Levels - the Basic Structure of Our Consciousness

Developmental researchers and scientists from various disciplines discovered independently a pattern of progressive levels of human development. They found a variety of different names for these levels: levels of consciousness, hierarchy of needs, values memes, levels of belief, waves of development, stages of maturity, or levels of perception.

The American epistemologist Clare Graves was able to demonstrate on the basis of years of social and psychological studies that the same typical levels of development always appear – in every culture and every country. Each level is based on its predecessor and they form value systems. Graves’s dynamic system of levels was further developed by his students and is today widely known under the name of “Spiral Dynamics”. In the mid-1970s, his students Don Beck and Christopher Cowan developed a colour code, which we use because of its now widespread popularity. Using colours has the added advantage that they are fairly neutral and easier to remember.

1. Beige: Instinct and Survival

The first level of consciousness marks the transition from animal to human, which began some 100,000 years ago. Beige is all about survival of the individual. We experience this level when faced with mortal danger, terminal illness, severe depression, or when feeling suicidal. Under extreme conditions like homelessness, traumatic natural disasters, war and genocide people can fall back to this primal level of consciousness. Beige is also found in the helplessness of the new-born. At this level food, water, warmth and shelter are top priorities. The choice is live or die – and I want to live.

2. Purple: Sorcerers and Clans

Around 50,000 years ago, people began to live together in clans and tribes to ensure their survival. There is a movement from “I” to “We”. Holy festivals, rituals and rites of passage (puberty, marriage, burial) now take place in the group. Exclusion from the group or family is the greatest possible threat and you must avoid it. The world is full of magic. There’s an abundance of supernatural beings that can bring blessings or curses. For children their fluffy toys are living beings. Adults wear amulets, good luck charms, piercings and tattoos. Sacred symbols and sacraments serve to create cohesion within the group. A PURPLE world is full of good and evil spirits and you do your best to ally with the good ones.

3. Red: Warriors, Conquerors, and Conquests

At this level the individual leaves the magical embrace of his clan or family. Children begin to develop autonomy, a sense of self and the ability to react to and defy others (“terrible twos”). Red helps us to resist seduction, addiction and oppression. It enables us to develop self-confidence, daredevil bravery and inner strength. Individuals dare to venture out into the world and make new discoveries. Their desire to answer to no one helps them to liberate themselves from rigid traditions. Their goal is to conquer new lands and strike down their enemies. When threatened, red reacts impulsively with physical violence. Street gangs, the Mafia and many terrorist groups are red organisations. Red divides the world into the weak and the strong, so you had better be strong.

4. Blue: The Majesty, Monarchy, and Divine Order

Blue sets limits. It produces rules and regulations. It creates structures and defines virtues and values. Blue passes judgment on right and wrong and imposes punishments and penalties for wrongdoings. Moral values, deep rooted and unquestioned traditions evolve, along with kingdoms and empires. The power of red impulsiveness is now contained by obedience and curtailed by guilt and shame. Blue develops virtues like loyalty, diligence, punctuality and responsibility. It defines good manners according to nationality and culture. The major monotheistic religions emerge and bind the individual to an all defining absolute. The king is no exception. He may no longer rule according to his autocratic whim, but he too is now subject to a higher law: either God, or a holy book, or some other higher instance. Afterlife now promises redemption and rewards the morally good and faithful with eternal life. A blue world is one of lawful saints and eternally damned sinners, therefore it is better to do good and heed the laws of your group.

5. Orange: Entrepreneurship and Prosperity

After centuries of concentrating on the afterlife, an orange level of consciousness begins to experiment and explore the present world people are actually living in. Enlightenment and modernity create a new type of man, a more self-aware, curious, critical and responsible citizen, one who speaks up for himself. Modern democratic states, a finance system and prosperous industries emerge. No one has to believe in God anymore. Science takes over the task of interpreting the world. Feudal watchdogs give way to the rule of a free and competitive market. An orange world creates winners and losers – so you had better strive to be among the winners.

6. Green: Equality and Community

Two world wars mark the terrible culmination of materialism and the constant striving for more power. People begin to call out for a more humanitarian world with room for compassion and feelings. The external world has already been thoroughly explored, now the inner realms are up for the same. Psychology is green’s new flagship science. All people are equal, minorities and the disadvantaged shall be respected and have their rightful place in society. Men and women shall have equal rights. The earth and her natural resources can no longer be exploited. Decisions must be based on consensus, which can unfortunately entail constant and lengthy discussions, which grind everything to a halt. Even though all people are supposedly equal in a GREEN world – there still seems to be quite a gap between sensitive, aware people and those who are considered insensitive and lacking in awareness.

7. Yellow: Spirituality and Creative Space

The green dream of equality does have its pitfalls. The more industrious and quick-minded people often feel restricted because they always have to consider the disadvantaged and this is time-consuming. This leads to a renewed longing for freedom and the call for personal responsibility. Once again, individuals move on to new ground, breaking established taboos as they do so. They find new and surprising ways to use the Internet. These people are “upwardly-mobile”, care little about status symbols and are active players in international networks. Furthermore, yellow is the first level of consciousness, which actually understands about the development of levels of consciousness. The new yellow awareness can endure and hold paradoxes. Yellow sees human society as a magnificent, chaotic organism that evolves naturally and is in flow with the pulsating aliveness of life. Knowledge and skills take precedence over power, status, material possessions and group interests. They prefer to work flexible hours and have personal independence, yet they are emotionally more engaged in their work. Yellow can hold contradictions and opposing positions internally until they find reconciliation in a third and higher (or meta-) synthesis.

8. Turquoise: Cooperation and Play

Driven by yellow individualists a new “We”-focused era will dawn. Turquoise is as cooperative as green, and accepting of diversity and paradox as yellow. For turquoise, the world is an elegantly balanced system of interlocking forces and frequencies. All things, including emotions and knowledge, are interconnected and in vibrant interplay with one another. Globalization is taken for granted and the positive forces arising out of each level of consciousness can be applied with ease. The whole universe is celebrated as a single dynamic organism, in which spirit and matter move together in perfect harmony. With gracious and generous open-heartedness, turquoise people maintain a playfully simple, minimalist lifestyle.

9. Coral: Breaking New Ground

At present this level of consciousness is pure theory. It can be assumed from previous experience with development of the human mind and spirit, that turquoise will be equally unable to solve all the problems, which ever-changing life conditions present us with. Following turquoise and a global sense of belonging, another “I”-level will emerge, once again breaking new ground. At least we already have a colour reserved for it: coral, symbolizing the inhabitants of the depths of the ocean, a marine world and a part of our planet, which has as yet to be explored. Since this new level will integrate all previous ones coral will actually include the awareness of “beige+purple+red+blue+orange+green+yellow+turquoise + x”. So everything is alive and evolving. We hope your curiosity is aroused!