Stages of Spiritual Growth

Ta ta ta ~ once again I’ve decided to write about growth and spirituality, but I think this one will be my last post for a long time. I think I’ve learned enough at this stage and I need to focus on other things.

SO ANYWAY HELLO EVERYONE I’ve just came back from Situational Test, which just means another 3 days in the forest eating food that can last for up to a year. It went well though – I think I did well and I gave it my all. Hopefully I’ll make it to OCS.

I wanted to blog about this before I became a forest dweller again but I could not find it in myself to write so much due to the given conditions then, but now seems like a good time to write because I’ve had my bath and I’m at home. I was at Starbucks just doing what I normally do when I stumbled upon something I would see as a ‘truth’ and over the days I am quite amazed at how much it made sense.

I am trying to be extremely cautious with my use of ‘religious’ words.

Despite my constant correlation of topics to religion, I try very hard to ensure that I distinguish religion from spirituality because one is a belief in a higher power instead of God. But before that, in an attempt to make my post look colorful and happy and fancy I present to you something you’d rarely see on this blog but possibly more in the near future: a picture.

To simply say it, there are 4 stages of spiritual growth. My awareness and knowledge of these stages were refined from some things I read, as well as my own personal experience and the things I observe.

The 4 stages of spiritual growth are as follows:
1 – Chaotic/Antisocial
2 – Formal/Institutional
3 – Sceptic/Individual
4 – Mystical/Communal

These stages/categories must be looked at with extreme flexibility though, because people do not always fall quite as neatly into my psychospiritual pigeonholes as I might like them to do.

Stage One
At the beginning – the bottom, if you wish – is Stage One, which I label ‘chaotic/antisocial’.

This stage would probably encompass about twenty percent of the entire population. This stage is, in general, the stage of absent spirituality and the people at this stage are quite or utterly unprincipled. I call it antisocial because while they are capable of pretending to be loving, actually all of their relationships with their fellow human beings are self-serving and covertly, if not overtly, manipulative. Chaotic because, being unprincipled, they lack the mechanism that might govern them other than their own will. Since the unharnessed will can go this way one day and that way the next, their being is consequently chaotic. Because it is, the people in this stage will frequently or often be found in trouble or difficulty.

Some of them, however, may actually be quit self-disciplined, from time to time, in the service of their ambition and may rise to positions of considerably prestige and power. The people in Stage One may occasionally get in touch with the chaos of their own being. And when they do, it is perhaps the single most painful experience a human can have. Generally, they just ride it out, but if this painful experience continues, they may go to the extent of harming themselves or even kill themselves, and I think that some unexplained suicides may go into this category. Or occasionally, usually at the verge of chaos, they may convert to Stage Two.

Such conversions are usually – and I use usually because there are always exceptions – very sudden and dramatic. It is as if God literally reaches down and grabs that soul and yanks it up into a quantum leap. Ask a friend who has recently been to church ~ he or she should begin to paint such a picture. Something astonishing happens to that person and it is usually totally unconscious. If it could be made conscious, I think it would be as if that person said to himself or herself, ‘I am willing to do anything – anything – in order to liberate myself from this chaos, even submit myself to an institution for my governance.’

Stage Two

And so it is that they convert to Stage Two, which I have labelled ‘formal/institutional’.

It is labeled as such because people in it are dependent upon an institution for their governance. For some the institution may be a prison. In my experience, National Service is one of them because it is a governance or an institution that instills order and routine into a recruit’s life. This is a profoundly positive role the military plays in ours and other societies. Ask around – there are tens of thousands boys who would lead chaotic lives were it not for the rather paternalistic and in some ways maternalistic structure of the military. While on the subject of NS, I’d just like to add that NS does not change lives – they only instill order (like a religion), which is a difference in a state of mind. Logically, how does 2 years of life after the age of rebellion and development change what 18+ years of growth has done?

For still others, the institution to which they submit themselves for their governance may be a highly organized business corporation. But for most people, it is the church/mosque/temple. I’ll be using church for certain reasons.

Indeed, the majority of churchgoers fall into Stage Two, the formal/institutional stage.

Although there may be gradations and nothing is absolutely cut and dried within these stages, certain things tend to characterize people’s religious behaviour in Stage Two. As mentioned, they are dependent on the institution of the church for their governance of their lives and their chaos, and I call it formal because they are very attached to the forms of the religion. People in Stage Two become very, very upset if someone starts changing forms or rituals, altering their liturgy or introducing new perspectives/hymns. Once there was a church that decided there might be some alternative ways to say the same things on different Sundays, and many people were so up in arms that a full-blown schism resulted. (So happy that I get to use news words I’ve learned hohoho) This kind of turmoil goes on in every denomination of every religion in the world. And it’s no wonder that people in Stage Two become so upset when the forms of their religion are changed, because it’s precisely in those forms that they depend upon to some extent for their liberation from chaos.

Another thing that tends to characterize in this religious behaviour is that their vision of God is almost entirely that of an external being. They almost totally think of God as up there, out there. They generally envision God along the masculine model, and while they believe Him to be a loving being, they also ascribe to Him as a certain kind of punitive power which He is not afraid to use on appropriate occasions. It is a vision of God as a giant benevolent cop in the sky. And in many ways, this is exactly the kind of God that people in Stage Two need – a being of absolute power they can rely on to purge their souls.

Stage Three

Let’s say that two people who are firmly rooted in Stage Two meet and marry and have children. They raise their children in a stable home because stability tends to be of great value to people in Stage Two. They treat their children with dignity and importance because the church says that children are important and should be treated with dignity. And while their love may be a little bit legalistic or unimaginative at times, nonetheless they are loving because the church tells them to be loving and teaches them a little something about how to be loving.

So what happens to a child raised in such a stable, loving home and treated with dignity and importance? That child will absorb his parents’ religious principles – be they Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or Jewish – like mother’s milk. By the time they reach adolescence, these principles would have become virtually engraved on his heart, or ‘internalized’, if using a psychiatric term (not acting smart, just something I picked up).

But once this happens, they will have become principled, self-governing human beings who no longer need to depend upon an institution for their governance. It is at this time, which in healthy human development is usually at adolescence, that they start saying ‘Who needs these silly myths and superstitions and this fuddy-duddy old institution?’ Then they begin – often to their parent’s utterly unnecessary horror and chagrin, and I was a part of this – to fall away from the church, having become doubters or agnostics or atheists. At this point they have begun to convert to Stage Three, which is labelled as ‘sceptic/individual’.

Note: I still see myself as an agnostic because to believe in a religion so to believe in the truth of it. The true nature of my being is in Islam, and while I am not entirely a straight-arrowed muslim, I choose to break away because this is the path I’ve decided to take in pursuit of both my spiritual growth and life’s direction.

Again speaking generally, people in Stage Three are ahead of people in Stage Two in their spiritually, although they are not religious in the ordinary sense of the word or to people. They are also not the least bit antisocial. They mostly comprise of brilliant men and women, people who have dared question and violated, or simply just went off like those in Stage Two. Often, these people in Stage Three are deeply involved in society. They make committed and loving parents. Frequently, they are scientists, and certainly scientific-minded. Invariably they are truth seekers. And if they seek truth deeply enough, which they most often do not, they do begin to find what they are looking for, and get to fit enough pieces of truth to catch glimpses of the big picture and see that it is not only very beautiful, but that it strangely resembles many of those primitive myths and superstitions their Stage Two parents or grandparents believed in. And at this stage, they transcend or convert into Stage Four, the beginning from the last, which I call ‘mystical/communal.’

Stage Four

Mystical because, even though it is hard to define, has as its root the word mystery. And I am sure we all would agree that majority of religion – it’s validity, etc, and the universe are a great mystery.

Mystics are people who love mystery. They seek to solve mysteries, and yet at the same time, they know that the more they solve, the more mystery they are going to encounter. But they are very comfortable living in a world of mystery, whereas the people in Stage Two are most uncomfortable when things aren’t cut and dried. These principles holds true not only for Islam/Christianity, but also in all nations, cultures, and religions. Indeed, one of the things that characterize all of the world’s greatest religions is that they seem to have the capacity to speak to people in both Stage Two and Stage Four as if the teachings of a given religion have two different translations.

To take an example from Judaism (I read a lot), Psalm 111 ends with ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’. At Stage Two this is translated into, ‘When you start fearing that big cop in the sky, you really wise up.’ That’s quite true. At Stage Four it could be translated to mean,’ The awe of God shows you the way to enlightenment.’And that’s also true. ‘Jesus is my Saviour’ is a favourite statement among Christians and provides another example. Among Stage Two people, that tends to be translated to mean that Jesus is a kind fairy godmother who can rescue me whenever I get in trouble as long as I can remember to call upon His name. And that’s true; he will do exactly that. Whereas in Stage Four, people read it to mean that Jesus, through His life and death, taught me the way that I myself must follow for my salvation. And that is also true.

As I noted, this quality of dual translation holds true not only for Christianity/Judaism/Islam, but for Taoist, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Indeed, I think this is what makes them great religions. They all give room for both the Stage Two and Four believers.

I think i’ll stop here for today; my fingers are tired, I am hungry, I need sleep and breakfast and a movie and Starbucks and I don’t want to write too much. I have more to write, but I will keep it short.

**PS – To all Christian/Muslim friends, I apologize for my constant reference to Christianity. This very violation of my ‘nature’ may put me in quite a position for discredit. It’s just written for a truly different and deeper purpose.

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