Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Spiraling Through the Stages of Psychological Development

Recently I borrowed a book from a friend called Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self, by Anodea Judith, a psychotherapist. In the introduction she lays out the major theories of psychological development, and then shows how the chakra system matches that.
The various theories of psychological development divide the maturation process in different ways; some have four stages (Piaget), some eight (Erikson). Judith’s book provides an outline of psychological development in seven stages (matching the seven chakras):
  1. Learn you are a separate person, it’s ok to be here and be taken care of physically
  2. Learn that you have feelings and needs, and that when you express them you get an appropriate response; this communicates to you that it’s ok to have needs and to have them met
  3. Learn to express your will in the world without being demeaned or shamed for what you express
  4. Learn to have relationships with others; learn to reach out rather than just pull towards self
  5. Learn to communicate your needs, feelings, and will
  6. Learn to visualize, have intuition, and be inspired
  7. Learn to be conscious and aware, to integrate knowledge and experience

What I really liked about her approach is that it emphasizes a balance of all the levels, not a progression from the lower to the higher. When I’ve read psychology books I always got the impression the developmental process was a straight line. You couldn’t go back; you were stuck with your issues and had to deal with them the best way you could. Other writers who have tried to integrate western and eastern thought, such as Ken Wilber, have given me the impression that the later stages are better and development means leaving the lower levels behind. If you get spiritual enough you don’t need to worry about the problems you have with, say, asserting your self in the world.
Judith, on the other hand, gave me the idea of development as a spiral; we initially go through the stages in a linear fashion but as an adult we can cycle back through and heal the traumas that were inevitable as we grew up (no matter how wonderful our childhood might have been, there will still be issues). This is important, she shows, because if there are gaps and problems in earlier psychological stages, that will affect our ability to successfully navigate the later stages.
By cycling back through these stages of development, and healing the problems we have at each level, we can then become a balanced person, with an integrated life.

Ken Wilber’s latest work, called "Integral Life," is more in line with this idea of creating a balanced life. A truly healthy and whole human being is developed across all areas: spiritual, emotional, cognitive, interpersonal, moral, and material.
Judith uses the terminology of “rights” with each level. The right associated with the first level is “I have the right to be here and be taken care of.” As I read this section I realized that I had a problem in this area. I could see how some long-standing issues in my life, for example my insecurities and my passivity in relationships, stemmed from the basic belief that I don’t really have a right to be here. It seemed odd because I was raised in a family with a loving mother and father. I didn’t have any obvious reasons for feeling this way, like being abandoned or abused. Yet it resonated strongly with me, and I could identify some causes (I won't go into those here).
I discussed it with my husband one evening, and he said, “this is an element of all woman’s lives isn’t it, to think they have less right to be here?” Judith writes that people with this issue “don’t feel they have the right to take up space, to attend to their own physical needs, they tend to deny their own body.” This is a common female problem, for example, denying your own needs to take care of the family. Watch this video for a young women’s take on this from a 2013 Barnard College Poetry Slam.
For tens of thousands of years and in almost all cultures across the planet, girls have been considered less valuable than boys. Today in India and China families use sonograms to find out if a pregnant woman is carrying a boy; if it’s a girl they have an abortion. China’s demographics have gotten dangerously skewed as a result. In many Islamic cultures women are still considered inferior to men: women cannot look men in the eyes.
Dowries were a condition of marriage for centuries in many different cultures around the world (and still exist in some today). Basically a man had to be bribed to take a woman off her father’s hands.
Western countries have changed; it’s no longer better to have a boy than a girl. But there are still vestiges of this attitude. For example, this study on hiring done at Yale in 2012:
[S]cientists [were] presented with application materials from a student applying for a lab manager position and who intended to go on to graduate school. Half the scientists were given the application with a male name attached, and half were given the exact same application with a female name attached. Results found that the “female” applicants were rated significantly lower than the “males” in competence, hireability, and whether the scientist would be willing to mentor the student.
As I read over the problems associated with each of Judith’s seven levels I could recognize the work that I have already done repairing problems in my development, such as difficulties with communication and expressing my feelings. This has given me confidence that my issue with the first chakra can also be healed as I consciously cycle back through the stages.
Judith says that when we are balanced on all levels the consciousness and awareness we gain at stage seven transforms the other levels. This is a fully realized human being:
The crown chakra [seventh stage] is not merely a state of understanding, but a state of being. Consciousness is not a thing, but an experience…What we can then bring down to the sixth chakra [vision] is not just an ability to see, but illumination. Illumination is like using an overhead light instead of a flashlight, where we see the whole instead of a part… 
Illumination brings inspiration to our creativity [fifth stage], instead of unfolding our creative process by trial and error, we create from a place of vision... 
When we bring our awakened consciousness down to the heart chakra [fourth stage], we bring the understanding necessary for compassion…The calm that comes when the upper chakra awareness descends brings stability to our loving… 
When we bring consciousness to our power [third stage], we have not only activity, but directed transformation. Instead of blindly acting through trial and error, we now use our intelligence to create a strategy. With vision, inspiration, communication, and love, we can energize that plan and direct it with clear intent… 
We can now bring new awareness to our emotions and sexuality [second stage], deepen the texture of our experience, and broaden our understanding... 
Finally, at the base chakra, these qualities become a part of our ability to manifest—where our conception, vision, inspiration, compassion, transformation, and connection enter into physical reality…For it is indeed consciousness that makes the body fully alive, and the body that gives consciousness a place to live.
When I hear some people describe their vision of spirituality, it often comes across as a desire to escape the physical. For me, the concept of spirituality being integrated with the physical is much more compelling. That means my spirituality manifests in the physical world in how I interact with other drivers on the highway, in how I conduct my business, and in how I communicate with my family and friends. No lines, no separation.

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