Created October 7, 2022
Welcome to this week’s Bill Harvey Blog.
The idea that there might be a stepladder of different states of being goes back into antiquity, far earlier than the earliest written records. We all know that sometimes we’re on and sometimes we’re not.
Plato implied there were at least two states of being when he wrote, “The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself; to be conquered by yourself is of all things most shameful and vile.”
Artwork by Bruce Rolff (bruce-rolff.pixels.com)
What he meant by being conquered by oneself was allowing oneself to be taken over by incorrect inner biases, including fear, anger, conceit, vanity, ego. Conquering those things is what he meant by conquering yourself.
India during the time preceding the rise of written language – going back thousands of years before Plato – was aware of the stepladder of self, and sang about it in memorized sung poetry passed on from generation to generation. They knew that there was a spiritually elevated state of consciousness in which one became aware of being part of God. They also realized that before that stage was reached there were intermediary levels of consciousness. One of these was nivritti, the state in which one was no longer attached to the desires for sensory experiences.
Later in the development of this natural philosophy (science), Gautama Buddha developed the idea of nonattachment in language that anticipated modern psychology. The Greek Stoic philosophers including the greatest of them all Epictetus (must-read The Enchiridion) further honed these ideas into operational language that average human beings could understand, and can follow the practices that bring about this state of detachment. The Greeks saw a condensed stepladder which included hubris, the state of entrapment in ego which is the norm today vs. apatheia, the state of detachment (nivritti).
Also in India there evolved techniques for controlling the senses and which were therefore helpful in attaining detachment. Two paths are reported by Daniel Goleman in his classic The Meditative Mind: The Varieties of Meditative Experience. In this valuable work Dan shows a definite stepladder construct called the Visuddhimagga (tracing back to Buddhism), with one path involving concentration and the other path utilizing insights, both ultimately reaching the state of highest spiritual oneness with the Universe and The One Self causing it.
In India there is another map called the Chakra system, which postulates a seven-stage process anticipatory of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in which the individual conquering himself/herself over the course of a lifetime (or a series of them), passes through the motivational stages of Security, Pleasure, Power, Love, Creativity, Self-Knowledge, and Self-Transcendence.
Levels of consciousness and the stages of evolution in a person’s own life are definitely related. The way they are related is that the stages in life construct is the longterm view and the levels of consciousness concept is the shortterm view. For example, in every stage of my life I experienced second-to-second changes in my level of consciousness, gradually as I moved up the chakra stages spending more and more of my time in the higher states (Observer and Flow states). You might say that the stages of life are a typology and the levels of consciousness are a phenomenology.
In Judaism, those attaining the Observer state (the lowest state in which the mind is enabled to conquer the ego by metacognition and self-metaprogramming) are called menschen (singular=mensch). In the I Ching, the “superior man” has approximately the same meaning. These are foreshortened stepladders into two possible conditions similar to the Greek hubris/apatheia, whereas other conceptions of the journey involve many more states, such as Visuddhimagga and my own map cited below, as well as an interesting stepladder created by a synthesis of the Rig Veda and Piaget’s developmental stages.
These ancient (and modern day) observations about what the mind can do are very relevant to our world today. Our own Western psychology, in a fight to gain the respect of the “harder” (easier to prove) sciences such as physics and chemistry, has straightjacketed and blindered itself into a heavy emphasis on behaviorism, because of its visibility from outside the subject. This to some extent mirrors Plato’s concerns about how our senses can be fooled, implying to modern minds the need for an external observer to observe the observer. However Plato had his own solution which was to employ the mind without the senses, which was more in line with the Eastern traditions cited above.
As a science, today’s Western psychology has skipped over the value of inner observation out of a distrust for the reporter of inner experiences. This is truly throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Our behavioristic psychology has been strongly involved with neurosis and psychosis, which definitely deserve attention, but insufficiently sparse with regard to the positive possibilities of the mind. Future psychology must repair this faster than present forces end the race too soon.
It might also be seen as a circularity of reasoning. Because individual scientists have ego, whatever they write about what happened within them internally will be distorted by their desire for self-aggrandizement, therefore causing Western psychologists to think: let us measure third-party-observable behavior and place a stiff taboo on introspective reporting being considered acceptable within science. The reason this is circular is that without the knowledge of the techniques by which to reach higher states of consciousness we cannot get the ego out of the way; but because ego is ubiquitous in modern world culture and rules it, we are unable to learn those techniques that would remove the ego from its hypnotic Orwellian power over us, leading us to our doom.
That’s why I write about these ancient subjects, because they are a necessary part of our immediate future, if we are to have a future. The future psychology must make introspective data admissible within guardrails to be established and verified by third-party observations of behavior. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi gave us that validation system: it is the obviousness of the Flow state, a term which he coined. Some of what attracts human attention through the media is the Flow state that athletes demonstrate, as do great musicians, and performers of many types that we can see on our devices. We are appropriately awestruck watching what a human being can accomplish if they follow the requisite techniques to conquer themselves, as Plato put it.
In my book You Are The Universe, Chapter 21 is devoted to Levels of Consciousness, and offers a construct involving five levels of Flow state, starting with the Flow state of the body, and ultimately attaining the Supreme Flow state of the spirit. The levels shown in that chapter represent my own experience as organized around the map created by Oscar Ichazo and adopted by John Lilly, which was informed by the speculative stepladders of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.
One of the techniques on the stairway to heaven, up Jacob’s Ladder, that is common to all religions is meditation, but it is not alone, it’s joined by contemplation and concentration. All three of these techniques require the conquering of the senses directly, one of the paths up the Visuddhimagga. The other path involving insights is represented in modern thought, for example, by my manual Mind Magic which is a compendium of mental/emotional self-interventions resulting in the conquest of oneself (specifically the ego part).
Levels of consciousness are important because in the race between education and destruction (H.G. Wells), if we as a species do not bring the subject of levels of consciousness to the forefront of the world media conversation, and into our lives as a daily regimen, we are at great risk of not being able to avert racial suicide which is visibly in its early stages even to an optimist like me. It is the failure of our science and education system worldwide (including the religions) that while maintaining the pomp and ceremony and numinous traces of the teachings of Christ and Buddha et al, we have eaten the seed and thrown away the fruit.
Getting billions of people to recognize that there is an internal stepladder to be climbed and helping them as they try to make their way up the stairway is a herculean task. I see no way around it. We definitely need to start with world leaders and would-be world leaders. May divine intervention make it so.
Love to all,