by Rev. Carolyne Mathlin
Reality Lies in the Eternal
The impermanent has no reality;
reality lies in the eternal.
Those who have seen the
boundary between these two have
attained the end of all knowledge.
Realize that which pervades
the universe, and is indestructible;
no power can affect this
unchanging, imperishable reality.
The body is mortal,
but He who dwells in the body is
immortal and immeasurable
I have been trained all my life in a variety of settings, including spiritual ones, to go for the top. To shoot for the highest mark, even in stage development. If there was a second tier, that’s where I needed to be. If there was a third tier, that’s where the best people were. When fourth tier is illuminated, that will be the next frontier to strive for. The assumptions? The higher, the better. The more advanced, the more awake and of course, the easier life becomes.
In March 2012 I took the Leadership Maturity Profile offered by Cook-Grueter and Associates, LLC. I assumed, with all the work I’d done over the years, that I’d be second tier at least. Yes, I of course knew I legitimately had work to do, but I still felt as if I had done so much already that I must be somewhere near the top. And wasn’t it Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj who said that his understanding of consciousness never stopped, he just kept growing into the cosmos more and more each day? I’d say he was at a pretty advanced level when he said that already. I had no problem realizing I too was still advancing and growing. But let’s be honest (I thought to myself), my whole life I had been praised for being pretty mature and advanced, so I had to be somewhere at least in second tier, right?
Well, as it turns out, that wasn’t exactly the profile. I knew a lot of the maps. It’s something we pride ourselves on at Unity of Tustin. I even knew that the maps weren’t the territory. They were indicators of different ways of experiencing reality. But knowing the buzz words of second tier or even awakening is not the same as living from it. Your stage of development “influences what you notice and can become aware of, and therefore, what you can describe, articulate, cultivate, influence and change.” (Cook-Grueter) Basically, just because you know the words, doesn’t mean you know what they mean or that you live in congruence with them.
Susanne Cook-Greuter uses a phrase I have learned to embrace as a check-point for myself. It’s called “aboutism.” Aboutism is when you know something intellectually in a very deep way but that “head” knowledge doesn’t translate into your inner life. There is not integration or demonstrated understanding in your living or being. There is an overestimation of ego-development and a “privilege to sheer intellectual prowess, memory and the complexity of arguments over a more holistic integrated view of personality.” It’s the difference between speaking about something and speaking from something.
The reason there are degrees of development is because a new perspective is needed to be grown into and embraced beyond the scope of the current capacity to describe, articulate, cultivate, influence and change something. Later isn’t necessarily better; it’s simply later. Whenever some new level of integration or development occurs, most likely there was some challenge, often terribly painful, that forced (or invited, depending on how you want to look at it) you into looking at something in a more complex way, in a way that makes you change enough to address a situation from a new perspective. It’s a response to life that fosters new ways of making meaning in the world out of necessity.
In her paper “Nine Levels of Increasing Embrace In Ego Development: A Full-Spectrum Theory of Vertical Growth And Meaning Making” Susanne Cook-Greuter, writes “Life urges us again and again to solve disorienting dilemmas and discrepancies by responding with an enlarged and broader perspective that allows the issue to be solved at a new level of understanding. When the choice is between safety and risk, we can either open up to the unknown and explore it despite the anticipated discomfort or remain closed. All major change can create anxiety as we are creatures of habit. Stage change is likely accompanied with considerable discomfort, pain, losses, and uncertainty.”
When I read that, I groaned. More discomfort, pain, loss and uncertainty? Another thing I know is true in my head, I don’t want it confirmed by an outer authority that more is probably on the way, more opportunities to grow. It’s that part of living from resurrection consciousness where we befriend those times in our life when things are falling apart from a new level of reality. Instead of fighting what is, we lean in and let go of what needs to be released.
I also want to visit another essential point regarding growth work. There are two equally important ways to grow – vertically and horizontally. Growing horizontally means doing your work to be a better person. This means working on your relationships, developing healthy communication and compassion, discovering and living from your values, looking at the underlying thoughts, emotions and patterns that limit you so that you can be fully aware of the Divine spark that you are. Never stop doing that. There is a fullness to anyone who has really done deep work like this. There is a lightness and maturity to them that is infectious. You want to be around someone who is constantly learning and growing in this way.
The other type of growth is vertical. This is a trickier one. Again, this is the type of development that asks us to solve disorienting dilemmas and discrepancies. There is a necessity to move beyond our sense of the known, which tends to be comfortable even if it is not always beneficial. Honestly, I don’t think the equality of these two types of growth has been made explicitly clear enough. Understanding how you are currently seeing your world and stretching into another way of seeing can be equally transforming. Vertical growth happens when there is a critical point of discomfort and we have to risk what we know in the name of a better future. This is where trust, courage and willingness can become prevailing attitudes. Cook-Greuter writes, “While vertical development can be invited and the environment optimally structured towards growth, it cannot be forced. People have the right to be who they are at any station in life.”
I’ve been reading a lot about all this recently and find it really exciting to integrate it in a conscious way into my life, my work in Unity and into the DNA of our church culture. As a Board of Directors, we’ve started our own collective work on both forms of growth and look forward to sharing more in the coming months. The first evidence of that work is that we have added a new feature in this newsletter, an article on the evolution to a mission-centered ministry by Unity minister Rev. Barry Vennard.
In May and June I’m going to be focusing on the principles and practices of discovering a new paradigm. That new paradigm for you might be focused on either horizontal growth or vertical growth. What I would suggest is that both are necessary. I’m going to be referencing Susanne Cook-Greuter’s work along with the teachings of Jeff Careira. This is a rich time for us all. There are so many places both publicly and privately that we can apply the practices and principles of discovering a new paradigm. I’m excited to take the journey with you.
During my upcoming series on Discovering a New Paradigm, I’ll be referring to two of Jeff Carreira’s books. I have found Jeff’s work to be profoundly moving and uniquely thought provoking.