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Center for Action and Contemplation
Authentic Transformation
Authentic Transformation

Growing Up, Waking Up, and Cleaning Up 

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Drawing on the work of American thinker Ken Wilber, Father Richard describes three stages of transformation: Growing Up, Waking Up, and Cleaning Up. 

Growing Up refers to the process of psychological and emotional maturity that persons commonly undergo, both personally and culturally. We all grow up, even though inside our own bubbles. The social structures that surround us highly color, strengthen, and also limit how much we can grow up and how much of our own shadow self we will be able to face and integrate. But any full growing up has to be a growing outward and not just upward; in other words, we can be aware without being caring—which is not to be very aware!  

By Waking Up we are speaking of any spiritual experience which overcomes our experience of the self as separate from Being in general. This is variously referred to as enlightenment, awakening, or unitive consciousness, and it should be the full Christian meaning of salvation. Unfortunately, we pushed all waking up into something that would hopefully happen later, in heaven or after death, or as a reward for good behavior in this world. This was a major loss and defeat for Christianity and a disastrous misplacement of attention. We became a religion of religious transactions more than spiritual transformation.  

Waking up should be the goal of all spiritual work, sacraments, and Bible study, but, at least in the West, this has not been the case. Because we were not practice-based for the most part, and had a bias against inner experience, it seemed very presumptuous to actually believe—or believe possible—the conclusion of every significant mystic: Jesus’ “I and the Father are one” (see John 10:30), Augustine’s “God is closer to me than I am to myself,” [1] or Catherine of Genoa’s “My deepest me is God.” [2] Organized Christianity largely described waking up in terms of growing up, and that growing up was almost entirely interpreted in highly moralistic terms—and even that morality was largely culturally defined!  

We ministers talked, wrote, and preached about Cleaning Up the most, but actually did this very poorly. We happily reminded people of their moral failings with regular shaming and reminders of their sins, particularly the “hot” ones. This led to religion being identified almost exclusively with morality, rather than any deep transformation of consciousness. Hear me, please. We do indeed need to clean up, but this largely involves putting boundaries to our natural egocentricity, which does have the potential to wake us up to the illusion of our separateness over time. The goal in waking up is not personal or private perfection, but surrender, love, and union with God. Any preoccupation with my private moral perfection keeps my eyes on myself and not on God or grace or love. Cleaning up is largely about the need for early impulse control and creating necessary ego boundaries so we can actually show up in the real and much bigger world.  

[1] Augustine, Confessions 3, part 6. Latin text is “Tu autem eras interior intimo meo.” 

[2] Catherine of Genoa, Vita 14. Italian text is “Il mio me è Dio” (1580 ed.). 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Four Shapes to Transformation,” Oneing 5, no. 1, Transformation (Spring 2017): 40, 41–42, 43, 44. Available as Print and PDF download.  

Image credit and inspiration: Jenna Keiper, web of water (detail), 2020, photo, Washington. Click here to enlarge image. Like this spider’s web, a ray of light can illuminate and transform us

Story from Our Community:  

I’m moved by the image of the Cosmic Mother. I hear and experience much public advice from masculine figures, but I think in these challenging times, many of us are yearning for the comforting figure of the mother to carry us through. I have three grown children, all of whom are finding ways of living authentic lives. I hope those who offer strong feminine energy can begin to speak out more freely, offering a loving mothering message for humanity.  
—Ann C. 

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