The Seven Levels of Consciousness Model® By Richard Barrett
From 1995 to 1996, I worked on simplifying and expanding Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to use it as a tool for measuring consciousness. I made three changes:
- A shift in focus from needs to consciousness.
- An expansion of the concept of self-actualization.
- Relabelling the basic needs.
Changing from needs to consciousness
It was evident to me that when people have underlying fear-based beliefs about being able to meet their deficiency needs, their subconscious mind will stay focused on finding ways to satisfy these needs.
For example, when a person has a subconscious fear-based belief at the survival level of consciousness, no matter how much money they earn, they will always want more. For them enough is never enough. Because of their early experiences they feel they cannot trust the universe to provide for them. Therefore, they must stay vigilant, earn as much as they can and watch every penny they spend. Such people can remain focused at the survival level of consciousness all their lives, even though compared with others they are financially well-off.
When a person has a subconscious fear-based belief at the love and belonging level of consciousness, no matter how much love and affection they get, they will always want more. They cannot get enough. They want to experience the love and affection that was not accorded to them in their childhood. Such people can remain focused at the love and belonging level of consciousness all their lives, even though they may be in a loving relationship.
When a person has a subconscious fear-based belief at the self-esteem level of consciousness, no matter how much praise or accolades they get, they will always want more. They cannot get enough. They want to experience the respect and recognition that was not accorded to them in their teenage years. Such people can remain focused at the self-esteem level of consciousness all their lives, even though their accomplishments are frequently acknowledged by the people around them.
These three considerations led me to recognize that the fear-based beliefs that we use to interpret our reality (our Early Maladaptive Schema) strongly influence the levels of consciousness we operate from during our adult years; they keep us focused on our deficiency needs, not allowing us to explore our growth needs.
Expanding the concept of self-actualization
The second change I made was to give more definition to Maslow’s concept of self-actualization. I achieved this by integrating the concepts of Vedic philosophy into Maslow’s model and expanding self-actualization from one level to three.
According to Vedic philosophy we can experience seven states of consciousness. The first three—waking, dreaming and deep sleep—are part of everyone’s daily experience. The next four are dependent on the level of self-actualization we reach.
In the fourth state of consciousness, we recognize we are more than an ego in a physical body. By contemplating the question Who am I? we begin to recognize that we are also a soul.
In the fifth state of consciousness we learn to fully identify with the motivations of our soul. We give more focus to exploring our natural gifts and talents and we begin to experience a fear-free state of psychological functioning.
In the sixth state of consciousness, we become aware of the deep level of connection we have to other people. We realize that there are no “others” because at a deeper level of being we are all energetically connected.
In the seventh state of consciousness, we become one with all there is. The self fuses with every other aspect of creation in a state of oneness. There is no separation between the knower and the object of knowing.
The frequency of our experiences of these higher states of consciousness depends on the degree to which we have released the fear-based beliefs we learned during our childhood and teenage years. As we make progress in releasing our fears and mastering our deficiency needs, we gain more access to the higher states of consciousness. We begin at the transformation level and from there we go through three stages of self-actualization.
The fourth state of consciousness corresponds to Carl Jung’s concept of individuation. I call this level of consciousness transformation. Transformation occurs when we find the freedom and autonomy to be who we are: when we begin to inquire into our true nature. We learn to make our own choices; to develop our own voice, independent of our parental and cultural conditioning, and thereby become the author of our own life. This is an important preliminary step before we enter the first level of self-actualization.
The first level of self-actualization
The fifth state of consciousness in Vedic philosophy corresponds to the first level of self-actualization. I refer to this level of consciousness as internal cohesion. At this level of consciousness, our ego motivations merge with our soul motivations. We want to identify our unique gifts and talents and find our personal transcendent purpose—our calling or vocation in life. We become a soul-infused personality wanting to lead a values-driven and purpose-driven life.
The second level of self-actualization
The sixth state of consciousness in Vedic philosophy corresponds to the second level of self-actualization. I refer to this level of consciousness as “making a difference.” At this level of consciousness, you begin to feel a sense of empathy towards the disadvantaged; you want to use your unique gifts and talents to take support and help them; you want to improve the world. You learn that you can make a bigger difference if you connect and collaborate with others who share the same values and the same sense of purpose.
The third level of self-actualization
The seventh state of consciousness in Vedic philosophy corresponds to the third level of self-actualization. I refer to this level of consciousness as “service.” You arrive at this level of consciousness when your pursuit of making a difference becomes a way of life. You begin to feel a sense of compassion for the world. Wherever you are, you want to be of service to others—you just want to help in any way you can. At this level of consciousness, you learn to show love and kindness in all situations; you learn to be at ease with uncertainty and tap into the deepest source of your wisdom.
Whilst I fully realize the correlations I have made between Vedic philosophy and Maslow’s concept of self-actualization are not exact, they were sufficiently close to provide insights into the motivations and underlying spiritual significance of the process of self-actualization.
Relabelling the lower levels of consciousness
The last change I made to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was to combine Maslow’s physiological and safety levels into a single survival level and rename the love/belonging level relationship consciousness. Since the fundamental biological purpose of developing strong relationship bonds is to feel protected and safe, I often refer to the relationship level of consciousness as the safety level.
Although I left the self-esteem level unchanged, I frequently refer to this level of consciousness as the security level because our self-esteem and the level of confidence we feel are usually related to the respect and recognition we get from others: we feel more secure when we are held in high regard by our peers.
The Seven Levels Model
This is how I created the Seven Levels of Consciousness Model. The first three levels focus on our deficiency needs—survival, relationship (safety) and self-esteem (security); the last three levels focus on our growth needs—internal cohesion, making a difference and service.
Bridging the gap between our deficiency needs and our growth needs is the transformation level of consciousness. This is where we begin to release the limiting fear-based beliefs we learned during our formative years and start to align our ego motivations with our soul motivations. Figure 1 shows the Seven Levels of Consciousness Model.
It is important to understand that when people or groups operate from the first three levels of consciousness, their sense of well-being will always be linked to the gratification of their deficiency needs. Only when they have learned how to satisfy and master these needs are their minds free to focus on the gratification of their transformation and growth needs.
We achieve well-being at the transformation level when we find freedom and autonomy to be who we really are.
We achieve well-being in the upper levels of consciousness when we find a meaning and purpose to our lives; when we feel we can make a difference in the lives of others; and when we can be of service to our family, community, country or the well-being of the Earth. The joy we experience from gratifying our growth needs makes us want to do more.
In order to achieve full spectrum well-being, we must learn to satisfy our deficiency needs, our transformation needs and our growth needs.