Many people in privileged sectors of the post-modern world have gotten the message about adult development. These people recognize that many of the limitations they face originate within their own psychology. They understand that developing beyond limited conventional forms of mind requires their intent and active engagement. As such, many are taking up the developmental imperative to grow themselves beyond the culture of mind they were born into.
Glimpsing the vehicle that will take you beyond your own limitation can be powerfully inspiring. The shift from being blindly driven to claiming the drivers seat of your own growth is a radical leap into a greater version of you. Recognizing the boundaries of your unexamined mind and seeing your potential to grow beyond it is a big deal. If you have made it this far, props to you.
Enter the Developmental Identity
If you relate to this chances are that you have acquired some form of the developmental identity. Put simply, this means you identify as someone who “works on” yourself in some capacity. In one way or another you live at the intersection of an intention to grow yourself and a chosen map for doing so. You may have landed in a community of people working on themselves in a similar way. More on this later…
If you have already been riding this wave for some time you will likely recognize what I am about to point out. If you’ve only recently activated your own development, keep an eye out for it — it’s probably coming for you.
Adult development is a process of deconstructing and reconstructing your identity and worldview. As such, it involves repeated unexpected collisions with uncertainty, not-knowing, and psychological death. This is in part why development is marked by tension and struggle. In an attempt to avoid this discomfort and dissonance, unseen divisions in your mind covertly sabotage and stunt your development.
While parts of you want to evolve, others resist this process. You unknowingly collude with the parts of you that want nothing to do with being more purposeful, influential, and free.
Waking up to your development, although an immense achievement, does not immediately free you from this. Like a virus, avoidance adapts to its new environment. To someone identified with development, the avoidance equation is simple:
Less mature parts of you continue to dominate when defense, comfort, and fixation masquerade as real developmental work.
In this way, the developmental imperative is co-opted by the need to remain comfortable, self-knowing, and in-control.
“Everybody wants to be somebody; nobody wants to grow.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
These avoidance strategies can, and do, operate at community level.
Practicing in community can be a powerful catalyst for growth, particularly when facilitated by embodied, competent leaders with lucid intentions. Unfortunately, these tend to be the exception. More often than not, the unseen dimensions of community create an invisible growth-ceiling that its members cannot pass. The unique development of the individual is either flattened to a single dimension or undermined completely. The interactivity of the community becomes a soup of everyone’s unexamined drives and motives. As such, the hidden drive to remain comfortable is rarely examined.
“Shared reality” serves as a great place to hang your hat and get cozy in your new developmental identity. Avoiding discomfort is easier in a community of people doing the same. Where previously only you were keeping yourself stuck is now reinforced by an entire community.
Personal needs for belonging get mixed up with the developmental identity. By externalizing and socializing avoidance, it gets strengthened exponentially. Conspiring with unrefined practice communities in this way is an excellent way to merely “rearrange the furniture” of your mind and prevent growth into new forms of mind. Years of precious time are lost by people imagining they are developing into new territory simply because they participate with communities that claim growth.
At their worst, these communities encapsulate themselves from the rest of the world. Otherwise useful perspectives and practices turn to poison as they become rigid, overvalued, and defended. This kind of narcissistic entrapment is a parasite in a world that needs nourishment. Worse yet, it is done in the name of developmental maturity.
The good news
The good news is that knowing this is half the antidote. If you are a part of a practice community you can take up this inquiry immediately. Get curious about what ways you are erecting walls around your developmental identity. How is your community encouraging this? You can begin to develop discernment that sees the noble parts of your emerging identity and those that have been co-opted by your need for identity. Be suspicious! Self-deception evolves with you and the lions get fiercer at every gate.
The other half of the antidote requires you to continue to welcoming the incessant downward pressure of life that seeks to dissolve you. Your development may not mean anything if it does not make you into a more compassionate and softhearted person that can answer the cry of the world without turning away.