The Risk of Stagnation
As we have seen in the previous post, conflicts and discomforts begin to make our existing level of consciousness unsatisfactory. This drives us to look for ways beyond that dissonance. This can move us to a higher level of understanding, a more effective model of reality. However, if our level of understanding is one that our culture values discomfort with it may be harder to come by and we can get stuck.
Both Achievement and Affiliative levels of consciousness have a significant value for our societies (pages 145 & 153):
… Prestige-seeking self-oriented traits are admired and rewarded in capitalistic cultures.… a number of studies have shown that many highly narcissistic individuals are successful and valued members of capitalistic societies… They are especially rewarded in business organisations…
Despite the . . . cultural biases against intuition and right-hemispheric processing, a strong bias for aspects of Affiliative consciousness exists as well. The desire to help others, sustain intimate relationships, and be uncritical of others’ differences has historically commanded great respect in western cultures.
All Is Not Lost
At the end of their road also lies an inadequacy in the paradigm that creates discontent (page 158):
Authentic consciousness resolves both the Achievement and Affiliation dilemmas using a synergistic blend of both solutions this is greater than the sum of its parts. If love will not conquer all and power does not obtain the more important things in life, the Authentic resolution is fulfilling one’s own personal mission and supporting the personal growth of others along the way.
According to Wade (page 159) ‘Authentic consciousness represents the height of most conventional developmental theory.’ I think we would need to include Dabrowski’s TPD in that list, as his thinking about development appears to stop at the level of authenticity.
For Wade, and, I must admit for me also, this is where it all begins to get really interesting. Wade nails the core of that interest when she writes (page 162):
The most significant shift in this arena is disappearance of the fear of death . . . ., closely associated with the marked drop in neurotic behaviour. The ego is at last secure. This is a paradox of ego maturity: just as the person reaches the peak of self-expression, he also becomes receptive to letting the self go.
The Shift from Dissonance to Autonomy
At this level much of the earlier dissonance fades away: motivation is far more an autonomous choice than a flight from conflict. People at this level tend, as Dabrowski also describes it, to identify with higher values conducive to compassion (page 163-164):
Authentic people identify not with a particular group or society, but with the human race. . . . . The authentic person pursues what he desires, but never at the expense of others, and in such a manner that serves the greater good, not his alone.
There is a beautiful first person description of how this feels (page 165):
This is how life will be. I must be wholehearted while tentative, fight for my values, yet respect others, believe my deepest values right yet be ready to learn. I see that I shall be retracing this whole journey over and over – but, I hope, more wisely.
As well as being value-driven, people at this level are more flexible and less phased by dissonance (page 168):
Authentic subjects are more likely to change their behaviour to conform to their beliefs once they are aware of the inconsistency. People functioning at the Authentic level adapt more easily than others because they are more open to, and less defended against, dystonic information.
And so autonomous choice, not compulsion by dissonance, is the driver at this level (page 171-172):
At earlier levels, change comes about through exterior events’ impinging painfully on the individual and creating a sort of tension. But from the Authentic stage onward, change appears to be driven internally, as a matter of will and a result of tensions caused by increasing internal activity.
Glimmerings of Transcendence
Whether there is a ‘sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused’ is an interesting question. Wade addresses this (page 172):
Conviction of an uncertain but presumably meaningful existence is often initially linked to an agnostic or completely nontheistic stance, but it incorporates a belief – often quite vague – in some existence beyond the physical plane . . . . Exactly what this may be, or whether it exists at all, is unknown to the Authentic person and unimportant as a motivator, though death is tentatively construed as a transition to some other kind of existence.
In the end, a person at this level comes to realise that their ego is simply a construct. Anxiety sets in. The Ground of Being may even break through ‘in the form of transcendent events.’ When it does (page 174):
. . . The ego is caught in another dilemma: it is irresistibly drawn to the Dynamic Ground at the same time that it is afraid of being engulfed and destroyed.
We are on the cusp of Transcendent consciousness.
That would need another series of posts altogether to deal with adequately. It is probably best to end this consideration of the dissonance that has driven transitions from one level of consciousness to the next with a sense of what her conclusions on this matter are at the end of the book. On page 265 she summarises it:
Below the Authentic level, change seems to be driven exclusively by external events causing sufficient suffering for movement [to take place]. Transition is much easier by the time the individual has arrived at the level of Authentic consciousness, because egoic survival is not threatened in the least. . . . Authentic people are open to critical input and, if faced with the fact that their behaviour is not in accord with their beliefs, will tend to change their behaviour. Thus from the Authentic level on, change is driven by the will, not by environmental events, though it may be assisted by others (e.g. a spirit guide or grace).
With this I think Dabrowski would be in complete agreement, except for the mention of ‘grace.’ It is interesting to find such close correspondence on key points between such otherwise diverse viewpoints. It has made this process of revisiting Jenny Wade’s book after all these years a most worthwhile exercise for me, at least. Heaven knows whether anyone else will feel the same.