Climbing the Ladder of Awareness

This is the title of a post by Paul Chefurka whose website I just re-found, thanks to a post from Mike at Damn the Matrix.

I’ve reproduced the article below. Thanks to Paul for allowing it.

In the five stages of awareness he lists, I can confidently say I’m at stage five and have been there for quite some time. And I can confirm that having arrived there, there is indeed a real risk of depression.

So, from here, according to Paul, I can take an Outer or an Inner Path. On the Outer Path he mentions the Transition Network and permaculture as two examples.

Years ago, I bought Rob Hopkins’ Transition Handbook and toyed briefly with the idea of trying to start a Transition Town where I live. But we have a local council strongly geared towards growth and development. I quickly saw that there would be no interest or help from that quarter.

I looked into permaculture and that’s where I’m at now and although I think its ideals and practices are worthwhile, I’m starting to tend more towards the Inner Path. Getting older, and understanding that I won’t be around to see most of the coming crises, helps too!

I can recommend all the articles at Paul’s site.


Climbing the Ladder of Awareness

When it comes to our understanding of the unfolding global crisis, each of us seems to fit somewhere along a continuum of awareness that can be roughly divided into five stages:

  1. Dead asleep. At this stage there seem to be no fundamental problems, just some shortcomings in human organization, behaviour and morality that can be fixed with the proper attention to rule-making. People at this stage tend to live their lives happily, with occasional outbursts of annoyance around election times or the quarterly corporate earnings seasons.
  2. Awareness of one fundamental problem. Whether it’s Climate Change, overpopulation, Peak Oil, chemical pollution, oceanic over-fishing, biodiversity loss, corporatism, economic instability or sociopolitical injustice, one problem seems to engage the attention completely. People at this stage tend to become ardent activists for their chosen cause. They tend to be very vocal about their personal issue, and blind to any others.
  3. Awareness of many problems. As people let in more evidence from different domains, the awareness of complexity begins to grow.  At this point a person worries about the prioritization of problems in terms of their immediacy and degree of impact. People at this stage may become reluctant to acknowledge new problems – for example, someone who is committed to fighting for social justice and against climate change may not recognize the problem of resource depletion.  They may feel that the problem space is already complex enough, and the addition of any new concerns will only dilute the effort that needs to be focused on solving the “highest priority” problem.
  4. Awareness of the interconnections between the many problems. The realization that a solution in one domain may worsen a problem in another marks the beginning of large-scale system-level thinking. It also marks the transition from thinking of the situation in terms of a set of problems to thinking of it in terms of a predicament. At this point the possibility that there may not be a solution begins to raise its head. People who arrive at this stage tend to withdraw into tight circles of like-minded individuals in order to trade insights and deepen their understanding of what’s going on. These circles are necessarily small, both because personal dialogue is essential for this depth of exploration, and because there just aren’t very many people who have arrived at this level of understanding.
  5. Awareness that the predicament encompasses all aspects of life.  This includes everything we do, how we do it, our relationships with each other, as well as our treatment of the rest of the biosphere and the physical planet. With this realization, the floodgates open, and no problem is exempt from consideration or acceptance. The very concept of a “Solution” is seen through, and cast aside as a waste of effort.

For those who arrive at Stage 5 there is a real risk that depression will set in. After all, we’ve learned throughout our lives that our hope for tomorrow lies in  our ability to solve problems today.  When no amount of human cleverness appears able to solve our predicament the possibility of hope can vanish like a the light of a candle flame, to be replaced by the suffocating darkness of despair.

How people cope with despair is of course deeply personal, but it seems to me there are two general routes people take to reconcile themselves with the situation.  These are not mutually exclusive, and most of us will operate out of some mix of the two.  I identify them here as general tendencies, because people seem to be drawn more to one or the other.  I call them the outer path and the inner path.

If one is inclined to choose the outer path, concerns about adaptation and local resilience move into the foreground, as exemplified by the Transition Network and Permaculture Movement. To those on the outer path, community-building and local sustainability initiatives will have great appeal.  Organized party politics seems to be less attractive to people at this stage, however.  Perhaps politics is seen as part of the problem, or perhaps it’s just seen as a waste of effort when the real action will take place at the local level.

If one is disinclined to choose the outer path either because of temperament or circumstance, the inner path offers its own set of attractions.

Choosing the inner path involves re-framing the whole thing in terms of consciousness, self-awareness and/or some form of transcendent perception.  For someone on this path it is seen as an attempt to manifest Gandhi’s message, “Become the change you wish to see in the world,” on the most profoundly personal level.  This message is similarly expressed in the ancient Hermetic saying, “As above, so below.” Or in plain language,  “In order to heal the world, first begin by healing yourself.”

However, the inner path does not imply a “retreat into religion”. Most of the people I’ve met who have chosen an inner path have as little use for traditional religion as their counterparts on the outer path have for traditional politics.  Organized religion is usually seen as part of the predicament rather than a valid response to it. Those who have arrived at this point have no interest in hiding from or easing the painful truth, rather they wish to create a coherent personal context for it. Personal spirituality of one sort or another often works for this, but organized religion rarely does.

It’s worth mentioning that there is also the possibility of a serious personal difficulty at this point.  If someone cannot choose an outer path for whatever reasons, and is also resistant to the idea of inner growth or spirituality as a response to the crisis of an entire planet, then they are truly in a bind. There are few other doorways out of this depth of despair.  If one remains stuck here for an extended period of time, life can begin to seem awfully bleak, and violence against either the world or oneself may begin begin to seem like a reasonable option.  Keep a watchful eye on your own progress, and if you encounter someone else who may be in this state, please offer them a supportive ear.

From my observations, each successive stage contains roughly a tenth of the number people as the one before it. So while perhaps 90% of humanity is in Stage 1, less than one person in ten thousand will be at Stage 5 (and none of them are likely to be politicians).  The number of those who have chosen the inner path in Stage 5 also seems to be an order of magnitude smaller than the number who are on the outer path.

I happen to have chosen an inner path as my response to a Stage 5 awareness. It works well for me, but navigating this imminent (transition, shift, metamorphosis – call it what you will), will require all of us – no matter what our chosen paths – to cooperate on making wise decisions in difficult times.

Best wishes for a long, exciting and fulfilling  journey.

Bodhi Paul Chefurka
October 19, 2012

4 Responses to “Climbing the Ladder of Awareness”

  1. notsomethingelse Says:

    Not for me, thank you.

    Sorry to put a negative tone on this but I think he is trying to mislead people and draw them towards a form of religion or spirituality – the ‘inner path’ which, while not recognised as formal religion, is just as binding as the ‘traditional’ religions that he seemed to be warning against. Not that I am saying that following an inner path is wrong, far from it, but unnecessary to the case he is arguing, since the argument is itself quite unjustified.

    Notice that he has not updated that website since late 2013. I think that may be because he began to see himself in a different light and with a different purpose. People should rightly be suspicious of anyone who calls or refers to themselves as ‘Bodhi’ (even if he has actually changed his name to have that as his first name, which I doubt). He originally referred to himself as Bohdisantra but has now shortened that to just plain Bohdi. The meaning of Bodhi “is the understanding or enlightenment possessed by a Buddha regarding the true nature of things”. So anyone using that as an appellation really has tickets on themselves.

    I think for the past few years and currently, he is operating from some social media sites such as this Facebook page called Bohdi Paul Chefurka: in which he lists his employment as “Code Breaker at School of the Self-Organizing Mystery” (where he appears to be the only member).

    Anyway, all that aside (I just wanted to make people aware of things not always being what they may seem), I can offer a much better alternative to the ‘depression’ that he seems to be drawing people into expecting to experience at his definition of a level 5 awareness of the predicament of global crisis. An alternative that does not predicate the following of any particular path, ‘inner’ or ‘outer’, though does not preclude either of those either.

    That alternative is ‘acceptance’, which leads to serenity. I won’t expand on that further except to say I’m sure you know the old saying: “God (whatever you perceive that to be) grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

    Acceptance of our utter inability to change the current world crisis, individually or collectively, is the only sane stance to take.

    Liked by 1 person

    • foodnstuff Says:

      I don’t agree. He has stressed that the inner path does not imply a ‘retreat into religion’ and that certainly doesn’t apply for me…I’m never going to accept or believe in a supernatural being of any sort. At the same time. I don’t think he defines his idea of the inner path at all well. What you’ve said about acceptance is where I’m going, too. I may not be quite there yet, but given time….

      I’m sorry that he hasn’t written anything at the site for a couple of years. I knew that he was on FB and it looks like I’m going to have to join the damn thing, if only just to see what others are saying. 😦

      I confess to being a little apprehensive about the ‘Bodhi’ thing too, but his writing as a whole resonates with me, especially since he looks at the evolutionary context of human behaviour (which I always do).

      And when he cites being influenced by William Catton, Joseph Tainter AND Daniel Quinn (I can see that much at his FB site), I’m sold.

      (I had to smile at your quote in the second last para of your comment. I visit a friend regularly and we discuss these issues. Well…..not exactly discuss; I rant and rave about stupid human behaviour and she listens patiently. She never fails to throw that quote at me. 😉 )

      Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Brendon Crook Says:

    Reblogged this on Industrial Civilization – A Cult of Death.


    • foodnstuff Says:

      Thanks for the reblog, Brendon. I’m assuming you’re the Brendon I remember from ROEOZ, especially since you have Mike’s Damn the Matrix on your blog list.

      Will be checking out your blog, although I do find white on black a bit hard to read.


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