There were three kids in my family. I was the youngest. I’m quite certain that each of us felt fully loved when we were infants. We received lots of attention and were kept safe. We were raised with the same values and in the same environment, yet we turned into three very different people. Why?
Were there two or three seminal events that shaped each of us, or was it an accumulation of little things here and there? When I think about my wife’s family, again, I see three siblings raised in the same environment and they turned out to be extremely different people. I can see how for my wife, Hannah, one traumatic event had a disproportionate influence on who she became. But why did she respond the way she did—becoming a seeker of growth, while other people who experience a similar trauma seek a place to hide?
Creating a coherent narrative
What about you? Were there two or three things in your life that really shaped you? Do you have a clear sense of why you are the way you are today? Is it useful to know? I think so. I think that when we have a coherent narrative about ourselves—a story that makes sense—we tend to be more relaxed and empowered.
The primary factors that shape us are our upbringing (nurture), our temperament (nature), and the environment in which live (culture). If you want a good overview of how nature, nurture and culture intersect, we’ve written a short 20 page booklet you can download: Why Wait To Be Happy?
In this article, which introduces our Video Timeline, you can explore yourself in a very personal way by thinking about each of the ten stages of development that you have, or will, grow through. At each stage of development there are certain tasks or rituals that, ideally, you fulfill.
To explore those tasks and rituals we’ve created a Video Timeline. We’re including some questions for you to consider as you go through our Video Timeline to make your experience more interactive and informative.
In the beginning, the earliest stages in life, as “infants,” we each need to:
- Experience safety.
- Experience being deeply loved.
- Experience ourselves as separate emotional beings.
Few of us are fortunate to have all of these needs completely satisfied. To the degree that they’re not fully satisfied we will move forward with a hole in our development.
Questions: How did you experience this stage of your development? Do you remember the first five or six years of your life? What stands out for you?
Young and Old Child
During our years as a “young child” and an “old child,” which we consider to span roughly from age 7 to 35, we need to:
- Develop healthy life scripts.
- Start the process of individuating from our parents.
Few of us fully complete these tasks. We may begin the process of individuating from our parents, but most of us will continue this process well into our thirties, forties, and beyond.
Questions: Did you grow up with healthy life scripts? Good role models? And where are you in the process of individuating—from your parents and from your partner? (To learn more about individuating read this series of articles).
Young and Old Adult
During our years as a “young adult” and “old adult,” which extends roughly from age 35 to 65, we need to:
- Realize our potential as adults.
- Develop a deeper level of self-understanding that leads to self-acceptance.
It’s extremely rare that any of us fully satisfy these challenges—especially self-acceptance.
Questions: Have you reached your potential? Are you now self-accepting? If not, what do you need to do?
During our years as an “elder” (65 to 80) we need to:
- Continue differentiating (growing).
- Find ways to contemplate our lives.
- Make a contribution—give back.
Not many of us fully have these experiences because we were never taught how to live this way—but it is possible.
Questions: Are you continuing to grow and discover more of yourself? Do you have some contemplative practice? Have you found a way to give back, to share your experience and wisdom with others?
During our final years as a “self-actualized” (80+) we need to:
Expand our consciousness so that we don’t fear and resist the final stage of life.
Few of us fully experience, or are even aware of, this possibility. We had the good fortune to witness John and Joyce Weir, our mentors who originally created this body of work, living this possibility.
Questions: Do you have a model that tells you what’s possible for life after 80? And if you haven’t yet reached this stage, will you be prepared when you do?
Since none of us can totally satisfy all of our human needs as we grow up, what happens to us as we grow older? When we get to be whatever age we are now we will find we have some gaps in our development—some holes. There are certain things we needed that we didn’t get. There are certain things that happened to us and maybe we’d be better off if they hadn’t.
Some parts get left behind
Along the way some “parts” of ourselves get left behind, cut off and isolated. These parts remain stuck in the stage of development that they were in when we left them behind.
Maybe when I was a young child other kids made fun of me for crying. I felt embarrassed and ostracized. I started choking back my tears from that day forward. The feelings I had as a young boy, who learned not to cry, still live inside me and those feelings are stuck at that stage of my development.
The “good” news is that there are many things I can go back and address. I can still access those old feelings. I can learn to cry today even if it’s something I repressed for most of my life. As I do this, I embrace and integrate that younger part of myself and I become more integrated, more whole.
The “bad” news is that there are some things we can’t go back and fully address. Perhaps as an infant you weren’t cuddled by your mother or made to feel safe by another human being who was willing to take total responsibility for your well-being. After you have grown up this is not an experience that you can recreate for yourself. At this point in your life no one is willing to take that level of responsibility for you. Nor should they.
There are some therapeutic processes that can help us revisit and work with our past wounds, which can be extremely valuable, but these processes don’t eliminate the original event, they help us learn to live with it. Even so, that “hole” in our development remains part of our narrative.
Acceptance leads to growth
Understanding our developmental journey helps us to identify the “holes” from our past that we can address and the ones that we can’t address—or change. The things we can’t change, we must come to accept. Ironically, when we come to accept our “holes” we heal and grow ourselves. That doesn’t mean that we fill in the original hole, but instead of denying it or resisting it we end up learning from it, deepening ourselves, and adding to the quality of our character.
If I don’t attend to my personal growth—“do my work”—there will come a certain point in my developmental journey when I will start to shrink and close down my consciousness as a way to avoid feeling my pain and disappointment.
But this isn’t necessary. It’s possible to allow my consciousness to keep expanding until I die. If I choose to stay open, keep expanding my consciousness, and live in an undefended way with an open heart, I can access higher states of consciousness.
We explore the questions outlined in this article in our new Video Timeline. We hope that it will help you appreciate each of the stages of development that you have grown through, and become aware of the ones that lie ahead. During our Reology retreats we delve more deeply into all of these questions. We create a safe space in which to explore:
- Connecting with our potential
- Accepting our limitations
- Defining the meaning for our lives
- Recognizing our mortality
The first four people who viewed our Video Timeline cried as they watched it. Notice how you respond. Tears, resistance, judgments, envy, confusion, curiosity, compassion . . .
There is no right response, but there is something to be learned by paying attention to your own experience. And please share your experience, if you’d like, in the comment section below. Also, if you enjoy your experience, please share our Video Timeline with your friends on Facebook. We’ve provided a link to make this easy.
To taste a sample and open up to your own exploration we hope you enjoy our Video Timeline.Explore this moving and enriching video timeline to discover some answers »