Discovering what life is about

the Seven Levels of Consciousness Model

the Seven Levels of Consciousness Model Maslow to Barrett A Brief Overview of the Origins of the Seven Levels of Consciousness Model


Posted by Willy Danenberg on Jun 02, 2010 | Leave a Comment

A Brief Overview of the Origins of the Seven Levels of Consciousness Model


The reason I created the Seven Levels of Consciousness model was to give greater definition and understanding to human motivations. It was clear to me that Maslow’s research and thinking was ahead of his time. Abraham Maslow died in 1970 at age 62 well before the consciousness movement had surfaced. I saw that with some minor changes Maslow’s hierarchy of needs could be transposed into a framework of consciousness. In 1996 I set about making these changes – shifting the hierarchy of needs into the seven levels of consciousness. I shifted the model from needs to consciousness; I re-labeled the basic needs; I gave more definition to the process of self-actualization by viewing it through the lens of Vedic philosopohy, and I classified the different levels of consciousness according to our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. My reasoning for these changes is given below.


1. Shifting from needs to consciousness


It was clearly evident to me that when people have underlying anxieties or subconscious fears about one of their lower order deficiency needs, their subconscious remains focused on that need. They simply cannot get enough of what they need to assuage their anxiety or subconscious fears even though it would appear to an outside observer that they have satisfied that need. For example, there are people who are never satisfied with the amount of money they earn. Even though they may be very rich, for them, that need remains unfulfilled. No matter how much they earn they are always left wanting more. Such people remain subconsciously focused at the survival level of consciousness even though they have may have mastered several of the other higher levels of consciousness.


Other people, who have underlying anxieties or subconscious fears about belonging or being loved, subconsciously operate from the level of relationship consciousness. They have such a strong need to experience a feeling of affiliation that they may compromise their own integrity to get that need meet. Their need to be liked makes them ingratiate themselves to others. They want to be liked. They cannot tolerate conflict and will use humor to mask their true feelings.


People who have underlying anxieties or fears about their performance or ranking in relation to their peers, subconsciously operate from the level of self-esteem consciousness. Their need for power, authority, status or respect is paramount for their well-being. The can never get enough recognition, praise or acknowledgement. They become perfectionists, workaholics and over achievers. They are driven by their need to be recognized. Despite all the accolades they may get, they always want to achieve more.


These considerations led me to recognize that our perceived needs are in reality reflection of our consciousness, and what we value, consciously or sub-consciously, is reflected in the levels of consciousness we operate from.


2. Re-labeling the lower levels of consciousness


The second change I made to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was to bring together the physiological survival level with the safety level into a single category. I felt justified in doing this since the physiological needs of the body are essentially taken care of by our cellular consciousness – not by our personal consciousness. It is only in times of distress or dysfunction that our personal consciousness intervenes in the functioning of the body. For example, our body sends signals to our personal consciousness when it needs food and water or needs to urinate or defecate. Our personal consciousness is not in control of these processes.


I named this combined level, survival consciousness because if focuses on issues of physical survival, physical safety and physical health. This level represents our physical needs. I also renamed the level of love/belonging, relationship consciousness. I felt justified in doing this because the quality of love we experience in life is a directly affected by our ability to build relationships, and experience a sense of belonging. I did not rename the sel-esteem level. This level together with the relationship level represents our emotional needs.


Thus, I created a model with four levels of human consciousness:


* Survival consciousness (survival and safety combined),

* Relationship consciousness (replacing love/belonging),

* Self-esteem consciousness, and

* Self-actualization.


I consider the desire to know and understand as a prerequisite for self-actualization. I placed this at the transformation level as part of the first level of self-actualization.


3. Structuring self-actualization


Lastly, I expanded the concept of self-actualization to give more definition to our spiritual needs by integrating the levels of consciousness described in Vedic philosophy into the model. The levels of consciousness described in Vedic philosophy that correspond to self-actualization are known as soul consciousness, cosmic consciousness, God consciousness and unity consciousness. This is a model of depth consciousness. As we progress through each of these levels of consciousness, we feel an increasing sense of connectedness to the world around us that shows up as an expanded sense of identity. We feel a sense of oneness with ourselves, with our family, with our community, with the organization we work for, with our nation, with humanity and the planet, and eventually with the whole of creation. The seven levels of identity are described in the attached Annex.


The first level of self-actualization: Soul consciousness or soul awareness begins to occur at the first level of self-actualization. This is also called the level of “individuation”. Carl Jung coined this term to refer to individuals who have psychologically differentiated themselves from the thre group consciousness in which they were raised. Fundamentally, individuation is the process of integrating the unconscious with conscious for the purpose of self-actualization. The “Self” that is being actualized is the soul.


To experience soul consciousness, we must first become viable independent human beings. We do this by embarking on a journey of personal growth that is driven by our need for self-knowledge and understanding. Our need to intellectually understand who we are and why we are here is a function of our mental needs. To become viable and independent we must let go of the fear-based beliefs and anxieties of the ego that keep us anchored in the deficiency levels of consciousness. These anxieties and fears are learned early on in our lives and represent our personal programming and societal conditioning – the enculturation process we experienced growing up as children. We must face and transcend these fears in order to achieve soul awareness. We have to put our eventual mortality into a larger context to get passed these fears. I refer to this level of consciousness as transformation – the fourth level of consciousness. Values based decision-making begins to take over from belief-based decision making at this level of consciousness


The second level of self-actualization: Cosmic consciousness corresponds to the second level of self-actualization. I refer to this level of consciousness as internal cohesion – the fifth level of consciousness. At this level of consciousness your ego and your soul become indistinguishable – this is the meaning of internal cohesion. You find your personal purpose (soul purpose) that brings meaning to your life, and you bring the beliefs of your ego into alignment with the values of your soul. Your ego and soul become fully integrated.


The third level of self-actualization: God consciousness corresponds to the third level of self-actualization. I refer to this level of consciousness as making a difference – the sixth level of consciousness. This is the level where you begin to uncover and develop the deeper attributes of your soul. You develop a sense of knowing that goes beyond reasoning, and your intuition begins to direct your decision-making.


Fourth level of self-actualization: Unity consciousness corresponds to the fourth level of self-actualization. I refer to this level of consciousness as service – the seventh level of consciousness. We arrive at this level of consciousness when the pursuit of “making a difference” becomes a way of life. At this level of consciousness we embark on a life of self-less service in pursuit of our personal purpose. Effectively, we become one with our purpose and one with the world around us as we enlarge the scope of our work to embrace the whole of humanity. We are fully at ease with uncertainty and can tap into the deepest sources of wisdom. We learn to operate with humility and compassion.


At the first level of self-actualization we consciously break away from the enculturation of our upbringing (family and ethnicity) so that we can become a viable independent free entity – we individuate by differentiating ourselves from our backgrounds. We use our mental capacity to reach an understanding of who we are. We begin to align the beliefs of the ego with the values of the soul. At the second level of self-actualization, we find a personal sense of purpose that gives meaning to our lives. When we begin to actualize that meaning by making a difference in the world, we enter into the third level of self-actualization. This is the level where we make strategic alliances with others who share a similar sense of purpose. This collaboration allows us collectively to have a significantly larger impact on the world. At the fourth level of actualization we expand our sense of identity to become one with humanity and the planet. We feel a deep sense of compassion for the world.


With these three changes to Abraham Maslow’s model:


- Shifting from a focus on needs to consciousness


- Re-structuring and re-labeling of the levels of consciousness, and


- Structuring the concept of self-actualization


I was able to construct a model of consciousness that corresponds to the seven life themes that are intrinsic to evolution of human consciousness.[1]


The Seven Levels of Consciousness model is shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1. The Seven Levels of Consciousness and Physical, Emotional, Mental and Spiritual Needs


As Abraham Malsow’s research showed, to find personal fulfillment and live a healthy motivated life we must learn to satisfy our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs. These needs correspond to seven basic motivations contained in the Seven Levels of Consciousness model. They are intrinsic to the human condition.

* Our physical needs are met when we take care of our physical survival, physical safety and physical health –survival consciousness.

* Our emotional needs for belonging and respect are met when we have strong personal relationships (friends and family) – relationship consciousness – and feel good about who we are – self-esteem consciousness.

* Our mental needs are fulfilled through self-knowledge – cognition turned inwards[2] – transformation consciousness – a journey of personal growth – this is the first level of self-actualization.

* Our spiritual needs are met when we, a) align the beliefs of the ego with the values of the soul (level 4 consciousness), b) uncover the personal purpose that brings meaning to our lives (level 5 consciousness) c) when we are able to actualize our sense of personal meaning by making a difference in the world through living out our purpose (level 6 consciousness); and d) when making a difference in the world becomes a way of life, we enter into the realm of selfless service (level 7 consciousness).


Only when we have learned to master all these needs – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual – can we be said to be operating from full-spectrum consciousness.


There is a significant difference between the first three levels of motivation and the last three levels of motivation. The first three levels serve the needs of the self as an individual – the ego. The last three levels serve the need of the self as an integrated member of humanity – the soul. To cross the bridge from self as individual to self as an integrated member of humanity, we must embark on a journey of personal growth by becoming a viable, independent entity.


Personal growth begins with self-knowledge. As we grow in understanding of ourselves, we learn to release the fears and anxieties we hold about meeting our deficiency needs at the first three levels of consciousness that are preventing us from becoming all that we can become. We shift from being co-dependent to being independent. As we learn to understand ourselves and our deepest motivations, we stop being dependent on others for love, and we stop basing our self-esteem on what others think of us. We learn to love and respect ourselves as we are. We individuate into personal freedom.


We stop feeling guilty about our failings; we stop being jealous of others; we stop being angry at situations we are unable to control; we stop blaming others for our misfortunes; we stop making judgments; we stop being codependent, and we stop being a victim. We become responsible and accountable for our lives. We accept life as it is and we get on with it. This new found sense of responsible freedom (accountability) allows us to become independent of the ties that bind us to the first three levels of consciousness and our ethnocentric view of the world, and gives us the freedom to be who we really. This new sense of personal responsibility and accountability demands that we question the beliefs and rules for living that structured our upbringing and search for values that will help us make better and more universal choices. These are the essentials of the process we call personal growth.


As we make progress in our personal growth our sense of identity expands. We begin to realize that we can only meet our personal lower order needs if we also work towards satisfying the lower order needs of the collective with which we identify. We are no longer interested in controlling or manipulating others for our personal gain, but in sharing our gains and supporting others in their growth and development so they too can become all they can become.


As we learn to nurture and care for those around us, we develop an expanded sense of identity. Whatever we identify with we care for, because it becomes part of who we are. When we identify with our family, we care for their well-being. When we identify with our work unit and our organization, we care about its success. When we identify with our community and the planet, we become social and environmental stewards. We volunteer to help make the world a better place. We care about all these things because in this expanded sense of identity we become one with the constituency we identify with. We feel the success and failures of those we care about as if they were our own. We become empathetic and compassionate towards those with whom we identify. We become an integrated and interdependent member of humanity


The last three levels of motivation— internal cohesion, making a difference, and service—are based on the interest of the larger self—the one that has found a transpersonal meaning to life and identifies with the greater whole. Our lives take on more meaning when we put our talents in service to the good of the whole.. When we see that our efforts affect the world in a positive way, we feel that we have made a difference. When making a difference becomes the focus of our lives, we enter into the realm of service.


Albert Schweitzer made the following remark about service:


“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those that have sought and found how to serve.”


Thus, the journey that is inherent to the seven levels of consciousness model takes us from being co-dependent – to independent, and from being independent to being interdependent – from differentiation to integration.


A full-spectrum individual is someone who has substantially completed this journey and is able to operate at all levels of consciousness as and when appropriate.


A full-spectrum leader is someone who is not only a full-spectrum individual but also someone knows how to create the conditions that allow those in their charge (a nation or an organization) to satisfy their deficiency needs, and their growth needs.


* They master “survival consciousness” by creating an environment of financial security and physical safety for themselves and those in their charge.

* They master “relationship consciousness” through learning to be authentic in their communications and by creating a culture of caring and belonging that engenders loyalty to the group (nation or organization).

* They master “self-esteem consciousness” by measuring and monitoring progress towards the group’s goals and keeping the group focused on quality, excellence and continuous improvement such that everyone involved feels a sense of pride in the group’s performance.

* They master “transformation consciousness” by learning to understand their deepest motivations and becoming accountable for all their actions, as well as enabling those in their charge to operate with autonomy and accountability and supporting them in their personal and professional growth and development.

* They master “internal cohesion consciousness” by a) finding a personal sense of purpose (a sense of mission) to their lives; b) creating a vision of the future that is a source of inspiration for everyone in the group; and c) engendering a climate of trust among group members.

* They master “making a difference consciousness” by actualizing their own sense of purpose through collaboration with others and enabling group members to do the same.

* They master “service consciousness” by aligning the needs of the group with the needs of humanity and the planet and performing acts of self-less service, with humility and compassion, that support group members in doing the same.


It is clear from the above that full-spectrum leaders must first of all be full-spectrum individuals. Someone who has not mastered the first three levels of personal consciousness can never be an effective leader even if they are living out their personal purpose. If you not mastered your own deficiency needs, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to create the conditions that allow those in your charge to satisfy their deficiency needs. Furthermore, you cannot be a full-spectrum leader if you are still operating consciously or subconsciously from personal self-interest.


Full-Spectrum Organizations


Just as full-spectrum leaders are the most effective people on the planet, full-spectrum organizations are the most effective organizations on the planet. We know this to be true because we have measured the consciousness of hundreds of organizations and thousands of leaders by mapping their values to the Seven Levels of Organizational Consciousness and the Seven Levels of Leadership models.


As one can imagine we have encountered relatively few full-spectrum companies. Those that we have found are always exemplars in their field. They excel at all levels of consciousness and show long-term resilience. They are profitable and care for the health of their workers; they create a sense of belonging and loyalty by caring for and communicating openly with their employees and customers; they create systems, process and dashboards that encourage excellence and high performance; they are adaptable and empower employees to be accountable; they have a purpose or cause supported by a high level vision that inspires their employees, and they build a culture based on shared values; they collaborate with other organizations or groups that share a similar vision ,and they promote employee fulfillment; and they operate with compassion and humility while seeking to improve the life conditions for the future generations of humanity and the planet as a whole.


Full-spectrum organizations are able to excel in all these ways because they are led by full-spectrum individuals. Most importantly they care for their workers by addressing their deficiency needs and supporting their growth needs.


This is I believe the underlying reason why Fortune Magazine sponsors an annual competition to celebrate the hundred best companies to work for in America. The companies that make this list are not only the best companies to work for they are also among the highest performing companies in America. The underlying connection is that caring for your employees leads to high performance.


The reason why the companies that make it onto Fortune Magazine’s top one hundred are regarded as the best is because they are good at managing both the deficiency needs and growth needs of their workers – that’s why they are the best companies to work for. And, they are good at satisfying the deficiency needs of their workers because they are led by self-actualized individuals, many of whom operate from full-spectrum consciousness. When an organization addresses the deficiency needs of their workers it reduces their anxieties and fears and enables them to bring their full selves to work so they can focus on their growth needs. It also engenders a sense of belonging and loyalty. When an organization addresses the growth needs of their workers it creates a strong sense of engagement.


This is why cultural capital has become the new frontier of competitive advantage. Given a choice, people want to work for companies that care about their employees; care about their customers and suppliers; support the local community, and are concerned about humanity and the environment. In situations where competition for human resources is tight, culture can be the deciding factor in both hiring talented individuals and retaining key players.


The War for Talent sponsored by McKinsey and Company not only suggests that culture is a prime motivator for executives when selecting a new organization, but that due to the population demographics of the post war baby boom and the subsequent decline in birth rates, the number of individuals available in the Western world in the age range of managers will decline significantly in the early years of the 21st century. Thus, culture will become an even more important differentiator of choice for executives searching for new jobs.


In addition to caring for their employees, and recognizing the importance of culture, full-spectrum organizations share another important characteristic. They have developed a capacity for collective action. They galvanize the minds of their workers around a single intention by giving them a clear sense of mission and vision. The mission tells them what to focus their energies on. The vision gives them a clear sense of direction. The vision of these full-spectrum organizations is large. It is sourced from the higher levels of consciousness. It embraces the whole of society.


Full-spectrum organizations support their mission and vision with a shared set of values. The values represent a collective code of conduct that aid personal and collective decision-making and set standards of behavior. Because of these three factors, mission, vision and values, the whole organization operates as if it were guided by one mind. There is a singular mission, an inspiring vision, and a set of values that govern day-to-day interactions and collective decision-making. The organization itself becomes a living entity and the individuals in the organization become fractals of the whole.


Ten years of work and research involving hundreds of companies has shown us that the culture of an organization is a reflection of the consciousness of the leader(s). The data we have collected has enabled us to develop some hard and fast rules about the relationship between organizational cultures and leadership consciousness.


Rule1. An organization cannot operate at a higher level of consciousness than the personal consciousness of the leadership group – the key factor is the level of consciousness of the CEO or top decision maker.


Rule 2. The culture of an organization is either a reflection of the personal consciousness of the leader(s) or the personal consciousness of previous leader(s). When a large organization appoints a new leader it can take several years for a cultural shift to take place. The direction of the shift will reflect the levels of consciousness of the new leader.


Rule 3. Most organizations operate with a “default” culture, because the culture is not managed, not monitored and not questioned. It is simply recognized as “the way things are done around here.” The leaders are unaware that their personal consciousness is impacting the culture of the organization and culture of the organization is impacting the company’s financial performance.


The beliefs, values and behaviors of the leader(s) are not only reflected in the culture, they are also reflected in the policies, procedures and practices that regulate the functioning of the organization.


As I state in my third book, Building a Values-Driven Organization: A Whole System Approach to Cultural Transformation, cultural capital has become the new frontier of competitive advantage. Who you are and what you stand for has become the key differentiator between a good company and great company.


If cultural capital is the new frontier of competitive advantage, and the culture of the organization is a reflection of the consciousness of the leaders, then leadership development is the key to growing a great company because:


* Leadership development drives cultural capital.

* Cultural capital drives employee fulfillment and performance.

* Employee fulfillment and performance drives customer satisfaction.

* Customer satisfaction drives shareholder value.


We have found this important causal link to be present in all the successful organizations.


In government institutions or organizations that serve a social purpose such as power generation, health or social services, etc. the logic follows a slightly different path.


* Leadership development drives cultural capital

* Cultural capital drives employee fulfillment and performance

* Employee fulfillment and performance drives mission assurance

* Mission assurance drives customer satisfaction


What we may conclude from the above is that leadership development is absolutely central to building a high performance successful organization. However, as I have already stated, the goal is to grow full-spectrum leaders.

[1] I wrote about the higher levels of consciousness in my first book – A Guide to Liberating Your Soul, and I integrated them into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and developed the Seven Levels of Consciousness Model in my second book – Liberating the Corporate Soul: Building a visionary organization.


[2] “Cognition turned inwards,” relates to an individual’s capacity for self-reflection and understanding of motivations from an objective perspective – being able to witness the self. It is a way of information processing where the soul becomes the witness of the ego.


Ref :



the Seven Levels of Consciousness Model


the Seven Levels of Consciousness Model


the Seven Levels of Consciousness Model

Categories : Life purpose    Themes : Wisdom
Share |
add a comment...

0 Comment

Leave a Comment