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States vs. Stages

I want to talk quickly about how one core mistake we make leads to tons of sorrow for so many of us.  I’m also going to suggest a super simple focus in life that immediately fixes the mistake and leads to sanity, joy, and deep fulfillment.

To understand the mistake we humans make, we need to understand the difference between “states” and “stages” in life.  To explain them, I’m going to walk you through a process that I learned from a guy named Genpo Roshi (his American name is Dennis Merzel).  The process is called the “Big Mind Process.”

Let’s try my (way oversimplified) version of the “Big Mind Process” really quickly:

  1. While sitting in your chair I’d like you to lean over onto your right cheek. Hold this position, and think about a time in your life when you were a victim. In that position, go ahead and step into “victim.”  Really think about a time that you were hurt, that you’ve been held down. Everyone in the world can recall at least one moment when they were a victim.
  2. Now, move your position and take on another identity.  Turn your head a bit, shift over to your left cheek and think about a time you were heroic. You don’t have to be Superman, just think of a time you did something good or helped someone out in a major way.  Be “hero” for just a second.
  3. Now, sit comfortably in your seat on both cheeks. Just relax here and feel “joy.”  Connect with gratitude for something in your life and for a moment be joyful.
  4. Now, lean back a little deeper in your chair.  Put it all down.  Don’t be a victim, don’t be a hero, be nothing…  Literally sit in the moment and just breathe.

When Genpo Roshi leads you in his practice, he literally takes you to a place of full non-duality.  It’s profound, and I highly recommend doing his practice, but that’s not my focus here.  Here I just want to explain the difference between states and stages.

You see states are our states of “being.”  They are our feelings in the moment.  They are our emotional states, our dream states, even our drug induced states.  They come in no particular order, and in fact can often feel a little chaotic.  They are not time based.  You are what you are, and you can be something different in an instant.

Can you see in Genpo Roshi’s process how, with a little bit of your own agreement, you can transfer instantly into those different states of being? Just about every person in the world is familiar with these identities, because they are universal states of being alive: happy, sad, victim, hero, etc.

Stages are a little different…

Genpo couldn’t say something like, “Now shift in your chair and be… billionaire.”  Or “Move your position, shift in your seat and be… neurosurgeon.”  He couldn’t universally invite us to “be our inner scratch golfer.”

You either are a neurosurgeon, or you’re not.  You either have a billion dollars or you don’t.  You’re either a par level golfer, or you’re not.

Unlike states of being, such as happiness and fear, neurosurgeon and master golfer are stages of development along certain lines (or areas) of life.  And you don’t know that level of that line (the stage) unless you’re really at it.

Plain and simple… you’re not a medical doctor until you complete medical school.

What’s more, stages, unlike states, are in time.  Meaning they take time to achieve. Excellence along any line can take years of focus, if you ever get there at all.  And, it’s important to point out:  stages always unfold in a certain order.

You don’t start out as an expert and progress further down a line to intermediate, finally finishing your career as a beginner. That is not how stages unfold.  They always go the other way.

Do you see it yet?  Do you get the core mistake?

The core mistake is this:  We think that our states depend on our stage.  It’s the belief that I’ll be happier, better, more fulfilled if I get to “that level” over there.

People make a mistake in thinking they will become some magically new person when they reach a better or more advanced stage. They often feel they will deserve more when they “become” a better business person, or develop a different body, or whatever. This becomes a cruel joke after working so hard to develop along a certain line. Because sadly, we bring all our emotional states along with us when we reach a new stage.

You see, it’s really the states we want, not the stages.  But we think it’s in the stages.  But the billionaire that never learned how to love still feels depressed, alone and basically like crap.  The new stage doesn’t guarantee a thing.

You are not your stage.  Stages are an external framework, not your identity. They are a map, a judgement, of where you are on some line.  While useful for seeing how we’re doing along a certain line of development, we need to get the fact that they are not us.

More importantly, we need to be ok being what we are.  It is completely ok to be a beginner.

Whether in business or relationships, sports or studies, we all start out as a beginner. Doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner, an intermediate, an expert…  all are perfect.  Just be what you are.  Our sadness comes from us resisting what we are, wishing we were more.  Happiness comes now, when we love what is.

The whole point is that you are deserving right now, right here.  Fully deserving of all the happiness you want.  Not only deserving, but capable of HAVING anything you want right now.  What we really desire is to feel happy, connected, and loved – those are all states, not stages.  Your worth and your goodness in who you are is not dependent on what stage you’re at.

So here’s the important distinction, and the easy focus:

Don’t disagree with what is.

Don’t be afraid or ashamed to be YOU.  Whatever stage you are at is fine, and as soon as YOU make it ok, wonderful states of being pour in.

Did you get that?  Love where you are and something great happens – you become joyful.  If you fear that this might slow down your development along stages, well, that’s just silly.  We don’t stop growing.  Our desire to “become more” will not be stopped.  We just learn to enjoy the ride.  Within that enjoyment, we learn faster, make better decisions, and ultimately sit in gratitude and happiness NOW, instead of waiting for a fictitious future when we finally get “there.”  (There is no “there.”  We’re always HERE.)

Live by this, and you’ll be deeply happy, successful and probably pretty popular as well.

About Rob Scott

Master coach, teacher, and lover of presence. I shift people's minds, and help them massively transform. Get in touch here.


  1. srinivas kumar says

    Hi Rob,
    It is useful article where distinction between stages and states are made.I think it is better to enjoy the ride and focus on the state of the being.However I feel stage also matters, because it has a direct bearing of our association with people.In my experience I have scored 98% in difficult subjects, but now it is not case after say 30 years.I attribute to people I associate to either be generative or degenerative… it not?

  2. srinivas kumar says

    One more example I would cite here, it is not environment we are placed in or with the education we have.If the people are placed in the negative environment , then inspite of all efforts the stage and state will not improve.For example you get trained in one area and will tested in another area.It is simply be conscious of the unknown and playing with the unknown.I think people’s state and stage is better off even when they do not have a formal training. I know a professor who did phd in psychology, but goes on to write a book in software(software testing) which is widely acclaimed all over. I do not think that type of environment prevails all over the world.

  3. Hi Rob — You’ve got really great, clear language here! You’ve taken it deeper than Dennis Merzel ever did, bless his heart. Especially valuable in what you say is the notion of “position” as generally sub- or un- conscious, but under reflective examination, habitually chosen. E.g., anyone is capable of noticing the current subjective asana, or position, of “victim”, “annoyed”, “righteous”, “superior”, “offended”, “content”, etc. These positions ARE literally the act of identification with unhappiness, as you say, and they ignore the deeper truth that the “you” that is “you” is neither the stage, nor the state, but merely present consciousness. In traditional Advaita and other teachings, even the apparent states of waking, dreaming and sleeping are considered not “you”.

    Question: what is the practice, or mnemonic metaphor, for effectively remembering the insight that you elucidate here for “we think that our states depend on our stage”?


  4. Coming from a family where individuals are frequently “hijacked” by their own emotional states — believing them to be real and permanent and unfair — I am all too familiar with that “core mistake” you reference.

    The gambling addict thinks once he scores a big win, life will magically be happy and perfect. The food addict thinks once she loses X number of pounds, she’ll suddenly love herself. This is backwards thinking.

    For the same reasons most lotto winners will go broke within 5 years of winning… the gambler will never find the peace he craves, until he looks inward and changes the internal landscape.

    How many times has someone’s life been thrown completely off track, because they weren’t able to SEE that they were, in fact, in a “state”? – let alone be able to change their state to something more constructive?

    States are like weather, stages are like climate. The state we’re most frequently in will eventually shape the “climate” of our lives. People try to change the climate first, without changing the current conditions.

    e.g., “I want to be a millionaire but I’m unwilling to change the way I think about money.”


  1. […] explored the difference between “States” and “Stages” in an earlier blog post, but in this video, Jeff and I take the idea a little further. We’re going to talk about what you […]

  2. […] explored the difference between “States” and “Stages” in an earlier blog post, but in this video, Jeff and I take the idea a little further. We’re going to talk about what you […]

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