Higher Stages of Development

What if it is possible for you to grow into the highest stages of human development? It might very well be, if that is your sincere wish. What, then, are higher stages of development? Let me take you on a brief tour of some of these stages, based on research by Robert Kegan and Susanne Cook-Greuter.

In Kegans model there are three stages where most adults can be found. The third of them is where the exciting opportunity lies, but lets have a look at the earlier stages first. The first of them is the socialized mind. This is the stage where we learn to conform to society’s expectations. Here our decisions are highly influenced by what people that matter to us hold as important. We identify very much with the groups that we belong to and their norms and values. Despite its limitations this stage is a huge advancement compared to the earlier more egocentered stages.

However, most people reading this blog have probably left this stage and entered the self-authoring mind. Here, we author our own reality. We decide what is important for us, we choose our path regardless of what our parents think. We are able to play according to the rules of society but we do not accept anyone else but ourselves as the authority of our lives. This is a huge advancement compared to the socialized mind, but it is only after this stage that things start to get really interesting.

We now enter the self-transforming mind. This stage is available to all of us, even though most adults do not reach it. Currently less than 1% of the U.S. population function stably from here, even though many of us have partly moved into this domain. The self-transforming mind represents a vantage point from which life is very different than what we are used to. Here, we do not see ourselves as fixed and static individuals. We are aware of that we are constantly changing along with the flux of experience. We do not even see ourselves as profoundly separate from our environment or from other people. Therefore, this stage is sometimes called the interpenetrating-self. We are also capable of embracing polarities. Instead of the earlier stages insistence on identifying with one side of any given polarity we can embrace both sides. Conflict therefore becomes interesting, we become curious about how conflicts can transform us. In general we become more intrested in being solved by problems rather than by solving them. This sounds quite attractive doesn’t it? Wait, it gets even better.

Susanne Cook-Greuter has taken a closer look at the higher stages of development. At approximately the same level as Kegans self-transforming mind she has found two separate stages, the construct-aware and the unitive stage. The unitive stage represents the very highest form of human development that we can find empirical evidence for. Only 0.5% of the U.S. population currently live at this stage. We will soon get to this stage but lets first have a look at the stage that precedes it.

In the construct-aware stage we become acutely aware of that the ways in which we describe reality are really not the same as reality itself. All constructs, even our notion of ourselves, are seen through as being fundamentally non-real. Usually at this stage we gain glimpses of a reality beyond concepts. We do not yet see how the bridge this gap between the world of form and the world of formlessness, which gives rise to profound tension and frustration. However, our ability to take higher perspectives on meaning-making makes it possible for us to understand others very deeply. This leads to high levels of tolerance and empathy. We are also far more able to embrace polarities, enabling us to hold opposing perspectives instead of having to choose one perspective, as is characteristic of earlier stages of development.

In the unitive stage, the tension between the world of immediate perception and the world of mental habits is largely resolved. At this level we are able to pick up the mentalization habit when appropriate and put it down when it is not needed. A central characteristic of this stage is a profound acceptance for the world as it is. More than ever, we are able to move freely with the changing circumstances of life. There is a sense of universal connectedness, a sense of a self that is not limited to the individual, that is co-constructed in relation to all of existence and intimately connected. Our ability to live in the moment, in direct contact with the immediacy of what arises, is natural and spontaneous. A rich inner life, characterized by high levels of positive affect as well as gratitude, is usually part of our experience at this stage.

Do these higher stages of development sound attractive to you? The cool thing is that there are ways to increase your pace in moving upward through the spiral of development. Some of these ways will be discussed in further posts on this blog, so stay tuned!

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