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Who Am I?
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Who Am I?

Thomas and a guest unpack the great mystery of “who am I?”

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[Thomas McConkie, Mindfulness Teacher] Hello, and welcome to another episode of "Mindfulness+". I'm your host, Thomas McConkie. Thanks so much for listening today. I am especially delighted to be recording this episode today with someone I regard as a dear friend, a mentor, a teacher, a sage, many things, Dr. Terri O'Fallon. I wanna introduce you and I almost don't know how to introduce you. You've lived such a rich life and have had such a prolific career, and I've had the privilege of working by your side for many years now. There's so much I could say about you, but just for the audience, Terri is regarded and respected as a preeminent expert worldwide in developmental psychology and especially adult development. The stages that all adults have the potential to grow into and express and explore in a lifetime. And Terri's done a lot of really pioneering work in that area. And I wanted to bring her onto "Mindulfness+" to share her wisdom and beauty with you all. Terri O'Fallon. Thank you, so nice to be with you. - So nice to be with you, Tom. I always enjoy the collaborations that we've done side by side. And of course that means I elevate you to whatever you say about me is also you. - Thank you. Well, that's humbling. I thought an interesting place to start, this really struck me when I became familiar with your work. You have a profound background in education, in all kinds of education, maybe you could just say a little bit about where you started and bring us up a little closer to present. - Okay. When I was a freshman in high school, I started with helping Mrs. Goak, a first grade teacher in her classroom. I helped her in every one of my study halls. And of course I got a teaching certificate and I taught in one room country schools and two room country schools for about five years. And then I went on and got my master's degree and it was in special education. It was regular education and special education. I started a nonprofit private corporation for the education of developmentally disabled adults who are just being institutionalized. And I ran that for quite a while. I became a superintendent of schools and did that for three years, went to another district, was the superintendent of schools again. Then I was an elementary principal for quite a number of years. I went on and got my PhD, taught in six or seven colleges and universities. Then I started Pacific Integral with some beautiful colleagues and taught there for quite a number of years. And recently I've worked with STAGES International. And all of that time it was teaching. So I've been teaching for 59 years now. - Oh my goodness. - And I still love to teach. I don't know. I guess I never got over it. - You're good at it, Terri. Well, so just to pause here, like the span of that, I heard you say that you've taught kids in elementary school, you've taught with disabilities. You've taught, I mean, virtually every age group in the last 59 years. You've seen like in an intimate way, how human beings develop. - Yes I have. And I think that's what spurred my fascination about it. - There's so many questions I could ask you, but I want to talk a little bit about cohort learning because I think you've been in cohort learning almost 30 years, is that right? - Yes. Yes. I started in the early 90s with cohort work. - Could you say a little bit, what is cohort work? Cause this is how I met you. And I was totally stunned by the experience. It was like no learning or teaching I had ever experienced. And you're really a leading expert on it. So what would you say about cohort learning? - Well, cohort learning, it means that you don't just learn from your teacher, a teacher or teachers, but you also learn from other people. So you put a whole group of people into a group. You have an outcome of sorts that you expect people to get by the end of the cohort process or project. And you follow things along the way, but it's not exactly predictable because while you have a curriculum, what they learn from each other is something you don't have a lot of control over. And so it is a multiple phase learning process, which helps people learn how to fall in love with each other, learn more about who they are than they thought they knew. They learn about parts of themselves they never saw were there. Everybody is learning that at the same time. And then they have some content and some skills that they learn on top of that. So cohort learning, the instructors really learn as much as the students do, because you are part of that cohort. It is a wonderful experience for everybody usually. And sometimes you have people that really, I mean, just like anything, they might act out or something, even that is a part of the learning. There's not something about ejecting people or anything like that. You learn from the bull in the china shop, you all learn everything together and people fall in love with no matter what the upsets were or the discouragements, it develops true vulnerability because people see parts of you that you've probably never really shown anybody else before. And that gives you courage and trust and strength to know that you can actually do that. - So beautifully expressed Terri, I mean, I feel the richness of your experience coming forward. And part of me just wants to spend the rest of the conversation and the day reflecting on cohort learning with you because what you said is so true in my experience. And I learned so much of this from you. There's a curriculum, there's an intention that a teacher or faculty can hold. So in that sense, there's a linear quality to it, and there's a completely emergent unpredictable non-linear quality to it, which is just the beauty and uniqueness of all the souls that come into this learning experience together. And you could never know where it's gonna take you and it's always vulnerable and raw and exciting and sometimes dismaying and all of it. I think you really captured it beautifully. - That's true. And when you do this over a period of 30 years, you actually recognize that every group that comes into a cohort is completely unique. Just like an individual is completely unique. No two cohorts are the same. And so it's always exciting. You never get tired of it. - Totally. And I'll just add, so in a cohort program, you've innovated and led for 30 years and I also have taken up cohort learning in our nonprofit organization. We have a cohort program, and I lost my train of thought, what did I wanna say about cohort learning just now? It'll come back to me, but I'm curious Terri, so there's so much I want to ask you about in this conversation. One piece particularly, and the richness of cohort learning over your decades of observation out of that came this like profound insight into human development. The model you're known for throughout the world of human development really emerged out of the crucible of cohort learning. And I wanted to just ask you a little bit about that. Maybe you could just say a touch about how that came to be, your insights into human development via the cohort learning. - Well cohort learning was a big part of it because when you invite a group of people to come in, you can see that different people are taking different perspectives and what are those perspectives? And so I became very curious about that. At the time I was also teaching part-time in a university and was part of the work that I was doing with the cohort there was learning about different developmental models. And when I saw things activate in individual people and how their perspectives were different from others in a cohort, I started really experiencing in my bones these different levels of development without ever really having much of a... Other than just like reading books and stuff like that. So one of the things that I started doing is thinking, you know, Terri, you need to actually have a deeper experience here. So I went and learned how to score one of the leading approaches to development. And I began scoring the-- - Which for the listener here, let me explain that briefly. There's an instrument that's been in use. It's changed and evolved over the decades, but there's a primary instrument that's been used to score and assess adult development. And you became an expert in that scoring system as well. Could we call it the Loevinger Cook-Greuter instrument? The Washington University completion test for all-- - Yes, yes. - Egg heads out there. - Well that gave us some real insights. And one of the things that we as staff used to do and I think that anybody involved in cohort learning where you really start to recognize development is everybody has an inventory. But the beautiful thing about that is that it gives you some salient markers about each developmental level, but you can be talking with a person and not recognize them when they're right in front of your face. So one of the things that we did to help each other learn better what was right before us instead of just looking at the score that they got was to actually in our staff meetings, we would talk about those salient qualities that we saw in everybody. We think this behavior was more at this developmental. We think that behavior was more at another developmental level. We could not only see the regular research markers, but we could also see the uniqueness of each person in all of that. - We'll pause here, Terri, just the word you used a moment ago that some listeners won't know, when you say each participant has an inventory, you're referring to the assessment that they took to assess their development going into the program. And based on that data, you are working with them very closely as a teacher, an instructor, a co-learner. And you're seeing where the model actually shows you these markers, like there's something genuinely developmental going on that without some training and knowledge of where to look for the markers, they're right in front of your face, but you don't see them, so you don't respond to them. - That's right. That's right. Anyway, I went on to develop my own model because I saw some additional things that might enhance that. And so I took four or five different theories that included development in them. And some of them were spiritual theories and put them all together and developed the STAGES model, which is still in the Loevinger lineage and did a research project with it. And we did a replication study and it came out very, very well. So we've been scoring with that scoring system ever since. And it really does allow for a lot more nuances and upshifts seeing the upshifts that they make in their transformations and things much more clearly. - Thank you. Let me pause there. So upshifts in people's development and validating your instrument next to previous instruments. I mean, for all intents and purposes to the listener, that means through rigorous research methods you established, this instrument works, it's telling us something that's important. It's showing us these milestones in human development. Is that a fair way to do that? - Absolutely. Yes. - Here's a question that I think people will be really curious about because we're talking about cohorts, which is a fascinating style of learning. We're talking about development and something that really struck me when I met you and your beautiful colleagues at the time, Jeff Fitch, Venita Ramirez at Pacific Integral, lovely people. What really struck me is just the term, just the concept of developmentally informed learning. And I wanted to ask you from your perspective, what's the difference between, like so what, so some teachers use a developmental model, some don't. Some cohorts are just a free for all and they're being human together and they learn as they learn, but then when you bring a developmental model to it, what happens with developmentally informed learning, what's the magic there that developmental knowledge and awareness brings to the activity of learning and transforming? - Well one of the first things is that you realize that everybody is coming from a different developmental perspective. And we consider that it's a little bit like a balloon. A baby is a perspective that's maybe this big, and as they grow up, the perspective grows, grows, grows, grows, grows, and we could see these different kinds of perspectives that were happening. We could see whether the perspectives were healthy or unhealthy, like it might be a kind of a tall, skinny narrow one. And it wasn't robust, or it might be a flat one, they weren't developing at all, but they had a lot of robustness where they were at. So what we began to realize is that in order to really teach well, we need to realize that everybody has the right to be at the level of development they're at. And we should not criticize them for being, it's just a growth process. Our work with them was just a snapshot in time. It wasn't a forever number that they had to carry around on their arms or back. And this changes the way you teach. And it also changes the way people work together. And when they get their own inventories, they can see all of the developmental levels, where they line up and what the span of the developmental levels are that they're working on. And then we had a research, a longitudal research project. That project was especially good because every two years people had the opportunity to take the inventory again, lo and behold, most of them saw that in two years they jumped in level. Some of them jumped two levels. Some of them jumped three levels. So they could see, I am not permanently at any one level. It taught them a level of impermanence. - Yeah, totally. - And so that developmentally informed teaching in a collective helps everybody in the collective accept people at wherever they're at. Because they are having experiences there. And then they also know that they're changing as well. And that is a completely different way of working. You can work individually like that, but they, if you work individually with somebody, they don't really easily see or have the opportunity to see how are my colleagues and my friends in my cohort changing? And right before their eyes, they are changing. So they can focus on that. And then they can also focus on themselves and see how they themselves have changed. That they're in an ever present process of being, of changing and growing and emerging and unfolding in so many ways. - So wow Terri, beautiful. Thank you. What you're saying is just so rich with your experience and insights. I think of all the things I could comment on there and I've been kind of obsessed with this learning area for the last 15 years. I can lose touch with my audience if I'm not careful. And what I wanna say in this moment is that a profound takeaway, one of my many profound takeaways working with you, learning from your model and continuing to do research in the field is that this concept that you sometimes hear experts talk about of an adult developmental plateau, that without some kind of sensibility around adult development and lifelong transformation, many of us can take who we think we are to just be permanent, that's just who I am. And you use the word Impermanent. And we actually, I think season five, we did episode number one on impermanence so you can go back to that and listen. But when we look at the self as impermanent, and when we have images of impermanence, how a human being can transform over time, being in a collective and a cohort with other people who are also realizing like, oh, who I thought I was, this is just the current shape I'm in, tomorrow I'll be someone new . 10 years from now, 10,000 years from now, who knows what we'll be. And that there's real magic in that to just give human people permission to become. And your work is just really a gift to the world, that way I've seen people. In fact, I wanna ask you that question, just off the top of your head, off the top of your heart, what's an example of a moment where you saw a human being transformed, like an upshift, like a developmental change in all your cohorts that comes to mind in the moment to help the listeners get a feeling for what is the transformation, what are they even talking about? And of course you don't need to name names unless it's appropriate. - Well, what I can say, I'll just give you an example of a developmental shift of one quality, because oftentimes it only takes one quality. So at the late third person perspective, which some people call the achiever level, they have this really remarkable capacity of metacognition. They don't even know what it is, but they're doing it and we can watch them do it. What it is is thinking about their thinking, thinking about their feeling, thinking about their behavior, then they change their behavior and they notice that their thinking has changed. When they change their behavior they notice their emotions change. Then they have a blow up or they have a joyful experience. They notice that from the emotional side that will change their thinking and the emotions will change their behavior. And so they're playing around with those three things. And that is just before they're ready to do this upshift into the fourth person perspective. So what happens with those three pieces that are kind of floating out there and they're trying to make connections, they come together. Those three pieces come together into a sub personality and suddenly they can start seeing their interior parts. - Thinking and doing behavior. - Thinking, feeling, and behavior become one. - And they become sub personality. - A sub personality. Like you might have a critique inside of yourself, a criticizer inside of yourself, or you might have an arrogant person inside of yourself, or you might have a firefighter inside of yourself or you might have somebody that wants to lose weight and you wanna lose weight. So you diet and diet and diet and in your work, you're in a stressful situation. All of a sudden you notice you've gained 10 pounds because you can't keep your fingers out of the cookie jar or the refrigerator. So one part of you might say it's really important for me to take care of my health. So this sub personality is in charge. Then you get stressed out or something like that. And the stressed out part takes charge and say, you have really been working hard, you deserve a break. You deserve to have a reward for everything you're doing. How about a candy bar? - So essentially... Go ahead, go ahead. - There's a number of pieces and parts that these three, thinking, feeling, and behavior can move into you in sub personalities and we can study those parts. And some of them are absolutely beautiful and blissful, others are maybe damaged. So this is where you can really start doing another kind of shadow work or working on parts of yourself that are a struggle because you get to know those parts very, very well. - Yeah, absolutely. I mean, just so that shift, you said a mouthful, from one stage we're reflecting on who we are, how we think, how we feel, what we do to this next stage, which I've observed a lot in the field. And then the research where all of a sudden we experience ourselves as being composed of many, you know, we say parts as a metaphor, I think, there's many different voices inside of me and different innovations. And they're kind of tugging at each other and in a given moment who has the steering wheel and who's in the back seat and it's a total fascinating phase of adult development that if you're not sensitive to it, as you were saying earlier, it can be right in front of your face and you don't see it happening. But then with the developmental models, it shows us there are ways we can work with this and embrace the change. - And another thing about that particular upshift or transformation is that you can't really see sub personalities or these parts or voices, you can't work with them or identify them very easily until you become aware. And so awareness pops up there. And so you can see that there are these kind of spiritual parts too that are required in order to develop up, grow up, in your developmental frame. So these perspectives change based on these. They all fit together. It's just getting more and more robust in your perspective so you can see what's already there and so you can know yourself better and better with each stage of development. - Yeah. Well, thank you. That's a lovely thing to say. I've worked with a Buddhist teacher for many years. I've worked with many Buddhist teachers, one of my favorites is Shinzen Young and he's been on "Mindfulness+". I recommend the interview if you haven't heard it. But when he talks about what they refer to as classical awakening in Buddhism, people are like what's awakening? And the way he translates it is similar to how you just said it. He says, well, awakening is like coming to know yourself at the deepest level. And I hear you saying is you're a master in your own right that this process of development that you've invited students into for 59 years, you're helping people come to know more of themselves, all of themselves at the deepest level. And there's very much a spiritual component to that that's moving. It pierces your heart. You can't help but be moved to the very core by it when you open up to the reality of who we are. - That's right. And the more you develop, the more you sit in that reality of who you are and the more that expands and grows. And yet the developmental perspectives also grow. And so you have more and more to put together from both the spiritual side and from the side of walking in the world. They then can come together in a quite a beautiful way. - Beautifully said Terri. A question I have is people are listening and this audience has heard me talk about development a good amount, but having the benefit of Terri O'Fallon on the show, I wonder what you'd recommend for people who are curious, we're talking about coming to know ourselves at the deepest level and ongoing transformation throughout the lifespan. How do you get on the path? What's the first step you recommend to the people in your community, your students, in learning more about development? - Well, there's two things. We mentioned assessments before. It's really good if you can get an assessment and there are assessments from many different organizations out there. We have an assessment that we feel really good about too. And if you wanna get one from us, that would be good, but that would let you know from a statistical perspective and from a research perspective what the range of your developmentals are that you occupy. Most people occupy at least four. So you can see that you're not just one perspective. You've got several perspectives, thank heavens. And the more you have, the more pliable you are as a person. And then that gives you a chance to see where do I kind of center and where is my trailing edge? What is following me up and what is my leading edge? And that's the one that will get you just right into the shift into the next stage. So you can see those things. Now, that is a really good place to start. I don't know about the courses that other organizations have, STAGES International, we're just setting up a new series of courses. And one of the fundamental questions people are asking themselves and go through in these courses are who am I? And we ask three questions of you and we teach you how to work with three questions to discover what is your primary perspective. And that is a very short course that you can get that will tell you the basics of responding to questions around your identity. And it's a very inexpensive option, that will start coming up sometime in March. The second course is one called Developmental Confusions because boy, do we get confused? And part of the problem is when we are moving from one stage to the next stage perspective, we get confused. But a lot of people feel like when they're in confusion that something is wrong, actually a lot of the time something is right. And so that's what we're trying to teach in that course. What kind of confusion do you have to confront in order to grow, to emerge and to develop? - I'm thrilled to hear that, Terri, I wanna just pause on that. Cause we were speaking earlier about what is developmentally informed learning, you just nailed one of these major, more than a concept, principle in development that so many human beings in moments in life feel on more and feel turned around and upside down. And I've noticed working in this field for some time that it's totally natural to interpret the confusion and the upside down-ness as, oh no, I've done something wrong. I feel so lost in the world. And something that your work and your models have done that are so empowering is to show people that that's the moment of opportunity that actually a lot has to be going well for that confusion to rise up. Yeah, totally. So that's so exciting. I mean, just to the listeners, I have been through this experience over the years with Terri, like asking these questions and coming to the who am I again and again, it is kind of surprising and stunning and delightful tour of your humanity. So if you feel any spark of interest here, I really recommend you check out STAGES International and all the great work coming out of there. That's wonderful Terri. - Thank you so much. We won't have our new courses up for another month, but that's what's coming up. If you want to, we would love to have you come in and there are other places too that you can get some of this information, and we would love to see you. If you're interested in inventory, we could do that right away if you want one. - Awesome. Wonderful. I have another question that I think we'll close it up for this conversation and I'd love to have you back. There's so many more things to talk about and I have a feeling in this conversation that the audience will be eager to hear more from you, but I'm curious, I regard you as being at the cutting edge of what we know about human development. And I'm curious like in your 59 years of asking this question of who am I and who are we and how are we developing and changing, what has investigating this field of development taught you about humanity? How has it inspired you? How is it inspiring you right now? What's most curious and salient for you, just curious as someone who's so seasoned. - Well, you know, my own model came from a time when I was in a meditation retreat. It just dropped in and I just happened to have a paper and pencil there. And I actually could sketch that little image out and that's how STAGES grew. So there's always been an understanding of me that these perspectives that we are taking are not just... They've got a state component to them and then they've got the developmental stage component to them. And so there's a couple of edges that have been very important to me. One is that we've been able to do research and find more and more developmental levels. People are growing up past the latest developmental levels that we have on record and they aren't stopping. And we are finding them and we are doing research with them. As well, we are starting to be pretty clear in our identification of what state is required for you to even get into a stage. And most of these states, it's like they're right in front of our nose, but again, we don't see them until you look for them. Even from the date of birth up through every stage, there is a state that we're investigating and I'm running a course right now with a two cohorts of people. And they're investigating their life through all of the stages of development and investigating the state and the stage part of that developmental growth. So that's the other edge. - This is cool, Terri. So I'm aware that when we talk about states and stages, that can take a little time to unpack what we mean by that. I think we'll bookmark that for future conversation. I invite you to invite us into a state shift, like the very state shift you were just describing, it takes a certain state to make possible the next unfolding of development. Could you shift our state for us? We sometimes call that meditation on "Mindfulness+", maybe you could give us a little exercise and we'll close out. - So I want you to settle quietly. Take two or three breaths. Feel yourself at peace. I want you to open your eyes. I want you to look around the room. Notice if there's any furniture in the room. Notice the furniture is inside of the room. Look at yourself. Notice you are inside of the room. Are there any rugs or lamps or anything else in the room? Just take a good look around the room and notice all these things are in this room. Feel settled as a person that's in this room. Now I want you to notice that the room is inside of your awareness. Notice that your house is inside of the awareness. Notice that your state is inside of the awareness, your city and your state, your country is inside of your awareness. The planet is inside of your awareness. The solar system is inside of your awareness. The galaxies are inside of your awareness. Notice the shift of where awareness can go and what awareness can hold. Now bring yourself back down into the room. Notice that you're inside the room and all of the furniture is inside of the room. Notice the difference between being inside of the room and the room, your country, your planet, your solar system, being inside of you when you are awareness. Thank you. - That's a pretty big state Terri. Lots of big possibilities within that big state. The whole galaxy. - That's right. - I just love it. Well it's a total delight to be with you on "Mindfulness+", thank you for your time. And I have a feeling we'll be hearing a little more from you if you're willing to come back sometime. - Always, Tom, you and I are colleagues. - Thank you. We'll post in the show notes links to STAGES International and keep you apprised on their offerings, they're life changing really. And Terri, you're one of a kind, I love you and have so much gratitude for who you are. The consummate teacher. - Thank you so much, Tom. - Thank you. Okay, well that's "Mindfulness+", we'll be back next week with another episode. Thanks for listening.

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