Third Generation Gravesians

The Wisdom of Prof. Clare W. Graves (1914-1986), Applied

Laura Frey Horn, Ph.D. - Dissertation

Original Formatting Available Here

The Experience of Meaning in Work for Transcendent Adults:
A Phenomenological Study of Individuals at
Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi) Theory Second-Tier Levels of Development



Laura Frey Horn

B.S., 1977, Psychology, Union College

M.A., 1991, Human Resource Management, Marymount University


A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of

the Graduate School of Education and Human Development

of The George Washington University in partial fulfillment

of the requirement for the degree of Doctor of Education

May 21, 2006


Dissertation Chair

Dr. Neal E. Chalofsky, Associate Professor of Human Resource Development

Dissertation Committee Members

Dr. Marcie Boucouvalas, Professor of Human Development, Virginia Tech University

Dr. Don E. Beck, CEO, Spiral Dynamics Group


Dr. Clyde Croswell     Dr. Patricia Downes


copyright © 2006, Laura Frey Horn.


This study had two major purposes: to explore how transcendent individuals experience meaning in work and to gain deeper understanding of transcendence (Spiral Dynamics integral theory, second tier). The research process included in-depth interviews, follow-up e-mails, and phone conversations with the co-researchers. Seven co-researchers ranged in age from 40s through mid-60s. Four individuals were self-employed and/or had founded and led a consulting practice. Three individuals were associated with an organization, each with a high degree of autonomy. Four of the co-researchers were from the United States, with others from northern Europe, Canada, and one from the United Kingdom currently living in the United States.

In addition to gaining greater understanding of individuals rooted in transcendence, according to Spiral Dynamics integral theory, the study sought to answer two questions:

·                     1.         What is the experience of meaning in work for transcendent individuals?

·                     2.         How, and in what ways, does this lived experience of meaning in work impact the gestalt of these individuals’ lives?

Seven universal themes emerged: metasystemic approach to life, openness to significant life events that dissolves fear, pioneering and non-linear approach to life, a diverse constellation of skills, appreciation for and development of a wide breadth of knowledge across multiple disciplines (often combined with the wide constellation of skills to pioneer/create new skills and knowledge), creative expression as reflective practice, and a deep connection to spirit.

The study concluded that transcendent individuals have integrated their lives so completely that meaning in work is an integral aspect of their lives. Their lives cannot be easily dissected into separate components; they are often pioneers creating new meaning and new skills for self and others. If necessary, they will leave an organization, usually to begin one that honors their fully integrated lives. The study supported the tenets of the theory developed by Graves and furthered by the work of Beck. It also contributed new knowledge and a deeper understanding of individuals considered transcendent.





Without the genius, work, and life of Dr. Clare Graves, this research project could have never been imagined, the questions never pondered, and the depths never plumbed. I am deeply indebted to Dr. Graves for asking the questions and creating this theory that allows us to understand and witness the emergent nature and potential for human growth and development. Not only did he provide the framework through which I have been able to understand others, society, and the world and by which I live my life, but with his compassion, intelligence, and open mind, he encouraged me to continue to seek the deeper questions and follow the challenges that have brought me to this research.

The generosity of spirit shared by my co-researchers brought the depth of Self that infuses this research. They shared their experiences so generously, openly, and deeply that they are embedded in this work and in my heart. Their transcendent light shines bright.

Thank you also to my dissertation committee. My chair, Dr. Neal Chalofsky, despite his early misgivings and my persistence, provided the means for me to pursue the research questions and the theory I brought with me into the doctoral program. Dr. Marcie Boucouvalas not only deeply understands the nature of these questions but asked questions that kept me focused. It wasn’t until we were already into the initial process that I learned of her deep respect for Clare Graves. Finally, Dr. Don Beck began working with Clare Graves in the 1970s at the same time I was Graves’s student. He and Graves worked together on furthering the theory and applying it in truly critical life issues. My great thanks go out to him, not only for his contribution on my committee, but for his tireless work in emerging and continuing Dr. Graves work with significant contributions of his own. Thank you also, Don, for allowing use of your diagrams in this project to make SDi clear and visible.

There is not a finer team of librarians who are also incredibly giving than the talented group at George Washington University’s Virginia campus. I cannot thank you all enough for your support, suggestions, and care, either as librarians or human beings.

My favorite summer job as a teenager involved going to the Library of Congress to verify citations in my Uncle John’s dissertation. I’m sure it was then that I decided that research was fascinating. Thank you, Dr. John Bassett, for lighting this fire. My grandparents, Frances (Nana) Walker Bassett Carnduff, J. Earl Bassett, and Clara Bassett shared their love of learning with all of us. Nana also shared her love of teaching.

My mother, Dr. Mary Anne Bassett Frey, taught her daughters that we could do anything. She fooled us by making it look easy to raise a family, work, and go to college then into a doctoral program. She also believes in us. Even when we think the odds are impossible, she does not. My sisters, Dr. Pie Frey and Karen Frey Anderson, are proof. Thanks also to my Horn sisters and brothers who have had the love of this “f’reigner from the south” for over three decades. When I was feeling unsure and when I was excited by this research, my dear friends Elke Ender, Lark Mason, LouAnne Caligiuri, Cliff Senf and Thurman Hill kept me going. Thank you more than I can say.

I could never have taken on the pursuit of these questions that have challenged me for more than 30 years without the support and encouragement of my children and my husband. Your belief in what I was seeking, your faith in the process, and your support no matter what obstacles jumped out at us all kept me going. With deep thanks and great love to Jim, Jacki, Michelle, and Jameson. And to Lucas. You are each a part of this.

Table of Contents

Abstract............................................................................................................................. iii

Acknowledgements............................................................................................................ v

Chapter 1. Introduction................................................................................... 1

Problem Statement................................................................................................ 3

Purpose and Research Questions......................................................................... 7

Purpose of Study......................................................................................... 7

Research Questions..................................................................................... 7

Statement of Potential Significance...................................................................... 7

Conceptual Framework........................................................................................ 9

Summary of Methodology.................................................................................. 13

Limitations................................................................................................. 14

Definition of Terms............................................................................................. 14

Chapter 2. Literature Review..................................................................... 17

Meaning................................................................................................................ 18

Meaning of and Meaning in Work............................................................ 23

Adult Development and Motivation Theories................................................... 30

Herzberg.................................................................................................... 30

McClelland................................................................................................ 33

McGregor.................................................................................................. 35

Maslow...................................................................................................... 39

Adult Development Theory................................................................................ 43

Erikson....................................................................................................... 45

Kohlberg.................................................................................................... 48

Kohlberg’s Stages of Development................................................ 48

Preconventional level............................................................... 48

Conventional level.................................................................... 49

Postconventional, autonomous, or principled level.................. 49

Criticism of Kohlberg.................................................................... 50

Loevinger................................................................................................... 52

Cook-Greuter............................................................................................. 58

Transpersonal Psychology……………………………………………………..61

Spiral Dynamics Integral (Gravesian) Theory of Development……………..67

Graves’s Levels of Existence.......................................................... 69

Basic Structure............................................................................... 69

Beck and Cowan’s vMemes...................................................................... 71

Five Key Qualities of vMemes....................................................... 72

Focus on the Second Tier.......................................................................... 76

Yellow vMeme (Graves Code G-T)................................................ 76

Turquoise vMeme (Graves Code H-U).......................................... 77

Spiral Dynamics Integral........................................................................... 78

Chapter 3. Research Design.......................................................................... 82

Exploratory Questions......................................................................................... 83

Limitations of Study............................................................................................ 85

Assumptions......................................................................................................... 86

Researcher’s Relevant Background and Layers of Research Interest........... 87

Research Procedures........................................................................................... 91

Epoche....................................................................................................... 92

Method of Data Collection....................................................................... 95

Logistical Considerations.............................................................. 96

Data Analysis............................................................................................ 96

Phenomenological Data Reduction............................................... 96

Synthesis of Meanings and Essences........................................................ 97

Validation of Data..................................................................................... 98

Considerations and Ethics Precautions for  Studies Involving
Human Beings as Participants............................................................................ 99

Chapter 4. Results of the Study.............................................................. 101

Individual and Composite Descriptions........................................................... 102

Composite................................................................................................ 102

Individual Descriptions........................................................................... 103

LD................................................................................................ 103

BD............................................................................................... 106

RB................................................................................................ 108

JR................................................................................................. 109

TL................................................................................................ 111

DS................................................................................................ 112

AB................................................................................................ 115

Theme Development.......................................................................................... 117

Metasystemic Approach.......................................................................... 118

Self Enmeshed in a Holistic Organic Universe Perspective......... 121

Openness/Emergence/Fear Falls Away................................................... 124

Fear Falls Away.......................................................................... 129

Pioneers with Nonlinear Spirits............................................................... 131

Constellation of Skills............................................................................. 135

Appreciation for and Wide Breadth of Knowledge
Across Multiple Disciplines..................................................................... 137

Creative Expression as Reflective Practice............................................. 140

Deep Connection to Nature/Spirit........................................................... 143

Results Summation............................................................................................ 147

Chapter 5. Conclusions.................................................................................. 148

Interpretations and Conclusions...................................................................... 149

Emerging Complexity.............................................................................. 149

Process Wholeness Awareness................................................................ 155

Enlightened Wholeness........................................................................... 157

Generativity Selflessness......................................................................... 159

Transformation of self into Self Consciousness...................................... 161

Nonduality............................................................................................... 165

Transcendence......................................................................................... 167

Impact of the Conclusions on the Study Constructs....................................... 168

The Impact of Clare Graves............................................................................. 174

Recommendations for the Human Resources Field........................................ 177

Recommendations for Future Research.......................................................... 180

Summary............................................................................................................ 184

References...................................................................................................................... 185

APPENDIX A. Informed Consent Form.................................................................... 198

APPENDIX B. Interview Protocol.............................................................................. 202

APPENDIX C. Protocol Summary.............................................................................. 204

APPENDIX D. Audio/Video Release Form................................................................ 207



Table of Figures

Figure 1. Conceptual frame............................................................................................... 13

Figure 2. Spiral dynamics.................................................................................................. 70

Figure 3. Transitional factors............................................................................................ 75

Figure 4. All Quadrants-4Q/8L-All Levels....................................................................... 80


Table of Tables

Table 1 Spiral Dynamics Integral Frame.......................................................................... 43

Table 2  Loevinger’s Theory.............................................................................................. 57

Table 3 Graves’s Levels of Existence................................................................................. 71

Table 4 Matrix of Shared Themes Within Meaning in Work and
Holistic Life Themes
........................................................................................... 119



Chapter 1

The search to understand how individuals or societies find meaning in their work has been undertaken by philosophers, religious scholars, sociologists, economists, vocational specialists, and psychologists. The research in these fields has focused on large populations or has been general in nature. Findings may have been applied to a broad range of individuals, cultures, or groups without consideration for differences in societal or individual ranges of interests, needs, development, or complexity.

Religious writings on the meaning of work have called on individuals to follow paths of “right livelihood” (Buddhism) or “the way” (Taoism), or “to work as Jesus did” (Christianity). In the Judeo-Christian vein, work as calling may be defined in Genesis as “co-creation” (Meilaender, 2000). Research to gain insight on work as a calling has been studied from a long historical tradition (Wanegffelen, 1993). More recently, some theological research has focused on work as a “calling” (Scott, 2000; Meilaender, 2000; Strachan, 1995). This calling is the spiritual drive that moves an individual to a particular vocation, whether this entails work in a spiritual/religious vocation or simply following one’s chosen work as a calling. In this vein, just as a monk in a religious order could be following the call, so could nurses who feel they are fulfilling a call to serve patients.

Sociologists have examined the individual’s meaning of work from a general societal view. Hughes (1958) examined how individuals identify their sense of self with what they do, by either their specific jobs or career choices. More recently, a group of sociologists (Super, Branimir, & Super, 1995) conducted a large-scale international study that examined “meaning of work” factors across several countries, which included the United States, Europe, Eastern European countries, Australia, and Asian countries, including Japan. This large multinational study did not provide an opportunity for individuals to define and describe what was meaningful in work for them. It did provide the opportunity for them to rate predefined factors in terms of importance. Economists and economic psychologists have also focused on similar factors to determine what defines meaning in work (Gill, 1999). Gill noted that the failure to address the psychological issues, especially from an individual perspective, has led to a serious failure in understanding the important issues of meaning in work for individuals.

The most extensive research into how individuals may experience meaning in work has been conducted within the field of motivational psychology. Theorists have examined motivating factors versus maintenance or hygiene factors (Herzberg, 1962a, 1966, 1968), an individual’s need for achievement (McClelland, 1953, 1961), and the individual’s desire not only to achieve but to actualize one’s true potential and maintain control over one’s own choices (McGregor, 1960; Maslow, 1954, 1968, 1975).

Developmental theorists have noted that it is from one’s individual level of development that one creates or understands meaning in life. Research into the understanding of meaning in an individual’s life and work has been conducted at less complex levels of development, including Maslow’s “self-actualization” (Gayle, 1997). Yet research to understand how individuals at the most complex levels of development, from any theoretical perspective, experience meaning in their work is limited.

The perspective of adult developmental theory may yield the most fruitful information into how individuals—especially when viewed through specific, developmental lenses—create or experience meaning in their work. Adult development theorists, including Graves (1970, 1974), Beck and Cowan (1996), Cook-Greuter (1999, 2000), and others, have noted that adults reach different levels of development. They have indicated that some individuals may continue a healthy or unhealthy existence at one level throughout their lives, while other adults continue to develop. However, little research has explored how individuals at specific levels of adult development, especially those at the most complex levels of development, experience or create meaning in their lives and their work. Since meaning is created and understood differently by individuals, based on their level of development, broad brush-strokes to define what and how work is meaningful to individuals across developmental levels may not create greater understanding of work’s meaning—only confusion. What is meaningful for, or how meaning is created by, transcendent individuals cannot be addressed with universal studies or old knowledge.

Problem Statement

The problem this study proposed to begin addressing is twofold, including both a practical application and an absence in the current literature on research in this specific area. Although a search of the literature in this field identified substantial research on earlier levels of development, including how meaning in work is experienced, there is little research on the lived experience of meaning in work for individuals who are considered transcendent.

From a practice perspective, organizations have attempted to implement practices that recognize motivational needs of individuals at less complex levels of development, up to and including opportunities for employees to enhance their lives and self-actualization. Yet valued employees have left organizations in recent years, some staking out different paths to experience meaning in their work. There is no documented evidence to suggest that these individuals are all considered transcendent. The rate of new entrepreneurial enterprises is on the rise (Huitt, 1999; Bednarzik, 2000; Bregger, 1996), suggesting that perhaps some of these individuals who have left organizations and started a new enterprise may be considered transcendent. It is also possible that some organizations are failing to understand and cultivate an environment that allows transcendent individuals to experience meaning in their work and remain. Evidence supporting the idea that some of the individuals who leave organizations to establish their own organizations may fit the description of transcendent individuals may come from the World Business Academy. The World Business Academy, an organization of international entrepreneurs, seeks ways to go beyond individual self and profits to create a more sustainable environment for the world (Boucouvalas, 1999). This commitment to transcending the needs of self and to developing a more holistic and integrated approach to work and life is a trait of individuals considered transcendent (Graves, 1970; Beck & Cowan, 1996; Boucouvalas, 1980, 1999).

An exploration into how individuals experience meaning in their work, based on levels of adult development, could yield interesting and significant knowledge. Developmental theorists, including Erickson (1974, 1982; Erikson, Erikson, & Kivnick, 1986), Loevinger and Blasi (1976), and Kohlberg (Kohlberg & Armon, 1984; Kohlberg & Ryncarz, 1990), have provided a solid foundation for understanding general adult development at less complex levels of development. The work of motivational psychologists, including Herzberg (1962a, 1962b, 1966, 1976; Herzberg, Mausner, & Snyderman, 1959), McClelland (1953, 1961, 1965), McGregor (1960), and Maslow’s early work (1954, 1968, 1970, 1975), make up a body of research on how individuals at first-tier levels of development create or experience meaning through motivation in their work.

Little, if any, research has specifically targeted transcendent levels of development and meaning in work. Theoretical paradigms that successfully addressed increased understanding of earlier, less complex levels of adult development do not match the sensitivities now required to gain insight into transcendent individuals. This phenomenon was predicted by Graves (1970, 1974) and others, including Beck and Cowan (1996), Beck (2000), Maslow (1975), and Wilber (1999), who predicted that old paradigms would fail to provide insight into individuals at these complex levels of development. In short, what was predicted has occurred, as human beings have developed into deeper and more complex beings. This leaves a void in understanding what creates meaning in work at this still little-explored level of human development.

Although the general parameters and descriptions of types, interests, and motivations for these transcendent individuals have been identified by Graves (1970, 1974, 2002), Beck and Cowan (1996), Beck (1999, 2000, 2001, 2003), and Cook-Greuter (1994, 2000), little research has gone deeply into understanding how these individuals experience or create meaning in their work.

Why focus research on transcendent individuals operating from more complex levels of development? Although transcendent individuals are currently in the minority of the world’s population, the group is a growing and emergent one (Graves, 1974; Maslow, 1975; Beck & Cowan, 1996; Cook-Greuter, 1999, 2000). While this population currently represents from 3% to less than 10% of the population, according to Graves (1974), Beck and Cowan (1996), and Beck (2001), the individuals whose thinking stems from second-tier levels of complexity are those who will create the solutions that can effectively address the issues, challenges, and problems created by those operating from first-tier thinking.

According to Graves’s (1974) original research and the follow-up work by Beck and Cowan (1996), only individuals operating at this second tier (transcendence) will be able to fully understand and integrate the needs of all of the previous levels into a fully functioning world society, which successfully addresses the growth and needs of individuals at all levels while effectively attending to global needs and the future. This ability to understand individual and cultural needs at all levels is made possible by the spiral “nesting” (Graves, 1974, unpublished Union College archives; Beck & Cowan, 1996) nature of development as described by the Spiral Dynamics integral theory. This has direct implications for understanding how employers and employees can construct workplaces that serve the both organization and employees.

Purpose and Research Questions

Purpose of Study

This exploratory study addresses the impact that an individual’s developmental level has on how that individual experiences meaning or meaningfulness in work, as well as the impact of that meaning on the individual’s life. This study will specifically seek to develop a deeper understanding of how individuals who are considered transcendent (Spiral Dynamics Integral levels G-T/Yellow vMeme and H-U/Turquoise vMeme) create or experience meaning in their work. Although Graves (1974) and Beck and Cowan (1996) have identified the general characteristics and worldviews of individuals at these levels, little in-depth research has been done on meaning in work and on how individuals functioning at these levels perceive work and its relationship to the whole of their lives. This study is a start toward a deeper understanding of individuals who function at this level.

Research Questions

·                     1.         What is the experience of meaning in work for individuals considered transcendent?

·                     2.         What is the meaning of that experience for these individuals?

·                     3.         How and in what ways does this lived experience of meaning in work impact the gestalt of these individuals’ lives?

Statement of Potential Significance

“The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.” Albert Einstein

How individuals find meaning in their work is a key concern of career counselors, human resources professionals, and individuals seeking to make meaning within their own lives. The question has been researched throughout the twentieth century (Tilgher, 1962) and particularly in the past twenty years, when Super and others (Super et al., 1995) organized an extensive multinational study into the meanings of work. According to Super et al., the concept of meaning of work refers to “the general set of beliefs about work held by an individual, who acquires them through interaction with the social environment . . . related to the person’s career orientation and behavior in the work situation” (Super et al., 1995, p. 3).

Yet despite the massive study by Super et al. (1995) and the study of motivation by psychologists, such as McClelland’s (1953, 1961, 1965) research into motivation and power and Herzberg’s (1968) research into hygiene and non-hygiene motivators, there has been little research on how individuals at the most complex levels of adult development experience or create meaning in their work.

Graves (1970, 1974) (as well as Beck and Cowan [1996], Cook-Greuter [1990, 1994, 1999, 2000], and others) noted that it is not possible to teach levels of development. New levels of complex thinking emerge when life conditions present challenges that can only be successfully resolved with new thinking, and when an environment that supports new thinking exists. Developing a deeper understanding of how individuals at complex levels of development create or experience meaning in work and life may help to create healthy sustainable work and living environments to foster the contributions of these individuals. If, as Graves and Beck have noted, these transcendent individuals are those who hold the creative solutions that will allow us to emerge from the serious problems created by less complex thinkers, developing such an understanding could be vital.

Transcendent individuals experience life and create meaning in their lives in significantly different ways than do individuals in other stages of adult development (Kohlberg and Ryncarz, 1990; Cook-Greuter, 1990, 1994, 1999, 2000; Boucouvalas, 1980, 1997). Further research is warranted to gain a greater understanding of what moves these individuals to work.

Graves (1974) and Beck and Cowan (1996) stated that the ability to overcome conflict on a global, political, and economic level will be guided and dictated by transcendent individuals and organizations. Another key reason to develop a greater understanding of these individuals is to understand how these issues and barriers may be successfully overcome. A key point to remember is that transcendent individuals retain the memory of earlier levels nested within their current level. They retain the ability to understand others at different levels of development. This allows transcendent individuals to interact successfully with individuals at any level. This is why Graves noted that these individuals hold the key to understanding and forward movement for society. Transcendent individuals may serve as a communicator between individuals with differing levels of understanding. They may propose unique, previously unexplored, solutions that meet the needs of each group without causing harm to any group or individual.

Conceptual Framework

The conceptual frame for this research was designed by setting the foundation in adult development theory. Adult development theorists who were investigated for this study included, from the cognitive field, Erikson (1950,1974,1982), Kohlberg (1995, Kolhberg and Armon 1994, Kohlberg and Ryncarz, 1990); Loevinger (1998; Loevinger & Blasi, 1976), and Cook-Greuter (1990, 1994, 1999, 2000). Transpersonal psychology is a field of psychology that concerns itself primarily with individuals who are considered transcendent. This field focuses on understanding “those rare individuals who tend to be motivated by needs which transcend their own skins, and are living at a level of self-transcendence” (Boucouvalas, 2000, p. 214). Evidence suggests that its historical roots include Maslow and Graves (Graves, unpublished Union College archives; Beck, personal communication, 2002). In addition, the transpersonal psychology field has made contributions in the study of human development that do not focus exclusively on cognitive development. This is very much in line with Spiral Dynamics integral theory. This focus, however, has not left the field without controversy. Wilber (1999) proposed a hierarchical theory of development, incorporating Spiral Dynamics within this framework. Washburn (1990, 2003) proposed that development towards transcendence does not necessarily follow a hierarchical approach, but rather may be tied more closely with depth psychology. More recently, Washburn (2003) proposed that attention to development ought to include a combination of depth psychology and theories, such as Spiral Dynamics integral, that provide a more hierarchical framework for understanding development.

Also examined for this conceptual frame was Spiral Dynamics integral theory, which takes its foundation from Gravesian theory, developed by Clare Graves. Beck worked with Clare Graves to further Gravesian theory. They renamed Graves’s theory “Spiral Dynamics” to enhance understanding and recognition of the theory. Beck has since furthered the theory with the addition of an integral component; now called Spiral Dynamics integral, this theory incorporates the values foundation of development that includes an integrated approach for investigating human development through the four quadrants that affect human, individual, and cultural development. These quadrants include (a) the individual interior (the emerging mind), (b) individual exterior (including energy fields and the unfolding of greater complexity of the brain), (c) collective interior (which includes cultural beliefs, relationships, and individual habits), and (d) the collective exterior (which encompasses external influences, including environmental, media, and social influences and other external influences).

An examination of the various cognitive, motivational, and value-driven theories led to the selection of Spiral Dynamics integral (SDi) as the theory most appropriate for the foundation to explore how mature adults experience meaning in their work. More specifically, the second-tier levels of Spiral Dynamics integral theory, including G-T/Yellow and H-U/Turquoise, were selected for investigation because these are the transcendent levels currently emerging in the population, and because, as Graves (1974) postulated, individuals at these levels of adult development hold the key to providing more effective solutions to humanity’s problems. (For readability, second-tier levels of complexity, including G-T/Yellow and H-U/Turquoise, will be referred to as “transcendent” throughout the rest of this dissertation.)

A general examination of meaning included Bohm’s (1985) quantum exploration and holographic definition of meaning. Bohm’s theory holistically synchronizes with the Spiral Dynamics integral theory. In addition, Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) research into work and meaning, defined as “flow,” relates to the questions about both meaning in work and how work may relate to an individual’s life. Frankl’s (1984) experience and research into life purpose enhanced the concepts of meaning in life and work for this study.

Since the study of individuals operating from second-tier levels focuses on the creation or experience of meaning in work, motivational theories were examined. Meaning in work has often been tied to motivation for work. The theorists reviewed in this field included Herzberg (1962, 1966, 1968, 1976), McClelland (1953, 1961, 1965; McClelland & Johnson, 1984), McGregor (1960), and Maslow (1954, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1975). (Maslow has also often been categorized with adult developmental theorists.) Sociological studies, including the International Meaning of Work study (Super et al., 1995), were evaluated as part of the search. Motivational theories often applied to a specific level of development (but not the specific levels that will be included in this research), or else were broad-based theories that did not account for different levels of meaning at differing levels of adult development. The sociological studies were also broad-based, using the same parameters across countries and applying the same traits to large population groups. These quantitative studies, while providing a broad range of information, did not look at specific levels of development. Due to the nature of quantitative research, the “whys” of the resulting data were not addressed, but they do provide a fertile territory for future research, a need that this study addresses.

Figure 1. Conceptual frame.










The conceptual framework, shown in Figure 1, leads to the examination of how individuals operating from Spiral Dynamics integral second-tier experience and create meaning in their work.

Summary of Methodology

This phenomenological research explored how individuals operating from a transcendent level of adult development, specifically Spiral Dynamics integral second tier, experience meaning in their work and examined its relationship to their lives in general. Husserl (1965) wrote that phenomenology is invested in the internal concept of “being.” Since this study is committed to understanding the “why” and “being” of the co-researchers involved in this study, the phenomenological method is the most appropriate choice. (A more complete discussion and description of the methodology follow in Chapter 3.)


A key limitation of this study is the small pool of participants, or co-researchers, based on the small number of individuals who currently function at the second-tier (transcendent) levels of development. Participants were expected to be spread across a wide geographic area. Therefore, finding an adequate number of participants was expected to provide a challenge, which was also expected to affect access to the participants for follow-up interviews.

Definition of Terms

Levels—The permanent structural change in the developmental level of human beings, or that which pertains to the permanent, structural change in a human being or group of human beings. In Spiral Dynamics integral, “levels” are also referred to as “vMemes.” In Spiral Dynamics integral theory, two tiers of developmental levels are currently identified. The first-tier levels of development are considered subsistence or fear-driven levels of development, as defined by Graves (1970, 1974). The second-tier levels of development, the focus of the study, are identified as “being” levels of development. In the Gravesian model, two levels in particular, Yellow and Turquoise, are currently recognized as emerged, with another, Coral, on the horizon.

Transcendence and/or transcendent—May be applied to permanent structural changes, in this study referred to as “levels,” or temporary experiences.

·                     •           Permanent—A state of transcendence and/or transcendent being that has reached a level of development. In this study, the phrase “individuals considered transcendent” refers to individuals who have developed into permanent levels of transcendence, or those whose “center of pure awareness . . . both observes and transcends ego conflict, being both independent of, and unaffected, by fluctuations in feelings and thoughts” (Boucouvalas, 1981, p. 136). Such an individual integrates all processes of the mind, including the logical, intuitive, and spiritual. Since a purpose of this research is to gain a deeper level of understanding of the permanent level of transcendence, a more expansive definition of transcendence based on the learnings of this study will be included in the conclusions.

·                     •           Temporary—Temporary transcendent experiences may occur as isolated experiences with no permanent effects. However, transcendent experiences can also initiate permanent changes in an individual that deepen their experience, sense of meaning and purpose, and create the potential for emergence into permanent levels of transcendence.

Critical (or Significant) Life Events—Significant life events are those events that have a major impact on an individual’s life. These events may include changes in health, education, living environments, and celebrated events, including marriage or birth of a child. They are sometimes, but not always, traumatic and may include risk or loss. In some instances, seemingly small events, when accumulated, can be considered significant life events. The key is that a significant life event (or events) provides an opportunity, when other factors such as openness are present, for emergence into more complex levels of development. (They can also serve to move individuals to a previous, less complex level of development, though this was not observed in the lived experience of the co-researchers in this study.) Significant or critical events may also be transcendent experiences.


Chapter 2
Literature Review

The purpose of this literature review, in preparation for and through the duration of the research process, was to determine what relevant research had been pursued in multiple fields to further understanding of meaning in individuals’ work, or of meaningful work. I was especially interested in work that was related specifically to understanding how individuals at complex levels of development create or experience meaningful work. Since meaning may be defined not only at the individual or developmental levels, but also by the lens, or field, through which it is examined, multiple streams or fields were investigated.

These multiple streams included several fields of psychology, including motivation theory, transpersonal and humanistic psychology, applied psychology, and in particular adult development theory. The particular focus of this research is centered on complex or mature levels of adult development. Therefore, adult development theories that included such complex levels were investigated with greater focus. The purpose of this research is on the individual level of creating meaning. For this reason, the work on meaning and the creation of meaning by Csikszentmihalyi, Bohm, and Frankl offered significant insight.

Other streams where research has focused on work and meaning included sociology, philosophy, economics, leadership, and specific vocational fields that included counseling (pastoral and vocation) and nursing. Sociological studies tend to focus on large populations, and the data are generally quantitative. While this information provides insight into patterns and general information across larger populations, it fails to provide the depth of insight into the creation of meaning that phenomenological research offers.

The search methodology for this literature review took full advantage of internet tools provided through the ALADIN (Access to Library and Database Information Network) system, the Washington, D.C.-area’s multi-university consortium of academic libraries. ALADIN provides search access to multiple databases, including human resources management, counseling, philosophy, management, and psychology. The search in psychology included a specific focus on adult development theory, meaning, meaning of/in work, and motivation theory. Searches for materials dated back to the 1950s, if appropriate. Continuous searches for the most current literature in each field have been conducted throughout the development of the dissertation. ABI/Inform, ERIC, and Psyc/INFO were other vehicles searched. Both books and articles were included in searches within each stream of literature.


Perhaps few researchers or clinicians have had as intense an experience in their research as Austrian psychologist Victor Frankl. According to Frankl’s (1984) account of life in a Nazi concentration camp, he had just completed a textbook manuscript, on his newly developed theory of logotherapy, when he and his family were forced into a concentration camp. It was during his years as a prisoner in the concentration camp that he was able to confirm and adapt the key points of his theory. He observed that individuals who failed to hold on to a meaning or purpose in life were those who committed suicide or suffered the most.

According to Frankl (1984), for an individual to experience meaning in life, he or she must discover his or her purpose. In camp life, those who failed to identify with even a simple purpose wasted. Gilkey (1966), interred in a Japanese-controlled prisoner-of-war camp, made a similar observation. Gilkey noted that the prisoners—people who, in their non-prisoner lives, had held key positions of responsibility in British, American, or Chinese societies—became disoriented while interred in camp. Within the prison camp, they became listless, lost sight of goal orientation, and regressed to protecting what little domain and material possessions they had retained. This was true whether their positions in society had been physician, corporate officer, or minister. Gilkey observed, “For most average people, a sense of creative significance and strength of character both require a meaningful social context. The objective social or historical conditions of meaning and virtue are as important as the subjective—a man’s love of what he does” (p. 198).

Frankl (1984), upon his release from the concentration camp, continued to research the human search for purpose. Frankl noted that in order to be psychologically healthy, human beings needed “not a tensionless state, but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. . . . What man needs is not homeostasis, but what I call nöodynamics, the existential dynamics in a polar field of tension where one pole is represented by a meaning that is to be fulfilled and the other pole by the man who has to fulfill it” (p. 110; emphasis added).

Frankl’s (1984) description of nöodynamics is much like Bohm’s (1985) definition of meaning as “soma-significance.” Soma represents the physical side of meaning; significance is the mental or meaning part of the dynamic. Bohm stated, “In this approach, meaning is clearly being given a key role in the whole of existence” (p. 72). Bohm used magnetic force to describe the relationship dynamic between soma and significance and enfolding meaning. The north and south poles of a magnet represent soma (physical), and significance (mental/meaning). Even if the magnet breaks, the relationship between the two remains, and another magnetic force is created. Bohm depicted the creation of another, similar magnetic force as the enfolding process. As the enfolding process continues, the soma changes within the brain, creating deeper and deeper (or more complex) levels of meaning. According to Bohm, the reciprocal response by the opposing magnetic force is to create a physical response in recognition of the increased level of meaning. The physical response can be represented in physical action, exchange of thoughts, or movements towards a goal.

In the soma-significance definition of meaning, the enfoldment process is the critical factor. According to Bohm (1985), “meanings are thus seen to be capable of being organized into ever more subtle and comprehensive overall structures that imply, contain and enfold each other in ways that are capable of indefinite extension—that is, one meaning enfolds another, and so on. . . . The implicate order is a way of illustrating the way meaning is organized” (p. 75).

Frankl’s (1984) and Bohm’s (1985) definitions of meaning and purpose in life are consistent with the construct of meaning that Csikszentmihalyi (1990) developed in his research on “flow.” Csikszentmihalyi, an adult development psychologist, designed his initial research to study creativity, attempting to learn how people think up new questions (Csikszentmihalyi, 1993). What he identified was a process of “flow,” which he also referred to as “optimal experience” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p. 3). According to Csikszentmihalyi (1990), optimal experience, or flow, allows us to “feel in control of our actions, masters of our own fate . . . feel a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment that is long cherished and that becomes a landmark in memory for what life should be like” (p. 3). Yet flow experiences generally require an individual to work hard, either physically or mentally, to achieve a goal that is difficult yet worthwhile. This, according to Csikszentmihalyi, is what gives individual meaning to life.

According to Csikszentmihalyi (1990), experiencing the process of flow allows individuals to experience happiness by gaining control over one’s inner life. Experiencing this process enables an individual to grow into a more complex being. Csikszentmihalyi identified eight components of flow, or optimal experience:

·                     1.         Confronting tasks or challenges that an individual has a chance to complete

·                     2.         The ability to concentrate on what one is doing

·                     3.         Concentration made possible because there are clearly defined goals

·                     4.         Availability of clear feedback

·                     5.         Acting “with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life”

·                     6.         Experiences that offer a sense of control over an individual’s actions

·                     7.         Disappearance of concern for self during the process, yet the development of a stronger sense of self after the experience (Bohm’s [1985] “soma-significance”)

·                     8.         Alterations in sense of time—what may take hours seem like minutes, and minutes may seem to be hours (pp. 48-66)

Csikszentmihalyi (1990) noted that experiencing flow in work leads to greater complexity of thought: “if one finds flow in work, and in relations with other people, one is well on the way toward improving the quality of life as a whole” (p. 144). He also noted that individuals in the study who spent more time in “flow” reported feeling “strong, active, creative, concentrated and motivated” (p. 158) Although Csikszentmihalyi’s work included both work and non-work environments and situations, he discovered that individuals reported being in flow far more frequently in work situations than in non-work situations.

Understanding flow, according to Csikszentmihalyi (1990), leads to understanding meaning, as it relates to life. Individuals who lead meaningful lives do so because they have found a goal (or goals) that provide significant challenge to create purpose and resolution in their lives. The striving for challenging and significant goals creates purpose in an individual’s life while also providing harmony. It is this triad of purpose, resolution, and harmony that “unify life and give it meaning by transforming it into a seamless flow experience” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, pp. 217-218).

Spiral Dynamics integral theory is built upon the premise that adult development (as well as cultural development) is an emerging process. Individuals may develop into systems of greater complexity as life conditions and opportunities for development present. Csikszentmihalyi (1993) presented a similar view in The Evolving Self, noting that individuals emerge over history and individually in greater complexity. He noted that when the individual is able to accept such a “role in the process of evolution, life acquires a transcendent meaning” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1993, p. xviii).

The construct “meaning of work” has existed and been accepted for years: from ancient Greek philosophers (described in Tilgher [1962]), who cited various reasons or meanings for work (including work as a necessary evil), to Weber (1922), Marx (1967), and more recently economists, psychologists, and sociologists. Philosophical concepts as well as research have focused on “meaning of work” almost exclusively from “external” definitions, including the economic benefit of work, increased leisure work, and the focus on other areas of an individual’s life to provide intrinsic meaning and significance. Few domains have focused on “work as calling.” Researchers who have done so tended to be involved in theological and social work domains. Marx and Engels (1964) noted two contrasting orientations to work: (1) “man’s animal being,” driven by needs fostered under capitalism, and (2) man’s “specie being,” where the motivation to work is driven by the species’ need to create. Marx’s “specie being” motivation may reflect the internal desire to find meaningfulness in work, but the focus of his work centered on the “animal being” under capitalism.

Meaning of and Meaning in Work

Some of the earliest research on individuals, the nature of work, and the impact of work on an individual’s life was conducted by sociologist Everett Hughes (1958). Hughes noted that an individual’s work provides clues to his or her social life and personal identity. Hughes recognized that there is a time and a place for work, separated from family, politics, and religion, and that the frame and mood of work is substantially different from the other phases of life. Although Hughes did not present the different phases as completely discrete, his research indicated that “a man’s work is one of the most important parts of his social identity, of his self, indeed, of his fate in the one life he has to live, for there is something almost as irrevocable about choice of occupation as there is about choice of a mate” (p. 43). In Hughes’s research, it is the career that defines the individual, and meaning is based upon the identity that the occupation provides. Indeed, Hughes noted that it is the occupation or career that often serves to define social position and identity. Meaning is externally defined by role, rather than found within one’s work, or even in the pursuit of a deeply challenging goal.

Economists have primarily focused on the economic motivation of work, the financial gain of pay for work delivered and the purchasing power it provides. Yet Gill (1999) noted not only that there is a great deal more to work, but also that the failure of economists to acknowledge and include other critical issues in the meaning of work may lead to serious systemic biases. Gill also noted that the failure to consider economic and social justice implications may create flawed policies. She noted the need to study other domains, including sociology, social psychology, and political science. Yet even Gill’s reference to research in these domains recognized the focus on a more external approach to understanding meaning of work. For example, Gill’s focus on the psychological impact of work centered on the importance of job attributes and the impact of workplace environment on employees’ mental and emotional well-being. She noted that management appears to focus on employees’ psychological well-being only when it constrains the organization’s ability to generate profits. This psychological focus is primarily social, without regard to the internal impact that the meaning of work itself may have on an individual. Still, Gill is to be credited for issuing the call for economists to consider the social and psychological impacts, and not only the economical impact, of work on employees and management.

Super et al. (1995) undertook a major series of global studies of the “meaning of work” in the 1980s. The twofold purpose of this multinational study was (a) to develop a system of measures of values and major life roles, and (b) to develop a cross-cultural study of the importance of life-roles and value priorities. The tool developed for the multinational study, Work Importance Study (WIS), tested four hypotheses:

·                     1.         Correlations between important work values and importance attached to work should be positive, but low.

·                     2.         Correlations between value attainment perceptions and work importance should always be positive and high.

·                     3.         Correlation between the perceptions of value attainment and work importance should be in proportion to the importance of the value being investigated.

·                     4.         The larger part of work importance variance should be based on the importance of different work values and the individual’s belief in the potential for realization in the work being performed. (Hypotheses adapted from Sverko & Vizek-Vidovic, 1995, p. 18.)

The Work Importance Study (WIS) instrument consisted of quantitative measures that included a Values Scale (VS) and Salience Inventory (SI) that could be used effectively across cultures. According to Sverko and Super, the Values Scale instrument proved to be reliable and effective as general study tools of populations, but it is not a tool for use with individuals. The Salience Inventory proved reliable as both a general research tool and for individual assessment. The general focus of the study, however, was on large national populations, also broken down into age and career categories, with the focus on groups and not individuals. And as Sverko and Super acknowledged, quantitative studies, and their study in particular, effectively establish patterns across populations that show what values are important across and within populations. A qualitative study is needed to determine the “whys” or provide a more detailed understanding as to why the values were important. The great strength of this study is that “the findings . . . support the view that the structures of human values and roles are not those of a single culture; rather, they pertain more broadly to human behavior in the modern industrial world . . . our analyses tend to support the postulate of factor similarity across national groups, for both values and roles . . .” (Sverko & Super, 1995, p. 351).

Sverko and Super (1995) noted that, in an inquiry such as theirs, where a study of values is conducted using quantitative instrumentation, two cautions must be observed. The first is that participants might select what they perceive to be the socially correct or desirable answers. (This might reveal the prevailing vMeme in the culture.) However, this possibility was diminished in their study with the use of another study conducted by the Croatian team that participated in the global Meaning of Work study and coordinated by Sverko and Super (1995), whose technique diminished the possibility of faking or selecting socially desirable answers. These results were consistent with the overall study results.

The second caution in such a study is that, by averaging value assessments of a population, the prevailing values dominate and tend to mask individual differences. Therefore, even if the questions included on the inventory allowed for the discovery of Spiral Dynamic’s second-tier thinkers, as such a small percentage of the overall population, this group of individuals and their values would probably not be reflected in the findings.

A key finding of the series of studies was that inner-oriented values (especially the importance of self-fulfillment) is more highly valued and occurs more frequently in the more mature (age) workers. Though there were some differences across national groups, there was generally consistency across nations in this pattern. Younger workers generally valued leisure time as more important than self-fulfillment. Within the study, adult participants valued work as most important, with home and family, then study in descending order. This finding is consistent with the theories of both Erikson (1950, 1982) and Loevinger (Loevinger & Blasi, 1976).

According to Sverko and Super (1995), “maturation affects role salience” (p. 353). Younger adults’ and students’ primary interest in leisure appears to give way to a focus on inner-oriented values as they mature. This inner-oriented focus appears to remain consistent across gender and national lines, where “consistency appears in the relationships between values and role commitment when gender is held constant” (Sverko & Super, 1995, p. 356). Sverko and Super did note an exception to this among adults, those whose most recent life experiences differ from the more stabilized pattern. Recent immigrants to a country who may be starting over in their work or careers as a result of their immigrant status may value work more for its social ties, and as a means of advancing their social worth in this new environment. However, these differences disappear as their status more closely resembles the stable norm.

Sverko and Super (1995) provided a cluster analysis that shows the distinguishing characteristics of values patterns based on national samples (p. 355). They clustered the characteristics by countries whose participants’ response showed matching values and role salience. These clusters include New World (American, Canadian, South African, and one Australian), Europe (all Belgian, Italian, one Polish, Portuguese, Croatian, and two Australian), and all Japanese. The distinguishing characteristics within are remarkably similar to the vMeme descriptors by country/clusters as defined in Spiral Dynamics theory. For example, Japan’s current cultural “GEOcurrent” was identified by Beck and Cowan (1996, pp. 307-309) as “Blue-Orange.” According to Beck and Cowan, Japan’s focus has been on sacrifice of self that “translates into a strong patriotic urge and sense of national identity” (p. 309). The focus is less on self, with a greater focus on the whole; roles are less hierarchical than in other countries. The culture of valuing traditions while still valuing aesthetics and creativity is consistent with the Japanese cluster of values, as defined by Sverko and Super. The key variant between Sverko and Super’s distinguishing characteristics and Beck and Cowan’s (1996) determination of Japan as Blue-Orange may be resolved if one considers the timing of each team’s research. While published in 1995, the Meaning of Work studies were conducted in the mid-1980s. Beck and Cowan’s work is more recent, mid-1990s. In the 1990s, the Japanese culture was beginning to experience downsizing in companies that had previously offered lifetime employment, and the Orange vMeme had emerged in Japan.

Sverko and Super (1995) described the European characteristics as “high valuation of relationships and understanding among people . . . autonomous life-style and strong rejection of authority” (p. 355). According to Beck (2001), Europe has been moving from Orange to Green vMeme (p. 3). The key characteristic of this vMeme is a move to a unitary approach: “all should benefit equally” (Beck & Cowan, 1996; Graves, 1974). Green also rejects strong authority.

Sverko and Super’s (1995) New World countries value “a drive for upward mobility, material success and prestige . . . with importance attached to Work and Homemaking . . . shown by participation, commitment” (p. 355). According to Beck (Beck, 2001, p. 3; Beck, 2003), this indicate’s the New World’s (which would also include the United Kingdom) move from Blue to Orange, in what Beck called “the Strive Drive.” The Strive Drive is “materialistic; [focused on] consumerism; success; image; status; growth” (Beck, 2001, p. 3; Beck, 2003, p. 6). Again, consistent similarities are observed between the distinguishing characteristics and values discovered in the Meaning of Work studies and Beck and Cowan’s work in vMeme (values Meme) global themes.

Based on the cluster analysis by Sverko and Super (1995) with the matching of vMeme levels by country based on Spiral Dynamics research by Beck and Cowan (1996; Beck, 2001, 2003), the findings of these studies included only first-tier participants. It is possible that, as Sverko and Super concluded, individual variations (those that might have been expressed by the possible minority second-tier participants) were eliminated in the averaging of data by the researchers. So although Sverko and Super’s study provided significant information and insight into the meaning of work for first-tier thinkers, it was devoid of information that can provide insight into second-tier thinking.

The multinational Meaning of Work study provided significant data showing that inner-oriented values make up a significant focus in an individual’s search for meaning in work. As is expected of a large, quantitative study, it cannot show how, what, and why this inner-oriented focus is important. Nor can it show how individuals find, explore, or define meaning in their work. The most important inner-oriented value cited in this series of studies was self-fulfillment. This value was also determined to be the most important inner-oriented aspect of work by Gayle (1997), in a study of information systems specialists. Again, this finding supports insight into the mindset of transcendent thinking, which is best uncovered by qualitative inquiry, such as this study undertook.

Adult Development and Motivation Theories

Theorists in this field include Herzberg, McClelland, and McGregor. Maslow is often included within this psychological framework. His work could be considered motivational theory or developmental theory.


Herzberg’s theory of motivation consists of two key components: “hygiene factors” and “motivator needs” (Herzberg et al., 1959; Herzberg, 1976). Hygiene factors and motivator needs are two separate, but unequal categories that affect motivation. Herzberg notes that the opposite of one is not the fulfillment of the other.

Hygiene factors refer to “on the job . . . environmental factors” (Herzberg, 1976) that include (1) company policy and administration; (2) supervisors; (3) interpersonal relationships that occur within the work environment; (4) working conditions, salary, financial payments; (5) status; and (6) job security.

Hygiene factors do not motivate employees, but the absence of such factors (such as adequate salary) can serve to dissatisfy employees. Hygiene factors must be adequately met in a work environment, but only “job satisfiers” can lead to motivation, according to Herzberg (1962; Herzberg et al., 1959). Hygiene factors address the employee’s concern, “Am I treated well?” (Herzberg, 1976). According to Herzberg, since hygiene factors only address basic feelings of being well treated, there is really no such thing as “good hygiene,” only “bad hygiene,” since the absence of adequate hygiene factors leads to discontent, but the presence of adequate hygiene factors never leads to contentment or job satisfaction.

Job satisfiers or motivation needs are, according to Herzberg (1976), the only factors that serve to motivate employees. Herzberg noted that motivators on the job are the same types of needs that an individual uses to identify himself as a human being. These satisfiers include (1) achievement potential in/on the job; (2) recognition for job achievement; (3) challenging, interesting, and worthwhile work; (4) adult-level work responsibilities; and (5) ability to grow and expand on the job (Herzberg, 1976).

Motivator factors address the employee’s issue, “Am I used well?” Herzberg noted that the satisfiers address issues of growth and achievement and how well an individual is able to use his or her skills in challenging work, as well as to develop on the job. Addressing these issues reinforces the employee’s desire to grow and increases individual motivation, according to Herzberg (1962a, 1962b, 1968, 1976; Herzberg et al., 1959). If an employee is able to fulfill the five motivators, he will continue to remain motivated and willing to remain on the job.

The error that many organizations have made in an attempt to motivate employees, according to Herzberg (1968, 1976), is “job loading” rather than “job enrichment.” Job loading implies adding more work, but not more meaning. Job enrichment is the process of making the job more worthwhile, enhancing the motivators, as identified by Herzberg. In addition, Herzberg noted that, while hygiene factors are extrinsic (environmental) in nature, motivators tend to be internally driven, or intrinsic. An organization can provide an environment that allows positive hygiene factors to exist. However, according to Herzberg, it is only when the job itself offers the motivator factors that an individual can execute motivation.

Herzberg’s theory has been widely used in industry. And although Herzberg published his findings in both academic and business publications (1962a, 1962b, 1968, 1976; Herzberg et al., 1959), some dispute has arisen about others’ ability to reproduce his findings using his method. Belott and Tutor (1990), using Herzberg’s theory to assess teacher losses in a school environment, found that teachers value salary above motivator factors. Other researchers, including Waters and Waters (1972) in a study of female office workers, have tested Herzberg’s motivators and have not found support for the motivators. Both of these groups used women subjects. Herzberg’s subjects were male, which could lead to a conclusion of gender differences. Other researchers also had difficulty replicating Herzberg’s findings whether they employed the exact same methodology or varied the methodology slightly (Dunnette, Campbell, & Hakel, 1967; Hullin & Smith, 1967; Lindsay, Marks, & Gorlow, 1967).


McClelland’s theory of motivation is framed in what he defined as a “need for achievement” (nAchievement). McClelland (1953) recognized earlier work by psychologists, including Maslow, in identifying a need for affiliation. But according to McClelland, a need for affiliation does not motivate. Instead, after conducting extensive research, McClelland identified the need for achievement as a powerful motivating force.

McClelland’s (1953) research was conducted through extensive in-depth interviews that included deep information gathering on the childhood and parenting of the individuals involved in the study. McClelland discovered that, throughout several different countries/cultures, there are consistent behaviors and attitudes of the parents of those individuals with a high need for achievement. The most striking factor in families of such individuals is the emphasis on “the independent development of the individual” (McClelland, 1953, p. 328). McClelland noted that even in families that are not necessarily run by democratic processes (autocratic families), there is a consistent focus on individual development of the child, with encouragement for high independence. In contrast, individuals who tested with a low need for achievement consistently came from families or cultures where the child was far more dependent on the parents and in fact was clearly subordinate to them, without the freedom to act independently.

McClelland (1953, 1961) identified four key characteristics of high achievers.

1. The most important, or dominant, factor was a moderate level of risk taking. High achievers set difficult, yet achievable goals that have a clear probability of success. (Low achievers set goals that are either impossible to attain or so easy that attainment is guaranteed.) McClelland (1953, 1961) noted that high achievers show a high level of striving for success. If a challenge appears to have too much risk, with a very low chance of success, high achievers will pass. And if the challenge is not difficult enough, individuals with a high need for achievement will forego the challenge.

2. Another characteristic of individuals with a high need for achievement is the attention they devote to the completion of a challenge or a task. High achievers focus completely on a challenge until it is successfully completed. While McClelland (1953, 1961) noted that this focus could come at the cost of other important issues, including interpersonal relationships, there does seem to be a correlation to the individual in a flow situation. Csikszentmihayli (1990) noted a similar trait of individuals involved in the flow process: intense concentration with a lack of awareness of other activities.

3. The characteristic of high achievers, according to McClelland (1953, 1961) is the need for immediate feedback. Feedback allows an individual to adjust and rechart course, thus allowing for greater chance of success. McClelland noted that individuals with a high need for achievement tend to seek careers that offer feedback within the job. He also noted that high achievers might experience a high frustration level in work or careers where little feedback is available. This may be because feedback offers acknowledgement of success when positive and can show the need to adjust one’s course if the achiever is not moving toward success in a particular task or job.

4. The final characteristic of high achievers, according to McClelland (1953, 1961), is the satisfaction they experience in the successful accomplishment of their work. McClelland noted that money is not the motivation for their work (high achievers experience intrinsic motivation from the sense of achievement). However, high achievers view money/salary and benefits as a measure of their achievement.

McClelland (1953, 1961) established, through his research, that the foundations for achievement motivation are embedded early in an individual’s life, based on the family structure and push towards independence of the child. This conclusion appeared to rule out the prospect of later development by high achievers and suggested that the need for achievement cannot be developed later in an individual’s life. However, McClelland later developed a training program to teach the need for achievement and experimented with the possibility of developing a need for achievement in individuals who, either by family history or culture, had failed to develop a need for achievement in childhood (McClelland & Johnson, 1984).

Based on his training experiments in India, McClelland (1965) noted success in teaching a need for achievement to adult males who had not previously developed the need. This supports the premise that McClelland’s motivation theory fits into the concept of motivation as a learned behavior. However, McClelland (1961) noted a simple tendency towards a high need for achievement in some individuals, just as others exhibit a high need for affiliation (with a corresponding low need for achievement).


McGregor (1960) developed his theory of motivation, Theory Y, by acknowledging the failure of management to understand what motivates employees once basic survival needs have been addressed. McGregor noted that the traditional theory/theories of motivation had been based primarily on military and church models, where absolute authoritarianism rules. This model is no longer applicable in modern society, according to McGregor, for several reasons, including the multiple levels and layers of superiors to whom mid-level managers now report (versus one authoritarian figure); the importance of the social, economic, and political milieus that impact, shape, and influences management; the increased levels of education for both management and employees; and the dramatic technological change that has faced organizations.

In addition, McGregor (1960) noted that the assumptions upon which traditional organizational and motivational theories are based are only partially true. McGregor  stated, “The real need is for new theory, changed assumptions, more understanding of the nature of human behavior in organizational settings” (p. 18). The old assumption, according to McGregor, was that authority is the single means of managerial control. However, McGregor noted that authority is only one of several means of social control, and generally not the most effective means of control. Two other frequently used means of control include persuasion and “professional help” (McGregor, 1960, p. 19). True professional help is the process of providing the skills and knowledge of the professional for the client’s use. Since all of these methods of social control are relative and appropriate for specific situations, the effective use of these controls lies in an individual’s, or manager’s, selection of the appropriate control for the appropriate situation. McGregor pointed out that the measure of success in the use of any of these controls is whether the end result is the achievement of the employees’ goals or satisfaction of their needs. However, according to McGregor, each of these social controls, or influences, can only be used when one party is partially dependent upon the other.

There are limitations to authority used as a management tool to motivate or change behavior. They include the ability of the one with authority to enforce punishment, the availability of employees to respond with countermeasures, and the high degree of interdependence that exists in modern work environments. In developing his theory, McGregor (1960) noted a failure in conventional organization theory to acknowledge that interdependence runs up and down management/employee lines, as well as laterally. It is this critical concept of interdependence that must be recognized and addressed, according to McGregor, in any theory of organization and motivation.

McGregor (1960) noted that it is a delicate balance to provide independence and allow for interdependence in a work environment, while limiting dependence for employees. According to McGregor, “the desirable end of the growth process is an ability to strike a balance—to tolerate certain forms of dependence without being unduly frustrated, and at the same time to stand alone in some respects without undue anxiety” (p. 27). McGregor expressed his theory of motivation through role relationships, primarily the manager, describing the manager’s role as situational: at times leader, teacher, peer, decision maker, or disciplinarian. The manager’s relationship with his subordinates, or others in management, changes as the circumstances change. McGregor noted that managers can be successful only if they are clear to employees about the role they are adopting and if they themselves understand the different role requirements.

This interdependence and delicate balance of independence and dependence form the foundation for McGregor’s (1960) Theory Y. McGregor identifies six assumptions that form the basis of Theory Y:

·                     1.         Physical and mental effort in work is as natural to people as play and rest.

·                     2.         Individuals will exercise self-control and self-direction regarding goals/objectives to which they are committed.

·                     3.         An individual’s commitment to a goal is a function of the rewards provided upon successful completion, including self-actualization or ego satisfaction.

·                     4.         With proper conditions, most individuals not only accept but also seek responsibility.

·                     5.         The ability to exercise a high level of imagination, creativity, and ingenuity for solutions, including solving organizational challenges, is widespread throughout the population.

·                     6.         The intellectual potential of the average human being is only partially utilized in modern work society.

McGregor noted that these assumptions are dynamic, versus static, allowing for the possibility of human growth and development and the need to selectively adapt style in management. He characterized the failure of individuals to collaborate in organizational settings as a failure of management to recognize how best to create an integrative environment that allows members of the organization to achieve their goals while working towards the success of the organization. In addition, when management allows employees to exercise self-control, this gives them room to use their own creativity and initiative to serve the organization and themselves. There appear to be two major challenges to effectively and successfully implementing Theory Y, according to McGregor (1960):

a. The first obstacle to overcome is the flexibility required by organizations to accept and adapt their management policies and programs. Theory Y opens up an entirely new range of management possibilities in policies and practices. Some of these may not be entirely feasible, based on both an organization’s current situation and the mindset of its management.

b. A second challenge is that the knowledge base of how to create interdependent programs and policies to apply Theory Y did not exist at the time McGregor (1960) created his theory. In addition, McGregor noted that “perfect integration” of Theory Y might not be a realistic objective of the organization or individual employees. The goal is the achievement of individual employees’ goals while they are also striving to achieve the goals of the organization. The ultimate goal of Theory Y management is the successful achievement of both the individuals’ and the organization’s goals. One of the key factors in McGregor’s theory was to shift the focus of motivation away from authoritarian rule and to recognize individuals as developing, dynamic human beings engaged in a continuous process of growth and development. He acknowledged the theory development of both Herzberg and Maslow in developing his theory.


Maslow’s theory of motivation is based on a hierarchy of needs that emerge and rise as each preceding level of needs is satisfied (1954, 1970, 1975). This hierarchy is founded on satisfying the most basic need level and then, once that level is appropriately sated, moving to a higher, more complex level. These levels, as well as the satisfaction of these levels, are dynamic, not static. Maslow noted that it is not mandatory for each level to be fully satisfied for an individual to move to the next level of need. In fact, Maslow’s position was that once the lower, most basic needs are adequately addressed and the individual is operating at a higher level of need satisfaction, the individual might be driven to pay less attention to the satisfaction of lower-level needs while pursuing the satisfaction of higher-level needs (1954, 1970, 1975).

Maslow (1954, 1970, 1975) initially included five levels of needs, presented here from most basic to most complex:

·                     1.         Physiological Needs—These needs include physiological functions necessary to maintain the body’s homeostasis, including food, sex, sleep, and drink.

·                     2.         Safety Needs—Safety needs include “security; stability; dependency; protection; freedom from fear, anxiety and chaos; need for structure, order, law, and limits; strength in the protector” (Maslow, 1954).

·                     3.         Belongingness and Love Needs—These needs include giving and receiving love and affection—the need to belong to family, friends, mate, or a group. The lack of satisfaction of these needs includes a sense of isolation, rejection, friendlessness, and lack of roots.

·                     4.         Esteem Needs—These needs include a need for self-respect or self-esteem and the respect or esteem of others. Maslow classified these into two sets. The first includes a desire for achievement, mastery, strength, confidence, and independence. The second set includes the individual’s desire for prestige, importance, dignity, and appreciation. Satisfaction of these needs, according to Maslow, leads to a sense of worth, capability, and self-confidence, while failure to satisfy these needs leads to feeling inadequate, inferior, or helpless.

·                     5.         Self-Actualization Needs—Maslow noted that when the lower order of needs is adequately addressed, the individual is open to the fulfillment of self-actualization needs. These needs include the individual’s desire, or need, to begin seeking what they must to do “to fulfill the individual’s completely actualized selves”. Maslow (1954)labeled this development self actualization. What humans can be, they must be. They must be true to their own nature. This need we may call self-actualization” (Maslow, 1975, p. 22). Maslow’s level of self-actualization provided the foundation for McGregor’s Theory Y (McGregor, 1960).

·                     6.         Transcendence—Maslow added this level of need late in his career and life (1968, 1969, 1970, 1975). Maslow saw transcendence as the level of motivation that addresses a new force of psychology, the transpersonal. This level goes beyond the individual needs and interests, focusing on the cosmos and humanity rather than the individual. Boucouvalas (1983) noted that Maslow saw this level of motivation or development as one in which an individual has a visionary view of the world that goes beyond selfishness, one that embraces a service orientation towards humanity as the motivating force.

Maslow (1954) noted that an individual can regress to lower-level motivational needs if they remain unfulfilled for long durations. For instance, an individual deprived of food or shelter for long periods would find it difficult to remain concerned with fulfilling love and belonging. It is possible for an individual, if severely deprived of a basic, lower motivating need, to return to that level until those needs are adequately addressed.

However, Maslow (1954) also stated that individuals functioning from higher-level needs, e.g., self-actualization, tend to focus more on addressing higher-level needs, even if deprived of lower-level satisfaction. This is true especially if lower-level needs have been adequately addressed for a lengthy period of time. Maslow stated that individuals who are fulfilling self-actualizing needs will endure deprivation of lower-level satisfaction in order to fulfill those higher-level needs.

Maslow has been categorized with both the motivational theorists and developmental theorists. Lee (1999), in an article posted on the Clare Graves website, has situated several developmental theorists within the levels of Spiral Dynamics integral theory. Within Lee’s comparison, Maslow’s self-actualization is comparable in development to Spiral Dynamics integral (SDi) theory’s first level of the second tier, Yellow/GT. And Maslow’s level of transcendence aligns with SDi level Turquoise/HU, from a developmental perspective. However, Maslow’s self-actualization may more accurately fit SDi’s Green/FS through entering Yellow/GT. Maslow (1968, 1969, 1970, 1975) described transcendence in general broad strokes, so it may more appropriately match SDi’s Yellow/GT through Turquoise/HU levels of development. Although Maslow’s theory of personality is often included within the cognitive adult development theorists, Maslow, in Motivation and Personality (1954), placed his own theory with the motivation theorists.

In considering the motivation theories included here, it is clear that each theory addresses a particular level of development, from a Spiral Dynamics integral perspective. Moreover, one might further propose that the failure of each of the included motivation theories, with the exception of Maslow, lies in the “one size fits all” mentality proposed by the theorists. Herzberg’s (1962a, 1962b, 1968, 1976; Herzberg et al., 1959) theory might most appropriately address the motivational conditions of individuals with vMeme values that operate primarily from Blue/DQ Spiral Dynamics integral level. McClelland’s (1961,1965) need to achieve would mesh appropriately with Orange/ER’s “strive drive.” And McGregor (1960), as previously noted, cited Maslow’s (1954) self-actualization as the level at which he developed Theory Y. McGregor and Maslow both noted that individuals need to fulfill their potential and have meaningful goals.

Table 1
Spiral Dynamics Integral Frame

Spiral Dynamics










7—Yellow/GT—Flex Flow





6—Green/FS—Human Bond

Need to Belong



Theory Y

5—Orange/ER—Strive Drive

Need for Respect and Self-Esteem


Need for Achievement


4—Blue/DQ—Truth Force

Need for Belonging and Love



Theory X




Need for Power

Theory X

2—Purple/BO—Kin Spirits

Need for Safety





Physiological Needs




Note. Adapted from “A Comparison of the Spiral Dynamics Map with Other Maps,” by W. R. Lee, 1999, retrieved from the Clare W. Graves website,


Adult Development Theory

What differentiates theories of motivation from other human theories of development is the focus on motivation without the gestalt of total development.

Beck (personal communication, April 2002) has cautioned against comparing theories with Spiral Dynamics integral for two reasons. The first is that motivation theorists begin from a different foundation and worldview than adult development theorists. The second reason for caution is that most adult development theories, with the exception of Spiral Dynamics integral and those stemming from a transpersonal psychology foundation, are cognitive development theories with a focus solely on cognitive development. Spiral Dynamics integral, though often referred to as a values-based theory, is integral in that it incorporates cognitive development with social, psychological, and values concepts of development within both the individual and social structures.

Adult development theories include “meaning making” of individuals, based on where they are in stages of mature adult development as a key component of the developmental process. Graves (1974), as well as Beck and Cowan (1996), noted that it is the developmental stage that determines how an individual processes the information from the world around him or her.

At this start of the review of the cognitive developmental theorists, interesting to note is that each of these theorists presents their theory of development as a closed system with end limits of development. According to these theorists, the development of human cognition is finite, having a set limit or end-level potential. Several, including Maslow (1954, 1970, 1975), Erikson (1950, 1982, 1986), Kohlberg (1995; Kohlberg & Armon, 1984; Kohlberg & Ryncarz, 1990), and Loevinger (1998; Loevinger & Blasi, 1976), have added another level later in their careers. Cook-Greuter’s (1994m 1999m 2999) theory is an acknowledged furthering of Loevinger’s theory, developed because Cook-Greuter noted the Loevinger’s failure to acknowledge new development through use of the Sentence Completion Test (SCT). However, even with the later addition of more sophisticated development levels, none of the theorists have changed their theories to open systems.

Graves (1974) acknowledged the evolutionary potential of human beings and their societies from the start of his theory. According to Graves, “the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding or emergent process marked by the progressive subordination of older behavioral systems to newer, higher order behavioral systems. The mature man tends normally to change his psychology as the conditions of his existence change” (p. 72). Graves noted that “man’s nature is an open constantly evolving system which proceeds by quantum jumps from one steady state system to the next” (p. 72). Graves researched and presented the levels currently observable through historical data, as well as through research he conducted, but he acknowledged systems still developing and still to be developed. Graves also applied the levels of existential problem solving to cultures and societies, as well as to individuals.


Erikson (1950) initially presented seven levels of psychosocial development. Later in his life, as he was addressing his own issues of aging and loss of productivity, he added the eighth level: ego-integrity versus despair (1982; Erikson et al., 1986). Erikson’s theory was based on Freud’s psychosexual theory. However, Erikson went further than Freud’s original theory. Erikson saw development fundamentally as an either/or proposition. During the specific developmental period, the individual develops either the healthy or the unhealthy level at that stage of development, based upon his or her environment and response to his or her needs. Erikson also presented development from birth forward. Erikson’s eight levels (from birth to adulthood) are as follows:

1. Basic trust versus distrust—This level occurs in about the first 18 months of an individual’s life. The ability of the individual to develop a sense of trust is based upon building a loving, trusting, and responsive relationship with those providing primary care. If a nurturing, responsive relationship cannot be developed, the individual learns distrust of people and the environment.

2. Autonomy versus shame (self-doubt)—At this level, the individual is learning basic physical skills, as well as developing a sense of self separate from caregivers and environment. If the child is successful in mastering control over physical skills (including toilet training), he or she gains a sense of autonomy. If not, a sense of shame develops.

3. Initiative versus guilt—In this level of development, the individual needs to learn to balance between becoming more assertive and taking initiative and behaving too forcefully. If successful, the individual will gain a sense of self-initiative. If unsuccessful, the individual faces a sense of guilt for his forceful behavior.

4. Industry versus inferiority (competence)—The individual faces an upswing in learning new, more complex skills and complex demands. Successful navigation of this stage leads to a sense of competence, but if unsuccessful the individual develops a sense of failure.

5. Identity versus identity diffusion (role confusion)—At this level, the individual gains a sense of self, including gender identification and religious and political placement. Failure to navigate this level successfully leads to a diffuse sense of self and role confusion.

6. Intimacy versus isolation—It is at this level that an individual addresses the issues and ability to develop intimate relationships or else faces isolation. Erikson (1950) identified this stage as coinciding with young adulthood.

7. Generativity versus stagnation—Middle-aged adults at this level deal with the concept of legacy and preparing the way for the next generation. If successful, the adult develops a sense of generativity; if unsuccessful, the sense of stagnation within one’s life grips the individual.

8. Ego-integrity versus despair—Erikson (1982; Erikson et al., 1986) did not recognize or identify this adult stage until later in his life, when he faced the same issues. These are the issues that older, mature adults must address until their deaths. When faced with age-related health issues and nearing the end of their lives, individuals at this stage, according to Erikson, must develop a sense of the wholeness of their lives, or they will succumb to a sense of despair. That is, the individual arrives at the integration and acceptance of one’s life or feels utterly desolate at the end of one’s life journey.

Lee (1999) compared Erikson’s stages with Spiral Dynamics integral levels. Again, since Spiral Dynamics (SDi) theory measures levels of development based on values and one’s abilities to navigate increasingly more complex life challenges, there are no exact matches. However, Lee placed the eight currently identified levels of SDi theory as being consistent with Erikson’s (1982; Erikson et al., 1986) ego-integrity versus despair level. Yet in Erikson’s late works (1982; Erikson et al., 1986), the global perspective that guides the second-tier level of SDi theory did not present itself. Erikson’s final stage appears to occur between Yellow/GT and entering of Turquoise levels of Spiral Dynamics integral theory. In fact, Graves (1970) noted that the “means value” for this level is “accepting,” and the “end value” is “existence,” which is more consistent with Erikson’s concept that the individual accepts who he or she is and has become at the end of their life, or else faces despair.


Kohlberg presented a theory of moral development that sets its foundation on the philosophical work of Kant and the cognitive theorist Piaget (Kohlberg, 1995; Kohlberg & Armon, 1984; Kohlberg & Ryncarz, 1990). Kohlberg initially presented six stages of development and later added the seventh stage:

Kohlberg’s Stages of Development

Preconventional level.

Kohlberg (Kohlberg and Armon, 1984) noted that the individual (child) responds to culturally labeled rules of right and wrong, but only in terms of “physical or hedonistic consequences of action”. Two stages are included in this level:

1. Punishment-and-obedience orientation—At this stage, the individual learns from punishment or reward of his or her behavior. Focus centers on avoiding physical punishment. Deference to power is given not based on any moral reasoning, but solely on the power’s ability to punish or reward.

2. Instrumental-relativist orientation—Doing the right action is based upon satisfying one’s own needs and occasionally the needs of others. Human relationships are viewed in a reciprocal, pragmatic way. The individual has a minimal understanding of the concepts of fair play, sharing, and reciprocity.

Conventional level.

At this level, the individual focuses on maintaining family, peer group, and national expectations, exhibits conformity and loyalty to personal expectations, and maintains relationships with others involved within the same group or groups.

3. Interpersonal concordance orientation—Referred to by Kohlberg (Kohlberg and Armon, 1984) as the “good boy—nice girl” stage, this is marked by conformity to stereotyped images of natural or majority behavior and by meeting with others who value those images and behavior. Earned approval for being a good boy or nice girl and for good intentions is important to the individuals at this stage.

4. Law and order orientation—The individual’s orientation is towards fixed rules and laws, as well as to authority, the maintenance of social order, and meeting one’s responsibility.

Postconventional, autonomous, or principled level.

The individual, at this level, is focused on his or her own attempt to define moral values and principles, without reliance on what applies or is valid from the group authority.

5. Social-contract legalistic orientation—In this stage, the individual has a clear understanding of the difference and relativism of personal values and opinions. The focus is on reaching a consensus, with standards being those critically examined and dictated by an entire society rather than individual rights. Emphasis is on the “legal point of view,” with a willingness to change laws as needed to serve the society. Kohlberg (Kohlberg and Armon, 1984) noted that this is the level of moral development of the U.S. Constitution and government.

6. Universal-ethical-principle orientation—At this stage, the individual chooses his or her own abstract ethical principles whose selection is based on an understanding of universality, understanding and logic of one’s choices. According to Kohlberg, individuals at this stage value human dignity, have a strong sense of justice and believe that all human beings deserve equal human rights. (Kohlberg, 1995).

7. Cosmic or infinite orientation—An individual who reaches this stage, according to Kohlberg (Kohlberg & Ryncarz, 1990), begins to address the question “why be moral?” This issue, Kohlberg (1995) explained, goes beyond the surface level to one where the individual begins to understand that the highest level of morality is not a moral question at all, but one that must address the issues of the meaning of life. The central characteristic at this stage is that the solutions to moral and life-meaning issues are non-egoistic and non-dualistic. It is at this stage that an individual gains a sense of being one with all life and gains a cosmic perspective, as opposed to a simply humanistic perspective.

Criticism of Kohlberg

Kohlberg’s (1995; Kohlberg and Armon, 1984; Kohlberg and Ryncarz, 1990) ) theory of moral development has come under criticism for an ideological bias in its foundation in justice and rights, rather than a focus on group welfare or benevolent virtue (Puka, 1994). A common critical reaction to Kohlberg’s theory has argued that his stages lack acknowledgement for a need for kindness and love. In addition, Kohlberg’s (and his supporters’) work has been criticized for the Western bias of the research. Gilligan, Murphy, and Tappan (1990) noted that, even with revision of Kohlberg’s original scoring system, very few adults appear to have reached the upper levels of moral maturity. Gilligan also criticized Kohlberg’s work for gender bias; in addition, Murphy and Gilligan (1994) criticized the patriarchal tone of Kohlberg’s research.

According to Lee (1999), Kohlberg’s (1995; Kohlberg and Armon, 1984; Kohlberg and Ryncarz, 1990) levels of moral development move within the Spiral Dynamics integral levels of development but are not totally aligned. SDi first-tier level Survival Sense (A-N/Beige) falls below Kohlberg’s first stage. That is, Kohlberg’s Stage 1–Punishment/Obedience orientation is more closely aligned with SDi Kin Spirits (B-O/Purple). Kohlberg’s Stage 2–Instrumental-Relativist orientation is most closely associated with SDi level three Power-Gods (C-P/Red). Lee proposed that SDi Truth Force (D-Q/Blue) is a relative match for Kohlberg’s Stage 3–Interpersonal Concordance orientation and Stage 4–Law and Order orientation, combined. SDi’s Strive Drive (E-R/Orange), which places achievement above absolute levels of moral authority, aligns just below Kohlberg’s Stage 5–Social-Contract Legalistic orientation. Lee placed Kohlberg’s Stage 6–Universal-Ethical-Principle orientation between SDi’s Human Bond (F-S/Green) orientation and Flex Flow (G-T/Yellow). According to Lee, Kohlberg’s ethical principle orientation has passed the level of development of simply uniting or seeking community as one, as the F-S/Green vMeme establishes, but it has not yet reached the level of integration found in G-T/Yellow in Spiral Dynamics integral theory. Finally, Kohlberg’s Stage 7–Cosmic or Infinite orientation approaches the developmental level of SDi Global View (H-U/Turquoise) yet still does not experience the complete depth of cosmic consciousness that is attributed to Turquoise, according to the classification by Lee.

As noted earlier, it is impossible to match concepts, levels, and stages entirely between theories, since research and theory are often based upon varying criteria. In addition, although Kohlberg’s (1995) theory is cognitively based, he focused on moral development with a clearly Western slant to establishing which morals are judged. Spiral Dynamics integral focuses on values based on how individuals seek to solve the life challenges they face; it acknowledges that individuals may be at different vMeme levels in different areas of their lives and may use previous levels to solve problems if the problems and solutions are so warranted. In addition, SDi theory has been researched, successfully applied, and used to solve cultural challenges in different countries, with consistent results. There is no evidence of multicultural application of Kohlberg’s theory in other cultures.


Loevinger’s (see Hy & Loevinger, 1996) theory is founded in Freudian theory of ego stages and development. Loevinger noted that one of the challenges in ego development theory is determining whether development is an evolutionary process or a series of discrete steps or stages. Though the challenge of how researchers should address this issue has not been solved, Loevinger noted problems with strict adherence to either concept. However, according to Loevinger, one reason for using ego development as a foundation for developmental theory is the stability of the ego. It is this stability that allows a researcher to formulate specific stages or processes for developmental growth, according to Loevinger (in Hy & Loevinger, 1996).

Loevinger (Hy & Loevinger, 1996) noted that the ego’s primary function is to search for meaning within the individual’s experience. This function is more important than and directs other functions of the ego. The ego accomplishes this, according to Loevinger, by sorting out and rejecting those experiences and concepts that do not adhere to its current state of comprehension and experience. This assumption, that the ego’s primary function is to search for meaning at the individual’s current level of coherence, formed the basis for the development of the Sentence Completion Test (SCT) developed by Loevinger for measuring ego development. The SCT allows individuals to respond to beginning phrases with an answer that uses their own words, vocabulary, and length of reply. There are measurements and protocols for measuring and rating individual answers and placing study participants within specific stages. (Note: Loevinger updated these stages in Hy and Loevinger [1996], and so the descriptions here may vary slightly from those of her earlier works.)

1. Impulsive Stage—At Loevinger’s (Hy & Loevinger, 1996) lowest stage, the individual is driven by satisfaction of physical needs and impulses. He or she cannot control self, relies on caretakers for satisfaction of needs, and is highly dependent on caregivers. There is no internal sense of self or differentiation from the physical world.

2. Self-Protective Stage—At this level, the individual begins initial control of impulses and starts character development. Although lacking long-term goals, individuals understand and appreciate rules and the benefit in adhering to rules. Driven by a desire for immediate gratification, they also tend to exploit others to gain satisfaction. Loevinger (Hy & Loevinger, 1996) noted that this is normal in developing children. But adults, who remain at this stage become opportunistic and hostile and, in extremes, become psychopathic.

3. Conformist Stage—Most individuals following a pattern of normal development move from the egocentric self-protective stage to a group-oriented conformist stage in their school years. At this level, individuals follow rules because of a “right or wrong” framework. They follow and respect the group or the authority body of the group. Individuals are preoccupied with social acceptance and belonging. There is just the stirring of an inner state, according to Loevinger (Hy & Loevinger, 1996), perceived in simple terms: happy, sad, glad, love. Focus is on actions, not thoughts or feelings. Group pressure and viewing through the lens of stereotyping is common.

4. Self-Aware Stage—At this stage, the individual begins to understand and accept differences between individuals and has not such a great need to conform to the stereotyped images that dominated the last stage. This allows the individual to begin the process of conceptualizing and exploring the inner self. The impact of this growth allows the individual to understand interpersonal relationships primarily through feelings and not simply actions. Self begins to become distinct from the group. Also, at this stage, though still driven primarily by conformity, the individual is able to recognize qualifications and contingencies to strict rules.

5. Conscientious Stage—According to Loevinger (Hy & Loevinger, 1996), the shift to the conscientious stage is a major developmental milestone. The key marker for this stage is the move to self-evaluated standards. The individual is able to make judgments and decisions about actions, thoughts, and what is right or wrong based on their own evaluation of another individual or situation. Although individuals may choose conformity to society’s or the group’s norms, at this stage it is a conscious decision. An individual’s motives or the results of behavior become more important than stated rules. Feelings (and not causing hurt) are more important at this stage. A major developmental step here is the ability of the individual to reflect and to describe others through reflective traits. The individual is operating and making decisions from a far greater conceptual complexity than previous levels. Achievement becomes very important—valued not only for social acceptance and competition, but also for setting one’s own standards and expectations. At this point, the individuals begin to think beyond their own personal needs and concerns. Concern spreads to individuals and to society. Loevinger (Hy & Loevinger, 1996) noted that the downside of this is an excessive sense of responsibility for others.

6. Individualistic Stage—At this stage the individual has a strong recognition of the individual or personality as a whole expression of an individual life. The individual is far more tolerant of individual differences and recognizes the differences between the inner and outer selves. And although the individual’s relationships with others have grown stronger throughout the stages, the individual develops an understanding that those strong relationships may lead to dependency. In the eyes of the individual at this level, these strong relationships may lead to antagonism towards the self-striving and achievement the individual still values. Also at this level, the individual has a deeper understanding of psychological causes and consequences, as well as becoming more open to understanding and accepting new concepts of roles and role differentiation.

7. Autonomous Stage—At this stage, the individual not only recognizes his or her need for autonomy but becomes more fully aware of others’ need for autonomy. The deeply established need for striving and achievement that began in the conscientious stage and developed in the individualistic stage abates somewhat, and the individual begins to understand and appreciate the complex characters of other people and situations. Individuals gain a greater tolerance for ambiguity, paradoxes, and challenges that are not always solvable, including the same challenges in others. Loevinger (Hy & Loevinger, 1996) identified this stage as one in which the individual begins the search for self-fulfillment.

8. Integrated Stage—Loevinger (Hy & Loevinger, 1996) equated this stage with Maslow’s (1954) self-actualization stage. She suggested that only 1%  of the current population has reached this stage and noted that present data are insufficient to fully describe it. She also noted that rater reliability at this stage may be fallible, because there are so little data and experience to clearly identify individuals at this stage. However, Loevinger noted that a high degree of inner conflict may appear at this stage, since increasing levels of ego conflict correspond with high levels of ego development. For this reason, individuals at this stage of development might appear to be poorly adjusted. However, Loevinger noted that individuals at each stage, including the integrated, may be well adjusted, just as they may be poorly adjusted at any stage.

Although Loevinger’s SCT has been widely used, criticisms and challenges have arisen regarding the protocol and measurements. One criticism that has been cited is the study’s reliance on the participants’ literacy and writing skills. Initially, participants had to be able to read and write (at least rudimentarily) in order to participate and be rated in the study. An individual who does not possess reading and writing skills or who has a limited education may be unfairly biased, based on academic failings, and may not accurately reflect developmental levels. A related criticism is the cultural bias towards written English. Each of these criticisms has been addressed in several ways. Individuals without literary skills can have phrases read to them and then complete the answers orally with the responses written by an investigator. The tests have been translated into many languages. However, the risk of cultural bias remains.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, criticism has also been levied that, once individuals get beyond formal understanding and operations of language, the test fails to understand and address the most complex levels of development (Boucouvalas, 1980; Cook-Greuter, 1990, 2000).

Cook-Greuter (1990, 1999, 2000) noted this in her research using the SCT. Either scoring and ratings by researchers have failed to adequately address the criteria for a higher level of development and understanding, or else researchers have failed to realize the complex level of development that was presented. This provided the foundation for Cook-Greuter’s research and the subsequent refinement of conventional and post-conventional stages of Loevinger’s theory (presented following this section).

Table 2
Loevinger’s Theory

Loevinger’s Stages

Of Ego


Cook-Greuter’s Stage Alignment


Interpersonal mode

Conscious preoccupations

Stage 1: Pre-Conventional Presocial/Symbiotic


Egocentric, dependent

Bodily feelings

Stage 2: Pre-Conventional Impulsive


Manipulative, wary

“Trouble” control

Stage 2/3: Pre-Conventional


Cooperative, loyal

Appearances, behavior

Stage 3: Conventional Conformist



Feelings, problems, adjustments

Stage 3/4: Conventional Self-Award


Intense, responsible

Motives, traits, achievements

Stage 4: Conventional Conscientious



Individuality, development, roles

Stage 4/5: Post-Conventional (Systemic Operations) Individualistic



Self-fulfillment, psychological causation

Stage 5: Post-Conventional (Systemic Operations) Autonomous




Stage 5/6: Post-Conventional (Metasystemic Operations)


Cherishing individuality


Stage 6: Post-Conventional or Postformal Integrated




Unitive/Construct Aware




Postpost-Conventional/Ego Transcendent/Transcendent Self

Note. Adapted from Measuring Ego Development, by L. X. Hy and J. Loevinger, 1996, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum; from “Maps for Living: Ego-Development Stages from Symbiosis to Conscious Universal Embeddedness,” by S. R. Cook-Greuter, 1990, in Adult Development: Models and Methods in the Study of Adolescent and Adult Thought, New York: Praeger Publishers; and from “Mature Ego Development: A Gateway to Ego Transcendence?”, by S. R. Cook-Greuter, 2000, Journal of Adult Development 7(4).



Cook-Greuter’s (1990, 1999, 2000) theory of development is an extension, or more aptly a revision, of Loevinger’s (Hy & Loevinger, 1996) theory of ego development. Cook-Greuter (1990) noted that an individual’s language development provides the framework for assessing conceptual competence. This is a foundational postulate of ego development theory. In fact, “it is the metalinguistic properties of language that make complex thought and its communication possible” (p. 80). Cook-Greuter asserted that human beings have a need for meaning making and will generally operate at the highest level of cognition or development.

Language is the symbolic system that people use to make meaning in their worlds. As individuals reach the post-conventional stages, they become aware of their own acculturation and begin to understand not only differences in cultural aspects of meaning, but inner (internal) and external conceptions of facts and meaning. Cook-Greuter (1990, 1994, 1999, 2000) first offered a refinement of Loevinger’s (Hy & Loevinger, 1996) theory of ego development when she began to observe differences in responses at the highest stages in the Sentence Completion Tests, as well as new insights from participants’ research materials and changing theoretical considerations.

In her initial refinement to Loevinger’s theory, Cook-Greuter (1990) observed patterns of change to the SCT in increasing complexity that warranted refinements. Table 2, above, added Stage 5/6–Post-Autonomous and Stage 6 and offered a refinement of Loevinger’s integrated stage. Cook-Greuter initially referred to these levels as “Unitary.” At the Unitary level, human beings recognize that both the symbols of language and the objects themselves are human constructs. This understanding opens the way for individuals to investigate their own worldviews of both inner and outer worlds. This change in the integrated level suggests greater understanding and examination by individuals of the paradoxes between inner and outer realities. Cook-Greuter noted a significant shift in experience and outlook in individuals.

Cook-Greuter (1999, 2000), following a study in 1999, made significant changes in the highest levels of development. Using the SCT, she noted rare responses not previously explained by Loevinger’s theory and stages. These individuals at greater levels of openness were less judgmental and more willing to witness experiences rather than label. They also understood the limitations of language to communicate these experiences or knowledge.

Noting the critical role that language and language development have on the measurement of ego development, Cook-Greuter (1994, 1999, 2000) observed that individuals at the more complex levels of ego development had become aware of the “language habit.” These individuals noted that the language habit gets in the way of post-representational knowing (Cook-Greuter, 2000).

The language habit is all-pervasive in human experience and is learned by modeling expert speakers in childhood. Cook-Greuter (1994, 1999, 2000) noted that this learned behavior becomes automatic and unconscious once mastery is achieved. It is this unconscious use of the language habit that can prevent development at the highest levels, if an individual cannot recognize its use and the limits it places on achieving higher, non-dualistic ways of knowing. Cook-Greuter reported that about 9% of participants’ SCT scores fall within the Post-Conventional/Post-Formal level and that less than 1% of participants score in the Post-Post-Conventional/Ego-Transcendent level of ego development. Although the total percentages are higher than those postulated for Spiral Dynamics integral second-tier levels, this finding indicates similarities in populations between the theories. Cook-Greuter (2000) suggested that few adults reach these highest stages of development, in part because society’s practices and mindsets do not support development at this level.

Both Spiral Dynamics integral theory (Graves, 1974; Beck & Cowan, 1996) and Cook-Greuter (1999, 2000) have acknowledged a “quantum” shift or leap in development from first to second tiers in SDi and a shift to Post-Conventional/Postformal and Ego Transcendent. Cook-Greuter’s research indicated a reversal in the overall process of separation and differentiation that dominates the Pre-Conventional and Conventional ego development stages. Rather than being separate, discrete entities, “knower and known” are merging (Cook-Greuter, 2000). Individuals at this level see through the language habit and have a “more dynamic and multifaceted understanding of human nature” (Cook-Greuter, 2000, p. 235). This level of ego development holds many traits and characteristics similar to Spiral Dynamics integral G-T/Yellow Integrative vMeme level.

Individuals at Cook-Greuter’s (2000) Transcendent Self level of ego development have the capacities to embrace polar opposites and have an appreciation and understanding of individuals at all stages of development. Although acceptance of individuals functioning through all first-tier levels occurs with individuals operating from second-tier levels, it is most fully evident at Turquoise. The highest levels in both theories have a capacity for universal, non-language based understanding and a holistic, non-dualistic perspective. Wilber (1999), in Integral Psychology, aligned Spiral Dynamics integral second tier with Cook-Greuter’s post-conventional levels in the same ways presented here. Again, Beck (Personal Communication, 2002) cautioned against any attempt to assume exact matches between theories, because of the varying worldviews and framework differences between Spiral Dynamics integral and other theories. (Cook-Greuter’s theory is based on a cognitive approach.) But the concepts and levels of development are quite similar and do not violate the basic premises of each theory.

Transpersonal Psychology

The field of transpersonal psychology was conceived by Maslow (1954, 1968, 1970, 1975), Sutich (1968, 1969), Frankl (1984), and Grof (1972, 1993; Grof and Grof, 1989) as an evolution of psychology into the “fourth force,” expressed by Sutich (1969) as that which extends beyond the self-actualizing ego to the “transcendence of self, spirit . . . oneness, conscious awareness . . . transcendental phenomena” (p. 16). A foundational tenet was the understanding of the emergent nature of human beings, and therefore the understanding that just as human beings were emergent, so too would be the association and field. This introduction by Sutich set the parameters for an evolving field of study that included a deepening awareness of the potential for human consciousness to develop beyond ego.

Boucouvalas (1981) summarized the varied definitions and descriptions ascribed to transpersonal psychology as amounting to a focus on individuals “who operate beyond purely personal or egoistic realms” (p. 136). The goals of transpersonal psychology, according to Boucouvalas (1980), include a deepening understanding and awareness of the transpersonal self on the individual, group, societal, and cosmic levels. An assumption in studying the transpersonal development of the psychologically healthy individual is that the individual has developed a strong, healthy ego-awareness, or egoic self, and may then hold the potential for moving beyond the egoic self towards the non-egoic self. The transpersonal self is the “center of pure awareness that both observes and transcends ego” (Boucouvalas, 1981, p. 136) and integrates all processes of the mind, including the logical, intuitive, and spiritual.

In an assessment of themes of the first two decades of transpersonal psychology, Lajoie and Shapiro (1992) identified the five most frequent themes in the transpersonal literature: (a) states of consciousness that are often considered temporary experiences of transcendent experience, (b) a focus on the highest or ultimate potential of human development, (c) the movement of individuals to go beyond an egoic self, (d) a move towards transcendence, and (e) a deep connection with spiritual that is not necessarily connected to specific religion but has included Eastern and Western philosophies and religions and non-religious expressions of spirituality.

In order for individuals to transcend ego and move either through temporal states or permanent changes in structure (Tart, 1993), they must first make a personal commitment and express openness to change and discovery; must have developed both a strong ego and the flexibility to give up egoic control; must express a love of self and others; and must trust their intuitive senses as well as exhibit command of logic and an ability to transcend positivist logic (Boucouvalas, 1980). The environments created by family, groups, societies, and cultures can inhibit or support the movement into temporary or permanent shifts of transpersonal experience (Boucouvalas, 1999). Although these individuals may serve as pioneers in moving societies and environments forward, a level of support from an individual’s family, group, or larger environment is conducive for movement towards a transpersonal frame.

Temporal states of transcendence may be isolated experiences and can be impacted by the individual’s environment, drugs, or significant life experiences. Some transcendent experiences and states may serve to launch permanent changes that move an individual into deeper structures of transcendence. Waldron (1998) noted that such experiences are not isolated to extraordinary individuals; a large number of people may experience transcendent moments that create profound insight into their lives.

Waldron’s (1998) case study of six individuals who had experienced transcendent states or experiences focused on the nöetic quality of the individuals’ experiences. These experiences ranged from “core religious” or “peak experiences” (Maslow, 1954) and “transpersonal experience” (Grof, 1972, 1993) to traumatic “near-death experiences” (Moody, 1975; Morse, 1990, 1992) and “spiritual emergencies” (Grof & Grof, 1989; Lukoff, 1985). James (1961) described the four qualities of a transcendent experience: (1) transient nature of the experience, (2) individual’s lack of control over the experience, (3) failure of words to fully describe the (numinous) experience, and (4) nöetic quality, the access of direct knowledge or understanding.

Waldron’s (1998) study focused primarily on the nöetic quality of the experiences. Each of the six individuals involved in the study had experienced at least one identifiable transcendent experience that had a significant impact on his or her life. Individuals reported the ability to perceive the “unity and order of things,” the disappearance of space and time, and an ability to see or know the answer with the question (Waldron, 1998). These experiences also served to connect the individual to the “unceasing link to the inner guidance, the inner voice at that time” (Waldron, p. 113).

Waldron (1998) observed that the transcendent experiences generally address a critical life issue the individuals face at the time of the experience, and that the individuals integrate the meaning of that experience into their lives. The nöetic impact of the transcendent experiences significantly affects the individuals’ lives, and continued nöesis is generally experienced, leading to a reorientation of life that includes an integration of the inner and outer lives of the individuals. If it is not a part of their lives prior to the transcendent experiences, the individuals each develop some form of creative expression as a means of expressing the experiences.

Waldron (1998) noted that, as a result of their transcendent experiences, these individuals each experienced deep and long-term psychological shifts and a re-organization of their lives that recognized their widened worldviews and enhanced sense of knowing and spiritual awakening. According to Waldron, these individuals have remained open to transcendent experiences during a challenging period of life and have thereby gained deepening nöesis, experiencing a dramatic shift in ways of being that include a lessening of a separate sense of self and a greater sense of unity with humanity. Waldron did not suggest that each of these individuals have moved into permanent structures of transcendence, but she did acknowledge and document a permanent, structural shift in each individual.

According to Boucouvalas (2000), as individuals mature into structural, or permanent, levels of transcendence, they come closer to the “source” of all creation and to living an increasingly spiritual life. The move into transcendence, a permanent level of development as opposed to a temporary state, also creates an awareness of the limited sense of self and a move towards deeper understanding of the a connection to the sacred. This deeper connection to a universal self expands individual self beyond the self-limitation to the outer expansions of awareness in cosmic consciousness (Boucouvalas, 2000).

The transpersonal field recognizes that transpersonal awareness and transcendence existed in human capacity and expression long before the formation of transpersonal psychology (Sutich, 1969; Boucouvalas, 1981, 1993, 1999, 2000). And it may be for this reason that the approach to transpersonal knowing and development has remained open to exploring different patterns, and thus to disagreement and dissent.

A key area of dissent has included a long-term debate between perspectives of transcendence. Washburn (1990) presented an early premise that two historical patterns of transcendence are at odds. The first pattern represents development as a hierarchical “ladder to oneness” as proposed by Wilber (1980, 1986, 1999, 2000). The second, a depth perspective also called “the spiral dynamic perspective”[1] is supported by Grof (1972, 1993; Grof and Grof, 1989) and Washburn (1990, 2003). The depth perspective, including Washburn’s approach, proposes that development to ego transcendence is a path that may have many twists and turns and returns to deep spiritual sources for strength to advance to more complex stages of transcendence. Washburn noted that the ego must move backwards before it can move forwards. It is not a simple regression and forward movement, according to Washburn, but a necessary spiraling that leads to a higher level of transcendence. He initially viewed Wilber’s (and associated views and theories) as rigid, just as Wilber (1990) criticized Washburn’s and related theories for lacking structure.

Wilber’s (1999) model presented a level of development that is hierarchical in nature and includes spiritual development as a component of transcendent development. He cited spiritual and wisdom scholars for the development of the hierarchical nature of transcendent development. He also noted the consistency with which theorists such as Graves, Beck and Cook-Greuter, among others, have developed such hierarchical theories of development that include spiritual development. Wilber supported the concept that spiritual development is nested within hierarchical levels of development and includes four quadrants of development in humans: self and consciousness, brain and organism, culture and worldview, and social systems and environment.

Washburn (2003) more recently proposed that the two approaches noted above, as well as the participatory perspective of Ferrer (2002), the feminist perspective (Wright, 1995), and the ecological perspective advanced by Fox (1995), are not incompatible if they are taken as “general developmental points of view(Washburn, p. 5). Washburn acknowledged that Wilber (1980, 1999) correctly stated that the depth perspective, as presented by Washburn and others, does not account completely for all developmental activity towards transcendence. Washburn countered that Wilber’s insistence on a structural-hierarchical perspective of the development of transcendence is also flawed. Instead, Washburn proposed that the two perspectives are “fruitfully complementary when operating within their proper spheres of legitimacy” (p. 16).

Research and discovery in the transpersonal field focuses on understanding and development of the transcendent, maturing self. In this regard, transpersonal psychology is particularly congruent with Spiral Dynamics integral second tier levels of development. In order to prevent confusion, it is critically important to note a difference in the language of transpersonal psychology and Spiral Dynamics integral terminology. Transpersonal psychology refers to both “states” and “levels” as temporary experiences in the transcendent. Transpersonal development, or “structures of consciousness” (Boucouvalas, 1999), refers to a permanent or long-lasting shift into consciousness. Spiral Dynamics integral theory uses the term level or levels to represent the permanent shift to different centers of development or complexity.

Spiral Dynamics Integral (Gravesian) Theory of Development

Spiral Dynamics integral is an adult development theory, initially theorized and developed by Graves. It is a systematic theory that can be applied to individual, organizational, or cultural development. According to Graves (unpublished Union College archives), each values-based level of development presents its own unique set of challenges and problems, for which the individual (or organization or culture) seeks workable solutions. It is in seeking the effective solutions that individuals then “awaken” opportunities to reach the next level of development.

Graves’s (1970, 1974) theory integrates the impact of an individual’s bio-, psycho-, and socio-environment, both internally and externally. Thus, an individual’s level of development is impacted not only by his or her own development, but also by the environment and cultural level of development of the society in which he or she lives. Graves’s theory is driven by four key constructs, as summarized by Beck and Cowan (1996):

1. Human nature is not static or finite. Human nature changes as the conditions of existence change, thus forging new systems. Yet, older systems stay with us.

2. When a new system or level is activated, we change our psychology and rules for living to adapt to those new conditions.

3. We live in a potentially open system of values with an infinite number of modes of living available to us. There is no final state to which we must all aspire.

4. An individual . . . company or . . . entire society can respond positively only to those managerial principles, motivational appeals, educational formulas, and legal or ethical codes that are appropriate to the current level of human existence. (Beck & Cowan, 1996, p. 29)

Graves (1970, 1974) theorized that the brain is hierarchically structured, containing infinite modes of being with unlimited potential for development. The existence and emergence of any of these different modes of being in an individual is dependent upon the effective solution of challenges at the current level, certain environmental conditions, and the presentation of new conditions, opportunities, or challenges that cannot be easily solved with previous solutions. Graves noted that the previous levels of existence do not disappear; they simply nest within the brain of the individual, allowing those levels and solutions to be called back into play should environmental conditions require a recall of old solutions.

Graves’s Levels of Existence

Graves (1970, 1974) identified eight levels of existence, with a ninth level emerging shortly before his death in 1986. Graves identified these levels through a double lettering system to indicate developmental levels and problems. Beck and Cowan (1996) simplified the levels to a color-coded system for greater understanding and ease of use and enhanced understanding of the theory. Beck and Cowan’s color-coded system is used in this framework.

Basic Structure

Graves (1970, 1974, 2002) designed an initial structure illustrating the levels as a double helix resembling DNA. This structure referred to the bio-, psycho-, and socio-levels of increasing human complexity reflected in individuals, organizations, and cultures/societies. Graves noted that alternative levels were either internally focused or more externally focused. For example, at the first level, Beige (Graves A-N), individuals focus on their own survival, and the focus is internal. The next level, Purple, focuses on tribal connections, and the focus becomes externally oriented. At the second tier, Yellow (Graves G-T), the focus once again becomes internally oriented, with Turquoise (Graves H-U) returning to an external focus, seeking wholeness with the universe and global solutions to problems that cannot be solved effectively with local solutions.

Figure 2. Spiral dynamics.

Note. Reprinted with permission. Don Edward Beck, PhD. ©2002.

Graves (1970, 1974, 2002) also noted that the first six levels of existence were “subsistence” levels. At these levels, individuals and societies are developing the more basic core intelligences. The seventh (Yellow), eighth (Turquoise), and ninth (Coral) levels of development are what Graves identified as second-tier or Being levels of development. At the second tier, individuals, organizations, and societies have mastered the basic core intelligences and operate at a far more complex level of being or existence. Graves’s (1970, 1974) levels are shown in Table 3.

Table 3
Graves’s Levels of Existence

First Tier


Survival Sense

Staying alive through innate sensory mode



Blood relationships and mysticism in a magical and scary world



Enforce power over self, others, and nature through exploitive independence



Absolute belief in one right way and obedience to authority



Possibility thinking focused on making things better for self



Well-being of people and building consensus get highest priority

Second tier



Flexible adaptation to change through connected, big picture views



Attention to whole-Earth dynamics and macro-level actions



(The emergence of the 9th or coral level is so recent, the traits, characteristics and core intelligences have not yet been fully defined. Although it is currently believed there are individuals operating at this level within our societies, no data that might begin to provide a greater understanding of individuals at this level have been collected or understood about this level. It will not be a part of this study.)

Note. From Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, by D. E. Beck & C. Cowan, 1996, Malden, MA: Blackwell, p. 41.

Beck and Cowan’s vMemes

In furthering Graves’s theory, Beck and Cowan used the concept of memes, first introduced by British biologist Richard Dawkins, who defined memes as “a unit of cultural information” (Dawkins, 1989). Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1993) used the concept of memes to describe origins of human behavior, psychological functions rather than biological or physical patterns. Memes replicate information patterns that exist in the collective consciousness throughout a society and to individuals.

Beck and Cowan (1996) noted that memes “contain behavioral instructions . . . social artifacts and value laden symbols that glue together social systems” (p. 31). Beck and Cowan introduce a “meta-meme, a systems or ‘values meme’” that they called vMeme. These vMemes serve as organizing principles to attract specific, content-rich smaller memes that include, but are not necessarily limited to, psychologies, lifestyles, philosophies, language, literature, and politics. The vMemes reach across individuals and cultures and structure the values and thinking systems of individuals, organizations, or entire civilizations. Beck and Cowan noted that genes and biological DNA may evolve slowly, yet vMemes retain the ability to adapt and change quickly.

Five Key Qualities of vMemes

vMemes are the organizing principles that control and operate each level of development in the spiral dynamics model. vMemes include the instructions that impact individual or societal worldviews, assumptions, and the decision-making processes used at each level of development. According to Beck and Cowan (1996), there are five key qualities of vMemes:

·                     1.         vMemes manifest the core intelligences that form systems and impact human behavior.

·                     2.         vMemes impact all of life’s choices.

·                     3.         vMemes express healthy and unhealthy qualities. (They are neither good nor bad, but become so based on the way they are manifested.)

·                     4.         vMemes are structures of thinking.

·                     5.         vMemes may brighten or dim as Life Conditions change.

Further, they identified seven principles of vMemes (core intelligences):

·                     1.         Humans possess the capacity to create new vMemes.

·         a.   Instruction sets (possibly encoded in our DNA) equip humans to awaken new systems to add to or replace old systems.

·         b.   Dynamic forces generated in both nature and nurture trigger-specific systems.

·         c.   Capacity of the human brain to house several subsystems at once, while some are active and others remain inactive.

·                     2.         Life conditions (times, place, problems, and circumstances) awaken vMemes, which may then emerge, surge, regress, or fade in response.

·                     3.         vMemes zigzag between express-self (ipseity) and sacrifice-self (alterity) themes.

·                     4.         vMemes emerge along the spiral in a wave-like fashion that include entering, peaking, and exiting phases.

·                     5.         vMemes spiral up and down through increasing levels of complexity.

·                     6.         vMemes coexist within individuals in stacks (embedded) and vary in depth and strength based on what and how one thinks about different areas of one’s life.

·                     7.         Graves (1970, 1974) noted that vMemes cluster in tiers of six along the spiral. It is still too early to determine if this will hold as development moves into second-tier levels of development. When Graves identified this pattern, only the first two levels of second tier were identifiable. This bodes following closely as further second-tier levels emerge, to determine whether this pattern will hold in second tier and beyond.

Graves (1974) predicted that the development of human beings, as well as of societies, is not finite. He noted that the levels he had identified, and those now being identified by Beck and Cowan (1996), are in fact only the first wave of development. Graves pointed out that theorists’ ability to identify, recognize, and describe levels of development is hindered by our own levels of development and understanding and our ability to use language to describe and define the levels. He proposed that, as the complexity of human beings develops, so will the levels of development, and the recognition of new vMemes will be furthered. It is important to note that having the psycho-, socio-, and bio-DNA human development, or vMemes, within an individual does not guarantee the emergence of these levels. The emergence of newer, more complex levels depends upon the life conditions, openness, and willingness to adapt and attempt new solutions.

Graves (1970, 1974) and Beck and Cowan (1996) also noted that as emergence of a vMeme increases in individuals within a society, the culture within the society moves into a dominant vMeme mode. This has been called the “tipping effect” by Gladwell (2000). However, individuals within a society dominated by a particular vMeme may, through the life conditions they encounter and their own openness to adapt and grow, emerge to other, more complex vMemes. This creates a risk for conflict between vMeme groups and individuals. This is why the emergence of the second tier is so important. The second-tier vMemes have the previous levels nested within, so that one can call on this innate knowledge to resolve conflicts and move societies forward.

Figure 3. Transitional factors.

Note. Reprinted with permission. Don Edward Beck, PhD. ©2002.

Focus on the Second Tier

The focus of this research centers on individuals operating (in general) at the seventh (Yellow) level or eighth (Turquoise) level of the Spiral Dynamics integral theory. Graves (1970) noted that the “hope for the future” of civilization rests with the second-tier levels of thinking, or “Being” vMemes. Since these vMemes contain the (embedded) understanding of the previous vMemes, they hold understanding of not only the whys and ways of thinking of the other levels, but also an understanding of the life conditions that create those ways of thinking. In fact, as life conditions change, both the Yellow and Turquoise levels have the ability to respond appropriately to the life conditions and the dominant vMeme of an individual, organization, culture, or environment.

Individuals operating from the second-tier levels maintain the complex decision-making capabilities to decide whether to adapt, operate from within a different level (i.e. from their current vMeme level) entirely, or opt out. Individuals at the second-tier levels select their actions based on the best choice for the situation. Ideally, they might choose to create an entirely new mode of thinking that would not only solve the situation at hand but also advance the vMeme complexity of the individual, organization, or culture with whom they are interacting.

A closer look at the Yellow and Turquoise levels is necessary to understand them more fully.

Yellow vMeme (Graves Code G-T)

Key concept of this vMeme is integration. Beck and Cowan (1996) described it as the “seventh awakening” vMeme, whose basic theme is to live fully and responsibly as what one is and learn to become rather than simply to survive. Characteristic beliefs researched and noted by Beck and Cowan (p. 47) included the following: (a) having the view that life is a “kaleidoscope” of natural hierarchies, systems, and forms; (b) valuing the magnificence of life over material possessions; (c) giving flexibility, spontaneity, and functionality highest priority; (d) integrating differences into interdependent, natural flows; (e) understanding that life is complex and that chaos is part of the natural flow; and (f) making interconnections between seemingly unconnected parts.

From a world development and cultural perspective, the Yellow vMeme made its first appearance in human beings in the 1950s.

Turquoise vMeme (Graves Code H-U)

The key concept of this vMeme is holistic. Beck and Cowan (1996) called this the “eighth awakening” phase, whose basic theme is to experience the wholeness of existence through mind and spirit. Characteristic beliefs uncovered by Graves (1970, 1974) and Beck and Cowan included the following: (a) world is a single, dynamic organism with its own collective mind; (b) self is both distinct (individual) and is a blended part of a larger, compassionate whole; (c) everything is connected to everything else in ecological alignments; (d) energy and information permeate Earth’s (universe’s?) total environment, and (e) holistic, intuitive thinking and cooperative actions are anticipated (Beck & Cowan, 1996, pp. 47-48).

Graves (1970; unpublished Union College archives), Cook-Greuter (1994, 1999, 2000), and Beck and Cowan (1996) have all noted that it is not possible to “teach” these levels of adult development. An individual may move into these stages through overcoming of existential challenges, creative insight, or discovery of newer, more effective solutions, as well as through temporary peak experiences when on the cusp of an earlier stage. Movement appears to be determined by an openness and readiness to explore more effective solutions, and by cultural or environmental challenges that awaken new cues (Beck & Cowan, 1996).

Spiral Dynamics Integral

In the development of his bio-psycho-social theory, Graves (1974, unpublished Union College archives) identified several unique differences from other developmental theories. They included his premise that development is not finite and is not limited to discrete levels of development. He noted that, as human nature evolves, new levels of development emerge. And he noted that as new knowledge develops, new discoveries into both the levels and human nature will evolve. He encouraged the exploration into the future of these developments (as described in Beck and Cowan [1996] and Beck [2001]).

Spiral Dynamics was the initial furthering and enhancement of Graves’s work, as explained in Beck and Cowan (1996). Spiral Dynamics integral (SDi), introduced by Beck in 2001, is the next evolutionary stage of the original Gravesian theory. In introducing this change to current Gravesian/SD theory, Beck (2001) acknowledged the parallel growth and impact of several developments of other theorists and researchers in the integral fields of psychology and education. Beck cited the work of Ichak Adizes in the development of the Adizes Graduate School, John Peterson’s research and work in the Arlington Institute, and the ongoing work of Ken Wilber.

Wilber’s (1999, 2000) “all quadrant/all level/all lines” model viewed developmental theory in a more holistic and integrated model than previously presented. Wilber’s four quadrants included (a) at upper left, individual interior; (b) at lower left, collective interior; (c) at lower right, collective exterior; and (d) at the upper right, individual exterior. Science, including research in academic fields such as biology and psychology, focuses on the upper right. Flatland, as defined by Wilber (1999), “is simply the belief that only the right hand world is real—the world of matter/energy, empirically investigated by the human senses and their extensions” (p. 502). Flatland is the failure to acknowledge or recognize that the inner world of an individual or collective is explained by using only objective exterior terms, such as those included in science and technology. Systems theorists (including sociological, political, environmental, and legal) tend to focus on the lower right quadrant.

According to Wilber (1999, 2000), developmental theorists also present a “flatland” approach to viewing the world. Rather than focus on all four quadrants, which provides a more complete and holistic view of human growth and development, developmental theorists focus only on external factors, often failing to account for a significant cause of developmental growth, as well as developmental challenges and issues. This approach addresses the focus not only on exterior causes in changes in development and consciousness, but also interior causes (within the individual and the collective).

Figure 4. All Quadrants-4Q/8L-All Levels

Note. Reprinted with permission. Don Edward Beck, PhD. ©2002


In the development of Gravesian/Spiral Dynamics (SD) theory, Graves (1974) coined the term “biopsychosocial” to indicate the impact interior and exterior elements that would drive change and development. Beck (2001), in adding his rendition “four quadrants/eight levels” to Spiral Dynamics theory, substantiated the need to recognize interior/exterior, as well as individual and collective impact on the development and further growth of the individual and the societies and cultures in which he or she lives. Beck noted that this adaptation to Gravesian/SD theory offers a “user-friendly way and methodology for integrating Spiral Dynamics into personal, organizational, and societal operations”. Spiral Dynamics integral theory (SDi) provides a more complete and holistic approach for understanding the participants of this study and will be used for understanding and furthering this research.



Chapter 3
Research Design

“Phenomenology is concerned with ‘pure’ consciousness . . .” (Husserl, 1965, p. 91)

The selection of a method of inquiry is critically important to research. The choice is directed by the worldview of the researcher, and the results are often dictated by the method of inquiry used. Valle (1998) noted that “phenomenological psychology invites us not just to an awareness of another perspective with a previously unrecognized body of knowledge, but to a radically different way of being-in-the-world” (p. 273). When one wants to understand from the inside out how individuals experience their world, phenomenological research provides the means. Valle stated that it is through the existential-phenomenological approach in psychology that one can recognize the interdependent nature of the human being with his or her world. Valle called this the “co-constitution” of the person and the world (p. 274).

According to Valle (1998), the purpose of any empirical phenomenological study is “to articulate the underlying lived-structure of any meaningful experience on the level of conceptual awareness . . . understanding for its own sake is the purpose of phenomenological research” (p. 275). Valle directly related the appropriateness of phenomenological research for studying transcendence. In studying transcendence, researchers are “called to recognize the radical distinction between the reflective/ prereflective realm and pure consciousness, between rational/emotional process and transcendent/spiritual awareness, between intentional knowing of the finite and being the infinite” (Valle, p. 277). According to Valle, the investigator is called to investigate the transcendent experiences in “the explicit context of phenomenological research methods” (p. 277).

The purpose of this study is to understand the experience of individuals in a stage of adult development defined by Spiral Dynamics integral as either the second-tier—Yellow (G-T) or Turquoise (H-T)—levels of development, and it seeks to explore how they make or experience meaning in their work and their lives. Transcendence, as described by Valle, is an accepted construct in Spiral Dynamics integrals’ second-tier levels Yellow (G-T) and Turquoise (H-U). It is also the purpose of this study not only to develop awareness of the participants’ perspective but to also increase the body of knowledge through understanding the participants’ “way of being” (Valle, 1998) in the world. For this reason, phenomenological inquiry is the method of choice for this research.

Exploratory Questions

The following research questions are addressed in this study:

·                     1.         What is the experience of meaning in work for individuals considered transcendent?

·                     2.         What is the meaning of that experience for these individuals?

·                     3.         Secondarily, how and in what ways does this lived experience of meaning in work impact the gestalt of these individuals’ lives?

In a phenomenological study, where the participant maintains an equal partnership with the researcher, exploratory questions serve to guide the interview, while still allowing the participant to provide as much insight into the research question as possible. Seeking insight into the research questions is the goal of the research. In the development of the exploratory questions, the research questions remained front and center. Research questions guide the inquiry, and exploratory questions guide the interviews. For these reasons, the following exploratory questions were designed to provide guideposts, while not explicitly directing the participant. Therefore, not all questions may be asked of all participants, depending upon the initial depth of information provided. These questions include, but may not be limited to, the following:

·                     1.         Please share a brief history of your life, including your work. How might you describe yourself in regards to your work, family, relationships, and social, spiritual, creative connections?

·                     2.         How have you come to choose your work, or how has your work chosen you?

·                     3.         What are some of the impacts you’ve experienced from your work on your life? Of your life on your work?

·                     4.         What drives your work? What impact does your own personal thought process have on both your individual growth? And the growth of significant others around you?

·                     5.         What influences have significant others in your life had on your work? On your life?

·                     6.         What effect do you think your cultural beliefs and habits, the way you were raised, and the social group you grew up in have on your work? On your life in general?

·                     7.         Have events of your life, including those in your work experience, impacted your beliefs, habits or what you feel about work, relationships, and life in general?

·                     8.         What outside influences, such as politics, environment, legal, artistic, or social factors, have had a significant effect on your work? On your life?

·                     9.         How have you changed, adapted, or grown (or not) through your work? Through other life experiences? Will any of these changes impact enough to change the course of your work? Your life?

·                     10.       What impact has your family had on your work? Your life? What influences have you had on the work and lives of others?

·                     11.       How would you describe the personal impact of your work on your life? From an internal personal perspective, family perspective, community perspective, and global perspective?

Limitations of Study

One of the key limitations of this study is the small number of participants available. Researchers studying this level of human development, including Graves (1970, 1974) and Beck and Cowan (1996) specifically, have agreed that this group represents a small percentage of the world’s population. Other researchers into similar levels of development, including Cook-Greuter (1994, 1999, 2000), and Wilber (1999, 2000), have also noted that individuals at this level of adult development represent a very small—but growing—percentage of the world’s population.

I was prepared, if necessary, to travel extensively to find individuals operating from the second tier, but time and access to the participants for in-depth interviews and follow-up were also potential limitations of the study.


Spiral Dynamics integral theory describes individuals at the Yellow level of development as “integrated” persons. Individuals whose primary level of meaning making is Turquoise are “holistic” and “global” in their ability to make sense of the world. It is expected that meaningfulness in vocation is part of an integrated whole of the lives of the individuals whose ways of thinking function at these levels. It is also expected that meaningfulness in the lives of these participants is fluid and deep. Participants are also expected to display a great openness to life, with nonjudgmental and compassionate behaviors and attitudes to others as well as themselves.

Life histories were expected in this study to show a history of lifelong change and growth in the participants’ outlook and focus, with a deepening emphasis on turning inward in their increasing awareness of self and life. However, the strength of using Spiral Dynamics integral theory as the foundation for grounding the ways in which these individuals think and make meaning of their work is that it recognizes that individuals must also make meaning within the context of their environment. The cultural level of their work environment should also have an impact on how they make sense of their work within the constraints of their environment.

Spiral Dynamics integral theory recognizes that individuals do mature through the different levels of development and may stay open, become arrested, or closed in their ability to develop further. Individuals’ movement through the levels is impacted by how they meet life challenges and by the cultural environment in which they address those challenges. In order to develop through the levels, individuals must create new and effective solutions to problems and welcome increasingly complex life issues. Not all individuals continue this movement. Those who do emerge into the second tier levels retain the ability to move through (up and down) the levels to use the most effective solutions, based on the environmental issues and deep ethos or awareness of other people’s needs. The development through these levels takes time and increasingly complex levels of maturity. Therefore, I assumed for this study that most of the participants will be in “middle life” or older phases in their lives.

Researcher’s Relevant Background and Layers of Research Interest

My interest in understanding human development and our (human beings’) role within the whole of life was ignited early in my life. This research study addresses my three layers of interest: the practical, theoretical, and esoteric.

From a practical perspective, my wish is that this study will offer insights on individuals considered transcendent and on how work and its meaning is woven into their lives. Throughout my career(s), most especially as a consultant working with organizations on growth, productivity, and development, I have been passionately interested in how individuals derive meaning from their work and how this meshes with their lives.

As an organizational consultant, I am often brought into organizations experiencing change, sometimes painful change, and sometimes change that leads to the loss of valuable employees and managers. Employees leave for many reasons, including a poor fit between the individual and the organization. More recently, organizations have asked for guidance because valuable employees are leaving and they don’t know how to keep them. Interestingly, some of the employee managers who fit this group have come to me, as the consultant, to ask for guidance or ways to stay. Both sides recognize that these individuals make significant contributions but that they feel too constrained and can no longer work in the environment. Several of these individuals appeared to fit this study’s parameters of individuals considered transcendent. These individuals often work “beneath the radar,” in the ways that are most effective and meaningful for them. Eventually the environment no longer supports them. They leave, frequently starting their own consulting practices and providing their services, on their terms, to their previous employer. I intend to further understanding of the practical applications from this research.

My interest in deepening and expanding understanding the theoretical layer stems from my lifetime interest in human development and transcendence and especially from my early connection to this theory (Spiral Dynamics integral). In junior high school, I read a college textbook on theories of development (SDi was not included among these theories). While some theories were compelling, each seemed incomplete. In general, they suggested that as human beings mature, we reach an end point of development and are generally judged as healthy or unhealthy, with little middle ground. This either/or duality does not explain the ranges of healthy to unhealthy behaviors or motivations I thought were visible. This end point in development seemed far too limited for the future of human development. And there appeared to be no accounting for the spiritual or numinous that felt like such an important component of life. There was also little account taken of the impact on an individual’s social environment or culture, and the application of development to a society or culture was non-existent in the theories presented. In any event, I was hooked and knew I wanted to pursue deeper understanding of human development and our place within the whole of life.

My breakthrough into a new awareness came when I attended Union College as a psychology major. I had no clue who Clare Graves was, or of the pioneering work he had done. When he was assigned as my advisor, upperclassmen urged me to request a change. Graves was brilliant and set high expectations for learning from his students. That was enough to scare many off. But his commanding presence, strong personality, and hobby of training wild stallions when not teaching, continuing his research, or speaking had only added to his legend.

In my first encounter with him as a freshman, I found him in his office with research materials piled waist high and a beautiful sky outside his window. I overcame my trepidation and asked why this outdoorsman was inside on such a beautiful day. He boomed, “If you damn students didn’t give us so much work, I could be outside!” I cringed, then moved forward, smiled, and said, “Well, if you damn professors didn’t give us damn students so much work, you could be outside!” Graves paused, eyed me and laughed, then welcomed me into his office in a far more gentle voice. It was the beginning of a great man teaching a young student to stay open to challenges and learning. He taught two courses. The first was a review of all theories of development. At the end of the theories I had read years earlier, he asked students to assess the strengths and weaknesses of those theories. He then presented his own theory, the “bio-psycho-social double helix model of emergent adult development.” The second course focused on his theory and on his research in developing the theory. At last, I felt I had a framework through which I could understand human development, including a context and understanding of how individuals, societies, and cultures develop and often clash, based upon a comprehensive understanding of the emergent nature of adult development.

Graves’s theory became the framework through which I created and interpreted meaning in my world. It was finally a way to understand individuals for who they are and where they are “rooted” in development. Understanding individuals in context of this theory made it easy to work with a wide range of individuals in work and in my personal life. And the ability to accept individuals for where they are developmentally—to remain inclusive—served as a guide in my first professional work as the founder and developer of training programs for the multiply-disabled. It has worked equally well in all the challenges in life, including the understanding of what creates meaning in work and life for others and myself.

Don Beck began working with Graves in the 1970s (when I was Graves’s student). They continued to further understanding of the theory and worked together in applying the theory in practical applications. For example, they worked with Mandela and LeClerk to create the infrastructure to end apartheid in South Africa. When Graves became too ill to travel and then after his death, Beck continued the work. There are many practical applications of this theory in use; however, there is not a body of evidence to address issues like those of my clients noted above. I wanted to provide some initial research for individuals considered transcendent that can be used in a practical application and further understanding of this theory.

Each level of human development also appears to have its own expression and understanding of spirit. I have felt, and have observed anecdotally, that a deep connection to spirit is a key component for individuals at the transcendent level of development. Spirituality certainly exists at all levels of development, but it is experienced and expressed differently throughout the “spiral” of development. Graves and others, including Maslow and Sutich, opened the awareness of these transcendent levels. This understanding has been furthered in the transpersonal field of psychology. I am indebted to those individuals, most especially Marcie Boucouvalas, for the understanding and insights they have developed. I wanted this study to explore and contribute to this body of knowledge—a deeper understanding and appreciation for the numinous, including that which expresses itself within an individual’s work.

Research Procedures

According to Moustakas (1994), research methodology and the research process begins long before the collection of data with co-researchers and long before the design of the research questions. Phenomenological research includes bringing new knowledge to consciousness through the use of all senses, including those seen and unseen. Moustakas (p. 26) noted that the word “phenomenon” is derived from the meaning of the Greek word “phaenesthai,” which means “to bring to light . . . to show itself” or to gain understanding of the essences or meaning of an experience. The challenge for the phenomenological researcher, according to Moustakas, “is to describe things in themselves, to permit what is before one to enter consciousness and be understood in its meaning and essences in the light of intuition and self-reflection” (p. 27). Therefore, the intentionality and intuition of both the researcher and co-researcher are key components of the research process even prior to the development of the exploratory questions and interviews.

Intentionality is the directedness of the mind towards an “internal experience of being conscious of something” (Moustakas, 1994, p. 28). Intentionality guides the research process and has two key components, nöemia and nöesis. Nöemia is the perceived experience of an object, not the object (or the focus of intentions) itself. Nöemia is the “uncovering and explication, the unfolding and becoming distinct” (Moustakas, p. 30). Nöesis is the process of perceiving meaning, or according to Moustakas (p. 30) the “perfect self evidence.” Intentionality, therefore, brings the unknown to consciousness.

Intuition also plays a critical role in transcendental phenomenology. This process respects the capacity of the mind to bring to light an understanding of all things through a reflective practice. According to Moustakas (1994), “Husserl identified a priori knowledge with the intuition of pure essences” (p. 33). Moustakas himself noted, “Intuition is essential in describing whatever presents itself, whatever is actually given” (p. 33). Phenomenological research acknowledges and accepts the valuable roles of intentionality and intuition in the pursuit of deeper understanding of human beings.


In a research methodology where intention and intuition are critical components of the process, the ability of the researcher to separate self from preconceived knowings or judgments and to remain open to a new way of seeing things, experiences, or life is critical. In transcendental phenomenology, this process is known as epoche. Moustakas (1994) noted that epoche “requires a new way of looking at things, a way that requires that we learn to see what stands before our eyes, what we can distinguish and describe” (p. 33). During the epoche process, the researcher is challenged to look at phenomena with fresh eyes, “naively, in a wide open sense, from the vantage point of a pure or transcendental ego” (Moustakas, p. 33)

In this research study, the process of epoche began early. As a researcher, I had a tremendous advantage in using Spiral Dynamics integral theory as the foundation of the research. It was a theory I had studied and used over an extended period of time. As a human being, it was the framework of my deepening understanding of human growth and emergence and my frame for understanding life. The advantages were offset, however, by one challenge. I had to be able to separate the use of the theory as my own worldview and create a distance to see it as a frame for the research. I had to ensure that I understood the theory clearly as a research tool and to be able to see it with fresh eyes.

I created this space by re-reading the works of Graves and reading (then re-reading) the newer works of Beck, and then I underwent his week-long training program. In addition, I took on the challenge (and invitation) of teaching the theory to my daughter as she moved from high school to college. She became adept at applying her understanding of the theory to individuals and organizations. She wrote her first college psychology paper on the theory, which was not offered among the theories of development in the course itself. The impact of this epoche process was that I gained a greater appreciation for the depth and breadth of the theory and its applicability to individuals, organizations, and cultures.

I found it useful and necessary to apply the epoche process throughout the entire research process. Moustakas (1994) noted that the epoche process is difficult because it requires one to release what one thinks he or she knows and approach a phenomenon with openness and fresh eyes. Moustakas regarded epoche as “a way of genuine looking that precedes reflectiveness, the making of judgments, or reaching conclusions. We suspend everything that interferes with fresh vision” (p. 86). Moustakas recommended the practice of reflective meditation during the epoche process until all parts of the phenomenon have been examined with fresh eyes. The result of this process is receptiveness that allows the researcher to watch and see, listen and hear, without making assumptions about the other’s meaning.

I found the process of reflective meditation extremely useful, practiced prior to virtually every process and interview. On occasion, I would use phrases such as “Allow me to remain open to knowing,” or “I remain open to this person’s experiences and their meanings—not my own.” I used this process in reviewing the SDi theory, as well as the guided questions for the interview process. Prior to each interview, I would spend several minutes meditating to clear my mind and to remain open to the process. I used the time following the interviews (often driving or in flight shortly after the interviews) to review the interviews, and I began with a brief moment or moments of silent meditation to separate my own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs from what I was about to hear or read. I used the same practice when listening to the audiorecordings or reading the transcripts.

I found it necessary to engage the epoche process again in the development of understanding the essences and meanings of the research interviews. This process was a series of meditations or epoches, followed by reviewing the interviews to capture the essences, using quotes from the co-researchers to guide me to descriptions and themes. The same process was used to discern conclusions. I did not guide the meanings; they guided me through the use of the epoche process.

Method of Data Collection

The Spiral Dynamics research team, led by Beck, has collected data on levels of development on thousands of individuals worldwide. These data are collected through the Values Testing Instrument and other valid instruments designed by Beck. Included within this data bank are individuals whose test scores place them firmly within the second tier. Individuals who are currently placed in the complex second-tier levels of being were selected for this study. The selection of participants was purposeful and was drawn from the research files of Beck.

The process included an in-depth interview with each co-researcher. Each co-researcher participated in an initial, loosely structured, interview that allowed the co-researcher the freedom to explore lived experiences, including meaningful work experiences. Follow-up e-mails and telephone calls continued the process and provided opportunities to clarify and expand on the individuals’ reflections and lived experiences.

A loose series of interview questions was designed to guide the interviews. Giorgi (1985) recommended asking about the style or “how” of the experience. The questions were relevant to the experiences of each co-researcher in their lives and work, exploring their early lives and the evolution of work and its role in their lives. Co-researchers were encouraged to explore and express how they have made meaning from their life/career experiences and the critical or significant life experiences that guided them.

Logistical Considerations

When appropriate candidates were identified through the Spiral Dynamics integral database, the researcher contacted the potential co-researchers and established rapport and received the co-researcher’s agreement to participate in the research project. The study included seven individuals who are considered transcendent.

The co-researchers’ lived experiences were captured through digital audio recording of all interviews. In addition, the researcher maintained field and interview notes. Digital recordings of the interviews were transcribed in a timely manner. In addition to constantly reviewing the transcripts, the researcher listened to the audio recordings multiple times. The use of interview notes and audio recording allowed for verification and, in essence, recaptured the interview process and sensations. Data, including the recordings and transcripts, are stored in computer files.

Data Analysis

Data analysis strategy generally followed recommendations in Creswell (1998) for qualitative research. Creswell recommended first that the researcher understand the data through a general review, including the use of jotting down notes in margins, reflective memos, and field notes. Reflections of the meanings and emerging themes were used to evolve deeper understanding and development of the co-researchers’ lived experiences into universal themes.

Phenomenological Data Reduction

Creswell (1998) suggested that the next stage of analysis is data reduction. Data reduction is usually accomplished by creating categories to sort the text and/or visual images. Phenomenological reduction includes describing not only what one sees, but also “the internal act of consciousness, the experience as such, the rhythm and relationship between phenomenon and self. The qualities of the experience become the focus . . . completion of the nature and meaning of the experience becomes the challenge” (Moustakas, 1994, p. 90). The development of a tentative list of themes followed the interview process. Themes, in this instance, were initially defined following the theoretical constructs, including how the individuals considered transcendent experience life and meaningful work and the integration of their lives. New themes were introduced as they revealed themselves. Colaizzi (1978) recommended clustering themes as they are identified and after reflection on the basic structures that arise from the interviews. Coding software (Atlas ti) was initially used, early in the process. However, as it became clear that themes were generally integrated, the software was abandoned. Instead, I used continual review and reflection (which also included listening to the recordings multiple times) to follow the emergence of the universal themes.

Synthesis of Meanings and Essences

The development of meaning and essences, according to Moustakas (1994) relies once again on the intuition. The final step in the phenomenological process is the integration of the descriptions into a rich and unified portrayal of the essences and meaning of the experiences.

Creswell (1998) suggested a “spiral approach” to data analysis, beginning with the reading and memoing of data and eventually moving into loops that describe, classify, and interpret. Interpretation is the final stage of data analysis and was employed extensively in this study. The end result is a display of both the raw data and rich narrative that displays the universal themes. This narrative describes and defines, in rich detail, the essence of the individuals’ experience in significant life events, including their work and the meaning and impact these experiences created in their lives.

Validation of Data

In phenomenological research, much of the verification process rests on the shoulders of the researcher and on his or her interpretations. However, there are ways to ensure the validity of the data collected and interpreted. Interrater reliability was used to verify themes and the thematic processes. The interview process provided the interviewer with valuable additional information. Follow-up e-mails and telephone calls provided new data and supported previous data. Audio recording (with permission of the co-researchers) verified the meaning of what was said in the interviews. Creswell (1998) noted that validity truly comes from the researcher and is based on whether the ideas presented are well supported and grounded.

Moustakas (1994, pp. 121-122)) suggests a process researchers might follow for organizing and analyzing data. The researcher would first catalog, using a phenomenological approach, his or her own description of his or her own experience of the phenomena. The researcher would then consider the significance of his or her statements and cluster the statements into themes. This process is followed by a synthesis of the themes into a description of the experience; first in texture, followed by a structural description of the experiences. From this process, the researcher would create a description of the essences of the researcher’s experience(s).  Once the researcher has reflected on this process, he or she would repeat the process with the transcripts of each co-researcher. This provides the space for the researcher to understand the essence and themes of the experience for each co-researcher. From the individual descriptions and derived essences, the researcher is able to fully integrate all of the co-researchers meanings into a composite textural/structural description and understanding. This process creates the universal essences and themes that represent the whole.

Considerations and Ethics Precautions for
Studies Involving Human Beings as Participants

In all studies in which human beings are involved as participants or co-investigators, several factors must be considered. Confidentiality of any identifiable information must be maintained by anyone involved in the research, unless the investigator receives the express permission of the co-investigators to do otherwise. This included the coding of data (interview transcripts and audiotapes) to remove identifying information. Anonymity of the participants must be preserved, and attention to detail includes protecting the names, telephones numbers, and addresses. This process was strictly followed in this research.

Data collection in qualitative research includes the protection of the co-researcher’s anonymity by changing, grouping, or coding any information that could be used to identify particular participants. This is especially true in this research project, where the universe of available researchers was limited. Informed consent, consent provided by the co-researchers to the primary researcher in written form, ensured that the co-researchers in the study were aware of the purpose of the study and of what was asked of the co-researchers in the study. Co-researchers had the opportunity to ask questions at any time. Each co-researcher was provided a copy of his or her interview transcript and asked to verify its authenticity and the co-researcher’s intent and meaning of any information in the transcript. Another purpose of having each co-researcher review his or her transcript was to verify and create meaningful expression of the information. Subsequent follow-up also included this review process. In each case, co-researchers were asked signed an informed consent form. (A sample is included in Appendix A.) The purpose of the form is to help guarantee that each participant understands the nature of the study and is a willing participant.


Chapter 4
Results of the Study

This chapter presents the themes developed from the work and life experiences of the seven co-researchers in this study. The themes emerged from the co-researchers’ interviews, co-researchers’ verification of the veracity of the transcripts and concepts, and follow-up information sent by e-mail to the researcher and conveyed in further telephone dialogues.

This extended process resulted in the development of the themes that follow. Two outside researchers, with expertise in qualitative research but not familiar with Spiral Dynamics integral theory, provided additional insight into sensemaking of the themes. In addition to the themes that emerged, this chapter also contains a brief description of the participating co-researchers and a composite of the seven individuals from whom the themes developed. The interpretations and conclusions of the emerged themes, as well as recommendations for further study, are included in Chapter 5.

Individual and Composite Descriptions


The co-researchers in this study had, at some time in the past, completed a Values Inventory Profile that placed them within the second tier (transcendence) of the Spiral Dynamics integral frame. In addition, Beck personally verified that the participants were well grounded at second-tier levels (transcendent), through his deep knowledge of the theory and his verification of the participants’ appropriate match in the Values Inventory Profile and follow-up knowledge of the potential participants. (Since the Values Inventory Profile is a self-testing instrument, this precaution had been designed into the front end of the study to ensure that participants were well qualified to participate in this study.)

The seven co-researchers ranged in age from mid-40s to mid-60s. Three women and four men were included in interviews. Four of the participants were American; one has dual American/Canadian status; another is a British citizen residing in the United States, and one is a Danish citizen. All seven have traveled throughout the world.

Each co-researcher has extensive professional experience within current and past careers, and each is highly competent and regarded in his or her field. Four of the co-researchers are now self-employed or head up an organization they founded. Two currently work within an organization where they are in senior positions and enjoy a high level of independence in their work. Another co-researcher combines independent work, is associated with an organization, but also exercises wide latitude of independence in his organizational responsibilities.

Individual Descriptions

The individual descriptions that follow were developed from the recorded interview transcripts, as well as additional information supplied to the researcher by the co-researchers. Each individual transcript was provided to the appropriate co-researcher for verification for trustworthiness. Several co-researchers have continued communication with the researcher through e-mails and telephone calls.

This research attempts to codify and generate greater understanding of transcendence (permanent levels) and “meaning in work.” In a general literature search, the concept of meaning, as well as meaning in work, was the subject of hundreds, if not thousands, of research studies across multiple disciplines.

During the interviews, it became quite clear that each co-researcher had a grasp of how they would define either meaning or meaning in work, which was communicated clearly to the researcher. It also became evident that there was little to no separation between meaning in life and meaning in work for the co-researchers. Towards the end of the interviews, the co-researchers were invited to define, in their own terms, meaning in a general frame and, specifically, meaning in work. These definitions frame and illuminate the themes that emerged during the interview process. However, they are not themes in and of themselves, so they are included at the end of each co-researchers’ individual descriptions that follow.


Trained as an internal medicine physician, LD has not seen patients since the early 1980s when a personal health issue provided an opportunity for him to continue research and move into a “non-dual” (LD’s descriptor) approach to medicine. For the past 20 years, his work has been divided between authoring books centered around “non-local” (LD’s descriptor) healing and speaking on related topics around the world.

He was raised in the South (United States) by loving, sharecropper parents, in an extended family where he and his twin brother were the first to graduate from high school and then go on to college and medical school. Talented in music, LD earned money as a pianist in his church and other local churches. Raised as a Baptist, and aspiring to become a Baptist preacher, LD’s world opened in college with exposure to science and to philosophers like Watts and Buddhism. He embraced science and these new beliefs while old beliefs and dreams fell away.

After completing medical school, LD served as a front-line physician in Viet Nam. His Viet Nam experience created drastic life conditions that led to additional opportunities for emergence. He returned to the United States and took up an internal medicine residency, where violent, blinding migraines almost forced him to abandon medicine. The support of his mentor kept him in medicine. It was this debilitating condition that eventually forced him to seek out non-traditional healing methods for his own medical condition. This search opened him to the awareness, experience, and understanding of non-traditional medicine, the role of prayer, and the value of non-local healing that eventually moved him out of traditional medicine. In the 1980s, he left the highly successful internal medicine practice he had co-founded to pursue research, writing, and speaking to spread the knowledge in this field. Initially influenced by exposure to new ideas and writers in college, LD has continued to develop and share a broad range of knowledge in medical, philosophical, psychological, and other diverse fields.

He has been married since the mid-1970s to BD. Both share a love of and deep connection with nature. Both speak of the strong love and partnership they have shared.

In defining meaning, LD noted,

I’m willing to let the idea of meaning sort of float and deliberate down to you without trying to nail it down too much, to try to capture meaning and put it in a box . . . there’s something, that when it’s present, positive meaning is present, you certainly know it . . . and the reverse is true; when it’s gone you know, you sort of feel flat and off-key and sour . . . I’m not sure how much I want to try to force meaning onto some sort of a locked on trajectory. I think it just needs to do what it—what it does, and you know when you’re on the beam or not . . .

One of the books that I really became involved in was a collection of cases . . . about how perceived meanings of life events and experiences are channeled in people’s lives . . . really have health consequences . . . often make a difference in life and death. And the other vector of meaning was, if you begin with an illness, sometimes you can read backwards and find how meaning set it up or how people derive meaning from the illnesses in itself . . . So, it was a kind of meaning loop that I talked about . . . when you think about it, people’s experiences of spirituality and spiritually related rituals, such as prayer, were often the most meaningful thing in their lives . . . you can’t separate spirituality from this idea of the role of meaning.

When asked to define meaning in his work, LD described

a sense of relevance, importance, the idea that it might make a difference, that it might bring comfort to people. There’s sort of an inner sense that it’s worthy; that I’m not spinning my wheels—that when I come out at the other end of this, it will have been good. Worthy work is something that’s really important to me . . . I have no doubt that what I’ve been up to for the past 20 years has redeeming value . . . I just know it in my bones, and I hope that for the next 20 to 30 years, I get to do exactly what I’ve been doing . . .

Getting back to my old pal, Huston Smith again, in one of his books he talks about the “tug from in front” . . . something is pulling . . . this is different from the idea that’s implied by a career path . . . This is different. This is some unseen attraction. There’s a concept in non-linear dynamics and chaos theory called “the strange attractor.” And, it’s just a mathematical notion, but the idea is that there’s some constraint out there, spatially, temporally that’s working to guide what you do. And, I guess it’s indistinguishable from . . . the force or the—Huston Smith’s “tug from in front.” I have a friend who is a sailor . . . and he uses the metaphor of staying on the radar beam. You’re always weaving from one side to another and what you try to do is make those oscillations as narrow as possible, but you can’t stay on target 100 percent of the time. And, that’s sort of the way I like—that’s the way I judge a career . . . Joseph Campbell is really explicit about that. He said, when he looks back on his life, although it was never clear at the time, he says it’s a perfect pattern. He said I can see it now. He says this in old age, but he could not . . . he was so close to it at the time, he could not make out the pattern then.


BD was also raised in the South (United States) and was encouraged to attend nursing school by her family and school counselor. According to BD, her family and counselor felt that nursing fit with her interests and strengths and offered a career that ensured independence. She was sheltered in her early life and had little or no exposure to other cultures and religions. However, an encounter with an intolerant undergraduate religion professor served to open her eyes and world to other people and cultures. As a nurse, she enjoyed the teaching of a mentor who supported her and challenged her to grow. She also experienced her first truly integrated work experience early in her career as a member of a team of dedicated nursing professionals.

A serious and painful eye injury opened her to a patient’s perspective of pain, patient care, and healing. This life condition created a dramatic change in her life focus and reformulated her perspective on patient care and nursing. After earning her PhD, she taught as a nursing professor. She has authored many textbooks as well as a biography of Florence Nightingale. She is now writing a follow-up to the Nightingale book that focuses on Nightingale’s healing abilities from a spiritual perspective. She helped found a national association for holistic nursing in the United States and is currently developing an integrated approach to nursing. BD draws from her wide range of research and spiritual interests to further work in her field.

For BD, “the meaning comes if I am in that—finding life in the balance.” Meaning in work is closely linked for BD:

I don’t separate—I don’t separate my life into this is work, this is relationship . . . [when asked specifically to define meaning in work] . . . just one word, it’s just joy. Just the whole idea of relating to another and it’s that . . . when we come together, the “we” . . . For almost two years I worked with a group of about 19 nurses. We worked all four shifts and it was an integral model . . . we were doing all of this balancing, not knowing what it was, . . . it was just an exquisite journey, and when I look at that flow and it was the—right personalities at the right time—but there was real collaboration and teamwork . . . So it’s totally focused and absorbed in the project and that’s . . . what gives me . . . huge joy and . . . finding meaning in the work.


Born in Great Britain, RB was raised in a working-class family. The death of his father when RB was a teen created an emotional and financial crisis. It was his father’s wish that RB attend college (as the first in his family). RB earned a scholarship that enabled him to study and support his mother.

He graduated with an engineering degree and achieved a high level of success at a young age. He feels his engineering degree has provided a systems approach to understanding his deep reading of philosophers, psychologists, and other fields. He also believes that his success led to severe health problems that forced him to reevaluate his life. He started his own company, where he realized that work was not about “competing with others; it was about providing service to the world.” This change in perspective led to a dramatic change in his life’s work and to authoring his first book on individual growth and transformation. At this time, he also began working for an international development organization, responsible for creating opportunities for environmentally sustainable development.

While authoring his second book, RB realized that his purpose was to globally transform the philosophy of business. He formed a new company with the mission to support leaders in building value driven organizations. RB uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as the foundation for his work in helping business leaders and employees develop an understanding of their own values systems. He also works with Spiral Dynamics integral. He is currently finishing his third book and continuing his work of the past eight years.

He has been married for well over two decades. RB’s growth and emergence has often been partnered and joined in effort with his wife, NB. They have supported each other’s development and emergence, serving as partners in life and supporting each other.

When asked, RB would not separate out meaning in life and meaning in work. He noted, “It’s been very easy to do what we do, because we are on reason, on purpose and it’s a lot of fun . . . for me there is no work. I am just having fun doing what I am doing
. . . I don’t get the distinction between work and play . . . this is my life. I don’t have . . . separation between . . . for me there are so many words we could take out of our dictionary . . . work is one of them.”


JR grew up in New York City, the daughter of a philosopher (and professor) and child development specialist. Her earliest reflections center around “a sense of impulse and inspiration around music and human relationship and the possibility that I can. . . .” She enjoyed a culturally rich upbringing that included music, art, and frequent visits into the city to attend concerts and professional dance performances.

Her parents divorced early but were both deeply committed to and actively involved in her continued growth and upbringing. However, her parents’ divorce, as well as her mother’s long-term illness, created a sense of uncertainty and an early awareness of the suffering in life. JR sought and found solace in nature and in music.

She noted that some of her “earliest influences and inspiring moments had very much to do with the sense of something beyond the ordinary.” Music, photography, and philosophy often provided the sense of the extraordinary, a sense of transcendence, and a lack of separation. In addition to her parents, she has felt blessed with great teachers in her life.

JR’s early work included teaching music and photography. She has also written from an early age and has often used those skills to earn a living. A large focus of her life has revolved around personal development and spiritual seeking and growth. Her search has taken her around the world. Teachers have continued to play an important role in JR’s life. In 1990 she studied under a Korean Zen master. He was her first spiritual teacher, and they were both deeply committed to the other. She left this spiritual teacher 10 years ago, realizing that “this isn’t going to get me where I need to go.” Though it was difficult to do, JR knew she had to take the leap; even though she did not know what was on the other side, she knew there was something more.

Shortly after leaving, she discovered the work of her current teacher and employer. She has come to see this ongoing development of spirituality and life as a memetic shift. JR sees her true role of that of a “cultural philosopher.” She continues to read philosophers, psychologists, and other writers in the arts and sciences to strengthen her framework. Her work as a writer and senior editor not only has provided a community of like-minded colleagues, but also includes a partner/ husband who shares her interests. In addition, she interacts on a regular basis with individuals who challenge her and others to make the leaps that “recontextualize the human experience and human life and human relationships.”

For JR, “meaning is what’s emergent. It comes out of . . . something that’s known towards what’s not known. And it also somehow comes out of the unknown . . . that’s the ground from whence things that we don’t know will emerge. The things that the creative principle emerges out of it . . . that’s to me what is most meaningful.” In JR’s life, there is “no separation in life . . . [the integration of life and work as one] . . . they really are synonymous at this point. . . .”


Though born and raised in Copenhagen, TL comes from a family with strong ties to the land and nature as farmers. TL’s family was solidly middle-class, and that security had a strong impact on his upbringing. This connection to nature and animals has remained a strong influence on his life. Upon completing high school, TL opted to take an apprenticeship to become an electrician. He had not decided what profession he wanted to pursue, but knew he wanted to pursue music (playing guitar and composing), hanging out with his buddies and enjoying life for a short time. Once he decided he was done with this phase of his life, he applied to college and veterinary school. At around the same time, he met and married his wife. They have been married for almost three decades. They are the parents of a medical school student and a college student.

A crisis emerged when his wife became severely allergic to animals. As much as he loved his work and animals, TL loved his wife and chose to leave the practice of animal medicine and go into veterinary pharmaceuticals. This critical event and movement into the pharmaceutical industry led to more challenging positions and responsibilities and a move into the human side of pharmaceuticals. Until recently, when work challenges dictated a change, he served on his country’s pharmaceutical association (as an active member and chairman), working with industry leaders and national politicians.

TL’s professional leadership experience and his own personal growth helped him recognize that the industry must change, grow, adapt, and evolve. In his increasingly responsible positions of leadership, he has served as a catalyst to change his organization and the industry. He has used his autonomy to build a enmeshed organizational structure where every employee is responsible to self (including family), others, the organization, and the industry.

Widely and deeply read, TL has used the work of philosophers, theorists, physicists, and others to create a foundation to move self and others into more complex levels of development. He founded a Center for Human Emergence in 2004. He views his future as a move into a more global role in human emergence.

TL, when asked to define meaning, replied, “What comes to mind is peace, understanding . . . When you understand the meaning of things . . . you start to understand the dynamics behind it . . . the complexities—the various elements of the complex . . . it gives you peace. Once you have achieved meaning at one level, you have new—Hegel again—new questions, new life conditions, new chaos. You have to bring meaning into this.” While pondering meaning in work, TL noted that “meaning makes you think about your work contribution. If it contributes, you grow. Meaning in a work situation means that you contribute to something that grows. Meaning and work, I would say contribution and growth.”


DS spent his early years on a farm in central Missouri; his fondest memories of that time are associated with nature and his beloved animals. He enjoyed a high degree of independence and freedom on the farm. His parents were very bright but “oblivious,” and his mother, while nurturing in his early years, became very disengaged as his independence grew. In childhood, he had a serious hearing problem that was, finally, successfully treated with experimental drugs. His hearing problem initially created learning problems that stigmatized him for years. His love of animals, nature, and the time spent on the farm, as well as his hearing loss, were major influences on his life.

He describes himself as a “fool,” which for many years he felt meant something was wrong with him. Today, he recognizes that being the “fool” is truly a positive recognition of his very different, non-linear way of viewing and interacting in the world. DS’s grandparents were key supporters in his life, encouraging him to be just who he is, most especially including the “fool” in that choice of self. His grandfather was much like him. Junior high school and high school were so restrictive that he lost interest in school, but his passion for drumming grew. By eighth grade he was playing in a band with men who were much older. Drumming and music remain passions today.

After high school, DS wandered. He worked for the forestry service in Oregon and went to Iowa State as a science major. In his second year in college he returned to the university as a music major on scholarship, paying for “college, playing in bands and kind of warring with . . . parents.” He was not an exceptional student (which, as a college dean today, he often shares with his students), and today his trouble with processing would probably be diagnosed as dyslexia.

He was married after college, to a woman as equally uncommunicative as and much like his mother. He continued to go to graduate school for both his master’s and doctorate. He later recognized that his choice of spouse was a mistake, but remained in the marriage. The marriage produced two wonderful sons, with whom he remains very close to today. He also continued playing music during and since graduate school.

DS experienced wonderful relationships with mentors throughout school. His choices for schools, and later work, were unplanned—rather serendipitous. He noted that there is a component to not judging and embracing serendipity: “it works a lot better than the linear way . . . it has to do with letting things float out there, until they kind of fit together.” This approach has led him to multiple experiences and increasing levels of competence and responsibilities. He notes, as an example, that he didn’t want to be “a drummer,” he simply wanted to “drum.” The same is true of his performing in symphony, leading as a conductor, teacher, professor, dean, vice president, and independent entrepreneur and business partner. Once he gained competence and recognized success in a particular area, he was ready to let go and try something else, something more challenging.

He finally had the courage to face his empty marriage and work through the challenging life conditions (and fear of losing his sons’ love and respect) to emerge at another level with the ability to share his life with his love—his current wife. It was his willingness to meet these challenges head-on that led his fear to fall away. Other events in his life have presented challenging conditions, including a failed business partnership. Had the partnership continued it could have produced phenomenal wealth, which, according to DS, would have created a series of unhealthy crises. Instead, the changing life conditions were often a jumping off to emergence to greater levels of complexity.

For DS, meaning is simply “direction towards growth” And as for “meaning in work . . . movement towards growth . . . [with no separation from the whole of life]. I think there are people who are truly present to whom it doesn’t matter an iota what they do. I think there are people who are sufficiently—that the human condition is capable of—being present no matter what. . . . and they are not going to be, in any way, limited by that.”

In response to question, Did you choose your work, or did your work choose you?, he replied, “I don’t think I have ever chosen anything. I just wandered into it. That’s why it’s hard to feel any sense of accomplishment, which is good. I think we just all wander into stuff and we kid ourselves when we think we are setting a course. You know, there is one of my friends, a wonderful person here. At the bottom of e-mails he includes a quote that says, “if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.”


AB’s early life was marked with a violent childhood at home and with seeking refuge, peace, and friendship with nature and animals. “My early memories are of living in a world that was in this world, but not of this world. Very much so . . . I was very tied to the land. Animals, deer and all kinds of animals were my friends. I spent a lot of time in the woods by myself with my dogs; my animals.” She left home early: “I was already parenting myself anyway, so I just took off.” She studied in Wisconsin and later in Minnesota, moving to other colleges to create the educational framework and studies in which she wanted to gain expertise. She was “very interested in the connection between ecosystem health and global geopolitics . . . the political and social issues around earth resources versus humanity’s choices.”

She noted that she didn’t pick her studies, they “twined” or claimed her. She soon took time off to visit all of the places where she had lived while growing up, to gain a meta-perspective—to discern a pattern. She had realized that she is a pattern recognizer. She acknowledged that when she recognizes a pattern, it is generally something she personally needs to change, or a way for the universe to speak to her about something globally that needs change or forward movement. By taking this time to discern her own patterns, she recognized that she needed a systems degree that focused on “the holonic of the system.” No such degree existed, so she pieced it together with art, political science, psychology, economics, and up to two years of each of the sciences. She selected a core focus in physics and the study of environmental science.

She has used her diverse background working “in some of the world’s worst environmental rapes and violences.” She notes that “people used to say, what do you do? And I said I’m an earth surgeon.” Her work has taken her across the globe and into emergence through deeper, more meaningful levels of complexity and understanding. She left the corporate world to gain greater control of the work that claims her. After working through a life-threatening illness, she is now teaming with others to create new, innovative solutions to some of the world’s toughest environmental issues.

For AB,

meaning is an individual thing. I believe for now that meaning is something very personal and very important to each individual . . . Meaning and purpose—meaning is . . . that it leaves a resonance in the field, the energy field that amplifies the positive in the energy. Those are the things that have meaning.

Meaning in work was always about the human condition. . . . [relating a specific experience/example:] I went to my office in the morning in The Hague. I came to work one morning, and there were three people that I didn’t know very well just hanging out in my office . . . I panicked and [asked], “did we have a meeting?” They [said,] “Oh, we didn’t think you were here today.” I [asked], “what are you guys doing here?” They said, “we don’t know, it just feels really good in here.” . . . we talked about life and family and emotions and love and companionship and community and we created community, and that is meaning. It’s meaning when people get real. That’s when I knew there was meaning in the world, in the office, and meaning when it was happening.

AB “used to be driven by a panic that we were destroying the planet and we had to fix it . . . I was driven, and it was a fear based drive. Now I am called . . . I know what I’m supposed to work on. I know where I am supposed to put my energies. How do I know? Because it feels like I grabbed hold of the end of a rainbow . . . Not my will, thy will be done. I am fully aligned with that. I have visions. I’m told. And I just know, inside.”

Theme Development

In describing their life and work experiences, these co-researchers expressed unique lived experiences that related holistically to their entire lives, as well as experiences that were more specifically related to their work lives. As different as the individuals’ lives have been, many common underlying themes emerged. A significant overriding theme expressed itself through every phase of the research process that cannot be found simply within specific quotations among the interviews. This theme, an overwhelming generosity of spirit, emerged in virtually every contact with the co-researchers. It was expressed in the willingness to participate in this study, and in each co-researcher’s intention in participating fully in the project. Not only did each co-researcher agree to meet and share, all shared deeply and willingly. Each was willing to take time to explore his or her own lived experiences and reflect on its meaning to him or her at a past moment in time, and when appropriate, the meaning that may have reshaped a life.

This generosity of spirit was expressed willingly throughout each interview process and up to the present. In addition to their willingness to participate and explore, every co-researcher encouraged me to take this research and the findings beyond the dissertation phase and to find a way to share any new knowledge with others beyond the academic domain. Several expressed a desire to reach the general public, others who might be able to use and understand the information being transmitted. Others also wanted to reach out to individuals who might feel alien (or like “fools”) in the world today, to let them know that there is a community of others who think as they do and have the same concerns for the world and different ways of being in the world. They also expressed tremendous support for the work done within the research process itself and expressed a willingness to serve this process in an ongoing effort. Perhaps this generosity of spirit exists within all co-researchers in every research project, but this spirit infuses and resides in every part of this project.

This section discusses all the themes in greater detail; they are summarized in Table 4.

Metasystemic Approach

Each of the co-researchers in this study has developed a metasystemic perspective in his or her respective life. The individual’s professional, personal, creative, leisure, spiritual, and pleasure/joy threads of life are interwoven. The term metasystems, or metasystemic, is used in this instance to reflect the integration of the multiple aspects of an individual’s life. It also includes, for some in this study, the internal integration of the individual’s life and a continuance of that integration beyond self to encompass community and a universal reach of self.

Table 4
Matrix of Shared Themes Within Meaning in Work and Holistic Life Themes

Key Themes


Metasystemic approach;

Self enmeshed in a holistic organic universe perspective


·         Meta-systems—integration of meaning in work fully integrated with whole of life, including the weave of vocation into all aspects of life.

·         Individual self perceives/operates as enmeshed part of holistic organic universe in working with self, others, social groups and cultures.

·         Viewing and operating in world from global/universal approach.

Openness to significant life events dissolves fear

·         Openness to doing what others might fear without fear or concern: willing to "play the fool.”

·         Use of significant life events/conditions to emerge, bolstered by high levels of resilience and hardiness.

Pioneering and non-linear approach to life

·         Following the “tug from in front.”

·         Getting out of way of self.

·         Non-linear approach to one’s life.

·         Strongly non-judgmental.

Constellation of skills

·         Multiple skills/integration of seemingly unrelated skills, often creates new skills.

Appreciation for and wide breadth of knowledge across multiple disciplines

·         Deeply widely read/experienced—art, physics, other sciences, philosophy, psychology, music, numinous pursuits/studies.

Creative expression as reflective practice

·         Creatively expresses self in multiple areas/formats as reflective practice.

Deep connection to spirit

·         Deep connection to spirit often expressed through wholeness or no separation; also often expressed through individual’s deep connection to nature/the natural world. This deep connection permeates and guides the integrated/holistic self.


Integration of the multiple aspects of life means that there are not separate, discrete areas of one’s life. Work is not separated from other parts of life. Often, these individuals operate through the use of a metasystemic framework in work as well. This seems to be especially true when the long-term success of the organization is at stake: “My job is to be the metaleader and to build the systems, manage the people, do the logistics, coordination and do the in-time litigation management . . . I built a whole system. . . .”

The foundation of work, for these individuals, transforms from work for self—for whatever individual reasons—to a worldview that one’s work serves the whole: “that it was not about competing with others; it was about providing service to the world, so that was one transformation.”

The co-researchers noted that the transformations they experienced moved them into integrated ways of being in the world. For them, it meant no separation between using new knowledge and skills between different phases of their lives: “This is where I think the life and the work become one thing. I am beginning to really feel that life is lining up in a very particular direction, and that direction has integrity and a kind of solidity—inherent—kind of internal integrity to it that it’s really about the evolution of consciousness. About something new happening.”

As these individuals have developed a metasystemic approach to life, understanding and valuing systems seems to become more important. Rather than seeing random acts, events, and purposes in their lives, they now become fully cognizant of the systemic ways that life integrates itself. Several cited chaos theory, noting that even though their own life system exists in a seemingly chaotic pattern, it is actually an organized, integrated system. One co-researcher paraphrased Joseph Campbell, who had noted that much of his life had appeared chaotic yet recognized towards the end of his life the perfect pattern where everything had actually fit. Several co-researchers, upon reflection, recognized that they were pattern recognizers who had interpreted self within an integrated whole system:

I really would have made a great engineer. I didn’t know that at the time, because I hated all that stuff . . . I like to build stuff . . . I was always curious. I am curious about systems . . . Systems become really important—you look through some and you say; oh that’s how that system works. But there is nothing that really deals with that, so . . . I will develop this and it deals with that system . . .

As many of these co-researchers have developed and emerged through the life challenges and conditions, they have furthered their approach. They all expressed a more integrated approach to life. They also recognized that the path they take may be quite different from the path in life others have taken. Yet they expressed respect for the different paths, understanding that there are many ways to travel in this life. For some of the co-researchers, this appears to lead to a sub-theme that can best be expressed as “self enmeshed in a holistic organic universe.”

Self Enmeshed in a Holistic Organic Universe Perspective

Beyond the metasystemic approach, some of the co-researchers expressed both a deepening intuitive sense of self and the world, and a deep awareness of self as an enmeshed part of a universal whole. The component of “self enmeshed in a holistic organic universe” was expressed consistently by only a few of the co-researchers (though all of the co-researchers expressed at least one of these components). Thus, this component is expressed as a sub-theme. It is not known whether, in further dialogue, all of the co-researchers might have expressed both, or if this might be an emerging theme expressing deepening complexity of the individuals:

Atoms are doing the same thing, energy is doing the same thing, and so were all these different themes of existence existed the same time within the human . . . everything living and so, how are they connected? Well, they are connected through the energy field where we find the mind . . . the order of what . . . happens in the energy and every aspect of the whole being, all planes of consciousness responds immediately . . . the reality is, everything is just basically an energy field.

Some co-researchers spoke of living more deeply and expressing themselves from a more intuitive sense of the world. This suggests an understanding that one cannot hold much of the world in one’s hands and see it, that one must respond intuitively. By facing life’s significant events and emerging into these more complex levels of development, these individuals are able to respond appropriately: “However, comes the point when you transcend the . . . levels of consciousness . . . because you can respond appropriately, no matter what’s going on—most of the time to any situation.” When an individual realizes that it is possible to move from and make decisions from an intuitive level, it no longer becomes necessary to act on every possibility:

What may have come together is the awareness that I really could do anything . . . The realization comes within the systems that are out there; you can do whatever you want . . . It becomes unnecessary to do it . . . Because, to be involved in the structure, is to not be present . . . there are some structures where you could be present, but a dictated structure is essentially non-presentness. And, if you don’t have to prove yourself, then that comes together and you are released . . . I had to do structure to be effective. I can do structure. I have never liked structure, and I have never not distrusted social structures.

The connectedness of all life in seen and unseen ways was expressed by a number of the co-researchers. It is an intuitive connection not just with other human beings, but with all living beings. This can be expressed in all aspects of life:

Everybody just assumes that there’s a connection between emotions and health.
. . . I had a modern medical education, but the depth of the connection was just hidden to me until this became clear to me . . . for me, this was a pivotal experience, because if you can buy the idea that your consciousness, thoughts, intentions can affect your body, you might be able to entertain the possibility that your consciousness might affect not just your body, but perhaps, maybe, the conscious—the body of someone else. It might begin to behave, in other words, non-locally, as in the historical traditions of distance healing, remote healing, intercessory prayer, this sort of thing . . . this was a potentially huge breakthrough area in medicine, psychology, and understanding of consciousness. I spent years trying to uncover every study I could, and not just in people, but non-humans, plants, animals, exploring the role of distant intentions and health outcomes.

The movement towards operating from an intuitive framework creates an intuitive connection with all life. This sense of operating from the intuitive connects one with all life and allows individuals to connect with everyone in some way:

Now, I would have energetic empathy and the ability to be, for anybody to find something, they could say, I’m just like you. There is an importance around that
. . . It is interesting to me . . . it’s rare that people don’t say to me “we’re just alike.” And I just smile, and I take it on as how lucky I am that someone feels that close to me . . . it’s interesting to me that I can put out in the world behavior, energy, personality . . . it’s kind of like, it doesn’t change your core soul self, how . . . I show up in the world in ways that make other people feel comfortable.

The impact of living from this highly intuitive sense can be seen in the changes it brings in individuals. This change connects the individual to the whole and includes a connection with the numinous, a means of knowing and communicating that had not been available prior to this change. For these co-researchers, the individual meshing with the whole of the universe created even more than a new outlook—it was an exponential shift:

That experience was like, it’s like getting a new chip into your computer . . . It wasn’t an intellectual experience; it was a full energy experience. Full, the whole thing . . . I did a lot of stuff, tangible stuff, there are things that are embedded in DNA, and are still happening within the organizations, so I am really grateful for all of that. It was so not about me, which is why I see that it’s in there still, and it’s so good, and I am so grateful.

For these individuals who see themselves enmeshed as an integrated part of a whole universe, it creates a conundrum. They can see the opportunities and challenges, but they also recognize that others do not. It presents a challenge to show the world a different way:      

I’m trying to point out [that]as a collective consciousness, we have picked a particular way to live on the planet and all the great philosophers and all the great leaders studying to be the great leaders, say that there is infinite possibility. So, if there is infinite possibility, here’s my big question, “How come we are so stuck doing it this one way? And, why can’t we experiment with some other ways to do it?”

What if I could tell you there is a possibility that we could have free energy and so on, all this, no pollution. You would tell me it’s Shangri-La. Wait, why are you giving up your power? Who says? Who’s in charge here? That’s one of my big questions right now—who said so?

Openness/Emergence/Fear Falls Away

Openness signifies being receptive, unconstrained, not all-consumed by life conditions, broad adaptability, open to the unknown, willing to experience much more “in an unknown sort of way.” Openness leads to emergence, the act of manifesting into a new order of existence, and to a new kind of relationship with others:

When you talk about these leaps . . . you really don’t know what, you don’t know how wide that abyss is and you don’t know really what’s on the other side. You only know there is something more . . . the whole challenge is to actually really be able to manifest this entirely new order of existence, and a new kind of relationship with other people . . . I did recognize something initially, and I also knew . . . that I didn’t want to settle for less . . . it opens up something much deeper in myself. I have to be willing to . . . experience a lot more in a sort of unknown way . . .       

Significant, life-altering events have punctuated the lives of each of the seven co-researchers. Some of these events included debilitating and life-threatening illnesses for self and others, major career shakeups, and personal trauma. When an individual moves through these significant events, whether progress is immediate or over a prolonged period of one’s life, the impact can be significant not only for the individual, but also others. The resulting impact may move far beyond the individual to affect unknown others:

There was another factor, which profoundly shaped my subsequent life events . . .

I was blessed from grade school onward with a terrible illness, severe migraine headaches . . . no conventional methods worked . . . it was discovered, quite by accident, that biofeedback . . . had positive effects on people with migraines . . . the biofeedback experience opened a door for me . . . I had a modern medical education, but the depth of the connection was just hidden to me until this became clear . . . this was a pivotal experience because if you can buy the idea that your consciousness, thoughts, intentions can affect your body, you might be able to entertain the possibility that your consciousness might affect not just your body, but perhaps, maybe, the consciousness—the body of someone else. It might begin to behave . . . non-locally, as in the historical traditions of distant healing, remote healing, intercessory prayer . . . I spent years trying to uncover every study I could, and not just in people, but non-humans, plants, animals, exploring the role of distant intentions and health outcomes, and the result was a bestseller . . . which actually change my life and the lives of a lot of other people . . . it’s been a matter of great fulfillment and gratitude.          

Some significant events in these lives have been positive as well as life-altering. These include marriage, the birth of children, and key career growth or accomplishments. A significant life event (small or grand) may include exposure to new thoughts, ideas, and concepts from other individuals. When a co-researcher has remained open to an event, group, or individual, the impact has been growth:

Blessed when I graduated that my first head nurse just absolutely adored me . . . she had a real sense of body, mind and spirit. That has been something that I am open to and I realized it and so it was just a natural thing . . . What happened there is I then began to look at, with this whole idea of looking at consciousness in a new way, is that I had the capacity to shift my own consciousness . . . So that became the meditation practice, the stress management, caring for myself at a deep level.

A series of seemingly small events with a combined effect of opening the individual to further change or emergence has also impacted each of these individuals. While the impact of major events is almost immediately recognizable, the impact of accumulated events may not be recognized until later, often after a period, or periods, of deep reflection:

I took a month off and I traveled to all the places that I had lived . . . I was alone, and I sat in those spaces. I looked at it in detachment, from a metaperspective and observed what was happening . . . and also what fired in my body . . . leaning into the whole of initiating the salience to allow me to discern a pattern . . . I have discovered that I first seek to discern or recognize a pattern. And when a pattern emerges and a pattern is happening, it’s either something I need to change, that I am unconscious of, or it’s the universe trying to speak to me about something that’s right and needs to be moved forward and amplified. Not through me, but even in others . . . I’m a pattern recognizer. Out of chaos there is a harmonic resonance that I am looking and feeling for.

This openness, which allows individuals to move into the unknown and experience challenges that serve to move them forward, creates an even greater willingness to move forward into the unknown. Even more significantly, this openness allows the individual to give up control of events and life situations, learning from the event and emerging into new perspectives: “Today, I would say, if I compare to five years ago, . . . I have a much more open mind and a much more, I hate to use the words ‘letting go,’ but at the end of the day, the challenge for us [is] to let go the past and the safety and security around us and just jump into the unknown.” This willingness to let go leads to further growth and additional potential for emergence for the individual. It also has allowed these individuals to let go of an image of an individual self that is separated from the whole and to embrace a sense of one mind, of wholeness with all of life: “That was when my soul really spoke through me, I think that’s the first time that I recollect that . . . I don’t have a separate existence other than connected to the universal energy and soul . . . what’s been clear in the last two or three years is that I am just, whatever is happening is just coming through me and all I have to do is just stay out of the way.”  

When an individual lets go of a separate sense of self, he or she also lets go of a separate sense of others. It may present in many different ways, including the refusal to take self and others too seriously. “Being the fool” allow individuals to open up to unknown, challenging experiences that lead to growth, a broader sense of interests, or passions and transcendence:

But what it means is . . . you have to be a fool . . . [There’s] another component of this “being the fool” and that is irreverence. It comes out as irreverence, but it’s an inability to take anybody seriously too much . . . I would not have had the growth experience . . . I don’t think I would have grown nearly as much . . . I guess my passion is much broader than it used to be and less specific. I hope it’s because I’m growing.

In addition to openness, two crucial traits appear to exist that allow an individual to move through critical (especially major traumatic) life events: resilience and hardiness. Resilience, or the ability of an individual to “bounce back,” is an elasticity that enables the individual to adapt and re-energize, despite emotional and psychological trauma. This enables an individual to develop hardiness, strength that may come from psychological, emotional, or physical sources, to continue to move through obstacles and challenges. The co-researchers consistently expressed resilience and hardiness, often despite tremendous odds. For those co-researchers who faced traumatic significant life events in childhood, the traits of resilience and hardiness seemed to appear earlier in their lived experiences. However, these traits were clearly and actively in place for all co-researchers, including those who experienced supportive, relatively calm childhoods, by their early adult years.

When an individual faces life’s significant events with expanding openness, resilience and hardiness, the individual is able to emerge and move into transcendence. The co-researchers acknowledge an expansion of awareness, are able to hold larger concepts of humanness and the universal integration of life. The sense of self gives way to Self. As the individual merges into a sense of wholeness with life, fear—especially fear of the unknown—falls away:

I was gifted with a deep illness, and I think the illness was about destroying the things that no longer served my body. Realigning my body so I could hold larger amplifications of energy . . . and to be timeless so that I could constantly be available for downloading and connection with the other side . . . I feel as if personality and humanness . . . is gone. I’m something I wasn’t before . . . I don’t know what it is. And, I see it in others. Now, and other people that have had that experience are coming into my life in big ways . . . The deep illness that I experienced, near death, nearly dying, taught me faith and quickly taught me not to be in control. And quickly taught me to let go. That word never seems big enough. Those two words never seem big enough, because people use them a lot these days; and it really was about deep letting go . . . people of incredible being are showing up in my life.

Fear Falls Away

Fear, for these individuals, seems to fade away until it is conspicuous by its absence. The absence of fear becomes a permanent fixture when individual self fades away, or the individual remains fully present:

Fear, for me, went away as I started to move into a different awareness . . . it’s the ability to relax . . . and to stop worrying—about anything. It really comes down to the Buddhist thing of staying in the present . . . if you are in the present, you simply enjoy the present. That’s the whole goal of growth. That’s really what it comes down to—if you stay present. If you stay present, there is no fear . . . I just don’t think I’m afraid of anything much. There isn’t anything to be afraid of.

When an individual remains in the present, fear dissipates. The concept of staying in the present was offered by each of the co-researchers as a point of recognition of the absence of fear. It was noted that individuals often misuse the word “fear” to describe impending change, rather than being fearful. Taking time to “understand the fear” generally eliminates fear:

I find that fear does come up, but when it is coming from my own truth and charting new territory, I know that I must do what I feel needs to be done . . . I stood in my truth. The more I did the research I knew that this was what I had been called to write. As I shaped my ideas, the fear went away . . . this is when I began to see that the fear can be transformed by entering into a dialogue with colleagues and creating.

The co-researchers noted that existential fear is quite different from fear that may be generated to keep the body alive. There is a physiological survival need for fear that retains its usefulness, even as existential fears are gone. This is the fear that allows the physiological “fight or flight” instinct to function when one’s physical existence may be threatened.

This sense of diminishing ego, the lack of wants or needs expressed by the co-researchers, is what resonates. As needs and an isolated sense of self fall away, fear correspondingly falls away. As fear is eliminated, the sense of ego or of an individual being separated from life or the universe also disappears:

And the sense of . . . personality, as far as ego, as far as that aspect . . . it’s totally transparent, it’s gone. I have no fear. There is nothing I fear in the world . . . I understood that I had no needs. Viscerally understood that I had no needs. Because all needs, if you feel you have a need then things aren’t perfect, and if things aren’t perfect, then you want something you don’t have, and therefore, fear comes into the equation, then you have lost it, in the sense of being at one with one mind, or the universe.

Despite recognizing the value of physiological survival fears to remain alive, co-researchers also expressed a deep willingness to venture into the unknown. Some, in fact, noted that they were ready when physical death might present the next opportunity. All expressed the willingness (eagerness) to remain open to the unknown. The absence of fear was linked to becoming fully awake. Several co-researchers noted that it is fear that keeps individuals from fully embracing God and recognizing their divinity. When fear falls away, one is fully awake:

I really think that’s at the heart of this leap for us . . . the willingness to actually
. . . live in an emergent context . . . which means being willing to bear the unknown . . . you can feel a kind of space open up that’s not filled with your own insecurities or the expression of your insecurity.

Have I ever been so scared that I wet my pants, nope? And, then I thought, I have been in completely scary situations . . . I don’t think I’m afraid of much . . . Fear is one of the greatest inhibitors of man and woman’s acceptance of their divinity on the planet. And they are afraid of the responsibility that comes with being awake . . . Fear keeps people from embracing God . . . and fear is an over used emotion to avoid taking responsibility for one’s divinity.

Pioneers with Nonlinear Spirits

Pioneering a non-linear approach to one’s life includes following the “tug from in front” (LD paraphrasing Huston Smith). The emphasis is often on “getting out of way of self.” All of the co-researchers have undertaken a strongly non-judgmental way of looking at the world.

I am a believer in serendipity or something, but . . . the way things get accomplished is really by suspending any kind of emotional commitment. There is a component to this of not judging. And if you don’t judge, you know . . . But there is a component of what I view as the way to get things done. It works a lot better than the linear way . . . it’s a very unspecific kind of thing. It has to do with letting things float out there, until they kind of fit together. And then, you can move towards a goal and it fits . . .—the water flow technique. But what it means is . . . you have to be a fool.

Each co-researcher is a pioneer who has moved and thought in non-linear patterns throughout his or her life. One co-researcher mentioned that he had been surprised I’d asked him to participate in the process because he is the “least sequential person” he knows. Yet this seems to be a trademark of all the co-researchers. The concept of “getting out of the way,” a non-linear way of being in the world, and not judging—self, others, or events—has been expressed and lived in these lives.

One individual had the opportunity to travel extensively in her youth and noted that perhaps these opportunities played a role in becoming comfortable in many different cultures. She was the only co-researcher who had traveled the world at a young age. Yet other co-researchers had grown up in very different environments—many in rural areas without opportunities for travel.

The co-researchers recognized that their different, nonlinear approaches may have emerged early in their lives. A few of the co-researchers had realized at a very young age that they were different. As children they felt their different ways of seeing and being in the world was due to external factors. However, it was only as an adult that they realized their approach to life was quite different from others:

I thought the reason that I thought and approach life the way I do had a lot to do with country school. But when I was 40, my parents sent me a box of stuff and included in there were some grade reports from my grade school teachers. You now, things like “he seems like a bright little boy, but he is spacey, he’s always dreaming about stuff . . . non-structured.” So, obviously, that is something that I just came with.

Each co-researcher recognized that they had begun making conscious choices, often very early in their lives, to pioneer non-traditional paths and lives. They were conscious and aware that these choices would bring them lives that were very different from other individuals and, for most, quite different from the environment in which they had been raised:

So, I read chaos and complexity and a lot of this can be used to describe the situation we have today, because what we are in the midst of is a transformation.

It’s chaotic, because you know, I am really not in control . . . I’m not in control, and it works. Believe me, it works. . . . Letting go. That’s the way I want to be in my organization. Nobody tells them what to do, it just happens and they adapt. Life conditions change and we adapt. We don’t even think about it, we just do it.

These non-linear paths pioneered new ways of working, even in seemingly traditional work places. Even those in a highly traditional organization included a wide variety of positions and challenges. These paths often seemed random, yet they led to opportunities where the individuals can serve as change agents to help transform ways of doing business in an organization and with their loved ones. In a world where change is often forced upon individuals, organizations, and cultures, these individuals often lead the transformation: “I purposely chose methodology generators and practitioners who were doing something at the cutting edge. So, you know it’s a pretty interesting group of people and my role is always bring them together, architect, stay out of the way . . . One of the great gifts I have, one of many, is the power of synthesis.”

Even when the nonlinear, pioneering ways of living and being in the world begin from personal needs and transformation, they find ways of moving into an individual’s professional life. These nonlinear methods transform whole lives, not simply one area. This is consistent with the lack of separation and integrated meaning in these co-researchers’ lives: “in light of how challenging it really is, to really fully experience one’s self, in the light of evolution and to really fully experience and take up the challenge of actually becoming a vehicle for this next stage.”

Some of the co-researchers had experienced childhoods and educational paths that were extremely non- linear. Yet others had experienced deeply traditional childhoods. At some point in their lives, they were exposed to critical life events and non-traditional ways of viewing the world. These events and awakenings to new ways of thinking have often moved their interests and work into uncharted territories. They have each continued in their nonlinear and pioneering approaches in life and work. Getting out of the way of self and following nonlinear approaches may often have seemed random or unfocused; but as one co-researcher noted, citing Joseph Campbell, at the end of one’s work and life, it all fits into a pattern. It appears that that pattern is a pioneering approach to life and transformation: “whatever is happening is just coming through me and all I have to do is just stay out of the way. Well, you know, you get used to staying out of the way to such a point that there is no separate you in a sense. Which means that all decisions are made from, well you can call it intuition if you like, but . . . it’s just connectedness to one mind.”

Constellation of Skills

The co-researchers have developed a broad range of interests and seemingly unrelated skills. Between those interests, skills, and unique life events, they have created new constructs that reveal unique integrations of these unusual experiences. In effect, they are, for themselves and others, creating new tapestries of understanding.

This range of skills includes engineering, physics (including chaos and complexity theory), medicine (including traditional and holistic medicine), management and leadership, and the active development of a deep understanding of human nature through cultivation of expertise in psychology and sociology. It is interesting to note that several co-researchers have cultivated expertise in the sciences, including quantum physics, chemistry, and biology, even when such knowledge and skills were not directly related to their work:

I was very interested in the connection between ecosystem health and global geopolitics . . . the political and social issues around the earth’s resources versus humanity’s choices . . . it claimed me from someplace inside of me. When I first went to college, I went to study political sciences. I was going to be a lawyer. . . . I needed a systems degree, so I put it together; I designed it. It included art; it included political science; it included psychology; it included economics; it included at least up to a second year of each of the sciences—a core focus in a particular science. For me, it was physics and the study of environmental science.

Each co-researcher has pursued experiential knowledge and practices in art—often many different and varying fields of art, including photography, painting, calligraphy, and needlepoint. And most if not all have developed skills in music, whether they perform (for others or for their own pleasure) or compose. Art and music, as detailed in a separate theme, serve as a form of reflective practice. It is often through the expression of art and music that the varied and divergent skills they have developed in turn create new skills, or new and unique ways of utilizing these skills.

New paths are often forged within the frame of traditional professions. For example, holistic nursing and medicine have been introduced and practiced in traditional medical arenas by some of the individuals. Co-researchers have introduced new, transcendent leadership skills in traditional workplaces. And new, holistic work practices, such as being “an earth surgeon” while working within a traditional oil company, can succeed. In the same way, a transcendent individual may begin a career as a musician, or music teacher, and develop business skills that provide the skills for the opportunity to benefit a university. Or an individual may even start in business, leave business when it does not serve his or her, and then return to help many organizations with transcendent skills that may benefit all. “By 1982, I had written my first book, which began to explore the role of consciousness and how the world works. It was one of the first to try to bring together some disparate areas of learning such as chaos theory, quantum mechanics and intentionality and apply those to medicine.” These practices have succeeded, in large part, because the co-researchers have initially practiced their professions in traditional ways, earning the respect of their colleagues and community, before leading the way in their fields with highly successful, non-traditional approaches: “And it was just one of those flukes, and one of the things that became very clear is that I realized if I’m going to be a change agent, I have to figure out how to work in the system.”

Appreciation for and Wide Breadth of Knowledge
Across Multiple Disciplines

In addition to the unusual life events they’ve experienced and created, each of the co-researchers are deeply and widely read. The extensive range of interests they have pursued, both within and outside of their careers, includes art (often in multiple formats and media), sciences (including—but most definitely not limited to—chemistry, quantum physics, astrophysics, and biology), sociology, philosophy across many worldviews, psychology, engineering, music, and numinous pursuits and studies.

The interests and search for knowledge have reached across multiple disciplines—and the pursuit often goes deep and broad within the disciplines. For example, these individuals’ pursuit of knowledge in psychology is not limited to only one theorist, or even to a solitary field or specialty. One co-researcher pursued studies of Jung, Maslow, Asagioli, and, later, Graves and Beck. This same pursuit—in both depth and breadth—was followed by all of these co-researchers in many fields:

I was trained as a civil engineer. Then did post-graduate work as a transport engineer . . . [my]career as an engineer . . . culminated in working at the World Bank. . . . I started getting bored with my work . . . I looked back over the past 15 years and realized I had spent all of my spare time reading . . . complete works of Carl Jung, and anything to do with science, God and physics . . . I bring a rigor to the whole field [psychology, personal/organizational growth] because of my engineering background.

Co-researchers have explored deep studies in physics and systems, as well as sciences of a similar scope pursued in psychology, mathematics, and philosophy. Some of the philosophers cited included, but were certainly not limited to, Hegel, Kant, Wilber, Khan, Gurdjieff, and Bennett. The co-researchers often wove connections between what might seem to others to be widely disparate fields. For example, physics might be interwoven with philosophy or spiritual readings: “Hegel said . . . life’s constantly changing, it’s becoming, it’s becoming . . . The second we left a second ago is the past. It is completing the situation. It goes back to . . . Kurwtsfile, the futurist . . . He talks about a very interesting topic, which is called singularity. Everything happens instantaneously, and that’s what we are facing, and that’s what we are up against here.”

Certainly, the works of physicists like Bohm could move easily from field to field. But often seemingly disparate connections were made by each of the co-researchers. And learning and an appreciation for the teachings were not confined to “experts.” Knowledge and insight can be found everywhere, and these co-researchers were open, aware, and grateful for the teachings:

How do I give reverence to the janitor at the refinery who sat down and coached me and counseled me and woke up my soul in so many ways? How do I give reverence to the man sitting next to me on the airplane . . . and tells me about the ancient lineage of Iranian mystics . . . my friend, Janine Benyus [who] wrote Biomimicry . . .

I am really eager to be in service to that awakening . . . I believe . . . meditation will facilitate an opening—facilitates the steadying of the individuated harmonics that allows that individuated harmonic to then be influenced by other harmonics in the external and the spirit consciousness . . . when you meditate, your energetic wave patterns in your body—it’s like a door . . .—moving the harmonics to a different state of amplification. These are physics terms. DeBrolie’s wave theories are what the Sufis say and Inyat Khan says, “He who understands the mystery of sound, understands the mystery of the universe.” Wave theory is our key to understanding how we change consciousness . . . some incredibly important knowings . . . about harmonics and wave patterns and energy . . . seek out harmonic patterns that amplify us in the states that are our God consciousness.      

Chaos theory and complexity research were mentioned by each co-researcher, though paired with various other fields by each co-researcher, and most often with deep spiritual beliefs. The chaos concept of the “strange attractor,” the small oddity that creates a new order out of chaos, was mentioned when discussing the weave of seemingly dissimilar concepts. Frequently, the words of deep and revered spiritual philosophers, such as Huston Smith, Joseph Chilton Pearce, or Joseph Campbell, were easily woven into the fabric to strengthen and highlight a pattern.

Co-researchers found connections and relationships that others might never see. Individuals who had made significant contributions in one field were seamlessly placed in others. One example cited by a co-researcher is Florence Nightingale. Her impact on nursing is undisputed and valued worldwide. However, it is unlikely that all experts in the field of nursing would view her, as this co-researcher does, as a mystic:

But one thing that was very interesting and this is, again, how [our] have really influenced each other . . . in the ’70s he was read[ing] The Medieval Mystics . . . so I started reading the books and became very much acquainted with Evelyn Underhill’s Five Phases of Mystic Spiritual Development . . . then the first time I got into reading these letters [letters by Florence Nightingale] . . . I started reading these and . . . after the first day of reading I just said . . . the words and the way she writes it’s like reading a mystic.

The co-researchers’ appreciation for and breadth of knowledge across multiple disciplines also shaped their own outlooks. They they could easily distinguish which factors and which experts had made contributions in a particular field, they acknowledge that the distinctions between fields lose significance as new tapestry is woven from the many threads. The impact on these individuals’ own lives further blurs the separation: “I think all of the distinctions are getting blurred. I just like being alive. I don’t really—I like to work with my hands, so I do lots of stuff. I like building stuff and changing stuff in the house, and engineering the yard.”

Creative Expression as Reflective Practice

Creativity and its multiple forms of expression are infused throughout the lives of all of the co-researchers in this study. Even in dialogue, poetic expressions weave throughout the conversations. Forms of creative expression provide space and time for reflection: “And I think another thing that’s really important is just spending the time alone . . . if I don’t do needlework about every—about every three days, or something artistic . . . I lose my balance. I think the meaning comes if I am in that”; “And see, that’s what comes with the needlework . . . it’s a meditation.”

Even when they were younger, many of the co-researchers had been touched by the power of music in their lives. Co-researchers often reflected on the impact that developing a creative outlet—whether their lives had been touched by deep sorrow or tremendous joy—had made on their lives, and the opportunity for reflection provided in the creative pursuit:

Reflecting back, I can most easily identify a sense of impulse and inspiration around music . . . So, when I think about some of the earliest influences and inspiring moments, and kinds of ideas and thoughts that I had or intuitions, it really had very much to do with the sense of something beyond the ordinary. And, in music that was an experience that I found relatively frequently.

Music became an outlet for composing and performing during youth, and throughout the lives of many. For a number of co-researchers, the opportunity to express self through music provided opportunities to reflect on one’s own current challenges and successes, as well as serve as an outlet for passion, energy, and frustration: “The only thing I wanted to do was play the drums. Talk about passion . . . I was a pretty rotten student, but I was a great drummer . . . so I got into graduate school . . . I loved graduate school . . . Played a lot, was performing.”

Appreciation of music is not limited to composing or performing. Often, the co-researchers appreciate music not only for its beauty and form of expression, but also for the inspiration it provides. For some co-researchers, it is not simply the concept of traditional music that inspires reflection. It also includes the study and use of harmonics as a means of reflective practice and new ways of being in the world: “Out of chaos, there is a harmonic resonance that I am looking and feeling for.”

Whether these artistic or creative skills and expressions are an active part of the individual’s work, they inform and deepen the expression and understanding of an individual’s vocation. This process of deepening understanding is not always carried out in solitary practice. It can be shared with a partner, friend, or co-worker. Often, after a co-researcher has spent time reflecting through a creative process, new ideas and processes emerge that profoundly affect his or her work, or work processes:

I love working with people, and . . . like my dear friend . . . it’s like we will sit down exactly like this . . . we’ll both do Chinese brushstroke . . . so we’ll have the ink out and we’ll be talking and just . . . painting—or doing needlepoint . . . not looking for anything, just doing. But, it’s just throwing out ideas—all of a sudden . . . if we’re working on a project, you throw the ideas out, you don’t know how you’re going to get there, and then something is said, and that’s it. . . . that integral stuff started . . . falling in there. I think another piece that comes in with this is my needlework. This art side of it . . . that I simply can’t stop . . . because even in the back of the mind, it’s generating thoughts . . .

Although several of the co-researchers write, including published books and articles, they may also be engaged in painting, needlepoint, photography, or creative writing that lead to deeper ideas and reflection. Even the process of exploring and writing about creativity becomes a reflective practice that generates new thoughts and ways of being in the world:

I had a shot at [creativity] in an editorial a few years ago . . . This is a deeply complex and mysterious subject. If you look at the lives of people who obviously were creative and you try to do a linear mapping of where those ideas come from for these people, it’s not easy to do. Some of them emerge from dreams, some of them from reverie, some just seem to intrude out of no where and even with people who experience this often . . . throw up their hands in total confusion about what happened . . . I am very much attracted to this model of consciousness that has to do with the non-local aspect of consciousness which is to say there are features of consciousness that can’t be confined to the brain and not even to the present moment. If you think there’s anything to that, then creativity becomes much more interesting. Originality is highly problematic if you follow a non-local picture of consciousness because in non-local consciousness—at some level all consciousnesses come together.

Writing, performing, composing, or engaging in art not only transforms the individual; it may also serve to create work that transforms another individual, group, or the world. Seemingly unrelated activities appear to deepen both the understanding of and connection within the individual’s inner and outer lives. Reflection through a form of creative expression has also led to transformation to more complex levels of being in the world:

By 1990 I suddenly started getting bored with my work and realized that there was something else to do. I looked back and realized that I had spent all of my spare time reading . . . the complete works of Carl Jung, and anything to do with science, God and physics. I realized that I needed to write a book. So, I sat down and spent five years writing this book . . . During that period, after about two years . . . I knew that there were two other books to write at least. The first one was on personal transformation, and the second one was on organizational transformation, the third one on global transformation. And, I also knew that—I also went through intense personal transformation in writing the book . . .

Reflection and the creative lead to new ways of understanding and knowing the world and creating meaning. The themes that have emerged from this research process are an integrated whole that have shaped the life and emergence of each of the co-researchers. They have been picked apart in this process to provide a window into understanding. Perhaps this integration of themes is best understood in one co-researcher’s statement flows into the next theme: “that’s when I’m closest to God, when I am doing that work and when I am writing.”

Deep Connection to Nature/Spirit

A deep connection to spirit or spirituality was expressed by all of the co-researchers. This connection was often expressed as “oneness of being,” or “one mind.” Other co-researchers frequently expressed this concept of no separation, from an individual self to a universal Self, as a defining means of connection to spirit:

We are connected to one mind . . . it’s not me that is thinking those thoughts. . . . so, transcendence . . . you have to transcend that whole fence of separation to get to a place where you don’t see the physical, emotional and the spiritual, they are no longer [separated] . . . beyond that is total understanding . . . which leads . . . into the oneness of being and no separation.

Spirituality is being part of, as they say, the Great One. It’s the oneness with everything . . . I had a great dream once . . . a powerful dream and it was that I was . . . trying to speak to people. I was trying to convince them in the way of our world . . . but . . . they could not understand me. . . . suddenly, there was this imagery or voice that says it’s all right, you can come home now, and I went to this place. It was absolutely ecstatic . . . It was absolutely a feeling of total integration and it was great.

It means to me, the importance of growth, towards being open, not judgmental, non-judging, non-believing . . . being foolish, accepting loving, which is being open . . . honoring the other person’s spirit without wanting to teach them something or show them something or control them.

The deepening complexity of spirituality has often been impacted by the co-researchers’ personal challenges and experiences. Critical life events have shifted the co-researchers’ views of consciousness. This shift in the individual’s view and experience of consciousness has guided many of them to move from more traditional religious beliefs to less traditional approaches to consciousness and spirituality: “I began to look . . . this whole idea of looking at consciousness in a new way . . . that I had the capacity to shift my own consciousness . . . So that became the meditation practice . . . Spirituality is the loving, the kindness, the compassion, the empathy.”

Each used virtually the same words to describe personal beliefs in a deep connection to spirit. Several shared ideas that included the concept of collective intelligence. These views included beliefs on where society is headed: “Collective intelligence, and it’s a thing not a lot of people speak about these days. And I think actually, because here you start to talk about philosophy, you talk about religion . . . spirituality. This is where our modern society is moving, but we just don’t know it . . . Hegel said . . . life’s constantly changing, it’s becoming, it’s becoming.”

Several co-researchers deliberately noted that the concept of non-separation—from a spiritual perspective—is not confined to human beings. Many different examples and philosophers were cited, including philosopher Martin Buber:

Martin Buber . . . when he talks about the “I/thou” experience of how it is possible to actually experience another, or the other, as if it’s one self, really. He had an experience that he speaks about the horse, looking into the horse’s eye and there is no separation between him and that animal. His whole notion of “I and thou” was something which I think was probably the first thing that captivated me spiritually.

A deep connection to spirit and deep spirituality included the acceptance of “God consciousness” and the conviction that this connection is shared with all of nature: “I always wonder how you cannot know that a plant or an animal or a river or a rock isn’t as alive as you are. All that is magic, all that is mystery, all that is God consciousness—God is consciousness—spirit consciousness in this dimension, lives today, for now, in the crucible of nature. . . . Nature speaks to us all the time”; “there is spirit consciousness . . . It’s like little electrons . . . that are inside the middle of it—that’s its energy core.”

Each of the co-researchers, though their lives have been quite different from each other, has spent considerable time in meditation and ways of understanding this deepening sense of spirit within. One has spent the last 20 years of his career researching non-local healing. Through his work, he has uncovered a connection between “non-local mind” and healing that is not confined to human beings. His own deep beliefs in spirit are rooted in his exposure to Buddhism, as a philosophy during his college years, and his continuing research and personal search:

I certainly don’t think non-local mind is confineable to humans—and I think it’s spread far and wide among animals and plants as well . . .

I am very much attracted to this model of consciousness that has to do with the non-local aspect of consciousness, which is to say there are features of consciousness that can’t be confined to the brain and not even to the present moment. If you think there’s anything to that, then creativity becomes much more interesting. Originality is highly problematic if you follow a non-local picture of consciousness, because in non-local consciousness—at some level all consciousness comes together . . . Joseph Chilton Pearce, the educator writer, author, talks about the cosmic soup. And, his idea is . . . some reservoir of consciousness that’s transcorporeal, non-local . . .

This concept of one mind or non-local mind also presents an opportunity to view evolution in a different light. By viewing life from one mind, or no separation, one may actually be able to understand evolution from an integrated perspective:

I think when we talk about the unknown; I think that’s the spiritual part of it. That there is something deeply mysterious about the whole thing . . . I think that when you talk about evolution and you talk about spirituality, those two things have never been brought together in the way that’s now possible. And, I think that you can really go for evolution, or you can really go for spirituality, and actually shortchange a very extraordinary possibility . . . I think there is an evolutionary movement, an evolution of consciousness happening. You and I having this conversation is the expression of that . . . it is a freedom that we have that is really extraordinary and the obligation that goes with that . . .

This deep connection to spirit permeates and guides the fully integrated and holistic self. The acceptance of one spirit, one mind, leads to a life that is connected, or integrated, with all life. This connection, this absence of personality and humanness is expanding and visible well beyond self to others, to a deepening and quickening connection with Self: “I feel as if . . . personality and humanness . . . is gone. And, that I’m something I wasn’t before . . . And, I see it in others . . . other people that have had that experience, are coming into my life in big ways.”

Results Summation

By remaining open throughout the challenges of significant life events, these co-researchers have continued to emerge or transcend throughout their lives. All of the themes that have emerged from these co-researchers are tightly integrated into a whole. Chapter 5 provides the interpretations of these results.


Chapter 5

This exploratory study had a twofold focus. The first focus was to develop a deeper understanding of individuals considered transcendent using Spiral Dynamics integral second tier. The other key focus was to then understand what created or constituted meaning in work for these individuals. The phenomenological approach provided the co-researchers the opportunities to share meaningful lived experiences from throughout their lives, including those experiences that have shaped and defined what creates or is meaningful in their work.

Seven major themes, universal to all of the co-researchers, emerged from this study:

·                     1.         A metasystemic approach to life

·                     2.         Openness to significant life events that dissolves fear

·                     3.         A pioneering and non-linear approach to life

·                     4.         An expansive constellation of skills

·                     5.         An appreciation for and a wide breadth of knowledge across multiple disciplines

·                     6.         Creative expression as reflective practice

·                     7.         A deep connection to spirit

Interpretations and Conclusions

Emerging Complexity

Four conditions must be present for individuals to emerge into greater levels of complexity: (1) subconscious or conscious openness to a major shift or change, (2) the experiences of critical life events, either major or minor in scope, (3) the awareness that current life challenges cannot be resolved by current strategies or solutions, and (4) high individual levels of resilience and hardiness.

Graves (1970) and Beck and Cowan (1996) identified three of these conditions as crucial for emergence: openness to change, critical life events, and the awareness that one’s current solutions are no longer effective. Resilience and hardiness as factors in remaining psychologically healthy through emergence have been identified in this study. The understanding that individuals may begin to remain consciously open to change and consciously aware that current solutions are no longer effective as one moves into transcendent levels of development also appears to be a new revelation. That critical life events may include both major events and a series of smaller, cumulative critical life events, triggering emergence, also appears to be a new understanding. It is also important to note that, though some critical life events (for these co-researchers and others) may develop into transcendent experiences, not every critical life event appears to lead to a transcendent experience. James (1961) offered four important qualities that define a transcendent experience: nöesis (the direct and instantaneous reception of knowledge), the quality of ineffability (the failure of words to effectively describe the feelings, sensations, or qualities), the feeling of total passivity (the inability to control the experience), and the awareness of the transient nature of the experience. However, each of the co-researchers appeared to have experienced a number of transcendent events throughout their lives. This may be a key factor in emerging into transcendent levels of development.

A study by Waldron (1998) examined the transcendent experiences of six individuals and the impact on their lives. In Waldron’s study, the participants experienced one or two transcendent experiences. Those experiences had made significant impact on the lives of the individuals and often led them to transform their lives. A strong similarity exists between that study and the present study. A major difference may be the number of shared experiences that appeared to be transcendent in the lives the co-researchers in this study. Does openness to significant life events provide greater opportunities? Or do an increased number of transcendent events in an individual’s life create the permanent changes that lead an individual into transcendent levels of development?

Graves (1970), and later Beck and Cowan (1996), identified the three original factors as critical for emergence to occur. Graves noted that the conditions challenging human beings at each level of existence vary from the worst physical survival issues to the more existential problems that individuals face while living in better conditions. As individuals solve the critical survival issues, they develop higher-order neurological systems (Graves, 1970), and experience greater freedom to address more complex challenges.

The cumulative effect of multiple smaller life events to shift an individual to a more complex level of development may be a newer finding. Beck and Cowan (1996) noted that individuals vary in their comfort level and ability to change. They identified seven variations of change, moving from horizontal to oblique and then to vertical change, with the emergence to more complex levels of development occurring during vertical change. This change may be “evolutionary” or “revolutionary” (Beck & Cowan, 1996). All of the co-researchers shared lived experiences that caused shifts of both an evolutionary and revolutionary manner. However, some individuals seemed to adapt to change more easily in one mode or the other. Three co-researchers had experienced generally supportive peaceful childhoods, and for them, major changes or shifts were really not noted until the end of high school. Four co-researchers had faced major upheavals in childhood and noted critical life events that created change early in their lives. Those whose childhoods had been calm, while they faced some major critical life events as adults, appear to have a pattern of change that occurs in a more evolutionary process. Co-researchers who had faced more traumatic life events at younger stages in their lives, while still experiencing significant evolutionary change within their lives, also seem to have experienced greater levels of revolutionary change.

Neither Graves (1970, 1974), Beck and Cowan (1996), nor Beck (1999, 2000, 2001) had projected that the psychological healthy constructs of resilience and hardiness would be important factors in openness and emergence. Yet both constructs[2] (which are often seen simultaneously, and often with hardiness, considered a part of resilience) were key traits in co-researchers who had experienced critical life events. Those co-researchers who had experienced traumatic or difficult events in childhood seemed to display these traits of hardiness and resilience at a younger age. By early adulthood, all co-researchers exhibited high levels of resilience, and their lived experiences clearly showed that hardiness and resilience were important factors in their successful emergence through developmental levels in their lives. The construct of resilience, according to Newman (2005), “is the human ability to adapt in the face of tragedy, trauma, adversity, hardship, and ongoing significant life stressors” (p. 227). The flexibility to adapt to difficult demands of these events is a key concept of resilience (Block & Block, 1980). Even in the face of difficult or tragic life events, such as some of the events experienced by the co-researchers, individuals are open and curious to the unknown, exhibiting high levels of energy and strong positive emotions even in the face of challenges (Block & Kremen, 1996; Klohnen, 1996; Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004).

Tugade and Fredrickson (2004), in research that supported the theoretical work of Masten (2001) and others (Block & Block, 1980), found that highly resilient individuals find stressful environments and challenges to be less threatening than do individuals with low levels of resilience. In addition, in support of previous research in resiliency literature (Affleck & Tennen, 1996; Tennen & Affleck, 1999), highly resilient individuals are associated with higher positive scores in eagerness, excitement, and interest by “allowing themselves to find benefits within crises or adversity” (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004, p. 328). The co-researchers in this study were well aware of the challenges and difficulties they had faced in the critical life events. They took the challenges seriously and, sometimes, at what might appear to be great cost to themselves, but they were able to address the challenges with clear vision of the difficulties and the ability to bounce back.

Tedeschi and Kilmer (2005) also noted that other factors of resiliency include self-efficacy, competence, a realistic understanding of the control an individual may have over an environment or situation, individual coping styles, and a sense of what to expect in the future. Hardiness is often seen as a factor of resilience, with three sub-concepts: the individual’s sense of an internal locus of control, openness to challenge, and a commitment to self. The greater the hardiness of an individual, the less psychological and physical stress the individual experiences (Kobasa, Maddi and Courington, 1981). While the participants exhibited these traits through much of their lives, as they emerged into transcendence, one may argue that the commitment to self has moved from self to a universal Self. In addition, the concept of an internal locus of control may also shift to control with a lessening sense of internal self and move towards a locus of control in an expanded sense of self to include the “larger, conscious, spiritual whole that also serves self” (Beck & Cowan, 1996, p. 287).

For the co-researchers in the present study, resiliency has been experienced as an ongoing life process rather than separate isolated events. Using strategies noted above, the co-researchers have shown an ongoing resilience to critical life events. Current research and writings in the resiliency literature appear to show a shift from the concept of resiliency as uncommon towards an appreciation for it as a common process (Masten, 2001) that continues to develop through early adulthood. This is consistent with the co-researchers in this study, whether resiliency was evident earlier in critical life events or later.

Graves (1970, 1974, 2002) noted that the emergence into second-tier levels of being would occur with a “momentous leap”; yet during the early years, all the co-researchers emerged along the parameters for change presented by Graves (1970, 1974) and Beck and Cowan. There are, however, differences in the ways these co-researchers demonstrated change as they emerged into more complex levels of development through their lives, especially in the later significant lived experiences of their lives. All of the co-researchers are highly competent and creative, whether creativity is expressed in practical or more esoteric uses. This supports the findings of Graves (1970, 1974), Beck and Cowan (1996), and Cook-Greuter (1999, 2000). All of these co-researchers have noted that individuals may move between nested levels of development, as living conditions present challenges. Yet while some co-researchers had faced extremely difficult challenges—in some cases of survival—they appeared to retain their current level of being and perhaps far less concern with the difficulty of survival. They continued with what they felt was the important focus, treating survival issues as secondary issues. This seems unlike individuals rooted within first-tier levels of development.

Another key difference that these individuals demonstrated was the difference in openness, another critical component for emergence. Early in their lives, the co-researchers noted, they had often moved forward sometimes unaware of what they were doing. The openness to change appeared to occur on a more subconscious level. In the more recent years, as their developmental trajectory has moved towards transcendence, openness has seemed a very conscious choice, even and especially when the outcome is unknowable. A co-researcher described it well when she said, “I stood in my truth.” Yet even with the outcome uncertain, these individuals moved onward. This conscious choice to be open to change may be one of the critical requirements to make the momentous leap to transcendence. It has led these co-researchers into lives where they have pioneered new professions, fields, and new learning for themselves and the rest of the world. This pioneering approach has also moved these individuals away from fear. Graves (1970) projected that fear would diminish and eventually vanish as individuals emerged through transcendence. Fear is deeply embedded in the first-tier ways of living. Perhaps this falling away of fear is another critical difference that opens the way for these individuals to emerge into transcendence.

Are these factors enough to ignite the momentous leap that Graves (1970) noted must occur for an individual to emerge into transcendence? They appear to underlie significant changes in the way these individuals have emerged.

Process Wholeness Awareness

The metasystemic approach developed by transcendent individuals leads to more fully integrated lives. This includes the integration of work as part of a finely woven tapestry that displays few seams between what others might consider separate parts of one’s life. The ability to see one’s self from a metaperspective, as though the individual has stepped outside of self, looking in while also looking from within, seems unique to these individuals rooted in transcendence. The metasystemic approach is a systems approach. Graves (1974) expressed the thinking system of Yellow (G-T) as “systemic,” with an understanding of natural hierarchies, systems, and flow. Beck and Cowan (1996) noted that individuals at this level recognize not only the human systems at work, but the ebb and flow of those human systems, including those within the individual. On an individual level, what are often seen as separate components of an individual’s life (work, leisure, family, and the greater whole) are not separable components. And work, as an integrated part of the whole of an individual’s life, is not all-consuming. Work is not a separate part of life and is neither more nor less valued than all other parts. Yet the integration of what others might see as work, separate from other components, infuses the whole of an individual’s life, just as all other components infuse work. Graves (1974) noted that these individuals would probably work less than others (p. 76) and value contributions that recognize the responsibility to others. For these individuals, there is rarely a measurement of the time or effort expended in work. Whatever is needed to ensure highly competent work is done, but the process becomes enmeshed and generally provides for universal (Self) service. It never seems to serve only the individual. Components of what some might view as only work-related are often deeply related to all other aspects of an individual’s life.

The development of the metasystemic approach seems to be a critical factor in the emergence of transcendence. All of the co-researchers had developed, though at varying times in their lives, a metasystemic approach to understanding the world. This view of seeing oneself as an integral whole within the whole—of self and beyond—requires a high level of competence, adaptability, and continued learning as one adjusts to life’s neverending changes. The co-researchers have shown a continuous pattern of change and flow using this system. Graves (1974) and Beck and Cowan (1996) noted that individuals who follow such a metasystemic approach are often rooted in the first level of transcendence, identified as Yellow. Graves included them in his assessment of “people that drive managers crazy” (p. 76) because they require high levels of autonomy and freedom. Graves observed that some of these highly competent individuals were (in 1974) already in positions that would provide them with opportunities to become leaders of organizations. If not given the freedom to work as they feel necessary, and to manage themselves, they will work below the radar or eventually leave an organization (Beck & Cowan, 1996). Four of the co-researchers have done so. Yet prior to leaving previous organizations, they pioneered new practices and often changed the organization in significant ways. Each has developed careers that brought them to the highest levels of responsibility and power, yet each eventually left (often after having done so in multiple organizations) to establish their own organization. One, after founding a highly successful medical practice, left as his own emergence moved him into a different way of being and working in the world that no longer fit the practice.

Three of the co-researchers are still connected with an organization, each in a leadership position with tremendous autonomy. But they have expressed an understanding that learning and change continues, and that they may leave as the flow dictates. When one is truly integrated, the right actions for any situation flow naturally and appropriately.

Enlightened Wholeness

As individuals develop further into transcendent levels of being, they become aware of the embeddedness of self into a holistic, organic universe. The movement proceeds from a full integration of the individual to a broader picture of sensing oneself as part of a universal Self that focuses on all living entities. There is recognition (or, perhaps more aptly, re-cognition) that when the individual is serving the whole, the individual is served as well. Beck and Cowan (1996) viewed this as emergence into the second level of transcendence (Turquoise). The recognition that an individual is a holonic of a greater universal holon creates an exponential shift. For one of these individuals, “it’s like getting a new chip into your computer . . . It was an intellectual experience, it was a full energy experience . . . full, the whole thing.” While the metasystemic approach has its roots in systems, these individuals make use of the metasystemic approach but are driven more from a deep awareness of the connectedness of all and the impact that one seemingly simple action can have on the whole. These individuals live from a highly developed intuitive sense and appreciation for the individuals within the whole as they work in concert with all systems and all individuals pioneering new life approaches.

Beck (1999) has developed a cultural or social process known as “MeshWORKS” designed to bring together individuals of different, often antagonistic backgrounds and cultures to work together to forge healthy systems and solutions. While honoring individual systems, cultures, practices, and levels of human development, this solution process identifies the need to recognize all levels of human and systems development—all quadrants, the “emerging mind,” the “organic brain,” the “collective interior,” and the “collective exterior” approach to create healthy living systems. This was the approach used by Dr. Kenneth Salyer (International Craniofacial Institute) in the design and team development for the successful separation of conjoined twins in 2003. Beck worked with Salyer to develop the process (Beck, personal communication, April 2003). The MeshWORKS concept seems inherent in the lives of several of the co-researchers in this study. While living comfortably in complexity, these individuals understand and value individuals at all levels of existence in all quadrants. More research is needed to determine if this is simply a further development of the Yellow level of transcendence or a full emergence in Turquoise.

Generativity Selflessness

As transcendent individuals move through life, they develop a holistic constellation of skills and a deep and wide body of knowledge that pioneer the creation of entirely new skills, knowledge, and concepts to benefit the individual and the larger world. These skills and knowledge may appear unrelated, and even frivolous to outsiders, but transcendent individuals are often “pulled by the tug from in front” in pursuit of, and then into the development of, the new knowledge and contributions.

The result is often the development of new knowledge and skills and development of new career paths, not only for the individuals, but also for the world at large. Graves (1974) noted that these individuals would value learning and would pursue knowledge in their own way, often without following traditional paths. This is frequently what the co-researchers did. Beck and Cowan (1996) noted that Yellow “is open to learning at any time and from any source” (p. 279). While all of the co-researchers expressed this mode of learning, some also described the development of new understandings in ways that reflect a connection with fields of energy and a macro view. Beck and Cowan (1996) described this as “seeing-everything-at-once before doing anything specific . . .” (p. 289). The result is a means of viewing organically the whole of a system or systems to gain and create new understanding and learning. Boucouvalas (1993), in a review of literature on consciousness and learning, observed, “A wide range of ‘awarenesses’ is available to humanity and that changes can be experienced and movement made among levels, states and structures of consciousnesses” (p. 59). Grof (1993) saw this understanding of consciousness as the “expressions and reflections of a cosmic intelligence that permeates the entire universe and all of existence” (p. 18). According to Grof, the human consciousness expands beyond the physical to “fields of consciousness without limits, transcending time, space, matter, and linear causality” (p. 18).

The co-researchers appear to have followed this pattern of learning throughout their movement through transcendence. These ways of knowing or learning appear to have become embedded within these individuals’ learning processes. According to Boucouvalas (1993), futurists have suggested that this type of evolution of consciousness changes the very structures of the brain, and she emphasized that the “progressive movement toward an expanded, more developed sense of self in both its autonomous and homonomous dimensions . . .” (p. 62) presents a permanent shift in the evolution of consciousness of the individual. This is entirely consistent with the basic foundational tenets of Graves’s (1970, 1974) work. His groundbreaking research indicated that human emergence is dependent upon the development of the biological, psychological, and social structures of the individual. Included in the psychological is the development of human consciousness. Beck (2003) referred to the holistic development as the “all levels, all quadrants” understanding of human development. The findings of this study support these tenets.

Boucouvalas (1993) reminded that transpersonal psychology’s theories of development also embrace this perspective of “progressive unfolding of the human experience [that] entails movement toward more complexity, greater awareness, and less egocentric” (p. 62) ways of being in the world. The transpersonal models are consistent with Graves (1970, 1974) and Beck (1999, 2000, 2001, 2003; Beck and Cowan 1996), whether one views the hierarchical concepts of Wilber (1999) or the depth psychology approach of Washburn (1990, 2003). The findings in this study were consistent with this literature.

The broad range of learning through unconventional means and the expansion of consciousness of these individuals appear related to, though perhaps not directly, the expansion of the transpersonal field into other disciplines. As these co-researchers have greatly increased the breadth and depth of their skills and knowledge and used these in integrated, often new, and untried ways, the concepts of the field of transpersonal psychology have been expanding into disciplines often previously unrelated to the transpersonal (Boucouvalas, 1999).

Boucouvalas (1999) noted that contributions from other fields as diverse as religions (including Eastern philosophies and religion), physics, other fields of science, philosophy, and indigenous teachings of many cultures have served the development of the transpersonal movement. These are some of the same fields that the co-researchers explored for developing new learning and skills. Boucouvalas (1999) reviewed the movement of the transpersonal development into areas such as ecology, arts and performance, ethics, sociology, and anthropology. It is interesting to note that the expansion of the co-researchers’ consciousness has included many of these fields now expanding with the infusion of a transpersonal approach. Though no evidence links these developments, there appears to be a correlation between the development of individual consciousness and the expanding consciousness of the varied disciplines.

Transformation of self into Self Consciousness

Creative expression fosters a unique environment that provides individuals considered transcendent with the means to reflect deeply, connecting beyond the limited sense of self. Though these individuals are highly competent, their connection to creative expression as a form of reflective practice appears to draw all aspects of their transcendent nature into being. Others, operating from non-transcendent levels (first tier in SDi terms) without a clear concept of transcendence, may assume that the transcendent individual’s high level of cognition and competence are the factors that foster both the creative expression and the individual’s deep reflection. Boucouvalas (2000) reminded that the transpersonal Self (transcendence) is not simply about cognitive development: that the “perception of unity and interconnectedness is not just a cognitive understanding” (p. 210). Transcendent individuals embody cognition into a holistic Self.

Each co-researcher has developed multiple forms of creative practice. On many occasions, immersing self in the practice leads to flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) and the development of new ideas and knowledge often unrelated to the creative expression, but often related to the individual’s work. Csikszentmihalyi (1996), in research on creativity, recognized that “creative people are neither single-minded, specialized, not selfish. Indeed, they seem to be the opposite: They love to make connections with adjacent areas of knowledge” (p. 10). A hallmark of the individuals in this study is the high level of creativity and ongoing forms of creative expressions they practice in their lives.

Schön (1983) advocated the use of reflective practice for professionals as counter to the positivist approach that dominated professional fields for years. Schön developed a process of “reflection-in-action” as a means of using tacit knowledge to correct “overlearning.” His work focused on teaching reflection around the “experiences of a specialized practice, and . . . make new sense of the situations of uncertainty or uniqueness . . .” (p. 61) of the professional experience. Schön’s use of reflective practice is far more limited than the reflective practice experienced by these individuals. However, the deep reflection through creative expression that creates new learning and new ways of understanding does appear consistent with the work of Mezirow. Mezirow (1991) noted that there are several avenues to learning, but he called that avenue which creates a shift in perception and ways of looking at the world perspective transformation. Perspective transformation, according to Mezirow, only occurs with deep reflection that leads to a re-structuring of meaning. The deep reflection processes, including the use of creative expression, that are practiced by individuals considered transcendent reflect the same process Mezirow outlined.

Boucouvalas (1997) noted that others in the field of adult learning, in addition to Mezirow (1991), share concepts of the role of reflection in the creation of knowing and meaning. Freire (1993) referred to this process as conscientization, where self-reflection, dialogue with others, and action toward change are key components of the transformation process. Boyd and Myers (1988), according to Boucouvalas, considered transformative learning as an avenue to the expansion of consciousness that focuses on the individual’s journey inward to go beyond the ego and to transform into a holistic self. Boyd and Myers’ expression of transformative learning resonates deeply with not only the deep reflection practiced by transcendent individuals, but also with the mode of learning they have developed. Boucouvalas noted that the psycho-spiritual worldview lens they share differs from the cognitive perspective taken by Freire and Mezirow. Daloz’s (1986) perspective, described in Boucouvalas, appears to be more congruent with Boyd and Myers, in that he viewed adult learning as a catalytic process, with the focus on a structural coupling or “consciousness of connectedness.” The deep connection to consciousness is a concept that appears multiple times in the lives of transcendent adults and is not limited only to their use of creative practice as a vehicle to deep reflection.

For the co-researchers, creative expression often serves as a pathway into transcendent levels of being. Creative practice was often identified as an avenue to the development of a greater transpersonal or transcendent understanding of the world, a means to escape the conscious self and “perceive the unity and interconnectedness of all things” (AB, co-researcher). This created an environment to explore multiple realms of learning and knowing and the creation of new understandings. Bohm (1985) referred to this as the “folding and enfolding” of meaning. For the co-researchers, using creative expression as a means of reflection was more closely related to the meditation practices of many different spiritual practices. There was an acknowledgement of a connection with the transcendent, even when the process of creative practice was shared with one or more other individuals.

Creativity is not exclusive to transcendent individuals. Individuals at each level of development may experience and express creativity in different ways. Harmon and Rheingold (1984) described creativity as a “greater spectrum [that] ranges from mundane acts of habit and memory to miraculous instances of revelation and prophecy” (p. 1). Certainly the co-researchers all expressed this range of creativity, yet creative expression as an avenue for reflective practice has often opened these individuals to “breakthough experiences” (Harmon & Rheingold, p. 1).

According to Boucouvalas (2000), “these practices hone one’s capacity for ‘inner knowing’” (p. 213) or the development of an embodied mind. Transpersonal creativity impacts not only the creator, but also possibly others who experience the end result (Boucouvalas). Many of the “products” of the co-researchers have transformed medicine, learning, ecology, and business practice. The lived experiences of the co-researchers have opened up and illuminated the impact that creativity has on transcendent individuals. And they have provided a glimpse of the impact that individuals considered transcendent might make, through reflection and creative expression, on the lives of others along the spectrum.


A deep connection to spirit infuses all aspects of the lives of transcendent individuals. This connection is universal, or transcendent. This deep connection to spirit has been expressed universally by the co-researchers as “one mind,” “oneness with everything,” or “One Mind.” The concept of duality becomes meaningless in the lives of these individuals. The experience of “no separation,” or one mind, shared by the co-researchers was aptly expressed by Boucouvalas (2000), who referred to Angyal’s (1941) concept of homonomy—the connection of the individual beyond self.

It is possible to trace the trajectory through developmental levels in SDi theory. Boucouvalas (2000) noted the trajectory “begins with the family, extends out to the ‘group(s)’ to which one belongs, to one’s culture, then moves toward an identity as a planetary citizen, and into the numinous” (p. 213). As these co-researchers moved through emergence to deeper levels of complexity, their personal understanding deepened. The sense of self as an isolated or independent being developed into an understanding of self as fully enmeshed in a holistic universe, much like what Grof (1993) proposed.

However, though the development of a deep connection to spirit appears to follow the SDi development trajectory, the co-researchers often referred to a deep connection with the numinous that seemed to call for more than simply labeling this as a developmental “given.” Each co-researcher expressed a sense that much is ineffable about this deep connection to spirit, an understanding that this connection also includes an acceptance of the unknown that is simply a part of the whole of their experiences. This merging of the clear steps or changes in the expression of spirituality observable in the first-tier levels of Spiral Dynamics integral and a deep turning and returning to spirit seems to reflect the view of Washburn (2003) that there may be a complementary path to development. It may be especially true that development is a complementary blend of hierarchical development (as proposed by Wilber’s “ladder to oneness” [1999]) and the depth or “spiral to integration” theory represented by Washburn (1990, 2003) and others when considering the deep connection to spirit of these individuals.

Perhaps this is what Beck and Cowan (1996) projected when they noted that in transcendence—particularly in Turquoise—individuals would discover “a new version of spirituality” (p. 291). In sharing this experience, one co-researcher noted that once one understands that “we are connected to one mind . . . [the individual gets] to a place where . . . the physical, emotional and the spiritual . . . are no longer separated . . . beyond that is total understanding . . . which leads . . . into the oneness of being and no separation.”

Also included, as an extension of the co-researchers’ deep connection to spirit, is the generosity of spirit with which they extend themselves. This generosity of spirit permeated the research process, including the support the co-researchers provided for the process. This appears to be natural for these transcendent individuals. If there is no separation, there is a natural flow to this generosity of spirit. This generosity of spirit is aptly expressed in one co-researcher’s experience and expression of his own deep connection to spirit. He noted that at the point of no separation, there is no altruism. If an individual is rooted in transcendence, what benefits self benefits all through the trajectory into the numinous.

In the interest of furthering one’s attunement to “ transpersonal voices,” Boucouvalas (2000) suggested two prerequisite conditions: an individual’s “receptive awareness” and “inner silence.” She noted that both must be practiced over time. Note that these are simply prerequisites that are practiced as part of a transpersonal way of connection with creativity and the spirituality. All of the co-researchers have been deeply engaged in these practices for lengthy periods of time. The result is a shift in consciousness that moves one to a deepening and quickening connection that has moved these co-researchers beyond self to Self.


A deeper understanding, and I believe a more complete definition, of transcendence becomes possible based upon this research. Transcendence, or a transcendent individual, is emergence into a whole and enlightened selfless being. The integrated wholeness of self into Self lives in a permanent nondual state. Such an individual continues developing greater complexity through an emergent nature, with an appreciation and valuing of the wholeness of all life.

Impact of the Conclusions on the Study Constructs

The framework for this study is based upon two key constructs. One construct is adult development theory, specifically Spiral Dynamics integral (SDi) theory’s second-tier levels of development, referred to in this study as transcendence. The second construct is meaning, and more specifically, meaning in work. The conclusions of the study often connect the two constructs. Some conclusions, however, may be clearer when directly related to one of the two constructs.

This study sought to contribute to adult development theory by providing deeper insights into the significant experiences of individuals at this particular level of development. Spiral Dynamics integral theory (SDi), as originally proposed by Graves (1970, 1974), is a theory that acknowledges that human development does not have an end point, from an individual or humankind perspective. Rather, further growth and development may occur as an individual or a culture reaches a point when life’s challenges can no longer be successfully addressed with current solutions. Based on whether the biological, psychological, and social systems are prepared, and the individual has remained open to change, continual emergence is possible. According to Spiral Dynamics integral theory, two levels, Yellow and Turquoise, have currently been identified as emerged into transcendence (though at very small percentages of the world’s current population), with suggestions that another level is beginning to show signs of emergence.

This study also contributes to the deeper understanding of some of the earlier research and hypotheses of how development within this development would emerge. Graves (1970) predicted, for example, that “man has resolved the basic human fears” (p. 153) at this level of being, which is indeed one of the major findings. He also noted that individuals at this level would be able to value and face existence “in all its dimensions, both those which seem to be known and those which are unexplained, even to the point of valuing inconsistencies” (p. 153). In this study, this recognition was expanded to a deeper understanding of the interdependence and unity with all life and a deeper emergence into an intuitive existence where, according to Graves, ways of knowing emerge from “vast realms of consciousness still undreamed of, vast ranges of experience like the humming of unseen harps we know nothing of within us” (p. 155). According to Maslow (1968), as summarized by Graves, at this level the individual values “awe . . . humility, fusion, integration, unity . . . the poetic perception of reality . . . enlarging consciousness, the ineffable experience” (Graves, 1970, p. 155). Beck and Cowan (1996) furthered the descriptions developed by Graves with finer details as these levels of transcendence have emerged. Beck (2000, 2001, 2003) contributed several concepts that have rung true in several of these research themes. Cook-Greuter (1999, 2000) expressed some resonating concepts in her work. These findings are also consistent with concepts presented in transpersonal psychology, summarized and clarified by Boucouvalas (1980, 1983, 1991, 1993, 1997, 2000). However, a number of new discoveries were made that have not been previously reported or theorized but that contribute to knowledge of the theory and of what is meaningful in work for individuals considered transcendent. They are discussed in the conclusions and include recommendations for further research.

This study did not differentiate whether a co-researcher was primarily rooted in Yellow or Turquoise. This served the study well for several reasons. Key concepts of SDi hold that, as individuals develop or emerge, previous levels of development become nested and remain within the individual, and that flow along nested levels of development may also occur. A subtext of this suggests that individuals may develop at a different pace in different focuses or areas of their lives. By not differentiating between individuals, it was possible to “observe” the emergence of the individuals via their lived experiences as they progressed through their lives. It also allowed a glimpse into the flow of current lived experiences that might have moved individuals into and through transcendence. By not differentiating, the researcher could observe the flows without any preset expectations, but rather share in the lived experiences as they were offered.

What constitutes the “momentous leap”? This was one of the key mysteries, and perhaps the greatest, that Graves was unable to resolve in his research. This present study supports Spiral Dynamics integral theory conditions for emergence initially outlined by Graves (1970, 1974) and Beck and Cowan (1996). However, a key contribution of this study may be the identification of additional parameters of those conditions. Several parameters that appear to only exist in the “momentous leap” into transcendent (SDi second tier) include the move into conscious awareness of these conditions required for emergence, as the co-researchers emerge into greater complexity. Graves and Beck and Cowan have shown that critical life events, sometimes traumatic, must occur in an individual’s life in order for him or her to emerge to more complex developmental levels. This study indicates that an accumulation of smaller, less traumatic critical life events may also foster emergence into greater levels of complexity for some individuals. The ability to bring these conditions to consciousness on the part of individuals as they emerge into transcendence is a new and potentially significant finding of this study.

The presence of the psychologically healthy constructs of resilience and hardiness in individuals as they continue to emerge into deeper levels of complexity had not been identified prior to this study. The findings may also lead to new understandings of levels of transcendence. Masten (2001) noted that hardiness and resilience is common, but the ability to face continual, often traumatic life events and maintain resilience and hardiness may be a key component in the individual’s ability to continually emerge, including in the individual’s ability to make the “momentous leap” into transcendence.

The development of a metasystemic approach to life, as one moves into transcendence (Yellow in second tier of SDi), offers a framework for understanding the integration, complexity, and development of individuals in transcendence. This study also offers further awareness of the shift of individuals from the first level of transcendence (Yellow) into the greater complexity of transcendence (Turquoise). Again, the ability to emerge into transcendence may depend upon the individual’s ability to assimilate and integrate skills that move one to a metasystemic approach to life.

As individuals continue to emerge into greater complexity, their center of gravity expands and becomes rooted in a greater universal whole that meshes the internal with external and the individual with collective. This appears to reflect Beck’s (1999) cultural expansion of development into a MeshWORKS system. The means required for emergence into these levels of greater complexity include the expansion of a broad constellation of skills and knowledge (including knowing that is not simply cognitive development, but includes other numinous ways of knowing). Early observations of individuals in transcendent levels of development suggested some of these findings. However, this study may be one of the first to confirm Graves’s (1970, 1974) and Beck’s (1999, 2000, 2001, 2003) early hypotheses and findings.

The fundamental findings of this study strongly support the idea that meaning in work is deeply connected to meaning in life for individuals considered transcendent. So deep is this correlation to the way these individuals live their lives that they will leave an organization, even when it is one they have founded or to which they have made significant contributions, if the workplace no longer offers the freedom to completely integrate meaning in work with the individual’s meaning in life. For example, one co-researcher left the highly successful medical practice he had founded with others when his own development into more integrated and non-dual practice and understanding transcended the medical practice. This occurred even though he had successfully integrated many of these processes into the practice itself. Others left organizations, usually to begin their own, when they recognized there was no longer the ability to integrate work into their own metasystemic approach. Often organizations have not adapted, or emerged, as these individuals have. The individuals frequently stayed with an organization for as long as possible, often implementing significantly beneficial changes. Yet they eventually reached a point where, in order to live fully integrated lives, they felt they had to leave. The three co-researchers in the study who are still in an organization have considerable control over the environment, the authority and freedom to move the organization into greater alignment with their own way of being and implementing significant change.

Understanding that, for these individuals, there is no separation of meaning in life from meaning in work offers insight into what changes the concept of meaning may undergo as individuals develop into greater complexity. It also suggests a shift in the entire nature and environment of what may be considered work at these levels of development. The use of and need for creative expression as reflective practice (practice often used to create new integrated or holistic meaning for these individuals) is often not supported by standard work environments.

This study expanded the concept of “meaning” and contributed a deeper awareness of what is meaningful in work for individuals rooted at the transcendent level of development. The evolution of meaning in work emerged throughout the sharing of co-researchers’ lived experiences. The descriptions of “meaning” presented by the co-researchers enhance the understanding and concepts of meaning presented at the beginning of this study. And the lived experiences and summaries of meaning in work open new understandings of meaning and meaning in work for individuals in transcendent levels of development.

A resonant pattern exists within the co-researchers’ definitions of meaning that is consistent with Bohm’s (1985) implicate order. In Bohm’s definition of meaning, a dynamic pull exists similar to the pull of magnetic poles. As the relationship between these poles shifts, that which falls between—meaning and wholeness—are folded and enfolded into deepening levels of meaning, understanding and wholeness.

Csikszentmihalyi (1990), through his work on “flow,” stated that understanding flow leads to understanding meaning. According to Csikszentmihalyi, individuals who have found goals that provide significant challenges create purpose and resolution that lead to meaningful lives. For transcendent individuals, this may be a partial, or incomplete, truth. The setting and fulfillment of goals seems less important than that they have a sense of relevance and the idea that one’s work makes a difference to the universal whole. Meaning in work is part of an overall calling in life, following the “tug from in front.” For transcendent individuals, flow does occur in connection, not with the egoic self but deeply with the holonic universe, guided by (as identified in non-linear dynamics and chaos theory) the “strange attractor” (Gleick, 1987), or the force. This force, or calling, is what creates meaning in work/life for transcendent individuals. When the individual sees no separation between self and the universe and has a MeshWORKS perspective, this strange attractor guides the individual in work that serves the whole.

The Impact of Clare Graves

Graves’s impact on this research and researcher may appear quite obvious to the reader. In truth, however, the impact of Graves and his theory is deeper and more subtle than may be expected. In Chapter 3 I shared the “eureka” moment(s) of learning his theory while his student more than three decades before this research. Many students learn theories and then use those theories as a foundation for research, including dissertation research. However, we may not live them, and they do not necessarily become a part of us—they are convenient tools for conducting a project, and when the research is over, we abandon them to the scrap pile or filed them away until convenient for another project.

Years ago, I liked to say that I “carried Graves’s theory in my hip pocket” to use to understand people and events. (In reality, I did carry around one of his articles in my back jeans pocket to share with anyone else who might be willing to listen.) In the early days of my being exposed to Graves’s theory, it served as a magnifying glass. It helped that I had access to Dr. Graves that other students had but didn’t use. I could go to his office and ask questions (which I did) or catch him in the hallways where I worked in the Psychology department. We shared a love of animals, and the only dog he allowed in his classrooms was my beloved, Dutch. Those encounters enriched my understanding of this theory and Graves.

I don’t recall exactly when I stopped saying that I carried the theory in my hip pocket, but I now know it must have been at the same time it was no longer a theory and was embedded into my way of knowing and living in the world. I used the theory while designing a training program for disabled adults when I was still a student at Union. One day I stopped by Graves’s office to chat with him about the program and the challenges I faced, primarily from the “professional staff” of the different organizations served by my self-owned and operated non-profit. As we chatted about the clients and staff, I realized I was seeing the varying individuals and social groups through the lens of Graves’s theory. It was no longer simply a theory to be used and then tucked away. It was my way of living in the world.

When I joined the college as an administrator two years after starting and running the program, I attended a faculty/administrator lunch to introduce new faculty and administrators. Dr. Graves came directly to me after the luncheon. I began to address him as “Dr. Graves” and he stopped me. “It’s Clare now, Teri [a family nickname].” We chatted about the program (which I had left running in capable hands.). He said, “I knew you would leave.” I cannot remember his next words, but recall feeling “filled” by them. And then he admonished me with “And don’t stay here too long either.” I promised I would not. I left my position with Union after a year, knowing I needed to add more and varied experiences.

I didn’t see Graves again. But by then, his theory was no longer a theory, but a way of life that shaped my values and beliefs. As a part of the epoche process for this research, I reflected on my life experiences and was able to see the living theory that it is, including its impact in my life. Two anecdotes that exemplify this. During my eldest daughter’s tough teen years, she challenged me on almost everything I might say. Yet she and I would often discuss and try to figure out her friends. I would often challenge her to see them where they are “rooted” and suggested it would be easier to understand and value them. After a while, she asked me how I knew such things. I realized that Graves was no longer residing in my hip pocket, but embedded in spirit. My daughter began to read, study, and gain her own understanding using the theory.

My own understanding of the theory, now known as Spiral Dynamics integral (SDi), has been greatly enhanced by contacting and connecting with Don Beck, the source of the second anecdote. Our first e-mails and phone conversations had more to do with our loving reminiscences of Clare Graves than of the theory itself. In furthering my understanding of the new knowledge that Beck has brought to the theory, I’ve attended a number of SDi programs and events. Beck used to introduce me as one of Graves’s “original students.” The second anecdote is really a composite of the same question applied by many individuals at these events. Other than sharing Graves stories, I’m often asked, “How do you use the theory with clients?” I initially stumbled over this question, and individuals would follow up with questions about teaching my clients the theory. I could only talk about how I could understand, almost intuitively, what was going on in an organization and where individuals who were “rooted” in different levels of the SDi theory had trouble either understanding and working with others, or with the culture of the organization. It was then that I realized that the questioners were still “borrowing” the theory to apply as a template; they were still separate from the theory. Beck has said that some people “get it” and some don’t when talking about the complexities of the theory. I think this relates to whether the theory is embedded (whether formally taught or not) in others, as it is in me. It is an organic, holistic theory.

These anecdotes are probably what helped me to realize that I needed an epoche process for the theory itself prior to conducting any research. Perhaps understanding the subtle impact of Clare Graves and this theory on my life and worldview comes with the passage of time. Learning the theory hit me with tremendous and obvious impact. The fact that I use it every single day in ways known and unknown, more than three decades later, speaks to the subtle embeddedness of the theory. And the fact that hearing an audiorecording of Graves in dialogue on the theory can bring tears of gratitude more than 30 years after sitting in his classroom or office speaks to the power of the person of Clare Graves in my life.

Recommendations for the Human Resources Field

Individuals considered transcendent are highly competent and in many respects are an organization’s or leader’s dream. If they are given the freedom and tools they need to work, both the organization and individual will benefit. The key words for the field to enhance individual and organizational benefits include: autonomy, freedom, flexibility, adaptability, access, followership (by management), and “acceptance management” (coined by Graves, 1974).

Individuals considered transcendent require little direction, and in fact they need a high level of autonomy. They tend to resist being overmanaged and prefer the freedom to operate within the parameters they set. If given the freedom and autonomy to develop a project, process, or team as they envision, the end result may be unexpected and may pioneer new practices.

A high level of flexibility, including the ability to work outside of “channels” and hierarchical strata, provides the space for the creative process that is essential for these individuals to function. Individuals considered transcendent function well in what others consider chaos. They seem to draw the “strange attractor” that creates new concepts and ideas from what may seem to others to be a high level of disorganization. Providing these individuals with access to the resources they need without roadblocks allows the processes to move forward. Since these individuals often seek unconventional methods of gaining knowledge, limiting access to resources can not only frustrate but also may stop processes working to create a highly effective solution to an organization’s toughest challenge. Individuals considered transcendent find the “experts” they need from multiple sources, including individuals and avenues not traditionally considered in organizations.

These individuals have the capacity not only to glean new knowledge from a divergent population but also to “speak the language” in a wide variety of competencies and levels of understanding. If they are interested, they can be exceptionally gifted at bringing together a widely diverse group of individuals, either for a successful project or as a leader in their own right. The key for organizational leaders is to practice good “followership,” avoiding domination or demanding a path that may be too limited for these individuals. Allow the individuals to be used in and to their best advantages. This also includes the concept of “acceptance management” (Graves, 1974), which accepts the varied, often non-linear processes these individuals develop to offer significant contributions to the organization.

Graves (1974) noted that it would not be uncommon for these individuals to be found at the highest levels of leadership. When given the freedom to work within their own concepts, practices, and processes, they have the capability to transform an organization. Graves projected that individuals at the first level of transcendence, Yellow, wiill leave an organization if their ways of working are consistently thwarted. He suggested that these individuals would first resist coercion to follow practices that do not work by continuing to work in their own way under the radar. He also noted that, especially for individuals rooted at the Turquoise level of development, if they are not given the freedom and flexibility to work in their own best practices approach, their work will decline. Rather than be extraordinary, it would fall to the level of mediocrity. This was not expressed in this study, perhaps because these transcendent individuals either continued to move up and gain greater control of practices in organizations or left to found their own organization.

It should be noted that many organizations are not structured to allow a high level of flexibility for employees. In my own consulting practice, organizational leaders often resist opening up the organization to these new practices, even when it is only recommended for a few individuals. Those organizations with the openness to embrace such practices experience the mutual benefit the changes bring. For those that cannot, the end result is the loss of valuable employees. In the best-case scenario, these employees return as independent consultants with the freedom to establish their own work practices and create contracts with their former employers to work in this function. However, a few leave to create new businesses that eventually compete with their former employers. The success for these recommendations to the field will probably rest with the organization’s ability to embrace these concepts and practices that enable transcendent individuals to provide great value.

Recommendations for Future Research

This study, through the deep insight provided by the co-researchers, adds to the limited body of research on how individuals in transcendence create or experience meaning in their lives and work. The research also contributes to the greater understanding of individuals at the transcendent level of adult development. The small number of participants limits the interpretation of results of the study, so the findings of the study cannot be widely generalized. Despite this limitation, the phenomenological method does seem the most appropriate methodology, especially since the intent of the study was to go as deeply into understanding of the individuals’ lived experiences as was possible.

The results of the study tend to support the hypotheses developed by Graves (1970) and furthered in work by Beck and Cowan (1996), as well as the more recent work by Beck (2000, 2002, 2003). This research also supported work in the field of transpersonal research, which seeks to develop greater understanding of the transpersonal and transcendent, summarized by Boucouvalas (1980, 1993, 2000). It would, however, be very interesting to study whether the movement towards a transpersonal approach, or understanding, in previously unrelated fields (Boucouvalas, 1999) is a mirror of the emergence of a larger population of transcendent individuals, or if transcendent individuals are leading the move to embrace the transpersonal movement across multiple disciplines. Either or both of these possibilities exist, especially when one considers the wide constellation of skills and deep breadth of knowledge across multiple disciplines the co-researchers in this study displayed.

Despite the small number of participants (which also reflects the small population of adults at a transcendent level of development), there was surprising consistency within the group. The major themes presented were expressed by all of the co-researchers. In fact, the data were so strong that minor themes were not developed. However, the development of additional major or minor themes should be undertaken in future research. The major themes should be explored further to learn if they are consistent with additional individuals at the transcendent levels of development, and to look further for differences between the presently emerged levels of transcendence (Yellow and Turquoise, in SDi terms).

The development of a metasystemic approach to being seems to be a critical factor in the emergence of transcendence. It was a key theme, strongly displayed by all co-researchers. But is the development of a metasystemic approach a critical factor in emerging into transcendence, or does it only occur once an individual is rooted in transcendence? Further research is required. A variation of the metasystemic theme should be explored further to determine if it is truly a sub-theme or an emerging theme in its own right. This variation is that of the “self enmeshed in a holistic, organic universe perspective,” which was presented in this study as a sub-theme to the “metasystemic approach.” Not all of the co-researchers consistently expressed this theme, though each expressed the concept during the research process. However, my suspicion is that this is in itself a major theme that calls for further exploration.

These findings suggest that as individuals emerge towards a transcendent level of development, openness to change becomes a more conscious choice. In less complex levels of development, the early lived experiences of the co-researchers—for example, openness to change—are more subconscious. Further research might illuminate whether change is always conscious, or whether it is simply a deeper, organic awareness, for individuals at transcendent levels of development. In addition, given the connection to the holonic universe, are conscious choices towards openness always desirable? Further research could help determine whether this is truly a trait of transcendent individuals, or a “blip” only seen in this particular study.

Another finding that needs further research is the impact of early life experiences. Differences in the early lives of the co-researchers may indicate that early childhood experiences, when paired with openness, provide opportunities for early shifts or change. However, the overall impact appears to be minimal. This may call for further study. There were also differences in individuals’ movement through change, in either a more “revolutionary” or “evolutionary” pattern. Some of the co-researchers appeared more comfortable in evolutionary change. However, there is not enough evidence to speculate on this. This is related to another observation that critical life events that foster emergence may occur as major events, or a series of smaller critical life events. Both have shown, in this study, to lead to emergence.

Graves (1970, 1974) hypothesized that fear would diminish and eventually vanish as individuals emerge through transcendence. This was consistent with the lived experience of all the co-researchers, which hints that the falling-away of fear may be a critical difference (a factor in the “momentous leap”) in the emergence into a transcendent level of development. This is a question ripe for additional research. And is this why, when faced with survival-level living conditions, individuals who emerge into a transcendent level of development seem to remain anchored in transcendence and do not appear to regress into survival mode?

Graves (1970) and Beck and Cowan (1996) recognized that, even as an individual emerges into more complex levels of development, the earlier levels of development are “nested.” This allows retention of previous understandings and solutions and provides freedom for an individual to move up and down developmental levels into which they have previously emerged. In this study, although clear distinctions appeared between the two levels of transcendence (Yellow and Turquoise), there appears to be more flow between these two levels. It is not clear whether this flow between levels indicates a softening of the boundaries between the levels in transcendence or simply indicates emergence into the second level (Turquoise) from the first (Yellow). This clearly calls for further study.

Graves (1974) noted that individuals in transcendence are highly competent and offer tremendous opportunities for growth and success in organizations. Individuals at both Yellow and Turquoise levels of transcendence require high levels of autonomy and access to learning, as well as the freedom to adapt their environments. When they are no longer able to exercise these critical environmental factors, they leave, as was evidenced in this study. Far more exploration needs to be done into workplaces that may be more conducive habitats for transcendent individuals. Perhaps leaving an environment that is not conducive creates critical life events that foster emergence. These concepts should be explored further. There also appear to be differences between individuals at the two levels of transcendence with regard to the ability to work within the confines of an organization. This should also be examined more closely, as a deeper understanding of meaning in work is warranted.

The concept of a trajectory of creativity as suggested by Harmon and Rheingold (1984) suggests a viable means of further examining the development of creativity and spirituality along developmental lines. This examination may be useful in a further exploration of creativity and spirituality in transcendence. However, this research strongly shows that the separating of critical components of life in transcendence is problematic, since the integration is so complete at this level. Nevertheless, further research is recommended here.


This study provided new insight into the development and understanding of individuals considered to be transcendent. In addition, the co-researchers offered valuable information on the nature of meaning in work (and meaning in general) in their lives. The findings appear to be deep and significant. However, the findings present more questions than answers. This study offered important findings and, as an exploratory study, provided support and guidelines for important research that calls for exploring this level of development more deeply. While the research supported the theories of Graves, Beck, and the transpersonal approach, it also uncovered some traits that have not yet been identified or explored. These call out for further inquiry, discovery, and the uncovering of new knowledge.



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Informed Consent Form

Investigator:    Laura Frey Horn

Telephone Number: (540) 554.2805

Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Neal Chalofsky

Telephone Number:     (202) 994.7188


You are invited to take part in a research study. Before you decide to be a part of this study, you need to understand the risks and benefits. This consent form provides information about the research study. A staff member of the research study will be able to answer your questions and provide further explanations. If you agree to take part in the research study, you will be asked to sign this consent form. This process is known as informed consent.

Your decision to take part in the study is voluntary. You are free to choose whether or not you will take part in the study.

II.        PURPOSE

As a doctoral candidate in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at The George Washington University, I am carrying out a research study to learn how adults considered to be transcendent create or experience meaning in their work. The faculty sponsor of this study is Dr. Neal Chalofsky.


The research will be conducted at sites convenient to the participants and researcher. You will be asked questions that relate to your work and the integration of your work into your life. You may also be asked general background questions about your work and life to provide greater understanding and perspective that will inform the researcher and study. Your answers will be audio-recorded, and with your consent videorecorded, to ensure accuracy in transcription of responses. (Videorecording allows the researcher to capture the participant’s expressions during the interview process.) Identifiable information will not be collected or reported. The total amount of your time for each interview will be about 90 minutes.

If necessary, a follow up interview may be scheduled to verify the trustworthiness of the transcripted materials. A follow up interview may be as long as 90 minutes. It will provide the opportunity for the researcher and co-researcher to verify the information gathered in the first interview. It will also allow the co-researcher the opportunity to add additional information and insights. These interviews will also be audio-recorded, and with your permission, videorecorded. As with the initial interview, no identifiable information will not be collected or reported.


To the best of our knowledge, the things you will be doing will have no more risk of harm than you would experience in everyday life.


You will not get any personal benefits from taking part in this study.

VI.       COSTS

There are no costs associated with taking part in this study.


You will not receive compensation for participating in this study.


Your participation in this research study is voluntary. You may decide not to begin or to stop this study at any time. You will be told of any new information about the research study that may cause you to change your mind about participation.


Your records will be confidential. You will not be identified (e.g., name, social security number) in any reports or publications of this study. Your research records may be provided to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, and/or authorized representatives of The George Washington University Office of Human Research and/or Committee on Human Research. Except for these entities, research records will be kept confidential unless you authorize their release, or the records are required to be released by law (i.e., court subpoena).


If you have questions about the procedures of this research study, please contact Laura Frey Horn by telephoning (540)554.2805 during the workday. If you have questions about the informed consent process or any other rights as a research participant, please contact the Assistant Vice President for Health Research, Compliance and Technology Transfer at (202) 994.2995. This is your representative.


By signing this consent form, you affirm that you have read this informed consent form, the study has been explained to you, your questions have been answered, and you agree to take part in this study. You do not give up any of your legal rights by signing this informed consent form. You will receive a copy of this consent form.


Participant (Print Name)






I certify that the research study has been explained to the above individual by me or my research staff including the purpose, the procedures, the possible risks and the potential benefits associated with the participation in this research study. Any questions raised have been answered to the individual’s satisfaction.


Investigator, Laura Frey Horn






Interview Protocol

Before the interview process begins, each participant will read and sign a consent form agreeing to be interviewed. Each participant will be told the purpose of the study, which is to explore and gain deeper understanding of how individuals operating from (Spiral Dynamics Integral) second tier levels of complex thinking create or experience meaning in their work and lives.

Participants will then be informed of the interview format, which will include the use of open-ended questions. Clarifying questions will be added as needed. A single interview will be conducted with each participant and should last about 90 minutes. Interviews will be audio and/or videotaped.

Interview Questions will include (but not be confined to):

·                     1.         Please share a brief history of your life, including your work. How might you describe yourself in regards to your work, family, relationships, and social, spiritual, creative connections?

·                     2.         How have you come to choose your work, or how has your work chosen you?

·                     3.         What are some of the impacts you’ve experienced from your work on your life? Of your life on your work?

·                     4.         What drives your work? What impact does your own personal thought process have on both your individual growth? And the growth of significant others around you?

·                     5.         What influences have significant others in your life had on your work? On your life?

·                     6.         What effect do you think your cultural beliefs and habits, the way you were raised and the social group you grew up in have on your work? On your life in general?

·                     7.         Have events of your life, including those in your work experience, impacted your beliefs, habits or what you feel about work, relationships and life in general?

·                     8.         What outside influences, such as politics, environment, legal, artistic or social factors have had a significant effect on your work? On your life?

·                     9.         How have you changed, adapted or grown (or not) through your work? Through other life experiences? Will any of these changes impact enough to change the course of your work? Your life?

·                     10.       What impact has your family had on your work? Your life? What influences have you had on the work and lives of others?

·                     11.       How would you describe the personal impact of your work on your life? From an internal personal perspective, family perspective, community perspective and global perspective?


Protocol Summary

I.          Purpose of the study

The purpose of this study is to learn how developmentally mature (complex) adults experience or create meaning in their work. The theory used in this study is the Spiral Dynamics Integral theory of adult development.

II.        Methodology

The researcher will be interviewing adults who fit the Values Testing Profile (Spiral Dynamics Integral Instrument) protocol for 2nd tier levels of adult development, also known as transcendence. Interviews are expected to last approximately 90 minutes. The interview will take place at a location agreed upon by the researcher and participants. The researcher will attempt to schedule the interview to be as convenient to the participant as possible. The participants will be asked general and specific questions about how they create or experience meaning in their work, and its impact on their lives. Interviews will be audio taped or videotaped, then transcribed. Videorecording will serve to capture participants’ expressions during the interview process. Identifiable information will not be collected or reported during the interviews.

Spiral Dynamics Integral (SDi) is a theory of adult development that has been widely researched. SDi, first developed by Dr. Clare Graves, then furthered by Dr. Don Beck, shows that adult development is continually emerging and developing to greater levels of complexity. Individuals at 2nd tier levels of development (transcendent adults) are those at the most complex levels of development. At this time, though there is understanding of the levels, there is little understanding of the experience of meaning in work for these individuals.

III.       Study Population

Participants will be adults who have previously completed the Values Testing Profile, through Dr. Don Beck, and fit within the parameters of Spiral Dynamics Integral 2nd tier transcendent) profiles. These individuals will be given an informed consent form to sign, educating them as to the purpose of the study, what will be involved in their participation, and how their privacy and confidentiality will be ensured.

IV.       Risks That May Be Involved

The researcher hope to make the questions as interesting as possible, but some boredom may result. Other than that, no risks to the participants are involved.

V.        Uses of Data

The data will be used in completing dissertation requirements, and may be used in future publications.

VI.       Subject Recruitment

Individuals will be contacted using the Values Testing Database to supply a list of possible candidates. Potential candidates will be contacted by telephone by the researcher. If telephone contact is not possible, potential participants may be contacted by email when email addresses are available.

VII.     Justification of Sample Size

No power analysis was involved to determine sample size. Due to the small percentage of the adult population that fit the 2nd tier parameters, the potential pool for participants is limited and purposeful.

VIII.    Confidentiality and Privacy for the Subjects

All records will be stored in a locked file cabinet, only accessible to the researcher. Only aggregate data will be reported. At the conclusion of the project, all records will be destroyed. All audio and videorecordings will be stored in a locked filing cabinet and only accessible to the researcher.


Audio/Video Release Form

I hereby authorize Laura Frey Horn to use my video image and/or audio recording in her video for the project entitled, “How Adults Considered to be Transcendent Experience Meaning in Work,” in her presentation. I have indicated below the name I wish to appear with my image and or voice. I understand that by signing this form, I am releasing all recordings to her for this expressed purpose. I will not receive any compensation for this now or at any time in the future. I further certify that I am over the age of 18 years.

Name (Print)   ____________________________________________________________

Signature         ____________________________________________________________

Date    ____________________________

Please initial

Video only      _________________

Audio only      _________________

Audio and video         _________________

Name to be used with audio/video in presentation:

(Please print clearly)    ______________________________________________________

Investigator’s initials   ______________________


[1] This is not related to Spiral Dynamics integral theory, developed by Graves and Beck and supported by Wilber (1999a, 1999b).

[2] I am indebted to my friend, psychotherapist Helen Robinson, for her insight during our dialogue about the results and conclusions, including her suggestion that I consider these traits exhibited by the co-researchers.

Copyright Tom Christensen 2015