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The Ladder of Enlightenment

I came across something called the Map of Consciousness in a book I’ve been reading recently – Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender by David R. Hawkins. In it he talks about the different emotional levels we operate on. 

He presents them in a way I’ve never seen before – as a kind of ladder that we can climb. Starting with depression at the bottom all the way up to enlightenment at the top. 

It’s more complicated than I’ve presented here – but to help me get my head around it, I decided to abbreviated that table and roughly explain how one “climbs” to the top.

In essence, this is the ladder from top to bottom:

  • Peace/Enlightenment
  • Joy/Love
  • Understanding/Compassion
  • Neutrality/Acceptance
  • Pride/Courage
  • Desire/Anger
  • Fear/Grief
  • Depression/Apathy

At the very base of the emotional ladder is depression or apathy. This is one step away from death. Basically, you’ve given up all hope.

A helpful question to ask ourselves is what biological need is there to be depressed?

On some level, it’s a cry for help. There’s a desire for someone to come and save us from drowning because we don’t believe we can save ourselves. 

The way to climb out of depression is the same at all levels. As the author notes, “The fastest way from the bottom to the top is by telling the truth to ourselves and others.” 

You find the truth counter-intuitively – by acknowledging and letting go of your emotions (and all resistance to them).

Here’s a truth about depression. The overriding belief that “I can’t” is actually a cover. “I can’t” actually means “I won’t.” 

By acknowledging this truth, we make it clear that we’re not really incapable. The truth is we’re scared. This moves up the ladder into fear.

When we acknowledge our fear – and what it is we’re actually afraid of – it becomes clear there’s something we desire that our fear is preventing us from going after or getting. 

Associated with this acknowledgment is often a sense of grief (depending on the length of the depression) over all the things we didn’t pursue/lost out on due to this fear. 

Anger is the other emotion that arises. It’s often anger at our fear for preventing us from going after what we want. (Or the thing or person that caused us to become fearful.)

So we graduate to the next emotional step on the ladder of consciousness: anger. Anger is a far better state to be in than depression. At least with anger there is energy. 

It’s this energy that is priming us for action.

When we use this energy wisely – to take action despite our fears (not out of bitterness or resentment) – we gain confidence. Over time, our self-esteem strengthens. This helps us let go of any residual fear/shame or apathy left over from the past. 

Eventually, by relinquishing the remainder of our emotional baggage, we graduate to a state of neutrality or acceptance. We’re at ease with ourselves and who we are. So we become at greater ease with the world itself.

This frees up our minds to think about other people in our lives. This leads us to the next step on the ladder: compassion. 

We start to feel more empathy in general. We recognise the fear and suffering in others – the same fear and suffering that we have struggled through. 

This greater compassion inspires us to help those people. In doing so, there is a gradual loss of self-consciousness. We become far less concerned about ourselves. 

We start to find inner peace from this mode of selflessness. We also experience greater joy. We begin to do things intrinsically. We’re no longer motivated by ambition – but purely for the joy or love of something. 

This, in turn, generates greater peace. 

At this level, we experience greater connectedness with the wider world. We operate on a level of flow where everything happens effortlessly. We come to see a greater truth about ourselves. That we are one interconnected whole. 

It’s from here eventually; finally, we graduate to enlightenment. 


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23 thoughts on “The Ladder of Enlightenment

  1. Hawkins is a new author to me, AP – thanks for sharing. I believe in the philosophy: “The fastest way from the bottom to the top is by telling the truth to ourselves and others.” Yes, yes…and I also think it’s true that we traverse – up and down – in so many ways – in the ‘flow’ you described. Thank you for sharing! 😊

    1. Yes I agree – we fall down or up it depending on our life circumstances. The way to go up is counter intuitive – it requires no effort – but letting go of our efforts – surrendering. It’s trying to fix ourselves that makes everything worse – stops us from healing. Thanks Victoria 🙏

  2. I agree with Victoria’s point in traversing the ladder both up and down. I find I balk at the term “enlightenment” I prefer the term “peace” or “at peace”, for I have observed that some people proclaim themselves to be “enlightened” as though they had earned a forever badge, yet, I have experienced judgementalism or worse from them. *sigh* With the term “at peace” this becomes a personal thing, and not a flashy term to label oneself with to gain admiration!

    1. I believe enlightenment is a state of mind very few achieve – I agree that most who proclaim to be enlighten are not – and full of it. Still, I do believe it exists in certain rare individuals such as Gandhi, Mandela, Dalai Lama… I recall a photo of a buddhist monk during the Vietnam war who – in protest – burnt himself alive. He didn’t even flinch. That image has always stuck with me. It made me believe that true enlightenment is a real thing. I agree though all these terms can be taken and bastardised/used for the wrong reason. I think a truly enlightened person has no need to say they are enlightened or show off about it. Thanks Tamara – appreciate your thoughts 🙏

      1. Right, a truly enlightened person has no inner need to say they are! Just the fact of saying so shows their ego is still very much activated and working!

        I aspire to live in peace and peacefully for the rest of my life! I will be happy with that and with myself!

      2. Exactly. I tend to think of a truly enlighted person as a Buddhist monk who sits around doing nothing. That’s the goal 😂

        Those are good aspirations to have Tamara 🙏

    1. I thought it was an eloquent way of organising the different emotional states – thinking in terms of letting go in order to climb the ladder. I’m glad you like the summary. Thank you for taking the time to read/comment 🙏

  3. Beautiful path David. I knew a couple of depressed people close to me (unfortunately they passed away some time ago but there weren’t that old) . It’s so difficult they would tell the truth to themselves. But what you described gives hope and that’s the beauty of the post.

    1. Depression isn’t a fun place to be. It can hard to find much strength to do anything. I do believe it’s the truth that wakes us up though. Often we need help uncovering that truth. Thanks Cristiana 🙏

  4. What an interesting concept- great post AP2- this book sounds like a good read!

    1. It was an interesting book. Not sold on all of his ideas but the underlying premise I do. Worth a read. Thanks Todd 🙏

  5. Thank you for this helpful framework for becoming more aware of and managing our emotions, AP. It reminds me of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and I think it is equally useful.

    I am usually a very happy, optimistic person, but as with everyone, bad things sometimes happen. I believe the worst case scenario is when the crisis is of our own making, but of course, we all make mistakes. I am trying to learn from mine. 🙂

    Understanding what is happening and developing some coping strategies helps us deal with these times and rise above them. Thanks again, AP, for a great post!

    1. I’ll have to look up Maslows hierarchy. Not sure I’ve come across it. I thought this ladder idea was interesting. To think of course on a certain level and to move your way up by letting go. Pleased you liked the post Cheryl. Thank you 🙏

      1. Oh it helped tremendously! I even drew an illustration to symbolize the ideas and created a canvas design “the ladder of enlightenment”. I might post it on Instagram or write a blog post about where im at on the ladder (I oscillate between anger and courage but my goal is to reach acceptance)

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