While reading Ken Wilber’s A Sociable God, I learned something that helped me to understand a concept that I have struggled with for many years. I think this is so important that I want to share it with you, even if it doesn’t have much to do with gardening. However, it has everything to do with life. And in these troubled times, it is essential to world peace.


There are 4 stages of religious development. Well, maybe I should back up and define what I mean by “religious”. In this case, I am referring to a person’s worldview. For some people, it includes a traditional religion, but not always. In any case, the 4 stages are belief, faith, experience and adaptation.
Think of it as a pyramid with 4 levels. The largest number of people are at the bottom of the pyramid. These “true believers”, as Ken Wilber calls them, have a set of beliefs, or a “map of reality”, that tells them how to interpret the world. A person on this level is attached to the map. He feels like his very existence is threatened whenever someone questions his beliefs. This is because he has confused the map with who he is. He has not yet experienced himself as the map maker — the person holding the map.


True believers are those enthusiastic souls who are sure they know the truth, and they must tell you their point of view. Of course, they aren’t interested in your point of view, except when they are trying to suck you into an argument in order to convert you to their way of thinking. In extreme cases, the belief system of a group can lead to war or genocide, as people attempt to eradicate those who don’t think like they do.
True believers need enemies to make themselves feel good about their position. Eckhart Tolle says, “Who would the believer be without the unbeliever?”

Remember the parable of the good Samaritan. Samaritans and Jews at that time hated each other. But the good man in the story rises above the prejudice of his group and helps a person from the other group, even at the risk of his own life and at his own expense. This parable is meant to bring our attention to the problem of getting stuck in the group-oriented ego.


All religions are chock-full of paradoxes. Within any religion, different people gravitate towards different ideals. This is why I don’t think that someone’s proclaimed religion is a good basis for judging his character. Rather, I believe that those who live as examples of freedom, compassion and unity are following God, and those who engage in force, hatred and separation are following the course of evil, regardless of their proclaimed religion. The true test of a person’s character is how he treats his fellow human beings, not which church he goes to or which God (if any) he professes to believe in. (read on for more about faith and doubt)
The next stage of development is faith. You might say that faith is the opposite of doubt. But here’s the catch: Did you know that opposites are actually two ends of the same stick? Bill Harris says, “Opposites go together and define each other.” They come as a pair. They are inseparable like the two poles of a magnet. If you cut a magnet in half, it still has both a positive and a negative side. You cannot have joy without pain, up without down, life without death. When you pick up one end of the stick, you also pick up the other end. So you cannot have faith without doubt.
When I realized this, I was stunned. It explains everything! I remember many years ago when I went from being a “true believer” to being a “person of faith”. That was when I developed the ability to take different perspectives. I began to have more empathy for others because I could put myself in their shoes. One thing that helped me to develop this ability was having friends of different religions, including Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and even scientific atheists. I enjoyed the challenge of listening to their different points of view and trying to make sense of it all.


 Only an advanced mind can integrate science and religion. Most people either deny religion or deny the facts of science, choosing to remain ignorant and stuck in magical thinking. Advanced minds are able to see paradoxes. When you can’t see the paradoxes, you are stuck in them. When you finally see them, you can rise above them and find a new perspective that deepens your faith and understanding.
There is a beautiful Zen saying that expresses how faith and doubt go together:


Great doubt, great enlightenment.
Small doubt, small enlightenment.
No doubt, no enlightenment.


Ken Wilber says that people of faith frequently suffer from the misconception that their doubts mean that they don’t have faith. This causes intense feelings of guilt, especially if they were shamed in childhood by puritanical parents or other authority figures. If they could only see that their doubt is in proportion to their faith, they might be able to relax. People of faith are always questioning. That’s why they continue to progress.


One of my favorite books is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Because of her painful childhood, Jane begins to ask questions at a young age. She reads books and thinks deeply. Jane’s aunt doesn’t approve of questions, which she interprets as rebellion. So she sends Jane away to a strict religious school where the pupils are abused by the authorities. Throughout her life, Jane has to stand up to many people, including the man she loves. Jane lives by internalized principles, not by external rules and mindless obedience to those who want to control her. This is a story of great faith and courage.


Some of us have suffered like Jane at the hands of true believers. After I broke my jaw, some people said that I must have sinned to deserve such punishment from God. Others said that I obviously didn’t have enough faith to be healed. I suffered because I thought they were right, since they were “righteous” people.  I went through many years of doubting and questioning, which I now see was good for me. Eventually, I saw through all the mind games and refused to play them any more. I realized that my persecutors were stuck in the ego, so they had to make everyone else wicked in order to feel good about themselves.
It is human nature to be fearful of the unknown. True believers are afraid of doubt. They run away from it every time it arises. So they are unable to work through it and arrive at a higher level of understanding. I’ve known many otherwise intelligent people who stay on a low level of spiritual development because they run away from doubt. Consequently, they are stuck in magical(pre-rational) thinking in their spiritual lives.
Fear arises with doubt — the ego’s fear of being wrong. This happen when a person is taught that doubt is bad. What’s so bad about doubt? Without doubt, there would be no human progress. Doubt is a natural part of the learning process and the development of the rational mind. Doubt causes you to ask questions. When you ask questions, you find answers.


Genpo Roshi says, “Have faith in your doubt.” The moment you stop asking questions, you stop progressing. Humility is admitting that you don’t have all the answers. Then you become teachable.


 During my years of increasing doubt, I experienced profound loneliness. I had to endure persecution from people who said things like, “Stop doubting! What’s wrong with you?” The implication was that I was a wicked person. When you are going through this experience, you can’t expect empathy from true believers, and you can’t expect help from people who are just as confused as you are. Only a person who has transcended Great Doubtcan offer real guidance and support. Those people are extremely rare, as you might have guessed from the pyramid model. But it may cheer you up to know that the greatest people who ever lived also went through Great Doubt.


Meditation is the time-tested way to face doubt, work through it, and come out the other end. I do two types of meditation on a daily basis: Big Mind and Holosync. These methods are extremely effective at increasing awareness. But even though they support you through the process of Great Doubt, you cannot avoid this painful stage completely. It is necessary to experience doubt before you can experience enlightenment.


Faith and doubt motivate a person to seek experience, the next stage of religious development. Experience alleviates the tension of the faith/doubt polarization. A direct experience can be shocking because it is never what you expected. It comes as a flash of insight that forever changes the way you think about things. Knowledge replaces faith. You have a new understanding of reality, a greater awareness, a feeling of peace, a sense of wholeness, and an increased ability to love yourself and others.
Here’s how Ken Wilber describes the experience of enlightenment: “Authentic transformation is not a matter of belief but of the death of the believer; not a matter of translating the world but of transforming the world; not a matter of finding solace but of finding infinity on the other side of death. The self is not made content; the self is made toast.”


The person at this stage doesn’t try to force his views on others. He is more interested in hearing other people’s perspectives because it broadens his own understanding. This is an exciting stage because everything seems new and wonderful.


 After many more experiences, a person eventually goes to the stage of adaptation. He now lives from the higher perspective that was previously only an idea. Instead of having a map of reality, he lives in Reality. This stage has been described as “just like normal life, but two inches off the ground.”


Eckhart Tolle says, “Many concepts disappear when the reality to which the concept points arrives. The very mental concept of it is not really necessary any more.” For example, the person who has gone beyond the concept of love doesn’t need to talk or think about love. His life is the embodiment of Love.
Okay, let’s tie this into gardening. The gardener starts out with a belief system. He has read some books, watched some gardening shows, or taken a class. As they say, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” and beginners think they know everything. This can be annoying sometimes. But their enthusiasm is what keeps them going when things get tough.
With enough setbacks and disappointments, the gardener soon finds himself on the level of faith and doubt. He begins to question his early assumptions. This is when real learning begins. If he sticks with it long enough, he will eventually become an experienced gardener. He will learn to accept the reality of nature and work with it, instead of against it. In this experience, he finds his connection to nature. Eventually, he will live his life from that place.


Parenting is another skill that must be learned by experience. Have you ever noticed that people who don’t have children think they know everything about raising kids? I often tell my friends that they have no idea what it’s like to raise teenagers, but they try to give me advice anyway. After raising three teenagers, I’ve dropped my old, unresourceful beliefs about child raising. I now live from a “big picture” perspective that helps me to feel peaceful and happy most of the time, regardless of the kids’ moods, because I have a greater understanding of the process of development and how everything fits together.
Finally, my experience as a spiritual seeker has been different than what I expected based on the concepts of my youth. For most people, God is either the big Santa Claus in the sky who grants wishes, or an angry, punishing parent who causes suffering. I’ve spent the last few years rewriting my map of reality, replacing old beliefs from childhood with what I’ve learned from experience. As the apostle Paul said, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”


Whether you are a gardener, a parent, or a spiritual seeker, knowing the stages of development can help you to move through them more easily. Everyone starts at the bottom. With enough perseverance, education and experience, we can eventually get to the top.
To read more of Diane’s articles, please visit her blog.


  1. Martin says:

    ‘Ignorant and stuck in magical thinking’. Now that is an odd coupling. And magical thinking as ‘pre-rational’. Would you be kind enough to comment further?

  2. Hi Martin,
    Ken Wilber identifies 3 levels of thinking: Pre-rational, rational, and post-rational. Pre-rational, or magical thinking, is the level of children, who believe things without rational reasoning. They can believe anything because they don’t yet understand science and how the physical world works. Rational thinking is the educated adult mind — scientific, linear and logical. Post-rational (also called mystical or post-conventional) goes beyond logical thought. It takes into account intuition and spiritual experience.

    This level of spirituality is not just belief or hope in something. It is based on personal experience (evidence). Mystical is not the same as magical. Mystics gain knowledge by meditation and intuition, as well as rational thought processes. That’s not magical thinking, although it may appear that way to people who are strictly rational thinkers and have no mystical experience. Post-rational thinkers have transcended both magical and rational thought processes. That doesn’t mean that they discard rationality. Magical thinkers have not yet fully developed the rational mind. A magical thinker cannot jump directly to the level of mystical thinking. He must first go through the stage of developing his rational mind. The rational mind is the level of doubt. At this level, everything is subjected to scientific inquiry. You don’t simply believe something becasue someone tells you to. You question everything. You want proof.

    I wrote this article almost 2 years ago, and I’ve made some significant changes to it recently. You can see the updated version on my website on this page: http://www.dianeseeds.com/gardening/faith-doubt.html

    I appreciate your question because it shows where I failed to explain some things. It looks like I need to update the article again. In my latest version, I left out the entire paragraph that you mentioned because it no longer expresses my current perspective.

    If you are familiar with Ken Wilber’s model of human development, you’ll know that we have a tendency to reject previous perspectives whenever we first adopt a new perspective. The ego attaches to the new perspective and then rejects the old perspective. It’s like when my teenage kids say, “I remember when I was a kid. I used to think ______.” They are so proud of having reached a new stage of development that they see what came before as dysfunctional, and they are glad to be over it. What they are blind to is that their previous way of thinking was a necessary step in becoming who they are now.

    Okay, even us adults do this. There is a tendency for us to see people at “lower” levels as totally dysfunctional. What we need to do, according to Ken Wilber, is “transcend and include” all previous perspectives and levels of development. We ourselves had to go through those stages in order to become who we are now. Calling previous levels “bad” just creates shadow material. Genpo Roshi says that whatever your current perspective is, that’s where you are stuck. It doesn’t matter if you are on the pinnacle of enlightenment. That’s where you are stuck. It’s your blind spot.

    At the time that I wrote this article, I was about to become stuck in the Third Rank of Tozan, also known as the transcendent, or the enlightened perspective. I actually spent a whole year stuck in that place. Eventually, I saw where I was stuck (more hard knocks of life), and I fell from my high place on the mountain into the valley of humiliation (which leads to humility, as Roshi says). Only now, 2 years later, am I starting to integrate the previous levels, instead of rejecting them.

    The articles on my website cover a 4-year period of spiritual growth in my life (so far). They are best read in chronological order. I am often tempted to delete my old articles whenever I see that they are dysfunctional, in the sense that I no longer see things from those points of view. But I’ve kept them on the website for the following reasons:

    They are a record of my progress. It humbles me to go back and read the things I said in the past and compare them to my current way of thinking (which is always changing and progressing). Maybe they will help other people who are struggling with the same issues. Maybe as they read the articles, they will see how I worked through different problems at different stages, always expanding my perspective as I continued to grow.

  3. naomi says:

    And it about having the courage to carry on because parenting for example is hard work and requires so much effort and we wnat to be the best that we can. Every little step forward is progress.

  4. Tony Cuckson says:

    Love this post.  There are may maps of personal and spiritual development that I love to follow in different ways.  There are
    The Way of the Chakras,
    The Hero’s Journey,
    Spiral Dyamics
    The Way of Christing.
    Each in their own way can contribute to our understanding of the wondrous journey that is human personal and spiritual development.  I personally love the Way of the Chakras which is a broad a picture of personal and spiritual development that you might find.  It is a system of development that has been around for thousands of years and still is readily available.
    I love to combine storytelling with this map of consiousness and that is really fun because it takes one into a more childlike and heartfelt connection to the directions. 

  5. Chris Jones says:

    VERY glad that this was the article I chose to read this morning.

  6. Diane,

    I can’t thank you enough for this article.  I’ve been trying to “explain” my ongoing spiritual journey to myself and others and your explanation is ideal, well written and easy to understand.  I will certainly refer friends to your article. 

    Blessing my dear lady.   

  7. You’re very welcome. Thank you for your nice comment!

  8. Ro says:

    thank you for a wonderful article

  9. Roger Wolsey says:

    IMO, Ken Wilber’s hierarchical version of Paul Folwer’s work leads to elitism. Fowler’s work refers to “stages” but they aren’t considered better than each other, and they’re fluid, as people can and do flow between them. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fowler%27s_stages_of_faith_development

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