Transpersonal: Extending or going beyond the personal.
Is a natural expression of being human, and maybe as we develop and mature, a more commonly experienced and acknowledged phenomena and way of living.
It can arise from different directions – the overtly spiritual, a philosophical transcendence or through some social system. However, whatever the source, it has a common thread of putting us in touch with the sacred, the whole, with spirit, something greater than ourselves.
In a certain sense, the transpersonal is not new. Men and women down through the ages have regularly reported experiences beyond those of normal everyday consciousness. The holy women and men from shamanic, yogic and other mystical traditions have actively sought to explore these shifts in awareness. And have tried to share the meaning of their insights with all of us.
One unfortunate side-effect of this is that some naiive spiritual seekers have interpreted reports of these ecstatic experiences a little too literally, and have sought to define spirituality solely in these terms. Instead of appreciating it as a fuller blossoming of wisdom and compassion, which has many expressions in our unfolding life story.
For western psychology, which very much coined the term transpersonal, early contributors were great thinkers such as William James, Carl Jung, and Roberto Assagioli. During the mid twentieth century researchers such as Abraham Maslow and Stanislav Grof did exceptional work investigating peak human experiences and altered states of consciousness respectively.
Another thinker in this field, Ken Wilber, has commented that there is a psycho-spiritual process which we are going through, both as individuals and as a historically located culture. Which raises an interesting dimension of what is going on in our increasingly global culture at this time.
Wilber has also provided a model of our conscious development and growth, from the pre-personal, to personal and onto the transpersonal.
The transpersonal is very much an academic discipline, and should not be confused with New Age movements, although clearly there is some overlap. Neither should it be thought of as a quasi-religion or spirituality.
What transpersonal psychology has done is to add the possibility of the soul / spirit to the realm of psychology and psychotherapy. This is why some have called it the fourth wave of psychology following on from early psychoanalysis, beahviourism and humanistic psychology, which basically ignored man’s spiritual dimension.
In doing so, it has opened up to the idea of a ‘spiritual crisis’ as a feature of our psychological landscape. A landscape which may include phenomena such as kundalini awakenings, peak experiences, near death experiences, psychic openings etc. And only by including these in the picture can our health be restored.
As well as the field of psychotherapy, transpersonal thinking also influences ideas on anthropology, sociology and art.
As well as the works of those mentioned above, an excellent summary work is the book by John Rowan:
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