Stages

 

In Ch'an circles it has been said, "Unformed people delight in the gaudy and in novelty. Cooked people delight in the ordinary.

Gary Snyder

 

One of the problems with "staging" is that while it can describe rather accurately different dimensions or styles of growth, faith, or loving, it does so in a hierarchical way that may imply a steady progression. Yet life and love are not like this. The most narcissistic child can experience moments of erotic, filial, and agapic love. Similarly, the most saintly and wise old sage can be derailed by a sudden erotic passion or narcissistic indulgence. Although some very well researched models of psychological maturation, such as those of Erikson and Freud, do tend to describe the experience of many people quite accurately, there are always exceptions. When staging is applied to love, it is far less accurate, and exceptions are still more frequent. And in spiritual growth, staging falls apart very rapidly unless one admits that the stages are simply representative dimensions of spirituality rather than phases one must go through in sequence. In spiritual growth, for example, the classical stages are those of purgation, illumination, and union. Most people experience each of these dimensions several times several times in the course of a lifetime, or even in a year, or a month. These may be "levels" but they are certainly not always experienced sequentially. And most definitely they are not a function of personal growth or human-centered development. . . . At the same time, many highly mature people, people who seem to have had considerable experience and growth in their loving capacities can have unitive experiences and either not react at all or become especially self-centered and self-important afterwards.

 

Gerald May - Care of Mind Care of Spirit

Thus it is wise to hold all concepts of stages in spiritual growth very loosely, using them only at the most gross levels of understanding and remembering constantly that the manifestations of grace in a person's life can never stop surprising us. Among those spiritual directors who have some understanding of popular psychology, there is a common assumption that one must have arrived at a certain level of emotional maturity before effective use can be made of spiritual guidance or intentional spiritual disciplines. A popular way of stating this is "One must have an ego before it can be given up." While this makes a great deal of logical and psychological sense, there are so many exceptions to it that - to me at least - its usefulness as a dictum is very questionable. There are a great many souls walking among us who could be psychiatrically labeled as neurotic or psychotic yet who manifest such deepness and clarity of faith that they could well be our spiritual guides.

 

Gerald May - Care of Mind Care of Spirit