We have looked at various ways of understanding consciousness in the first and second post in this series. Now we will try to understand consciousness from an evolutionary standpoint. Reviewing evolutionary consciousness will help us better understand how consciousness has developed over time.
Evolutionary Consciousness – Instinctual animal tendencies
It is easy to forget that man has evolved over many thousands of years. The higher levels of consciousness we experience is a recent advance in our species. We humans have evolved from a primitive beginning rising up from ape like creatures. During this evolution natural selection favored certain characteristics, such as aggression, selfishness, paranoia and fear. These traits were advantageous to survival and procreation. The instinct to reproduce is the primary driver in life and within humans this instinct manifested differently in both males and females.
During our more primitive animal like beginnings, brute strength and aggression determined which males would mate. As time went on, intelligence started to play a much larger role but it was still used to overpower the competition. Eventually intelligence along with the ability to utilize emotions became advantageous. We have to remember that emotions originally evolved as a means of better sensing danger. As they progressed, devotion, protection and nurturing were a means of ensuring survival of offspring. Eventually emotions progressed further as social groups became larger. In these larger social groups emotions were used as a means of communicating and interacting with others. They were also successful in communicating how a person felt about their environment and the conditions affecting them.
Science has theorized that love is evident in the first mammals as mothers cared for their young. Love however should not be confused with an animal’s desire to procreate and continue the species. The higher emotion of love is relatively new for humans. This love is described as a willingness to sacrifice one’s own life for the sake of another. Marriage for a long time was traditionally determined by factors other than love. It was either prearranged based on tradition or was largely based on economics. The ability to share in the work necessary for surviving and raising children were the key drivers in these unions.
Evolutionary consciousness – The residual animal
The most primitive parts of our consciousness are the remnants of our animal traits. These traits are based on protection and involve instincts and reactions; the most well known of these reactions is the fight or flight response. This instinct is triggered whenever someone feels threatened. The immediate instinctual response is a surge in adrenaline giving a temporary boost in strength that allows one to either run away or fight. In all cases it is situations in the outside environment that invokes this internal protection response.
If we review the diagram this represents the outer most layer of consciousness. This is the residual animal consciousness. Here we are using the five senses to assess physical threats and then reacting to them. In this process there isn’t a lot of internal rational thinking that goes on, only instinctual reactions. In the first post shopping example, being shoved and threatened invokes an immediate “fight” response. Fear or aggression is the main response to external stimuli in this outer ring. This residual animal level also contains the characteristics of the alpha male, selfishness, tribalism, jealousy, rage and territorialism. One need look no further than the primate habitat at a zoo to witness these residual animal traits.
Evolutionary Consciousness – The emotional body
The next level inward is the emotional body. Here the human emotions become the main focus in evolutionary consciousness. In this level we interpret and experience life through our feelings and emotions. As social groups became larger, success, social acceptance and attracting a mate relied more heavily on utilizing emotions effectively. In the residual animal layer we perceive physical threats to our well-being and respond to them as immediate reactions. This was the primary objective of the human ego. The ego evolved to protect us from physical harm.
As we have evolved, the ego has also evolved. We no longer have the same environmental threats to our physical body. We now have shelter, enough food and in most parts of the world we have law and order with a relative degree of personal safety. Absent the physical dangers of our past, the ego has evolved to protect our self-worth or the “imaginary image” of ourselves. Here we interpret outside stimuli as potential threats to our “image.” These “imaginary threats” still invoke a fight or flight response. As we interpret someone’s actions as an assault on our “image” we become angry, fearful, ashamed, resentful or depressed.
Since we are no longer dealing with “real” physical threats, at this level we begin to internalize our reactions to the outside environment. In other words, we are not running away or fighting based on these threats; instead they only exist in our mind. We also begin to create our own internal threats, whether or not they are real. In this realm it is easy to get trapped in the illusion of our own emotions. They begin to feed off each other and the emotions themselves become the threat to our well-being. For example: “Susie is looking at me funny while she is talking to my friends, she is probably talking about me, I hate Susie, I want to hurt Susie.”
While many people say they cannot control their emotions, what they are really saying is they cannot control themselves. This is a direct result of the ego taking over as the dominant force in our consciousness. We must remember we are still experiencing parts of the residual animal consciousness. The difference is the threats are no longer physical, instead they are imaginary. After a while we can become addicted to the very emotions that cause us pain. In this way we subconsciously seek out situations in order to experience the same painful emotions.
Another aspect to the emotional body is what I will call stored emotions. These are emotions which have been internalized during traumatic events or ongoing abuse. These emotions become lodged in our body and are often triggered by outside stimuli. For instance, If you were raised by a parent who always criticized you, then you are prone to defensiveness when it is triggered by any form of perceived criticism. In a marriage this can manifest as anger and contempt against a partner who criticizes or even suggest alternative ways of doing something. These stored emotions are released on anyone who triggers them.
Unresolved emotions tend to get stuck in the body and can literally create illness. The heart is an area where rejection or loss can be felt as heartache. Anger can be felt in the gut and so on. The memory of these unresolved emotions can lead one to feel the original hurt as if it were occurring in the present moment. This is why unresolved emotions that are held onto can become a lifelong trap of suffering.
Evolutionary consciousness – The intellectual brain
As we have evolved there is a segment of humans who no longer allow their emotions to control their lives; effectively overcoming their emotions. Rising above irrational emotions requires some intellectual reasoning. At this level a person becomes objectively aware of their emotions and starts to detach from them. They realize while some emotions are useful, emotions are responsible for all the drama in life. Most importantly, by allowing emotions to effect our judgments we realize truth can get distorted based on how one feels about something. In order to deal in just the facts of a situation, one has to put emotions and feelings to the side.
The intellectual brain realizes that life is an experience and we have a certain amount of control over that experience. This control is mainly of ourselves, our emotions, and our interpretations and reactions to life. Utilizing the power of thoughts and reasoning we resolve problems and utilize our will to create our ideal life. At the highest level of the intellectual brain, people can almost seem cold and distant. They rarely display any irrational emotions and they can be limited in their ability to emphasize with others. Rather than interpreting life’s events with feelings and emotions, everything is looked at rationally as a set of causes and effects.
Evolutionary consciousness – The spiritual mind
A very small segment of humans have evolved to the spiritual mind phase of consciousness. This evolutionary consciousness phase has been reached mainly through spiritual practices and religions that promote higher level consciousness. It has started to occur in a small number of people in the west in just the last 100 years. This is the new age spiritual movement that has gained popularity as people have rebuffed traditional religion and have sought to learn more about eastern religions. Meditation, the Tao, the Vedas, Zen, Yoga, Buddhism, etc.., have helped in showing people a path to higher levels of consciousness. While higher levels of consciousness will eventually evolve over time, people are starting to use their spiritual will to accelerate the process within themselves.
At this level love, compassion, gratitude and peace are at the forefront of consciousness. These traits are first and foremost directed inward towards oneself. Only after they have been experienced by the self can they be directed outward. The aspect of the soul along with life being continuous becomes more conscious in the individual. This higher self is expressed through the heart as the ego is subdued. Consciousness at this level is that of unity and caring for the welfare of others. Fear is no longer a predominant emotion if it exists at all. As one reaches this level of consciousness the belief in death no longer exist.
We see consciousness as continuing beyond the physical body. We come to realize we are not our body. Living from the spiritual mind, there is little to no identification with the body. The body is seen as a learning tool and the image of it is therefore no longer, protected, worshipped or accentuated. All the materialism associated with the body is diminished. In other words people are no longer concerned with material goods surrounding the body other than what is necessary to sustain a relatively comfortable life.
As the Buddha taught, attachment leads to suffering. At this level of consciousness people become unattached to outcomes. Life begins to flow through us as an experience meant only to teach. Living the principles of Compassion, love, gratitude and peace, one develops a rock solid sense of self. This sense of self remains unchanged in the face of any perceived adversity. To live at this level is to accept people for who they are and to accept life for what it is. There is no more judgment for what is right or wrong, good or bad. All experience is meant to teach regardless of what it is.
Evolutionary Consciousness – Pure awareness
This level of consciousness represents the pinnacle of consciousness reached by man. Very few throughout recorded history have attained this center of consciousness. Here individual consciousness merges and is aware of the one unifying consciousness. Little is written on this level because it has been termed indescribable. The awareness of all things and the nature of consciousness itself is experienced in this level. It is said that one becomes the observer and the observed. There is a complete sense of oneness with all that exist.
Eventually humans will evolve to experience the center of consciousness. Once this has been reached, the reincarnation cycle ends. Surely there must be learning beyond this but that would be way beyond our ability to comprehend at our current level of consciousness.
Evolutionary conscious – Summary
Consciousness has evolved just like everything else on this planet. Starting with a primitive basic consciousness and rising up to the levels that are experienced today. The only way to truly understand consciousness is to rise up from the lower levels and study the higher levels. We cannot hope to achieve something if we don’t even know what it is. This series on consciousness is meant to enlighten the reader on what the varying degrees of consciousness look like. Once someone is exposed to the higher levels and what they look like, it then becomes a personal choice in whether to pursue them. Until then, we just don’t know what we don’t know. As Buddha said, ignorance and attachment are the root of all suffering.
Applying the idea:
- Can you sense this primitive outer level of consciousness in your life?
- Do you see how fear is the base of evolutionary consciousness?
- Can you sense how aggression is the next step up from fear?
- Can you get a sense of how this primal level of consciousness was established as a means of protection and reproduction?
- Can you see how emotions are the next phase in evolutionary consciousness?
- Can you view all emotions from an evolutionary standpoint to see how certain emotions could have been advantageous to survival or reproduction?
- As consciousness developed, can you see how emotions allowed us to further experience our own individual consciousness?
- Do you see how emotions are a response to experiencing and protecting our “self image.”
- If we are protecting this “image” of ourselves, do you see how it can only be done by identifying with the body itself.
- Can you see how many of the “threats” or “attacks” we perceive from the outside world are no longer real physical threats and are instead more “imaginary.”
- Do you know of someone or have you experienced yourself how rational intellectual thinking starts to overcome an emotional state?
In the next post of this series we will look at the work of David R. Hawkins and his levels of consciousness. To go there now click here.
Please share if you found this information meaningful. I would love to hear your comments.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post.