This week I’m reflecting on the conversation Scott and I had with Abigail Lynam and Geoff Fitch. I met Abigail at the first Integral Education retreat in 2007, and Geoff came to speak at a similar event we did here in Trondheim in 2012. While they describe and bring a rich set of frameworks into their work, the primary association they have for me is with the work of Terri O’Fallon and her Stages model (you can find an entire special issue of Integral Review devoted to the Stages model here). I’ve also had the honor of knowing Terri for a long time and watched her ongoing research into how we as humans develop.

Two of the many things I appreciate about this approach is how it shows simple repeating patterns as we evolve as human beings, and that it brings a new set of distinctions and nuances to what could be called newer, emerging structures of consciousness. A comment Geoff made in the interview was that the more you go ‘up’ developmentally (according to most any of the models available) the less mature you are likely to be. This statement opens up a whole new realm of possible understandings of the challenges that come along with growth.

Geoff’s point is that these emerging structures are basically new territory and there are not clear markers or well-trodden paths to be followed. Thus, our behavior is less mature – we don’t really know what we are doing. We are experimenting, playing with and creating how to engage the world with shiny new glasses that make everything look very different than it was for us before, (thus often very confusing and disorienting), and different than it appears for most people.

Engaging these differences also takes us into the depths of our own shadows. I have noticed the challenge of needing to work on and integrate deeper layers of my being. This most often takes the form of unhealthy patterns of response that have been buried in the depths of my unconscious, often for good reasons. Facing these shadowy demons is part of what added complexity and development brings. It is certainly not some ideal or idealistic way of being in the world. While it is a ton of work, even engaging small pieces of it can be profoundly rewarding.

This notion that we get the most from engaging the most challenging aspects of our own shadows is found in lots of places. The recent episode with David McCallum talked about how we learn from ‘fallback.’ Valerie Livesay’s Ghost Light work has built on this. Keith Eigel and Karl Kuhnert’s book The Map emphasizes lean into the challenge as a mantra. It even reminds me of aspects of Joseph Campbell’s description of the Hero’s Journey, or Walt Kelly’s Pogo quote, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The shadowy depths of development is all about self-leadership. It is learning to become conscious of our shadows and light, and the journey from being their victim to using them in service of something greater than ourselves.