Transpersonal reality transcends or reaches beyond the personal or individual. It deals with the embracing all the aspects of you, facilitating the transformation of the personal you and allowing you to see the greater wholeness, not only of you, but of humanity and beyond. The word “transpersonal” comes from the Latin “trans,” meaning beyond and through, and “persona,” meaning mask or personality.
The term “transpersonal” is often used to refer to psychological categories that transcend the normal features of ordinary ego-functioning. That is, stages of psychological growth, or stages of consciousness, that move beyond the rational and precede the mystical. The term is highly associated with the work of Abraham Maslow and his understanding of “peak experiences”, and was first adapted by the human potential movement in the 1960s. In integral theory, transpersonal refers to stages of human development through which a person’s self-awareness extends beyond the personal.
The experiences that originate on the transpersonal level involve transcendence of the usual boundaries of the body/ego and of the limitations of three-dimensional space and linear time that restrict our perception of the world in the ordinary state of consciousness. The transpersonal realm is the source of a wide range of anomalous phenomena, which present serious challenges not only to current conceptual frameworks of psychology and psychiatry, but also to the monistic materialistic philosophy of modern science.
Transpersonal experiences can best be defined by describing how they differ from our everyday experience of ourselves and of the world. In the ordinary or “normal” state of consciousness, we experience ourselves as material objects contained within the boundaries of our skin and operating in a world with Newtonian characteristics.Our perception of the environment is restricted by the physiological limitations of our sensory organs and by physical characteristics of the environment. In transpersonal states of consciousness, none of the usual limitations we experience are absolute; any of them can be transcended.
The existence and nature of transpersonal experiences violates some of the most basic assumptions of mechanistic science. They imply such seemingly absurd notions as relativity and arbitrary nature of all physical boundaries, non-local connections in the universe, communication through unknown means and channels, memory without a material substrate, non-linearity of time, or consciousness associated with all living organisms, and even inorganic matter.
Many transpersonal experiences involve events from the microcosm and the macrocosm, realms that cannot normally be reached by unaided human senses, or from historical periods that precede the origin of the solar system, formation of planet earth, appearance of living organisms, development of the nervous system, and emergence of homo sapiens.
In a mysterious and yet unexplained way, each of us contains the information about the entire universe and all of existence, has potential experiential access to all its parts, and in a sense is the whole cosmic network, as much as he or she is just an infinitesimal part of it, a separate and insignificant biological entity
Transpersonal psychology, as it was born in the late 1960s was culturally sensitive and treated the ritual and spiritual traditions of ancient and native cultures with the respect that they deserve in view of the findings of modern consciousness research. It also embraced and integrated a wide range of transpersonal experiences and other “anomalous phenomena,” paradigm-breaking observations that academic science has been unable to account for and explain.
However, although comprehensive and well substantiated in and of itself, transpersonal psychology represented such a radical departure from academic thinking in professional circles that it could not be reconciled with either traditional psychology and psychiatry or with monistic materialism and the Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm of Western science.
As a result, the new field was extremely vulnerable to accusations of being “irrational,” “unscientific,” and even “flakey,” particularly by scientists who were not aware of the vast body of observations and data on which the new movement was based, These critics also ignored the fact that many of the pioneers of this revolutionary movement had impressive academic credentials.They generated and embraced the transpersonal vision of the human psyche not because they were ignorant of the fundamental assumptions of traditional science, but because they found the old conceptual frameworks seriously inadequate and incapable to account for their experiences and observations.
This situation changed very drastically during the first two decades of the existence of transpersonal psychology. As a result of revolutionary new concepts and discoveries in various scientific disciplines, the philosophy of traditional Western science, its basic assumptions, and its Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm were increasingly seriously challenged. The influx of this exciting new information began by the realization of the profound philosophical implications of quantum-relativistic physics, forever changing our understanding of physical Reality.
The astonishing convergence between the worldview of modern physics and that of the Eastern spiritual philosophies, foreshadowed already in the work of Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, and others found a full expression in the ground-breaking book The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra
Capra’s pioneering vision was in the following years complemented and refined by the work of Fred Alan Wolf (1981), Nick Herbert (1979), Amit Goswami (1994, 1995), and many others. Of particular interest in this regard were the contributions of David Bohm, former co-worker of Albert Einstein and author of prestigious monographs on theory of relativity and quantum physics. Bohm’s concept of the explicate and implicate order and his theory of holomovement expounding the importance of holographic thinking in science gained great popularity in the transpersonal field, as did Karl Pribram’s holographic model of the brain (1971).
Another welcome addition to the above list was Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic resonance and morphogenetic fields, demonstrating the importance of non-physical fields for the understanding of forms, genetics and heredity, order, meaning, and the process of learning. Exciting contributions relevant for the transpersonal perspective were also Gregory Bateson’s brilliant synthesis of cybernetics, information and systems theories, logic, psychology, and other disciplines Ilya Prigogine’s studies of dissipative structures and order out of chaos, the chaos theory itself, the anthropic principle in astrophysics, and many others.
All the revolutionary advances in science have been welcome by the transpersonal circles as significant conceptual support for transpersonal psychology. On the one hand, they undermined various aspects of the seemingly monolithic structure of the traditional materialistic worldview with which transpersonal psychology was in principle incompatible. On the other hand, they often brought new insights which seemed to provide supportive evidence for various partial claims of the pioneers of the transpersonal perspective.
However, what was still missing was a large integrative vision, the “conceptual glue” that would weave all these pieces into a comprehensive tapestry of ideas about consciousness, psyche, and human nature, one that could also be reconciled with the revolutionary findings of other scientific disciplines about the nature of reality.
It was Ervin Laszlo’s work that turned out to be the “Rosetta stone,” which the pioneers of consciousness research and transpersonal psychology sought after. His contributions represent a quantum leap in this conceptual evolution and revolution described above. In a series of works, such as The Creative Cosmos, The Interconnected Universe, The Whispering Pond, The Connectivity Hypothesis, and most recently Science and the Akashic Field, Laszlo reviewed the major theories, which had attempted to solve the puzzles and paradoxes presented by the “anomalous phenomena” – the work of David Bohm, Karl Pribram, Rupert Sheldrake, Ilya Prigogine, and others. He showed the strength and the weaknesses of these theories and offered an elegant comprehensive metatheory, which addressed the unsolved problems in a number of disciplines.
The key element of this theory of everything, Laszlo’s concept of the psi-field, a sub-quantum field containing the holographic record of everything that happens in the universe (or possibly the Kosmos as understood by ancient Greeks) certainly accounts for the otherwise baffling problems encountered by modern consciousness research and transpersonal psychology.
As the title of his last book – Science and the Akashic Field – suggests, Ervin Laszlo has not only been able to formulate a unifying conceptual framework for a number of scientific disciplines, but also to create a bridge that connects the best of hard science quite explicitly to transpersonal psychology and to the great spiritual traditions of the world. His recent article specifically addresses the relevance of his work for transpersonal psychology.
10 Elements of Transpersonal Psychology
1. Transpersonal Psychology is a psychology of health and human potential. While recognizing and addressing human psychopathology, transpersonal psychology does not derive its model of the human psyche from the ill or diseased. Transpersonal psychology looks to saints, prophets, great artists, heroes, and heroines for models of full human development and of the growth-oriented nature of the normal human psyche. Instead of defining ourselves as all essentially neurotic (if not worse), transpersonal psychology makes it possible to perceive the individual as one engaged in the process of development toward full humanity, as exemplified by the words and deeds of great men and women.
2. Transpersonal psychology and transpersonal psychotherapy, in particular, does not see the human personality as an end in itself. Our personal history and the resulting personality traits, tendencies, and attributes are seen as the crust or skin covering our transpersonal essence. Another way of putting this is that the personality is, by design, the vessel or vehicle which enables the soul and spirit to navigate through the world. Thus, the proper role of the personality is to be a translucent window, a servant to divinity within.
3. Transpersonal psychology is a psychology of human development. As developmental psychologists, we agree with the object relations theorists that there is a continuum of development, in the sense of self and its stability. This continuum begins with individuals who have not achieved object constancy and strong ego identity, people who might be called psychotic. Up the next step of the development ladder are those with “borderline personality disorder,” in whom an unstable sense of self and object constancy have developed.
Another step up toward full functionality are those with a strong sense of ego identity and clear object relations, the so-called “normals.” Transpersonal psychology, at this point, extends object relations theory by pointing to the next stages of human development, wherein there is disidentification from one’s personality or personal identity and recognition of object impermanence or transiency. This stage is typified by the states of consciousness obtained by advanced meditators. A further step in development is posited wherein the person realizes the Supreme Identity (i.e., enlightenment or connection with God), and the relative nature of normal reality, as seen in saints and mystics.
4. Transpersonal psychology is an approach to the whole person. It seeks a balanced development of the intellectual, emotional, spiritual, physical, social, and creative expression aspects of a person’s life. Thus, all six areas are addressed scholastically and therapeutically, and integration or balance is sought. This is the ITP educational model.
5. Transpersonal psychology is a psychology that goes through the personal to the transpersonal. Far from just transcending our humanity, it is a process of working through our humanity, in an inclusive way, to reach the recognition of divinity within. Thus, transpersonal psychology emerges out of personal psychology, as a result of the individual’s growth and maturation.
6. Transpersonal psychology is the future norm in psychology, as yet unrecognized by the mainstream. Transpersonal psychology is largely inclusive of and builds on the psychoanalytic, behavioral/experimental, and humanistic psychologies that preceded it. It provides both an extension of and a different perspective from these previous psychologies. It is in no way a denial of the validity of their theories and techniques. It simply places them in a new context.
Transpersonal psychology asserts that religious and mystical experiences and the perspectives that derive from them are valid approaches to reality and can be studied scientifically. It is the beginning attempt of science to understand these most meaningful of human experiences.
7. Transpersonal psychology recognizes and studies the different states and stations of consciousness. It recognizes that such different states as dreaming, hypnotic trance, and “waking” consciousness all have sub-levels within themselves and possess their own state-specific systems, their own realities. Further, transpersonal psychology recognizes that not only are there different states of consciousness that one may move into and out of during the course of a day but that there are also stages or stations of consciousness that, through development, one can come to live in relatively permanently.
8. Rather than being a recent innovation, transpersonal psychology is largely a return to the perennial philosophy identified by Aldous Huxley. Mystical experience and shamanistic healing practices, which have been central concerns of humankind for millennia, are also a focus of transpersonal psychology.
9. Transpersonal psychology is depth psychology. It is part of the therapeutic stream started by Freud and his successors, Jung, Rank, and Reich. Roberto Assagioli, who posited a superconscious, as well as a subconscious, integrated transpersonal and depth psychology, as did Carl Jung.
10. The simplest definition is that transpersonal psychology is spiritual psychology. It recognizes that humanity has both drives toward sex and aggression and drives toward wholeness, toward connecting with and experiencing the divine.