Transpersonal Psychotherapy is not
I posted an article on this site a few years ago called, ‘Transpersonal Psychotherapy is not Psychotherapy’. New developments now make it necessary to re-visit that.
Under recently enacted legislation, psychotherapy has been designated a ‘controlled act’; this means that if one wishes to practice as a psychotherapist in Ontario one must be licensed in compliance with this act.
For over twenty years we at the Transpersonal Therapy Centre of Toronto have been in the business of teaching transpersonal therapy skills to anyone who works with, or aspires to work with people in a spiritual context.
The word ‘transpersonal’ effectively means ‘spiritual’. Having that on our shingle signifies that our work is grounded – not in a medical model, but in the full ‘spectrum of consciousness’ represented by the spiritual wisdom traditions.
Some of the techniques we have taught have come out of 20th century psychotherapies like Gestalt; others have come out of what has been called the personal growth or human potential movement. This movement, which has emphasized human potential rather than pathology, has specifically sought to distance psychological or spiritual self-exploration from the medical model. Others techniques we teach, like meditation, movement, ecstatic dance, etc. are purely spiritual in nature and are clearly oriented to self-realization, spiritual enlightenment, and have nothing to do with the medical model. Our Living Spirit course was explicitly a training in spiritual exploration. And of course the silent meditation retreats that we have run for over twenty years are purely spiritual in nature.
The focus of our work, then, has been grounded – not in the medical model – but in what has been called the perennial philosophy.
The perennial philosophy is the understanding common to all the spiritual traditions that (1) human life has its source in a divine ground, and . . . (2) our best destiny as human beings involves entering into the conscious realization of that. This understanding is central to all the work we do at the TTC. Indeed, from our point of view, the denial of this deeper context to life is itself a kind of existential alienation or neurotic dissociation.
It may be pointing out the obvious, but let us be clear: this is not the medical model.
To quote Wikipedia, the medical model is ‘an approach to pathology that aims to find medical treatments for diagnosed symptoms and syndromes and treats the human body as a very complex mechanism’. The key term here is ‘mechanism’. While it may seem helpfully ‘modern’ to describe the complexities of the human instrument in mechanistic terms, it is largely unrecognized just how injurious this philosophy of technological materialism has become to the human condition. We are not biological machines and the insistence that we are, and that we should rightly conceive of ourselves in such terms is itself a kind of fixation with untoward consequences. It has led to treatment modalities that are as detrimental to the individual as the syndromes they aim to cure. And in its dehumanizing and objectifying of the individual it has added significantly to the spiritual malaise of modern culture. And unfortunately this conception of the human condition it has come to dominate much of society’s thinking.
The term ‘psychotherapy’ has traditionally been associated with this medical model, and probably correctly. Over the last twenty years this split between the medical and the spiritual is one that we at the TTC have been able to straddle. Indeed, it should be possible to practice psychotherapy in a spiritual context; the whole Jungian tradition is an attempt to do this. But at the same time we have always been clear that what we are offering in our training is a spiritual process, and only by happenstance a psychotherapeutic one.
Now that the provincial legislation has made psychotherapy a controlled act we need to be clear about what we are offering.
What is it that we are doing?
First of all, what is it that we are not doing?
We are not training people to be psychotherapists. With the enactment of the legislation we could have incorporated into our training those medical model elements that would have brought us into compliance with the Act. However, this is not what we are doing.
The fact is that for the two decades that we have been in operation the Therapy Skills Training as well as the other practices offered at the Transpersonal Therapy Centre have functioned in a larger context that falls well outside the scope of pathology and psychotherapy.
What is that larger context? It is that of the wisdom traditions.
To quote Wikipedia: ‘wisdom tradition’ is a synonym for the perennial philosophy, ‘the idea that there is a perennial or mystic inner core to all religious or spiritual traditions without the trappings, doctrinal literalism, sectarianism and power structures that are associated with institutionalized religion.’
In our view this ‘perennial’ understanding is an accurate one, and the reason that it is always being ‘perennially’ rediscovered is that it is a cognition of the real, just as the various buddhas and sages affirm.
Specifically then, our training aligns itself with those wisdom traditions that have as their aim the awakening to this true nature. The traditions that recognize and are dedicated to this awakening variously call it enlightenment, self-realization, heart-realization . . . And it is this deep agenda that is the context of our work, and not therapy or pathology.
For a period in the second half of the last century it was commonplace to hear talk of a spiritual renaissance in the West. And certainly something interesting has happened to the western psyche over the last few decades. We had the explosive and creative energy of the Sixties; this coincided with our exposure to the Oriental wisdom traditions. This was swiftly followed by the self-involvement and narcissism of the New Age as our Western mentality turned this interest in spirituality into a smorgasbord of commodities. Now we seem to have arrived at a collective spiritual crisis, with the growing recognition that our greed has put us in danger of destroying everything that has made human life sustainable on our planet. Our runaway materialism, as well as our ‘spiritual materialism’, to use Chogyam Trungpa’s term - our compulsion to chase after spiritual goodies as voraciously as we pursue material ones - has run its course and maybe we are ready to face up to ourselves and to who we are in this cosmos.
In every sense and on every level human beings need to wake up . . . for in every sense human beings have been asleep.
What does this mean . . . that we are asleep?
And what is it that we need to wake up to?
This ‘waking up’ is the deep meaning and context of the work we do.
We are not a medical model institution. And we are not a church. If anything, we are a spiritual community dedicated to waking up to our true nature.
This ‘waking up’ is urgent. In these times it is as if we have gone collectively mad. We are like a man waking in the morning to find himself trashing and destroying his own home. We are plundering our sacred home and lands and deflowering the sacredness of life . . . and our response has been to bury our heads in the sand and go back to sleep.
This ‘waking up’ is urgent now . . . but it is also as timeless as the moment of the Buddha twirling a flower . . . and looking into the eyes of his followers . . . does anyone understand?
How are we to wake up?
Despite the fact that we in the West have been exposed now for several decades
to powerful practices for awakening, there is still a great deal of confusion about how to actually come to awakening and realization.
We have moved through decades when meditators felt that meditation alone was enough, when therapists felt that therapy was enough, when activists felt that activism was enough, when yogis felt that yoga was enough and prayers felt that prayers were enough . . . and for many individuals – after years of spiritual yearning - the honeymoon is over . . . There is a sober recognition that it takes commitment and a serious intention if we are to overcome the patterns that keep us from living ‘lives of quiet desperation’ . . .
Conversely, for others, the time for prevarication and procrastination is over. With a certain maturity comes an inner urgency. Even as the clock ticks away the spiritual call persists. When is the time to plunge deeper into the mystery of our existence and unlock the secret that will free us?
And if not now . . . when?
The Buddha was right. Ordinary human life is prey to suffering, and yet innately built into human consciousness is the mind of complete freedom – if only we will take up the discipline that is required to awaken to it . . . and then have the sincerity and commitment to live it . . .
We have learned a lot over the last decades, and we at the TTC have learned a lot about how awakening and deepening occur.
We have learned how to activate a spontaneous process of heart-realization. We have also learned how to recognize the ways we keep ourselves asleep.
This deeper work requires a deeper aspiration than simply to feel better. Indeed, if we are to feel better, we are going to have to feel deeper, and to feel deeper we may discover that – for a while – we may feel worse. To move into our full being we must open into our true nature. And for this we must get to know the nature of our own human psyche.
Much of what we have learned about this process of self-knowledge and heart realization is timeless wisdom, known to wisdom traditions for millennia. Some of it is as up to date as the findings of neuroscience about psycho-physiological heart-brain coherence.
So, What Is It We Are Doing?
The process that we offer at the TTC is for those who wish to step out of the humdrum life of merely existing day-to-day and to unlock their soul from its shackles.
Throughout history spiritual realizers have known how to unleash the magic that lies in the human heart and step into what Sri Aurobindo called the Life Divine . . .
There is no secret to it, then. But nowadays – caught up in a whirl of distractions - hardly anyone does it. And yet . . . is there anything more worth doing?
Once you snap out of the trance and realize that there is no accident to your being here . . . once you see that you are not simply a cog in a randomly evolved mechanism, but that you are intimately engaged as a creative agent in a Great Intelligence that is also ‘your’ intelligence . . . and that your own yearning to love is not other than the Great Heart that is the Source of All Being . . . that your own existence is a temporal expression of Sat-chit-ananda, or Being/ Consciousness/ Bliss . . . then what else is there to be done but to fully realize the truth of this?
We are in a time and culture where it is commonplace to insist that there is no meaning to life, or that we have to find our own meaning in life (meaning to superimpose our own meaning on life) . . . but the great realizers awakened to Reality Itself, and discovered that Reality is itself Meaning, is itself Consciousness, is itself Sat-chit-ananda.
Once we peel back the veils of appearance we awaken our ‘human potential’. We are bodhisattvas. Once connected in to Being/Consciousness/Bliss our lives are naturally impulsed to unfold as the expression of this. Our activities become naturally meaningful, naturally fulfilling and ‘in the Tao’. We find ourselves in synch with the Great Way spoken of by the ancients.
Come with us and discover this open secret buried in the loving recesses of the human heart.
It is ancient work, timely work, timeless work. It is cosmic work. And because it is also divine work, it is ‘leela’ . . . it is divine play. It is love.
This is the work that we are committed to at the TTC.
Please contact us if you would like to learn more.
For the 'Heart School' and the 'New Program' please go directly here.