Inquiry into Self-Transcendence

From Ecological, Non-Ecological, and Embodied Self-Transcendence in Introspection by Olga Louchakova-Schwartz
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The principle of transcendence, implicit in any consciousness, sets the stage for a variety of psychological experiences indispensable to being human. Can we fully claim the knowledge of all forms of psychological self-transcendence?
I will present the findings concerning the robust introspective self-experience in Christian prayer, whereby transcendence is internal, and is realized as an embodied stratified self-constitution engaging the internal I-Thou. Two different forms of experience, egological and non-egological, contribute to shaping the important religious concepts of the Ladder and of the Ascent of the Soul.
This experience leads to self-knowledge, and to positive characterological transformation, which in turn heals the traces of prior traumas and integrate the “shadow”. Using the
example of this experience, I will show how the psychology of transcendence pushes the boundaries of neuroscience by challenging the latter to expand its old theories and generate new ones, such as non-linear dynamics or neuroquantology.
Introspection in Religious Life
Towards such typology of religious introspection, my present study aimed to explore whether religious introspection has stable structures which can be possibly involved in the formation of religious experience which lead to the emergence of a religious metaphysical concept.
As distinct from the highly formalized, prescriptive phenomenological structures in various kinds of meditation which are intended to specifically modify the mind, I was interested in the modes of introspection which have more flexibility, be less regimented and more natural, and aim at self-knowledge in context of religious ideation. In other words, I was interested how the famous injunction of the Oracle of Delphi, “know thyself”, would translate into a theological or metaphysical idea. As briefly mentioned above, there exists a significant difference  between introspective self-transcendence in religious or spiritual practice, and regular psychological or philosophical (non-religious) introspection.
Obviously, in non-religious, non-metaphysical introspection, the only agent is the ordinary psychological self, without much depth; in religious or metaphysical introspection, the subjects posits and is intent upon the Ultimate Reality, or the presence of God within, with all the modifications of identity which take place while introspection is pursued, and further, in the final self-transcendence when Deity or Ultimate Reality are actualized in introspective experience.  
Notably, these states are not only conceived theologically, but also lived empirically: God is first experienced within as the Other, and then this internal I-Thou is transformed into an experience of Union, which has been described as : “I am not, but He is, and in that, somehow, I am” – an ultimate formula of self-transcendence. From personal experience and the experience of spiritual counseling and teaching, I suspected that the journey between the natural state of self-awareness and this final self-transcendence offers many possibilities to confirm or generate religious ideas, and I needed to establish a specific bond between the two.
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Can Guided Meditation Help Clarify Life Purpose?

By Kimberly Anne Christensen, Ph.D. (c)

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The purpose of this phenomenological study was to describe the connection between guided meditation and life purpose for those who use meditative practices.

In this study, guided meditation will generally be defined as the practice of using spoke words, music, or visual imagery to access information from the subconscious psyche, or universal intelligence of the collective consciousness. Life purpose will generally be defined as your soul’s unique mission to serve self, and others, from a state of unconditional love.

I believe that the phenomena of guided meditation is a waypoint, or bridge, that allows us to access the intelligence of the conscious and subconscious states of self, as well as the universal or collective consciousness of the group. The concept of using guided meditation to access data on life purpose, is one that I believe is essential if we are to honor ourselves as unique individuals who desire to live a meaningful, and meaning-filled life, using our innate gifts at the highest level for service to humanity.

Relevancy, or need for the study of life purpose, (Creswell, 2007) comes from several qualitative studies on calling and vocation in the journals of career assessment, happiness studies, counseling psychology, and vocational studies. One of the many research findings on calling and vocation, speak to the need of today’s workers to connect to something in their life, beyond better wages. Duffy, Dik, and Eldgridge (2009) report that:

Clients experiencing dissatisfaction in their careers often yearn for something that goes beyond better wages of more supportive supervisors. Many want to experience a calling or vocation. Increasingly, popular authors, and scholars have advocated reclaiming the constructs of calling or vocation in career and life planning. Such attention has helped raise awareness of these constructs and has catalyzed research and theory on their role in career decision making. (p. 626).

     The use of the terms calling and vocation, although not found in the data of this study, do find representation within my study as something more that wants to come through you.

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My philosophical paradigm is both transformative and participatory, with the goal of examining issues of power, and the underlying assumptions that guide our lives in which we are participants. John Creswell (2007) offers four key features of an advocacy or participatory practice that were relevant in my study.

Beginning with the first key, I believe that this study has the power to change how we participate and move forward in our career and life experiences, by looking within to find life direction. Second, through the process of connecting to the universal intelligence of the collective unconscious, I believe that individuals can be freed from the constraints of outside influences when making life and career choices as truths relevant only to themselves can be accessed. Third, by connecting with the subconscious self, individuals are able to emancipate themselves from mental and emotional beliefs that have limited self-development and self-determination. Fourth, by using a collaborative model, participants become co-researchers in the work. An example of this participatory model is that my definition for life purpose was built from the responses of the participants in the study (Creswell, p. 22).

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The Benefits of Communing with Nature

from Intentional Kayaking: Awakening to Intimacy Within the Natural World by Nancy Rowe, Ph.D.

Intimacy Within our Earth Community: An Introduction to this Exploration

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This longing for intimacy, for reciprocity and the experience of aliveness and connection with other beings within a living landscape, is not surprising as the “natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong” (Berry, 1990, p. 81). We long for relationship and to feel part of the living landscape as co-participants in the unfolding inter-connectedness of life. Perhaps it is because “there is no such thing as human community without the earth and the soil and the air and the water and all living forms. Humans are woven into this larger community” (Raymond, 2010, p. 59).

Perhaps we are searching for our true home, our place within “the family of things” (Oliver, 1992) or for a wholesome connection to our outer landscape that embraces both individual and planetary life. As Linda Hogan (1995) expressed in her book, Dwellings,
We are looking for a tongue that speaks with reverence of life,
searching for an ecology of mind. Without it, we have no home,
have no place of our own within creation. … We want a language that… returns us to our own sacredness, to a self-love and respect that will
carry out to others. (p. 60)
This article blends personal quest with scholarship from transpersonal psychology, spirituality, nature writing, and philosophy. It highlights the results of a thematic
content analysis of journal entries made during a week of kayaking with the expressed intention of being in better relationship with a specific lake community. I share how this act shifted my lived experience of being part of the lake community and how this contributed to a more transpersonal and conscious engagement with my immediate environment. Finally, I make the case that we can all achieve this intimacy by cultivating what Maslow (1970) referred to as the plateau-experience, and by incorporating the wisdom of mystics and nature writers.
11215741555_cebfb17859_bPeak Experiences in Nature
What are peak experiences and how do they contribute to awakening to intimacy within the natural world? Peak experiences have been described as feelings of love, well-being, awe, wonder, unity, awareness, and higher consciousness. They come on suddenly and last only a short time, although their effect can last a life time (Maslow, 2011). These transpersonal moments can be triggered through a variety of experiences, such as sports, sex, meditation, nature encounters, creative exploration, and meditation (Taylor, 2012). They have been characterized by “euphoria, noesis, harmony or union with the universe, a profound sense of beauty and love, and ineffability” (Davis, 1998).
Peak experiences often result in increased clarity and compassion as well as refined levels of beauty and truth (Swan 2010). People who have been awakened in these sudden ways sometimes report an increased love of nature, fresh life perspectives, and transformed lives (Coburn, 2006;  Laski, 1962; Swan, 1990).
Poets have often portrayed peak experiences as moments of ecstasy and deep mystical experiences (Frager & Fadiman, 2005). Many scholars believe that peak experiences cannot be created but can be triggered by an experience such as an intense, inspiring occurrence (Frager & Fadiman, 2005; Goswami, 1993 ) or amplified by places such as sacred sites (Swan, 1990). Taylor (2012), who has preferred to use the term “awakening experiences” (p. 74), suggested that certain conditions are conducive for having peak experiences and proposes a psychological-energetic theory of awakening.

These awakening experiences include moments when perceptions and awareness become more intensified and expanded.

Five key themes—harmony, connectedness, intention, aliveness, and reciprocity of process—emerged from their phenomenological study, and they proposed that these themes might be true in other encounters with cetaceans and possibly universal to all wild-animal- triggered peaks. They concluded that “connecting with another being, and ultimately, being fully connected with oneself, is the underlying desire of the cetacean-
triggered peak experience” (p. 169) and that this experience can bring a sense of reciprocity, harmony, aliveness, and connectedness to the human participant.
About Nancy Rowe, Ph.D.: Nancy Rowe is the chairperson for Sofia University’s Global Master of Arts in Transpersonal Psychology program. In addition to teaching, Nancy’s research has led her to develop the curriculum for the new Eco-Psychology specialization within the Global MA in Transpersonal Psychology program.

Should psychotherapy training include religion and spirituality?

By David Lukoff, Ph.D.


In 1985, I proposed a new diagnostic category entitled Mystical Experience with Psychotic Features (MEPF) to identify intense spiritual experiences that present as psychotic-like episodes.  In 1989, Francis Lu, a psychiatrist on the faculty at UC Davis, and I began collaborating on a proposal for a new diagnostic category for the then-in-development DSM-IV, which we saw as the most effective way to increase the sensitivity of mental health professionals to spiritual crises.  The transpersonal movement supported this 4 year effort through publication of articles in JTP and presentations at ATP conferences to fine tune the proposal.  Ultimately in 1994, the proposal for a new diagnostic category was accepted: Religious or Spiritual Problem.  This is not listed as a mental disorder but a problem in living that requires some clinical attention.

Psychology and psychiatry have a long history of ignoring and pathologizing religion and spirituality.  This DSM category has served as a foot the door which has opened the mental health field to a broader consideration of spirituality in mental health.

Today, within mainstream psychological theory and research, we are seeing the continued exploration of transpersonal issues in the attention to “religious coping” and “spiritual struggles.”  Transpersonal psychology, starting with its founder Abraham Maslow’s focus on self-actualization and optimal functioning, has been the tip of the spear in this change.  The early transpersonal work on distinguishing a spiritual emergency from a psychotic disorder which led to a diagnostic category for spiritual problems has laid the groundwork for this new work on spiritual competencies which recognizes spirituality as a resource for wellness and recovery and the value of spiritually oriented interventions such as mindfulness practices.

I have been teaching about spiritual competencies in graduate courses in Sofia University’s PsyD and GPHD programs. Class activities include writing a spiritual autobiography, conducting a spiritual assessment with someone outside the class, keeping a gratitude journal for a week, and other exercises from the book.

(Below is an article written by David Lukoff, et. al:)

Competencies for Psychologists in the Domains of Religion and Spirituality

Religion and spirituality are important parts of the lives of most people in the United States. Gallup polls between 1992 and 2012 (Gallup, 2015) reveal that over the last two decades 79% to 88% of Americans have said that religion is “very important” or “fairly important” in their lives. A full 92% believe in God, and nearly 70% report being either “very religious” or “moderately religious” (Gallup, 2011, 2015).

A recent Pew Research Center (Lugo, 2012) survey found that even among those who report no specific religious affiliation, more than half self- identify as a religious or spiritual person. More than a third of those who are unaffiliated (37%) self-identify as “spiritual, but not religious,” and about 15% to 30% of individuals in the general population report being in this category (Lugo, 2012; Marler & Hadaway, 2002; Moore, 2003).


Religion and Spirituality and Psychological Health

Research has shown that for many people, spiritual and religious beliefs and practices (SRBPs; Saunders, Miller, & Bright, 2010) are intertwined with psychological and emotional well-being. Spirituality and religion substantially color the way people understand themselves and the world around them, including their values, morals, and behaviors, their stance or orientation toward other people, their feelings of happiness and safety, their capacities for forgiveness and gratitude, their level of social support and engagement, and how they interpret the meaning of events and situations, including their approach to illness and death in themselves and others (Emmons & Paloutzian, 2003; Norenzayan, Dar-Nimrod, Hansen, & Proulx, 2009; Park, 2013; Schultz, Tallman, & Alt- maier, 2010; Tay, Li, Myers, & Diener, 2014; Vallurupalli et al., 2012).

Spiritual and religious beliefs and practices qualify as aspects of human diversity equivalent in importance to race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. Based on the ethical codes that have guided our field for over a decade, psychologists should receive training in competencies related to religion and spirituality just as the field of psychology now requires for other forms of cultural competence.

For instance, according to the APA Ethics Code (American Psychological Association, 2003) psychologists should consider religious diversity as they do other forms of diversity such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation:

Psychologists are aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role differences, including those based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status and consider these factors when working with members of such groups. (p. 1063)

Furthermore, the APA Guidelines on Multi- cultural Education, Training, Research, Prac- tice, and Organizational Change for Psychologists (American Psychological Association, 2003) identify religion and spirituality as important aspects of multiculturalism that should be included in cultural competency training, defining culture as “the embodiment of a world- view through learned and transmitted beliefs, values, and practices, including religious and spiritual traditions” (p. 8).

In 2007, APA adopted a comprehensive “Resolution on Religious, Religion-Based and/or Religion-Derived Prejudice,” condemning prejudice and discrimination against individuals or groups based on their SRBPs and resolving to include information on religious/spiritual prejudice and discrimination in multicultural and diversity training material and activities (American Psychological Association, 2007a).

Attention to spirituality and religion as components of multicultural diversity is inade quate, with most of the focus in training on ethnic and racial diversity (Frazier & Hansen, 2009). For example, Nagai (2008) found that clinicians’ self-ratings were much higher for ethnic/racial cultural competence compared to their ratings of spiritual competence.


Avoidance of Religion and Spirituality in Clinical Practice

A survey of more than 300 clinical psychologists on a mailing list of randomly selected APA members who had a doctorate in clinical psychology and were practicing clinicians found that these psychologists discuss religion and spirituality with only 30% of their clients, and fewer than half address clients’ SRBPs in any way during assessment or treatment planning (Hathaway et al., 2004).

Why is this the case? It does not appear to be because of lack of interest. Psychotherapists indicate an openness to engage the topic of religious and spiritual issues with clients (Brown, Elkonin, & Naicker, 2013; Knox, Cat- lin, Casper, & Schlosser, 2005) and a survey of college counselors revealed that more than 70% were open to in-session discussions of religious and spiritual issues (Weinstein, Parker, & Ar- cher, 2002). Moreover, clients report that they would like to discuss religious and spiritual matters in psychotherapy (Goedde, 2000; Post & Wade, 2009). Most clients want to be asked about their SRBPs (Blanton, 2005; Diallo, 2012; Knox et al., 2005; Oxhandler & Parga- ment, 2014; Post & Wade, 2009). For example, in a survey of clients (N 74) from nine different counseling centers, Rose, Westefeld, and Ansely (2001) found that 55% of clients wanted to discuss religious/spiritual concerns with their psychotherapist and 63% thought it was appropriate to do so.

Avoidance of religion and spirituality in clinical practice may instead be attributable to the fact that most psychologists receive little education or training in how to ethically and effectively attend to religious and spiritual domains in clinical practice, or guidance about the extent to and methods by which they should incorporate this dimension into their work.

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