Adam Blatner

(This is the 3rd  in a 6-lecture series given to the Fall 2008 session of the Senior University Georgetown.)  October 13, 2008.  Revised 10/28.
   See Lecture 1     Lecture 2     Lecture 4    Lecture 5    Lecture 6 
It occurred to me that the phrase, "deep maturity," 

is a little misleading. The word "deep" was used to suggest more levels, more dimensionality, but it doesn’t really do justice to what I’m getting at. Although "deep" is better than "surface," it seems to imply only one direction. I’m really referring to a shift, an expansion, into many directions. I use the picture of the blossoming flower  here to suggest  that multi-directional  mind-expansion.

The process which I'm trying to describe in this lecture series should be understood as including such diverse elements as humor, love, physical connection, massage, good food, the sense of communion or being together. Deep (or broad, or expanding?) maturity weaves together play, adventure, insight, the pulse of engagement and reflection, action and repose, vibration, creativity, subjectivity, relationship, mathematics, order, music, disorder, aesthetics, discovery, invention, story, involvement, distancing, detaching, dis-identifying—and worth saying again: play—, art, music, dance, poetry, song, gardening, observing nature ever more closely, science, engineering, humor—that’s such a big one, also worth saying again—combined with philosophy, seriousness while not yet taking yourself too seriously, social construction (which means politics, economics, education, religion, ethics, how to live together, and so on and so forth. As folks get older they speak of some of these less tangible qualities as coming to have greater value. 

In one respect, "deep" is suggestive, as it speaks to those parts of your mind that tend to get "buried," pushed "down," and therefore worth digging up, liberating, redeeming. I think of myself as a depth psychologist, one of the disappearing breed of psychiatrists who got into really talking and exploring with people what their lives were about. To do this, we needed to think together, imagine, look at dream symbols, and all that stuff, we needed to get into feelings that couldn’t be explained, to the more poetic dimensions of existence.

But poetry can not only take us deeper, but also outside of ourselves. It’s not just depth psychology, but more an attitude of looking for an expansion of consciousness. One can open to nature, and open even more. It’s this opening even more, and in sometimes surprising directions that I’m trying to get at. So, perhaps a better term than deep maturity  might be transdimensional maturity, or multi-faceted maturity,

We’re also talking about living more abundantly. When I speak of wisdom-ing, I’m also suggesting the need for enjoying more fully. When I talk about plunging into reality, I’m also suggesting that we celebrate our imaginations more vigorously, in story, fantasy, art, doodling, drama, making faces, creating rituals, redeeming the best of childhood while respecting the best of elderhood, and again, I tumble into long lists.

We live in a culture that tends to be visual and spatial, we tend to grant a greater reality to what we can see, touch, think about rationally—and correspondingly tend to grant less of a status of reality, if not discount, that which we cannot see, touch, or think about rationally—such as dreams, intuitions, meaningful coincidences or synchronicities, imagination, feelings, and the like. This is a bias that is played to by the media, much of which is based on the visual-spatial bias—i.e., television, movies, video games, etc.)

The Tarot and Interpretation

Today, we’ll continue this phase of the series in which we consider some of the principles of deep maturity, organized semi-arbitrarily by the sequence of the major arcana of the Tarot Cards. I say semi-arbitrarily, because in the 18th and 19th century, continued work by esoteric scholars, the ones who also influenced the Rosicrucians and Masons, wove together the symbolism of the Tarot along with elements derived from numerology, astrology, and the mystical Jewish practice called Kabbalah. (That’s why you see the Hebrew alphabet on these cards, the letters in sequence in the lower right hand corner of the cards.)

Certainly I’m not advocating or trying to promote this particular approach to esoteric thinking, but rather I’m encouraging your opening to the idea of interpreting in finer and finer ways. You’ve heard of words like allegory and parable, and of course you were exposed to English teachers who invited you to think about the symbolism in a poem or story or myth. In studying hermeneutics, which is the art of intepretation, one system notes four levels of increasing abstraction:  (n the Hebrew, the first letters of these levels make up the same letters as in the word for Paradise.)

 First there is the obvious, literal meaning—almost according to the basic definitions of the words. Just being able to follow a story requires this level of skill.

The second is the aforementioned level of allegory. This is where many sermons take off, asking the congregation to get the moral of this or that Biblical or legendary story.

The third level is more abstract, more universal, and also more personal: What does this mean in your life, how can you take the lesson to heart?  This is part of the work of deep maturity, finding how some principle applies or doesn’t to your own life journey.

The fourth level is the mystical, having to do with how some story, symbol, mythic event relates or reflects the grand scheme of things, some aspect of the fundamental workings of the cosmos. To probe this level requires a year, or ten years of dedicated study and contemplation, of reflection and inspiration. And anyway, I doubt that I have the mental or spiritual wherewithal to lead such a curriculum. But it helps to know that this level exists and that even as we understand something deeply, to also understand that broader and deeper understanding also is probable!

Further Considerations of Hermeneutics (The Art of Interpretation)

Consider that there is not one type of thinking, but rather there are two. The one we’re most familiar with in ordinary maturity is factual, and appeals to the workings of the left side of the brain. The other type of thinking mixes in reverie, intuition, imagination, emotion. It’s less logical, and the compartments are indistinct. Let’s call this type of thinking poetic or mythic. The factual has to do with arithmetic and quantitative chemistry, measuring numbers in physics and engineering, efforts in history to find out what actually happened—although even then a measure of interpretation and myth seeps in—, ol’ Jack Webb’s line. Remember him? Dragnet. Police detective television drama. 1950s. What’s the line? Right: “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

We are immersed in facts in our educational system, almost as if questioning the mythic foundations that underlay the facts was a non-issue. That there was bias throughout our education was again denied. Our teachers didn’t lie so much as they never thought about such things, it was not in the mid-20th century world-view.

Anyway, in the last 40 years we’ve become increasingly aware that there is bias, myth, hidden assumptions. One of my points of emphasis in many of my lectures over the last ten years has been to encourage you to ask questions that were discouraged by authorities when you were growing up. Is it so? What alternatives have been excluded as non-options? In what sense is it so?

Because of this bias to the illusion of fact—there’s a seeming oxymoron, but it isn’t. It goes with another term, “scien-tISM” which is an ism-ing of science, a making it into a doctrine, as if science were not only the last word on any subject, but the only word. But there are thousands of aspects of life where science cannot speak with any meaning, such as whether my grandkids are the cutest ones in the entire galaxy and several others besides.  Love, acceptance, faith, generosity, and other human qualities that puzzle Mr. Spock in Star Trek—“they’re not logical, Jim”—really make up the bulk of life for most people.

Which brings us back to why we choose a set of symbols that is somewhat linked to our Western culture, but also transcends official dogma—i.e., the major arcana of the Tarot. It’s just difficult to speak of the deeper lessons in life that must be learned—especially lessons about its meaning, about wisdom, about ambiguity.

Okay, with that let’s explore more some of these symbols, let’s return to the Tarot Cards and take off from where we left off:  For example, the next card always gets people confused:


 Ahhh!  This card is vaguely confused with bad luck, the part in Treasure Island when a sailor who is disloyal to the clan gets the black spot, marked for death; where the gambler who draws the Ace of Spades is similarly jinxed. It’s a big booga-booga, a good word I heard a spiritual teacher used to refer to anything that people get conditioned to as being scarey, bad luck, inauspicious. The whole Halloween game is about this booga-booga, and the song I learned when I was eight or nine about “Did you ever think when the hearse goes by that you might be the next to die?”

It all has to do with a culture that makes death terrifying. There are people in other cultures and people in our own culture who have come to terms with dying, for whom death is perhaps a mystery, but not an occasion of fear. But the popular media make is terrible, and the predominant myth that suggests that death opens the possibility of a final negative judgment and eternal torture adds to the fear.

But this is that problem of symbolism, interpretation, and as I’ve pointed out with the figures on the cards in the last lectures, there are often deeper meanings.

What if we recognize that we are dying all the time, or not we, our essential natures, but rather our roles. And coming to terms with this, wrestling with it, fighting it, fearing it, is part of the complex of lessons to be learned.

Some of us are no longer VIPs, very-important-persons, but rather PIPs, previously-important-people. We were high status and now we find ourselves in contexts where no one is impressed and that status has no relevance anyway. So the death of that role may not be as big a deal as we feared it might be.

Do any of you remember a poem that finishes with “This, too, shall pass away”? (  http://newstodaynet.com/2005sud/05dec/ss3.htm        ) It was a popular poem based on an old wisdom story.  In India there are even sub-cults of yogis who hang out at the burning ghats where they do the cremations, in order to contemplate the transience of life and the verities that transcend physical life. That’s the point of this card.

People with ordinary maturity still tend to grasp, to hold on to what they gain. They’re still caught up in the illusion of possession. Their sense of life is that the person with the most stuff when they die wins. Also status, fame, a monument, a name somewhere, whatever. The desire for immortality, the fear of extinction of the ego.

The key is that ordinary mortality hasn’t yet wrestled with the need to separate the deeper sense of identity to something beyond ego, beyond the definitions and qualities associated with the more familiar sense of self. Deep maturity at least begins to challenge that illusion.

A wiser part of you is learning that certain elements of identity will inevitably be stripped away little by little over the years. It only causes a kind of neurotic suffering to attempt to hold on to your familiar world and sense of self. This is the shallower function of ego, what you spent the first part of your life building up.

You didn’t just build self-esteem, you built a sense of what that self must be in order for it to merit esteem. You have all sorts of little hooks, achievements, status, rank, pride points, comparisons, that are part of that edifice. Perhaps you know in some deep way that all that gets stripped away not only with death, but even as you approach death.

But what if death speaks to this primal fear, but also reminds you not only that everyone dies, but that you die a little most every day! Every loss is a little death. What if deep maturity begins to recognize that wrestling with death without getting freaked out is a profound challenge that the culture hardly addresses.

Further Comments on the Illusion of Possessing Life

What does it mean to say that "Life is sacred." Should we "fight" dying under any and all circumstances? (Many ethical end-of-life problems are being addressed ever more frequently.)  And what is sacredness? Does it mean "top priority"?

One thing that seems sacred for ordinary maturity is holding on, holding on to what you possess—as if you could possess anything, really—; holding on to things, to status, to elements of identity that a wiser part of you knows will be stripped away little by little over the years; holding on to your familiar world and sense of self. This is the shallower function of ego, what you spent the first part of your life building up.

You didn’t just build self-esteem, you built a sense of what that self must be in order for it to merit esteem. You have all sorts of little hooks, achievements, status, rank, pride points, comparisons, that are part of that edifice. Perhaps you know in some deep way that all that gets stripped away not only with death, but even as you approach death.

But what if death speaks to this primal fear, but also reminds you not only that everyone dies, but that you die a little most every day! Every loss is a little death. What if deep maturity begins to recognize that wrestling with death without getting freaked out is a profound challenge that the culture hardly addresses.

I don’t mean again the superficial ideal of the hero who braves death to win something, fights a dragon, is a warrior in Iraq, etc. There are many kinds of heroes, and that’s just one kind, the physical bravery component. What about the heroism of fighting your own demons or inhibitions, of breaking not just an addiction, but even a relatively compelling habit?

We die a tiny bit with every role transition. Every new beginning gives up—kills a little—the old role. Death becomes an opportunity for you to encounter and engage that primordial reality. What are you going to do about it? Fight it? Surrender to it? Some mixture of the two?


Here is the major clue: We’re raised in an either-or-thinking childish-culture, and there are insufficient models for recognizing the wisdom of moderation. Do you fight death or surrender to it? How can there be a mixture of these elements? Answer: We don’t live on one level, but on many simultaneously. You can fight it in this way, ignore it there, joke about it at level three, sing mournfully at level 4 and joyously at level 5, and in other ways construct your own response. Not only about death, but about everything.

How to blend this and that, yin and yang, male and female, good and bad, strong and weak, and all seeming opposites in life?  Justice is balance in one sense, but this card has to do with your really balancing all the principles in this system. Balancing itself is a great art and type of wisdom-ing.

Digression on Critical Thinking

For all these symbols, for all the appeal to a more intuitive and poetic mode of relating to life, this does not mean that we should abandon logic and clear thinking. The opposite: When dealing in the world of feeling, we actually have to become more skillful in coping with the many factors impinging on us! I have considered and may well soon give a whole nother lecture series on developing these critical thinking skills further. (I’ll put an addendum on this on the website, too!)

So, returning to symbols, we’re calling on a development of skill in managing the part of the mind suggested by the Magician’s magical sword, the sword of thinking, of discrimination. It is a sword of intellect, and this begins with a challenging of the main tool of intellect, which is language. Language is limited—there are lots of things that cannot be adequately described only with language. Language needs to be questioned.

Words have emotional meanings as well as simple definitions, and this fact is at the root of a field of study that has been around for less than a century: Semantics. Semantics begins to deconstruct the way people tend to make words into reality, idolize them, in the sense of idolatry as a sin. Words are expected to convey the truth when at best they can only hint at the truth.

I recently read an item about the critic Lionel Trilling in a recent Newseek in which he noted that literature—the actual stories of people’s lives—communicates the possibilities, varieties, complexities, and difficulties of life better than can any sociology or psychiatric textbook. I agree. I was a psychiatrist with an open mind, one who doesn’t feel compelled to rush into formulating the problem and pushing these interpretations on people, but rather allowing each person’s personal story to unfold in its own complexity. Not a Freudian. Closer to what was called existential psychiatry—but really a bit of a maverick without any formal affiliation.

Someone once said that life is the greatest show on earth, and physicians get front row seats. I’d add that the kind of psychiatry I learned enabled us to figuratively go into the locker rooms and interview the players. It was literature. And the point, bringing it back to Temperance, is that the balance is something each of you must create for yourself. No one else can do it for you.

I don’t agree with the song, You gotta walk that lonesome valley. Well, I do agree a little—you do gotta walk it by yourself; no one else can walk it for you. But you don’t have to walk it alone. We can be companions to each other. We can use dialogue to check out our perceptions and minimize our self-deception.

So there are no outside rules in the sense of answers, but there are ideas you can draw on. It’s not as if there’s nothing. And then the art commences.

The Devil

Like death, this card is a big “booga booga,” a good spook show getting you ready for Halloween. But what this is a symbol of the power of temptation, and also the reversal of truth. Things can seem so, seem so desirable, but it’s bad for you. How could it be bad for me, she’s sooo beautiful, it seems sooo glamorous! Fame and fortune? What could be wrong with that? Fudging a little, cheating a little? Everyone is doing it. You have to in order to get ahead? Boom, economic melt-down.

You don’t have to believe there is a guy called the Devil, but if you think that you can go along without being tempted, you’re a fool—in the non-complimentary sense. Who tempts you? So this card personifies all that stuff—not only the tempting desires, but also the tempting thoughts, the things you’d prefer to believe because if you didn’t believe them—like there are others who know what’s best for you—then, horrors! You’d have to take responsibility! You’d have to think, to think critically, to ask tough questions, like, “but is it so?”

The mass media pander to the illusion that truth is simple, and that politics can be a choice between the good and the bad. Actually, if you realize that managing two kids is also political— politics being defined as the art of the possible—then you realize that politics is often a choice between the bad and the dreadful! Which choice has a better chance of not being worse than the other one, recognizing that you’re gonna have to pay some dues!

Deep maturity gets beyond simplistic thinking, fights it, turns away from it. It’s not easy, it’s seductive. Old age is not for sissies, my 90 plus year old mother-in-law says, and this is one of the ways that’s so.

I’m reminded also of the cartoon character Pogo Possum, drawn by Walt Kelly, who in one strip, noticing the growing garbage and trash accumulating in the swamp where Pogo and his friends live, has the turtle character Churchy la Femme twist the phrase we all learned in school—Oliver Perry’s message about a naval victory on the Great Lakes in the War of 1812—“We have met the enemy and he is ours.”  Churchy says, “We have met the enemy and they is us.”

So the first step that depth psychologists note is that in deep maturity we begin to own our own projections. If you find someone who inexplicably annoys you, pushes your buttons, consider that these are your buttons that are being pushed. Wonder why. This is the complex that Carl Jung calls the “shadow,” those qualities in you that you don’t want to know about, don’t want to admit are also part of you. So you project them onto others.

We need to do the same in deep maturity about temptations. The devil isn’t tempting us. Our own childish desires, our own immaturity, mixed with a bit of sneakiness and all, lures us to the short-term goals, the easy out, the prejudiced thinking, the tendency to blame, and so forth. Can we begin to own these? Because unless we do, we can’t get on with the job of figuring out what is going on and bringing higher consciousness to the subtle currents of lower consciousness that continue in our souls.

In this sense, higher maturity isn’t something you attain, but something you do: You continue to work on yourself, clean up your act, and you’re never finished. It’s always happening. We imagine that is the outside, the devil, but there’s no devil inside you; rather there is the sheer seductiveness of thinking according to your childish illusions.

The Tower

The full title of this card is the tower struck by lightning, and it refers to the way that everything can seem stable—like your life, or our national economy, and wham! It’s like we were struck by a bolt of lightning. It refers to a major truth that you have become increasingly aware of to an increasing every decade since you turned 40: Stuff happens. Death, illness, and not just timely stuff: You know, old aunt Jane is dying, but, hey, she’s 95 and heart is giving out. I’m talking about Cousin Joe at 45 who has had his first heart attack, or worse, has come down with early-Alzheimher’s or something that is rare in general, but it’s happened to someone you know. You become aware that there’s as good a chance that something unexpected might impact your life (and impacts on those you love impact you).

There’s a spiritual that goes, “Oh, Sinner-Man, where ya gonna run to?”  Again, we tend to be fed by a youth-oriented media who don’t much build into their sit-com or soap opera scripts the interruption of life by unexpected tragedy. So many of our middle-aged kids haven’t been well-prepared.

Anyway, what if you not get caught up in worrying, but still review what you need to do, practically, to make sure if you or someone else you love dies tomorrow it won’t have a lot of unnecessary tragical mess because you didn’t make plans that wouldn’t be all that hard to do.

Critical thinking is needed. A bit of mess is no big deal, but which kinds and how much? Do you really not care about bequeathing problems to those who will inherit your estate or your duties? So there’s a challenge there to your tendencies to denial. Well, let’s go on.

The Star

“Ya gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” (South Pacific) . “When you wish upon a star...” Disney song.  A major problem is that people suppress their dreams, their aspirations, more than they realize. Pay attention to this.

The Moon

Similar to the Star in a way, but it’s more the message to dare to open to the non-rational parts of the mind. Being open to imagery, to dreams, to intuitions, to poetry, to what touches you. I’ve become more open to those tiny nudges that, with attention, come to the surface just a bit easier. Those passing events that give me goose pimples, or make me feel a bit tearful, touch my heart.

These are sentimental moments, and they are not always understood consciously. It can help to figure these out a bit, or attempt to. It’s a worthy aim, but not one that is final. I mean this in the spirit of not thinking that your interpretation of a poem may not be the final interpretation. You may be older and wiser and come up with a new interpretation.

In a way, a major theme in the general move to deep maturity is to be represented by this theme.

The Sun

The Sunny Side of the Street, put on a happy face, and the art of cheerfulness. Can you stay positive without having to be optimistic about specific issues, whether they be political or economic. You’ve got many reasons to get sullen, grumpy, but what is your justification for giving into those temptations. (Remember what I said about the devil and temptations.)

The children and being naked refers to innocence, the lack of any interest in exploiting another, of getting something, making someone do something, of gratifying selfish needs. Can’t we all just get along? Sometimes you do play with others and can relax, feel safe. The sun comes out.



I’m moving through these a little more quickly because I have other ways of describing ways to mature more deeply. This symbol of Judgment refers of course to Judgment Day, and is embedded in the European culture of the 19th century, a time when state-religion together was prevalent, and the popular mythology of the “Day of Judgment” was a common theme.

Like the Devil, though, the normal mature tendency is to externalize, to make it outside of yourself. It isn’t for you to judge your life, but for someone else, just as temptation was not something you needed to take responsibility, but as the 1960s comedian Flip Wilson said, “The Devil made me do it.”

So the real esoteric lesson is to suggest that periodically it is you who will take stock. It’s not just done at the end of life, you could do well to call yourself into question at least every few years. Review goals, attachments, old habits of mind. Maybe you want to free yourself one more notch, or to become even more at peace with yourself. What do you need to do to get it?

It’s not all conscience, not all morality—and morality for many is not true ethics so much as a superficial question of whether you have followed many rules that you couldn’t understand. But the real challenge is for you to evaluate your life, on aesthetic grounds, on emotional grounds.

Aesthetic is a term I have started to use—it refers to what feels good! Beauty is aesthetic, art and music, and those two categories are what most folks think of with this word. But aesthetic is also funny, delightful, interesting, lightly challenging, meaningful, deeply connected, and all sorts of other qualities.  Have you lived the way you like? Have you shifted in your criteria of what is important and worth treasuring.

Another exoteric tendency is to assure values and truth is out there rather than in here, and part of deep maturity is taking responsibility—there’s that theme again—for what you value. Our religions often suggest that morality and values come from tradition and before that, from God. That people can come up with their own values seems presumptuous, or it is overly willing to give validity to those whose values are indeed superficial and often close to amoral. But that isn’t at all so. Relativism requires more flexibility of thinking, but that is not at all the same as being less than clear and passionate about values.

What shifts is the locus of the decision. In the exoteric, a person need not think out the reasons for the rule. The downside is that the rules thus accepted are often over-generalized and vulnerable to interpretation by one’s preferred clergy person. In the exoteric, you are reminded that you can’t get away from ultimately recognizing that it is you who are choosing, and you are faced with wondering what is the basis of your choices.

Truth be told, many ethical choices are truly ambiguous. (On my website I have a paper about at least thirty conundrums involve.)  So this card is a reminder of the deep principle suggested again by the magus, the magician—the job of coordinating the various principles, of critical thinking.

The World 

The final card is the principle that aside from all these principles, ideals, ideas, there is that magical instrument of the coin, of practicality. The most practical thing you can do in the world is act. There’s a place for contemplation, and the opposite of the hermit is the complementary role, engaging the world, leaving the dream.

A sage said that the world, being in a body, rather than an angel or spirit, is in a sense the highest privilege. Only in material form can a soul really engage and learn something, advance, deeply mature in the capacity to love, to live with faith, to take responsibility, to help make the world a better place, to give to one another, to enjoy.

This card is like the fool in that in a way both are dancing, both are almost not on the ground. That’s the living on multiple levels simultaneously. Also dancing involves the body, grounding even as you leap, staying balanced, climbing, tumbling, and the child-like. It is play, exploration, fun, enjoyment, and the profound wisdom of being truly mature while being young-at-heart, or saying it again backwards, realizing and living young-at-heart-ness as a way of expressing deep maturity!


These principles are rich enough, varied enough, so you can get a glimpse. There are other sets of principles that can be brought together, symbols derived from the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, symbols from astrology, or even alchemy. Indeed, in the next talk I’ll describe how our souls—the development of soul skills—have some analogies to the physico-spiritual art of alchemy, of all things.

I’m choosing slightly outrageous symbol systems—note the phrase—systems of symbols—not because any of them are true in any objective sense, but because they are suggestive. The idea here is to stimulate your imagination—that moon function, the lunar mind. It’s a way to balance the two parts of your brain, the left brain, which ordinary society and conventional education aims at, and the right brain, feelings, intuition, imagination, the big picture. It’s not that one side is better or more important—it’s like the Temperance card, or the Lovers—we need to balance the different parts of ourselves.

Further Questions and Comments:

1. Why if we've made so many advances in technology, have we remained seemingly backwards in the social and psychological domains.
     A:  We are really only a few centuries out of synch. Several factors contribute to this problem. First, it is a problem, akin to giving loaded guns to kindergarten children.
 Second, we have made great gains in the realms of social advancement in the last few centuries, promoting public eucation, turning away from sexism and slavery, beginning to turn awasy from racism and rank prejudice, and so forth. However, there is yet far to go.
      Part of the problem is the illusion of competence that comes with having made achievements in one domain, which then generalizes, so one can feel more grown up and finished. Many people really don't like to think or reflect: They encounter their own limitations, and this becomes a source of shame. So we tend to use our advances as excuses not to have to engage in that awkward process called thinking and really having to look at your thinking.
     B. Our technological progress seems impressive when compared to what we knew in the past; but this is an illusion. We still know far from everything! (The capacity for humans to generate and then be taken in by their own advances is interesting. This progress feels like competence when all it really demostrates is the cleverness of a few others. The limitation of our learning is still not appreciated by most non-scientists. )