From the Integral Spiritual Experience 2:


From the Program Manual of the Integral Spiritual Experience 2:

In our discussion of the evolution of love, we’ll work with a model of development that we are calling the Three Stations of Love. We have evolved this model from several of the great traditions. Parallels are found in the work of Robert Kegan, Jane Loevinger, and other constructive developmental theorists. These stations are among the Integral windows into human development, augmenting the classic Integral models of state-stages and structure-stages.

States, Structures, and Stations

Click here to go to the Integral Theory PortalIntegral Theory BannerIn Integral theory, states refer to experiences of awareness, including waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and meditative experiences that may be powerful and transformative, but are not permanent or stable. If these states are intentionally cultivated through contemplative practice, they may become state-stages, yielding stable access to the phenomena disclosed in states beyond the waking realm. By structure-stages of consciousness, we refer to stable levels of development or deep patterns of consciousness that appear within an individual, and which mark the achievement of a new level of stable consciousness.

An example of development through structure-stages is the evolution from egocentric consciousness (concerned with the good of one’s self alone), to ethnocentric consciousness (concerned with the good of one’s family, tribe, or nation) to world centric consciousness, (concerned with the good of all). In this example, at every ascending level of consciousness there is an expanded sense of both awareness and identity. Another example of development through structure-stages can be found in developmental lines such as the values line, described best by Spiral Dynamics, which is based on the research and teaching of developmental theorist Clare Graves.

The Three Stations that we will be working with in this year’s ISE express how consciousness evolves through the transitions that distinguish every structure- and state-stage. This evolution is recognized in the traditions, specifically in Sufism and Kabbalah, and is a key dimension of developmental theory. These Three Stations also describe the way that both love and consciousness evolve for every growing individual through the significant situations and relationships of their lives.

The Three Stations of Love unfold within every structure-stage, and are the very mechanism by which individuals move from lower to higher structure-stages of consciousness.(1)

Vehicles for Evolving Consciousness

Before we go further in our explanation of the Three Stations, we need to note that evolution to higher structure-stages, state-stages, and stations of consciousness usually take place in two major ways.

One vehicle for the evolution of consciousness within the individual is formal spiritual or personal growth practice, which includes the intention to wake up and grow up, and methods for moving into expanded awareness and identification such as meditation, chant, self-inquiry, relationships with spiritual teachers, ritual, study of texts, shadow work, perspective-taking, and embodiment practices.

The second—and for many people, the most significant —vehicle for evolving consciousness is life as practice. Life itself—with its agony and ecstasy, its periods of stasis, boredom, and confusion, and its rich textures of love, joy, loss, and pain, offers a profound process of deepening within the individual that evolves both states and structures of consciousness. For example, an experience of either powerful love or powerful loss might affect a significant evolution in your structure-stage by influencing your movement through stations of consciousness. Deep work in some creative endeavor, facing and completing a difficult obligation, a significant success or failure, contact with a different culture—these are all ways in which life experience can shift your station, thereby helping to effectuate a shift in your state- or structurestage.

Life, in short, is one of our most powerful teachers. The evolution through the stations of love usually takes place within the context of life as practice.

The Three Stations: Submission, Separation, and Sweetness

Stars-And-Nebula-Gas-by-Victor-HabbickTo unpack the notion of stations of consciousness as they relate to the evolution of love, we’ll use a formulation taken from the tradition of Kabbalah.

The Baal Shem Tov—the great Hebrew mystic who founded the Hasidic movement—in a number of elliptical passages discusses three distinct points that occur in a person’s movement through the different dimensions of life. He refers to them as hachna’ah or submission, havdalah or separation, and hamtaka or sweetness. Each of these three stations refers to a distinct developmental experience, which we move through in the course of life as practice.

The stations, which the Baal Shem calls submission, separation, and sweetness roughly correspond to a movement that developmentalists might refer to as identification (which, at ethnocentric waves of development, might be with a family, partner, or group), to dis-identification (defining the self as separate and distinct from your family, partner, or group) to integration (re-entering the family, partnership, or group at a new level of awareness).

It is also similar, but not to be confused with, the process of moving from the pre-personal levels (structure-stages) of life, where we experience ourselves for a time as merged in a family or couple or group, and in which we act instinctually and unconsciously, to the personal levels, where we make choices based on distinct personal ethical and aesthetic values, and finally to the transpersonal levels, where we may again feel merged in a whole, but from a perspective of fully integrated individuation. (2)

These three stations are repeated time and again within every structure and state-stage of consciousness. They are also virtually always the mechanism for evolving from one structure-stage of consciousness to another.

The application of these distinct stations is relevant in virtually every sphere of human life. Under the right conditions, the human being is always able to evolve to higher and higher levels of freedom and fullness. This development takes place through ascending to higher and higher levels or structure-stages of consciousness, as well as through the microevolution of consciousness that takes place within each structure-stage.

This evolution—both within and to new levels of consciousness—always takes place through the pattern of these three stations—they are literally the phases of every developmental transition. Each station transcends and includes the previous station. Station one and station three can appear—to the untrained eye of the outside observer—to be fairly similar in form and structure. However, when experienced from within, it becomes apparent that stations one and three are entirely different in feeling-tone and inner consciousness, with only apparent external similarity. Station three includes both the identification of station one and the dis-identification of station two so that consciousness is, through integration, more flexible and free in its identifications.

When we apply this core model from the great traditions to love, what emerges is what we have termed the Three Stations of Love.

Three Stations of Love

Time For Love by Stuart MilesLove evolves through these three distinct stations— submission, separation, and sweetness, or identification, dis-identification, and integration. Each developmental station is characterized by different feeling states, different developmental outcomes, and different imperatives for behavior. Learning to recognize at which station you are located is helpful to loving fully. The Three Stations of Love are always refracted through the prism of the structure-stages. Therefore, your experience of each of the three stations will vary according to the particular structure-stage or the ‘altitude’ you occupy.

Station One: Submission/ Identification

At this level, you are subject to everything that you understand yourself to be identified with. If you are at an amber level of consciousness, for example, this could be your family or community, at a magenta level, your tribe. Your identity is established through its absorption in a larger framework of experience, affiliation, or meaning. You are constantly submitting to the larger system, the family, or group, trying to please the group or family members, maintaining group norms, and participating in shared values. In terms of your belief or faith, you “submit” to, or are embedded in a certainty. Your identity organizes through fusion with the group. You may subordinate yourself to a larger current or force moving through you. And again, at some levels, this might mean you become a true believer in your partner, tribe, or sub-culture, in Buddhism, Integral Theory, progressive or conservative politics, etc.

How it Applies to Love:

Station One: Falling in Love

Your sense of personal individuation is submerged in the joy of connectedness; at certain levels, you might be willing to do anything to be with or to please your partner or group. You might fall in love with a romantic other, with a teacher or teachings, with a community or group of friends, with a culture, with a new skill or activity, with a philosophy or description of reality. This station is blissful, exciting, and dynamic, and often comes with a sense of having at last found the meaning of your life. The heart is open, and there is often a sense of having been touched by and infused with spirit. There is usually a feeling that your well-being is fused with the relationship with your partner or group. You may even feel that the connection is what brings your life or keeps you alive.

Station Two: Separation/ Individuation

In this station, you find yourself moving out of the state of embeddedness or fusion with your current identity as part of the relationship or group. There may be a feeling of separation, of loss, sometimes of loneliness, or longing for the lost feeling of togetherness, union, and harmony. At the same time, there is persistent conflict with the former togetherness, and there may also be resistance to the changes that are underfoot. By shifting identification, you may begin to have an experience of newfound independence or freedom. This creates a sense of well-being and stability, which lives in paradoxical tension with a sense of alienation and disconnection from larger frameworks and patterns that connect.

An imperative at this station of development, at whatever developmental level you happen to be, might be to find an individuated or differentiated identity and learn to stand on your own. A classic developmental separation often occurs between a mentor and protégé, and it is this process that allows the next generation of work to occur. Successful development through this phase in friendships or intimate relations might include learning how to communicate clearly, how to disagree non-violently, how to leave a relationship without anxiety or demonization, or how to soothe yourself in moments of anxiety. At this station, you are challenged to find the reliability of your own new identity after you have successfully disambiguated the earlier fusion.

How it Applies to Love:

Station Two: Falling out of Love

The initial flush of love and mutual identification is replaced with a sense of conflicting and even competing agendas. Commonality and agreement recede and differences become predominant. The perception of being misunderstood, miss-recognized and or taken advantage of may arise. There is a great pain in the loss of apparent harmony and bliss, which characterized the First Station of Falling in Love. Sometimes the experience of separation is accompanied by a judgment that it shouldn’t be happening or that someone must be doing something wrong. We can also feel anger and grief in response to the changes taking place. It is easy to become caught in a cycle of mutual blame when the status quo in a valued relationship begins to shift.

At this station, relationships will endure and learn to adapt to these changes, or, depending on the structure of the relationship, will break up because the conflict is irresolvable. For example, in a lover relationship, one partner may look for a new lover in order to return to the undifferentiated fusion of the lost romantic bliss. For development to take place in a context of commitment, there will be a need to stay in Station Two with your partner, colleagues, or group so that you can develop through the station and move onto Station Three. A commitment to doing the work wells up from the realization that the relationship is bigger than any of the two or more people involved. In spiritual terms we might say that the relationship is sacred and worthy of the work of differentiation and integration. A couple or partnership that consciously chooses to support the growth of each person will certainly include these challenges. Trying to return to the original bliss without doing the work never works.

Other developmental trajectories require significant separation so that the experience of individuation or autonomy can take deep root. As Ram Dass has said, “The challenge is to do what you do with people, but never put them out of your heart.” This holding open of the heart space means that integration is always available at a later point in time. You may be divorced for fifteen years, and finally find the experience of mutual acceptance. Or you may find that your own heart becomes open and free in spite of an ex-partner’s inability to forgive. The main point is that differentiation is also an expression of love, and our understanding of this truth allows for deeper developmental growth and more profound loving.

Station Three: Sweetness/Re-Integration

Hinickle-FutureOfLoveAt this station, you begin to reestablish yourself as part of a larger identification with the next higher structure or stage, while maintaining your capacity to function as an individual who can now take as object all earlier capacities. You integrate your experience of the previous stations. Having worked out the conflicts, and having learned to respect one another’s genuine differences, you re-discover each other as lovers and partners. You once again become a part/whole, including all the previous structures you’ve navigated and experiencing the belonging of union and the freedom of differentiation. A profound experience of acceptance and forgiveness characterizes this station.

This can be a fully loving and free functioning station, even though that may looks different at different levels. Having fully individuated, you are able to meet your partner in true mutual intimacy, without losing your sense of self in the merging. Mutuality is an evolutionary advance beyond mere reciprocity.

In Kabbalah, “sweetness” refers to Station Three in its highest expression as a state-stage of nondual realization, in which you live as part of the largest context of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, which is the seamless coat of the universe in which you are a unique stitch. In a partnership, it can refer to living in an experience of unconditional love, which includes both the commonalities and differences of our deepest nature as parts and wholes of the universe.

How it Applies to Love:

Station Three: Falling In Love Again

At Station Three, you “fall in love” again, but this time from a higher place of awakening and consciousness. You evolve from Station One fusion to Station Three union. Your identity is once again merged with the larger context of the person, the couple, or group, but from a truly integrated perspective. At this station, you trance-end the fixation of autonomy, which is a primary achievement of Station Two, even as you include autonomy as part of your identity in the higher free functioning union of Station Three.

As you engage with the Three Stations of Love during our time together, it is our delighted intention and hope that new portals open for you into fuller loving. May this new framework support you in consciously evolving your relationships, for the benefit of all. We look forward to being with you in community throughout the year. Many blessings, and huge love, for your future of love.

Written by Dr. Marc Gafni with Ken Wilber, Diane Musho Hamilton, Sally Kempton, and Clint Fuhs



1 Here we make an essential distinction between micro and macro development. One can be at a personal structure-stage of consciousness–let’s say the orange altitude, and yet still go through the three stations of love–within that structure-stage. In that context the person will move from pre- personal submission–as a micro moment– to personal individuation–to transpersonal integration, however the nature of the three stations will appear differently at every level of consciousness. For example, submission at the amber level of consciousness– mythic membership–will look very different than submission at the second-tier altitudes, however the station of submission shows up in both places.

2 The Great Traditions had a good sense of these stations of love. What they did not have was a clear sense of the structure-stages of consciousness. The structure-stages, which are a linchpin of Integral theory, map the vertical movement of consciousness to progressively higher or deeper levels of consciousness. The Great Traditions, for the most part, spoke from within their particular structurestage of consciousness, and were largely unaware that they were doing so. For example, a Christian writing from within an orange level of consciousness (the level of the Western Enlightenment– with its values of rationality and humanism) will understand Jesus very differently than a writer at an amber level (the level of ‘mythic membership’ in a community of believers belonging to a particular secular or religious community) of consciousness. As Ken Wilber has pointed out numerous times, the existence of these different structure-stages means that instead of having one version of the Christian teachings as a metaphysical given, we actually have red, amber, orange, green, and second-tier versions of Christianity and of Jesus. The experience of Jesus, the way the Jesus story is told, and the teachings that emerge from the Jesus narrative, are always reflected through the structure-stage of the individual and culture telling the story and giving the teaching.

This is the why the notion of the “conveyor belt” is so essential in Integral Theory. The conveyor belt suggests that a key method to shift consciousness is to help foster the development of religious conceptions to higher and higher structure-stages of consciousness. In this process, the core lineage teaching of the Great Traditions are retained and even reverentially honored. At the same time, those teachings are naturally evolved as they are refracted through the prisms of higher and deeper structure-stages of consciousness.

The same is true of the Three Stations of Love. A key Integral move is to integrate the understanding of the Three Stations–as described by the Great Traditions and within developmental theory–as a part of vertical development to higher and higher structures-stages of consciousness. This allows you to recognize that while each person goes through the Three Stations as a part of development and in their experience of love, the nature and expression of each Station is different at every structure-stage of consciousness.


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