Transpersonal Psychology: A Problem that’s Inseparable from Its Promise

In the late 1960’s Abraham Maslow, Anthony Sutich and others wrote about what they called the four forces in American psychology.  The psychological forces they identified were behaviorism, psychoanalysis, humanistic, and transpersonal. Known as the fourth force, transpersonal was viewed as emerging at the time. In the first issue of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology (1969), Sutich provided a lengthy, detailed, and comprehensive definition of transpersonal psychology. In the same journal a few decades later (1993), Roger Walsh and Francis Vaughan gave a shorter definition of transpersonal psychology (known also as spiritual psychology), defining it as “a sub-field or school of psychology that integrates the spiritual and transcendent aspects of the human experience with the framework of modern psychology. The transpersonal is defined as experiences in which the sense of identity or self extends beyond (trans) the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche or cosmos.” Although it is a relatively new way of thinking about humanity in the West—that is, with respect to a psychological understanding of the human experience, the viewpoint is fundamental to an African point of view—a viewpoint that is regularly discussed and applied in the writings of African-centered transpersonal psychologist, Linda James Myers—that dates back hundreds to thousands of years, and includes an ancient Egyptian (Kemetic) understanding of humans that viewed spirituality and psychology as inseparable, and embraced and recognized the connection between the lived experiences of human beings and the Cosmos (viewed as a sacred Universe).

Maslow, Sutich and others effectively argued that the four forces in psychology were four unique approaches to studying human beings. As a student I was interested in learning about each of these approaches to varying degrees. I began studying increasing amounts of the material from year to year as a graduate student, when much to my delight, there came a moment when I believed a case could be made for arguing that the four psychological forces aligned with (and are means of expressions for) the four psychological functions Carl Jung identified as sensing, thinking, feeling, and intuiting.

Psychological Types (The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 6) (Bollingen Series XX)

Jung described the four functions in his book Psychological Types as follows: “Sensation establishes what is actually present, thinking enables us to recognize its meaning, feeling tells us its value, and intuition points to possibilities as to whence it came and whither it is going (pp. 540-541).”

The functions are configured in the human psyche with thinking and feeling existing at the opposite ends of the same axis.  Existing at the opposing ends of a second overlapping axis are sensing and intuiting. Together, the four functions represent our means and ways of knowing and understanding reality and all aspects of the human experience while mirroring aspects of the fourfold structure of the psyche. Worthy of note is that the two overlapping axes form a cross which can be referred to as a Jungian cross. 

Individuation Process: A Step-by-Step Look at Jungian Psychology

The single function (which can be any one of the four) situated at the north end of the cross is called the superior function.  It represents the most dominant and developed function.  Opposed to this function is the inferior function which has a special and unique role to play in an individual’s movement towards wholeness. Superior and inferior functions can also be identified in “the psyche” of the people of a nation or culture; and so, too, when identified, the inferior function may potentially, if not surprisingly, reveal a means to wholeness for an individual and/or the people of a nation; and yet, there is typically a price to pay on the journey to wholeness, as there are often considerable challenges to overcome in trying to integrate the inferior function with the other three in an effort to bring about a robust fully functioning psyche. 

Regarding an individual in relation to the four functions, the ego generally comes to experience three of the psychological functions as helpful.  They must, however, occupy the positions of superior, first auxiliary, and second auxiliary functions—or in other words, the positions of North, West and East, respectively, on the Jungian cross. The ego experiences its greatest comfort with the superior function (i.e., the one that develops first in consciousness) while over a period of time, a person’s ego learns to recognize the usefulness of a second function (usually called the first auxiliary function), and a third function that may be called the second auxiliary or tertiary function.  The fourth remaining function (i.e., the one at the South point of the Jungian Cross) is always the inferior function; and yet, although it offers a pathway to wholeness for the individual, it can regularly generate discomfort, frustration, and anxiety whenever the ego experiences it or acts to use it.  From an ego perspective, it seemingly and regularly falls short in some way.  Being inferior (and thus the opposite of the superior and dominant function), the domain of experience that the inferior function covers or provides access to is least valued by the superior function.

In my book Passages Beyond the Gate (2012), I discuss how these four psychological functions give rise to four strikingly different ways of knowing which we find in psychology. In American psychology they unfold in a dynamic and readily identifiable way. 

Passages Beyond the Gate: A Jungian Approach to Understanding American Psychology

As the functions begin to differentiate within the psyche of an individual, the order is such that the first to develop is the superior or dominant function.  This dynamic process determines which function will become the “troublesome,” unruly function, and that function is always the opposite function of the superior function. Two more functions will over time differentiate and become controllable and reliable (to varying degrees). 

Over time things stabilize, and the ego realizes it has three functions that it can effectively use, but one that is unreliable, difficult to manage, and thus often devalued. This dynamic is aptly named the problem of the three and the one.  It is a dynamic process that can be seen not only in an individual, but in a discipline—such as psychology, which in itself mirrors and identifies dynamics and those things of importance in the psyche of groups that comprise cultures and nations.
If the first force in American psychology, represented by behaviorism, is grounded in the function Jung called sensation—then the alignments of the three remaining functions with the three remaining psychological forces point to psychoanalysis (the original psychodynamic psychology) being grounded in thinking, and humanistic (sometimes referred to as humanistic-existential psychology) being grounded in the feeling function. Transpersonal psychology grounded in intuition represents the inferior function in American psychology; consequently, being on the same axis, it is opposite behaviorism which is grounded in sensation. With this in mind, the argument can be made that behaviorism (essentially, the tenets it rests upon that are consistent with the traditional scientific method) is not only the first force in American psychology, it also is a manifestation of sensation, the superior function in American psychology. 

There is a split in the thinking among transpersonalists regarding the means and ways one should go about studying transpersonal phenomena. On the one hand, there are those adherents, practitioners, and researchers who are compelled to explore ideas, acquire knowledge, and gather information gained only from identifying and exploring measurable phenomena. There are others who embrace a different, if not, expanded or broader view of the transpersonal that calls for the exploration and gathering of information in those realms of being that go beyond the concrete, and measurable aspects of reality. Still, some transpersonalists, like myself, believe both approaches are important, and should be pursued.

In order for transpersonal psychology to provide its ideal and unique contribution to American psychology, it must have and maintain a foothold in the metaphysical aspects of knowledge and reality. Metaphysical knowledge and spiritual values must be combined with practical applications of our understanding of science to best inform us of ways to enhance the quality of life for humanity. Such a statement points to this being a major problem in the United States because the psychology of Americans, as much as it can be discerned by how psychology is largely defined in the United States, and the value placed on it by the nation’s major and most value centers of academic learning, places an extremely high value on the sensing function which—as important as it is, promotes a materialistic viewpoint of reality, and leads to an overvaluation of science as the be-all and end-all means to improving the life of human beings. Traditional science denies or ignores the realm of the spiritual. Traditional science is grounded in a materialistic viewpoint of the world that seeks to comprehend and explain its objects, and phenomena—including its understanding of human beings. Traditional, mainstream science claims to reveal and describe how we are as human beings; and yet, over, and over again, our human lives point to there being truth in the viewpoint that “man shall not live by bread alone (Matthew 4:4)”

Sensing is the dominant function in American psychology: its dominance was originally expressed in behaviorism, but, in current day studies and practice, it is further expressed in the growing call or demand by many mainstream psychologists for all psychologists to embrace evidence based research only: that is, research based on the traditional scientific method where measurement and quantification rule. Transpersonal psychology tends not to be embraced by these mainstream psychologists because it is a psychology that in its purest form is grounded in intuition and it is open to the metaphysical realms.

A complete understanding of human nature will be gained from the contribution to knowledge that emerges from the four functions that give rise to the four forces in psychology. This means transpersonal psychology which embraces a spiritual understanding of reality cannot be pushed to the side or ignored—and yet, in American psychology, transpersonal psychology is the psychological approach mainstream psychologists are most determined to ignore, resist, ridicule, or even condemn. In order to make transpersonal psychology more acceptable to the mainstream, some transpersonalists are willing to deny the fullness of exploration and possibilities that characterize the transpersonal by avoiding the metaphysical side of the transpersonal or rejecting methods that explore it other than those ways that embrace the traditional scientific method.

At American leading academic institutions across the nation, approaches to the study of psychology (based on traditional scientific method and inquiry grounded in sensation) greatly mirror an acceptance of tenets embraced by behavioral, cognitive, biological and other related physical scientific approaches. Though, admittedly, and thankfully—so, too, can there be found at many of these institutions psychologists who adhere to the tenets of psychodynamic, and humanistic-existential approaches. All of the psychological approaches named above currently have a seat at the table; however, American psychology will never be whole or complete without transpersonal psychology also being granted a seat at the table. Once this occurs transpersonal psychology’s important contributions will be realized, as it will have been given the opportunity to fulfill its promise. In time it will be recognized that the contributions of an intuitively based transpersonal psychology are just as important as the contributions of sensation, thinking, and feeling oriented approaches, if not more so.

American psychology should be an expression of the best that each of the four functions will make possible in our quest for knowing the physical and material aspects of our being, the meaning of our lived experiences, the values that give importance to our lives, and the metaphysical possibilities as to whence we came and whither we are going both in our present earthly existence, and beyond this lifetime, given the spiritual beings that we (in essence) are from a Transpersonal perspective.

The Impact of the Pluto Return on the USA’s Chart: A Call for Transformation

The USA’s Pluto Return (i.e., the time period that marks the “planet” Pluto’s return to its original astrological sign and degree in the birth chart of the United States) is worthy of study. The Pluto Return is a 248 years cycle–and that means it is currently moving ever so much closer to the degree marking its starting point in the USA’s birth chart—namely, 27 and a half degrees in the sign of Carpricorn. This is important because it means we are in the time period of Pluto’s assessment and judgment regarding what the United States has become from the time of its birth as a nation in 1776 until the present. Sadly, the recent unfolding of events–the COVID-19 pandemic, highly impactful incidents of emergent racial injustice, various forms of gender discrimination, ecological concerns, social unrest, political polarization, and social-economic distress affecting millions across multiple levels of society, all contribute to the facts based conclusion that we as a nation, and indeed, the world, are in extremely serious trouble.

When Pluto energies appear and are experienced, the truth and/or that which was hidden can more readily be revealed. Of equal importance, Pluto’s energies can manifest in other ways: including endings that are linked to new beginnings, destruction, healing, and/or transformation.  Pluto (along with, Uranus, and Neptune) is a transpersonal planet meaning it represents a path for humanity to higher consciousness.

The Call for Liberty and Justice for All are Values We Must Not Turn Against

Before saying much more about the Pluto Return, for the purpose of comparison, I will briefly write about the planet Saturn and its more widely known Saturn Return. Like the Pluto Return, the Saturn Return (occurring about every 29.5 years) is about assessing and judging how the life of an entity has been lived over the course of its planetary cycle.

Saturn will test the foundational strength of a life and the structure of a life built on that foundation, and if the foundation and life structure fail the test, then it will tear them down, and leave it up to the person/entity to rebuild or not. It’s analogous to a building that collapses under it’s own weight when Saturn makes its return, and decides the foundation and structure of the building are flawed. Once a life finds that it cannot bear the weight of Saturn’s various expressions of its energy or Saturn’s tests, Saturn “shakes it head” and moves on. One has failed and the person must build a better foundation and/or create a new life structure; however, if the life bears the test of Saturn, then Saturn still moves on, but the person/entity can live knowing that it has built a solid foundation and life structure. In other words, it has passed the test. This is why ages 28 to 31 are very important years in a human being’s life.

No human lives 248 years, so no human experiences a personal Pluto Return based on her or his natal chart, however, nations and other “long-lived” entities do.

Although Pluto, too, comes to assess and pass judgment in its return, its energies are different from Saturn’s energies. On the one hand, Pluto can be far more devastating in its destruction (think of a major volcanic eruption, or at its worst, the explosion of a megaton thermonuclear bomb). 

The Coronavirus

Among other things, Pluto rules viruses. In fact, the planet embodies a powerful transformative healing and deadly energy that can be expressed in many different ways. Oddly enough, the novel coronavirus (whose known impact can be deadly) has triggered many unexpected, yet positive transformations around the world. Pluto does not have to use viruses to trigger transformation, as it has many means and ways in which it can trigger physical, bodily, social, economic, mental and/or spiritual transformations. Some transformations (in the immediate and initial time period in which their impact occur) can be more welcomed by individuals and/or humanity than others. 

Attempt at Limiting the Spread of the Coronavirus

Although the impact of Pluto’s energy will typically take a very long time (possibly even years) to fully manifest and unfold in the life of a person or nation, sometimes the transformative healing energy of Pluto manifests more immediately in ways that can be experienced as growth enhancing, consciousness expanding, spiritually uplifting, and/or extraordinarily exhilarating—indeed, these positive manifestations or consequences of Pluto’s healing energy define an experience that is simply wonderful. For some people and/or societies the above will periodically capture their experience with Pluto’s energy, but for those who exist long enough, often the person/society will also experience the negative aspects of Pluto—meaning Pluto’s energies can painfully and stunningly reveal, and/or destroy that which is incapable of standing up to its judgment. Pluto breaks things down; consequently, even some forms of healing triggered by Pluto will by necessity involve significant levels of pain and/or discomfort. Unlike Saturn, however, Pluto will always trigger transformative healing after it has wreaked potentially devastating destruction or triggers the end of an event or experience. Pluto demands a rebuild, but its energies help in the rebuilding to make things better.

A Symbol for Pluto

We are closing in on the exact degree that defines the Pluto Return in the USA’s chart; that is, the degree from whence Pluto began its 248 year cycle. Yet, what we are witnessing now is only the beginning of the end, along with the demand for, and opportunities with the help of Pluto to bring forth positive changes in the USA across multiple social, governmental, and economic levels of the country. Soon enough the country will enter a period of a new beginning (2023 – 2024), as I, optimistically, believe, after a period of significant trials and tribulations—greater stability, and a better, more egalitarian way of life in the United States will eventually take hold based on Pluto entering the sign of Aquarius.

A Black Lives Matter Rally

The United States has not fully lived up to its promise as a beacon of light for the world. Pluto symbolizes profound and unfathomable energies and abilities. Having the natal placement of Pluto in the second house (i.e., house of resources and values) of the USA’s (Sibly) chart supports the belief that when one is given much, much will be required (Luke 12:48). Having failed to live up to the standards the nation proclaimed it stands for, Pluto is revealing to the country and to the world, the USA’s toxic underbelly, and its disease foundation. One aspect of this toxic underbelly is also known as “America’s original sin,” namely, the nation’s mistreatment of people of color; specifically, the United States’ government mistreatment of native people, going back to the periods when it was an active participant in the near genocide of native people, resulting in reducing many of the remaining Indigenous people to living on reservations—and its mistreatment of black people, namely its widespread acceptance and promotion of black slavery. These are examples of racism and white supremacy.

We are in the midst of Pluto revealing the breadth and depth of these social illnesses (perhaps in ways never before seen) as threats to the stability of the nation. It is ripping off its scabs and revealing its wounds for all the world to see. Racism and all sorts of other inequalities are truly being revealed for what they are as well as the damage they cause across all levels of American life. This is unacceptable to Pluto; and, consequently, much must be noted, addressed, rooted out, and eventually changed, transformed or even destroyed in the USA before Pluto enters the sign of Aquarius (the sign of the people) and perhaps the most egalitarian of all signs.

As it closes in on the degree that marks its Pluto Return in Capricorn, Pluto is making it known (to those who understand its nature and purpose) that it is not pleased with all that it “sees.”

Protestors Making Their Viewpoint Known

Like Uranus, and Neptune, Pluto is a major planet of change impacting individual lives, but especially so, with regards to the masses (i.e., humanity). Its extremely powerful energies will not only demand that America live up to its promises, it will destroy any aspect of the nation, if not the nation itself, that fails to do so. The good news is that it will not just move on leaving us wasted, it will deliver energies that eventually will show us the way. Indeed, humanity can expect to experience consciousness raising insights and opportunities triggered by Pluto that will help us rebuild and undergo uplifting and needed transformation.

We are one Human Race–having the Beauty of Different Colors: Our Greatest Strength Results from Us Uniting

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How Consciousness Creates Reality: Physics, and Amit Goswami, PhD

The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World

Although I did not know it at the time, about ten years ago I attended a lecture that was certain to have a significant influence on my way of thinking.  There I was seated in the first row in a modest size  lecture room awaiting the arrival of Dr. Amit Goswami.   Once the talk began, I was immediately caught up in his words and the concepts he shared—given what he said, none of the concepts he expressed was more thought-provoking than the idea that “consciousness is the ground of all being.”

Amit Goswami  was a professor of physics at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon.  Although he remains  very active, and is internationally known, he has retired from the university where he taught theoretical quantum physics for over 30 years.  During his visit to Drew University several years ago,  Dr. Goswami  lectured on the subject of consciousness and its relationship  to matter.  People, when asked to define it,  generally think of consciousness as awareness, but for Goswami, and similar thinkers, consciousness is so much more.  In their view, consciousness created and continues to create reality, more specifically, the material world—indeed, according to this viewpoint, although it may sound strange to those who do not share it, consciousness created our brain and all other forms of matter.

Although one can find a number of scientists and philosophers who do not share Goswami’s ideas, there are theoretical and experimental  models in physics that lend support to his position.  The support  is based on the idea that for matter to come into existence, it must be observed or measured.  Prior to being observed or measured, “reality” exists as “waves of possibilities.”  We humans never get to see reality or the universe in its wave form because whenever we open our eyes to look,  our consciousness collapses the wave function into observable or measurable matter.   Think of any person being anywhere on earth where she or he is alone, but looking forward–as physicist Nick Herbert explains, the reality that exists behind our back is in wave form, and we cannot turn quickly enough to see it because as soon as we turn to observe it, we freeze it into its matter state.

Even with the surprising knowledge that we have about the relationship between consciousness and reality, the nature of consciousness is not fully understood.  Still, an increasing number of scientists–in the disciplines of psychology, neuroscience, physics, biology, and computer science–have made consciousness a topic worthy of exploration. The study of consciousness is increasingly becoming a hot topic in the academy; but for those of us who are aware of the history of psychology, the discipline is revisiting a topic that was previously deemed important over a hundred years ago–that is,  before a very strong adherence by many psychologists to the  tenets of the psychology known as behaviorism overshadowed it.

Today,  biologists, neuroscientists  and even some psychologists reasonably ask the question, “What is the relationship between consciousness and the brain?”  These scientists seek to identify and/or understand the neural mechanisms  that  give  rise to consciousness.   Certainly a relationship exists between brain and consciousness, but does consciousness emerge from a physical  substratum? According to Goswami, it does not. 

During a lively discussion in my personality theories course, a student argued the case for the importance of the brain in creating consciousness and personality, in effect posing the view that consciousness was a byproduct or epiphenomenon of brain activity   He was decidedly surprised when I told him I shared a belief with some other scientists who would readily argue that consciousness is not a byproduct of the brain, and moreso consciousness does not need the brain to exist.  Indeed, in a more grand view of things, consciousness “produced” the brain rather than the other way around.

The basis, if not the strength, of each of our arguments was centered on belief; that is, it all came down to how we viewed causation which in our discussion opened the door for me to briefly talk about the concepts of “top-down “ vs. “bottom-up” causality.  In a bottom-up view of the universe, matter is fundamental to reality.  Sub-atomic particles, atoms, molecules, genetic strands, cells and other forms of organic matter built upon each other, the result being the creation of the human brain from which consciousness emerges.  In a top-down view of causation, even the Big Bang was the result of consciousness.  The Big Bang existed in wave form, just like everything else, but in order for it to come into existence, it needed to be observed.  In the top-down view of causation as Goswami  stated, “consciousness is the ground of all being.”  By this statement, Goswami means all of  reality–and here is where things become even more interesting–the reason being because it begs an answer to the question who or what observed or measured the universe at the prime level or at the very beginning?   According to Goswami, it had to be a sentient being.  To some philosophers, theologians, many plain, everyday folks, and even some scientists– that sentient being, is best described by the words the Prime Mover, the Prime Being (other similar names in meaning) or simply by the word– God.

The Self-Aware Universe is Amit Goswami’s seminal work.  You can visit Amit Goswami’s website at:

Eben Alexander’s Book: Proof of Heaven | Eternea Website

Reading Proof of Heaven, Dr. Eben Alexander's ...

Reading Proof of Heaven, Dr. Eben Alexander’s near death experience (Photo credit: Lost A Sock)

I loved reading Eben Alexander’s book Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife. When it was first published, I mentioned the book to a friend who is a theological school professor and minister. Although I strongly endorsed the book, and thought she would be eager to read it as well, she gave me reason to pause when she said, “I do not need to read a book to know Heaven is real.” Actually, she was right, about her own belief, and my belief as well. Whether we view heaven as another dimension or a higher plane of existence, etc. I know such a place is real.

I did not love Alexander’s book because it made heaven more real to me, I loved it because it made heaven, or even the possibility of heaven, more real to many who prior to reading his book were inclined not to believe heaven was real. Eben’s is an important voice among those of us who work in the area of consciousness studies and transpersonal psychology. Although many of us–researchers, clinicians, practitioners and scholars that we are–share his interest in science and value our scientific background, and many of us have similarly impressive educational credentials, unlike Dr. Alexander, we have shown interest in this field of study for many years, if not decades, and are long established believers, and/or “knowers” of these truths. Eben does not have a long and established history in this subject matter; however, as a highly regarded academic neurosurgeon who was a physician on the staff of Harvard Medical School, with a particularly strong scientific understanding of the brain, his becoming a great believer in the reality of experiences and knowledge that a mere few years ago he would have readily dismissed as unimportant (from a personal and a scientific point of view) is striking, and particularly impressive to readers around the world–even among former skeptics whose views regarding the afterlife changed after reading his book.

Eben fell into a coma due to an infection by a “rare and mysterious bacterial meningitis-encephalitis” which resulted in him having a near death experience (NDE). To the surprise of his physicians and other health care workers he managed to survive. As he slowly regained his functioning, he realized that his life had changed, in part, due to the transforming quality of the knowledge and insight he had gained–namely, “that we are conscious in spite of our brain.”

Eben has an excellent website called ETERNEA – The Convergence of Science and Spirituality. Its purpose is described as follows: “ETERNEA’s purpose is to help create an ideal future for Earth and all its inhabitants by advancing knowledge from frontier science that consciousness survives bodily death and
some innate aspect of all life forms exists eternally.” I encourage you to visit ETERNEA.


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