Our journey of spiritual development moves through stages and it can help us greatly in our journey, if we understand something of those stages and how they fit together.
I would like to look at the levels of physical, emotional, mental, soul and spirit. Other people may have different names for the levels, perhaps adding more or subtracting some, but these are sufficient to give us an overview.
As we grow in life, we progress through these five levels. We start at the physical. A new-born baby is only in touch with the physical world; touch, caressing, pain, warmth food, and drink. These are also our basic survival needs. Our life is most quickly threatened if food, water, warmth, or physical protection and safety are taken from us. There are adults for whom the mere struggle to stay alive is the central struggle in their lives.
No matter how spiritually developed we are, we still need to eat, drink and have a good share of physical resources to keep us alive. The new-born baby has not yet developed any memory. As we progress from one level to the next, the previous level does not become irrelevant. We move beyond that level, but incorporate it in the level we progress to.
So, when we proceed to the next level of emotions, we include our physical world within it. At the emotional level we have feelings. Feelings arise from our store of memory of what has happened in the past. The baby remembers it didn't like lying it wet nappies for an hour. An emotion, perhaps of fear or anger, develops and is linked to wet nappies. As adults our emotional responses form a complex web tied to many different experiences we have had. Now that we have memories, we become aware of having a past and that there is a self, continuous identity. We make a picture in our minds of what we think this identity of ourselves is.
This identity is our ego. It is not who we are, but who we think we are. For a baby in particular their sense of their identity will not match reality very well. Nonetheless, the baby uses this image to interact with the world. As we progress through life, our image improves as we adapt it based on new experiences.
Power is also associated with emotional level. Power and authority is absolutely essential in our lives if we are to achieve anything at all. Power only becomes a problem when we focus too much on power to gain our meaning in life or when we gain power at the expense of others. Greed results from the feeling that we will not get our needs met in this world. We feel we will only get our needs met if we have more than our share. We therefore put our energy into controlling other people and amassing money and resources beyond that which is necessary for a reasonable comfortable life.
We move on to the mental realm. Thoughts allow us to move into the future, which wasn't possible with emotions. We can now imagine what something might be. We use our mind to tell us if our instincts or emotions are off track. If something is illogical we will notice and not just act on the emotion, which might have been apporpriate at some time in the past, but formulate a rational response. We need to keep our mind in balance with the rest of our being or we become a detached bookworm, apart from the rest of the world. Science arises from the world of the mind and must be integrated back into the other levels of being, or we will just create technologies that lead us to our own extinction.
The level of the soul is where things really start to happen. It gives us an overview of all the levels we have passed through. We can see the strengths and weaknesses of the physical, emotional and intellectual realms and use them more wisely, knowing which to use when. Intuition emerges in the soul period.
At the soul level, we are able to understand others and where they are coming from. We no longer need to be right all the time. We can see other peoples' points of view and know love and forgiveness. We are prepared to sacrifice ourselves for others, knowing it is for the greater good. As at any level, we have access to all levels below and to none above. Rather than the soul level just being the soul level, we should really see it as the soul-mental-emotional-physical level because they are all present and potentially active.
There is one more level, the level of spirit, which goes even further and enfolds even more. This holds the pure essence of God. Our soul is still individual, my soul, your soul, now resting in spirit, we just find ourselves resting in God. The best pathway I know to the level of spirit is prayer and meditation. It is not the type of prayer that says, "please God, get me a new car, and make my foot better." It's not a prayer where we tell God what to do. These prayers do have their place, but they do not open the door to spirit. These prayers tell God what 'he' can be and not be. They stop God from being God and rather make 'him' into what we want a God to be. If we are on the emotional level, we will want someone to make us happy and not sad, or a God to fulfill our greed. No, we must rather rest in God, whatever God wants to be for us. Then and only then can will receive the fullness of God within us and be all that we truly can. Only when we let go of our personal wants and desires that are still with us at the soul level, can we come to know the boundless bliss that God, and God in us can be.
Throughout the day we find ourselves operating at a variety of differing levels, but unless we are making a breakthrough, we cannot operate above the highest level we have reached. We can have peak experiences where, usually for a short moment we become aware of much higher levels than usual. We can also have differing parts of our being progressing at differing rates. Although we may have passed through the emotional level long ago, we are often pulled back from much higher levels, perhaps to unplug a something that has been repressed at the emotional level.
So, it is not so much how high we have progressed, but how balanced we are in our overall being. It is not a race a race to the top. We need to work to reveal all levels in our lives, or we will never become whole and complete. We can never move up a level in a sustained way until we honestly understand enough of the level we are on. If we race ahead, we will just be pulled back. However, there is a final destiny, a final unity of all that we can progress towards. That unity has always been there waiting and will always be there for us. It is for us to become aware of the spirit in ourselves which has always been there, waiting to be revealed.