On Being Human: A Reflection

Susanne Cook-GreuterEditor's Picks, Lifestyle, Perspectives, Presentations, Self-Identity, Video Leave a Comment

In this deeply touching keynote address, Susanne Cook-Greuter offers a personal account on what truly matters in life, beyond one’s stage of ego development.

Video excerpted from the IEC Media Collection
Written by Dennis Wittrock

In this video we have the great pleasure to hear the wisdom of beloved integral elder, Harvard postgraduate and developmental researcher Dr. Susanne Cook-Greuter. She combines her curiosity in human nature and her all-time fascination with language in researching the “highest” or “latest” stages of adult development by building on and expanding the work of Jane Loevinger. As an effect of the work in this field, people oftentimes turn to her in order to satisfy their curiosity about the higher reaches of human development and advanced intelligence and maturity that seem to be available to most of us. Almost always people assume that “being higher” on the developmental ladder is necessarily “better” or the only legitimate direction to expect more beauty, truth or goodness to come from.

In her keynote address Susanne exposed and questioned similar trends she perceived in the Integral Scene in general — always being on the verge to going higher, up and beyond, towards the “Superhuman” even — a certain form of Evolutionary Evangelism that can become problematic at times (especially in Europe which finds it “sooo American”) if not put into perspective. This exactly was the gift Susanne brought us with her speech: putting our adoration of the higher stages of development and our evolutionary enthusiasm into a “Human, all too Human” perspective.

In a very moving way Susanne shared her experience with her sister Theresli, who had Down syndrome and had just passed away in April at age 72. In her own words:

“Although her passing was not unexpected, I felt more lost, and empty than I thought possible. Lost, because Theresli has been part of my life from the day I was born. She was a shining star in my living firmament. She was as significant a shaper of who I have become as probably all my education combined. I am just beginning to fathom in how many ways our lives were and remain intertwined.”

Later Susanne shared a video showing an amazing art performance by Myolo-Shida asking the audience “What does perfection like hers add to our experience of being human? I hope my talk today emboldens you to ponder this question. Is second-tier development really necessary to be a contributing and exemplary human being? My sister did not have it. Myolo Shida may not have it either, but watch, marvel and be inspired by the exquisite beauty of her performance!”
[videogallery id=”BeingHuman-b”] The whole keynote culminated in a guided meditation. Susanne described the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer that is overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro. She invited us to step into his position watching and sharing in the joys and worries of everyday people in this mega-city, young and old, rich and poor, healthy and sick:

Feel into your posture of the statue: arms spread-out, soft belly, gentle gaze; heart wide open, and yet standing grounded and firm as a rock.

You are the still point… you are benevolence… You are equanimity… With this gesture you are blessing everything that is around you: the people with their triumphs and failures, their joys and sorrows, their beginnings and endings.

You bless the earth, the water, and the sky; you bless the good and the bad, the true and the false, the beautiful and the ugly alike without judgment.

Thereby you sanctify all existence with your solid, unwavering presence, your equanimity, benevolence, and compassion.

Bless you too, Susanne.

On Being Human: Slideshow

Image: Reverie by Sheri Munce [+view gallery]

Susanne Cook-Greuter

About Susanne Cook-Greuter

Dr. Susanne Cook-Greuter, born in Switzerland, is an internationally known authority on mature adult development, continuing the work of developmental pioneer Jane Loevinger. Her thesis, Postautonomous Ego Development (1999), is a landmark study in the characteristics and assessment of highly developed and influential individuals and leaders. She holds a doctorate in education from Harvard University, and is also a founding member of Integral Institute.