Updated: Apr 11, 2020
For the purpose of your personal and leadership development the topic of consciousness growth is a foundational pillar. However, how do we measure progress?
We refer to pure consciousness as the state of being aware and the observer of your experiences. It is helpful to distinguish different states of consciousness to guide a person in their journey of consciousness growth.
We propose a simple taxonomy - the "Ten States of Consciousness Growth" - that allows someone to determine their current level of consciousness (LOC) by self reflection, and discuss various aspects of consciousness growth. The proposed taxonomy is work in progress and will certainly evolve over time.
The term consciousness is commonly the state of being aware of and responsive to one's surroundings.
When we’re talking about growing your consciousness, we refer to increasing your level of awareness or your level of consciousness (LOC.)
In the scientific community models or theories of consciousness usually relate to brain phenomena such as fast irregular electrical activity and widespread brain activation to properties of consciousness such as individual instances of subjective, conscious experience.
This raises the overall question whether consciousness is a result of brain activity derived from a chemical soup of amino acids, or as stated in more modern quantum physics a fundamental property of the natural world, a unified field of consciousness. There is no proof in either direction, and for the purpose of our discussion I would like to define
“Pure Consciousness (or Awareness) is the observer of all your Experiences”
As a scientist my interest is to define a simple taxonomy of consciousness growth, that allows me to map one’s current state or LOC level to a predefined list of enumerated categories. If such an enumeration exists, that means there is a path that can be followed that is correlated with your consciousness growth.
In the spiritual community there are a variety of models of consciousness growth, that are sometimes very complex. When studying the literature and countless books on the topic I did not find a simple and practical model that can be easily understood or applied to map your consciousness growth.
For example, the book “1000: The Levels of Consciousness and a Map of the Stages of Awakening for Spiritual Seekers and Teachers” by Ramaji describes an elaborate system of consciousness growth with levels on a fine-grained scale from 1 to 1000. While for a spiritual seeker this system can be very helpful, for the use case of personal growth and leadership development it is too detailed.
I’m not saying that the existing models are not useful. However, for practical purposes on helping business leaders around the world providing guidance on consciousness growth I was looking for something basic and simple, but still helpful.
In addition, I want to have a model of consciousness growth that is free of spiritual systems, ideologies, or religious beliefs, basically focusing on pure present awareness growth and level of experience.
Ten States of Consciousness Growth
After reflecting on my own experience, feedback, and integrating the findings from the existing models in the literature, I came up with the following “Ten States of Consciousness.” - to which I refer to as “A Taxonomy of Consciousness Growth.”
For each state I describe its dominant properties and characteristics of your state of mind. When doing self reflection, this allows you to determine your current level of consciousness (LOC).
1. Basic Awareness and Dormancy
2. Rise of the Ego
3. Intellectual Dominance
Consciousness Opening and Expansion:
4. Opening up & Awakening
5. Transformation & Personal Growth
6. The Quest for Truth: Inquiry & Struggle
7. On the Frontier: Testing Boundaries
Transcendence and Unity:
8. Self-Realization (Non-Duality): Living with a "tamed" and light Ego
9. Stabilizing & Maturing
Level 1 “Basic Awareness and Dormancy” is just for the sake of completeness to include all plant and animal life as well.
Most people on this planet (my current best guess based on anecdotal observations is possibly more than 98%) are spending their daily lives in levels 2 and 3. This is the “Ego focused” zone (red).
Many people who reside in this zone may at some point in their lives (or never) move upward to the “Consciousness Opening and Expanding” zone (green). This typically happens though some life changing event (e.g. death of a family member, a serious health problem, burnout, …), but can also happen through a gradual process of mindfulness activities or training.
Starting level 8 is what I call the “Transcendence and Unity” zone. This is dominated by a very high level of present awareness, connectivity to all beings and nature, and no attachments to the thoughts anymore. I refer to this as "transcending the ego," and simply means that a person no longer identifies with their daily thoughts.
New Leadership and Consciousness Growth
For the topic of personal growth and mindful leadership in the workplace, we are primarily focusing at levels 4 through 7.
Mindful Leaders usually reside at least on level 4, otherwise they would not be that interested in this topic or have a strong enough desire to pursue a mindfulness based approach for personal and leadership development.
Consciousness Growth & Mindset Shift is the foundational pillar one in the mindful leadership framework “The Seven Pillars of Mindful Leadership.” The proposed “Ten States of Consciousness” therefore can be used as guidance for this pillar to allow leaders to reflect on their consciousness growth and progress.
In my experience leaders on level 3 usually don’t see the necessity for mindfulness at work, as in their (limited) belief business results can be achieved without being mindful.
I think there is an urgent necessity to help leaders on level 3 to create an opening so that they can move up to level 4. But this is a very difficult if not impossible undertaking, unless there is enough suffering and inner motivation to transcend the ego-focused mindset. Leaders on level 3 and below are fully identified in their own thoughts, and trapped in their ego. They will be stuck there for a life-time, unless an inner or outer impulse creates a strong enough opening.
Another remark is that consciousness growth is not happening linearly on this scale. You may jump up or down, sometimes even several times a day. Therefore don’t get discouraged and continue your journey without worrying too much about what level you are. Setbacks are expected, and struggle and suffering is part of it. Maturing and stabilization of consciousness levels happens in levels 8 and above. More about this later.
Important Changes and Trends during your Consciousness Growth
Within the “Consciousness Opening & Expansion” zone we can look at the following key dimensions and trends that are exemplifying your consciousness growth. You will notice and experience some or all of these changes:
Less Thought activity (from the “busy monkey mind” to almost no thoughts)
Increased Connectedness and Thriving towards Unity (from separation to feeling connected with all there is)
Awakening of “Forgotten” Qualities
Deeper Connection with your Intuition
Increase of Synchronicities
From “Old leadership” to “New Leadership”
First, your thought activity, meaning the number of thoughts per minute, hour, day etc. will decrease. You can do a quick self-assessment by setting a timer for 3 minutes, close your eyes with the intent of having no thoughts, and then count the number of thoughts as they appear in your mind (possibly also using a smartphone app). Divide the result by three, and you have the average number of thoughts per minute. Be amused when you look at this number.
Do this experiment in the early morning, after you get out of bed. Then do it again after lunch, and then after work in the evening. Divide by 3. Then multiply by 960. This is the average number of thoughts per day.
Do this once a week, and see how these numbers are changing over time. Obviously these numbers are highly fluctuating based on stress levels and current events. But if you track them on a weekly basis over a longer time period, and you are engaged in mindfulness training and meditation, you will notice a gradual decrease. In level 7 this number will have significantly diminished, and by level 8 it will be minimal to non-existent.
You will also feel more connected to nature and others. You will get some glimpses into this in levels 4-6, and more often in level 7. But the “breakthrough” happens in level 8, where the experience of connectedness and unity with all there is stabilizes as your default experience.
Your “Forgotten” Qualities (e.g., appreciation, gratitude, acceptance, forgiveness, empathy, kindness, love, … ) will arise and increase as your consciousness is growing. This is described in pillar 4 of the “Seven Pillars of Mindful Leadership.” However, it still takes ongoing practise and training to cultivate these.
As your consciousness is growing your connection to your intuition is also deepening, and synchronistic events will occur more often. With synchronistic events I mean the simultaneous occurrence of events, which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection. They can be usually very helpful in a variety of scenarios.
For example, you are desperately trying to solve a hard problem at work. On your way home you notice a commercial in the subway, which all of a sudden triggers the solution to the problem in you. You know the answer! Or, meet a random person, only to learn that this person might be a key player for helping you in an unexpected way. You get the idea …
Last but not least, as a leader you will move gradually from an “old leadership” style and define your own “New Leadership” style. Your effectiveness as a leader will increase, and you can measure the progress here using your own key performance indicators (KPIs) in your organization.
The “Ten States of Consciousness Growth” in Detail
Here are more details about the different levels of consciousness. When reading try to reflect, and determine your own level of consciousness. I provided several aspects and behavior to hopefully make it easy for you to figure out where you are.
1. Basic Awareness and Dormancy
At this level consciousness is sleeping, and there is no or only limited self awareness. For example, plants and animals fall within this level. I refer to this zone as “Ubiquitous Consciousness.”
2. Rise of the Ego
At this level there is self awareness, and the ego is born. In humans this happens at a very young age, typically between the ages of two and three. Once a toddler starts crying when you take away her favorite toy, you know that there is an ego. The ego then grows in intensity over the years, and may reach its peak during adolescence or early adulthood.
The ego exemplifies a personality with characteristic traits, and this personality can be changing over time.
People with “big egos” can be easily recognized by the level on how they are attached to their own thoughts and belongings. They unconditionally believe their own thoughts, and are not questioning the world at large. Things are as they appear on the surface, and the focus of the ego is to maintain a “secure” life-style, add objects such as a fancy car, a house, or other possessions that can be accumulated and help boost its power. The more possessions one has, the stronger the ego.
The social status is a very important factor of the ego for people with this level of consciousness. The ego likes titles of influence, like a prestigious job in a recognized company, or within politics.
The ego’s primary motivation is to increase or secure its status or belongings. If you encounter a manager at work and observe her decision making, you can quickly recognize whether these patterns are dominant. In that case the ego is in the driver’s seat.
3. Intellectual Dominance
At this level the ego is focusing more on the power of its intellect. Possessions or social status are fine, but it is more important to impress others through knowledge and intellect. Decisions are also based on intellect, and mostly focusing on subjective data. While there is nothing wrong with data-driven decision making, it is important to not neglect other dimensions, such as how a decision makes you feel, or how others may feel about it. Integrating heart-centered qualities into the decision-making process is not important at this level of consciousness.
You will notice a lot of business leaders, politicians, and scientists that are very good at what they are doing. But their impact can be devastating or harmful, when the ego is not in balance. For example, business leaders driven by intellect and ego may be too obsessed with reaching their goals, and forget about the values on how to get there. This may lead to a lot of stress and therefore produce toxic work environments, that many of us probably were (or still are) part of. If you work for a manager who is operating at this level of consciousness, it might be not always easy, especially if your level of consciousness is already higher and more evolved (which it probably is, as you’re reading this article.)
The topic of mindfulness is a very fluffy one for you, and you do not see the benefit of sitting idle doing nothing for a few minutes. Instead, you would rather read an interesting non-fiction book, or do something productive.
At this point consciousness is becoming self-aware. Meaning it is becoming suspicious about the world at large and itself. You will start to question your existing beliefs, traditions, religion, and things that appear in your daily life.
The question “Why?” will become very important. For example, “Why am I doing this now?”, or “Why am I here?”
There is an opening now in you, that wasn’t there before. When your consciousness level was buried in “Intellectual Dominance” you were happy to drive a business goal to a conclusion. Now in this level of consciousness, although you may have driven a project to a successful end state, the question may come up whether this was indeed a meaningful pursuit in the first place.
Meaning takes over, and purpose is your inner motivation. You’re less interested anymore in intellectual challenges, or companies that offer you a big paycheck. It is more important to you whether something is helpful to others in a bigger picture, whether you make a positive and sustainable contribution to the planet, or simply help someone to feel better.
You may have tried meditation or played with some mindfulness exercises at this point. You feel good doing these, but you may not know yet how to foster and cultivate this newly found awareness in you.
You will notice a preference for being in nature, observing a plant, the smell of a rose, and feel good by connecting with others on deeper conversations instead of engaging in meaningless small talk.
People around you will notice that possibly something is “wrong” with you, as you’re behaving or doing things differently. You may end up losing some friends, and gain some new ones.
Your consciousness growth journey is now off to a good start!
5. Transformation & Personal Growth
At this point you become very aware of your body and mind. Obviously you will then discover shortcomings, health issues, performance problems, or lack of skills. You become a seeker of consciousness growth. Read all about meditation, possibly digesting a lot of spiritual literature, doing more self reflection, and trying to understand who you really are.
Your mind’s focus typically is on lack and scarcity, the feeling of not being good enough, and therefore the quest for personal growth becomes a driving force for you.
For example, you notice that you are not good enough at a certain skill, and start taking a class or read a book to improve it. Your motivation is to grow in all dimensions and aspects of life, to become better or “sufficient.”
This leads to a visible transformation. People around you will realize you are changing, possibly substantially. For example, you may lose 20 pounds, become a very healthy athlete, and engage in many new activities.
Your hunger for self improvement and growth is strong. You like the results you are seeing, and continue building up new skills.
You also have developed a passion for helping others and are contributing to a bigger cause.
Many people in this category become quite complacent and may stay here for a long time. It is an exciting place to be, as you observe positive changes on you, and the effect it has on others.
However, there is an illusion and underlying thought that is the primary motivation: “You are not enough.” Unless you become aware of this thought you may be stuck here for a long time, not growing any further in terms of your LOC.
But even if you become aware of this thought, to really grow out of this level you have to leave your comfort zone. Getting out of your comfort zone will catapult you into the next level, but may not be that pleasant - which leads to the next level.
6. The Quest for Truth: Inquiry and Struggle
Congratulations - you have reached the harder part of your consciousness growth by leaving your comfort zone. You have realized that personal growth is a nice thing, that you actually are abundant and don’t lack anything in particular. You still may continue working on personal growth topics, but less intense, and more for the fun or entertaining part.
You are here because you realized there are emotions and pain buried in you. You can sense it, and your ego has cleverly hidden it, so it sabotages you on a deeper level every day. It is the unconscious conditioning that leads to false beliefs, and reactive patterns that are dominating your daily life. You realized however as your level of consciousness has been growing, that there is something weird going on, and certain behavior doesn’t make no sense anymore.
For example, you may have anxiety when you encounter a dog, or even some other phobias. But you don’t know why this is the case. You do not recall any incident, but still there is the underlying fear.
At this point you are ready to tackle these problems and face your fear. You recognize that fear is just an emotion, and accept it (sounds easy, but can be hard.)
The process of continuous inquiry allows you to uncover these hidden issues or pain points one by one, and see them with clarity for what they really are. Nothing more than some emotion, that you couldn't process at a younger age, and your subconscious mind therefore has buried it deep enough. But it remains, and unless you actually face it, it won’t go away.
However, you may go back to level 5 if there is too much pain to handle at once, and may seek comfort again in the personal growth zone. That is perfectly fine. Sometimes it is needed to have a break, regroup, and then continue where you left off.
For those of you brave enough to remain focused on seeking the truth, there will be a gradual shift in mindset, and a stronger shift in consciousness growth. It is expanding now more rapidly, opening up new experiences and perspectives.
7. On the Frontier: Testing Boundaries
You may already have had a glimpse of experiencing a quiet mind and felt a strong connection to all that is. However, these experiences are not stable yet.
On the other hand, residing in the “Personal Growth” zone can be a very convenient place to stay, and there is nothing wrong with that.
You know if you want to progress and move to the next state, the ego literally needs to “die.” As long as you are still attached to your identity, and the thoughts of your daily life, along with the drama that comes with it, there is no progress here.
In this phase you are basically testing the waters, and taking a sneak peek into the next state - which I refer to as “Non Duality.”
Again, there is no need to move up further to the next state, if you don’t want to. In this state your consciousness level already has increased significantly. You’re not getting pulled in too much into negative thinking, as you have the ability to observe these thoughts and let them go away.
As a Mindful Leader this is also a great place to be. You can be applying mindfulness to your organizations very effectively, and your leadership capabilities that come with a higher level of consciousness are already in good shape.
So it can be a very convenient place to be, and when the timing is right, you will be ready for the next level of consciousness growth.
8. Self-Realization (Non-Duality): Living with a "tamed" and light Ego
This is a critical stepping stone in your consciousness growth - the awareness of self realization. In fact, this is probably the most significant realization during your journey in my opinion. The reason is that the ego itself, your thoughts about who you thought you are, are gradually dissolving. I call it the also the "light" or "tamed" version of your ego. You actually realized that your personality and your ego, were just an illusion, and never actually existed.
This is hard to grasp initially. However, if you have reached this level, you know that this is the case. From a practical perspective this sounds worse than it is. The fact that you are no longer in the grip of your ego, and are free to make conscious decisions has a lot of advantages.
Often people also refer to this as the "Ego Death." However, the ego still exists afterwards. It is always there as the result of your mind. And as your mind continues to exist, so is your ego. Your heightened level of awareness however makes the ego a more pleasant experience. In fact, the ego (or your mind) at the end is the mechanism on how you create experiences in this world. It will therefore continue to serve you to experience life. However, with minimal or no identification and attachments to thoughts will result in a life what I refer to as "Experience first." - an upgraded way of experiencing the world around you.
Referring back to the dimension of consciousness expansion above, here is what to expect once you have reached this state:
Thought activity: Almost diminished, or not existent anymore. That doesn’t mean that you cannot think anymore, but instead you are consciously using your brain as a tool to make conscious decisions.
Connectedness and Unity (from separation to feeling connected with all there is): You feel that there is connection with others and nature, and you strive towards unity.
Awakening of “Forgotten” Qualities: Many of those are now at your command and easily accessible. They have become your standard way of operation.
Deeper Connection with your Intuition: You are connected deeply with your intuition and use it as guidance for your life.
Increase of Synchronicities: Life unfolds in front of you, and you have embraced a mindset of surrender and acceptance of what is, which opens up the door to synchronistic events.
For completeness I’m mentioning levels 9 and 10. These are mostly of interest once you have reached level 8, and wish to continue and complete your consciousness growth. However, for practical purposes and for the topic of mindful leadership, I do not think they are that relevant.
These levels are mostly about maturing and stabilizing your experiences from level 8. For example, if you do not feel connected fully to all there is, this can gradually shift in level 9, and completes with level 10.
I have outlined a simple and practical taxonomy of consciousness growth that can be helpful for your personal and leadership growth.
In particular, for mindful leadership the level 4 is usually where your journey starts. As you are training your mind, and are committed to a formal mindfulness and meditation practise, you may increase your level of consciousness over time.
As mentioned, be aware that there is no steady growth. You may have setbacks, and things can change several times over a day. Consistency and persistence are key traits that will be helpful along your journey.
You can make valuable contributions and shape the New Workplace with the rising of your “forgotten” qualities, which can be further cultivated by mindfulness training.
As a Mindful Leader, your effectiveness as a leader will greatly improve as a side-effect of your consciousness growth. To validate this obviously you need to put a system in place to measure your progress and leadership effectiveness, as well as your organization’s team health on an ongoing basis.
I provide more guidance on this in the “Seven Pillars of Mindful Leadership” framework, as this is a data-driven and scientific approach.
There is also no need to stress yourself on reaching the next level. The more you want it, the less you will have it.
Every level of consciousness is already there, right now, and within you all the time. The problem is that your ego and the density level of your thoughts are not allowing you to have access to these advanced states. However, with the proper training it is possible to gradually poke holes into the denseness of your thoughts, and things will be loosening up.
Simply use this model of consciousness growth as a conceptual model (which your mind likes a lot), and do self reflection occasionally. It can also be a good tool to gain insights.
For example, if you are not doing inquiry and feeling pain, you are possibly stuck in the “Personal Growth” zone. This way this is a reminder that there are higher level of consciousness states that can be achieved, and therefore gives you an impulse to pursue your consciousness growth further.
Last but not least, always looking forward to your feedback. Can you find yourself in any of these states? Or are there additional ones that need to be mentioned?
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