BLOG #11 - INTEGRATING THE FOUR WORLDS OF CONSCIOUSNESS
The Four Worlds of Consciousness
Contemporary Hawaiian shaman Serge King describes four ways of viewing the Universe that he learned from his shamanic ancestors, involving four different states of consciousness. We can experience these different realities by accepting the assumptions (operating principles) for each one. Each of the four states of consciousness depends on a different assumption about the nature of reality.
If we believe in the reality of separate material objects, then our ordinary reality is real and we can easily operate in the physical world.
If we believe in a reality where everything is connected through flows of energy, then we know we can perform miracles of energy healing.
If we believe in the validity of omens and metaphors and find meaning in them, we can use their power to perform miraculous healings through the use of symbols and ritual.
And if we believe in and experience the state of consciousness where everything is One, we are that One, that is what’s real, and we’re enlightened.
Our next evolutionary step as humans, which now in 2020 appears to be well underway and gathering momentum, is to integrate these four states of consciousness. They are already present in our minds; our task is to integrate them into an overall multi-competent consciousness, both in our individual brains and in the collective consciousness of humanity.
Just as our early ancestors fifty to a hundred thousand years ago learned to integrate the different domains of thought that had separately emerged in their minds as a result of the different, separate life activities they performed, which brought about the intense explosion of complex artistic creations, religions, and scientific knowledge that continues to this day, our integration of the four states of consciousness promises an unparalleled flowering of human capabilities and a world that is kinder, more comfortable, and happier because we know and understand our place in the Universe and the vital contributions that only we can make.
As you read about the four worlds of consciousness that Serge King learned from his shamanic ancestors, notice how familiar you may already be with them.
Everything is Separate
The state of consciousness where we assume that everything is separate is normal for most people. Other assumptions that go along with this are that everything has a beginning and an end, everything has a cause, and there are boundaries to keep things separate.
Healing modalities that work well when we assume that “everything is separate” include medicine, herbs, supplements, massage, chiropractic techniques, surgery, exercise, physical therapy and nutrition.
In a world where everything feels separate we have the ability to develop an exquisite appreciation of beauty, experiencing the objects around us as unique, beautifully formed, harmoniously disposed, and exhibiting qualities of variegated color, sound, texture, and shape that delight our senses and stimulate our minds. A single apple on a table can strike us as so wonderfully perfect it takes our breath away. Our dearest loved ones, existing in themselves, for themselves, completely separate from any hopes and fears we have about them, appear as miraculous creations of surpassing intricacy and grace. It’s as if a flask of murky liquid on a windowsill has cleared to reveal a growing fairyland of lovely, colored crystals, their facets sparkling in the sunlight.
In ordinary reality, we don’t consider the inanimate objects around us to be parts of ourselves: we can transgress their boundaries at will, breaking them or welding them together, cherishing or throwing them on the trash heap. We’re in control. Having this kind of power over inanimate objects allows us to be creative and do useful work. It gives us pleasure, and our egos love it. The only moral rules protecting the boundaries of these inanimate objects are rules protecting them as the property of other humans.
Most of the time we’re fine with living in a world where the basic assumption is that everything is separate, but we can easily feel stuck here, and we don’t like that. In the desperate words of American Journalist Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005), “We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and . . . we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way.”
When we’re stuck in separateness consciousness, we not only see rocks, machines and other nonliving things as insensible objects subject to our every whim, we also see people, plants and animals the same way. We can bruise them and cut them without feeling personal pain. We can say hurtful things without noticing. We can even be callous to our own body and mind, schooling ourself to ignore physical and emotional pain. (Interestingly enough, the moral code that stops most people from treating others this way often fails to keep them from treating themselves badly.)
You might protest, “That’s not really how it is. Even when I recognize that everything is separate, I feel empathy. I feel love. A lot of the time, I don’t even feel separate from my car. It’s like an extension of my body. I know just how close I can get to the curb without hitting it. I can sense when someone’s about to change lanes, even before they signal.” If you’re especially sensitive you might add, “I can tell when people I’m close to are in trouble even when they’re far away. I recognize omens in nature that tell me when something bad is going to happen. I even have glimpses of oneness. And all this happens in ordinary reality. I don’t think I have to change my consciousness to have these experiences.”
It’s true that most of us don’t live our daily lives entirely in a state of separateness consciousness. We’re fairly expert at moving between states of consciousness with different assumptions without realizing we’ve slipped into a different state, even when the basic assumptions are contradictory.
EXERCISE: Experiencing the Beauty of Separateness
In a group:
Everything is Connected
In the subjective world where the basic assumption about reality is that “everything is connected,” we recognize telepathy and clairvoyance as natural over any distance because it’s all connected. We can experience other beings’ emotions because of our empathic connection. We’re sensitive to energies and can see and feel auras. We can access information about past and future lives and know that death isn’t the end of our existence because time is just a concept. From the perspective of this state of consciousness, time is cyclic and synchronicities are common. This is just how the world works when we accept the assumption that everything is connected. It’s a valid and useful way of seeing the world, but difficult to accept for people stuck exclusively in a traditional Western mindset of separateness.
When we see auras, feel energy, receive telepathic messages, and communicate with spirits, we’re working on the assumption that everything is connected. A common experience in this world is the awareness of visible lines of energy connecting everything in a “web of life.”
Ancient Hindu mystics envisioned the connectedness of all things through the metaphor of “The Net of Indra.” (Indra is a Vedic God analogous to Thor.) This metaphor was used by the First Patriarch, Tu Shun (557–640) of the Huayan School of Chinese Buddhism, who called it “a vast net,” writing:
At the same time, fifth-century Anglo-Saxon seers in Britain knew the same web of light, calling it “The Wyrd” (sometimes translated as fate). Brian Bates, author of the historical novel “The Way of Wyrd,” describes it as “the unfolding of our personal destiny . . . an all-encompassing view which connects us to all things, thoughts, emotions, events in the cosmos as if through the threads of an enormous, invisible but dynamic web.”
Gerontologist Robert Atchley describes it as an “experienced linkage between the ‘I am’ and the great web of being expressed in different ways in different cultures,” observing that it is a universal experience as we age. He calls it a sense, based on intuitive knowing, that “one is not alone, but is part of something much greater than individual existence.”
Shamans from ancient times have connected with the web of life to do their work. While in a state of connectedness consciousness we can do energy healings through extraction of misplaced energies and removal of possessing spirits. We can also channel spirits and retrieve souls through understanding them as forms of energy.
Anyone can evoke an immediate, visceral experience of the web of life in addition to understanding it intellectually as a metaphor for interconnectedness. Contemporary shaman Sandra Ingerman teaches that “Everything on earth is interconnected and any belief that we are separate from other life forms including the earth, stars, wind, etc. is purely an illusion.” She instructs her students to form a human “web of light” joined with a greater web of life that “connects all of life and the spirit that lives in all things,” and publishes instructions for entering this state of consciousness on her website, sandraingerman.com.
The direct experience of the web of life empowers us to live and act from connected consciousness, a happy state in which fears of abandonment and rejection no longer exist and we feel effortlessly altruistic, sharing the delight of the beings around us, giving and receiving in a reciprocal dance as we sense each other’s needs and desires.
EXERCISE: Experiencing the Web of Life
In a Group:
This exercise is a healing practice designed to connect a partner’s energy to the web of life for healing.
Everything is Symbolic
In the subjective state of consciousness where the basic assumption is “everything is symbolic of everything else,” everything is a part of a pattern and exists in relationship to other things. Everything points to something else, and we can decide what we want it to stand for. Here in this symbolic world we look for guiding omens in the patterns of clouds, shapes and embedded colors of rocks, and sounds of rushing waters. We can consecrate objects and actions to represent other beings, objects or processes, and perform rituals of sympathetic magic.
In a state of symbolic consciousness, healers use surrogates such as dolls to represent the client, and words and mantras to invoke spirits, interpret omens for divining the present and future, and change a client’s reality by changing their beliefs.
As Serge King points out, at the symbolic level, everything is a reflection of one’s personal life, and to change experience from this level, “you can either change the symbols, change your interpretation of the symbols, or change yourself so that the reflection changes.”
Our daily lives in ordinary separateness consciousness are full of symbols. A good example is language, a set of words used as agreed-upon symbols to stand for things, events, and concepts. But just using words doesn’t mean we’ve entered the world of symbolic consciousness. We can tell we’re in that world when we’re struck with a numinous sense of the “meaning” inherent in a word or an ordinary object or event, often accompanied by an emotional reaction. There’s a sense of depth and power.
Shamans and sorcerers use words in the form of spells and charms that arouse this numinous sense of meaning to bring others into a state of symbolic consciousness and impress thoughtforms into their minds -- for good or ill. They also use ritual acts as symbols for the same purpose. Politicians and church leaders also know the power of ritual to generate unreasoning loyalty in military, political and religious settings.
The feeling of depth and power that comes when we recognize a meaningful symbol is too compelling to be entirely explained by its ordinary meaning. The meaning the symbol conveys seems to arise from a basic, bone-deep knowing of the true meaning of all symbols, namely that every symbol ultimately points to The One.
When I was in studying with shamans in Nepal, a country pervaded with sacred consciousness, I remember watching toddlers on the floor playing with a cardboard insert from a shirt package. Curious about what they might be experiencing, I tried to tune in, and received an intuition that for them the crest of the cardboard insert was a symbol for God — in fact probably more than a symbol. It felt as if they knew it as God taking on this form.
Some symbols have well-known cultural meanings, but each of us has a unique take on the meanings of things we encounter. When we’re on the lookout for omens to guide us in our life, it’s best to rely on our own personal reactions. Looking up the meaning of dreams in a dream book or relying on standard Tarot card interpretations is somewhat useful, but we are quite capable of recognizing omens that have special meaning for us at the particular time and place we experience them. Relying on others to interpret for us is disempowering.
If we want to reach enlightenment and know the truth of who we are, we need to be centered in our own sense of “I” — relentlessly asking “Who am I,” until it leads us home. Feel that, “I am the one who sees, I am the one who assigns meaning to my experiences, I am the one who interprets synchronicities that happen to me.” Rituals and canned interpretations made up by others, no matter how venerable and authoritative, won’t get you there.
It’s true that some healers and shamans function as priests, dutifully performing ancient ritual acts passed down from the ancestors, but a true healer must also be a master of recognizing symbolic meanings. A Tarot reader in a state of ordinary separateness consciousness laying out cards and looking up their canned meanings isn’t a real seer. A true seer has the power to enter the symbolic state of consciousness, assign symbolic meanings to things and use them in ritual ways to influence reality.
In ordinary separation consciousness when we’re wide awake and want to see things just as they are, like a scientist, when we look at the sky we notice that each cloud has a unique shape. If we’re especially observant, we might be able use these shapes to predict the weather. In contrast, when we’re tired, our brains are more likely to default to forms we already recognize, such as horsies, duckies and faces, when we look at the clouds. But this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve entered the symbolic state of consciousness.
It’s not hard to enter the symbolic state of consciousness. For example, if you’re looking for omens you can deliberately see recognizable shapes in the clouds by relaxing and softening your eyes. However, you won’t know what these images mean unless you have a specific issue in mind so that an association is created between your issue and the shape you see.
The issue doesn’t have to be conscious. If you have been struggling with a life problem, even if you’re not specifically thinking about it at the time or looking for an omen to guide you, you might be struck by the symbolic meaning of something in the environment. The point is, in order to enter the symbolic state of consciousness there needs to be an intention, either conscious or subconscious, to find an answer to a problem, as well as a willingness to find meaning in what you encounter.
A word of caution. It’s such a great “aha” moment when we’re struck by a sense of symbolic meaning in something we see or hear that sometimes people fall in love with their capacity to see these meanings. Everything we sense signifies something else. The cat jumped off the couch and that means I should take a leap and quit my job. Or, a shadow moved on the wall and that means a bad spirit is watching me. Or I saw a bird shake its tail just as I was thinking of my old boyfriend. It must mean I should call him. And so on.
This can become an annoying obsession, like a song that gets stuck in your head. But as twentieth century psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, famous for seeing phallic symbols in just about everything his patients told him, once remarked, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
EXERCISE: Divination Using Objects
This is an exercise to use ordinary objects as symbols to divine a way of dealing with an important life issue.
In a Group:
This exercise works well in a group when the questioner making the associations with the objects can have a partner who acts as a scribe to do the writing and guides them through the process. This way the questioner can concentrate on interpreting the meaning of the objects and associations without coming out of the symbolic state of consciousness.
The scribe should be scrupulous about not suggesting meanings of objects or layouts to the questioner or interpreting their associations. In the symbolic state of consciousness, meanings are specific to each person.
After the answer has been discovered, partners can share their experiences of the process with each other and with the group.
EXERCISE: Ritual Use of an Ordinary Reality Task
In the symbolic state of consciousness you can designate an ordinary reality task as a symbol of an issue you want to resolve.
Another exercise you might enjoy involving the use of symbols is the exercise entitled “Exercise in Predicting the Future” in Blog #10.
Oneness - Everything Is Everything Else
Oneness consciousness is a subjective state where you understand that everything you see around you and everything you experience is part of you. You are still you, but so is everything else. It’s not exactly a “state” of consciousness, rather it’s the whole of Consciousness itself, awareness of all the Somethings and all the Nothings of the Universe at the same time, knowing and feeling that This is your own true identity. We are This.
Of course, it can’t be described in words or images.
The deepest experience of this holistic world of Oneness is cosmic consciousness, called satori in the Hindu tradition, an unmistakable sense of being one with the Universe.
In this holistic world, there is no sense of distinction between ourselves and anything else. We identify it all as our True Self. To the extent that we are aware of our identification with All-That-Is, we are operating in the holistic world; and to the extent we are aware of "otherness" we are operating in other realms.
In a state of oneness consciousness, healers can merge with clients to absorb their illness and cure it in themselves, transfigure into divine light or into the “void” where light is created to induce healing in clients and even affect physical phenomena such as the pH of water, as contemporary shaman Sandra Ingerman teaches in her book Medicine for the Earth. The things that can happen from this consciousness, even when it’s only temporary, appear as miracles from the standpoint of separateness consciousness.
A good start toward this state of consciousness is to be able to recognize and value the moments when you’re graced with a taste of it. If you form a habit of paying attention to your own state of consciousness as often as you can, you may catch yourself in a state of Oneness.
Focus your attention on the present moment and notice whether you’re in separateness consciousness, connectedness consciousness, symbolic consciousness . . . or, might you be experiencing Oneness right now? If so, how would you know? You should feel happy and comfortable, possibly excited, possibly peaceful, but in any case free of fear, judgment, resentment and other negative emotions.
One way to help us see the “Oneness” is to become aware of Nothingness as the background and fertile soil from which the manifest world arises, and imagine ourselves within this Nothingness (see Blog #4 “Nothinginess, Pure Awareness, and Your True Self”).
From the perspective of Nothingness apart from the “stuff” of the manifested Universe, we can see the Universe as a single thing — one single integrated thing that includes our own bodies and brains. From here, trying to imagine being separate from the material Universe, we can see and feel that we are indeed nothing apart from it. Like everything else, we are One with it.
If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying. We know from reports of those who have experienced Oneness consciousness that it’s tremendously desirable. “Seek and ye shall find.” In the meantime, “believe” in it enough to stay awake and aware to notice it when it happens.
EXERCISE: Achieving Oneness Consciousness
Integrating States of Consciousness
According to Anthropologist Steven Mithen, the minds of our early human ancestors before about fifty to a hundred thousand years ago contained separate domains of consciousness that didn’t communicate with each other, including a technical domain involving tool making and tool use; a social domain involving behaviors leading to acceptance and dominance within the group; and a natural history domain involving knowledge of the plants and animals, weather patterns, etc., of the natural surroundings.
In the minds of these early human ancestors, each of the cognitive domains was separate from the others like the blades of a Swiss Army knife. Early Man was able to use only one domain at a time. With his technical mind, he could make a hand axe for cutting and skinning game, but would never think of using it socially to show off to his tribe. With his natural history mind he could know where and when to look for game in his environment, but would never think of making a map. He might have known of the existence of materials like bone and horn as parts of animals with his natural history mind, but would never think of shaping them to make tools using his technical mind or carving them to make ornaments to enhance his social status with his social mind.
Everything changed and these early humans became modern humans when they learned to integrate information from the separate cognitive domains into each other and develop a general purpose domain, leading to a rapid flowering of artistic creations, religions, and scientific knowledge that continues to this day.
Integration is the process of recognizing information in one part of the mind and connecting it to another part. This became possible for humans when we began to understand and use symbols, such as words and metaphors, which allowed us to recognize how information from one cognitive domain might be useful in another.
Recognizing the importance of integrating the mind to take account of important cultural values, our modern human ancestors developed the medicine wheel as a useful tool for doing just that. The Native American Ojibwe tradition, for example, uses a medicine wheel for teaching about the inseparability of emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of life, which, they understand, must be recognized and balanced (i.e., integrated into the whole person) to ensure happiness.
The Ojibwe medicine wheel is round, to symbolize wholeness, and divided into four sections corresponding to the four directions. The values of health and caring for the physical body are placed in the East; the values of being aware and able to control and express emotions in the South; spiritual health, such as communication with a guiding spirit and observance of religious rituals, in the West; and teaching and learning culturally important knowledge in the North.
Asian mandalas are similar integration devices, circular to designate the wholeness of the Universe. In Hindu and Buddhist Tantrism, they are used as symbolic diagrams for meditation and as a collection point for universal forces. A person mentally “enters” the mandala and progresses toward the center, symbolizing the cosmic process of disintegration and reintegration.
In our Western culture, pioneering Psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875-1961), saw mandalas appearing in his patient’s dreams as indicative of centering the ego in relation to psychic wholeness, and had his patients draw mandalas as a means of consciously integrating content from the collective unconscious.
More recently in Western culture, mandalas are used as personal integration devices, including the unique values and aspirations a person wishes to take account of in their development.
In our twenty-first century Western culture, we have a need to integrate the different states of consciousness we have begun to experience, and right now, learning to navigate among and understand Serge King’s four domains of consciousness: separateness, connection, symbolic understanding, and Oneness, we’re actively involved in a new era of rapid integration that promises to be as consequential as the integration of early man’s separate cognitive domains.
Since the scientific revolution that unfolded in Europe from around 1550-1700 until recently, we’ve spent most of our time in a state of objective, separateness consciousness. But now each generation is becoming more proficient than the last in the subjective capabilities of empathy, awareness of energy flows, telepathic communication, and connections with natural elements, sun, moon and earth, fire, wind and water.
More and more we recognize and rely on numinous meanings (omens) that pop out at us with startling personal relevance from things in our environment — the hooting of an owl, the lyrics of a song, or the vision of a face discerned in the irregularities of a rock surface.
Ecstatic states of oneness, glimpses of enlightenment, once considered the exclusive province of special Ascended Masters or cloistered mystics, have become within reach of “ordinary people” who seek them.
Like early modern humans at the beginning of their exciting process of integrating their separate mental domains, right now in our own time we find ourselves graced with this exciting new set of domains of consciousness to integrate. It’s a glorious and beautiful adventure we share, sweeping us up in the grand movement of purposeful evolution toward Oneness.
Our immediate ancestors, stuck in objective, separateness consciousness, may have found it hard to recognize and accept the three subjective states of consciousness because of the overwhelming authority they ascribed to separateness consciousness. After all, that’s the state that brought us phenomenal developments in science and technology through rational analysis and adherence to consensual reality: air conditioning, central heating, cars, computers, supermarkets, streaming entertainment, the internet, and all the modern conveniences.
Separateness consciousness likes to pretend it’s the only valid state, but it’s not. It wants us to believe there are only two ways to look at things, true or false, right or wrong, this or not-this. If I have a negro ancestor, I have to be a negro, even if I look white. If I believe capitalism is a good thing, I must be against socialistic policies of welfare and public health. If I can’t find a way to make enough money for rent, I must deserve to be kicked to the curb and live on the streets. And so on and on. But life doesn’t work in this either/or way. Much as we might wish we could construct valid ideologies of separateness so as not to have to bother to think new thoughts or evaluate our actual experiences, we’re quickly realizing it isn’t possible.
And we can rejoice that the subjective states are just as, if not more, valuable than objective, separateness consciousness. The more we practice them, the more new and useful competencies we develop and the further we extend our mental horizons. Fear and anxiety diminish and we feel more comfortable about our place in the Universe.
Instead of being imprisoned by the basic assumptions of any particular state of consciousness, if we ask ourselves how the knowledge from one state can be applied to the others, seeking ways to apply the assumptions of the other states of consciousness to challenges and issues that come up in the state of consciousness we’re in, we can gain incredible new competencies. For examples, see Blog #6 - “Thinking with the Big Mind,” and specifically, the exercises: “Divination Walk to Understand an Important Issue,” “Speed Learning With the Big Mind” and “Tuning into Intelligent Life on Another Planet.”
Contemporary Professor of Psychiatry, author, educator and psychotherapist Daniel J. Siegel teaches that integration is “the basis for being aware.” If you’re interested in practicing the skill of integration I highly recommend his guided meditation, “The Wheel of Awareness,” available free on his website, DrDanSiegel.com.
Every time we integrate an intuition or perspective from one of the four states of consciousness into another of these states, we’re building a broader general-purpose whole-brain state.
Just as integrating the mental domains of early man gave us the explosion of mental capabilities we enjoy as modern man, we now find ourselves in the throes of another great explosion of undreamed-of competencies, a surge of consciousness promising to sweep all living creatures on this planet into its explosion of undreamed-of prospects.
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[A]t each crossing point there is a jewel; each jewel is perfectly clear and reflects all the other jewels in the net, the way two mirrors placed opposite each other will reflect an image ad infinitum. The jewel in this metaphor stands for an individual being, or an individual consciousness, or a cell or an atom. Every jewel is intimately connected with all other jewels in the universe, and a change in one jewel means a change, however slight, in every other jewel.