Vertical Development's Many Gifts

“The earlier the stage, the greater the gift; the later the stage, the greater the promise.” —Beena Sharma

Beena Sharma, president of the Vertical Development Academy (VeDA), gives a beautifully cogent explanation of the 8-stage, full spectrum model of adult psychological development, Vertical Development — illuminating us not only to the characteristics of each stage of development, but the implications and ramifications of each stage, the process of human development as a whole, and how this model can help us face our current metacrisis. Beena describes how “each stage is a way of seeing the world and oneself, a constellation of our beliefs and assumptions,” and we discover that our development takes form in patterns of evolving worldviews, a progression of capacities with which we make sense of the world.

On an individual level, Beena asks, “Where is your foot nailed to the floor? Where are parts of you still ahead of you? How can this framework help you make a shift?” And collectively, “What does it mean for the human being to evolve? What makes us think humans at this time are at the end of the evolutionary ladder?” Vertical development focuses on the evolving ego, and interestingly, takes us to the stage where we realize the ego itself is only a construct—and beyond. As well as a brilliant unpacking of the vertical development model and map, this is a profound, warm-hearted conversation, about human evolution and possibility, the dance of the dual and the nondual, the infinitude of the psyche, and what it means to come home to oneself.

Recorded July 13, 2022.

Topics & Timestamps: Part 1

  • Introducing teacher and developmental coach Beena Sharma (1:45)
  • The most exciting discovery in psychology is that psychological development and maturity can continue far beyond our 20s, and beyond our conception of “normality” (02:51)
  • We are being evolved; we are transitional beings. Nature’s secret is the evolutionary process (05:15)
  • Exploring human development and the farther reaches of human possibilities: what does it mean for adults to mature? (06:52)
  • Jane Loevinger’s research showed patterns of evolving worldviews, a progression of capacities to make sense of the world, the trajectory revealed through the stories people tell (11:12)
  • Creating space for the process of development, i.e. not using words like higher and lower, saying instead earlier and later (15:26)
  • Maturity is coming to new understandings about what is real, giving up our assumptions, subject becomes object (18:58)
  • Vertical development is a psychoactive model: just understanding that further development is possible helps us grow into our potentials (21:00)
  • Using this framework in an ethical way: be careful not to use it in a reductionist way and label people as inferior; hold it lightly, the stages are idealizations (23:35)
  • What happens over the course of development? How do we get there? Vertical development is an outcome rather than a goal (27:29)
  • Self-centric stage: self-preservation and survival (29:32)
  • Group-centric: the “socialized” stage, where you want to fit in and belong (32:22)
  • Skill-centric stage: my identity is defined by what I do, not what I am (35:25)
  • The triumph of stepping into the next worldview, the next stage (35:55)
  • Loving people at whatever level they are at: “the earlier the stage, the greater the gift; the later the stage, the greater the promise.” (39:08)
  • Earlier stages are not negative, but they are more limited in capacity (40:45)
  • The crisis in parenting, in grandparenting, in ancestoring (44:29)
  • Self-determining stage: now I am an independent agent, the master of my destiny, capable of choice and a healing objectivity (46:15)
  • Preconventional, conventional, postconventional stages (52:04)
  • This developmental process is the ego’s process of evolution, the ego’s process of creating a more complex, nuanced map of how to make sense of the world (53:22)

Topics & Timestamps: Part 2

  • In this framework, an arc represents the ego’s process of development, with the self-determining stage being the top of the arc (01:38)
  • Self-questioning stage: you realize you are not as independent as you thought—you are conditioned, shaped, and molded by your context (02:30)
  • Resolution of the problems in the previous stage come in the new stage (06:41)
  • The biggest shift is between the self-determining self and the self-authoring self—and Integral Theory’s mean green meme (07:14)
  • Self-actualizing stage, where you realize it’s both all relative and there are also some absolutes, and systems thinking comes online internally and externally (10:37)
  • Complexity thinking skills can be taught and learned (13:56)
  • Self-actualizing stage continued: looking for and integrating higher wisdom, for “and” as well as either/or thinking (18:45)
  • The shadow of the self-actualizing stage (22:11)
  • Construct-aware stage: seeing that all the ideas you have are only constructs, abstractions, there is no reality “out there;” the ego itself begins to see it’s only a construct (23:41)
  • This stage illuminates 3 things: existentialism, the wisdom traditions’ concept of emptiness and liberation, and the postmodern stage of deconstructionism (28:47)
  • The Hindu god Shiva, half masculine/half feminine, is personified yin/yang, where all opposites are integrated, the potential of our human form to be in harmony with both emptiness and form (37:33)
  • Transcendent or unitive stage: falling into no boundaries, falling into the now, recognizing we are all one (39:04)
  • This particular adult development framework bridges psychological development with spiritual development, where other frameworks do not (40:58)
  • This is a “full spectrum perspective” on human development and possibility, as Ken Wilber described (42:09)
  • Translation: how do we bring this framework into service? (44:20)
  • The psyche is infinite; the fundamental humility of unknowability (46:50)
  • Developmental movement within stages and across the arc—people are either entering, consolidating, or transitioning (48:54)
  • What does it mean to come home to oneself? (50:29)
  • How Byron Katie’s The Work helps us access the construct-aware stage (52:28)

Topics & Timestamps: Part 3

  • Keeping the question in mind: “Is this framework getting in the way of me connecting with the person in front of me? (02:54)
  • What light does this model of adult development shed on religions and spiritual leaders? (04:33)
  • The core of Integral yoga—integrating the spiritual and the material (09:00)
  • Everything is a dance of the dual and the nondual; either/or thinking manifests all the way up (09:59)
  • What are Beena’s personal practices to stay sane in our confounding world today? (11:08)
  • Implications for our metacrisis: who are the players who have power? (14:50)
  • Solutions come from within small groups who can collaborate (17:17)
  • Paul Hawken, climate change, and the philosophy of regeneration (18:38)
  • What does it mean to be “life minded?” (19:49)
  • How the state of the world, the current metacrisis, is a direct reflection of our individual and collective consciousness (20:16)
  • Corporate investment in leadership is a $161 billion dollar annual industry; leadership design is key (23:48)
  • Central polarity in Beena’s life: Am I doing? Or am I being done? (31:16)
  • How can transformative practices be scaled? Cultivating people who are both wise andpolitically involved (32:34)
  • The deliberately developmental organization—and the deliberately developmental civilization (34:42)
  • How do we make developmental programs more effective? (35:30)
  • Harvesting technology for good: a design issue and an issue of expanding the designers’ abilities (36:46)
  • Encouraging people to grow; 50-70% of people are at the conventional stages (37:32)
  • Recognizing the war within (42:12)