About the integral differentiation of levels and states of consciousness – Part 2

How is it possible that Saint Bernard de Clairvaux, a brilliant medieval theologian and a representative of an intimate Christ mysticism, acted as a flaming whip for the Second Crusade? How is it possible that in 2015 Buddhist monks in Myanmar incited the mob against Muslims, initiated ethnic cleansing and killed hundreds of people having a different faith?

About the integral differentiation of levels and states of consciousness – Part 2

To part 1


States of consciousness

In contrast to the levels, our states of consciousness are not permanent structures. They are constantly changing. If you go through a day-night cycle of 24 hours, you can experience many different states of consciousness, from wide awake to dead tired, from overjoyed and in flow to confused or unconscious. In short, as long as we live, we are naturally always in some state of consciousness. Not only in the waking state, but also in the pictorial dream (REM sleep) and in pictureless deep sleep – even if we don’t notice anything of it at night. It is exactly into these deeper, partly formless and ego-less states of consciousness that mystics try to lower themselves without falling asleep. For this they use mindfulness techniques, mantras, prayer formulas or breathing exercises to control their consciousness. By constantly ignoring their own ego (e.g. “Lord, take everything from me that hinders me to come to You”, Brother Klaus) they remove the consciousness-limiting ego-identification that we built up as infants (A baby cannot yet think of himself as an ego).

Thus, mystics gradually overcome the usual boundaries of everyday consciousness. They experience pictorial, then pictorial-less states of consciousness and expand more and more towards infinite, all-embracing consciousness or God by radically letting go of all images, feelings, thoughts, desires and concepts (“God alone is enough”). In the end there can be a non-dual experience, a state in which the collapse of opposites is experienced (the coincidentia oppositorum of Nicholas of Cusa). Here all subject (ego)-object (you, that) separations fall away. Everything is one, the ONE, nameless is God. Like the Christian Armelle Nicolas (1606-1671), a simple French maid put it: “God is everything. I am no more. I have returned to my origin. He alone lives in me, but I am no longer in myself, but in Him”.

For the many spiritual practice paths with prayers, meditation and contemplation, I believe that the Wilber-Combs-matrix (and other modules of Integral Spirituality) is a wonderful tool for increasing spiritual intelligence, spiritual discernment and tailor-made guidance into old age. It offers us the opportunity to grasp evolutionary maturation processes (levels) through spiritual biographical work. In the same way, the individual experiences of God can be recorded and located in their different depths (states).

Mysticism does not automatically make people moral

The Wilber-Combs-matrix also helps us with the question why mystics, spiritual teachers, gurus or enlightened persons do not necessarily behave with moral integrity, compassion and openness towards strangers. Previously, very contradictory phenomena in the attitudes of shamans, prophets, apostles, saints or mystics can now be explained. A few examples:

Shamans (levels 2.0 and 3.0) can fall into very deep states of consciousness via trance techniques and have experience of oneness. Nevertheless, they are bound to the values of their magical-warrior tribal cultures and have no problem exterminating members of another tribe. The cruel pre-moral side of level 3.0 still has an aftershock in many places in the spiritual memory pool of the Old Testament: The prophet Elijah, recipient of subtle states of consciousness, slaughters 450 Baal priests at Mount Carmel by his own hand (!) (1.K.18). How can one be a man of God and at the same time, as a mass murderer, unscrupulously violate the fifth commandment of Yahweh “Thou shalt not kill”? To put it drastically – Elijah has the same problem as Islamist terrorists today: His conviction is already a monotheistic belief (level 4.0). The focus of his actions, however, is still at 3.0. Here, the impulsive ego, not yet regulated by shame and guilt, driven by fanatical desires for power, tries to ruthlessly enforce its holy Yahweh faith.

We also find a tense relationship between levels and states in the apostle Peter. As a close disciple of Jesus, he experienced also subtle mystical states of consciousness (Acts 11) and he testified of  his love for the risen Jesus three times, but nevertheless manages to threaten a married couple in the early church, without a guilty conscience, in such a way that they both freeze with fear and drop dead (Acts 5). Saint Bernard de Clairvaux was a brilliant medieval theologian (4.0) and a representative of a ravishingly intimate Christ mysticism, but at the same time he acted as a flaming whip for the Second Crusade at level 3.0. Athough monks attain the grace of divine vision in meditation, but are still so caught up in mythical-patriarchal thinking (4.0) in the 21st century that they cannot even integrate the feminine in the form of chickens on their holy mountain (Equality of women only begins with modernity from 5.0 and then fully unfolds from 6.0).

A similar situation can be observed not only in Judaism or Christianity, but also among practising contemplatives in all other religions. In 2015, Buddhist monks in Myanmar incited the mob against Muslims, initiated ethnic cleansing and killed hundreds of people having a different faith. The experience of a mere rapture and mystical state of consciousness does not in any way mean that one can suddenly live a high ethical standard. The many accusations of abuse against gurus and spiritual teachers in all religious traditions prove this sad fact even today. It follows from this: Our actions always depend on the level of consciousness we are currently at when we experience particular states of consciousness. And with the ideas, norms and values of exactly this level we then interpret our experiences and justify our actions.

Uniting the spirit of the world and the spirit of God

An enlightened, Christian integral spirituality not only includes a critical view of grievances, but also the appreciation of the differentiations between levels and states already achieved in our tradition. Whether Jesus himself, apostles or evangelists, desert fathers and mothers, church teachers or mystics – they all referred both to the levels of cultural development known to them at the time and to particular states of consciousness, admittedly without being able to define and clearly separate the two in a scientific sense.

Jesus refers to mystical states of consciousness with the words: “I shall pray the Father and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth, whom the world [levels] cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him”. (John 14:17). Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 of the “spirit of the world” in the “earthly-minded man” and thus encompasses the cultural development stages 1.0 to 4.0 established in his time. When Paul speaks of states, on the other hand, he uses phrases such as “the Spirit from God” or “I now interpret spiritual things for spiritual men”. Like Jesus, Paul assumes that only someone who has experienced the mystical states of consciousness himself has recognised “the mind of Christ”, whereas an “earthly-minded person” without mystical practice cannot understand what is being talked about. For him, knowledge of the ancient world belongs to the levels. Paul was an educated Jew who could communicate on an equal footing with educated Romans and Greeks. He distinguished cultural knowledge and education from the “hidden wisdom” of mysticism.

Many Christian mystics differentiate in a similar way. Symeon the Theologian distinguishes between “worldly sense and human spirit” (levels) and “spiritual sense and God’s spirit” (states). Meister Eckhart speaks of the “outer man” we can find on all levels and the “inward-looking man” who leads a spiritual life by exploring his inner states of consciousness and orienting himself more and more towards God during wordless and desireless prayer.

Summary: Religiously enlightened through levels, spiritually experienced through states

The following applies to the levels: We grasp reality as far as we can see (according to our values, world views, images of God) at this level. With each further step (further level), however, we gain in perspective, knowledge and the ability to reflect. This is why we promote further development through the levels with science, education and pedagogy. The following applies to the mystical states: Our everyday reality becomes more and more transparent for us so that we can see “through” to the last depth of God. This is why it would be so important for a living Christianity to open the contemplative path of mysticism to all Christians, in addition to the evolutionary knowledge of the levels of their own development possibilities. Those who have had their own experiences of immersion suddenly read the Bible with different eyes. The texts begin to shine. Not only do they speak of the mystery of God in the depths, but they also draw us into them.

Paul’s sentence “The Spirit explores all things, even the depths of the Godhead” could be read like this today: It is our consciousness with which we perceive and interpret everything. Consciousness cannot only do scientific-objective consciousness research and differentiate and develop on the different levels, it can also penetrate to the divine source in the subjective depths of particular states of consciousness and finally discover the eternal infinity of God, which is traditionally described as the experience of oneness.

A dualistic separation between the “bad world” of the levels and the “good world” of the mystical state experiences is definitely over for an integral spirituality in view of this double gift of our consciousness. Whoever has once recognised this can also cope with the twofold translation of Jesus’ wonderful word of the “Kingdom of God”because this kingdom is present as a living way towards all-embracing love and grace both “in the midst of us” (levels) and “within us” (states).



Marion Küstenmacher, Tilmann Haberer, Werner Tiki Küstenmacher: Gott 9.0 – Wohin unsere Gesellschaft spirituell wachsen wird (God 9.0 – Where our society will spiritually grow to), Gütersloh publishing house 2010, 8th edition 2018.

Marion Küstenmacher, Der Purpurtaucher. Vom inneren Wachsen mit Bildern der Mystik (The Purple Diver. On inner growth with images of mysticism), Freiburg i.Br. 2017

Marion Küstenmacher, Integrales Christentum – Einübung in eine neue spirituelle Intelligenz (Integral Christianity – Practice into a new spiritual intelligence), Gütersloher Verlagshaus 2018.

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Date: October 14, 2020
Author: Marion Küstenmacher (Germany)
Photo: David Zydd auf Pixabay CCO

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