Does the evolution of awareness proceed in stages? If so, here’s one way to parse them.

There are lots of ways to look at this subject. Here’s one that I find valuable — wouldn’t you know, once again it resonates with a post I just put up — and, since I just discovered it, I’d say that another synchronicity has reared its beautiful head . . .

I’m going to leave the formatting as is. View original at


Climbing The Ladder of Awareness

When it comes to our understanding of the unfolding global crisis, each of us seems to fit somewhere along a continuum of awareness that can be roughly divided into five stages:

  1. Tracing Infinity by Kathleen Farago MayDead asleep. At this stage there seem to be no fundamental problems, just some shortcomings in human organization, behaviour and morality that can be fixed with the proper attention to rule-making. People at this stage tend to live their lives happily, with occasional outbursts of annoyance around election times or the quarterly corporate earnings seasons.
  2. Awareness of one fundamental problem. Whether it’s Climate Change, overpopulation, Peak Oil, chemical pollution, oceanic over-fishing, biodiversity loss, corporatism, economic instability or sociopolitical injustice, one problem seems to engage the attention completely. People at this stage tend to become ardent activists for their chosen cause. They tend to be very vocal about their personal issue, and blind to any others.
  3. Awareness of many problems. As people let in more evidence from different domains, the awareness of complexity begins to grow. At this point a person worries about the prioritization of problems in terms of their immediacy and degree of impact. People at this stage may become reluctant to acknowledge new problems – for example, someone who is committed to fighting for social justice and against climate change may not recognize the problem of resource depletion. They may feel that the problem space is already complex enough, and the addition of any new concerns will only dilute the effort that needs to be focused on solving the “highest priority” problem.
  4. Awareness of the interconnections between the many problems. The realization that a solution in one domain may worsen a problem in another marks the beginning of large-scale system-level thinking. It also marks the transition from thinking of the situation in terms of a set of problems to thinking of it in terms of a predicament. At this point the possibility that there may not be a solution begins to raise its head.People who arrive at this stage tend to withdraw into tight circles of like-minded individuals in order to trade insights and deepen their understanding of what’s going on. These circles are necessarily small, both because personal dialogue is essential for this depth of exploration, and because there just aren’t very many people who have arrived at this level of understanding.
  5. Awareness that the predicament encompasses all aspects of life. This includes everything we do, how we do it, our relationships with each other, as well as our treatment of the rest of the biosphere and the physical planet. With this realization, the floodgates open, and no problem is exempt from consideration or acceptance. The very concept of a “Solution” is seen through, and cast aside as a waste of effort.

For those who arrive at Stage 5 there is a real risk that depression will set in. After all, we’ve learned throughout our lives that our hope for tomorrow lies in our ability to solve problems today. When no amount of human cleverness appears able to solve our predicament the possibility of hope can vanish like a the light of a candle flame, to be replaced by the suffocating darkness of despair.

How people cope with despair is of course deeply personal, but it seems to me there are two general routes people take to reconcile themselves with the situation. These are not mutually exclusive, and most of us will operate out of some mix of the two. I identify them here as general tendencies, because people seem to be drawn more to one or the other. I call them the outer path and the inner path.

If one is inclined to choose the outer path, concerns about adaptation and local resilience move into the foreground, as exemplified by the Transition Network and Permaculture Movement. To those on the outer path, community-building and local sustainability initiatives will have great appeal. Organized party politics seems to be less attractive to people at this stage, however. Perhaps politics is seen as part of the problem, or perhaps it’s just seen as a waste of effort when the real action will take place at the local level.

If one is disinclined to choose the outer path either because of temperament or circumstance, the inner path offers its own set of attractions.

Choosing the inner path involves re-framing the whole thing in terms of consciousness, self-awareness and/or some form of transcendent perception. For someone on this path it is seen as an attempt to manifest Gandhi’s message, “Become the change you wish to see in the world,” on the most profoundly personal level. This message is similarly expressed in the ancient Hermetic saying, “As above, so below.” Or in plain language, “In order to heal the world, first begin by healing yourself.”

However, the inner path does not imply a “retreat into religion”. Most of the people I’ve met who have chosen an inner path have as little use for traditional religion as their counterparts on the outer path have for traditional politics. Organized religion is usually seen as part of the predicament rather than a valid response to it. Those who have arrived at this point have no interest in hiding from or easing the painful truth, rather they wish to create a coherent personal context for it. Personal spirituality of one sort or another often works for this, but organized religion rarely does.

It’s worth mentioning that there is also the possibility of a serious personal difficulty at this point. If someone cannot choose an outer path for whatever reasons, and is also resistant to the idea of inner growth or spirituality as a response the the crisis of an entire planet, then they are truly in a bind. There are few other doorways out of this depth of despair. If one remains stuck here for an extended period of time, life can begin to seem awfully bleak, and violence against either the world or oneself may begin begin to seem like a reasonable option. Please keep a watchful eye on your own progress, and if you encounter someone else who may be in this state, please offer them a supportive ear.

From my observations, each successive stage contains roughly a tenth of the number people as the one before it. So while perhaps 90% of humanity is in Stage 1, less than one person in ten thousand will be at Stage 5 (and none of them are likely to be politicians). The number of those who have chosen the inner path in Stage 5 also seems to be an order of magnitude smaller than the number who are on the outer path.

I happen to have chosen an inner path as my response to a Stage 5 awareness. It works well for me, but navigating this imminent (transition, shift, metamorphosis – call it what you will), will require all of us – no matter what our chosen paths – to cooperate on making wise decisions in difficult times.

Best wishes for a long, exciting and fulfilling journey.

Bodhi Paul Chefurka
October 19, 2012

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6 Responses to Does the evolution of awareness proceed in stages? If so, here’s one way to parse them.

  1. laurabruno says:

    Reblogged this on Laura Bruno's Blog and commented:
    Are you on an inner or outer path? If you feel alone in your awakening, this article explains why, but also offers perspective and suggestions. I feel grateful that through my work I know so many people doing incredible things on both the inner and outer paths. I know for a fact that you are not alone, even if it sometimes feels that way. Though thinly dispersed, we are many, and we are growing. Thanks, Ann!

    • You betcha! Myself, I seem to be on an inner/outer path, just like I’m an introvert/extravert . . . These damn frames just keep squiggling around, won’t hold our squirmly selves in place long enough to get type-cast . . .

  2. Wendy Lochner says:

    Another wonderful post that describes our predicament so clearly. I think too that I try to deal with this reality in an inner-directed way (I’m an inner-directed consciousness), but I’ve also come to see that even many of the most visionary people still see through the lens of anthropocentrism. Yes, we are living in the anthropocene age, but that doesn’t mean that we are central, only that the earth (and maybe beyond it) is struggling with the impact of our presence here. I,like to think that Gaia will one day shrug her metaphoric shoulders and cast us off like fleas from her body (this may happen due to plague, climate change, war, or any other human-induced catastrophe) so that she can rejuvenate and start again. And I don’t find this at all depressing.

  3. I think that it is good to divide the paths, so they can be clearly defined, but I think it is more of a spectrum then one or the other.

    I am mostly Inner, but think about the Outer path as a possibility. I think about how it would be nice to join up with my local community in this endeavor. The chance just hasn’t offered itself, and I have only done limited hunting.

    If I get on the Outer path, that doesn’t make me any less on the Inner path. I think despite what path we feel ourselves walking, we are simultaneously on the other path as well. If you are Inner, you cannot help but seek support somewhere, and if you are Outer you cannot completely ignore your Inner Individuality.

  4. Bill Chisholm says:

    A most intriguing discussion. For myself the journey started very young.. I felt like I was given a coat that was too tight.. I could put it on, but I couldn’t move freely. Raised Catholic I was not moved by the Irish priest’s hell fire and and brimstone so I would find other things to focus on. One of those was the concept of “world without end”… which came just before the Amen of a prayer I can’t recall. I would try to fathom that concept.. take it out and out and out and out… then suddenly there would be this snap and I would be right back where I started. I later came to identify that experience as some sort of Cosmic Mobius Strip. It very much is in keeping with how I have lived my life in both and inner and outer way.

    My activism/politics while focused much on the outer has taken me on a deeper inner path. I have always been searching for the core in the many issues I have worked on. Recently I was interviewed for a book on the relationship between environmental law and civil disobedience.. at the end of the interview I was asked, “Given the huge amount of issues out there, if you could work on just one, what would it be?” Easy answer “Consciousness”… awareness of the interconnection of all things. It now boils down to two concepts for me.. Mitakuye Oyasin—- Namaste…. All my relations.. I recognize in you the Spirit that also dwells within me.

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