John E. Mack, M.D.
We are witnessing a battle for the human soul between two opposing ontologies. In one view, the physical or material world is the ultimate, if not the only, reality, and the behaviors and experiences of living organisms, including ourselves, can be understood within the framework of potentially identifiable mechanisms. In this worldview consciousness is a function of the human brain, and its farthest reaches and greatest depths are, in theory, fathomable through the researches of neuroscience and psychodynamic formulations. In this view, life, in James Carse's words, is a finite game.
In the transpersonal view, the physical world and all its laws represent only one of an indeterminable number of possible realities whose qualities we can only begin to apprehend through the evolution of our consciousness. In this view, consciousness pervades all realities and is the primary source or creative principle of existence, including the energy-matter of the physical world. Until recently, Western philosophy and science, including psychology, have been dominated by the first view. The transpersonal vision is opening our minds, hearts, and spirits to the second. In this view, life is an infinite game.
Each worldview, the materialist and the transpersonal, has its accompanying epistemology (way of acquiring knowledge), and each has its consequences for human well-being and the fate of the earth. In the materialist universe we know the world at a distance, through our senses and the machines and instruments through which we can extend their reach, and by reasoned analysis of the observations that our empirical enterprises yield. We take pride in the objectivity that this way of knowing reflects, and we are suspicious of subjectivity and emotion, which are thought to distort the truth. In this framework, we rely on ordinary consciousness for information about ourselves and the surrounding environment and regard nonordinary states principally as exotic, pathological, or interesting for recreational purposes.
In the transpersonal universe or universes, we seek to know our worlds close up, relying on feeling and contemplation, as well as observation and reason, to gain information about a range of possible realities. In this universe we take subjectivity for granted and depend on direct experience, intuition, and imagination for discoveries about the inner and outer worlds. A transpersonal epistemology appreciates the necessity of ordinary states of consciousness for mapping the terrain of the physical universe, but nonordinary states are seen as powerful means of extending our knowledge beyond the four dimensions of the Newtonian/Einsteinian universe.
The consequences of the materialist worldview are all too familiar. By restricting the scope of reality and the domain of personal fulfillment to the physical world, while excluding from consciousness the power of spiritual realms, human beings are ravishing the earth and massacring one another with instruments of ever greater technological sophistication in the quest for power, dominance, and material satisfaction. The outcome of the continued enactment of this view will be the breakdown of the earth's living systems and the termination of human life as we know it. Psychology, in this paradigm, has limited its healing potential by following a therapeutic model in which one person treats the illness or problems of another, separate, individual, whose relevant world is confined to a few principle relationships.
The transpersonal vision offers the possibility of a different future for humankind and other living creatures. Through a deeper exploration of ourselves and the worlds in which we participate, transpersonal psychology enables human beings to discover their inseparability from all life and their appropriate place in the great chain of being. Central to this unfolding awareness is the rediscovery of the power of ancient methods of achieving altered states of consciousness, such as meditation, yoga, shamanic journeys, and the judicious use of psychedelic plants. New methods of self-exploration, such as the Grof holotropic breathwork method and modified forms of hypnosis, enable many people to experience realms of the unconscious and the mythic and spiritual universes from which we have cut ourselves off. Transpersonal psychology certainly has therapeutic applications. But its greater focus is upon healing, transformation, personal growth, and spiritual opening.
The poet Rilke once wrote that the senses by which we could grasp the spirit world have atrophied. The transpersonal vision, as set forth by its pioneers in this book, shows the way that these senses might be reawakened and opened to domains of being of which we have perhaps never before been conscious. If and when this occurs, we may again discover the sacred in ourselves and nature. It will then become unthinkable to foul the earth-nest of creation that has been mysteriously lent to each of us for such a brief time. For as we explore the multiple dimensions of universes of unlimited possibility, we may at the same time learn to participate in a harmonious relationship with our fellow human beings and other living species through a consciousness that is forever evolving.
When in the late 1970s we began preparing Beyond Ego: Transpersonal Dimensions in Psychology, our goal was to provide the first comprehensive overview of the exciting new field of transpersonal psychology. One of our challenges was to find enough review articles. Our challenge in editing a new overview for the nineties and the twenty-first century has been quite different: both easier and more difficult. It has been easier in the sense that the transpersonal field has expanded dramatically and good papers are abundant; it has been harder in that selecting among them is more challenging.
It rapidly became clear that transpersonal exploration has expanded far beyond its foundation discipline of psychology to encompass fields such as transpersonal psychiatry, anthropology, sociology, and ecology, thereby creating a multidisciplinary, transpersonal movement. It also became clear that in order to reflect this dramatic growth, more than a new edition of Beyond Ego was required; what was called for was a new book. The result is this book: Paths Beyond Ego: The Transpersonal Vision.
In preparing Paths Beyond Ego we had several aims. First, we wanted to provide an easily readable introduction. Transpersonal studies are of potential interest to an exceptionally wide range of people, from medical and mental health practitioners, researchers, and clinicians to social scientists, philosophers, theologians, and spiritual practitioners. We therefore wanted to provide a clear introduction to the field that required a minimum of specialized knowledge and would be accessible to readers from diverse backgrounds.
Within the available space we sought to provide as comprehensive an overview as possible. Therefore, we tried to include outstanding reviews of all the major transpersonal areas. In order to include as many areas and articles as possible, articles have been edited and condensed. Readers who want more detailed discussions of particular topics can consult the original articles as well as the recommended reading list.
We certainly hoped to convey a sense of the excitement of cutting-edge work in this field. We therefore sought articles that build on the foundation of earlier work and also point to fascinating emerging possibilities.
In addition to an introduction and overview, we also wanted to provide an integration of the field. We therefore chose articles of broad integrative scope and attempted to write introductions that point to connections and common themes wherever possible. Such an attempt seems particularly important for a field that stands at the crossroads of an extraordinarily wide range of disciplines and points to the interconnection and interdependence of all things.
We are astoundingly ingenious creatures. We have gone to the moon, split the atom, unraveled the genetic code, and probed the birth of the universe. Indeed, modern civilization stands as a monument to the boundless creativity of the human intellect.
Yet, while evidence of our intellectual and technological genius is all around us, there is growing concern that in other ways we have seriously underestimated ourselves. In part because of the blinding brilliance of our technological triumphs, we have distracted and dissociated ourselves from our inner world, sought outside for answers that can only be found within, denied the subjective and the sacred, overlooked latent capacities of mind, imperiled our planet, and lived in a collective trance--a contracted, distorted state of mind that goes unrecognized because we share it and take it to be "normality."
There exist within us, however, latent but unexplored creative capacities, depths of psyche, states of consciousness, and stages of development undreamed of by most people. Transpersonal disciplines have emerged to explore these possibilities, and they emerged first in psychology.
The Evolution of Psychology
Western psychology was born from two distinct sources: the laboratory and experimental science on one hand, and hospitals and clinical concerns on the other. In its practitioners' efforts to establish it as a legitimate science, they modeled experimental psychology on physics, focused on observable, measurable behavior, and shied away from the unobservable world of inner experience. Experimental psychology became dominated by behaviorism.
Clinical psychology and psychiatry, on the other hand, were born of a concern for treating pathology. Since much suffering stems from unconscious forces, clinical work focused on the subjective and the unconscious. Clinical psychiatry and psychology became dominated by psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis and be...