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From Issue Five, December 2010 « Previous Article Next Article »

Toward a “Common Spirituality”: Scaffolding for Evolving Consciousness

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Spirituality is a universal phenomenon. It doesn’t matter where in the world you live or what “tribe” you are a part of; you can be assured that spirituality will be a part of the psychological and social fabric of your immediate world. Why? Humans have a strong will toward meaning. Extensive psychological research suggests that spirituality makes human life more vibrant. Further, spirituality provides us with a sense of morality and ethics and allows us to find a sense of peace in the face of life’s trials and tribulations. In fact, spirituality is central to being and becoming a healthy and well-adjusted human being. Spirituality also plays a role in enabling the evolution of individual and collective consciousness.

It was this final premise – spirituality’s role in enabling the evolution of human consciousness – that led me to complete extensive psychological research into the phenomenon of spirituality. My research focused on the exploration of three questions.

1) What is spirituality?

2) What is the purpose of spirituality?

3) What is a spiritual life?

Several researchers and philosophers influenced my approach. Most prominent was Ken Wilber and his AQAL (All Quadrants, All Levels, All Lines) Framework. Wilber’s Integral Theory provides a “theory of all theories” that encourages the exploration of any topic, including spirituality, from four primary “quadrants” of inquiry: individual-interior (the intentional, or subjective field), collective-interior (the cultural, or intersubjective field), individual-exterior (the behavioral, or objective field), and collective-exterior (the social, or interobjective field). As Wilber describes in his book Integral Spirituality (Shambhala, 2006), the exploration of spirituality and individual consciousness resides in the individual-interior quadrant.

Two other researchers who also influenced my first steps in formulating my research agenda were Susanne Cook-Greuter and the late Jane Loevinger, pioneering developmental psychologists in the creation and ongoing validation of a map for understanding an individual’s current worldview or stage of consciousness development. Their map is grounded in the exploration and understanding of how a person’s ego develops and, ultimately, how one transcends ego. Other researchers (and their maps) who influenced my research included Clare Graves (Spiral Dynamics), Lawrence Kohlberg (Stages of Moral Development), James Fowler (Stages of Faith Development), and Robert Kegan (Stages of Cognitive Development).

The final researcher who influenced my exploration of spirituality – and, in particular, my research question, What is a spiritual life? – was neurologist and psychiatrist Victor Frankl. Frankl was a survivor of Auschwitz in the Second World War and the founder of a discipline of therapy called logotherapy (logo = meaning), which explores what gives meaning to a person’s life. His book Man’s Search for Meaning provides a strong argument that life has meaning under all circumstances, even in a prisoner-of-war camp. Frankl’s work had a two-fold influence upon the direction of my research. The first was his emphasis that by remaining present to all aspects and experiences of life, we activate the will to meaning and as a result find meaning. The second was his conclusion that it’s not enough to realize that life itself is our spiritual practice; it’s how we make sense of our life experiences that will determine how those meaning-making vignettes influence the trajectory of our consciousness development.

Through the work of these researchers and philosophers, I identified the five following premises, orienting the ultimate direction of my research.

1) Spirituality is a universal phenomenon (therefore experienced by all people to some degree, either consciously or otherwise), whereas religion (organized or otherwise) may not be.

2) Spirituality is a “line” of development that can best be oriented within the individual-interior quadrant of Wilber’s Integral Model.

3) The purpose of spirituality is to support each of us individually (and collectively) to make meaning from life’s many experiences.

4) Spirituality and the spiritual life provide a medium and related mechanisms for the ongoing psychological process of integration and re-integration of our identity toward a more expansive and integrated Self (with a capital “S”).

5) The exploration of one’s spirituality enables each of us (given the right conditions) to understand and expand our consciousness.

The Methodology

When conducting psychological research, one of two approaches can be adopted. The first involves a phenomenological or first-person study of the inner (and subjective) experience of the people being studied. This qualitative approach was arguably the most appropriate for exploring the subjectivity of individual spirituality, but it reduces the replicability of the findings and doesn’t allow for the generalization of research findings beyond the rigid demographics of the initial sample. I therefore chose a quantitative approach, which typically involves collecting large quantities of survey-based data that increases the empirical rigor of the research process as well as the findings generated.

In two separate studies conducted over four years, nearly 900 people participated in my research exploring the what, why, and how of spirituality. Respondents were a self-selected sample recruited via the Internet (largely from my home country of Australia), using a range of approaches such as online advertisements via social media sites (e.g., Facebook) and requests forwarded to administrators of various online groups with an invitation to post details of my research on their member noticeboards. In inviting members of online groups to participate, I made contact with more than 100 different spiritual groups, including monotheistic, dharmic, Indigenous, New Age, Wiccan, Satanist, agnostic, atheistic, and others. I did not recruit from traditionally religious sources such as churches, temples, and mosques because they would introduce a potential bias in the “non-religious” sample I was seeking.

Of the 900-plus people who participated, respondents came from a range of spiritual, religious, quasi-religious, and non-religious backgrounds, with approximately 20 percent of them indicating that they had no formal spiritual orientation or practice. Approximately 65 percent of respondents were female, and 70 percent had at least a bachelor degree–level education. The average age of males and females combined across both samples was 42. Interestingly, this is the same demographic profile globally for people who report being “spiritual” but not necessarily “religious.” All subsequent analyses were completed in accordance with industry standards for psychological research and with enough statistical validity for the results to be generalizable to a wider population and to underpin a “common spirituality” (at least in Australia).

Exploring the core elements that may underpin a “common spirituality” is important given our increasingly globalized world and the fusing of many mainstream and “particularistic” religions. More significantly, given a presumption in the “ultimate truth” of the oneness of consciousness, I believe that it’s time to explore and make explicit the shared set of beliefs and values that are common across all spiritualities, religions, quasi-religions, and non-religions. To do so may enable us to better “think together” in committing to collective wise-action for navigating the global dilemmas we are all facing.

Key Findings

What is spirituality? In addition to asking respondents to complete a range of surveys, my research also involved asking a subset of them to provide a short description of what they thought spirituality was. Not surprisingly, each provided a slightly different definition. I’m sure that this outcome would remain the case regardless of the number of people I had asked, with responses becoming even more divergent if I had asked people across a broader range of geo-cultural contexts.

Regardless of a person’s cultural, religious, or ethnic background, however, the findings do suggest that there are some common elements. For example, most spiritual and religious traditions agree that spirituality involves an emergent and continual process of psychological integration and differentiation – the "transcendence of ego" – toward an expanded consciousness. They also agree that, to a greater or lesser extent, spirituality involves

  • a commitment to conduct yourself with authenticity
  • an openness to the many mysteries of life
  • the identification, pursuit, and fulfilment of your unique purpose in life
  • a willingness to develop connections with other people and the planet
  • an appreciation that cultivating spirituality is one of your most fundamental life tasks

What is the purpose of spirituality? The key and perhaps groundbreaking finding from my study is that while most research to-date into spirituality has focused on the health and social benefits of living a more spiritual life, becoming a healthy and well-adjusted human being is not in itself the main purpose. The ultimate concern of spirituality is to expand one’s consciousness. More specifically, it is how a person makes sense of him or herself within the context of their world that will influence that person’s progression toward more expansive, inclusive, and integrated ways of thinking and being.

A person’s way of thinking and being is influenced by their worldview – the unique combination of attitudes, perceptions, and assumptions that inform how they personally understand and make sense of their place in the world. My research found that the ongoing exploration of one’s spirituality with an open mind, open heart, and open will (Frankl’s “will to meaning”) can result in fundamental shifts in one’s self-perspective. What is most important to consider is that as a person’s beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and assumptions about him or herself and the world become more expansive and inclusive, so does that person’s consciousness. (See IONS’ Transformation Study and the book Living Deeply)

At the end of my research, I arrived at the following question: Does one’s consciousness evolve “organically” over time, and if so, how does the adoption of an intentionally spiritual life impact the trajectory of that evolution? Certainly the evolution of one’s worldview occurs across his or her lifespan. Developmental research suggests that there are three important periods when the trajectory of this evolution usually accelerates: during adolescence, during one’s twenties, and beyond the age of sixty. But my findings suggest that simply being older doesn’t guarantee a more evolved and expansive worldview; the evolution of one’s worldview (and therefore, consciousness) occurs independently of life experience. This finding further reinforces that it is how a person makes sense of himself or herself that will influence that person’s progression toward more expansive, inclusive, and integrated ways of thinking and being; it also supports previous such studies, most notably Cook-Greuter’s research into stages of ego-development. Her research suggests that most people have a relatively immature level of worldview that is grounded in who they know, what they know, and/or what they’ve achieved, rather than who they are, which hinders their capacity to attain later and more integrated stages of consciousness. In fact, her research found that more than 80 percent of all people fail to progress to a level of worldview where they become “individualized” – that is, when they no longer rely entirely on external validation to reinforce their sense of self or self-worth. Cook-Greuter’s research also suggests that less than 0.5 percent of the world’s population have attained a stage of ego-development where they have transcended ego and experience unity consciousness as a way of being.

According to my research, shifts toward more expansive, inclusive, and integrated worldviews not only occur independent of life experience but often in nonlinear ways. Depicted visually, the spiritual life can be considered akin to an ever-expanding spiral, with each loop representing not just learning or understanding something new but also a completely different way of knowing and being. (See the IONS Change Model.)

To continue to expand one’s shifts in worldview, however, the right conditions also need to be present. My research identified four core ways of thinking (four “spiritual beliefs”) that can be adopted and/or maintained to successfully expand consciousness. They can be considered “common” and provide the right interior conditions for how we might expand our consciousness. They include the following.

1) An openness to the mysteries of life, which means a universal spiritual belief that there is an order to the universe that transcends human thinking. This belief determines how open you are to life’s mysteries and how rigorously you explore spiritual phenomenon (both intrinsic and extrinsic) beyond and outside the ordinary range of human experience and understanding.

2) A belief in exploring life's meaning, purpose, and direction, which means a universal spiritual belief that there is meaning and purpose to your life that transcends life’s intermediary pursuits (e.g., riding a motorcycle, obtaining an academic degree, etc.). This belief relates to how readily you explore your life in order to find your unique purpose for existing in the world.

3) The belief in fostering wholeness and interconnectedness, which means a universal spiritual belief that all life is interconnected and that it is your bond to all humanity that provides a sense of wholeness. This belief determines how readily you foster connections and commune with all other sentient beings – including nature – in order to experience a sense of wholeness.

4) The belief in self-discovery and inner growth, which means a universal spiritual belief that all people are consciously and unconsciously undertaking a journey toward a transcended ego. This belief relates to how open you are to exploring yourself in order to rise above an ego-driven, fear-based, and external comparison-oriented existence.

Certainly our openness to these four core ways of thinking will ebb and flow over the duration of our spiritual journey, but no matter how open we are to these beliefs, it’s important to maintain a more expansive and inclusive “filter” when trying to make sense of our life and spiritual experiences. What does it mean to maintain such a filter? As a demonstration, read the following four statements and see if you agree with them:

  • I believe that there is more to this world than can be seen and physically studied.
  • I believe my life has meaning and purpose.
  • I believe that, although individual people can be difficult, I feel an emotional bond to all humanity.
  • I believe that every experience I have in life allows me to learn something new about myself.

The more you are able to respond “yes,” the more expansive and inclusive your filters and the greater the opportunity to expand your consciousness.

What is a spiritual life? Expanding one’s consciousness through spiritual practice takes time, and the path can be difficult – there are no shortcuts. But my research did identify three key tenets for staying present to one’s life and spiritual journey:

1) Intention – Undertake your spiritual journey with intention and maintain a conscious focus on why spirituality (and the expanding of your consciousness) is important to you.

2) Commitment –Proactively integrate your spiritual journey into all domains of your life (family, work, friends, etc.) and appreciate that exploring your spiritualty is not taboo in any of them.

3) Timelessness – It’s important to remember that your spiritual journey never really ends.

Finally, my research also found that to expand one’s consciousness, it’s essential to establish a daily spiritual practice. This will allow you to align how you understand yourself moment-by-moment with what you experience yourself doing in your day-to-day life. My research also found that no one spiritual practice is better than another. The key is that a spiritual practice is done daily and is ongoing. In selecting an appropriate spiritual practice for yourself, consider the following:

  • it needs to provide you with an experience of something greater than yourself
  • it should be something you can do over and over again
  • it should be something you can undertake within, and as a part of, all of the different aspects of your life

A Final Caveat

The findings and ideas presented in this article aim to provide a holistic approach for considering spirituality as well as some suggestions for how a person might adopt a more purposeful approach to cultivating their spirituality. The ultimate intention is the expansion of one’s consciousness. Of course, nothing is that simple – or, ironically, complex. As a wise colleague recently reminded me, if we already know the location of the destination, we don’t need a map to traverse the landscape. In the same vein, the findings from my research are only scaffolding to support a person as he or she undertakes the spiritual journey. Once someone has begun to connect with their unique experience of unity consciousness – that is, once they’ve transcended their ego – the supporting structures outlined in this article fall away. Travel well.

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  • Anonymous Icon

    sperry Dec 04, 2010

    Dear Richard Harmer,

    Thank You so much for your excellent research and for your fine article. I am writing, as I sense something significant is missing. You have focused on the individual-interior (the intentional, or subjective field) and, it seems, left-out the collective-interior (the cultural, or intersubjective field).

    It is my sense that research into our "Common Spirituality" needs to address the latter - as well.

    As an experiential scientist who has facilitated hundreds of groups ~ internationally ~ over more than twenty years, precisely researching how any individual ~ as well as humanity as a whole ~ can consistently share a commonly sensed consciousness, I'm thrilled to say: a loving joyful insightfulness arises spontaneously and unasked for ~ whenever present-moment-awareness is made aware of itself. Self-awareness "shifts" to shared-awareness, accessing our common spirit as an awakening intelligence.

    Ken Wilber has stated, there is only one 'I Am' Presence. My research supports this claim. Our innate capacity to sustain consciousness of the 'one' we all are holds largely untold benefits for us individually and as a species. We become more aware of how incomparably unique we each are, at the same time that we become more keenly awake to an intimately sensed recognition of how unique everything is at the level of form. We're also more able to confidently embrace and explore the reciprocal opposite, an enduring trans-personal witness that is inherently changeless and formless, that which cannot be made-up by the mind. Of course, the separative-self - no matter how spiritually focused - may not have cultivated the inter-personal habits that adequately support the growth of this intersubjective field.

    Awakened adepts have recommended this level of Self-reflective awareness for thousands of years.

    Through a near-death experience at age four, I re-discovered this fact, and over the course of several decades thoroughly tested a simple and readily accessible way that reliably supports any group to enter into this field of mutually sensed consciousness together: in person or via webcam online. A film project is now underway that is specifically designed to provide this 'experience' to audiences in theaters, to awaken us to our "Collective Self".

    In summary, I question the importance of focusing primarily on individual subjectivity. As until now it has been "traditional" to imagine that we each must first wake up separately - only to find that we are one - with few if any practices or guidelines as to how to realize our Collective Self. My experiential research - while still anecdotal - strongly suggests that preferring to focus on us as individuals artificially separates us. And that this oversight can be resolved through popularly exploring what we can notice - together.

    Sperry Andrews, co-director
    Human Connection Institute

  • Anonymous Icon

    Robert Wheeler Dec 04, 2010

    Thanks for this objective research about the most important aspect of human nature--subjective beliefs concerning the source of one's life. Yes, it becomes a social function and is the foundation of religion--the ontological imperative. Spirituality captures this, but couldn't it be more simply defined as an attitude of concern about a transcend realm beyond our present understanding that provides meaning, purpose, and source for our existence? History indicates that beliefs about this have always dominated societies. Neuroscience indicates this is built in to human brain functioning. And, psychology indicates this meets many important human needs. Whether the result of design or evolution, spirituality is gaining in popularity because of disatisfaction with religious dogma and militnt athiesm. Can spirituality be supported as a personality trait?
    Bob Wheeler

  • Anonymous Icon

    mimosa Dec 04, 2010

    , I read the article with a great appreciation .
    I personally think the complexity of spirituality stems from having to study it in parallel individually and collectively (culturally) in relation with consciousness.
    Believing in reincarnation for example, makes it easier for the person to seek a deeper spirituality in her or his path towards a complete and ascending self-realization, that has to continue through the many life cycles in accordance with free will and free choice
    While a person who thinks we are only an organized body of cells with specific temporary tasks, does'nt necessarily search fo,nor seek spirituality as it is a matter of what's after life?

  • Anonymous Icon

    adhouse Dec 06, 2010

    Beyond the words you've written i "sense" the energy and foundation you've come to build in relation to coming to an understanding of what/who/where/how spirituality can "mean" something to each individual.

    As complex as no-thing is, spirituality and science come together when I've experienced enough times in my life that i was present enough to see " between the lines" of science and spirit...

    I am is spirit, anything after that is science a probability of probabilities. Spirit is the "potential" we are, science is the probability of what is and "can be" Harmony is happiness, we attain that ebb and flow from understanding that anything we say, or do, or have, is from the potential of flowing probabilities, thoughts, feelings and actions...

    We got lost in the probabilities, and as we see that we are no-thing more then potential, we align our probabilities (purpose, vision, desires) to always maintain the full consicous understanding that I am is the spirit...

  • Anonymous Icon

    Openworld Dec 06, 2010

    All of us, in our lives, have been helped and/or inspired by individuals who have gone beyond narrow self-interest to form an extended self.

    Such extended selves or souls manifest and spread what we value as admirable qualities of spirit.

    What if they (and we) are beings formed to advance "selfish virtues" - qualities of spirit that seek reproductive success?

    E.O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins have argued - correctly I believe - that selfish genes and selfish memes predispose us to make unselfish sacrifices to ensure their reproductive success.

    They have pointed to a consilience in which selfish genes and selfish memes interact and evolve for mutual benefit.

    What if there are three, rather than two, streams in the co-evolutionary spiral of consilience?

    Selfish virtues -- in other words, selfish qualities of spirit -- may be the reason that sentient beings widen their definition of self to include sacrifice for others who may have not have any genetic or memetic affinity.

    I believe that our acts of caring and sacrifice, in these cases, aim to ensure the preservation and reproductive success of shared, transcultural qualities of spirit.

    This could explain much of the attachment we feel for noble spirits across traditional divides -- and the emotional pull that we feel when we are witnessing acts of kindness and courage in other species.

    It may be time, accordingly, to recognize selfish virtues ("lumenes"?) as fundamental players in the enchanted circle of consilience, as equal players with genes and memes in evolution's spiral.

    Mark Frazier
    @openworld (twitter)

  • eleanorstoneham Dec 07, 2010

    Dear Richard
    This is of great interest to me. In your research did you find any correlation between the 20 percent who had no formal sense of spiritual orientation or practice and the atheists who took part?

  • Anonymous Icon

    None Dec 16, 2010

    Hi Sperry

    Thank you for your comments on my article and research. Yes, I agree with your thoughts and support that 'individual exploration of spirituality is not mutually exclusive to collective exploration. Indeed, in utilising Wilber's Integral Framework my sense is that one's 'entry' into spirituality can come from any 'quadrant' - and is likely co-arising in all quadrants simultaneously.

    My 'frame' for this research was Wilber's Upper-Left quadrant as I was interested in the 'ways of thinking' (spiritual beliefs) that might give rise to an evolution of one's consciousness. I was also interested in seeking possible patterns in those ways of thinking across the many spiritual/religious traditions as a way of bringing to awareness those 'beliefs' that may be common to all. In this way, it was THROUGH the intentional-subjective quadrant that a person could consider those experiences, practices and 'forms' that arise from the other three quadrants. For example, if one adopts a more expansive belief around "an openness to life's mysteries" (as just one pattern of thinking for evolving one's consciousness) this might support that person seeking and fostering stronger and more co-evolutionary relationships with others (lower-left and inter-subjective quadrant).

    Having said this, the 'opposite' is also equally true (we we consider them to be 'separate' quadrants of inquiry) . For example, my own experience suggests that I have had my own life and spiritual beliefs expanded (and integrated) THROUGH my relationships with others. Further, my research found that without a formal spiritual practice (e.g., prayer or meditation - an upper-right or behavioural activity) one's identity development (particularly around identity integration) can be stilted. For more information on this aspect of my research, you could review Ch 8 of my final dissertation (which can be downloaded from

    My final reflections from your comments relate to the evolutionary impulse to evolve that many consider to be inherent in all life. From this perspective the collective co-emergence towards latter stages of consciousness is infinitely unfolding, with each of us an 'individual experience' of how we are co-evolving with others. Of course, this 'individual experience' is - in part - an illusion given the oneness of all that is, but that is a topic for another PhD dissertation :)

    Good luck with the film as it sounds like very important work.



  • Anonymous Icon

    richardjharmer Dec 16, 2010

    Hi Robert

    Thanks for your comments and your question regarding the construct of spirituality being supported as a personality trait. There is much psychological research exploring this question, with the main researcher I can think of being Ralph Piedmont from Loyola University in Maryland. Ralph has written a number of journal articles on this topic (with the primary one being “Does spirituality represent the sixth factor of personality? Spiritual transcendence and the five-factor model”). In that article, Piedmont’s findings suggest that his ‘model’ of spirituality (consisting of three components: 1. prayer fulfillment; 2. universality; and 3. connectedness) aligns with the ‘big 5’ personality traits – he called spirituality the 6th personality factor. If you go to Ralph’s bibliography page you will fins some articles that talk to this research (

    In my research, I also explored the relationship between the construct of spirituality and personality. I did find some overlap between these two constructs, however it was minimal. More importantly (given the approach my research was taking) I found that the four spiritual beliefs I was exploring were unique and independent of personality. This was an important finding given the ‘story’ I was telling through my dissertation as it suggests that we do need to explore spirituality in relationship to consciousness.

    Robert, I hope this helps and thanks again for your comments.



  • Anonymous Icon

    richardjharmer Dec 16, 2010

    Hi Robert (again)

    If you are interested in HOW the four spiritual beliefs identified through my research align coalesce with and differentiate from the ‘big 5’ factors of personality, my findings are presented in Ch 10 of my dissertation (available from



  • Anonymous Icon

    richardjharmer Dec 16, 2010

    Hi Mimosa

    Thanks for your comments on my article. I have also found it ‘liberating’ to shift the time perspective for the exploration of life’s meaning to align with multiple life cycles. This perspective certainly invites an openness to mystery as one has to consider that the meaning of one’s life may not be revealed in, to and through oneself in the present lifetime.

    And at the same time I have been pondering the ‘liberation’ of my emergent spontaneity in considering that there may be no life after death. This contrary perspective (for me) certainly encourages me to consider and experience the fullness of ‘life’ moment-by-moment.

    Thanks for your thoughts


  • Anonymous Icon

    richardjharmer Dec 16, 2010

    Hi Adhouse

    In your words I see the dance of life between being one’s True Nature – the luminous bright while light of one’s infinite potentiality – and the fettering of one’s ego, which can tend to ‘analyse’ the probabilities of life’s moment-by-moment experience. The “mind’s” journey of cognitively knowing that the boundaries one experiences are simply constructs and constructions of ‘reality’ (little ‘r’) in relationship with “no-mind’s” ‘true knowing’ of the raw and unfettered potentiality of Reality (big ‘R’).

    I will ponder your insights further.

    Thank you


  • Anonymous Icon

    richardjharmer Dec 16, 2010

    Hi Eleanor

    Thanks for your question. The simple answer is that I am not sure, as I did not examine this relationship in my data analysis. In collecting data (for my first study), I asked people to indicate their Spiritual Practice as: (1) Monotheistic; (2) Dharmic; (3) New Age; (4) Indigenous; and (5) No Spiritual Practice. I defined a ‘spiritual practice’ for those who responded as follow:

    The conscious and intentional commitment to acts (i.e., behaviour based activities) or a series of acts over time for the purpose of improving one’s functioning in domains beyond the practice field itself.

    So my sense (for Study 1) is that the 20% of people who responded with ‘No Spiritual Practice’ will have come from a range of spiritual contexts (including atheism). This is because the question was framed not in terms of an alignment with a specific ideology or set of beliefs but in terms of a ‘set of behaviours’ one would participate in or undertake in having a specific ideology/set of beliefs.



  • Anonymous Icon

    richardjharmer Dec 16, 2010

    Hi Mark

    I am intrigued by your thoughts on the ‘selfish virtue’ that sparks our co-evolutionary journey. As the concept applies to my own research I will ponder how the ‘lumenes’ you suggest inter-weave with the four spiritual beliefs identified within my research data.

    In the mean time, do you have any additional writings on this topic? I am sure others who have read my article and your comment would also be interested in how, as a species, we might nurture ‘selfish virtues’ for a more conscious, intentional and integrated ‘experience of the world’.

    Thanks again


  • Anonymous Icon

    None Dec 19, 2010

    I recently had reason to question the practice of accumulating favorite individual thoughts into logical groups of thoughts, which coalesce into what is commonly known as a Belief. In the upper left quadrant, this practice promotes mental laziness at the very least. And, at worst, it promotes the potential for effectuation with psychologically and/or spiritually destructive conclusions. Not a particularly great loss to an individual when you consider that there are billions and billions of humans living on this rock.

    But it’s in all of the other quadrants that the infection of this mental laziness spreads and has the potential to destroy humanity at large. It is in these other quadrants where individual Beliefs multiply exponentially and grow into destructive Belief Systems. Wilber himself admits to being fooled by his own previous beliefs and considers himself to have achieved a personal stage of what? “Wilber 5.0” or something? Even I used to believe in much of what Wilber teaches, but now I’ve adopted his own view that some of it might prove to be true, and some of it might not.

    So it is… that in a self-replicating process, these Belief Systems infect new members of society who, with a cultured incapacity for creative thought, blindly follow each other’s obsolete worldview toward the cliff and into the abyss. Further empowered by the unmovable Faith of these committed individuals to the infectious consensus narrative, this forward march of pedantic beliefs, like so many Lemmings, is taking us all to the edge.

  • Neon1 Dec 19, 2010

    Continued from above:

    It’s unfortunate that in your thesis you focus on the necessity of Belief as the foundation for your spiritual scaffolding. It is a sad day, in my opinion, when an article such as yours, which seems to encourage the evolution of consciousness and the growth of spirituality, uses as its architecture the very pattern of mental laziness at the core of our dilemma; the destructive effects of intractable beliefs and the belief systems they’ve created. Most of which, as we all know, barely resemble the creative thoughts that generated their existence in the first place.

    What human today, no matter the perceived stage of consciousness reached by that individual, has the authority to teach or to guide others toward what is in reality an arbitrary system of progress toward spiritual enlightenment? Who is to say that such enlightenment is really what our ultimate goal should be in this life? What light upon my own path could another human possibly shine from the lamp of their personal journey? …And how much money should I be expected to pay for it?

    In my personal life, I have reduced the number of my beliefs to only one: I believe that I am more than just this physical body. Every other belief has been stirred from its slumber never again to be put to sleep in the hermetically sealed box called a “belief”. Former beliefs have now become continuously evolving thoughts. “This thought, or that one, may reflect reality, but then again, it may not. No one can really say…”

  • Neon1 Dec 19, 2010

    Continued from above:

    It has been, and continues to be a difficult transition for me personally. It seems that there is something almost heretical about it, as if I will somehow be condemned for my impertinence. There is also a sense of uncertainty; a precariousness like walking on thin ice, no longer being comforted by the accumulation of wholly arbitrary thoughts into a Belief, or a Belief System. I’m going through something like withdrawal and can’t seem to find anything to support my addiction to the belief systems of contemporary society that used to comfort me, but which only, in reality, once lulled me to sleep.

    But I can’t go back now; back to the pattern of mental laziness at the root of our dilemma…

    Before you can have a creative thought, you must first have a serious doubt.

  • Kriste Brushaber Dec 20, 2010

    Hi Richard,

    Your spirituality analysis and beginning framework is refreshingly plain and open in presentation where relative newcomers (like me) to formal pursuit of knowledge and guidance can breathe a little easier after being overwhelmed with dogma and the myriad of subtle-to-esoteric, often dualistic approaches, opening what initially felt like Pandora’s Box. I feel it is in response to that kind experience many would recoil from initiating or following through expanding one’s consciousness as it could appear to be as self-absorbed, tainted, or unsustainable as the ego-driven world.

    Although someday the greater population will not need any framework to transition as the tipping point will be reached (and there may be a few out there who don’t need it now), we are at a critical junction where humanity and the Earth has run out of time for individuals to disconnect themselves from the whole for years, even decades or entire lifetimes, seeking enlightenment (both spiritual and worldly/material). Those who have are now synthesizing their awareness lighting clearer paths for the rest of us.

    Not that it won’t be effort- monumental effort for many, to change their filters and continually keep those filters maintained and occasionally upgraded regardless of how simple the initial scaffolding (which, of course, will also be ever-evolving…). I am grateful you and the scientists and philosophers before you, like different aspects and functions of a single mind or being, are working out the details. Now other parts of the whole like me can apply the most tangible and relevant information as efficiently as possible working to accelerate the co-creative manifestation of whatever wonders await us past current consciousness.

  • Anonymous Icon

    JeanC Dec 31, 2010

    Thank you for this, Dr. Harmer.

    I was interested in your mentioning that spiritual life develops in a spiral.
    I have observed this in my own life and documented forty years of it in my book :

    A Spiral Life

    As an MD specializing in neuroscience, and also a swami in an Eastern meditative order, I realized that all I had been observing over the years was valid, was actually an unfolding of different levels of consciousness. What was rather unusual is that this all happened in a very orderly way, with the same pattern occurring over and over in a regular, twenty-year cycle, but in a different mode of consciousness.

    I have not heard of anything like this. Have you?

    I have been doing organized spiritual practice all of my life. My grandmother got me started at age 5; now heading toward the big 70.


  • Anonymous Icon

    vmiller555hotmailcom Jun 11, 2011


    Can you tell me if you have read any of JANE ROBERTS, THE SETH MATERIAL???


  • Anonymous Icon

    Openworld Mar 27, 2013


    >> do you have any additional writings on this topic? I am sure others who have read my article and your comment would also be interested in how, as a species, we might nurture ‘selfish virtues’ for a more conscious, intentional and integrated ‘experience of the world’.

    Appreciate your comment and interest – deepest apologies for only now seeing this!

    Yes, I have expanded on the ideas that 'selfish' universal (trans-species) virtues may be interacting with genes and memes. They're outlined at .

    I'll welcome your insights and improvements.



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