A Desire to Wake Up
I remember vividly my feelings when I first came in contact with Buddhist teachings. I was 17 years old, in a lecture hall at University of California at Santa Cruz. What I heard was so clear and made so much sense, I thought if I practiced diligently, and could awaken sufficiently, then I wouldn’t suffer any more. I was on fire with the possibility of giving my life to awakening.
During that class and in the ensuing decades listening to talks about meditation practice and it’s goal – enlightenment, I heard of meditation masters who had let go of all traces of anger, obsessive desire and ignorance. They were spoken of with the highest regard befitting their ultimate success. These masters spoke about the vast difference between ordinary human experience and what they realized – a stable refuge in a changing and uncertain world. Hearing this, awakening became my most valued aspiration. I focused on it with fierce determination and zeal.
A Need to Grow Up
After 20 years of dedicated practice, I wasn’t so caught by my likes and dislikes, and felt loving kindness and compassion more readily. I was less confused, but I was still suffering. I couldn’t let go of disappointment around events that had happened years earlier, I felt shame for being a woman and sensed the way anxiety shaped many of my relationships. I didn’t think doing more of the same thing was going to give me a different result, so I started therapy. This helped me see belief systems and psychological patterns that meditation wasn’t illuminating. Therapy helped me let go of old disappointments and feel more trusting and less anxious.
My experience is not unique. In colleagues with lifelong vocations in meditation, I have often observed a gap between the insights they share and the confusion and suffering they still create either for themselves or in relationship. The profundity of their realization in mediation is a separate and independent line of development from their psychological maturity.
Growing up refers to progressing through the stages of psychological maturity. We go through stages of lesser development to greater development. We can’t skip stages. Just like we can’t become a teenager without first being a toddler, child and then a 10 year old.
Developmental stages are present in physical, sexual, and psychological maturity, to name a few. With physical and sexual maturity the process happens by itself without needing to understand it. When all the right conditions are present, this can also be true for psychological development. However when conditions are not ideal, we often move on without completely resolving aspects of an earlier stage.
There are 6-8 stages of psychological development depending on the model we use. An infant doesn’t have any separate sense of self and can’t tell where the body ends and the environment begins. This stage is concerned with hungers for food, water, and physical safety. It is very rare that an adult would remain at this level. However, it isn’t uncommon for adults to have some aspect of their development that hasn’t been completely integrated and transcended from this stage.
If we don’t completely transcend this stage, we will be overly attached to our primitive hungers. We see this when we experience physical hunger and we aren’t able to observe it. Instead, we become it. We become all mouth and the world becomes all food. We become taken over by our hunger. We lose the ability to decide what is the right amount, right food or the right time to eat. All of a sudden the chocolate is in our mouth, the pan of muffins is gone, and we have no idea how it happened. Like an addiction, once the hunger impulse has arisen, we don’t have choice around what we do with our feelings.
The opposite of being overly attached to hunger is not being able to include it in our awareness at all. When feelings of hunger cannot be tolerated, we distance ourselves as far as possible from them and instead, we repress, disown, and disassociate from them. As with an allergy, the body/mind responds to protect itself from a perceived enemy, in this case our feelings of hunger. This reactive process takes away our choices.
Ordinarily meditation doesn’t help us with these types of problems. We need an efficacious way of focusing attention to deal with these issues. With addictions to food, we need to use the observational quality of mindfulness to focus on the hunger instinct itself and to witness without attachment. If we are allergic to our hunger drives, the friendliness and non judgmental quality of mindfulness are needed to allow feelings of hunger in awareness.
A Need for Integration
While there are a lot of different kinds of therapies designed to support psychological integration and growth, it is extremely rare that they also have practices that support waking up to what is beyond birth and death. While growing up results in being a psychologically healthy human being, waking up shows us the radiant nature of the mind when we stop identifying with our body, feelings and thoughts.
Many contemplative paths use meditation within an ethical lifestyle that is based on generosity and spiritual friendship. While Buddhist teachings include these as pillars for awakening, it also uses the 8 – Fold Noble Path providing a philosophical framework and sophisticated practical tools that are clear and effective.
When put into practice, these tools show us how to focus so we can let go of our changing experiences. They teach us the way generosity anchors us to our own goodness, giving us impetus to forgive and opening us to love. The path is progressive. We start where we are and move to greater levels of compassion and wisdom, seeing with increasing clarity. Along the way, we let go of various kinds of confusion and suffering. This is the process of waking up. It has been tested for millennia. It works.
In spite of my conviction that skillful implementation of the path yields stages of awakening, I have seen spiritual leaders and spiritual communities beset with issues related to power, money, sexual misconduct as well as fear, prejudice and malice that shows itself in homophobia misogyny and racism. I have been stymied as to why this was happening. Developmental psychology gave me another context for understanding what appears as ethical hypocrisy.
Each stage of maturation is characterized by certain views, beliefs and behaviors. In the earlier example with hunger drives, we saw how someone could relate to hunger without moderation, discernment and compassion for themselves. Latter stages of development include needs for power and belonging. If these stages aren’t transcended and integrated, there are all manner of issues that can arise such as the ones mentioned above.
A Need to Show Up
The path of growing up and waking up requires the ability to show up for what is happening with our direct experience in the present moment. Showing up with someone else magnifies the power of observation and opens both to emergent insights. This then, gives us the capacity to bring our increasing skills to community and global issues.
It is possible to be deeply committed to global causes without being either very grown up or very awakened. We can get caught by the need for power or belonging and not able to maintain a perspective that connects the transcendent and the immanent. I have met many in spiritual traditions that have experienced stages of waking up, but are not very grown up. These elders have unenlightened beliefs and thinking that show up in the way they respond to others. I have met people who have done tons of personal work and are psychologically mature, but not very awakened. As human beings around the world, what most of us share in common is that we are half-baked.
It is clear to me that while we all are in process of being the best human beings we can be; it is helpful to understand that there are essentially three domains where we heal, evolve, and engage. These three areas have different approaches that when addressed in the right manner allow us to transform from less developed to more developed, from what was unhealthy or wounded into wholeness and radiance, from self interest to global interests, from suffering to joy, compassion and wisdom. Growing up requires an understanding of our human developmental needs. Waking up requires application of a gradual path as well understanding that the ultimate nature of reality is ever present, here and now and can be realized at any time. It results in joy and freedom. Yet truly Showing up requires that we see the way we are not separate from those around us and develop supportive relationships. This is true for our personal lives as well as in our local and global communities. Combining these three creates resources and perspectives to skillfully navigate the intransient problems of our modern world.
Decades ago I was on fire with the possibility of giving my life to awakening. What I realized was that awakening was only part of the path. What I desire now is to awaken in a way that addresses all three domains and to assist others to become wise, compassionate and fully integrated – fully baked – human beings. I desire to live in a world where we Show up with and for each other in ways that help us to transform. Together as we transform, we are in a better position to create a world based on just and sustainable values.
It is high time that we make the connection and recognize that only when we are committed to growing up, waking up and showing up are we on a path that supports becoming wise and compassionate as well as integrated, whole human beings – committed to being fully baked. The more we are fully baked, the more we are in service of the world.
*The inspiration both for the title and the article comes from Ken Wilber’s book, Integral Meditation; Mindfulness as a Path to Grow Up, Wake Up and Show Up in Your Life, Shambala Publications, 2016.