Dialogue: What Is Conscious Evolution?


Conscious Evolution

Evolutionary Leaders

These dialogues took place with a small group of Evolutionary Leaders who met in 2010 and 2011 to grapple with these three questions as a way to gather their collective wisdom into a common understanding of what Conscious Evolution is. Each of these leaders has devoted a lifetime to the study of psychology, spirituality, sociology, biology, cosmology, business, science, history, conflict resolution and organizational development from the perspective of evolution and our role in it. They are some of the wisdom carriers in this field.

The what, why, and how of Conscious Evolution are three interlocking conversations. What Conscious Evolution is may suggest why it is important and/or what actions can be taken. In these dialogues, the intention was to approach Conscious Evolution from several angles. In so doing, it is easier to see both divergences and synergies in the field, and in the process gain a clearer picture of the whole.

Remarks are listed in the order in which they were made.

Barbara Marx Hubbard

Conscious evolution is the evolution of evolution from unconscious to conscious choice. It arose in our generation as humanity gained the powers of self-destruction or co-evolution, requiring us to be aware of our effect upon our own evolution, learning how to guide ourselves intentionally toward fulfillment of the vast potential inherent within Earth life.

This new world view arises out of three new conditions: The “3 C’s”:

  1. The scientific discovery of cosmogenesis: the awareness that the universe has been, is now and will be forever evolving, and that we are an expression of the universe evolving within us, as us.
  2. The awareness that our unprecedented new crises are evolutionary drivers that can destroy life on Earth, or pressure us to evolve toward an ever more compassionate and cocreative future.
  3. New capacities, especially in technology, that can transform or destroy the material world, giving us powers we used to attribute to gods, understood as the opportunity to learn to guide these new powers toward the enhancement of life.

Arising out of these new conditions, conscious evolution is experienced spiritually as the universal process of creation internalized as our own passion to evolve, to express, to love. We realize we are the universe in person becoming conscious of itself. The “Core” of the evolutionary spiral animates and guides us toward ever fuller actualization of potentials and possibilities, when we say YES to it.

Conscious evolution is expressed socially as our yearning to participate in the healing and evolving of our world through realization of our unique creativity and callings. The Evolutionary Impulse localizes as our own heart’s desire to connect and cocreate, to self-actualize through self-rewarding creativity for the greater good.

Conscious evolution is expressed scientifically and technologically as our new capacities to understand nature’s processes of creation, and to co-evolve as nature. We become expressions of nature’s tendency toward greater complexity, freedom and consciousness.

Conscious evolution gives meaning to our new crises and direction to our new powers, revealing to us that our crisis is potentially the birth of a more universal cocreative humanity in every one of us.

Duane Elgin

The word consciousness literally means “that with which we know” or “the knowing faculty.” To live more consciously means to be more aware, moment by moment, that we are present in all that we do. In turn, we are less bound to habitual and preprogrammed ways of perceiving and responding when we are consciously watchful of ourselves in the process of living. We have a new level of freedom and responsibility.

Our scientific name is homo sapiens sapiens—or the species that “knows that it knows.” In other words, our most unique capacity as a species is for reflective knowing and conscious action—we can choose our future deliberately and intentionally. Both personally and collectively, conscious evolution means to move ahead knowingly, taking knowing-responsibility for our actions. Conscious evolution often requires the courage to intentionally choose a new pathway ahead, even when much remains unknown and uncertain.

Gordon Dveirin

Conscious evolution is the new mythos, our latest way of representing to ourselves the underlying meaning of our still-unfolding human story. For what was by far the longest period of our collective past, we saw ourselves embedded in an endless, cosmically ordered cycle of birth, death, and rebirth—Nietzsche’s “eternal return.” Only in the past few thousand years, (as R.W. Collingwood documents in The Idea of History), particularly with the Hebrews and with Greeks such as Thucydides and Herodotus, does literal, chronological history escape the mythical cycle and move forward on a linear path (past, present, future), with earth-bound humans rather than gods and mythical figures acting at specific times and places.

So we’ve moved from the mythic, to the historical, and now, quite recently, are approaching the consciously evolutionary—a separation/individuation process that is resolving as a mature, conscious return to relationality (eros). In the first era, the gods were the locus of control, and “as above, so below,” was the order of the day. In the second, agency passed to mortal human beings, to the willing and acting of our separate, egoic selves. What is the newest sense of agency implied by the concept, conscious evolution, and how does it arise? I define it as post-egoic co-creativity, the “optimizing force” of the living cosmos operating through our unique human selves with the brilliant self-recognition of being “not one, not two,” while advancing the perfection of love, harmony, and beauty in our world. Evelyn Underhill’s term for this conscious partnering is “cooperation with God.”

While there have long been prophetic hints of this emergence (cf., the power shift from idolatry to the inner voice of conscience begun by Abraham, the logos or intelligent dynamism of Being described by Plotinus, the Absolute’s revelation of itself to Mohammed as “a hidden treasure desiring to be known”), the concept of conscious evolution arises only with the birth of modern science. This is so because conscious evolution has both an interior and exterior side. Our exterior capacities shifted dramatically when we began to unlock and harness the laws of nature for our own ends. Sir Francis Bacon, who heralded the birth of the scientific age, wrote that our new powers would enable us to create a future of our own design—a mundus alter. But he warned that if we faced that future only with our external gaze and power while leaving our spiritual selves behind, we would create the monstrous instead of the sublime. Centuries after the Promethean spirit of appropriating the divine fire while ignoring its source had in many respects fulfilled Bacon’s prophecy (cf., American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer), Teillard de Chardin wrote that, with the ascent of modern scientific humanity, “evolution is becoming conscious of itself.” This hopeful prognosis will require matching our growing external power with an equally great interior sense of responsibility and capacity for spiritual guidance. Fast forward to the opening sentence of The Earth Charter, a profound moment of collective self-recognition: “We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future.”

Diane Williams

Conscious Evolution to me simply means consciously surrendering to the evolutionary impulse that has been guiding us throughout the ages. Once the evolutionary impulse takes over and one sets a conscious intention to evolve life as you once knew it changes dramatically.

Lynnaea Lumbard

Conscious Evolution is an emerging worldview grounded in the deepening of human experience and understanding that posits that:

  • We are part of a living universe whose nature is to combine, to build, to become more complex and to move towards higher order.
  • This tendency towards greater complexity evolves in gradual steps over time, then reaches a crisis point of overshoot, and leaps to another octave of organization (e.g. atoms to molecules, to single celled organisms to plants, animals, humans, etc.), where there is a period of chaos and a gradual stabilizing before another leap or shift point.
  • Humanity is a natural expression of evolution’s tendency towards complexity and is itself evolving as the capacity of creation to become conscious of itself.
  • Over the last millennia we as a species have been developing and growing in awareness of ourselves, our world and the consequences of our actions in relationship to it. We have even become conscious of the process of evolution itself.
  • We, humanity, are at a crossroads where we recognize that the consequences of our actions upon the earth have created a crisis situation which threatens our own survival.
  • We can choose how we respond to the crisis and begin to change our own thinking and action into more alignment with the evolutionary impulse moving through us.

This is the same sequence in a developing child. It lives in its own world with itself as the center, slowly learning to interact with others and act based upon its own needs and desires. At some point, it begins to become aware of its own development and to see the consequences of its actions on others. It can then begin to participate consciously in choosing its direction, learning right relationship to others, taking responsibility to be an active participant in its community and finding its place in the whole fabric of life.

Conscious Evolution sees humanity in the light of a species in the late stages of adolescence where the consequences of irresponsible actions have gotten so huge—systems collapse, climate change, famine, flooding, peak oil, financial crash—that we have come to a place of reckoning about what choices we will make to consciously participate in the process of change towards greater complexity, towards more interconnectivity, and greater love.

Gerard Senehi

As consciousness takes form and evolves on an individual, collective and cosmic level, conscious evolution means participating in the mysterious impulse to bring into being higher and higher expressions of limitless possibilities, in oneself, in culture, and in awareness itself.

Conscious Evolution involves the act of reaching ever higher in relationship to our deepest and very real human sense of ourselves. At the core this means allowing the impulse toward consciousness that is inherent in life to become more and more aware through us. In more concrete ways, it means ever expanding our perspective, our values, our freedom and our our creativity, to create the future together.

Steve McIntosh

Growth in the popularity of the phrase “conscious evolution” evinces a trend in progressive spirituality, which equates personal development and spiritual growth with the larger process of universe evolution. However, the question of whether conscious evolution is simply a metaphor or a real form of evolution, cultural or otherwise, has not been adequately explained in the literature of progressive spirituality. Although developmental psychologists recognize the growth of consciousness as a form of evolution, neo-Darwinian “experts” refute and belittle such claims. This has resulted in the idea of conscious evolution being resisted or ignored by the mainstream media and academia.

As I argue in my forthcoming book, Evolution’s Purpose, the developmental trajectory of the growth of a person’s consciousness roughly recapitulates the cultural evolution of human history. And thus, the evolution of consciousness is an authentic form of universe evolution. In other words, culture does not evolve by itself, it only advances as consciousness advances. So if we are willing to recognize cultural evolution as real evolution (as the mainstream now does), then the evolution of consciousness can be shown to correlate with cultural evolution.

As the larger society comes to understand that our personal, conscious evolution is real evolution—that evolution is occurring on the inside as well as the outside—this will help liberate the subject of evolution from the confines of scientific materialism. That is, more than any other subject, evolution has the power to create a progressive synthesis between science and spirituality.

So to answer the question simply, “conscious evolution” is the process by which each person participates in the overarching process of the developing universe. And it is through this process that we increasingly come to align our individual purposes with the purpose of the universe as a whole.

Barbara Fields

PREFACE: The next Iteration of the western God concept is my position on the meaning of “conscious evolution,” at least for the moment:

…That the western God concept annihilates the anthropomorphic notion once and for all, disembodies the individual christ, and focuses on the dynamic wholeness of human community by embracing the western WE in and as the “Field of Collective Consciousness as it Evolves.”

COMMENTARY: The Human Creatures that are the WE of present day, dawned as Primitive Man in pre-conscious societies that are more accurately described as sub-symbolic and anthropo-integral. Things, experiences, and beings, themselves, existed outside of time and therefore tense, name and therefore category. Pre-dating symbols, they could not point or refer to anything but the whole and the now.

In this state of undifferentiated oneness, things, experiences, and beings may have reflected more closely what is strenuously described in the language of ancient Hindu scripture… “One without Second; Perusha (Person without Other); prajna (breath); undifferentiated wholeness beyond time and space; avyakta (the unmanifest”).

The gradual evolution of cognition and consciousness accompanying the quantitative gains of morphogenesis eventually revealed elements of radical, qualitative shift at the core of the Human Creature’s perceived (but not necessarily perceivable) universe – one that moved from creature existing in consciousness, to consciousness existing in creature.

The question at hand, today, might be served by our constructive efforts to track the awesome trajectories of conscious evolution that curve between:

  • The pre-conscious We
  • The egoic I among Others
  • The self-aware, compassion-growing I
  • The post-dual We

So, how do we go about the business of circumscribing the relation of the objectified, subjectified world with the objects and subjects of its immanence, and with the Source of its transcendence?

Perhaps we simply continue the conversation: What is conscious evolution? — as if and because we Human Creatures have simply proceeded — as evolving individuals evolving social systems. I believe we are entering an era in which the I of the ego is earnestly laboring to penetrate itself, pulled by a vision of a world that works for everyone. This entails using the brilliant skills of the successful I toward an empowered surrender that serves the luminous We. The aim of our epoch is to affirm the conscious, liberating relation between Human and God. The continuing conscious relation is that which is emerging within, between, and among the Communal and its God-in-all-forms as the spiritually guided, “Beloved Community.”

As we stand at the threshold of the Beloved Community, we might find a way to stabilize the terrain as it shifts by using the language of social memes, and the tools of strategic models that not only name, but are able to demonstrate the conscious nature of our evolution.

Our question: “What is conscious evolution,” is asked primarily from and to the western mind. While many of the concepts and principles explored here will ring true within a wide variety of epistemologies, ideologies, and belief systems, our inquiry cannot yet be claimed as an attempt to speak in a universal voice that equitably represents the diverse architectures of global culture.

Our inquiry looks at the overarching themes of God, Human, and Community in very broad strokes. Considering the raw probability that we have begun to witness the transformation of social systems through a collapse that began brewing generations ago, it’s a relevant moment to review the status of a postmodern western civilization rooted in the notions:

1) That the God of the Hebrew Bible fashioned (imperfect) man in his own image.

2) And that centuries later came a sequel, featuring A Man that embodied an ideal, heroic, and still very much externalized God clothed in human creature.

So… what happens next?

“Conscious evolution” is not a topic confined to the realm of religion by an means—much less Christianity, exclusively; the references above simply remind us that no exploration into religious or secular spirituality, much less current western society and its cultural directions, can exist without acknowledgement of the historical primacy of the God concept.

The “evolution of consciousness” is a term we like to use in our professional community. “Shift” and “transition” are also terms we enjoy, along with general references to the collective “field.” Why not incorporate the language we are attracted to into a clear thesis proposing the next, or the

Third Iteration of the western God concept is my position on the meaning of “conscious evolution,” at least for the moment:

3) The third iteration of the western God concept annihilates the anthropomorphic notion once and for all, disembodies the individual christ, and focuses on the dynamic wholeness of human community by embracing the western WE in and as the “Field of Collective Consciousness as it Evolves.”

Deborah Moldow

Conscious evolution is the process of humanity awakening to a larger reality experienced by our increasing capacity. Just at the moment when it appears likely that the human race will out-consume its ability to continue to live on this planet, we are becoming aware that our future will be a result of our choices. We are seized with a desire not only to become better individuals, but to collectively forge a future civilization that is far beyond the automatic outgrowth of the current one. We sense that there are new ways to live that will emerge from human creativity empowered at a level that has never before been possible – and that it is up to us to discover them. We are living the evolution of our species on purpose.

Carter Phipps

Conscious evolution is the need, capacity and urgency to take responsibility for the future of this experiment called human life. The term conscious evolution conveys a great deal of meaning in its simple formulation. The basic idea if straightforward: now that we have become aware of the evolutionary process, aware of this vast context that has produced human agents with at least some measure of free will, our choices matter a great deal. Now we can choose to consciously direct our own destiny. No longer must we unconsciously stumble through this event called human life and human culture with little sense of whence we came, clinging with eyes closed to ancient myths or outdated worldviews, staggering from crisis to crisis, reacting as best we can to the news of the day. Finally, after billions of years, evolution achieved a remarkable breakthrough. It created a being that has the capacity to understand what’s happening! Even then, it took many thousands of years for that species to start to grasp the nature of the process it is a part of. But little by little, we have opened our eyes, until we start to glimpse the enormity of the picture. Conscious Evolution means that we are bringing together the deepening capactiy of our own self-relfective consciousness, our increasing power of choice, and our emerging understanding of the evolution of consciousness and culture. It means that we aren’t underestimating the import or responsibility of our moment in the history. After eons of blind, unconscious evolution, a creature exists who can consciously evolve.

Katherine Woodward Thomas

Conscious Evolution begins with an extraordinary understanding that Life itself is seeking to go somewhere, and can only do so through our concerted, consistent and deliberate efforts to midwife our own growth and development towards greater levels of goodness, authentic care, truth, beauty, deep relatedness and co-creativity.

Conscious Evolution is the mindful and noble striving to grow ourselves across all lines of development, including spiritually, socially, psychologically, intellectually, emotionally and–most especially at this critical turning point in human emergence, morally. Conscious Evolution happens inside of a contextual shift in our motivation for engaging such development, moving beyond the personal goal of feeling better, or of having more, to an awakening to ourselves as part of a larger chain of ever-emergent human potentials and possibilities.

This awakening to ourselves as a part of something larger startles us into the realization that our active participation is actually critical to the process. We recognize that the evolutionary “shift” we are sensing is possible cannot happen to us, without actually happening through us. This somewhat shocking realization brings with it a moral imperative to rise to the task at hand by aligning our will with all that is good, wholesome, healthy, beautiful, life affirming and true. In recognizing that there is no fixed future out there, and that which happens next in our world is actually up to us, we are stunned out of our slumber and the illusion that someone else (most notably a parental version of “God”) has this handled. We begin awakening to the grave responsibility we now hold in our hands, as we grapple with the fact that no one else is coming to make this better. Conscious Evolution, therefore, is the wholehearted “yes” to willingly be the one(s) to pioneer the next evolutionary stage of development necessary to ensure a healthy, wholesome and positive future for all beings.

Ocean Robbins

Evolution is constant and has been unfolding for millions of years, but it is only recently that the capacity has emerged, from within the evolutionary process itself, to become conscious that we are in fact evolving. This awareness is itself altering, but to me, conscious evolution means something more. To me it is about bringing not only self awareness, but also wisdom, to our evolutionary process.

Andrew Cohen

For most of us, spiritual evolution does not occur simply as a result of one flash of insight or revelation. On the contrary, it usually requires inspired intention and consistent, diligent effort. And the way this is achieved is through using the greatest gift that evolution has given us: the power of choice.

The power of conscious choice, or free agency, is unique to human beings as far as we know. You and I are highly evolved individuated selves who have been blessed with the extraordinary capacity for self-reflective awareness and the freedom to choose. In fact, these are the very faculties that make it possible for us to consciously evolve. Think about it: You, whoever you are, at least to some degree have the power to choose. How much do you really appreciate the significance of this extraordinary birthright? It is surprising how few people consider the deeper implications of possessing the freedom to choose. Just imagine—without free agency, who would you be? Little more than a robot, unconsciously responding and reacting to conditioned egoic fears and desires, cultural triggers, biological impulses, and external stimuli, with no control over your own destiny. But while it is true that we are all profoundly influenced by many of these forces, both inner and outer, at the same time, it is equally true that we always have at least some measure of freedom to choose how we respond.

If you aspire to become an evolutionarily enlightened human being, your ability to do so depends upon accepting the simple fact that independent of external circumstances, you always have a measure of freedom to choose. That sounds like a simple statement, but it’s amazing how many intelligent people will deny it. When you look honestly for yourself, however, you will see that it is true: you are always choosing. Sometimes your choices are conscious; sometimes they are unconscious. Sometimes they are inspired by the best parts of yourself; other times they are motivated by lower impulses and instincts. But the bottom line is that every time you act or react, at some level a choice is being made. And you, whoever you are, are the one who is making that choice. After all, who else could it be?

[Conscious Evolution] is a simple concept to grasp, but not quite as simple to put into in practice. Our freedom to choose is not unlimited. We each have some measure of freedom. Not complete freedom, but a measure, and that measure is greater for some people than it is for others. But as long as there is some it’s enough to begin. If there is a measure of freedom then there is freedom to choose.

What that means is that in relationship to the important choices you make, you are never completely unconscious. There is always some degree of awareness, however small, which gives you the freedom to choose. And the path of conscious evolution is about increasing that degree of awareness, increasing that measure of freedom, until you are living as the enlightened self that you consciously choose to be, rather than the unenlightened self you have unconsciously and habitually identified with your entire life.

I believe that it is possible to take responsibility for the entirety of who you are in such a profound way that you can consciously choose who you want to be. But that doesn’t mean it will be easy. The human self is by nature a complex multidimensional process, and within that process are many factors that limit our freedom and obscure our awareness. There are powerful biological instincts that still drive us on a deep level to act in ways that challenge our higher rational inclinations. There are all the karmic consequences of our personal history, the emotional and psychological tendencies that have formed in response to our particular life experience. There are layers of cultural conditioning, values and assumptions about how things should be that color our perspectives without us even knowing it. And many people believe that within our psyches we also carry the unresolved stories of previous lifetimes. All these factors play a part in the complex web of motives and impulses that makes up your sense of self. All of this is you. And yet it is possible to take responsibility for all of these dimensions of who you are, through the transformative recognition that you are always the one who is choosing.

If you aspire to evolve, if you intend to become a conscious vehicle for the evolutionary impulse, you have to use the God-given powers of awareness and conscious choice to navigate between your new and higher spiritual aspirations, and all of the conditioned impulses and habits that are embedded in your self-system. You need to become so conscious that you can make choices that move you, consistently, in an evolutionary direction. And it is only through the wholehearted embrace of your power of choice that it becomes possible for you to do this.

This is what I often call “enlightening the choosing faculty”—bringing the light of consciousness, conscience, and higher purpose to bear on the unique and extraordinary capacity within that can define your destiny.

Eventually, if you go far enough in your spiritual development, the self-generated momentum of your own evolutionary choices will become the driving force of your life, rather than the unconscious habits of the past. And that’s when something very profound occurs. Your capacity to choose will become more and more aligned with the creative freedom of the evolutionary impulse, the energy and intelligence behind the initial choice to become. When free agency, the greatest gift of the evolved human, is liberated from unconscious and habitual patterns and becomes identified with a higher or cosmic will, the individual becomes a conscious agent of evolution.

When your power of choice aligns itself with the evolutionary impulse in this way, your own deepest, heart-felt, spiritual aspiration becomes one with the original cosmic intention to create the universe. That’s what Evolutionary Enlightenment is pointing to. To the degree to which you make conscious and transcend those outdated biological, psychological, and cultural habits within yourself that are inhibiting your higher development, you become an ever-more-powerful agent for conscious evolution.

This article was excerpted from Andrew Cohen’s book Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path to Spiritual Awakening (Select Books, October 2011).