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There are two competing developmental models within transpersonal psychology – a depth versus a height psychological approach. This also runs through Psychosynthesis as a gap between Firman/Gilas and Assagiolis theories.
Frank Visser founded www.integralworld.net in 1997 (back then under the name of “The World of Ken Wilber”). He is the author of the first monograph on Ken Wilber and his work: “Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion” (SUNY Press, 2003) and of many essays on this website. He currently is service desk manager for the worldwide Sara Lee websites at the online advertising agency Lost Boys.
Within the field of transpersonal psychology, two competing views on the nature and process of human development exist. The depth psychological view (Grof, Washburn) sees development as a dialectic, spiral-like, and (initially) regressive movement, in which, during the second half of life, we re-contact the unconscious ground we left while growing up. In the height psychological view (Assagioli , Wilber) human development is seen as an additive, ladder-like, progressive movement, in which in the second half of life we proceed on the road we have traveled so far. Contrasting and comparing the work of leading transpersonal authors will greatly help our understanding of the transpersonal dimension. Current controversies, between Wilber and Washburn, and between Wilber and Grof respectively, are discussed and evaluated. It is argued that transpersonal psychology is essentially height psychology, and that depth psychological approaches to the transpersonal are defective.
The transpersonal community seems to be happy and peaceful. Inside it, there is the New Paradigm, promising to unify science and spirituality, and to save the world from its ecological crisis; outside, there are those who still believe in the Old Paradigm, based on mechanistic science. However, this deceptively clear distinction hides a deep rift which runs right through the transpersonal community. Some think of human development as a straight line, others see it as a spiral process, bending back to itself. This is sometimes referred to as the difference between the “ladder”-model and the “spiral”-model (Washburn, 1988, 1994), between “progressive” and “regressive” views of development (Wilber, 1995, 1996) or between “additive” and “dialectic” theories (Scotton, Chinen & Battista, 1996). In my opinion, these dichotomies are useful, but limited. They can all be reduced to the more fundamental dichotomy between depth psychology and what might in contrast be called “height psychology”. Depth psychological approaches to the transpersonal are by their very nature spiral-like, regressive and dialectic, just as height psychological approaches are ladder-like, progressive and additive. These two camps give dramatically different conceptualizations of the process of transpersonal growth and development.
This issue has not received the proper attention in the transpersonal literature up till now. It is not mentioned in Rowan’s (1992) survey of the transpersonal field, nor in Walsh and Vaughan’s (1980, 1993) transpersonal anthologies. Ken Wilber’s 14-point transpersonal agenda for the coming decade (spelled out in detail in Walsh and Vaughan, 1993), is equally silent about it, except for the statement (under point 9 on Jungian psychology) that the relationship between Jungian theory and transpersonal theory “will in fact be the most heated area of discussion in the coming decade”. However, this issue is only part of the more fundamental question of the value and limitations of the depth psychological framework for transpersonal psychology. In this article we will therefore explore the assumptions and consequences of these two diametrically different approaches to the transpersonal more fully.
Considering the Californian Bay Area origin of much of modern transpersonal psychology, we might say by way of metaphor that subterrenean tensions exist within the field of transpersonal psychology, depth and height psychology being the tectonic plates that push in opposite directions – almost unnoticable, but unmistakable and irresistable. Subterrenean tensions might well lead to earthquakes. Let us look at the consequences of such theoretical earthquakes.
Depth And Height Psychology
Sigmund Freud, the founding father of Western psychology, called his psychoanalytical approach to consciousness “depth psychology”. He divided human consciousness into the conscious, which is ruled by the reality principle, and the unconscious, which follows the pleasure principle. This unconscious is often pictured as being many times larger than the conscious; the conscious mind forms the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Roughly one tenth of human consciousness exists above the water; nine tenth of it exists below the surface. Freud pictured the process of human development as a movement from the unconscious to the conscious, from the id to the ego. Wo Es war, soll Ich sein, was his formula. This more or less meant: during development, the ego surfaces from the depths of the unconscious, first as a fragile structure that is easily overwhelmed by emotions, later as a more stable structure that is equal to the vicissitudes of life. The conscious has the kind of logic we associate with rationality and common sense, the so-called secondary process. The unconscious too has its own logic, the primary process, which we still encounter in dreams and fantasies. It is well-known that Freud did not value religion and spirituality very much. He saw religion in general as the product of an immature mentality of the past, which looks for Fathers in Heaven (or Mothers in the Earth). According to Freud, modern man should leave behind the illusions of religion. Mystical experiences Freud interpreted as symbiotic and “oceanic” feelings, which he related to the peaceful infantile state at the breast, to which every human being longs to return.
His most important disciple, Carl Gustav Jung, had a much more favorable attitude towards the field of religion and spirituality. He is therefore rightly seen as one of the great forerunners of transpersonal psychology. Jung stated that religion plays an important role in the second half of life, during the process of individuation. Jung has remained faithful to the depth psychological perspective throughout his life. For with Jung too, the ego emerges from the depths of the unconscious, in a heroic effort to gain autonomy. The detailed study of symbols and myths of the world urged Jung to divide the unconscious into a personal layer and a deeper, collective layer. In this “collective unconscious”, archetypes exist which can be encountered all over the world in dreams and visions. At the rock bottom of this collective unconscious Jung hypothesized a “Central Force”, from which all individual psyches, and indeed, all of nature, have emerged (Jacobi, 1942). This universal layer of the unconscious not only encompasses all of humanity, but even the sub-human nature kingdoms of the biological realm as such. In the Jungian formula, deeper means: more collective, more universal, more “spiritual” and “transpersonal”. Thus, the individual or personal dimension is contrasted with the collective and transpersonal one. Collective and transpersonal are more or less equated in the Jungian view, although this is by no means justified. Where Freud saw the unconscious mostly as a pool of instincts, Jung charged it with religious and spiritual meanings. His gaze remained fundamentally downward looking. Nevertheless, like Freud, he did value the development of the ego during the first half of life. Only a fully formed ego would be strong enough to encounter the unconscious and its archetypes, with the Self as primary archetype. During the process of individuation, in the second half of life, the so-called ego-Self axis is formed, by which we become consious of the Self. Jung had his reservations about Eastern spirituality and its value for Westerners. Although he wrote introductions to many Eastern classics, he objected to the radical insight of India that the superconscious Self or Atma could be experienced in deep meditation . For Jung the Self remained primarily an archetype, not a reality to be experienced directly, let alone one’s true identity.
This depth psychological approach to spirituality is characterized by a fundamental ambiguity. For both the primitive instinctive urges and the more refined spiritual aspirations are derived from the same source: the unconscious. This unconscious is made into some sort of a lucky dip, from which sometimes an uplifting spiritual experience emerges, sometimes a downgrading influence. Primitive thought and mythology become mixed with spirituality as such. Many Jungian scientists of religion still look to mythology for the answer to the spiritual needs of modern man. This fundamental ambiguity has given rise to many instances of what Wilber (1983) has aptly called “the pre-trans fallacy”. When prepersonal and transpersonal experiences are related to the same source, the unconscious, confusion is inevitable. As Wilber has shown, Freud made the error of reducing all spirituality to the level of the instincts, whereas Jung made the opposite error of seeing spiritual meanings in this instinctive level. Both had no real understanding of the transpersonal dimension as a reality of its own beyond the prepersonal and the personal. This theoretical dead-end can only be solved by developing a “height psychology”, in which the prepersonal, the personal and the transpersonal are separated in an unambiguous fashion. In their search for the spiritual dimension, both Freud and Jung in fact had nowhere else to look but to the unconscious mind.
The Italian psychiatrist Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974), who founded the movement of psychosynthesis in the twenties of this century, saw very early in his career that this depth psychological framework must in the long run lead to absurdities. He is mostly known for his view on the will, as a valuable spiritual faculty (Assagioli, 1973). Next to Jung he is one of the great forerunners of modern-day transpersonal psychology, but unfortunately one that has up till now been severely and unfairly neglected. Although he knew the work of both Freud and Jung very well – he was the first to introduce Freud in Italy and felt throughout his life much affinity with the Jungian view – he was convinced of the fact that human consciousness has not only a depth dimension but also a height dimension. Within the unconscious he therefore distinguished between a lower part (Athe lower unconscious”) and an upper part (Athe higher unconscious” or “superconscious”), thus separating very clearly the more primitive from the more spiritual parts of human nature. This is not to say he valued the “higher” parts more than the “lower” parts – although this could certainly be a legitimate interpretation – it is only to say that these two realms should never be confused. Contrary to Jung, who rejected the notion of a superconscious mind, Assagioli understood the Self as a reality which could be experienced, through the process and practise of dis-identification. This Self-experience is, however, a category of its own, for the experiencer and the experienced are one and the same. The very word “experience” is somewhat of a misnomer here. Nor can one say, properly speaking, that we identify ourselves with our Self, for the Self is the one that is doing the identification (and dis-identification). A better way to phrase this is that by dis-identification from the objects of consciousness the Self realizes itself (Visser, 1995).
The interesting thing about “height psychology” is that the depth dimension now appears in its true light for the first time – more Freudian again than Jungian – not overburdened as it is with spiritual meanings. But most importantly, from the level of the conscious and primarily mental ego, two movements, in two opposite directions, are now possible: downward, to the (mostly unconscious) emotions and bodily feelings, and upward, to the (equally mostly unconscious) intuitions, acts of the will and the true Self. This vertical dimension, which is fundamentally lacking in depth psychology, gives direction to the process of development. For we can be said to move from the subconscious to the conscious to the superconscious. Or: we move from the past to the present to the future. Or: we move from the animal to the human to the spiritual or even divine level.
Assagioli can be considered the founding father of height psychology, for he was the first psychologist to speculate systematically on a superconscious mind. Unfortunately, he has not been able to contribute much to this revolutionary approach to consciousness in terms of published work. Compared to the literary output of Freud and Jung, Assagioli’s oeuvre is extremely limited (Assagioli, 1965, 1973, and posthumously: 1988). However, his theoretical significance is almost in inverse ratio to the size of his limited oeuvre. Assagioli derived much of his system from Eastern thought and esoteric traditions such as Theosophy (Campbell, 1980; Hardy, 1987). As early as 1904 – only four years (!) after Freud published his first major work on the interpretation of dreams – theosophical authors had already outlined a true height psychology, with special emphasis on the will and the spiritual Self (Besant, 1904). Assagioli was an intimate of another theosophist, Alice Bailey, whom he represented in Italy. His system shows many similarities with hers, as any student of Theosophy can see (Visser, 1996). Considering the current interest in the interface of transpersonal psychology and esoteric traditions, the field of Theosophy deserves more attention. It is an early attempt, more than a century old, at formulating a transpersonal view of human nature, development and evolution that contains a few remarkably modern insights (Roszak, 1976). What is more, it can provide a much needed metaphysical background to many – if not all – transpersonal theories (Visser, 1995). For example, the question “where does this higher Self come from in the first place?” can in fact only be answered metaphysically.
In a sense, Assagioli took “the road less travelled by” and that has made a difference indeed. Very few have followed his trail, as many still work within the framework of depth psychology.
Freud also had followers who took the human body as point of departure for their theories of human nature. Although Freud attach-ed much value to the body and to sexuality, he also felt we should come to terms with our instincts in a rational and mature way, by strengthening our ego. We simply cannot return anymore to the blissful condition of unconscious nature. To become human, we must to a certain extent repress our instincts, thereby causing the feelings of discomfort so charactistic of human culture. However, psychoanalysis did not succeed in all cases. Body-oriented therapists such as Wilhelm Reich and Alexander Lowen saw in the failure of psychoanalysis evidence to support their view that the body too should be engaged in therapy. According to them, by focussing on the body, mental problems can be treated far more effectively, than by mere talk-therapy. Interestingly, the body has replaced here the unconscious of depth psychology (Conger, 1988). For the unconscious then simply becomes that part of the body we are not able to feel. As in depth psychology the unconscious is considered to be closer to our real nature than the conscious mind, so in body-oriented therapy the body is often taken to be our true being. It sometimes speaks its own language, bypassing the censorship of the conscious ego. As we hide the unconscious and its secret motives, we hide the body from the public eye. “The body does not lie” has become a popular expression. Where Jung searched for the essence of human nature in the unconscious, for Lowen the body is the place to look. In his writings, most of the time the needs of the body – food, sex, exercise – are described in a positive way; whereas the needs of the ego – fame, recognition, approval – are often seen as neurotic (wholly contrary to Maslow’s needs hierarchy, in which the needs of the body, the soul and the spirit each have their own place and are seen in a hierarchical order). Another popular dichotomy in these circles is: body/head. Living from the head then comes to mean: being rational, living a secular, mundane and static life; whereas living from the body comes to mean: being “spiritual”, living a sacred, divine and dynamic life. This totally ignores that what differentiates us from the animal kingdom is precisely the fact that we can use our “head”. In other words, the capacity for abstract thought is the very thing that makes us really human. It would be very strange indeed, if this faculty would turn out te be our most unspiritual part, whereas that which we have in common with the lower kingdoms would be our spiritual part. Then all animals would be enlightened! But this is in fact the suggestion that is made in much of the body-oriented literature. In his recent work, Lowen has become more and more explicit in the expression of his conviction that it is the body that really matters. For example, in “The spirituality of the body” he writes: “To my mind, the mind is secular, the body is sacred.” And in his recent book “Joy: surrender to the body and to life” he states: “The goal of therapy is to connect with God. God resides in the natural self, the body” or even more explicitly: “surrender to God is surrender to the body”. However, it is one thing to engage the body in therapy, it is another thing to declare it sacred – and exclusively so. The denial of the body – the main theme in all of Lowen’s many writings – is equated to the denial of the true Self. Self and body are made synonymous and both are contrasted to the rather ephemeral and unspiritual ego.
Both depth psychology and body-oriented therapy use the same formula: deeper – be it the unconscious or the body – means more real; higher means more unreal. Both see human nature as essentially bi-polar: unconscious/conscious, Self/ego, body/ego, body/ head or ground/ego. This twofold developmental logic leads, in my opinion, automatically to a “regressive” view of spirituality. For if spirituality is recognized at all, it is invariably placed in the first category, of the unconscious, the Self, the body, nature, or the cosmos at large. Nobody seems to see anything spiritual in the poor ego! Growing up therefore comes to mean moving away from spirit. Finding spirit later in life therefore comes to mean returning or “regressing” to the source from which we came. In fact, there is no other option, there is nowhere else to go but backwards. The height psychological alternative leads to diametrically opposite conclusions. It basically follows a threefold developmental logic: human nature is divided into body, soul (ego or self) and spirit (Self). Development is now seen as a straightforward movement from body to soul to spirit. Growing up does no longer mean moving away from spirit, but on the contrary moving towards spirit. What is more, the step from the mature ego to spirituality is no longer made by going back to where we came from, but by going further along the road we have travelled so far. This leads to a “progressive” view of spirituality. In this view, we do not discover spirit by looking “back” and “down”, but by looking “forward” and “up”. This progressive and prospective view of spirituality is fundamentally at odds with the regressive and retrospective view, which is prevalent in transpersonal psychology these days. It concentrates less on what we have “lost”, and more on what can be “gained” by continuing our developmental journey. The idea that we have lost spirit somewhere during the process of civilization/maturation expresses a wide-spread sentiment, to which we will return later.
Following this threefold developmental logic, we might picture human nature as a pyramid. In a psychological sense, life consists in building the pyramid of body, soul (ego or self) and spirit (Self). These correspond to the prepersonal, the personal and the transpersonal levels of human nature. Development starts at the ground level of the body, where the foundation for all subsequent growth is laid. A poor foundation is detrimental to the rest of the building, but it would be much worse if we did not build at all. Likewise, we do need to ground our sense of identity in the body, but should not keep it tied to that level only. We need not wait with every new step upward before the current level is finished completely. We may first erect a rough structure, only later to be filled in with detailed bricks. Likewise, we need only a moderate level of body consciousness to be able to transcend the body. And we need only a moderate mastery of the mind to be able to transcend the mind. And it is always good to return to the foundations to repair the damage afflicted to us by the desert winds of life. But we should never forget we are heading for the summit. All layers are necessary for a complete pyramid, but it is the summit that makes the pyramid!
What relevance do these discussions have for modern transpersonal psychology? Mainstream transpersonal psychology – headed by Stanislav Grof, and consolidated philosophically by Michael Washburn – is largely still using the depth psychological framework, while a smaller but critical minority – headed by Ken Wilber – is introducing and promoting the terminology of height psychology. Interestingly, both Grof and Washburn are published by the State University of New York (SUNY) Press, while Wilber’s work is published by Shambhala, which specializes in Eastern spirituality, and by Quest Books at Wheaton, a theosophical publishing house. Grof and Washburn thus stand closer to the scientific establishment, Wilber stands closer to the fields of Eastern and esoteric studies. This more or less indicates the kind of theoretical struggle going on here: what happens to psychology when it lets itself be influenced by spiritual/esoteric tradition? Can it remain a scientific discipline? Does Wilber cross a border here, or – on the contrary – is this very crossing a scientific necessity? In my opinion, this difference of opinion between leading transpersonal authors deserves to be investigated more fully. It should at least be recognized. In the rest of this article we will therefore examine some theoretical differences between these leading transpersonal authorities.
Since his first publications in the late seventies, Ken Wilber has fruitfully applied the developmental approach to the field of the transpersonal. He has applied this spectrum-model to a great many fields of science: developmental psychology, cultural history and the sociology of religion, to name a few. His thoughts have developed over the years. After an initial, more depth psychology oriented attempt at creating a complete spectrum-model of consciousness (Wilber, 1977, 1979), Wilber has shifted to a developmental, height psychological model, thereby using the “Great Chain of Being” as metaphysical metaphor (Wilber 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1995, 1996). While his early model took the personal level as point of departure, his later and current model starts at the level of the physical body. His early model described the process of personal (and transpersonal) growth from the standpoint of the mature adult; his current model describes the natural and chronological process of development in both the personal and the tranpersonal realms. Over the last twenty years he has refined this model into a nine-stage model, covering roughly three prepersonal, three personal and three transpersonal stages (see Wilber 1995, 1996, 1997). The first three are primarily bodily and emotional; the middle three predominantly mental and the last three genuinely spiritual in nature. Wilber has warned sharply on different occasions against the widespread tendency to look for spirit in the prepersonal realms of physical nature and the body. We don’t need to look for spirit there, he maintains, for spirit has its own place in the Great Chain of Being, above and beyond the personal. Thus, Wilber has single-handedly designed a comprehensive height psychological model of consciousness and development.
Wilber’s model has not been without criticism. Most critics object to its apparent linear and hierarchical nature. As to the first point, it is sometimes argued that real life is much more messy than these neat linear models allow for. To my mind, this is besides the point. The fact that we can walk up and down a staircase, does not say anything against the existence of this staircase – on the contrary, it proves its existence. In more abstract language: we should distinguish between the logic of development, which details the stages which follow each other one by one by definition, and the dynamic of development, which concerns itself with the actual process of development, with all its twists and turns, regressions and progressions, fixations and arrests. Now the fact that spiritual development, or human development in general, does in real life not follow a rigidly linear pattern, does not at all forbid us to formulate such a model. And as to the supposedly hierarchical nature of Wilber’s model, one might say that a height psychological model of consciousness is by its very nature “hierarchical”, for it talks about levels of being which transcend the level of ordinary experience. In the same vein, transpersonal psychology talks about levels of experience that transcend the experience of the everyday personality. So this hierarchical aspect is built in in the transpersonal approach – unless we insist on living in a purely “flat” universe. The question at stake here is: do we really wish to go beyond the realm of matter or not? Materialism too can be “hierarchical”, as is demonstrated by physics-based holism, but only in an illusory fashion. For physics deals with quantitative “levels” of analysis, not qualitative or ontologically different levels (Smith, 1976), and this is not at all what is meant here (see also: Wilber, 1995, 1996).
Michael Washburn (1988, 1994) has developed a theoretical alternative to Wilbers model of transpersonal development based on the tenets of depth psychology. He stands firmly in the tradition of Freud and Jung, and has attempted in fact to integrate both. Although Washburn believes that the two paradigms are “equally coherent”, he chooses the depth psychological “spiral” model, because he believes “it offers a more sensitive reading of the non-egoic bases and higher potentialities of life” (1988, p. 40). Washburn follows the twofold developmental logic described earlier: human nature he sees as bi-polar, consisting of an “egoic” (mind) and a “non-egoic” pole (body/spirit), otherwise called the “Ground”. We start our development with a non-egoic, prepersonal phase, we then move on to an egoic, personal phase, and return to the non-egoic ground – now “seen differently” – in the third, transpersonal phase. In this third phase, we return to our source, the unconscious ground, but discover new aspects to it. In the terminology of our introduction, we could say Washburn treats both the body and the unconscious as the spiritual principle and sets both up against the ego, which, because of its repressive powers, is seen as spirit’s enemy.
Washburn’s model is strongly reminiscent of views expressed in European existentialist literature. Here human beings are pictured as a bi-polar “unity of mind and body”, sometimes spoken of as the “person”, to avoid confusion with the other two elements. These two principles can in fact form the foundation of a threephasic model of development. Human development is understood as a dialectic process, in which a phase of the body (thesis) is followed by a phase of the mind (antithesis), and – if all goes well – a phase in which mind and body are integrated (synthesis). For example, the French philosopher Georges Gusdorf (1953) called these stages, “mythical”, “rational” and “existential”. The first phase is dominated by the body. In the second phase, of the mind, the body is repressed. Mind becomes disembodied, so to speak. But the third, existential phase is characterized by “a return of the repressed”, i.e. of the body. Disembodied mind becomes incarnated again. However, existentialist does not mean transpersonal: integrating mind and body does not mean entering spirit. Washburn has changed this scheme into a decidedly transpersonal model by ascribing a numinous quality to the body, so that by making the transition from the first to the second stage, we not only repress the body but in a sense the Divine Ground itself. In the third phase however, together with the return of the repressed body, transpersonal energies are released. In a purely dialectic fashion, he sees the mind as an anti-spiritual principle, for it represses not only the body, but also the spirit. The synthetic character of the third phase can be interpreted as follows: the ego (second phase) re-contacts the energies of the unconscious ground (first phase), but now in a conscious fashion (third phase), so that both body and ego are needed to reach the third phase. Likewise, Jungians say the development of the ego is necessary to have a principle strong enough to encounter the archetypal forces of the unconscious. A regression pure and simple (from phase two to phase one) is not what these authors have in mind. However, because they invariably put spirit in the same category as the body, and never as the mind, their models have a strong “regressive” undertone. By contrast, in height psychological models, the development of the ego is valued positively for entirely different reasons: it brings us one step closer to spirit. The ego is spirit’s friend, not its foe. Or in traditional terms: the soul (ego) is one step away from spirit (Self), the body two steps. There is every reason to ascribe transcendental powers to the ego!
Washburn has suggested that the differences between him and Wilber may be largely cultural in nature. Where Wilber has relied heavily on cognitive developmental psychology and Eastern thought – in which the emphasis is on thought and consciousness – Washburn has based himself largely on depth psychology and Christian mysticism – which favor dynamical factors and emotional development. He even claims a truly cross-cultural model of transpersonal development is therefore still far away, and perhaps an impossibility. This of course can never be the last word for a true science of the transpersonal, for this has to dig deeper than cultural differences, which may be real enough in itself. More importantly, to the extent that Washburn complements Wilber in his possible one-sided cognitive interest, we can only be grateful for his attempt. But to the extent that Washburn tries to undo the progress made by Wilber we should, in my opinion, be less enthusiastic. If the “Wilber-revolution” (the term is coined by British psychologist John Rowan, 1992) is essentially that the spiritual or transpersonal dimension is given its own place in transpersonal theory – beyond the bodily and the mental realms – we could characterize Washburn (who strangely enough does not appear in Rowan’s survey) as a counter-revolutionary, operating from the camp of depth psychology. He in fact places spirit back in the realm of the unconscious and its primitive urges again. He follows a different developmental logic.
Washburn (1988) has baptized the two rivaling positions the “ladder model” (Wilber), and the “spiral model” (Washburn), respectively. The ladder model is hierarchical, linear and stage-like, whereas the spiral model has the shape of a U-turn, in the sense that around the middle point of human development the process of development reverses its direction and somehow returns to its point of departure again – although not in a literal fashion, as depth psychologists are keen to point out, but “at a higher level”, hence the image of the spiral. Another fundamental difference is that whereas Wilber sees development proceed as a more or less natural process of transcendence, Washburn sees it as the result of a repression, which is undone in the later stages. Wilber (1996b) would comment, that although repression most certainly does occur during development, it can never be seen as the mechanism of development itself.
Both models can be used to describe a threephasic sequence. The basic difference between them lies in the way the transition from the second to the third phase is conceptualized: as a next step forward in development (ladder) or as a return to origins (spiral). In the ladder model, to take the simpler of the two first, development starts with the body (phase 1), moves on to the soul, ego or self (phase 2), and culminates in the spirit or Self (phase 3). The three stages of development – prepersonal, personal and transpersonal – are not only clearly distinguishable, they are “supported” by three different “structures” – let us call them body, soul and spirit for short. The spiral model too has three phases – also called prepersonal, personal and transpersonal – but with a big difference. Whereas the first two phases are almost identical, the third, transpersonal phase is seen in a different light. For by moving from phase one to phase two we have – according to Washburn – not only suppressed our bodies, but also our spirits. So to find this spirit again, we have to undo this repression, and return to the realm of body/spirit. By allocating both body and spirit to the same category – the non-egoic pole – Washburn is forced to statements like: the “dynamic ground” (Washburn’s name for the unconscious ground-layer from which the ego arises) has a special relation to the body, and is the source both of libido and the spirit. He seems to equate the freeing of the instincts from the repression of the ego to the liberation of spirit. In my opinion, it is questionable whether one single principle of human nature – the non-ego – can account for such diverse phenomena as body and spirit.
Washburn (1990) has summarized his view in the article “Two patterns of transcendence”, – which appeared ironically in the journal of humanistic psychology – to which Wilber has replied with a long article in the same issue. They address the fundamental question head on: does development follow a straight line, or does it follow the pattern of a U-turn? Phrased differently did we, by growing up, move away from (unconscious) spirit, or have we moved one step closer to spirit? This question can in the end only be answered metaphysically: is spirit the most central part of our being, which we discover at the end of our personal development, or is spirit hiding in the very unconscious we have strived so hard to escape from in growing up? Depth psychology and height psychology will answer this question differently.Washburn argues that the spiral view of development is affirmed by the Western traditions of alchemy, the hero myth and Christian theology and is coherent in itself.
In his reply to Washburn, Wilber (1990) has refuted these arguments, and argued that the spiral model is not even supported by the sources Washburn provides. What is more, Wilber maintains that the spiral motif can be integrated in the ladder model, while discarding its reductionistic elements. He even argues that the spiral view would be unlike anything Western science and spiritual tradition have to tell us about development. In his opinion, it is only the romantic notion, going back to Schelling, who in turn influenced Jung and the Romantics, that we have to return to a paradise we lost by growing up that supports a spiral view. Wilber has also pointed out that earlier versions of his own model too had a circular shape, suggesting that development in the end returns to its source. In later versions he has abandoned this presentation, because of its regressive implications. Unfortunately, the in transpersonal circles popular expressions “Outward Arc” and “Inward Arc” for the personal and transpersonal phases of development still refer to this circular presentation. In a sense, the human life-cycle can indeed be described as an “outward” movement, followed by an “inward” movement. For in the first half of life we learn to focus on the world of “time” – career, politics, making a living, raising a family – while in the second half of life we learn, or should learn, to focus on the world of “eternity” – religion, the meaning of life, the prospect of death, the afterlife. This does not imply, however, that we have to return to the childish world of our younger days. On the contrary, we only reach that stage by continuing to mature. Wilber also argues that in his model development is not seen as a straight ascent to spirit, but as a process in which every step forward is followed by a return to the stage just left behind, to accomplish integration. Human development then becomes a process of continuous “upward spiralling”, so to speak. But the really important sense in which his model too is essentially circular is, Wilber says, that the apparent straight ascent from body to soul to spirit is in fact only the second half of a larger movement: the process of involution (moving from spirit to soul to body) and the ensuing process of evolution (moving from body to soul to spirit). This for transpersonal psychology extremely important notion of involution is the only safeguard against regressive interpretations of spiritual growth.
In his latest book, The eye of spirit, Wilber (1997) devotes a whole chapter to the view Washburn has developped. He recapitulates the discussion they have had so far, and points out that Washburns position shows much likeness to the romantic-Jungian view he himself expressed in his early work. Around 1980 however, Wilber broke radically with this view, and developped his height psychological model of growth and development. Wilber concentrates his critique on Washburn on the latters’s notion of the Ground, and the claim that children are one with this Ground. None of the existing spiritual traditions state that children live fully out of the Spirit. On the contrary, they are more truthfully seen as creatures that are totally bound by the material domain. That fact that children sometimes make an undivided impression on us divided adults, should not blind us to the truth that they are total in their limitations. Children seem “whole” to us because they only have to deal with one ontological reality, that of the physical body and its needs, whereas adults have to deal with far more realities: of mind, soul and spirit. For Washburn the Ground includes body and spirit, but strangely enough never the mind and its ego; for Wilber the Ground encompasses both body, mind and spirit, and human beings develop by successively moving from body to mind to spirit. This view is found in all major spiritual traditions, of which none confine God to the level of the body only. Washburns position, and therefore his whole view of the mechanism of human development – which is the process of a God that is lost and recaptured again – collapses when the Divine is spread over all of existence.
Esoteric tradition can fill in some useful details here (Visser, 1995). For example, the actual formation of the spheres should be distinguished from the process of involution/evolution, as is the case with the process of incarnation/excarnation of the human individual soul. According to theosophical understanding, the spheres are formed through a process in which the amorphous root-matter is grouped into several distinct layers, the “planes” of nature. These constitute the background stage on which the drama of evolution is to be played out. After this cosmic happening, the human spirit or monad, which originates in the Divine residing on the highest of all planes, descends through the spheres, until it reaches the physical plane. Here, it reverses its direction and ascends again to the Divine, by a slow and arduous process, during which the kingdoms of nature – minerals, plants, animals and human beings – are formed. This large scale movement is properly called involution and evolution, as it takes place at a collective level, covering whole kingdoms of nature. This downward/upward process is repeated again in the cycle of reincarnation. When incarnating we “descend”, when excarnating we “ascend” through the spheres. During one human lifetime, our senses are attuned to the physical plane, but our “centre of consciousness” may have risen to higher planes – emotional, mental or even spiritual. In fact, the entire process of human (personal and transpersonal) development can be understood as a gradual rising through the spheres, while remaining in contact with the visible world through the physical body. If this is true, it becomes crucially important to decide which spheres exist beyond the physical level and in what order. The subject of the spheres in themselves deserves a separate study. For different views of the spheres will lead to different predictions as to the process of human development. A comparison of Wilber’s model and these spheres learns that his existential and psychic stages are the odd ones out, for they do not correspond to a specific sphere of existence, as do the bodily, mental and spiritual stages. The sphere/stage correspondence breaks down.
The concept of involution is a key-doctrine for transpersonal theory. It might seem hard to swallow for contemporary scientists, but there is a more homely example of the same principle in the doctrine of reincarnation. This downward/upward curve is also obvious in the cycle of reincarnation, which consists of a downward movement of incarnation, followed by an upward movement of excarnation. Involution/evolution and incarnation/excarnation are different but analogous processes. During incarnation we move away from spirit, descend into the spheres until we reach the plane of physical birth, and reverse our direction again, so that every step we take from the moment of birth is a step closer to spirit. This leads to a paradoxical but crucially important insight: to return to the spirit we have indeed “lost”, we have to proceed on the road we have travelled so far, not return to a past state of mind that can be located in our individual or collective history (for example, our golden childhood, the state at the breast, or even in the womb, the condition of primitive man, etcetera). Let me repeat: to return we have to move on! In fact, physical birth is the last place to look for spirit, for it represents the lowest point or nadir of this cyclic process of incarnation and excarnation. (The view of Stanislav Grof, who attaches prime importance to the process of physical birth and the reliving of the birth process as a gate to the spiritual domain, will be discussed in the next section.) So Wilber’s model too is spiral in a real sense, although his spiral is “upside down”, so to speak. And while Wilber and Washburn both use the notion of “returning to the Source”, their sources differ dramatically!
So what is at stake here is the exact nature of the spiritual or transpersonal dimension. This is a crucial question for transpersonal psychology, for what else is transpersonal psychology than the scientific study of spiritual experience and spiritual development? The Wilber/Washburn-controversy ultimately is about the question whether transpersonal spirit exists as a separate structure of human consciousness. If so, we can proceed on the road we have travelled so far, and development as a whole follows a straight line. If not, we have to look somewhere else for spirit, and must indeed look back to where we came from, so development must take a U-turn. But since when do trees grow by sticking their heads back into the soil again? Only ostriches are known to do this! The claim of depth psychology that spirit is hiding in the depth of the unconscious is outdated and should be reconsidered in the light of current knowledge. It seems to be a hangover from the depth psychological past of the science of psychology. It is in fact an insult to spirit, for it links spiritual growth to regression. Washburn and the depth psychologists are very much committed to this notion of regression. He even speaks of “regression in service of transcendence”, paraphra-sing the well-known expression “regression in service of the ego”. This notion only makes sense if there is no level of spirit beyond the body and the ego, to wich we can progress after we have completed our personal development.
Depth psychology seems to live completely on this denial of spirit as an autonomous principle. A depth psychological approach to the transpersonal even seems to be a contradiction in terms! It can never escape its regressive implications, as long as it searches for spirit in the depths of the unconscious. Depth psychology seems to look for the sun on the bottom of the sea, only because it sees it reflected on the surface of the water. Height psychology looks up to the real sun.
The second major theoretical opponent of Wiber is Stanislav Grof. He acts as leader of the transpersonal movement, offering not only a complete model of consciousness (based on his research in non-ordinary states of consciousness), but also a practical method of personal growth (called “holotropic breathwork”) and a worldwide organisation (the International Transpersonal Association). He has written extensively, not only on his own research (Grof, 1975, 1985, 1988), but also on the subject of death and life after death (Grof, 1980, 1994), and on the New Paradigm (Grof, 1983). Grof has been part of the transpersonal movement practically from the very beginning in the late sixties, and has been able to converse with almost any major intellectual in the field. Where Washburn has criticized Wilber primarily on theoretical grounds, Grof adds to this his extensive clinical evidence, which is based on literally thousands of therapeutic sessions. If Grof stresses the concept of non-ordinary “states” of consciousness, Wilber stresses the concept of “stages” of personal and transpersonal or contemplative development – very different perspectives. Grof and Wilber represent two competing, alternative and in some respects mutually exclusive models, that deserve to be contrasted and compared, for again we have here an interesting case of depth versus height psychology.
In Grof’s well-known model of the “realms of the human unconscious” three levels are defined: a “personal” level, containing biographical material; a deeper, “perinatal” level, with memories of the birth process; and a deepest, “transpersonal” level, more or less like the Jungian collective unconscious. Popularly speaking, the personal layer is the domain of Freud, the perinatal layer the domain of Rank and Reich, and the transpersonal layer the domain of Jung. Nowhere does Grof seem to transcend the depth psychological framework. Like Washburn, Grof also sees himself primarily as a depth psychologist, following in the footsteps of Freud, Jung and – in Grof’s case – Otto Rank (who studied the human birth trauma). Not surprisingly therefore, Grof too opts for the spiral model. “As consciousness evolution proceeds [into the transpersonal] it does not follow a linear trajectory,” he writes, “but in a sense enfolds into itself. In this process, the individual returns to earlier stages of development, but evaluates them from the point of view of the mature adult. At the same time, he or she becomes consciously aware of certain aspects and qualities of these stages that were implicit, but unrecognized when confronted in the context of linear evolution” (Grof, 1985, p. 137). Grof and Washburn agree entirely on this crucial point.
Grof’s model is frequently put to use as a map for spiritual development. By an intense process of psychological regression, made possible by breathing techniques Grof and his wife Christina have developed, first the personal and biographical layer of the unconscious is explored. Memories of one’s life as a child and a baby surface. Going yet deeper and further back in time, memories of one’s own birth-process can even be uncovered. This level of the unconscious has been studied extensively by Grof. It is central to his conception of consciousness development and spiritual growth. This study has resulted in a detailed theory of the four stages of the birth process (called “basic perinatal matrices”), which shape all later experiences in life. Experiences of this perinatal level vary from extremely painful and even sado-masochistic to ecstatic and liberating. The first of these stages, the relatively peaceful period in the womb before the actual onset of the birth process, Grof explicitly relates to the state of mystical union. By reliving this birth-process – in what we may, analogous to the much more well-known “near-death experience”, call a “near-birth experience” – we gain access to the “spiritual” domain, the deepest layer of the Grofian unconscious. Here impressive archetypal processes can be experienced, most of which are of the death and rebirth variety. Transpersonal experiences Grof defines as a feeling of unity or identification with other entities – from biological cells, plants, animals, other human beings and spirits to the Universal Mind, or the Meta-Cosmic Void.
The fact that a leading transpersonal theorist relates the mystical experience to symbiotic and oceanic conditions in the womb is no small surprise, and, to be honest, rather embarrassing. Freud, for one, would have loved it! Grof explicitly writes: “The mystical experience of cosmic unity seems to be related to the primal oneness of foetus and mother. When no noxious stimuli interfere, conditions for the foetus are close to ideal, involving total protection and security and conscious satisfaction of all needs. The basic characteristics of this experience are transcendence of the subject/object dichotomy, feelings of sacredness, moving beyond the boundaries of time and space, ineffable bliss, and insights of cosmic relevance” (Grof, 1980). Although Grof and his followers never go so far as to state explicitly that mystical experience is a re-enactment of the physical birth-process, the very logic of his model leads inevitably to this conclusion. For Grof keeps looking back in time and downward for spirit: from the present moment back to the personal past, back to the birth-event and even further back to the relatively peaceful “transpersonal” period of gestation – which Grof calls the “good womb”. But why should birth be the gate to spirit? And can we truly say that the needs of the foetus are comparable to the needs of a full-grown human being, let alone a mature mystic? As we have seen before, birth represents the lowest point of the cyclic process of reincarnation, it is in fact the opposite pole of spirit. Grof seems to put so much emphasis on the “near-birth experience” because he keeps on looking for spirit in the depth of the unconscious, so that the body unavoidably becomes the primary gate to spirit. He has found a paradigm of spiritual experience in the (symbolical, not actual!) experience of death-and-rebirth, prevalent in mythology. He sees both birth and death as gates to the spiritual realm. In my opinion, and considering the available knowledge on the spheres, it is highly questionable whether we should keep on trying to find spirit in these deep but muddy waters.
Grof and Wilber have unfortunately not yet entered into a face-to-face debate (but see Wilber, 1997, for Wilber’s extensive critique of Grof). Considering the theoretical importance of their difference of opinion, such a debate would be more than timely. They have communicated sporadically through their published work, however. Interestingly, where Wilber until recently left out Rank from his otherwise very inclusive spectrum-model, Grof seems to focus almost exclusively on the Rankian domain as the main gate to spirit! Wilber and Grof are each other’s mirror images in this respect. And still, both claim to have a complete model of consciousness! Grof has criticized Wilber for the rigid linearity of his model, and for his neglect of the phenomena of birth and death (Grof, 1985). Wilber’s model starts with birth, Grof’s starts earlier. The linearity issue we have dealt with in the preceding paragraphs. As to the second point, the place of the birth trauma in human development, Wilber has modified his view recently somewhat by including a stage in his model at the very beginning of development, to account for possible influences pertaining to the birth trauma, the so-called “Fulcrum-0” (Wilber, 1995, 1996). But although he is willing to concede that the birth trauma might have some influence on the developmental processes later in life, he does not consider it so fundamental and far-reaching as Grof maintains, and rejects the notion that biological birth sets the pattern for all developments.
As in the case of Washburn, there is a remarkable parallel between Grof and Wilber’s early work. In his first book, The spectrum of consciousness, Wilber (1977) sketched a model of development, which has a strong depth psychological flavour. Starting at the top level of the persona, we can “descend” to deeper layers by integrating the shadow, the body (organism) and the transpersonal. At the “deepest” level of Mind, we are unified with the cosmos at large. This is echoed by Grof’s model, in which the sequence is: personal/perinatal/transpersonal. Both models take the everyday personality as point of departure, and move from there on to ever more deeper levels of being. As we have seen, in his later work, Wilber has shifted to an explicitly height psychological model, which starts at the “ground floor” of the physical body and works its way up to soul and spirit respectively. Here too, Wilber has distanced himself more and more from the terminology of depth psychology.
In his recent massive work Sex, ecology, spirituality, the first volume of a planned Kosmos-trilogy, Wilber (1995) has answered Grof’s criticism more explicitely. However, he tries to minimize the differences between both models, by maintaining that although they have been arrived at in different ways, both state the same truths about human consciousness. For where Wilber describes the chronological process of development, Grof has documented the results of his numerous experiments in regression therapy, thereby reversing the order of events, so to speak. In Wilber’s understanding, the amount of work needed to integrate both models is very little. For both follow the same sequence, but in opposite directions: Grof’s sequence would be ordinary ego/Freudian/birth trauma/transpersonal, while Wilber’s is birth trauma/Freudian/ordinary ego/transpersonal. However – again according to Wilber – his model would predict the same sequence for the process of regression: ordinary ego/Freudian/birth trauma/transpersonal. But in fact, an alternative reading of Wilber’s model is relevant here: from the point of view of the personal ego, two different and opposite developmental directions are possible: upward or forward (progression) to the transpersonal and downward or backward (regression) to the Freudian and perinatal levels respectively. To my mind, this is an essential difference between Wilber en Grof. Again, depth and height psychology don’t meet here, they take different turns of the road.
In the same passage, Wilber characterizes Grof’s approach to the transpersonal as a kind of “spirituality through the backdoor” (Wilber, 1995, p. 587). Where for Wilber, the centauric (or existential) stage is the gate to the transpersonal, for Grof birth is the entrance. But since when do these two gates lead to the same realities? The near-birth experience (and the near-death experience for that matter) may well be the gate to a trans-physical realm, since the physical body is transcended. All so-called paranormal phenomena (extra-sensory perception, near-death experiences, out-of-the-body experiences, etc.), point to a possible transcendance of the physical, bodily or sensory level, not necessarily of the mental or personal level. In the theosophical worldview, the sphere directly bordering on the physical world of birth and death is by no means spiritual, but “astral”, i.e. emotional in nature (see Visser, 1995). This would account for the strong “astral” and psychedelic flavour of Grof’s writings, who has so much to say on the darker and intensely emotional areas of the human psyche. What is more, Grof defines the transpersonal in a rather loose fashion to include paranormal and spiritual phenomena alike. Rowan (1992) refers to this as the extrapersonal and the transpersonal. Traditional understanding would speak about the difference between “psychism” (the paranormal) and “spirituality” (the transpersonal), or between “occultism” and “mysticism”, two very different fields.
Recently Wilber (1997) has given an in depth analysis of Grof’s view, and states Grof uses a double definition of the perinatal level, which is central to his conception. Where Grof has repeatedly claimed that the it is mandatory to re-experience the birth process, before the spiritual dimension can be contacted, Wilber counters by saying that no spiritual tradition has ever prescribed this as a necessary preparation. That fact that an existential awareness of the phenomena of life and death seems to be a prerequisity to spirituality – why else would we start looking for that which does not perish? – according to most sources, does in no way warrant the view that we have to look back to our own birth process to find an entrance to the spiritual domain. This passage by Wilber seems conclusive to me: “The question is, does the existential level necessarily involve, in part, the actual reliving of the clinical birth delivery? Not might it occasionally, but must it as a rule, do so? Grof basically says yes, virtually everybody else says no. You do not find the necessity to relive clinical birth in any of the major spiritual manuals and techniques. It is rarely if ever found in any of the ascetic practices, shamanic techniques, or contemplative yogas. You do not find it in the great classics of the perennial philosophy or in any of the major wisdom tradition texts. Nor do you find it in the vast majority of the Western depth psychologists, including James and Jung and the general Jungian tradition. (You don’t even find it in Washburn, who, as a regressivist, might be expected to concur; he does not. It is my conjecture that Grof is so committed to phenomena of birth because he, as a depth psychologist, is inclined to look back in time for clues as to the location of spirit, and not forward.
The subject of death and life after death has received Grof’s special attention in several of his publications (Grof & Halifax, 1977; Grof, 1980, 1994). Wilber too has contemplated this topic, in a theoretical (Wilber, 1980) and a more personal context (Wilber, 1991). Both Wilber and Grof have contibuted to Gary Doore’s reader on the subject of life after death (Doore, 1990). As this happens to be a central topic in modern esoteric (theosophical) literature, a comparison between these perspectives could prove enlightening. Grof (in Doore, 1990) is optimistic about the prospects of a possible life after death, based on the results of “modern consciousness research”, especially research into altered states of consciousness, as induced by LSD or holotropic breathwork. These practices seem to produce paranormal experiences of various kinds – visionary experiences reminiscent of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, out-of-the-body experiences, spiritistic or “astral” phenomena or memories of past incarnations. According to Grof, these phenomena “support a worldview recognizing the reality of the postmortem survival of consciousness”. In his view, boundaries of time, space and even the entire physical universe are transcended in transpersonal experiences. It is the last category – archetypal visions, encounters with spirits of deceased persons, clairvoyant observations – that throws new light on the possibility of a world “hereafter”. Especially the categories of OBE’s, meetings with “spirits” in an “astral” realm, and memories of past incarnations – which Grof counts as transpersonal, although “psychic” would be more appropriate – form a rich source of evidence for life after death. The esoteric tradition offers a clear exposition of the spheres transcending the physical plane. This scheme is more complete and clearly formulated than shamanistic or Tibetan worldviews, so popular these days.
Wilber (in Doore, 1990) does not point to paranormal evidence to support his conviction that reincarnation is a fact. On the contrary, he takes reincarnation to be a spiritual hypothesis, arguing that meditation in this life can show us all the post-mortem states of consciousness described in religious tradition. His anthropological theory is clearer than Grof’s – body, mind, soul, spirit are the basic elements of human nature. Wilber maintains that it is not so much the mind which reincarnates, but the soul. He even doubts the validity of so-called memories of past lives, for these belong to the perishable mind and not to the immortal soul or Self. In his view, memories sometimes appearing in very young children form the exception to the rule that nothing of the earthly personality remains but “virtue” and “wisdom”. According to the Tibetan tradition, which Wilber follows here, we pass during two lives through all the spheres – all the way up and all the way down. In eight stages, we move from the dying physical body to the Clear Light of the Absolute. After a relatively quick rising through the spheres and briefly touching the Light, we leave our bodies and enter the bardo-life, which consists of the stage of the radiant visions and the stage of the incarnation into a new body. Wilber does not see this only as an interesting phenomenological affair, but confirms: “In my opinion, these levels are real, they have actual and definite ontological status, and thus the experiences of those levels are themselves real” (p. 186).
Theosophy, being a contemporary philosophy of these very levels, agrees that it is not the mind (personality or ego) that reincarnates, but the soul (individuality or Self), but allows for memories of past lives, because this Self too has a memory of its own. For how else would memories of former lives, described in Buddhist literature for example, be possible at all? Why would we deny the Self its mental aspect? According to theosophical understanding, the Self consists of will (Avirtue”), intuition (Awisdom”) and abstract mind (Amemory”). Furthermore, we do indeed travel through the spheres between two lives, but: (1) we do not go all the way up to the Absolute, but only to the soul (or Self), (2) this rising takes much more time than the few hours the Tibetan Book of the Dead grants us, (3) the subsequent descent to the level of bodily life can be rather swift, (4) in no way is this period limited to the period of 49 days of the Tibetan Book, and (5) a return in animal bodies is simply out of the question. It would be highly relevant to place the theosophical view on life after death next to the prevailing Tibetan or shamanistic descriptions. One could even say, that the traditional notions of heaven, hell and purgatory are not far from the truth, as established by theosophical research. This means we can establish a metaphysical view of the hereafter without having to borrow from Eastern or primitive cultures. Where Wilber sides with the Tibetan view of death, Grof takes a more cross-cultural stand, although this makes his view rather general and vague. No detailed information as to the journey of the soul after death can be derived from his model: do we explore the perinatal and transpersonal layers of the unconscious during the death-process and in the hereafter? Are we reborn in a transpersonal realm? Theosophy gives a very simple answer to the question what happens when we die: our personal self survives the death of the body, experiences its “heaven” and “hell”, but eventually perishes, while our transpersonal Self is relatively immortal and is capable of attaining liberation from the cylcle of rebirths.
The fact that Grof sees in the New Sciences – systems theory, quantum physics, holography, etc. – a real ally for transpersonal studies is another basic point of disagreement between him and Wilber. Wilber has criticized the regressive and reductionistic nature of virtually all so-called New Paradigm thinking (Wilber, 1995). Grof, on the other hand, is one of the most vocal preachers of the “gospel” of holism. He states that where Old Science could not handle the non-ordinary phenomena of consciousness, New Science can: “While the nature of transpersonal experience is clearly fundamentally incompatible with mechanistic science, it can be integrated with the revolutionary developments in various scientific disciplines that have been referred to as the emerging paradigm” (Grof, 1988, p. 163). But the sad and sobering fact is, in my opinion, that neither old nor new physics are able to penetrate into the complex inner realms of subjective consciousness, they can only handle the realm of matter – howsoever conceived, atomistically or holistically. No amount of quantum physics can tell us anything about even the simplest human emotion. What is more, Grof’s fundamental metaphor, hylotropic vs. holotropic thinking – meaning moving towards part-ness vs. moving towards wholeness – is thoroughly tied to the physical plane. The part/whole metaphor should in my opinion be replaced by the depth/height metaphor.
The rather reductionistic holistic view often places spirit in nature, so that our split from nature is interpreted as a split from God. The world-wide cry for a more ecologically sane society, valuable as this is in itself, is given a spiritual overtone, for healing our split from nature is made synonymous with healing our split from God. In Wilber’s understanding, our split from nature is not a split from God, but on the contrary, one step closer to God. The entire process of modernisation and secularition can in this highly original view even be seen as an act of God! And although the ecological problems of our times are serious in the extreme, and should be attended to, they should never be confused with the spiritual problems, that are equally severe and serious. In his recent work, Wilber (1995, 1996) has made painfully clear that this holistic claim is unfounded. Here too, a deep rift runs through the transpersonal field, Grof and Wilber being the main exponents.
The difference between depth and height psychology is the single most important theoretical issue in transpersonal psychology.Two diametrically opposite perspectives on man and society can be deduced from these perspectives. The depth psychological/holistic view seems to stress the collective dimension, that which all beings have in common. It can only speak of unity and wholeness, which are often understood to be physical in nature, or point to pre-modern societies as remedy for modernity’s problems. On this is based the holistic plea for a less divided and fragmented world. The height psychological view seems to stress the individual dimension of growth, and looks for the rare, the most uncommon experiences of the mystics. It talks of an ascent to spirit and of a hierarchy which brings us in contact with ever more spiritual levels, thereby laying out the actual steps we need to take before unity is reached.
In this sense, transpersonal psychology stands at a crossroad. We stand right in the middle between the subconscious and its many levels – the body, sexuality, the emotions, etcetera – and the superconscious – the spiritual intuition, the higher Self, etcetera. This superconscious mind is presumably as complex as its lower counterpart and forms the proper domain of transpersonal psychology. So where can we find spirit? Do we look for spirit in the depth, and therefore in the past (of our own developmental history)? Or do we look up for spirit, and therefore in the future? Depth psychology not only looks to the past, it is itself, I think, something of the past. A truly “transpersonal” transpersonal psychology will therefore be a height psychology, covering the domain of transpersonal spirit in an unambiguous and scientific way. If it understands itself to include the personal dimension as well, the term “integral psychology” would be more appropriate (see Wilber, 1997). A truly encompassing psychology of human consciousness and development will cover both its depth and its height dimensions. In this integral psychology, the “vertical” depth/height dimension will presumably be the most important dimension. It is time to leave behind our depth psychological past, in order to be able to pioneer into our height psychological future. Depth psychology has no business here. Psychology started as we all do, at the level of the instincts; it will be completed as we all will, at the level of spirit.
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(c) 1998 Frank Visser
Here you will find more inspiration
Here you can buy The Soul of Psychosynthesis, By Kenneth Sørensen
Here you can buy Integral Meditation – The Seven Ways to Self-Realization, By Kenneth Sørensen
Read the intro article about Integral Meditation
Read the intro article about Psychosynthesis
Read the intro article about The Seven Types
Here you will find a biography about Roberto Assagioli