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author, A Theory of Everything

Spirals of Development

By Joanne Hunt

I remember being in the middle of a conversation with a client when she said, "Shouldn't I have this thing licked by now? It has been around at different times my whole life and I thought I had taken care of it the last time. I’ve worked so hard on this." Her voice got quiet as she reached the last word. She is such a conscious woman, living her life as wide awake as possible. Reaching for a Kleenex, she adjusted her skirt and glanced out the window to the park below, then sat in silence for a few minutes. I sat in the silence with her. Sometimes that is the most important thing we can give another person.

She had over-extended herself repeatedly as a professional woman with a hot career, a loving wife, and dedicated mother. Her capacity for buckling down to do what needed to be done was called upon regularly regardless of the impact on her health. Over the rise and fall of her life, you could observe cycles of burn-out, rest, new insights, new actions put in place, commitments steadily increasing, and then burn-out. Again. These cycles occurred every five years or so. Corrective action would be taken each time her life would get out of control. Then slowly, very slowly, her workload would increase ever so slightly every day.

Like the frog boiled in a pot of water that had been heated slowly to the boiling point. Because the temperature increased slowly over time, the frog didn't register the change. The moment the water tipped over to boiling, the frog perished. With human beings, one final straw brings about that break point. They fracture. Usually recover. And repeat the cycle again.

The mistake we make is thinking, "This breaking is the same as the last one." It isn't. Five years later, you're in a different place. You're a different person. You can’t tackle it the same way every time. You never step in the same river twice.

I remember assisting Natalie Goldberg in Taos, New Mexico supporting a group of writers attending a writing retreat. Late in the week of silence and writing, meditation and slow-walking, we take them on a silent car ride to the Rio Grande to swim in the fast-flowing water. The night before we were to leave, one of the writers indicated that she wanted to speak to me. She let me know that she didn't want to go swimming at the Rio Grande. She had done it last year. She didn't like it and didn't want to go again. I looked at her softly and said, "That's fine. It’s no problem. And, what I would like you to consider before tomorrow is that you are not the same person you were one year ago. That person from last year is not sitting here today. This evolved you is here now, 365 days later, sitting next to me. When we go swimming, there is a new vast sky to experience, steep cliffs, cold water, and a silent car ride. Who you are right now will have a fresh experience at the Rio Grande. And, tomorrow morning, please know, it is fine if you clearly decide to not come."

It is completely normal to hold a picture of ourselves as unchanging. I was like this and have been like this and therefore, I am this. I hated green beans when I was growing up. At the dinner table, I used to stuff them in the cracks of the vinyl dining room chair that I sat on because we had to finish the food on our plates before leaving the table and because Allie, our rescue dog, crouched expectantly under the table, would not eat them. My other strategy was to cut the green beans in half, put them in my mouth, one at a time, and chug my glass of milk. I could almost swallow beans whole. But today, well, green beans are my favourite vegetable. On the other hand, I have hated brussels sprouts every day of my life no matter how many times I have tried them. One thing does not predict the other.

Our culture is dominated by an Orange Consciousness (per Integral Theory). It is a very linear way of perceiving. Development should proceed one step after another after another. It is a culture of accomplishment, no looking back, success, promotion, and moving forward or moving on. So, when you see what feels like familiar terrain arising for you to deal with (again), you can tend to look at it as a step backwards. Two steps forward, one step back. Even that terminology is linear, and it is not accurate. You have learned some new things (since your last visit to this terrain) and there are new insights available for this current visit. Whether your unique and revisited topography is over-extension or self-doubt or dissatisfaction, it doesn't matter. Pick your poison. You can look back over your life and chart its reappearance regularly.

I have an anecdotal theory that we are each born with a unique 'thing' that we get to visit repeatedly over our lives. Whether you like it or not. Like the overextended client. She may come to me wanting to work on the same topic she had looked at years ago, but the terrain that surrounds it is different. You are a new consciousness at this next five-year mark. Re-visiting the same old shit is actually a new opportunity to see whatever 'it' is through your new eyes. Yes, you get to hang out with what can feel like 'old material' but the you standing here today has a wider vista, some new ways of seeing and hopefully some new skills to draw upon.

Development is cyclical. It moves in a spiral, ever upward, in widening expanses like a conch shell or a nautilus. As you hit the northwest corner of each cycle of development, you hit that place again, like all the other times you hit your northwest corner, only this time you're doing it with greater awareness, more perception, a wider view, more learning under your belt, and, I believe, an ever deepening spiritual understanding of your own gorgeous, unique, and flawed spiral. The one called Joanne or Laura or Val or Linda or Diana or Susan or Bruce.


So, know this: When you hit that familiar place, your northwest corner, there is actually something new to learn. No, you don't have to have it figured out by now. It is a new cycle. You are a new consciousness. This one emanates from a five year older you or a three year older you. It is not a step backwards.

There isn't a lesson you should have learned by now. Quit beating yourself up.

It is a new visit and you have new ways of looking at it. Get curious. What variables are in your new way of looking and holding this visiting of over-extension? This new visit. There's gold here.

This is your unique story. Bring it gently in. "Oh, you're visiting again, dear northwest corner. Welcome. What new perspectives is this visit with you going to bring?" Like meeting a caring and long-known friend who you only talk to sporadically but when you do get together, it is like you have never been apart. The kind of friend who tells you the truth. Even if it's hard. You don't assume they'll be exactly like they were before. They're older now too. They will still carry their beautiful, consistent Diane-ness, but they will have new parts, new nuances, new distinctions. And they love you. Really.

It's your job to pay attention.

The northwest corner is here again. And you can be sure that she will be back again at some distant cusp in your future. There is no trying to get rid of her. That's not the point! She has some things that are new in this spiral of evolution. Her future visits will bring something that you can't predict. But there is now. Visit with her. It's a new cycle of development. Familiar. Painful. Horribly comfortable. Angrily greeted: I thought I was done with you!

Not done.
Never done.

You’re not done.
Until Done arrives.

By the way, that writing student decided not to body surf down the Rio Grande one year later. And I don't ever expect to like brussels sprouts, but I still try them every once in a while.

© Joanne Hunt


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