The Ageless Wisdom traditions have identified three stages of human growth which offer a simple map of our evolutionary journey from conditioned consciousness to Pure Consciousness.
As the beautiful words of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad describe, it is a journey from the unreal to the real, from darkness to light and from death to immortality.
The reason we incarnate and take this journey is to consciously realize our oneness with God by transcending identification with the body, mind and ego.
The three stages include:
Stage 1: Personality Integration Stage 2. Awakening or Soul-Personality Fusion Stage 3. Self-Realization
Looking at my own journey I can see how these 3 stages have at times overlapped with each other. How these stages unfold in your own life depends on your past life experiences and the karmic lessons to be experienced in this lifetime.
And while successful attainment of the first stage is important for everyone's sense of human identity, not everyone on the planet is addressing the next two stages.
I hope this outline will be helpful on your own journey.
Stage 1. Personality Integration
In the first stage we learn to co-ordinate the physical, emotional and mental aspects of our personality. As children we need to learn to walk and talk, relate to others and deal with feelings and desires. We also need to learn to think clearly and logically. Just to develop healthy relationships and an effective work life can take us 20 to 30 years.
Ideally, this first stage results in an integrated personality, whereby your physical, emotional and mental bodies become sufficiently coordinated to enable you to take your place in the world and make your contribution. However, as we see only too often, one's development can be blocked or delayed by disabilities caused by early trauma and genetic problems. From a higher perspective these challenges are set into your karmic pattern or destiny by divine Will, but the average person regards them as just bad luck or accidental.
The goal of the first stage is the effective integration of your personality, which enables you to attain your personal goals. This is the stage of ego-growth and maximum personal expression where happiness, success and the pursuit of pleasure are most important to you. The person with an integrated personality can successfully live a satisfying work, family and community life.
This stage sees us focus on teachers like Freud, Rogers and other psychotherapists on the one hand and self-help gurus like Anthony Robbins and Louise Hay on the other. They all provide insights on how to grow into a fully-fledged human personality. If you break it down they are all offering different ways to heal the early traumas that delay and inhibit normal personality development and integration.
The resolution of this first stage is important to your embodied life as it builds a foundation for the later stages. As the goal of personality integration is gradually attained there can be nagging doubts as to whether this is all there is to life. For the majority it will be enough, but for some others who have taken further steps in previous lives it will not be. They will hunger for contact with the soul or superconscious self and the higher life that it reveals.
2. Awakening or Soul-Personality Fusion.
It will often only be suffering in some form that makes us reflect on the greater purpose of life, beyond our personality or ego goals. When we try to remove or alleviate this suffering through the use of prayer, meditation and self help glimpses of a spiritual or psychic nature are often revealed.
These glimpses may involve experiences of unconditional love, presence, bliss and insight. Or they may involve contact with other beings like angels, extraterrestrials or discarnate human souls. Such glimpses of subtle levels of consciousness help us to realize that wonderful things exist behind the outer world of forms and appearances.
The second stage of soul-personality fusion can start with such glimpses, even while the first stage integration process continues. And that's okay, as long as you keep working on the first stage issues too. The danger comes when you haven't developed an integrated personality or identity which allows you to fall prey to false teachers. Such individuals offer comforting, but transient experiences, based on practices and beliefs that act very much like self-medication. They attract those of us who want to short-circuit our emotional pain and personality problems, which really need to be dealt with properly. These kind of issues constitute the experience of many caught up in "new age" approaches.
Such techniques and philosophies appear to be about awakening, but are really just glamorous defence mechanisms, which trap you in the mind, rather than opening your heart. You can then remain stuck on such false paths for lifetimes. Caveat emptor...
The soul can be defined as the higher mind or reincarnating entity, which has a greater perspective than your one lifetime old, individual personality. Once God has laid out the karmic curriculum for your life the soul oversees your incarnation within the three dimensional world of experience.
During the awakening stage you may develop an interest in intuition and synchronicity, life after death and reincarnation. Ascended Masters & angels, connecting with the Mother and Her deva, animal, plant and mineral kingdoms, E.T’s and ancient civilizations may become your focus.
In this awakening stage you also access your own and the planet’s past and subconscious self, as well as the future.
You may start to think in terms of group development and service, rather than being focused merely on your own personal life and well being. You may travel around the planet to share with others, to help heal the Earth and the various kingdoms of nature for whom you feel an ever-deepening love.
It has been said that the nature of the soul is service and so there is often a desire to relieve suffering and to use your soul gifts - which start to emerge from previous lives - to help enlighten and heal others. Astrology, tarot and other forms of divination will be used to better understand yourself and your past and future.
At this stage you may also discover techniques for healing your subconscious self and for building a stronger link between the conscious, subconscious and superconscious selves. You access spiritual gifts from your past lives, such as healing, clairvoyance, telepathy and trance mediumship. Or those gifts may relate to leadership, teaching or communication. What skills reemerge at this stage depend on what your focus has been in past lives.
Psychic gifts enable you to consciously access higher planes with your newly awakened higher sense faculties. These faculties still operate according to natural laws and the higher planes simply vibrate with higher frequencies of light. Contact with these higher frequencies further refine your energy field and that too can bring its challenges. Diet, companions and lifestyle may have to be changed to adapt to the new you who is emeging.
The experiences of higher worlds and contact with beings, divine or otherwise are extraordinary. They can be inspiring and help fuse your higher mind (soul) and lower mind (personality). They expand your perspective about life and its scope and meaning.
The danger at this stage is that you may experience psychic inflation or indigestion, as you struggle to integrate new and powerful light and soul energies into your embodied life.
This stage brings an interest in teachers like Alice Bailey, Drunvalo Melchizedek, Edgar Cayce and others. They teach how to integrate soul energies with your personality and how to awaken your hidden gifts.
Many of the experiences mentioned here are higher mental (psychic) experiences and you are still identified with the world of subtle appearances. The ego has just refined and expanded its reach to include them.
As your contact with other levels of consciousness and their inhabitants expands you may start to feel like there is something recurrent and transient about these experiences.
You also note your personal inadequacies and see that nothing has really changed. You may feel sad when you recognize that there is nothing much you can do to heal or save the world, which like an endlessly revolving wheel, continues on its way, bringing pleasure and pain to all.
The greater sensitivity you have developed by awakening to the higher light frequencies may cause emotional pain because the ability to tolerate your own and others suffering is diminished. You have become highly empathic and need to maintain your boundaries and learn to detach from others. This latter skill is actually a first stage one.
A new form of questioning then emerges where you challenge the reality of your own identity and the world you perceive. Both personal self and the world start to feel like a dream or illusion.
This questioning ushers in the third stage, which is the realization of the Self. The Self is the Absolute Reality beyond the ego-mind. It is Silence, Truth, Love & Bliss. It has also been called the Limitless Light and Monadic Being.
While you may have helped your personality to grow there is nothing you can do to the Self, because It has created you, not vice versa. You can only recognize It as your ultimate identity and surrender to It. This surrender brings a bliss and peace that, as the saying goes... "passes all understanding."
The surrender process is of little interest to the vast majority of people, so it becomes an increasingly solitary path. It is a path where you learn to surrender to God and realize that only God exists - everything else is smoke and mirrors, an illusion or mirage.
Through faith, perseverance, courage and the grace of the Self, you experience the gradual dissolution of your ego and are slowly freed from full identification with the body, mind and soul.
Sages who have demonstrated this realization, include Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Nisargadatta and Jiddu Krishnamurti. They have realized their oneness with God & point out the way to let go of all that you thought you were and realize who you have always been. This brings freedom and a life lived in Presence, beyond the mind and its focus on the past and future. It is characterized by a wonderful simplicity and values like humility and harmlessness. There is a growing absence of desire, fear and identification with thoughts.
We can glimpse the Self at all stages of our journey and often a breakthrough within one of the first two stages will bring a wave of bliss. The temporary abeyance of the ego and mind in these earlier stages briefly opens the window into the larger life of the Self. It closes again though until we learn to manage the ego.
Bliss is the feeling quality of the Self and it is often felt when a desire has been attained, because at that point the mind becomes still. Until another desire emerges from your subconscious.
You could argue that all of these stages are an illusion when viewed from the perspective of the Absolute and this is true. However, for the sake of we human beings still caught up in the world of becoming, such an outline of the relative worlds can be helpful in understanding the Path ahead.
I hope that this overview of the three main stages of human growth will be of help to you on your journey.