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Intersections of Feminist and Transpersonal Thought

Intersections of Feminist and Transpersonal Thought

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05/24/2013

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International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
33
Feminist and ranspersonal Tought 
Unidentifed Allies:Intersections o Feminist and ranspersonal Tought and Potential Contributions to Social Change
 Christine Brooks 
Institute o ranspersonal Psychology Palo Alto, CA, USA Contemporary Western eminism and transpersonalism are kaleidoscopic, consisting o interlocking inuences, yet the elds have developed in parallel rather than in tandem.Both schools o praxis developed during the climate o activism and social experimentationo the 1960s in the United States, and both share a non-pathological view o the humanexperience. Tis discussion suggests loci o synthesized theoretical constructs between thetwo disciplines as well as distinct concepts and practices in both disciplines that may servethe other. Ways in which a eminist-transpersonal perspective may catalyze social change onpersonal, regional, and global levels are proposed.
C
ontemporary Western eminism (which will bedened below) and the transpersonal movementboth came o age in the climate o activismand experimentation in the United States during thelate 1960s, and both movements continue to evolvetoday. As with many schools o thought that blossomedduring the height o modernism and then transormedduring the postmodern turn, both eminism andtranspersonal studies
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are kaleidoscopic disciplines madeup o interlocking yet distinct inuences and sources.However, as evidenced in the literature o both elds anddemonstrated herein, eminism and transpersonalismhave moved in parallel rather than in tandem over thecourse o their development. Feminist thought, and eventhe voices o women scholars, are woeully lacking intranspersonal literature. Hartelius, Caplan, and Rardin(2007) devoted an entire section o their discussion o a contemporary working denition o the transpersonaleld to evaluating gender diversity in the literature; itis interesting to note that they ound that only 25% o the 182 articles published in 30 years in the key journalo the eld, the
 Journal o ranspersonal Psychology 
, wereattributed to women. Tis led the authors to concludethat, “i transpersonal psychology is to stand or human wholeness and transormation, it needs to embody whatit teaches; there can be no lasting human transormation without inclusiveness, nor holism without diversity” (p.19). Te absence o women’s voices in the proessionalliterature takes on political and social signicancein relation to such burning questions: who among transpersonalists is publishing in the proessionalliterature, and what barriers continue to exist intranspersonal circles that maintain the invisibility andsilence o many women? Te ongoing diversity work atthe core o eminist movements, described below, may serve as a rich resource as transpersonalism moves, asRothberg (1999) and Hunt (2010) urged, into a moresocially-engaged phase.Michael Daniels (2005) suggested that theeld o transpersonal psychology has relied heavily onaspects o theory and practice historically related toan
ascending 
(transcendent) model o psychospiritualdevelopment rather than a 
descending 
(immanent) model.Daniels went on to argue that ascending models valuethe masculine while descending models are oten relatedto aspects traditionally related to eminine qualities. Teproblematics o gendering psychospiritual qualities (i.e.,using terms such as masculine and eminine to describepsychological or spiritual qualities) is a topic worthy o scholarly inquiry in its own right; though it will be a running question throughout this piece, the ull attentionthat this burning issue deserves within the eld is puto or a uture inquiry. It must sufce here to note thatthe requent utilization o binary gendered language (i.e.,
 
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
,
29 
(2), 2010, pp. 33-57
Keywords:
 
 feminism, feminist psychology, transpersonalism, transpersonal psychology,social justice, spiritual development, spirituality, interdisciplinarity.
 
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
34
Brooks
masculine and eminine qualities)—notably common intranspersonal psychology—is an area ripe or additionalcritique, research, and theory in the uture o the eld. As a researcher and educator who straddles thetwo disciplines in my own work, I began my explorationo the relationships between eminist and transpersonalthought with a series o questions: What are theintersections between eminism(s) and transpersonalstudies? Where do these progressive movements align?How do they dier? What does it mean to identiy asboth eminist and transpersonal? It is not my intentionherein to trace the entirety o the complex and compelling histories o both transpersonal and eminist thought,although excellent sources or both are noted below.My goal is to highlight a ew locations o synthesizedtheoretical constructs and practice between the twodisciplines. Additionally, initial proposals o how a eminist-transpersonal perspective may catalyze socialchange will be addressed.
Te ranspersonal errain
 A 
s the eld o transpersonal psychology matures,histories o its origins and continuing researchseeking to dene the boundaries o this eld o inquiry and practice have become more prevalent (Daniels, 2005;Hartelius et al., 2007; Hastings, 1999; Lajoie & Shapiro,1992; Luko, Lu, & urner, 1996; Shapiro, Lee, &Gross, 2002; Walsh & Vaughan, 1993). Hastings (1999)
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 placed the birth o the eld o transpersonal psychology in the late 1960s with the publication o Maslow’s(1968/1999) second edition o 
oward a Psychology o  Being 
. Originally published in 1962, Maslow’s work explored peak experiences and how such experiencespromote “a transcendence rom a doing level o sel tothe level o being” (Hastings, 1999, p. 193). Additionalinuences in the development o the discipline includethe work o Anthony Sutich and the Palo Alto Group who associated transpersonal theory with the eld o psychology to establish what Maslow viewed as the
Fourth Force 
o psychology. However, many concepts atthe core o transpersonal psychology pre-date this era andreect ancient wisdom traditions such as Buddhism andSusm as well as theories about spirituality developed by earlier psychologists such as William James (1902/1997)and Carl Jung (1934/1954).Citing William James’ approach to thepsychology o religious experience, transpersonal scholar William Braud (2006) reerred to James’ concept o “becoming conscious o and in touch with ‘a More’” (p.135) in the human experience. In short, in transpersonalpsychology there is an explicit acknowledgement o thespiritual nature in human consciousness and recognitionthat the study and understanding o the spiritualexperiences in people’s lives deepen a psychologist’scomprehension o the human condition. Building uponthe work o humanists such as Abraham Maslow andCarl Rogers, the eld has devoted much o its theory building and scholarship to understanding conceptssuch as exceptional human experience, higher states o consciousness, and altruistic behaviors and attitudessuch as compassion, mindulness, and orgiveness.ranspersonal psychology additionally chal-lenges the rigid, materialist epistemology o traditionalschools o psychology in avor o a system that is exibleenough to hold many perspectives at once (Mack, 1993,p. xi). As Mack noted: “Psychology in this [materialist]paradigm, has limited its healing potential by ollowing a therapeutic model in which one person treats the illness orproblems o another, separate, individual, whose relevant world is conned to a ew principle relationships” (p.xii). Te burgeoning transpersonal eld has oered analternative view:In the transpersonal universe or universes, we seek to know our worlds close up, relying on eeling andcontemplation, as well as observation and reason, togain inormation about a range o possible realities.In this universe we take subjectivity or grantedand depend on direct experience, intuition, andimagination or discoveries about the inner and outer worlds. A transpersonal epistemology appreciatesthe necessity o ordinary states o consciousnessor mapping the terrain o the physical universe,but nonordinary states are seen as powerul meanso extending our knowledge beyond the ourdimensions o the Newtonian/Eisensteinian [sic]universe. (p. xii)Tis epistemology values multiple ways o knowing, moving beyond scientism and embracing the complex and diverse voices comprising thetranspersonal eld to date. Additionally, Mack’s (1993)view o transpersonal psychology suggested the validity o the subjective experience. As will be noted below,the primacy o the subjective voice is a major locus o intersection between transpersonal psychology andeminism. However, it is important to note, albeit briey,that a distinction is to be made between individualism
 
International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 
35
Feminist and ranspersonal Tought 
and subjectivity. For the present purposes, individualismconsiders the individual as a discrete whole, an entity awareo and intentionally participating in its own growth anddevelopment, a process that is decontextualized and notdependent upon others. Subjectivity is rather the state o awareness o inner and outer events
as one’s own experience 
,the experience o a contextualized, bodily-located sel.Such a distinction is important to consider with regardto the evolution o both the eminist and transpersonalelds over the course o the past our decades.As noted above, the eld o transpersonalpsychology (much like the social movement o eminismand the eld o eminist psychology) has multiple aces.Over the more than 40-year course o the developmento the eld, denitions o transpersonal psychology haveevolved rom Maslow’s early ocus on peak experiences.In 1992, Lajoie and Shapiro published a synthesizeddenition rom more than 40 denitions o transpersonalpsychology: “ranspersonal psychology is concerned withthe study o humanity’s highest potential and with therecognition, understanding, and realization o unitive,spiritual, and transcendent states o consciousness” (p. 91). As I examine this denition almost two decades ater itspublication through my own eminist lens, two elementsstand out: 1) a privileging o transcendence and higherstates o human potential and consciousness rather thanan acknowledgement o the complexity and depths o alllived experience (c. Daniels 2005); and 2) a seemingly exclusive ocus on the decontextualized individual.So much has changed in the intervening yearssince this denition was developed: the internet alone hasexpanded the capacity to network, connect, and interact with one another at levels never dreamed possible, whilealso highlighting the increasing isolation elt by many in  world too ast and demanding to encourage actual person-to-person interaction. Increasing globalization o themarketplace has created opportunities or extreme levelso wealth or a very ew while simultaneously threatening ecological and economic disaster as human and materialresources continue to be consumed at unsustainablelevels. Te renzy o capitalism and consumption has ledto the explosion o the sustainability movement that seeksto restore a healthy relationship to the planet and replaceentitlement with respect or the relationships needed toulll the most basic levels in Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy o needs: ood, water, shelter, and love.In this climate, transpersonal psychology hasneeded to evolve in order to stay relevant. Mainstreampsychology is beginning to embrace its own roots inspirituality, re-engaging with both psyche and spirit inboth practice and research.
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In the United States positivepsychology (e.g., Snyder & Lopez, 2007) and healthpsychology (e.g., Sheridan & Radmacher, 1991) are now established elds o research and clinical intervention,and spiritual practices such as mindulness meditationare studied and taught as mainstream psychologicaltreatment to minimize stress and promote healing (e.g., Kabat-Zinn, Lipworth, & Burney, 1985; Stahl &Goldstein, 2010).
4
 A contemporary denition o the transpersonaleld addresses these cultural changes and the evolutiono the eld. Following the example o Lajoie andShapiro (1992), Hartelius et al. (2007) conducted a thematic analysis o 160 denitions and concludedthat transpersonal psychology is comprised o threeinteracting themes:
Beyond-Ego Psychology 
;
Integrative/ Holistic Psychology 
; and
ransormative Psychology 
.Hartelius et al. wove the themes into a new denitiono the transpersonal eld: “An approach to psychology that 1) studies phenomena beyond the ego as contextor 2) an integrative/holistic psychology; this provides a ramework or 3) understanding and cultivating humantransormation” (p. 11). While this denition may beviewed as individualistic in scope, the authors stressedthat the transormation o the individual is but oneimportant aspect o creating change in the world:Te three aspects o the eld complete ratherthan compete. As beyond-ego aspects o humanexperience become understood, a view emergesin which human individuals are integrally interconnected with much larger contexts. Tis largervision, in turn, allows glimpses o how to become a greater, deeper humanity. As humanity transorms,individually and collectively, it cultivates morebeyond-ego development worthy o study. ogether,the three themes o transpersonal psychology orman interdependent, mutually supportive cycle o inquiry. (p. 11)Tis statement seems to mirror the oten-paraphrased quote by Gandhi: “Be the change you wantto see in the world.” Such a comparison is not meantto diminish either the nuanced complexity o the abovedenition, nor to rame Gandhi’s quote in a reductivistmanner. Rather, it is to point out that both concepts ocuson the vital importance o individual agency and action

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