The transpersonal ideas of Ken Wilber

The transpersonal ideas of Ken WilberThis week we started the first of two lectures on the transpersonal ideas of Ken Wilber, American author of the Spectrum of Consciousness and an integral theorist. Wilber was not, and is not, a therapist but a theorist and his ideas are often criticised for being hierarchical, masculine focused and representing a ladder like course of prescribed development. However, he has always been a regular meditator.

Wilber is currently unwell and recently stated that he has a debilitating illness called RNase Enzyme Deficiency.  He is now  64 years old but when he was 23 he asked a very important question in psychotherapy circles.  He wondered whether all schools of psychotherapy all had the truth.  The idea of integrative training in psychotherapy had not existed before then. Integrative training will now typically take from a rich variety of approaches to suit the presenting issues and will encompass psychoanalytical ideas for early life issues, existential therapy for later life issues and transpersonal therapy for spiritual crisis.

In the Spectrum of Consciousness Wilber argues that in spiritual growth we progress along different levels of consciousness and encounter difficulties in the transition from one to another.  As we move through each level we let go of previous identities of ourselves. When we move between these levels we encounter pain and that’s when we resist change.

Persona Level (Supportive counselling, befriending, simple counselling)

The therapeutic task is the integration of the shadow (psychological aspects) and bringing that material into self awareness. A healthy ego arrives from integration of persona and shadow so that ego is not preoccupied with fighting in unnecessary conflicts.

Ego level (Psychoanalysis, Psychodrama, Transactional Analysis, Reality Therapy, ego Psychology)

The therapeutic task is the integration of the body. The body mind split is where the work is in therapy. How can we integrate the split? The body has seven levels of consciousness (the chakras) and I will have more on this in future posts. When working with the body one can ask the client if there is an image or memory that resonates with the feeling that is causing anxiety.

Obsessive gym attenders can often be in denial when the person is actually defending against emotionality. There is an unconscious relationship with the body in that instance. We need a healthy mental, emotional and physical relationship with our bodies in order to move on to the next level, the Centaur level.

Total Organism (or the Centaur) (Bioenergetic Analysis, Rogerian Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Existential Therapy, Logotherapy, Humanistic Psychology)

The therapeutic task is the integration of mind and body and if you achieve this in therapy then it is job done.  This encompasses many forms of therapy. This level of consciousness is often the goal of therapy. What is our hearts desire? Are you working in a job that sits with your heart’s desire and where you are fulfilling your potential? This level of consciousness can also include the approach of the existential school which can act as a bridge to the transpersonal bands.

The unconscious resides in the environment. This is where we start to blame the ills of society on hoodies or immigrants.  We need to look at our own personal environment and address our own issues.

Unity Consciousness (Taoism, Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, Vendanta Hinduism, Esoteric Islam, Esoteric Christianity, Esoteric Judaism)

This is the embrace and recognition of inter connectedness. This is the transpersonal territory of Jung, Maslow, Progroff and Psychosynthesis. Most of us will never get even close to this level of consciousness. Great spiritual teachers might get close as soul nature and emotional nature lines up. There is less conflict in their lives.  They are not at war with the neighbours. Soul is here for its own journey but body can’t live without soul.  The mind, too, can function independent of the body.

For Wilber, there are three complexes that need to be negotiated on the path to spiritual growth. Outlined below are very basic notes on what he has had to say.

1) Oedipal Complex

This is the body to mind transition. This is the separation from the pleasure principal. Active addictions can live here when we are caught up in the challenges in making a smooth transition from one level of consciousness to another.

2) Apollo Complex

This is rooted in the transition from ego identity to soul identity. St John of the Cross wrote about this in Dark Night of the Mind. This is the emergence of a new sense of self.

3) Visnew Complex

We let go of any sense of self. We surrender to spirit as was chronicled in  St John of the Cross’s The Dark Night of the Soul. The process entails moving from duality to unity consciousness when we become self realised.

For Wilber there are three stages of development.

1 Pre personal

This is the primitive (unconscious) stage, before we know who we are.

2 Personal

There is a sense of self.  We work through our own personal material to get a better idea of our real nature.  We are not just an extension of our parents but we begin to have our own sense of being.

3 Transpersonal

We go beyond the limited sense of being and we start to get experience of connection.

For Wilber there is the risk of the Pre trans fallacy:  This is where someone wanting to save the planet does not look after themselves. Perhaps there are unresolved issues in early life and rather than transforming these there is instead a focus on saving the world. There is also a risk of spiritual by-pass if you fail to adequately deal with your messy personal material.  You need to have developed a healthy ego in order to be able to  transcend it.

More next week on integral theory.