Richard Rohr: Information, Knowledge, Wisdom

In June last year, at a conference in York, Richard Rohr (Franciscan priest) presented what was for me a new twist on the abiding themes of his work on combining the contemplative stance in Christian spirituality, with social action for peace and justice.

It was electrifying for me to sit there as a researcher in e-learning, sensemaking, knowledge management and dialogue/argumentation, and hear him over 3 days consider some of the implications of what he referred to “stages of consciousness” presented in the familiar (in my field) language of information, knowledge and wisdom (though most researchers are a little more circumspect about throwing the latter term around, because we’ve lost language in that department — which is part of the missing piece that Rohr helps plug I think). When someone forges links between passions in your life that you’ve struggled to join up, it’s a positive high.

Now, while “stages of consciousness” kind of language may put you off (and granted, you don’t often get that kind of talk in knowledge media…) don’t fret. I’m convinced there is material here that connects to the heart of what we’re trying to do in designing social, intellectual digital media that helps us integrate heart and head, moving from fragmentation to identity, chaos to meaning, and longing to belonging. Having pondered last June off and on for over a year now, my mission over the coming months is to try and unpack this single sheet of paper that’s been sitting on my doc reader by my LCD, as I see strands flowing into this from other work (see the previous, and other recent posts).

So, let’s see what Rohr says…

Stages of Consciousness

Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

(handout distributed in York, UK, “On the Edge” conference, 1-3 June 2007)


Where you have to start, but where most people stay. The gathering of data, facts, formulas, and information, yet always searching for the more correct information. Knowing parts and names for things. All you need are some good resources and a good memory, and some ability with detail. Technician stage. “My information is better than your information”, keeps you at a level of power struggle passing for intelligence.


When you begin to see patterns, and connect the bits of information into at least small wholes. The little engineer or scientist who can put things together at some level. Much needed, and many at least advance to this level.


When you begin to see much bigger patterns and make bigger connections. A synthesizer or great scientist, who begins to work outside of the usual box. Often these are mistrusted or laughed at initially like Eistein, Bill Gates, or what appears to be the naivete of young saints and mystics. One can still be ego based and dualistic at this stage, however, and does not imply any integration with heart, ethics, God, or the transpersonal universe of meaning. NORMALLY EMPHASIZING FORMS TOO MUCH BECAUSE ONE HAS NOT YET EXPERIENCED THE FORMLESS. One is still “measuring” reality more than “meeting” it on its own terms. Both Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas, however, differentiate between two different kinds of intelligence. This is the crossover point.


One begins to MEET reality instead of just measuring it. An initial feel for the whole, which requires at least one moment of unitive consciousness/authentic God experience. Non dual thinking begins, but still feared and mistrusted because it is outside of the box you have operated in up to now, and usually there are very few people who can guide you or tell you that you are not crazy. Head and heart are just starting to work together.


One begins to connect the smaller wholes into The Whole, a fully integral worldview. I begin to be part of the entire “great chain of being”, visible and invisible, inner and outer, form and formlessness, matter and spirit, which are seen as one. I begin to know things by connaturality, kinship, or affinity (contemplation) instead of merely mental analysis. Mini mysticism, where I begin to meet reality on its own terms, without a need to categorize it, control it, explain it, or even understand it. “It is what it is”.


Your mind is now your servant instead of your master. ALL PREVIOUS STAGES ARE INCLUDED, USED, AND HONOURED, but you transcend them all to non dual thinking as such. No need to divide the field for the sake of being right, being in control, or being perfect. All is allowed to teach you. Patient with paradox, mystery, and seeming contradictions. The contemplative stance as such.


Your consciousness actually takes on a new form, which if practiced, becomes your entire life program. The saint or enlightened one. Habitual non dual seeing.

Lots here I’ve yet to fathom. But already, so many resonances with the concerns of meaningful learning and sensemaking, with scaffolding authentic enquiry, fostering healthy work and social relationships, moving beyond stances to bolster one’s own security and power base, and engage in true dialogue. I’ll unpack some of my many scribbles on this page as I have time…

One Response to “Richard Rohr: Information, Knowledge, Wisdom”

  1. […] given by Richard Rohr distributed in York, UK, “On the Edge” conference, 1-3 June 2007), posted HERE on the web. […]

Leave a Reply

You can use these XHTML tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>