Psychology of Becoming Conscious I: Inner Growth Journeys

by Ovidiu Brazdau

Painting by Argentina Stoica

Table of contents

An introduction
What does it mean to “be conscious” and several key concepts
Witnessing awareness mode
Sleep consciousness, lucidity and witnessing dreaming
Pure awareness and Orchestrated objective reduction (Orch-OR) theory
The Conscious Experience Map – the interconnected subsystems which shape our conscious experience

Perspective and language habit
Attentional flexibility
Attention to space
The object less imagery
Attention to attention itself
Attending to the present moment
Samyama, absorption and “full empathy” as a way of attending to the present moment
Intention. The lenses through which we pre-define the perspective-taking process

The ego and the illusion of self
The subpersonalities and systems thinking
Ego stability and resistance to change
The Growth mindset
Ego development theory – scientific research related to the stages of human development
Descriptions of the post-conventional stages of human development
Vertical development and altered states of consciousness
Solving stage-related issues with patience
Activating the transformation potential
Highly sensitive persons and overexcitability
How long does it take to transform vertically
Being alive: temporary and persistent non-symbolic experiences

Growing up and waking up. Types of “awakening”
Exploring and re-programming the automatic patterns
Exploring the shadow, accepting and integrating all experiences
Spiritual bypass – the premature transcendence
How to relate with the inner growth process
Balancing Aliveness: depression vs. anxiety in the growth journey
Daily practice and ”self-directed neuroplasticity”
Inner growth, google search and memetics
Spiritual teachers, channeling and our inner master
Neo-advaita teachers. A rational perspective
Entheogens: psychedelics and human development
Spiritual emergencies, mental illnesses or inner awakenings?
Depersonalization, changes in ”locus of identity” and diffuse-objective attention
Transformational counseling and non-dual psychotherapy
Importance of reciprocal validation during transition through stages of development
Psychosomatics and conscious embodiment
Kundalini awakening and psychosomatic rebalancing. Biology of Kundalini

Hypotheses related with the non-conceptual self and witnessing awareness


I. Being conscious and witnessing awareness


An introduction

In these guidelines, I use an experience-based terminology to explain how I see the psychological development during our evolution as a conscious species. I try to speak directly to the lived experience, to keep everything simple and not use complex linguistic frameworks, such as “bottom-up theory” or “phenomenological approach”.

My research quest while developing the consciousness quotient was to look into conscious experience, and find the key elements of the structural changes. I try to answer the questions “what changes?” and “how it changes?”, incorporating all the experiences that I know of from various cultures, and the knowledge from spirituality and science. I looked into the structure of the human psyche, instead of the “content”, without considering anything as “pathology”.

I tried to see how each type of experience is useful for our evolution as a species, examining what is the purpose of that experience for our collective evolution, and how people integrate all types of experiences in order to become fully conscious, centered and in harmony with themselves and the life here on Earth.

It was quite a challenge to operationalize the conscious experience without using the word “conscious”, when I created the items of the Consciousness Quotient Inventory, but this challenge helped me to understand conclusively more about how we evolve as a humanity. I explored the identity of concepts from psychology and spirituality and tried to find their essential features, so that people with various worldviews and cosmological understandings could see beneath their specific orientation and identify the core element of the experiences.

I included here a selection of key findings and researches from various fields, along with my views. My filter for selection was simple: I selected those people who have a very clear understanding of that topic, mostly people who talk from their own experience or have very good knowledge about the topic. You can use the links in the text for a more in-depth exploration of some concepts. The researches I recommend here were useful for me during my own inner journey, and most of them were big wows for me at that time. What I did during my learning process was to explore new perspectives by finding their essential ideas, comparing them to my experience, experiencing their view, integrating them, and then exploring their meaning  further. Some of the ideas dramatically changed my conceptual framework.  I spent time exploring them deeply, which allowed me the opportunity to connect personally with people who emerged specific ideas.

During the research I found myself psychologically jumping into some of the perspectives I was studying, and spent some time experiencing in me a particular worldview or frame of reference, before deciding if it would be useful for my research. In time, I began to like this new skill of jumping in and out of understandings, and the process became quite natural. It took me from a few hours to a few years, to really create meaning and understand through my own experience what people were talking about. Sometimes it was hard to get back from some circular perspectives, but I was lucky, I always had some friends near me who acted as lifelines and helped me go through. I could say I abused this “jnana” method of learning through full empathy in the last years, but with positive results: my cognitive and emotional flexibility improved a lot, and my learning speed increased dramatically, when needed. I have learned a lot from scientists, and from brilliant consciousness explorers, who felt the need to share their personal insights on internet blogs, and from my friends and former students who shared their inner growth journeys. I am thankful to all of you.

There are many personal observations and hypotheses included in this material. However, I prefer to look at them as pieces of knowledge, pieces that build an experience-based framework of understanding. I invite you to see for yourself how the mechanisms I describe here manifest in your life.

What does it mean to “be conscious” and several key concepts

From my own point of view, to be conscious means “to have a degree of witnessing awareness and a degree of freedom of choice when thinking, feeling, sensing and interacting with people and the environment”. An important element of the conscious experience is intentionality, the mindset which allows a person to  choose deliberately what behavior to enact and what attitude to select. ‘More conscious’ (a higher Consciousness Quotient) means a higher degree of witnessing awareness and being less automatic in thinking-feeling-sensing, together with a higher degree of choice when initiating a behavior. The witnessing perspective, which leads to the ability to observe the inside and outside worlds without engaging with them, is one of the key factors of the Consciousness Quotient construct. ‘Witnessing awareness’ is usually described as the ‘I am experience’, ‘the observer experience’, ‘just being’ (as opposed to ‘doing’), ‘awareness of awareness itself’ and ‘no-mind’.

The previous paragraph is my operational definition of conscious experience, validated using the scientific procedures, and it represents the key premises of the Consciousness Quotient Inventory (CQ-i). The CQ-i is composed of seven dimensions: physical, emotional, cognitive, social-relational, self, inner growth and spiritual. CQ-i explores these dimensions, using questions scored with a Likert scale with six degrees. The Presence Self is included in the CQ-i as an additional section, using yes-no questions and exploring the present moment experiences.

Being conscious is the opposite of being on autopilot. Recent studies have shown that humans are on autopilot more than 70% of the time, and do not realize they have lost their free will, their freedom to choose how to react to what’s happening to them. Most of us live our lives as a kind of machines, socialized through education and self-programmed through our experiences.

Automatization plays a crucial role in our everyday life, but on our development journey, it is necessary to access our automatic programs, to “re-write” them by adding “the free will subprogram”, and after that, to let them become automatic again. For people at the beginning of the inner journey, this may look like a state of hyper-vigilance, or a permanent self-reflection that requires permanent attention and energy to what is happening. And this is what it looks like. After a period of transformation, it becomes natural. In fact, awareness is always present here, there is no need to consume energy to pay attention. We are also awareness and attention naturally goes where it’s needed, without consuming too much energy. We don’t have to remind ourselves to be aware, as we are already aware. But attention flows need to be trained.

Witnessing awareness mode

Not being on autopilot requires us to become passively reflective, so that we feel ourselves and look at ourselves in every moment. A first step for de-automatization is the post-event self-observation, being conscious after the event occurred. When we observe ourselves during the event, acknowledging our actions moment-by-moment, we gain better clarity levels. Just as if, we would have a mirror in us, which reflects us every second. This is a process we call “the witness” or “witnessing awareness”. In order words, it is the awareness being aware of itself. Witnessing during an event is neither reflective or meta-cognitive, but meta-awareness or fully conscious awareness or choiceless awareness. I wrote about it in a chapter from a book written with several other scientists who are also studying the conscious awareness: ”Witnessing awareness and modes of cognitive awareness. A terminology proposal for the psychological assessment of witnessing and (meta) cognitive experiences”. The chapter is available on the CQ Institute website and the book is available on

What I find to be most important is that the witness is not a conceptual structure, mediated by language, nor a kind of super ego that analyzes what is happening. It is simply a constant mirroring, translated into our psyche as the experience of being. The witnessing self is different from the conceptual mind, the feelings, and perceptions we have of the world. On the other hand, it is a bit of all. Some researchers call it “the fundamental awareness”, pure consciousness, non-symbolic awareness, or, from a philosophical point of view, the collective consciousness. The witnessing awareness mode of being is described by the first person reports as a constant fresh look into the present moment, as a new zeroth-person perspective, from where there is no such thing as a flow of consciousness, there is only a present-centered experience.

In my opinion, the witnessing awareness mode is a part of a new mirroring system that appears to be active on a large scale in the human race. Richard Maurice Bucke conceptualized it as “cosmic consciousness”, but I think it’s a new human evolutionary feature, developing in humans just as the mind started to form millions of years ago.

You can find here a conversation between Zoran Josipovic and Rafi Malach, explaining the concept of ”perception without a perceiver” – the ability to be aware without having a fixed Ego.

When I see a pastor on TV saying, “God is in us, can’t you feel Him?” I see that he is referring to this system/field and to the connection with it. I see a man who feels this activation of an Observer in his own being, an observer who exists only in the present moment, experiencing a silent non-conceptual awareness or a nondual awareness. The pastor lives the experience but describes it according to the paradigm in which he lives. The moment of the activation of the ability of being a witness, described as enlightenment, generates a series of automatic transformations in the mind and the emotions of the person. Patanjali, in Yoga Sutra refers to this initial activation stage when he talks about the imprint of the enlightenment, which consequently will restructure all the other memories (memory imprints).

In the following table, I present some of the main differences between the non-conceptual Presence Self and the body-mind-emotion Self that we are accustomed with (excerpt from” Witnessing awareness and modes of cognitive awareness. A terminology proposal for the psychological assessment of witnessing and (meta) cognitive experiences”). My thanks to Carlo Monsanto for sharing some wisdom while discussing this list.

Witnessing Awareness Mode

Acting & Interacting

A zero reference for mental activity


Real Self, Witnessing Self – “I”

I am

Meta consciousness

Stable Witnessing awareness

I, witness patterns, choose or accept mental patterns

Witness mind and personality

Witness feelings and sensations

De-automation, paying attention to present moments

One mode of pure awareness, access to any part of the mind (no subconscious)

Witnessing experience, Aware of awareness itself

Pre-reflective state

Jamais vu

Knowing by contemplation (still need the mind to interpret)

Allows increased perceptual processing and

unconscious processing (faster)

Supported by receptive attention (attend diffusely to a whole field)

Just being

Direct experience through awareness, independent of ASC (e.g. natural connection with the environment)

Just watching. Voluntary control over thoughts and ego.

No repressed ideas in unconscious, letting go of any emotions and thoughts, good or bad

No desire to control, relaxed decision making

Accepting all emotions

Feeling on interconnectedness with all life forms

Universal love

Process of transformation through increased acceptance of life

Felt as real freedom (I am as free as I can be)

Know all the states

Pure awareness

Here-Now Experience

Observing surroundings, Perceptual visual data

Experiential therapies and techniques

A spectrum of mental activity

Observing, identifying

(Observing) Self – ego

I am me

Cognitive consciousness

Dynamic mental awareness

Self, Experience of patterns of thinking and feeling

Self-Actualization, Individuation

Observer – First-Person

Cognition, thinking. Personality traits

Aware of external/internal stimuli, Feeling, Sensing

Automatic behavior and cognitive patterns

Consciousness, conscious and unconscious content and processing

Déjà vu

Knowing by thinking, feeling, sensing

Cognitive processing

Conscious and controlled processing

Supported by concentrative attention

Doing, Thinking, Feeling, Sensing

Imagining a need for enlightenment

Altered states of consciousness (ASC)

(e.g. expanded consciousness)

Mystical experiences. People report a disconnect from thought processes and ego

Unconscious formed of repressed negative ideas, emotions

Control of thinking and emotions

Selecting good emotions

Feeling of separation, ego

Love for close friends

Process of transformation through higher order thoughts (higher level of abstractization)

the idea of freedom

Remember the states, state dependent memory

Flow Consciousness

Wandering in thinking

Switching modes: surroundings/thinking

Self –image rational psychotherapies

All the skills and traits listed in the left side are related to the non-conceptual self. Some of them can be developed through simple trainings, like diffuse attention (open focus), dividing attention, attention to space, visual thinking, supporting “being mode” vs. “doing mode” (e.g. by simple exercises of delaying with 30 seconds any reaction we have, already available through mindfulness movement). Other methods: consciously generating and sharing love, by simple visualizations and increased body awareness through contact improvisation exercises.

We can learn to access this “field”, using its framework, its terminology and learning its ways, like learning a new language. Starting from simple blocks, we can build our pathways into this new world of conscious interconnectedness.

Sleep consciousness, lucidity and witnessing dreaming

Jayne Gackenbach and Charles Alexander have conducted several studies examining the relationship of dream lucidity to pure/witnessing consciousness. Alexander explains that, “the significance of the experience of pure consciousness is that it provides the foundation for the development of stable higher stages of consciousness or ‘enlightenment’. Witnessing of deep sleep indicates that the inner wakefulness of pure consciousness is now beginning to be maintained even during the most extreme conditions of mental inertia — dreamless sleep. Indeed … the first stable higher stage of consciousness termed ‘cosmic consciousness’ — is defined as the maintenance of pure consciousness throughout the 24-hour cycle of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep.”

Gackenbach describes three types of sleep consciousness experiences:

  • “Lucid dreaming” was described as a dream in which you are actively thinking about the fact that you are dreaming.
    An example from a Transcencental Meditation practitioner: “During a dream I will become aware of the dream as separate, then aware that I am dreaming. Then I begin to manipulate the story and the characters to create whatever situation I desire. At times, in unpleasant situations, I’ll think as the dreamer ‘I don’t have to put up with this’ and I change the dream or at least ‘back out’ of the involvement.”
  • “Witnessing dreaming” was described as a dream in which you experience a quiet, peaceful, inner awareness or wakefulness completely separate from the dream.
    “Sometimes, whatever the content of the dream is, I feel an inner tranquillity of awareness that is removed from the dream. Sometimes, I may even be caught up in the dream but the inner awareness of peace remains.”
  • “Witnessing in deep sleep” was described as dreamless sleep in which you experience a quiet, peaceful, inner state of awareness or wakefulness.
    “It is a feeling of infinite expansion and bliss and nothing else. Then I become aware that I exist but there is no individual personality. Gradually, I become aware that I am an individual but there are no details of who, where, what, when, etc. Eventually, these details fill in and I might awaken.”

In her studies, Jayne Gackenbach reports that “across samples lucid dreams were experienced more frequently than either witnessing dreams or witnessing deep sleep. This finding favoring the higher incidence of lucidity relative to witnessing also held across level of dream recall and supports the notion that lucid dreams are easier to access no matter what ones training or personal skills and therefore may represent a developmentally prior state of sleep consciousness leading eventually to the experience of pure consciousness”.

The experience of witnessing while sleeping was described to Charles Alexander by one of his subjects in quite clear words: “he said that ordinary dreams are on the surface of the mind and that the lucid activity of reflective thinking and discrimination and acting upon that content is in a more settled state of mind, but that witnessing is at the source of the mind. Awareness is identified with the state of being and these other things are relative degrees of excitation above this silent state of awareness. He did say that he thought the duality of lucidity, the reflection on the content of dreams, was more abstract, more de-embedded than ordi­nary dreams, which of course it is. Lucidity is relatively liberating. You realize it’s only a dream and step out­side of a constrained reality. Then witnessing would simply represent, I think, the next step outside of that, to the source of thought entirely”.

Pure awareness and Orchestrated objective reduction (Orch-OR) theory

There are several theories to explain this state of being present, when we are able to observe the mind, the emotions, the body, in a non-judgmental way, without getting involved in their functioning. In my opinion, the best candidate is the Orch-Or theory, launched by Stuart Hameroff and developed together with Roger Penrose and other researchers. Hameroff’s theory claims that the microtubules in the cells create a resonance communication field, which he says, is actually, consciousness, the experience of becoming conscious. Anirban Bandhyopadyay, an Indian researcher working in Japan and the US, presented a research at the Toward a Science of Consciousness conference, in which he confirmed empirically that the microtubules resonate between themselves as in a sort of wifi resonance field, yet with a higher frequency. Until 2013, we knew that neurons communicate through axons, now we also know they have a wifi type of communication. Yet, what do they communicate? We don’t really know.

Coming back to the concept of pure awareness or observer: how is it possible for one to be also an observer as well as within one’s own mind and emotions? In my opinion, the observer is a different life mirroring system, which functions quicker than the mind. It’s another psychological mode of functioning, in the same way the mind is different from emotions. Some individuals activated this non-conceptual component, which works together with all the other already existing systems (mind, body, emotions). It is just a matter of learning and development.

This perspective of witnessing awareness as a different vibratory field to which we as a species are slowly gaining conscious access is somehow related with the panpsychism theory and morfogenetic field. Still, Susan Blackmore’s scientific criticism of the voluntary access to the field is also valid (See her article – Why I had to change my mind). 

The Conscious Experience Map – the interconnected subsystems which shape our conscious experience

Below is a draft map of the Conscious Experience Layers, including the subsystems presented in this handbook. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Wave-like experiences and Particle-like experiences can be lived simultaneously if attention is trained to function globally (e.g. open focus trainings), which allow simultaneous streams of awareness to become one system/image.

E.g. Paying attention to attention itself all the time, and also paying attention to Time, Space, Physical, Emotional, Cognitive, Social-Relational etc…. in a relaxed awareness space, accepting everything/choiceless awareness, plus extra details from narrow attention flows. Global & focused attention, in the same time, pure consciousness together with awareness of all the other layers, simultaneously. A good concept for this is multidimensional awareness.

The traditional way to get to a higher synchrony was to induce an altered state of consciousness, a one-direction-flow of the bodymind (samyama), that releases attentional energy and may lead to attention to attention itself (permanent feedback loop). As the synchrony increases, each point/cell/system is inter-connected with an increased number of other points/cells/systems. In the body, this manifests as a higher homeostasis (see by Jana Dixon).

The Witnessing-type of experiences are an amazing field of research. I am experimenting these years with attention, space length, time deepnees, and tuning into various energy and informations flows (while watching the flows, but not connecting with the content of the flows). In my opinion, DMT plays an important role here, as it increases the interconnectedness and the number of simultaneous flows we can allow in our inner experience.

Below another visuals about how the conscious experience map could look like from a wave-like perspective (link to SoundCloud, music by Saranankara).


 II. The perspective and its non-conceptual components


The elements presented below refer to the “structure” of the conscious experience. As a methapor, I see these inner configurations as a set of lenses with various colours and opacity levels, through which the witness is watching in order to connect with this world. These configurations “modulate” the perceptual field (physical, subtle or causal), and as a result, the witness “experiences” the reality in a specific way, larger or smaller, deeper or not, with more or less flexibility.

Perspective and language habit

The perspective is the place from where we look at the world and the picture we have when we relate with the world and ourselves. Our point of view from where we look at the world. During our evolution, the perspective we have changes; a wider perspective means to see the larger context, for instance the fact that we are beings on the Earth, that we have a past and a future. Susanne Cook-Greuter mentions that in the post-conventional stages of development, after developing the systems thinking, people realize that their perspectives are “local, partial, context-dependent and culturally conditioned”.

The two main components (or filters) of perspectives are space and time. For space (the physical space, distances) I used in the CQ Inventory the following item to explore this increasing widening: “What social identities do you usually have during the course of a day?”. There are multiple options as answers, in an increasingly wider spatial perspective: I am a partner in a couple relationship; I am a member of a family; I am a member of a group (e.g., sports team, political party, club, job, friends, etc.); I am a member of an ethnic group; I am a citizen of a country; I am a member of the human race; I am a human being on a planet called ‘Earth’; I am a life form existing in the universe.

A documentary I recommend, related with the spatial filter is The Overview Effect. For time filter, a movie that gives an excellent answer on how important it is to integrate the past, present and future is The Man from Earth (I suggest that you don’t read the synopsis before).

In forming our perspectives, everything gravitates around the words we are using, because the words we use create a vibrational feedback loop which modifies the non-conceptual structure. So, every concept and word we use speaking to others and to ourselves can sustain, limit or expand our perspective (and “create” experiences). This is how some people refer to when they say we can “create” our experience. In the begining, there was a word. Well, the begining is happening in each moment, so paying attention to what we self-validate in ourselves by language is necessary.

During the development process, it is good to know that there are always many points of view over the same subject. Postmodernism has brought us multiple views on the same phenomena and respect for others’ point of view. During the pre-conventional phases of evolution, individuals see only one perspective as being true, just “one” truth, the others being dismissed as false. A usual cliché that reflects this lack of flexibility is the phrase “the truth is…”, instead of “my opinion is…”. The transition from one perspective to another is made by integrating the polarities, by going from or/or approaches “this or that”, ”me or others”, ”good or bad” approaches, to an inclusive one “this and that”, ”good and evil”, ”me and the others”. Working with polarities is recommended in developmental counseling/transformational coaching in order to produce a vertical development and building a new way of thinking.

In Susanne Cook-Greuter’s theory, the language habit has the following attributes:

–      “It constitutes a universal, all-pervasive dimension of human existence
–      It is innate but needs activation and modeling by expert speakers in early childhood to emerge
–      It is a learned behavior that becomes automatic and unconscious once acquired
–      It bundles the flux of sensory input and inner experience into labeled concepts shared with one’s speech community
–      It is so deeply engrained that speakers of any given language are not aware of the reality construction imposed on them by their language
–      It can become a barrier to further development if it remains unconscious, automatic and unexamined.”

The perspective we take over a situation using words is so powerful, that in time, we all feel what we think, after the necessary time in which our brains form the new neural structures on that specific language structure. Good examples in this case are the spiritual or religious cults, where the followers really feel that the world described by their cult is real. For them. On this topic, I suggest an interview with Tanya Luhrmann, she talks about how people in religious cults experiences what they believe in.

In ego development theory, Susanne Cook-Greuter describes six types of perspectives. The perspective “pattern” begins in childhood with a narrow focus, and during development, it widens more and more: the first person perspective is a focus on the self; the second person perspective is a focus on self and other; the third person perspective is a focus on an observer who can focus on another self and other(s) and so on. At some point, people realize that perspectives are infinite and that they can have so many perspectives over the same subject. So, we need to ask ourselves the question: If perspective doesn’t reflect objective reality, what is, in fact, reality? We cannot give an answer to this question through another perspective, but by understanding the fact that perspectives are a mental pattern, even if at a very profound level. Individuals in the Ego aware stage start to abandon the pattern of knowing through perspectives. The new way is non-conceptual and is primary focused on listening to the world as it is, without trying to label it. We still need the mind though, and people in the Unitive stage can easily switch around different perspectives, without being conditioned by one of them in particular.

Attentional flexibility

Attention is the “scanner” that connects us with various sources (internal and external), making all this information available for our awareness and for conscious experience. In the transformation process, it is necessary to break the addiction to “narrow” focus (tunnel vision) and use a type of attention that is called “diffuse” attention, or attention to the big picture. Another term that I found in the literature is “full view vision”

Lester Fehmi, a researcher at Princeton who studied the synchrony of the brain wave activity, discovered that letting go the narrow focusing of attention, and embracing the entire perceptive field, including the peripheral vision, is producing a whole brain alpha synchrony. Fehmi concludes that “how we pay attention determines significantly and immediately our experience, physiology, and behavior. How we pay, attention determines our subjective experience of our own identity and our objective experience of internal and external sensation and perception. Also, we can learn to flexibly choose and determine how we attend. Certainly most of us have the ability to choose the direction of our narrow attention, in order to choose to experience any subset of available stimuli at any given time. With training, we can also choose to broaden the scope of our attention to include a more diffuse and integrated background awareness of available stimuli, even in multiple sense modalities simultaneously. Moreover, we can choose to flexibly pay attention in other ways which help us function more or less well in specific conditions.”

He describes four types of attention, based on the narrow/diffuse category, but also adding another characteristic – our connection with the world we observe. We can have an “objective” style, looking at things as if from outside, as an objective observer, or we can be “immersed” or absorbed in the experience, being in contact with all the objects in our attentional field. The four types described by Fehmi are: narrow-objective, narrow-immersed, diffuse-objective and diffuse-immersed. The style that include all of them is called by Fehmi “open focus” attention: “it includes diffuse, narrow, objective, and immersed forms of attention – all occurring more or less equally and simultaneously, with a concurrent awareness of their presence. The ultimate goal of Open Focus training is to attain the attentional flexibility adequate for moving freely by degrees among and within attentional styles, including all, at times, simultaneously and equally”. Some detailed video explanations are available online.

Breaking the addiction to narrow focus is one of the starting points for becoming more conscious. We were educated to pay narrow attention, not to engage in diffuse style of paying attention. How to do it? Contemplative exercises use a lot more this style of global attention. However, many of the contemplation practices don’t instruct the participant to connect with the objects, but to remain a detached observer. A better way is, while contemplating, to let all the information pass through us, to fully open and connect, perceive, feel the field we are attending to.

A simple exercise that I use with my students it is called “dividing attention”. Splitting attentional energy, we can attend simultaneously to various visual objects (in a diffuse visual way described above), and in the same time to our other senses – touch, hear, smell, our inner body sensation, our feelings, and our thinking. We then can add then the collective perspective on all this and observe, e.g. the differences between our emotions and the emotions we perceive from the environment and from people around us. Then we can add the temporal line, noticing the differences between the information we access from past, present or if our internal processing has taken us into future. In time, using this exercise in various setting and moments of the day, individuals are able to break the narrow focus addiction and embrace a richer perspective. Another visual exercise that creates the full view vision is to try keeping a narrow focus on the horizon line, and then slowly embracing the peripheral vision of the world below.

Another exercise I like and I found it to be quite challenging, is the practice that requires focusing our attention in the here and now while we talk and recall memories and information from the past. Especially when we talk about meaningful emotional experiences from the past, they tend to conjure our attention and make us relive the past, forgetting about the present. Still, through practice, one can learn to focus and simultaneously keep both the past and present. To do this exercise, just start to tell a story from the past that you like, including all the emotional aspects, while paying attention also to the present moment environment. And try to stay both in the present and in the past. This will help you differentiate between the information sent to you by memory engrams and the information sent to you by here-now stimuli.

The idea that attention is a “spot” is still the current paradigm in psychology, but it looks like the attention is much more flexible than we thought. Dave Carmel, researcher at University of Edinburgh posits that attention is not something like a “beam”, but rather, attention is a kind of “optical fiber” channel, with thousands of channels that can acquire full information from environment, no matter if they are in the “narrow spot” or not. It is just that we didn’t form the neural patterns to allow this awareness processing, due to our education that reinforce the narrow focus.

Attention to space

Another level of paying attention is paying attention to the space where all the things happen. Paying attention to the space in which all the life happens is a skill that develops in the post-conventional stages of ego development, but any individual can access it temporarily in an altered state of consciousness. Paying attention to space dramatically reduces the importance of the ego, and brings in the feeling of interconnectedness. I like Fehmi’s definition of self, which includes this aspects: “I am an awareness of how I pay attention to all the contents of all modes of my attention, therefore I am. That is, I am aware equally well and often simultaneously of the various ways I pay attention and their various contents (sights, sounds, feelings, tastes, smells, thoughts, sense of time and the awareness of space into which they come into being, float and subsequently diffuse), and therefore I am.”

Fehmi’s researches showed that “appropriately shifting emphasis from narrow to diffuse and from objective to absorbed styles of attention, to the feelings of pain and body and space simultaneously, dissolves even the most extreme pains. Most notable among pains that have dissolved in response to this technique are those in relation to birthing, kidney stones, interstitial cystitis, endometriosis, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, back pain, headaches, colitis and phantom limb pain. It is not unusual for this pain dissolving attention technique to bring about long-term remission of symptoms. In addition, emotional pains such as anxiety, panic, depression, feelings of guilt, loss and failure also have dissolved.”

Attention to space brings a new type of awareness to any individual, a more relaxed and inclusive way of being. And a necessary link to spiritual experiences, described all over the world by mystics. The void-like nature of human being, which is not void but full of love, is a theme repeating over and over in many spiritual texts. Sensing the void is the passage from sensing ourselves to sensing the world in us, as we all inhabit the same space. Many psychedelic experiences with DMT evoke journeys into a vast inner space, a space populated with energies and helical and spiral patterns, accompanied with a feeling of joy and beauty.

The object less imagery

In his EEG research, Fehmi discovered that the most reliable production of alpha synchrony occurred in response “object less imagery”. He found that questions referring to the multisensory experience of “space,” nothingness, emptiness or “absence” often elicit large amplitude and prolonged periods of alpha activity: “when we pay attention to space, there is nothing to apprehend; by giving attention to this ungraspable space we eventually become aware of the previously unnoticed chronic act of gripping or physical tension, which is associated with our habitual bias toward narrow and objective forms of attention. Awareness of gripping is a precondition for the motivation to intentionally release this same gripping tension. When this habitual attention-related tension is released, attentional scope broadens and supports an awareness of also being immersed in a perceived vast and pervasive surround. This surround, or ground of experience, had so far been excluded from awareness by our narrowly objective attentional bias toward gripping the contents of limited fields of experience, i.e., a limited scope of sense objects.”

Fehmi’s researches are describing in modern terms the mystics’ experiences of being: “after opening our attention, while including our already present narrow objective attention to sensations in the center of our new open awareness, we experience a surround of immersed attention, of a vast three dimensional space, nothingness, absence, silence and timelessness. The perceived surround, the scope of our attention is not only expanded, but is experienced with greater immersion. Thus, the ground of our experience is reified, realized as a more pronounced sense of presence, a centered and unified awareness, and identity with a vast quality less awareness in which all objects of sensation float, as myself. As we continue to experience space and sensation more intimately, more simultaneously and equally, we deepen the absorption of our attention in the totality of present experience.”

An exercise that helped develop my attention was using the visual saccades. I used to go biking in the city, while listening with headphones some songs that gave me an observer attitude. In my case, I found out that the song “You once told be” by Andain creates a brainwave synchrony that allows me to watch how the attention is driven by stimulus in the city. After a while, I was able to watch the attentional “narrow” stream while moving from one stimulus to another, without losing the peripheral attention the global picture, that included me watching, outer world, my internal sensations and my feelings, and to feel the sensations and feelings generated by people and space around me.

An interesting observation related with this process is that DMT seems to increase the ability to maintain the attention to the tunnel vision and the global vision simultaneously. It happened that I participated in a Santo Daime ceremony during the time I was practicing the exercise, and in one break during the ceremony I observed how each receptor in my retina is a kind of high-resolution camera, and billions of high-resolution pixels formed the visual field, each pixel containing infinite information in it. And in the same time, my narrow vision was bringing me even an extra amount of information from the area where it was scanning, directed by external stimulus. The level of let go was amazing. After this event, I became interested in exploring how the DMT is affecting our way of paying attention.

Attention to attention itself

This is another level in the training of attentional flexibility. By voluntarily paying attention to the attentional mechanism itself, while is happens, individuals are creating the conditions for the witnessing awareness. Keeping a percentage of attention to the attentional stream, all the time, creates a subjective experience of being awake while the thinking-feeling-sensing-acting happen, being present and watching how the attention creates content for our experience. In spiritual terminology, we are able to watch “maya” itself dancing as it manifests. When we simultaneously pay attention to all the content, in a global way, and to the attentional mechanism itself, we discover that space is full of awareness, and this awareness is available all the time. Only our walls of attentional biases and our habits of experiencing limit our experience of it.

Using wisely the perspective, the attentional mechanism and the connection with the space in which all life exists, allow us to participate to the present moment with more richness, and we become able to connect with deeper levels of the reality. Seeing the patterns of interactions allows us a deep navigation of reality, through the never-ending layers of fractal reality streams.

Attending to the present moment

Nowadays there is an increased acceptance for mindfulness techniques, and for advaita teachings of “just being” instead of doing. They advocate for being “in the now” and not using thinking too much. But I would ask the question: in what now? In which stream of “now” to participate? Using the perspective and the attention, we can access simultaneously many types of information. In integral theory of human development, Terry O’Fallon describes the levels of reality we can attend, in a paper on collapse of Wilber Combs Matrix. Even more, each level has two components, individual and collective (for example, my body – others’ bodies, my emotions – other person’s emotions etc.). To live in the present moment is not something that can be done through abandoning reasoning. On the contrary, it takes clean perceptions, an excellent mind and an educated attention to remain aware.

In the ego development theory, states are temporary experiences using a specific ego configuration. In time, after the configuration habitualizes and the brain has formed new synaptic connections, the state become permanent, and it is referred to as a “stage”. Here is Terry O’Fallons’ description of these levels of reality we can attend:

“1. Gross state: awareness of the concrete, anything one can experience with external senses or their extensions (e.g., microscopes, X-rays, telescopes, etc.)
2. Subtle state: awareness or witnessing of the subtle, or anything that one cannot generally measure with the external senses, including thought, emotion, imagination, daydreams, dreams, interior sounds, interior vibratory experiences, and so on.
3. Causal state: awareness of or witnessing of the very subtle, formlessness, or emptiness.
4. The Witness: that which is aware. There is a progression of awareness from (a) instinct to (b) simple direct awareness to (c) the Witness that is aware of objects of awareness to (d) Turiya, which is the capacity to witness 24 hours a day, even in deep sleep.
5. Unity: awareness merging with gross, subtle, and/or causal realities. This definition recognizes different levels of unity for one can unite only the form that one has the capacity to be aware of.
6 . Nondual: the interpenetration of emptiness and form. This recognizes different levels of non-duality, for one can be non-dual only with the concrete, subtle or causal forms one is capable of apprehending.”

Terry O’Fallon considers that it is relevant to make distinctions between awareness and the level of object it takes. She writes: “Is the object of awareness a concrete (gross) object? Is it a subtle object? Is it a causal object? We can observe people who are aware in the moment of a concrete object, but are able to be aware of a subtle object only reflectively after the fact and were not yet able to access this awareness at will. Furthermore, one could be living within the perspectives of the Concrete Floor and have gross, subtle, and causal states; but the object of those states would be generally concrete because one had not yet inhabited the perspectives of the Subtle Floor. For example, someone coming from a concrete stage of development might be aware in the moment of a concrete experience, such as an itch or delicious food.

By contrast, this person might have reflective awareness (a subtle state) about itches or food he or she has experienced. On the other hand, this person might have awareness in the moment that he or she is thinking about food, which would be a subtle state (awareness of thinking). However, in all of these cases, the final primary object of the person’s awareness is still a concrete object. This is the basis of the Object of Awareness pattern, which iterates from the object being concrete, to subtle, to causal. Thus, one could also be in a subtle state such as a day-dream or imagination, having a subtle object (such as a hypothesis, or a plan or a strategy, or a subtle experience of the divine). This would be a subtle state with a subtle object and wouldn’t be accessed unless one had the capacities to take the perspectives of the Subtle Floor (tier). Or one might receive a download come through them of a map of consciousness, where self is not the center, and this might be described as a subtle state with a causal object (download from outside of the self) which becomes available when one can take the perspectives of the Causal Floor.”

A useful example of a subjective experience of here-now, with causal/nondual structures of experience, in a concrete content, it is the shamanic experience. In the shamanic visions, most of the information extracted from the “now” is related with physical aspects (nature, animals), and not too related to subtle content. Their rational is still in its concrete structure. This distinction is described well by Ken Wilber when he talks about the pre/trans fallacy.

Samyama, absorption and “full empathy” as a way of attending to the present moment

A skill that appears in post-autonomous stages of human development is the absorption (samyama). It is a process of perfectly identifying with the object of your attention and knowing an object by completely unifying with it. In Yoga Sutra, it is said that this process leads to correct knowledge, or direct knowing. In less modern terms, perfect emotional and cognitive empathy leads to feeling and understanding, that particular aspect (that can be an idea, a bird or a human being).

For some people, this new skill can be a weird thing, as they all of a sudden become absorbed in a landscape they see or in a sound, causing kind of “blackouts”, when the people around, see the person gazing at a point, and losing contact with external surrounding. If this happen when they are driving, it is not so easy. In my opinion, this is a sign that the witnessing awareness starts to activate and the person is experiencing a new way of connecting with things, a new way based on full connection, rather than on thinking, feeling or sensing. Mystics describe this way of attending to the present moment, when they speak about the oneness of all things. The mystics are one with everything they see, and as a result, they know things directly, they do not have to rely on thinking-feeling-sensing. In yoga, this is called “jnana”, direct knowledge. I would call it real learning.

At this level of openness, which many of us experienced as a temporary experience, you would need time to adjust. A 23-y.o. person, manifested this type of development, with spontaneous blackouts during the day, was taken to psychiatry by her mother. They did an EEG but the best interpretation was that “there were some epilepsy-like waves”, and the doctors prescribed some drugs. In my opinion, this was a temporary-side effect of her internal opening, so I advised her to learn and understand from this new way of connecting, to train the witnessing awareness. In some 8 months, her non-conceptual self became more stable and she was able to remain present during these moments of spontaneous deep connection. She gained the ability to witness her self being absorbed, as it was happening.

Intention. The lenses through which we pre-define the perspective-taking process

In my opinion, the intention is closely related with the system of values and attitudes we have towards life. Reorganizing the values of life is a very important process of personal development as the values offer the frame of development for each stage of the evolution. Each stage has its own values that generate experiences and feelings closely related with the chosen values. At each stage, the values become a kind of automated guide of our actions and they condition every thought or action. It is up to us what values we choose in order to allow us to move free though life. I like the system of values developed by Gurdjieff.

From a motivational point of view, choosing an appropriate intention is a powerful method that allows us to select what to experience. The intention is a powerful weapon for the Hero in his symbolic journey through his own mind. Rather than making the intention for “something”, we could use wider intentions, such as “I wish to live the experiences that I need to live in order to change” or “I trust life and I am heading towards where there is need of me”.

The intention is still a method for organizing the life stream. I don’t think that using intention all the time is needed, because ultimately, the intention is also a way of “controlling” the perception of reality. However in the end, we all need an ego, and some values, but it’s a delicate process to freely selecting which values fit us mostly. For me, after I decided my values, this looks more like a preference for some types of flows, a sort of lenses, always on and automatic.

A year ago, a friend e-mailed me saying “Ovidiu, what do you say about this dilemma: I say that health value is superior to money value. Still, it is possible to work all night long, and I think it is a good choice. But from this perspective, looks like money are more important than health… so, is it possible to make a hierarchy of values?” My opinion, in that situation, yes, he needs to find a superior value that do not have these polar opposites. I asked him today how he is doing related with this topic of values. He told me that this way of thinking about “values” looks obsolete to him. I found his conclusion to be a good sign that his inner growth is unfolding well.


III. Self, identity and vertical development


The ego and the illusion of self

The ego is made of our thinking, actions, feelings and relationship habits. It is one of the most useful psychological acquisitions of the human species, providing us an identity in relation with others and makes us different from other people and the environment. The ego is our unique configuration that helps us give meaning to our experiences (meaning making tool). Some call it the storyteller or inner narrator – that part that interprets the experiences that we go through. In other words, our identity is a sum of stories about us, heard from our parents, from media, cartoons and movies we saw during our childhood, stories from school and interpretations we have told ourselves during our lifetime. The ego is not an “illusion” because it does not exist, it’s more like a dynamic structure that can be changed and adjusted, some sort of tool that we can use at our own wish. During our first stages of our lives, we identify mostly with our ego. Later, we discover that the ego is just an instrument so that we can live our lives that we can build and consciously adapt to our purposes. We can look at ourselves “from the outside”, by being self-reflexive. Philosophy is not a luxury, but a necessity.

I use the “ego”, “I” and “self” as synonyms, when I refer to the experience of having an identity structure; “personality” is a similar concept. I feel that we need to get back to less complex analytical approaches, in order to get back to real grounded life. Many times I feel like psychology has analyzed a lot, creating more and more ideas, uncountable streams of concepts and sometimes losing the contact with the experienced reality. As I mentioned in the beginning of this guide, my approach is to reduce the complexity of thinking, and to re-start from experience, using the concepts that connects directly with experienced reality (a sort of first level conceptualizations) putting aside the second level or third level of concepts. Therefore, I try not to use too many concepts of concepts. I think we can move further and integrate some experientially unclear concepts such as id, ego, super-ego, self, higher self, soul etc. In personality theories, there is already too much conceptualization, in my opinion and this reflects in the doomed DSM-V, where the authors use pathologizing labels for most of the natural responses to extraordinary events. Hopefully, the collective will react to this stream of development. So, self, ego, I, higher self, the source, transpersonal self, true self, they are all referring to what we experience as an identity. I consciously mix these terms in this guide, to create some relaxed space regarding the idea of self-identity.

The subpersonalities and systems thinking

The ego is formed in relation with some key events or facts in our life (e.g. job, relation with parents, food, friends, and sex). These groups of information created specific patterns of thinking, feeling, sensing, and acting, related with that event. In time, they formed a web of patterns, that activate only during that event, or when we are thinking of that event. As our education missed to integrate all this in a unitary ego, we have specific behaviors and values for specific situations, web of patterns that we call subpersonalities, or mini-identities, or facets of self.

From the conversations I have had with different people, I noticed that each of us have around 20 to 70 subpersonalities, depending on the complexity of our lives. You can think of them like some costumes we wear in relationships with different people or situations: myself in relationship with my parents, myself at work, myself as husband/wife, myself in vacation and so on. When a subpersonality is active, we totally become that subpersonality, with its emotions, traits, fears and joys. In the transformation journey, observing the subpersonalities is the premise for becoming an authentic human being. In time, we can integrate all the subpersonalities into one; we can be in contact with the totality of us in each moment. To do this, first we need to notice the subpersonalities, then to create a system of life values that can apply to all of them, and then, putting it into practice, by being authentic all the time, but adapting our behavior to that specific situation.

Changing our inner world requires a constant notice and observation of patterns, an understanding  of how these patterns connect and work together within systems. This is what ego development theory refers to as “systems thinking”, a basic skill for personal development. During the personal development some of the systems which can be analyzed are the body, the food, the emotions, the relationships with other people, the mind, the way we talk, the ego. Maybe the most dramatic transition in our personal development would be the one where people can see their ego as a system and stop identifying with it. Often, this experience is described as a death of the ego, followed by an experience of inner awakening.

Systems thinking allows us to detect that there are some patterns connected between them, and they form a larger system. Then, we can shift to a wider perspective. This idea is very well used in the Kegan’s subject-object approach. After we connect the dots, and see the entire system, we can go to the next level, like a jump from 2D to 3D. At the new level, the system becomes object again, and we see it from outside. Then the process repeats repeatedly, the object is integrated and the system becomes a part of the current subjective experience, until we connect everything with everything. This associative mechanism is quite automatic and unconscious when the inner growth engine starts, and it eventually will lead to associations between ideas, objects, symbols and archetypes, as the inner growth process goes deeper and deeper. The final part of this wonderful associative drive to evolution is to see the associative mechanism itself as a system, and get out of this never-ending fractal loop (or “house of mirrors”, using Susanne Cook-Greuter terminology), and dive through the void into the witnessing awareness.

I call this process “the symbolic journey”. It is always great meeting people in this stage of the process, they see wonderful connections I never thought of, e.g. between the Fibonacci spiral, my bicycle and my biscuit. Exploring the interconnectedness seems to be a joyful part of the inner journey. It’s a never-ending series of excitement and enjoyment. It also has its black holes when it happens in a stressed person, who tends to interpret this newly discovered interconnectedness as if someone is watching them. How can I explain to such persons that it is Us that are watching over Us? And it’s ok? That’s a good challenge for a friend or a counselor. Many people stuck in this point consume their energies on conspiracy theories and try to get rid of any form of control. Their fear wins over their letting go.

Ego stability and resistance to change

In order to transform, every person must first defeat their psychological inertia and modify the inner mechanisms that maintain the stability of the ego. The ego is a consequence of evolution, that’s why the process of changing it is not gratified by nature with joy in the first place, but with fear and frustration. Conquering the defensive mechanisms that protect the ego is the first battle in the transformation journey. The ego does not allow a transformation from the inside, and the stability obtained during our life is constantly opposed to change. Some people tend to see this inertia as a negative aspect, or negative energies, that “attack them”. Some of the negative emotions are, in fact emotions resulted from the system inertia, which naturally defend the ego. In my framework, some of the positive emotions (e.g. enthusiasm) are released as an evolutionary support to overcome the inertia.

The Growth mindset

I think that creating a growth mindset is an important task that needs to take place when starting a transformation journey. Of course, we may already have sensing or feelings as a primary “sensor” for deciding when and how to transform, instead of using the mind. During the last years, I found out that a larger growth mindset is necessary, that include some basic skills and traits for inner journeying: openness, cognitive and emotional flexibility, accepting criticism, accepting paradoxes, and the frequent usage of “I don’t know (yet)”. All these are important to be developed, and in time, they will provide a framework for facilitating the evolution through the stages.

Another skill is the constant observation of the contexts of life, or life responses (the old term for this is synchronicity). In my opinion is important for each of us to discover what” assignment,” we have from the collective and to detect the stream of life that fits our way of being. When we are in the stream, life seems to respond all the time with “synchronicities”. The idea of “synchronicity,”  usually is thought of as a kind of positive confirmation of our stuff. I think this confirmation happens all the time, we are interconnected all the time, but from time to time, we receive a lift from the collective. When people are consciously in their stream of life, they receive this lift all the time.

Unconditional acceptance of life is important, but to me it looks a bit over feminized by the spiritual / new age approaches. I would add some masculine in this: there are moments when we need to fight and be a hero, and not accept the actual status quo. We also need social activism and setting the limits in relation with some people around us. Authenticity and radical honesty with ourselves are necessary to integrate the subpersonalities and to create a workspace for our unconscious information to manifest. Is this what I am really experiencing, or this is just a frame I created for me, a personal veil that I put on automatically? Can I use some other words that are more related with my inner experience? Am I labeling the experience I have using my actual mindset, or I am using an old mindset that is blocking me from experiencing the present moment?

Radical honesty with ourselves and authenticity are the key pathways to connect with the present moment awareness, and I think that a harmonious mindset allows this awareness to create what we feel, think and sense in each moment, instead of using memories from mind-emotions-body to create the present moment experience.

Ego development theory – scientific research related to the stages of human development

Until the development of transpersonal psychology, the theories and research of western psychology focused on the evolution of the personality, from basic levels to the self-actualization, thought to be the last evolutionary stage possible. These include Piaget, Freud, Erikson, Kohlberg, Maslow. Since the ’80’s, a new series of theories and researchers included post-conventional stages of human development, that integrate new levels, previously related only with mystics: Kegan, Loevinger, Wilber, Back & Cowan, Washburn, Wade, Grof, Torbert, Joiner and Cook-Greuter. Susanne Cook-Greuter created my favorite theory, developed with an experience-based terminology (bottom-up theory). Some other interesting data regarding her theory is available in a PhD thesis at Fielding Institute, USA, written by Dane Hewlett. He presents in detail all these post-conventional theories of personal development as well as the experiences of 25 individuals, each of them analyzed from the perspective of their development level.

Susanne Cook-Greuter stages and the estimates regarding the percentage of each stage  is presented below:


The basic basic ideas of the human development theory are presented by Susanne Cook-Greuter in “Nine Levels of Increasing Embrace in Ego Development: A Full-Spectrum Theory of Vertical Growth and Meaning Making“:

“- Development theory describes the unfolding of human potential towards deeper understanding, wisdom and effectiveness in the world.

– Growth occurs in a logical sequence of stages or expanding worldviews from birth to adulthood. The movement is often associated to an ever-widening spiral.

– Overall, worldviews evolve from simple to complex, from static to dynamic, and from ego-centric to socio-centric to world-centric.

– Later stages are reached only by journeying through the earlier stages. Once a stage has been traversed, it remains a part of the individual’s response repertoire, even when more complex, later stages are adopted as primary lenses to look at experience.

– Each later stage includes and transcends the previous ones. That is, the earlier perspectives remain part of our current experience and knowledge (just as when a child learns to run, it doesn’t stop to be able to walk). Each later stage in the sequence is more differentiated, integrated, flexible and capable of optimally functioning in a rapidly changing and ever more complex world.

– People’s stage of development influences what they notice and can become aware of, and therefore, what they can describe, articulate, cultivate, influence, and change.

– As healthy development unfolds, autonomy, freedom, tolerance for difference and ambiguity, as well as flexibility, self-awareness, and skill in interacting with the environment increase while defenses decrease.

– Derailment in development, pockets of lack of integration, trauma and psychopathology are seen at all levels. Thus, later stages are not more adjusted or “happier.”

– A person who has reached a later stage can understand earlier world-views, but a person at an earlier stage cannot understand the later ones.

– The depth, complexity, and scope of what people notice can expand throughout life. Yet no matter how evolved we become, our knowledge and understanding is always partial and incomplete.

– Development occurs through the interplay between person and environment, not just by one or the other. It is a potential and can be encouraged and facilitated by appropriate support and challenge, but it cannot be guaranteed.

– While vertical development can be invited and the environment optimally structured towards growth, it cannot be forced. People have the right to be who they are at any station in life.

– The later the stage, the more variability for unique self-expression exists, and the less readily we can determine where a person’s center of gravity lies.

– All stage descriptions are idealizations that no human being fits entirely.”

It is important to specify that most of us are simultaneously of 2-3 stages, a subpersonality may be on stage #4 and another one to have the perspective from the #5 stage. Only after the harmonization process has reached a certain point, we can feel, act and react authentically, from a unified perspective.

Descriptions of the post-conventional stages of human development

The post-conventional stages of development include Autonomous (7), Ego Aware-Construct Aware (8) and Unitive-Transcendent (9). Stages 8 and 9 are labeled as “post-autonomous”. They are a gradual transition of the reference point from bodymind to witnessing awareness. Referring to this transition from individual to collective awareness, a participant in a research about awakening (conducted at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology USA) said:

“There are two levels of awakening that appear to be happening in human consciousness at this time. Many people are awakening to their personal and collective shadow and realizing we are all here together. A smaller number (so far) are recognizing and learning to abide as this self-cognizant, empty awareness.”

In the Autonomous stage, the personal goal is “the most one can be”, i.e. one makes the best of himself/herself. These people are satisfied with what they are doing, they have a holistic perspective, are aware of the fact that there is no such thing as a single truth but several perspectives, accept both positive and negative emotion. They live their life story, are comfortable in it and this is a story turned into something beautiful or highly acceptable.

In the Construct-aware stage, the aim of the individuals is “to be aware”, while in the Unitive stage, the purpose is just “to be”. The transition to the stages 8 and 9 leads to the observation of the entire psychological system as a system and allows the permanent experience of the fundamental awareness that impregnates the body, mind and emotions. These stages depend on the ability of activating the witnessing awareness the fundamental awareness of the present moment beyond perceptions, emotions and thoughts.

The following descriptions are excerpts from the ego development theory, developed by Susanne Cook-Greuter.

Autonomous stage

“Focus: Self-development, self-actualization; creating a meaningful, coherent, objective self-identity.

Self-Definition: Autonomous, multiple roles; self-generated core- identity; aware of many defenses. Sense of self-esteem, empowerment. Rational mind and intellect; though as mediated through language.

Dominant center of awareness: Rational mind and intellect; though as mediated through language.

Range of awareness: Aware of body/mind as system, aware of context dependency and personal interpretation of internal and external events.

Method of knowing: Reasoning, rational analysis aided by some intuition: one assesses, evaluates, judges, compares, measures, contrasts and predicts.

Example of self-reflection: “I am – well-balanced professional human being, definitely on the path of self-actualization and self-fulfillment.”

An important skill that appears in this stage is the ability to observe the subpersonalities within themselves and other people. In the next stage, these individuals are able to produce effective transformation change in others, as they become more and more flexible, being able to empathize with people and to see what is the adjustment that would lead to a change in people’s thinking, emotional patterns and behaviors.

Ego-aware (Construct aware) stage

“Focus: Exploring the habits and processes of the mind and the way one makes sense of experience through cognition and language.

Self-Definition: Complex matrix of self- identification, at the same time questioning their adequacy. Description of self in stages.

Dominant center of awareness: Rational mind plus intimations of transcendent awareness, and intuitive knowledge during peak moments.

Range of awareness: Aware of the limits of symbolic and codification and rational thought; aware of ego and conventional reality as constructs. Keenly aware of difference between map and territory.

Method of knowing: Rational awareness with awareness of the mechanics of thought, symbolic codification, construction of meaning, contemplation of limitations of present way of knowing – existential paradox.

Example of self-reflection: ”I am – sensitive, honest, striving to always love others . . . reflective . . . sometimes to the point of being unable to get out of endless loops, striving to take responsibility for myself.”

Individuals in the ego-aware stage are able to observe cognitive and emotional processes in others, and mirror them in others in real time, they see the patterns as they unfold (thus they help people to recognize them more easily). In Freudian terms, they process the other’s unconscious and turn it into conscious. I think this is the meaning of the claim in spirituality, which says a master can take over the disciple’s karma. A master in the ego-aware stage can recognize the patterns in the disciple’s functioning and realizes that some of them are automatic, then, by means of various mentoring actions, they can help the disciple expand their awareness.

Susanne Cook-Greuter differentiates between two categories in this stage: a rational category (rationally-directed) in which the individual is still very much connected to their own thoughts and uses logical thinking as an important way to understand the world; the second category is less cognitive (intuitively-directed), marking a change in the meaning-making way. The individual starts feeling a deep connection with the surrounding environment, and notices that they don’t require the use of thinking so much in order to know what is happening. “The old way of mediating experience no longer satisfies while the new mode of processing has been glimpsed at peak moments or during temporary transcendence, but is not fully or consistently available.” This second category includes individuals less cognitive and more subjective and experiential”.

Dane Hewlett, a researcher who analyzed these categories, was wondering if the thinking-feeling dichotomy in any way parallels these categories. In my opinion, the Myers-Briggs typology no longer applies for the post-autonomous stages, because the personal development process changes the personality in a dramatic way before getting to these stages. People are becoming more and more a kind of “psychological androgens”, in order to integrate their experiences; they incorporated various types of functioning. They have many ways of knowing and meaning- making, and they use them in a specific situation depending on the situation. A rational person will learn in this stage that sensing or feeling has the same value as thinking; or a person who is using the body awareness as a primary channel for information will learn the thinking. I think that these reflect a transition to a way of abandoning the mind-senses as a primary filter for knowing the reality. The new way of knowing is becoming awareness itself. Perhaps future researches would explore more this availability of the meaning-making ways in the post-autonomous stages.

Unitive Stage

“Focus: Non-evaluating, integrative witnessing of ongoing process of experience.

Self-Definition: Description of self as in constant flux and transformation.

Dominant center of awareness: Metarational, postrepresentational, immediate, integrative awareness and direct experience of what is.

Range of awareness: Aware of perceptional flux and changing levels of awareness; life as is; aware of “illusion” of a permanent, individual self and object world. Cognizant of witness-Self.

Method of knowing: Contemplation, witnessing of continuous flux; subjective experience of non-symbolic mode of direct knowing; intellect and intuition are used, but not overvalued.

Goal: To be.

Example of self-reflection: “I am – alive, trundling along, making sense as best as I can, diversifying and expanding while consolidating and contracting.”

You can find on the internet a few nondual communities where you can listen to people in these post-conventional configurations (ex.,

Vertical development and altered states of consciousness

In the ego development theory, there are two types of development: the vertical development is a shift in the way of meaning-making, and the horizontal development is an exploration of the world using the same configuration of being-thinking-feeling-sensing-acting-relating patterns. The horizontal development is needed in order to integrate the configuration. After people change their ways of meaning-making, it is necessary to spend some time using this new way, until it habitualizes. Neurons need time to form new neural network, and during this period, both ways are available. Prioritizing and using the new ones is then the primary task.

During “peak experiences”, or “altered states of consciousness” people can temporarily access more complex stages, and acquire a configuration for a period. Usually, this happens due to an event that provided the energy for a shift: it can be a love story, a life event, a near death experience, a “mystical” or spiritual event, it can be a temporary result of a some exercises such as yoga, meditation, dance, shamanic rituals, or a result of using various substances or psychedelics. During the peak experiences, individuals can “jump” from a configuration in stage 4 to a stage 8 configuration. For several hours, days, or months, the world is experienced differently. Then, the energy is consumed, and the configuration gets back to the regular level of consciousness.

What is the difference between someone stabilized, say in stage 8 and someone who is temporary there? In my opinion, the main element is the associated emotion. For an individual habitualized in stage 8, the everyday emotion is tranquility, because the body-mind is accustomed with that configuration, and there is no need for spikes of energy, such as bliss or joy. A person that temporary access the stage 8 configuration usually floats there on a euphorically energy spike. There is also the way of temporary floating to the more peace of the complex stages through the witnessing awareness field, which is available at any stage, in any moment.

Even after a stage is habitualized, a regression of the ego center of gravity to a less complex stage is possible, due to stressful life events. In these situations, the ego returns to the last stable configuration. I think of this as a positive defense mechanism.

Solving stage-related issues with patience

One of the lessons I’ve learned was to stop trying to completely solve an issue that appeared during the inner growth. I realized that each issue is in fact multi-layered, and have multiple causes. Usually it takes more than one cycle of exploration in order to solve an issue. An issue may appear many times, over a period of 2-3 years, each time with another facet, depending on my actual level of understanding and harmony. This is where some self-caress is needed, though, many times, there is such a strong desire to end with the past, to permanently solve an issue. Even if we use all the mind and heart powers of discrimination, some issues are so intricate and related with other issues, that the only way to solve them for good is to grow up and become more mature with our entire being.

Some journeyers feel anxious with this re-appearance of the old issues, that looked solved, but this is the way. For some issues, there is no quick fix. It takes time for the entire framework to change. However, with each passing, the issue is harmonized more and more, until one day we realized, wow, it disappeared.

Activating the transformation potential

The transformation energy (or the journey archetype) is that “thing” that makes a difference when people start to change, as a result of a stressful event, and realize that some people grow up by intention, and some people only grow up by suffering. This polarity literally splits the world in two groups of people. In many cases, people start to change in a group where others don’t have the transformation potential active by will, and they are so disoriented, realizing that either they are crazy, or the world around is crazy. Yes, it is hard to accept that the most of us are functioning on automatic pilot. Of course, the world means “the bubble” they live in, the selection of reality which they consider to be “the world”. This is especially true for people who are the first in their trans-generational flow that start to evolve (quicker than the flow around). In time, they will shift to a new stage, realizing there are other people like them; they are not the only ones functioning differently.

This loneliness sometimes leads to dramatic experiences, psychosis-like and depression-like. Because they tell about their experiences to friends that had for a lifetime, and they worry about them, unconsciously using the “weird/crazy” label. In a happy end, they manage to find new friends and get in touch with people who have the transformation potential activated. In a dramatic end, they are considered very weird and sent to a psychologist/ psychiatrist. Some individuals receive a label of manic/depression/bipolar/schizophrenia, and then, the reinforcing negative spiral down takes its toll. I will talk about this in detail in the following chapters.

One of the common sources of stress is hearing voices. However, in a temporary ego-aware state, it is natural to hear their thoughts. It is because individuals shift their vantage point, from identification with mind, to the witnessing observer. In addition, they see their thinking system, for the first time, as if from outside, and this experience is blowing the mind. This is all so new, that they may interpret the process as hearing voices, and not accessing their thoughts. There is a “hearing voices” movement in US, so people can join the movement and think they have found their explanation. The illusion of “madness” or “special individuals” is complete, as their mind narrows down the connection to other possible perspectives. It all becomes a loop, centered on their “special trait” and the transformation potential is blocked.

The conscious letting go of a specific way of looking at the world is easier only in the ego-aware state. At this level, people realize the words and perspectives they use condition the manner in which they perceive the world. Therefore, they decide to abandon the paradigm they live in, as soon as they feel it is becoming too rigid. This understanding is the key to step from the Ego-aware stage to Unitive, where in each moment the ego is created and dissolved.

Highly sensitive persons and overexcitability

In the process of inner development, every person has periods of high sensitivity. The term “highly sensitive person”, as used by Dr. Elaine Aron has four main attributes: depth of processing; over aroused (easily compared to others); emotional reactivity and high empathy; and sensitivity to subtle stimuli. Usually when people work with their emotional system, they discover depths of their sensitivity they never thought to be possible, experiencing full empathy and full connection with the stimulus. After a while, this high receptiveness is integrated. I look at this high sensitivity as an excess of yin (feminine), balanced by adding some masculine energy in the psychological structure. There is extreme beauty in these people, and it’s good for some people to keep this highly sensitive receptiveness. It is their way to show us the majesty of a delicate way of being.

An interesting approach to this topic of sensitivity during development was developed by Kazimierz Dabrowski (the theory of positive disintegration). He looks at the overexcitability as an intense reaction to, and experience of the day-to-day stimuli of life. Dabrowski’s theoretical framework views psychological tension, anxiety, and depression as necessary for growth. He addresses five types of hyperexcitability: psychomotor (physical response to stimuli, often seen as hyperactivity); emotional (emotional hypersensitivity); imaginative/imaginational (intense fantasy life that sometimes disrupts reality); sensory/sensual (sensory hypersensitivity); mental/intellectual (Highly active mind, or an exaggerated search for explanations and a tendency to intellectualize problems in everyday life).

The person with a higher potential for development will experience growth as a loosening of the stable psychic structure accompanied by symptoms of “psychoneuroses”. Dabrowski called this process positive disintegration, he declares that psychoneurosis is not an illness and he insists that psychotherapy is automatic when the person is conscious of his development.

I found his theory very useful for understanding what happens in the people with a higher transformation potential, who decide to allow themselves be transformed organically. For these people, there is no try. Only do. Or do not. I connected a lot with his ideas. When I started to transform deeply, I took the decision to go through, no matter what.

To Dabrowski, real therapy is autopsychotherapy; it is the self being aware of the self through a long inner investigation; a mapping of the inner environment. There are no techniques to eliminate symptoms because the symptoms constitute the very psychic richness from which grows an increasing awareness of body, mind, humanity and cosmos. Without intense and painful introspection and reflection, development is unlikely. Psychoneurotic symptoms should be embraced and transformed into anxieties about human problems of an ever-higher order. If psychoneuroses continue to be classified as mental illness, then perhaps it is a sickness better than health”...

How long does it take to transform vertically

Nobody knows for sure, maybe a good estimation would be 5 years from one stage to another, if the circumstances are favorable and the person is open to change. And a minimum of one year, if the person is included in a special transformative process focused primarily on stages of evolution (such as the Terry O’Fallon’s program at Pacific Integral).

From my experience, people who decide to take the “positive disintegration” approach advance more rapidly through transitions, but they also need time for integration. Now, taking into consideration that we need 1 to 8 months to change a habit, and we need to change many habits of thinking, feeling and sensing, I would say that at least 1-2 years are needed for the integration of a new perspective. But all of this depends on the transformational potential and the life context. If the person decide to take the hero’s journey consciously, and have a context in life that allows this (usually with not too many relational bonding), then in 5 years it is possible to get to the unitive level. However, life is not only about having an “awakened” structure of being; life is about experiences, all sorts of experiences. I learned a lot from “awakened” people, but I learned more from people with life experiences, on all stages.

Being alive: temporary and persistent non-symbolic experiences

Ego Development Stage Does Not Predict Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience” is a PhD thesis by Jeffery Martin, where he explores the possibility that for accessing a unitive conscious experience, a person doesn’t have to reach a post-autonomous stage of ego development. Martin uses the term “non-symbolic” to refer to a range of experiences known as nondual awareness, enlightenment, mystical experiences, peak experiences, transcendental experience, unity consciousness, union with God. This idea was suggested by Combs and Wilber, who proposed that non-symbolic experiences are accessible across a wide range of developmental levels, directly challenging the orthodox view that they represented “higher” developmental levels.

From my personal experience, I also feel this to be correct, at each stage of ego development there are inner configurations available for living life as a witness in various degrees (or in other words, as an everyday mystic). The only thing is that, when there is less alignment in the ego structure (a less complex stage of development), there seems to be a necessary “disconnection from ego” in order to keep the non-symbolic configuration during every day activities. As I see it, the “Being” and the Ego system can have separate lines of development. But, in order to function fully as a human in human society, both the Non-conceptual Self (non-symbolic Self) and the Ego structure (values, cognition, emotions, energy etc) need to be educated.

The “persistent” non-symbolic experience means the person has habitualized a unitive configuration and prefers to look at the world from the vantage point of Being a Witness (as complementary to doing, thinking, feeling, sensing, acting and interacting). Jeffery Martin introduced 3 types of non-symbolic experiences, based on their length: Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience (having the experience for more than a year), Ongoing Non-symbolic Experience (below one year), Temporary Non-Symbolic Experience (momentary experiences, days, weeks)

Martin lists the following characteristics of a Persistent Non-Symbolic Experience:

  • Persistent shift in your baseline state away from anxiety, fear, worries, etc. to a fundamental sense that everything is okay
  • Fundamental ‘okayness’ or contentment
  • Sense that you don’t need to add anything to yourself, but that its okay to explore
  • Reduced or eliminated mental chatter
  • Increased or total freedom from thoughts impacting mood
  • Increased or total focus on Now, rather than painful pasts and anxious futures
  • Increased mental capacity/improved decision making and problem solving
  • Increased sense of connectedness and possibility
  • ‘Life Flow’ instead of ‘Task Flow’

Jeffery Martin grouped the non-symbolic experiences in 4 “locations”, based on various criteria including sense of self (sense of agency), cognition, emotion, perception, memory:

Pages from BerkeleyConference2015

In his research, Martin concluded:

“The first hypothesis was that individuals who self-report persistent nonsymbolic experience would be found to exhibit a range of psychological developmental levels, specifically tested here as ego development using the Washington University Sentence Completion Test (WUSCT). This hypothesis was supported. The data showed that participants who self-report persistent nonsymbolic experience do not all score at the highest stage of ego development, but rather across a range of developmental stages (5-Self Aware to 10-Unitive)… It is possible that the decades of work on this measure by researchers like Cook-Greuter have succeeded in detecting a category that appears to match descriptions of persistent non-symbolic experience but have not yet reached the point where participants can be correctly placed in it. It is also possible that no measure involving language may accurately detect persistent non-symbolic experience. However, the amount of work put in to the Washington University Sentence Completion Test by Cook-Greuter and others and their success in creating a category that seems to match the experience must be recognized. It is more likely, as Cook- Greuter suggests, that what is being reported here are different phenomena.

Over time I’ve come to visualize a core zoom in/zoom out process that seems to happen for many participants. Internally participants report an aspect of them that can focus in and focus out. The fluidity that it suggests involving the experience of self at any moment is something I’ve come to see as a key component of persistent non-symbolic experience. In a sense most of us have this to some degree. How individuals feel when they relax is very different from when they are working on a problem or engrossed in a movie. This seems to be true for many of my participants as well, but with some significant differences. When the average person is working hard on a problem and takes a break, in a sense his or her broader sense of self comes back into focus. S/he might think about other things to do with the day, a conversation from 3 hours ago, or any range of other things. When these participants zoom out, they don’t seem to land in an individualized self. They also seem to have a much greater range and fluidity in terms of zooming in and out. At the furthest reaches of zooming out, they often report being immersed in or existing as a non-local self, spaciousness, union with the divine or god, and so forth. Not all participants can zoom this far out, and those who can usually stop short of it in their day-to-day lives.

This process of 95 zooming can be intentional or automatic. Generally it is reported as feeling automatic. The zooming in process is also an interesting one. Again, in some ways they are typical of the general population. Most can still get pulled into a movie, for example. The differences, however, are quite striking. Many can also experience a sense of versions of their ‘old self’ as part of the zoom in process. This is especially true when they are engaged in conversation or immersed in environments involving long lasting and complex relationships. They often describe it in terms of the conditioning that was discussed earlier, and in terms of relational clusters of thoughts, emotions, and memories that have a unique sense of self associated with them. Participants generally feel that every experience is temporary, that it arises and falls within a fundamental level of perception, generally expressed as a ‘field.’ Often they refer to this perception as ‘awareness.’ But, not everything is temporary. They also feel that they have uncovered a level of perception that is not only unchanging but also unable to be changed.

Many participants identify with this as their ‘true self’ while others are able to perceive it but see their self as unattached to it. The latter generally identify with a nonlocal sense of self that is highly fluid in nature and able to assume any number of zoomed in or out states at a given time.”

My view is that these constant inter-mixings, between the “Witnessing/Being” mode of functioning, and the “Ego/Body/Thinking/Feling/Acting” mode of functioning is a kind of ultimate challenge for any individual interested in being in harmony with life. Learning to be both, a witness and a flowing do-er of actions, using a wide inventory of inner configurations as they arise in relation with the now. It’s all about surfing the ‘Life Flow’, seeing the waves while keeping a direct warm connection with the content of the flow.


IV. Growing Up and developmental dynamics


Growing up and waking up. Types of “awakening”.

There are two main developmental paths available: Growing Up path is about learning to harmonize our “Self”, while Waking Up path is about adding new depths and facets to our conscious experience of “Being”. An important task of my research was to introduce a conceptual link between these two approaches, using an expanded definition of the conscious experience.

Below I describe these two paths, using a comparative model inspired by Ken Wilber:

Growing Up Paths. Inner Growth Journeys:
Conventional perspective (western psychology), oriented toward creating a healthy ego/self.
Key words: ego development stages, mature personality, shadow topics, multiple intelligences.
Interpretation of the spiritual experiences, levels of development, from “me” to “integral”.

Waking Up Paths. Awakening Journeys:
Contemplative approaches (eastern spirituality), oriented toward a better connection with the source.
Key words: true self, unified self, authentic self, meditative traditions, awakening.
Direct experience, opening to multidimensional awareness.

There are various types of experiences that can be described as openings/awakenings, adding new depths to the Inner Growth Journeys. Below some of them:

–        The awakening from the “collective hypnosis” is an experience which happens when people start to become autonomous, and to form their personal system of values. In other words, it is the awakening from the “cultural hypnosis”, starting from the becoming conscious of the “cultural consensual reality”, and ending in seeing how culture itself creates this consensual reality when people just adhere to a cultural system.

–        Disconnecting from the mind and the old ego, and the discovery of a new way of “being” instead of “doing” or “thinking/feeling/sensing”. It is the experience when the witnessing awareness activates and being aware of awareness becomes available. Accompanied with a great feeling of interconnectedness, this type of non-symbolic experience is what we usually talk about as “enlightenment”. In time, the person can learn not to use anymore a rigid ego structure, but to keep a balance between the stability and the flexibility of the ego. In other words, it is the rediscovery of the non-symbolic self.

–        The reconnection with the body energy and bodily sensations is a natural part of inner growth, experienced as an “awakening” by the people who do not relate with their bodies too much in their life. Sometimes, this rediscovery of the felt sense is associated with the kundalini awakening, a process of cleaning that helps the body to transition to a higher level of harmony.

–        The awakening to the collective energy field, becoming aware of the energy interactions, frequencies and flows of energy, hyperspace. This is perhaps related with the endogenous production of DMT (the so-called spirit molecule). I listed this type of experience as separate from body awakening, in my experience I have seen people very connected with energies, but less connected with their bodies… it’s like, the energy activity is capturing most of the attention.

–        Awakening of the heart and the experience of unconditional love is another peak experience felt like an “awakening”. Experiencing full empathy is a big shift in development.

–        The interconnectedness awakening, related with the shift from individual to collective awareness. In my observations, this is a major shift in development, which brings extra clarity. It can happen in the physical – when people realize they are just a cell in a big planetary organism; emotionally – discovery of the group emotions; cognitively – experience of the “hive mind” and the discovery of the unconscious group communication.

–        The awakening of the multidimensional awareness and the transition to being&living simultaneously various types of perceptual, emotional, conceptual and non-conceptual experiences with various contents.

The awakenings come altogether with releases of energy. For some weeks-months, people who experience awakening-like experiences are exploring intense shifts in the biological and psychological functioning. I like a blog that explores even deeply the “Stages And Levels In The Awakening Process”, you can take a look. For neuroscience of awakening experiences, I recommend two great researches: a study on ”Buddha’s Brain” by Rick Hanson and a study on the spiritual enlightenment experience by Todd Murphy.

The Growing Up path, operationalized in the CQ-i as “Inner Growth”, includes traits, skills and abilities related to the evolution of personality, paradigm shifts, unlearning and learning (through pain or by open learning), openness, the language updating process, accepting criticism, abandoning old perspectives and embracing new ones, noticing resistance to change, learning after peak experiences, detecting the cognitive biases related to learning (e.g., confirmation bias), resilience, awareness of one’s level of development (e.g., using spiral dynamics theory), and an ability to sustain new patterns of thinking/feeling while old patterns slowly lose their grip (awareness of the process of neuroplasticity).

Ikigai, a wonderful japanese concept, may offer you good insights during the inner growth journey.


Exploring and re-programming the automatic patterns

Can ”unconscious” patterns and content become conscious? Yes, the process of inner growth is about re-programming the automatic patterns of feeling-sensing-thinking-doing-being. In the spirit of modern psychology, I prefer to use “automatic” functioning instead of “unconscious”, as it relates better with the subjective experience of change.

The process of inner growth is in fact a large-scale re-programming of all these automatic patterns, and a creation of some new and free ways for being and doing. Some of the automatic structures of the psyche are available for re-programming easily, some of them not, due to the self-defenses that make us negate, reject or simply ignore some experiences and their significance. This content is what psychologists call “the shadow”. Accessing the shadow and allowing this content to contribute again to conscious experience in a necessary step for development.

Switching from automatic pilot to conscious functioning requires an in-depth exploration of our way of being and interacting, and usually it takes many years. It is like as if the person opens all the past memory engrams, re-explore the situation, re-arrange the content by including the ignored content, re-framing the significance of the engram, and then close the engrams and let it participate again naturally in conscious experience. During the inner growth process, we all discover blind spots in our autobiographical memories. Eventually, after years of practice, there will be no more blind spots.

There are many ways to reprogram the patterns. First, we need to notice the patterns. There are two main ways of noticing the patterns: post-event (after it happens) and during the event (witnessing while they happen). I think the constant self-reflection is important, observing at the end of the day or periodically how we were in a situation (with a help of counselor or not). In time, we can set us to act-think-feel differently. After the witnessing awareness activates, people are able to notice and modify in real time their patterns, and that leads to an acceleration of the growth process. Even if, in the post-autonomous stages, this re-writing is in fact more like “letting go to be re-written by the harmony around”.

During the periods of re-programming, it is good to keep in touch with harmony in our lives, keeping good contact with nature, listen to inspirational music with harmonically vibes, or just being silent and watching the birds. In addition, to remember that this process of transformation happens in many people around the word. Trusting the process and allowing the new patterns to emerge is a good attitude. While reinventing us, a common fear is that of our own disintegration. The ego cannot allow its own disintegration to take place. The attitude of “I am allowing myself to disintegrate” is itself a more subtle way to keep in place and maintain the “integrity” of the ego. In order to abandon the ego, this process needs to unfold without expecting anything. The evolution of the ego happens naturally, if we let go.

A technique I like that can be used in various moments of the day is asking myself the question “why I do this?” or phrasing what I do in that moment in terms of choice – “I choose to…”. This is bringing awareness to the daily functioning of our psyche. You can set a daily reminder on your computer or mobile phone with this task of self-reflection.

Presented in an article by Matt James, published in Psychology Today, with the title “Conscious of the Unconscious” are some principles to remember when working with automatic patterns:

“The unconscious mind preserves the body: One of its main objectives is the survival of your physical body. It will fight anything that appears to be a threat to that survival. So if you want to change a behavior more easily, show your unconscious how that behavior is hurting your body

Runs the body: rather than telling the unconscious what perfect health looks like, try asking it what it knows and what you need for better health.

Is like a 7-year old child: needs very clear directions, and takes your instructions very literally. Therefore, if you say, “This job is a pain in the neck,” your unconscious will figure out a way to make sure that your neck hurts at work! The unconscious is also very “moral” in the way a young child is moral, which means it is based on the morality taught and accepted by your parents or surroundings. So if you were taught, “sex is nasty,” your unconscious will still respond to that teaching even after your conscious mind has rejected it.

Communicates through emotion and symbols: To get your attention, the unconscious uses emotions. For example, if you suddenly feel afraid, your unconscious has detected (rightly or wrongly) that your survival is at risk.

Stores and organizes memories: The unconscious decides where and how your memories are stored. It may hide certain memories (such as traumas) that have strong negative emotions until you are mature enough to process them consciously. When it senses that you are ready (whether you consciously think you are or not!), it will bring them up so you can deal with them.

Does not process negatives: The unconscious absorbs pictures rather than words. So if you say, “I don’t want to procrastinate,” the unconscious generates a picture of you procrastinating. Switching that picture from the negative to the positive takes an extra step. Better to tell your unconscious, “Let’s get to work!”

Makes associations and learns quickly: To protect you, the unconscious stays alert and tries to glean the lessons from each experience. For example, if you had a bad experience in school, your unconscious may choose to lump all of your learning experiences into the “this is not going to be fun” category. It will signal you with sweaty palms and anxiety whenever you attempt something new. But if you do well in sports, your unconscious will remember that “sports equals success” and you’ll feel positive and energized whenever physical activity comes up.”

Exploring the shadow, accepting and integrating all experiences

De-automatization involves a new way of being, a new skill: the ability to observe the defenses and to skip using them. Allowing all kinds of experiences to flow through us is a natural way to integrate and accept them. Interpreting the experiences we don’t like as “negative” is a choice that stops the development process.

Working with the shadow is a part of the archetypal exploration of the psyche. In Jungian-Senoi Dreamwork methodology, developed by Strephon Kaplan-Williams, working with the “adversity” archetype is useful in order to gain a balanced archetypal structure.

Fear is a natural response to strong “adversity”, and it takes some time to learn to accept fears and to communicate with adversity in our lives. Sometimes the masculine-hero energy is needed, sometime the feminine-hero energy. I prefer to look at fears as “versions” of reality, so that the negative can be explored as a polarity, and integrated as a polarity. Some people try to solve this fear, but they miss the understanding that the fear is actually the glimpse of the new reality. Their refusal to connect is the fear. Phrases such as “I’m afraid of something” creates a psychological game, where “I have something new and I am afraid of it”. The alternative phrasing such as “which reality version am I refusing to make contact?” brings a different type of thinking, a more inclusive one and offers a larger perspective.

In ego developmental stages, people gain access more and more to the shadow content. Integrating the missing parts of the conscious puzzle creates an alignment of the individual with the collective, creating a richer, whole being experience, with increased flowing and accepting of everything as it is, but with the choice to act and change the world when needed.

My own way of working with the some deep automatic patterns was to immerse deeply into the content, in order to explore it fully, as in a kind of ritualistic approach. For example, when I wanted to explore a fear, I set myself a period of time (hours-days) when I let my mind and emotions to wander freely in contact with the content. During that time I was writing, dancing, drawing, allowing what was coming. In this kind of approach, setting a “lifeline” for coming back is necessary, that is, a person that knows about the process and can bring me back to real life if the content is overwhelming. This full immersion in the automatic content is a powerful and effective way to get in contact with the rejected or ignored content, but it needs a lot of hero energy to do it. And a special safe place, so that one would be able to scream or dance naked if they wish, without any neighbors around to call the emergency line. After these kinds of exercises, I used to monitor myself day by day through self-reflections, at the end of the day, allowing some weeks for integration.

Spiritual bypass – the premature transcendence

Spiritual bypassing is a term coined by John Welwood to describe widespread tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks. In an interview, Welwood explains: “when we are spiritually bypassing, we often use the goal of awakening or liberation to rationalize what I call premature transcendence: trying to rise above the raw and messy side of our humanness before we have fully faced and made peace with it. And then we tend to use absolute truth to disparage or dismiss relative human needs, feelings, psychological problems, relational difficulties, and developmental deficits… Trying to move beyond our psychological and emotional issues by sidestepping them is dangerous. It sets up a debilitating split between the buddha and the human within us. And it leads to a conceptual, one-sided kind of spirituality where one pole of life is elevated at the expense of its opposite: Absolute truth is favored over relative truth, the impersonal over the personal, emptiness over form, transcendence over embodiment, and detachment over feeling.”

The search for transcendence or may lead to building a spiritual identity, which becomes primary and posits that social, psychological or emotional issues are not important, only the attainment of realization is important. In fact, this is a runaway from our innermost core, and solving the psychological issues using detached “spiritual” approaches is in fact just a smart defense mechanism. Common problems emerging from spiritual bypass include “compulsive goodness, repression of undesirable or painful emotions, spiritual narcissism, extreme external locus of control, spiritual obsession or addiction, blind faith in charismatic leaders, abdication of personal responsibility, and social isolation”

An example of ”spiritual bypass” is the idea that “thoughts are just thoughts, observe them but don’t pay attention to them”, used outside of the spiritual practice. In our everyday life, our emotions and thoughts are useful, as they bring to our attention things that we need to address. For a funny explanation of the spiritual bypass, watch “How to be Ultra Spiritual” with JP Sears.

How to relate with the inner growth process

On one side inner growth requires openness, cognitive and emotional flexibility, accepting the criticism, accepting uncertainty, getting used with paradoxes and accepting “I don’t know” as a valid answer. Yes, there is a lot to accept. On the other side, trusting one’s own process of transformation and abandoning the control are attitudes that I believe it is good to sustain during the transformation process.

During inner growth, the moments of uncertainty may be more frequent than the moments of stability. The more we abandon ourselves to the process, the more rapid the transformation is. However, it is impossible to predict how the transformation occurs, as each person is unique. In my opinion, we all pass through some benchmarks, but how we arrive in each benchmark, that’s unique.

It took me some time to accept that I am in a process that keeps deploying constantly, day and night, consciously and unconsciously. A few years ago, I made the decision that every time I realize that I am stuck in a perspective to change my perspective again. This way I managed to not be stuck in symbolical journeys through archetypes. I later realized that I am not alone in this transformation, that I am supported by the collectiveness, and that all that I needed appeared at the right time. The solutions didn’t fall from the sky, I was finding them by actively paying attention to what is happening with me, and looking for solutions by exploring my own person and exploring the people I was interacting with. To me, the inner growth process is yin and yang, active actions and passive noticing.

How does it feel when we change? Alison Crosthwait, from “The Good Therapists” blog, writes that deep change involves bearing a process, which we do not yet understand. And we have to bear its speed – fast, slow, or something in between. Here it is her experience: “Sometimes my brain goes fuzzy or suddenly empty; Sometimes I feel depleted. And thirsty. Like my psyche just had an intense massage; Sometimes I feel jacked up and manic; Sometimes I feel butterflies; Sometimes my shame is activated and past regrets, mistakes, and vulnerabilities take over with an insatiable vengeance. When I can catch this I call it backlash; Sometimes someone says something unexpected and I consciously try to take it in. To let it change my cells; Sometimes I cry about something I have never cried about before; Sometimes I have a dream or a fantasy and part of its meaning hits home and I know this is a marker of an incremental shift; Sometimes someone in my life puts words to a change and I recognize it as true but previously unarticulated. In talking the change takes shape; Sometimes I have an extra glass of wine that I don’t need or want. Later, I can identify this extra glass as a response to new feelings that seemed unmanageable even though unworded; Some of these changes are about my conscious self. Some are about unconscious shifts that I cannot fully articulate; And sometimes there is no perceptible sign of anything.”

Referring to what it is as other people change, Alison Crosthwait says, “when others change it evokes feelings in us. This gives us the opportunity to change. When I feel wild with anger at my friend’s new assertions I have the opportunity to explore that, express it, reflect on it – to live on the edge of it. This is my chance to evolve in response to my friend’s growth… Change has a ripple effect. Our change into the world. And the change of others into us and the world”.

Here are some of her experiences when other people change, listed on The Good Therapists blog: “I hear something new in their voice. A little more strength. Or less questioning of their right to speak; They express emotion just a little (or a lot) more forcefully – anger, love, sadness, joy – it has more color and texture; My heart skips a beat with excitement and possibility as I realize that I am not trapped in one way of being with this person but that together, not just me but together, we are always creating something new. Together we are healing; I feel wildly angry, irritated, or annoyed at a limit, boundary or observation the person makes; I feel afraid and insecure at a limit, boundary, or new expression from the other person; I feel nervous or agitated around them or when thinking about them. I wonder about them; They say something that startles me. Something I haven’t heard before from them; They make a big change that they have been struggling with for a long time; I feel loved in a new way – perhaps more directly or openheartedly”.

Balancing Aliveness: depression vs. anxiety in the growth journey

A perspective that I like is related to how much energy we have to invest in the process of transformation. I found a nice explanation in a blog post by Steve Bearman “Depression, Anxiety, and the Mismanagement of Aliveness”. In Steve’s vision, depression and anxiety are polarities of the aliveness, the force of life that is in all of us. He wrote: “Imagine depression and anxiety as opposite poles on a spectrum. Depression is characterized by a lack: low energy, low motivation, less meaning, less pleasure. Anxiety, on the other hand, is a kind of overabundance: too much energy, restlessness, hypervigilance, overactive thoughts… Aliveness is the key to the entire system of depression and anxiety. Instead of asking what to do about depression, find out how to come more fully to life, how to liberate aliveness when it gets trapped. Instead of asking what to do about anxiety, learn how to withstand the relentless intensity of being alive”.

For Steve, depression and anxiety are fundamental human experiences, because being alive is something we all need to learn how to do. “The old paradigm, by framing depression and anxiety as illnesses, has freed us from self-blame. An illness is no one’s fault. It is no one’s fault if they don’t yet have access to all the aliveness they need. It is no one’s fault if they are overwhelmed by the aliveness they experience. These are challenges everyone eventually faces. We all need help to master aliveness. We can all help one another.”

In my opinion, this mechanism is also happening in what we call manic-depression cases. Stepping out of a configuration into new one releases energy. In some individuals, this gives birth to a kind of “manic” time, it can be weeks or months, when people sleep just a bit, and they have a lot of energy. In fact, they are breathing life like never before. But, after it’s depleted, stillness (labeled with depression) comes, until a new blockage is released and a new energy wave hits again. Balancing aliveness, as presented by Bearman, is the most accurate explanation I know about this spiraling process of having/not having energy during the inner growth process.

Daily practice and ”self-directed neuroplasticity”

The concept of “self-directed neuroplasticity” means that we can intentionally change the functioning of our brain with our mind. We can embrace new ways of being just by thinking and feeling them in our mind, visualizing how we want to be. Because of this stimulation, the brain will create new neural connections, and the anticipated experience can become real.

It takes between 1-8 months to do this, according to some researchers. During this period, the old patterns and the new ways of being-thinking-feeling-sensing-acting exist simultaneously. During temporary period, there is a good advice to be followed: “Focus your attention on what you wish to create new, not on what you wish to change”. This is what is needed to reinforce the new neural connections. In time, old patterns, that are not used anymore, will disappear, and the new ones, cultivated with care, will become the default mode.”

Rick Hanson, a neuroscientist interested in self-directed neuroplasticity, has made available one of his presentations online. He says that the way we think can produce temporary changes in your brain and lasting one, according to the principle “neurons that fire together wire together”. Building new synapses in the brain through intention is incremental, and the key is attention: “neuroplasticity is heightened for what’s in the field of focused awareness, attention is also like a vacuum cleaner, sucking its contents into the brain. Directing attention skillfully is therefore a fundamental way to shape the brain – and one’s life over time”. However, it all depends on the daily practice. The new synapses needs to be sustained on daily bases, or they will be lost.

When working with visualizations, in order to create new synapses, we need to engage emotionally in the experiences we want to have, not just to think of what we want. That’s why when doing visualizations, it is important to imagine how we want to sense and feel, and to imagine them as if we already lived that experience. The richer the visualization is, the more complex synapses are forming in the brain, which will allow us in the future to experience reality in our programmed way.

Neuroplasticity also happen when we start to live new experiences on regular basis, e.g. doing meditation to calm down the mind. But there seems to be a limitation to neuroplasticity: our brains forms configurations, but all these configurations are dependent of the context during which they were created. If we just do meditation in the meditation room, the new patterns will be 100% available only when we are in the meditation room. That why spiritual traditions also say that the spiritual practice must be done all the time. In hesychasm, they say the prayer of the heart needs to happen all the time in the disciple, not just during the ceremonies.

Daily practice is important in changing our default brain setting from “reactive-survival” mode to “responsive-natural” mode, allowing us more choice for the way we live our experiences. The triune brain theory shows that we have three modes of functioning, the reptilian brain which is reactive and reflexive, the mammalian brain is related with emotions and social behavior, and the human cortex takes care of the abstract thinking, language, empathy and cooperative planning. When not threatened, these systems create an experience of calm (reptilian), contented (mammalian) and caring (cortex). In its natural mode, the brain is responsive and creative, and we feel gratitude, peace and love. We need to learn not to activate the “reactive-survival” mode in our daily life, leading to ignorance and suffering, but to stimulate and sustain the responsive mode, that will create an experience of well-being and wisdom.

How to rewire each mode of the brain? As general advices, Rick Hanson lists the following: seeing clearly; have compassion for yourself; take life less personally; take in the good; deepen equanimity.

Here are Rick’s advices for changing each brain mode:

Reptilian (avoid system): cool the fires; recognize paper tigers; tolerate risking the dreaded experience.
Mammalian brain (the approach system): be glad; appreciate your resources; give over to your best purposes.
Cortex (attach system): sense the suffering in others; be kind; act with unilateral virtue.

Inner growth, google search and memetics

If you had a revelation and, after that, a search on Google revealed that your bright idea is known for more than 20 years, you know what I am talking about. Some years ago, I started to use google as an access way to the collective knowledge; as times goes by, my searches become more and more helpful, as I am finding the combinations of words that suit my new perspective. As I was transitioning though various perspectives, I learned to use new words for google search, and I found a variety of information for many aspects I was interested in. As I was progressing in my in-depth exploration of human development, the available information started to be not so easy to find. In a way, the information available through google search for each stage of ego development, respects the percentages discovered by Susanne Cook-Greuter.

What I found interesting is that there are many subjective experiences in so many blogs, and I started to explore and observe the patterns of thinking and feeling in the authors. In time, I became to be interested mostly in how the bloggers think and interact with the world, and not so much in the content of their experience. I was looking for patterns of thinking and memes. This helped me a lot to explore my perspective on the process of becoming conscious.

As a personal research hypothesis, I am now observing how the meme I launched – the consciousness quotient – is spreading through the collective mind, and how it appears in various locations. Interesting and quite amazing, since 2005 until 2015, I found the CQ meme is present in the internet only in associations that are similar to my inner psychological world. Science fiction or not, I don’t know, but it seems that the associations people make with CQ, at least in these first years, are the same as my inner emotional associations of the CQ meme. In other words, my emotions were the unconscious carrier for the CQ meme in the collective mind. People seem to relate emotionally with the CQ meme, in a conscious way or not. Maybe some other researchers will come in the future to study how a meme unconsciously spreads in the collective mind, based on the initial associations in the author’s psyche.

Spiritual teachers, channeling and our inner master

I don’t think that we necessarily need a teacher or a master during the inner growth process. However, it is a wonderful way of learning through direct experience, but the master-disciple relation is just a way, among many ways of learning. I think that emotionally relating with a teacher while still using the critical thinking is the right way, especially for people who want to transition to post-conventional configurations.

Moreover, I don’t think that abandoning the mind to the “inner master”, that is supposed to have intuitive powers, is always a good choice. Until the psyche has been harmonized (balanced), in the later stages of ego development, that what we call “cognitive intuition” is not an access to a kind of inner clear light knowledge, but just an abandoning into the psyche, through by-passing the control of the ego. Until the psyche has not undergone a “cleaning” through personal work, the information we call “intuition” is just as biased as our psyche. We may have the sensation of being free while intuition happens, but this is just a sensation of being free from the ego chains.

The reservoir of information we are accessing through intuition is not the wisdom of the collective mind directly, but is filtered by our individual psyche, by our own imprints resulted from thinking, feeling, sensing and interacting with the world for so many years. The other forms of intuitions, the intelligences coming from the heart or the body, have the same biases. Until we clean the doors of perception and the windows of feeling, the “felt” or “sensed” answer when asking our heart or our body is biased by our unbalanced configuration. In my opinion, the best “inner master” is the collective non-conceptual awareness. But, as there is no way to access its wisdom directly, we need an ego to translate it, we need a feeling-thinking-sensing configuration to deliver the message. If we are blue, we will receive “”blueish” translations. If we are “light itself”, we will receive “lightly” information. There is no such thing as a perfect translator. We are all biased by our configurations.

As an overview, I don’t think that there is even such a thing as a “collective perfect wisdom”. Earth is a collective organism with its intelligence still developing, so, listening to our deepest source of information is just listening to the current status-quo of our collective psyche. If I want to find an answer or a solution, I listen to my ego but also to my automatic or unconscious functioning. I listen to what my “gut” and instincts tell me, I take into consideration what my feelings tell me. For me, intuitions are just valuable choices my ego was unaware of, not “the right” option.

The “channeling” phenomena is in my opinion a side effect of this intuitive-like connection with our own reservoir of information. Bashar, for example, is able to channel the information from his psyche only when he enacts one of his subpersonalities, and the other identities are silent. For me, his ego has an inability to integrate all this great ideas about himself and the world. He has found this configuration, as an escape method. His ego can’t assume his greatness as a human. After all, he could say, “Hey world, look how wonderful I think you are! Let’s think freely and dream big!” Instead, his ego hijacked this wonderful process of connecting to the collective mind. He prefers to be a “chosen one”, instead of being small and insignificant human, but with a brilliant mind. This is what I call “”caught in the archetype” stage of development. I talk more about this in the last chapter. But to be frank, I like Bashar’s ideas about goodness and being a human being, he adds a great note of cosmicity in our daily life.

A person that I met has a different configuration for accessing his psyche and some of the collective knowledge. He had an out-of-body experience some years ago, and since then, his transformation process continued. In his daily life, he is a successful businessman. But he feels like there is a great wisdom within him, which can only be shared though writing. His configuration adapted to this interconnectedness “awakening” by creating a subpersonality that is “white and pure”, in contrast with the daily ego configuration which is stressful. We are still exchanging emails from time to time. I feel like it is important to maintain this subpersonality active, as a source of wisdom, and in time, he may integrate his “pure side” into one unique configuration.

Here is what his “lightly” subpersonality told me in an e-mail, when I asked how the collective mind works: “If you want to know about the collective minds, think about an ocean. How many drops do you think are in all oceans together? If you are a drop in that ocean, do you think you easily can communicate with all the other drops? I think you believe you can, but how shall you know who is who, the drops seems to be one ocean? The answer is easy to say, but difficult to do. The answer is that you are one with all the others. When you feel that you are one with all the others, you are they. When you are them, you feel them all as many different thoughts“. Now, isn’t that a nice word of wisdom? I think it’s good that people are delivering these messages to the world. Perhaps in time they will be able to allow themselves to be great all the time, not only when they are “channeled” by some wise-looking information.

The above rationale is useful also for the psychological analysis of the “invisible guides”, such as angels or other “discarnated” entities. Many people tend to interpret the connection with the collective mind as a kind of connection with some beings that are advising them what to do and offering some wise perspectives. In my opinion, this is just a natural flow of information from collective mind to individual minds. In my opinion, this interpretation of the organism-cell communication as a channeling of revelation happens when people from conventional of pre-conventional stages of development develop a post-conventional skill, the witnessing awareness. Instead of updating their entire configuration, they just update one subpersonality, which becomes interconnected. Instead of interpreting the newly found interconnectedness as global natural thinking, they tend to use their old configuration. Thus, my thoughts are not just bubbles in the collective thinking. They must be “messages” from someone to me. Depending on their culture, the collective source is misinterpreted as god, angels, aliens, discarnate beings.

During my inner transformation, I have learned a lot from many people and I had some great friends and teachers, as I did not like the one-way approaches. I found my answers in various spiritual movements but also in science, and sometimes in ordinary day-to-day experiences. I just keep my eyes wide open so that I can see and feel more. And when I found a teacher, I connect deeply with their wisdom. I found out that each stage of development has its wisdom, and its teachers.

Neo-advaita teachers. A rational perspective

I would like to comment a bit about the nondual teachers, especially related with advaita and neo-advaita teachings. I like a lot some of the approaches (e.g. ShantiMayi), and I do not like some others (e.g. Tolle or Mooji). It is not the teachings that I do not like, it’s their methods that I don’t like. For example, I think that Mooji creates an unconscious emotional conditioning in his disciples, by showing himself as a kind of wise guru. And the vibe is like, “you are already light”, but unconsciously, the message is “you need to still come to meet me to be the light”, and there is the idea of “wake up! wake up!” and the followers are always in the cognitive mode of “searching” for something.

The devotional atmosphere is opening our hearts. I like many of Omkara’s songs. However, the unconscious energy is mostly “remember who you are”, instead of “you already are what you need to be”. The emotional flow is not “you are here-now, go home and enjoy life”, but, they maintain a kind of emotional longing for being here-now. During this longing, there is no ego, and the person feels free. When the longing is no longer active, freedom is gone. And the disciple feels the need to connect with the vibe again, listening to some music or some recordings, or staying all the time with the master. That’s the tricky part in all the cults.

As a side-observation, I suggest looking at some so-called spiritual teachers and see if they speak about the transformation process in objective terms, like using third person, or are they speak using second person. For example, Tolle says many times, “you are”, “you do”… e.g. “some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” To me, his inner self is talking to himself. His mind is unconsciously using the audience to explore more about his own perspective. He reflects himself in people, and this is for me a sign that his mind is blocked in his archetypal patterns (in this case, maybe the wise old man archetype). He needs to hear what he says, but the maya is so good that it hides Tolle from Tolle. Just pay attention how many spiritual teachers have this way of communication. If only they could hear themselves. Anyway, this is their path for learning. And they are doing a great service to humanity, generally, they help so many people. As any human beings, they have their greatness and their limitations. Human evolution is still far from being a smooth process.

From a psychological perspective, many spiritual communities are promoting a weak ego and total abandonment into perceptions and sensations, in order to “feel” the divine essence. What I learned from transpersonal psychology is that one needs a strong ego before being able to abandon it. The Ego needs to be fully developed, and then, in the post-autonomous stages become possible to relax its grip. Prematurely abandoning the Ego leads many times to psychosis. In other words, personal development is needed before transpersonal development.

An article that I liked on the topic of guru and guruness, written by John Horgan, ”The Myth of the Totally Enlightened Guru”. In his book Rational Mysticism (2003), John Horgan explores the human nature of some enlightened people. Here is a description of Andrew Cohen, among others, “Cohen describes enlightenment as a form of not-knowing. And yet his guruhood, his entire life, revolves around his belief in—his knowledge of–his own unsurpassed perfection. To borrow a phrase, Cohen is a super-egomanic. His casual contempt for us ordinary, egotistical humans is frightening, as is his belief that, as an enlightened being who has transcended good and evil, he can do no harm… If Cohen settled for being human instead of perfect, he’d probably be a better teacher, and a better man”. Time showed that Horgan was right.

Entheogens: psychedelics and human development

I met several persons who have experienced temporary post-autonomous configurations while using entheogens like DMT, LSD, magic mushrooms. In my opinion, if used for getting personal insights or transpersonal wisdom, entheogens produce beneficial effects. But all the experiences with psychedelics need the after-event integration, and this is the most important aspect. For me, they are tools that open doors, but without preparations, the integration is not possible. I will talk a bit here about the use of psychedelics for facilitating insight during the journey of inner transformation. “Set and setting” plus intention are the key elements that can make a psychedelic experience a sacred on. “Set” refers to the psychological configuration of the journeyer; “setting” is the context where the experience takes place. Like the lyrics of a song, “You can be whatever you want when you’re high”, but after the high is over it takes constant work of personal development in order to access the new configuration all the time, not only when high or in an altered state of consciousness.

It’s good to know that there is a series of scientific articles on this theme, grouped together in the MAPS archive – Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. There are sufficient books and papers that explain psychotherapy using entheogens, written in the period when these substances were legal, and I invite you to read them if you are interested in details regarding this subject. Some key-words for a Google search: Rules for tripping on hallucinogenic drugsThe Controlled Chaos of CreativityThe unconscious mental effects and benefits of cannabis on one’s psycheCannabis-Induced Bipolar Disorder with Psychotic FeaturesDrugs As Tools For SpiritualityMarijuana and Divergent Thinking.

A scientific work that describes the effects of marijuana intoxication is “On Being Stoned” by Charles Tart (available online). Besides the altering of body perception, pain relief, intensifying physical pleasure, or the ability to almost perfectly empathize with people and music, marijuana intoxication produces a series of changes in the functioning of the psychic, like an increased ability to observe the unconscious (automatic) processes of thought and feeling, and the possibility to access and to  re-program them.

On programming psychedelic experience”, an article written by Ralph Metzner and Timothy Leary concisely explains how the mind can be reprogrammed to support the process of personal development. Briefly, the exploration of unconsciousness and reprogramming take place as follows: it needs a conscious intention to make this programming, before the actual experience. In experiences mediated by cannabis, some people experiment and feel what they are thinking, there is a direct correlation between thoughts-feelings, which goes up to the physical sensation of ideas, and for example, one is imagining that his leg hurts and the leg starts to feel pain. Or one is thinking that he wants to be happy and starts to feel that happiness.

With a correct intention, during this experience, a series of mind patterns can be noticed and re-written. How? The simple intention – I want to think “xyz” instead of “abc” – leads to changing the thought system in “xyz” and feeling the appropriate emotion. But the immersion into the automatic patterns of the psyche has also some inherent risks. Since these automatisms also contain “the shadow”, the encounters with “fears” are almost inevitable. If the intoxication is severe, the lack of control over the content and the apparition of negative thoughts are not just verbal; ideas are personified, the negative is organically felt and, depending on the symbolic system of each person, the fears take different shapes (demons, gods). This is how the so-called bad “trips” appear.

Across history, findings suggest that these substances were used strictly by trained individuals, who know what happens and how to react. Powerful intoxication generates a state of special awareness and, without knowing the basic rules, can lead to mental blocks and psychosis. This is already happening and some marijuana consumers end up in hospital, as they are unable to process the content brought up in their trips. Or, when the ability to be an observer is activated, subpersonalities become visible and start to talk to each other. Many persons, not being used to this experience, remain disconnected and don’t observe that in fact, these subpersonalities are parts of themselves.

My own research hypothesis regarding DMT is that it stimulates the harmony in the groups of microtubules in the cells, and that DMT is increasing the conductance in the microtubules, creating a temporary experience of a high-frequency connectedness. DMT is a facilitator for the non-conceptual field. I think that ayahuasca as used in Santo Daime ceremonies (drinking little by little and dancing for some 10 hours) accelerates this process, producing a “mirroring” and “re-framing” (re-writing) the programs of the body/mind/emotions/behaviors. DMT is accelerating the harmony in microtubules, and so, psychologically, the “mirroring” accelerates. It’s like, the mind has a mirror to see itself, and it is reorganizing quickly, providing insights, without the use of another mind of a therapist.

The “visions” are in fact re-arrangements of the content of the psyche, in a more harmonious way. I think this is the mechanism of visions, that’s why people have real great insights with ayahuasca. It is the harmony of this non-conceptual field (spirit world, soul, etc) that provides a mirror. In psychology, this process of mirroring is also involved in a process called “validation”. Reciprocal validation happens in psychotherapy. If we look at symbols in spirituality, this process is there: it is the mind looking at itself… In my words, this new field related with microtubules-DMT, which I call “the witness”, is “mirroring” the psyche, and so, our psyche can see itself. I included my entire research hypothesis at the end of this guide.

Regarding the aliens seen in the psychedelic visions, a valid explanations if offered by James Kent, a researcher of mystical experiences induced by DMT. He explains how the patterns of the visual imagery during DMT-induced states are in fact based on fractal patterns. In the introduction to his book Psychedelic Information Theory. Shamanism in the Age of Reason, he writes: “the book is a formal deconstruction of psychedelic hallucination, expanded consciousness, and shamanism, and as such it attempts to move topics which have traditionally been classified as metaphysics into fields of physics and mathematics”. He presents arguments that the aliens or angels people see during DMT states are nothing more than their own imagery, based on physiology.

In a comment on Sex, Drugs, Einstein, & Elves he writes: “I think in general people like to romanticize the DMT state and make it more than it is because they desperately want there to be a hidden hyperspatial world filled with mischievous sprites and god-like entities. However, when one closely studies the experience over and over again over time you come to see that a lot of the romanticized notions are not what is actually happening in the state, and people tend to “editorialize” the content of the experience in hindsight in order to make it into something more than what it actually is.”

Spiritual emergencies, mental illnesses or inner awakenings?

Christina and Stanislav Grof have introduced the concept of “spiritual emergency” or psycho-spiritual crises in order to describe moments of dramatic transformations in the human psyche. For Stanislav Grof, “many of the conditions, which are currently diagnosed as psychotic and indiscriminately treated by suppressive medication, are actually difficult stages of a radical personality transformation and of spiritual opening. If they are correctly understood and supported, these psychospiritual crises can result in emotional and psychosomatic healing, remarkable psychological transformation, and consciousness evolution”. He lists some types of experiences that can be considered as spiritual emergencies: Shamanic crisis; Awakening of Kundalini; Episodes of unitive consciousness (Maslow’s “peak experiences”); Psychological renewal through return to the center (John Perry); Crisis of psychic opening; Past-life experiences; Communication with spirit guides and “channeling”; Near-death experiences (NDEs); Close encounters with UFOs and alien abduction experiences; Possession states; Alcoholism and drug addiction.

Since the introduction of the “Religious or Spiritual Problem” in DSM-IV, this perspective is expanding slowly to the mainstream psychiatry, especially supported by transpersonal psychology. Spiritual crises are natural responses to unusual life circumstances, happening during the inner growth process. And there are many other temporary expressions, many of them related with mystical experiences, which are included under some psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar disorder.

On the topic of spiritual emergency, I highly recommend some documentaries: ”Bipolar or waking up”, made by Sean Blackwell; Open Dialogue, describing the amazing work of Jakko Sekkula and his team in Finland and Healing Homes, about the work of the Family Care Foundation in Sweden.

David Lukoff’s website on ”spiritual competency” and the spiritual emergency network are very useful for advanced reading.

For the therapists and the families of people that go through these transformations, there is a great handbook by Cortenay Young – ”First contacts with people in crisis & spiritual emergency”. He writes, “Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is all to do with someone else. Yes, they may be having a crisis, even a spiritual one, but it will almost inevitably affect you as well, and thus some of this material will become part of your process, your life, your transformation. Your reactions will reverberate with them and facilitate or hinder their process; and you will also affect others. The ripples spread once the stone has been dropped in the pond. And how we use this material is also very important. We can view our glass as half-full, or half-empty. A crisis can be an opportunity, a side-track, or a disaster”.

Courtenay Young has a small residence where takes care of the people in spiritual emergencies. His book is based on his experiences when working for 17 years as the residential psychotherapist at the Findhorn Foundation, a spiritual and educational community of about 1,000 persons, in the north-east of Scotland.

My approach to these topics is an inclusive one: I think that what people experience is a real phenomenon, and there are no delusions that they need to abandon. On the contrary, these “delusions” are offering the key to the next configuration of their thinking-feeling-sensing and being. To me, the spiritual crises are related with the vertical ego development, and they are a sign that the individual is passing from one stage to another, in a mystical or in a mundane world. For me, excepting the psychiatric conditions generated by physical dysfunction in the body, all other psychiatric conditions are natural responses to human life, and should be treated as such.

Centers such as Diabasis, developed by John Weir Perry, have shown that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can be solved if the transformation process is carried on. People can get un-stuck from the symbolic world, if the symbolic journey is completed, and the reconstruction of the new ego begins.

The story of John Weir Perry is amazing: “He was a Jungian psychiatrist who founded an experimental residential facility called Diabasis, in San Francisco, California, during the 1970s. This was designed as a comfortable home where young adults, who were experiencing the initial days of their first “acute schizophrenic break”, could live in and be empowered to go through their Apocalypse on the way to greater health and happiness. The results were amazing: without any treatment by medication, electroshock or locked doors – but with opportunities for painting, dance, massage, meditation and conversation – full-blown “schizophrenics” were able to go through their ego-death and emerge on the other side, as Perry put it, “weller than well.” Instead of being sent to a mental hospital and/or being expected to taking medication for the rest of their lives, these people would live at Diabasis for the first three months, spend three more months in a half-way home, and then return to the outside world, with few if any relapses of their schizophrenia!”

“What we did at Diabasis was specifically to set up what we hoped would be the most ideal, least toxic (smile), least damaging environment for a person in the visionary state. First off, this means a home. You need a place with friendly, sympathetic individuals who live there. These people have to be companions, have to be willing to listen and not be frightened and not be judgmental about it, and not try to do anything to anybody. One has to let the visionary process unfold itself spontaneously. Under such conditions, to our surprise, we found that our clients got into a clear space very quickly!

We had started out with the notion that we would surely be in for a lot of bedlam with all this “madness” going on, but actually, the opposite was true! People would come in just a crazy as could be on the first day or two, but they would settle down very soon into a state of coherency and clarity. Often, when I would come in for a consultation at the end of the week, I would see someone who had been admitted in a completely freaked-out state just a few days before, sitting at the dinner table indistinguishable from anybody else; sometimes I couldn’t tell if this was a new member of the staff, or one of our clients. The calming effect of a supportive environment is truly amazing!”.

In an interview, Perry said that “schizophrenia” is a self-healing process, and the reason why we have “chronic schizophrenia” diagnostics is in fact cultural; it is the society’s negative response to what is actually a perfectly natural and healthy process, many times including visionary experiences. “What makes this visionary state appear so very psychotic is that an individual with a paranoid ideology or ideation tends to identify with everything that comes up from below, and one is very apt to get confused”.

“[At Diabasis ] the whole environment was organised into various “spaces.” One of these – a -very important one – was called the rage room. This was soundproofed and padded, for the individual’s own protection, and we put things in there that they could whack to pieces like old cottons and mattresses. But the door was not locked; it was not like the padded cell in the mental hospital, where the person is isolated against his will… We set it up so that if a client was having strong feelings of rage, he or she could share it with a staff member, particularly the counselor or primary therapist, and thus deliver it. This was found meaningful.

The anger is a very important part of the growth of the ego, you see. We also had the opposite: a room for quietness and meditation. This was equally important, for integrative purposes. We had an art room, but I must say, people didn’t seem to spend much time there (chuckle). These so-called “sensitive personalities” were all hanging around the dining room table, doing watercolors or modeling in clay, and giving creative expression to some of the imagery inside their head. We also had a sand tray and figurines for sand play therapy. It works like a dream: you set up a dramatic scene, move the figurines, or tell a story. This avenue of expression is easier than painting. It’s very dreamlike, so it hits the visionary state very well. We also had poetry… Another thing we provided was a variety of body movement sessions, dance and martial arts, with skilled facilitators. And finally, we had interviews at least three of four times a week, for an hour and a half to two hours each, with the primary counselor/therapist. But really all of these creative outlets put together became part of the interview itself – verbal expression combined with image expression in these various media. Now throughout all this there was nothing scheduled, nothing mandatory. It was all informal. We’d just respond to things as they came up.

Our only house rule really was “No violence to property or persons!” The clients could dash out nude into the street if they had to; we didn’t like it, but they did! You see, we wanted them to be in this house of their own free will. They had to realize their own desire to belong in the house, and they did. So this whole approach is essentially one of releasing, rather than suppression. We allowed everything and encouraged its expression – not toward chaos, but toward communication! Communication tends to order. This is a most important point in psychiatry, but the common opinion is that it is very dangerous… When you actually do it, however, you find exactly the opposite is true: people get over their preoccupations very quickly. The whole point here is to deliver the visionary content to somebody and to be able to appreciate its symbolic relevance to the inner process of personal and social renewal. Once it’s delivered, the process keeps moving by itself. It’s really unfortunate there is so much misunderstanding about it all. The truth is really very simple”.

In my opinion, these visionary states are a re-connection with the archetypal levels of the psyche, including culturally- related archetypal symbols. And it usually happens before the first ego death. If the person can manage to deal with this first ego death, they can embrace more and more a flexible ego, culminating in the post-autonomous stages with a moment-to-moment death and rebirth. But, when this happens for the first time, it is quite a challenge for many. If the experience happens to an individual that is in a supportive group with some knowledge about transpersonal psychology, shamanism or human development, then the person may be helped to transition thought the dark night of the soul, to the new configuration. If the person is in a pre-conventional or conventional environment, the chances are to frighten everyone around and to be send to hospital to receive a “psychotic” label. It is not easy to hear someone saying: “I am Jesus today”, or “aliens have implanted a transmitter in my brain, and all my thoughts are being transmitted to everyone”.

Apparently, these are delusions. To me, they are insights from a new ego, more complex and interconnected, but the individuals are using the old terminology and the thinking structures of the old ego, being unable to make a correct meaning out of the experience.

In an interesting study that explored the styles of education of the families with  individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia, using a questionnaire-based interview, the researchers discovered that mothers of male schizophrenics more often checked such items as: “Children should be taken to and from school until the age of eight just to make sure there are no accidents; A mother should make it her business to know everything her children are thinking; If children are quiet for a little while a mother should immediately find out what they are thinking about; Children should not annoy parents with their unimportant problems; A watchful mother can keep her child out of all accidents; A parent must never make mistakes in front of the child; Parents should sacrifice everything for their children; Children who take part in sex play become sex criminals when they grow up; A child should not plan to enter any occupation that his parents don’t approve of; Some children are just naturally bad; A good way to get children to obey is by giving them presents or promising them treats. Spanking a child does more good than harm”.

Some children manage to escape this coercive atmosphere, some don’t, and their psyche is just coping with the pressure, trying to evolve as a natural instinct. I know a family with two girls, both diagnosed with schizophrenia around the age of 18. The main reason was that they went out naked in the street and apparently, they lost the coherency of thinking and behaving. I met one of the girls when she was 25, and she started to study psychology, in an attempt to prove that she is not mentally ill. Then I found out that her father used to keep her locked in her room and verbally abusing both of them, since they childhood.

Schizophrenia is rooted in the transgenerational psychological patterns. To heal an individual that has schizophrenic symptoms, one must look into the family style of thinking-feeling-sensing-behaving. Studies showed schizophrenia is transmitted through generations, in the sense that unbalanced patterns of thinking-feeling-sensing-behaving are transmitted from parents to children. In order to close the circular evolution and start a vertical transformation, a generation must assume the healing and change their psychological patterns. If not, the transgenerational line will produce repeatedly schizophrenic-like children. These children are not the problem; they are the cure for the transgenerational lie. Fortunately, shamans knew this and when a person had the symptoms, they were embracing the change with respect. Looking from this angle, the family tree of the person with schizophrenia will continue to try to heal itself, and the psychospiritual crises will appear again and again in individuals, until the family tree heal itself and advance in its evolution.

Depersonalization, changes in ”locus of identity” and diffuse-objective attention

There is a strong similarity between what we call “depersonalization” and the spiritual concept of “enlightenment”. Their common trait is the concept of “locus of identity”.

Depersonalization disorder consists of persistent or recurrent feelings of being detached from one’s body or mental processes, usually with a feeling of being an outside observer of one’s life. In The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, depersonalization is often categorized as a reaction to severe stress. The DSM-IV conceptualizes depersonalization as a dissociative disorder, and dissociation is a typical response to trauma. The DSM-IV also lists depersonalization as an element of posttraumatic stress disorder and considers depersonalization as a coping style.

In my opinion, depersonalization reflects mainly a change in the locus of identity. This change usually happens in the post-conventional stages of development. People realize they are not the body-mind, but something else. This stage in personal development is related to the activation of the witnessing awareness, the ability to observe and witness the entire bodymind as a system. When it first appears, there is a shift in the locus of identity: individuals see themselves as if from outside, and the entire life looks like a dream. When the persons are stuck in this stage, usually fearing this new experience, and they don’t happen to have a protective environment around, they end by getting a psychiatric label, instead of being happy about the doors this new perspective opens for them. It is interesting for me to see that it’s the stress that create this external locus of identity response. Theoretically, this confirms my idea that witnessing awareness is related with the release of endogenous DMT in the body, stress being one of the factors that are known to generate bursts of endogenous DMT, which activates the non-conceptual self and deploys different types of attention.

The type of attention that is associated with depersonalization is the diffuse-objective type. In Les Fehmi’s description: “The diffuse focus-objective mode of attention is one in which multisensory experience is simultaneously and objectively present, a potentially vast multidimensional objective awareness. An array of objective sensations hang suspended in the midst of a more general diffuse awareness of space. Playing in a band, appreciating a panoramic sunset, going for a walk or driving a car – these are among the activities for which an appropriate relational strategy may emphasize diffuse focus-objective attention”. It is like watching all that happens without being involved in it, and that can create the illusion of a kind of “depersonalization”.

But depersonalization is just a temporary stage. After the witnessing awareness and the diffuse-objective attention are activated, people can explore a new way of attention, which is diffuse-immersed: taking the contact with the world and own bodymind again, but this time, including the entire environment.

As a conclusion, the experience of depersonalization is just a temporary new perspective that is natural during the inner growth process. It can start as a self-reflection, and gradually the cognitive observer experience can trigger the activation of the witnessing awareness experience. Mindfulness is one of the methods focused on detached observation. In a sense, during the inner growth process, many Buddhist monks could have been temporarily diagnosed with depersonalization.

Transformational counseling and non-dual psychotherapy

Providing a support for vertical transformation is slightly different from the classic counseling and therapy. Speaking about nondual psychotherapy, Kaissa Puhakka writes, “those who have tasted the natural wellbeing associated with a momentary disappearance of the self may try to recapture it, and if they are therapists, perhaps set up conditions that could bring it about for their clients as well. Such efforts, however, proceed from the standpoint of the self as a distinct and enduring identity. From that standpoint, the disappearance of the self—nonduality–is something to be captured or attained by some sort of technique or spiritual practice. The one who is doing the capturing or attaining is, of course the very self that constitutes itself, paradoxically, in the very act of trying to capture or attain. Many spiritual practitioners have found themselves dead-ended in this paradox…. The practitioner, hoping to “go into” nonduality, “gets into” trying to dissolve the self instead. But the self cannot dissolve itself. It cannot really even allow itself to dissolve, for that, too, sets up a duality between the one doing the allowing and the state that is supposed to be achieved by doing it. Notice how “allowing” can be a mental attitude that fixates the self”.

Working with post-conventional transformation is even more unusual, as the counselor has to abandon his own ego, as the client experiences their ego death. Otherwise, the counselor will unconsciously “fixate” the client’s ego, and instead of helping them, the counselor will block the transformation process. That’s why for people in psychotic episodes, the classical therapeutical approach does not work. In these situations, the therapeutical approach is rather unconditional presence, which do not require even the establishment of a “rapport” between the counselor and the client.

Discussing about her transformation as a counselor, Kaissa writes, “nothing is required of the other in nondual presence—not even that the other be present. The last point is very subtle and its significance is easy to miss. I had missed it for many years without, of course, realizing that I had missed it. As a therapist, I felt my job was to help my clients to be present with me. I tried to use the relationship with my clients therapeutically, to bring them into presence through relationship with me. Then one day I realized that I had been working on an assumption all along. This assumption was that I could not be in contact with my clients unless they were in contact with me. That contact is mutual and reciprocal seemed intuitively compelling, and so I had never questioned it, never even realized that I had accepted it as a premise to “come from” into the therapy work. But one day I realized it, and the realization freed me up to be present and connected unconditionally, regardless of whether my client was present “with me.” My fixation around reciprocal presence was unraveled and my self was free to “go into” nonduality in the presence of another, to be in full contact with her even when she was not with me. Nondual presence has no requirement for reciprocity. It did not require me to withdraw from it because my client did. It did not require me to be or do anything. And just as important, it did not require anything of my client. I had “understood” before that nonduality is unconditional and requires nothing. But now that understanding had a new depth and a new presence in the therapy room”.

Some other useful perspectives about nondual psychotherapy are available in two volumes, “The sacred mirror” (2003) and “Listening from the heart of silence” (2007).

In the transformational counseling, a principle from ego development theory applies. The counselor have to be at least in the same ego development stage as the client, or at a more complex stage, in order to understand their issues. This is also valid for therapists and psychiatrists: if a client comes with a post-autonomous experience of ego deconstruction, and the experts are not themselves in a post-autonomous stage, they will be unable to see the big picture and the therapeutic approach will be not ok. The therapist will unconsciously fixate the self, trying to help the client make sense out of the experience; and the psychiatrist will just use ICD or DSM to label it as disorder and depending on the situation, will prescribe antipsychotics.

Importance of reciprocal validation during transition through stages of development

“You’re not great until someone says you are” explains the theory of social validation. In transformational counseling, I found that this is the most important part: validating the person that they indeed, are “there”. But this principle also has another side: when a person changes something inside, in the first days, they meet the same friends and most of the friends cannot see the change. In some situations, they even “fixate” the old ego, not validating the changes that just happened. If the change is a vertical one, and no friend is on that stage, there is no one around to validate the transformation, and that’s a problem in many cases. We need validation through our journey of transformation. Validation gives us stability and trust that we are on the right path. In some cases, I would describe the result of validation as a “blossoming”.

Somebody else has to “see” that we are changed, that we are “awake”; at a certain time during this process, validation is important, so that the change, or the “awakening” is integrated. For me, it was useful to announce verbally to my partner that something has changed in me, and I asked her a few times to be careful, not to unconsciously reinforce my old ego, but to support me and to see me in the new configuration.

To add some quantum salt and pepper, the validation phenomenon looks similar with the observer’s effect in double slit experiment, the person beside us is the one that can collapse the wave into a particle (our ego), by seeing and validating the change.

Psychosomatics and conscious embodiment

In the personal development process, cleaning out and integrating past experiences happens both in the body and in the mind. Each thinking pattern has a relation with an energy pattern in the body or in our emotional structure. Just intervening on one side will not produce the change. That’s why I think that visualizations in which people direct energy to heal some parts of the body produce only placebo effects. To clean the cognitive and emotional imprints in the body, we need to do use the body.

For me, inhabiting my body has reached a new level of sensibility when I started the contact improvisation classes, a form of contemporary dance that doesn’t involve choreography, but free and authentic movement. And the Feldenkrais classes were very useful, helping me reconnect with parts of the body I didn’t imagine that is possible to be felt.

Rosemarie Anderson describes the evolution of body awareness during the developing of the personality in her Body Map theory. She compares the ten stages of body awareness development to the corresponding nine stages of ego development offered by Susanne Cook‐Greuter.

Speaking about her model, Rosemarie underlines, “early axes involve somatic and sensorial enmeshment; middle axes are characterized by increasing differentiation of body, mind, and spirit; and later axes reflect integration and ultimately unification of body, mind, and spirit in awakened consciousness. From a transpersonal perspective, despite our personal preferences, all dimensions of life and death are holy and no one axis is more sacrosanct than another. There is nothing more or less sacred about maintaining one’s safety and well‐being than about full awakened consciousness”.

Connecting with our body is essential in the “symbolic journey” process, when their cognitive energy becomes very powerful, and the connections are so attractive that people tend to detach themselves from their body and the outer world. Cognitive “enlightenment”, without integrating this experience in the body very often leads to situations when people temporarily disconnect from the physical world and live only in their minds (in psychology, we call the process “Ego inflation”). The seduction of the mind needs bodily integration – “conscious embodiment”.

In “Don’t Trust Your Feelings: Somatics and the Pre/Trans Fallacy“, Steve Bearman explores how the somatics can be integrated with higher development: “Somatics opens up a new developmental world, especially to people who missed these developmental pieces growing up. It is akin to training a person who has never developed their mind in the arts of perception, memory, logic, language, and lateral thinking. If you have been stuck in your life and stuck in your head, somatics can expand your world. If you have tried to work on yourself in counseling by thinking and talking, but failed to get where you wanted to go, somatics can be the vehicle that gets you there. If the head has been the problem, the body seems like the solution, but it isn’t. This is where the confusion begins. Rationality has its limits, especially when it comes to re-organizing a person’s inner experience, one of the basic goals of counseling. It seems that the way beyond these limits comes from embracing the non-rational, but it isn’t…

Let us, however, let soma be soma and nothing more. It’s so exciting to get our bodies back, and it should be, but taking up permanent residence at the lower levels of human development will not help us to integrate the pre-rational with the rational. Until such an integration occurs, the worthy goal of trans-rational development will be beyond our reach… Development never ends. Transcending rationality, and becoming our larger selves, is a developmental goal many people never reach. Somatics helps us prepare the ground. Don’t confuse it with the sky.”

Some people tend to confuse somatic (pre-rational) experiences with post-rational experiences, which include both the body and the mind. This confusion is reflected nowadays, in the neo-shamanic techniques, many of them belonging to a earlier stages of cognitive development in our history . Ken Wilber conceptualized this distinction as the “pre/trans fallacy”.

Some of the people I have discussions with on this topic described that after their “awakening” experience, their cognition looked like it was shut down, and the only available content that mattered was the sensory world. Their subjective experience was as if the mind stopped for a few weeks-months. Then, they all felt the need to re-connect and use their cognition again, but this time with a new perspective. Looks like these periods of cognitive liberation are the chaos that the mind needs in order to reconfigure a new ego structure. It may be that periods of chaos, when the ego control takes a break, are necessary for any deep change in the personality.

Carlo Monsanto, from the Ayus Conscious Intelligence Institute, has contributed to the field of Ayurveda with the systemization of an applied consciousness approach (ayurvedic psychology) that aims at cultivating fully conscious or witness awareness as an absolute reference relative to which all forms of functional awareness (mental, emotional, physical, self-relational and other forms of awareness) express.  He describes the following list of physical characteristics of the action-reaction patterns enables one to better recognize inner felt action-reaction patterns or responses as they emerge.

–        “Fear-control (controlling): distrust, restless, controlling, tension, stiffness, cramp, contraction, stinging cold/sudden temperature change, electric-like sensation, giddiness, nausea, bloated (aversion)

–        Sadness-anger (victimizing): burning, uncomfortable heat, prickly/oversensitive, irritated, swollen, inflammation.

–        Rejection-disassociation (isolating): heavy, blocking, pressing, disconnecting, absent, lethargic, too much sleep, constantly feeling tired.

–        Powerlessness (paralyzing): a combination of all three pre-emotional responses: feels painful, blocked, tensed. As if paralyzed.”

This is the one of the exercises developed by Carlo Monsanto:

“Close your eyes. Begin by noticing everything occurring inside your body. Can you feel the difference between the left and right side of your body? One side may feel heavier or larger, more present or absent, shifted moreforward, up, or down; more or less tense, painful or heavy. Now, witness what you sense in the left side of the body and then the right. Allow yourself to notice all that you can sense physically and emotionally. By being aware of everything, all at once, our mind attaches to “space”. By recognizing and acknowledging what you sense, experience is transformed and the mind becomes quieter. As your mind stops searching for resolution, it calms down. The key here is not to react to, but to recognize and acknowledge what is noticed. Through fully conscious awareness, which is neither internal or external, and a heightened form of discernment, you learn to recognize these inner felt or pre-emotional responses. Be open to see how what you sense and feel is transformed, as you bring more awareness to what you feel. Within your mind and body, notice everything that´s calling your attention. If you feel your emotions are overwhelming, you may also be able to notice that you’re afraid of losing control over whatever you’re not-yet used to “allowing”. Notice if you resist and deny what you are feeling. Go through this process simply noticing and allowing.

Are you able to notice what you think, sense, feel and intuit without “trying” to change or solve it? Our mind remains restless if these pre-emotions are not adequately absorbed by choiceless awareness, which is ever changeless or in stasis. Restlessness disrupts our ability to focus. It makes us feel unsafe and insecure. What’s more, our mistaken sense of reality may make us misinterpret our circumstances and relationships, imagining obstacles where there aren’t any. Notice how you are experiencing from a place that is always open and receptive. As you learn to see “what is” – without the need to change “what is”, you will notice how being a discerning embodied witness reorganizes even the most troublesome responses – forever. While you stop being reactive, you become more self-directed. This is a tried-and-true way to free yourself; to connect and communicate openly with others, integrating (healing) those patterns that tend to disrupt the relationship between people, transforming fear and other patterns into more transparent ways of relating interpersonally.

This illustrates how you can awaken your own awareness to rebalance your mind and body through discernment and pattern recognition, even integrating patterns that tend to disrupt interpersonal relationships. This enables us to communicate more authentically and work together more effectively. When you are free from being influenced by pre-emotional responses, you stop mirroring the world, and acquire freedom of choice. You’ll be able to better manifest what you envision.”

Kundalini awakening and psychosomatic rebalancing. Biology of Kundalini.

In some people, the process of re-harmonizing the entire being, body and mind, generates a phenomenon known as kundalini awakening (or pranothana). A person I interacted with had been undergoing this energetic cleaning process for several years, a process that manifested by shaking and spontaneous yoga postures and dances. The person did not know yoga, but the postures that came naturally were perfect yoga positions. The body told her what to do and she simply went with the flow. After identifying a few asanas, I gave up. For the passionate ones, she perfectly embodied Kali for a few minutes. She didn’t allow me to record her on camera, but I found something similar to her gestures on the internet.

Exploring with this person, I reached the conclusion that the phenomenon was an automatic cleaning of emotional blockages in the body. The person had a sexual and emotional trauma, which had imprinted itself in the energetic patterns of the body. The spontaneous yoga movements helped her to clean herself. Sometimes she would move as if she was collecting information from some invisible field and would position it in some other part of the field. I learned from her to abandon myself to my own transformation process.

I found the most detailed explanation of the kundalini awakening and the energy opening in a book by Jana Dixon – Biology of Kundalini.

I like a lot her clarity, below some excerpts from her website,

“Our modern cultural conditions such as sedentary lifestyle, removal from nature and cooked-clogging diets are not conducive to kundalini flow or awakening. This means when we do pop it tends to be explosive rather than an ongoing thread of alchemy throughout our lifetime. Still I don’t think it should be the aim of spiritual practices like yoga and meditation to have a nice smooth calm awakening. Safe growth is translation not transformation. It is the machination of the ego to want to control the process of evolution, either through balance or through exaggeration of the extremes. Spiritual practices however can tend to tame the ego’s resistance to the process so that less friction and damage to the organism occurs, thereby making the metamorphic process more thorough and enduring. If one wants to establish a kundalini practice then I personally think that fasting, a raw diet, overt-generosity, compassionate action and adventure to be a better method of popping than preoccupation with yogic practices.”

“Since kundalini awakening is most often just something that happens, we don’t have a whole lot of say over how “mature” we are when it strikes. However by its very extreme nature, kundalini will force greater maturity and lucid adjustment to reality in order to survive. Along with the sense of danger inherent in the dissolving of ones known self, there is also a buoyant faith that arises from being so lit with Spirit and at one with the Universe. Kundalini arousal and the ongoing development of the nervous system make us more sensitive to the inner and outer worlds. The self-directed force of kundalini purifies accumulated stress caused by our past habits (samsakras) and traumas. Friction and difficulty during awakening occur not so much from the process itself but from our conscious and unconscious interference with it due to not understanding what is going on.

Kundalini burns off much of the primary reactivity imprinted from our family of origin and early life experience. With kundalini the opportunity for change is increased because our neurological slate is wiped relatively clean, but it depends on our will, faith and environment as to how far we can grow. If we do not change our habits to reflect the Self’s true interests, we will continue to rebuild the conditioned reactive self we thought ourselves to be. We spend our entire lives thinking we are an entity that was created by our parents and culture…but are we really that entity? I mean they don’t even know us, they only know their projections of us. The Grail of course is the true Self that is beyond all such imposition.”

“During a kundalini awakening we are at a lifetime peak in pituitary potency, this raises our center of being to the psychic level, through which we have access to a vastly higher vision and taste of reality. While at that level we cannot fit our larger being down into the consensus flatland “reality,” thus when in this higher operational mode we become acquainted with our essential aloneness. As well as the endocrine glands, the spleen, liver and stomach-brain, heart-brain are radically important to the metamorphic process. We can assume that the reserves in liver and spleen are being used up during the peak, and this along with exhaustion of neurotransmitters, hormones, enzymes etc… causes the classic burnout effects. After the 3 year peak is over the pituitary hormones drop off and we can fall into a slump, losing our psychic abilities, inner-navigation, motivation, attractiveness and attraction to others, purpose, meaning, drive, zest etc… From the heights of Everest we may drop back down to crowd consciousness and forget the power of our visions.

One thing we must be aware of while at the height of our psychic function is that as the awakening leaves us, and as we go into the exhaustion phase we might become “less” psychic than we were prior to the awakening. As a culture when we learn to manage kundalini without excessive organic damage, we should be able to grow in a fashion that prevents horrendous slumps in our functioning. But we should anticipate and be “prepared” for a loss of physic ability so that we do not become soul-sick from our apparent loss of depth.”

“It is the unusual nature and intensity of metamorphosis which forces respect, awareness, awe and faith. Fear is unavoidable with the hyperactivation of the sympathetic nervous system and the unknown quality of what is happening and where it’s going. But in the end passing through this fear leaves one with such an altered perspective and physiology that one essentially transcends the collective fear. Only then do we have any power to dispel consensus fear and increase love in the world. We become karma eating machines, offering cellular forgiveness.”

“Those who have had a childhood of abuse, neglect of dysfunction, tend to have more catastrophic awakenings because their systems are built for repression and dissociation. This is not always the case but it is a pattern. One can imagine that the more loving-touch and self-validation, the child receives the more efficiently wired their nervous system will be, and the fewer psycho-somatic and emotional blocks they will have. But consciousness will out no matter what the formative structure.

The nature of one’s individual awakening not only depends on one’s past history it is also determined by one’s future history. That is, what one is to become and experience is already at play in one’s present. In-forming us trans-temporally in ways the rational mind cannot perceive. The tree is already inherent in the seed. The future magnetically draws us toward it. One could call this, the karma of the future.

It seems like the more open, surrendered and evolved one is, then the more challenge one is faced with in incarnating one’s soul. So here’s the rub…the more spiritual preparation one does, the larger the flow of kundalini coursing through one. But if we don’t have some form of yoga and meditation, then we are upstream without a paddle and are battered about on the rapids with no sense of control over our boat. Traditional spiritual practices were developed to both bring on an awakening, give one the strength and skills for navigating the awakening and to substantiate the awakening in the life of the individual and his/her relationship to the world.”

“It is the unusual nature and intensity of metamorphosis which forces respect, awareness, awe and faith. Fear is unavoidable with the hyperactivation of the sympathetic nervous system and the unknown quality of what is happening and where it’s going. But in the end passing through this fear leaves one with such an altered perspective and physiology that one essentially transcends the collective fear. Only then do we have any power to dispel consensus fear and increase love in the world. We become karma eating machines, offering cellular forgiveness.

Whether rocky or calm one always has the awakening specifically designed for one’s own needs. Each individual is different. Some nuts are harder to crack than others and so take more force or unusual mechanisms to open. Kundalini herself will guide the way if we listen intently to be informed from within and hold lightly to our “shoulds” and known concepts. During Gobi Krishna’s major cycle he was having severe problems with extreme energy, aberrant mental states, heat, fear and pain. Although there was very little help available for him (even in India at the time), someone did tell him that if the energy goes up the right sympathetic trunk (pingala) that his could result in the symptoms he was experiencing, and possibly end in death. During the height of his suffering he had the intuition to concentrate on directing the current up the central channel of the spine. After success at doing this, his torturous symptoms abated and he entered a more gentle, blissful and illuminated awakening, which lasted the rest of his life.”

Here are some other articles about this topic: Kundalini is a Gift…It’s the Mind You Have to be Vigilant AboutKundalini and the First Three Chakras – Physical, Emotional, MentalPranotthana or Kundalini?The Secret of the Golden Flower.

Good journeys!
25th of august, 2015



Hypotheses related with the non-conceptual self and witnessing awareness

#1 Microtubules, Orch-Or and the speed of processing

“Witnessing awareness mode may be correlated with the microtubules processing, while the cognitive consciousness mode may be correlated with the regular connections between neurons. Looks like the microtubules communicate through a wifi system, and they process information at a higher speed than the neurons (see Orch-or theory). The witnessing experience is described by individuals as being in the present moment, here-now, and the reaction time and processing is described as being speedier than the cognitive consciousness experience.”

In the last years, Anirban Bandhopadyay’s researches on resonating nested networks on the brain showed some interesting links with this hypothesis, his research explores how various sets of frequencies resonate and link together.

I am looking to explore another interesting perspective, after the microtubules research procedure will advance: I think that the famous Libet’s free will experiment will prove wrong, if the experiment will be repeated adding a sensor in some microtubules in the specific brain areas. My hypothesis is that the microtubules generate the first impulse, not the regular brain circuits we know. The way is from microtubules-to neurons- to body. This hypothesis is consistent with the explanations from spirituality, that our thought of a fact is produced after the fact happened… because mystics look at the world from the vantage point of the higher speed configuration (non-conceptual self in my terminology). Or, in oriental energy terms, they set their observation point between sahasrara chakra and ajna, and they see the mind as an effect of the fundamental awareness. Maybe in the next years we will have the technology to do this.

#2 DMT, microtubules and pure awareness.

“It may be that the DMT is enhancing the resonance-induced conductance in single microtubules, a process that would be inhibited by anesthetic gases. Although there is no assay to measure endogenous production of DMT, it seems that 5-methoxy-DMT is likely to produce witnessing awareness experiences. Is it possible that the witnessing awareness mode has a physiological correlate in the production of endogenous DMT?”

This hypothesis still waits for the development of an array to measure endogenous production of DMT, so that we could have more data on the link between DMT and the experiences like mystical ecstatic states, orgasm, kundalini awakening, experiences in pitch dark rooms, high stress states, prolonged fasting, awakening experiences, or experiences that are labeled now as„psychosis”, „ schizophrenia”, „mania”. All these are considered by spirituality to be related with transitions to a new way of being. It may be like this, or not, we need data that’s sure, before going further with these lines of inquiry.

#3 Autism and the witnessing awareness mode

“It may be that some individuals with autism are born with an increased ability to enter the witnessing consciousness mode, leading to an inability to develop the cognitive consciousness experience in the regular educational system? There are many adults with autism that show extraordinary abilities, related to memory and perception of here-now experiences (these are characteristics of the witnessing awareness mode). A study realized by Patricia Howlin of King’s College, London, suggests that as many as 30% of autistic people have some sort of savant-like capability in areas such as calculation or music.”

Since 2013, I have explored this hypothesis with some therapists and parents with children diagnosed with autism and I noticed that ABA therapists and parents that have the witnessing awareness mode activated, at least partially, could communicate better with the children. I am now exploring if the open focus attention (diffuse attention) trainings with parents could increase their communication with their children, and support the formation of an ego. The plan is to have a training for parents, so that they would be able to observe the different “stories/primary subpersonalities/identities” of the children, and to detect the style and stream of communication for each one.

As opposed to a regular child who don’t have the witnessing awareness mode activated so much, and can control the switching by wish, these children are switching their mini-identities in unpredictable ways, they can say one sentence from identity #1, then a stimulus provoke a switch and activates #2, then #3 etc… and after a while, #1 again and the parents gets the feedback they expect. It may be after 1 minute or after one hour… But, without observing this mechanism in themselves, the parents and therapists are unable to see the continuity of the stories, and think it is an erratic behavior. Connecting the dots it’s hard, but not impossible.

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