The Journey of Psychological Development

A few months ago, I became very interested in mandalas after reading some of Carl Jung’s writings. I began to explore the idea and practice of mandalas because I felt like it could help me grasp my ideas in an abstract manner; therefore, giving me an avenue to access the deeper, unconscious mind.

My first mandala

Let me state that I am not a sketch artist. I wouldn’t even say I’m an amateur. Although, that may change over the years. Up until this point, any creative, artistic works I’ve produced in my past has been relegated to music.

Nevertheless, we all must explore new skills and experiences to grow. The interesting fact about this is due to epigenetics. What I mean by this is that we have certain genes that are turned on and turned off. These genes get expressed differently depending upon the conditions affecting the organism. In the simplest description, your body will turn on and off certain genes in an attempt to best help you survive or procreate in the environment that you are in.

Therefore, in order to grow, we must encounter new conditions to gain access to new biological expressions, which will translate into being able to access different patterns of behavior. There is another model coming that I will explain in more detail regarding the symbolism and psychological significance of the cross. For now, just know that exploring new experiences and facing the unknown is the pathway to personal growth.

The four triangular quadrants represent, in clockwise order, the child, adolescent, adult, and elder. Each stage of psychological development contains a virtue and a flaw. Each transfer between stages contains a significant event and depending upon the subject’s attitude towards the natural change can open the door for growth or pathology.

Keep in mind that this is not fully flushed out, but the beginnings of A foundational idea that has sat in my unconscious mind for some time.

Stage 1: The Child

Initiating event: birth/rebirth
Virtue: innocence
Flaw: naïveté
Description: The subject who is in the child stage sees the world with wonder and awe. Everything is novel due to lack of experience; therefore, idealism is highly present and knowledge is low. This represents the beginning of a new psychological journey.

Transfer event: death of the ideal

This event occurs when the child encounters experience that causes the death of their idealism through the introduction of knowledge that contradicts the perfect idea, which immediately thrusts the child into chaos. Example: betrayal

Stage 2: The Adolescent

Initiating event: voluntary acceptance
Virtue: awareness/knowledge
Flaw: arrogance
Description: The naive, innocent child has become an aware, and often cynical adolescent. The adolescent is in the realm of chaos, which is where new knowledge comes and also new fears. Depending upon how the adolescent responds to this new knowledge could lead towards cynicism about the ideal or deeper knowledge and context about how the ideal manifests itself in the world. Either way, the adolescent eventually descends further downward to a pinnacle point where the adolescent must face the reality that knowledge is not enough. One must take right action to move forward.

Transfer event: Realization that knowledge alone is insufficient.

Stage 3: The Adult

Initiating event: Begins to embody knowledge through action
Virtue: responsibility
Flaw: escapism
Description: The subject who is in the adult stage has taken responsibility for all the choices that contributed to the subject’s current predicament. Thus, the sign of an adult psychologically is to take responsibility for reducing one’s unnecessary suffering and the unnecessary suffering of others. Heroes are made here. The ultimate expression of the adult is to refresh the calcified, old world with a resurrection of the ideal.

Transfer event: External world stabilizes no longer needing intervention.

Stage 4: The Elder

Initiating event: Rejection of subject as unnecessary.
Virtue: wisdom
Flaw: cynicism
Description: The subject who is in the elder stage has to embrace the role of the guide for society. As the elder cooperates with dynamic, the subject moves closer and closer to the embodiment of the ideal at the top of the mandala. But, this is not the end. The true end of the elder and the mandala is a return to the beginning. The elder must embrace a childlike mentality again without forsaking wisdom. Should an elder reject this transition to the child, the subject will age bitterly like rotting fruit. Should a an elder embrace the transition properly, he/she will be able to live in the moment fully in a context that is based in real experience. Thus, the elder avoids the trap of idealism. The final end is death. The cycle begins again with rebirth.

If you made it down here, I thank you. I will be writing other blog posts to map this model into real-life scenarios and situations. This way, you can see the application.

Stay tuned.

Gap vs. Gain: The proper way to measure your value

I once heard John Lee Dumas, host of the podcast Entrepreneur on Fire, say, “Compare to despair.” He was describing what happens psychologically when we compare ourselves to someone else. Why does it lead to despair?

Well, it wouldn’t be so bad if we compared ourselves to the worst of society. Hitler and the Nazi’s seems to be a common way to elevate ourselves from feeling terribly about ourselves. I’ll come back to this pathology in a moment, but we usually don’t go this route. We usually compare ourselves to someone we admire, who is doing better than us. At least they are appearing to do better in one domain of comparison.

For example, imagine a student who is going to college and is struggling to do well. This student doesn’t compare herself to her family who has never gone to college. Doing so would make her grateful to have already gone further than her parents. No, she looks at the other students, real or imagined, and says, “I need to do better because I’m not as good as the other students.”

Now, the first half of that belief is correct – “I need to do better.” The problem is the reason why she must take action, which is because of ____________ (insert a comparison to another human being). The first half is right because it represents a value judgement to improve, which is good. Human beings are in a constant state of improvement. We are always learning and improving skills. When we see someone stagnant or disintegrating, we see that as pathological. We naturally see that as a step backwards, even if the person is staying in the same place. It’s not obvious to me why staying the same is not considered acceptable. I think it has something to do with the idea that all living things grow and change. In fact, we accept that any living thing – tree, animal, etc. – is only natural when it is changing and growing. So, this seems right when we apply it to our psychological development.

It is the natural thing for humans to progress, grow, and change.

But, if we accept that growth and development is natural a priori, then why do we not believe that disintegration is natural? I’m not saying that falling apart or dying is not painful. I am willing to accept this because death is natural. Death is the fullest expression of entropy. But, once you are dead, your state remains fixed. Disintegration is a natural part of the life cycle, but a fixed state, as in death or being stuck is not.

And, although we accept the pain of life as a normal component, it only serves us so much as we learn to reduce unnecessary pain. Meaning, we will tolerate a lot of suffering as long as there is a justifiable reason for it. What is that justifiable reason? It is when the suffering is endured for a greater meaning.

We practice delayed gratification in the present for a better future. We sacrifice a smaller thing in the present to negotiate for something better in the future. Exercise is one of those exchanges. We provide blood, sweat, and tears in the present to live a future with a better looking, healthier body in the future. The trap is to not compare your present self with someone else’s present, which is actually a future state of their past self. This is measuring by the gap.

The gap is the distance between what your want to be, which often takes the form as a successful person in the present, and who you are right now. The problem with this is that you don’t know what the other person had to go through to become who they are today. They may have paid the proper sacrifice to be where they are at now. You don’t know, so we don’t establish a context for their growth. It seems like they were just born this morning with all their positive attributes you envy. We rarely take the time to observe, investigate, and reflect on what it really took to achieve what the successful have.

No, the only proper comparison is the present you to the past you as you progress to a future you. Yes, have goals, an ideal future you to pursue. But, only measure your progress from where you have come from, not where you want to go.

Here’s an current example I am struggling to maintain proper perspective with:
About two months ago I tore my ACL while playing with my daughter at a trampoline park. These legs aren’t as young as they used to be. Really though, I haven’t been working out like I should, which has led to weak legs, which leads to torn ACL when jumping. I have reaped the benefits of my laziness and lack of foresight.

Now, I walk with limited range and strength. I’ve been doing physical therapy to get stronger. And, I will need surgery soon to replace my ACL. Overall, my total recovery looks like a year from now. That’s a long time to consider getting back to 100%.

I look at other dads playing with their kids. I see men walking around and working out with no problems. I have the problem, so when I look around I compare my present status to other people’s present abilities. I see a gap when I do this, and it doesn’t help. But…when I look back to how I felt just a few weeks ago, it becomes obvious how much I have gained. The result is that I go from envy and sadness to appreciation and satisfaction. It is night and day.

Therefore, you must do the same when you compare. Measure from the gain, not the gap. It is your choice to be grateful and energized or miserable and deenergized.