During a small group coaching intensive I was running in London last week, one of the participants asked me about “levels of consciousness”, as they had read about them in the enlightened author Syd Banks’ books but had heard other teachers of the principles Syd wrote about say that “there are no levels.”
I pointed out that dealing in metaphors can be a risky business, because when people start to take a metaphor literally, it loses much of its power. (If you haven’t seen the scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian where the accidental messiah first attempts to share a few helpful truths about life, it pretty much sums up how quickly any attempt to point to a deeper truth about life can go astray.)
So while on the one hand it makes no sense to talk about “levels” in describing the infinite awareness we seem to have been born into, on the other hand I quite like it as a metaphor for the way our personal experience of life can seem so real to us in one moment and so dreamlike in another.
As Syd wrote in The Missing Link:
As our consciousness descends,
we lose our feelings of love and
understanding, and experience
a world of emptiness,
bewilderment and despair.
As our consciousness ascends, we
regain purity of Thought and, in
turn, regain our feelings of love
The problem comes when the metaphor of levels starts looking literal and aspirational, so I wasn’t unduly surprised when later in the day they asked what level someone had to reach in order to “really get” this understanding.
My immediate response was “level 43”, which got a good laugh but didn’t really answer their question. So when they followed up by asking, this time a bit more tongue in cheek, “what happens at level 43?”, I took a few moments to reflect on the question behind their question.
Here’s where I got to…
It seems to me that there are essentially two insights that people who find a kind of peace and grace with their lives come to about what life is and how it works.
The first is that we are not in control. Whatever it is (or isn’t) that spins the planets, grows a flower, brings thoughts into my head and allows the hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous and sulphur that make up nearly 99% of the mass of life on Earth to exist, it isn’t me, and chances are good that it isn’t you either. The second is that whatever the energy and intelligence behind life is, we are made up of it and can experience and rely on it throughout our lives.
Either insight on its own doesn’t just seem to do the trick. Seeing that I have no control but thinking that nothing else does either is a somewhat terrifying thought, like being born on the top floor of the Tower of Terror and spending your life waiting for the inevitable death drop that could always be around the next corner.
On the other hand, if I think I am in control – that what I think and do and how things turn out is up and down to me – I will eventually experience myself trapped with the burden of Atlas, condemned to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders for all eternity. That level of responsibility becomes a crushing stress and pressure in our daily lives, adding weight to each decision and often leading to a kind of paralysis of conscience, lest we inadvertently do irreperable harm to our wellbeing each time we choose the wrong pathway or to our children each time we lose our patience and all that that entails.
But what if both things are true?What if we’re not in control but we don’t need to be because something else - the Tao of the East, the God or gods of the west, the implicate order of the physicists - is doing just fine on its own?Click To Tweet
What if we’re just here to enjoy the ride, and instead of being stuck in the Tower of Terror, we have the freedom to experience the whole amusement park?
You’ll thrill each time you ride the rollercoaster of emotions, laugh with nostalgia at the merry go-round of familial relationships, and enjoy the feeling of the wind in your face and occasional bouts of nausea each time you have a go at the tilt-a-whirl of business. And don’t forget to eat the occasional chocolate covered apple (because you know, fruit) and talk to some of the other people in the park. They may have come from a whole different part of the world than you and see things from a whole different angle, but if you take the time to get to know them you’ll notice they’re made of the same stuff as you and swimming in the same soup. It creates a kind of kinship, like the bands of brothers forged in the hellfire of war or the connection of pure energy, love and freedom people feel when they’re all dancing to the beat of the band at a music festival
So at “level 43”, life is far less of a burden and far more of an adventure. We get to be grateful for the highs and graceful with the lows, knowing that no matter how rough the seas, if you go down beneath the surface you’ll always find stillness and quiet in the depths.
But if your next question is “how do I get to level 43?”, you’ve missed the point.
We are not in control.
There are no levels.
And life is unfolding perfectly, exactly as it is.
With all my love (and thanks for reading),
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Some more Caffeine for the Soul
For many years, I’ve been a student of spiritual literature. Some of my favorite writings are from or about people who have had what can be described as “spiritual awakenings”, where the metaphorical light of consciousness came fully on and they discovered there was no-one there. While the awakening experiences themselves are often fascinating, I’m equally fascinated by how life changes after.
For some, nothing much seems to change, although everything may well be different:read more
Back in 2016, I published a blogpost called Love and Creative Disruption where I did my best to describe the two forces that in my decades of experience in the field of transformation make great coaching (and by proxy great leadership) great….read more
There is a line from the Greek poet Archilochus, which is generally translated as:
The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.
While foxes might be cunning and able to devise hundreds of strategies for catching unsuspecting hedgehogs off guard and eating them for dinner, the hedgehog has only one defensive strategy