The year 2006 marked a spectacular turning point for spiritual consciousness research and mysticism. Ken Wilber, a philosopher of consciousness and a pioneer of Integral Spirituality, along with Allan Combs, neuropsychologist and systems analyst, came to a groundbreaking insight. They dealt with the obvious fact that different depths of spiritual or mystical states of consciousness have been experienced at all times by people from all spiritual traditions and cultures. Today we have an overwhelming number of testimonies about these states of consciousness. The fact that similar states of consciousness were often interpreted very differently is what posed a problem, however.. Wilber and Combs recognized that the interpretation of a spiritual experience always depends on the different psycho-social value spaces or developmental levels one is in.
Wilber and Combs summarized the relationship of levels and states in a graph. The crosses mean that basically all mystical states of consciousness can be experienced at each level.
|States||1st state||2nd state||3rd state||4th state|
|mystical degrees of meditation||gross-material physical||ethereal, subtle||formless, amorphous||unio mystica|
|Awakening of the spirit: progressive depth||nature mysticism||mysticism of the image of God||mysticism of the Source|
|Levels or cultural evolution|
Growing of the mind: progressive expansion
from 1.0 to 9.0
Levels are collective psycho-social value spaces and lasting “cultural memories” of individuals and societies. They are created worldwide one after the other in an ever-increasing sequence as more and more complex systems of human cooperation. No stage can be skipped. Each level increases the competence in solving problems. The ability to put oneself in the shoes of others also grows. From level to level, the number of perspectives one can adopt rises. As a result, the path over the levels promotes intellect, compassion, tolerance, peacefulness and humanity towards a global ethic. The next table shows (ascending from the bottom) significant differences between the levels in three selected thematic areas.
Levels of consciousness
|Consciousness||Image of God||Way of thinking|
|9.0 Coral||still largely unknown||?||?|
God as pulsating process, absolute SPIRIT
|7.0 Yellow||systemic-integrative||Co-inherence of man and God||trans-rational|
|6.0 Green||Pluralistic-relativistic||God in all religions|
God in me Pantheism
|God is dead / Atheism|
apersonal image of God
|3.0 Red||impulsive-egocentric||Polytheism (power gods)||pre-rational|
|2.0 Purple||magic-animistic||ghost and ancestor cult||pre-rational|
|1.0 Beige||Archaic-undifferentiated-symbiotic||Mother’s breast / The nourishing||pre-rational|
Levels thus mark important sections of our historical evolution of consciousness from primitive primeval hordes (1.0), indigenous tribal cultures (2.0), warrior groups willing to conquer (3.0), law-abiding estates in patriarchal kingdoms (4. 0), towards liberal democratic states (5.0), pluralistic societies and welfare states (6.0) and even towards self-learning networks (7.0) and global ethical communities (8.0) across all continents, cultures and religions. When a new level of values emerges, the competences of the levels below are by no means lost but remain and continue to be available. Ideally, they are integrated by the more complex value levels in such a way that their weaknesses, shadows and narrowing are recognised, dealt with and overcome without the positive values, competences and charisms of these levels being lost or fought against. Thanks to developmental psychology, we now know that every baby starts at 1.0 at birth and, depending on family and cultural support, can integrate more and more level competences as it develops.
Christians at different levels
This alone has major consequences for spiritual communities. We may not only accompany children and young people through the first 4 to 5 value stages in their development of faith, but also adults. Today, adults no longer form a homogeneous group within level 4.0 as they did 150 years ago, but they are now mainly divided into three levels 4.0, 5.0 and 6.0. Some of them already have their focus in 7.0. Consequently, these adults have very different images of God and widely divergent ideas of faith, worship and community. We are faced with completely new tasks in interpreting biblical, dogmatic and mystical texts from our rich Christian tradition and the spiritual treasures of other religions. We need new concepts that support us intellectually and spiritually as we go through a change of values and levels.
Level changes are strenuous transformation processes. They can last for several years even for an individual and are often experienced painfully as an existential crisis of meaning, an irritating abandonment of God, a necessary break in community with loneliness or loss of faith. When entire societies or world religions attempt a necessary level change towards more complexity and more humane values (such as Christianity during the Reformation or Islam today), this generates massive collective instability and conflicts. The old set of values, the familiar image of God and the unifying structure of meaning no longer support them. The ascending new aspect with its greater wisdom, a new, emotionally more attractive and intellectually more convincing understanding of God and its better solutions to the problems at hand, is not yet strong enough to hold everything together immediately.
Global crises such as climate change or the Corona pandemic are currently forcing us to look for solutions for the whole human family and our planet with the help of the most complex levels. In this situation, the integral consciousness in the step (level) model God 9.0 can give us a feeling for the chances of the features of the “new” and encourage us to understand every level change as a meaningful exodus, for which the Old Testament Exodus from Egypt provides us with an encouraging narrative.
Spiritual community as a transit space for level travellers
We could further develop our spiritual communities with the help of the integral spirituality making them transit spaces that are to be protected but nevertheless stay open. Our spiritual communities could also be shelters that provide us with provisions and integrally trained travel companions for the next exodus, which can lead us to the unknown “promised land” of the next level of consciousness. Spiritual accompaniment would then be the art of helping people to understand their personal pilgrimage through the value levels. To do this, one must speak the “language” of the respective value level which the pilgrims are currently on. “Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver”, as Thomas Aquinas said. A principle that today in developmental psychology applies not only to children but also to adults. The New Testament already refers to this principle. The evangelist Luke indicates this for the stages 1.0 to 4.0 already developed during his lifetime, when he speaks of Jesus “recognising the thoughts” (Luke 6:8; 9:47) in conversation with scribes or his disciples, and then, depending on the person he faces, aiming his conversation at the other person’s level of value and developmental horizon.
If we relate this knowledge to Christian mysticism, we see different levels of values and level-dependent concepts about God and the world. They are different for a Thomas à Kempis (in his medieval bestseller on mysticism, The Imitation of Christ – Value Room 4.0) than for a 20th century author like Evelyn Underhill. She also wrote a bestseller on Christian mysticism (1911: Mysticism), but already included the scientific perspective of value level 5.0 and the psychological-spiritual interest of level 6.0. Simone Weil, Edith Stein or Etty Hillesum are just as much mystics as Katharina of Genoa, Mechthild of Magdeburg or Juliana of Norwich, but their focus of consciousness and possibilities for reflection do not lie at the same value level.
We must therefore re-examine much-read Christian instruction books for the mystical path, such as the 19th-century Russian work The Way of a Pilgrim, to see where they are children of one value level and thus, in addition to their authentic mystical descriptions, unconsciously convey problematic shadow aspects of a level which later levels have already recognised and dealt with. In the Way of a Pilgrim, for example, the prayer of the heart is not only very well described but is literally beaten into a serf (!) eight-year-old child without the author being aware of the intolerability of this behaviour. Problems of this kind are, unfortunately, actually encountered in mystic texts (of all religions!). This is due to the fact that in the inner prayer of meditation or contemplation one can only ever explore one’s own inner being as a space of experience of God but cannot see any culturally conditioned external value levels or recognise one’s own shadow. The knowledge about this phenomenon is only provided by modern sciences such as social psychology and cultural anthropology.
(to be continued in part 2)