Mosaic – Part 2: on maturity


The Mosaic model I’m working on has two dimensions. The first – and subject of today’s post – is the continuum of maturity, defined as “increasing complexity held together by integrity.”

I think we can find many aspects of maturing that reflect this pattern. By describing the dimension in this somewhat diverse, yet consistent, way, it helps us to see how the core aspect of maturing is present within all of us at all times in our life, unless we resist it. The life-giving tension between complexity and integrity allows us to see how several key types of maturing are going on woven in and through all of the “facets” (the second dimension) that are present at any season of life.

A mosaic may be the best metaphor for maturity according to this model because it is a highly complex pattern made up of pieces which each have their own integrity while contributing to a larger integrity as a whole (the new simplicity that co-exists with great complexity).


Since I set out to describe the process of spiritual development using ever-shifting facets that take turns at “centre stage,” I realised that I first needed to describe a separate dimension that gave the whole process a unifying trajectory. In order to be meaningful, development has to have some kind of direction.

An increase in how much “bigger” we get is not actually maturing if it tears us apart or makes us dissolve into meaningless chaos

When looking at models of various types of development (including biological) or when looking at real life experience in my life and others, I kept seeing a consistent tension between complexity and integrity as the heart of the process. As we “grow” (in any sense of the word), we get bigger; we increase our capacity. But an increase in how much “bigger” we get is not actually maturing if it tears us apart (fragmenting) or makes us dissolve into meaningless chaos. Some kind of unity must be maintained that holds all of that growth together.

There are countless ways in which one can break down aspects of maturity – and the tension between complexity and integrity can be seen within all of them. There is no doubt that this is only a partial list of what could be included and that all of these will have some level of overlap.

Key Markers of Maturing:

1. Increasing Complexity.  From before we’re born our brains are almost explosively creating new synapses (connections between brain cells) so that we’re instantly more complex than super computers. This keeps happening throughout our life and is the basis of everything that we ever learn. As development continues, we take in more language, more memories, more stories, more relationships, more images and sounds, etc. There are few obvious limits to how much of this increase we can handle, though we are very limited in how much of it we can pay attention to.

2. Maintaining Integrity. What is most important about integrity is that it be maintained at various levels. Like a mosaic, we preserve the integrity of the smaller pieces while building up larger patterns that form new wholes. Probably the best way that we preserve these layers of integrity is through a collection of stories that we identify with and create. These stories overlap so that what one story neglects or even sacrifices, another highlights or gives appreciation for. The unity or integrity that these stories weave together may be paradoxical, yet they remain woven together.

3. Reflecting on (i.e. articulating to oneself) and communicating (i.e. articulating to others) understandings (or non-understandings). Through words, stories, music, art, dance, or drama we make some sense of the complexity and the integrity. This enables us to become more consciously mature and simultaneously calms the chaos and anxiety of our subconscious world (“peace that surpasses understanding”). The better we get at this, the more effectively we can communicate with others.

4. Accepting and expressing of emotions. Increasingly, we are able to accept and tolerate a wider range of emotions and with greater awareness. The more we are able to recognize, accept and tolerate our emotions, the more we are able to express them accurately and effectively to ourselves and others, and the greater the fit will be between the emotions and the context. Eventually this enables us to honestly become aware of the range of goodness and evil inside of ourselves.

5. Healing. Our journeys through life are often characterized by traumas and wounding experiences. Healing involves the integration of these events into the complexity of our lives. Deeply upsetting ideas and doubts are eventually processed and digested. Blocked-off and denied experiences and thoughts are faced and explored. Not attending to unhealed wounds, on the other hand, can be one of the main ways in which we block maturing or get stuck.

6. Integrating understanding and action. This refers to one aspect of the integration between our bodies and our minds. As we mature we shrink the distance and difference between our thoughts and our actions, our words and deeds. Increasingly they line up with each other. We are not maturing if these aspects of ourselves are increasingly pulling apart.

7. Widening empathic circle. As we mature, we are increasingly able to see that people more and more distant or different from us are considered to be genuine humans in the same way that we are, and therefore worthy of empathy. Wherever we have placed our fences (keeping out those we label enemies, outsiders, heretics, and those whom we once felt we had to separate from in order to thrive) we are now pushing those fences outward. Perhaps in a somewhat different way, we also deepen our compassion for the non-human world – valuing the ecological systems with which we come to understand our interdependence.

8. Wise discernment. We grow in our ability to discriminate between what is (or which perspectives are) more life-giving and what is more life-negating in a way that builds on all of the above. There is an increasingly fruitful balance between affirmation and celebration on the one hand and critical resistance or rejection on the other. There is a balance between the uniqueness of individual situations and what has been learned from larger patterns. This increasing discernment enables both joining and separating, in other words, effective boundaries in thought and in action.

I would suggest that these are but a small sample of the way that we might recognize the pattern of “complexity held together by integrity” as characteristic of the maturing process in a fairly universal way.

Any suggestions of other examples where this pattern can be seen? Or any suggestions for an essential part of maturing that seems quite separate from this pattern?

My next post will explore how this process gets bogged down.

mosaic table top

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