Maps for the awakening path

Maps for the awakening path can be very helpful.


After all, any time we enter a place that’s unfamiliar to us, maps, stories, guides, and fellow travelers can be invaluable. They help us orient, make better decisions, avoid some pitfalls, provide company and guidance on the way, and can make the whole experience generally more easy and enjoyable. We can learn from those who are more familiar with the place, and we can find support from others exploring it.

Of course, this depends on the quality of the maps, stories, guides, and fellow travelers.

It depends on how we relate to these sources of information and the journey itself.

And it depends on what we bring with us in terms of baggage, orientation, experience, and good sense.


For all the many benefits of maps, they also have some limitations, and it’s good to be aware of and explore the characteristics of maps.

They are different in nature from the terrain. They are mental constructs and are different in nature from what they point to. (Unless they happen to point to other mental constructs!)

They simplify and leave a lot out. That’s why they are useful, and it’s also one of their limitations.

They may be more or less accurate. Sometimes, maps are misleading.

They inevitably reflect the biases of the one(s) making them. They reflect a certain time, culture, worldview, personal orientation, and sometimes even hopes and fears. That doesn’t make them less useful, but it’s good to keep in mind.

As with any story, they inevitably reflect and come out of a certain worldview. There are innumerable other existing and possible worldviews that may make as much or more sense, and fit the data as well or better. And these worldviews may produce very different maps of the same terrain.

Maps and stories in general cannot reflect any full, final, or absolute reality.

Reality is always more than and different from any map.

And any mental construct is a kind of map, no matter what form it takes. Whether it’s a book, a diagram, a teacher or fellow traveler sharing something, or our own mental images and words telling us something.


Maps of a physical place have these benefits and limitations, and that goes doubly (or triply!) for maps of non-physical and metaphorical places like an awakening process.

Yes, there may be patterns in how the awakening process unfolds that we can detect and put into a kind of map. Many have done just that. For instance, Ken Wilber has collected and synthesized many of these maps into a more inclusive and comprehensive map.

And yet, life doesn’t follow our shoulds or our maps. Life goes its own way.

The process may be different for people in different cultures. Your process may be very different from mine. Each case is always different to some extent, and sometimes by a lot.

Also, maps about awakening are informal. They come from people’s own experiences, or what they have seen or heard from others. It’s not a topic that’s studied rigorously using scientific methods.

Maps of the awakening process are provisional at best, and likely only partially accurate.

In my experience, the process is not necessarily very linear, and the process itself tends to undo any and all fixed ideas I have about it or anything else.


How we relate to these stories and maps makes a big difference.

Do I hold onto some of them as true? What happens if I do? For me, I typically find it’s stressful. I need to hold onto, rehearse, and defend the stories. I make an identity for myself out of it. If my path is different from the maps, I feel something is wrong. And it’s generally stressful whenever life shows up differently from the “shoulds” of the maps, which it inevitably does.

How would it be to hold onto them more lightly? Here, I find it’s generally more peaceful. I find more curiosity. I recognize the maps and stories as pointers only, and as questions about the world. I am more open to exploring what’s here rather than being distracted by how a story tells me it should be.


We can use maps, and especially stage maps, to feel better (or worse) about ourselves and our life.

We can use them to tell ourselves: I am at this stage in the awakening process. It means I am further ahead than these other people. It means those people are ahead of me. It means this will happen next. It’s all cleanly laid out and predictable, and I know how it is.

But do we actually know? Can we know if the maps are accurate? Can we know that we understand them well? Can we know that another worldview wouldn’t make as much or more sense, and bring about a very different map? And what about everything left out of the maps? Isn’t what’s left out far more than what’s included?


For me, and for all of these reasons, it makes more sense to hold these stories and maps lightly, and it gives me more sense of ease. It’s more aligned with reality.

Yes, I have found it fun and fascinating to learn about them. (Since my teens and for about three decades, I read everything by Ken Wilber. I read widely about stage models in general from psychology and spirituality. And I studied developmental psychology and stage models at university.)

Yes, they can be somewhat useful as something I keep in the back of my mind and sometimes check in with.

And it feels better to hold it all lightly. To not invest too much into it.


That’s how it is for me with science in general.

I love science and find it fascinating, fun, and helpful.

And yet, I know that the stories from science are maps. They reflect our current culture and understanding. They are provisional. Future generations will see our maps as quaint, at best as partially valid, and often as hopelessly outdated.

Perhaps most importantly, what they leave out is far more than what they include. What they include is likely an infinitely small part of what there is to discover. And what we discover may put what we already (think we) know in a completely different light.

Reality is always more than and different from any story we have about it.

[Read on to see what ChatGPT has to say on this topic.]


I asked ChatGPT about the drawbacks and limits of stage models in human psychological development. Here is the answer, and it’s pretty good and applies to stage models for awakening as well.

There are several drawbacks and limitations of stage models of human psychological development:

  1. Determinism: Stage models suggest that individuals progress through fixed stages in a predetermined order, which can be criticized for ignoring the role of individual differences and personal agency in development.
  2. Oversimplification: Stage models may simplify complex and dynamic developmental processes, and may not accurately capture the nuances and variations in human development.
  3. Lack of Empirical Evidence: Some stage models lack empirical evidence to support their claims, and may be based more on theoretical constructs than on empirical data.
  4. Lack of Cultural and Historical Context: Stage models may not take into account the influence of cultural and historical factors on human development, which can limit their applicability across diverse populations.
  5. Limited to specific Developmental Domains: Most stage theories are limited to a specific developmental domain, such as cognitive or socio-emotional development, and may not capture the full complexity of human development.
  6. Overgeneralization: Stage models may be overgeneralized and applied to individuals who may not fit the model’s stages, leading to a lack of accuracy in describing development.


I asked a similar question about Ken Wilber’s integral model. Again, as much as I love his work, I also agree with these points.

Ken Wilber’s integral model, also known as the “Integral Theory,” has been criticized for several reasons:

  1. Lack of empirical evidence: Some critics argue that Wilber’s integral model is primarily based on theoretical constructs rather than empirical data, and that there is little research to support its claims.
  2. Overgeneralization: The integral model has been criticized for being overly broad and inclusive, and for making claims that are difficult to test or verify.
  3. Lack of Falsifiability: Critics argue that Wilber’s integral model is not falsifiable, meaning that it cannot be tested or disproved, which raises questions about its scientific validity.
  4. Lack of attention to cultural, historical, and social factors: Some critics argue that the integral model does not take into account the influence of cultural, historical, and social factors on human development, which can limit its applicability across diverse populations.
  5. Lack of clarity and specificity: Critics have argued that the integral model is not clear or specific enough in its definitions, which makes it difficult to test or apply in practice.
  6. Lack of attention to Intersectionality: Some critics argue that Wilber’s integral model doesn’t take into account the intersectionality of identities, like race, gender, class, etc., and how they shape individual development and experience.

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