Episode 19: The Challenge of Levels

Chris Wells & Emma Nicholson with guest Stephanie Tolan

Release date: September 18, 2022

In episode 19, Chris and Emma were joined by Stephanie Tolan, an author and long-time advocate and champion of the gifted. This episode was inspired by Stef’s chapter in the book Living with Intensity called “What We May Be: What Dabrowski’s Work Can Do for Gifted Adults.” We’ve had enough feedback from listeners to know that we needed to take a closer look at the theory’s levels of development and that we needed to push back a little on the established dogma. We’re grateful for Stef’s willingness to join us for this conversation about Dąbrowski’s levels.

Stef talked with us about her realization that there are more people at the highest level of development than Dąbrowski acknowledged in his writing. These “Stealth 5s” are off the radar and quietly doing their work for the benefit of humanity. We talked about how her beliefs about consciousness and higher-level development have changed over the years. We discussed exemplars, reincarnation, and our limited understanding of the levels of development and their many permutations.

Bio: Stephanie Tolan was already speaking and writing about the needs of the gifted (with her emphasis mostly on kids) when Michael Piechowski connected her with Dabrowski's work. She immediately recognized the OE's, and only later came to understand the developmental levels and the effects of what Dabrowski called positive disintegration on the life experiences of gifted individuals.

Resources mentioned during this episode:

Stephanie S. Tolan’s website

Living with Intensity by Daniels & Piechowski (from Gifted Unlimited, LLC)

Developmental Potential by Michael M. Piechowski (links to ResearchGate)

Lives of Positive Disintegration by Michael M. Piechowski (links to ResearchGate)

Volume 18 of Advanced Development Journal, which includes Stef’s paper

University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies, research on reincarnation

A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War by Joseph Loconte

Ordinary People as Monks & Mystics by Marsha Sinetar

Peace Pilgrim website

Peace Pilgrim’s works are available for download in multiple languages for free.

Thank you, Bee Mayhew, for editing this transcript!


Emma: Welcome to Positive Disintegration Podcast. This is episode 19, The Challenge of Levels.

Hello listeners, and welcome back to another episode of Positive Disintegration, a framework for becoming your authentic self. I'm your host, Emma Nicholson, and with me is co-host Dr. Chris Wells. Hello, Chris.

Chris: Hello, Emma. Nice to see you again.

Emma: It's good to see you too. I'm excited about today's conversation because we're getting into levels again.

Chris: That's right. I'm excited for this episode because I've had some feedback from listeners who have said that they don't love the way that we talk about the levels all the time and that they feel that there are more people at level five than Dabrowski thought or that it is part of the dogma or the other beliefs around the theory. So tonight, we have a guest who is going to explore this with us- the idea that maybe there are more people at higher levels of development than we give credit for.

Emma: Excellent, I'm glad to get into the subject. I'm also glad that we're going to be able to address people's concerns at the same time. Good opportunity to multitask on that.

Chris: I met Stef in June, 2017, when I was giving her and Michael Piechowski a ride to Yunasa West here in Colorado. It was the first time that I got to pick up Michael and give him a ride to camp. I got to meet Stef that day too, which was great. Then I met her again at NAGC that fall in 2017. It's been a pleasure to get to know you over these years, to get to know your work a little better. You participated with my study group this winter, which was exciting. I'm really happy to have you here with us today to talk about your chapter in Living with Intensity, which is called ‘What We May Be, What Dabrowski's Work Can Do for Gifted Adults’. And we're going to talk about stealth fives. Welcome, Stef.

Stef: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Emma: For our listeners, Stef Tolan was already speaking and writing about the needs of the gifted, with an emphasis mostly on kids, when Michael connected her with Dabrowski's work. She immediately recognized the OEs and only later came to understand the developmental levels and effects of what Dabrowski called ‘positive disintegration’ on the lives and experience of gifted individuals. Thanks for coming on, Stef, and thanks for sending us across your chapter.

Stef: Well, I'm glad to be here, and we'll go from here with that chapter and my… growing awareness of the impact of the multilevel development or positive disintegration of adults. We don't see it as much in children, but since I began to focus with this chapter on adults, that's where it becomes really pretty important.

Chris: In your chapter you touched a little bit on how you first came across the theory. That you read it at some point in the perhaps mid 80s. You read Michael's chapter from 1979 called ‘Developmental Potential and New Voices in Counseling the Gifted’. I wonder what else you can tell us about discovering Dabrowski's theory and overexcitabilities at that time for our listeners who didn't read the chapter.

Stef: I was particularly turned on by that chapter because I had felt, I guess my image of it was that there were a lot of things that had happened in my life, a lot of pieces of myself and a lot of issues that I had dealt with that were like dots scattered all over a page. They didn't seem to be connected in any way. They were just ‘this thing happened’, and ‘that thing happened’ and these issues came about. Then I read his chapter, and the overexcitabilities just put a pattern down on those dots, and made an image of them and got them all in. It was just amazing to see the scatteredness of my life being given meaning by these overexcitabilities.

Overexcitabilities are readily seen in children. They had not been, let's say, loved and appreciated in my family. Some of them were far less appreciated than others. It was just nice to see, A, that there were these things, psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational, emotional, these aspects of self, that they were there. They were noticeable in some people more than in others. It just suddenly gave me a sense that what was driving my family nuts was not a failing on my part, not being somehow wrong in the world. It was just great to see it there so clearly, and because I had a highly gifted son, it was also instantly clear to me that he had them as well. That really changed my whole view of things in a way that was quite surprising to me.

Chris: I just reread your chapter last night in preparation for this. It's always interesting to me when I go back and read something that I read years ago now… There's a lot to say about a couple of the things in this chapter. I mean, at this point, now that I'm working with gifted adults in my practice, I'm having the experience that you described where hardly a day or two goes by when I'm in between emails from people who are reaching out because they've seen a video I've done or they've read something that I've written and they want to know more about Dabrowski's theory and how it applies to them as gifted adults and they're trying to figure things out. I can only imagine what it's been like for you over the years, like how many people you've responded to and been in touch with who have looked to you for help?

Stef: Well, for a long time it was only parents with their kids. I think that's what separates, for me, the OEs, which are immediately available to recognize in children from the developmental levels, because that doesn't happen in childhood. I mean, you don't, well, it can, but it takes a while for a human being to get out of childhood and then adolescence, which are very specific kinds of newness in the world for themselves and [on] into their adult lives. So the levels of development are a part of the whole lifespan. They're not just related to the children. Of course, so are the OEs. I mean, we don't lose the OEs as we grow up.

We may learn how to deal with them better, or we may develop some of them more than others but the developmental levels really mainly, at least in my version of things, apply to adults rather than children, which is why I didn't get into them very much in much of my time in the gifted world because I was dealing with parents and children. The child who got me into all this just turned 50 last week, so let's say I've been working in the world of adult human beings for a very long time too.

Chris: You're right. It's interesting because we had Tina Harlow come on and she talked about positive disintegration in children. So we recognize that children do experience disintegration, but we don't think of it in the way that people often talk about the levels. We don't talk about children really in terms of advanced development or at higher levels. When they're going through disintegration, I would argue that it often looks more like unilevel disintegration. Although, of course, some children are experiencing other dynamisms, but it's true that when we think about moving through developmental levels, we're usually talking about adults. That's what we're going to hit on today.

In an early episode, I don't remember which one it was at this point, I said that there are very few people at level five because that is kind of the established way that we talk about the theory, that there aren't many people at level five. Michael is the one who's done case study work. He's given us case studies of Peace Pilgrim, Eleanor Roosevelt and Eddie Hill Thumb, but we haven't heard a lot about adults who are at level five. One book that I read, “Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics” by Marsha Sinetar, addresses this without using Dabrowskian language. She gives examples of people who are clearly at higher levels of development in the terms we would use with this theory. These are just people who are working in the service of humanity, and they're not famous. We don't know about them, but they're doing their good work. What you mentioned in this chapter, that this is something that you have recognized, you know, just based on your own experience of knowing people who are doing that in their lives.

Stef: My first introduction to it was through Michael and through Peace Pilgrim and Eleanor Roosevelt and the others that he focused on. I had an Episcopal convent boarding school experience in high school, so the issue of saints and people who did good works was always a part of our world, but there were few of them. You know, we were expected to be deeply appreciative of the few saints there were in the world. When I first began to read Michael's materials on the levels of development, he seemed to be saying that too. But then, a few weeks ago when I mentioned to him that I felt there were a lot more of them than Dabrowski had suggested. You know, you can't just go with Jesus and Buddha and Yogananda and like 40 other people and say there, that's the top level. And Michael said, oh, I've changed that completely. Oh, there's many more… many more. There are many out there. I was somewhat shocked and then he pointed out that he had written an article for Advanced Development (the journal), which actually was the first article in the issue that had an article of mine right after it! Though I had read mine when it came out, I had not yet read his, so I went back and read his. And sure enough, he does give more credence to the idea that this is not just a wildly rare level of development. It's not as much of a disagreement as I used to think I had with him, but it still seems to me that I have some arguments with Dabrowski.

I mean, he's amazing and I like so much of what he stands for and what he says, what he's done in the world. That's all great, but I also have some problems with his theory. One of them was how rare level fives were so that it becomes almost impossible to imagine you could ever get there… In fact, I say in the chapter that I wrote that I was perfectly happy to be at level three, thank you very much. I did not want to go to four and heaven forbid I go all the way up to five, which struck me as unreasonable and not a way I wanted to live. So that's how I felt about it at first. I don't feel so much that way about it anymore, but I had another argument with both Michael and Dabrowski early on, and that is the level one, which Dabrowski insisted was your Self is the center of the universe. All of us at some point, probably at birth, feel like we're the center of the universe, but he said “neither empathy nor personal responsibility is available to the individual, and they will never get beyond a level one”. If they're a level one, they will be a level one throughout their entire lives. That just made me crazy.  I said I just cannot imagine a reality in which people could be born into a life utterly and absolutely unable to move beyond self-centeredness. It just did not seem to me to make sense.

Chris: It doesn't make sense.

Stef: No, it doesn't. It seems if you want to believe in a caring force or God or beingness, to purposely create creatures who couldn't be anything other than selfish and nasty, it seemed not to make any sense, because if you can't grow, what's the point? Then you have all these evil villains, like the kinds of movies you have, where the villains are 100% villain and the good people are 100% heroes. That doesn't seem to me to be the way the world really works.

Eventually, I asked Michael, I'm sorry he's not here because then we could have a conversation about this. I hate to say what he might say, but I will say what he did say at the time when I asked him if Dabrowski, who was Catholic, believed in reincarnation. That is not a part of the Catholic religion, nor is it really a part of Christianity, but it's a part of a vast aspect of spiritual traditions in the human species. Not only is it part of many religions, there's also now a tremendous amount of actual evidence that there is such a thing as reincarnation. We don't come here just once. So it was okay with me to imagine that primary integration level one was for this whole life, only if you had a chance to come back. Michael suggested that he thought maybe, or I may be getting this wrong, but it seems to me he said that at some point, Dabrowski did come to some sort of belief in reincarnation. I don't know about that, but it's the only way I can possibly deal with the idea that level one has no betterment during a lifetime. Now, of course, there's the University of Virginia where there's a tremendous amount of amazing research about reincarnation and clear evidence thereof. Plus, the other great thing about my life as a person who talks to families of profoundly gifted children is there are astonishing numbers of stories about children who remember previous lives. That's one of those aspects of this whole discussion that didn't fit the way I was given it originally.

Emma: Stef, do you think for the benefit particularly of our listeners, that you could take us through the levels and what they mean from your perspective, because you've got that little table in your chapter. Can you take us through a quick walkthrough of what the levels are, just so we're all familiar with them?

Stef: Sure. Level one that I've been talking about is called primary integration. It's where a person sees the self as the center of the universe. They don't have empathy. They don't accept personal responsibility because it's not available to the individual. So that's level one, primary integration.

Level two is unilevel disintegration.  This is moral relativism. Your morality at this level is influenced by your social group or the mainstream values. If you have internal conflict, it's horizontal, sideways, there's no mechanism for prioritizing one value over another. If somebody says, this is the way it is, and that seems to be what most people believe, you just accept that. And you haven't got a good way of sorting out whether you believe it or not. You just go along with the crowd, as it were, unilevel disintegration.

Then level three is the one that I decided I was fine with being, back when I first learned about this was, spontaneous multilevel disintegration. The development of a hierarchical value system. There are things that can be considered better to believe in than other things. Internal conflict is vertical between the lower and the higher self, or personality ideal. You have a sense of who you'd like to be, and you might not quite be making it there, but you have that awareness that you could be better than you are and the individual sees Self as [it] is, and also Self as ought to be. So you're aware that sometimes you goof up and you know you want to be doing better and you try to do better, as much as you can but that isn't the driving force in your life, really.

I figured when I first read it, that was pretty much where I was. I knew I didn't always live up to what I wanted to be, but I tried a lot of the time and so it seemed OK. Psychoneurosis develops, anxiety, depression and existential despair. Those were things I encountered very definitely in my teenage years and in my early 20s. Big questions are asked, what's my purpose? Is there a God? And there's an inability to attain certain answers and that creates pain and intense struggles. Sometimes it was a good thing and sometimes it was a very painful thing to be in multilevel disintegration because you become aware of where you fail and you're aware of where you'd rather be better, but it seemed okay for me to be there because I knew I wanted to be better. And that felt like enough.

Level four is organized multilevel disintegration. And that's development of high levels of responsibility, empathy, and self-awareness. The choices, more and more, fit the personality ideal. Powerful movement in the direction of self-actualization and your personal value system is in place and it supersedes cultural values. If there are people around you who don't agree with you, you come to the conclusion that your values are higher and you're going to hang on to those in spite of the fact that not everybody goes along with them. That's level four.

Then level five, that's the one that has your personality ideal attained. Disintegration is transcended and the personal life is lived in service to humanity, plus behavior matches universal values and beliefs. That's the one that I didn't think I could ever get to and wasn't sure I even wanted to try. I wanted to live in service to humanity, how could I do that? I knew the things that I wanted to do with my life, but I wasn't sure they were going to serve humanity.

As I began to encounter people and think about these levels, the reason I began to find what I call ‘stealth fives’, were that there were lots and lots and lots of people that I encountered who were doing things not for what it brought to them, not for monetary gain, not for popularity, not for people putting them in high office or whatever, but to actually help humanity. Of course, we hear about those people, there's the Dalai Lama and there's Desmond Tutu, whom we've lost in the last year, and people who we can readily recognize. I'm not sure that even all those people really recognize themselves as that. I think probably they're aware of the fact that it's a constant need to pay attention to yourself and to how you're functioning in the world and you know what you want to be and you do your best to be it, and mostly you succeed. I don't suppose anybody ever gets to the point where they never make a mistake or never feel that they've done something that was not the highest and best, but there are certainly people who do it most of the time.

Chris: I agree that it's unrealistic to think that exemplars never make mistakes. When you're living your values and when you are, for the most part, at that point, it's different. These people that are at level five, whether they're stealth or otherwise, they are living their values in that way. I meant to ask you before we actually started recording the episode tonight, what Michael had sent you. It's interesting to learn that it was his ‘Lives of Positive Disintegration’ paper- in that paper he puts forth an exemplar as somebody who he discovered has achieved inner peace. The thing that I always wonder about is, well, has he dedicated his life to service? To my mind at level five, that's what you're doing. You're working in service to humanity. You have transcended your desire to make money or materialism or caring what other people think.

Stef: Well, here's where my own personal… Let's face it, we all have our own way of looking at the world and our own sense of ourselves and what we would like to be. I think the idea that a person lives only for others, I think there are people who do that to an extent, and certainly that don't put their own well-being first in every situation. It seems to me that we expect too much of people who really care very much about humanity and really focus as much as they can on doing good in the world. Because what does that mean? I write books for kids, and when I first started doing it, I just wanted to get them published, and I thought it would be great to win awards, and I thought it would be terrific to have money from doing it. It's not easy to have money from doing that, but that's what I thought would be good, and it would help the family, and I should pull my weight in the family, yet it seemed like not much of anything to do for the world. It was certainly not going to save humanity. It was going to be a thing that I could get known for, and that might be very nice.

But now that I'm old, I have a very different attitude about what I have done with my life. And it is not… I have not sacrificed my life for the benefit of humanity. What I try to do in every single thing I write is to help whoever is reading it find their way in the world. With YA novels, I want kids to come to a novel like that and come out of it having gotten a better sense of who they are and who they might be. I remember one time I wrote a book called “Plague Year”, and it was pretty intense. I was at a school, a high school, doing an author visit. The librarian said to me, there was a kid who came into my library last week and he said, “I have to read a book. I've never read”. He was a teenage boy. I've never read a book. I have to read a book. You have to give me a book that I'll be able to read and that I'll like. And she had just gotten “Plague Year” in and it was ready to go out to students.

She said, “Well, try this”. Now, this is a kid who had never read a book in his life. He came in the next morning with the book in his hand and she thought, oh, no, he hated it. He's not going to want to read. He's going to grump at me that I gave him the wrong book, and he said, “I finished it”. She said, “What?!” And he said, “I read it last night. I finished it. I want another one just like that.” She said she was just stunned, as was I. Because what did that mean? I had literally, by writing a book that grew out of my own need to create and out of my own story-making gift, which I have, and I changed that kid's life with something I couldn't even imagine could happen. That began to give me a sense of we're not so sure about what it is we're doing in the world. We may know why we're doing it, but we don't know what its effect is going to be.

Since then, I've had enough responses to my books. I certainly don't get acres of fan mail, and some of it is just ‘my teacher made me read this book and I read it and so now I'm having to write a letter to you’. But what I get much more often than that is a letter from a kid who’s said: You've changed my life. You've reached in and found a piece of me that I didn't know I had. This book is really important to me. In my book, “Welcome to the Ark”, I've had kids call me from all over the country saying: I didn't know there were kids like me. Some stories are just so outlandish, I can hardly believe that they happened. I didn't set out to save the world. I set out to do what comes from inside me that I need to do because of who I am, then I get this response. I think it's too simple to talk about ways you could be level four or level five and do things for the world, because sometimes who we are, if we're being the best of what we can be, is what is needed in the world.

Chris: Love that example, actually, because it reminds me so much of what Melissa Bernstein talked with us about a few episodes ago or a couple when she talked about the impact of creativity on her life and how it's been a transformative experience for her. I think that really what you're saying, you know, really is along the same vein. I see what you're saying, that makes a lot of sense to me.

Stef: I mean, there are people who do a thing in their life because it'll make them money, just do a regular job and then there are people who choose to do with their lives, something, something more, something that comes from inside themselves. I think there's enormous room for growth over the extent of an adult life. My son just turned 50. I will turn 80 this year. And that's a lot of decades. I'm not the same person I was when I was 30. I'm not the same person I was when I wrote my first novel. So much has changed about why I do what I do and what I hope for from it. Working with gifted kids and families, that's not something that has made me scads of money. I never thought it would, but I knew there were people who needed some information that I could give them.

I wanted to write stuff that would be useful to them. I never think of myself as being a level five, but that guy that I wrote about in my chapter who started out as a highly gifted kid who didn't do well in school and then ended up drinking and drugging and not a helpful person in the world? By the time he was in his 60s, his whole set of values had totally changed and he didn't have a lot of money, he didn't want a lot of money. He did a job where he could be in nature because nature was so important to him. He cared about his kids and had gotten back in touch with them even after the disaster of his earlier life and divorce, separation from the kids.

As we talked in the airport and we shared our stories, he really felt to me like he was a person who was now living his life in a completely different way than when he was younger and much more about what he could do for the world and how he could enjoy the world. He didn't care about money anymore. He didn't care about being famous. He didn't care about anything except that he was living a good life, doing something he wanted to do, connecting with nature, helping other people connect with nature, and basically loving life. So I call him a hidden, a stealth, five because he really had reached a point where he understood what his life was for and wanted to live it for what it was for, for helping other people and for enjoying nature and all of it. Not at all the kind of materialistic, self-involved things he had done with the earlier part of his life.

Emma: Stef, I wanted to ask you, does that then give a sort of different spin on level five insofar as it being more related to your authenticity and allowing that service to naturally flow from who you are rather than sort of conforming to an idea of what service to humanity is supposed to look like. What is success supposed to look like? You've got a quote at the very end of your chapter, w “You are not accidental. Existence needs you. Without you, something will be missing in existence and no one can replace it”. So simply by virtue of being you, because you are unique, whatever you produce in your authenticity may be of service. Like you, writing your novels and not realizing that it may have the impact that it does, it's just an expression of self. Do you think that's more… we have this expectation that level five, that service to humanity should look like a thing, whereas perhaps it's more just reaching into that place of authenticity?

Stef: Well, here's where we come to the complexity of one's spiritual beliefs. I was raised in a fairly typical Protestant household. I went to this Episcopal boarding school and thought I might want to be a nun. That was not a good idea and I realized it in plenty of time not to do that. But I have left behind the trappings of the religions that I encountered….the world is full of religions and it's full of spirituality. So that quote, I think, here again, if we have many lives, and I think we do- I think we learn from every single life we have, and we develop from every single life we have. If there's one thing I have learned in this life, it is that sometimes the most devastating things that happen to us bring with them the most learning, the most growth, the most change or not.

Some people have terrible things happen in their lives and they give up. Some people commit suicide. Some people. I've certainly, in my own life, thought of that often enough. When something gets really, really, really bad, I say, well, what's the point of going on? But I think overcoming those things and finding where one can survive the really bad things, I think it's hugely important. I think people can do that. I think for me, a level five is much more connected, not in what other people might think of you or what you do, but in how you cope with the worst things that can happen to you.

You look around right now in the world as it is and those of us who are empaths just mostly have to protect ourselves from it because we can't watch it. We can't take in all that is happening right now. The only way I can handle that is to be aware that when terrible things happen to you and you survive them, you can't help but grow and change. and develop a different way of looking at life. So for me, the levels are interesting and useful, and yet there are ways in which I think they don't really get what I think is the central aspect of being human, and that is finding the best way to be that in your own self.

Chris: There's one sentence that really struck me in your chapter, you said, “There are indeed universal values of love and compassion, but there are as many ways to live those values as there are individual humans.” And I really thought that that was lovely. I agree with you. I think that we have a really limited understanding, even if we take these five levels that Dabrowski outlined and think about them, of what they mean because we haven't explored them well at all. I would argue that goes for all five of them, that we just have our little glimpse of what they mean. Michael has talked about them as universes and types of development that within each of these five types of development, there are whole universes within. I think that that's a much more realistic way of looking at it than to say that we have a really clear understanding of what they mean. We do, of course, have Dabrowski's understanding, but like the woman in your chapter, Sarah, says. Even though he was a visionary for his time, we know a lot now that he didn't have the benefit of knowing when he was alive.

Stef: One of my problems with much of our society is that people do not understand the incredible diversity of humanity. My least favorite thing about school is its whole basic structure, which is the theory that six-year-olds all are pretty much alike and they all need the same things and so on. I think we do not understand the incredible complexity of our species, the differences. It's as though there are some rules that people set down and people are supposed to behave this way or that way, or these people are going to do those kinds of things. I think we have it really, we don't understand that each single consciousness is part of the whole but it's also its own separate thing.

Chris: I agree, Ifeel like I keep saying I agree but I do [chuckles]. I think that there is an enormous human diversity and that we don't understand it well but I'm so glad that we're having this conversation today. We haven't talked much about the levels and we haven't pushed back on them at all, so I'm grateful for you to join us and have this discussion because I think it's really important. I get a lot of feedback from people at this point, and it's not always positive.

Recently, I got an email from somebody who really took issue with the levels and the stratified nature of it. It's just repulsive to this person to think of it as a hierarchy of levels where some people are perceived as higher than others. It's really obvious to me, I come from a social work background and yeah, I can see how if I had come to this theory at a different time in my life, I probably would have been really turned off by the levels. I think that I have my own kind of perception of it that I am not even ready yet to talk about publicly, or try and put forth a kind of different way of looking at it. I think that ultimately, that is what we need to do, that it doesn't make sense to think of some people as better or higher than others. It's just not the way to be.

Stef: Well, here's the thing I will tell you about being a fiction writer. When I wrote “Welcome to the Ark” and “Flight of the Raven”, there's a major villain in Flight of the Raven. I remember somebody once said to me, which character do you like better? Elijah, the boy who is found and saved by a terrorist group or the terrorist who's running this group, which character do you like better? I said, well, here's the thing about writing. The villain creates the hero. The hero could not be a hero without a villain to operate as a circular relationship with. If you had no villain, you'd have no story. If you have no conflict, you have no story. If you have no problem, you have no story. All of us would like things to be easier than they are sometimes and all of us would like to have only nice people in the world. But there is no way that you can have just one kind of person. So in my stories, there must be a conflict and the conflict may be a human being. It may be a human being who's doing a terrible thing. Now, mind you, my editor also says you don't make very good villains because you always have to understand them. Well, I can't help that. I do have to understand them. I do have to understand why they do what they do. I can't say that I know real life villains and why they do what they do. I just know that in my stories, I do have to have some sort of understanding of where that villain is coming from and why that villain is being who he or she is. Without that, you don't have a story. Our whole existence is story. You don't get to have it all one way or all the other way. So, of course there are various levels and of course, there are various people who everybody can say is a hero and somebody else who says, you know, there's also some stuff they do that's not so great. So who's, who's always perfect and who's always evil? Hard question. I just heard Neale Donald Walsch say something that he told the interviewer that the interviewer's viewers were going to hate. He said, “Hitler went to heaven”. Well, I wouldn't necessarily say that, but I get the point that there is contrast in this world and contrast is what makes it happen.

Emma: When you were talking about the fact that there's a grayscale within humanity and being a fiction person, you might appreciate this, but it immediately made me think of Sirius Black talking to Harry Potter and saying we've all got light and dark inside of us, it's what we choose to act on that is important. That makes me think that when we're talking about people who are level fives, Stef you said before that who's to say that they don't make mistakes, they don't put a foot backwards. Chris you and I have talked about before you can be across many levels at once with your behavior and whatever dynamisms you're displaying.  I'd like to get both of your takes on this. Is it possible when we talk about stealth level fives that there could be people who have one foot in that space because they are trying to express their authenticity? [That] they are trying to act on their will to help humanity and service humanity, but they still make mistakes? They still go backwards to places of disintegration because life's an ever-changing, evolving thing and maybe they even go back to less savoury habits from the lower levels because we're all human and we all mess up sometimes?

Stef: Well, that makes sense to me. I also know that there comes a time when you get old enough, when you say, all right, I need to be the best person I can be and that's all I need to do. I don't need to answer to anyone else except that center in myself that does not want to hurt anyone. These last few years in the United States, it's been really hard for me to maintain my sense that things are gonna work out okay somehow, because it doesn't feel much like it right now. It feels like the dark has an upper hand in a way that I haven't seen before in my life, but then I've had a relatively safe life. There are people in the world who've known how dark it is, always.

Chris: Well, what both of you said is reminding me of a couple things. I feel like I keep referencing other episodes during this one, which is interesting because this doesn't happen to me every time we talk with somebody but I'm thinking about Eric's episode. Eric Windhorst said that sometimes he feels like he gets glimpses of level five. I think that that is legitimate and that especially for people who have mystical experiences or peak experiences, that you can have a glimpse of yourself or of that higher level before you're solidly there. My study group last month read a paper from Laurie Nixon about the function of mystical experiences and personality development. It's interesting because mystical experiences give you this spiritual experience that can allow you to experience your personality ideal before you actually are there in your development. You used the word ‘complexity’ a little while ago, Stef, and that's what we're dealing with when we're trying to talk about these experiences of consciousness or development, and it's really tricky to try and capture it well and accurately, but it's fun just to even attempt it, at least from my perspective.

Emma: Does that then come down to how we're talking about the levels insofar as: rather than saying you are level this, maybe you're behaving [like this level] at present so when you wake up today, are you being your best level five self or are you behaving like a low vibe asshole? Recognizing that we all have the full gamut in front of us, but it comes down to the choice of how we're behaving at that given moment.

Stef: Well, I can say this, that right now, the energies that are bathing the earth are so intense, so overwhelmingly intense, that I think even the most positive moral exemplars are having a bit of a struggle with what's going on in how they can maintain a sense of balance in the world. When you devote your life to doing something for other people and then you realize that it's made such a tiny difference, there's so much awful going on, that no matter how much you try to be of service or help others, it feels like emptying the ocean with a thimble and that can be hard. That can be hard for everybody. I don't think there's anybody that doesn't, at some point, even when they're at their best, say: it's not enough. It's not enough.

Chris: Even within my lifetime, it just feels like right now we're going through an especially difficult time. I wonder sometimes, having my son just turned 16 this week and I'm like, whoa, what's the world going to look like when he's my age? It feels scary to even wonder sometimes.

Stef: Then you have to be sensible enough to say, There have been dark times in the world before. And I mean, I just I just read a book called “A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War” (by Joseph Loconte). It's a book about Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and their experiences in the First World War and their writing of those books. When you see what human beings have had to go through in their lives and then they do something like these two men who wrote these amazing pieces of literature that have had huge effects on people, yet they're all about violence. They're all about war because that was what they lived through and put out these astonishing stories from their experience. I've got an 18 year old grandson, and a 14 year old grandson, and I am not going to be here when they are the adults dealing with the world. I can only say that we're still here, we humans. And that is not necessarily a foregone conclusion.

Chris: In your chapter, you talked about Peace Pilgrim and us all being cells in the body of humanity. I would really love to read this whole quote from Peace Pilgrim about being, the fact that we're all cells in the body of humanity because I feel like this paragraph from her just sums up so beautifully to my mind what it means to be at level five in the theory, to have this perspective of working for the whole.

“We are all cells in the body of humanity. We are not separate from our fellow humans. The whole thing is a totality. It's only from that higher viewpoint that you can know what it is to love your neighbor as yourself. From that higher viewpoint, there becomes just one realistic way to work, and that is for the good of the whole. As long as you work for your selfish little self, you're just one cell against all those other cells, and you're way out of harmony. But as soon as you begin working for the good of the whole, you find yourself in harmony with all of your fellow human beings. You see, it's the easy, harmonious way to live.”

I feel like this is the essence of what it means to be at a higher level development in this theory. I wanted to read it because I want the listeners to get a sense of what she was talking about and to live your values in that way is kind of an incredible thing.

Stef: Well, she also did say that it got easier and easier as she developed. That the ups and downs evened out. That was part of her message as well.

Chris: That's right. Yeah, she did say that and I'm going to share links in the show notes to her work. You can, you can download her book and the smaller book, “Steps to Inner Peace” for free from the ‘Friends of Peace’ program online. I'll include them for listeners if they want to check it out.

Emma: When we're thinking about our place in the world and how we can serve and not to despair about the state of how things are, is based on, Stef something you touched on, is that you know we've always had troubles in the past and we probably will continue to have dark times and I love the fact that you referenced Lewis and Tolkien. When you think about storytelling through the ages and this is you know something that Joseph Campbell would have brought up, is that those heroes journeys, those lessons that we get of light and dark and the choices that the hero makes through their journey and surviving through struggle is something that we've been telling in stories since the dawn of time, since before we put them in writing. If you look at old myths, or even when you look at Shakespeare, if you look at Tolkien, you're seeing the same sorts of themes and the same sorts of struggles and it kind of gives me a little bit of hope and a little bit of connection in the fact that humanity's been going on this journey for a long time where we've encountered struggle, we make choices to overcome it. I think that's a hopeful thing moving into the future to know that we're not alone. We never have been alone in that aspect.

Stef: Well, I would agree with that.

Chris: Well, Stef, thank you so much for being on the podcast and talking with us tonight. This has been really wonderful and interesting and different than anything else we've done yet so that's exciting!

Stef: Well, I hope it goes over well!

Chris: I'm sure it will, but thank you. And thank you, Emma, for hosting and being here and for your technical expertise.

Emma: Thank you to Stef for being our guest and helping us broach this subject. And thanks to you, Chris, for being on the podcast. Always appreciate you. And thank you to our listeners. We always appreciate you being with us as well for these conversations. And if you're listening to us on Apple or Spotify, please don't forget to hit those stars and give us a rating. If you have any questions, feedback or topics that you'd like us to cover, and clearly you have been in touch with us. So by now you may know how, but if you don't, you can email us at positivedisintegration.pod@gmail.com or find us on Twitter or Instagram. Until next time, keep walking that path to your authentic self.