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Sunday, January 9, 2011

STAGES OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH


by M. Scott Peck, M.D.

Just as there are discernible stages in human physical and psychological growth, so there are stages in human spiritual development. These stages will be discussed here in general, for individuals are unique and do not always fit neatly into psychological or spiritual pigeonholes.
  
STAGE I:


Chaotic, Antisocial. Frequently pretenders; they pretend they are loving and pious, covering up their lack of principles. Although they may pretend to be loving (and think of themselves that way), their relationships with their fellow human beings are all essentially manipulative and self-serving. They really don't give a hoot about anyone else. I call the stage chaotic because these people are basically unprincipled. Being unprincipled, there is nothing that governs them except their own will. And since the will from moment to moment can go this way or that, there is a lack of integrity to their being. They often end up, therefore in jails or find themselves in another form of social difficulty. Some, however, may be quite disciplined in the services of expediency and their own ambition and so may rise in positions of considerable prestige and power, even to become presidents or influential preachers.


STAGE II:


Formal, Institutional, Fundamental. Beginning the work of submitting themselves to principle-the law, but they do not yet understand the spirit of the law, consequently they are legalistic, parochial, and dogmatic. They are threatened by anyone who thinks differently from them, as they have the "truth," and so regard it as their responsibility to convert or save the other 90 or 99 percent of humanity who are not "true believers." They are religious for clear cut answers, with the security of a big daddy God and organization, to escape their fear of living in the mystery of life, the mystery of uncertainty in the ever moving and expanding unknown. Instead they choose the formulations, the stagnation of prescribed methods and doctrines that spell out life and attempt to escape fear. Yet these theological reasonings simply cover over fear, hide fear and do not transcend it in spite of with acceptance in expanding movement. All those outside of Stage II are perceived to be as Stage I, as they do not understand Stage III and Stage IV. Those who do fall, reverting from Stage II to Stage I are called "backsliders."


There is a Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Benny Hinn, Pat Robertson, mentality (one-sided thinking - ignorance that produces hostility) in every religion, the one-sidedness, in every ideology. Christianity cannot be condemned as responsible for the fundamentalists who claim to represent such. One just has to look at Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King, Jr. to see the opposite of such thinking. You can find the Falwell in Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism, Mohammedism and of course Christianity. That is the narrow one-sided exclusiveness that limits insight to one set of rules and one objective truth, under the literal logic or rationialism, that fails to apprehend the unseen intuitive essence of existence and ignorantly labels outsiders as misled sinners, while surrounding themselves with interior neurotic and finite walls of security and certainty. All is safe in this illusion, but all is not just, nor fair, and does not transcend prejudice that surpasses tribal identity, an identity that must be scrapped in order to bring higher consciousness of planetary cultural peace and love based on principle with intuitive insight.


There is also a Bin Laden (evil intolerance) in every religious culture and teaching, in every social, political and cultural view. Islam cannot be condemned as responsible for the extreme fundamentalists who incorporate harm and war. One just has to look at the other side within Islam, to the Sufi of compassion and peace, that of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen or Hazrat Inayat Khan. Yet the evil of extreme fundamentalism resides in all facets of society, those who would kill and destroy, torture and humiliate, all in the name of their theological and ideological views. They are of course the extreme fundamentalists, yet all forms of fundamentalism, both moderate to extreme, Stage II mentality, fails integration with non-acceptance, that of one-dimensional perception. And yet, in each of these same cultures, although the minority, there exists communal and mystical persons, Stage IV persons, those transmitting inclusiveness and compassion, who transcend all divisiveness in oneness.


STAGE III:


Skeptic, Individual, questioner, including atheists, agnostics and those scientifically minded who demand a measurable, well researched and logical explanation. Although frequently "nonbelievers," people in Stage III are generally more spiritually developed than many content to remain in Stage II. Although individualistic, they are not the least bit antisocial. To the contrary, they are often deeply involved in and committed to social causes. They make up their own minds about things and are no more likely to believe everything they read in the papers than to believe it is necessary for someone to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and Savior (as opposed to Buddha or Mao or Socrates) in order to be saved. They make loving, intensely dedicated parents. As skeptics they are often scientists, and as such they are again highly submitted to principle. Indeed, what we call the scientific method is a collection of conventions and procedures that have been designed to combat our extraordinary capacity to deceive ourselves in the interest of submission to something higher than our own immediate emotional or intellectual comfort--namely truth. Advanced Stage III men and women are active truth seekers.


Despite being scientifically minded, in many cases even atheists, they are on a higher spiritual level than Stage II, being a required stage of growth to enter into Stage IV. The churches age old dilemma: how to bring people from Stage II to Stage IV, without allowing them to enter Stage III.


STAGE IV:


Mystic, communal. Out of love and commitment to the whole, using their ability to transcend their backgrounds, culture and limitations with all others, reaching toward the notion of world community and the possibility of either transcending culture or -- depending on which way you want to use the words -- belonging to a planetary culture. They are religious, not looking for clear cut, proto type answers, but desiring to enter into the mystery of uncertainty, living in the unknown. The Christian mystic, as with all other mystics, Sufi and Zen alike, through contemplation, meditation, reflection and prayer, see the Christ, Gods indwelling Spirit or the Buddha nature, in all people, including all the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews and so forth, recognizing the connectedness of all humanity with God, never separating oneself from others with doctrine and scripture, recognizing that all scripture acts as fallible pointers of inspiration, unable to capture the essence of truth outside of both human perception and the linguistic straight jacket of language and articulation, that is, the words of fallible men who experienced the nature of God, that of their inner true self, and attempted to record their experience in human words, words constrained by the era of time they were written in that became compromised the moment they were penned and are further removed from objectivity when interpreted by us, fallible men and women who read them.

It is as if the words of each had two different translations. In the Christian example: "Jesus is my savior," Stage II often translates this into a Jesus who is a kind of fairy godmother who will rescue us whenever we get in trouble as long as we remember to call upon his name. At Stage IV, "Jesus is my savior" is translated as "Jesus, through his life and death, taught the way, not through virgin births, cosmic ascensions, walking on water and blood sacrifice of reconciliation - man with an external daddy Warbucks that lives in the sky - mythological stories interpreted as literal accounts, but rather as one loving the whole, the outcasts, overcoming prejudices, incorporating inclusiveness and unconditional love, this, with the courage to be as oneself - that is what I must follow for my salvation." Two totally different meanings.

The Stage IV - the mystic - views the conception of "back sliding" as the movement away from the collective consciousness and true inner nature, returning to the separate self - the ego, as opposed to the Stage II - the fundamentalist, whose conception of "back sliding," is the movement away from mapped out security to that of chaos. Two totally different views.
This progression of spiritual development holds true in all cultures and for all religions. Indeed, one of the things that seems to characterized all the great religions--Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism--is their capacity to speak to people in both Stage II and Stage IV. In fact, I suspect this is why they are great religions. It is as if the words of each had two different translations. Let us take a Christian example. "Jesus is my savior." At Stage II this is often translated into a Jesus who is a kind of fairy godmother who will rescue me whenever I get in trouble as long as I remember to call upon his name. And that's true. He will do just that. At Stage IV, "Jesus is my savior" is translated as "Jesus, through his life and death, taught me the way I must follow for my salvation." Which is also true. Two totally different meanings, but both of them true.

We tend to be born Stage I creatures. If the home into which we are born is stable and secure, by mid childhood we have become law-abiding, rule-following people. If the home at all supports and encourages our uniqueness and independence, in adolescence we routinely question the laws, the rules, and the myths as budding skeptics. And if the natural forces of growth that lead us to question are not excessively resisted by threats of damnation from church or parents, after a while, in adulthood we slowly begin to understand the meaning and spirit that underlie the letter of the myth and the letter of the law. They may, however, be destructive forces in the home environment which causes people to become "fixated" in one stage or another.

The development of the individual through these spiritual or religious stages is that process to which we most properly give the name conversion. Conversions from Stage I to Stage II are usually sudden and dramatic conversions from Stage III to Stage IV are generally gradual.
The conversion from Stage I to Stage II is essentially a leap of socialization or enculturation. It is that point at which we first adopt the values of our tribal, cultural religion and begin to make them our own. Just as Stage II people tend to be threatened, however, by any questioning of their religious dogmas, so they are also "culture-bound"--utterly convinced that the way things are done in their culture is the right and only way. And just as people entering Stage III begin to question the religious doctrines with which they were raised, so they also begin to question all the cultural values of the society into which they were born. Finally, as they begin to reach for Stage IV, they also begin to reach toward the notion of world community and the possibility of either transcending culture or -- depending on which way you want to use the words -- belonging to a planetary culture.

Although a small minority, mystics of all religions the world over have demonstrated an amazing commonality, unity. Unique though they might be in their individual personhood, they have largely escaped free from -- transcended -- those human differences that are cultural. (Read the entire article here.)

1 comment:

pakehamack said...

Mae:

This is a brilliant BlogSpot! wish I had discovered it earlier. sounds like you and I have had a very similar "journey" toward God's heart.

I wish you were still posting... I'd be a regular 'follower' to be sure!

Namaste, Alan