Unit II. Adult Development
1. Adult psychological development
2. Mid-life crisis
3. Spiritual Journey
Materials needed: Journal, drawing and painting materials
The Circle of Love
One that contains the ox-herding pictures from Zen Buddhism (e.g., Suzuki,
1991; Vaughan, 1986)
Adult Psychological Development
Freud once said that the developmental tasks of adulthood are to love and
to work. I don’t think that has changed very much since his day.
We all need relationships to comfort us and make us feel secure, and without
love all the negative potential in human nature can become manifest.
It is very well established that children who grow up without being loved
are prone to all sorts of aggressive and perverted behaviors. It is
not so well established that adults also need this kind of attention, but
if we look at what people eat and the widespread obesity in our culture, it
suggests that a great many of us are lonely and isolated or at least that
we feel that way. Our first experiences of love, when we had them, were
usually associated with feeding since infants are usually cuddled when fed.
An experimental trip down a grocery store aisle will quickly tell you that
nearly everything there has sugar in it. And we wonder why so much
of our population has diabetes. We call the people we love “sugar”
or “honey.” So when we feel unloved or misunderstood, we are likely
to reach for the candy, chocolate or some other form of carbohydrate that
Love, however, rarely comes to us without conditions. It takes work
to create a lasting and satisfactory relationship. All too often, love
comes into conflict with our ego agendas especially after the “honeymoon”
is over. It seems to me that a great deal of the difficulty comes because
our parents were unable to model good relationships for us when we were children.
A lot of that was due to the patriarchal norms that put one member of
the team in a subordinate position. These norms still exist today in
the workplace if not in the home.
I am old enough to remember the beginnings of the women’s liberation movement.
At that time, I lived in a “split level trap,” and I assure you that that
title is completely accurate in describing the experience of women who lived
in them. The men went to work and supported the family while women stayed
at home and took care of the children. These norms are still in effect
in many places. (Wood & Eagly, 2002) Furthermore, women
who have become emancipated from housework and who have gone into the workplace
now find that it is necessary for them to work in order to maintain
a decent standard of living. In addition most single women have to
work because there is no partner to help support the children. So it
appears that our society has adjusted to women’s liberation by now requiring
two jobs of her, a job and housework. Some men do help with housework
and child care, but, on the whole, it is rarely an egalitarian division of
We saw in the last guidebook that the developmental task of young adulthood
was intimacy vs isolation. In adulthood, it is generativity vs stagnation.
Generally, this refers to taking responsibility for the well-being of children
and the society as a whole. The ideal would be for two adults in relationship
to share the load of both providing love and support for the family as well
as the provision of food and necessities. It is impossible to do this
without a good working relationship that has provisions for resolving conflict
and mutual love and support. One of the best sources for how to do this
can be found in a book called Conscious Loving by Hendricks & Hendricks
(1992). In addition, there are numerous workshops and other books that
can teach a couple how to achieve these goals. We will see in a later
unit how projection and judging can undermine an otherwise good relationship.
In order to be able to work productively, an individual needs to be psychologically
balanced. A smattering of puritan work ethic also helps. Employers
want workers who can dedicate themselves to the job and who are dependable
and committed as well as skilled and educated. Most, if not all, higher
level jobs require an education, and the highest level ones may require an
advanced degree or specialized career training. If a person is willing
to work and is motivated to persist, there are usually financial aid packages
that will enable him/her to get an education even if the family or the individual
cannot afford it.
It is usually the case that those who fail to “make the grade” do so because
of psychological problems rather than inability. Children who are neglected
often act out and may drop out of school or get into trouble with the law.
This topic was treated in more detail in Book IV (unit4-2.htm).
Usually by mid-adulthood, the mid-30s to the mid-40s, a person has reached
a point of relative job security and can “come up for air.” At this
point, if not before, many people begin to reach out into the community to
give service to others. This constitutes a widening of loving care beyond
the immediate family. Many of our social services could not exist without
this kind of volunteerism. The arts are also largely supported in this
way. It may also happen that the person reaches a stage of disequilibrium
in relationship. There’s a phenomenon called the “seven-year itch”
that refers to the yen for change and new stimulation that arises after seven
years of marriage or bonding. Staying in harness, allowing yourself
to sink down into a comfortable routine and doing what society expects of
you can sometimes lead to boredom and a need for some variety. This
often takes the form of an extra-marital affair or a job change. Some
people go back to school to train for a new career. If a couple has
had children, the children by now may all be in school, so the domestic parent(s)
has/have more time to fill. If you will remember, Piaget said that
development moves in cycles and swings back and forth between equilibrium
and disequilibrium. It’s been my experience that a complete cycle will
occur somewhere between eight and twelve years. In addition, astrologers
point to what is called a Saturn return every 26 years. Because Saturn
represents the teacher, one can expect a major upheaval in life events and
possibly a completely new beginning at these junctures. Which brings
me to mid-life crisis.
In Yoga, there are said to be four stages of life: 1) student, during which
one is learning, 2) householder, during which one is raising and supporting
a family and society, 3) forest academy, during which one goes into the forest
to meditate, and 4) teacher, during which one comes back to share one’s learning.
In the age group we are discussing, we would be dealing with householders
and forest academy. The division between them would be analogous to
the mid-life crisis.
A striking period of disequilibrium may occur anywhere from the mid-forties
to the mid-fifties. It may come on suddenly or gradually. It may
or may not be linked to menopause. The main symptom is a feeling of
being blocked or trapped in a sea of meaninglessness. In my mid-fifties,
I grew increasingly dissatisfied with my professorial career. It seemed
to me that I was going around in circles in a no-growth situation. I
was getting interested in my spiritual journey, but the constraints on my
options of what to teach did not allow me to research and pass on new learning
in the spiritual realm to my students. I grew more and more unhappy,
feeling caged and immobilized. What was I doing? What was the
reason to continue? Depression followed along with a sense of rising
anger underneath my civilized facade. At this point, I had already
been seeking for five or six years and had discovered Yoga, Buddhism and
Transpersonal Psychology, but there was no opportunity to integrate these
new disciplines into my teaching. Finally, with a sabbatical coming
up, I took a year off and never returned. The years following that I
spent at Naropa Institute and in Yasodhara Ashram changed my life completely
including a new outlook on life and a new career. It was the most difficult
thing I ever did and the most productive. I found that it was possible
to integrate everything I had learned up until that time, find a way to use
it in selfless service and still maintain an open window to new experience.
There is a parallel in the experience of mid-life crisis to the stages of
the mystical journey (Book I, Unit 2). The awakening comes with
the realization that my life has stagnated and is going nowhere, and that
I am not fulfilling my life’s purpose which is the main reason I came into
a body. The inner, authentic Self becomes restive when there is no progress
and sends up signals that become increasingly disruptive of the status quo.
The resulting restlessness impels us to search for the as-yet-unnamed something
that will challenge our energies and abilities. A white light experience
which serves as reassurance that we are on the right track may occur during
this seeking period.
The purification comes with a commitment to a new journey that is
spiritual this time. In order to clear the decks for spiritual action,
we must examine every aspect of our lives and begin to get ego under the control
of the Higher Self who is the part of oneself that has the map and directions
to higher consciousness. This stage can be very painful and last a
long time. It takes a major commitment to the path in order to persist
and sustain our efforts. What is being undertaken is a major change
in personality, ego and mind all of which resist change and reorganization.
Finally a breather comes: illumination. This is a major breakthrough
that is accompanied by a connection with the divine One or divine energies.
It may come on so gradually that it is not identified initially as illumination.
In fact, my experience was that I did not realize it had occurred until it
was over, and I found myself in the dark night of the soul. For
me, what happened was that my spirit guide, Michael, made himself known one
morning during a meditation. First it was just a sense of presence,
then he identified himself. Some time later, a dialogue began that continues
to this day. Several months later during an intensive meditation retreat
in the Colorado Rockies which was part of the curriculum at Naropa Institute,
Spirit came through. This was an entirely different Being from Michael
who has something like a personality. Spirit has no gender, no form,
no personality; but is pure presence. Eventually, dialogue was established
with Spirit, and It has been my teacher or inner guru ever since including
Its guidance to establish and run House of Spirit. I did not recognize
this as illumination until I studied Evelyn Underhill’s (1961) book on mysticism
again last year (cf chapters 4-5).
The dark night of the soul is characterized by loss of connection
with the divine One, or the experience of loss. One never actually loses
that connection, but it feels that way because the ego has turned away from
It and refuses to complete the necessary surrender. In my case, I had
to leave the House of Spirit in Colorado because it became too much for my
aging body to maintain. Because I loved Colorado, it took three years
before I was willing to sell the property and leave. After that, I
felt abandoned by Spirit and cut off, unaware that the disconnect was my own
doing. Instead of feeling like I had a legitimate channeling from Spirit
as I had enjoyed before, it seemed I was now just in contact with my own
ego. The feelings of being loved disappeared as I shut down in my grief,
disappointment and loss. My heart closed completely and I went into
a major depression that lasted for nearly three years.
I should say here that it is important to discriminate between hard times
when one can feel depressed and a true dark night. We will examine that
further in another unit.
Exercise: Spiritual autobiography and mandala
1. Draw another lifeline for yourself, this time of your spritual
journey, beginning with any experiences of the divine you may have had in
childhood and coming up to the present time. If you do not remember
this exercise from Book I, get a large piece of paper and draw a vertical
line down the middle. Indicate on it the ages at which you had each
experience, name the experience on one side of the line and note what significance
it had for you on the other. Then examine the lifeline to see if there
are any major themes and whether or not you have gone through any of the
stages of the mystical journey. Can you identify any apparent cycles?
2. Now draw a mandala to represent your spiritual journey. Use
a dinner plate or a compass to draw a circle, then enclose in it symbols that
speak to your own experiences. If you resist drawing, do this as a
collage. Generally mandalas have the most important symbol in the center
which draws all the others to it, but this is not essential to this exercise.
Color it and put it up somewhere that you can see and live with it for a
while. You will find that it speaks to you over time perhaps revealing
some very interesting insights from your unconscious mind.
3. Read the introduction and chapter 1, “The Prayer of the Heart,”
in The circle of love by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Try to get beyond
the sexist pronouns into the sense of what he is saying in case the polarization
bothers you. Our English language does not provide us with an accurate
pronoun to refer to a non-sexual being. Traditionally, in patriarchal
religions, God is thought of as a male and the soul as female in both sexes.
In Sufism, the orientation is on engaging in a love affair with the divine
One, called the “Beloved.” Using conventional pronouns makes it easier
for the writer though it may be a bit unsettling for the readers.
What does prayer of the heart mean? How does that relate to the gateway
to liberation? What prevents us from going through it? What should
we pray for? And what is the relationship between prayer and surrender?
Have you made a connection to the Beloved? Do you experience Its love?
Do you experience love for It? Does the Beloved’s immateriality bother
you or prevent you from being able to love It? If so, what do you think
needs to be done to change that? What learnings or social conditionings
in your life have caused the separation? Make a list of these to use
in a later exercise. Use a little discrimination and choose the most
important ones that you might still want to work on first, so you don’t feel
overwhelmed. You might want to look back through your notes from earlier
chakras for ideas since conditioning issues have been systematically presented
for you at each developmental level.
One could say that the spiritual journey is always in progress whether we
consciously do anything about it or not. And that would be true.
What distinguishes the uneventful journey from what is meant by spiritual
journey here is that the path is consciously chosen and followed. Yogis
say that, left alone, the journey can take thousands of lifetimes while it
is possible to complete it in a single lifetime if one gives it undivided
attention, focus, commitment and hard work. Milarepa is a prime example
of such a true spiritual voyager. (Hughes-Calero, 1987)
We come into life, born into a physical body leaving the realm of divine
unity, in order to achieve some purpose. However, in growing up, we
acquire layers upon layers of social conditioning and learning that mask knowledge
or experience of our true identity as part of the divine Being. The
spiritual journey is a return to Spirit whom we really are. To return,
it is essential to remove all the debris that separates us from that identity.
This requires patience, commitment and effort. Merely acquiring a mental
understanding of the process won’t help a bit except perhaps to make it a
bit easier for ego to surrender. It may take years of unremitting struggle
to extricate oneself from addiction to the world and its talons. This
is especially true in materialistic, western societies where the norms do
not support a mystic path.
We can observe that some people may find this path easier than others while
some seem to have a good life without making any effort at all. Past
life experiences and learning are probably responsible for individual differences
in apparent progress. Yogis believe that spiritual effort and learning
once achieved is never forgotten and carries over from one life to another.
The medium for this is probably the immortal soul.
One interesting depiction of the spiritual journey is the set of ox-herding
pictures that come out of the Zen Buddhist tradition. (Suzuki, 1991)
My source is old, but you can find these pictures in any recent edition, I
feel sure. Another set of the pictures is in The Inward Arc
by Frances Vaughan (1986, 114-124). These pictures represent stages
on the path or seasons of enlightenment. The ox represents the intrinsic
nature of consciousness and at first is roaming wild in the forest.
The boy (seeker) is looking for it. This is the sequence of the pictures:
1. Seeking the ox
2. Finding the tracks
3. First glimpse of the ox
4. Catching the ox
5. Taming the ox
6. Riding the ox home
7. Ox forgotten, Self alone
8. Both ox and self forgotten
9. Return to the Source
10. Entering the marketplace with helping hands
There are variations on this theme which are depicted in Suzuki’s book.
Exercise: Ox-herding pictures
Find a copy of the ox-herding pictures and study them. Outline how
they apply to the spiritual journey. Sketch your own version if you
can. Then try to identify which of the stages most clearly applies to
you. What is your next step? Why do you think so?
Why does forgetting both the ox and oneself help the return to the Source?
Once there, why would one return to the marketplace with helping hands?
Why do you think it is not until mid-life that people usually come to the
spiritual journey? How do you account for those who come to it sooner?
When did you experience awakening?
Please journal your thoughts and insights about this.
If you have been seriously working with the exercises and practices so far,
you will have discovered that you are turning a corner. The fourth chakra
is a critical juncture that marks a change in focus from the personality and
ego to transcen-dent consciousness. Also, at this point, the
soul emerges as the real traveler. You will remember the Star of David
or Solomon’s Seal emblem that held the image of the divine One reaching down
to touch the soul that is reaching up longing for reunion. Now the
effort is to finalize ego’s surrender in order to clear the blockage to liberation.
There are two essential practices that need to be undertaken at this point:
meditation and journaling. Yogis say that raja yoga, or meditation,
is the royal road to enlightenment. Buddhists would agree as would many
practitioners in other traditions. The reason for this is that meditation,
over time and with faithful practice, clears the mind; so it is prepared
for transformation. All of the discursive chatter, rationalizations
and processes that the mind usually produces when left to itself are quieted,
and a simple, uncluttered space is opened to divine energy. For best
results, meditation should be done every day, at the same time and for at
least an hour. If you have not been practicing, you may work up to this
Journaling is most useful for several reasons. First, you have
a record of your progress all in one place. Second, it helps you to
regulate your practice. It also provides an opportunity to set mini-goals
and to track your progress toward them. You might want to begin with
a meditation log that simply records what happens every day in your practice.
Over time, themes and/or solutions to difficulties may emerge that will help
you. You may find your dreams are prophetic. You can include in
your journal inspirational pieces you find here and there. Then you
have them all in one place, so they are easy to find. You can use your
journal to help you integrate all of your spiritual experience. Because
the spiritual journey is largely non-verbal, it is useful to try to write
about it, so the two hemispheres of the brain both share in the process.
Lastly, journaling is a discipline that helps keep you on track. All
of this is called reflection. We spotlight certain events in our lives
and consider what they mean to our journey. Then we sit for meditation
and let it all sink in. Or, conversely, we sit for meditation, then
reflect on what occurred during it.
Practice: Meditation and journaling
Please begin both a meditation and journaling practice if you are not already
doing them. If you are an old hand, take the instructions to the next
level. Meditation will eventually result in what the Buddhists call “spacious
meadow” or “no-mind” or “emptiness.” If you can consistently relax into
this space during meditation, you can focus your journaling on other issues
such as how to maintain such a state during daily life in the world.
How can you be both separate in a physical sense and One in a spiritual sense
and at the same time?
If you have your list of learnings and social conditionings from your life
that you did in the spiritual autobiography exercise, compare it to your spiritual
lifeline. Is there any indication that your spiritual practices have
helped to remove any of them? Make notes in your journal about this,
and see if any ideas for future practice emerge. If so, list them and
make a plan to work on them - one at a time please.
Hendricks, G. & Hendricks, K. (1992 ). Conscious loving.
New York: Bantam.
Hughes-Calero, H. (1987). The golden dream: A story of Milarepa.
Carmel, CA: Coastline Publishing Co.
Suzuki, D. T. (1991 ). Introduction to Zen Buddhism.
Underhill, E. (1961). Mysticism: A study in the nature and
development of man’s spiritual consciousness. New York: Dutton.
Vaughan-Lee, L. (1999). The circle of love. Inverness,
CA: The Golden Sufi Center.
Vaughan, F. (1986). The inward arc: Healing and wholeness in psychotherapy
and spirituality. Boston: Shambhala.
Wood, W. & Eagly, A. H. (2002). "A Cross-Cultural Analysis of
the Behavior of Women and Men: Implication for the Origins of Sex Differences."
Psychological Bulletin, 128 (5), 699-727.
We have seen that a turning point occurs in
mid-life that serves as an opportunity to engage the spiritual Journey.
In Unit III. Mind, we will see how mind operates
as a sixth sense becoming aware of new dimensions of reality.
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