Thursday, September 13, 2007

Four Levels of Consciousness

Have you ever had the experience of having a concept exist in your mind for many years and then find yourself presented with some words which apply language to your deeply held belief? An example of this would be a certain someone in my life (who shall remain nameless) whom I always found to view everything in the world only in the way in which it affected them personally. Then, one day, someone presented me with the word "narcissist," and I thought, "Yes! That's it." Language is powerful, and finding words to apply to something that you already somehow know can be quite remarkable. This happened to me a ways back in a manner that fundamentally changed the way I view consciousness. I was sitting in a divey little Spanish restaurant with a spiritual teacher of mine (his name is Skip, which I find humorously ironic). We were were chatting about the dangers of denial and the glory of awareness, when he asked me if I was familiar with the four levels of consciousness. I told him I was not and was curious to become acquainted with said levels. He proceeded to share with me a simple construct, through which I have been able to create a basic framework for many individuals to better understand their spiritual path. I should mention that you might be familiar with the four levels of consciousness as a model that has often been applied to the corporate world (which I find quite symptomatic of our culture- everything becoming a way to make more green paper- but that's for another blog). Let us begin with, what I believe to be, a simple universal concept; everyone in the world basically has the exact same goal- to be happy, joyous and free. Oh, people will tell you that their goal is to make a million dollars or to be famous or to have a big family- but this is only because they believe that these things will make them happy, joyous and free (which may or may not be the case). This brings us to the first, and lowest level of consciousness known as unconscious incompetence. The word "incompetence" is not being used as an insult here as it has come to be used in our society- the word simply means "unable." Someone who is unconsciously incompetent has a way of viewing themselves and the world about them in a way that could never bring them to happy, joyous and free. They are prone to self-loathing, people-pleasing, co-dependency, self-flagellation, etc.- i.e. their thinking is incompetent. What's worse, they are unconscious of this construct. They know that their lives are not what they want them to be, but have no idea what is blocking them from the lives they seek. It is a mystery to them that their own unhappiness is a product of the lens through which they view the happenings around them. A simpler name for unconscious incompetence is denial. The second level of consciousness is what we call conscious incompetence. On this level, the individual continues to manifest incompetent thinking, but has become conscious of what they are doing. They have come to recognize that their perspective is a product of their own choices and can further see that there are inherent flaws in the perspectives they are prone to. Though, this consciousness alone is not enough to change their behavior. Their faulty constructs still run deep as they have invested years in them, therefore the ineffective patterns persist. As far as I am concerned, the jump from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence is the most astounding leap a human being can make- as it takes a person from denial to awareness. Even more interesting is the fact that this particular leap rarely feels like progress. In fact, it can often mask itself as regression to the individual. For coming to terms with patterns that have been sabotaging ones life for years (if not decades) can be markedly painful. Although, it is through becoming consciously incompetent that we are given the opportunity to take estimable action and train our minds differently; allowing us to reach the third level: conscious competence. A person who is consciously competent sees the world in a way which will inevitably lead them to happiness, joy and freedom. This is a person who has learned to love themselves; a person who no longer puts all their stock in how they are perceived by others. This person embraces their humanity and allows themselves to make mistakes. This person no longer see problems, but opportunities; no longer sees coincidences, but miracles. Although, it takes much effort for the consciously competent person to remain competent. They must remain CONSCIOUS of their actions and their thinking as they are still prone to fall back into old patterns when their spiritual condition is not vigilantly maintained. A person who can live in this manner with minimal effort is a person who has reached the highest level of consciousness; they have become unconsciously competent. This is to say that the healthy perspective that a consciously competent person works so hard to achieve, comes to this person quite naturally. Let us look at a real world example of how these various levels manifest themselves in an individual. Let us say that a person (let's call him Dave) is driving on the highway. Dave is in the left lane, carefully obeying the speed limit as he makes his way to his place of employment to begin the workday. A speeding motorist comes up from behind Dave, shifts into the center lane, passes Dave, and then recklessly shoots back into the left lane missing Dave's car by inches, and speeds off. Minutes later, Dave approaches gridlock traffic. As he comes to a stop, he looks to his left and there is the man who cut him off just moments before. For this example, let us say that Dave is unconsciously incompetent. What is Dave going to do? Dave is probably going to raise his middle finger and point it angrily at his driving neighbor. Further, Dave will feel justified in taking this action. He might think to himself, "He had it coming; he's lucky he didn't get worse!" Dave eventually reaches work. As he crosses the parking lot, a co-worker calls to him, "Hey, Dave. How goes it?" Dave responds, "Lousy! Some idiot cut me off on the highway." Around noon, over lunch, Dave regales a gaggle of co-workers with the story of his morning drama. Finally, at the end of the day, he comes home. He walks in and his wife says, "Hello, honey. How's your day?" Dave responds, "Oh, you won't believe what happened to me this morning." Dave has now spent his entire day full of resentment. He is restless and irritable. And what does Dave think his problem is? The guy who cut him off. What is Dave's actual problem? It's Dave. Dave has an incompetent way of viewing the world; and he is unconscious of this reality. Now, let us take the exact same example with Dave as consciously incompetent. Dave's action will be identical. The hand will elevate; the finger will rise and thrust forth at the perpetrator. Here's the difference. Within moments, Dave is going to see that the action he chose was petulant and unhealthy. Dave will perhaps call someone he trusts and talk it through. Dave will ask for strength and let go of the resentment. Dave will arrive at work none the worse for wear. Next, let us look at Dave's experience as a consciously competent individual. Dave is cut off; Dave hits gridlock; Dave sees the culprit; Dave does not give him the finger; BUT HE REALLY WANTS TO. Finally, as someone who is unconsciously competent, it would not even occur to Dave to take such an action. For myself, I believe that I spend most of my time presently in conscious competence (no one lives exclusively at one level, by the way- other than those who are unconsciously incompetent). I visit conscious incompetence fairly often and even take an occasional road trip down to unconscious incompetence (those are really lousy getaways). Ask yourself: what level are you currently residing at? Where would you like to be? How can you get there? The awareness alone will reap great miracles for you.

God bless you,

1 comment:

EJ Ginn said...

By the way reader, if you do stop to ask yourself, "where am I at", and this is a new question in your life, then congratulations. Celebrate yourself fully for right now you have taken the first step into consciousness. Thanks Michael.