The Nature of Personal and Spiritual Growth, A Brief Summary and Introduction

There are many spiritual and personal growth programs, books, and teachers, including many organized religions, all offering to support a person’s personal and spiritual development. How is one to sort through all of these resources when he or she feels an inner call to, in some way, “move beyond” where one is? And what does “move beyond” where one is look like and really mean? This, of course, is a vast topic, but I am moved to share a few thoughts on the subject. I invite anyone interested in joining in the conversation to engage with me.  In this age clarity on these matters seems important.

Of course, any way one structures and talks about personal and spiritual growth is both arbitrary and bound to be flawed and limited. Yet it seems that some structure might be helpful. To this end I am creating the following structure for this summary and introduction:

            Personal Development – Phases 1 and 2

            Spiritual Development – Phases 1 and 2

I am drawing on material from Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics (see also this article on Spiral Dynamics), Pathwork Lecture 105 Humanity’s Relationship To God In Various Stages of Development (open quote from Lecture 105), and Moira Shaw and her The 50-50 Work©.

Personal Development – Phase 1

In many ways personal growth begins as a process of enculturation into the norms, spoken and unspoken, of one’s family of origin, into that family’s religion, nationality, and ethnic and social infrastructure. As a person comes to “fit in” he or she may find a degree of safety, identity, happiness, fulfillment, and sense of meaning in life. With maturity in life, his or her life can turn out to be “good enough” economically, socially, relationally, and professionally, and he or she can claim more or less pleasure and satisfaction in life. One could live relatively comfortably into old age and die with a “good enough” degree of peace, joy, and satisfaction. In such a life there seems to have been no sense of need for psychotherapy or personal or spiritual development efforts, and no need for the ubiquitous self-help books, teachers or programs to help him or her along the way.

However as one grows up sometimes life is perceived as “not good enough.” Perhaps one has found himself or herself in an abusive relationship, or is unable to have meaningful relationships with family, friends, coworkers, or neighbors, or is unable to find a meaningful career or hold down a job, or is in insurmountable financial debt, or is trapped seemingly uncontrollably by any one of numerous addictions, or is always in trouble with others in the community, or is clinically depressed. The list of maladjustments and maladies could go on and on. Sometimes one resigns oneself to simply suffer through life and its maladies, thinking that this is all life will ever be. Sometimes the society forces one to find help, in extreme cases perhaps in jail or an institution. And sometimes one decides that enough is enough and goes out to find the help one needs to have a “good enough” life.

Thus begins personal development. And there are more and more resources for help. One could go to a therapist, join a 12-step support group, go to workshops, find self-help books that seem to really address his or her needs, and the like. The purpose of Personal Development – Phase 1, as I am defining it, is to help a person get from the state of life is which is “not good enough” to the state of life that is “good enough.” After successful work in Personal Development – Phase 1 one can, hopefully, hold down a job, be in relative harmony with family, friends, and co-workers, make sufficient money to live on, be on top of his or her addiction, have a satisfying job and the like. Often insurance companies will help fund going from “not good enough” to “good enough.”  Often this process is one of building up ego strength to face the inevitable ups and downs of life.

Personal Development – Phase 2

At some point, even when life appears to be “good enough,” an individual may get uneasy or simply wonder whether or not the life he or she is living is all there is. Somehow he or she Knows and feels from a deep place, a place deeper than the mind, that indeed there must be more to life. “Good enough” no longer feels good enough. This point could come at any time, of course, but often shows up as what is commonly called a midlife crisis. To use Joseph Campbell’s metaphor, “I’ve climbed the ladder of success only to find that it was against the wrong building.”

People in challenging lives may never get to this point. Their tasks may be too challenging to ever get enough Personal Development — Phase 1 work in to have the time to get to a “good enough” life, let alone beyond it. But for those blessed to reach this point this Personal Development — Phase 2 work can be embarked upon. Recall that at this point the person has enjoyed a modicum of success and happiness in life. His or her ego has developed to the point where he or she can make workable decisions and initiate movement in most any direction he or she sees as positive – ways to reduce or avoid pain and ways to increase pleasure, fulfillment, and sense of meaning.

So what is the problem this individual ready for Personal Development Phase 2 faces? Why has “good enough” eroded, at least in his or her gut, to “not good enough.” This is a significant identity crisis for the individual — he or she begins to doubt that he or she even knows what his or her life is all about. This can be part of a Dark Night of the Soul. This leads one to the next level of personal development.

This Personal Development — Phase 2 will require an even stronger ego than that required in Personal Development – Phase 1. Phase 2 will require an ego that is able to assess and face oneself and make sometimes radical changes in his or her life. This work is typically a “rest-of-your-life” process. In this “rest-of-your-life” process one discovers that many of the beliefs, conclusions about how life works, and worldview aspects are, in fact, not quite true. In some cases he or she finds that they very untrue and damaging to self and others! This can be very unsettling, and hence the need for a strong ego.

In this Personal Development – Phase 2 one dismantles one’s life stone by stone and rebuilds it upon Truths. One often finds that what one has built his or her life and very identity upon has been a system of defenses to protect him or herself from the inevitable pains and limitations of life as a human being on this planet Earth. Of course this dismantling threatens one’s entire identity of who he or she thinks he or she is, and is not for the faint of heart. It is a process that takes help from psychotherapists and other counselors and friends who can help one discover and work through the illusions in his or her life. But in the process, over time, as the “not good enough” is dismantled a new “good enough” comes into being – and is a much richer and deeper level of being in the world. Yes, there is still pain, but one faces the pain and goes through it rather than skirt around it, and in so doing comes to a deeper-than-ever experience of pleasure.

Again, the work here is very challenging and requires skilled people and strong support to confront the self in all of its reality. Without a strong ego, this work may result in disintegration of the individual’s psyche rather than growth. Discernment is critical for whether or not one is ready for and truly committed to entering this Personal Development – Phase 2.

Spiritual Development – Phase 1

What is Spiritual Development? How does it differ from Personal Development? This is not an easy question to answer in a way that satisfies everyone, and some answers may trigger those who disagree. With this caveat, I shall define Spiritual Development as growth in consciousness and awareness, awareness of self and of self-in-the Cosmos, consciousness beyond the personal (i.e., transpersonal).

Perhaps one of the most popular modern descriptions of Spiritual Development is the work of Don Beck in his work on Spiral Dynamics. If I use his definition, perhaps what I call Spiritual Development – Phase 1 is his Tier 1 set of “Subsistence” valueMEMES of consciousness. In Don Beck’s framework Spiritual Development Phase 1 would then be the six MEMES of consciousness in his Tier 1:

Beige: Instinctive/Survivalistic MEME;

Purple: Magic/Animistic MEME;

Red: Impulsive/Egocentric MEME;

Blue: Purposeful/Authoritarian MEME;

Orange: Achievist/Strategic MEME; and

Green: Communitarian/Egalitarian MEME.

Levels of consciousness are also described in Pathwork Lecture 105 Humanity’s Relationship To God In Various Stages of Development, (open quote from L105) and I shall use Pathwork Lecture 105 to define Spiritual Development – Phase 1 and say that Phase 1 consists of the following four parts:

1. Atheism Level 1 – Being without Awareness, Instinctual Survival

2. Wonderment – Initial Genuine God Experience, Longing to Relate to God

3. Birth of Religious Dogma, Rules, Beliefs – god as projection of man

4. Atheism Level 2 – Birth of self-responsibility, Death of God

In most cultures where religion is part and parcel of the enculturation, one begins his or her spiritual journey at Part 3Religion, and does not experience Parts 1 and 2. If one is not motivated to challenge his or her religion, often one can live and die in Part 3 of Phase 1 of Spiritual Development. Often, however, one grows out of his or her religion of childhood and becomes an atheist – possibly a clandestine “closet atheist,” sometimes not even aware of his or her “inner” atheism, but rather simply enjoying the social structure that his or her religion provides. Or, if an academic type, he or she might become a proselytizing atheist, one who is very sure of the truth of his or her atheism, holding to the truths of science that can be measured and “proven,” and holding that the very notion of transcendence, transpersonal consciousness, religious experiences and the like is wishful thinking on the part of the weak-minded.

Finally, I want to borrow some of the ideas of Moira Shaw’s The 50-50 Work© and say that Spiritual Development – Phase 1 parts 3 and 4 consist one part:

1. 100/100 – Dualistic Consciousness

Spiritual Development – Phase 2

Perhaps a person will die “peacefully” in his religion, counting on a “life after death in heaven” because he or she believes or behaves “right,” or, alternatively, from his or her atheism, die in “peace” believing that life is nothing beyond an accident of science.

But for many this atheism, while a stage beyond religious dogma, ultimately makes no sense. Some indiviuals taste moments of transpersonal consciousness whereby they come to Know there is something beyond “ordinary” states of consciousness. This could come from drugs, sex, or various meditation practices, etc. These spontaneous and temporary tastes of “something more” sometimes motivate the soul forward into Spiritual Development – Phase 2. But sometimes the motivation is the individuals own soul and its hunger for a deeper consciousness.

In Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics perhaps this Spiritual Development – Phase 2 is Second Tier “Being” valueMEMES.

Turquoise: Holistic MEME

Yellow: Integrative MEME


From Pathwork Lecture 105 (read paragraphs 14 and 15 describing this stageSpiritual Development  — Phase 2 would be

5. True Spiritual Development — Authentic Relationship with Authentic God

Note that this involves relating to the authentic God in an entirely new and authentic way — beyond the mind’s trying to understand dogma about God. Note also the emphasis is not only on describing the experience of a holistic authentic relationship with God — experience of living in the Now — but also the emphasis is on Personal Development — Phase 2 — the work of self-confrontation that continuously throughout the rest of our life prepares the vessel of our limited humanity to experience God from a place of fullness and wholeness — meeting God from our own Divine Essence. This involves purification and transformation. It is our Divine Essence in our human form experiencing God’s Love and  Grace.

And again, I want to borrow some of the ideas of Moira Shaw’s The 50/50 Work© and say that Spiritual Development – Phase 2 consists of two parts:

1. 50/50 – Non-Dual Consciousness

2. 100 – Unitive Consciousness


Both Spiritual and Personal Development Are Needed for Growth

Spiritual Development Phase 2, like Personal Development Phase 2, takes courage and a strong ego. Why? Personal Development Phase 2 requires total acceptance of “What Is” in the self, often challenging when one does honest self-confrontation. It consists of Purification as one uncovers and examines his or her belief system, distortions, and defenses and changes them. Spiritual Development Phase 2 consists of facing the self as merely and utterly human and surrendering to the Grace of God for the Soul’s Transformation.

Pathwork as a Spiritual Path

Pathwork consists of a body of wisdom and practices that support Personal Development Phase 2 and Spiritual Development Phase 2. Pathwork in general is not suited to Personal Development Phase 1 or Spiritual Development Phase 1, and for people at this Phase 1 Level of development Phase 2 work can result in disintegration of the individual’s psyche. It takes a strong ego, courage, and commitment to a sense of Calling to enter these Phase 2 levels of personal and spiritual development work.  For the soul ready for this Phase 2 level of work, however, Pathwork in the hands of skilled teachers is a powerful developmental tool.

Spiritual Bypassing

It is very important that both Personal Development Phase 2 and Spiritual Development Phase 2 happen concurrently. They constitute a life-long commitment, and when not done together can lead to problems in the soul’s development. If one focuses only on the Personal Development Phase 2 work without the energy and motivation coming from the Spiritual Development Phase 2 work, the psyche becomes weary and may lose its motivation to move forward.

If, on the other hand, one focuses only on the Spiritual Development Phase 2 work without giving equal attention to the Personal Development Phase 2 work, a phenomenon called spiritual bypassing may occur. It is hard to constantly face oneself in one’s distortions and defenses, and yet this “cross-work” (discovering and accepting the pain brought on by our distortions of the past from which we are now healing) is central to a true spiritual path. It is through, not around, our pain, loneliness, hate, etc. that we reach a state of bliss.

The “Cross-Work” symbolizes two aspects of human life. First, with Jesus’ words, “Take up your cross and follow me,” we are invited, as Jesus was invited, to fully incarnate in human form and fully experience all of life in our limited humanity — and for us this means going through (not bypassing) the painsphysical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual — of our limited human existence.

Secondly, the cross symbolizes the vertical and horizontal dimensions of our human life — the vertical being Spiritual Development work and the horizontal being Personal Development work. Both are necessary, both are life-long, and both have phase 1 and phase 2 aspects.

Let me stop here. This is a challenging yet important topic. Again, I invite anyone interested in joining in the conversation to engage with me. 

Shared in love, Gary


In coffee time Sunday morning I read sections of this blog entry to Pat. Pat: Gary, these writings in your blog are your work as a Mystic. This is your Calling. I’m glad you spent the day yesterday writing this rather than doing administrative work for Sevenoaks, etc.  … I take in her words.