Putting the soul into psychology:
A discussion of the value of Transpersonal Psychology in education: expanding personal awareness and enabling students to view life challenges as training methods for Self-realization.
In Education in the New Age by Alice A. Bailey, the Tibetan Master Djwhal Khul inspires us to uplift all of humanity through bringing the ageless wisdom into practical usage in our classroom activities and relationships. He states that teaching of our true inner nature, creating an atmosphere of love, patience, understanding, and cooperation, and meditating to facilitate soul contact are of the highest importance within these settings. The value of the individual and the reality of one humanity, when fully grasped, will revolutionize the teaching system. He further states that in the new age, education will utilize the most advanced psychological knowledge on a much wider scope than at present.
Psychology is preparing itself for that role through the development and expansion of the fourth major trend within that field, Transpersonal Psychology. This exciting dimension to psychology emphasizes the reality of the soul and its divine inner potential, the unity of all mankind, and the importance of love extended within and without. Meditation and selfless service are methods of realizing and living these higher truths. As this influence gains ground in education, we find the Master’s recommendations becoming concretized in practice. And the classroom begins to be transformed.
In my work as a psychology teacher in higher education, I experience the joy of being part of this transformative movement. My classes are at the undergraduate and graduate levels with the graduate courses being in the educational field. Expanding traditional content in psychology into transpersonal arenas is easily accomplished. The following are examples of initial forms of higher wisdom being introduced through traditional course material.
Most of us are familiar with the work of Abraham Maslow on self-actualization — the propensity of each individual to move towards the fulfillment of their potential. Research has identified personality traits increasingly exhibited during this expanding process. In our classroom we examine these traits, grasp their meaning and importance, and apply them to ourselves.
For example, it is said that mystical or peak experiences — feelings of awe, wonder, oneness with the universe, and a loss of self-concern — often accompany the actualizing process. Students search for their own such experiences and what they have learned and may learn from them. Another trait is that of social interest — a feeling of greater unity, concern for, and involvement with humanity, indeed with all life itself. This often results in service, sharing with others what we can to lift their burdens. We must ask this of ourselves, that our new understanding of cosmic truth result in new action in the world. Students thus examine how their understandings influence their behavior.
This process introduces an optional project of serving in one of our area’s soup kitchens assisting the homeless. Those students who have participated have written of their feelings about the experience, one account of which was published in our local newspaper and brought in many more volunteers. Many students continue their involvement long after the project has ceased.
Another project is an essay consisting of examining oneself for the presence of each self-actualizing trait and listing these examples. The entire topic is introduced as a balance to the pathological orientation of abnormal psychology, a way to encourage us to dwell on our growing goodness and wisdom rather than our limitations. The students love doing it and report a rise in their self-esteem.
Another topic lending itself to more advanced studies is Kubler-Ross’ work on the stages of death and dying. In texts it is sometimes accompanied by material on the ‘near-death’ experience of those who have ‘left their bodies’ during surgery, intense illness, pain, or coma. Upon return, these individuals report very similar experiences, and common effects are a greater awareness of the purposiveness of life and the need for more loving, caring behavior. I accompany the text with a video on the topic. All of this inspires vigorous discussion on the existence and nature of the soul, the purpose of life, and how to imbue everyday interactions with a higher wisdom and love.
In the stress management segments, we work from the wholistic paradigm emphasizing the unity of body, mind and spirit. Meditation is utilized as a practice benefiting all three dimensions of our wholistic selves and a portion of each session is spent practicing a form of ‘going within’. Many students begin to make that activity a part of their daily stress-reduction menu.
The spiritual aspect of ourselves is considered as the foundation of our stress management system, as our philosophical and spiritual beliefs dictate through what frame of reference we interpret our life’s experiences. I have developed a ‘World View Analysis’ questionnaire through which we examine our beliefs about the nature of God and man, the purpose of suffering, the reality and content of any afterlife, and what effect these beliefs have on our reactions to the stresses and strains that come our way. I do not suggest what their belief system should be. However, I do share much of my own, which is of a transpersonal nature, and illustrate how those beliefs and subsequent practices support and lighten my challenges in life. A copy of that questionnaire is available to anyone upon request for use and duplication.
The student response has been positive. The students state that education usually allows little chance for an examination of this very important part of themselves, and they value this opportunity.
From here, we often move into the research on adult and mid-life growth and the support it offers to the potential value of suffering. The research suggests that coping with stress and difficult events can produce positive development in character and wisdom. It is often individuals who have experienced loss or hardship, and utilized that as a mandate to examine themselves and their lives for needed change, who go on to more satisfying and productive years. When we begin to consider the vast learning potential that difficulties offer us and to judge these as training methods for Self-realization, we do not necessarily find ourselves welcoming stressful times. We do, however, experience a sense of purpose in them, rather than futility. It is an initial understanding of a part of the cosmic plan.
In the graduate courses in education, elementary, secondary and higher education teachers examine their behavior in the classroom in light of DK’s recommendations on love, patience, understanding and cooperation. We agree these must first be taught by providing an atmosphere wherein the traits are genuinely modeled. No easy task in today’s often overcrowded conditions. And highly unlikely unless we have first come to the realization of the worth of ourselves and others.
We have developed centering exercises, mini-meditations utilized in classes on a daily basis as methods to increase tension release, concentration and self-esteem. The teachers are pleased as the exercises minimize poor behavior and insufficient attention to tasks. Many students, including special education participants, have requested that they be continued. Modeling love and respect and utilizing centering techniques go beyond the nature of any one discipline being taught; they can be universally applied.
And so it goes. These are just a few examples of weaving the beginning of new realities into the old fabric, gentle, initial steps, are apparently most welcomed. The awakening will be gradual, building slowly, expanding as we continue to work on ourselves and allow our own expansion to proceed.