Unique Self from an Integral perspective, Unique Self and levels of consciousness.
Let’s draw an Integral distinction between states of consciousness and stages or structure-stages or levels of consciousness, which are words that are used interchangeably in Integral Theory.
A state of consciousness is usually transient, though not always. I want to add that there’s a strong claim in Kabbalah and Sufism that there are some states which once sustained leave a lasting and irreversible impression. However, for the most part, they are ephemeral. They come. They give you a deeper, wider view of the true nature of reality, and they recede.
These states can be positive or negative. You can have a drunken state – and this is neutral, an orgiastic state. They leave some form of permanent or non-permanent memory.
A stage or structure-stage or level of consciousness is talking about a unique developmental stage or structure that exists over different lines of development. So if we are talking about motor development, there’s the structure stage before you learn to ride a bike and after you learn to ride a bike.
I have a young son, Zion, who is 20 months old. I have watched him develop over the last 20 months who is being raised by his awesome mother Marianna with some help from me. Every time I can see him he can do something new. He gains a new skill that he didn’t have before. Those are structure-stages of development. You can have a musical line of development or emotional line of development or moral line of development.
For example, along the moral line of development, there’s talk among Kohlberg’s students in Integral Theory of four core levels or structure-stages or stages of moral consciousness: ego-centric consciousness, where my felt sense of concern is really just for me and those who help me survive; then you expand, transcend and include, and you widen your felt sense of concern to include your entire group or tribe, which is called socio-centric or ethno-centric consciousness; then you transcend and include, you retain your sense of loyalty to your inner group and yourself, but now your sense of felt love, caring, and concern expands and includes all of humanity.
You have a worldcentric level. And then at level four it expands again to cosmo-centric consciousness where your felt sense of caring and concern expands to all sentient beings, and even blurs the distinction between sentient and non-sentient beings, and even blurs the distinction between past, present, and future, in which you also realize a heightened level of moral consciousness in which you also realize your full identity with the Godhead. That’s an example of structure-stages of consciousness. And there are different systems, developmental systems, that identify different ways of telling the story of structure-stages of consciousness.
Famous among them is a system developed by Clare Graves and expanded by his students, Chris Cowan and Don Beck, which color codes the levels of consciousness. Susanne Cook-Greuter has done some fantastic work, and there have been conversations recorded between Susanne and myself, which were published. Don Beck has done important work in the Spiral Dynamics system. Jane Lovinger, Bill Torbert, Robert Kegan, Jenny Wade… there’s a whole school of probably a hundred different developmental theorists dating back to Baldwin and Pierce who trace the structure-stages of human development.
So there are states and stages. Stages, once attained, are permanent. They don’t go away. Each stage is permanent. You can’t skip a stage. You have to go through all the stages.
What is Unique Self?
The core way we refer to Unique Self is as both a unique structure-stage of consciousness and a state of consciousness. Primarily it’s a specific structure-stage of consciousness that comes online as a natural spontaneous expression of living into your uniqueness at higher levels of consciousness. Of course knowing about Unique Self might be one of the things that spurs you, causes you to grow up to higher levels of consciousness. It’s the transmission, the teaching, and study of Unique Self that is one of the things that awakens you.
When you awaken, grow to higher levels of consciousness (in one system it’s identified as violet and another it’s yellow), Unique Self comes online in a big way.
At what stage of consciousness does it begin to come online? For Don Beck, it’s yellow, which is the beginning of second-stage consciousness. And for Susanne, her term for the emergence of second-tier consciousness is Construct-Aware, and even before, you have the beginning. Unique Self comes online as a natural expression of self at these higher levels of consciousness. In this sense, Unique Self is a demarcating feature of second-tier consciousness, the higher structure-stages of consciousness. That’s one expression of Unique Self.
What’s also true is that when you awaken to True Self – your classical enlightenment – you also realize that your True Self only sees through a unique set of eyes, and you realize that your awakened state of True Self is actually a state of Unique Self. That realization takes place in second-tier consciousness….
Three. Unique Self exists as a reality all the way up, and all the way down. It is always true. Uniqueness is the nature of form. But uniqueness doesn’t awaken to itself until the higher stages of consciousness. Evolution is always happening. But only recently – after physical evolution, which is followed by biological evolution, which is followed by cultural evolution— evolution begins to waken to itself and become conscious. Unique Self is always true. Uniqueness is always the nature of self and all sentience. However, when Unique Self awakens to itself you have a higher evolutionary emergent of conscience, which is why we’ve called it A New Chapter in Integral Theory (which is the title of my article on the same in JITP 6:1).