Mind-Body Health

The Evolution of Consciousness—A Map for Understanding Us and the World

Man on the beach
Young man sitting on the beach

We live in conflicted times. It seems that no matter where we turn, we find polarized opinions, opposing ideological and political positions, anger, hostility, and full-blown eruptions of verbal, and physical violence. For many it seems as if this conflict is getting worse by the day, begging the question: Why is there so much division in our world?

It all boils down to states of consciousness. But what does that mean, exactly?

To begin, we have to recognize that everything happening in our lives is experienced through our body/mind and its nervous system. Any experience you have—from smelling a rose, to watching a Broadway show, or walking hand in hand with your beloved on the seashore—takes place in consciousness and is filtered through your mind and body. How you process and interpret any experience depends on how your nervous system is operating.

Seven Foundational Biological Responses

There are seven foundational biological responses of which our nervous system is capable whenever our needs are not met, each with its own unique manifestation in body, mind, and spirit. These seven responses as explained in Deepak Chopra’s book How to Know God are:

  • The fight-or-flight response: This is the most primitive survival response of our nervous system. It’s based on fear and the perception that our environment is threatening. As the name implies, in fight or flight, our nervous system is primed to run away or engage in physical aggression whenever confronted with potential danger.
  • The reactive response: This response is the psychological equivalent of the fight-or-flight response. However, rather than acting to protect our body, we engage in behaviors to protect the ego and our personal boundaries. Anger, criticism, cynicism, and disrespect are the psychological versions of the fight response while withdrawal, pouting, and sulking equate to the flight response.
  • The restful awareness response: The restful awareness response is the nervous system’s experience of deep peace, stillness, and going within. During this state we expand our internal reference point through practices such as meditation, prayer, and self-reflection.
  • The intuitive response: In this response our insight and understanding come from within as opposed to the outer world. When your mind has settled, you are able to access the wise, knowing awareness that is plugged into the vast field of cosmic intelligence.
  • The creative response: The creative response allows us to have a shift in perspective and apply a new context or meaning to situations and circumstances. Novel ideas and solutions can emerge, giving birth to something never seen before. This is also the state of healing in which the body has a creative response to a challenge, allowing well-being and health to be restored.
  • The visionary response: The sixth response is the level of collective consciousness and the archetypal domain that calls us each to live a mythical life. From this state we can have a vision of what we can become and consciously participate in the story of our lives.
  • The sacred response: This is the state of unity in which the boundaries between us and others disappear. Seeing ourselves in others and the other in ourselves, we bypass the ego’s sense of “what’s in it for me” and experience the desire to be of service in the world. In the recognition that we are each waves on the universal ocean of spirit, eternal, unbounded, and infinite, we become established in compassion, harmony, and love.

The framework of the seven biological responses is a profoundly insightful tool to explore both our personal lives and the world we are a part of. A couple of key takeaways to remember:

  • We are all operating from within our own state of consciousness, which is primarily embodied in one of the seven biological responses.
  • Your unique biology, perception, knowledge, cognition, and even reality will be different based upon which of the biological states you are in.

Think About Your Biological Responses

With this map in hand, we can then begin to examine our life experiences to better understand where we are on the ladder of our conscious evolution. Take a moment to reflect on how you normally respond when your needs aren’t met.

  • Are you routinely triggered into angry or hostile outbursts?
  • Do you sometimes become defensive or emotionally and psychologically reactive?
  • Are you able to embody stillness and restful awareness as your ground-state?
  • Do intuitive or creative solutions spontaneously present themselves?
  • Can you tap into a larger vision for your life and the larger collective consciousness of your community?
  • Are you embodying a regular state of unity and expanded and enlightened awareness?

Each of the biological responses gives you a reference point. Like mile markers on a highway, they help you see how far you’ve traveled on the journey.

Awakening to Awareness

However, it’s important to remember that it’s not a contest. You’re not competing with anyone (even yourself) to level-up to the next stage of awareness. We are all doing the best we can from our own level of awareness. In addition, each successive response doesn’t exclude the previous stages, it just offers additional options. We ultimately have access to all responses, yet there’s usually one response that resonates most strongly for us that we call home.

So now, if we pull back to our original question of why we seem to be experiencing so much division in the world, we can understand this conflict as the result not so much in terms of ideological or political difference, but rather as differences in states of consciousness. Remembering that biology, perception, knowledge, cognition, and reality are different in each state of consciousness, individuals embodying different biological responses may perceive a vastly different world from one another.

Diverse levels of consciousness are essentially operating at different frequency bands. It’s almost as if they’re speaking two different languages. This is important to understand if we are to bridge the divisive gaps in our society. Like expecting to find classical music on a rock-and-roll station, we set ourselves up for struggle and frustration by not recognizing the different states of consciousness embodied by individuals and collective groups of people.

Steps Toward Spiritual Evolution

But where do we go from here? Are we doomed to live in conflicting states of awareness and remain unable to find common ground for understanding? Not necessarily. Although most of humanity is operating from within one of the first two biological responses, we have the gift of free will to help impel the evolution of our consciousness. While our responses may often be automatic and unconscious, by expanding our awareness we can consciously begin to move up the ladder. Here are a few ways we can more actively participate in our spiritual evolution.

  • Meditate: We are all evolving. Physically, mentally, emotionally—we’re always in a state of expansion. Sometimes the process may seem very slow or even nonexistent, but the pull of growth and transformation is built into the fabric of life. Meditation, however, is the launchpad for the evolution of consciousness. The practice of meditation pulls us up from the fight-or-flight and reactive responses and establishes our consciousness in the restful awareness response. This shift represents a quantum leap into an entirely new domain of awareness that opens the door for all the other responses to awaken. Regular meditation establishes a “peace treaty” in our awareness that transcends physical and psychological violence. In this space, we can find calm amid outer chaos, perceive individuals and situations with clarity, and peer deep into the nature of reality.

The value of meditation in this regard cannot be overstated. Accessing the restful awareness response represents the turning point, the threshold that must be crossed for higher states to become available. As such, it may be one of the most important and transformative skills one could ever learn.

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  • Become familiar with the chakra system: The body’s subtle energy centers as described in the teachings of yoga and Ayurveda provide a powerful map to help us deepen our understanding of the evolution of consciousness. Chakra means “wheel” and each of the seven major chakras represent the junction point between consciousness and matter. These vortices of energy also resonate with a foundational human need that correlates directly with the seven biological responses.

ChakraBody LocationBiological Response
FirstBase of spineFight or flight
SecondPelvisReactive
ThirdSolar plexusRestful awareness
FourthHeartIntuitive
FifthThroatCreative
SixthForeheadVisionary
SeventhCrown of headSacred

The study of chakras can help you better understand how consciousness evolves through your human nervous system as well as provide tools to remove blockages or obstacles to your continued growth.

  • Commit to subtle activism: As we foster the intention to create a more peaceful, just, compassionate, loving, and sustainable world, we naturally want to take action. Conventional activism often leverages campaigning, demonstrations, or protests to bring about political or social change. However, as your awareness continues to expand a more refined approach to transformation arises.

Known as subtle activism, a term coined by author David Nicol, we come to recognize that through practices such as meditation, prayer, focused collective intention, and ritual we can have a profound and transformative effect on our society. Essentially, subtle activism is the notion that as we each commit to grow and evolve spiritually, through the non-local interconnected field of consciousness, all of humanity begins to shift. When a tipping point in consciousness is reached, the world will change. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t take positive outward action to help the world; it is however recognizing the ripple your expanding awareness has on the universe, and your innate ability to be a subtle agent of change in the world.

  • Embody non-judgment and compassion: In understanding the hierarchy of biological responses and their differing states of awareness, it might be tempting to judge others as more or less evolved than ourselves. Doing so however will always fall short and provide an incomplete picture of another. Remember, we are all operating from our own state of awareness that limits the scope of our understanding. Therefore, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to truly understand the actions and behavior of others. We may watch someone creating enormous havoc and mayhem in the world and conclude that they’re stuck in a low level of awareness and consequently beneath us. But we mustn’t forget that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.

We are all moving up the ladder of spiritual evolution, not matter how slow someone seems to be going. Judgement is a function of the reactive response and only serves to further constrict our awareness. On the other hand, compassion is based in the visionary and sacred levels of awareness. Treating everyone with compassion opens us up to better understand the struggles of others. We all wish to be free from suffering, and we each do the best we are able from our state of awareness. The more we consciously work to embody compassion and love for all beings, the more we will become the lights of awareness the world so desperately needs.

With this knowledge of the seven biological responses and their corresponding states of awareness in hand, you have a roadmap not only to the evolution of your own awareness, but a framework to better understand and help heal the conflicts of the world.