I indicated in my last post that, for the present, I will focus on what I believe we need to move towards so as to have an effective world culture of maturity. To repeat what I wrote last time: “I believe that the single greatest need we currently have as a species is to become a culture predominantly of cooperation. Competition will still be a part of who we are, but not the major part. How we are to get there is not clear.”
What is a vision?
In the next few posts, I will be writing what I envision might happen, but they are only my musings, not something I am locked into. The way I think of a vision is that it is the scenery on the road as I move forward with my life. There is the immediate scenery of what is actually happening around me, and there is the distant scenery of where I am hopefully heading. But, depending on many factors (especially both what I want and what others want), the distant scenery will change ¾ it is only the direction, the journey, not a fixed end-point.
As I develop this theme, I invite you the reader to consider your thoughts about how we function as a society, and what would be a more effective society. I do not mean utopia, and I do not mean a society that gives lip service to maturing — but what would it really mean? How would such a society function?
What would be a mature society?
I’m going to break it down into six sections, with subsections:
What would such a society value?
How would governance function?
What would be the interactions between communities?
How would any given community function?
What would daily living conditions be like?
What are the major obstacles to such a culture?
So, to begin.
What would such a society value? And not just value as lip service; the values would be lived on a day-to-day basis. I’ll comment on each of these in the next post.
The care of children would be the highest priority.
A cultural story that honors the pursuit of and living of wisdom.
An educational system that provides deep support for life-long growth.
Practical skills that allow living with diversity and resolving conflict.
Governance based on planning for the “seventh generation.”
A judiciary system based on justice circles, not just legality.
In the first part of this post, I discussed religion; I suggest here that spirituality refers to something broader than religion, but includes religion. If we think of religion as expressed as one dimension (belief systems), spirituality has three dimensions: that of
value systems (faith development over time), and
transformative experience (mystical experience).
An individual’s religion varies from belief in God to a belief that God is a figment of imagination; his/her spirituality can vary anywhere within this three dimensional structure.
John Fowler, in Stages of Faith, suggested that human beings undergo a hierarchical staging of faith development, expressed largely as an evolving locus of authority and a value system. A locus of authority identifies to what aspect of life I give authority, outward to the rules of others (the Bible, the Koran, etc.), or inwards to my own searching for wisdom. Values are very different from beliefs; values express what I (or others) consider important (and are often hidden within beliefs).
Fowler suggested that, during their lives, people move from relative rigidity and a focus on external authority (fundamentalism), through conventionality and questioning, to an deep acceptance and compassion, eventually living their own truths with profound authenticity. At these latter stages, people live the rules, not just follow them. It is important to note here that the rules they live are the principles that would generally be considered wise and compassionate, and they often live them fiercely, and passionately. Examples for me include Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Pope Francis, and others; on the surface, many of these individuals are religious, but fundamentally I suggest they are deeply spiritual. The process is age-dependent, and only a small number of people proceed through all stages.
I am also reminded here of an adage: “Good judgment comes from experience, but experience comes from bad judgment;” the development of faith often requires much work. Part of this work is the work that occurs in therapy. A number of sources I know have noted that individuals in therapy often become less religious and more spiritual, less focused on beliefs and more focused on value systems.
The third aspect of spirituality is that some individuals have profound experiences that transform their lives. Examples range from the awe of sunrises to those of near-death experiences and other occurrences. I myself have had a number of experiences that have dramatically transformed my life.
For some individuals, the experiences have been so profound that the impact is strongly felt by those around them. The stories of Jesus, Mohamed, and Buddha express this clearly, and are the basic foundation of these religions. I would also suggest that these individuals are at the high end of Fowler’s scale of faith development, having had profound experiences, subsequently radically living their own authenticity.
Thus I consider spirituality as having three inter-related dimensions, all of which can be transformative, and give meaning and purpose to life:
belief systems (faith tradition or religion)
value systems of authenticity (faith development of values and locus of authority)
direct experience (mystery)
Personally, I have been deeply affected by each of these.
Furthermore I suggest that every human being has a spiritual life, some more enriching than others; every human being exists somewhere within these three dimension of beliefs, authenticity, and direct experience.
A science that does not incorporate spirituality is dehumanizing; a spirituality that does not include science is delusional.
I indicated in my last few posts that I would clarify what I mean by spiritual. When I was a therapist, many of my clients struggled with finding a sense of meaning or purpose in life; for some, it is a profound dilemma. In seeking resolution, I would often ask these clients if they were religious, or if they were spiritual. Most of the time the answer I would receive would be “I’m spiritual; I’m not religious.” If I then asked “What do you mean by spiritual,” the answer I received was somewhat vague. I want here to clarify what I personally mean, as I believe the distinctions are vital to understanding and contributing to a maturing world.
Before you read on, I invite you to consider a number of questions:
What do you believe regarding the nature of the universe and its relationship, if any, to a creative principle called God, Creator, or some other name?
What are the important principles that guide how you live your life? How do you decide if something is right or wrong?
When, if ever, have you had experiences of profound indescribable awe?
First, what is religion? My best understanding is that a religion is a faith tradition, i.e., a set of beliefs (often including values) that attempt to explain how we should function during our lives. At some time in the past, a compassionate and/or wise individual so impressed his or her group that an extended community developed around this individual, a community that endured long after the death of the original individual (this certainly happened with Jesus, Mohamed, and Buddha). Usually the originating individual had had some kind of mystical experience that was deeply transformative for this individual. The set of beliefs and traditions about the individual and/or his/her actions became part of the community, and over centuries as the community expanded, the process came to be known as a religion.
In religion, the beliefs generally range from God, at one end of a spectrum, to no God, at the other end. On the God end, there are many traditions (Catholic, Protestant, Islamic, etc.), whereas at the other end, the traditions are limited — there is agnostic (not knowing, still seeking) and atheist (no God). (Contrary to what most people think, I consider atheism to be a religion, albeit one in which the principle belief is that of no God.) Depending on tradition (and literal interpretation of tradition), the God character ranges from a being of central authority to that of a less well-defined searching by the individual. In Buddhism for the most part, there is no God, and the Buddhist path is principally a seeking of what does it mean to be human in a spiritual dimension.
Generally religions also present some kind of ethics, a set of beliefs about how one should act in the difficulties of living. Often the ethics are very appropriate, but they are usually tied to (perhaps lost within) the proscribed beliefs of the religion.
Religions have propagated over hundreds or thousands of years, and seem to be a fundamental need for human beings. I suggest that the mechanism by which they have propagated is that we humans:
search for meaning, and
do not like “not knowing;” we want certainty so as to be safe within our communities — if we know the rules, and follow them, our lives will be peaceful.
Religions, thus, are faith traditions, the beliefs and values that have arisen over time in association with significant past experience. Essentially, religions allow us to follow the rules and keep safe. One of the Indian saints, Vivekananda is noted as saying: “It is wonderful to have been born in a church; it is terrible to die there.” I believe he was referring to the distinction between religion and spirituality.
I do not wish to disparage religions, but I do note a number of problems. In particular, there have been two problems of the 20th and 21st centuries, likely as a response to the meaningless projected by scientific materialism and its associated consumerism:
many people have given up on religious systems, shifting either to some form of atheism or some form of non-religious spirituality (sometimes remaining within a church system, attempting to transform the system from within).
other people have become more rigid in defense of their belief systems, and thus we have seen a major rise in religious fundamentalism, both within Christianity and within Islam. Both groups have contributed in major ways to the turmoil of modern life.
Most important to me is that the emotional maturity — the spirituality— of people who claim to be religious can vary tremendously, from those who are convinced that they have the absolute truth about life (and often insist that others do not) to those who have deep compassion for the whole of humanity. Unfortunately most religious individuals become branded with the tar of the least mature. Such individuals sometimes use the title of religion as an excuse for reprehensible acts. In North America, most Muslims have been inappropriately labeled with this tar; in so doing, those who do the tarring demonstrate their own immaturity.
I was going to talk about spirituality but I thought it would be useful first to identify personal growth; I imagine you the reader have heard the term personal growth. What does it mean? For that matter, what do the terms therapy and counseling mean? What is their relation to spirituality?
What follows are my reflections. (I am not an advocate of definitions — they are too static; I have been too influenced by an Aramaic concept wherein the speaker and listener are both aware of the many connotations of words, and thus a much richer possibility of dialogue.)
Growth, in the context of this blog, refers to: Development from a lower or simpler to a higher or more complex form; evolution. Personal Growth refers to the complex act by which human beings challenge themselves to become more mature, usually both more wise and more playful; it can take many forms but often involves some form of counselling or therapy with a wiser mentor.
Consider the following. A baby (you, for example) comes into the world as a relative blank slate (with much background programming, but a vast amount to learn). The baby is then subject to a huge amount of living, some very caring and some painful (life happens; responses occur). The child copes and adapts: responding, copying, manipulating — developing deeply embedded responses of how to cope with a complex world (these are called the Adaptive Skills, patterns of who we are, not just what we know). Many of these responses of the baby are too painful to be kept conscious, so they are hidden behind a wall — these responses are the skills of adaptation.
Individuals who have successfully developed these skills are generally:
aware of themselves and their impact on others,
easy to talk with (both by those in authority and by those over whom they have authority),
emotionally available (able to both express and describe their emotional life),
cognitively available (able to give and receive feedback cleanly),
able to delay gratification, and
flexible to conflict
An impressive list — some individuals have been fortunate to grow up in families where these skills are easily learned. Most of us are not so lucky — but the skills can be learned at a later stage of life.
That is the role of personal growth and therapy. The two overlap, but they are different for me. Personal growth usually involves expansion of what I already know of myself, deepening who I am in many ways; it can be approached alone, without aid of another, but often involves good mentoring. Therapy acts on what is behind the wall — ideally it punches holes in the wall, allowing the individual to become wiser and more mature in who they are, and especially, therapy allows the development of the adaptive skill set. (The term counseling, for me, is a nebulous term that is supposed to act like therapy, but generally does not have the power of therapy.)
From my perspective, good therapy is experiential and inductive. Action, not just talking about, is required, and neither therapist nor client really knows the outcome, only that it is high risk (perhaps for both client and therapist), and fraught with pain — the wall is there for a purpose.
Finally, a number of my mentors have suggested the characteristics of a good therapist:
least important, they have a theoretical framework, a way of thinking and talking that allows them to discuss what has happened after they and the client have been in action.
they have practical experience of working with clients, and a support system that allows them to discuss what mis-takes have occurred.
they focus on their own personal growth, they themselves being the primary resource they bring to therapy (because therapy is a relationship, not a power trip).
This is a list I agree with — so if I am going to work with a therapist myself, I want to know they have done their own growth work. I want someone who helps me to be myself; I don’t want someone who tells me who I should be — I can read that in a book.
As for spirituality, the opening of the individual to all of who they are is the foundation of spirituality. A truism of therapy is that when an religious individual enters therapy , they usually leave less religious but more spiritual, and if they enter without religious status, they often leave more religious (and still more spiritual). Therapy promotes expansion of spirituality.
 Scherer, J. J. (1980). Job-related adaptive skills. Towards personal growth. In J. W. Pfeiffer & J. E. Jones (Eds.), The 1980 annual handbook for group facilitators. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer. I am thankful for John’s assistance in my PhD research.
Question: “How do I interrupt my pattern of saying “Be careful” to my son all the time? I am aware I’m saying it an awful lot” (Part 3 of 3).
My final suggestion augments choice by increasing awareness; it is a suggestion that can be applied to any life pattern where the individual wants to change the pattern. I will describe the process as if I was talking to a client.
First, get a small notebook, one that you can be easily carried in a pocket. Carry a pen also. (It would be possible to use a Note app on a cell phone for this activity, but my belief is that a physical notepad and pen are more effective.)
Make a commitment to yourself that every time you do the activity you wish to change, you will take the notepad out of your pocket, and put a checkmark (√) on a page of the notepad. At the end of the day, you might have 20 checkmarks on the page. After you have done this activity for a few days, change the activity to that of making the checkmark before you do the behaviour, and then carry on with the behaviour if you so wish. (It sometimes helps initially to practice this activity with an activity that does not carry anxiety — for example, you could monitor the desire to go to the bathroom as rehearsal.)
Each day, when you are comfortable with making the checkmarks, choose one example of when you have done the activity to be changed. For that example, answer the following questions, with a few words only (KIS: Keep it simple): 1) name the behaviour, 2) what happened first (the first anything that lead you into the behaviour, 3) what happened next, 4) what happened next, 5) how did it end, 6) how did you feel at the end (probably after you said “Be careful”), 7) where in your body was the feeling (what sensation), 8) how was the feeling familiar (from earlier years or your own childhood), 9) when in your life did this particular feeling start, and 10) what feeling immediately preceded this feeling that you felt at the end, especially where in your body was this preceding feeling. (It may help to write these questions out in chart form, with blanks to be filled in each day.)
All of this is training in awareness, becoming familiar with the issues hidden within the behaviour to be changed. If the answers are fairly simple, this may be all you need to do. The recognition of the pattern, simply the requirement to make the checkmark, may interrupt the pattern enough for you to have choice, and do something different with your anxiety.
If not, deepen the process by now making checkmarks whenever you note the preceding feeling that occurred before the final feeling (see question #10 above). Carry on the same exploration with this sensation. If the behaviour is resolved, great; if not, continue to deepen the process, until you arrive at the very earliest suggestion within your body of the beginning of this pattern.
If still not resolved, there is almost certainly some early childhood learning to this behaviour (that you wish to change), something deeply engrained. It may be that the simple awareness gained from questions #8 (how familiar) and #9 (when started) will be helpful in resolution. Can you be playful with what you have learned? Or it may be that you need to work with a therapist to deepen further the resolution.
Question: “How do I interrupt my pattern of saying “Be careful” to my son all the time? I am aware I’m saying it an awful lot” (Part 2 of 3).
So, is “Be careful” appropriate? Yes, with limitations. the child needs to know that an action has potential consequences, many of which may be painful. Especially the child needs to know if the action is dangerous. However, at some point, the child/teen needs to assume full accountability for risking dangerous actions, especially when the actions are legal. My cut-off here is age 16, but I would not quibble about age 18 or a bit older. From about 12 to 16, the child needs to gradually learn full accountability, and hence my stance is negotiated decision-making between parent and child. For example, negotiated overnight parties or return time for evening parties, but no drugs (alcohol or other) or unsupervised parties.
Between 2 and 12, I follow Phelan’s advice: one age-appropriate explanation in any three month period. Children are not stupid; they understand instructions, but learn best from experiences. If the action of the child is truly unsafe, I stop it. If the major issue is my own anxiety, I deal with my own anxiety, and seek to minimize displacing my anxiety onto the child. I also attempt to teach the child options for better choices. For example, suppose the child is climbing an unstable chair repeatedly. The first few times I would assist the child, while talking about difficulties that might occur. Sooner or later, I would simply allow the child to explore. If the child falls, I would likely ask: “Wow. How did that happen? What could you do differently next time?” (meanwhile allowing the child the experience of a painful outcome in safety). Below age 2, my responses in this example would be similar, but with more attention to safety, e.g., putting pillows around so as to minimize the dangers of falling.
But the bottom line here is that eventually the statement “Be careful” becomes an expression of the anxiety of the parent, and also becomes reinforcement of undesirable behaviour by the giving of negative attention. The child needs to learn the consequences of choice.
As for the wish to change a behavioural pattern (“How do I interrupt my pattern . . .”), this too must be mediated within the issues of safety, energy, and choice, in bottom-up fashion. Any pattern is maintained for a positive intention, usually at the other-than-conscious (OOC) level. Knowing this positive intention is very useful, in that it may provide guidance as to what other behaviour(s) would be useful instead of the current pattern. Moving towards something positive is more effective than moving away from something negative. I would ask this parent: “What is the positive intention here?” and “What else could you do instead so as to maintain this positive intention?”
There also needs to be the recognition, and acceptance, that sometimes the ‘pattern to be changed’ is appropriate. There will truly be times when it is appropriate to tell the child “Be careful,” especially when the learning situation is new or the dangers are very real, and as yet unexplored.
Is there a way that the pattern can be made fun (positive energy)? Years ago, when someone came to the door of my house, I had a dog that barked fiercely, simply part of her particular breed. But the noise was very irritating to me. Many times I attempted to teach the dog not to bark, unsuccessfully of course. Eventually I decided to play. When the dog started to bark, I would say (fiercely): “Kill. Kill. Kill,” knowing full well that I was being playful. It helped me immensely, and allowed me to relax while the dog barked. Then someone pointed out that the individual at the door might not understand my playfulness! So, thereafter I would say: “Chocolate. Chocolate. Chocolate.” It was just as effective for me, and the dog certainly did not care. So again I would ask this parent: “How could you play with your own energy so as to minimize the impact of your anxiety on the child?”
Question: “How do I interrupt my pattern of saying “Be careful” to my son all the time? I am aware I’m saying it an awful lot.” As usual, I suspect that my answer will be useful to many, so I’m addressing it as part of my general postings. Again, I am splitting my answer over several days (3 parts_.
The general principles of what I am going to discuss are:
Understand the emotional basis of the difficulty.
Understand how you yourself function at the emotional level.
Manage the difficulty. If at all possible, be playful with yourself.
First of all, I suspect that there are actually two questions here, one obvious and the other unstated (and subtly phrased as a should — “I’m saying it an awful lot,” a criticism of self). So what follows are my reflections on these questions. (Please note that I never have an intention to tell people what they should do — it is not effective.)
To discuss the possibility of human beings changing patterns, either of themselves or others, in any fashion requires a brief digression to understand the nature of the triune brain. The brain (mind) is organize in three levels: the brain stem, orientated to safety; the limbic system, orientated to energetic experience (energy); and the cerebral cortex, orientated to choice. It is a bottom-up processor — safety takes precedence over energy, which takes precedence over choice. As example, think of what happens with New Year’s Eve resolutions — generally they do not work, because the individual tries to make him- or herself do certain behaviours (stop smoking, etc.) that usually they do not really want to do (top-down imposition from the internal critic). If you really want to stop a behaviour, decide what you want to do instead (choice), and make the process fun (energy) while being safe (safety).
That said, child discipline is not discipline of the child — it is discipline of the parent so as to provide an optimal environment for the growth of the child. All human beings, especially children, need these three qualities in life: safety, energy, and choice. The manner in which they gain these qualities is age-dependent. Up until approximately late teenage years, it is the job of the parent to provide age-dependent safety — prior to age 2, I suggest this is an absolute requirement. After age 2, there is a conflict that parents well know, beginning with what is called “the terrible two’s.” It is a conflict because the child wants energetic experience (energy), and is not yet safe as to making healthy choices — and needs also to learn the consequences of making choices.
The job of parents is to provide:
age-dependent safety always (negotiable with older teens),
the learning of age-dependent choice after approximately age 2, and
negotiable energetic experience up to approximately age 16 – 18.
— with full release of the child somewhere after age 16 so that the child may become an interdependent human being, in relationship with life.
Without going into a lot of detail, there are two systems of “child discipline” that I advocate. First is the work of Tom Phelan called 1-2-3-Magic. Phelan’s work attempts to manage the energy of the child, providing positive experience as reward for healthy choices, and no experience for negative experience. Here it is important to remember what I call the Laws of Experience: 1) we want positive experience, 2) it is easier to get negative, and 3) negative is better than none. Phelan recognizes that negative experience, in this case too much explanation and/or criticism, acts as a reward for the undesired behaviour to continue. (In my opinion, Phelan’s video is more effective than his book.)
The second system, that of Barbara Colorosa’s Winning At Parenting, seeks to manage choice. Colorosa is a master of providing options for the child so as to have age-appropriate choice. For example, it is bed-time, and you want the child in pyjamas. You say to the child: “We’re going to bed. Do you want to wear your blue pyjamas or your red ones?” (Note: no option of no pyjamas, or fighting about pyjamas, or not going to bed. And in order to process the pyjama choice, the child has to accept the first statement of going to bed.) Then, if the kid wants blue top with red bottom, that is fine — age-appropriate choice.
To be continued.
Colorosa, B. (1989). Winning At Parenting…Without Beating Your Kids. Littleton, CO: Pannonia International Film.
Phelan, T. W. (1996). 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 (Videotape and Booklet) Glen Ellyn, IL: Child Management.
A couple of people have asked me to comment on the fact that they do not know how to talk about issues such as their own personal growth and/or the nature of spirituality. When they do, when they talk about how important these issues are to them, and how much they personally have been changed in these issues, other people either look away, move away, or are derisive of them in some fashion.
Not surprising! When I was young, the topics to avoid were politics and sex. But in the complexity of our modern world, the new topics to avoid seem to be personal growth and spirituality (while talking about sex or politics is common, although usually superficial).
But why? I suggest it is because others are threatened — they are somehow aware that something important is missing in their lives, but they don’t want to know it. Otherwise, they would want to do something about it, and they don’t know what to do! They will be confronted with an option glut of possibilities, most of which are likely superficial or false in their claims.
So, this post is about my thoughts on what to do so that you can talk about these issues. Please note that I do not have complete answers, but I have given the topic a lot of thought as to how I respond here. I also suggest that personal growth and spirituality are essentially cognates of the same thing, and thus I will link them in this post. As an example of this, the major definition of love that I use comes from Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled (1978-2003): the will to extend oneself for spiritual growth — spirit and growth linked.
What follows is rather heady, so translate it into your own language.
First, and more important, don’t talk — demonstrate that in some profound way you have changed. Actions speak louder than words.
Second, and almost as important, proceed slowly — this is dangerous ground. You are challenging scientific materialism, the dominant ontology of the Western world, and if fact, for most people, the only paradigm of which they are aware. Scientific materialism operates from the two assumptions that 1) only the material world exists, and 2) only science can provide truth about the world (the world, not just the material world). And you are entering into areas that take years of study to do justice to them.
Scientism is the assumption that the only valid manner of seeking truth is by the scientific method. Personal growth and spirituality both challenge this latter assumption — the truths gained are not subject to analysis; even if they were, the objectification obscures the fact of how important these processes are to the individual.
So, how to challenge. I would start by one-on-one conversations (group conversations are subject to the participants being scorned by the most vociferous dissenter of the group, usually the individual who is most self-righteous and most trapped in scientific materialism). When you find an opportunity to talk about the importance of these issues to yourself, do so in simple language, perhaps a comment like “That does not make sense to me.” When they present the usual “science” or “neuroscience,” ask a question: “Are you aware that what you are saying is only an assumption?” You will probably get a blank look, in that they have never given it any thought, we are so trapped in scientific materialism. But at least, you can introduce the possibility that scientific materialism is not the only worldview. (See my book Acedia, The Darkness Within, pp. 85-94, if you want a more complete discussion of the philosophy of consciousness.)
Specifically with spirituality, you can point out that, from the 14th century onwards, science simply offered more accurate answers of the material world, but it did not prove that the older models of spirit were wrong, just simply not as accurate in this domain of matter-energy. The way I usually put it is that, “in the Christian Bible, Paul talks about powers and principalities beyond our knowing. Science did not prove this false; it merely passed out of fashion because the scientific method was very successful in explaining the world.” (I’m being very careful with my words there.) Then drop the subject; only continue if the listener asks for more.
Specifically with personal growth, you can point out how difficult it is to talk about the subject, that very few areas in life teach the skills of wisdom, and that even though you yourself are just on the beginning of glimpsing how to make wiser choices, your life is still changing for the better. Again, then drop the subject; only continue if the listener asks for more.
Proceed cautiously from there. I suggest you think of three scenarios, and imagine the conversations pertaining to each. Keep them simple. Keep them such that you leave the listener in doubt, questioning the basis of what they believe. At a later time, re-start the conversation, e.g., “I was thinking about our earlier conversation.” Then add another simple piece, like “It seems to me that there is a way of thinking about …”