Towards an Integration of Counselling,Clienting and Meditation

1.5 The Transpersonal Perspective

An enthusiastic and fast growing strand of WesternPsychology - but still far from mainstream - Transpersonal Psychology grewout of Humanistic Psychology which, in it's earlier turn, took inspirationfrom the east in it's emphases on 'being in the here and now', 'going withthe flow' and focussing on psychological health rather than disorder and,at best, conformity.

" oversimplify the matter somewhat itis as if Freud supplied to us the sick half of psychology and we must nowfill it out with the healthy half" (Maslow,1968,p5)

Maslow, a founding father of the humanistic movement,discovered that some people whom he regarded as particularly healthy hadwhat he called 'peak experiences.' Peak experiences were subsequently recognisedas occurring in other cultures and times under other names and circumstances.It was recognised that various eastern philosophies, psychologies and relegionsdescribed not just peak experiences but whole families of peak experiencesand claimed, contrary to Maslow's 'self-transcenders' for whom these experienceswere ususally spontaneous, to be able to induce them at will.(Walsh,1992;Tart,1983a,1983b; Vaughn,1986). Transpersonal psychology grew out of interestin these peak experiences and other 'altered states of consciousness'- known as ASC's.

It's also the one area of western psychology whichhas really embraced the 'less than substantial' notion of self held byeastern psychology.

Mainstream western psychology's reluctance toengage with peak and ASC experiences can be traced back to the atitudeof one of it's most influential founding fathers. In Civilisation andIt's Discontents (Freud 1930) speaks of his reaction to a letter receivedfrom the poet Romain Rolland -who had become a student of the Indian sageSri Ramakrishna. In it Rolland described a feeling of something 'limitlessand unbounded' which he saw as 'the physiological basis of much of thewisdom and mysticism'. Freud, puzzled with no similar referrent of experience,labeled this feeling 'oceanic' and suggested, as its origin, a feelingof infantile helplessness which he saw as the source of religious feelings.

Another reason is epistemological:

"Unfortunately, science, an immensely powerfuland valuable tool, has frequently degenerated into the pseudophilosophyof scientism. Scientism and it's philosophical analogue, logical positivism,argue that only sensory observation and science are capable of yieldingvalid knowledge. The result has been that phenomena incapable of sensoryobservation and scientific analysis have all too often been devalued anddenied validity. Two importnat realms of denied knowledge have been thesubjective realm of mind, meaning and purpose and the transcendental experiencesrevealed by contemplation" (Walsh,1992,p27)

In a paper entitled 'Western Analytical Philosophyand Transpersonal Epistemology" (Chinen,1996) identifies the followingfive distinct concepts of truth: correspondence, coherence, pragmatic,metaphoric and presentational and in conclusion asserts:

"All the modes of truth are needed for an adequateunderstanding of the human condition: from the mundane to the sublime,childhood to elderhood, and prepersonal to transpersonal.......the questionis not simply whether transpersonal experiences are true or not. The realquestion is, true in what sense?" (in Scotton,B; Chinen,A; Battista,J.eds.1996.p.227)

In 'Assumptions of Transpersonal Psychotherapy’,Wittine (1996), in the same volume, offers five postulates to help todescribe the core concepts of therapy informed by a transpersonal perspective.

1)Transpersonal Psychotherapy is an approachto healing/growth that addresses all levels of the spectrum of identity-Egoic, Existential, and Transpersonal.

2)Transpersonal Psychotherapy recognises thetherapist's unfolding awareness of the Self and his or her spiritual worldviewas central in shaping the nature, process, and outcome of therapy.

3)Transpersonal Psychotherapy is a processof awakening from a lesser to a greater identity.

4)Transpersonal Psychotherapy facilitates theprocess of awakening by enhancing inner awareness and intuition.

5)In Transpersonal Psychotherapy the therapeuticrelationship is a vehicle for the process of awakening in both client andtherapist.

Postulates 2 & 5 together point to a commonlyheld transpersonal adage which suggests that the therapist cannot assistthe client in stepping further than the therapist herself has trod.

Ken Wilber is a prolific writer who has emergedas a leading theorist in the transpersonal field. He is perhaps best knownfor his 'Pre/Trans Fallacy.’ (Wilber,1983) Calling on the evolutionaryphilosophy of Aristotle, Hegel and Teilhard de Chardin, also of Aurobindofrom the Eastern tradtion, he develops and elaborates a simple developmentalmodel which goes from:

prepersonal -> personal-> transpersonal, and correlateswith:

sub-conscious-> conscious-> superconscious, and

nature-> humanity-> divinity

Since development moves such a way, argues Wilber,and since both prepersonal and transpersonal are, in their own ways, non-personal,then prepersonal and transpersonal tend to appear similar, even identical,to the untutored eye.

Mistakes can be made in both directions - to erroneouslydescribe a transpersonal experience as a prepersonal experience is to makea pre-trans fallacy (1), a ptf1 Freud made a ptf1error,maybe, when he dismissed Rolland's deeply contemplative experienceas 'infantile'.To erroneously describe a prepersonal experience as a transpersonalexperience is to make a pre-trans fallacy (2), a ptf2 Jungmakes a ptf2 error, perhaps, when he:

"occasionally ends up glorifying certain infantilemythic forms of thought" (Wilber 1996, in Scotton,B; Chinen,A; Battista,J,1996,p128)

His other major contribution is the 'Atman projecttheory' (Wilber,1980) in which he essentially represents an 'anatta' argumentof non-dualistic reality in contemporary psychological terms with copiousreferences to the wisdom of the 'perennial philosophy' (Huxley, 1946 )and ‘the transcendent unity of all religions’ (Smith,1976; Wilber, 1977)The idea of substitute gratification is at the heart ot the theory, - thefundamental human drive to regain awareness of our true nature, Atman,is displaced by a craving for objects and experiences.

"When applied to the separate self, the intuitionthat one is the All is perverted into the desire to possessAll. In place of being everything, one merely desires to haveeverything. That is the basis of substitute gratifications, and it is theinsatiable thirst lying in the soul of all separate selves." (Wilber,1980,p.72)

Here is a contemporary restatement of the secondnoble truth of Buddhism.This and much of his following work, is seductivereading to any, such as myself, who wish to see Spirit take it's placein contemporary psychology. He is not, however, without his critics. Heron(1992)describes the theory as:

"monopolar reductionism in favour of transcendenceat the expense of immanence, in favour of the Real One at the expense ofthe Real Many." (p.198)

Subsequently, Wilber has had another major outpouringof work, Heron has a 12,000 word web document entitled "A rebuttal to theWilberians" (Heron,1997) Struggling to keep track of what appear to beto opposed positions - particularly regarding the existence (or not) ofa distinct spiritual monad, I am reminded of the corpuscular versus thewave theory in classical physics earlier in this century. That argumenthas died down into an acceptance that 'it depends how you observe it'.Though Wilber's theses offer a refreshing contrast to traditional psychology'sunquestioning acceptance of the substantiality of the self, it could alsobe said that Heron offers a cautionary brake to the setting up of an opposingideological camp. He also questions to what extent the Wilber positionis grounded in contemporary experiential inquiry, rather than it beinga postmodern, intellectual gloss on the received wisdom of the ancientspiritual patriarchs.

Updated 16 June 99
by Martin Wilks