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November 14, 2021 31 min
Franciscan Spirituality Center
920 Market Street
La Crosse, WI 54601

Steve Spilde: Today it is my special pleasure to welcome Trace Bell. I love listening to podcasts, and my all-time favorite is the RobCast. Trace is a regular co-host there with his father, Rob Bell. Last year, Trace and Rob changed how I see life with their four-part podcast series titled, “Me, We, and Everybody.” In the podcast, they provide a great introduction to Spiral Dynamics and helped me grasp an integral perspective on spirituality. I am excited to welcome Trace to this podcast. Trace, I appreciate that series of “Me, We, and Everybody” so much because it helped me understand what has been happening in our politics for the last five or six years. It also helped me understand the path of spiritual growth that I’ve been on, and the spiritual struggles I encounter with many people I meet in Spiritual Direction. Trace, I apologize for putting you on the spot, but for our listeners who may be unfamiliar with what we mean by “Spiral Dynamics,” how would you describe this theory?

Trace Bell: First off, I’m so honored for everything you said; it makes me so happy to hear people’s response to that series. I’m honored. It’s not putting me on the spot. I’ve been explaining this in a lot of ways to a lot of people, and I love it. I love sharing this with people. Spiral Dynamics is a psychological development model that maps the evolutionary patterns of humans and individuals. It models how _____ individuals psychologically develop in collective. It was developed a couple decades ago by guys named Clare Graves and Don Beck, who were psychologists. They found that humans over time, their value systems change as they go through these stages of growth. This is what Spiral Dynamics is ultimately mapping: It’s mapping that there are certain stages of growth the humans go through, and groups go through as well. It’s been a really illuminating and helpful model because it allows you to see your own growth and the certain stages you went through in your own journey. It allows you to understand … A lot of people are simply acting from different stages in this model, and they’re acting from different perspectives. Another way people describe Spiral Dynamics is it maps the evolution of consciousness. Your consciousness increases in its ability for complexity and depth and compassion and empathy over time. That’s what Spiral Dynamics ultimately maps: It maps how humans grow to more whole, aligned, integrated individuals.

Steve: [On] the RobCast, everything is spiritual, so it always looks at things through sort of a spiritual lens. How do you connect Spiral Dynamics with spirituality, in particular?

Trace: The spiritual implications of Spiral Dynamics kind of hit me in the face when I first learned the model. It describes the growth that people go through on their journeys. And you can see as people grow in this high-level development, spirituality becomes an integral aspect of these higher levels of development. The higher levels on this model of Spiral Dynamics, people at these higher levels are often maturing to a deeper spirituality and taking a very spiritual perspective on things. Spiritual development and spiritual evolution, if you will, is kind of inherent in the design of our reality. A model that maps this development of humans in groups is going to say a lot about the spiritual evolution of the people that it’s mapping. There are a lot of spiritual implications … One of the stages in Spiral Dynamics – which we teach in our class, “Living the Spirals” – [is] actually a stage about your deep connection to your personal connection to spirituality, your personal connection to reality itself. It’s literally a stage … There are actually stages in this model that describe and articulate people’s personal connection to spirituality. In those higher stages – those integrated, integral perspectives – those stages are so intertwined with spirituality, and it takes a very spiritual value of having compassion for everyone, understand that people are coming from different perspectives, meeting people where they’re at.

The spiritual implications are endless. It’s very fun for people to learn the model and kind of take away their own conclusions and find their own ‘a-has’ and insight through the model. I’ve watched people over time learn Spiral Dynamics and take away their own insights that I didn’t even get when I learned it, or I didn’t even realize. I would urge anyone listening to go check out the model themselves and see if they can find any spiritual implications or spirituality within it because spirituality is a language that speaks to us personally. The model speaks differently to different people, and different people have different insights. That’s what so beautiful about it: It has so many different ways to read and understand it.

Steve: I would just say for people who are listening to this to do yourself a favor and listen to that series – it’s “Me, We, and Everybody.” If you do a search on the RobCast, it was like last year [in] November. You and Rob just do such a great job of making it accessible. It’s complex material, but yet it’s very understandable. I can see anyone understanding it, especially the way you presented it. I just encourage people to listen to that, and then you’ll want to end up reading more.

Trace: Thank you. That was our goal when we recorded it. My dad has been teaching Spiral Dynamics for over a decade, and he [asked], “What forum am I meant to teach this in? Is it supposed to be a video series? Is it supposed to be a book?” And then he [said], “Let’s do a podcast series.” He [asked me], “Trace, will you join me for this podcast series?” He and I were talking about it, and I had learned it a year prior, and [we said], “Yeah, let’s do a podcast series.” We said down and [asked ourselves], “How can we do this in our Trace and Rob language the best that connects with the most people and is the most accessible, and also makes them want to learn more?” To hear that it had that effect on people just makes me so happy. Thank you.

Steve: You are relatively young – you’re in your mid-20s, correct?

Trace: Yup.

Steve: [Talk] about your spiritual journey and how the Spiral Dynamics might fit into that for you.

Trace: The first time my dad sat down and taught me Spiral Dynamics, it was a very Rob Bell moment. He sat down at the kitchen counter with two big blank sheets of white paper with a marker. And [I thought to myself], “OK, this is going to be a Rob Bell moment here.” [He told me], “I’m going to teach you Spiral Dynamics.” And boom, he just wrote it out on two big blank white sheets of paper. He just wrote it out in his writing, and it was just beautiful. I had this whole model in front of me, and I ended up actually hanging it in my bedroom because it was kind of like a souvenir almost. When I first learned Spiral Dynamics, it really connected a lot … It really put language in a framework to a lot of the things I had experienced. I grew up with my parents starting a massive megachurch in Michigan. My dad was teaching at the church, my parents were very involved with the church, and that kind of was their project. My dad was very involved in the Christian world. People are kind of surprised when they hear me say this, but I just never really connected with any sort of organized religious structure when I was younger. I just never felt like a deep connection to Christianity, and I didn’t really feel a deep connection to the church or what my parents were doing. My parents kind of kept the kids separate from the church a little bit – they didn’t involve us very much in the church life.

I didn’t really have a connection to any sort of religious structure or consider myself religious at all, but as a kid I had a deep, metaphysical kind of wonder about the universe. [It was] a deep sort of wonder and awe about the universe, and a deep wonder and awe about consciousness. I say that everyone has their own doorway into spirituality, which is everyone has their own way that they came into spirituality, and [their own] way that the universe kind of ushered them into a deeper relationship with God, source, spirit – whatever word you want to call it. And to me, that felt like my doorway. My doorway wasn’t organized religion; my doorway was this deep kind of yearning to connect with reality and to connect and understand who I am and understand the interconnectedness of everything. My growth throughout the years was just kind of following this thread of deep wonder. As a kid, I was reading about consciousness and I was reading about different kinds of religions and I was just reading a bunch of things to satisfy this yearning and this wonder and awe.

My spiritual journey has been reintegrating and following that childlike wonder and awe and exploring that. I had a deep kind of connection to spirituality and this deep spiritual connection. When I learned Spiral Dynamics, I could see the reason it was so illuminating for me on my own personal journey is that I could actually see myself going through all those stages throughout my life. I could actually see myself … There’s a stage called “Orange,” which is very logic-oriented and very associated with the rational mind. When I learned Spiral Dynamics, I [said to myself], “I remember when I went through my ‘Orange’ phase.’ There’s a stage called “Green,” which is all about seeing everyone as equal and having compassion and love for everyone. I [said to myself], “I remember when I went through my ‘Green’ phase.’ I could actually see all of these stages of consciousness within myself and within my own growth journey. And it wasn’t just like stages of consciousness that I had sort of gone through and didn’t have any access to.
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