DEEP MATURITY: Lecture 1: Introduction
Adam Blatner, M.D.

 (First of a six-lecture series presented at the Fall 2008 session of Senior University Georgetown, a lifelong learning program. See .
  First lecture given 9/29/08. This webpage revised 12/02/08      Click Here for Lecture 2.   Lecture 3      Lecture  4      Lecture  5      Lecture   6

Warming-Up: Psychological Literacy

Ten and a half years ago I began to give talks about how you can use psychology in a practical way. My point was that just as people needed to move from illiteracy to literacy—that is, not knowing how to read and write to knowing that skill—, so also in this era we need to move from not knowing the skills of self-awareness, communications and interpersonal problem solving to a time when such skills are generally recognized as necessary and taught from elementary school onwards.  I’ve called this approach “psychological literacy.”

Ordinary Maturity versus Deep Maturity

It is useful to realize that a truly vital psychology takes into account not only the development of the mind between birth and midlife, but also the further development that is possible for people in the second half of their lives.

Ordinary maturity is what happens to most folks by mid-life. But it doesn’t progress to deep maturity unless there is some conscious opening to the workings of the creative subconscious mind, and that process involves a goodly number of skills. To reach ordinary maturity, people have to use what I call “ego skills,” and there are many of these, involving all the stuff you had to learn first to make it through adolescence, and then to go beyond to becoming financially independent, building job and home and marriage and parenting and community skills. Most—but not all—people have achieved this. Many of you have friends who have young adult children for whom this may not be so, they haven’t been able to coordinate their learning in this way.

The key point is that life doesn’t just continue as a straight-line extension of what mid-adulthood is about, perhaps diminished by the infirmities of age. Rather, there is a potential for significant expansion in some directions “above” and “below” that line in the second half of life. This goes against that part of the culture that thinks you start going “over the hill” at 40 or 50. Such an idea is a flagrantly age-ist myth implying that there is little that is truly needed, rewarding, significant, that comes from elders. There are many outmoded images prevalent still in our culture of elders playing shuffleboard, filling time with meaningless and selfish activities. Instead, I suggest the possibility of  significant development, so that relatives in ten years might marvel at how much you have continued to grow. So, we’ll be talking about what might constitute this deeper and more substantial maturational process.

First, consider that many if not most people do not go on beyond ordinary maturity. You need to actually have some idea of what you’re working on and get on with it. If ordinary maturity involves the development of what I might call “ego skills,” external life management skills, then deep maturity involves “soul skills,” working on finishing up the many types of unfinished business in your psychological sell. It might include such elements as deepening your sense of belonging-ness, connected-ness, philosophy of life, working out personal issues, developing a degree of wisdom, and the like.

Conscious Intent

Deep maturity doesn’t just happen with growing older. It isn’t an automatic process of ageing. In some ways we are organic beings who grow without planning to—we grow up, we learn language, we grow old—no special intention is needed. In other ways, we ordinarily tend to stay a little stuck in being ignorant and foolish, caught up in our habits. We have a society that panders to that tendency.

It’s possible to develop as a kid and not learn much in school—even if you’re reasonably bright—unless you make at least some effort. If you don’t feel you need to make that effort, you can stay pretty ignorant. What’s weird is that this is really quite pervasive and many adults remain ignorant of major facts of our life. Lots of folks don’t know where Iraq is, or when the civil war was fought, and so forth.

Okay let’s say you do work a bit at learning, again our culture feeds into a second opportunity to lapse into complacence and ignorance after college. Other than learning what you do to advance and some techniques for mating—what so many of the sit-coms show—it is again quite easy to seem normal and yet be neglecting the mental garden of your mind.

Again, after the distraction of child rearing and career building, in midlife, as we go into retirement, here’s another opportunity to cultivate the illusion that what you’ve learned is sufficient, and spend the time in pastimes with little engagement in stretching or exercising of your mind or body or soul.

Alternatively, at some point along this path you may have gotten the idea that you can wake up even more, and then more, and have engaged yourself in pursuing that elusive idea.

It may indeed be a little elusive—this series will I hope make it a bit less so—but we must differentiate between the impossible and the merely rather difficult.

So: you don’t get too far with deep maturity unless you consciously intend to improve yourself and work on it a bit. You don’t have to use these exact words, and there is no single right path, but there are skills that are different from the kinds you need to just grow up—ordinary maturity—. I call these skills for deep maturity “soul skills.”

I suspect that many if not most adults stay at ordinary maturity. As I said about normality a few lectures series back, the one about flourishing, ordinary normality, just being like most folks, is okay, but nothing special. I want to suggest that there are ways of becoming deeper, more resilient, able to live with more peace of mind, more serenity, more engagement, and so forth.

Many of you have elders, uncles and aunts, parents, older friends, who are heading towards their last years in different ways. Some are cool, you want to be like them when you grow even more up. Some are okay, but you don’t look to them as examples for yourself or your kids. A few are clearly not what you want to be examples of aging—instead of gracefully, with good humor, and the like, they are getting sour, contracted, tight. This is apart from the presence or absence of actual memory loss or senility, which is a different matter.

Flowers, Fruits, Nuts

Here’s another analogy. We are like plants and ordinary maturity is like our full flowering. But that’s not the end of the story: Flowers are only half-way points to generating seeds. Some folks become juicy fruits. Some become tight hard nuts to crack. I’m a bit of a pecan, maybe—easy to crack open, almost a fruit. Some don’t end up being very effective seeds, others do.  But fruit or nut making is a qualitatively different process than flower making, biologically, anatomically.


In another lecture series I described some of the elements of individuality, and the point here is that as you grow, these differences amplify. It’s like a science or profession can become more specialized. For me, first medicine, then psychiatry, then the art of psychotherapy and comparative psychotherapy, then certain types of therapy within that... we get more focused.

But it’s not just specialization, because a person may also develop increasing numbers of hobbies, involvements in many fields—politics, investments, local affairs, volunteer work. Lots of you have your own profile of activities. The point of individualizing, though, is that no general rule can apply to you. There may be some general principles that are useful, but often what’s so for one person isn’t relevant or even misleading for another. This is somewhat true even for kids, and becomes ever more valid as people grow.

As a result, deep maturity isn’t about answers or formulas, but more general categories within which you need to find your own answers. It’s about promoting the process rather than defining the content.

Feedback and Input

A corollary or implication of the principle of individuality is that anything I say, it may or may not fit, or more or less, for different folks in the class. So help me out here, ask questions, point out exceptions, argue with me a bit. The whole class will benefit, because the art of dialog is one of the general principles we’ll be discussing.

Tarot Cards

There are so many aspects to this journey, I was wondering how to organize them. It occurred to me that of all things the esoteric divinatory system of the Tarot cards offered an interesting structure. About four years ago I gave a series of talks about different esoteric approaches to wisdom, but didn’t go deeply into Tarot.

I am not talking about reading your fortune. Rather, I’m talking about a set of symbols that just happen to address aspects of deepening, of soul-making, that deserve contemplation. They’re just good symbols, that’s all, and it’s a useful way to give a bit of systematization to what may seem—did seem for a while to me—to be a jumble of important principles. .

Each of the 22 main picture cards—the major arcana, they’re called—speak to an aspect of deeper wisdom that is worthy of contemplation. They are symbols, they hint at what these categories may have to offer. For example, the 20th card, the Sun, to me suggests the power of encouragement and the sunny side of the street, of being positive, even when clouds are grey. You could riff for a while about this principle, and for some of you this invitation to use your will to exercise and direct your faith in a positive direction has been a challenge. Many of you know folks—or even remember times in your own life—when you’ve forgotten this principle. It’s the equivalent to giving in to gravity and letting your posture slouch—a temptation that gets more vigorous if there’s back pain, osteoporosis, age, tiredness— but you don’t absolutely have to give in. You can fight it, work on your posture. And do the same with your attitudinal and emotional posture, whether or not you feel like it. There’s no rule that you have to give in to your feelings to be authentic. You need to know they’re there, not be in denial, but you don’t have to give in to them or let them dictate your life.

If your authentic feeling is anger you don’t have to give in to it and hit your little brother. You learned that pretty young, or maybe not. But the principle of willing your faith and your positivity, of not being an optimist so much as doing optimism even when tempted by pessimism, that’s closer to the heroic journey. You’ll be hearing more about heroism in a bit.

The Fool

So: “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When you read, you start with the ABC, when you sing you start with do re me.”  —from The Sound of Music.

In soul skills, the first and most basic skill is the opening to your ignorance. This is second innocence, and many if most folks haven’t learned to do this. It’s not easy to recognize the many ways that you are a fool.

It begins, like singing, by going into a slightly different dimension. In singing, it’s adding melody to words. In deep maturity, it’s as if you step back and look at yourself with great love, great respect, but also a wider perspective, perhaps a cosmic perspective.

Let’s not make it personal: We’re all incredibly ignorant, knowing less than a fraction of a fraction of a percent of what there is to be known. Just the size of the cosmos, the possibilities of life on other planets, the way we continue to discover new species of microorganisms, and new horizons in astronomy and sub-atomic physics and on and on. Then there are the discoveries not only in neuroscience, but all sorts of stuff science hasn’t a clue how to assess—human mind stuff, like what’s empathy about, or wisdom, or what it takes to get past another person’s denial system?   So let’s get a step more honest, let go of false pride that says, “Hey, we’re grown up, we’re supposed to know what we’re doing; and I suppose I’m doing okay; so I suppose I know what’s what.” There’s a rough logic here. But as I learned as a five-year-old:
    Moses supposes his toeses are roses, but Moses supposes erroneously,
   For Moses he knowses his toeses aren’t roses as Moses supposes his toeses to be.

 Now this was a bit of meaningless doggerel that kids learn to jump rope with or just make tongue-twisting silly songs. However, in this context, it becomes a profound observation of the human condition, of Moses as everyman, of me as pompous professor Piffle pronouncing profoundities. But Moses—or Adam—I knowses my profundities are but piffle indeed in the light of the cosmic cognoscenti.

So that’s a playful way to say, let’s embrace our silliness and limitedness of our consciousness, a a species in transition, a humanity that is still very much in a process of evolution—and I estimate that we’re maybe only 10-25% along in the challenge of optimizing our species potential.

But kids who know they don’t know are open to learning, and that’s the spirit of deep maturity.

Another thing about the fool in the Tarot card is that he is enjoying a lovely day. Attention to the richness of the moment, of our sharing explorations together—this is part of the formula that is easily lost in the tendency to worry. The fool need not be heedless or truly care-free, but is able at least at times to let go of mundane concerns.

What else can we say as we warm up to the game of semiotic hermeneutics, a fancy big word way of daring to interpret—and knowing it’s an interpretation—not a final definition—of this ambiguous symbol?

Oh, the bag and stick—he’s embarking on a journey, a journey through the mountains. Well, let’s go.

Finally, there’s an openness to fortune, and the point of deep maturity is to cultivate an openness to wisdom flowing in from beyond the conscious mind, from imagination, from dreams, from those meaningful coincidences that Jung called “synchronicity.”

Truly, deep maturity is learning one of the more subtle and difficult lessons, that of living into faith. This doesn’t mean blind faith, living heedlessly, nor does it mean mere relatively mindless adherence to dogma. Faith is rather meant in the esoteric sense as that opening to fortune as an opportunity to respond with wisdom, character, deepening understanding. This is not always easy—sometimes it feels very, very hard. But there it is, one of the major challenges of deepmaturity.

The Magus

The next card presents almost the opposite of the Fool, but it’s really just a different facet. The card shows a man with four magical tools: a sword, a cup, a wooden wand, and a coin with a five-pointed star on it, also known as pentacle. You can have fun with the symbols, and by the way, they correspond to and precede the mere-game-use of the suits of the playing cards. Swords are spades; cups are hearts; wands become clubs; and pentacles or money become diamonds.

The wisdom here is that it’s hard to go wrong if you keep the principles symbolized by these magical instruments balanced. Many if not all human troubles arise from an imbalance of these elements. Let’s consider:

Sword: The sword is the power of the mind if sharpened to critique, separate categories, move away from overgeneralizations, discriminate, discern. How do we not throw the baby out with the bathwater? Which parts of the Democratic or Republican or Libertarian platform do we agree with and can we bring ourselves to notice that there are other parts that we don’t agree with? There are pressures to not just give in and buy the whole package for the purposes of political practicality or voting, but what’s wrong is that too many folks then block their own minds and forget that they may disagree with 10 components in order to get certain other components that in their minds are more important or for other reasons outweigh those disliked components.

The problem with swords is you need to keep ‘em sharp, and you need to learn to use ‘em or you’ll chop off your foot. Translating this, we’ll talk about it in the third lecture, you need to learn the fifty or so skills of sharp, critical thinking. Now it seems as if we know critical thinking, because all it takes is occasionally noticing that you don’t agree or want to criticize something, right? How much could there be to it?

Well, combining fool and magus—consider that just because you feel you know what you’re doing doesn’t mean you really do. Hard to swallow this, but it’s quite an important point. Pair it with this principle you’ll hear again: It’s difficult for lower consciousness to appreciate what higher consciousness is like: It’s difficult for children to appreciate the complexities of adulthood, and looking back on your early middle age, it may have been as difficult for you as well as for me to appreciate the challenges and also wisdom and perspectives of my elder years.

But you can consider that there is such a perspective even if you can’t attain it easily, and that’s something. You can wonder about what it would be like if you could think even more critically, sharply, and you can begin to develop those skills.

And if ye have not charity—or love—ye are as the tinkling of a bell or the sounding of a hollow brass, or some such line. The cup is a symbol of  feeling, about loving, caring, including, grieving, the flow of emotion that operates in your life. It can be too much, stifling sentimentality, maudlin stasis, crying in your beer. So like swords, and the others, you need to learn to use this, your heart, in a wiser way. But the question of empathy, of kindness, of how this affects others—this is the foundation of compassion. Justice, rules, without mercy or compassion, al rakhim, is heartless.

Wands are magical, and magic is the root word in imagination, and we are darn near taught how to extinguish our imaginations—at least our own—and rather to give our imaginations over to the manipulations of the mass media. They’ll stimulate it for you, making you happier and sadder, more angry and more frightened than can any inner, ordinary human capacity. The mass media have the background of computer graphics and the power of myth. Sometimes puny you fights the world—or it seems like a fight, and this then gets mirrored by the great evil giant or dragon or evil cabal running up against Billy Batson, who with the help of his magic word, “shazam!” becomes Captain Marvel. Luke Skywalker, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Tarzan, Zorro, all the bigger-than-life superheroes.

But magic needs to be cultivated just like compassion or sharp-minded discrimination. It needs practice—that’s part of what the Harry Potter books point out. It can backfire, it can take you over and hypnotize you, What the whole magus card means is that we’re developing skills, better and better. As a gardener, as a breeder of cattle, as a brain surgeon, the continuing education doesn’t stop. You’re a professional, and you’re bound to keep up with the advances in your field. Many people haven’t applied this principle to their own personal role repertoire, but if your deeply mature you try.

Finally, the coin: In our world, magicians are sort of fantasy-filled fellows and gals, but in fact, if you want to be a magician for entertainment, you need to learn how to actually perform the tricks. You need to deal with all the nuts and bolts of putting a show. Production, timing, practice, the practical stuff is required.

Another thing about this card is that the magus uses this not just to serve vanity or personal wealth, but to do the great work, to help spirit manifest in the world. And Spirit needs this coordination of all four principles to make it come through.

The High Priestess

We live in a patriarchal culture, where the male carries the spiritual power. This is in part because certain temple activities require professionalization, and that means no distraction by a nursing baby or a tempestuous toddler. Taking care of the young is a full-time job. That’s one of the reasons. The other is a principle I’ll mention repeatedly, the tendency to overshoot the mark.

Another reason for patriarchy has been the professionalization and mild idolization of writing as not only a technology, but the written word as a grounding of reality. There are again some excuses for this: The written word codifies law, codifies authority of why the king deserves to be king—“legitimizes” the king and the bureaucracy. The, overshooting the mark, the written word becomes the sacred law. People don’t get the message, hey you can change this, why not. Nope, the law is the law. We forget that it’s made by human. Indeed, the law is made by the gods.

Well, that’s nonsense. There is a kind of non-law, not-written because it can’t be written, that has to do with the wisdom of meeting the situation head on in the moment. What does this child need to have the parent do to deal with this situation right now? It turns out you’ve been faced with that a thousand times at least, and no single rule applies. Sometimes some rules of thumb were useful for a first stab at the problem, and occasionally it even worked. More often both you had to change a little and the object of your efforts also is asked to change.

It’s poetry, it’s all the tools of the magus. It’s feminine in that way that women have to deal with their kids on the spot. It can’t be reduced to a formula. And it often runs deep, draws on intuition.

Go a bit deeper, this is what Carl Jung meant by the anima, or at least part of what the feminine spirit means to men—the inspiration. In Christianity you have the mother Mary; in Judaism, the feminine spirit of the Sabbath called the Shekhina; in Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism, often the spirit is presented both as male and female, often together: Not just Shiva, but Shiva and Parvati; not just Rama, but Rama and Radha; not just Vishnu, but Vishnu and Lakshmi, etc.  The idea that the divine has both male and female aspects is present in many religions.

 What then is the essence of the female spirit? Specific answers tend to be embedded in cultural assumptions, but comparative mythology gives another hint— analogous today in another pair, the left and right cerebral hemispheres. The left brain is more like the ancient Greek god, Appolo, cool, high in the sky, intellectual, spiritual. The right brain is more like Dionysius, who, though technically male, really partakes of the androgynous, the passionate, the intuitive, animal, deep, moist, warm, qualities of soul. Intuition, imagination, inspiration, let the muses work on you, have visions—this is the teaching of the high priestess.

How can I say this other than to suggest that mid-life is the time when we need to learn about these parts of the mind and soul, the parts that can become receptive to dreams and images. This is what will deepen us, mature us, mellow us, so that we’re not just some machine.

Pure masculine can turn from brute to robot, cyborg, all task-oriented, oriented to pure logic. But that also can be clever and wicked. It needs the tempering of the human, the Captain Kirk, not the Mr. Spock. So we need to learn to tap into this balancing source in our personalities. This is part of the shift from the clever me middle-aged lookat me grown up to one who can mentor the middle aged, help the culture retain its humanity and wisdom and compassion even as it makes technological advances.

The Empress

This is the mother goddess, venus, pregnant, the mommy, and it speaks to nurturance. Let’s note right here that men need to become more feminine after mid-life in many respects. They can still be very masculine in some ways, but that’s no longer a goal in itself. What’s needed in deep maturity is to respond to what’s needed, whether it draw from qualities that when younger used to be thought of as masculine or feminine. A mature father is not afraid to be tender, to hold a son or daughter, to open to what the other person needs and if drawing that person forth is the goal, to deliver what is needed. To help in the kitchen doesn’t make you feminine. To help with the finances doesn’t make you less feminine. And so forth. This is the principle known as androgyny, the fusing of andro-man and gyny-woman. So in alchemy and other esoteric sciences, when they say that the original spiritual human was a hermaphrodite, both male and female, that’s what they mean.

The empress means that man or woman, we need to care for those around us, to incubate the ideas of the group we are part of, Senior University, Georgetown, Texas, whatever, to be kind, to be inclusive, friendly. The empress is the quintessential hostess. This part doesn’t get caught up in the task, but rather in the relationship, belonging-ness feelings that support the task, the we-ness, the we need you and we support you messages we all so often forget to give each other.

The Emperor

This is the governator principle. While the principles of the higher powers should guide, the actual management of the tactics, the daily policies and the right to change policies when necessary, the activity of governance, must emerge. Each of us—beyond gender—must become the ruler of his or own ego, a skilled self-manager. Ideally, this emperor is enlightened, more like the ideal Confucian leader. Modest in consumption for self, almost ego-less in focus on task, open to guidance from on high, the ideal leader nevertheless takes on the responsibility of leadership, of management, and again we note the need to develop skills.

All the self-help books about good management apply here. And 74.3% of the problems in the world can be traced to mediocre management, leadership in the pursuit of false gods, misled zealotry, rationalized greed, and lax skills disguised by spin doctors and publicists. Major world leaders and scientists and all can make big mistakes. What’s painful is that many of them don’t admit it. A wise sage and scientist said that science consists of making all possible mistakes and making it a point to recognize them as mistakes when they happen, figuring out why they are mistakes, and then trying something a little closer to the goal. Back to overshooting the mark: A related principle is that you notice, pull back and risk overshooting the mark in the opposite direction. They actually use this principle in modern artillery practice.

The High Priest

I don’t want to imply that the law is to be sneezed at, nor the constitution, which is just another level of law, really. But neither should they be idolized, and both should be viewed as eminently able to change, and really, in the broadest sense, we must change. The amendments to the constitution are not cosmetic, but many are fundamental!

So, this is your inner rule book, your standards. Again, always, there is the task of upgrading, practicing, developing, refining these skills. And revising, too. That’s the point. Everything in you needs to continue to mature. There are no givens, no unchangeable principles. Even your physical body changes, especially for the first twenty years, and in more subtle ways after that. What is menopause really about?

In a sense, the hierophant or pope or high priest is the part of wisdom that, in contrast to the high priestess, can be put into words. Ideally, it is the best-phrased poems, passages, quotes of the most insightful philosophers, religious leaders, sages of all cultures and ages. There have appeared books with such quotations for a century or more—since before the World Parliament of Religions in the late 19th century. The Bahai religion carries this sentiment from the early 19th century, as well as the international sufi movement beginning in the early 20th century.

The point is that there are inspirational passages out there, and this is very different from dogma, from a rule book that all must affirm and all must follow. The dark side of this principle, of course, is just that tendency to crystallize ideas that increasingly in maturity must be individualized and relativized.
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In the next lecture I’ll talk about the next group of principles, organized or expressed as Tarot cards—but those just provide a convenient framework for considering principles that really have no ultimate hierarchy. It’s not as if one principle is forever and always to be given priority. Some of these at certain times may even be irrelevant to what’s up
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