Life Doesn’t Evolve in a Tomb

Yesterday’s clarity is today’s stupidity.

-Ikkyu Sojun

Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development provides a useful framework for thinking about individual evolution and the common pattern most human beings follow. It shows that as life progresses, we are dealing with the essential and different questions at different stages of life: What kind of world is it? Do I have agency? What should I do? Can I do it well? What role can I play in larger society? Can I love someone, and will they love me? Can I love many people and help them to develop their capabilities? Can I pass on the unique knowledge I have acquired from my life experience?

This model shows that we are always evolving and developing. We never reach a point where we have nothing left to learn or do.

But, there are other models. For example, half of Timothy Leary’s eight-circuit model of consciousness is focused on potentials. The first four levels deal with the business of life, as Erikson’s does: feeding and sustaining ourselves, interacting with our environment, codifying knowledge and reproducing. The second four levels attempt to change or transcend our individual experience.

One reframes our perspective from a focus on utility and survival to another value, such as beauty, efficiency or novelty. Another seeks to reprogram our worldview, since many of the answers to the questions of life can and should be revisited, particularly since our answers are formed in the context of a moment and contexts change.

There is also trying to see ourselves in the larger span of time. Where does human life and our lives figure in scales of millennia, eras or eons, and how does the human species fit into the tapestry of life? Finally, how do we connect with everything in the universe, frozen rocks to burning suns? Are we all made of stars?

Leary’s eight models of consciousness adds something to Erikson, making it clear that there are no permanent answer to the questions of life. The questions of life need to be answered on an ongoing basis, year to year and moment to moment. And, it invites us to an ongoing project of trying to expand our vision and awareness. The world looks different to a baby staring out from a crib than it does to the professional athlete, CEO or from the hospital bed. We contain multitudes, and clinging to a single identity is like picking a tomb to live in. Safe and dead.

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