To everything there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
Something significant happened to me as I started writing this book. I had a profound insight: I realized that I could not have written this book any sooner in my life because who I am has never stopped changing.
My core has always been the same, but decade after decade of subtle shifts have gradually brought my personality into closer alignment with my core. Only now, with hindsight, can I look back on seventy years of life and see how the stages of psychological development led me into soul consciousness.
This insight made me realize that the way we are in the world, what we think about, what we consider important, what we include and exclude from the narrative we tell ourselves about who we are and why we do what we do, is determined by the lenses we wear.
Our lenses are personal and dynamic. They are conditioned by multiple factors: the world view of the culture we were brought up in, the impact that our life’s experiences, particularly those of our childhood, had on the formation of our beliefs, and most importantly, the stage of psychological development we have reached.
Although I was already aware of the importance that the stages of psychological development have on our lives, it was not until I read George E. Vaillant’s book, Triumphs of Experience, which reports on the longitudinal Harvard Grant Study of Social Adjustments, that I fully recognized how important the successful mastery of the stages of psychological development is to the level of happiness, meaning and fulfillment we find during the different seasons of our lives.
The Grant Study
The Harvard Grant Study of Social Adjustments began in 1938, four years after George Vaillant was born. Vaillant became the study director in 1972 and retired from his post more than three decades later in 2005. The purpose of the Grant Study, as it is popularly known, was to learn something about the conditions that promote optimum health by following the lives of 268 men, all Harvard graduates. This study is one of the longest running prospective longitudinal studies of adult male development that has ever been attempted.
One of the criticisms leveled at the Grant Study was that it focused on an elite group of men. Vaillant responds to this criticism by admitting that this was also one of his reservations when he became involved in the study and that his concerns had subsequently been allayed. He states:
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I have had the opportunity and privilege of studying the life courses of two contrasting groups [to the Grant Study]—a cohort of very underprivileged inner-city men and a group of gifted women. The results from both groups, each of which was studied prospectively for more than half a century, have confirmed [significant similarities to the results of the Grant Study]. (Adaptation to Life by George E. Vaillant)
After reviewing the results of the three studies, Vaillant came to the conclusion that the advantages we attribute to the male gender and social class in America do not show up as being significant when we follow the life stories of gifted women and underprivileged men. In other words, gender and social class do not necessarily correlate with living a “successful” life.
I suspect this is also true for people living in liberal democracies all over the world. For those living in autocratic regimes, where ethnic and social prejudices prevent certain genders, religions and social classes from getting the opportunities they need to express fully who they are, living a “successful” life can be full of challenges.
Unlike retrospective studies, prospective studies follow a cohort in real time. This means that the results of prospective studies are not flawed by the lens of the stage of psychological development participants are at when they attempt to answer questions about their past.
Prospective studies make our shifting subjectivity transparent. They enable us to see that what we regard as important changes with the passage of time.
As Vaillant points out, time is a great deceiver. He considers our age filters to be so significant that he calls the first chapter of Triumphs of Experience: Maturation makes liars of us all.
As indicated, the Grant Study was not the only longitudinal prospective study to have been carried out in the twentieth century. Other studies included the Inner City cohort of the Glueck study of juvenile delinquency and the Terman study of gifted women.
The Glueck study followed a group of 500 delinquent schoolboys and a contrasting group of 500 schoolboys who had not brushed up against the law. The study began in 1939 when the boys were teenagers; the final interviews were carried out in 1975 when the study participants had reached their 50s.
The Terman Study followed a group of talented women for eighty years from 1922. Most of the 672 women were born between 1908 and 1914. The key findings of this study are reported in The Longevity Project.
What I admire about George Vaillant’s reporting is not just the stories he tells of the insights that the Grant Study yielded, but his refreshing honesty in making public his age/development-related biases in the way he approached his research. Time after time, Vaillant explains that what he considered important was proven wrong.
What Vaillant does, very explicitly in my opinion, is illustrate how wrong our assumptions can be when we fall into the trap of objectifying our subjectivity. We all do this; we can’t help it. The rationale for everything we do is based on what we believe is important at the particular moment we make a decision or pass judgment.
What we fail to recognize is that what is important to us depends on multiple factors: the influence of our parents, our cultural conditioning, our religious beliefs, the stage of psychological development we are at, and the needs of the stages of psychological development we have failed to master.
Depending on these biases you could easily be drawn into dismissing as unimportant some of the ideas expressed in this book, or any other book for that matter because they do not align with what you believe is important at the stage of psychological development you have reached. This is why I stated that I could not have written this book any earlier in my life because it would have been biased by what I considered important at the stage of psychological development I had reached.
This is still true today, but having spent at least a decade in what I regard as the last stage of psychological development, I can now look back at my life with a deeper understanding of how what was important to me during the earlier stages of my development influenced my decision-making and brought me to the larger perspective I now have.
The stages of psychological development and their age ranges are:
Serving (60+ years)
Surviving (Birth to 2 years)
Denying the soul
The soul (sometimes called the higher-self or the inner core), along with the topic of consciousness, for the most part, is ignored by the academic world. Let me recount an anecdote that illustrates my point.
In 2015 I gave an opening keynote address at a conference put on by one of the top business schools in Europe. My title was The Spiritual/Psychological Dimension of Creativity and Flow. The audience of close to 300 people was comprised of academics, coaches and business people. At the beginning of my speech, I conducted an experiment with the audience: I asked them to stand if any of the statements I was going to make were true for them.
I started by saying “I have a car” and most of the audience stood up. Then I said “I am a car” no one stood up. Then I said, “I have an ego” and after that “I am an ego”. Most people stood up when I said “I have an ego” and sat down when I said “I am an ego”. Then I said “I have a soul”, everyone stood up. After that, I said “I am a soul” and everyone remained standing.
What I had half expected, but was amazed to see, was that everyone stood up for both of the final statements. Not just one, both of them! After jokingly pointing out the high level of confusion they must have about who they are, I suggested to the audience that having a soul was the stage of development that preceded being a soul, but the ultimate truth was that your soul has you! Since that occasion, I have repeated this exercise with diverse audiences in many parts of the world and each time I got the same result: the vast majority of people believe they have a soul, and they are a soul.
But it was what happened next that made me realize there is something wrong with the mainstream scientific approach. The next speakers, two very bright and influential academics were talking about neuroscience research.
They had a statement on their first slide that read “Assumptions we make: There is no soul”. When I saw this statement, I could not help smiling to myself. The entire audience of academics, coaches and business people had just indicated that they believed they not only had a soul, but they were souls.
Objective Denial Our Inner Knowing
What this experience clearly pointed out to me, and I think the rest of the audience, was how the objective, scientific approach has a tendency to deny our inner knowing. Fortunately, if you care to look beyond mainstream academic circles you will find a plethora of serious writings that paint a very different picture of the world. You will also find an increasing number of universities promoting interdisciplinary approaches. This is to be welcomed.
I believe there are two problems that arise from the objective scientific approach: the dualistic notion that the body and the mind belong to different realms, and the plethora of disciplines that keep our minds blinkered from the larger realities of life. In this respect, the following words written by Peter D. Ouspensky (1878–1947) early in the last century are almost as meaningful now as they were then:
We fail to understand many things because we specialize too easily and too drastically, philosophy, religion, psychology, natural sciences, sociology, etc. each has their special literature. There is nothing embracing the whole in its entirety. (A Key to the Mysteries of the World)
However, all the different areas of knowledge must have significant interrelationships. We need to identify and explore these linkages if we are to develop theories that unify psychology, spirituality and science.
The proposition I set out in this book is that there is a unifying model. Furthermore, we can only grow to understand this model by removing our blinkers, embracing self-knowledge, and acknowledging the limits of our three-dimensional physical perception. The unifying model I propose transcends birth and death and leads us into an energetic dimension of reality where we encounter the soul.
©2016 by Richard Barrett. All Rights Reserved
About the Author
Richard Barrett is an author, speaker and internationally recognized thought leader on the evolution of human values in business and society. He is the creator of the Cultural Transformation Tools (CTT) which have been used to support more than 5,000 organizations in 60 different countries on their transformational journeys. He has been an Adjunct Professor at Royal Roads University, Institute for Values-based Leadership, and a visiting lecturer at the One Planet MBA at Exeter University. Richard Barrett is the author of numerous books. Visit his websites at valuescentre.com and newleadershipparadigm.com.
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