How Do We Overcome the Illusion of Separation?

How Do We Overcome the Illusion of Separation? January 17, 2024

IMAGE: Keith Giles [MidJourney]

In my book, SOLA DEUS: What If God Is All Of Us?, I talk about our need, as a species, to overcome the illusion of an us vs them mentality to become like little children again — Children who have eyes to see the reality that only comes when we embrace the metanoia transformation of our minds.

One of the best tools for expressing this process of awakening is something called Spiral Dynamics. Authors Don Edward Beck and Christopher Cowan introduced this theory into the business world in their book, Spiral Dynamics, as a helpful tool for classifying organizational leadership approaches. The original concept was developed by psychologist Clare W. Graves who took the Hierarchy of Needs perspective and theorized deeper levels that went beyond mere self-actualization and identified these layers of development we now know as Spiral Dynamics. As he puts it:

“I am proposing…that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent, oscillating spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems as man’s existential problems stage.”

Others have taken these ideas and found them to be an exceptionally helpful way of understanding the evolution of human consciousness in general. People like Ken Wilber, for example, in his book Integral Spirituality, have found the Spiral Dynamics concept can apply to human spiritual development, as well as in areas of health and wellness.

But, what is it?

In this model there are 8 stages of human consciousness and world-view which are color-coded as follows:

  • Beige [Survival]
  • Purple [Security]
  • Red [Impulse]
  • Blue [Rules]
  • Orange [Success]
  • Green [Human Relations]
  • Yellow [Synergy]
  • Turquoise [Global]

Each of these stages on the sociological level has its own unique set of dress codes, communication trends, cultural norms, religious ideology, political structure, art forms, economic models, philosophy, and morality codes. At the personal level, it is also marked by specific attitudes and behaviors.

So, it gets quite deep and layered at times, but for our purposes we just want to look at the higher-level ways of thinking and believing that are expressed in each of these stages.

Here’s how they break down according to Spiral Dynamics:

Beige: This is the simplest survival stage. Just do whatever it takes to stay alive. Food, water, shelter and procreation are prioritized over all other concerns. The person, or the society at this level has almost no developed sense of the self. This is the most basic, primitive hunter-gatherer stage of consciousness we can imagine.

Purple: As survival becomes less challenging, people begin to move into this next stage where people first began to develop a sense of personhood. One began to realize that they were part of a tribe and that they, personally, had an important identity within that tribe. This is where we start to develop our first sense of community. It’s also where we can begin to start wondering about why things happen. For example, why do people get sick and die? Why are the crops being devoured by locusts? The answers to these questions are typically rooted in primitive assumptions about deities who are either angry or upset at us; gods we need to appease to solve these problems that seem outside of our control; things like the weather, or famine, or disease must be controlled by beings who are more powerful than we are. So, this is where our most basic religious beliefs begin to form. Art at this stage usually reflects this tribal identity and how it relates to the spiritual realm.

Red: This is the ego-centric stage where people begin to break away from the simplicity of the tribal identity and start to see assert a much stronger Us vs Them mentality where anyone who agrees with us is seen as family and anyone who is not us is seen as evil and worthy of death. This is where ideas like slavery, genocide and war really begin to emerge. In this stage no one really takes responsibility for their actions. They tend to blame those “other people” for the violence and cruelty they inflict on them as if they had no other choice. Taking responsibility would be seen as weakness and that is something no one at this stage would ever want to do. This is where Empires begin to form and flourish. It’s also where rigid hierarchies developed and classes of people were created where status in the culture was determined by birth, wealth, or some other internal concept.

Blue: The extreme dehumanization practices that emerged during the Red stage led eventually to the need for a sense of shared humanity. Quite intentionally, rulers of empires recognized a need to introduce and promote religion in order to balance the violent chaos that threatened to undermine society. In Judeo-Christian history, a belief in an all-knowing benevolent deity helped to pull humanity out of the seemingly endless pursuit of violence and war. This led to the Blue stage which was more purposeful and authoritarian. At this stage, people are controlled by religious dogma that establishes the will of God [or gods] and defines right and wrong according to religious texts, commands and rules of conduct that everyone is expected to follow. Failure to obey God’s authority is usually followed by torture or death in this world, and an eternal spiritual death or torture in the afterlife. This stage is also where some of the world’s greatest atrocities emerge because while people have moved into the Blue stage, they still maintain strong Us vs Them tendencies carried over from the Red stage. The positive consequences of the Blue stage is the emergence of the concept of morality. The negative consequence was religious persecution, martyrdom, and public execution which was mainly driven by an inability to consider perspectives and beliefs other than one’s own. This belief system based on the concept of absolute truth was something that took a long time for us to escape.

Orange: This stage is what largely characterizes the modern world today. People who once thrived at the Blue stage eventually begin to have their doubts about that absolute way of thinking. They start to doubt their place in that system. The Orange stage is all about being free, successful and prosperous. Democracy, free markets, capitalism, science and rationality emerge at this stage. This way of thinking tends to inspire a turn from religion to more atheistic or scientific mindset.

Green: Our focus on personal success and prosperity in the Orange stage leads us to become more aware of how our success creates suffering for others around us. This is where many social justice movements begin to appear. People come together to share their resources and work together to alleviate economic, social and environmental inequities to improve the quality of life for those who do not have the power, influence or ability to do so themselves. This stage is marked by an extreme distrust for authority and a strong dislike for hierarchy.

Yellow: This stage is where people begin to notice the interconnectedness of everything. Earth is one planet inhabited by one human race which must learn to collaborate together in order to survive and thrive. All of our many diverse cultures, systems, religions, economies and perspectives must be integrated in order for everyone to flourish. This is the first stage of Tier 2. Everyone in all of the previous stages attempts to force their worldview on everyone else because they believe their view is the best. In Tier 2, however, we begin to realize that no one has the absolute correct perspective. We step back and evaluate each of the previous stages to understand why people think and behave in those ways. We can see the progression of humanity from Beige to Green and understand how we got from one to the other without judging those people who are in those stages of human development. Here we begin to become aware of who we are as human beings and understand more of what makes us tick. We are beginning to comprehend human nature without reacting to it with hostility. People at this level often work to help educate people and transform those prior systems to move them along the spectrum into higher forms of thinking.

Turquoise: This is the stage where those in Yellow recognize that, while the problems in our world are caused by the conflicts between the prior stages, the solution to those conflicting worldviews isn’t possible without raising the collective consciousness of everyone. This is where we find the mystics, gurus, sages and spiritual shamans in our world. They rarely hold political power, or run multi-million-dollar organizations. They do not seek to transform their world from a power-over mindset but from a more humble, power-under model that awakens individual people one at a time. The wholeness of mind, body and spirit is essential at this stage. An awareness of the Oneness of all things and the rejection of duality and separation between people, nature and the universe is paramount. People at this level have less fear about the future. They trust that everything will work out in the end because there is an underlying and overarching Consciousness that is guiding all life in the Universe. As the mystic, Julian of Norwich wrote, “All is well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” Rest, trust, peace, and inner harmony mark the person at this stage of development. People at Turquoise allow the Divine force to flow through them. They experience a genuine connection with everyone, everywhere. They feel a sincere love for all humanity regardless of whether that person loves them or agrees with them. They understand that their life is the same life that permeates all things. They see God in everyone and they refuse to harm or exploit anyone because of that awareness.

As you can see, the highest stage humanity has reached collectively is Green. We really can’t point to any nations, cultures or societies today that operate at the Yellow or Turquoise level. Yes, there are individuals who may have attained this stage of being, but, so far, we have yet to find a way to organize entire cultures around either of these Tier 2 ways of thinking.

Personal Dynamics

On the individual level, we can see how we, personally, sort of develop in these stages from Beige to – hopefully – the Yellow or Turquoise stage. We start out, I believe, being born into a state of pure reality where we have no concept of separation or division between us and everything else. But, as we grow and mature physically and cognitively, we begin to take on the shape of the world order that surrounds us. Early on we find ourselves in a world where everything is Beige and our first words are “no” and “mine!” Some call this the “terrible two” stage. Eventually we move into the Purple stage of personhood. We start to develop an awareness of who we are in the world. We develop our identity around our first community of family. Then we move into the Red stage around the time we enter school. We have a larger sense of community around our classmates, our teachers, our routine. Then we might start going to church. This is the Blue stage where we develop a sense of God and our new religious ideology begins to shape us accordingly. Once we graduate from high school or college we enter the workforce and discover the Orange stage where financial success defines our actions. Maybe, if we’re lucky, we start to develop a sense of compassion for those who find themselves on the margins of our society. This is the Green stage where we start to donate to charities or volunteer at the soup kitchen, or march for equality, or protest injustice. Some of us may make it into the Yellow stage where we step back and realize that everyone and everything is connected to everything else. We see ourselves and God and the Universe as One. This is probably where you’re starting to find yourself now, I hope. If so, you’re on the right track.

Social Dynamics

We can chart human development throughout history along the Spiral Dynamics path. It goes something like this:

Beige: Around 50,000 to 40,000 years ago, humans were focused solely on survival. Things like food, water, warmth, shelter, sex and safety were our only goals.

Purple: Around 40,000 yeas ago, humans began to form tribes and become hunter-gatherers.

Red: Around the Bronze and Iron Ages, civilizations formed and moved into this stage.

Blue: New moralistic religions such as Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Christianity gained prominence during the Red stage and grew to prominence during Late Antiquity and into the Middle Ages; roughly between the third and seventh centuries. This lasted until the Renaissance which propelled us into the next stage.

Orange: An emphasis on science, industry and capitalism and individual achievement took us into what we call the Industrial age.

Green: This stage was relatively recent in our development and was marked by the Hippie Movement of the 60s and culminated in the rise of environmentalism and social justice groups focused on ending hunger, poverty, sexism and racism. Some nations in Europe are moving into this stage by creating new forms of government that address wider concerns at this level but they are not in the majority.

Yellow: We might call this the era of the New Age movement in the West where people began to be “spiritual but not religious” and moved into more Eastern practices of meditation and yoga in hopes of achieving some form of personal spiritual enlightenment. But, so far, humanity has not organized any national governments around this level. It hasn’t yet become a wider movement within our human consciousness yet.

Turquoise: Only a handful of individual figures throughout our history have reached this level. None of us has moved into this stage as a collective society yet, perhaps because we’re largely still trying to figure out what the Green stage looks like, and only beginning to consider the Yellow stage.

Future Dynamics

One may wonder if it’s even possible to form a society at Yellow or Turquoise since it would essentially require almost everyone alive to operate at one of those higher levels. In other words, as long as there are a majority of people at the Blue or Red stages, humanity cannot afford to operate at Yellow or Turquoise since the violent and hostile worldviews of those lower stages would always threaten to undermine the equilibrium of those at the higher levels.

But, the good news is that we can stand back and look at our progress as a human race from Beige to Blue to Green over the millenniums of time. We really have made the paradigm shifts from extreme selfishness and tribalism to more advanced levels of social awareness and collective action on behalf of the less fortunate. Some of the ways of being and thinking we enjoy today would have been unheard of a few hundred or thousand years ago. The journey may be long and the progress may feel like taking two steps forward and one step back, but the fact is that we’ve come a long way and we’re closer to the top of the spectrum than we’ve ever been before.

People like Jesus, Buddha, Julian of Norwich, Mother Teresa, Gandhi and Black Elk have shown us that a Turquoise mindset is possible. But, they have also shown us that there is still a danger for those who reach this level. As long as the world around us is at Red or Blue, those in the higher levels may be regarded as a threat and treated accordingly.

As we look at the different levels of consciousness described in Spiral Dynamics we can also see that we, at times, can fluctuate between them depending on the situation. Even if we feel confident that we see and experience reality at the highest level, we can still find ourselves reverting back to tribalism and selfishness at any given moment. Our challenge is to learn how to live at those higher levels of awareness without being pulled back down into the Us vs Them mentality of the world around us.

Will our world ever truly reach this global stage of Turquoise? Who knows? That is the hope. But, if so, it will require a monumental spiritual shift away from individualism and selfishness and a groundswell of spiritual transformation that awakens us to the fundamental Oneness we have with one another, and all things.

In Ken Wilber’s book, Integral Spirituality, he explains how Christianity in America needs to evolve and change in order to help people continually develop spiritually. In fact, he suggests that it’s the inability for Christianity to adapt to these ideas of ascending spirituality that prevents so many of us from maturing beyond the lower tiers.

So, if religion that seems to be the main hindrance to human spiritual development in our society, then our religious systems must evolve to help us move away from those early primitive ways of seeing the world. As more and more people inevitably drop out, walk away and leave their narrow-minded religious systems behind, there is still a greater possibility for us to evolve spiritually as a species and embrace more connectedness and Oneness as our guiding principle of being.

Our best hope might be to focus on helping people move into the Yellow stage of Spiral Dynamics. This is the level where everyone can take a step back and notice the way our reality works. From this new perspective, we can start to realize why humanity is the way it. We can begin to recognize the internal and external forces that have shaped our world. Once we can see clearly what Orange and Red and Blue stages look like, we can shift away from those primitive ways of being and begin to move towards those higher tiers of human development.

We may have to spend a long time in the Yellow stage before everyone is ready to move on to the next levels. Because who’s to say that Turquoise is the final stage? Maybe it’s just the highest level of consciousness we can see on the horizon? Maybe when or if we begin to operate at this level we’ll see even farther ahead at what’s to come. That’s when our next wave of enlightenment might arrive to whet our appetite for even greater things beyond our imagination.

Ken Wilber and others have theorized a Third Tier of Spiral Dynamics that includes Coral/Indigo, Violet, Ultraviolet and Clear [or Pure] light. But those are mostly hypothetical and largely undeveloped because no one has really seen over the horizon beyond Turquoise at this point.

For now, our attention is better focused on moving into the second tier and helping others to do the same.

But, if humanity is to ever experience anything like the literal coming of the Kingdom of God to earth, it will have to be whenever the majority of us eventually move into the Yellow stage of realization concerning who we are and why we do what we do. Only then can we reach this level of Metanoia where humanity can collectively begin to abandon those lower tier ways of being and move forward into the practice of profound connection and oneness found in the Turquoise level.

Of course, the way we do this is for enough individual people to have that awakening and awareness found in the Yellow stage. This is where our eyes are opened and where we wake up from our tribalism and the illusion of separation is finally shattered. Once that happens for the majority of us, there is hope that we can begin to work together across national, religious and ethnic boundaries to join hands and remake our world.

Going back to Jesus, this is what he saw as our fundamental problem. His solution was for us to start over again, to become like little children who are not enchanted with the illusions of division and separation. He prayed that we would be one even as he and the Father were one. He planted the seed in our minds that one day we would awaken to the truth that he is in the Father, and we are in him, and Christ is in all of us. The end of the Spiral Dynamics journey – if it is the end – takes us to the very place that Jesus described: the Turquoise reality that everyone is connected to God and that God is connected to all things.

In my book, Jesus Unexpected, I described this as the “slow-motion second coming of Christ” where, one-by-one, Christ is coming alive within each and every one of us until, inevitably, our world is transformed into the image of Christ and the Kingdom of God is fully realized on earth. This is the same thing as reaching the Yellow and Turquoise tiers of Spiral Dynamics. We’re on our way. It’s taking a lot longer than we’d like, but we are on the right path. As inevitably as humanity moved from Blue to Orange to Green, we will eventually find our way into the Yellow stage, and then, at last, into the Turquoise stage where our Oneness is finally embraced and humanity returns to that childlike awareness of the Kingdom of God within.

The Christ in us works as us to lead us out of the darkness and into the light. This is what God is up to. This is how the Spirit moves in mysterious ways to lead us into all Truth. This is the slow-motion second coming of Christ and the promised awakening when we all realize that what Jesus and many others told us about is true: Christ is all and is in all. Christ is the one in whom we all live and move and have our being. What we do to one another, we do to Christ, and to ourselves, because we are all in one another. Wars will cease. Poverty will end. Love will consume us. We will be transformed into the glorious likeness of Christ.

I believe that is our destiny. I hold that hope for all humanity. My prayer is that it won’t take another two thousand years to unfold.

NOTE: This article is an excerpt from my book, SOLA DEUS: What If God Is All Of Us? Available now on Amazon HERE>

Keith Giles is the best-selling author of the Jesus Un series. He has appeared on CNN, USA Today, BuzzFeed, and John Fugelsang’s “Tell Me Everything.” He hosts the Second Cup with Keith podcast, and co-hosts the Apostates Anonymous podcast, and the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast.

His latest book, Second Cup with Keith is available now on Amazon HERE>

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