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The Ladder of Consciousness

The journey of consciousness is different for every person. There are an infinite number of paths up the mountain, but the view for everyone is the same at the top. In his writings on the teachings of Yogi Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky outlines this journey of consciousness as an evolution and presents a model of a seven step evolutionary ladder. I have found Ouspensky’s material and frameworks very helpful in my own journey and wanted to share it with you despite it’s complexity.

In terms of an evolutionary ladder, Gurdjieff takes the idea of Man (which for our purposes is just a shortcut term and is inclusive of all genders) and breaks consciousness down into seven evolutionary stages. Man number one means a man whom the center of gravity in his psychic life, lies in the moving centre. This is the man of the physical body whose moving and instinctive functions constantly outweigh emotional and thinking functions. Man number two is on the same level of development but whose centre of gravity lies in the emotional centre and whose emotional functions constantly outweigh all others; the feeling and emotional man. Man number three is also at the same level of development and has the intellect as the centre. That is, the thinking functions gain the upper hand over the moving, instinctual, and emotional functions; the man of reason who works from theories and mental considerations.

Everyman is born number one, two or three. Driven by likes and dislikes with knowledge based on logical thinking and literal understanding. This is the purely mechanical man. The man that is a programmed machine. The work of modern psychotherapy is the optimization of this machine whilst the goal of spiritual systems is to find The Way to break free of it.

Man number four is not born ready-made. He is born one, two or three and becomes four only because of inner work and awareness of his own character and ego. He can neither be born, nor develop accidentally, or as the result of ordinary influences of upbringing, education, etc. Some inner or external catalyst occurs that leads this person to want to know thyself and explore their inner landscape and begin to discover Truth about the Universe. He discovers new knowledge that is outside the normal field of study and is often directed by those higher up on the ladder. Man number four becomes balanced across the centres, with no one centre dominating the other. This is the start of spiritual awakening. This is the start of seeking. This is the start of questioning all subjective knowledge and a new design for living.

Man number five has obtained knowledge that is whole and indivisible. He knows the limitations of all his prior knowledge. There are no longer different centres of gravity that are in conflict within him. His knowledge is nearer to objective knowledge than man number four. Man number five has been crystalized at a different level of consciousness, for better or worse.

Man number six and seven, in this framework, are subtly different versions of a man who has reached the full development possible to man, and who possess everything that one can possess, that is, will, consciousness, permanent and unchangeable, immortality, unity, etc. These are versions of us that exist mostly in myth, but that are useful as an ideal on an evolutionary scale.

As with all models this one has shortcomings and limitations, but I find it to be a reasonable map of a very complicated terrain. If you have any thoughts or ideas on this topic please reach out and we can seek together.

The Way


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