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  • Writer's pictureZenho Chad Bennett

Vol 2. Waking Up or Growing Up?

Here’s a brief philosophical orientation, a way of thinking about the path of trauma resolution and awakening, in hopes of shedding more light on The Zen Mind Body Bind. One of the important contributions to the exploration of human consciousness has been the relatively recent addition of the Wilber-Combs lattice. Before the lattice was articulated, it was thought that Enlightenment (Waking up) was simply an outcome of reaching the highest levels of human psychological development (Growing Up).

The lattice upended our paradigm and created two axes differentiating the trajectories of Waking Up to higher states of consciousness from Growing Up through higher stages of development. Obviously there is a good deal of overlap between the two in how our life experience unfolds but having the two trajectories merged philosophically and experientially creates all kinds of problems for untying The Zen Mind Body Bind.

Why is this important? This updated philosophy matures us- first cognitively- by giving us the opportunity to understand, embrace and become more compassionate toward many of the pitfalls we experience along the paths of our awakening and our psychological development. By seeing Waking Up and Growing Up as largely two separate processes, we come to learn from our own experience and through working with others that what works for Waking Up may be very different from what is useful for Growing Up. Most of us tend to gravitate toward one trajectory or the other and this point is especially relevant to the utterly confusing road of trauma resolution.

Let’s begin with Growing up. There is indisputable evidence that childhood trauma impacts the smooth unfolding of the stages of healthy development. It devastates our relationships, our livelihoods, our confidence to actualize our vision and, perhaps above all, it seeds attention biases toward threat in our life long scripts- from here we also generate self-limiting belief systems about what is and is not possible and these become maps of “reality”.

Developing the resilience and flexibility to update these maps into greater complexity is a major aspect of Growing Up. Trauma therapies, especially body-based modalities, have been shown to restore equilibrium and resilience to our fragile nervous systems which may result in feeling a more cohesive sense of self, connecting more easily in relationship, finding life purpose and experiencing more positive emotions and worldviews. I highly recommend the readings of The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk and Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine for reliable information on trauma seen through our lens of Growing Up.

But putting all our stock into the path of Growing Up is a mistake if we are genuinely interested in scratching the deepest itches of our existential suffering. No matter how healthy we are, how integrated, how good we feel, how developed and powerful and even how much we are of service we are to the world- to put it blatantly- all of this is going to die! Therefore, many of us turn to Waking Up, any contemplative path that transcends and is separate from the Growing Up process.

When talking about “spirituality” if we are not able to be precise in what we mean, we are likely mixing Growing Up and Waking Up. We can have many experiences along our Grow Up trajectory that make us feel blissful or soulful, connected to something larger than ourselves, and even at peace with the way things are. I am not here to judge what spiritual means to my readers but for the definition of this writer, spirituality or Waking Up is characterized by having genuine experiential insight into the insubstantiality of the self or ego. If I look carefully, the “I” that I hold so dear and central cannot be found! This insight does not require repairing ourselves, changing our belief system or Growing Up any further- it can be seen here and now.

This point is central to our discussion of differentiating states from stages. In short Growing Up (stages) is about making our sense of self more healthy, integrated, connected, happy, and complete- resolving trauma is an essential part of this. But notice the centrality and identification of the self here- “I” become more healthy, integrated, connected…”. Waking Up is quite different and is characterized by insight- seeing the way things actually are- into the fact that the centrality and identification of the “self” is ultimately a lie we tell ourselves. It is just another belief system we took up.

So which is the more important road to cultivate? The answer is Yes. The term “spiritual bypassing” coined by John Wellwood is now widely understood for cases where people take the “high road” of Waking Up rather than “cleaning up” their stuff in their Growing Up trajectories. In other words, knowledge of states of consciousness is used to transcend the stages of the self (or at least we pretend to!). But the term could be used equally in its inverse in cases where the therapeutic culture, for example, neglects to employ any view or technologies of Waking Up because this is “bypassing spiritual” altogether! If we spend an undue amount of our time and resources Growing Up in hope that the genuine relief we intuit is in reach, we are deluded. But to take the approach that many yogis have of leaving the world behind has generated some catastrophic results too. Here we see people who may be quite remarkably awake in stabilizing their state experience but their undigested trauma and shadow material makes them very dysfunctional and often destructive.

In conclusion, in studies of both trauma resolution and the ancient wisdom traditions, we have not yet seen research or writings that integrate the confusing mess I have unpacked here. The trauma research in the last 20 years has been tremendous and will be making huge impacts on the field of psychology (Growing Up) for years to come. However, we search in vain for any credible information or contributions from authors of trauma theory and research that integrate the relationship of trauma resolution to genuine Waking Up as we collectively untie The Zen Mind Body Bind. Similarly, from our contemplative wisdom traditions, any study of stages of development (Growing Up) and the impact of trauma on Waking Up is utterly absent. Until we can first differentiate and then integrate these two trajectories we will be left with very broken and fragmented ways of living, both individually and collectively.

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