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Developmental Psychology

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Developmental Psychology

Accomplishment of Ego Autonomy is Ultimately a Prison

In developmental psychology, emotional independence and ego autonomy are seen as the culmination of ego development. While this perspective explains one of the deepest aspirations of the man of the world, the desire for autonomy, it does not take into consideration the values of the man of spirit, and the deepest insights of man's most profound teaching. Object relations theory, at least as it is understood in the United States, does not take Being into consideration, but rather takes the self-image as the core of human realization … from the perspective of the man of spirit, the self-image is not real, it is only a conceptual construct. Thus the accomplishment of the tasks of separation-individuation, however necessary, cannot be the acme of human realization, since it is based on an illusory identification. Of course, in object relations theory much more than establishing the self-image is involved in ego development; it involves an integration on the various developmental achievements and the various so-called ego functions such as perception, memory, thinking, synthesis, defense and so on. But the basic "accomplishment" is experiencing oneself as a separate individual, based on a self-image composed of memories. From the perspective of the man of spirit, however, one is actually a Being independent from mind, existing outside the field of memory. From this perspective, the accomplishment of ego autonomy is ultimately a prison. In identifying with the self-image constructed through a process of ego development, we cage ourselves. How can this be autonomy, this bondage which is the primary source of human suffering?

Contrasting Developmental Psychology with Spiritual Teachings

We must understand that developmental psychology has not been concerned with whether human beings have a more real nature, a nature beyond the mind. The spiritual teachings, on the other hand, are concerned with human nature beyond ideas, images or concepts in the mind. For them, a mental construct such as the self-image is fundamentally nonexistent, is illusory. For them, the fact that the mind contains a concept of a person does not mean that there is truly a person, any more than the concept of an apple is an apple. If we take the mental construct away, there is no separate individual; these teachings say that when the mind is still, then we see that there is no such thing as a separate individual. Enlightenment does not involve simply the perception that the person is only a concept. It means that all conceptualization is ended, all images and representations in the mind, whether conscious, preconscious or unconscious, are eliminated, or at least not identified with. When this profound stillness of the mind is achieved, it is asserted, true reality is perceived, not by an entity which is a separate individual. The experience is one of unqualified Being, wordless existence, infinite and eternal.

Death of Soul in Psychology

In current Western culture, the self is the subject of the field of psychology. The dearth of notions of soul in Western contemporary thought is nowhere more apparent than here. While some approaches to psychology include a spiritual or some inner dimension—for example, Carl Jung’s analytic psychology, Roberto Assagioli’s psychosynthesis, and the larger category of transpersonal psychology—it remains true that the majority of approaches to psychology conceive of the individual as a self without a spiritual dimension. These include behaviorism, experimental psychology, child research, neuropsychology, cognitive psychology, and psychoanalysis and its various schools, such as ego psychology, object relations theory, self psychology, and developmental psychology. It would be surprising if this were otherwise, since psychology developed within the context of Western thought, in which the split of soul/self from the world and from the divine was assumed. Hence it is bound to be a study of soul/self that does not include considerations of the spiritual dimension of this facet. Thus psychology, at least in its main thrust, is bound to have no consideration of soul. It emerged within a current of thought that is philosophically grounded in the separation of the self from the divine, and merely took further the separation of the self from its spiritual essence, within a mentality already grounded in this separation. These considerations indicate a direction for the field of psychology to consider, if it is to regain its understanding of the whole human being including the spiritual dimension. This orientation has the potential to unify the two extreme ends of the schools of psychology, those of cognitive and experimental psychology on the one hand and transpersonal psychology on the other. More precisely, psychology can regain its relevance to the understanding of soul by connecting to the study of God or Being on one hand, and cosmos or world on the other, that is, to spirituality and to science.

Development of the Self Representation

The self-representation influences the self by patterning its experience such that it knows itself as an entity with a separate individuality, which has an identity. This is the result of the development of the self as the self-representation is established in early childhood. Developmental psychology explores this process extensively, as we will discuss shortly. However, this exploration has been subject to a great deal of unclarity, confusion and disagreement regarding the above four concepts.

Ego Cannot Exist Without Internal Conflicts

The fact is that ego development, as it usually occurs and as it is conceptualized by developmental psychology, is antithetical to the integration of the Merging Essence. When the Merging Essence is integrated this individuality cannot exist, for it will lose its defining boundaries. In fact, we find that one of the main resistances against the experience of the Merging Essence is the fear of loss of separateness and boundaries. This point has profound and disturbing implications for ego development. It shows that the conceptualizations of developmental psychology, including those of object relations theory, cannot be complete, since they do not deal with the following conflict: The individuality of ego, the main outcome of the separation-individuation process, Is primarily defined by Its boundaries. This individuality is dependent on the internalization of mother’s image and her soothing functions. However, the soothing functions, in terms of inner experience, are those of the Merging Essence, which is characterized by the absence of individual boundaries and separateness. Clearly, the outcome is that it is impossible to have a separate individuality and to truly integrate the regulating functions. The two are antithetical. And since the individuality of ego can never integrate these functions in any fundamental way, it can never be completely harmonious, and cannot, by its nature, experience deep contentment and happiness. Ego cannot exist without internal conflicts. This is in fact the general experience of most of humanity. It is also the assertion of most of the profound spiritual teachings, which state that ego cannot be happy or contented in any real or lasting way.

The Sense of Being an Entity is Not Intrinsic to the Self

It is difficult to become aware of the actual soul directly. We usually experience it through its manifestations; the self is always present in the manifestation because the manifestation is simply a particular form of it. So it is difficult to know the self itself because we are usually focused on the form of its manifestation. To become directly conscious of the manifestation of self as an entity is unusual. The sense of being an entity is so basic that we naturally believe it to be intrinsic to what we are, and not an acquired perception. Indeed, although developmental psychology has demonstrated that this sense is a developmental achievement, it is assumed to be not a pattern that is formed, but a reality that is recognized in the course of development. The view is that the sense of being an entity is an intrinsic quality of the self, although to experience it and identify with it is a developmental achievement. In the deeper dimensions of spiritual awareness, however, the sense of being an entity is seen quite clearly to be not intrinsic to the self. One sees clearly that it is an acquired pattern. The sense of being an entity is the most general aspect of the self-representation. It can arise clearly in awareness and be questioned experientially only at deep levels of understanding the nature of the self;

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