Like a Fish in Water
By Bill Harris
Life is a developmental process, even in people who never participate in any kind of personal or spiritual growth work. Without such work a person may not go very far in the developmental process, but still, life itself provides the impetus for growth.
Developmental psychologists have noticed that all human beings move from one developmental stage to the next, that this process is driven by environmental conditions (though it may be possible to intentionally drive the process once a certain level has been attained), and that development begins at birth. We remain in a given stage until something happens that pushes us to evolve to the next stage, followed by a period of time during which we integrate the changes we have experienced. Stage-to-stage growth could be termed vertical growth, while the integration period is termed horizontal growth.
One of the most important aspects of such developmental growth is that each new stage involves the ability to see yourself, other people, and the world, from additional perspectives. This ability to see from a wider, more all-encompassing perspective has been called expanded awareness by spiritual teachers. Since seekers have been looking for expanded awareness for thousands of years, seeing it in terms of the ability to take new perspectives gives the term a more concrete and practical meaning. As such, understanding the developmental process is crucial to any person who wants to grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
You might even say that all mental, emotional, and spiritual problems (which admittedly covers a lot of territory)—even including the day-to-day problems of creating what you want in the world (paying the rent, creating a relationship, having a fulfilling life, etc.)—are problems of lack of development, of incomplete developmental shifts, or of developmental shifts where something some sort of trauma occurred. More on this later.
Several years ago, I had a revelation while studying several models of spiritual development. I was particularly interested in the last stages of spiritual growth, those occurring right before what spiritual traditions call enlightenment. These last stages are generally thought of as being "stages of spiritual growth," where what happened before these stages is generally thought of as being something other than spiritual growth.
As I pondered this question, however, it struck me that spiritual growth actually begins at birth, and that all development is spiritual development, even though it isn't generally thought of that way.
Spiritual development, then, includes development in areas some might consider to be "worldly"—psychological and emotional development, and the development of social skills and "success skills." It would also include cognitive development, moral development, and development in several additional areas.
"Development is development"... and all of it is spiritual. Let me explain.
The great modern philosopher and developmental psychologist Ken Wilber is fond of saying that spiritual development (in fact, all development) is a matter of adopting additional perspectives. We begin life with a very limited perspective. As we develop—as we evolve spiritually—we add additional perspectives (I'll explain what this entails in just a moment).
As we add perspectives, our awareness expands. In fact, these are just two different ways of describing the same phenomenon. You might say that as we develop we increasingly perceive and experience how everything is connected and goes together—we focus more on the relationships between people, things, and events—rather than seeing and experiencing people, things, and events as separate from each other. In other words, our perspective becomes more holistic.
There is a relationship between these two ways of seeing and well-being. The more we see things in terms of how they are separate, the more likely we are to be unhappy, fearful, anxious, unsuccessful, and isolated. The more we see how everything goes together and depends on everything else, the more likely we are to feel good, to feel connected to the world and other people, and to be successful. In other words, the more perspectives we are able to take the better life works.
People, then, go through a series of developmental stages, each involving a wider, more all-encompassing perspective. Each new stage includes the capabilities and awareness of the previous stage, and then adds new and more encompassing capacities. Like nested Russian dolls, each new developmental level transcends and includes the previous level (which transcends and includes its previous level, and so on).
These new perspectives have a definite direction, one of increasing inclusiveness. Ken Wilber has described this process, in the simplest terms, as being one of moving from me, to us, to all of us—each involving a broader and larger perspective.
In the earlier stages everything is about me. We are egocentric, unable to see the perspective of others. We are narcissistic. At higher developmental levels, we see things in terms of us, our social group. We become group-centric, or ethnocentric. We see the needs and wants and perspective of our group, but not that of those outside our group. With still further development, our perspective becomes world-centric, including all of us.
Not everyone, of course, moves through all three of these levels (which are generally subdivided into a number of sub-levels, as we'll see). Some never make it past the egocentric stage; many stop at the ethnocentric stage; a few make it to the world-centric level. And, there are levels beyond world-centric, which even fewer people attain. Because there are so few people living at these higher levels, there is less information about them. In a later article I'll share more about these higher developmental levels.
There are potential problems and limitations in living at a lower developmental level (or, you could say that there are advantages to living at a higher developmental level). Just as a child has fewer tools and abilities to deal with the world than does an adult, people at a lower developmental level lack the perspective to effectively and resourcefully deal with the complexity of life. A religious fundamentalist, for instance, who sees the world in simplistic black and white terms (one characteristic of the ethnocentric level of development), is less prepared to deal with complex multi-dimensional situations than is someone at a higher developmental level.
Some people are traumatized while at a certain developmental level, or during the shift from one developmental level to the next. Such people may transition to the next higher level, but do so with certain mental, emotional, and spiritual problems and pathologies. These might include fears, anxieties, anger, depression, what I've termed "magical thinking," social immaturity, illogical thinking and other cognitive problems, problems of moral judgment, personal boundary problems, and a number of others. An argument could be made that most, if not all, problems that cause people to seek counseling, therapy, self help, and personal growth programs (including Holosync) are problems of development.
One's developmental level, then, influences cognitive, ethical, social, and psychological aspects of life, and even the ability to be successful in the world. Another key aspect of being human that is directly related to one's level of development is our sense of self, our perspective on who we are and how we relate to the rest of the world. In each new developmental level, our experience of what we consider to be our self broadens (in a fascinating way, as you will see). Eventually, if development continues for long enough, one's perspective of what makes up the self comes to include the entire universe—what many people refer to as enlightenment. Like a fish in water...
When a person inhabits a certain developmental stage, he is completely immersed in that stage and all its various perspectives, whether mental, emotional, social, ethical, or otherwise. We could call this the fish in water affect. Being immersed, one cannot objectively see the patterns, characteristics, and ways of seeing oneself and the world that make up that stage. In each stage, you are these patterns, characteristics, and ways of thinking, and as such you are totally immersed in them and unconscious of them. Like a fish in water, your current stage of development is your reality, and you don't have the perspective to see or imagine anything else.
Once you move to the next developmental stage, however, you clearly see the characteristics of the previous stage. Now, instead of being those ways of thinking, you have them. They become part of your repertoire, whereas before they were automatic and unconscious.
Developmental issues are behind nearly all the problems that lead people to Holosync and Centerpointe. A person with emotional problems, for instance, is sure to be immersed in their emotions (in a way characteristic of their current level of development). Instead of having their emotions, they are their emotions. They are caught in their feelings. Because they are immersed, their feelings seem to just happen to them, unconsciously and automatically.
If this person was a fish his emotions would be the water. Instead of saying "like a fish in water," we could say, "like a person immersed in his emotions."
Let's say a person suffers from limiting beliefs, which generate outcomes that aren't resourceful (the mind will always figure out a way to make what we believe come true, or at least seem to be true). If you are immersed in your beliefs, you can't examine them, you can't watch to see how those beliefs create unresourceful outcomes. You can't be in charge of them. You don't have them, you are them.
Unconsciously immersed in what you think is true, you operate automatically and unconsciously creating in your life exactly what you believe to be true.
When you move to the next developmental level, you gain a new awareness of what, up to that point, you had been immersed in. In the first several developmental levels the move to a new level happens when external circumstances necessitate adopting a new perspective and operating in a new way. Circumstances draw your awareness and attention to that which you were previously unaware, including what you were previously immersed in. In a moment I'll describe some of these environmental influences.
In higher developmental levels these shifts aren't necessarily dependent upon external events. You can, in fact, intentionally create a shift to a new level by adopting what many teachers call the witness perspective. This means watching yourself with curiosity, mentally standing outside yourself and watching what you are doing, whether it involves moving, feeling, thinking, or something else. More on this later.
You cannot watch with awareness—"be the witness"—and be immersed in what you are watching. Watching creates awareness of what you have been immersed in. Awareness, then, is one of the keys to development. And, guess what—meditating with Holosync dramatically increases awareness.
When you watch yourself with awareness, your perspective expands. You see things from a new angle, from a higher spot on the mountain, so to speak. From this new perspective, you become aware of that in which you previously were immersed. Before this new perspective, you were it. After the shift, you have it.
To look into this more deeply, let's call what a person is immersed in subject (what the person is), and that which the person has become aware of (from the new perspective) object (what the person now has). For instance, children at a certain developmental level are immersed in their feelings—they are, quite literally, their feelings. As such, they are able to exercise little if any control over them. After the developmental shift, however, these feelings move from subject to object—the child now has them (and therefore has a greater possibility of controlling them and being at choice about them). After the shift, the child is aware of the feelings in a way that was not possible while he was immersed in them.
Development, then—and remember, all development is effectively spiritual development—is a matter of moving an increasing amount of who and what you are from subject (something in which you are immersed, and therefore unaware of) to object (something you are aware of, and therefore have).
Let's see how this works. A developmental psychologist would say that an infant is immersed in his reflexes, body movements, and sensory impressions. These things constitute the infant's entire world—the infant is his reflexes, his body, and his immediate sensory experiences. At this stage, everything is subject and nothing is object; from the child's perspective the environment is just an extension of who he is, and he makes no distinction between self and other.
An emotionally healthy mother, however, promotes the child's emergence from this embeddedness in various ways: by not meeting the child's every need, by stopping nursing at a certain point, by acknowledging and encouraging displays of independence, and in many other ways.
At a certain point (usually between ten and twelve months of age), these environmental influences, along with the child's developing nervous system, cause him to make the transition to the second developmental level. At this level, the child begins to make a distinction between self and environment, between self and other. After this shift, he is no longer immersed in his reflexes, sensory input, and his body. These now become something the child is aware of having (as opposed to unconsciously being them). These things cease to be subject and instead become object.
At the same time, something new becomes subject—something that, once again, the child will be unaware of, something the child is but does not yet have: his impulses and perceptions. Being immersed in them, the child's impulses are automatically and unconsciously acted upon, without awareness, and objects are understood only as they are perceived (i.e., the child has no ideas about them nor creates any symbolic representations of them). At this second stage, then, the self has reflexes, sensory awareness, and movement (where these were subject, they are now object), while the self is impulses and perceptions (these become the new subject).
The next developmental shift comes at about five and seven years of age. In this third stage, perceptions and impulses, which were subject, become object. The child now has these rather than being them. At the same time, something new—in this case, needs, interests, and wishes—become subject. The self now has perceptions and impulses (along with reflexes, sensory awareness, and movement, from the first stage), while the self is needs, interests, and wishes.
In the fourth stage, beginning sometime around age 12, needs, interests, and wishes become object (something the child has) while interpersonal relationships and group roles become subject (what the child is). This marks the end of the egocentric developmental levels, and the beginning of the ethnocentric (group-oriented) levels. And, once again, the child becomes immersed in something new—in this case, his roles within the group, in mutually reciprocal one-to-one relationships, and in buddy-type relationships (those involving shared feelings and experiences). At this stage the child learns to follow group rules and to act not just for himself but also for the group.
In the fifth stage, group roles move from subject to object, and another new subject appears: personal and individual identity (i.e., a personal identity apart from the group, individual authorship). Though the individual is a part of the group, there is, for the first time, the beginning of a true separate self, a true separate identity.
In the sixth stage, the individual is no longer immersed in personal and individual identity (it moves from subject to object, from that which he is to that which he now has). And, once again, something new becomes subject: what developmental psychologists call inter-individuality, an increasingly holistic awareness of all of us, an awareness of his connectedness to all others. (This, by the way, marks the end of the ethnocentric developmental levels and the beginning of a world-centric outlook.) This is the first stage, according to psychologists, where true intimacy is possible, because prior to this level there was no truly developed self that could be intimate with another person.
There are stages after these six, most of which are generally thought of as stages of transpersonall spiritual awakening (as I've said, however, all of these stages are spiritual stages, as they all involve development of the person's sense of who they are and their relationship to the whole). As you might expect, these additional stages continue the process of immersion in something new, then, in the next developmental shift, moving this subject to object. Notice that in each new level more of who and what you are becomes object. As this happens, you gain increased awareness, more control, and a broader and more inclusive perspective.
There are several other important features of this model you need to know about. As I mentioned earlier, many people fail to move past the first two or three levels. Because they have less awareness, a more limited perspective, and cannot control what they are immersed in, such people see fewer choices and have a more limited ability to function resourcefully in the world. Others make it to the fourth or fifth level, where they can function much more resourcefully, while a few continue to develop past any of the levels I've mentioned here.
My experience, over many years, with over a quarter of a million Holosync users, is that Holosync pushes the listener to rapidly develop through the six levels I've described (of course, many people come to us having already moved through several levels), and continues to create accelerated development through the even more advanced levels beyond.
Much more happens in each new developmental level than the few items I've mentioned here. New cognitive abilities, new ways of making moral distinctions and sorting out moral and ethical dilemmas, new ways of seeing and experiencing self and other, new ways of acting socially, new problem-solving abilities, and many other new perspectives in every area of human life, emerge.
Finally, I've also eluded to the fact that each passage from one level to the next includes potential challenges. Many people are traumatized in some way while in a certain level, or during the transition from one level to the next. In fact, I would say that most Holosync users come to us with unresolved issues stemming from such trauma. This can cause a failure to make the transition to the next level—or, to make the transition, but dragging behind them many unresolved mental, emotional, social, and spiritual pathologies.
Interesting information, you may say, but how can I use it? And what does it have to do with meditating with Holosync? The best way to use this information is to recognize that you are, right now, immersed in something. It might be your emotions, or your idea of who you are. It might be your beliefs, what you consider to be important about life, your personal boundaries, what you think you have to do, or what you think is possible. It could be your moral stance regarding what is right or wrong. Or, it could be how you see your role as husband, wife, daughter, son, worker, leader, victim, hero, clown, screw-up—or any number of other things.
At a more advanced stage you might be immersed in your sense of being a separate self, rather than experiencing yourself as the interconnectedness of all and everything—what some would call the growing edge of enlightenment.
Whatever you're immersed in, development to the next higher level comes when you step outside of what you're immersed in and observe it. This is the value of witnessing—watching with curiosity and awareness, with no agenda for what happens.
If you're immersed in your emotions, for instance, chances are you have an emotionally difficult life, where life is an emotional roller-coaster, one emotional drama after another. This happens because you are your emotions. Emotionally, you're running on autopilot.
If, however, you can mentally stand aside and watch yourself have your emotions—if you can adopt the witness perspective and objectively notice yourself being emotional—your emotions will move from subject to object. Instead of being immersed in them, you'll have them. Once this happens emotions stop being a problem.
Your job, then, as you continue to meditate with Holosync and your other personal growth practices, is to ponder the question, "What am I immersed in?" Even if you find this question difficult to answer (by definition, whatever you are immersed in is difficult to spot), you can always watch yourself. If you watch, if you pay attention, you will eventually become aware. Observe your body, your emotions, your thoughts, your idea of who you are, your beliefs, what you think is important in life, what rules you think are important, what roles you've adopted, what seems to be necessary, what seems to be possible. The more you watch, the greater your ability to see these things from a broader and more resourceful perspective.
Holosync is valuable in this process, because Holosync increases awareness. It makes watching from the witness perspective progressively easier. As you gain the ability to do this, the developmental process accelerates. Instead of waiting for life conditions to force a change, your expanding awareness quickly moves you to the next level. It's just plain impossible to remain immersed and watch. As Fritz Perls, creator of Gestalt Therapy, said, "Awareness, in and of itself, is transformative."
When you combine Holosync with your decision to pay attention, to watch, to notice what you are immersed in, and transcend it, your growth takes off like a rocket. As this happens, mental, emotional, and spiritual problems dissolve.
What's more, as you use Holosync, pathologies that may have developed in the transition from one developmental level to the next—the same problems that lead us to seek out personal growth programs, therapy, meditation, and other approaches in the first place—are healed. Holosync, then, moves you more quickly from one developmental level to the next, it expands your awareness of who you are, and it helps clean up problems left over from prior levels.
Director, Centerpointe Research Institute