Over the years, I’ve seen many models of spiritual development. Most of them follow a subjective process that one or a few people experienced that doesn’t reflect how it will unfold for many others. Fundamentally it is shifts in being – in who we recognize ourselves to be – that reflect the underlying process. This is why I’ve focused on that.
Yet it can be instructive to see some of the other things that can shift that are reflected in other models. Categories like this can give you a sense of where they’re coming from. But there can be a lot of overlap in categories.
While a specific model will probably sit in one of the other categories, some models you’ll run into will be compiled from what someone has read and heard. They’ll gather together ideas into a personal interpretation of “reality” that has little basis in experience. This usually leads to distortion, even if some aspects are valid. Being mind-based, the author may strongly defend their personal creation.
Here, a person charts their progress through a sequence of experiences, such as layers of refinement or of creation. For example, Kristin Kirk has described unfolding in terms of the layers of creation that were revealed to her. As she acknowledged, these don’t always unfold consistently. She’s also described her process more like I have.
Our dominant sense will cause major differences in this approach. But as it’s experiential, it will be personal and unique.
These models typically use either the rising of kundalini Shakti and the opening chakras or that energy as markers. While this is related to the process, it is an effect that widely varies.
Kundalini traditions, for example, don’t agree on this process and some people experience shifts in non-standard locations. I had mapped the later descent to stages thinking that was standard, but it also turns out to vary.
I’ve seen variations like alignment of the chakras or their brilliance. But some of that has included conceptual distortions, like expected colours. If it’s all about energy without source, it may only be astral.
This is closely related to energy systems but leans more on the refinement and clarity of the physiology and tends to include deeper koshas. Rose Rosetree, for example, reads enlightenment as marked by the chakras being free of “Stuff”, balanced, and permeated with the Divine.
The last feature is key to me – unless there is some embodiment of source going on, it’s still just variable experiences. But as I’ve mentioned, if there hasn’t been the shifts in consciousness, it can still revolve around an identified ego.
We can also see other systems based on refinement of perception, like perception of subtle beings or realms. Some of these will be based on clarity, some on perception.
And finally, the parallel sattva side of the process I describe is based here. God consciousness, Refined Unity, and so forth. We may also map sub-stages to being clarity-based, like the stages of Unity. However, this process without stages in consciousness is still personal.
This is the approach I use as consciousness is our base, the foundation of our sense of being. Shifts in our relationship with consciousness determine our sense of being and how we experience the world.
Some systems relate to this but describe stages to Self Realization, such as the 10 Bulls of Buddhism. Many neo-advaitans and Buddhists describe only Self Realization while also including very advanced qualities. Because they consider this one stage to be complete, they may mistakenly apply Vedanta to a dualist state.
Some systems are based on the experiences of a smaller group of people. Waking Down (Trillium) would be an example of the later.
Many consciousness-based systems are incomplete or leave out the parallel refinement process, perhaps even calling it illusory.
There are a huge number of influences that can affect our subjective experience of this unfolding process. My point is simply: which are the key markers of permanent shifts in the actual underlying process?