Many historians, philosophers, and spiritual teachers now agree that collective history itself is going through an evolution of consciousness. We can readily observe stages of consciousness or stages of “growing up” in the world at large (e.g. today Christians do not believe that slavery is acceptable, but many at one time did). The individual person tends to mimic these stages, and they seem to be sequential and cumulative.
You have to learn from each stage, and yet you can’t completely throw out previous stages, as most people unfortunately do. In fact, a fully mature person appropriately draws upon all earlier stages. “Transcend and include” is Ken Wilber’s clever aphorism here. Most people immensely overreact against their earlier stages of development, and earlier stages of history, instead of still honoring them and making use of them (e.g. liberal, educated Christians who would be humiliated to join in an enthusiastic “Jesus song” with their Evangelical brothers and sisters even though they would intellectually claim to believe in Jesus, or adults who can no longer play, or rational people who completely dismiss the good of the non-rational).
C. S. Lewis believed it was undemocratic to give too much power to the present generation or one’s own times. He called this “chronological snobbery,” as if your own age was the superior age and the final result of evolution. I would say the same about one’s present level of consciousness. Our narcissism always tends to think our own present stage of consciousness is the ultimate stage! People normally cannot understand anybody at higher stages (they look heretical or dangerous) and they look upon all in the earlier stages as superstitious, stupid, or naïve. We each think we are the proper reference point for all reality. G. K. Chesterton stated: “Tradition is [just] democracy extended through time.” And I would say that enlightenment is the ability to include, honor, and make use of every level of consciousness—both in yourself and in others. To be honest, such humility and patience is rather rare, yet it is at the heart of the mystery of forgiveness, inclusivity, and compassion.
Daily Meditation, August 26, 2014
Adapted from The Dean’s Address, Living School Symposium, August 2013