What level of consciousness are you operating at?

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The idea with this framework is that as we move up the ladder of consciousness, we advance from operating from a place of Force—which may achieve results and satisfaction in the near term but is not ultimately sustainable—to a place of Power—which, when we operate from this place, is sustainable and yields personal fulfillment and positive external impact.

Identifying what level of consciousness we're operating from can allow us to awaken more to, and be empathetic with, ourselves as we grow and reach new levels of self-understanding.

David R. Hawkins developed this framework based on over thirty years of research and goes into detail about his findings in the book Power vs. Force: The Hidden Determinant of Human Behavior.

Hawkins’ research explores “energy” in scientific terms. He associates numerical values to the different levels of consciousness from which one operates. Folks operating from a lower level of consciousness operate at lower vibrational energy and as one advances in consciousness, they garner and cultivate more energy—hence when you may meet someone and say to yourself “wow, they have great energy”—they’re probably operating at a higher level of consciousness with a higher energy value—according to Hawkins’ framework.

Hawkins also makes it clear in his writings that, “it is well to remember that they are rarely manifested as pure states in an individual. A person may operate on one level in a given area of life and on quite a different level in another area of life.” It’s possible to be at a state of consciousness, let’s say with work, that may be different than where you are at in love. We also suspect that it’s possible to have reached a higher state of consciousness, and at moments, temporarily, “regress” back to a lower level depending on different external stressors that—though we are not sure what Hawkins’ would say about this thought.

Either way, this framework can be a helpful tool for understanding what drives both our and other people’s behavior. Below is more detail about each level of consciousness—we pulled and condensed summaries directly from Hawkins’ book Power vs. Force.

Shame – the level of Shame is perilously proximate to death, which may be chosen as conscious suicide or more subtly elected by failure to take steps to prolong life, as in “passive suicide.” Death by avoidable accident is common. We all have some awareness of the pain of “losing face,” becoming discredited, or feeling like a “nonperson.” In Shame, people hang their heads and slink away, wishing they were invisible.

Guilt – Guilt, so commonly used in our society to manipulate and punish, manifests itself in a variety of expressions, such as remorse, self-recrimination, masochism, and the whole gamut of symptoms of victimhood. Guilt-domination results in a preoccupation with “sin,” an unforgiving emotional attitude, toward the self.

Apathy – This level is characterized by poverty, despair, and hopelessness. The world and the future look bleak; pathos is the theme of life. Apathy is a state of helplessness; its victims are needy and lack not only resources but also the energy to avail themselves of what resources may be available. Unless external energy is supplied by caregivers, death through passive suicide can result.

Grief – This is the level of sadness, loss and despondency. Most humans have experienced it for periods of time, but those who remain at this level live life in constant regret and depression. This is the level of chronic mourning, bereavement, and remorse about the past; it is also the level of habitual losers and those chronic gamblers who accept failure as part of their lifestyle, often resulting in loss of jobs, friends, family, and opportunity, as well as money and health. In Grief, one sees sadness everywhere: the sadness of children, the sadness of the world, the sadness of life itself. This level colors one’s entire vision of existence. Although Grief is the cemetery of life, it still has more energy to it than Apathy does. Thus, when someone experiences Grief, or someone who had been in an apathetic state begins to cry, for example, we know they are getting better. Once they start to cry, they will begin to eat again.

Fear – At this level there is a lot more life energy available; fear of danger is actually healthy. Fear runs much of the world. Fear of enemies, of old age or death, of rejection, and a multitude of social fears are basic motivators in most people’s lives. From the viewpoint of this level, the world looks hazardous, full of traps and threats. Once fear becomes one’s focus, the endless fearful events of the world feed it. Fear becomes obsessive and may take any form. Fear of loss of relationship leads to jealously and chronically high stress level. Fearful thinking can balloon into paranoia. Fear limits growth of the personality and leads to inhibition. Because it takes energy to rise above Fear, the oppressed are unable to reach a higher level unaided. Thus, the fearful seek strong leaders who appear to have conquered their fear to lead them out of their slavery.

Desire – Desire moves us to expend great effort to achieve goals or obtain rewards. The desire for money, prestige, or power runs the lives of many of those who have risen above Fear as their limiting, predominant life motif. Desire is also the level of addiction, wherein desire becomes a craving more than life itself. The victims of Desire may actually be unaware of the basis of their motives. Some people become addicted to the desire for attention and drive others away by their constant demands. Desire has to do with accumulation and greed. But Desire is insatiable—satisfaction of one desire is merely replaced by unsatisfied desire for something else. Desire, however, is a much higher state than Apathy or Grief. In order to “get,” you have to first have the energy to “want.” Want can start people on the road to achievement. Desire, can, therefore, become a springboard fo higher levels of consciousness.

Anger – Anger can lead to either constructive or destructive action. As people move out of Apathy and Grief to overcome Fear as a way of life, they begin to want; Desire leads to frustration, which in turn leads to Anger. Thus, Anger can be a fulcrum by which the oppressed are eventually catapulted to Freedom. But Anger expresses itself most often as resentment and revenge and is, therefore, volatile and dangerous. Channeled unhealthily, Anger leads easily to hatred, which has an erosive effect on all areas of a person’s life. Channeled, healthily, Anger propels us up the ladder of consciousness to more energetically abundant and positive levels of consciousness.

Pride – People feel positive as they reach this level, in contrast to the other lower energy fields. This rise in self-esteem is a balm to all pain experienced at lower levels of consciousness. Pride looks good and knows it; it struts its stuff in the parade of life. Pride as such generally has a good reputation and is socially encouraged, yet as we see from the chart of levels of consciousness, it is sufficiently negative to remain below the critical level of Courage. Pride is defensive and vulnerable because it is dependent upon external conditions, without which it can suddenly revert to a lower level. The inflated ego is vulnerable to attack. Pride remains weak because it can be knocked off its pedestal back into Shame, which is the threat that fires the fear of loss of Pride. The downside of Pride, therefore, is arrogance and denial. These characteristics block growth. Thus Pride is a very sizable block to the acquisition of real power.

Courage – At the level of Courage, an attainment of power occurs; therefore it is also the level of empowerment. This is the zone of exploration, accomplishment, fortitude, and determination. At the lower levels, the world is seen as hopeless, sad, frightening, or frustrating; but at the level of Courage, life is seen to be exciting, challenging, and stimulating. Courage implies the willingness to try new things and deal with the vicissitude of life. At this level of empowerment, one is able to cope with and effectively handle the opportunities of life. At this level there is energy to learn new job skills. Growth and education become attainable goals. There is the capacity to face fears or character defeats and to grow despite them; anxiety also does not cripple our endeavors at this level. Obstacles that defeat people whose consciousness is below do not defeat them when they’ve reached this level of empowerment. People at this level put back into the world as much energy as they take; at lower levels of consciousness, populations and individuals drain energy from society without reciprocating. Because accomplishments result in positive feedback, self-reward and esteem become progressively self-reinforcing. This is where productivity begins.

Neutrality – At the Neutral level, a person can say, “Well, if I don’t get this job, then I’ll get another.” This is the beginning of inner confidence; sensing one’s power, one is therefore not easily intimidated. One is not driven to prove anything. The expectation that life, with its ups and downs, will be basically okay if one can roll with the punches is a typical attitude at this level. People of this level of consciousness have a sense of well-being; the mark of this level is a confident capability to live in the world. This is, therefore, experientially a level of safety. People at this level are easy to get along with, safe to be around and associate with, because they are not interested in conflict, competition, or guilt. They are comfortable and basically undisturbed emotionally. This attitude is nonjudgmental and does not lead to any need to control other people’s behaviors. Correspondingly, because Neutral people value freedom, they are hard to control.

Willingness – This very positive level of energy may be seen as the gateway to the higher levels. Whereas, for instance, jobs are done adequately at the Neutral level, at the level of Willingness, work is done well and success in all endeavors is common. Growth is rapid. At the level of Willingness one has overcome inner resistance to life and is committed to participation. Below the level of Courage people tend to be close-minded, but at the level of Willingness a great opening occurs. At this level, people become genuinely friendly, and social and economic success seem to follow automatically. The Willing are not really troubled by unemployment, for they will take any job when they have to, or create a career or self-employment for themselves. They do not feel demeaned by service jobs or by starting at the bottom. They are naturally helpful to others and contribute to the good of society. They are also willing to face inner issues and do not have major learning blocks. At this level, self-esteem is innately high and is reinforced by positive feedback from society in the forms of recognition, appreciation, and reward. Willingness is sympathetic and responsiveness to the needs of others. Willing people are builders of, and contributors to, society. With their capacity to bounce back from adversity and learn from experience, they tend to become self-correcting. Having let go of Pride, they are willing to look at their own defects and learn from others. At the level of Willingness, people become excellent students. They are easily teachable and represent a considerable source of power for society.

Acceptance – At this level of awareness, a major transformation takes place, with the understanding that one is oneself the source of and creator of the experience of one’s life. Taking such responsibility is distinctive of this degree of evolution, characterized by the capacity to live harmoniously with the forces of life. People at levels below Courage tend to be powerless and see themselves as victims, at the mercy of life. This stems from a belief that the source of one’s happiness or the cause of one’s problems is “out there.” An enormous jump—taking back one’s own power—is completed at this level, with the realization that the source of happiness is within oneself. At this more evolved stage, nothing so-called “out there” has the capacity to make one happy, and love is not something that is given or taken away by another, but is created within. Acceptance is not to be confused with passivity, which is a symptom of apathy. This form of Acceptance allows engagement in life on life’s own terms, without trying to make it conform to an agenda. With Acceptance, there is emotional calm and perception is widened as denial is transcended. One now sees things without distortion or misinterpretation; the context of experience is expanded so that one is capable of “seeing the whole picture.” The individual at the level of Acceptance is not interested in determining right or wrong, but instead is dedicated to resolving issues and finding out what to do about problems. Long-term goals take precedence over short-term ones; self-discipline and mastery are prominent. While lower levels are characterized by rigidity, at this level, social plurality begins to emerge as a form of resolution of problems. Therefore, this level is free of discrimination or intolerance; there is the awareness that equality does not preclude diversity. Acceptance includes rather than rejects.

Reason – At this level one is capable of handling large, complex amounts of data; making rapid, correct decisions; understanding the intricacies of relationships, gradations, and fine distinctions; and expert manipulation of symbols as abstract concepts, which becomes increasingly important. This is the level of science, medicine, and of generally increased capability of conceptualization and comprehension. Knowledge and education are sought as capital. Understanding and information are the main tools of accomplishment. The shortcomings of this level are the failure to clearly distinguish the difference between symbols and what they represent, and confusion between the objective and subjective worlds. At this level it’s easy to lose sight of the forest from the trees, to become infatuated with the concepts and theories, ending up in intellectualism and missing the essential point. Although Reason is highly effective in a technical world where the methodologies of logic dominate, Reason itself, paradoxically, is the major block to reaching higher levels of consciousness. Transcending this level is relatively uncommon.

Love – Love is not intellectual and does not proceed from the mind. Love emanates from the heart. It has the capacity to lift others and accomplish great feats because of its purity of motive. At this level of development, the capacity to discern essence becomes predominant; the core of an issue becomes the center of focus. As Reason is bypassed, there arises the capacity of recognition of the totality of a problem and a major expansion of context, especially regarding time and process. Reason deals only with particulars, whereas Love deals with wholes. Love focuses on the goodness of life in all its expressions. It dissolves negativity by re-contextualizing it rather than by attacking it. This is the level of true happiness.

Joy – As Love becomes more and more unconditional, it begins to be experienced as an inner Joy. This is not the sudden joy of a pleasurable turn of events; it is a constant accompaniment to all activities. Joy arises from within each moment of existence, rather than from any external source. This is a level of healing and tapping into ones spirituality. Characteristic of this level of consciousness is the capacity for enormous patience and the persistence of a positive attitude in the face of prolonged adversity. The hallmark of this state is compassion. People who have attained this level have a notable effect on others. The world one sees at this level is one of exquisite beauty and perfection of creation. Things happen effortlessly, by synchronicity, and the world and everything in it is seen to be an expression of love and Divinity. One’s sense of responsibility for others at this level is of a different quality from that shown at the lower levels. There is a desire to use one’s state of consciousness for the benefit of life itself rather than for particular individuals. This capacity to love many people simultaneously is accompanied by the discovery that the more one loves, the more one can love.

Peace – This level of consciousness is associated with the experience designated by such terms as transcendence, self-realization, and God-consciousness. Not uncommonly, individuals at this level remove themselves from the world, as the state of bliss that ensues precludes ordinary activity. Some become spiritual teachers; others work anonymously for the betterment of mankind. Perception at and above this level is sometimes reported as occurring in slow motion, suspended in time and space—though nothing is stationary; all is alive and radiant. Although this world is the same world as the one seen by others, it has become continuously flowing, evolving in an exquisitely coordinated evolutionary dance in which significance and source are overwhelming. This awesome revelation takes place non-rationally, so that there is an infinite silence in the mind, which has stopped conceptualizing. Everything is connected to everything else by a Presence whose power is infinite. Great works of art, music, and architecture can transport us temporarily to higher levels like this.

Enlightenment – This is the level of powerful inspiration. Those that operate at this level set in place attractor energy fields that influence all mankind down through the ages. At this level, there is no longer the experience of an individual personal self as separate from others; rather, there is an identification of Self with Consciousness and Divinity. This transcendence of the ego also serves by example to teach others how it can eventually be accomplished. This is the peak of the evolution of consciousness in the human realm.