In the early developmental stages of life, consciousness in the human transitions through three stages of growth before the ego-persona makes its appearance in adolescence at the beginning of the mental stage. This means what we know of today as the ego-persona is really a pliable and temporary state of consciousness which corresponds to an individual’s sense of personal identity, but this will change as consciousness awakens to higher levels of awareness. The stages of individual growth in the beginning of life correspond to the structures of consciousness that primitive humanity has passed through in past millennia; we still see primitive consciousness in some isolated societies today.
The most basic form of consciousness that everyone passes through in infancy is archaic consciousness. Infants perceive life as being formless, meaning that the observer and the observed are one and the same; this state is conscious, but not yet self-conscious. In this state of consciousness, everything in the immediate surrounding is experienced as a single backdrop, like living in a dimly lit mist devoid of shadows.
In this stage, newborn infants are only partially conscious because they are not fully integrated into their new bodies; the senses are in a very rudimentary state, and they are unable to distinguish themselves or others as individuals. Archaic consciousness is dull; sleep or dormancy maintains a strong pull on the individual.
As stated above, archaic consciousness is “mass consciousness” whereas the magical phase is the first structure of consciousness. Since magical consciousness is spaceless and timeless, it is spread over the world. Magical consciousness is not endowed with sufficient intensity or lucidity to perceive space as space; and there is no recognition of time because time needs a memory and memory needs a focused sense of self. In this state of consciousness, children and primitive individuals might perceive an object in motion, and the object may have some degree of significance, but they do not perceive the object in the void of space; it is like seeing dream images in sleep.
This is one-dimensional awareness, but to the observer there is no personal identification and no sharp distinction between reality and imagination. This level of consciousness encounters events as they come without being capable of recognizing their causal origins. In other words, it is like living in an earth-size fish bowl and everything in the bowl is a living part of the person, including thunder, lightning, wind, rain, and all the creatures, plants and flowers.
In the magical phase, imitative behavior is a form of self-actualization within the tribe or family setting; a child will establish his or her rudimentary self-identity by drawing an invisible boundary around the family unit and placing himself or herself at the imaginary center. In this period, children primarily experience an emotive and imaginative participation with life rather than an experience through conceptualization; this is an essential characteristic of the magical phase, that is, a “participation mystique” or mystical partaking of the subject in the object.
Although children are focused more on the unity of the family than on personal identity, the “self-sense” eventually grows to the point of recognizing oneself as distinct from the natural environment, but there is little interest in differentiating personal identity from the body which means that infant consciousness whose center of existence is the body, has not been outgrown.
In the developmental years, the individual moves through the instinctual archaic period of development into the emotive magical structure of consciousness, and eventually emerges into the two-dimensional mythical structure of consciousness which in our present reality is equivalent to the functioning intelligence of a young person from around 12 to 18 years of age. Like an adolescent living a fantasy like experience – “imaginative, storybook reality” is an essential subjective medium of mythical consciousness.
High school is like a closed mythical society in which this storybook reality unfolds with its: imaginative adventures, its heroes and villains, and its princes, princesses and court jesters. It is also like a miniature society externalized in myth with its own mores, rituals, social structures, politics and injustices, lived out and enacted as the pre-ego sense of self.
With the emergence of mythical consciousness, feeling and psychic imagery are added to the imaginative and instinctual experiences of early life. Mythical consciousness opens up empathy and feelings associated with the world; its ritualistic practices are a psychic participation in life. Mythical consciousness brings the capacity for private feelings and the ability to participate in the private emotional world of another; this is the regulative principle behind humanity’s relationship to the world and to its own psychic nature.
In contrast, the essential distinguishing characteristic of the magical structure is the emergent awareness of nature and imagination, whereas, the essential characteristic of the mythical structure is the emergent awareness of feelings and the psychic nature. Magical man’s dream-like imaginative consciousness in natural time was the precondition for mythical man’s coming to awareness of feeling, emotion and imaginative imagery.
Self-conscious awareness did not happen for humanity until the mental structure of consciousness dawned around 1500 A.D. during the Renaissance period, the Age of Enlightenment. Stepping out of the mythical space of polarized musing into third-dimensional reality coincided with the discovery of causality which replaced both the magical “interconnectedness of life” and the mythical “psychic destiny.” The laws of causality defined the connections between things or events that appear inevitable to the rational mind. Renaissance humanity was fascinated with asserting itself in objectified space rather than in the quietness of the inner space of the psyche.
In the Age of Enlightenment, the natural curiosity about the world was characteristic of wakeful human intelligence and it became the sweeping ideology that challenged the established sacred view of the world. It was the beginning of the end of the “myth” of God; science was now the self-liberated ego’s bid for omniscience. The emerging ego could not have known that a one-sided development of the spatially transfixed self-sense leads only to the disconnection, and ultimately, to the disintegration of the psyche.
Indeed, the ego was exuberant about itself as the world piled on discovery upon discovery, invention upon invention, change upon change, gradually transforming society and the face of the earth. The rational mind, relegating to itself the powers of divinity, began to laboriously construct its own cosmos out of the chaos.
With the emergence of the ego and mental consciousness, destiny ceased to be felt as inevitable. Rather people with their rational consciousness thought they were now in control of life. This rationale coincided with the conceptualization of time as a linear continuum which pointed from the past to the future via the present moment. This was the beginning of the Contemporary Age.
The experience of adulthood in the mental structure of consciousness centers on the interaction of the ego-persona in the material world. The individual has transitioned through early childhood development within the family into individual, autonomous identity in the adolescence phase, and finally, into the maturation of the self-concept as the ego-persona. Early in life, the “sense of self” is a vague, almost unconscious presence through childhood, but beginning in adolescence, we consciously and gradually formulate a concept of who we are based in part on the responses we have from our family, friends and peer group.
The self-concept we begin to form as a teenager is very fragile as it is dependent on the reflection and feedback it receives from those significant “others” in its environment, and it is highly sensitive to what kind of positive or negative response it receives; these +/- feedback become the building blocks of the self-concept.
As we move into the late teens and early twenties, the content of experiences we receive during our adolescence years which comprised the self-concept morphs into something more concrete, and in most cases, something more self-assured and self-conscious, our self-image. Because of the accumulated life experiences we have gained in adolescence, we have more conscious content; nevertheless, still “we are what we were” (see first paragraph in Perception, for explanation) even though we are more self-aware and self-confident in our worldly environment.
As we explore, experience and adjust to this new world of adulthood, our self-image discovers that it is necessary to adapt to the mores of our social setting which requires conforming to the behaviors, attitudes, habits and manners of those we associate with. In many cases, this means that rather than speaking the truth and being who we are – we strive to be, to do and to say whatever is acceptable to the group.
In order to do this, we have to hide who we “think we are” and how we really feel, which requires “masking or hiding” the truth that often reveals our “true” feelings. So our self-image adapts a persona – a fake or superficial “image” that can mask one’s true feelings. This consolidation of the self-concept gives one a sense of confidence and stability against the forces of the world.
In reality, the ego-persona is a “pseudo sense-of-self” or what ancient texts referred to as the “counterfeit spirit.” Thus, in order to maintain their self-esteem and self-righteousness, people will fiercely defend their “personal identity” as well as their misconceptions and misunderstandings about life and people, even though such defensiveness often obstructs reality, new learning and personal growth. The truth is the ego-persona is just an illusion operating in the worldly illusion – what we actually experience in life is a perception of a reflection of a projection.
Reorientation of consciousness recognizes that misconceptions and misunderstandings are dangerous illusions which prevent people from seeing and experiencing life as it was meant to be. It is important to realize that while people have their share of misconceptions, the appropriate thing to do is to let go of them as soon as they are recognized.
Albert Einstein said, “We must learn to differentiate clearly the fundamentally important, that which is really basic, from that which is dispensable, and to turn aside from everything else, from the multitude of things which clutter up the mind and drive it from the essential.” Reorientation of consciousness is about being humble enough to release worldly delusions and to attempt the reordering of one’s perceptions so they are aligned with the essentials of reality. In other words, it is making a continuous effort to let go of personal delusions and self-love in order to see life as if one were perceiving it through the eyes of God.