The Three Levels of Spiritual Development
~~Exploring where we are, and the primary reason we get stuck along the path to awakening.
~”The thing that you are seeking, is also seeking you.”~ Rumi
Over the last few decades of my life, I have been involved in the quest to “know myself”, to live the best life I am capable of and to serve others as they seek to evolve.
Most of us would call this process the path of spiritual seeking. Most of the time, this path is fueled by the desire to understand and to alleviate suffering. And it is also inspired by a desire to answer the deep personal questions of “Who am I?”, “Where did I come from?”, and “What is my purpose?”
I have always highly valued the phrase that is inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Dephi, “Gnothi seauton”, the Greek phrase which translates as “know thyself”. And like you, I have been exploring the essence of self and soul through many modalities and teachings.
Our Basic Energy Makeup
Basically, when we search for a time to know ourselves better, we discover that we are made up of many parts and many different types of energy. At the most basic level, during our human experience, we are made up of three parts: Personality, Body, and Soul. The combination of all three of these is what I call the “Self”. (For this basic definition, I include both mind and emotions at part of the Body). While we are in an incarnate life, we exist as the Self, an individual, unique compilation of physical attributes, a personality made up of emotions and thoughts and spiritual awareness/beliefs and energies. When we are engaging with the purest aspect of Self, I call it the “Essence Self”. This is the part of our energy makeup that consists of our Soul and consciousness that is free from judgment and reactions.
Once we physically die, we obviously shed our bodies and we also shed much of our thought-based judgments and emotion-based reactivity. Often, when I see people’s souls in “between-life settings”, I see the Essence Self very clearly. There are still thoughts and emotions. There is still an individual soul with a pure expression that is not driven by ego. And I see an energy body that is distinct, but obviously not solid or physical. So after we die, we still exist, yes, as a soul, but a soul with individual awareness of its Essence Self.
So after death, our “Essence Self” still exists. The Essence Self consists of the library or record of all of our experiences in this life and all others we have lived, and it contains our basic thoughts, emotions and conceptions about our experiences, and it is enveloped, surrounded and infused by our soul.
So it is my observation and experience that when we die physically, we are much more than just a soul. We are a soul that still has the ability to think, feel and draw conclusions about our lifetime and from here, to make some new plans. When judgments and reactions drop away, as they do afterlife, we exist as an energy being that consists of a soul, and with a unique consciousness that still has the ability to think, to feel and to plan. To reiterate, we exist as the Essence Self.
The Awareness of the pure Essence Self – The Golden Treasure of Being
When we attain a certain level of spiritual development, whether in life or afterlife, we become closer to the pure Essence Self, the individualized spark of consciousness that emerged from the Source, infused with Love and Beauty. The pure Essence Self knows itself as Love and experiences itself as Beautiful. It does not judge, it does not strive, it just IS. It retains its memory of all things that have been experienced and learned. And these experiences and lessons are held dearly in the Heart of the Essence Self as the Golden Treasure of Being. What is the Golden Treasure of Being? It is a knowing. A knowing that is very simple. And essentially, the most profound truths are always simple. This is how the pure Essence Self describes the experience of incorporating the Golden Treasure of Being:
I Am Love and Beauty
If you are wondering how I know this, the answer is that when I channel for people, meaning, I enter a state of consciousness that is beyond time, space, and physical limitations. I experience each person’s pure Essence Self. I can see the emanation of each Essence Self, including the Soul, as it originally emerged from Spirit, I can hear the vibration of the unique Essence Self, and I can feel the beauty of each individual. Beauty in this sense, has nothing to do with physical appearances. It is related to a state of inner being. For many of us, it is to have recovered from the false teaching of original sin and thus to know ourselves as we were originally created, from the pure essence of Love itself.
The Progression of Spiritual Development
Knowing how difficult this process can be, I have a deep sense of reverence and respect for the activity of spiritual seeking, based on the desire to Know Thyself. I have seen and experienced a progression of spiritual development that consists of three basic levels. These three levels are also very simple and contain the steps of attaining mastery while still engaged in a human life. (CAVEAT: the act of categorizing itself can set off the ego into comparing, judging and criticizing self and others… if you find yourself doing this while reading on, just be aware of your thoughts and feelings. Don’t try to change them or bypass them.)
Level 1: Human being, being Human
Level 2: Human being, being Spiritual
Level 3: Spiritual Human being, being Peace .
And at each level, a different aspect of consciousness presides over all of the others.
Level 1 consciousness: Personality/Ego-based
Level 2 consciousness: the Higher Self and/or the Spiritualized Ego
Level 3 consciousness: The Essence Self
At level 1 consciousness, a person is primarily driven by his personality and has little to no mastery over emotions, and little to no awareness about the power of thoughts. A “human being, being human”, reacts to people and situations and usually feels that life is random, and that we are subject to fate and luck. A human being, being human usually lives life in drama, conflict and blame. In this state, we are very devoted to our “stories” as being the determining factor for why we are experiencing challenges. At this level of being, the primary phrase is “I can’t because”, meaning, I cannot be-the-cause of the situations in my life… and I cannot change my fate without an act of God, or winning the lottery or getting some other windfall of resources.
When describing the conflicts and challenges in their lives, at level 1, people start most sentences with the names or pronouns of other people. “She caused this to happen, he wronged me by doing x-bad thing, she made me feel x emotion, they won’t let me… etc” The primary emotional energies that emit from a personality-driven human being’s heart are anxiety and fear. If this state has persisted long enough, it often shifts to apathy and depression.
In this level 1 state of being, the Ego runs the show.
Freud’s description of the ego can be summarized as this: The ego is the organized part of the personality structure that includes defensive, perceptual, intellectual-cognitive, and executive functions. Some conscious awareness resides in the ego, although not all of the operations of the ego are conscious.
The in-charge Ego
When the ego is in charge, the psychological mechanisms at work are projection, suppression, repression, denial and blame among others. This way of interacting with others wreaks havoc on our relationships and is the cause of almost all relationship discord and break-ups.
In other words, the ego often polarizes situations into black and white, innocence and blame and right and wrong. Most relationships at this level of engagement are involved in some form of “right-fighting” and “if-only’ing”, meaning, if only he would change, then I would feel better.
The key thing to remember here, is that we need our ego! We need it to function in the material world, to make decisions and to take certain actions. It is an essential part of our human being make-up. But if it stays in charge, with all if its defense patterns, we stay frustrated and disconnected from our Essence Self.
We all know this state very well, because in order to be motivated to search for deeper meaning and a state of self-empowerment, we have to choose to explore a more self-actualizing path. We discover the importance of getting in touch with our higher selves, the aspect of our consciousness that is able to bridge from our personality to our pure Essence Self and soul. Searching for answers and for a better way of engaging with life and those around us, are what sets most of us on the spiritual path.
Level 2 Transition
At this point, at the beginning of Level 2 of consciousness, we question, we read, we learn, we meditate, dream, journal, and seek out teachers who resonate at a level of consciousness that we are seeking for ourselves. (And remember, the thing that you are seeking is also seeking you!) We go to workshops, listen in to online events with experts sharing their teachings of how we can be or do better (a great way of learning by the way, in your own home!), and we use our life experiences as opportunities to grow, rather than excuses to be stuck in the same old patterns.
Over time, we become more empowered, less ego-driven and more aware of our emotional choices and of our patterns of thoughts and behaviors (habits). We start to experience a transformation in our way of being. Instead of feeling disempowered, we feel enthusiastic and alive, excited and motivated. We stop blaming others for the conditions in our own lives and we start practicing spiritual principals of acceptance, compassion and peace, to name a few. We begin to feel more in the flow of life. We may experience great alleviation of personal pain and suffering. We are less reactive to others and have more conscious choice over our responses. We experience ourselves as being capable of creating lasting change in our lives. We stop identifying with our stories, and see our past as simply a path that got us to this moment of now.
The primary emotional energies that emit from a human beings heart at this time, interestingly enough, are both trust and doubt. If we doubt more than we trust during this process of evolving, our heart energies can shift into confusion and “over-thinking”.
The Spiritualized Ego and its Agenda and Tactics
Interestingly enough, it is exactly at this time, well into the spiritual search, that we often get waylaid by the ego, sneaking up on us again. The ego enjoys being in charge so much, that without conscious awareness, it will put on the clothing of a spiritualized self, and use spiritual principles to avoid authenticity, pain and discomfort, just like it does at level 1!
Why? Because the Spiritualized Ego still has an agenda. And it is that agenda that set us on the search in the first place. What is the agenda? To avoid pain, to understand why things are the way they are, and to be happy, living in our purpose and free. Sometimes, we are even motivated by the desire to be awakened or enlightened! And there is truly nothing wrong with these desires and goals, it’s just that they are not really what leads us to the pure Essence Self. It is not what leads us to peace.
When the Spiritualized Ego takes over during this part of the search, it will attach, avoid, and abstract. It attaches to teachings, teachers and gurus as being the “answer or the way”. It avoids painful emotions and difficult relationships. It abstracts from the actual situations and circumstances of life and when this happens, the spiritualized ego’s favorite phrase is, “It’s all good”.
There is a kind of fake happiness or inauthentic peace in the energy field of a person at this time. We’ve all most likely tried this out as a way of being, or found ourselves telling people who care about us, “I’m fine”, when we are really not fine. We smile on the outside, but inside we are not happy and certainly, we are not at peace. We secretly (or so we think), judge others as “less than us”, and we can very harshly judge ourselves if we don’t perfectly follow the spiritual principles that we are attempting to live by.
Here are some signs of the spiritualized ego being in charge:
- Seeing others as less evolved, and thus feeling “better than”,
- Believing that there is a goal to attain, or someplace to arrive at when get “there”,
- Holding on to Utopian ideals for the whole world,
- Having difficulty changing she/her (or he/him) into I/me in order to see your own projections,
- Avoiding emotions by intellectualizing, and valuing thinking over feeling
- Never or seldom expressing or admitting to anger – and if we do, we do it in a triggered state,
- Being harsh with oneself when we make mistakes, still expecting perfection
- Faking peace in front of others,
- Holding prejudices about others, groups of people, religious beliefs, and in general, those different from us,
- Criticizing others, especially family and those closest to us, with the internal judgment that they are not our “true” soul family. (This is a tricky one: this belief is ego-driven for until we accept that our family IS our soul family, we cannot accept what is and the choices we made to incarnate with this group of souls.)
- Desiring to know where were are or to measure or rate ourselves on any external scale.
- Striving to be spiritual!
At the stage, one very prominent phrase is “I can’t believe it..” This is based on the emotion of incredulity and underlying it, is the fear of never being or having enough. For example, a person will say, “I can’t believe that x person did y thing.” Or internally, you say to yourself, “I can’t believe I did that again!” We judge ourselves, we judge others, and we come face to face, if we are willing to be honest, with our Spiritualized Ego.
The Gift of the Spiritualized Ego
When this happens, in fact, it is a very good sign! This means we are ready for a deeper dive into the pure Essence Self. So if you find that you are dealing with an aspect of the Spiritualized Ego, don’t use this as another reason to judge yourself! See it as an opportunity to evolve. And the process of evolution is one that takes time, trust and patience. Just like the regular ego, the spiritualized ego is not bad. It is an essential part of the process of evolving our consciousness to another level of being.
Transition to the Essence Self
So how do we make the shift into Level 3, the Spiritual Human being, being peace? The key that I have found as I dive more deeply into this level of being, is the willingness to experience what is, as is, without the need to change it. This means, being honest and integral. And it means, being willing to dive into what is within, in order to just be with it, rather than to change it. So for most of us, it means that we must be willing to sit with the pain of our self-judgment for a time. We must be willing to admit to the presence of ALL our emotions, our anger, our grief, our sadness, and even our hatred. And then at the deepest level, we stop striving and we are content to allow ourselves to just be, without striving to evolve.
The Spiritual Human Being, being peace, does not try to “let go” of anything. It seeks to incorporate, by way of actual acceptance, all things that exist within. Letting go can be the biggest of all spiritualized ego traps! Because you cannot let go of what you have not accepted. You can’t let go of being confused or doubtful without going within and sitting with the confusion and the doubt and letting it BE, vs. letting it go. And you certainly cannot let go of anger without allowing it to be touched into and to be felt and acknowledged. I have seen sublimated anger in many people and I’ve felt it in myself. It actually simmers in the body in some forms of inflammation, fungal infections and other low-level chronic pain. (I will explore the topic of dealing with anger in another article.)
The spiritualized ego will say, with great emphasis, “This has to stop! I’m done with this!” By contrast, the Essence Self will choose to dive with the “this”, whatever it is, with curiosity and the willingness to experience the feelings and the energy inside that is perpetuating them.
Existing in the Essence Self
Essentially, the Essence Self, at the third level of consciousness, accepts what is, without judgment. This is the consciousness that I usually see when I am observing afterlife or in-between life experiences. But we have examples of living masters who have attained this state, before they physically die. They have left a legacy of teachings, usually based on love, that accept what is, without having to change it. They feel and express anger but not from a reactive state. Their anger comes from great compassion, usually when they see others being harmed, deceived or belittled. They express anger as a creative resource of a human being. This is appropriate anger and can be expressed without losing internal peace.
The primary energy that emits from a Spiritual human being, being peace is, obviously peace. And it is also acceptance and curiosity. When we are in the presence of such a human being, if we allow it, we can be deeply impacted by this feeling of peace. This is a peace without words, also referred to as the “peace that surpasseth understanding.”
I am certainly not yet able to act from the Essence Self all, or even most the time yet. I am not professing that I know the exact steps to mastery or how to live in the state I call a Spiritual human being, being peace. But I do know, that the more I am willing to dive into my heart, and to experience what is truly there, the hopes, the fear, the pains, the pleasures, the doubts and the knowingness, the LESS I sit in judgment of myself or others. And during these times, I experience a true feeling of deep peace.
Exploring the third level of being
I invite you to explore with me, the process of transitioning into the third level of being, the Spiritual Human Being, being peace. It is a process and a practice. And sometimes, the only thing that we are called to remember is the simplicity of Rumi’s poetic phrase, that “the thing you are seeking, is also seeking you.”
When we find peace, true peace, at this third level of progression, we find the Golden Treasure of Being. During these times, our Essence Self shines through and we encompass our pain and our joy, our struggles and our triumphs and we truly see, feel and know ourselves as pure essence. In this place, our hearts open and we can authentically experience the feeling of this phrase, “I am Love and Beauty”.
And that is peace.
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