I have been working on becoming more conscious for over 25 years. Only in the past few years have I begun to realize how much work still lies ahead of me; but don’t let me rain on your parade. Your path may be considerably quicker than mine. I (half jokingly) refer to myself as a slow learner. I have difficulty reading non-fiction books and I have a pretty severe case of ADHD; but I have found the work of waking up to be a tremendous source of joy and excitement. For the past 15 years, I have participated in over 40 Mankind Project New Warrior Training Adventure weekends and helped to initiate over 1,000 men into adult manhood. The men I see going through this process today are much more “awake” than the men were 15 years ago; so I have great hope. In this article, I will address three questions related to consciousness and waking up:
- What is Consciousness?
- Why should you care about becoming more conscious?
- What are some practical ways to become more conscious?
This article which contains a fair amount rather “heady” material, is intended to give you a sense of how some of the most brilliant minds on the planet are looking at the question, “What is consciousness?” I include a fair amount of material derived from the works of Ken Wilber, who has integrated the works of hundreds of other philosophers, psychologists, anthropologists, theologians and spiritual teachers into a comprehensive model of reality. His Integral Theory addresses:
- Stages of Development – how individuals and cultures evolve and grow up
- Lines of Development – how to assess individual discrete skills
- States of Consciousness – temporary states of consciousness such as waking, dreaming and sleeping.
- Quadrants – a structure that integrates the individual and collective interior and exterior perspectives.
- Types – models and theories that don’t fit into the other four categories, such as the nine Enneagram categories.
Waking Up – The Short Version
Here is a quick overview of the rest of this article.
- Waking up is about becoming conscious, but the term “consciousness” is not easily defined. Instead, I prefer to look at stages or levels of development that people (both individuals and entire cultures) go through. If you are more conscious, you will be more able to engage in deep and connection.
- The best description of these levels that I have found is Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory which lays out a series of stages, from very primitive to very evolved. Each stage builds on the previous stage. Just as a child must learn to walk before he or she is ready to run a marathon, entire cultures must evolve as well. Much of the chaos we are experiencing now is due to the resistance that some people in our country have to evolving and “growing up.” See “What is Consciousness” for a more detailed description of stages and lines of development and states of consciousness.
- There are many compelling reasons to becoming more conscious and pushing yourself to evolve to a higher stage of development. I discuss a few of these in the “Why Bother?” section.
- There are a number of practices that you can bring into your life that will help you develop your awareness. First and foremost among these is meditation. I describe several other simple practices that I have incorporated into my life that have helped me become a better husband, father, friend and person. I openly admit that I struggle with meditation. It’s not easy to master, but I keep working on it. I have learned, however, that meditation alone will not teach you how to connect more deeply with other people. I discuss the deep internal work needed to connect more honestly in my Growing Up article.
There is much more material you can explore on the Resources Page.
What is Consciousness?
Waking up is becoming more conscious, but what is consciousness and why should you care? I will answer this question rhetorically by asking, “Have you ever rented a car in a large city that you have never been to before?” Presuming that you have, did you ask for a map? All the car rental agencies will have simplified maps of the nearby territory that will give you a big picture understanding. If you want a deeper understanding, you will have to get a better map. Think of this article as a highly simplified map of the territory of consciousness.
Where Is Consciousness?
Here are two pictures of the human brain that show what happens where, but where exactly is consciousness? The answer is, that we simply don’t know.
According to some estimates, there are over 20,000 papers written on consciousness, but there is still no universal or even significant consensus on what it means to be conscious. In one sense, consciousness is like pornography: we recognize it when we see it, but don’t know how to define it.
Stages of Development
One thing that we do know about how people develop is that we go through well-defined stages. Various researchers have described these stages in many ways, but several characteristics are common:
- Stages build on each other: You can’t skip a stage of development any more than a toddler can skip adolescence and run a marathon.
- Stages are semi-permanent: When you move from one stage to the next, you will seldom revert to a previous stage; however, you may straddle developmental stages and demonstrate characteristics of each stage.
- Not everybody reaches the higher stages of development: The higher stages of development require capabilities that not everyone has.
Example of Stages of Development
|Physical Development||Psychological Development|
The model that I believe best describes both human and cultural development is Integral Theory, created by Ken Wilber, one of our most important living philosophers. Wilber’s Integral Theory incorporates anthropology, systems theory, developmental psychology, biology and spirituality into a single comprehensive map of the territory of consciousness. Recognizing the challenges that surround the use of the word “Consciousness”, Wilber instead uses the term “Stages of Development” to grossly categorize how both individual people and entire cultures evolve. Wilber examined many philosophical models including Spiral Dynamics which postulates that we spiral our way upward on a ramp of increasing development. Wilber also incorporated Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which describes stages of development as a pyramid where each stage is built upon the stages beneath it. To read more about Stages of Development, click here. For an overview of Integral Theory, click here. We will explore Wilber’s Integral Theory model more deeply in the ConneXions Workshop. There are also a substantial number of articles on Integral that are accessible from the Resources page. There is much more information about Integral on my Resources Page, and I go into more detail about lines of development in the ConneXions Workshop.
Why should you care about becoming more conscious?I googled the question, “Reasons to become more conscious” and the response was:
Specifically, here are 14 notable benefits of developing your conscious mind:
- Increased Sensory Awareness. As you become more conscious, your perceptual awareness expands. …
- Increased Self-Awareness. …
- Enhanced Mental Clarity. …
- Enhanced Problem-Solving. …
- Emotional Mastery. …
- Trustworthiness. …
- Better Relationships. …
His 14 reasons make good reading (click here). And here are a few of my own reasons:
- Better Friends: I used to have lots of people in my life that I could have conversations with, but very few that I could open up with and feel safe to be me. I discovered that by working on making myself a better person, the quality of people I attract into my life has improved massively. I found myself letting go of relationships that required me to put up some sort of front or “false me” and instead adopted the WYSWYG policy: what you see is what you get. Now people tell me that they trust me because I am authentic and direct.
- Feel Better: I am happier with who I am as a person than I ever was before I started doing what I call “my work”. I still have periods where I get sad and depressed, but the depressions aren’t as deep and don’t last as long because I have learned how to deal with them.
- Easier to Connect: I have learned that I can connect deeply with just about anybody and just about anywhere. Want to go deep? Let’s meet for coffee and talk turkey. I can and often do have deep conversations with people I am just meeting while sitting in Starbucks.
- Better Decisions: I could tell you about the time I purchased a car and surprised my wife with it. That decision almost cost me my marriage. As I become more aware, I find the quality of the decisions I make has improved greatly.
- Fewer Conflicts: I used to be afraid of getting into conflicts, but I have shed that fear and strangely, I have fewer conflicts now than ever before, and when they do arise, I am much more comfortable dealing with and resolving them.
- More Comfortable In My Own Skin: For most of my life, I judged myself harshly. I could not “love” myself. Instead, found countless ways to criticize myself… and others. Something shifted several years back when a Buddhist Monk who was visiting Bellingham sat with us in my weekly men’s circle. Someone asked him, “What’s love?” He responded simply and clearly: “Acceptance.” As I heard him say that, something deep inside me shifted. If I can simply accept the reality of who I am, I could find self-compassion and self-acceptance. I still have lots of room to improve, but I deeply like who I am becoming.
The Downside to Becoming More Conscious
There are many potential potholes in the path to consciousness. Henri Junttila‘s article, “7 Obstacles to Mindfulness and How to Overcome Them” focuses on the difficulty of developing mindfulness. Here is a quick summary of the potholes he names in his article:
- Mindfulness takes ongoing effort.
- There will always be distraction.
- Progress doesn’t always come quickly.
- You may want to give up.
- Your goals may challenge your mindfulness.
- You might forget that the journey is the destination.
- Sometimes you’ll want to be anywhere but in the now.
So the bottom line is that if you want to develop deeper connection in your life, it doesn’t come for free, but the work (which is ongoing) is immensely rewarding, and the challenges which may seem daunting at times are simply potholes in your garden path. So get out a shovel and fill them with good earth and deep love and sit back and allow yourself to be astonished at what grows in them.
Some practical ways to become more conscious
So now what? Where do you go from here? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but if you would like to begin your own waking up process, here are some steps you can take:
- Meditate instead of medicate. Learn to sit silently and look inward. Meditation is the single most important practice to adopt. Most of my teachers agree that a regular meditation practice is critical.
- Seek beginner’s mind. In the expert’s mind, there are few possibilities, but in the beginner’s mind, there are many. Embrace the mystery.
- Notice your judgments of yourself and others and be willing to be curious about how those judgments serve you. Be especially curious about how you feel when you judge somebody else or are judged by someone else.
- Be courageous in your life. Adopt the principle that, “What I fear, I must face.”
- Deepen your relationships with people who inspire and support you and make yourself available to inspire and support others.
- Cultivate compassion for yourself and others. You cannot be truly compassionate with others until you are honestly and authentically compassionate with yourself. This means accepting yourself exactly as you are, warts and all.
- Notice what is happening in the moment. Notice the small coincidences and synchronicities that cross your path. Hold them lightly, and be curious.
- Slow down and begin to smell the roses. They are all around you and take many forms.
- Focus more on substance and less on form. Become clear about the substance of what you want and let go of how it is wrapped.
- Cultivate acceptance. The gifts you receive may come in very unexpected packages.
If you are on the path of waking up, you have lots of company… and lots of opportunities to grow. Waking up is the first of three stages that I am going through myself. The next is Growing Up which is taking full responsibility for your life.