How to Become A Saint*
Experiment: Exploring Your Own Inner Wisdom and Highest Potential
How would your life be different if you saw it through the eyes of Nelson Mandela? If you saw other people’s suffering like Mother Teresa did? If you thought about politics like the Dalai Llama?
We revere these people for a lot of different reasons, but one thing is certain: they see and interact with the world in a way that is different from the average human being.
What is your life like when you are like them—not just putting on their glasses for second, but actually evolving your own view, that includes your own peculiarities, so that everything you do, experience, and think is colored by a similar degree of compassion, wisdom, and transcendence?
While the dynamics of such persistent and long-term development are largely mysterious, it is quite possible to take a glimpse into that way of being in the world.
The Science and Story Behind Late-Stage Ego Development
Decades ago, Susanne Cook-Greuter noticed something peculiar when scoring responses to the Washington University Sentence Completion Test—a method of measuring the qualitatively different ways persons know who they are, how the world works, and how they know what they know. She kept encountering responses to the test that did not fit with the scoring manual. These people seemed to understand themselves in a way few other human beings did—a way that was more commensurate with the mystical writings of saints and sages from the world’s greatest bodies of knowledge.
Jane Loevinger, the original author and researcher of the test, mostly dismissed these ways of making meaning because of their rarity and complexity. She deemed these attitudes too difficult to study with the scientific method.
Susanne had a hunch that Loevinger was wrong about the highest stages of human development. She began collecting these responses, and over the course of two decades she gathered almost five hundred examples of people that seemed to see the world in a completely new way. The incredible thing was that these people were not saints—they were managers, educators, students, and even an air force pilot. Susanne asked herself, how did these people see the world in order to say the things they said on this test? What kind of themes and patterns of thinking did they all have in common?
She began to identify these patterns and realize the exciting possibilities exploring such data might open up. The results showed an attitude that seamlessly integrated Eastern and Western conceptions of human growth, bridging a seemingly impossible chasm of thought. They showed a new understanding of the human condition that could drastically change the social institutions and economic practices of our world. They showed that everyday people were already influencing many aspects of everyday life with this type of thinking.
Over time, she developed a rigorous method of testing for these highest stages, and successfully verified the validity of her theory in her Doctoral thesis Postautonomous Ego Development: A Study of Its Nature and Measurement.
The categories she determined from over a thousand examples of these higher stages of understanding the world, verified across other literature and studies of development, and refined by her team of researchers, offer us a glimpse into a profoundly compassionate understanding of life that is possible for each individual.
Turning Theory Into Experience
The latest, “Unitive” stage in particular has implications on our journey to happiness, since Unitive persons embrace good and bad while displaying a “unique positive affect and gratitude” for people (including themselves) and situations as they are. While I believe the following exercise can be very useful for any stage above the one that dominates our current understanding of our self and world, I will just use the Unitive stage for the sake of brevity and because it is currently the highest measurable ego stage.
There are many, many other distinctions and subtle understandings of ego development theory and these stages that are also important, but I believe the following exercise can be a powerful way to access inner wisdom despite these theoretical shortcomings.
We can use a combination of imagination and Susanne Cook-Greuter’s descriptions of the Unitive stage to temporarily explore our own inner wisdom. It is important to acknowledge when doing this that we are not necessarily seeing the world from this Unitive point of view, but in suspending our normal judgment and attempting to see in a different way, we are likely to find some useful self guidance in our finding peace in the midst of our daily struggles.
- Step 1: Read the first category description of the Unitive stage of ego development (below).
- Step 2: In your journal (or as a partner exercise with a trusted friend), rewrite something that happened in your day as if you saw it through this new category lens. Try to feel into how differently you would hold yourself and the world around you as you write.
- Step 3: Repeat with each description. Let yourself get carried away by the feeling these categories convey, and be vigilant for slipping back into your normal way of seeing.
- Step 4: Notice: Do you feel a sense of peace, a better understanding of yourself, or a greater connection to the world around you? Can you remember this feeling even when you are not doing this exercise?
|Category 1: Wide range of thought on human relationships (self not as center) with unique positive affect and gratitude for people as they are; appreciation of their shadow sides and struggles as mirrors of all humanity.|
|Category 2: Expression of high tolerance, acceptance of self and world “as is”: openness to life, change, process, rhythm, flux, self-in-transformation; letting go of judging need; signs of non-attachment and embracing polar opposites.|
|Category 3: Non-trivial expression of universal connectedness, self as part of larger world, humankind, womanhood, history, manifestations of creative process.|
|Category 4: Fundamental thoughts and feelings about the human condition including but not limited to the wonder of being, creation and destruction, joy and suffering, life and death, sexuality; nature; global concerns, conscience, consciousness.|
|Category 5: Unitive Ability. Shifting focus effortlessly between near and far (geographically, historically, developmentally), the mundane and the sublime, the somber and the ridiculous, now and eternity, between different states of consciousness without attachment to any one view or position. [Sometimes playful, light touch; illuminating metaphor: “Seeing the world in a grain of sand.”]”|
To further illustrate how this exercise works, let us look at an example. Writing from the point of view of Category 2:
“When I drive through this changing city I feel a deep gratitude for the flux it has and always will be in. I see how it is a symbol of all life; it is like everything in that constant change—the nature of the illusion is that it is always shimmering. So w/ myself when I feel overwhelmed with stuff to do I can laugh at how my own self is never one thing and even every memory changes every moment, while holding compassion for the tension I simultaneously feel.”
It may or may not actually fit the description, and it may or may not actually score at a much lower stage of development, but in thinking this way the write finds a sense of acceptance and peace that he can now apply every time he drives through the streets of his city.
Enjoy this experiment! Please share what you get out of this exercise, and let us refine the process with any new insights.
*For a moment. But what is outside of a moment?
 For people familiar with integral theory, she was looking specifically at post-integral stages of meaning making (Turquoise and Indigo in Wilber’s altitudes, Turquoise and Coral in Spiral Dynamics).
 The database for her research consisted of 1100 completions (individual sentence stems) and 476 whole high-end protocols (whole tests) from over 4400 protocols in 17 years. See Postautonomous Ego Development: A Study of Its Nature and Measurement, pg. 3
 Cook-Greuter, Susanne R. Postautonomous Ego Development: A Study of Its Nature and Measurement. Integral Publishers, 2010. Print.
 For a beautiful description of these stages, see Ego Development: Nine Levels of Increasing Embrace, Susanne Cook-Greuter, Ed.D., 2005. Available online at http://www.stillpointintegral.com/docs/cook-greuter.pdf
 Terri O’Fallon discussed at the Integral Theory Conference 2013 a way of further differentiating the Unitive stage and measuring higher distinctions. I believe her theory is accessible here http://www.pacificintegral.com/new/resources/#31/1/list but I will continue to call the Unitive stage the “highest,” while acknowledging that like all good science it will be transcended and improved upon.