understanding Levels of Conscious Awareness

For the sake of a pointer (and not something that is real or should be held onto), let's think of levels of conscious awareness as a scale of 1 to 10. At 1, people are completely absorbed in their ego. They think they are their thoughts, beliefs, and bodies. They project all their experiences onto others, and they assume that others are having the same types of beliefs and experiences. The more unconscious someone is, the less they really understand the repercussions of their actions on others and on their environment. They are lost in the most basic fears and desires, and at the most unconscious level, they have no interest in seeing anything differently than they currently see it as.

Conversely, a 10 would be a deep mind-heart-body-energetic understanding of the connection of all of life and profound clarity on what is real. A person at this level would understand the nature of service, the importance of love, why human beings do what they do, and many other things. They are not controlled by their base fears and desires, and they are free to interact in life based off of clarity and intuitive impulse. They are also fully surrendered to life as it is and as it unfolds.

Interestingly enough, you don't have to have any kind of spiritual awakening to move you towards conscious awareness. Many people develop in that direction without it. More often, smaller spiritual openings and discoveries help move them forward, but they may not even be conceptually understood as anything "spiritual" for some people.

Now to ground all of this with some examples, I'm going to offer 5 different fictional people to show you what these different types of conscious levels can look like, where they can get stuck, what can happen when they awaken, and why there are no guarantees of spiritual development.

Stuck at Level 1: The Murderer in Jail

The murder stuck in jail is extremely unconscious. He's sixty years old, and he's lived a life of violence his entire life. He was introduced to living a violent life by two severely abusive parents. He was beaten and scared within an inch of his life so many times that he ran away and joined a gang at age 8. He was then introduced to drugs, sex, and more violence, and by age 16, he'd already killed two people. He was caught and tried as an adult by age 18, and he's spent the last 42 years in prison. Since his incarceration, he's lived a very violent life and has been put in solitary confinement multiple times because of the pain and suffering he's inflicted on fellow inmates.

He's totally not spiritual. He has never believed in God nor has been inclined to explore spirituality in any way. Not exactly the person you'd expect to awaken, but lo and behold, it happens. Through no practice or spiritual interest at all, the curtain of separation rolls back, and he sees, feels, and KNOWS the truth.

How a level 1 conscious awareness person moves forward
At this level of unconscious understanding, this person is going to be doing a lot of work to understand everything. He has virtually no positive behavior or thought patterns to draw upon, so he has to learn them. Learning is vital, and atoning is critical. Because he's caused so much pain to others, he will need to find ways to atone, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. He will also have to learn to be at peace with those who cannot forgive him.

7 Steps to Atoning for Pain You've Caused Another

Obviously, building a spiritual practice is important. All the basic spiritual tools (journaling, meditation, and breathwork) that I talk about on this blog are particularly critical to help this person find some kind of inner support particularly while he is stuck in a situation that will offer almost no outer support. Therapy would also be a huge benefit if there is an onsite counselor or psychologist because he's a got a lot of very basic stuff and a whole lot of trauma to deal with before grappling with deeper spiritual truths. Even an ebook like the one below is still probably too advanced for someone like him until he's put in some serious work.

Everyday Spirituality: Cultivating an Awakening

Why he could succeed in embracing awakening
Success and failure are concepts to held onto loosely because there are many paths the soul can choose from. Who is to say whether someone has failed or succeeded? But just bear with me in this terminology.

Why would he or anyone else at level 1 succeed? They've got nothing left to lose. They've lived a life of pain, so going through the pain of transformation might not look so bad. Plus, the revelation of reality can be so much better than where they are that some people will be doubly dedicated to "get there." There may ultimately be no where to go, but that drive and aspiration is important particularly when someone is so deeply unconscious and needs to rectify so many things.

Perhaps he may become a level 4 or 5 in conscious awareness and turn to serving his inmates as he's learned to look beyond himself and his own needs/pain. While he's not a "10" on this silly scale I've made up, coming up to a level 4 or 5 is a triumph for this individual. And if he's helping other inmates to heal and grow, it's an even bigger triumph for humanity.

Why he could easily fail
He's got a lot to atone for, and he's in a situation that doesn't typically support loving, transformative experiences (at least as far what goes on in the typical U.S. prison--other countries have better corrections systems). Going through emotional pain and looking weak will not be supported, and there is probably a long line of people waiting to get back at him. He's probably got issues with substances, and while jail would limit that, cigarettes, caffeine, and sugar may be the current substances being abused in some way.

For someone at a level 1 conscious awareness, they've usually got every kind of adverse situation going on. If someone can leave their environment (unlike the current example I'm using), moving to a better space and finding a helpful spiritual network can be crucial to not backslide back into their preferred behaviors.

The Spiritual Backslide

Level 3: The 20-something Coming from an Abusive Family

Going up a few levels, we met a 20-year-old who has come out of an abusive family. She had a lot of emotional abuse and some sexual abuse, and now she's suffering from a whole lot of self-worth issues. It's led her through bouts of anxiety and depression, and those responses have led her to anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, and some sexual promiscuity. Her substance use has been light, being limited to marijuana, smoking, and alcohol rather than the really intense drugs; those scare her. Being too out of control scares her enough to keep out of the worst kinds of trouble.

She is on the spiritual path already. She's aware enough to know that she has problems, and she's heard or read a few things online about alleviating suffering through spirituality. For her, she just wants to heal and feel better, and in this scenario, she inadvertently has an awakening.

How a level 3 conscious awareness person moves forward
With some level of understanding of spirituality, this person may have a foundation to help her already. It just depends on the types of spirituality she's engaged with and how she's used them. If she has misunderstood things, she may have to start from scratch. She'll feel like "everything she knows about spirituality is wrong" after awakening. If she's managed to get pointed in the right direction, she'll feel confirmation about more than a few things. In that instance, she'll say, "I've heard people talk about THAT before, but now, I really get it."

Where she gets things, she can more easily go forward in doing the healing work she has sought as she begins to realize more things about herself and life. Her pain has made her very ego-centric, and while she has some level of empathy and compassion towards others, these things will need to be cultivated. She'll have to learn that other people have problems too, and some people have it worse than her. She'll also have to learn about love, truth, and humility in healthier ways. She is likely to run into a lot of relationships that she can now connect to in a deeper way and begin to learn important new ways of interacting with others.

Why she could succeed in embracing awakening
She got what she wanted--a doorway out of her suffering. She's also young, and there is something that is more malleable in a 20-year-old who hasn't practiced her suffering for several decades to give up her attachments to it.

Why she would fail
She's also a 20-year-old, and sometimes where youth offers people malleability, it doesn't offer experience. She can backslide to her old patterns because she isn't sick of them enough--versus someone at a level 3 conscious awareness who is in their 50s may be far more ready to give up their attachments having watched them fail for so many years. Plus, with healing abuse and emotional pain, a lot of upset emotions are going to come up. She may not have the resilience and tenacity necessary to go through that as the attachments dissolve.


The Stay-at-home Mom Working on Level 5

As we move up the ladder, the issues are less traumatizing, but somehow they can be stickier simply because they do not present near and present danger. As I mentioned in another post, pain is often a powerful motivator and many people's first spiritual teacher. It is a strange secret weapon that the the earlier level people have.

The First Spiritual Teacher for Most People and Going Beyond

The stay-at-home mom has two children--a boy and girl. She has a reasonably comfortable marriage, and the kids are fairly well-adjusted. Aside from intervening in the occasional skirmish over a favored toy, she doesn't deal with much conflict in her daily life. She is, however, still entirely focused on her little world and her family. Things going on in the news or upsetting local events bother her, so she shuts them out. In general, she has insulated herself in any and every way she can as she has unconsciously sought safety.

She's devoted to her religion in so far as she follows its practices (You can choose whatever religion you like for this example). She's not heavily invested in it beyond what is expected. In general, she does what is socially expected and no more.

Then she awakens.

Am I Having a Spiritual Awakening?

How a level 5 conscious awareness person embraces awakening
This 40-year old stay-at-home mom is likely is discover a whole new world of connection beyond her immediate family, and there's a lot for her to learn about the greater expanses of love as well as the greater expanses of suffering. She's been so insulated that she is greatly naive about a lot of life, and she will need to expand her mind to see a bigger picture than what she has been willing to see. Once again, there is still very much an emphasis on intellectual learning here as in earlier levels.

Additionally, she is likely to be confronted with different kinds of pain than the other examples. While she suffered no overt abuse, there are typically a whole number of painful attachments and experiences from childhood that have been neglected and forgotten because they didn't sync up with the "good childhood" she was told that she was having. Most likely, she had a fair childhood, but that doesn't mean that there aren't certain types of wounds that people in such a situation sustain. In general, there are a lot of cultural wounds--ideas and beliefs that are accepted as normal or healthy that are not healthy. She'll have to discover those (beautiful ideals are one such example) and learn to confront her attachments to them.

Healing Silent Wounds

Doing this healing work is key to opening her heart further as well as opening her mind.

Why she could succeed in embracing awakening
For parents like this one, the opportunity to better help their families and their children can be the crucial motivator to really embracing the spiritual process of transformation. Discovering the connection she has with all of life can be an amazing experience, and the desire for more such experiences might also compel her further. Finally, she has enough inner stability and outer stability to handle a little bit of upheaval. While she probably needs a lot of guidance to not be freaked out by it, she could go through the cycles of breaking down, healing, and spiritual growth in her situation because there aren't as many external stresses being put upon her.

Why she would fail
It's very easy for someone at this level of conscious awareness with only a little interest in spirituality to fail. She doesn't have enough pain to push her to go through the pain of transformation. She's lived an easy life, and depending on what her soul wants, she may not be headed to an easy life. The soul doesn't care about an easy life; it cares about truly living.

Truly living is likely to not be of interest to this woman, and she may find ways to conceptually see her awakening as a threat to her life and her family rather than a gift. Everything has been "fine" or "good" for her according to her ego beliefs. So why change and potentially ruin it? She could hold on and avoid the changes that want to arise, have a miserable couple of years, and then try to continue on with her regularly scheduled "life."

The 30-year-old Priest at Level 7

This man has been spiritual basically his whole life. He truly grew up in a good and relatively easy childhood. His family was very spiritual in the tradition that he now teaches. He was called to spirituality as his vocation, and instead of college, he went to get training in his religion. Since then, he's been teaching, volunteering, and helping people in every way his religion suggests.

Then...boom! He awakens.

How a level 7 conscious awareness person embraces awakening
This type of person typically has a lot of heart and mind dedicated to the spiritual path, and yet, there is a deepening in the heart that is still needed here. It's tough to generalize because a level 7 is typically very conscious in more than a few areas, so what is needed becomes more and more individual at these greater levels of conscious awareness.

Usually, there is still quite a bit of transformation needed for the body, and the root issues of fear of dying and fear of pain are powerful forces that get dealt with through body transformation. The intuitive nature of awakening is likely to lead a level 7 into these really dense areas because the mind and heart are already free enough and open enough to surrender to such powerful work. As the body is opened, new levels of spiritual realization and energy expansion are brought forth.

How to Access Subtler Unconscious Energy Fields

Why he could succeed in embracing awakening
With such a strong interest in spirituality, a spiritual awakening could open this man's eyes further. That interest is his guiding force, and it could give him the courage to challenge beliefs in his system--some of which may be wrong. It could also give him the courage to go outside his current religion to find additional support, assuming this religion doesn't offer the right understanding for spiritual freedom.

Going outside his current religion would be a critical venture for this man because he's had such an insulated life. It'll put him in more contact with more types of people and spiritual beliefs, and that can broaden his view of all of life and the vastness of the spiritual path. It brings him in contact with the truth that all of life is spiritual, at which time ideas like "levels" vanish.

In general, becoming more conscious is a broadening of understanding from the individual to an understanding of the many and then to an understanding of the wholeness of oneness. The shedding of his boundaries around beliefs as well as the deeper heart, body, and energy shifts can transform this modest priest into a powerful spiritual teacher.

What Is a Spiritual Teacher?

Why he would fail
His devotion to a specific religion could be his downfall particularly if this is a religion that does not embrace or accept the possibility of liberation. He is very likely to see parts of his religion that have gotten it wrong amidst the parts that got it right, and if he holds on to those old beliefs, he will suffer greatly. That suffering can lead him to hold on tighter thinking that something is "going wrong for him." If he's really triggered, he could leap to wrong conclusions like he is going crazy or that he is possessed!

Feeling Crazy After Your Spiritual Awakening

Because of these wrong conclusions, he could become more unconscious. That's right. He's awakened, but he's clinging so much to his current beliefs in an effort to "protect" his religion that he loses sight of the role of religion in helping people. He can become more focused on his original "right" path, and he may become more disdainful of other paths in a strange reaction to touching the truth.

In this way, awakening has revealed issues that have been in hiding within him. Since his life has been full of a lot of ease, he may not have the work ethic to appropriately deal with and dissolve the issues he finds. So he sinks into deeper levels of unconscious awareness right when the doorway is open for him to know the Divine more deeply and better serve all of humanity.

The 50-year-old Volunteer at Level 9

By the time someone reaches a level 9 level of conscious awareness, they are deeply in tune with themselves and life, and for this example, this lovely woman is in such a state. She's spent countless hours volunteering, and she actively seeks ways of being of service. However, this isn't done for any sense of self-importance nor self-avoidance. She can maintain a healthy level of service in helping others while taking care of herself.

Understanding Selfless Service, Selfishness, and Self-lostness

Having grown up in an okay childhood, she--for whatever reason--always felt older/more mature than her siblings and parents. There was some childhood difficulty at times, but in her case, her maturity and nature intuition helped her to find ways to learn and grow from the challenges. She ended up putting herself through school for a nursing degree in later years, and she married early on and had 3 childhood, all of which have grown up and moved out on their own. She's now divorced, but the ending of her marriage just helped to show her that love is not something you get from someone else. She harbors no ill-will towards her ex-partner. In general, she finds little interest in things, nor seeks pleasures as others often do. She's happy to lead a very simple life and make do with what she has.

Finally, she's never been particularly spiritual. She's had brushes with it, and she's dabbled in self-improvement work to help her at different times with past issues from childhood, postpartum depression, and issues with her former partner. But by-and-large, she's never had much of a call to spirituality.

Then she wakes up.

How a level 9 conscious awareness person embraces awakening
At such a level of conscious awareness, the path has become very individualized. While the shedding of deeper layers of illusion is the common theme, what layers a person at level 9 has varies from person to person. Whatever those are, the person will have to embrace and dissolve.

Typically, the primal drives such as the fear of death and fear of pain are still present, but in some cases, the person has learned to embrace these things. Someone who has had a near death experience might have no fear of death anymore, but they could still fear pain. Some people need to come in deeper mastery of their sex drives.

Near Death Experiences and Spiritual Awakening

Thus, trusting the intuitive nature of awakening is particularly key. Few people will be able to teach a level 9 because most teachers are not aware enough to do so. At the earlier levels when someone has a substance abuse issue or needs to learn to meditate, there are a lot of supports out there. A very powerful spiritual teacher or a master may be the only ones able to teach such an advanced being, and going to nature is often another powerful energetic support/teacher for a level 9. And sometimes, it is just the person and God, and that's all the external support that is needed.

Spiritual Masters

Why she could succeed in embracing awakening
Because she's had challenges in the past, she has a level of awareness in how to work through issues. That inner work will be really helpful in dealing with the emotions and sensations that may come up for her. Just because she's very conscious doesn't mean there isn't significant emotional and physical turbulence. That's just the nature of transformation.

She's likely to find a great deal of confirmation in the spiritual realizations and revelations that unfold for her. While being highly conscious, the deep contact with the truth can drop her into a new level of understanding about the truth of life, the truth of oneness, and how to act from those truths. Additionally, her role as an active mother is finished, and she won't have the social expectations of family-rearing as well as other issues that younger people often feel within themselves and from others. She's socially free in a way for "spiritual" pursuits if you will. While those social forces and the inner responses she might have are illusory, it's just one less thing with which for her to contend. She has the space to focus solely on herself.

Why she would fail
It seems unlikely that someone who is this conscious would do anything but embrace such a shift, but it can happen. Anything is possible. A lack of interest in spirituality could be a problem if it means she doesn't look for support. Support is often critical for most people after awakening. Very few can manage it on their own precisely because they do not know what awakening really is, although the right kind of support is key as I mentioned.

Bringing a lot of focus on herself could trigger an issue with not being able to help others as she has done. Perhaps a part of her still thinks it's selfish, but at this level, she does have a better balance with service than others at earlier levels of conscious awareness. The awakening could have her give up her volunteering if that is not true to her path, in general. A dramatic change in focus can be jarring for most people at most levels until perhaps the level 10 where someone is totally surrendered to life.

Additionally, she may have trouble with insights such as the importance and power of suffering and unconscious actions in the world. She has spent so much time helping that to discover some of the uselessness of service as well as the importance of pain for a lot of people could cause her to resist. If she is committed to a certain sense of "rightness" and kindness, coming into realization of why suffering is here and that it isn't going away any time soon may further cause her to resist. That resistance can cause her spiritual transformation to grind to a halt. As usual resistance is the source of failures while surrender is the source of spiritual success.

Surrender, Surrender, and Keep Surrendering

Don't Hold onto Levels

These are some fictional levels and fictional people, and hopefully they offer some insights onto how awakening can arise for anyone. I didn't mention "how" any of these people awaken precisely because awakening doesn't need any one specific doorway or avenue. It can arise whenever the Divine so chooses. Thus, you see very spiritual people and completely non-spiritual people having this shift.

In general, the movement from unconscious to conscious is a central part of awakening, but it is not guaranteed. I mentioned how the priest could become more unconscious, and basically everyone but possibly the prisoner could do so. There are countless ways people can and do resistance spiritual transformation.

Additionally, there's nothing stopping any of you from gradually becoming more conscious and aware of reality. You don't need a dramatic spiritual awakening pushing up issues and forcing you to see the truth. But you do need a certain kind of diligence. Otherwise, the tendency is for people to stay at the level of conscious awareness that they were raised in, although occasionally some people are more conscious than their families. I won't guess why that happens, but it certainly does.

You can re-arrange different attributes, issues, and ages for any of these scenarios. Conscious awareness is not linked to any of the specific such as age, family upbringing, being single, or anything. The priest could be a level 1 conscious awareness, and if so, he's probably a false teacher using people to his own ends.

7 Signs of a False Spiritual Teacher

The point is simply to appreciate that wherever you are is where you are. People don't wake up at the same level of conscious awareness, and they have to work with their issues at the level they are on. There is no skipping steps, and while ultimately there are no levels, this is a type of temporary understanding that is intended to help you focus more on the here and now and what is necessary to appropriately support your spiritual transformation while appreciating others are where they are and are working on what they need to work on.

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