7/21 — The Study of Movement from Self-authoring to Self-transformative Order of Consciousness

Melita Balas Rant

Melita Balas Rant

Melita Balas Rant

The main purpose of this paper is to unpack the phases and properties of developmental movement from Kegan’s self-authoring order of consciousness to the self-transformative order of consciousness. This investigation of movement from the self-authoring to the self-transformative order of consciousness starts with the analysis of Steiner’s (1984/1999) work from the perspective of consciousness development, followed by introspective qualitative research on the movement from the self-authoring to the self-transformative order of consciousness. The research method merged a grounded theory approach with 3rd person introspection. The year of data gathering was 2017 on the platform. The object of research were people that self-qualified as self-transformative adults who had undergone the process of self-transformation (n=36). The paper presents the results of empirical analysis in the form of diachronic and synchronic models that depict the movement from the self-authoring to the self-transformative order of consciousness. The research empirically confirms that this movement is the most challenging evolutionary move. The results of the research can be useful for people who are moving from the self-authoring to the self-transformative stage, as well as professionals who assist them in this developmental move.

Keywords: orders of consciousness, anthroposophy, subject-object theory, self-transformation, 3rd person introspection.

»… (we are) the only species with hundreds of millions of members who are alive years beyond the years of fertility and reproduction… our adult development research shows that self-transforming mind does not develop till midlife. Until recently that time we ended our lives. What if we are living longer so that we can create more of the order of consciousness that (will) increase the chances that our troubled species finds a non-murderous, non-catastrophe, non-violated, non-poisoning way of dealing with the extraordinary danger of our 3rd order tribal (consciousness) passions and our 4th order (consciousness) prideful sovereignty of thought and state.”

[1] Kegan’s talk to the RSA community titled: “The further reaches of adult development: Thoughts on the Self-Transforming mind”. Accessed January 10, on

Kegan’s thought is aligned with famous Einstein’s idea that “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. Societies around the world are faced with increasing alienation from nature, each other, and self (Scharmer and Kaufer 2013). Such problems can be solved only by the development of an expanded state of eco-awareness (Scharmer 2009).

1. Introduction

Neo-Piagetian constructive adult development studies patterns of adult development provide promising discovery that human’s actually can and do develop over the whole lifespan (Baldwin 1895; Piaget 1954, 1970; Loevinger 1976; Loevinger and Wessler, 1970; Erikson 1982; Kegan 1982, 1994; Cook-Greuter 1999, 2004, 2010; Tolbert 2004; Rooke and Tolbert 1998, 2005; Barrett 1998, 2003, 2016; Reams 2014; McCauley at al. 2006; Dawson 2002; Fischer 1980; King and Kitchener 2004; Kitchener and King 1994; Selman 1971, 1980). These scholars have identified several regularities of adult development: (1) adult development signifies change in perceiving and sense-making (Kegan 1982, 1994); (2) changes in perceiving and sense-making unfold in specific invariant sequence whereby each successive stage transcends and includes the previous ones (Cook-Greuter 2013; Wilber 2007); (3) preferred name for “stages” are orders; “perceiving and sense-making” is categorized as consciousness (Kegan 1982, 1994); (4) higher orders are more capable of navigating through VUCA environments (Petrie 2011; Anderson, and Adams 2015); exhibit a better capacity for moral judgment (Kohlberg 1958, 1984, 1981) and lastly people that occupy higher orders are more capable of leading large-scale transformational changes (Rooke and Tolbert 2004; Petrie 2014; McCauley at al. 2006 ).

The most comprehensive view on the development of perceiving and sense-making has been provided by Kegan (1982, 1994). He has studied the self-system with a focus on meaning-making. Meaning-making is defined as an activity of making sense of experience through discovering and solving problems. According to Kegan meaning-making evolves through a series of “evolutionary truces”, when a person searches a balance between self and others (external environment), subject and object (in philosophical terms). Each evolutionary truce presents a new solution to the life-long tension between how people are connected, attached, and included (integration) and how people are distinct, independent (differentiation).

According to Kegan’s research a great majority of successful adults are situated in self-system referred to as “socialized mind” and “self-authoring mind”. The sense of self of individuals with a socialized mind (3rd order of consciousness) is shaped by the definitions and expectations of the surround (society). Social “self” coheres by its alignment with fidelity toward/loyalty to that with which it has uncritically become identified. This can play itself out both interpersonally and ideationally. The socialized mind can be faithful to and made up by the surround. Thus the socialized mind becomes more responsible and trustworthy, which is in itself a great achievement. However, in modern society, increasingly there is a demand for the self to step back from other’s expectations, from the surround and to generate an internal “set of judgments” with personal authority, which is capable of evaluating and making choices about external expectations. The person, which can self-author own identity, is evolved into 4th order of consciousness and referred to as a self-authoring mind. Self-authoring “self” coheres by its alignment with its belief system, ideology, and personal code; by its ability to self-direct, take stands, set limits, create and regulate its boundaries on behalf of its voice. 

Kegan sketched out also the emergence of the 5th order of consciousness, which he referres to as “self-transforming” mind. Self-transforming “self” can look at multiple value systems simultaneously, evaluate which are suitable for the specific occasion. It is not identified by any of the ideologies, belief systems, personal and social codes; it holds a multi-frame perspective and can hold the contradictions between competing belief systems, ideologies, and codes of conduct. Self-transforming mind is signified with awaken phase of adult development (Cook-Greuter  2000; Cook-Greuter 2004; Wilber 2007).

Cook-Greuter (2000) distinguishes between growing up (when the sense of self is getting more separated from the outside world) and waking up processes (when the self becomes more integrated with the outside world). It is related to the development of an individuated sense of self. Thus waking up is linked to the increasing deconstruction of constructed boundaries of the self “towards a more holistic, full-bodied, and integrated self that is fully aware of its inter-dependency with other systems and one can take a perspective on its fundamental non-separateness” (Cook-Greuter 2014: 51). It is related to the development of “oneself”, a sense of a transpersonal, interconnected being, a sense of transpersonal identity, time/space relativism, the interconnectedness of everything, unity consciousness, increased wakefulness – awakening, increasing depth of concentration and subtlety, increasing freedom (Cook-Greuter 1999, 2013) [2].

If Kegan’s 5th orders of consciousness is the only one that is capable of handling the multilevel paradoxes, tensions and uncertainties, then it is also better equipped to engage with different challenges of modern society, in which conflicting demands in all facets of organizational life coexists: including leadership (control vs empowerment), teamwork (task vs relationships), strategy (competition vs collaboration), organizational design (efficiency vs flexibility; centralization vs decentralization), change (exploration vs exploitation) (Clegg, da Cunha and Cunha 2002; Andriopoulos and Lewis 2009).

The question is how the transition from lower to higher order of consciousness unfolds. Piaget (1954) distinguished between assimilative processes, in which new experience is shaped to conform to existing knowledge structures, and accommodative processes, in which the structures themselves change in response to new experience. Kegan (1982, 1994, 2009) provided also more elaborate proposition by studying the epistemological change in subject-object relationship. “Epistemology” refers to precisely this: not what we know but our way of knowing. The subject–object relationship forms the core of an epistemology. “That which is “object” we can look at, take responsibility for, reflect upon, exercise control over, and integrate with some other way of knowing. That which is “subject” we are run by, identified with, fused with, at the effect of. We cannot be responsible for that to which we are subject. What is “object” in our knowing describes the thoughts and feelings we say we have; what is “subject” describes the thinking and feeling that has us. We “have” object; we “are” subject.” (Kegan 2009: 45). Transition from lower to higher order of consciousness incorporates the “gradual process by which what was “subject” in our knowing becomes “object.” When a way of knowing moves from a place where we are “had by it” (captive of it) to a place where we “have it,” (Kegan 2009: 45).

The purpose of this paper is to study the properties of transitioning from the 4th to 5th order of consciousness. We take as a point of origin Steiner’s view on consciousness and “ways of knowing”. We use Steiner’s view on higher order thinking, presented in Philosophy of freedom” (Steiner 1894/1999), because it complements Kegan’s framework of “meaning-making” and it is much more detailed in nature.

The structure of the paper is the following: (1) study the Steiner’s view on human consciousness; (3) outline of the introspection method applied for the study of movement from self-authoring (4th) to self-transformative (5th) order of consciousness; (4) presentation of results and construction of synchronic and diachronic models of transitioning from 4th to 5th order of consciousness; and (5) discussion of the results with referencing back to Steiner’s  view on human consciousness.

2. Steiner’s View on Human Consciousness

For Steiner (1894/1999) to understand consciousness we need to understand properties of “thinking”.  Thinking is an organ of perception similar to other embodied organs of perception (ears, eyes, nose etc.): eyes perceive colour spectre (the world of colour); ears perceive sound spectre (the world of sound); thinking perceives the world of ideas and concepts. Thus, thinking can be viewed as a mechanism to access the world of ideas. The world of ideas is tacit, unseen; not necessarily yet manifested as reality in the physical world. Furthermore, for Steiner (1894/1999), the world is indivisible unity, but the human consciousness divides it into two worlds: (1) the outer objectified world that is accessible through perception; and (2) the inner subjectified world accessible through thinking. Perception and thinking give us two complementary views of the same world. Neither has primacy; both are necessary to arrive at the complete understanding of the world. Truth is both an objective discovery of perception and free creation of human thinking.

The core evolutionary challenge of human thinking is to liberate human will from subservience to human instincts and drives through the creative activity of thinking. The challenge here is to become independent of sense perceptions of outer (manifest) world, which can be facilitated only through advanced approach to thinking.

2.1 Steiner’s Approach to Advanced Thinking

In order to understand approach to advanced thinking, we outline Steiner’s framework through which he unpacks properties of thinking and human consciousness. For Steiner (1894/1999) thinking is a distinct human activity[1]. Through thinking the human actively participates within the world –thinking is the only process that human is adding to the world.  Steiner distinguishes between the process of thinking and the result of thinking. Result of thinking is always subjective to a person; but the process of thinking is universal to all humans. The result of thinking is a formation of concepts about the phenomena one perceives (percept). The percept can be anything that presents itself to a person (sensations, perceptions, feelings, dreams, illusions, fantasies, even acts of will, concepts of ideas). The purpose of thinking is the attainment of knowing about the phenomenon. Knowing comes from the synthesis of concept and percept[2].

After some time, the percept always disappears, and what remains is referred as mental picture. Mental pictures are accompanied with feelings (sensation of pain, pleasure). Mental picture accompanied also with the feelings; they accumulate over time and construct memories and biographies[1]. Mental pictures are unique and construct the inner world (they are the essence of the individuality), they define perspectives through which the person observes the world. Individuality constructed through mental pictures determines a sense of separation between “I” (subject; feelings inside myself) and “the world” (object of observation; precepts of the outside nature). This essence of human individuality is revealed by contemplative observation of “mental pictures with accompanied feelings” that present to a person in the inner world. Through such introspection one can learn a great deal about oneself[2].

Thinking is the process through which the person is adding something distinct to the world[1]. Occasionally, the thinking can become an object of observation (perception). For this to happen, the thinking can become an object of observation only after the primary thinking about the specific concept has ceased to play out. When thinking observes own thinking – this is referred as advanced (higher order) thinking. For Steiner, this is a distinctive shift because now a person starts observing something that he/she is adding to the world; thus here the true human influence lies; here lies the essence of creative powers. To sum up, the thinking as higher order activity is characterized by: (1) the person’s own thinking becomes the object of observation; (2) by observing own thinking – something that he/she himself/herself is producing – one conscious of the self, that is “self-conscious”.

Steiner (1894/1999) portrays core differences between ordinary and higher order (advanced) thinking. The former is conducted in the state of naïve and the latter is conducted in the awaken awareness. Awareness is the area of consciousness that is illuminated thus seen. Naïve awareness is filled with inserted concepts and ideas obtained through upbringing, education etc.[1] When own thinking becomes an object of observation one can become conscious of inserted concepts and ideas. Thus they loss the influence on a person.

Through introspective observation of own thinking two additional modalities of thinking that get activated: (1) a human will and (2) an imagination. First, human will is the modality working behind the thinking; it animates the human thus it animates the thinking. When one is observing own thinking, one is freeing the force of willing that animates the person and his/her thinking. The person gets in touch with powers of life-giving (in-spirited, magical) nature.

Second, the imagination is the modality of creating mental pictures out of thin air; but it is not a fantasy or an illusion (anything that is too far from reality). For Steiner, the real reality lies between the physical and abstract world and the person can enter this in-between space through the imagination. This opens up channel for different kinds of concepts and ideas to arise in human awareness. For Steiner (1894/1999), ideas and concept that arise on human awareness through liberated will are of higher moral nature (Platonic ideas of truth, beauty, goodness). This way of receiving information is labelled an intuition; this way of higher order (advanced) thinking is also referred as “in-spirited” activity. Intuition brought by “in-spirited” thinking brings to the human experience three possible effect: (a) the possibility for resolution of the sense of separation from the rest of the world; (b) the possibility of freedom in human action; and (c) the possibility of moral human action.

a) Resolution of the Separation Paradox

Appling intuitive thinking in domain of the awaken consciousness facilitates the resolution of the sense of separation from the outer world. Contemporary society faces several separations or divides: separation of the people from the nature, separation from each other, and separation between the current “sense of I” from the emerging “sense of I” (Scharmer, Kaufer, 2013). For Steiner (1894/1999) to resolve these separations one needs to put oneself inside phenomena he/she is observing by the use of imagination and harmonize own being with the essence of the phenomena. Here Steiner frequently refers back Goethe’s ideas that “all humans are within nature and she is within them”. Higher order intuitive thinking aligns the person with the phenomena that the nature is producing; to understand the nature properly the person need to find the nature inside oneself (what is outside me, is also inside me; what is inside me, is also outside me). This developmental movement happens when a sense of I shifts from the narrow “I” into “I am more than I am”. When the person’s “I” becomes “I am more than I am”, the person experiences a sense unity and resolves the paradox of separateness. For Steiner (1894/1999), actions that spring from that feeling of unity tend to be directed towards purpose of goodness for many, become the sense of I is now expanded to many.

b) Freedom in Human Action

The difference between ordinary and higher order (advanced) thinking, allowed Steiner (1894/1999) to discuss also the properties of human action. Ordinary (naïve) thinking brings forth the human action that is fuelled either by conscious motive or by unconscious force. The first is called conscious human action, the second unconscious. In the conscious human action, the person holds the motives for action in awareness with sufficient clarity. In unconscious human action the person acts out reactively without any conscious insight into the reasons for specific behaviours. However for Steiner (1894/1999) even if person holds clarity over the motives for own action, that person is not necessarily free in action and behaviour.

Freedom of human action is determined by how the ideas for action arise in human awareness. On this dissertation Steiner (1894/1999) differentiates between unfree and free spirits. He talks about unfree spirits when the ideas for action are presented in the form of clear “mental pictures” in person’s awareness, but these ideas try to be implemented the way she has done it in the past or she has seen it done by others or as she has been learnt to do it. Thus for Steiner, human action is not free but determined by the society. On the other hand side, free spirits act purely out of own intuitive insight; ideas for action are given by the advanced thinking. Thus freedom of human action and exists only in the domain of awakened consciousness and advanced (intuitive, inspirited, higher order) thinking.

c) Moral Human Action

Steiner (1894/1999) associates free human action with moral human action, which is also a result of advanced thinking. For Steiner the essential difference between a moral action and an amoral one is in how the motive for action is grasped. If a motive for action is grasped out of pure intuition then the action is moral. If reason for action are expected specific goals (effects) then the action is not morale, regardless if these goals are highly noble (i.e., human rights, fighting for female rights, fighting against inequality etc.). Steiner argues that such person usually finds motives for action in moral laws, which are socially determined. Thus even if moral laws are good, such as “you should do good to your neighbour” and “you should live in ways that assure good health”, action that is motivated by such arguments is not moral.

For Steiner (1894/1999) free moral action comes from the pure thoughts. Pure thoughts come from the pure intuition and advanced thinking, and as such, are not connect with any pre-given concept. Pure thoughts hold ideas and concepts that hold no reference to the pre-given experiences, expectations, and moral laws. Action that is fuelled by pure intuition seeks the reference and confirmation in life only after being conducted[1]. For Steiner, all progress depends on unreason on one hand side and effective facilitation of moral action on the other.

3. Research Design

The object of study is the structure of change in the subject-object relationship for people that move from self-authoring to self-transforming order of consciousness. Self-transforming order of consciousness is characterized by the property of awakening (Cook-Greuter, 1999; Wilber, 2007; McCauley et al., 2006), thus the movement self-authoring to self-transforming order of consciousness can be also referred as a process of an awakening the consciousness or the spiritual awakening.

Research question we have asked: “Can you describe your experience of the spiritual awakening your consciousness?”[1] The question has been placed on the internet platform. This is an American question-and-answer website where questions are asked, answered, followed, and edited by Internet users, either factually or in the form of opinions. In our sample selection the criterial of global reach has been critical, since there is less than 3% of the population who underwent the process of awakening and start occupying the self-transforming order of consciousness (Kegan, 1994). Selecting this platform has a weakness in a form of a language barrier. Only people fluent in English have engaged in this platform. Data is freely available on the Quara platform. The people self-selected to participate in the research.

We have collected 36 reflective answers over the period December 2017 to May 2018 of an average length interval between 600-800 words. However, on others also addressed the similar questions related to the awakening of consciousness like: (1) what is spiritual awakening (136 answers); (2) when do you realise you have experienced spiritual awakening (59 answers); (3) what is the best way to spiritual awakening (156 answers); (4) what does spiritual awakening mean, what are the signs (22 answers). We have analysed these answers too. The total sum of reflective answers we have analysed on the process of awakening consciousness has amounted around 50.000 words.

We have used grounded theory approach (Strauss, & Corbin, 1994) through which we have extracted core concepts and themes related to the awakening of one’s consciousness. We have combined grounded theory approach with the method of the 3rd person  introspection interviews (Petitmengin 1999, 2009; Vermersch 1999; Bitbol and Petitmegin 2013). The later approach is useful for the explication of the structure of the subjective human experiences that unfold in consciousness and preconscious awareness. Explication of structure of human experience of awakening followed the guidelines for the introspective study of the intuitive experience proposed by Petitmengin (1999, 2006). According to Steiner’s (1894/1999) thesis there is a close overlap between intuitive process and awakening of consciousness.

The structure of change in the subject-object relationship for people that move from self-authoring to self-transforming (awakening) consciousness is analysed from two aspects: diachronically and synchronically. First, we have studied the text from the perspective of the context in which the movement from self-authoring to self-transforming (awakening) consciousness unfolds. The context of subjective awareness is defined by three aspects (Petitmengin, 1999): (1) commentaries, judgments, beliefs, opinions about the phenomena; (2) theoretical knowledge about the phenomena; or (3) explanations of the phenomenon. None of this context information tells us about the experience of the phenomena itself. In the analysis of the content, only the descriptions of the acts carried out by the subjects and their descriptions of experience of awakening are retained.

From these descriptions, we have then extracted a model of the experience of awakening (Petitmengin 1999). The construction of the model took place in three steps: (1) identification of the interior expressions which make up the experience; (2) construction of a diachronic model of the experience; and (3) construction of a synchronic model of the experience. The diachronic model represents the temporal structure of the experience. It is constructed at two levels of detail: the level of the phases, and the level of the expressions. The diachronic model represents the “film” of the experience and the linking of the phases; the synchronic model is constructed through a succession of operations of abstraction, classification and of aggregation of phenomena into generalized categories. Generalization is the mechanism of abstraction which allows us to extract the description of a more general category from the description of several more specialized categories, by making obvious the properties that are shared by the specialized categories and by neglecting the details which differentiate them.

4. Results

4.1 Context of Phenomena

In respect to the context of the phenomena, some respondents (19/36) provided their commentaries, judgement, opinion and beliefs about the phenomena, illustrated the theoretical knowledge about the phenomena, and more intuitive explanations. Majority of respondents studied the phenomena of awakening also from the outer sources (ancient wisdom traditions; from other people that went through similar processes) (Wilber 2007). Some of them gained their interest in the study of the phenomena after they have experienced challenging life situations, which they could not assimilate into existing ways of knowing (Piaget 1954) and thus needed to develop completely new ways of knowing. Such limitation of experience Kegan (1982) labels as evolutionary truce. However, some of the respondents gain the interest of the phenomena before they have encountered limiting life experiences. Below are examples:

a) Commentaries, judgments, beliefs, opinions about the phenomena

“If I would have understood clearly from the beginning that reality starts where the mind ends, that it is not an event to be expected to come as a result of some kind of preparation for but a matter of perception of the split second of the ‘now’, it would have saved lots of frustration [at the same time I understand there couldn’t be any other way because ‘all is unfolding as it should and all is well’]. I heard the words many times believing I was listening but it took a couple of years to truly listen and understand and go beyond the words/the mind and just be.” (Daisy)

“I don’t consider myself to be “awaken” yet, but I surely hope to reach that state before I die. … Spiritual awakenings are gradual processes that can last an entire lifetime. Your cognitive and emotional noise decreases greatly. You “think” and “feel” less, but you do it with a higher emphasis of quality, rather than quantity, so to speak. You discover a lot of things about yourself. … You discover that you are not who you think you were. You stop identifying with externalities and circumstances. …You also stop identifying with your inner states. You still have thoughts and emotions, but they are yours, not you. You reframe a lot of your relationships. … “Synchronicities” help you out in your spiritual path in order to become a better version of yourself. …You stop fighting reality, and start accepting people and things as how they are, not as you wish they were. …. You lose your drive to participate in social competition and prove yourself to be “better than”….You start to identify your own failings and virtues.” (Eduardo).

b) Theoretical knowledge about the phenomena

“If one does not recognize that this is a spiritual condition, it can be misinterpreted as a sense of loss, sadness, gloominess or loneliness. Now, if you do recognize this condition – it is absolutely sublime, precious and liberating. After this phase settles, it can bring a feeling of freshness and simpleness. The duality of relationships subsides. This does not mean we abandon our personal relationships! It means we aren’t swayed by the distinctions of “us” and “them,” or “this” or “that.” (Brian)

“Spiritual awakening is a process of becoming. It seems not unlike how a butterfly may struggle to tear loose from its cocoon. It has many phases, transitions, and struggles, and joys that come and go as unstoppable as the tide forever pushing you to where you need to go. In part of my journey,” (Robert)

c) Explanations of the Phenomena

“It took a while to get the mind to such a frustrated point, picking on words/ideas to criticize and reject until little by little the understanding that listening to others talking about reality had nothing to do with reality. Or perhaps the understanding was sudden it was just the acceptance of that understanding that needed ripening. I now can listen to the same words/ideas but not with the mind [it was the mind that was in the way and, paradoxically, also the way out of itself]; still critical of the choice of words but more accepting/lenient at the same time, understanding that they are individual expressions attempting to describe the indescribable. That’s why the leniency, because it doesn’t matter- I can see the trap of getting hung up onto words, concepts, ideas, suggestions, instructions, directions… pointers that keep many prisoners of the mind [looking at the finger pointing not at what it points to].(Daisy)

“It keeps throwing up surprises, miracles and intense suffering too, but it has been such a mind-blowing journey overall that I wish it would never end. In hindsight, it feels as if the whole thing was set-up to happen. It doesn’t seem accidental, and although it feels sudden to me, it isn’t.” (Swetta).

4.2 Content of the Experience

We have identified seven phases that construct awakening and movement from the self-authoring to the self-transforming order of consciousness. These phases are: phase #1  experience of low wellbeing, negative emotional states, depression; phase #2 – disassociation from the core relationships and identities; phase #3 – employment of the coping mechanisms to override the lost identifications and sense of “old” self; phase #4 –  experience of void, emptiness and complete loss of self; phase #5 – positive shift with expanded and awakened awareness; phase #6 – personality change and redefinition of the self; and phase #7 – redefinition of the subject-object relationship and new approach to living (Fig 1). Our analysis also revealed that the first four phase can unfold in different sequence for some people that awaken and undergone developmental move from the self-authoring mind to self-transforming mind. For instance, the sequence may be 2-1-3-4-5-6-7. The may also skip some phase, for instance phase #1 or phase #3.

Fig 1 Diachronic model of the movement form the self-authoring to the self-transforming (awakening) level of consciousness

a) Negative affective states, low level of wellbeing, depression (phase #1)

Examples of negative emotional states, low level of wellbeing and states of anxiety and depression:

  • “I had been depressed for as long as I could remember, right from teenage. The reason for my depression was very very vague. I just didn’t know why. I felt out of place as if I did not belong to this world. I had this strange yearning, gnawing pain of missing something, but I had no idea what. Although it mimicked ‘sadness’ about regular life issues, it was actually deeper. It was an existential depression. I didn’t know who I was, or what I was doing here. Very very uneasy.” (Swetta)
  • “For me, it started after I had a complete breakdown… I sank into a deep depression and lost my will to live. I underwent intense therapy, had a year off work on full pay and tried to return to work, but eventually it forced me to leave my job, I had to sell my investment properties and my children’s father killed himself. Then, after a little over a year of unbelievable suffering, I was meditating and all of a sudden I felt like my mind was expanding and I was in a different dimension” (Jeannette)
  • “Depression started to creep slowly into my life right around the time I turned 30. Over the next six years depression slowly took over my every thought. I developed coping mechanisms to deal with the added emotional weight of my depression. Mostly that meant I drank a lot of alcohol. One day all of my coping mechanisms failed simultaneously, and my life crashed. The depression had reached such a dark, dark place I decided I needed help.” (Peter)

Defining properties and sub-expressions of this phase:

  • Different levels of intensity of negative emotional states, disconnection from the “happy” self: Ranging from milder states of un-happiness, to severe depression, anxiety, fear, anger, range and other emotions with high level negative valence.
  • Different lengths of negative emotional states from sudden break downs to long period pf negative emotional states; existential depression, the later can last from the teenage years onward.
  • Different coping mechanism employed: alcohol, drug abuse, over-eating, over-exercising, different forms of exaggerated behaviours to cope with inner imbalances; occasionally therapy and meditation; the later only when states of anxiety became too severe (Saatcioglu, Yapici, and Cakmak 2008; Grossman et al. 2010; Dennard and Richards 2013).

In Figure 2 are summarized generalized properties and expression of the negative affective states (phase #1).

Fig 2 Synchronic model of the phase #1 (negative affective states)

b) Disassociation from the core relationships (peers, family) and change of identification patterns (work, career) (phase #2)

Examples of the disassociation from the core relationships and abandonment of the core identification patterns that construct one’s sense of identity (who I am):

  • “Right before my awakening in 2013, both my personal and professional life fell apart. I was having a hard time finding meaning and fulfilment at work, and this had been going on for long. I had some nasty experiences with a swindler who fleeced me of money. I was single, no relationship would really work…. Things came to a head with the swindler experience and I was so shocked I decided to quit everything. I dropped all of my current life. My job, the search for a relationship. Everything. Then it happened.” (Swetta)
  • “I feel extremely tired every day, every little thing makes me feel so tired. Losing motivation due to the fact that I feel extremely tired every day. Desire to be alone since people’s energy is very tiring for me as well since you can feel their emotions so much aka being so empathic.” (Kiel)
  • “I … was having more and more experiences of feeling disconnected, separate, and not truly alive or truly experiencing what it was to be alive. This feeling of separateness grew stronger and stronger as time went by until it seemed unbearable. I had a period where I thought the solution was to leave my wife, sell my house, and do something else. Go somewhere else. Be someone else.” (Robert)

Defining properties and sub-expressions of this phase:

  • Different pace of disassociation from the relationships and identifications with work, career, family and other “close” relationships: from abruptly fast sense of disconnection; to more slow and sublime sense of disconnection, which at some point entered the threshold of conscious awareness (Cast and Welch 2015).
  • Different range and intensity of feelings experienced when close to others, increased empathy: from sense of losing the life force energy when being in proximity with close others, to feeling “nothing, emptiness” (neither positive, nor negative affective states) towards others (Bosson and Swann 2001).

In Figure 3 are summarized generalized properties and expression of the phase in which a person gets disassociated from the core relationships, changes the identification patterns and losses the sense of identity (phase #2).

Fig 3 Synchronic model of the phase #2 (disassociation from the core relationships)

c) Employment of the coping mechanisms to override loss of identifications and sense of “old” self (phase #3)

Examples of coping mechanisms with the loss of identifications and sense of “old” self:

  • “It took two weeks to dig myself out of that hole and when I did I made an appointment with a mental health therapist to make sure I hadn’t gone insane. When he declared me sane I figured it was time to integrate all of what I had realized into “my life” so I could function again and I slowly did so.” (Christy)
  • “I began a daily meditation regimen. I gave up drinking. I gave up smoking. I made my happiness my own responsibility. I made a commitment to take a long hard look at the part I played in my own unhappiness (turns out, I was quit an a**hole.). I forgave. At first I forgave only some. Soon it was everyone. I asked for forgiveness from those I hurt. I let grace take over my body, mind, and heart. I accepted whatever came to me, one moment at a time, without bias. Unpleasant moments are as equally welcome as pleasant ones. I learned quickly that it’s the unpleasant ones that hold the most value.” (Peter)
  • “While I feel that meditation is a way to prepare the field of the mind and heart to receive and become more sensitive, many of my own shifts of awareness did not happen directly in meditation, but instead, while doing something very normal…” (Brian)

Defining properties and sub-expressions of this phase:

  • Tendency to move from the unhealthy to healthy coping mechanisms: from alcohol, drug abuse, over-eating, to drug therapy, psychological therapy, to mindfulness and contemplation (Saatcioglu, Yapici and Cakmak 2008; Grossman et al. 2010; Dennard and Richards 2013 ).
  • Different aims behind the use of coping mechanisms: ranging from to re-gain back the old sense of self (identity) to re-shaping the sense of self and constructing a new sense of self (identity).

In Figure 4 are summarized generalized properties and expressions of the phase #3 in which a person start employing different coping mechanisms to override the loss of relationships, identifications and sense of “old” self (identity).

Fig 4 Synchronic model of the phase #3 (employing different coping mechanisms to override the loss of relationships, identifications)

d) Void, emptiness, complete loss of self, extreme fear and sense of insanity (phase #4)

Examples of experience of total loss of self, void, emptiness, sense of insanity:

  • “One day while doing my boring blue collar job I decided to play a game to pass the time. I asked myself the question “Who am I?” I didn’t expect anything to happen. I figured it would help the clock move faster toward lunch break. However after a while of eliminating who I was not and not coming up with anything in the “who I was” category I realized I was no one. There was no me at the core of it all and that, that was the illusion of the universe that I had picked up on so many years prior. I would like to tell you that I suddenly felt blissful and peaceful and all that but I didn’t. I was horrified that I didn’t exist and I still had six or so hours left in my shift…By the time I got home I cared about nothing when asked what I wanted for dinner I thought to “myself” “I don’t exist, you don’t exist, the food doesn’t exist. It doesn’t matter what we eat, nothing matters…..” It took two weeks to dig myself out of that hole and when I did I made an appointment with a mental health therapist to make sure I hadn’t gone insane.” (Christy).
  • “There is a feeling of forgetfulness, but not in the normal way. It reminds me of standing alone in a field alongside a calm river at the end of fall. Leaves are mostly gone and an autumn wind, neither strong nor weak, is blowing across me, magnifying the feeling of aloneness all around. At any moment, whatever is left of my own perception, will simply slip onto that wind and be carried off. It is a feeling of barrenness. I have felt this many times, each one a little different.” (Brian)
  • “I became desperate with fear. At one point, I was convinced I had completely lost it, and was reattached to a life of anxiety, fear and grasping I couldn’t escape. I experienced over 1000 heart palpitations per day for over two years in a painful, reactive state until I literally screamed “I surrender!”. (Scott)

Defining properties and sub-expressions of this phase:

  • Amplification of the negative affective states and expansion towards embodied pain: heart palpitations, fatigue, other health issues.
  • Different length of time of experience of “loss, void”: length determined by whether the person resist or surrender to the pain/void. The more one resists to these processes, the greater is sense of insanity.
  • Intensification of sense of forgetfulness and memory losses, auto-noetic learning: old memories and pain gains the grip and momentum over the person; experience of living becomes unbearable; this can trigger the auto-noetic learning and restructuring of autobiographic memory (Wheeler, Stuss and Tulving 1997; Markowitsch and Staniloiu 2011).

In Figure 5 are summarized generalized properties and expressions of the phase #4 in which the person experiences the total loss of self, void, emptiness, sense of insanity.

Fig 5 Synchronic model of the phase #4 (total loss of self, void, emptiness, insanity)

e) Positive affective shift, expanded and awakened awareness (phase #5)

Examples of experience of positive affective state, expanded, awakened awareness, total presence, total unity:

  • “I felt completely alive and free and at peace. I felt like I was looking down on earth and I could see anything and everything. I saw multiple dimensions that I knew to be different levels of consciousness, like layers around the earth. I could see and be anywhere and everywhere in the world instantly and I could see and be with anyone, living or dead and I felt at complete peace. I felt that I was in heaven and like I had seen the other side after life and it was exhilarating. I came to truly understand incredibly profound things, including things that I had read before, but had never truly comprehended until that moment. I had the overwhelming realisation that when you want nothing you have everything. I felt overwhelming joy” (Jeannette).
  • “For me, awakening was sudden and had the immediate effect of peace, space, clarity and a sense of completion and obviousness that lasted maybe three weeks, during which time I had a difficult time switching back into “do” mode from my peaceful “be” mode that I didn’t want to leave. During this short time, there were obvious answers to everything, a complete lack of fear and an overwhelming feeling that everything was perfect as it was….Being free of that was a relief unlike any I had ever experienced. Everyday concerns, like money, my children’s grades and even death seemed trite and silly with a complete confidence that I and everyone would be just fine no matter what happened.” (Scott).
  •  “What I remember is that I was lying in bed and couldn’t fall asleep so I started meditating and just observing my thoughts, I started to have a lot of very clear mental imagery, photographic memories and the like and I was very relaxed and not feeling any kind of emotions or response to them just observing. At some point I believe I actually went into trance somehow as I was not aware of anything external but totally awake and aware inside. The imagery was becoming more elaborate and colourful. It was like my brain was translating my deepest intuitions and doubts and my internal dialog into images and even sounds and words. I was actually having occasional thoughts also without disturbing the flow of images. Every time a stream of images would finish I felt. It’s Not that. It’s Not that. I remember that the random imagery stopped and there was just this deep blackness. It actually seemed like it had dimensions as it seemed vast. I remember off in a great distance seeing a small round and flickering ball off of purple and gold flame. The sphere started to expand at great speed and I could see that is was an outline only with blackness within its circumference.” (Ben)

Defining properties and sub-expressions of this phase:

  • Heightened perceptive-taking (on the self and life): in some cases observational point becomes space (whole universe) (Cook-Greuter 1999; 2013);
  • Improved thinking capacity: increased clarity of thoughts, faster flow of novel ideas and concepts, and increased amount of information processed in one’s mind (Steiner 1894/1999; Klimo 1998; Valverde 2015).
  • Intense positive affective state: love, peace, freedom, unity, connectedness, bliss, unity. Furthermore, people tend to talk about intense feeling of life force energy, which is metaphorically represented by the electricity, lightening, light of different colours.
  • Different length of time: this stage can last from a few minutes to several days, a person completely loses sense of time.

In Figure 6 are summarized generalized properties and expressions of the phase #5 in which the person experiences the positive affective state, expanded, awakened awareness, total presence, total unity.

Fig 6 Synchronic model of the phase #5 (the positive affective state, expanded, awakened awareness)

f) Psychological change and enhanced sense of connectedness (phase #6)

Examples of the psychological change and improved sense of connectedness:

  • “My perception of life and everything changes and my old ways are slowly disappearing. Wanting to help more and teach people.” (Kiel)
  • “What changed for me was the smell. The smell hit me sideways and is still what I notice primarily. The world smells like lilacs in heaven. Within a few months, differentiation returned. Now the world smells like coffee in heaven and mowed grass in heaven…” (Jay)
  • “Everything about you changes, sometimes I just start crying tears of joy, rarely of sadness unless I feel it from elsewhere. I’m also more empathetic than most. I feel deeply and now it has just been amplified. I’ve also seen huge decreases in a type of chronic pain I have. Also so I realized no one can affect what is inside me except myself. I’m joyful even in unfortunate situations. Had some shorty things happen in the last month but not letting it bring me down actually creates a sort of bliss later on.” (Ted)

Defining properties and sub-expressions of this phase:

  • Perception via 5-senses changes, it becomes strengthened: smell, sound, sight become clarified; perceptual range in Hz of sound or light becomes expanded (Frey and Messenger 1973; Cornsweet 2012; Aerts 2014).
  • Sense of connectedness with others and nature intensifies: seeing more connections, integrations than separations, divisions in the world (Scharmer 2009; Scharmer and Kaufer 2013) division of the sense of self from others and self from nature is abandoned).
  • Outlook on life transforms from negative to positive: more trust in life, more trust in some subtle forces that organize life, greater self-confidence.

In Figure 7 are summarized generalized properties and expressions of the phase #6 in which the person experiences the positive psychological change and improved sense of connectedness.

Fig 7 Synchronic model of the phase #6 (the positive psychological change improved sense of connectedness)

g) Change of subject/object relationship and the new approach to living/being (phase #7)

Examples of the change in the Kegan’s (1982, 1994) subject/object relationship out of which new approach towards life and living is established:

  • “I have learned to accept things as they are and trust that what will be will be. Along with the realisation that when you want nothing you have everything, I came to the realisation that to find peace, you need to accept not having peace. I realised that love is all that matters. By loving and trusting that everything is happening exactly as it should and not fighting or trying to control it, I am able to progress beyond it. I learned that what you resist persists. I found myself and I am healing and the way that I am healing is by accepting what is and noticing it without judgment.” (Christy)
  • “I don’t know exactly when it happened but I started to understand the world makes more sense if we approach many things from a non-dual perspective, and I also was left with a deep inner peace. I am now still consciously working towards detachment, bit by bit. When I see people angry about politics and such things, I want to explain to them that it might be better to detach and not take a side but they usually think I am nuts. Other awake people seem to understand this or some do anyway.” (Clair)
  •  “I came to the realisation that to find peace, you need to accept not having peace. I realised that love is all that matters. By loving and trusting that everything is happening exactly as it should and not fighting or trying to control it, I am able to progress beyond it. I learned that what you resist persists. I found myself and I am healing and the way that I am healing is by accepting what is and noticing it without judgment. By not fighting what is, I am finding so much more than I ever thought possible.”(Jeanette)

Defining properties and sub-expressions of this phase:

  • Establishment of the Kegan’s (1982, 1994) 5th order of consciousness signified by the paradoxical and cross-paradigmatic thinking: approaching all situations in life with non-dual perspective; when you want nothing you have everything, find peace, you need to accept not having peace etc.
  • New attitude towards nature: Greater need to be close in nature, solitude, self-sufficiency; disassociation from the modern way of living; feeling of inner peace, could be in solitude but do not feel lonely (Jordan 2009; Pritchard et al. 2019).
  • Loss of psychological motivations that drives the subject towards acquisition material possessions, and social definitions of success: less attracted to material possessions;movement on the Maslow (1967) pyramid of needs towards self-actualization and self-transformation.
  • Increased trust in the self-organizing (magical) capacity of life (Prigogine, 1976): trusting that everything is happening exactly as it should happen; loss of “should’s/must’s/ought’s to” approach to life; surrender.

Kegan’s (1982, 1994) subject-object relationship is the final adult develop phase of the movement from self-authoring mind to the self-transforming mind. In Figure 8 is synchronic model that aggregates the core properties and expression of this phase.

Fig 8 Synchronic model of the change in the subject/object relationship (phase #7)

5. Discussion

Based on the empirical study we propose that the evolutionary truce of awakening and movement from self-authoring to self-transformative order of consciousness is very challenging one (Kegan 1982, 1994). .The phases of this evolutionary truce are: phase #1 – experience of low wellbeing, negative emotional states, depression; phase #2 – disassociation from the core relationships and identities; phase #3 – employment of the coping mechanisms to override the lost identifications and sense of “old” self; phase #4 –  experience of void, emptiness and complete loss of self; phase #5 – positive shift with expanded and awakened awareness; phase #6 – personality change and redefinition of the self; and phase #7 – redefinition of the subject-object relationship and new approach to living (Fig 1). The movement from self-authoring to self-transformative order of consciousness demands from the person to disconnect with all identifications, step into the void, and learn to live out of the void. The process of awakening caN spread through many year because the person needs to learn how to live from the void without (m)any identification patterns.

The core attribute of movement from self-authoring to self-transformative order of consciousness is that the sense of “I” becomes an object of observation. When “I” becomes an object of observation, the sense of I becomes incomplete. When I becomes an object of observation, I becomes a form that the person can observe. For Kegan the core distinction between self-authoring and self-transformative order of consciousness is “Do we take as subject the self-as-form (the 4th order) or do we take the self-as-form as object (the 5th order)?”” (Kegan 1994: 316).

In Steiner’s sense (1894/1999) when “I” becomes an object of observation also the “thinking”, which is a distinct human activity, becomes the object of observation – the person is capable of advanced, higher-order, intuitive, in-spirited thinking. Then the sense of I shifts into “I am more than I am”. With that transformation of “I”, the paradox of separation can be resolved. When identity is reconstructed into “I am more than I am”, the person unites a person with the world, she feels deeper sense of connectedness and unity with nature and all life. The greater the sense of unity and connectedness with the world, the greater the capacity to approach all situations in life with non-dual perspective and handle paradoxes like “when you want nothing you have everything, find peace, you need to accept not having peace etc.” (Kegan, 1994). For Steiner (1894/1999), the greater the sense of unity and connectedness, the greater is the capacity to connect with universal human ideals like peace, beauty and justice.

On the other hand, the person also experiences the greater sense of individuality fuelled by strong intensity of feeling life in the awaken state of consciousness. “Our thinking unites us with the world, our feeling leads us back into ourselves, and makes us individuals. … It is because we have self-feeling along with self-cognition; and pleasure and pain along with the perception of things, that we live as individual beings whose existence is not limited only to our conceptual relationship to the rest of the world but we also have special value to ourselves.” (Steiner 1918: 102).  The strong emotions serve as an instinct motivation and drive to live up universal human ideals. Though the intensity of feeling life is high, the person also holds the inner peace and can stay in solitude without feeling lonely.

The empirical study faces several limitations. It is done on a small sample (N=36) thus the generalizations are limited. Though it uses the method of introspective explication, we have not interviewed the people, but only analysed their reflective essays on how their have experienced the process of awakening their consciousness. That way we could not interrogate deeper into the subjective experience of awakening. Lastly, the data have been decoded only by the author of the article, which may lead to a subjectified and biased interpretations of results.

The study contributes to the research gap because the movement from self-authoring to self-transformative order of consciousness is understudied. The lack of studies is partly justified by a small percentage of people in the general population that underwent through this evolutionary truce (Kegan 1994).

The results of the research can be useful for people that are moving from self-authoring to self-transformative stage and professionals who assist them in this developmental move.

6. Conclusions

Originating from the Kegan’s (1982, 1994) developmental framework we have studied the movement from the self-authoring order of consciousness to the self-transforming order of consciousness. In order to better unpack the properties of that movement we have studied Steiner’s work on human consciousness. Applying Steiner’s (1894/1999) understanding of consciousness to our qualitative introspective research allowed us to unpack the core regularities of this movement and present them in the form of diachronic and synchronic model. The research empirically confirms that this movement is the most challenging evolutionary truce. The results of the research can be useful for people that are moving from self-authoring to self-transformative stage and professionals who assist them in this developmental move.


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