Stage One: Ignorance
Ah, Ignorance. The stage we are all born into, the stage some of us die in. In this stage, one is not yet aware of anything outside our physical world. Everything in one’s intellectual spectrum is an Earthly creature or construct. One only thinks about matters directly concerning him or her, such as clothing choices, sports games, or GPA. The sky is the intellectual limit for someone in Stage One.
Stage Two: Intellectual Awakening
In Stage Two, one learns of the physical vastness of the Universe. One discovers that our enormous Earth- all of the never ending fields and rivers, all of the countries, the bottomless oceans- is but a fraction of the sun, that many other worlds just as big (and bigger) than Earth are also floating around with us in our solar system, that there are multiple solar systems in a galaxy, and that there are millions and millions of galaxies swirling around in the Universe. Not to mention the Multiverse. Although one now knows that the Earth is a tiny grain of sand in the Sahara desert of the Universe, one cannot begin to fathom the implications of such. One harbors a childlike wonder for concepts like space and the Universe. Like in Stage One, one is still concerned with matters directly affecting him or her, always within the constraints of Earth.
Stage Three: Unrest
Here, one intermittently begins to grapple with the implications of the intellectual discovery of Stage Two. Scattered existential thoughts pass through one’s mind, but are not yet explored deeply. Someone in Stage Three might look up at a massive building and think, wow, this enormous place is nothing compared to the size of the Universe, and then continue on their way. When experiencing stress over a desired grade, sports match, or career outcome, a Stage Three mind might spitefully think, this doesn't even matter, it’s nothing in terms of the Universe anyway, and then abandon the thought soon after for a safer topic. One still feels a childlike awe towards the Universe, but deeper feelings of cynical derision are beginning to stir in the subconscious. In Stage Three, one has begun to struggle with our significance in the Universe, but thoughts of this existential crisis are still only interspersed in Stage One thoughts.
Stage Four: Disillusionment
The transition to Stage Four is perhaps the most subtle of them all. The Stage Three mind begins to notice more and more existential thoughts popping up- each one taking on a slightly more cynical tone than the last- until it is Stage One thoughts being interspersed in Stage Three thoughts. One might find they harbor less interest for a favorite TV show, less passion for a favorite sport, less drive in a career, all while hearing one’s mind commenting, this does not mean anything whatsoever in the Universe. Soon, one finds he or she has inadvertently adopted a bitterly apathetic outlook on life. In this, one has entered Stage Four. This stage could be looked at as similar to depression, but less emotional, and on a larger scale of thought. One realizes that one still matters to other people, and that one’s actions still impact other people, and possibly even the whole world; but one also realizes that it is nonetheless utterly inconsequential to the Universe as a whole. A Stage Four mind knows that even if one could change the entire world, it would mean absolutely nothing; so why try? The Earth is but a floating pebble in an ocean of space, and we are nothing but thoughts of dust upon it. Someone in Stage Four becomes generally apathetic towards the surrounding world, bitterly knowing none of it has any significance. This stage, like the others, can last anywhere from a few months, to several years, to the rest of one's life. Even after one attains the mantra of Stage Five, one can slip back into Stage Four from time to time; just as one quietly shifts from Stage Three to Stage Four, one can also quietly slide back from Stage Five.
Stage Five: Spiritual Awakening
In Stage Five, one can finally make peace with one's place in the Universe- without slipping into apathy. This is the most difficult stage to write on, because it is different for every person; everyone finds their own path out of Stage Four, and thus each arrive at a slightly different realization in Stage Five. This “path” from Stage Four to Stage Five is perhaps the most important segment of all in the journey of coming to terms with one's place in the Universe. Finding this path is in fact so important that I cannot share my own out of fear of robbing someone else of finding their own. Nor can I share my realizations of this stage; for they have no meaning if one doesn't discover them oneself. However, I can speak in a few broad strokes; one in Stage Five can look up at the night sky and find peace, not unrest or bitterness, in its stretching enormity. One in Stage Five can happily and passionately pursue a grade, sport, or career while simultaneously knowing its utter insignificance in terms of the Universe. And finally, one in Stage Five can travel through life with a solid, contented core, because one has found his or her place in the Universe.