by Dan McLintock
In Ken Wilber’s book “Integral Spirituality” he puts forth a intriguing model of the evolution of consciousness over the last 250,000 years. Each color-coded level (or altitude) of development can be tracked on the chart attached below, but I’ll give a brief synopsis of the first few colors/levels because what I really want to address is the one that a great many of us “spiritual people” are currently in and struggling to break out of; the postmodern green stage.
The Developmental Stages of Consciousness
For the sake of time and relevance I’ll start with the red “tribal” level which has been around the last 15,000 years or so. Impulsive and ego-centric, those at this stage of development are all about power, immediate gratification, calling the shots, winning and domination. Think epic heroes, feudal lords, punk rockers, gang leaders or kids during their “terrible twos”.
Next is the amber “traditional” level which came online around 5,000 years ago. Both religiously fundamentalist and patriotic, those at this level of consciousness have no problem sacrificing themselves for a cause; god or country. Control of others (and themselves) through guilt, black and white thinking and strong sense of right and wrong characterize these folks’ behavior and perspective. Think of Puritan America, Dickensian England or the “moral majority”.
Moving on up is the orange “modern” level which first showed up about 300 years ago. The bottom line here is success and autonomy. Capitalistic and more scientifically minded than their amber neighbors, these orange folk are all about goals and results as well as harnessing nature’s secrets in order to live the “good life”. Think Ayn Rand, Wall Street, colonialism or Rodeo Drive.
The Postmodern Green Stage
And that brings us to the relatively new, green “post-modern” level which came into its own only about 50 years ago in the late 1960’s. This stage of development is characterized by some truly beautiful and moving principles; equality, community, harmony, compassion, sensitivity and the front end of some powerful forms of spirituality. They’re what guided and effected change during some of the great progressive social movements of the late 20th century and continue to today.
I’ve been a moderately liberal ‘green’ for most of my adult life. I was raised by two borderline hippie parents; my dad a navy-pilot turned conscientious objector and mom a child of alcoholism turned house-church Christian - both of them active in civil rights, peacemaking and environmentalism. They were also both deeply traumatized and thus unconscious the majority of my childhood which of course meant I inherited much of their asleepness and generational pain and patterns.
So as a young adult who carried the programmed core deficiency stories of being ‘unwanted’ and ‘not mattering’ since he was a kid, these green principles and those who held them out to me were super appealing - here were people who cared; who listened, empathized and offered asylum not to mention would unite with me against a common enemy (which was, I later found out, my deepest addiction: having an enemy/living life from the perspective of a victim and therefore suffering).
Never will I down any of the above, noble green ideas/concepts - to this day I hold them as high and necessary values, I just want to point to the fact that they can become traps when co-opted by the ego, turned into dogma and then driven by undealt with, unconscious pain/suffering. When this happens, even the concepts of love and equality can be used as weapons though this is usually hidden, especially from the person in whom the program operates. This covert co-opting of concepts/beliefs by the ego is what Wilber refers to as the green “getting sick”.
We’ve all heard people rationalize punishment with “I’m only doing this because I love you”. You rarely, if ever, hear “I’m only doing this because I was punished and programmed to regularly punish myself and thus am compelled to punish you (and everyone else too) under the guise of love.” We sick greens are MASTERS of unconsciously couching our pain and compulsion to punish and dominate in righteous-sounding philosophies like “justice”, “empowerment” and “accountability”. And we’ve likely been doing it so long and had so many co-signers that we start believing our own press. I did for a long time and though it was strangely intoxicating, it was intensely painful and ultimately self-defeating.
The Mean Greens
Father Richard Rohr writes; “A combination of unseen arrogance and individualism keeps people trapped at this level. It seems we have just enough enlightenment to reject everybody below us as naïve, and at the same time we can’t imagine anyone being smarter than we are. The mystical, non-dual levels look ridiculous to academic and sophisticated Greens. Wilber also calls this “flatland” because it’s contemptuous of both higher and lower levels. “Mean Green” people will not let go of either their separateness or superiority. Their ego is still in charge.”
For those of us who know the biblical story of the prodigal son, we see this playing out with the prodigal’s resentful older brother who essentially martyrs himself and (unlike his younger rebellious brother) does everything “right” in order to please his father. Approval is the drug and is widely available if we play the part believably enough. To quote T.S. Eliot “The last act is the greatest treason. To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” This is the destiny of the ‘sick’ green, though we usually don’t consciously know or see it.
The archetypes of those trapped at this level would be the classic Alanon member who typically identifies their alcoholic relative (and everyone else around them) as ‘the problem’ and then martyrs themself away as a form of control or manipulation. I once attended a Byron Katie event and met her afterwards explaining that I had used her inquiry work with fellow Alanon members (either husbands, wives or children of alcoholics) for years and without hesitation she responded “Oh poor things - they’re worse off than the alcoholics”. And we are! We usually can’t even see how addicted to our suffering (and to other sufferers) we are - at least the alcoholics have some idea of their own level of suffering and have found a temporary solution!
Of course another example of green sickness would be the more radically left liberal who demands equality, empathy and acceptance with all the authoritarian and punitive flair that they’re disgusted by in their conservative foes and then are shocked and outraged by any kind of pushback. As I deepened in my own deprogramming from my sick green perspective I actually begrudgingly started to see and understand what my handful of more right-wing friends and family were repelled by in myself and other harder-core liberals; our lack of integrity. It’s been pretty humbling.
I still feel a smidge uncomfortable talking about all this because
1. I’m still climbing up and out of the pain/victimhood of this stage and
2. I know how flustered and even angry I used to get when anyone came close to suggesting that my worldview, perspective and politics might be pain-driven and therefore dishonest.
And since I’ve been in and through it, it’s painfully obvious and almost embarrassing to watch other people engaged in this mode.
I want to be as clear as I can; I am not saying that the green stage of development and recovery isn’t an important and necessary step - especially for folks who have been through horrific abuse or trauma, be it physical, mental, emotional, spiritual or sexual. Having a safe place to disclose, share and be empowered to speak up about our pain and connect with others who have been through similar hells is probably part of the reason I (and many of my friends who have been through much worse) am (are) still alive. Nor am I suggesting going back to any of the red, amber or orange levels as a solution. Conservatism, materialism, groupthink and dominance actually feel a bit Stone Agey to me at this point. Anything belief/thought-based does, to be honest.
What I am putting forth is an invitation not to settle there (unless you really want to in which case, “Good luck, I love you and I’ll leave you to it 👋🏻.”) I’m appealing that we consider moving towards and inviting other people to join us, through inquiry and deprogramming, in going somewhere new...somewhere Wilber color-codes as teal/turquoise (see chart).
Somewhere not belief based at all, but where we can come from presence; our natural, childlike state. Where we can access actual love, acceptance and empathy, minus the sneaky codependence and martyrdom (which are both taught and learned and can be unlearned).
Somewhere we all already are beneath our programming and pain.
Somewhere “...on the red hills of Georgia” to quote Dr. King.
Transcending the Green
Rohr continues; “The 1% of people who transcend the Green Level to enter the Second Tier or “Being” levels do so by going through a major death to the ego. It is some kind of “Dark Night” experience beyond their control. Now they know that the Green idea of pluralistic equality is not the highest meaning of enlightenment. Yet they do not throw out the wonderful and needed values of human rights, equality, and human dignity. The Green level is the great advance made in the last fifty years, but we are not done yet!”
I’ll submit that this “Dark Night” experience/death and transcendence of the sick green ego perspective is NOT something beyond our control. If we really want to move towards love/presence, true unity consciousness and “sobriety” from suffering we can consciously choose to deprogram further. All it takes is the willingness, through inquiry, to radically forgive ourselves and therefore the “other” - to investigate and see where we’ve been wrong (hint: it’s where we’re suffering). After all, the extent to which we can be wrong is the extent to which we can be free.
If this calls your name and you’d like to deprogram and undo years’ worth of beliefs/identities/suffering addiction then I deeply understand where you’re coming from and will do any and everything I can to help you trust yourself and get free.
Love you regardless,