The spiritual awakening process can be shared as 4 stages of spiritual growth and development in the following way.

The journey from the literal to the mystical tends to be a linear progression. Although in my case I lived the mystical stage before I ever explored the metaphysical stage.

Almost every one of us starts out at the level of the literal.

I think it helps to understand this progression within your own life and helps you recognize where others are at. This understanding may then lead to more understanding and compassion. It also helps to recognize how people get stuck at the lower levels of this process of spiritual growth and development.

Understanding, however, extends only to the next level above.

The literalist has no understanding of what the mystic is talking about and tends to be threatened by the language of mysticism.  However, the mystic has been through the lower levels of spiritual development and therefore understands the issues at that level.

Let us look at these different stages of spiritual growth and development in turn.

Spiritual Growth Stage 1 – The Literalist

stages of spiritual growth

Jonah and the Whale – 2 – David Hinds –

The English mystic poet and painter William Blake author of Songs of Innocence and Experience was speaking about Stage I spiritual development when he declared: –

They read their Bible’s day and night. Where they read black, I read white.—William Blake.

In this statement, he refers to the person who interprets spiritual teachings literally. The literalist reads spiritual literature at a surface level. This is very often because they give their authority in spiritual matters to someone who teaches from a literal point of view.

The literalist has had no direct experience of the Ground of Being that is given the word ‘God.’ Thus, they speak about what they do not KNOW. The literalist is like a person who invites you to take the journey into revelation through clinging to the signposts. They are like someone who takes you to a restaurant and invites you to read the menu because that is all they know.

This is particularly the case with the teachings of the Bible. When taken literally the central message of this map of the spiritual journey is missed.  There is no real spiritual nourishment or what the mystic Joel Goldstein writing in The Infinite Way calls “meat.” (not to be taken literally).

The story of the Garden of Eden, Jonah, and the Whale, The Flight of the Jews from Egypt to the Promised Land are taken to be true stories that happened within time and history. Thus, you have Christian foundations funding scientific exploration attempting to prove the date when the Red Sea parted or when the Walls of Jericho fell.

When these stories are taken literally, they have little if any relevance to your personal situation as you live it today.

The literalist makes the choice to believe the stories. This gives them a sense of belonging, but this leads to the practice of blind faith. There is a cerebral acknowledgment of a truth that has no grounding in direct personal and transpersonal experience.

The literalist remains at the level of spiritual development referred to as the Formal/Institutional stage by the psychologist and Christian writer Scott Peck writing in A Different Drummer. This is a stage where you belong to and accept the formal teachings of established religion. You do not question such teachings and you give your authority in matters of spirituality to others within the established hierarchy.

Thus, you think the priest, the Rabbi, the preacher, the Guru know better than you do what is being invited through spiritual instruction. In reality, their level of understanding remains at a superficial level. They see their work as maintaining the established order and the established boundaries of their faith and are thus the blind leading the blind.

They do not, and neither do they have the wish to invite you beyond boundaries of such established dogma whereby you are graced the KNOWING of the Boundless.

Spiritual Growth Stage II – Intellectual

spiritual growth and development stages

Original Sin – Keelan McMorrow –

While the literalist may believe the metaphorical and mythological stories literally as a requirement for belonging to an established church or group, they do not understand them at any depth. They take them on faith, but this is blind faith rather than authentic faith birthed by the willingness to go beyond belief and venture into the unknown.

The intellectual differs from the literalist. The intellectual thinks they know what the spiritual teachings they subscribe to are about.  They are right in one sense because all they know is ‘about.’ This is ‘about’ other people’s experience. While they have knowledge ‘about’ such experience they themselves have no direct KNOWING of such spiritual experience.

In my experience, such intellectuals often make it to positions of eminent authority within the established church hierarchy. They are often eloquent and can speak the words of the established scripture but like the literalist they have had no direct experience of KNOWING beyond words.

Such was the case with the minister of my church who became the Moderator of the General Assembly in Ireland.  When I listened to him as a young man, I longed to feel a connection to what he was speaking about.

All too often he got carried away into theological and philosophical thought that went over the heads of everyone who were far too polite to tell him they had no idea what he was talking about.

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Spiritual Growth Stage III – Metaphysician

spiritual growth and development stage three

How Many Answers are Hidden Inside—Darren Engelmann—

This is the stage of personal growth and development that I have the least experience of. The metaphysician is what we might call a person of New Thought. While the literalist doesn’t think too deeply, the intellectual thinks more than enough and the New Though metaphysician thinks differently.

While neither the literalist nor the intellectual have had direct experience of the dynamic to which the word ‘God’ points the metaphysician may have been graced such a direct experience. It is my view that the originators of the New Thought Movement had such a direct KNOWING of the Ground of Being.

The difference between the metaphysician the literalist and the intellectual is that the metaphysician attempts to practice the teachings of the Master rather than simply believe in such teachings and attempt to convince others to adopt such a belief system.

The metaphysician takes the spiritual teachings and attempts to make them real within their own life. This goes beyond reading and thinking about such teachings. The problem for the metaphysician is that they think that thought will take them to that which is beyond thought.

While the metaphysician takes authority for their own KNOWING, they are still caught within the idea of using the personal mind to connect with the Mind of the Universe. They are like the wave telling the Ocean what it can do on their behalf.

You see a distorted view of metaphysics with the teaching called The Law of Attraction made popular in the movie The Secret. This is where you use your personal mind as a kind of Cosmic ordering machine to get what you think you want.

Spiritual Growth Stage IV – The Mystic

spiritual growth and development stage four

Into the Mystic – Brushstrokes by Tracy Beckmann –

The mystic is not a believer. They may be intellectual but that is not their core identity. The mystic is a KNOWER. The mystic is not so much a thinker as one who allows themselves to be thought through. The mystic lives the mantra, “Thy will be done.”

The mystic may or may not belong to an established church or religious teaching. Historically mystics are not at all popular within the established religious hierarchy. Usually, they are persecuted by such authority (St. John of the Cross) and even put to death (Jesus of Nazareth).  Later they are often converted to saints or become recognized as a Father or Mother of the Church.

The mystic has had a direct experience of the ground of Being referred to by the word ‘God.’ They have been graced the KNOWING of the experience that the Master Jesus described when he declared.

I am in the Father and the Father is in me. – John 14:11

This is an experience beyond belief.

As one of my spiritual teachers, Jiddu Krishnamurti declared when asked by a journalist whether he believed in God replied, “Why believe when you KNOW.” The same reply was given by the Swiss psychologist and psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung when he was asked the same question.

The mystic, unlike many religious literalists and intellectuals, is not out to convert you to a system of belief that they belong to. Mystics know the feeling connection to the Divine is beyond words. They teach through Presence. Therefore, the mystic St. Francis of Assisi instructed his students.

Go out into the world and preach the Gospel and if necessary, use words—St. Francis of Assisi.

The Islamic mystic and spiritual teacher Rumi invites this direct KNOWING of the mystical experience in this way in the poem called “A Great Wagon.”

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

In spiritual terms, the mystic recognizes that within the first of these three stages of spiritual growth and development you are “asleep.” The mystic has been graced an awakening to the KNOWING of who they are.  They have become a revelation of Divine Love.

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4 Stages of Spiritual Growth

4 stages of spiritual growth and development

Destination Unknown – Hart H –

This journey that is the stages of spiritual growth and development as shared here is linear in nature. Many get stuck in stages I and II.

You become a believer and you defend that belief system in very rigid ways.  This is even to the point that you will attack and destroy others who hold a belief system that differs from your own.

This belief system gives you a sense of safety and belonging. This is where you, metaphorically speaking, stay in the land of Egypt and serve the Pharaoh (the Superego-established Church) rather than leave for the desert that is the crossing point to the Promised Land (Stage IV—mystical union).

I share this staged journey of the spiritual process because I think it helps you see the totality of the potential seeded within you as a Divine expression within the form of a human body.

We all go through these different stages of spiritual growth and development. It isn’t for us to judge others at lower levels of development although we all do.

The mystic can tell you and has the authority to tell you through direct KNOWING, that union is your primary reality. While they KNOW this, you do not, and belief will not change that fact.

Belief is a boundary that keeps you out of the Grace of that which is beyond belief. The only thing that will persuade you to venture into that stage beyond where you are now is the degree to which you will leave your attachment to the idea of your personal suffering self.

Then you begin the crossing of the desert that is that period of transition from belief to KNOWING. This is the direct KNOWING of eternity and the KNOWING of Love.

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spiritual growth and development is about letting go

The Practice of Letting Go – Namaste Painting –

The spiritual journey, the spiritual process is a continual journey of letting go.  It is letting go of beliefs and concepts that keep you within a boundary. It is letting go of the personal for the transpersonal or universal. It is letting go of time for the KNOWING of eternity.

While at the lower stages of spiritual growth and development there may be safety and security in adherence to a given belief system the heart longs for the direct KNOWING of union with the Divine. The only thing that takes you beyond one stage into the next is the level of suffering or ignorance you are prepared to cling to.

Credit for Image used in header

Love Is All There Is – Teresa Leigh Ander –

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