What is Transpersonal?

What is Transpersonal?

Recently, I watched Rick’s interview with Stan Grof at SAND. I realized that one of the founders of Transpersonal Psychology defined “transpersonal” not as post-personal development but as the collective unconscious which he divides into historical and archetypal. This came out of mapping peoples’ experiences with hallucinogenic drug trips.

During my trip to CA in the fall, I also noticed Sofia University, the home of Transpersonal Psychology, was researching induced experiences as a means of “spiritual” development.

From my perspective, chasing experiences is not a means to post-personal development. Some such practices may have therapeutic benefit – that is beyond my knowledge – but they’re problematic for actual spiritual growth. Strong experiences tend to create lasting impressions (samskaras) and drugs have a habit of leaving energetic debris, both of which reduce clarity. While an opening may be experienced, there is no means to develop it.

Dr. Cook-Greuter has proposed Transpersonal stages more aligned with how I’ve used the term. Such research is why I picked up the term. But if the term mixes altered states with stages of development, it doesn’t have the meaning I intend. I’ll revert to using “post-personal”.

Last Updated on November 6, 2018 by Davidya

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  1. Jim

    Good points David. Hallucinogens can indeed over-stress the nervous system, and should never be used for systematic research into consciousness, or anything else. It is a very irresponsible idea. Even the tribes that use these substances do so in a way that is reverential, not on a treadmill simply to see if A leads to B.

    The other obvious point is why would we be created as beings capable of higher consciousness, EXCEPT to be dependent on some outside key, to unlock it all? That seems to immediately negate the magnificence and self-sufficient nature of the consciousness we are seeking to understand. With consciousness being investigated subjectively, the last thing we want to do is create an artificial filter that must then be deciphered, in order to get to consciousness itself – seems like an obsolete idea; a helpful prescription, with a lot of unwelcome side-effects.

    Thanks for bringing this up. It is an intriguing idea that probably looks good on paper, but tripping to discover ourselves does more harm than good.

  2. Hi Jim
    Quite agree. But theres a strange bias out there. I can recall browsing a bookstore some years back and discovering a large academic text call Soma. The authors had concluded that soma was a hallucinogenic mushroom and that the Vedic cognitions where descriptions of drug trips. The idea still persists.

    I find it both hilarious and disturbing at the same time.

    It’s also become fashionable in some spiritual circles to go on “medicine” journeys. One of the spiritual teachers I met at SAND was just coming out of a year of hell where her life imploded after one such. And yet still she framed it as “medicine”. An academic had done acid the week before and several speakers and one of the sponsors was all about such journeys.

    I suppose it comes from seeking illumination from outside of yourself and a desire for flash.

  3. Jerry Freeman

    Steven Taylor on chemical enlightenment: “I’ve met a lot of people recently – particularly when I was in Brazil a few weeks ago – who are pursuing enlightenment via chemical means, particularly ayahuasca. But I think there’s something very suspect and even dangerous about that, which I could see in some of the people I met – a dependency, an uneasiness, and a detachment from the everyday world. And I always think, why? There are lots of other more authentic ways of pursuing enlightenment, which bring about a more integrated and holistic transformation. Psychedelics can be useful in providing a glimpse into a wider reality, but as Alan Watts said, ‘Once you get the message, hang up.’”

    1. Good quote, Jerry. I know a few people who got a glimpse this way, then turned to authentic traditions. But I also saw that those with some drug history had the lousiest experiences on the long retreats. Not to mention the disasters a bad trip can lead to. Playing with fire.

      1. Jerry Freeman

        In fact, for a period of time when I was sixteen or seventeen, I took psychedelic drugs myself. One trip especially opened up an experience of unity that showed me there’s a different way to process reality. I eventually concluded that drugs could not be a PATH because they degrade the very machinery that must be at the highest possible level of function to sustain the experience. Within a year or so, I learned Transcendental Meditation, just before I turned nineteen. If you could compare my experience today after 40 plus years of TM, I can assure you, it is more “cosmic” than the mind bending glimpses I got on psychedelic drugs.

        1. Hi Jerry
          Rick Archer tells a somewhat similar story.

          At that age, I was a drummer in an acid rock band. The opportunity was certainly there but those I knew taking that direction didn’t exhibit what I was looking for. I didn’t know what that was exactly but discovered TM at 19. That’s what really opened my eyes.

  4. This evening, I was reviewing a document on the continuum of “Persistent Non-symbolic Experience” written by a researcher at Sophia, Jeffery Martin. He was our host and on the Sophia panel discussion in October.

    While research is discovering core symptoms of post-personal stages, particularly as subjects become more common, without a sensible context a number of errors creep in.

    For example, they’re studying effects without a causal framework. Thus, they can make the common mistake of seeking effects to create cause. Replicating experiences does not lead to a change in being.

    Stages in consciousness are fundamentally not an experience at all but rather a change in the context of experiencing, leading to a change in experiences. The first is required to get the second.

  5. Amaryllis

    From my personal experience, I could not agree more. In the distant past, I had {a lot} of personal experience with drugs {shudders} & I am completely confused about how anyone thinks they can be useful for a spiritual journey.

    As Jim points out, the cost to the nervous system is disastrously high, and I have not yet met a person who could integrate their experience (or been able to myself), because the drugs (all of them that I’ve tried) put a massive interference pattern through the body/mind systems; both subtle and gross.

    Add to that dosage uncertainty and drug impurity, and it seems to me you have a dangerous pathway to nowhere in particular.

    I consider myself extremely fortunate that desire for drug experiences not only evaporated (seemingly magically), but that there is no residue or clouding as a result.

    I also wonder, with the ‘medicine’ journeys, whether the fact that Westerners, who have such a different cultural context to the healers who take them on such journeys, are able to enter the same space as the healers … and also whether the plants are suitable for everyone, from a plant/spirit perspective … Even from a basic materialist perspective, an identical pharmaceutical drug, taken by five different people, could have five different effects (and side effects), depending on the health, psychospiritual and genetic status of the taker.

    1. Hi Amaryllis
      One thing Dr. Grof highlighted was the unpredictability of hallucinogens. This makes them a more difficult drug even for therapeutic uses. I also know a few people who never recovered from a bad trip. All of this does lead me to see it as playing with fire. You add other issues.

      I would not be so sure there was no residues. You where perhaps fortunate there where no major ones but it’s unlikely there where none. Every experience leaves it’s footprints and strong ones more so.

      Traditional “medicine” journeys where taken only in very specific contexts, much as they might go on a fast or pilgrimage. They where not used for recreational or entertainment purposes. From what I’m aware of, the traditionalists wouldn’t offer them this way.

      But then, there are certainly lots of messed up traditions. It’s not uncommon for sadhus in some areas of India to be potheads, for example. It misses the whole point.

    1. Hi Uli
      I have no doubt hallucinogens bring experiences but awakening is not an experience. They also bring residual crud for the energetic physiology which cloud future experiences and slow spiritual progress.

      In my time, I’ve met one person who actually woke up during a drug trip. But it took them 10 years to get clear.

      Conversely, I’ve met several people who’s lives were destroyed by a bad trip. And I’ve heard many other such stories.

      Chasing experiences is a dangerous path that is more likely to get you burned than awake. It’s a fools game.

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