Chapter 6 “Stages of Awareness”

Within the discovery that rote following of traditional religion will never ultimately lead us to authentic awakening to Truth, one is compelled to keep seeking until they find the life-giving waters of Love.  This has led me down a different path, as I have never been content with mere belief in God as prescribed by traditional Christianity, but have always desired direct experience and knowledge, connection to the Divine within and without.  Belief in God separates us from God because when we believe in God, we have created images, opinions, conclusions, and prejudices about God which act as a wall between us and God, Truth, and have nothing to do with God’s living Reality.  Reality, Truth, God, dwell outside the limits of time, in the present moment.  All beliefs and ideas exist within time, and so within them, God may be reflected, but never contained.  As found in Dialogue of the Savior 24:3-4, “Mary said to him, “Lord, is there then a place that[…]or lacks the truth?” The Lord said, “The place where I am not.”  That place is within time.  That is why we cannot find Love, God, Truth to be any idea, belief, or traditional religion.  Truth can be reflected in all things, but is never in and of itself contained within the limits of time and space.  The All can never be contained, as it is limitless. 

 I find it a remarkable contrast when contemplating Gandhi’s view that all religions are true, with the potential for all religions to be paths to Truth, while Krishnamurti states Truth is a pathless land, which cannot be approached by any religion, sect, creed, method, or means whatsoever.  Strangely enough, both views are in a way correct.  There are good, truthful things found in scripture of all faiths, but as in all things touched by humanity, they also contain the untrue, the lies, the false assumptions, beliefs, and prejudices of ego.  When contemplating paradox, it becomes apparent when it is discovered one side of a paradox is correct, the opposite is also correct.  In other words, all paths lead to Truth, and no paths lead to Truth.  How can this be? It boggles the mind.  In a sense, no paths “lead” to Truth because only Truth, God, ultimately reveals itself to itself.  Yet all paths lead to Truth because each one reflects and contains Truth within them, even amidst the lies, which can be, as Jesus said, a “seed” planted on soil which could grow into a large Mustard tree. 

So we see, Truth is both a pathless land and a land which can be found when we awaken after a germinating seed grows to fruition from the path we take to Truth.  Scripture, traditional religion, philosophy, etc., must act as a catalyst, not an end in themselves, as these things are never in and of themselves Truth, but can point us to Truth.  This is the mistake of traditional religion – it makes scripture and the outward forms of their religion ends in themselves instead of a catalyst or mantra to discovering Truth.  Truth is ultimately the only thing which will reveal itself to itself, but requires the forms of the external, the “mirror” if you will, to see itself – through scripture, prophets, religion, relationship, etc.  The forms are the mirror, but are never the Truth itself.  And so the notion God’s Creation exists for His purpose is correct, as it is the mirror in which God, Love, Truth, sees itself.  However, almost everyone mistakes the mirror for that which it reflects, which is the whole problem.  This mistake is the definition of idolatry – the sin of serving anything but the True God.  God, Love’s mirror is creation.  This is the purpose of the material world, and why the Gnostics are not correct in believing it to be a “blunder” or “mishap” from a perfect God.  That notion is self-contradictory, as the perfect cannot create what is imperfect.  There are no mistakes in Truth, God, Love’s Creation.  But when God’s creation, God’s mirror becomes clouded and distorted into believing it is that which is being reflected, then all conflict, pain, superstition, and the myriad of human misery becomes possible.  Only humanity, through our intelligence of measurement gained through evolution, when we “ate the apple” in the Garden of Eden, can create this mistake of perception – of believing we are that which is reflected in the mirror, when we are only mirrors to Truth, pieces of Truth, but never in and of ourselves, the Whole Truth. 

 Paradoxes are always very difficult to adequately communicate because we tend to want our answers to be black and white, one thing or another, and paradox does not allow for that.  While it seems most are not aware of the fact, we are all at different stages of spiritual development.  This can be easily demonstrated by the vastly different ways two people can interpret the same words.  A traditional Christian will say, “Jesus Christ is my savior.” To them, this means the person Jesus of Nazareth, known as Jesus Christ, died to redeem humankind from their sins, reconciling believers with God through his life, death, and resurrection.  One who sees with awareness of the Oneness of All can say the exact same words, “Jesus Christ is my savior,” and it will mean something completely different.  To a person with awareness of the Oneness of All, those same words mean Jesus Christ is the state which is our salvation, as it is the state of being in which we realize we are both human and Divine, and learn of our True identity as God, Love within, not the limited ego.  Completely different interpretations of the same words.  There was a time I did not think Jesus Christ was my savior, but when looking at those same words from the perspective of awareness of the Oneness of All, those words are absolutely true.  It could be said everything within human life is all about perspective. 

 M. Scott Peck, the author of “Further Along the Road Less Travelled,” condensed James Fowler’s six “Stages of Faith” into four different stages of spiritual development which clearly illustrate why there can be so much misunderstanding and divisiveness between different people when it comes to understanding Truth and the nature of God.  I found the work of Fowler and Peck extremely insightful in understanding my own path to faith, and now better understand why there exists such antagonism and misunderstanding between people in different stages of spiritual development.  

Stage One is called “chaotic/antisocial” because people in this stage are only governed by their own will and selfish desires.  Peck estimates these people encompass about 20 percent of the population.  While these people can appear “loving,” they are actually self-serving and manipulative in all of their relationships with others because they care only about satisfying their own desires, without consideration for others.  They may appear “calm and collected,” but deep down they are afraid of everyone and everything.  At this stage, it is all about “me.” Since they have no center beyond their own emotions and fickle will, these people will do what they want when they want, and as such, their character lacks integrity. 

Stage Two is called “formal/institutional” because people in this stage are dependent upon the rules and regulations of an institution for their governance.  This institution could be the military, a prison, formal traditional religion, or any other institution.  All of these institutions have black-and-white rules and regulations which clearly define the world those who are in this stage need, which is why they are very easily offended and upset when the forms of religion or rules change, as they see it as a threat to the stability upon which they depend.  That is why this stage is described in part as “formal,” since the forms of an institution are very important to people in this stage.  Their interpretation of scripture and Biblical stories tend to be literal and concrete, believing most if not all Bible stories are literal fact and inerrant, and their view of God is almost exclusively that of an external being, with little understanding of the presence of God within.  The essential element which characterizes this stage of spiritual development is an understanding of the “letter of the law,” and not yet the “heart of the law.”   They believe their particular religion and its beliefs and formal observations are “right” with all others being “wrong.”  They believe there is only one correct path to “truth.” These people see the world in black and white to keep their vision of reality safe and manageable.  This is why people in this stage tend to be argumentative and judgmental when confronted with anything which contradicts their world view.  They will use reward and punishment, lies and deception, anything it takes to preserve their viewpoints so they can maintain the “safe reality” they have created for themselves.  And while there may be the illusion of “safety and security” within this well-defined world, it is a world view which is not based on Truth, but on illusion, and does not embrace the fact of Life’s mystery, the fact we don’t have all the answers.  This stage is therefore characterized by a great deal of fear because deep down, the Truth within everyone knows this is not the Truth. 

The fact of Absolute Truth, being Love, God, is demonstrated in the fear exhibited by those who are not in touch with this Reality. Just like people in Stage One, Stage Two people, while now at least governed by principles and rules, are not in touch with the liberating Reality of Universal Truth, and are therefore afraid.  Whenever we depend on someone or something else besides Love, God, Truth itself, we will always feel insecure and afraid.  People in this stage do not comprehend the fact of Stages Three and Four, as they believe all who are not in Stage Two are in Stage One.  That would make sense given their black and white mentality.  Things are either one way or another, and people are either “believers” or “non-believers,” “saved” or “not saved.”  Those in Stage Two do not have an appetite for mystery, preferring the “tried and true” assurances of their black and white world. But it is a world which cannot transcend its own fear since clinging to beliefs is fear itself.  They do not realize true freedom lies outside their beliefs.  They are in a sense, trapped within a prison of their own making, a prison which, ironically enough, was created to help “liberate” them from the fear of the chaotic living of Stage One.  But it does not solve the problem of fear, just merely covers it over, as there is no escape from that fear except to courageously move outside this safety net of “security.”

The fear of being separated from their large peer group within Stage Two is what often keeps people imprisoned within this wall of Stage Two.  It may be the most difficult conversion one can make in life – from Stage Two to Stage Three because it requires an enormous amount of courage and strength to find truth on our own, to separate ourselves from the majority, without relying on anyone outside ourselves telling us what truth is.  When I began my conversion to Stage Three at about the age of 22, after being forced to question everything I had been taught about God, it nearly killed me.  I was devastated to have all I thought was true about God from my Catholic upbringing torn away.  I was absolutely terrified.  The catalyst for this was a class I took in college looking at several different religions, as well as atheism and agnosticism.  It spurned numerous discussions between my good friend and I.  He was already in Stage Three, but I was making a conversion into that stage which was probably the most painful psychological and emotional experience of my life.  

The majority of the population are found in this Stage Two group, and Fowler states most adults never make it out of Stage Two, which can be easily demonstrated when observing the prevalence of this typical “Stage Two” behavior in most people we know.  Another way to describe Stage Two people is “not questioning.” They may be more “secular” people and not particularly “religious,” but are accepting of their world view of reality, and not questioning that view.  It is understandable given the risks why so few make it out of Stage Two.  In a way, it makes sense most people are at this stage since they are the ones who “build society,” with all its rules, laws, and regulations.  There are positive qualities to this.  At the same time, they are the same people who added reward and punishment, damnation of sinners and salvation of the righteous concepts in the Bible.  They are also the people who run these so-called institutions of “truth,” like the traditional church, in which they pass off their beliefs as “truth,” instead of honestly seeking Reality, Love, God.  Because the majority of society consists of Stage Two individuals, and all preachers who want to keep their jobs must remain in Stage Two, while keeping others at that same stage without questioning, it is easy to see how insidious this whole web of deception is.  In a way it is innocent because those within this stage are completely unaware of the potential harm they are doing to others spiritually, while they believe they are doing those a favor whom they can “convert to God.”  What they do not realize is there are numerous conversions we can potentially make in life when we take yet another step toward our awareness of God, Truth, Love.  Stage Two individuals never consider the fact that questioning is a necessary part of growing in Truth, Love.  They see it as “backsliding” to Stage One, which is terrifying to them.  Their black and white view of reality does not make any conception beyond “belief” possible, which again explains why so few adults make it out of this stage, and why it is so easy to become entrapped within this stage.  Anything which serves fear, which serves these “tried and true” notions instead of loving embracing of mystery is a tell tale sign it is from the perspective of a “Stage Two” mentality. 

When one comes up against multiple contradictions between what they are taught in Stage Two, and what they have come to experience within life in the real world, and courageously decide to separate themselves from the majority of the population to question everything they have been taught about reality, one is then ready to move on to Stage Three, called “skeptic/individual.”  In this stage, the forms and literal interpretations of stories and symbols in scripture are “demythologized” as Fowler puts it. This means the literal interpretations and symbols are no longer seen as concrete and factual as a result of the questioning of these symbols.  Instead of seeing their value as reflections of truth, as Stage Four people do, and instead of taking them literally as Stage Two people do, it is possible for all symbols and meanings to be completely lost during this stage in which one questions everything, to the point of becoming atheistic or agnostic.  This happened to me, and when going from the “security” of concrete faith to no faith is baffling, scary, and difficult.  It feels as if you are thrown into the middle of the ocean with no raft, no boat, not even a piece of wood to hold on to because there is nothing to hold on to, and no one to save you but yourself.  That is one reason this stage is described as “individual.”  This is typically a time of immense psychological and emotional despair, as it was for me.  Yet at the same time, there can also be an excitement and an exhilarating sense of freedom in knowing we can discover Truth on our own when we are now forced to create our own world view based on reality as we know it, not based on what we were told or taught in our childhood.  A current way of describing people in this stage is “secular humanists.”  While often chastised by Stage Two people for their agnosticism and atheism, they are generally ahead in their spiritual development of those within Stage Two.  Stage Three people are not the least bit antisocial, and are avid truth seekers, as they are scientists, questioning everything, and demanding rational, logical, concrete, real-world explanations for everything.  In a sense, there is a kind of clinical antiseptic quality to this stage, as one has to be this way in order to know they are not lying to themselves, a very easy thing our human nature allows us to do.  One is generally not finished with this stage until they get to the point of beginning to question their very questioning.  It took me about 16 years to do this, although it can take longer or shorter for others depending on myriad circumstances. This generally happens when one begins to understand they cannot explain everything away through logic and rational explanations,  and in finding different pieces to the puzzle on their own, they reach a point where they may finally re-examine their parents’ and grandparents’ “Stage Two” stories from a new perspective, and make the conversion to Stage Four.

Stage Four people are referred by Peck as “mystical/communal” and are those who see a unity behind the symbols of various religious traditions.  I personally do not care for the word “mystical” since it implies there is something “magical” or not natural about it, and that is really not the case.  At this stage, one can see both the Stage Two perspective of the “letter of the law,” as well as the Stage Four perspective of the “heart of the law.” There is a kind of “resurrection” if you will – a “rebirth,” in one who has reached this stage, but it is not a return to the Stage Two awareness of yesterday, with its literal interpretations of scripture and symbols.  I mentioned earlier the different ways a traditional Christian, a Stage Two person could interpret the saying “Jesus Christ is my savior,” and how a Stage Four person could interpret the exact same words and get a completely different meaning.  In all great religions, both Stage Two and Stage Four people can get something out of scripture, and speak to one another about scripture while comprehending the words in a completely different way. It is as if they are speaking both the same and different languages at the same time, which is in itself a baffling concept.  In this stage, there develops an acceptance of different religious traditions because cohesion is now seen between the different outer symbols of other religious traditions, and the Universality of the Truth to which all of them point.  At this point, both the lies and the Truth of different religious traditions are seen for what they are.  There is also an understanding and tolerance of where others are within their spiritual development, which enables a compassionate and loving quality in a person within this stage which is exceptionally rare in this world.  Beliefs are seen for what they are – limited perspectives on reality, details which differ from culture to culture, and which are not in and of themselves Truth.  Scripture, instead of the Stage Two notion of it being inerrant and to be taken literally, like unalterable law, is now seen as a catalyst for Truth, a means to an end as a reflection of Truth, and not an end in itself. 

Fowler goes on with an additional stage he calls “Stage Six” which is an extremely small part of the population – those who give up all for others in a way not seen by many, such as Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Krishnamurti, and Martin Luther King Jr. What ultimately characterizes Peck’s Stage Four is the Universalizing of faith, and the vision of Universal Love, Truth, which ends all division and separation of culture, formal religious belief, anything which keeps humanity separated and at war with each other. From this perspective, there is a lot of variance within Peck’s “Stage Four.”  And in a way, Stage Four is only the beginning, as there is no limit to how far and how deep one can grow in the unlimited depths of Truth, Love, God…

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