Saturday, January 19, 2013

The seeds of potential are within us

Liza Field

Liza Field's column appears twice a month in Extra.

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All the flowers of the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.

- Indian Proverb

They began arriving on the first day of winter, bringing into stuffy, over-stewed homes their snappy parsleys, red roses and pastel-blue morning glories.

They delivered quaint old color-wash drawings of yellow squashes, tomatoes, blackberry canes and watering cans perched on a rock.

They brought potted lime trees and pines, mosses and ferns, arbors clobbered with grapes and snow-storm clematis, misty clouds of purplish weeping cherry and wisteria.

They called the mind to mountain huckleberry bushes, blackberry cobblers, birdbaths full of blue sky.

And they called the spirit to burn like a big sunshine, combusting the old timbers and doubts and debris under which the little mind, in its dormancy, had hidden like a grub.

Who were these winter guests?

The seed catalogs! Those bindings of paper that, when you flip their leaves like a slow fan, pump oxygen to your spirit and hope to your heart.

How many have you now accumulated around the kitchen, like windows cracking open your mind into the growing season - both outer and inward?

Gardeners and growers may feel it best, but after all, there is a universal enzyme inside all people that is encoded with one clear call. "Grow!"


Clearly, we humans have more growing to do here than a pole bean. We have, according to cognitive researchers, almost unbounded growth potential in the field of consciousness.

In other words, we have the chance to grow "big-minded."

Humans are the species here to pursue and respond to big truth. Lao Tzu and Moses, Aristotle and Jesus all uttered it in various ways, but this is the universal calling that makes human life so bizarre.

The kind of growth it entails is disconcerting. Researchers of human consciousness (wisdom) growth say that each breakthrough stage is generally painful - a breakdown of the old, smaller reality, into a bigger one. It often looks ugly.

You can see this happen around the world, today - old separate orders and systems collapsing, defensive reactions to preserve them, chaos everywhere.

But it also happens to you.

That should be good news. Maybe you're in a deep crisis, grief or uncertainty, or suffering because others are.

Just picture that old seed husk cracking open, falling apart and rotting. It hurts! But take heart. You aren't the seed husk!

It helps to recognize this growth trajectory.

But despite decades of great research on consciousness growth, and millennia-loads of wisdom literature shedding light on its path, one might find little in mainstream education, medical research, even psychiatric and religious venues - to indicate the good that emerges from the apparent disaster of growing.

This could fruitfully change. Growing bigger-minded, with all its passing uncertainties and losses, could seem the norm to us rather than a catastrophe.

Perhaps such awareness would help facilitate a growing-up in wisdom - not just for the rare sage, but many people - so that we might wisely address the daunting crises of our time.

Here, then, is a very rough model of general stages in consciousness growth. It's based on research from the Integral Institute, and interweaves theory from many past and present leaders in that field of study.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary...

First, everyone begins life at an egocentric, survival stage of consciousness.

Many people (not all) move on to a clan-based focus, perhaps full of ritual and superstition, loyal to the gang/tribe. They can carry long grudges.

At these early stages, morality means "will I get in trouble?" One has erred only if one gets caught - awareness being limited to self-interest.

Some people move on to more-developed "ethnocentric" stages, sometimes called "conformist." One's concern is with social approval, rank, respectability, meeting the expected norm. "What will the neighbors think?"

Persons here understand responsibility to larger society, tend to question old mythologies and apply reason and logic.

Next, "world-centric" stages can bring a person to identify with a global oneness, desiring cooperation, not domination. But even here, that cooperation can be impeded by a postmodern disdain for the religious, traditional or ethnocentric.

Finally, what these researchers call "kosmo-centric" stages expand awareness to a very spiritual-practical-universal one, concerned with local-global renewal. The late Mother Teresa and the 14th Dalai Lama come to mind. Compassion exceeds ego.

Most of the world's population is currently at conformist stage or lower, researchers estimate.

Moreover, those at a conformist stage and one next to it - post-modern - tend to battle one another, as in America's "culture wars" and our current political polarization.

Only bringing more people to a stage outgrowing these - a more global and spiritual understanding - can get us beyond such quagmires and on toward planetary renewal, says integral philosopher Ken Wilber.

Well, we have the seeds for it. We have lots of dirt and decay, plus the enzyme of "great need." Surely our growing season is at hand.

Liza Field's column runs every other Saturday in Extra.

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