Modern psychology has studied the maturation of the human being for many years. Among the most celebrated theorists are Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow and Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg. They studied how a human being changes, psychologically, as he or she matures. This is the field of developmental psychology. Piaget discovered a progression of cognitive steps that children take from birth to adulthood. We start out with very simple, direct perception of our world. As we mature we develop greater abilities to analyze and adapt to our changing surroundings. Piaget discovered distinct steps that we go through that are common to all children.
At certain ages a child comprehends the world in a particular way, and as we mature physically, our minds also grow. An 8 year old child does not see the world the way an 11 year old does. I remember clearly discussing my older brother’s algebra homework with him one evening. He was showing me the equations with all the usual numbers I was familiar with from my arithmetic lessons, only there was one number missing. In its place was an “x”. I kept asking him, “But what is x?” and he kept telling me that he had to figure it out. At my age, I just couldn’t comprehend the nature of the problem. When I was a couple years older and in algebra class myself, it was as clear as day.
Kohlberg studied the development of maturity in adults and found that we do continue to grow, though more slowly. What is interesting is that different people reach different levels of maturity. Not everyone progresses to the highest levels of development. We tend to reach a plateau and stay there for many years, even the rest of our lives. So, we are all different, and we interpret our world differently, even as adults. The rigors of adult life, working in routine jobs, raising children, managing our responsibilities, tend to keep us focused on the actions we are performing and not the continuing inner development we might need. Still, there is a steady development, though much slower in adults than in children.
From Individual to Universal
The general thrust of human maturation follows a course from individuality to universality. The young child’s concerns are primarily with himself and not of others. As he grows he learns that his well being depends upon the well being of those around him – his friends and family. His sense of self further develops when he learns that living by the rules of society is important in developing a balanced relationship with his world. A further abstraction can be made where one lives according to one’s sense of principles, personal principles which are above the rules of society, yet integrate society’s perceived purposes.
All of these steps of inner growth progress from a more selfish view of life to a more inclusive view. Learning that one’s well being depends upon having a good relationship with others requires an expansion of one’s sense of who one is. One becomes more than a single body living in a world of unrelated objects. One sees that one’s family and friends are part of your greater sense of self. As one matures, the principles by which one lives broaden to become inclusive of much more of the visible world. One realizes that one’s own well being is connected to the state of affairs of the family, society, world and the entire universe. Nothing can be ignored. We must care about everyone and everything. Thus growth progresses from caring only about one’s personal needs for survival and pleasure to caring about the whole world’s condition.
These stages of maturity discussed above are the commonly accepted steps of human development taught in schools and colleges today. They include great strides of personal, inner growth, and they lay out the principles and patterns of human personal evolution. Yet somehow, these steps of growth remain incomplete. They describe the stepwise, organic growth of our personalities to more broadly inclusive states, yet they do not describe the quantum leap to inner freedom that is not only possible in personal development, but is actually the natural goal of this growth.
The Quantum Leap
This sudden leap of inner growth is what the eastern cultures term enlightenment or realization. It is the instantaneous awakening of the individual mind to its universal source. It is the parting of the clouds of confusion about what life is and what it is about. It is the end of seeking and the beginning of finding. It is the fulfillment of all the striving and growing and learning that the individual has been going through for his entire life.
The character of this level of human growth is very different from all those that preceded it. It is a fundamental shift in the perspective of a human being. Up until awakening, one’s self concept, or ego, is identified with one’s circumstances. This is an entirely natural occurrence. One’s perceptions are generated from within the limitations of one physical body which is very much the same from day to day. One’s world displays certain characteristics and it is natural to believe that one’s perceptions, one’s physical self and one’s environment, including the stars and galaxies, are all that there is to life. Essentially your believe that you are what you see.
Shift in Identity
The experience of awakening is the sudden and total shift of personal identity from one’s body and circumstances to an inner reality that is non-objective and thus indescribable in terms of objects and relationships. The experience is described in terms of knowing that what you are is separate and different from the world you live in. One witnesses the world, including one’s thoughts and physical body, as something other that what you truly are. It is a state of very clear perception of one’s world, for the essential nature of this separate Self that one awakens to is consciousness, awareness.
In addition to deep clarity of perception and inner peace, this state of awakening is characterized by an inner joy that underlies all experience. Whatever is happening, whether “good” or “bad”, for good and bad are perceived as relative judgements and not absolute facts by the awakened eye, there is a flow of inner bliss that permeates the scene. One senses that one cannot be harmed and that life will go on no matter what. There is a sense of eternity amidst the present moment at all times.
One of the most important aspects of this experience is that it is entirely normal and natural. In fact, it could be argued that any lesser state of human consciousness is abnormal. Feeling caught up in daily existence, believing that you are your body, worrying about tomorrow, all of these conditions, though almost universally experienced, could be termed disorders. Feeling absolute freedom, inner bliss, deep knowingness about life’s goodness and inner guidance through any seemingly difficult situation, these are the normal state of human life. We should not settle for less.