Stages of Human Development (simplified) by William Martin

-- Painting by Nam Hải Huyền Môn

As infants, we are ushered into a world of physical separateness but a sense of ego separateness has not yet been formed by the brain. Our psychic boundaries are still porous and we experience everything without self-reference. It's all One Thing Happening and we haven't yet made categories to separate it out.

As the brain creates categories our experience begins to have the reference point of a separate self. As children we now live in two worlds. We have a growing sense of a separate self yet still have many moments in which we are still aware of the vast mystery and magic of Life. Most of us have a memory or two remaining of this wonder and awe.

As we enter adolescence, our separate ego becomes solid but we are sub-consciously aware that we are leaving something important behind. The world is making its demands that we "grow up" and enter the Adult stage as quickly as possible. The Rebel will express itself in one of two ways: resistance or compliance. We either say, "hell no" or "yes sir" (often a bit of both). Either way is in reaction to the pull of the Adult world. My own route was predominately “yes, sir” and repressed a great deal of awareness, power, and clarity.

The Adult is the driving force of society. The adult is, at once, both the producer and consumer in the economic engine. The pressure is enormous to pull the child/rebel up into this stage and thus insure that the society "functions" as usual. There is nothing wrong with the Adult stage. It can be productive and creative, but usually operates according to unconscious conditioned forces that lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction. The adult is conditioned to be “responsible” and this responsibility is usually defined by society rather than by a deeper sense of responsibility to authentic and meaningful living.

This is where things really get interesting! The abandoned memories of the early stages begin to reassert themselves. The ego boundaries soften and some of the "rebel" energy emerges, but now not in reaction to adult authority but instead in response to a pull from a higher sense of Being. The Outlaw asks the embarrassing questions: "Why?" and "Who says?" and begins to assert: "Not me. I don't believe it. I’m going to do it my way." Again, the gravitational center of the Adult stage pulls against  Outlaws, demanding that they remain conformed to the accepted beliefs and roles; that they go to the grave as "good adults.”

The Outlaw is threatened with a legion of frightening stories about what will happen if this “lawless” path is followed: "There won’t be enough money. Your old age will be uncomfortable. Your health will suffer. You will get in trouble with the authorities. People will not like you anymore. Who do you think you are?”

These questions are believable and powerful. They stop cold the Outlaw journey of most people and turn them back to comfort-seeking compliance or to withdrawn apathy and bitterness. Lao-Tzu was considered an "Outlaw" by most of his society. It is a difficult stage to enter. Most of social conditioning warns against it.

If the Outlaw path is followed with courage and determination, the Sage awaits. The Sage has been present all the time, but has been unnoticed and repressed. The Sage is free. The ego boundary is very porous and a sense of returning to the Oneness of the Tao pervades life. The Sage can choose to adopt the responsibility of the adult; the wonder of the child; the emptiness of the infant; the "Hell, no!" of the rebel; or the "Who says?" of the outlaw as the mood strikes - moving between these personas with ease and compassion. No rules, no beliefs, no rituals constrain the Sage who needs neither to rebel nor conform, but simply to be.

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