Stages of Personal Evolution
If most of us remain ignorant of ourselves, it is because self-knowledge is painful and we prefer the pleasures of illusion. Aldous Huxley
Personal evolution is the transformational evolvement of our heart, soul, and spirit. It is a process that we intentionally choose to go through to live wise, authentic, and whole lives. It consists of eight different aspects:
Like many of the processes of transformation, this one is not linear. We exist in each of these facets in differing degrees all the time, but it is safe to say that unless we have mastered the aspects that come before, we will not move onto the next one with fruition. For example, it is impossible to be self-transformed without first mastering self-love.
For a fuller understanding of our personal evolution, let’s explore each aspect.
At the beginning of the journey is self-awareness. This may occur sporadically as a result of brief moments of introspection or as an entire spiritual awakening. Self-awareness is when we become aware of ourselves (from an ego-based standpoint) and how we interact with the world.
Those who are self-aware move away from their previous ‘unconscious state’ (also commonly referred to as “being asleep”) and into greater self-consciousness. This can be a painful period as we take an honest look at our thoughts, habits, choices, and ways of relating to the world. Often, we don’t like what we see. We will either numb ourselves out with denial or enter the path of self-growth. Self-awareness is the ability to observe our thoughts, feelings, and actions that we carry out every day. A self-aware person can identify what they are feeling but not necessarily why they are feeling that way. A person who lacks self-awareness will always react impulsively to a situation.
Self-exploration is powered by a mixture of curiosity (“who am I?”) and dissatisfaction (“I can’t believe I did/said/believed that!”). We want to find out more about our personality and understand our place in life. In this stage, we uncover how we think, feel, and behave.
Self-exploration occurs when we move from the “what?” to the “Why?” While the previous stage deals with what we like/feel/do/think, self-exploration deals with why we want/feel/do/think.
Self-exploration involves investigating and analyzing our inner thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and ideals. Once we become aware of our internal processes (thinking, feeling, reacting, and decision making), we can then ask why we function the way we do. Self-exploration is often a complex process that involves a lot of introspection, observation, patient consideration, and research.
In the aspect of self-exploration, we are developing the ability to divide our attention to simultaneously be aware of our inner selves and how we are outwardly acting.
Once we start dabbling in the world of self-exploration, we eventually experience self-discovery, which is what happens when we dig deep underneath the surface of ourselves.
Self-discovery attempts to answer the question, “Who am I?”
Self-Discovery can be understood as the act or process of gaining knowledge or understanding of yourself. Self-Discovery is closely linked with Self-Exploration because without studying oneself, attaining any degree of Self-Discovery is impossible. People who are at this level tend to discover the underlying mechanisms and truths upholding many of their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors towards themselves and the people around them. In this stage, it is common to begin various forms of inner work that get to the root of our core issues.
Self-understanding is the result of the previous three stages: it’s a deep understanding of the dynamics and workings of our ego selves.
People who have reached this stage have a thorough understanding of the origins and reasons why they think, feel, and behave the way they do. Not only have they explored their conscious ego, but they’ve also explored their unconscious mind to meet their shadow selves and other buried core wounds.
Self-Understanding is what happens when we learn so much about ourselves to such a profound extent (which began in the last stage) that it becomes assimilated knowledge. Assimilated knowledge becomes “knowing” when it is actively experienced through applied use.
Next is self-love: the stage where we are filled with compassion for ourselves and all that we’ve been through.
Self-love is what happens when we tap into the fundamental nature of our heart: love. When we love ourselves, we are powered by a deep understanding of ourselves. In fact, without the previous stage (self-understanding), it’s almost impossible to practice self-love because we don’t know what or why we do, think, and feel what we do.
Learning how to love ourselves means that we stop punishing ourselves, start nurturing ourselves, and start experiencing higher self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-forgiveness.
Self-Love comes as a result of achieving self-understanding and is defined by a compassionate acceptance of our strengths and weaknesses.
Individuals who practice self-love realize that they are imperfect in many ways but cease to criticize and punish themselves for these imperfections.
In this stage, we begin to shed our old and limiting habits, perceptions, and compulsions that were created by the false self (ego) and transform into the most authentic version of ourselves possible.
When we experience self-transformation, we enter a death and rebirth process that can feel uncomfortable and destabilizing at first. But ultimately, any change we undergo is liberating. In other words, we become more soul-centered instead of ego-centered, and we’re more comfortable in our skin.
Thanks to the previous five stages, we’re able to make space for new growth to occur. Like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, we feel more expanded, free, and grounded.
When we become self-aware, undertake self-exploration, and obtain self-discovery, understanding, and love, it is then that we come to experience real inner transformation. Self-transformation can be understood as the gradual transcendence of our previous limiting and destructive identities: our ego selves.
Self-transformation means, in a sense, we lose our life – not our real life, but the false life of dreams and illusions, the life that we have been conditioned with, and taught to believe in, by the world. This is the moment you grow and release yourself from the enslavement of cultural values, along with unconscious desires of stimulation, possessions, and socially acceptable lifestyles.
Self-mastery is a culmination of stages 1-6. This stage is about reaping the rewards of a stable and well-adjusted ego. Psychologist Carl Jung referred to this stage as individuation, that is, becoming a whole human being who is connected and aligned with the soul.
Instead of being slaves to our egos, we live from the heart and soul, and our egos are yielding and in service to our souls.
When we experience self-mastery, our inner and outer worlds are balanced, and we become the Kings or Queens of our world (everyday life). We are self-contained, calm, alert, wise, compassionate, and lighthearted.
In this new shift in awareness, the person moves beyond the limited ego, and in this sense, becomes a ‘master’ of it as the ego is no longer in the main driving seat.
When we experience self-realization, we recognize ourselves as one with the Divine. We move past a sense of “me,” “mine,” and “I am ___.”
Other names for this stage are enlightenment, Oneness, nirvana, and cosmic consciousness.
In this stage, we are free from suffering, free from fear, and free from all separation. What remains is a pure radiance of being, a total union with life, an experience of endless love, connection, understanding, and openness to existence.
Getting to the stage of self-realization is a journey that could take you a few years, decades, or most commonly, an entire lifetime. But it is a sacred path that is worth every bit of your time, effort, sincerity, and dedication. Ultimately, it is the path of enlightenment, the way of freedom, and the path of love. What could be better than that?
Self-Awareness is the moment where we build up enough courage to start facing the truth by shining awareness on that which we have been trying to escape (within ourselves and society). Soon, we begin to Self-Explore and Self-Discover, and with enough intensity of awareness, we finally start to Self-Understand and grow in Self-Love. During this whole process, Self-Transformation begins to occur. With enough knowledge and grace, this results in the loosening of the false self and the experience of Self-Mastery and then Self Realization.