Transpersonal Psychology – Cultivating Soul
And the tempter came and said to Him,
“If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.'” (Matthew, 4:3,4)
We find ourselves living in a time where we are turning stones into bread. In fact since the industrial revolution we can say that humanity has been living out and falling pray to the first temptation of Christ. The present state of the world is a place where all aspects of culture and soul are called bread but in reality are stone. Culture is losing the very meaning and root of its activity and “word”, which is to cultivate. The clearest imagination of cultivating is that of the “soil” in a “garden”. A garden is a place where we co-create with the cosmos, it is a place where the personal and divine meet. What we are missing in psychology and all aspects of soul today is a connection and recognition that “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God”. We do not create only from the ground up (stones to bread), but through cultivating a connection to the divine (word of god inherent in bread). Culture and the imagination of the “garden” are macrocosms of the soul; the soul is a garden made between the physical and the spiritual, the personal experience of “I” and the divine “I AM”. I see transpersonal psychology as a place where this cultivation of soul and culture can begin.
James Hillman in his Re-visioning Psychology (Hillman, 1975) speaks of “soul-making”; rather then seeing the soul as a finished complete structure that one must fit together like a puzzle, soul is a boundless activity, its job is to create and imagine (pp25). The relationship we have to our souls, those of others and the soul of the world must be cultivated. Personification of the world and the psyche according to Hillman is the only way to cultivate soul. How do we do this?
Psychology must learn to create an understanding of the human not based on fact but on imagination and love. Hillman writes, “loving is a way of knowing, and for loving to know it must personify…because personifying is an epistemology of the heart, a thought mode of feeling”(p.23). A heart-thinking is necessary for humanity to recognize its divine nature and to begin making soul. The heart does not measure the world with a quantifying intellect but with an imagination tuned to qualities of “beings” not quantities of “things”.
In the temptation in the wilderness Christ answers the devil by saying, “man does not live on bread alone, but every word from the mouth of God”. The Greeks considered the Word of God or logos (psyche-logos) as the creative principle behind all things. If the temptation in the wilderness is an archetype that humanity as whole must over come (Tomberg, 1980) where lays the antithesis of the temptation. Christ replies to the devil that man needs “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”. I believe this is to live on a spiritual nutrition, implicit in the bread. Hillman directly links the power of words to the making of soul and culture (bread), “we need to recall the angel aspect of the word, recognizing words as independent carriers of soul between people…Words, like angels, are invisible powers that have power over us” (pp9). Here is a crucial perspective on a transpersonal understanding of psychology, to look at the soul not a finished artifact, but a creative being in relationship to other personified creative beings. All things in this universe must be seen again as a personified word (logos).
Rudolf Steiner and Eternal Individuality
One of the masters of seeing the cosmology and evolution of the human being is Rudolf Steiner. Steiner sought to mix spiritual experience with scientific inquiry, what he called spiritual science. He found that throughout the worlds religion and spirituality there was a golden thread, a type of lawfulness of the spirit and an understanding of humanity’s evolution and destiny.
“Behold, the days are coming…
When I will send a famine on the land,
not a famine for bread,
nor a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord”. (Amos 1:11)
The above verse from Amos speaks about the place we stand in the evolution of humanity, where our greatest famine is a disconnect from seeing the soul-spiritual nature of the world and ourselves. The inability to see the human being as originally a spiritual being is the largest source of illness. I want to include that soul and body are essential in this view of the spiritual-human. It is important that we can look at all creation as fitting into a spiritual and humanistic context.
According to Darwin in his second book The Descent of Man, he claims that evolution is a continual attempt of God to find a physical form for beings capable of altruism, love and freedom. This is similar to Steiner’s belief that we are here to develop our Self to the point that we can live, create and sacrifice out of freedom and love. Christ is seen as the representative of humanity; spoken in Jungian terms he is the archetype of humanity. We must all suffer this separation from the divine and out of freedom return to our source. We are all prodigal sons; the soul must separate from the divine (father) in order to return to it out of consciousness, freedom and love.
Distinctions Between Body, Soul and Spirit
Spirit to Steiner was distinct from soul, soul he sees as a membrane between spirit and the body. Steiner unlike Hillman believes that the “ego” or “I” is the spiritual kernel in the human. For Hillman the ego is just a complex, a complex that believes it is the center of the soul (Hillman, 1975). I think that Hillman falls short on his view of the ego, for if there is no true center to consciousness then there can be no meaningful communication between beings(1). For Steiner the development of the “I” and it’s capacity for love is the focus of this particular point in evolution. Love must become a force similar to the wisdom of nature; not a subjective love similar to sympathy but objective and real like the symmetry found in nature. He claims that in earlier in evolution nature developed divine wisdom and that by the end of earth-evolution, the human being must permeate the earth with love so it becomes part of it’s nature just as wisdom became.
Human beings exist in order that they may take into themselves the warm love of the Divine, develop it and return it again to the Divine. But they can only do this by becoming Self-conscious ego-beings…the mission of our Earth is the cultivation of the principle of love to the highest degree by those beings that are evolving upon it. What the human being will really give to the Earth is love, a love that will evolve from the sensuous to the most spiritualized form of love… the Earth is the cosmos of love.”(Steiner, 1908)
This quote is taken from a series of lectures he gave of the Gospel of St John. He speaks of Christ as the archetype of this “I am” and that we must all at some point in time have the experience of Paul at Damascus of “not I but Christ in me”; to find the Self in the world and the World in the self. What we call “I” most of the time Steiner sees as the lower self, which is stuck in the “complexes” of the soul. The soul is connected to the Higher Self (spiritual, eternal) but also to the lower self (drives, instincts). For Steiner the more the “I” transforms the lower self the more the soul is transformed into eternal substance. When this happens the soul becomes “virginal” and is called “Spirit Self”. The Spirit Self is what becomes eternal individuality, i.e. a self from incarnation to incarnation, a Self beyond one life- time; to wake up to our pre-birth intention an intention of lifetimes and destiny.
There are two other levels of spiritual development. The transformation from the “I” of the life-body (etheric), which will be called “Life-Spirit”, and the transformation of the Physical body and this is called “Spirit-Human”. For the purpose of this paper I will not go into these; for their development is in the distant future.
The soul likewise is split into a threefold picture. All bodies develop in lawful cycles, seven-year cycles and are the model for Waldorf education. The first aspect is the sentient soul; the sentient soul establishes our sense of antipathy and sympathy, me and not me. The sentient soul is the aspect Freud saw as the “id”, the central psyche; it carries the archetypes of Eros (life wish) and Thanatos (death wish). The second aspect is the mind-soul, which is able to both be effected by sensation and thinking; the capacity to not just act upon our drives, but can rationalize and make motives.
The third aspect of the soul or “astral” world is the consciousness-soul. The consciousness-soul is still being developed in this era of the evolution of consciousness. The mind-soul came to full development in ancient Greece and since the beginning of the renaissance the consciousness-soul has been developing. Similar to Hillman’s idea of the re-mythologizing the world through personification (Hillman, 1975), consciousness-soul is the development of intuition and imagination in the soul. Intuition here is not “following ones gut” but similar to empathy; a knowing beyond ones likes and dislikes. In Steiner’s terms this consciousness-soul knowing can be with a pencil, a human or an angelic being. This knowing is intrinsically similar to love. Not a love that involves likes and dislikes but a love based on understanding. Steiner in his classic work on meditation says “nothing can reveal itself to you unless you love it”(Steiner, 1909). What is hidden in the heart of things is the soul; one must develop an imaginative consciousness of soul to understand others.
The physical body has three components, physical, etheric and sentient (Steiner, 1910). The physical is really that which is mineral and its element is earth. The etheric is connected to our biology, heredity, and memory. The sentient body is that which allows us to sense and acts as the bridge between the body and soul. The etheric and sentient bodies are very important in understanding psyche and it’s relationship to soma.
The soul is the central figure of our time on earth; it stands between the body and the spirit as the medium for transformation. To understand the soul as something connected to the eternal spirit and the mortal body, we can begin to understand human suffering, development, health and illness in a deeper and more fruitful way. Transpersonal psychology does not exclude the other fields of psychology but creates a context in which they all find their rightful place. If psyche stands between soma and neuma we begin to see its task; to become a fertile garden, whose creation is an evolution of the earthly and divine.
If there is no central point, then the personification of things becomes pointless everything collapses. If the “I” is not seen as just a lower self function or complex, then you see that the “I” is the Self that can take on any number of persona’s. This is why it is important to establish what is meant by “I” and ego.
- Hillman, J. (1975). Re-Visioning Psychology. New York, NY. HarperCollinsPublishers.
- Steiner, R. (1910). Theosophy. GT Barrington, MA. Anthroposophic Press.
- Steiner, R (1908). The Gospel of St John. Gt Barrington, MA. Anthroposophic Press.
- Steiner, R (1909). How to Know higher Worlds. Gt Barrington, MA. Anthropsophic Press.