What it Really Means to Consciously Evolve

A Q&A with Craig Hamilton

CH: ..So here’s a question Lynn wrote in: “Craig, you say that we need to evolve ourselves to address the crises and problems facing our world, and also because of the deep urgency to fulfill our collective potential. But isn’t this preaching to the choir? Isn’t it those who are not on this call, who would never be on a call like this, the ones who are enslaving others and creating the atrocities who need to evolve the most? Are you saying the theory is that if we evolve ourselves it will help those others to evolve?”

Well, Lynn, it’s a good question, and my answer is yes and no. The yes part is that… in a sense I’m talking about things in a larger scale. So in other words, I’m not so much saying that if you, Lynn, evolve your consciousness to the place I’m pointing to, and you really bring an end to ignorance, an end to ego and conditioning in yourself and come into a fully enlightened evolved relationship to life, that the moment enough of us do that that somehow then all the tyrants of the world will suddenly just feel a wave of love and stop being tyrants. I’m not saying that.

But what I am saying is—the deeper issue is that—what if we realize that in a sense all the crises of the human condition are an outpicturing of our lack of evolution, that everything that’s wrong with the world pretty much is a playing out of our primitive human nature, the fact that we haven’t evolved enough yet.

We could keep just trying to fix all the problems from our current level of evolution. And that’s a good thing to do, too. Obviously, we’re going to try to fix as many problems as we can, as quickly as we can. That’s part of what always needs to be happening—addressing the practical needs of our moment.

But maybe there’s something else required here, too. Maybe some of us actually need to be willing to be the guinea pigs, the pioneers who are willing to evolve into an utterly different kind of human being. I don’t mean we’re going to look different. I’m not talking about further biological evolution. I think that the name of the evolution game now is the evolution of consciousness and culture. And specifically the evolution of human nature.

So what human nature am I speaking of? Well, there’s a kind of fundamental attachment to security, safety, certainty that drives so much human behavior, and that drives so much negative human behavior. In a sense, when we’re talking about the ego, what we’re talking about is the fundamental need to feel safe and secure, a need to know what’s going to happen next, a need to have a certainty in the face of all of the overwhelming complexity and challenge of life.

So the ego is trying to create a false, unrealistic security in an insecure world, in an insecure universe. Out of that flows distortion, distorted perception, and all of our self-centered behavior.

The point is we’re not very evolved yet. And when I say “we”—and this is the “no” part of my answer, when I said “yes” and “no”—when I say “we,” I mean pretty much the whole human race. Even the handful of maybe really enlightened, evolved beings still are in a process of evolution. So we’re not talking about getting to some end state here. We’re talking about getting over our resistance to being part of an evolutionary unfolding process. We’re talking about getting over that need for preservation of stasis and security and certainty—which includes the preservation of a rigid sense of identity and sense of self, which then defends itself from any information that would challenge it.

There’s a whole matrix of maladaptive behaviors that human beings are playing out, and Lynn, I’m not talking about them over there. See, the sense of your question is like, “Well, Craig, there are good people in the world and there are bad people in the world. You’re here talking to the good people, saying that if the good people get better it will make the bad people better.” And I’m saying, well, no. I’m not saying there are good people and bad people in the world. I’m saying the human race is not very evolved yet.

The human condition is still rooted in all kinds of deeply primitive programming that is not suited for the world we’re living in, nor is it suited for the world we want to create. I’m saying part of this work is this deep interior work of evolving ourselves.

So that means as an individual—and here’s where it meets the heart of your question—I need to be willing to face, in excruciating detail, the ways that I’m still participating in the same patterns inwardly, the same relationship to life that’s actually causing all the problems in the world.

It’s an in-depth process that we begin doing on this course. There’s a fundamental question we all need to ask. We need to look out at the world and identify, what are the really atrocious things? You mentioned some of them, like the ways people oppress each other.

So I need to be willing to look at that and see and then bring it back right to myself and say, “Okay, what’s the root of that impulse to oppress other people?” Maybe it’s living from a sense of scarcity and fear of not having enough—which then drives people to oppress one another in order to get more for themselves.

Oh, okay. So let me be honest with myself. Are there any ways that I am driven by that same impulse, where a sense of scarcity and fear for not having enough then leads me to behave in certain ways? Of course, not those horrible, evil ways out there oppressing other people in violent ways. But maybe I’m still participating in that dynamic at a much milder level.

But of course, if I’m still participating—and this is something that most people have a very hard time facing—if I’m still participating in that, that means I don’t really know for sure what I would do if push came to shove.

What I mean is that we all know that when human beings come under extreme pressure from circumstances, they will regress to much lower levels of development than they’re able to maintain when things are going well. All kinds of social psychology experiments show that if you put ordinary, decent people into high-pressure, difficult circumstances that play out in certain ways, even ordinary, decent people will do atrocious things to one another.

You probably heard about the Milgram experiments where they had people performing electric shocks on each other even to the point where it seemed like the other person was about to die. And they were doing it just because somebody in a lab coat told them to. Or the Stanford Prison experiments where they put, again, normal people in a prison game kind of context where some were guards and some were inmates and then put pressures on them. The guards started acting awful and beating on the inmates and everything. It was a game. It was all a mock thing.

History gives us repeated examples of how ordinary people and all the great atrocities of the last century that happened, the genocides, those weren’t just “Oh, a bunch of bad people got together and did that.” They enrolled the support of all the normal people. All the ordinary, average, upstanding citizens rallied and joined in the blood fest. How is that?

I hope that none of us will ever experience that and none of us probably will, but my point is the only way you can know for sure that you would not participate in something like that is to go down at the deepest level here and root out the very roots of those behaviors. That means have you come to a relationship to life where you’re not actually motivated by fear? Obviously, there’s healthy fear like if a tiger’s running at you, you should run away, but I mean where you never fall prey to irrational fear.

I’ll give you an exercise, and anybody who’s moved by this question that Lynn brought up, you can go and engage this on your own. The exercise is this:

Look out at the world, identify a handful of the most despicable, atrocious things that human beings do to one another in this world. And then drill down a level and ask: what motivates them to do that? What are the patterns of thought? What are the emotional patterns? What motives are arising in them and driving that behavior?

And then turn and say, “Okay, where in my own life do I respond to those kinds of motives? Where in my own life am I still participating in that same inner dynamic? Even if I’m not doing anything you would say is bad or awful or evil? To what degree am I still in the sway of that same conditioned habit pattern of humanity?”

Maybe you look at one thing and you’ll say, wow, that’s just about a certain kind of selfishness. It’s putting self before others. That’s really what’s driving that awful thing those people are doing—greed or selfishness, wanting for themselves. Well, where in my life have I ever put my needs before someone else’s? When have I put myself first in a way that was out of proportion to what was needed, in a way that was selfish? Have I done that? Oh, there it is.

See, if we can do this and map it like that, you start to realize, “Oh, the whole human condition exists in me. I’m not separate from the people whom I’ve deemed bad, the ones who are causing all the problems. I’m part of the problem. Sure, I’m not the worst part of the problem. But I’m still part of that whole dynamic. I’m still an unevolved human being who reacts to things in ways that are irrational, inappropriate, unhelpful, and anti-evolutionary. In all these ways in myself, and maybe in some of my relationships—it’s all going on right here.

So then if I want to evolve the world, that means I can do it because I can evolve myself. I can start right here.

And then the question is how, and that’s what we’re going into here in this course. We’re doing work to open up to awakened, deeper dimensions of our self and learn how to face into and then leave behind other parts of our self that are really no longer useful, no longer helpful.

And in doing that, yes, what happens is we end up with evolved human beings who truly are driven by a completely different set of motivations and who are no longer under the sway of that old momentum that’s been moving in us since the beginning of time, or at least the beginning of human time. That momentum comes to an end and a new momentum begins.

Now, we can never take for granted where we are on that path. There’s nobody who gets to say, “Oh, I’m not included in that. I’m already enlightened enough. That’s not me.” We all have to live in humility in the face of this human condition and then work, do our work, to gradually evolve into something else. Thanks for that question.

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About Craig Hamilton 

Craig HamiltonCraig Hamilton is a pioneer in the emerging field of evolutionary spirituality and a leading voice in the movement for conscious evolution. As the guiding force behind Integral Enlightenment, Craig offers spiritual guidance and teachings to a growing international community spanning 50 countries around the world.

His introductory and advanced courses have more than 6,000 graduates to date. These courses are designed to support people who are committed to evolving themselves and our culture, yearn to make their greatest contribution, and seek to develop themselves to embrace this calling.

To provide effective support for these pioneers, Craig created the Academy for Evolutionaries, offering practical spiritual tools and training that are in step with our times and informed by an up-to-date understanding of the human condition. In this unique training ground, Craig brings together core insights and approaches based on decades of on-the-ground research at the leading edge of spiritual practice and inquiry.

Craig’s programs integrate decades of intensive spiritual practice with insights gleaned during his eight years as Senior Editor of the award winning What Is Enlightenment? magazine.

Craig’s work is highly acclaimed by thought leaders and spiritual teachers ranging from Ken Wilber, Michael Beckwith, and Barbara Marx Hubbard to Don Beck and Jean Houston, among many others. He is a founding member of Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute, a member of Deepak Chopra’s Evolutionary Leaders Forum, and was a participant in the Synthesis Dialogues, a 35-person interdisciplinary think tank presided over by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

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