Beneath the Cracks: A Transpersonal View of UK Post-Referendum
As we write, nearly two weeks after the referendum, there can be little doubt that the UK is facing challenging times. Yet any time of upheaval and crisis also yields opportunities for positive change. During this time of uncertainty, when so many diverse opinions are being aired, we ask what a transpersonal perspective on recent events and the UK’s future might have to offer. Like the Platonic philosopher gazing beyond appearances, our interest lies in the patterns that may be discerned at a deeper level of meaning. At a time when fragmentation seems to loom at every horizon, adopting a transpersonal viewpoint may not only enable us to gain greater insight into the dynamics which continue to fuel the unfolding Brexit narrative, but it may enable us to envision a new kind of society, with a reformulated view of politics, governance, economics, and community development.
Let’s start by looking at what we mean by “transpersonal.” The term was initially coined to connote experiences and perspectives that go beyond the everyday sense of personal identity, the ego. In spiritual or mystical states, for example, or even in states of ‘flow’ associated with sport and exercise, it is common for people to experience this diminution of ego-centeredness. Occasionally, we can experience a more “oceanic” state, a sense of merging with a larger, more all-embracing – some would say divine – presence. In the context of this article, it is not so much the individual experience of transpersonal states that enlivens our thinking, but rather the connotation that beneath the surface play of individual actors and their machinations operates a deeper process that influences the course of events. Just as the individual conscious sphere of mind is predicated on a deeper personal unconscious process, so a transpersonal perspective holds that we are all interacting in our own distinctive ways with a deeper collective process, of which most are oblivious. For those of a religious bent, this might be equivalent to regarding God as being revealed through history. Whether or not it is viewed as a guiding process, the transpersonalist is in agreement with the theologian in holding that there is a potency of meaning behind world events, and moreover that we can take a co-constructive role in shaping our world by attuning ourselves to this deeper, collective intelligence.
The transpersonal perspective takes an evolutionary stance – and there is more to evolution than genes and biological structures. There is an evolution of consciousness, and, as with the evolution of species, this evolution is not continuous – to employ a contemporary metaphor, it proceeds via quantum jumps. One such quantum leap in the evolution of consciousness came in the Renaissance, for example. As Richard Tarnas has argued, that epoch saw the birth of the modern self. The factors that ushered in the change – geographical exploration, the invention of printing, the impact on Christian Europe of Islamic philosophy and Jewish mysticism, amongst others – are paralleled in our day by age-defining changes: space exploration bringing us images of the earth as a global whole, IT and the internet enabling dissemination beyond the wildest dreams of early printers and cementing our intellectual and emotional interconnectedness, and the impact of Eastern traditions giving rise to contemporary forms of spirituality. There is, accordingly, every reason to expect a quantum shift in consciousness today. Before giving our views on this shift in consciousness, let us examine UK post-Brexit referendum for the signs.
Let us start with the Labour movement. The situation will likely change tomorrow, but for the present Jeremy Corbin is refusing to stand down. Indeed, why should he go, given – as appears to be the case – he has the support of a majority of Labour party members? The situation has come about due to the changes introduced under Ed Milliband’s leadership – moving from a collegiate electoral system to a one-member-one-vote system. Most crucially in the present context, Labour MPs and MEPs have been significantly disenfranchised. Their influence on the outcome of a leadership election has been reduced from a third to a matter of a few hundred out of tens of thousands. Notwithstanding the danger of an influx of members skewing the membership’s representativeness, this is democracy! Corbyn can continue in what so many pundits regard as an untenable position (having lost the confidence of most Labour MPs) because we are entering a time of ‘new politics’; and Corbynites claim that he is a new kind of leader. His style is gentler, he is uncomfortable in having to don the garb of the strident leader, his natural podium is not the adversarial dispatch box. He is not a ‘warrior leader.’ (The allusion in Cameron’s jibe, “For heaven’s sake man, go,” to Amery’s attack on Chamberlain – in turn drawing on Cromwell – becomes poignant in this context.)
We stress here that we are not making political points. Our motivation is to view events through the transpersonal lens. We are not wishing to indicate agreement or disagreement with Corbyn’s policies, nor with one or the other side regarding the referendum. Instead we ask: What is moving in that deeper, transpersonal process, and in which ways might it manifest in truly new kinds of politics and governance? The questions regarding our political processes are many: Do the old political party structures really still serve us? Why do we have widening gaps between politicians and their traditional support base? What kind of new governance could be more truly representative of who we are today, and what kind of structures and processes could better facilitate our growth towards who we envision ourselves to be? Again, our attention is drawn to what may be underlying these questions, in the deep, collective psyche.
First, however, a few further thoughts on Brexit to distil the issues. We hold that the fundamental issue revolves around the polarity of ‘self versus other’ and the role of boundaries. As long as we peddle the rhetoric of division and as long as we follow an adversarial style of politics, we create fragmentation and we promote insularity. Continuing to define ourselves through differentiation, we necessarily adopt a defensive stance to protect what defines us, and boundaries are of course crucial in this process. Right now across the UK we are witnessing people and parties and even entire cities and regions digging trenches to separate themselves from the ‘other’ who presents a threat to their way of life. Whether it be in terms of Scotland vs. the rest of the UK (or is it the rest of the UK minus Northern Island? … minus London? … minus Brighton and Hove???), the geography of tariffs, or the limits of sovereignty, the underlying questions concern our identity, what we identify with, and those boundary issues. In the months and years ahead do we continue to mould our identity through differentiation, as seems to have happened in the referendum: the wrinklies vs the young; the metropolitanites vs the ruralites; the true Brits (whatever that means) vs the new arrivals; the bankers vs the rest… and, perhaps the most poignant of all: the politicians vs the electorate? Can the critically-needed moves to unification come through more of the same … politics as normal, folks … it was just a hiccup? Or might it be that lasting unification will only grow from self-expansive identification with the deeper psyche, as we believe?
From our transpersonal perspective, we assert that the stance of ‘self versus other’ is fuelled by a deeper dynamic concerning differing levels of identity. There is a tension within every individual – predicated on the collective substratum – between the ego with its impetus to reinforce those boundaries that preserve it, on the one hand, and, on the other, the desire to merge with something larger; a tension, to put it in Jungian terms, between ‘ego and Self,’ with the former representing our everyday sense of ‘I’ and the latter expanding our identity by rooting it in the deeper collective process. As long as we hold onto our isolationist stance we are unable to expand our awareness and embrace the Self.
In peering beneath the surface we see a revealing parallel between Miliband initiating a change in the process for electing the Labour leader and Cameron calling the referendum. Both shift decision-making from the elite to grass-roots level, both are in accord with the paradigm shift towards global empowerment. Yet without deeper reform of the political system nurturing a shift from ego to Self, the changes are potent but probably only serve to enforce the existing differentiating and defensive patterns. The vote for Brexit was indeed a protest against the elite, the elite within UK and also the elite in the EU – a peasants’ revolt, as it has been called, except that there are no peasants today. Is a referendum the ultimate expression of democracy or an admission of defeat by the elected rulers? There’s a question that might keep Cameron and Miliband awake at night….
No … the real question concerns those empowered to vote, not whether or not we should be given the vote. That simple act of placing a cross … what is the ground from which it arises? A restricted territory with its imperative to build boundaries, or a common ground, home for the expansive Self?
Time to gather the threads: We claim that a transpersonal vision challenges us to reform our ego-centred notions of identity and boundaries. Take the boundaries between the UK’s political parties: they are hardly discernible today. Today, to be electable major parties must occupy the centre ground (this is, of course, one of the main reasons for turmoil in the Labour party – MPs know that they cannot woo the electorate if power resides in the skewed membership). Even the boundaries between constituencies are hopelessly out of date! Why do we continue with a fully constituency-based governance? (We note in passing that reform of the second House has given rise to a situation where its role as a balance to constituency-based governance has largely been compromised – but that is too long a story to go into here.) In our day there is no longer a need for such a dominant focus on location-centred representation. Surgeries can be held via online portals, and if someone feels strongly that they need a face-to-face meeting, travel is not difficult. At least half our elected house could be interest-, or cause-, based, not constituency based. Thereby we may also move on from party-based politics and shift into an age of governance focusing on values and causes we hold most dear. Imagine MPs who are entirely free from party lines and physical constituency constraints, who can honestly represent people from across the UK who share their vision?
We are not politicians, nor do we claim to have a grasp of the history of politics, so this last point about the style of governance is for others to address. Our point is that the crisis (actually, crises) we are witnessing represent a birthing of a new approach, one that understands ‘boundaries’ in a very different way. “Imagine” as John Lennon sang. Yes, he was the “dreamer” but we all need to wake up!
Mystics and prophets throughout the ages have envisioned a time when humanity embraces a different kind of consciousness, one that unites us rather than separates us; one that transcends boundaries. Maybe it is the birth pangs of that age which we are witnessing. And we have the choice – to revert to a bankrupt political frame or to flow with the new. One thing is certain beyond doubt: The new leaders that will be elected in the months to come must be motivated to heal divisions. We believe they will be able to do so only if they truly recognise the will beneath the surface of recent upheavals – to manifest a different face of consciousness.
A few years back we founded a non-profit community interest company, the Alef Trust, which offers online postgraduate education in the study of consciousness and transpersonal psychology. Our ‘client base’ is global; we have students from around the world. We use IT systems that are enabling us to build an online learning community. We have no doubt that such is the approach to learning that will grow in the years to come. The point of relevance here is that the kinds of challenges we face with our company at root all revolve around a lingering urge to separateness that we have to overcome. Yet the new vision is already taking hold. Alongside the tendency to fragment and isolate, we are witnessing global transcendence of borders, a deeper realisation of our interconnectedness in the information age. That reflects the Zeitgeit, the new world waiting to be fully realised, not just with head but also with heart.
The mature dimension in the referendum campaigns concerned whether the UK is better placed to take its place in this new age from within or from without the EU. Our point is that this question ramifies beyond economics and politics. It goes to the core of what it means to be human, touching on our ethical responsibilities and bringing into focus the consequences of our choices. Now that the UK finds itself re-defining its relationship with the EU, what should underpin this relationship: an ego-centred focus that prioritises only individual interests and concerns, or a Self-centred one that empowers us to evolve our individual identities and values within the global narrative? What might be the fundamental tenets of Self-oriented politics, economics and community development?
Dr. Brian Les Lancaster & Dr. Jessica Bockler, Alef Trust