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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

January 29, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 191




Sister Rita Larivee The spiral of existence

Sister Rita Larivee, SSA, NCR associate publisher

This week, Larivee is exploring new, emerging ideas that don't typically make it into the public arena. Follow these links to read:
w Part One: Learning more to discover more.
   w Part Two: Not new solutions, new questions.
   w Part Three: Eight groups of consciousness.
If you read yesterday's column, then you know what I mean when I say: "What is your color today?"

Reflecting on the different levels of consciousness, it's easy to presume that each is progressively more advanced. In a way, this is true. But seen from another perspective, it's an overstatement. Imagine for a moment a single atom. Alone, it may not seem like much, but combined with other atoms, we have every known substance in the universe. Does this make the atom any less significant? Of course not. The molecule has gone beyond the atom, but it includes it in its own makeup. The two entities are distinct in nature, but not separate. Similarly, living cells transcend but include molecules.

Levels of consciousness can be thought of in similar fashion. Each level transcends an earlier level, but continues to include the pervious levels within its makeup. This is why it makes sense to ask: "What is your color today?" Each level of consciousness can itself be activated or reactivated as life warrants.

For instance, if there is tremendous chaos around you, you may need to activate the need for order and authority (Blue). But if you are looking for a new job, it may be wiser to be more scientific and ready to achieve goals (Orange). Or if you are trying to nurture a friendship, the bonding of Green may be the most appropriate.

I do not mean to imply that we live each day out of multiple levels of consciousness. It's not quite this pronounced. Fundamentally, each of us lives from within one predominate level that sets the overall attitude with which we approach the world. And though we may operate from time to time from within another perspective, our fundamental stance remains consistent.

The theory does suggest, however, that the levels are progressive in nature and that you must go through them and cannot skip over any one level. Someone who has never entered a particular degree of consciousness will be unable to operate from within it when necessary. If an individual is at the level of basic survival, this person will never be able to comprehend the worldviews out of which the scientific community lives or the ecological movement has embraced.

The implication for this theory is staggering when applied to church and world leaders. What happens within a community when at a certain moment things seem to be in chaos and society as a whole, even if only for a moment, demands the need for order and clarity? Is it possible that even the best of communities can act against its best instinct and choose leadership and policies that are momentary responses triggered by a subconscious (or conscious) need for security?

As with all theories, I cannot tell you with definitive certainty that this theory and its implications are correct. However, I can suggest that the evidence for studying the work of the great spiritual philosophers among us may be well worth the effort. The insights may offer us avenues for addressing the challenges facing both a broken world and a broken church.

Other Today's Takes by Rita Larivee
June 25, 03 Use closed sessions with caution
June 24, 03 Howard Dean and a reminder of the common good
June 23, 03 Baseball's best kept secret
May 21, 03 Kudos to Maine Rx
May 20, 03 Managed truth (a.k.a. 'lying')
May 19, 03 Celebrating spring rites of passage
One of the more negative findings within this theory is that those within each level of consciousness believe their worldview to be the only correct perspective. The group reacts negatively if challenged and lashes out by using its own tools whenever it is threatened. Those requiring order are uncomfortable with impulsiveness. Those wanting clear lines of authority and structure have great difficulty with those calling for shared responsibility. Those who advocate strongly for egalitarianism cannot easily accept any kind of ranking.

Ken Wilber, whose writings I am embarrassingly summarizing, pulls the six levels of consciousness together under one umbrella, which he refers to as first-tier thinking. He then goes on to suggests that a global shift is happening with the emergence of second-tier thinking.

" second-tier consciousness is fully aware of the interior stages of development -- even if it cannot articulate them in a technical fashion -- it steps back and grasps the big picture, and thus second-tier thinking appreciates the necessary role that all of the various levels play. Second-tier awareness thinks in terms of the overall spiral of existence, and not merely in the terms of any one level." [Ken Wilbur, A Theory of Everything, 2000]

This research, though still in its infancy, is as important as space travel and scientific discoveries. Initial conclusions suggest that, unless second-tier thinking can break through amongst us, we are destined to remain, Wilbur writes, "victims of a global autoimmune disease, where various groups of consciousness turn on each other in an attempt to establish supremacy. The arguments are not really a matter of the better objective evidence, but of the subjective level of those arguing."

Second-tier thinking must move us from relativism to holism, from pluralism to integralism. Differences and pluralities must be integrated into interdependent and natural flows. Egalitarianism must be complemented with natural degrees of ranking and excellence. Knowledge and competency must exceed power and status. A new spirituality must emerge that integrates within itself the "meshwork" of all of existence.

Rita Larivee is NCR associate publisher. She can be reached at

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