Episode 96: The higher stages of adult development – a trajectory of increasing ego maturity

susanneIn this episode I have the great privilege of connecting with Dr. Susanne Cook-Greuter who is an independent researcher and consultant in the field of adult development. She is also one of the more prominent voices in the international integral community and will be one of the keynote speakers at the first Integral European Conference being held in Budapest 8-11th of May 2014. If you have no prior insight into the field of adult development it´s recommended that you check out the attached article “Nine levels of increasing embrace” before listening to our conversation. We also reference the illustration attached below, so you might want to check this out as we go along. I´m also glad to be joined by four of my friends and colleagues from Scandinavia; Karsten Skipper from Denmark, Kristian Stålne from Sweden and Kristian Merckoll and Anders B. Asphaug from Norway. They have all been guests on the show themselves in earlier episodes.

(11:28) After a short check-in Susanne starts out by reflecting on one of the most fundamental questions in life; what does it actually entail to be a human being? How do different people make sense of themselves and how do we all make meaning of what goes on in our lives? (14:21) Following this she sketches out an overall framework of adult development; the child’s unconscious and undifferentiated union with mother leading into the pre-conventional stages, to the beginning stages of maturity that brings a sense of clear boundaries and self coherence, often referred to as the conventional stages, and from this vantage point, the beginning process of deconstructing the illusion that we´re actually separate and independent beings, leading to the post-conventional and unitive stages of human development. These later stages imply a more conscious union with whatever is present in life while also expanding the ability to make meaning in more complex ways. (18:36) Susanne points out that her overall model, which builds on the original work of Jane Loevinger, is in fact an empirical construct made up of thousands of unique responses to what is known as the Sentence Completion Test (MAP*). Her theory of ego development was derived from this material and it is this data that suggests similarities and differences in how people understand themselves and the world they live in.

(23:08) Some interesting points emerge as we discuss to what degree these levels are stable or fluid? Also, are we able to incorporate and notice lower stages of meaning-making in ourselves, as they occur, or is it only in retrospect that we can gain insight into our own meaning-making patterns and triggers? Another important theme we discuss is in what way we relate to notions of “lower” and “higher”? For instance, is the latter better than then the former? (30:42) Going further we explore the possibilities for creating holding environments or spaces for learning that can, in a sense, elevate us, and support more complex modes of meaning-making. This exploration ties into an earlier episode I did with Arawana Hayashi and her work with Social Presencing Theater, a body of work which Susanne is also familiar with. (34:10) We then delve into some of the nuances of the higher stages in Susanne´s model. However, we are somewhat interrupted half way through this discussion because of certain uncontrollable circumstances, a situation which actually creates an interesting “case in point” for some of the themes we were initially exploring. Following this little intermission I (James) hand over the microphone to my co-hosts.

Karsten Skipper (41:50) starts out by reflecting back what caught his attention, for instance how the higher stages invite both new abilities but also responsibilities. He then inquiries into how new technologies, for instance the internet, might effect the new generations growing up. Susanne responds by discussing some possible challenges regarding “early bloomers”; being young but already able to access higher stages of meaning-making than what would be expected for a certain age group. How does this effect the collective level of meaning-making in a society and are people growing up faster today than what was normal a generation ago? They also explore the various effects that our highly connected and “online” lives entail. To what degree are young people today able to just sit still and reflect without having to broadcast their thoughts and feelings through social media?

Kristian Merckoll (50:25) takes over and inquires into the following curiosity; if you want to find out from what level you´re operating, is there a way to find out subjectively? Susanne responds by emphasizing some of the challenges in trying to assess oneself, while also pointing to the difference between knowledge about stages and actually being at a certain stage. A really interesting point that emerges is why questions relating to “where one is at” is important for people? Inquiring into such notions is an important part of the post-test coaching sessions related to the MAP survey.

Kristian Stålne (54:40) follows up and asks to what degree it´s possible to take a sentence completion test with the aim to score high. Given the hype pertaining to higher stages of development (for instance in the integral community) this is a highly relevant question. Is there a risk that such tests could be used to prop up ones ego? And if there are people trying to score high, would this show up in the protocols? Their discussion opens the door for some really important existential questions relating to what it means to be a human being.

Anders Asphaug (59:50) then goes into the topic of ego formation and ego transcendence, asking how these processes relate to each other. Susanne responds by explaining the difference between “ego as representation” and “ego as the storyteller” while also pointing to some of the deep existential challenges that often emerge as an individual enter the stages of transcendence. She also shares an insight from her encounter with the developmental psychologist Erik Eriksson, while later pointing to one of the important Buddhist precepts, namely that “understanding is the ultimate illusion”.

(1:08.55) We end of our conversation by doing a simple embodiment exercise inspired by the work of Arawana Hayashi. We listen to what wants to emerge by letting the body create a unique sculpture or movement. All the participants share their experience and reflect on what it could mean for them and for all of us.

If you feel inspired or provoked by our conversation feel free to add your comments after the interview. You can also send in a written piece of work and get it published together with this episode. Further details can be found here.

meaning-making(illustration from Cook-Greuter´s article Nine levels of increasing embrace)

Episode links:

Susanne Cook-Greuter
Integral European Conference
“Nine levels of increasing embrace”, article by Susanne Cook-Greuter presenting her model of adult development


Profil2_5001Karsten Skipper is Master of Arts in History of Ideas and Science of Religion, Aarhus University (2000), Mindfulness instructor (2007), Jens-Erik Risom., Certificate in Process Work and Five week intensive course (2005). The major part of his training in self-development and meditation comes from Jes Bertelsen and other teachers at Vækstcenteret in Nr. Snede, were he has received training since 1999, and lived on a permanent basis, with his wife Torunn, since 2005.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKristian Merckoll from Norway has had a passion for Integral Theory and it’s practical applications for a number of years. He has studied Integral Theory at Fielding University, he has been the chairman of Integral Forum in Oslo, and he has worked as a course assistant for Terry Patten in Terry’s on-line course in Integral Spiritual Practice. Kristian is also a certified Integral Master Coach. His has a particular interest in individual and collective development and Integral Life Practice. He has a Master degree in mathematical statistics and runs his own business as an independent consultant.

kristianKristian Stålne is a researcher from Lund University, Sweden. He has a PhD in Structural mechanics and performs research and teaches in adult development psychology, mechanics, acoustics, pedagogy in higher education, sustainability and integrates the subject areas when possible. He is a co-founder of ESRAD, the European Society for Research in Adult Development, organizer of its first meeting and part of a Swedish network of researchers that teach and apply adult development theories in various contexts.

anders-150x150Anders B. Asphaug is a consultant working in the field of conflict and communication. Of a curious disposition, and with background in the academic fields of geography and cognitive anthropology (Cand.polit and MSc) he has read widely, and has experience from complex multicultural arenas, both as a practitioner and researcher. His interest in integral theory and practice is related to his interest in communication across boundaries (personal, cultural, disciplinary). Anders is certifying as a Focusing professional (check out his website at www.thefocusingspot.com). He also has a passion for authentic communication, and facilitates Circling (a form of interpersonal meditation) in his spare time.

James Alexander Arnfinsen (redaktør)
James Alexander Arnfinsen (34) er lærer og arbeider i Osloskolen. Han har bred erfaring innenfor dialogbasert prosessledelse, nærværstrening og konflikthåndtering. Ta kontakt med James på følgende adresse: james.arnfinsen @ gmail.com
James Alexander Arnfinsen (redaktør)
James Alexander Arnfinsen (34) is a teacher, his subjects being geography, religious studies and sports science. He is currently working as a teacher in Oslo, Norway. In his spare time he practices Aikido, a Japanese martial art.