The “Ten Ox Hearding” pictures and how they can be seen in the light of our modern psycho-spiritual journey towards realising our potential.

These “Ten Ox Hearding” pictures show our potential journey in ten stages (12th c. China – Wikipedia)

1. “In search of the Ox”   2. “Discovery of footprints”   3. “Seeing the Ox tail”   4. “Catching the Ox”      5. “Taming or tending the Ox” 6. “Riding the Ox back home”  7. “Forgetting the Ox, the person rests alone” – the Ox is transcended  8. “The ox and the ox-herder are both forgotten” – both Ox and Self are transcended  9. “Reaching the Source” – re-connecting with form  10. “Appearing in the marketplace with gifts”- the return to Society

Before reflecting on these pictures, I first want to look at the difference between “self-development” and our “spiritual” or “transpersonal” development.

Spiritual / Transpersonal “development” is more about attuning and opening to the non-ordinary “being” level of life, it connects us to the miracle of here and now consciousness.  It seems that as human beings we are part “God”, some refer to this as the “True Self” or just the “Self” with a capital “S”. What is clear is that spiritual opening can happen at any point in our lives. The process of this “opening” runs parallel to, but separate from, the developmental stages that the personality and ego go through (as Ken Wilber explains). Actually, the transpersonal is not really about development at all, it is much more about degrees of connection, because whatever we call it, “Spirit”, “Being”, “Consciousness”, “Love”, it is always fully here waiting to be opened or connected to. So, it is a question of the degree to which we are aware of this connection. Or to put that another way, how deeply we are consciously embodying the Consciousness, Love and Energy, which always, and exclusively, exist, in the connected depth of the “here and now”.

So spiritual or transpersonal “development” is not about achieving anything, it is about increasingly “Waking Up” to what is already here … our “I am” ness, our connection to Consciousness, to Love and Energy. “Growing Up” on the other hand is about taking responsibility for “removing the obstacles” to being able to be in the “here and now”, i.e. facing and seeing and understanding our essentially defensive ego with its personality traits. It is about healing and maturing towards being able to increasingly own our ego, so as to able to eventually let go of it. “Waking up” and “Growing -up” are Ken Wilber’s terms for what is needed on our journey of realising our potential. He added “Cleaning up” for the work of therapy, and “Showing up” for the work of engaging with the world, but it is the first two that are fundamental in my understanding.

We experience the transpersonal differently at different stages –

Our self develops through the process of “transcending and including” (Wilber 2017) sequential stages of consciousness, it is about being able to hold increasing levels of complexity as well as the paradoxes of our nature. At each of these stages though our experience of, and interpretation of, spiritual connection is different, as Wilber explains well. From within the “Survival or Archaic” stage there is the glory of confluence, of being merged, at the “Magic” stage the spiritual does seem to be magical, from the “Mythic” stage there is religious belief, for the “Modern / Rational” stage it is maybe more about awe and wonder of nature and the belief in science, in the “Postmodern” stage the spiritual has to include the relativity and subjectivity of everything. Next are the “Integral” stages, where we are then able to let go of our identification with “our stage” being “right” or another “wrong”. Here the view is “Worldcentric”, and all the previous stages can be seen with an open appreciation of their place and value, as we move towards ever more encompassing perspectives.  

Wilber divides the developmental stages into three “Tiers”, with each representing a step change in expansion of our consciousness. As above, the beginnings of our “spiritual awakening” can happen at any point during any stages. The five “First Tier” stages are grouped together because at each of these stages the ego is identified with its perspective, there is not yet an independent enough sense of self, able to be sufficiently self-reflective to take on a more objective perspective. In the 2nd Tier or “Integral” stages we gain the freedom of multiple holistic perspectives, and the 3rd Tier stages are more spiritual and concerned with increasingly letting go of the ego as we become increasingly connected to the transpersonal aspects of ourselves and the universe. 

The first four “Ox herding” pictures can be seen as “Tier 1” process of becoming self/ego aware, the personality becomes increasingly sophisticated, towards awareness of the forces that drive us to be the way we are. The fifth and sixth pictures, “Taming or tending the Ox”  and “Riding the Ox back home” are the “Tier 2” or “Integral” stages of self-mastery or becoming our “authentic self” (Richard Harvey). The last four pictures are the process of letting go of our ego altogether into the fullest possible freedom.

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