By Marjorie R. Barlow, Ph.D.

(The examples are compilations from real life, with no reference to specific people. All these “flavors” have been observed over the years. No one person is being revealed, just as no real name is used.)l

We human beings are continually expanding, reaching for higher levels of growth. This growth seems to be an unfolding spiral. From asleep to aware to awake to alive to attracting to allowing to accepting to authenticity, we grow through ever increasing turns of the spiral. Those beautiful swirls in the shell of the albalone mollusk are the inspiration for this spiral of human evolution. Long ago, I worked with teachers using the idea that children in school needed the A’s of Acceptance, Attention, Affection, and Awareness, Later, I began to explore the realm of consciousness and found more A words that fit some of my ideas. I wrote about it many years ago, using only five A’s (Asleep, Alert, Aware, Awake, Alive) Lots of good A words can be used. In this version, I have added several more.

Our consciousness grows like a spiral from asleep to aware to awake to alive. Further, higher consciousness spirals up and out into attracting, accepting, authenticity, and the All in All.

In the beginning of consciousness, we are like sleep walkers. Some estimate that 85% of the population is in this state. Asleep means we believe that our experience is caused from outside influences.

e.g. Herkimer says, “You made me angry. I couldn’t help it. I lost it when you just kept on talking and yelling at me.”
Heloise responds, “But what about me? When you get mad and sulk, I feel horrible. I try to tell you how I feel, but you won’t listen and that’s what makes me sad.”

People who are still asleep believe in the “make feel” theory. They also think that they can control others, or the reverse—they must comply with what others demand. These people meet conflict in three ways: they control, they comply, or they quit.

Those who control can be very subtle or blatantly overt. They take in what others say, filter it through their belief system and make choices based on their own judgment, with a drive to hold on to control of the situation or the persons. These are well-meaning, very responsible people who believe that they are being responsible when, at the interactive level, they are controlling. The two following examples reveal control at work. The need to control is based in the fear of being real. It also reveals a competitive drive to belong.

e.g. Harry, a team leader, dominates every conversation. Members of his team report, “He always has to be the smartest person in the room” “I can’t get a word in edgewise”, “He is the dominant figure in every room.” “Harry is absolute in everything he says. There is no way to have a different opinion.”

Hortense, who helps in her office development, has earned the reputation of being a good listener, who never really hears and understands. Her group reports you can see the wheels turning as she prepares her next statement. The office workers say, ”She has all the answers.” “She is never interested in what I know.” “ She does not listen, there is never any dialogue.” “If we disagree with her or see things in a different way, she gets defensive.” “She takes herself very seriously.”

Then we look at the compliant group, still asleep. These are the victims who whine and complain, moan and groan, and generally have something to gripe about.

e.g. Myrtle says, “I do everything around here. Nothing would get done unless I do it. I work harder and stay longer than anyone else. Nobody really cares about me. The only way I get any recognition is when I do something wrong. Then they notice me and tell me how bad I am. I try hard to do whatever they want but I just can’t please everybody all the time.”

One other group in this asleep state are the ones who give up and leave. They solve the conflict by quitting..

e.g. Edna has not returned to her family’s reunions for five years. She says, “They rejected me so I have rejected them. Tit for tat and turn about. I give what I get. I can do without them.”

Sometimes they quit the relationships at work, without leaving. They become actively disengaged.

e.g. Maximus says, “I quit speaking to that crowd a long time ago. If I need to contact them, I send e-mail. I really do not want a relationship with any one of them.”

From this ASLEEP state, we construct all manner of protection. The Freudian defense mechanisms help us live in unawareness, tantamount to staying dependent children. Albert Ellis, pioneer of cognitive approaches to growth, said, “People are such @*#^ blankety-blank babies.” So, denial-projection-rationalization and other defenses allow us to blame the outside world for our state of mind and emotion. In AA, they tell us that “It is all an inside job”, therefore, we will do well to learn methods for waking up. Instead of the psychological games we play (Persecutor-Rescuer-Victim roles), we can reach for growth into true intimacy in relationships. All change begins with awareness.

How do we leave the ASLEEP state? Read on.

Awareness is like an internal, invisible searchlight. It is our way of beginning to be responsible for our experience. Knowing what we are sensing is a start.

Exercise in awareness: In the present moment, notice what you are seeing. Make a mental note of what you are hearing, tasting, smelling, or touching. This is a good exercise for centering. Just pause and look, listen, taste, smell, and touch.

More awareness comes when we mentally acknowledge feelings. These are those sensations from the body that we identify as mad, sad, glad, afraid, ashamed, guilty, or joyful. The words themselves are inadequate. It might take awhile but it is worth doing to become aware of where and how in our bodies we register those things we call feelings. A tension in the chest, a squeezing in the belly, clenched teeth, tears welling up, or a headache can all be clues to feelings. Shining the spotlight of awareness on the sensation and describing it will bring a change in the feeling. Descriptions can be written or spoken. It is the acknowledgment of the awareness that is important.

Awareness of thoughts is another helpful awakener. To become both the participant in our thought process and the observer of that thought process is to travel up the spiral a little further. This witness self can watch in a benign way. No judgment, just witnessing is the safe path.

e.g. from a college classroom: Hermione said, “I was aware that my breath was very shallow, my eyes were sort of glazed over, I wasn’t really hearing the teacher’s voice, but my day dream had taken over. I was thinking of this morning’s fight with my husband. It was still like my stomach was churning and I was afraid we may not make it.”

One more area where awareness is needed is in our behavior. Behavior is our tone of voice, words we speak, gestures, facial expression, and body postures that we exhibit. To be aware of one’s own behavior is to invite growth.

e.g. Jennifer reported, “I watched myself walking up the steps to the stage and standing behind the podium. I was on automatic pilot, observing myself speaking and at the same time seeing the audience. It felt like time out of time. I heard my words at the same time, I was almost not in my body.”

e.g. Howie told about his experience at a meeting: “I watched me sitting there. I heard everything that was said. I heard my voice speaking up. I watched and listened at the same time I was sitting and participating in the meeting. It was strange, but I liked it. I felt a new and different kind of power. It was like I belonged and I could see that I was contributing. It felt good.”
The next turn of the spiral brings us to become AWAKE. What does it mean to really be awake? I recall a story that the Buddha was asked about the meaning of life. His reply was, “I wouldn’t know the meaning of life. I just try to be awake.”

To awaken is to get a new glimmer of one’s own individual self and all the possibilities that might come. Awake means awareness in every moment. To be fully present in mind and body and spirit is to be awake. Presencing is a new verb coined by a group of people who wrote the book, Presence (Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Joe Jaworski, and Betty Sue Flowers). It means to live in the now moment—to be awake.

e.g. Parker said, “I was like two people all at once. I was the one riding the bicycle and I was the observer of me riding the bicycle. I felt exhilarated and time sort of stood still. It was a moment of rare pleasure for me. To be so aware in the moment just lifted me into a kind of ecstasy. It was like a fresh new day and I saw things I had missed before; I smelled the trees and grass; and I thought to myself that I was waking up to something new that I had not experienced before.”

A gentle waking may come to you. You may have a quiet moment when you are “all lined up” and realizing your “isness”; OR, it could be more earthquaking in its appearance.

e.g. Reports from disasters such as Katrina bring stories of people waking up to a different reality, realizing what is meaningful and of value.

Tune in to your beliefs, your thoughts, your feelings, and your behavior. What will follow will be a gradual opening of your psychic eyes. You will be ready to AWAKEN. Good therapy facilitates this; bad therapy allows you to continue in your sleep state, playing victim to your world and circumstances.

People grow and change in three or four ways, in my opinion. They grow when they are fully engaged in their growth (possibly through good therapy); they grow under conditions of emergency (famine, fear, disease, disaster, etc); they sometimes grow with religious experience; and, they might be changed through brain surgery…..not to be too cynical. The real possibility is through choice (ownership).

Waking up to what holds value may be necessary before we decide to embrace life in its fullest possibility. The next turn of the spiral speaks to entering life in its robust and delicate menu. What would you choose if you were ready to live—really live?


Coming alive means a change in the meaning we give to outside events, places, people, and things. There is a dawning sense of soul and purpose. Physical-emotional-mental-spiritual self ownership begins to happen. One of the most beneficial parts of awakening is the realization that relationships are guides to aliveness. When we are alive there is a sort of transparency in that we do not cover up or deceive ourselves or others. In this state, there is no real urge or need to control or to try so hard to please through compliance. We just are who we are and we say it like it is.

Ownership of one’s own feelings-thoughts-behaviors-beliefs is requisite. Mind, body, spirit all can wake up and be present in a consciousness of true aliveness. We all have an Internal Guidance System. That system is comprised of our emotional flow—our energy in motion. Feelings are our most excellent feedback. If it feels like “flow” as described in a book by that name by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, then you can trust the guidance you are receiving. He says that flow is the optimal experience, a state of concentration, so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity. You can see flow in evidence when a child plays, if they are left undisturbed by parents. This flies in the face of much teaching from parental units, including religion. To know what one wants has been labeled as selfish. And selfish is bad. Consider that our best guide to our true self is in the system of desire. Also, consider the possibility that you would still be a person of good conscience and high moral fiber, if you pursued what you want.

e.g. Consider all those women who have made a difference. Elizabeth Cady Stanton pursued what she wanted and she and Susan B. Anthony paved the way for our independence (the right to vote) as females. Stanton was a mother of many children but she still came alive to her world and the necessity of change. Her aliveness was put into action toward social good.

This turn of the spiral says, to be fully functioning, you must be fully Alive. And to be alive, you really need to know what you want. Wants can be about what we have, what we do, or what we want to be.

E.g. Cassandra told me that she didn’t really feel good when she got caught up in office gossip, saying  negative things about her friends. She said, “I always have that grubby brown feeling when I get into a conversation that puts someone down.” I asked what she wanted to change and she replied, “I would like to see these friends in ways they want to be seen, not just picking out their flaws.” I asked if that would be difficult to do. She said, “I think I can do it since I know I really want to. It does not feel like a should but a true want. I want to be able to walk away when the negative speak starts. I want to change my way of being and I want to have good relationships.

Want to climb further up the spiral? Read on and create yourself in your highest, best version.

The Spiral of Consciousness continues if you are still in a mood to grow. There is a real truth (popular in some groups today) that what we think about will come about. The Law of Attraction operates all the time. And there is no guide out there governing whether it is good or bad, negative or positive. Either way, this law works. I have included it in my Spiral of Consciousness because, I have learned at this stage of my life the real joy of positive thinking. I choose to stay in the vein of positive intention and my experience bears out that what I think about seems to manifest. But, this not a magic formula for getting a lot of stuff. Read on….

Intention is located in a center in the frontal lobe of our brain. We can select what we intend. Then we can attend to that thought, visualizing a positive outcome. Thoughts, practiced again and again, become beliefs.

The belief regarding Attraction is that we magnetize to us what we think about, negative or positive. Taking charge of the journey in this turn of the spiral means we set the intention according to our highest, grandest possibilities. I call it joining the Triple A. Through this power of attraction, you can actually be the Author, the Actor, and the Audience of your own life story. Therefore, it is wise to create the drama according to highest possibility, most magnanimous creating, and, even wiser, to espouse abundance instead of scarcity.

Does this mean that everything we say we want can be attracted? Yes and No. Yes, we attract many things to us. No, if we are not clear about the unaware material stored in our unconscious minds. The part of our mind that stores old habits, old memories, and old beliefs will prevail until it is brought to awareness. So, basically we get what we expect (at unaware levels) rather than what we say we want.

ACCEPTING: Turning ever upward and outward, in the expansion of one’s own personal universe, the next climb up the Spiral takes us to ACCEPTANCE, including the peace of acceptance. It is all an “inside” job. Acceptance of what is, means letting go of control. It also means letting go of being controlled (compliance). Acceptance is approaching the true meaning of love. Love is the warm acceptance of self, others, and the world just as it exists. Ownership of oneself means what the word says, ownership. That’s taking 100% responsibility for beliefs-thoughts-feelings-behavior. It also means accepting that what comes from outside has been created from inside. When this level of consciousness is reached, many things that were formerly important in our having, doing, and being will change. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself embracing voluntary simplicity as well as developing a social consciousness that includes the earth and her environment.  I learned from my vegetarian friends that their growth brought the decision to change, not any dogma or program to give up being carnivores.  Values seem to be clear and meaning comes alive in this turn of the spiral.

e.g. from Marj: “Acceptance of ownership of who I am, what I do, and the consequences of my choice-making is one of the lessons learned on my life journey. I accept that I am the Author, the Actor, and the Audience in my life drama. This acceptance serves me well on a daily basis, as I write my intentions in the morning; then I go about my day as if on stage acting in my story; and at night I am a kindly audience, reviewing my day with tolerance and respect.  Spontaneity, honesty, freedom of expression, and total engagement in the moment are outcomes in this stage.  The reality that love is the path leads to recognition of all of the stored hurts or pain.  Love and judgment really don’t go together.  This requires letting go of the past.   Forgiveness is the muscle that I am developing. Our chief task in the maturity process is to reach a state of Self-Forgiveness and Self-Love. From that state comes Intention aiming toward the good of all.  The mask is off, the self is revealed, and we are no longer afraid to reveal who we are.  We can be “real”.


At this level of the spiral, it is entirely possible that you soul incarnes into your body. You have birthed your own soul and have become your true Self. You exist in your essence of Being., unique and significant. You have always been one of a kind, one with all, the many and the one. Now you know and you are known. Your values are life centered. Time has come to have multiple dimensions, kyros and chronos, timeless time and clock time.

Who you are and what you can be is unique, significant, and will be done only by you. If you allow (another nice A word) that there is a true self, hidden by all the false selves and ego-constructs, and that this true self is a God-Seed, then as you reach for your authenticity, the only question becomes, am I on track or off track? Am I finding the divine Being within?

Your life purpose and your mission just might have been chosen by your soul before you were born. That is why your soul chose your parents (this removes all trace of Victim mentality), your place and time to be born.


Now, Connectedness is realized.  You can know that you are one with the Great Life Force of which we are all a part. You are free. You have choices. You can decide what to believe, what to think, what to feel, and what to do. You have freedom of Mind, Freedom of Heart, and Freedom of Will. You no longer have the constraints of constant judgment, cynicism, or anxiety. Your relationships have become the key elements in your continued growth and learning. You, in reality, have taken your place in the unbounded task of evolving the universe. Comprehending the Oneness of all Life is difficult but satisfying.

Much depends on beliefs. I have concluded that the most basic belief is that the Universe in which we live is friendly, not hostile. Second, I believe we have free will and that our lives are not pre-destined; therefore, we always have a choice. And, third, I believe our thoughts are the mechanism from which we construct our beliefs, design our daily experiences, and create the life we lead.  We are seeing real evidence that our thoughts actually produce body chemistry.  And, it is our thought constructs that filter our experiences with other human beings.  We create positive or negative relationships through the way we see one another.  Seeing, hearing, and holding the field for another’s growth is part of the purpose for which we are designed.

I am dedicated to relationships, for that is where our expansion is tested and tried. Relationships are the crucible in which our own spiral of growth happens. They can be nourishing or negating. Relationships can help us find our purpose in life, inspire us to go toward that purpose or they can grasp control of us and impose purpose based in “oughts” or “shoulds”.

I further believe that what we want (or desire) is pure inspiration when wants are not colored or distorted by guilt-shame-fear-inadequacy feelings.

Happiness and Joy are our birthright; our thoughts are the means of creation; intentions are selected from our desires; health is our choice as well as our creation; and love is the chord from which the symphony of human development transpires.

We re-form; we trans-form; we create in every thought-feeling-action that we design. And so the spiral continues, with our participation. We are light beings capable of creating societies of peace, love, and compassion.