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The Twenty One Indices of Consciousness

Practical Indicators of Consciousness Levels

How does the skill of Consciousness apply itself in our everyday lives?

If you find yourself asking this question, you are far from alone.  It is a question that has been asked across the vastness of time and culture. Humanity’s greatest philosophers, religious leaders, artists and teachers have explored this very topic for over 3,000 years.  Although the language used varies, in essence the question of how we measure conscious growth emerges repeatedly in wisdom schools, spiritual traditions, religions, philosophies, and the social sciences.   In chapter 15 of  The Consciousness Paradigm, John Smotherman describes The Twenty One Indices of Consciousness represent a distilled list that expresses these ideas.   They are arguably the top 21 facets of higher consciousness that have routinely surfaced in human thinking to date.

However, these ideas are more than just a list of philosophical ideals.  Collectively they function as a plumb line by which you can measure your own growth in consciousness.  By identifying your own strengths and growth areas according to these indices, you can be empowered to take charge of your own growth in consciousness.  You also can use them as a litnus test to determine the Level of Consciousness of others with whom you are interacting on a regular basis and adjust your communication skills in order to achieve common ground and get the results you want to create both in your professional and private relationships.

Each of the Indices of Consciousness develops in harmony with the other Indices.  They are like pistons in an engine:  the greatest performance is achieved when all the pistons (indices) are functioning together.  The cohesiveness that occurs when a great amount of the indices begin to function together produces a synergistic effect in which the unified whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Each of the indices is like a button or lever through which we can fine tune our navigation system the mind) and increase our own Level of Consciousness .

If you want to raise your consciousness, the Indices provide a superb checklist for evaluating and modifying beliefs, actions, values and reactions. Chosing to act consistently with the developed aspect of one of the Indices and avoiding the underdeveloped aspect will over time give one mastery over it.    John Smotherman encourages his coaching clients to focus on one of the Indices each week keeping a checklist of both successes and struggles in functioning on that week’s indice.  Over time, his clients have found that by focusing on one area at a time each week all of the indices begin to function better over time empowering them to accelerate their personal growth and achieve higher Levels of Consciousness faster than would normally be expected.

Below you will find a list of each of the Indices of Consciousness and a brief description of them. If you would like more information or resources on how to work with these indices please feel free to contact us for more information.  


Honesty is perhaps the most important, and at times the most painful, of the indices.  Honesty is the commitiment we have to see, accept, and speak the truth. When this trait is underdeveloped, dishonesty is seen as a legitimate means to achieve desired ends.  When it is fully developed we will strive to be honest with ourselves no matter how painful it might be, and we will be honest with all other people.


Equanimity is an equal-minded acceptance of all circumstances and the recognition of the intrinsic value of all things.  When this trait is underdeveloped, every event and circumstance will be judged as good or bad.  When functioning properly in this trait we are able to loosen our personal expectations of reality and accept circumstances and the behavior of others as they are without judging them by what we believe should or should not have happened. We tend to receive with equal-minded acceptance both easy circumstances as well as difficult ones. We are able to accept the things that we can not control and respond to both insult and flattery with even-mindedness.


Balance is the ability to pursue moderation while avoiding extremes;  It is the judicious harmonizing of opposites.  When this trait is underdeveloped, the person will pursue or be drawn into extremities of view, belief, or action.  This can manifest as overindulgence or addictive behavior.  When the trait is functioning effectively, the person will balance or blend traits of apparent polar opposites.  Many wisdom traditions hold that the path of individual growth is the process of balancing the masculine and feminine energies within each person  Justice and compassion, convention and innovation, strength and flexibility, and principle and pragmatism are just a few examples of the dualities that people constantly striving to balance and harmonize. 

Open Mindedness

Open-Mindedness is the ability to consider new and different ideas, perspectives and ways of thinking.  When this trait is underdeveloped, we feel annoyed or even threatened by any ideas, perspectives, or experiences that are new to us.  When this trait is functioning effectively, we experience no discomfort at exploring new ideas, concepts , and approaches.  Although we may not adopt them as our own, we will readily give them our due consideration. Moreover, we are comfortable with people holding belief systems that are different from our own, and we can easily accept that those things may hold validity and benefit for others, even if not for ourselves. 


Love is one of the most confusing words in the English langauge.  Love as one of the Indices of Consciousness is perhaps more clearly stated as “selfless love”.   It represents a free gift from the heart without expectation of anything in return. It is the ability to see and value all people’s needs and happiness as equally important to our own. When the trait is underdeveloped, we will exhibit  a total lack of concern for anyone’s welfare or needs other than our own. Whenever we give or make sacrifices for others, it is with the conscious or subconscious expectation that the favor will be returned. When this trait is functioning effectively, we will exhibit the same concern for others with the constraints of our limits and responsibilities–as we do for ourselves. 


Presentness is the ability to remain focused and centered in the here and now. When this trait is underdeveloped, we are constantly preoccupied with “living in” or “focusing on” the past or the future.  When this trait is functioning effectively, we will remain centered in and focused on the present making the most of what is in our here and now.

Mental Discipline

Mental Discipline is the ability to control one’s thoughts.  When not preoccupied with external stimuli, the mind has a tendency to race and wander. When this trait is underdeveloped, we will allow random, counterproductive and even destructive streams of thought to flow through or minds, and we are often unaware of many of them. When this trait is functioning effectively, we will be continuously aware of the thoughts that arise in our minds, and we will control our thinking.  Destructive thoughts are discontinued, and the mental energies are rerouted to constructive thoughts.  When this skill is well developed, we have the ability to stop our thoughts all together and rest in complete silence.


Egalitairanism ia the valuation of all peole as equal in worth irrespective of abilities, achievements, or failures.  When this trait is underdeveloped, we will constantly weigh one person against another.   When this trait is fully developed we  are able to appreciate difference in skills such as effort, intellect and talent but we do not use the differences to assign value instead we see all people as equally valuable living human beings.


Responsibility the willingness, ability and actuality of people’s accepting their role in the positive and negative consequences that flow from their actions and inaction.  When underdeveloped, we will try to blame less-than-optimal circumstances in which we are involved on other people, events…anything other than ourselves.  When this trait is functioning effectively, we will readily take on challenges and labors that are appropriate for us us to take. We will accept the blame and the obligation to effect repairs, improvements, or demands if we have contributed to less than ideal circumstances. Furthermore , we have no qualms about being held accountable for our actions and decisions.  


Nonjudgmentalism is the ability and practice of not making conclusions and judgments about people based on their thoughts, beliefs, motives, or actions.  When this trait is underdeveloped, we will readily adopt critical conclusions and opinions of other people. We will find fault in the thoughts, actions, and beliefs of others and will readily assume and assign ill motives to them.  When this trait is functioning effectively we decline to find fault in others and accept ignorance, mistakes, and less than perfect thinking, beliefs and actions as a normal and understandable part of human life that everyone struggles with. 


Courage is the ability to view fear and emotional pain as being helpful markers for where we have the greatest opportunity for growth and then actively pursue that growth.  When this trait is underdeveloped, we will go to great lengths to avoid difficult or uncomfortable circumstances.  we will forgo growth and personal improvement rather than face and deal with pain, emotional discomfort or our own personal weaknesses.  When this trait is functioning effectively, we will recognize fears, pains, and personal weaknesses that need to be dealt with to break their hold and detrimental impact on us.  We will readily and honestly own up to, face and deal with our fears, pains, and discomforts rather than avoid them.  


Flexibility is the ability to accept, change, and adapt to new or unexpected circumstances. When this trait is underdeveloped, we will find it difficult to cope with or accept things that differ from our habits or expectations.  When this trait is functioning effectively, we will be able to flow with whatever course circumstances may take, regardless of how much things may deviate from what we had expected.  We are accepting of and make the most of whatever comes.  We frequently exhibit and enjoy the benefits of innovative and creative approaches to circumstances and events and are open to recognizing and capitalizing on the opportunities they offer.


Assertiveness is the ability to overcome silence, passivity, and inertia and to speak and act in accordance with who one truly is–without going to the opposite extreme of being domineering. When this trait is underdeveloped, while interacting with other people, we will either timidly withdraw, suppressing our true self and desires, or we go to the opposite extreme of forcing personal agendas on others.  When this trait is functioning effectively we will be able in a balanced way, to fully but tactfully expressing our desires without putting others on the defensive or forcing our agenda on them. 


Communication is the ability to convey to others accurate pictures of what we are thinking or feeling and to obtain accurate understanding from others of what they are thinking or feeling.  When the trait is underdeveloped, we will have difficulty either listening to or actually understanding what another person is trying to express. We may also experience difficulty in successfully conveying our own thoughts or feelings. When this trait is functioning effectively, we will be adept at sending and receiving accurate information. This is not to say that miscommunication never occurs, but it happens much less frequently and when it does, we are skilled at recognizing and correcting the miscommunication that has taken place.


Faith is the ability to be confident that events and circumstances contain within themselves opportunities for the betterment of the individual. When this trait is underdeveloped, we live in constant anxiety about what is going to occur or not occur in our lives.  When functioning effectively, we are able to confidently trust that whatever comes to pass will have opportunities for our benefit, be able to recognize those opportunities, capitalize on them and be appreciative of them. 


Empathy is the ability to place oneself in another’s position and see and feel things from the other’s perspective.   When this trait is underdeveloped, we think of things only from our own point of view and how it impacts us.  When this trait is functioning effectively, we can easily and with a good degree of accuracy perceive the thoughts and feelings another person may be experiencing at a given time. Moreover, we respect the other person’s perspective and feelings and can often sense and feel any emotional pain the other person may be having.


Positiveness is the ability to view positive aspects of and possibilities within any given situation and to refrain from negative words, thoughts, and actions.  When this trait is underdeveloped, we will approach things with the assumption that there is something bad or negative in any situation, and we will dwell on that aspect.  We will constantly focus on how things could or should have been. When this trait is functioning effectively, we will seek out and find the positive aspects of things. 


Appreciation is the ability to find beauty and value in all things. When this trait is underdeveloped, we will exhibit a lack of gratitude for the things that are done for us, even in the greatest cases of charity.  We fail to see the inherent beauty and value that exists in things.   We fret over all the things that are not to our liking and exhibit indifference or even disrespect to the people and things in our life.  When this trait is functioning effectively, we will exhibit respect and gratitude toward everything within our experience. We constantly perceive the intrinsic value in all things and people. We do not take things or people for granted and we feel a sincere sense of gratitude for all that we receive and for the opportunity to experience all that we experience.  We can readily see the beauty and a sense of divinity everywhere we look.

Emotional Discipline

Emotional Discipline is the ability to delay or forgo gratification and to refrain from volatile emotions and mood swings. When this trait is underdeveloped, we will exhibit impulsive behavior and typically pursue immediate gratification. This can be int he form of satisfying a desire or avoiding discomfort. It is also difficult for us to follow rules, procedures or reason if our emotions pull us in a different direction. When this trait is functioning effectively, we will exhibit control over our emotions and desires and readily forgo immediate gratification or endure present discomfort if a greater benefit can b obtained by doing so. 


Objectivity is the ability to see things from different perspectives and take a position against oneself.  When this trait is underdeveloped, we will only see things as they appear from our own point of view.  WE are unable to “stand outside ourselves” and assess things from a neutral perspective.  In our minds, we are always right.  When this trait is functioning effectively we will be able to divorce our minds from all of our history and assumptions and see things with “fresh eyes.”  We will readily recognize and accept errors in our thinking or behavior and have no trouble apologizing when we are in the wrong.


Awareness is our ability to consciously recognize the emotions and thoughts that we experience, as we experience them.  When this trait is underdeveloped, we will frequently be driven by our subconscious, experiencing thoughts and feelings with no idea of what led to them. Being unaware of what brought these into being, we lack the ability to modify our thinking and reactions.  As a result, we remain trapped in negative ruts that cause us unhappiness and pain.  When this trait is functioning effectively we will be cognizant of our thoughts and feelings as they arise. Consequently, we are able to recognize and follow the chain of reactions that flow from the cause. As a result, we develop a recognition of the origin of our pain and unhappiness and are able to dismantle harmful patterns of thought freeing ourselves from pain and from counterproductive habits of thought and reaction.

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