You are the one you have been waiting for.
~ Byron Katie
Recently I completed a weekend workshop for yoga teachers. I’m returning to the field after a two-year period of healing, personal reflection and (hopefully) growth after a challenging time in my life. During the group introductions at the workshop I mentioned that years ago I left the practice of law and pursued a master’s degree in Transpersonal Psychology. During the weekend I was peppered with questions from my fellow teachers. “What is Transpersonal Psychology?” I should have been better prepared to respond, although the definition is multifaceted: “Well, it operates from the premise that there is more to human development than the attainment of what traditional psychology would consider a “healthy ego”. It incorporates ancient spiritual practices for quieting the mind, like yoga and meditation, and says we can consciously continue to grow and develop as human beings.” I heard more than once, “Wow, that sounds so interesting!”
Roger Walsh, PhD and Frances Vaughan, PhD, both pioneers in the field, describe Transpersonal Psychology 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. It is also possible to define it as a “spiritual 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” 1
What is really interesting about Transpersonal Psychology is that each of us is our own experimental laboratory. Through contemplative practices like yoga and meditation you become more aware of the experience of embodiment and all the important information your body holds about your life, who and what you are, and what you are becoming. This may include a greater awareness of your inner wounds (those you’ve carried inside for a lifetime that have shaped and continue to influence your adult self). These experiential practices show you how to hold those parts of yourself with kindness and compassion. Awareness and self-compassion are foundational to inner healing and these qualities can grow throughout life. This means that your body, heart, and mind continue to show you more and more about yourself and how to flourish. With continued study and practice in these contemplative disciplines, you can uncover your really blind spots – those parts just outside your conscious awareness that keep you stuck, repeating patterns of automatic reactivity when confronted with life’s inevitable challenges and difficulties. We humans are designed to change, but it’s not always easy! It takes curiosity, kindness, and patient practice. This is the transformational process of human development integral to the field of Transpersonal Psychology.
Creation is happening in each moment, and you are a unique, one-of-a kind expression of the Universe that no one can actualize but you. You are constantly being born moment by moment, and each moment offers the potential to either reinforce automatic habitual patterns (all a result of what you “think you should be”), or change and blossom into what you are. If you’re not “present” or “mindful” in this moment, “habit energy” (also known as the “automatic pilot”) takes over. This means you continue to do what you’ve always done in response to stress and difficulty, and you remain stuck, unchanged, and your suffering typically escalates and lives in your body. You can only consciously choose to override the automatic pilot by engaging directly with the present moment, and this ability only comes through embodied contemplative practice. Sheer will-power alone cannot effectuate change. The momentum of mindless living and habit energy are just too strong.
If you have a yoga or meditation practice then you’ve strengthened your ability to be present or “mindfully aware” within the split second of “now”. This is the only moment when you can diverge from what you “always do” and step into the unknown. Now is the only moment when you can choose to respond to life (rather than react.) It may work out, it may not, but either way you’ve interrupted “business as usual” and you’ve entered that space of learning, growing, adjusting, adapting and changing. We do this little by little, step by step. Each step is a brand new configuration of “you”, one that is real and authentic because it is more and more a product of working directly with what the universe is offering, and interacting with life as the embodiment of your unique “dharma” – the person you were born to be and the reason you’re here on this earth. No one can bring that to fruition in this life but you. In those moments, you are an active participant in creation, breaking free from the mindless rut of business as usual. Is there a word for this? I think I’ll call it “synergy”.
If this kind of work sounds intriguing to you, I invite you to join me for Soma & Psyche™ – an in-person experiential course at the Integrative Mindfulness studio in Bonita Springs starting January, 2020. You’ll learn time-tested practices for cultivating your sense of embodied awareness and mindfulness to help you better manage stress and find more ease and flow in your life. Step by step you’ll establish and deepen your own mind-body practice (and feel the benefits!) through training in gentle yoga, somatic meditation and self-compassion work. You’ll learn how to put into practice the amazing recent developments in neuroscience, psychology, and somatics which confirm the tremendous value of embodied transpersonal work. Stay attuned!
1 Walsh, R. & Vaughan, F. “On transpersonal definitions”. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 25 (2) 125-182, 1993