The Highest Stages of Conscious Development


Terri O’Fallon and Keith Martin-Smith dive into a deeper and more detailed exploration of her STAGES model. If you missed their first discussion, you can find it here — we highly recommend that you check that out before moving on to this discussion.

Terri and Keith focus on a smaller section of Terri’s model, stages 3.0 – 6.0 (roughly Amber/Orange to Turquoise/Indigo). Terri outlines what makes each level of her model unique from the last, what causes people to shift from one level to another, as well as what the mature expressions look like for 3.0, 4.0, and 5.0 stages.

She goes on to explain how people can use the model’s parameters to determine the developmental expression of others in coaching, psychotherapy, parenting, teaching, negotiating, etc., and how the STAGES model’s perspectival parameters can be a tool for generating more empathy and compassion.

In the STAGES model, structure-stages (Amber, Orange, Green, Teal, etc.) and state-stages (Gross, Subtle Causal, Witness, Nondual) begin to merge and stabilize. Terri explains exactly how this happens, and how both states and stages underlie the developmental process.

Finally, Terri explores her idea of developmental bypassing, and why we need spiritual work, shadow work, and developmental guidance to all in order to produce an integrated human experience.


Can a person level up without waking up? That is the question! There is one reading of STAGES (and similar models) that suggests personal growth through lots and lots of study and increased cognitive complexity may be a viable option. This might result in vMeme elevation or what Hanzi Frienacht calls the downloading of cultural code at higher levels.

An alternative point of view is that cognitive or cultural (ie symbolically interactive) complexity at higher STAGES levels requires the development of a personal subject capable of increased detachment and wider perception. That would be a wake-up-to-grow-up model.

From previous discussions, I’m pretty sure the Integral Community is going to vote for all-of-the above, AQAL influenced approaches. For pragmatic reasons (ie education programs), I’m more interested in the sharpest scalpels possible at the most precise locations to make the needed incisions. Hit the books? Be quiet and go deep? Or does it matter?


I do not think so. Knowledge without application is only Theory. Theory is the opposite of Integration. I encounter people all the time who may know a thing but completely fail to practice it, and this has only increased in the age of Youtube videos where you can watch a 30-60 min video on any subject and believe you know it but then never actually do it. As an example, there is a Youtuber I like who explains stoicism and I think he does live according to those principles. But the thousands of people watching his videos and gaining knowledge probably are not. Stoicism and other practices requires maybe 1,000 hours of practice per hour of knowledge obtained through watching a video. Any other Consciousness development is the same. It’s the daily practice over several years that produces the changes, not watching a 1 hour video.
This is obvious in fitness or any other skill but for some reason academics think they can bypass this with “waking up”. But just as you can’t become an NBA star by reading a book about it or a fitness beast just by purchasing a program and setting it on the shelf, You can’t wake up by just reading a book or attending a retreat unless you also put in the thousands of hours of follow on integration.

This brings to mind an aspect that I think I’ve never heard or read in Integral - does anyone consider what % of your day or week do you live at a certain level, or do people consider it like a hurdle and once you have one waking up event you can’t go backwards - which I don’t believe to be true at all.

My example I’ll give in this is Jordan Peterson, who is an expert on Jungian Psychology and at one time seemed fairly reasonable and said things that made sense from a certain rational point of view> But over the past 10 years he has become so increasingly possessed by his own shadow archetypes that he is sliding down a slope to being an out of control nut.


It’s a fascinating and very tricky question, I think!

The way I often frame it, when we are talking about “growing up” we are often talking about the maturation of two essential pieces:

  • An “increase” in the overall complexity of mind,
  • A “widening” of the overall aperture of our perspective.

And when we are talking about “waking up” we are also talking about a two-part maturation:

  • A “widening” of the overall aperture of our perspective,
  • A newfound recognition of timeless and absolute “ground of being” that underlies both consciousness AND complexity.

If we agree with that basic description, we can see the “widening of our perspectival aperture” as sort of a common hinge between “waking up” and “growing up”

I sort of hold these as separate-but-related, where “mind” or “consciousness” is something like the contents, and “perspective” is something like the container that holds those contents.

Things like good ole’ book-learning can certainly increase the overall complexity of mind. However, there may be certain perspectival shifts that don’t come quite so easily from studying a body of material, but instead occur a bit later as various kinds of contradictions and cognitive dissonances in the contents of our mind/consciousness (which emerge from this increased complexity) eventually work themselves out over time.

For example, someone at 3p or 3.5p can learn general relativity (which I see as artifacts of a 4p to 4.5p cosmology) even if their overall perspective and underlying perceptual metaphors remain anchored in, say, 3.0 Newtonian physics. Learning general relativity will certainly add to that total body of knowledge, but will also likely lead to certain cognitive or perceptual contradictions that can only really be resolved by shifting our perspective to 4p and then 4.5p.

And when it comes to this perspective shift, there is an element to it that feels a bit like “waking up”. Especially since both perspective shifts and state-changes often come with an underlying phenomenological shift of perception. Suddenly the aperture is widened, and as a result we see the world differently than we did a moment ago. Metaphors that largely went over our head suddenly make sense and click into place, and we begin to reformat our inner reconstructions of reality accordingly.

So my sense is that there is indeed an element of “waking up” that occurs whenever these perspective shifts happen — and those waking up currents become much more pronounced as we move into 5p and 6p.


Thanks Corey, this is very helpful. In many treatments of these matters, there is a subtle shift from cognition to awareness at higher levels, and it’s not entirely clear why cognition and awareness are continuous with one another or the one gives rise to the other.

Below I am sharing some of my own recent writing. This is what John Vervaeke calls “language of training”, by contrast with “language of explanation”. All of Ken Wilber’s books, put everything Vervaeke ever said, plus lot of other teachers - that’s more for explanation. Most people don’t have enough time for that much detail. So the mission of a language of training is to hit the nail on the head true enough to get people going in the right direction. It’s instigation, not explication. With that framing, I’m sharing this a) to see if anyone can find a way to improve the language of training statement to make it more on point and b) to check that it does not steer wildly away from preferred models of explanation.

“The very word ‘spiritual’ triggers memories of endless religious wars, oppressions, inquisitions, and forced conversions, so let’s set all that aside. There is a leaner sort of spirituality evidenced in the meta-model movement. This movement in turn draws from historical contemplative and meditative traditions, deriving equally from Eastern, Western, and indigenous cultures. Speaking in the most cognitive and material terms, ‘Spiritual’ can simply be understood as absorbing non-cognitive or pre-cognitive information and letting it sink in. Eckhard Tolle, for example, suggests walking in the woods and letting your internal stream of consciousness take a break. More looking at the trees; not so much labeling the trees. The reason for doing this is to get some distance from your thoughts. As Robert Kegan points out, at each stage of development, the previous subject becomes the new object. That implies a new subject as well. In the Cartesian model, ‘I think therefore I am’, the ‘I’ gets entangled with the thinking. The meta-movement sees thoughts as phenomena in a deeper field of experience, with thoughts now becoming objects for an emerging witnessing subject. Thoughts can come and go; in any case, ‘I am’. The witnessing subject enjoys a new freedom and critical distance from thoughts, which can only on balance improve thinking itself. Different ideas may contradict each other, but neither the ideas nor their contradictions undermine the ever-present ‘I am’.”


Your “language of training” and “language of explanation” terminologies sound akin to the integral concepts of transformation and translation, respectively.

I like that you speak of “Eastern, Western, and indigenous cultures.” I’ve noticed others starting to include indigenous approaches/ways in their references to spiritual traditions; a good move.


The theoretical justification for this turn of phase is the availability of all prior altitudes to second tier. Indigenous cultures have more direct access to archaic and magic experiences, and those are valuable. There are long traditions of post-modern and Romantic thought celebrating the indigenous, but my take on it is more matter-of-fact. We’re all indigenous to this planet, right? So experientially, how do you feel that?


Well yes, absolutely, to everything you say.

I probably could have at least hinted at these things in my initial comment to you, but I have felt indigeneity in multiple ways: through blood and ancestry, through years of strong earth-and-sky connection and experiences of oneness with same, through years of working with and within tribal cultures and learning from them, through extensive shamanic training and practice and vocation. So I’m always glad to hear people, within and without the integral community, reference indigenous people when talking about spirituality.

And I should add that although I often say that my spiritual grounding was/is in the shamanic-yogic traditions and that is true, I am less and less identified with any one particular tradition.

How about you? How do you feel, experience indigeneity?


Well… since you ask …

First a disclaimer. I don’t claim my practices or experiences represent anything paradigmatic at all. Anyway, I grew up with a Leave It To Beaver lifestyle in the late '50s and early '60s. There was a different childcare philosophy then. Basically “go play in the woods, kid”. So we did. Later I learned my childhood home and neighborhood woods are both on reservation land (Puyallup Tribe) that the whole area was a traditional festive gathering/burial ground for tribal peoples from all over the region. Anyway - no point in explaining this - my sense of the numinous involves running around in the woods, padding in lakes and salt water, climbing up mountains, and so forth. Christianity always seemed like “fake news” in comparison.

Of course, I also went to school, learned academic subjects, and engaged with the history of the world and world languages and cultures. So I can “translate” into different cultural idioms. But my true spiritual home is on the water paddling.


Dog paddling :slightly_smiling_face:? canoeing, kayaking, bodyboarding, other watercrafting? I’m a bit of a water baby too.

I relate to your childhood home being on traditional tribal lands, and imagine you might have had some interesting experiences there. I once lived in a house that was on a tribal burial ground. I didn’t know this when I moved there, but came home one day to find my front yard all dug up, with archaeologists and members from the local tribe quite busy. They didn’t find any remains, but I had fantastic experiences on that property while I was there.


I’m really being very cautious about white-straight-male-middle-class me invoking anything “indigenous”. Let’s just call this discussion a “toe in the water” (preparatory to an eventual icy plunge). So a few things about that …

In the context of needing to bone up on decolonization theory recently, I kept reading about how I should “interrogate my whiteness”. So at a certain point, I just decided “challenge accepted”. Through genealogy, history, anthropology, archeology and more I interrogated all the way back to the Pontic Steppe, with a more recent stopover on the island of Gotland. (Home of the Goths - like my cuz Alaric - he made an impression on his Italian tour). On Gotland there are pagan burial plots in the shape of boats. Which pretty much parallels the local Coast Salish practice of hanging the deceased in canoes in trees. So I’m not “appropriating” anything Coast Salish. I’m just recognizing kindred spirits with similar sensibilities. Also, although I am in no way “Native American”, I am absolutely native to this part of America, with 3 or 4 generations of my family buried near where I live. If this is not home, where is?

John Vervaeke in one of his videos talks about the sense of “domicide” (loss of home) in the post-Axial age Hellenic empires. This led to various coping strategies - Epicureanism, Stoicism, Gnosticism, and eventually Christianity. Without a doubt, one legacy of 500 years of European colonization is “domicide” on a massive scale. That includes true indigenous, as well as transplanted mongrel Europeans and lots of other folks who washed up all over the place, tossed on the tides and storms of history.

Beyond outdoor-recreation-as-religion (the semi-official Seattle area theology), I am also very influenced by Thich Nhat Hahn, who teaches the need to touch “home” deeply every day through many different practices. So when I say things like “we are all indigenous to this planet”, imagine Thich Nhat Hahn saying that. Because he is.


The method here is borrowed from Jason Ananda Josephson Storm. It’s deconstructing deconstructionism or pushing foucauldian genealogy back to the very stones themselves. The upshot of all that is what Thich Nhat Hahn calls “interbeing”, which among other things signifies the end of the line for Western culture as such. (From a state of interbeing, there is no more point in conquering everything in sight).

As for “bragging rights”, my ancestors were farmers, fishers, and timber beasts. They worked like hell to get up to the status of petty bourgeoisie. My privilege was to be born into a three bedroom rambler and to have access to schools and library books. If you think about the history all humanity, that’s quite a lot of privilege! May more enjoy such privilege soon.


Thanks for sharing some of your genealogy. I had a google adventure (chatgpt being unavailable due to “at capacity”) reading about the Pontic Steppes migration, which according to most of what I read was primarily a migration of males (based on genetic findings in human remains). I didn’t read far enough to get to hypotheses as to why this was so. Anything you can add?

An article by integralist Steve McIntosh you might be interested in reading (and perhaps you too @Sidra?), about honoring the contributions to this country of both indigenous people and European colonizers, is at

To get back to the topic of this thread, one thing that stood out for me was Terri O’Fallon speaking about Stage 4 (which would be green-pluralist to many integral folks) as being not just about the deconstructivism stemming from postmodernism, but it being a stage of “socially constructing reality.” The decolonization movement seems to be an example of that.

Reading McIntosh’s article and watching this podcast with O’Fallon coincided with my re-reading some passages from one of Wilber’s early works, The Atman Project. In the chapter on Centauric Realms, Wilber cites and summarizes some of the ideas of movers and shakers of the early human potential movement (e.g. Rollo May and others).

Citing May and Farber, he speaks of their ideas of two different realms of will: the realm of “spontaneous will” in which a person (centauric) ‘moves as a whole,’ and the realm of “two wills,” in which a person is for something, but “some obtrusive element enters,” and they of necessity are also against something. The “obtrusive element” according to May, would possibly be aspects of the (Freudian) superego, container of conscience (and largely unconscious spiritual goals), and also the internal “should system” that plays a moralizing role and aims for perfection.

This is one way I see the decolonization movement of the (O’Fallon) Stage 4 or IT green pluralists, or “illiberal progressives” (McIntosh’s term). They have deconstructed the notion of this country’s founding being all rainbows and roses and condemned the negative effects of colonization, but in their “aims for perfection,” have taken it a step further into decolonization efforts.

“Illiberal conservatives” (McIntosh term) do a similar thing: for example, they are for two-parent families but against those two parents being gay.

Just another way to plug a little individual psychology into the culture wars.


One difficulty with “indigenous” practices of consciousness and spirituality is that various indigenous cultures are highly divided on whether or not is is ok for non-indigenous people to have any standing or be allowed to practice or even speak on the topics.
While some Indigenous group may feel it is their responsibility to share their spiritual traditions (such as the Lakota with the Sweat Lodge and Sun Dance, etc) and they accept non-indigenous people into these traditions - on the other side you have very aggressive and sometimes violent opposition to any non-indigenous people practicing their sacred traditions.
There are Native American organizations that use intimidation and threats of physical confrontation, doxing and “cancelling” of those who practice Indigenous traditions, regardless of whether another Indigenous group gifted them.
Having witnessed what I have witnessed the past few years - I avoid practices that are rooted in cultural claims and instead invest time, effort and money into groups that do not make a claim to any cultural traditions.
Rather than “Indigenous”, I prefer to make reference to “Pre-Christian”, which collectively includes not just “indigenous”, but all the way from Celtic, Gaelic and Norse in the one corner of the “Old World” all the way through to South Asian, East Asian and then to the Pacific. Then extracting universalities or commonalities without a cultural linkage. This is sometimes termed as “technology”. If you strip the culture out of practices around the world and get the same exact methods that produce the same exact results, then it is a technology and not a cultural appropriation. A right Triangle is not Greek Culture and using Pythagoras’ Theorem is not cultural appropriation. Similarly, sweating in a steam bath is not cultural appropriation if the culture is stripped from it yet will always produce the same metaphysical results when combined with other methods - which is why dozens of cultures have traditions where people get together in a hot space and seat together. That is one example and there are dozens others.


Thanks, @LaWanna for your very richly crafted reply. I’m going to follow to reference to and get back to you later on that.

On the factual matter of the Pontic Steppes, the allusion is to the origins of the Proto-Indo-European language family and groups like the Yamnaya culture. At that time in pre-history, genetic Europeans can un-ironically be described as “indigenous”. Also, the generally warlike, male-dominated practices of that time continued more or less non-stop through the millenia, with a secular trend toward more effective weapons and increasing mayhem right through through May, 1945. Putin evidently is nostalgic and wants to revive these traditions in the 21st century…

That’s why I brought up Jason Ananda Josephson Storm, Metamodernism: The Future of Theory. (Reference from John Vervaeke in a recent video here - so that’s the IT hook). Josephson Storm masterfully lays out the program of reconstruction that must follow deconstruction. This is purely academic - if you are primarily looking for life transformation or “waking up”, ignore this. But if your “growing up” process involves serious analytic approaches to humanities or social sciences beyond post-structuralist language games and the like, highly recommended.


Thanks for the reference.

My approach to decolonization is about process more than policy. In brief, colonization is a function power imbalance. The powerful impose on the powerless. Decolonization is the process of empowerment. In that sense, Integral can be understood as a praxis of decolonization.

On the level of policy, I follow Habermas in seeing the need to “decolonize the lifeworld” in the interests of promoting a healthy public sphere. The interview with Zachary Snyder just published in Integral Life last night really nails what I am seeing in this realm. Current “colonization” is mostly through the form of social media, advertising, and technically enabled propagandizing. To “decolonize” one must step away from the screen, drink tea, feel the wind on the face, hear the birds, and breathe. After we have done that for awhile, we will be in a position for a constructive policy discussion.


Indeed. So to tie together a few ideas - the second-tier regression to the “archaic” or the “magic” or the “indigenous” is about the need to get physically grounded in our bodies and in the body of nature itself. That is a cognitive and spiritual requirement for “waking up”. Unfortunately, Western Culture has buried the code for that sort of integral physicality so many layers deep, that effective methods are far more visible elsewhere. Hence Romanticism, exoticism, and a certain type of New Age sensibility that wants to appropriate tribal practices, but not always in the most respectful way.

So how to proceed? One approach is to critically reappropriate the relevant technologies from the West itself. See the work of Fr. Richard Rohr for example. Or just go full on Eastern, as many in the Integral community do. Or - and this takes some careful balancing - learn what you can from indigenous communities, but be sure at the end of the day you are drinking from your own well. Re-engaging with pre-Christian paganism is a good move in this regard. Beyond that, I find it valuable to delve into deep anthropology and the primordial formation of culture itself. Johan Huizinga’s classic Homo Ludens was a valuable read in this regard.


I don’t think anything necessarily has to be appropriated or misappropriated. If we go forward with the idea that, for example, using the number 1 is not cultural appropriation from the Arabs and that using non-number zero is not cultural appropriation from the Indians, it’s then possible to go one by one through different practices and establish what belongs to everyone and what is culture trappings around it.
My big pet peeve in 2022-2023 is that several Indigenous Native American groups currently seem to be claiming that sweating in any steam-filled, domed structure is cultural appropriation, which I just flat out say is absurd. I think there has to be a certain degree of push back against extreme claims such as this and not just cave in to white fragility. Sweating in a steamy room is a global practice, and the most energy efficient structure is a dome. It’s absurd to claim a domed structure to steam-sweat in is culture. While in that steam room I am going to breathe certain ways that facilitate certain states of being. I will vocalize sounds that create vibrations in specific parts of my body. If I start to get dizzy I will press my forehead to the cooler earth. And so forth and so on. None of what I describe is culture. Every human on the planet sweats, breathes and vocalizes sound.
There are many other examples of Indigenous people overreaching claims of cultural appropriation, as in the use of certain plants. It isn’t cultural appropriation to burn sage, for example - sage has been globally available for thousands of years. Nor is it cultural appropriation to leave a pile of salt outside the front doorstep. I have no idea where that one came from, but when I use both sage and salt piles I notice cockroaches are never seen in the house again - a huge and obvious difference in a tropical climate. I don’t need to do any drumming or dancing or chanting - just burnt sage and piles of salt do the trick. I did a little mini science project on several places I lived and the results are amazing. I’ll let people use culture to explain why, and that can vary around the world according to culture. I just know it works like 1+1=2.


Yeah. If I were the caving type, I would not be bothering with Integral or other metaframeworks. You are highlighting the contradictions that ultimately reduce postmodernism (green altitude) to nihilism and cynicism. To go forward as a species we have to go beyond that mindset.

As you rightly point out, cultures have been borrowing from each other since time immemorial. I do sympathize with “cultural appropriation” complaints in the narrow analysis of relatively rich groups figuring out how to commodify other group’s cultural productions. Royalties, maybe? Permissions? Fair enough. But my family enjoys sushi and anime. I don’t feel the need to apologize to Japan. Nor am I offended that Japan loves baseball. Cultural exchange like that is frankly vital to any common human future.

In the real world of Native American tribal organizations (been working with them off and on since the '80s), what they want mostly is sovereignty, self-determination, economic development, environmental mitigations, and repurchase of as much ancestral land as they can get their hands on. They run serious businesses and they hire smart lawyers to litigate. They win a few and they lose a few. There are a lot of non-tribal members who want a piece of the tribal action. So “who’s in” and “who’s out” is a big question.

Against that background, I would no more want to show up at a native ceremonial occasion than I would want to crash an Italian wedding or some kid’s bar mitzvah. If invited - sure! But … boundaries … respect … dignity …

The whole “woke”, “white fragility” complex is its own thing. That’s only indigenous to ivy-covered halls. Here’s a fun insight that came to me very recently in the context of listening to John Vervaeke reverse engineering enlightenment through cognitive science. The whole rhetoric of “dismantling”, “disrupting”, “deconstructing”, etc. is very, very similar to what Vervaeke describes as the shamanic or philosophic or gnostic practices for attaining higher consciousness. The ordinary mind must be dismantled, disrupted, in effect deconstructed to make way for expanded awareness. So the “woke” are actually encouraging us all to “wake up!” That’s why I was chill with “interrogating my whiteness”. The unexamined life is not worth living, after all. But … deconstructor … deconstruct thyself as well!


I definitely agree with