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Introduction to States and Stages

This talk is an introduction to states and stages of consciousness. States of consciousness are our now experience, and stages of consciousness deal with the growth of self along many lines of development in time. In this talk I want to explain the importance of each of these perspectives of consciousness and begin to point at how we develop each of them.

States of consciousness are not permanent. They include: emotional states, drug induced states, meditative states, waking and sleeping states, and others. Much of our time is spent trying to manage our state experience. We feel hungry, we go for food. We have a headache, we take aspirin. We want to feel good, we have a beer.

Stages of consciousness instead deal with development along many different lines. Those lines include cognitive, value, interpersonal, moral, sexual, etc. On each of those lines there are altitudes of development. Some are more developed morally than others. Some are more developed cognitively. There can also be movement along these lines. An individual may start out as selfish, and move to nationalistic, and then finally resonate from a world view. Stages are objective judgments of subjective experience. They are the structures and beliefs from which we see the world.

Why do these altitudes of development get to be called stages? Because study after study shows that over time the answers to certain question about our experience go in one direction. The way we process and interpret the world tends to keep going in the same direction along these lines. There is a tendency to grow and widen our capacity and our understanding and experience of deeper stages. We all may not move along the line, but almost nobody goes backwards. There is a direction to the movement.

Healthy stage development, along any line looks like this: When one experience (or stage) is taken from subjective experience into objective experience. When we can look back at the prior stage objectively we have fully and healthily evolved through that stage.

Meditation (state management) practice doesn’t always show us our current stage. And while true subjective state experience doesn’t allow us to see our current stage ever (because we’re in it) we still grow through the stages over time. Working on meditation isn’t always only a direct state experience. Often it is a thinking dialog and running into walls of self, belief, structures, etc. It is my opinion that this part of the practice of meditation often leads to an understanding of the stages we’re going through. This is not because of the state experience, but rather the opportunity for introspection sitting offers.

States don’t tend to evolve, unless trained. And even then, they still jump around a lot. (Buddhas still sleep, wake and dream.) But states of mind can evolve when trained. The idea here is that non-dual awareness and the like can be developed. To a certain extent that is a stage in the realm of state experience. Once you understand and have non-dual experience, it has the capacity to inform the rest of your state experience.

Basically, we want to learn to manage our state experience as best we can, and grow through the stages of development along all the available lines as best we can. Doing those two things is what self development and growth is about, in this moment and through time.

Referenced: Integral Theory, Spiral Dynamics

The Different Meanings of To Be

I want to clarify what I mean by “to be” because it is actually more than one thing. It is both “to be – still” and also “to be – what you are.” This may be hard to stomach because these seem to be in opposition, but they are both really important. It’s actually many many layers, and facets of things to wade through. So let’s look for more language around this issue.

“To be still” implies working with the mind through concentration and space to “still” the busy mind. You might think of this as the Buddhist way of practicing meditation. It implies a lot of things: Peace, but also difficulty in finding that peace. It has a sense of carrot and stick to it: I’m not still now, and I want to be still. So time is implied. “I’m not what I want to be.” There is a part of us that is trying to grow. This is the part that realizes that need for growth. This type of practice is important. We could call this discipline.

“To be what you are” implies a looser idea, of “I’m OK” in any situation. So if you are busy, be busy. If you are still, be still. You could think of this in a more Taoist sense, or more “zen” if you will. Up is down, right is wrong, everything is OK. This sense is much less rational, but also very important. It’s being gentle with who we are. It’s also dropping expectations about what we are supposed to be. This is the state that has no conflict, even when “conflict” is there. Meaning, in this state, you are not trying to be anything but what you are. This is the awakened state. This you might call freedom.

So the discipline allows for the second freedom, in a sense. The discipline is hard, and the freedom is soft. They are two ends of a spectrum. The Buddha talked about the middle path, and this is what he meant. You can’t leave your mind too loose, it needs some discipline. It also can’t be too rigid, or you never actually sit in the space of freedom.

A mystical Christian might say that since everything is God, each moment is the expression of God right now. We should learn to be in alignment with that, and it takes forgiveness (being what you are) and a bit of discipline (learning to be still) to align with that expression.

So the practice of meditation is working with your mind to still it. But it is also the practice of forgiving, or allowing to be whatever is. You may sit and have a busy mind. That’s OK. You may sit and fall into a lot of freedom, that’s OK too. If you feel too loose, bring some discipline. If you find you’re being too rigid, loosen up. That’s the middle path.