The magic of consciousness
What is the difference between 'transpersonal psychology' and mainstream psychology? In this blog post, I share my perspective on the topic. As you probably are aware of, we are brought up with heavy social conditioning. That includes mostly subconscious belief systems, assumptions and behavior patterns that are passed on from parents to children and from the social environment. Although there are variations to these patterns depending on the culture and family we were born into, there are some deeply set unconscious assumptions that are shared by most cultures today. Together these form what is called 'mass consciousness' or 'the collective consciousness'. To put it bluntly, we are basically hypnotized into believing certain things, regardless of how accurate or useful these beliefs are. Now your mind is probably protesting and thinking: "Maybe that happens to other people, but not to me; I'm intelligent and beyond any hypnosis." But do you know why your mind is likely to react like that? Because it is programmed to defend itself. See, right there, that's the conditioning I'm talking about.
One thing is clear: This inner programming is much easier to detect in other people than in ourselves. In essence, these programs are survival mechanisms; they have helped us to adapt to the challenges of life. For example, we have learnt to value intelligence because that's what has helped our species to survive for so long. However, these inner programs (such as the belief that human intelligence is the highest form of consciousness) were created a very long time ago, and are no longer necessary for survival and certainly not always beneficial for psychological wellbeing. The only reason why this conditioning is still directing our actions is because it requires awareness and conscious choice to change those patterns; in other words, they don't evolve by themselves just because they are no longer necessary.
One of the most persistent conditionings is the belief that the self = the mind. Thus, the discipline of psychology is based on the idea that the self is the mind. Most people identify with the mind and the emotions (and to some extent with the body). If you were to ask the average human, what is 'you' about you?, the answer would be something along the lines: What is unique about me is my mind, my beliefs, my feelings, my memories, my personality...
What's interesting about this is that our sense of self is something that is learnt and conditioned: Unless we have 'awakened', how we perceive ourselves is limited by how other people view us and view themselves.
Our sense of self tends to be limited to the definition we have learnt through conditioning.
For example, if our parents continuously emphasize our gender as we grow up (by telling us to behave in accordance with our gender, to dress up in a way that is appropriate to our gender, etc.), then we will learn to identify strongly with our gender. Similarly, if we are brought up with a strong focus on the physical dimension, we learn to limit our perception to the physical dimension. In other words, we are conditioned to forget about our multi-dimensional nature. Not to blame everything on the parents or on society at large, but it's good to start questioning these automated assumptions that shape our life.
To get back to the topic, modern psychology was created in this context to help people deal with mental imbalances. Mental imbalances have a particularly damaging effect on many people, because as long as a person identifies with his or her mind, an imbalanced mind implies an imbalanced self. So when the mind is chaotic, it's very threatening to the human identity; it's not just the mind going crazy, but it's you who is crazy. Or that's the belief. Psychology then attempts to alleviate suffering by fixing the mind and therefore healing the human personality.
The question is, what happens when an individual - against all odds and despite rigorous conditioning - wakes up and starts to question his or her true self? What happens when the assumption of identifying with the mind and the emotions no longer holds? When the awakening human starts to reach beyond the edge of mass consciousness and to consider that perhaps the old belief systems don't tell the whole story. What if my essence is not my mind, body and emotions, but something far more expansive, magical and free?
Well, let's just say that psychology, as it has been practiced until now, isn't ready for that. I mean, what use is trying to fix the mind when you have chosen to expand beyond the limitations of the mind? That's like moving into a new house and needing help with the challenges of moving and settling in to the new house, and your psychologist goes on and on about how to repair the old house. It can be useful in some situations, but it will only bring you so far.
A person going through awakening will sooner or later experience an existential crisis, but not like most people who are just afraid of death. No, the awakening individual is beyond fear of death, because she or he knows deep down that the soul is eternal and there's no real death. Instead, the existential crisis is about the human identity that is dying, which makes it difficult to operate in a world where everyone else is still identifying with the mind. How are you supposed to relate to other people now? Or to yourself, for that matter? These are some of the struggles that come with awakening. But if your psychologist is a mainstream psychologist, she or he might not have the tools to support you through awakening. The trouble isn't mental imbalance, but the challenge of going beyond the mind while living in a society that hasn't yet reached that level of awareness. That's not crazy, it's just being a consciousness pioneer and breaking limitations before most others are ready to do that.
Transpersonal, holistic psychology then is all about supporting people who are awakening so that the inner transformation, which is a natural process, is as graceful as possible. It's about going beyond suffering but using expanded awareness as the main tool. It's not about healing the human mind or the personality, but reminding clients about the source of balance and consciousness within them. It's also not about denying the human emotions, but simply remembering that emotions are experiences, even valuable experiences, but they are not your free essence. Traditional healthcare, including mental healthcare, is all about survival and coping. How to survive for as long as possible with as little pain as possible. It's a good starting point, but for me, it's not enough. I choose to experience inner freedom and wellbeing while living here. I choose to go beyond surviving and coping to living with joy and expansiveness. For me, 'transpersonal psychology' is about reclaiming this inner freedom.
I choose to go beyond surviving and coping to living with joy and expansiveness. For me, 'new energy psychology' is about reclaiming this inner freedom.
Whether we are committed to self-realization or just ready for a life free of suffering, there comes a time when we are faced with the challenge of self-love. There are countless paths to self-realization, but every one of them passes through self-love. Intuitively I always felt the truth and significance of self-love – after all, how can we expect the world to change and others to let go of suffering if we are not committed to our own wellbeing? Allowing our natural, divine self-love is one of the best ways of serving humanity, because self-love essentially means going beyond suffering. And when we go beyond suffering, not only have we transformed our part of suffering on this Earth into love, we also show others that there is an alternative to suffering and that it's possible to choose self-love instead.
Self-love essentially means going beyond suffering.
Yet, it took me quite some time to discover what self-love actually meant. (Placing sticky notes with self-love affirmations on the bathroom mirror did not do the trick.) So what does self-love translate to in practical, tangible terms? It's a big question, and most of my work revolves around this topic.
Of course, self-love takes countless forms. Once we commit to deep self-knowing, we are faced with long-forgotten aspects of self, most of them shady if not downright scary. – It rarely is love at first sight. As I wrote in my book, even with the best of intentions we cannot jump from the depths of self-loathing to unconditional self-love overnight. Often the first voyage into self-love is a doubtful and awkward stumbling into self-kindness, at best. A feeble attempt at self-acceptance, overshadowed by bouts of self-hate. Self-love requires constant small, but courageous, steps: every choice that brings us one step closer to relief, or closer to feeling safe, is an expression of self-love.
Self-love can also take the form of curiosity: Who am I in this moment; what feels good right now? Self-love is not a straight road, and usually not a fast one either. It requires courage, patience and, oh yes, more patience. Sometimes self-love means allowing the difficult emotions to be felt – even the emotions that try to sabotage self-love; it's not about abandoning or ignoring parts of you that are self-hating. Instead, these parts of self-hate, shame and guilt can be brought into awareness and honored. In such instances, self-love (paradoxically) means allowing the self-hating parts to be what they are – in full trust that they will naturally transform when they feel safe enough to do so.
Often, self-love means being very still and present. Self-love is taking that deep and conscious breath every time the rushed mind wants to take over. Many times self-love emerges from allowing myself to relax; to just unwind and let go of the addictive self-control, self-monitoring, self-inhibiting. Self-love requires naked honesty with myself. Today self-love could mean setting a clear boundary, and tomorrow it might require me to open up and take the walls down in total trust of self.
Self-love also means creating safety in my physical environment and life, so as to allow more safety internally. Many times I don't know how to love myself, but I do know how to create more space for it in my life. The safer I feel in my body, in my relationships, in my home, and most importantly in my emotions, the more open I am to receiving the divine love from soul. Also, self-love is inherently sovereign; it does not involve me comparing my self-love to other people's self-love (and when I catch myself doing that, I do my best to gently return to a state of compassion). There is no ready formula that states what self-love is for You in this particular moment – your self-love is a unique, ever-expanding expression of your sovereign Self. However, I have found that one of the most illuminating practices is to ask myself in any moment: How can I allow more self-love in this moment? How can I receive more goodness into my life? (The key words being allow and receive.)
In addition to asking the above questions as often as possible, the two most effective and practical ways of allowing self-love (for me) are:
1) Doing things and making choices that bring relief and help me feel more safe when I'm in a dark space (or anytime when I feel tension).
2) Doing things and making choices that bring more joy into my life.
This is such a big topic that I will come back to it in many future posts. I would like to offer one daily practice though, that I've found particularly helpful in terms of receiving self-love:
Before going to sleep, write down 3 things that brought you joy today. If you're currently in a place where you're not feeling joyful about anything, you can still do this exercise and write down 3 things that brought you some relief or made you feel a bit more safe.
For example: Enjoying a homecooked meal; taking a walk in nature; listening to a touching song; daydreaming about my own house... Try to include items that are not related to other people, things that are about your experience within yourSelf.
Then, write down 3 things that helped you become aware today.
For example: Taking a few conscious breaths; taking time to be in stillness; doing some physical exercise...
When you start to allow more self-love into your life, you inevitably also allow those parts to come to the surface that are not self-loving, that have been yearning for your attention. So it's common to feel overwhelmed and become overly serious about your practice of self-love. Remember to have some fun with it!
Self-love is incredibly challenging for many reasons (a topic for another day) but the great thing about self-love is that the more you allow it, the easier it becomes and the better it gets.
There is a crack spreading across the globe, breaking our world in two. A crack in time and a split in consciousness. Can you feel it? There was a time when the evolution of consciousness expanded in slow spiral movements: the old sliding into the new, almost imperceptibly. Not so anymore; we're living in an age of threshold − an age of drastic, dramatic changes that shake the world and fracture the collective consciousness of humanity. You think I'm referring to the technological revolution? No, that's just a superficial manifestation of the real change that's taking place.
I'm talking about awakening. In the past, awakening was a special phenomenon chosen by a few individuals − a rare exception to the rule. In this age of quantum change, awakening is touching all of humanity. The split in consciousness is a split between old and new. This rift is dividing the Earth into two strata, each with their own perception of reality: the part of humanity that chooses to hold onto the old (meaning the mental, the linear, the duality-based reality) and the emerging new species of conscious humans who are choosing the new (meaning a perspective beyond duality). We see it in politics, business, entertainment, in the arts, in family structuring and relationships, and especially in spirituality: a constant push and pull between tradition and innovation, between structure and creativity, between control and freedom.
Of course there has been conflict and resistance with each new generation evolving and pushing the limits of the old. Yet it's different this time around. Now there is a contrast so stark between old and new, that it affects every single aspect of life. We are forced to choose our position on a daily basis: "do I buy into duality today, or am I ready to expand?" Just by being alive at this time, each one of us is choosing − in each moment − whether or not to be aware.
On the surface we see a lot of polarization taking place, and that can be overwhelming if we don't see the bigger picture. Humanity as a whole, and especially those of us choosing awakening, are experiencing a quantum change. In the past, new meant a new version of the old. In other words, there was always a sense of continuity, predictability, or linearity to the nature of change. Effect followed cause in a certain pattern. Well, that's all changing now! Awakening means quantum change. It means change beyond what we know, beyond what we understand and beyond what we can control. When enough individuals allow their awakening, it causes a cascade of quantum change on a global level. Hence the technological revolution. That's the big picture.
Awakening and self-realization have been the deepest passions in my life. I define 'awakening' as breaking the limits of who my mind thinks I am. For me awakening has very little to do with external things, like practicing meditation or yoga. Those are tools that might help to create a safe space in which to allow the natural, organic unfolding of awakening to take place. Awakening is hardcore dedication to see reality clearly; it's an unquenchable thirst to know your true self, no matter what. It's releasing every belief, perspective and identification that is not authentic, natural or free.
Awakening is a tumultuous phase where the individual frees herself/himself from the societal, mental and biological conditioning, and steps into self-responsibility (also called 'sovereignty'). This phase rarely, if ever, happens without resistance. Resistance to the new is conditioned into the old, so until you release the old, everything within you still operating from an old program will resist the new. Ironic, right? So instead of jumping into the new in one bold leap, the awakening human usually gets stuck in endless inner battles.
Oh, how I loved playing those games. I, too, held on to every defense mechanism, right until the walls protecting my precious ego crumbled into pieces and every boundary broke down. Until each reference point dissolved before my eyes, until my mind was turned upside down and my emotions inside out. Awakening is the most humbling, intense and terrifying experience, because it's the death of your identity. It's humiliating, because you see all the lies you've told yourself. Your old sense of self is dying and you have no idea what's waiting for you on the other side.
That thrilling moment right there is really a threshold, an opportunity to choose something different; to go beyond and open up to the unknown. Because what might seem like hitting rock-bottom, or worse, finding yourself in a dark bottomless void, is actually what I call the Break Point. The Break Point is an opportunity to make a choice and allow the change that you've been praying for. There are always several options available (after all, we are beings of free will). The options are something like this:
1) To remain stuck and distract yourself.
2) To go crazy.
3) To die.
4) To go beyond the mind.
I chose to try options 1,2 and 3 in countless lifetimes over and over again, until I was finally ready to choose the fourth option: To go beyond the mind, into the undefined new; to break the rules of what I'm supposed to believe to be real; to release everything that society wanted me to hold onto, including a defined identity, and fixed, limiting belief systems. Really it was a matter of having exhausted all the other options, having drained all of my inner resistance (and trust me, there was a lot), and used up every excuse I could think of to justify my resistance. I didn't let go of the old in a heroic act of bravery; I let go because I had tried everything else for a long time. And that's when the real surrender begins.
But here's the thing: Choosing 'new' is not a one-time choice. 'The old' is the default function; filtering our natural wisdom through the analytic, dualistic, easily influenced mind is how we have been programmed. The old requires less clarity, less conscious choice, because it's wired into our nervous system. Choosing to perceive ourselves and reality through our sovereign, free perspective rather than the default perspective feels like going against our instincts, because even those instincts are connected to the old program (the limited consciousness). 'The new' that I'm talking about, is a new way of being, a new consciousness, a new energy. It's not a new version of the old. It's not a new program or a new set of belief systems; it's not reprogramming our thoughts or finding new ways to deal with the old. It's a kind of radical inner peace that surpasses any understanding.
In other words, choosing to go beyond the mind means choosing to be in a state that is constantly new, constantly becoming more of itself, constantly changing expression and form − it's the state of being liberally alive! That means, as long as there is any part within that still is set on the old default mode, you need to actively choose new in every situation in your life, until the old programming is dissolved.
The quantum leap into the new means living an unconditioned life: Pure experience, awareness and expression, sans definition. Awakening breaks all the rules that you have known before. It breaks the rules of how to perceive and assess reality. It breaks the rules of how you relate to your thoughts and emotions; it breaks the rules of who you thought you were and could be, of how to live your life, and how to go beyond suffering into joy. It breaks the rules of right and wrong, because you don't buy into duality any more.
Awakening breaks all the rules.
The mind is built on rules and patterns. So once you stop following all the rules and you stop believing in your thoughts, the mind breaks down. It has nothing to hold onto, nothing to give it direction, or to contain its duality. The mind loses its old purpose and clashes against its own limitations. The mind will do anything to resist its own surrender and try to control the process. Sooner or later, however, you will be ready to let go of the control of the mind, and to fall headfirst back into your free Self.
Remember that you're not crazy just because you perceive reality differently from what most psychologists would call a "mentally healthy" perspective. Psychologists, like neuroscientists, know very little about how the mind works. (Possibly because they are using the mind to understand the mind...?) You're not going crazy; you're just breaking the rules of how to perceive yourself as you are stepping beyond the mainstream collective consciousness. You are awakening, and that's the best thing that ever happened to this world! So when you arrive at that Break Point, take a deep breath, understand that you are feeling anxiety because you are breaking out of an archaic prison called the mind. Now is the time to be gentle with yourself, curious about the undefined NEW, and present with whatever thoughts or feelings flow through you. It's all right, you are witnessing the unfolding of the bigger, freer, truer You.