Unit II.  Adult Development

1.  Adult psychological development
2.  Mid-life crisis
3.  Spiritual Journey

Materials needed:  Journal, drawing and painting materials

Books needed:

The Circle of Love
One that contains the ox-herding pictures from Zen Buddhism (e.g., Suzuki, 1991; Vaughan, 1986)


Spiritual autobiography and mandala
Ox-herding pictures
Meditation and journaling

Adult Psychological Development

Freud once said that the developmental tasks of adulthood are to love and to work.  I don’t think that has changed very much since his day.  We all need relationships to comfort us and make us feel secure, and without love all the negative potential in human nature can become manifest.  It is very well established that children who grow up without being loved are prone to all sorts of aggressive and perverted behaviors.  It is not so well established that adults also need this kind of attention, but if we look at what people eat and the widespread obesity in our culture, it suggests that a great many of us are lonely and isolated or at least that we feel that way.  Our first experiences of love, when we had them, were usually associated with feeding since infants are usually cuddled when fed.  An experimental trip down a grocery store aisle will quickly tell you that nearly everything there has sugar in it.  And we wonder why so much of our population has diabetes.  We call the people we love “sugar” or “honey.”  So when we feel unloved or misunderstood, we are likely to reach for the candy, chocolate or some other form of carbohydrate that contains sugar.


Love, however, rarely comes to us without conditions.  It takes work to create a lasting and satisfactory relationship.  All too often, love comes into conflict with our ego agendas especially after the “honeymoon” is over.  It seems to me that a great deal of the difficulty comes because our parents were unable to model good relationships for us when we were children.  A lot of that was due to the patriarchal  norms that put one member of the team in a subordinate position.  These norms still exist today in the workplace if not in the home.  

I am old enough to remember the beginnings of the women’s liberation movement.  At that time, I lived in a “split level trap,” and I assure you that that title is completely accurate in describing the experience of many women who lived in them.  The men went to work and supported the family while women stayed at home and took care of the children.  These norms are still in effect in many places. (Wood & Eagly, 2002)   Furthermore,  women who have become emancipated from housework and who have gone into the workplace now find that it is necessary for them to work in order to maintain a decent standard of living.  In addition most single women have to work because there is no partner to help support the children.  So it appears that our society has adjusted to women’s liberation by now requiring two jobs of her, a job and housework.  Some men do help with housework and child care, but, on the whole, it is rarely an egalitarian division of labor.

We saw in the last guidebook that the developmental task of young adulthood was intimacy vs isolation.  In adulthood, it is generativity vs stagnation.  Generally, this refers to taking responsibility for the well-being of children and the society as a whole.  The ideal would be for two adults in relationship to share the load of both providing love and support for the family as well as the provision of food and necessities.  It is impossible to do this without a good working relationship that has provisions for resolving conflict and mutual love and support.  One of the best sources for how to do this can be found in a book called Conscious Loving by Hendricks & Hendricks (1992).  In addition, there are numerous workshops and other books that can teach a couple how to achieve these goals.  We will see in a later unit how projection and judging can undermine an otherwise good relationship.  


In order to be able to work productively, an individual needs to be psychologically balanced.  A smattering of puritan work ethic also helps.  Employers want workers who can dedicate themselves to the job and who are dependable and committed as well as skilled and educated.  Most, if not all, higher level jobs require an education, and the highest level ones may require an advanced degree or specialized career training.  If a person is willing to work and is motivated to persist, there are usually financial aid packages that will enable him/her to get an education even if the family or the individual cannot afford it.

It is usually the case that those who fail to “make the grade” do so because of psychological problems rather than inability.  Children who are neglected often act out and may drop out of school or get into trouble with the law.  This topic was treated in more detail in Book IV (unit4-2.htm).

Usually by mid-adulthood, the mid-30s to the mid-40s, a person has reached a point of relative job security and can “come up for air.”  At this point, if not before, many people begin to reach out into the community to give service to others.  This constitutes a widening of loving care beyond the immediate family.  Many of our social services could not exist without this kind of volunteerism.  The arts are also largely supported in this way.  It may also happen that the person reaches a stage of disequilibrium in relationship.  There’s a phenomenon called the “seven-year itch” that refers to the yen for change and new stimulation that arises after seven years of marriage or bonding.  Staying in harness, allowing yourself to sink down into a comfortable routine and doing what society expects of you can sometimes lead to boredom and a need for some variety.  This often takes the form of an extra-marital affair or a job change.  Some people go back to school to train for a new career.  If a couple has had children, the children by now may all be in school, so the domestic parent(s)  has/have more time to fill.  If you will remember, Piaget said that development moves in cycles and swings back and forth between equilibrium and disequilibrium.  It’s been my experience that a complete cycle will occur somewhere between eight and twelve years.  In addition, astrologers point to what is called a Saturn return every 26 years.  Because Saturn represents the teacher, one can expect a major upheaval in life events and possibly a completely new beginning at these junctures.  Which brings me to mid-life crisis.

Mid-life Crisis

In Yoga, there are said to be four stages of life: 1) student, during which one is learning, 2) householder, during which one is raising and supporting a family and society, 3) forest academy, during which one goes into the forest to meditate, and 4) teacher, during which one comes back to share one’s learning.  In the age group we are discussing, we would be dealing with householders and forest academy.  The division between them would be analogous to the mid-life crisis.

A striking period of disequilibrium may occur anywhere from the mid-forties to the mid-fifties.  It may come on suddenly or gradually.  It may or may not be linked to menopause.  The main symptom is a feeling of being blocked or trapped in a sea of meaninglessness.  In my mid-fifties, I grew increasingly dissatisfied with my professorial career.  It seemed to me that I was going around in circles in a no-growth situation.  I was getting interested in my spiritual journey, but the constraints on my options of what to teach did not allow me to research and pass on new learning in the spiritual realm to my students.  I grew more and more unhappy, feeling caged and immobilized.  What was I doing?  What was the reason to continue?  Depression followed along with a sense of rising anger underneath my civilized facade.  At this point, I had already been seeking for five or six years and had discovered Yoga, Buddhism and Transpersonal Psychology, but there was no opportunity to integrate these new disciplines into my teaching.  Finally, with a sabbatical coming up, I took a year off and never returned.  The years following that I spent at Naropa Institute and in Yasodhara Ashram changed my life completely including a new outlook on life and a new career.  It was the most difficult thing I ever did and the most productive.  I found that it was possible to integrate everything I had learned up until that time, find a way to use it in selfless service and still maintain an open window to new experience.

There is a parallel in the experience of mid-life crisis to the stages of the mystical journey (Book I, Unit 2).  The awakening comes with the realization that my life has stagnated and is going nowhere, and that I am not fulfilling my life’s purpose which is the main reason I came into a body.  The inner, authentic Self becomes restive when there is no progress and sends up signals that become increasingly disruptive of the status quo.  The resulting restlessness impels us to search for the as-yet-unnamed something that will challenge our energies and abilities.  A white light experience which serves as reassurance that we are on the right track may occur during this seeking period.

The purification comes with a commitment to a new journey that is spiritual this time.  In order to clear the decks for spiritual action, we must examine every aspect of our lives and begin to get ego under the control of the Higher Self who is the part of oneself that has the map and directions to higher consciousness.  This stage can be very painful and last a long time.  It takes a major commitment to the path in order to persist and sustain our efforts.  What is being undertaken is a major change in personality, ego and mind all of which resist change and reorganization.

Finally a breather comes: illumination.  This is a major breakthrough that is accompanied by a connection with the divine One or divine energies.  It may come on so gradually that it is not identified initially as illumination.  In fact, my experience was that I did not realize it had occurred until it was over,  and I found myself in the dark night of the soul.  For me, what happened was that my spirit guide, Michael, made himself known one morning during a meditation.  First it was just a sense of presence, then he identified himself.  Some time later, a dialogue began that continues to this day.  Several months later during an intensive meditation retreat in the Colorado Rockies which was part of the curriculum at Naropa Institute, Spirit came through.  This was an entirely different Being from Michael who has something like a personality.  Spirit has no gender, no form, no personality; but is pure presence.  Eventually, dialogue was established with Spirit, and It has been my teacher or inner guru ever since including Its guidance to establish and run House of Spirit.  I did not recognize this as illumination until I studied Evelyn Underhill’s (1961) book on mysticism again last year (cf chapters 4-5).

The dark night of the soul is characterized by loss of connection with the divine One, or the experience of loss.  One never actually loses that connection, but it feels that way because the ego has turned away from It and refuses to complete the necessary surrender.  In my case, I had to leave the House of Spirit in Colorado because it became too much for my aging body to maintain.  Because I loved Colorado, it took three years before I was willing to sell the property and leave.  After that, I felt abandoned by Spirit and cut off, unaware that the disconnect was my own doing.  Instead of feeling like I had a legitimate channeling from Spirit as I had enjoyed before, it seemed I was now just in contact with my own ego.  The feelings of being loved disappeared as I shut down in my grief, disappointment and loss.  My heart closed completely and I went into a major depression that lasted for nearly three years.

I should say here that it is important to discriminate between hard times when one can feel depressed and a true dark night.  We will examine that further in another unit.

Exercise:  Spiritual autobiography and mandala

1.  Draw another lifeline for yourself, this time of your spritual journey, beginning with any experiences of the divine you may have had in childhood and coming up to the present time.  If you do not remember this exercise from Book I, get a large piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle.  Indicate on it the ages at which you had each experience, name the experience on one side of the line and note what significance it had for you on the other.  Then examine the lifeline to see if there are any major themes and whether or not you have gone through any of the stages of the mystical journey.  Can you identify any apparent cycles?

2.  Now draw a mandala to represent your spiritual journey.  Use a dinner plate or a compass to draw a circle, then enclose in it symbols that speak to your own experiences.  If you resist drawing, do this as a collage.  Generally mandalas have the most important symbol in the center which draws all the others to it, but this is not essential to this exercise.  Color it and put it up somewhere that you can see and live with it for a while.  You will find that it speaks to you over time perhaps revealing some very interesting insights from your unconscious mind.

3.  Read the introduction and chapter 1, “The Prayer of the Heart,” in The circle of love by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.  Try to get beyond the sexist pronouns into the sense of what he is saying in case the polarization bothers you.  Our English language does not provide us with an accurate pronoun to refer to a non-sexual being.  Traditionally, in patriarchal religions, God is thought of as a male and the soul as female in both sexes.  In Sufism, the orientation is on engaging in a love affair with the divine One, called the “Beloved.”  Using conventional pronouns makes it easier for the writer though it may be a bit unsettling for the readers.

What does prayer of the heart mean?  How does that relate to the gateway to liberation?  What prevents us from going through it?  What should we pray for?  And what is the relationship between prayer and surrender?  Have you made a connection to the Beloved?  Do you experience Its love?  Do you experience love for It?  Does the Beloved’s immateriality bother you or prevent you from being able to love It?  If so, what do you think needs to be done to change that?  What learnings or social conditionings in your life have caused the separation?  Make a list of these to use in a later exercise.  Use a little discrimination and choose the most important ones that you might still want to work on first, so you don’t feel overwhelmed.  You might want to look back through your notes from earlier chakras for ideas since conditioning issues have been systematically presented for  you at each developmental level.

Spiritual Journey

One could say that the spiritual journey is always in progress whether we consciously do anything about it or not.  And that would be true.  What distinguishes the uneventful journey from what is meant by spiritual journey here is that the path is consciously chosen and followed.  Yogis say that, left alone, the journey can take thousands of lifetimes while it is possible to complete it in a single lifetime if one gives it undivided attention, focus, commitment and hard work.  Milarepa is a prime example of such a true spiritual voyager. (Hughes-Calero, 1987)

We come into life, born into a physical body leaving the realm of divine unity, in order to achieve some purpose.  However, in growing up, we acquire layers upon layers of social conditioning and learning that mask knowledge or experience of our true identity as part of the divine Being.  The spiritual journey is a return to Spirit whom we really are.  To return, it is essential to remove all the debris that separates us from that identity.  This requires patience, commitment and effort.  Merely acquiring a mental understanding of the process won’t help a bit except perhaps to make it a bit easier for ego to surrender.  It may take years of unremitting struggle to extricate oneself from addiction to the world and its talons.  This is especially true in materialistic, western societies where the norms do not support a mystic path.

We can observe that some people may find this path easier than others while some seem to have a good life without making any effort at all.  Past life experiences and learning are probably responsible for individual differences in apparent progress.  Yogis believe that spiritual effort and learning once achieved is never forgotten and carries over from one life to another.  The medium for this is probably the immortal soul.

One interesting depiction of the spiritual journey is the set of ox-herding pictures that come out of the Zen Buddhist tradition. (Suzuki, 1991)  My source is old, but you can find these pictures in any recent edition, I feel sure.  Another set of the  pictures is in The Inward Arc by Frances Vaughan (1986, 114-124).  These pictures represent stages on the path or seasons of enlightenment.  The ox represents the intrinsic nature of consciousness and at first is roaming wild in the forest.   The boy (seeker) is looking for it.  This is the sequence of the pictures:

1.  Seeking the ox
2.  Finding the tracks
3.  First glimpse of the ox
4.  Catching the ox
5.  Taming the ox
6.  Riding the ox home
7.  Ox forgotten, Self alone
8.  Both ox and self forgotten
9.  Return to the Source
10.  Entering the marketplace with helping hands

There are variations on this theme which are depicted in Suzuki’s book.

Exercise: Ox-herding pictures

Find a copy of the ox-herding pictures and study them.  Outline how they apply to the spiritual journey.  Sketch your own version if you can.  Then try to identify which of the stages most clearly applies to you.  What is your next step?  Why do you think so?

Why does forgetting both the ox and oneself help the return to the Source?  Once there, why would one return to the marketplace with helping hands?  Why do you think it is not until mid-life that people usually come to the spiritual journey?  How do you account for those who come to it sooner?  When did you experience awakening?  

Please journal your thoughts and insights about this.


If you have been seriously working with the exercises and practices so far, you will have discovered that you are turning a corner.  The fourth chakra is a critical juncture that marks a change in focus from the personality and ego to transcendent consciousness.   Also, at this point, the soul emerges as the real traveler.  You will remember the Star of David or Solomon’s Seal emblem that held the image of the divine One reaching down to touch the soul that is reaching up longing for reunion.  Now the effort is to finalize ego’s surrender in order to clear the blockage to liberation.

There are two essential practices that need to be undertaken at this point: meditation and journaling.  Yogis say that raja yoga, or meditation, is the royal road to enlightenment.  Buddhists would agree as would many practitioners in other traditions.  The reason for this is that meditation, over time and with faithful practice, clears the mind; so it is prepared for transformation.  All of the discursive chatter, rationalizations and processes that the mind usually produces when left to itself are quieted, and a simple, uncluttered space is opened to divine energy.  For best results, meditation should be done every day, at the same time and for at least an hour.  If you have not been practicing, you may work up to this gradually.

Journaling is most useful for several reasons.  First,  you have a record of your progress all in one place.  Second, it helps you to regulate your practice.  It also provides an opportunity to set mini-goals and to track your progress toward them.  You might want to begin with a meditation log that simply records what happens every day in your practice.  Over time, themes and/or solutions to difficulties may emerge that will help you.  You may find your dreams are prophetic.  You can include in your journal inspirational pieces you find here and there.  Then you have them all in one place, so they are easy to find.  You can use your journal to help you integrate all of your spiritual experience.  Because the spiritual journey is largely non-verbal, it is useful to try to write about it, so the two hemispheres of the brain both share in the process.  Lastly, journaling is a discipline that helps keep you on track.  All of this is called reflection.  We spotlight certain events in our lives and consider what they mean to our journey.  Then we sit for meditation and let it all sink in.  Or, conversely, we sit for meditation, then reflect on what occurred during it.  

Practice: Meditation and journaling

Please begin both a meditation and journaling practice if you are not already doing them.  If you are an old hand, take the instructions to the next level. Meditation will eventually result in what the Buddhists call “spacious meadow” or “no-mind” or “emptiness.”  If you can consistently relax into this space during meditation, you can focus your journaling on other issues such as how to maintain such a state during daily life in the world.  How can you be both separate in a physical sense and One in a spiritual sense and at the same time?

If you have your list of learnings and social conditionings from your life that you did in the spiritual autobiography exercise, compare it to your spiritual lifeline.  Is there any indication that your spiritual practices have helped to remove any of them?  Make notes in your journal about this, and see if any ideas for future practice emerge.  If so, list them and make a plan to work on them - one at a time please.


Hendricks, G. & Hendricks, K.  (1992 ).  Conscious loving.  New York: Bantam.

Hughes-Calero, H. (1987).  The golden dream: A story of Milarepa.  Carmel, CA: Coastline Publishing Co.

Suzuki, D. T. (1991 ).  Introduction to Zen Buddhism.  Grove Press.

Underhill, E.  (1961).  Mysticism: A study in the nature and development of man’s spiritual consciousness.  New York: Dutton.

Vaughan-Lee, L. (1999).  The circle of love.  Inverness, CA: The Golden Sufi Center.

Vaughan, F. (1986).  The inward arc: Healing and wholeness in psychotherapy and spirituality.  Boston: Shambhala.

Wood, W. & Eagly, A. H. (2002).  "A Cross-Cultural Analysis of the Behavior of Women and Men: Implication for the Origins of Sex Differences."  Psychological Bulletin, 128 (5), 699-727.

We have seen that a turning point occurs in mid-life that serves as an opportunity to engage the spiritual Journey.  In Unit III. Mind, we will see how mind operates as a sixth sense becoming aware of new dimensions of reality.

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