Living Well in Difficult Times
In his Foreword to my recent book, Global Unitive Healing: Integral Skills for Personal and Collective Transformation, Ken Wilber summarized my healing message, conveyed through profiles of many lives, in terms of five paths to wholeness — Waking Up, Growing Up, Cleaning Up, Showing Up, and Opening Up. In an earlier publication, he also wrote of Linking Up and Lifting Up.
As we are moving into 2022, and the first work week is unfolding, I’d like to reflect on the deepest aspiration of every person — to live well and to feel whole. Now, more than ever, we can choose how we live. We have access to a wealth of options. Choice, though, complicates things, doesn’t it? Particularly so in times of extreme uncertainty like we are living now. A third year of pandemic unfolding, and nine more years, according to the scientific community, to reverse the dangerous course of climate change. Add to that the mind-boggling levels of global corruption because of which powerful lobbies have been able to stall any meaningful government measures to decarbonize countries and the planet before it’s too late. The same lobbies that have turned human health and lives into a lucrative business. What does it mean to live well in these disenchanting times?
It always begins with waking up to who we really are. In my recent book, the first chapter focuses on the ancient art of deep listening — listening inward, so that we can awaken to the fact that there is a lot more to us than our finite and fragile bodies trapped in often unforgiving social contexts. That we have access to a boundless reality through the intimations of our souls and the aspirations of our spirits. That this reality, which physicists have described as a field (see Lynn McTaggart’s The Field), encompasses, and connects all of life, and allows us to draw insight from invisible, yet very real levels of reality. It also allows us to know in a visceral way what is true and worth trusting, and what is an expression of the many veils in our minds. When we pause our outward activity and listen inwardly, about which I wrote in my blog from December 30, 2021, that allows us to grasp what is ailing us. Every wisdom tradition has pointed to this first step in a well-lived life: reflection. Ken Wilber refers to it as Waking Up to our essential spiritual (non-material) nature which connects us to all life.
To the extent that we listen honestly and deeply to the reality within, we become aware of the many ways in which our encounters with others have been less than kind, less then truthful, less than just. The willingness to recognize that makes us more spacious within, more able to discern our own need for growth into more mature ways of being. In my own life, I have come to see that there is no limit to this growth in discernment and integrity, and we never arrive. As the mid-19th century, relatively little-known Luminary Bahá’u’lláh wrote in The Seven Valleys, each next moment affords the opportunity for a new cycle of growth, and any time we measure ourselves against others and assume that we have excelled, we are right back to the beginning. Ken Wilber summarizes that as the second path to wholeness — Growing Up. Developmental psychologists like myself have written a lot in recent decades on the many potential stages of development in the adult lifespan, each next one significantly more integrated and hence more rewarding than the previous one. In Bahá’u’lláh’s mystical writings, though, these stages are conceptualized as cycles. I find that view a lot more reflective of the complex nature of psychological and spiritual maturation. Bahá’u’lláh was the first one to point out that collective humanity is now in its historical adolescence, painstakingly struggling to evolve into mature and responsible ways of being on our planet home. I write about this developmental growth process in the second chapter of my book. Opening to inner spaciousness and discernment was also the focus of my last blog for 2021 and of the first one for 2022.
The more we discern the need to grow into spiritual maturity, the more honestly we undertake the third path to wholeness that Ken Wilber calls Cleaning Up, and that many of us psychologists work with every day — accompanying people in acknowledging they shadow, that within us, which remains unresolved and is, therefore, routinely projected on others in often hostile and destructive ways. Wisdom traditions encourage every person to call themselves to account daily — not to tear oneself apart, but to understand compassionately what has plagued us, so that we can come to integrate it. That is how we begin to close the pervasive human gap between claimed values and the values we live out. In this process, language matters profoundly. It structures the ways we think, and on closer examination, reveals all our unexamined assumptions about others. The whole second part of my book is devoted to the power of language, so more on that in another blog.
All these ways of wholeness are connected to what Ken Wilber calls Showing up to the different facets of reality — not just to its functional pragmatic daily material dimensions, but also to the diverse expressions of beauty in life, and to the different paths to truth and goodness. The ancient Greeks described them as the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. Such showing up makes us more inclined to seek the intersection between science, philosophy, spirituality, and art; to appreciate the objective third-person perspective, as we also appreciate equally the subjective first-person perspective and the intersubjective second person, “we” perspective. Imagine business, science, education, medicine, politics, global governance being done from the point of view of such an integration of perspectives.
Along with Showing Up goes what Wilber calls Opening Up to our many different types of intelligence; drawing from the fullness of our capabilities rather than prioritizing cognitive intelligence at the expense of emotional, interpersonal, artistic, musical, kinesthetic, spiritual, and the many other types of intelligence that allow us access to the fullness of life.
To end the conversation here, however, as many 20th century approaches to wellness have done, is to remain limited within an individualistic perspective on life, which does not reflect the nature of reality as interconnected. It is not until we ask ourselves how we can Lift Up others in our world, and Link Up to all who are working for a better world in our communities and nations, that our lives begin to feel whole, joyful, and truly fulfilling. It is in service to our planet becoming more prosperous for all of humanity and more respectful to all life forms that our wholeness is tested and strengthened each day.
Living well, then, involves a holistic understanding of life and daily choices that honor our interdependence. It involves living out of our deepest and universal spiritual values, not out of our ideologies as I wrote in my January 2, 2022, blog. To discern the universal values within the particularity of our beliefs, and to focus our choices each next moment on closing the gap between claimed and lived and expressing wholeness — that brings joy, confirmations, and organic wellness no matter how turbulent the times.