I often wondered how far I am along the path of growth and evolution.
Just when I feel I’ve got something down, another aspect of my monkey mind jumps in and attempts to throw the puzzle pieces everywhere.
As cliche as it is, the journey of spiritual growth and personal development really can seem at times like a process of bumbling in the dark as we go two steps forward, one step back, wait where are we again?
What has been helpful for me over the years is remember genuine growth takes time, and that’s part of how it works. While I may desire to be further along or to feel more accomplished, it’s actually when I accept where I am that I’m better able to chart my course with more certainty, boldness, and consideration.
One of the frameworks I often share which helps to ground where I am along my journey of evolution and understanding is something I call MAITEM.
It stands for Mindful, Acceptance, Integration, Transformation, Experience, and Mastery. I’ve found these markers to be invaluable along my path of personal development as they provide the often windy process of conscious growth clear direction and structure.
To guide the flow of this article, I’ll be using the example of someone who wants to complete a 5K marathon.
The first step along any authentic path of growth is Mindful, or being aware of what’s happening for us and our desire for something more.
Here, we begin the process of facing ourselves and seeing where we are, rather than allowing ourselves to imagine where we think we are or where we’d like to be.
In the example of our marathon runner, the Mindful step is where they would assess their level of physical range and capacity. This might mean getting a physical from their doctor, coming up with clear, important reasons why they want to participate in the activity, and deciding if success looks like winning, competing, or simply finishing.
While it’s only the first step, this is actually where many of us get stuck.
Knowing and recognizing that we may have habits or patterns that don’t serve us, isn’t enough to create change. As we can see in the example, there’s a certain amount of real-world action and engagement that is part of the step.
Acceptance shows up when we begin to speak to, engage with, and invite in all aspects of our past, current experience, desires, and all the other pallet colors that make us who we are.
Aspects of this step can include: self-love, finding compassion for our past, owning our faults, honoring of gifts and intentions, and even grieving if necessary.
For our runner, the step of Acceptance would be when they would establish some clear benchmarks. How far can they run without getting winded? How many times do they need to stop before they finish 5K? How is their overall physical fitness?
What rounds out the step of Acceptance, is when our runner looks in the mirror and, perhaps after working through the all too human desire for their starting stats to be better than they are, decides to accept where they are starting from.
This is a vital, though sometimes uncomfortable, step. Without truly accepting our starting point, it’s difficult to make any true progress with efficiency and certainty.
If we aren’t willing to accept where we are on a map, how could we ever really get to where we want to go?
Not only is it easy to get lost, but it also creates confusion as we can end up somewhere we thought was elsewhere and end up getting nowhere.
The next step, Integration, is where the rubber hits the road and we chop wood & carry water.
Here is when our runner sets the alarm, straps on their shoes in the dark of dawn, and with patient discipline, increases their capacity and distance.
This is the step where we go from mental acknowledgment, felt acceptance of where we are starting from, and move towards and through the dark nights of the soul and engage in the gritty work of integrating our shadow, gifts, light, and dark.
Unlike the Mindful and Acceptance steps, which can happen quite quickly depending on someone’s motivation and capacity for discomfort, Integration is often the longest and most unsexy part of the process.
Thankfully, we can stack the cards in our favor by infusing our activity with the passion of our vision and positive reinforcement through support structures such as therapy, coaching, or community support.
If Integration is the work, Transformation is the payoff.
This is also the step that most of us want to skip ahead to, as it’s what we envision when we first begin. While it’s essential to have a sense of goals and markers of achievement, I have found Transformation is best achieved through surprise, wonder, and gratitude.
Transformation is ultimately the result that we produce through our steady care, attention, and effort, not the direct result of what we do each day.
A farmer who forgets or neglects the tasks and nutrients his soil and seeds require will have no harvest come the season.
As our runner will find, the body’s capacity for longer runs, going at faster speeds, and their mental ability to push past discomfort all naturally increase over time, discipline, and repetition. Suddenly, they find their ability to run marathons is not only possible but has an element of fun and satisfaction, and not just effort and sweat.
Experience is often the difference between assumption and appreciation.
While it’s easy to have we want happen and be excited about it, it often takes time to truly appreciate our results, and to know with some sense of certainty that what we are doing is actually creating the result we experience and see in our lives, desired or otherwise.
Here, the ebb and flows of our daily lives, inner intentions, external uncertainty, and active engagement towards our vision and goals comes together to create a sense of play, curiosity, and aptitude.
Just as for our marathon runner, once the first goal has been achieved, we move forward towards new levels of familiarity and artful skill. As any master of arts, movement, or stillness will share, some things simply take time and repetition. Like fine wine, puerh tea, and human-beings, it is Experience that leads to something greater.
Lastly, at a distant point for most of us, lies Mastery.
Even saying the word out loud evokes an air of depth, potency, and mystery for most of us. I use the word mystery because, as with good leadership, Mastery is apparent in its existence and application.
Here, perhaps our runner not only succeeds in their 5K (using whatever metric they had decided on), but also finds through the process that healthy and active habits are integrated into their lives which increases their overall vitality. They may also discover what they were running towards was an experience of actualization as they bring in an inner, unshakable sense of mental and physical empowerment that goes far beyond the marathon.
Think about a skill, attitude, or way of being that you’d like to bring into your life and take stock of where you are with it (Mindful). Chances are, you’ll see what may be needed for the next step of growth (Acceptance). Whatever those steps may be, maybe it’s taking a course, establishing a routine, or seeking support, taking those actions is a required part of the process (Integration).
Once there has been enough time and attention, both of which are arbitrary and different for each person, we reach a summit and can begin to enjoy the fruits of our effort (Transformation). On this summit we explore, engage, and expand upon our intention through repetition and earned appreciation which allows us to embrace deeper levels of understanding and skill (Experience).
There will always be more summits to reach, and once we attain a certain level of aptitude towards what we were reaching for, this is where the fun part comes in as we get to play and dance with our new skills and attitudes (Mastery).
It’s important to note that it’s perfectly normal to have areas of our lives that we are Masters in (or at least that’s what our egos tell us!) and others where we feel like beginners.
Where do you see yourself along this progression?