Transpersonal Psychology, which literally means “beyond the person,” is an area of research, academia, and counseling that goes beyond the limits of personal identity. It is a holistic approach to viewing an individual. In addition to holistic psychotherapy models, there are many schools of thought (some thousands of years old) that include the ‘spirit’ as a part of the conversation of the ‘self’.
“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depth of their hearts …If only they could see themselves as they really are, if only we could see each other that way all the time, there would be no more need for war, for hatred, for greed, for cruelty. I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.” – Thomas Merton
“To me, the divine is the loving awareness that is our source and essence. When we pay careful attention, we see every person as an expression of the love and goodness we cherish. Every being becomes the Beloved.” – Tara Brach
In this section, we will cover things that are a little less tangible or able to be calculated. Some may describe this content as invisible. We are not here to push a certain spiritual or religious view and we do not have a hidden agenda. Martin Luther King celebrates love as a spiritual force that unites and binds all life. Maybe you’re a Christian, or Muslim, or Buddhist, or Hindu or identify within another religion. Maybe you’re an atheist or agnostic or identify as being “spiritual but not religious.”
All are welcome here, and hopefully there is something here for you regardless of your spiritual inclination, or not. Certainly, some elements below will not resonate with you, and perhaps 10% will, and that 10% will, hopefully, be particularly useful to/for you.
We are also aware that when people say ‘spirit’ what they mean can vary widely. As you read on, we encourage you to read as it works for you, whether your definition is those qualities regarded as forming the definitive or typical elements in the character of a person, nation, or group or in the thought and attitudes of a particular period or even a literal, non-physical ‘soul’.
What we hope to inspire/recall/utilize is the ineffable quality of relating to others, ourselves, and / or humanity/nature that defies simplistic explanations.
See our section on “Awe” for some sense of this.
If this isn’t for you, then take the baby out of proverbial bathwater before discarding both.
“We all experience this mystery in our daily lives in some ways, however small, whether we see ourselves as ‘spiritual’ or not. We find ourselves in the right place at the right time, ready and able to receive blessings without knowing just how we got there.” – Bell Hooks
“I’m just a spirit trying to be human.”- Alexi Murdoch
Seeing the secret beauty of others, and ourselves, allows us to see past our judgments and fear-driven thinking to be shown who we really are. Rather than only seeing the entrapped version of ourselves and others, we can see what Tara Brach calls our, “radiance of goodness.”
Buddhist philosophy holds the teaching of Basic Goodness, which invites us to rest into the idea that our essence is pure and kind natured. Looking at yourself as though you are basically good, suggests that regardless of how much you do or how good you do/don’t do it, you are safe. You are welcome to inhabit yourself and take up space in the world around you, regardless of your level of productivity. Holding the idea of basic goodness, can inform a view of yourself that challenges self-deprecating beliefs or un-serving patterns.
“It’s a miracle that you’re here at all.”- John Craigie
Musings on Oneness and Separation
We are created in what Gay Hendricks calls “a flash of oneness” and then our cells divide. We know oneness again in the womb, until nine months later we are born into separation. The process of our mothers feeding us shows us the beauty of oneness, and then we are taught autonomy. We separate ourselves from our feelings and deprive ourselves the beauty that comes with being in touch with our feelings. We shy away and keep ourselves separate from others, while it’s actually embracing the other and choosing the oneness found within companionship that is of benefit to our lives.
This dance of union and separation is in our DNA. It is a part of our myth. We have structures that operate to keep us feeling separate. We will cover the concept of The Ego soon. This is not a suggestion that you allow yourself to be a completely energetically permeable membrane of goo. Let’s explore the concept of how our mythology of separation may impact our capacity to experience love for ourselves.
The Illusion of Separation
Marianne Williamson describes the illusion of separation as though you are a wave in the ocean, thinking you are separate from other waves. She paints the picture with compassion, offering that from this orientation, it is understandable to feel in constant fear of the rest of the ocean around you- things crashing and swirling, with such power and force. What an “aha” moment that would be… to realize after years of feeling isolated and afraid in the middle of the ocean, that all of that power and beautiful chaos around you, was also a part of you.
“Well then,” you might be thinking, “All we need to do is surrender into being a part of, rather than separate from this massive force of water.” ( easy, right?)
“The illusion of separation would have us believe that we are something different from the universe. Thinking we are separate makes us roam the world as lone wolves or propels us to mesh our boundaries with others’ in unhealthy ways. But a moment’s clear insight gives us the obvious: We are the same thing as everything else in the universe. As Lewis Thomas points out, the universe looks most like one big cell. All parts of a cell must have some form of rudimentary contact with each other.”- Gay Hendricks
“Oneness with ourselves brings happiness; oneness with others brings harmony and bliss to our interactions. Oneness with the universe, with the higher source of creation of the world, brings an expanded, exalted sense of spiritual well-being that makes every moment of life richer. “- Gay Hendricks
Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul: invites us to consider the values that undergird our lives and to make choices that affirm our inter-connectedness with others.
In 1930, D. H. Lawrence described our Western culture as being like a great uprooted tree with its roots in the air. “We are perishing for lack of fulfillment of our greater needs,” he wrote, “we are cut off from the great sources of our inward nourishment and renewal.” We come alive as we rediscover the truth of our goodness and our natural connectedness to all of life. Our “greater needs” are met in relating lovingly with each other, relating with full presence to each moment, relating to the beauty and pain that is within and around us.”
“Man has little needs and deeper needs. We’ve fallen into the mistake of living from our little needs until we have lost our deeper needs in a sort of madness. Let us prepare now for the death of our little life and reemergence in a bigger life in touch with the moving cosmos. We must get back into relation through daily ritual. We must practice again the daily ritual of dawn and noon and sunset, of kindling fire and pouring water, for the truth is, we are perishing for lack of fulfillment of our greater needs. We are cut off from the great sources of our inward nourishment and renewal. Sources that flow eternally in the universe. Vitally the human race is dying. It is like a great uprooted tree with its roots in the air. We must plant ourselves again in the universe.” – from “A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”)
Stories of Oneness
Many people find this sense of “oneness with all things” from meditation, spending time in nature, being engaged in a creative process, witnessing the arts, cooking, experiencing different kinds of pleasure… the list goes on. Many live this experience during states of Flow.
“The truth is, indeed, that love is the threshold of another universe.”- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“Science tells us the universe is expanding at a rapid rate..Perhaps the whole universe is doing what we are doing: expanding away from the contraction of self-hate to the all-encompassing space of love. Regardless of what the cosmos is doing, however, I have personally felt the liberation that love brings. I have winced from the pain of separation, and I have tasted the sweet relief of becoming one again.” – Gay Hendricks
Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious. Hokusai says there is no end to seeing.
He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself as long as it is interesting. He says keep doing what you love. He says keep praying. He says every one of us is a child, every one of us is ancient, every one of us has a body. He says every one of us is frightened. He says every one of us has to find a way to live with fear. He says everything is alive — shells, buildings, people, fish, mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life. Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw, or write books. It doesn’t matter if you saw wood, or catch fish. It doesn’t matter if you sit at home and stare at the ants on your veranda or the shadows of the trees and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel. It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you. Contentment is life living through you. Joy is life living through you. Satisfaction and strength is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid.
Love, feel, let life take you by the hand. Let life live through you.
Hokusai (who this poem was inspired by) was a master Japanese artist and printmaker of the nineteenth century who at eighty-nine on his own deathbed said, “If I had another five years, I could have become a real painter.” He created the famous image above. Here is a video rendition, and the Hokusai Wikipedia.
As we let life live through us, we come to know ourselves as the boundless potential that we are.
“Love is the absence of the sense of separation or otherness.” – Rupert Spira
“Everything Is Waiting for You” by David Whyte
Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone.
As if life were a progressive and cunning crime with no witness to the tiny hidden transgressions.
To feel abandoned is to deny the intimacy of your surroundings.
Surely, even you, at times, have felt the grand array; the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding out your solo voice.
You must note the way the soap dish enables you, or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you, and the tiny speaker in the phone is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation.
The kettle is singing even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots have left their arrogant aloofness and seen the good in you at last.
All the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably Themselves.
Everything is waiting for you.
Realizing You Are One With the Ocean
If we are holding the belief that we are separate from the rest of the world, it is more likely we are going to be afraid of it and live in a state of dis-empowerment. When looking through the lens of the spirit, there is no place where one individual stops and the other one starts. Of course, we have our bodies. The skin we live in makes it very believable that we are not connected to what is outside of our skin. When we are stuck in the trance of separateness, fear can take over our capacity to feel safe and to love- both ourselves and others. Freud defines Neurosis as the state of separation from self. A course in miracles describes the idea of the separated self as our Ego. When we are operating only from the ego, we don’t invite love. Marianne Williamson echoes the Course in Miracles, sharing that there are two categories of human behavior: love and fear. She invites us to get over ourselves, and wake up to the reality that we are no better or worse than anyone else. She goes on to say that walking around with the untended core belief that *I’m not good enough* is a perverse comfort zone.
Oprah Winfrey interviews Wayne Dyer on the concepts of the ego
So, Marianne and Wayne Dyer (shown in the video above) come in strongly with their beliefs about the ego and its limitations. It may be helpful to look at the ego as a structure that facilitates a mentality of justification around what is uncomfortable. However, it also facilitates our capacity to function in society. Drawing on the teachings of Gestalt therapy, *It ultimately is not helpful to kill off parts of ourselves, but we CAN give them new job descriptions.* Loving ourselves, means learning to tolerate ourselves, even the structure of one’s ego.
There is a helpful coverage of the go in our section on Presence.
His writings on the ego suggest that it essentially produces our defense strategies that we use to defend ‘the self’ as though it were a real thing. This pattern of defensiveness often keeps the individual from the very goal it’s striving for. He writes about cultivating a Quiet Ego, which involves the following four related ways of being.
- Engaged and non-defensive form of attention toward the present moment
- Intention to see reality as clearly as possible
“…Requires openness and acceptance to whatever one might discover about the self or others in the present moment while letting the moment unfold as naturally as possible- an important component of mindfulness. “
- An individual’s practice of breaking down barriers and coming into a deeper understanding of common humanity
- Especially useful in conflict (when core values are challenged). Creates the capacity to listen to the other perspective and learn something from the other person.
- Process of reflecting on other viewpoints- quiet ego brings attention outside of the self
- Encourages the practices of empathy & compassion.
- Intertwined with inclusive identity.
- An interest in changing oneself over time increases the likelihood of prosocial behaviors
- Causes one to question the long-term impact of their actions in the current moment
- View the present moment as an ongoing journey instead of a threat to one’s self and existence
We are complex beings, living in a society that presents us with a vast and relentless collection of ideologies to subscribe to. Living outside of that program often becomes pathologized, which can lead us into believing there is something wrong with us. As mentioned earlier, Transpersonal Psychology presents a framework that stretches to encapsulate the “full self.” Two concepts from transpersonal psychology that may be supportive on your self-love journey are the concepts of “the dark night of the soul” and “the hero’s journey.”
The ‘dark night of the soul’ comes from a poem written by the 16th-century Spanish mystic and poet St. John of the Cross. He described the arduous path, appropriately called a ‘‘dark night,’’ which the soul travels to reach the mystical destination of love. While the roots of this concept are religious, it is now used outside of this context. Today, practitioners use this term as an expression for the deep emotional and spiritual dives that can happen to anyone within their lifespan. Depression, isolation, heart-break, grief, extreme financial issues, and more can lead individuals into a “dark night”- where they feel lost and disconnected from the web of life.
If you are struggling right now, imagine that you may not be “a gonner” or some version of “crazy.” Instead you may be in the middle of a deep and sacred process from which you have yet to emerge. Taking inspiration from the Dark Night of The Soul, perhaps you can entertain the idea that no matter how much darkness you may experience, you are lovable and your soul has its own intelligence…its own path.
Soul Craft, by Bill Plotkin maps out the process of descent an individual’s psyche can undergo, which can be disorienting and ultimately empowering with proper support.
The Hero’s Journey
Joseph Campbell was a leading mythology expert and a philosopher. He studied many historical mythologies, especially finding inspiration in Native American mythology and Greek mythology. He compared, dissected, and drew correlations from philosophies and myths of the world. He found one story that seems to repeat in nearly every myth.. no matter where you are from, you’re likely to recognize it. It’s the “Hero’s Journey.” It brings hope for loving your own life. As within this story- you are the hero of your own life. It is a story about facing your biggest fears and, through transformation, self-realizing at the end of the journey, becoming powerful and whole.
One major aspect of Jung’s work points to his belief that it is important to acknowledge and integrate the ‘shadow’ aspects of the self. The ‘shadow’ is that which is not in the light- that which cannot be seen- that which is unconscious… in very simple terms, it is what we don’t know that we don’t know.
With strong terminology like “shadow,” it can be easy to label the shadow as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong,’ and certainly not lovable. Again, this is about the practice of learning to show curiosity and eventually perhaps love towards ALL of yourself. By becoming aware of the unconscious material of your psyche, you can move through the world understanding the deeper layers of who you are, and how you show up. Through this knowledge comes the opportunity to choose health and love.
In the video, Alan Watts talks about Jung’s development of himself and his perception of himself.
Jung saw the importance of accepting one’s *dark side* as not to project this onto others, judging them as bad/wrong/evil.
Jung was committed to seeing and accepting himself in hopes to not condemn others or be led to acts of violence towards others as a scapegoat of his inner struggle.
Watts shares that an integrated person is not someone who has eliminated emotions like anxiety or fear, but someone who fully feels them and does not feel bad about himself for feeling them. The gift of humor at oneself is also celebrated in Watt’s musings on Jung’s teachings and values.
Being divided within oneself creates division on the external. Watts shares excerpts from Jung’s work in which he encourages individuals, “To love the enemy in his own heart and to call his wolf his brother.”
An exciting venue for exploring unconscious material is through our dreams. Here is an exercise inspired by Gestalt therapy and the work of Gay Hendricks.
Practice: Dream Journal
Keep a journal or some paper beside your bed.
As you rise for the new day ahead, it’s important to write the details of your dreams down immediately, as the material can get lost rapidly upon moving into the waking world.
Do your best to capture as many of the details and images as possible.
Go for specificity. Meaning, if you were wearing a dress and eating ice cream while driving a convertible with your feet, add in the details of what color and fabric the dress was, what model the car was, and what flavor the ice cream was. In Jung’s perspective, your psyche has a reason for each detail- and the more details you have, the more you can interact with yourself.
When you have generated your list of images from the dream, complete the following sentence at least three times for each image:
The represents the part of me that .
Write the sentence or say it out loud. It is important to express your analysis in some way, as opposed to just thinking of it.
For example, “The ice cream cone is the part of me that is sweet.”
Analyze each image at least three times, because each time you will come up with a different view of what each image represents.
The icecream cone is the part of me that longs to feel joyful.
The icecream cone is the part of me that is addicted to sugar.
The blue 1976 convertible is the part of me who is free.
The convertible is the part of me who wants to escape.
The red satin dress is the part of me that is sensual.
Each image in the dream will have many levels. Take your time to see what comes through for each image.
Be patient with yourself if nothing comes up in your mind at first, and trust what arises.
Explore letting your observations be positive and life serving. For example, if you were in a dangerous scenario, welcome your trait of valuing safety.
When your list of sentences is complete, hone in on the second part of the sentence and practice loving yourself for it.
For example, I love myself for being full of sweetness.
I love myself for longing to feel joy
I love myself for my addictions
I love myself for being free
I love myself for wanting to escape my seemingly mundane life
I love myself for being sensual
A dream can show us parts of ourselves that need loving which we have to travel to the dream world to retrieve. With anything that is offered here, it is encouraged for you to ‘take it with a grain of salt’ and filter it through your own understanding and other schools of thought. It’s important to consider that when an outsider is attempting to interpret your dreams, this gives way to an interaction that is not based on anything outside of that individual’s opinion. Many Jungian psychotherapists hold the practice of having only the dreamer make the meaning of the dream, to avoid this kind of error and un-grounded analysis.
“Some believe that dreams are purely biological phenomena and therefore contain no symbolic meaning. The activation-synthesis hypothesis, coined by psychiatrists Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley, states that dream content is created by commands sent from the brain that never get carried out. In other words, dreaming is simply another form of thinking that happens while we sleep. This point of view calls into question how much “unconscious material” is truly contained in dreams.
When used in conjunction with psychoanalysis, dream analysis is subject to the same limitations as Freudian theory. One major critique of psychoanalysis is that the theory is based on case studies, the results of which are hard to generalize to a larger population. Another criticism is that the theory does not meet scientific standards. For example, the idea that dreams are based on wish fulfillment has not been backed by research.”
Whether you find yourself intrigued by your dreams or not, or not buying dream analysis as valid, it is a place where you can go to get curious about who you are and practice tending to the contents of your life (both waking and sleeping).
“Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being.” – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin