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What is 'transpersonal psychology' and how does it differ from mainstream psychology? Is a psychology that transcends the mind even possible, and if yes, of what use could it be? In this essay, I share my perspective on this topic.
As many psychologists and self-help gurus keep reminding us, 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.
This happens to all of us, even the intelligent, independent and free-spirited ones.
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 to psychological wellbeing. What does it take to change this subconscious conditioning? Three things: 1) Awareness of the old pattern/belief, 2) conscious choice to change the pattern/belief and 3) persistently practicing a new way of behaving/thinking/perceiving. Unfortunately, old patterns don't evolve by themselves just because they are out of style and no longer necessary.
One of the most persistent conditionings is the belief that the self = the mind (and if you are scientifically inclined, the mind = the brain, therefore the self is nothing but a bunch of neurochemical activity). So it happens that the discipline of psychology is based on the idea that "the self is the mind". Most people identify with their thoughts and their 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: 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' spiritually, 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 or the aspects of our personality that are not gender-appropriate, to use the above examples. Not to blame everything on parents or on society at large, but it's good to start questioning these automated assumptions that shape our life. I guarantee you that, unless you have done this exercise before, you will be surprised by the depth and extent of social and cultural conditioning.
So modern Western 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. The awakening human might be 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 spiritual 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 emotions, but simply remembering that emotions are experiences, even valuable experiences, but they are not your deepest essence. Transpersonal psychology operates within the framework of AND: we are human (with biological, mental and emotional limitations) and we are divine (we have a deeper essence that exists beyond time and space, an inner peace that can be accessed in the present moment).
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.