Interview with Olga Louchakova-Schwartz

Interview With Dr. Olga Louchakova-Schwartz

Dr Olga Louchakova-Schwartz joined the Alef Trust at the beginning of the academic year 2017/18 as a module leader for the Transpersonal Psychology course/programme. For 25 years, she taught at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. She started at ITP in 1992, as adjunct research professor, and worked her way up to being Founding Director of Transpersonal Education and Research Specialization (2004-2014), of the World Wide Learning Exchange Program (2007 -2013), and of the pioneering Neurophenomenology Centre, the first of its kind (2007 – 2015). She is now Professor Emerita of Psychology and Comparative Religion. Dr Louchakova-Schwartz has authored more than 150 papers and book chapters in various areas of neuroscience, philosophy, and transpersonal psychology. She is editor-in chief of the upcoming book, “A Problem of Religious Experience: Case Studies in Phenomenology “, which will be be published by Springer in 2018. Her collaborative research (with Maria Kozhevnikov, Zoran Josipovic, and Michael Motes) in the cognitive psychology of Tibetan meditation was featured on the BBC, Science Daily, and other important forums. She is a Founding Director of the Society for the Phenomenology of Religious Experience and has many more strings to her bow.

Francesca Hector caught up with Dr. Olga Louchakova-Schwartz in December at her Berkeley home in the Bay Area to twang a few, from transformative practices and academic insights, to useful tips for students and unexpected encounters with harbour seals in the Pacific Ocean.

Olga, thank you for making time in your busy schedule for this conversation. Could you start by giving us a brief outline of your academic background?

I was trained as a medical doctor, a paediatrician and a neuroimmunuologist, and afterwards did my PhD in neuroscience, at the Pavlov Institute and the Institute of Experimental Medicine in Russia. My research was the area of autoimmune diseases of the nervous system. Then, I became specialised in psychotherapy and psychological assessment, studied comparative religion and spirituality, and after doing many psychospiritual trainings (e.g. breathwork, various kinds of meditation, Chi Gong, Kundalini Yoga etc.) I ended up teaching transpersonal psychology. I’ve also done a lot of independent studies with three leading phenomenologists, Amedeo and Barbro Giorgi and philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka. I studied with several great teachers of Vedanta, Sufi scholars, and Hesychast (Christian mysticism). I became very interested in comparative religion and investigated it in depth, mainly through field research and with every traditional teacher I could get close to.

Was there a defining moment in your early studies and experiences which made you identify more closely with transpersonal psychology rather than other branches of psychology?

Yes, transpersonal psychology became very important for me in the late 1980s and 1990s, especially when I connected with underground spiritual groups in then atheistic Eastern Europe. My main focus was always psycho-somatic, so I had a lot of interesting experiences like yoga tummo – opening the inner heat of the body in very cold water, channelling, psychic viewing, meditative experiences, and of course various altered states of consciousness. I couldn’t find any explanations for these phenomena in academic psychology, medicine, or science. Around 1987, two psychedelic researchers, Evgeni Krupitski and Igor Kungurtsev, asked to use meditation groups I taught as controls in a clinical ketamine trial. Through these two researchers, and Toni Soidla, I learned about transpersonal psychology. The first book I read in transpersonal psychology was Wilber’s Spectrum of Consciousness. I was extremely excited, as if a light bulb switched on in my head. “Oh my God there’s a kind of psychology that takes these phenomena seriously and can conduct research in this area,” I thought. It was an exciting time! As you know, by that time transpersonal psychology broke through the red tape and became a part of mainstream “academic” psychology. Now, the cat is out of the bag, spirituality is acknowledged as a discipline in its own right, and also a part of medicine, business etc, and everybody is researching it. But back then, such possibility was quite exceptional.

Was there a specific practice or tradition that impacted you especially strongly?

Absolutely. Well, there are three, really. Kundalini Yoga/Buddhist Tantric practices, Christian Prayer of the Heart tradition, and Advaita Vedanta. There were nearly ten years in my life when I closely followed Sufism; I liked Gurdjieff’s studies a lot. And of course, inescapable Vipassana. I took time out of academia and worked as a spiritual teacher, using all these beautiful practices in an integral approach which I called Hridayam (“I am the Heart” Yoga). I was very interested in spiritual awakening, peak states, and human development, and studied with some remarkable masters who really made an impact on the consciousness of the 20th and 21st century.

Is there anyone you would like to mention?

I am very grateful to Harilal Sri Punjaji, and after his death, to Sri Ranjit Maharaj, a master from the Inch-giri lineage of Shakta Vedanta. Another very special master was Swami Dayananda Saraswati, a traditional teacher of Adi Shankara’s traditional Vedanta. But you know, sometimes a single encounter, a personal connection, or even an academic colleague can serve the same emancipatory purpose. For example, the historical and translational research of Zarathustra’s poetry by Martin Schwartz and the work of the Ibn-Arabi Society have had a profound effect on me. His Eminence Metropolitan Nikitas of the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute in Berkeley, Lama Khenpo Paljor, and Sheikh Tayyar of Rifai Order in Istanbul are among my most respected teachers, but they themselves probably would not even know that.

Did you notice a difference between the Kundalini Yoga as taught by Yogi Bhajan compared to the Kundalini Tantra of these teachers?

The style I was taught by Vladimir Antonov opens very detailed awareness of internal spaces of consciousness. It has a strong component of mindfulness and attentiveness. It is also associated with the mastery of kundalini energy which can be invited into different passages of the subtle body in order to generate different states of consciousness, and eventually open the possibility of intentional transformation of one’s character. There’s a deep knowledge of chakras, meridians and centres which is very hands on and psychologically transformative. In contrast with this very intimate knowledge, I don’t know if Yogi Bhajan’s style unveils high levels of esoteric knowledge to everybody, and even what levels there are. I don’t know who the preceptors are in his lineage, and that’s important because there are different lineages of transmission.

This intentional transformation sounds very interesting, and it ties in very much as an embodied resource through which you approach transpersonal studies on the academic side.

Yes, that’s a good insight of yours, Francesca. Embodied spiritual practices go well with higher education because one of the outcomes is enhanced intellectual capacity. Not that people necessarily need it, but it’s a nice tool to have. These practices really liberate the mind, make it flexible, and remove random mental chatter. It’s also a wonderful tool for converting unwholesome emotions into wholesome ones.

So does it make sense to say, based on what you’ve just shared, that a certain transformation of self, or a certain integration of aspects of self is necessary in order to address the transpersonal through academia?

Oh, that’s such a difficult question! I think that personal experience is very important. This is simply because without personal experience, it’s hard to talk about human development as we see it in transpersonal psychology, that is with a reach of the ego beyond itself, and with the recognition of deep realms of human pure subjectivity and pure consciousness. Especially when one teaches. Sogyal Rinpoche, a very advanced lama from Nyingma Lineage once said, “It helps when one knows what one is teaching”. However, one should never underestimate the capacity of the human imagination and capacity for reflective insight. There are many colleagues of mine who have never done yoga or practiced any of those formal spiritual disciplines, and nevertheless they have a deep understanding of transpersonal states. Either they’re born with it, or it’s attainable through intellectual reflection somehow. I think it’s more important to have an ethical mind, a kind mind, and to be intellectually developed. The capacity to read and write is important, but in a sense the ethics, attitudes, cultivation of a good mind and capacity to make choices is perhaps even more important than having experienced these states.

At the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in the 1990s, we had a rule of hiring only faculty members who had some kind of internal practice and were personally familiar with those spiritual states. I think this is also important because this feeds into a world view, an empathic connection with other people and a more intimate understanding of the interconnectedness of the world. It’s good to have a direct intuition of that.

Language and consciousness are so intricately linked…

Oh, absolutely.

Developing the theme of the transpersonal beyond spiritual and religious experiences, some of your work has focused on other territories such as migration and globalisation – how do these issues especially benefit from a transpersonal approach?

There is a concept of chronic and multiple migrant stress. Even though migration is a natural behaviour of human beings and an essential part of human history, current migration is characterised by a number of features which were absent in historic migrations. For example, the fact that people lose connection with their loved ones, immediate family or tribes. Out of this rupture comes deep grieving. There’s also the problem of adapting to the new environment, different social typology, different social signals, emotions, and different ways in which social institutions work, and healing systems such as medicine or therapy operate. Besides, the hosting societies often do not have resources to help the migrants; all this, and other factors, contribute to extreme and chronic stress, with adverse health consequences.

The statistics of mental health problems associated with migrants is not because migrants are bad people or something is initially wrong with their health. On the contrary, those who migrate are usually the stronger ones, the pioneers of their country. But the stress takes its toll. It leads to growing prevalence of mental health problems and physical problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, high risk of cancer and asocial behaviour.

Migrant stress is an important factor in reformation of the self and changes in consciousness. I am very interested in the subject, especially so given the number of migrants in the world. I think the count was more than 260 million people in 2016. I don’t think migration can be artificially stopped, even if someone wants to build a wall or close borders. The world is different now, especially in Europe where there are such a large number of migrants. It’s a matter of helping migrants with assimilation, education, doing something with the situation which is already there.

I think that transpersonal psychology must play a role in this because we do provide means of self-regulation and stress reduction. We know how to develop resilience, heal consciousness, and keep people healthy. In a sense transpersonal psychology is preventative personalised medicine. While we have different views on migration, and may love or not love transpersonal ethics, and principles such as non-violence, it’s absolutely clear that transpersonal practices reduce stress and bring out the best of resilience in people. That’s where I think we must step up to the plate.

In which other directions would you like to see the academic hubs of transpersonal journals and conferences evolving, in terms of content, inclusion, or any other aspects?

I think it’s important that there’s a study of human experience crossing over different disciplines. The study of subjectivity is missing in philosophy or science because we tend to study phenomena which can be reproduced, in large, statistically significant counts. Subjective processes are reproducible, but by means that are different from scientific observations and experimentation. So, reintegration of subjectivity in various areas of academic knowledge seems to me a matter of high importance, and I think that transpersonal psychology brings that dimension to its fullness, without chopping off religious and spiritual aspects of consciousness, and even make such aspects into very pragmatic kind of consciousness without mundanising them. Transpersonal psychology can dream. It has unbounded access to creativity.

Could you give a specific example within the context of transpersonal education?

What comes to mind is my work with our Alef Trust group right now. People come up with all kinds of interesting insights. The group is very alive. Everybody is passionate and connected with this growing age of consciousness, and interested in new knowledge. There can be a critical reflection, but this reflection is also vividly inspired. People reach out and want to connect with one another, they want to know. I teach in different environments and it often takes a lot of effort to wake up the group so that they become interested in the study beyond the level of skill, to bring out this creative, transformative component. It is much more present in transpersonal psychology and in the kind of people it attracts. Every time I read the group posts, there’s a live human connection, and it’s a creative connection. That’s very special, and I think it’s a repeated example. I’d like this to remain alive. I witnessed an opposite situation, even in transpersonal psychology. There can be a loss of connection with this transformative poetic energy of life, you could say “kundalini energy”, and it becomes a dry reflection, a kind of speculation and juggling mere ideas back and forth. That kind of turn is not interesting and not that useful, because philosophy or sciences are much more skilled in handling ideas. But transpersonal psychology fosters extraordinary personal creativity, and we have to keep this aspect alive.

How does that switch from being alive to not being so alive occur?

I don’t know how exactly, but I think it’s a community related process. Maybe what happens is that community leadership makes mistakes, in ethics, and in making their choices, and so the energies of the community stop flowing somehow. Then it becomes like a seed which lands on a rock and cannot really sprout. Ethical mistakes cut off the vibrancy of life.

It’s as if the life flow takes another direction, “ok, not there,” so it goes somewhere else…

Exactly. William James said “where the energies flow”, that is, societal energies. It’s a metaphor, of course. But he had a very embodied and experiential understanding, so it’s half metaphor and half description. And as you say, these energies of life get diverted.

Developing the conversation about energies going in a different direction, what feminine qualities would you like to see emerging beyond the masculine paradigm of academia, and how can we facilitate this?

That’s interesting. I’ve taught and worked in different academic environments, and it happened that my bosses were always women. My first boss, the director of two labs I’ve worked in as a scientist, was a woman. My dissertation advisors were all women in high academic positions; the director of the Institute of Experimental Medicine where I had my defence was a woman; and right now I’m teaching at the Jesuit School of Theology where my Dean is a woman! I’ve had the great luck of working with many academics who were women, and on top of that, I had women teachers in my esoteric schools.

Gender disparities exist, that’s a legacy of many centuries of cultural development, etc. But now, as women, we do have possibilities to write and to advance our careers in academia. Yes, it’s harder being a woman. The social gender disparities are real. But it also takes a lot to get rid of internalised disparity, that is, a cultural legacy of woman always being a helper. It’s a very strong “genetics”. I remember Maxim Gorky saying he squeezed a slave out of himself drop by drop; and evidently, he was a man. It is even more important being a woman.

Another thing that we must develop in ourselves as women is social awareness. I don’t mean the social awareness of need, helping the poor or the disadvantaged, which has always been the task of women. We need to understanding how social systems work, the intricacies of social hierarchies, reading the styles and the types, developing the capacity to speak in different environments, rhetoric, making one’s point, keeping the focus on what is important to us, and not being afraid to acknowledge it on an authentic level, and have certainty and stability in case of adversity.

It’s very personal. As a woman, it took me a while to squeeze the slave out of myself, drop by drop. But it’s possible now. Internal slavery is a cultural legacy, a remnant of patriarchy which is enforced by all the signals we receive day by day. It’s a day by day struggle, but in the current environment, it’s already possible to win the struggle. There are avenues where a woman in academia can succeed. Taking it on a case by case basis, establishing clear goals, working towards these goals, being patient with oneself, not in a hurry, and writing, writing, writing… and reading, reading, reading… this is the key.

That’s very practical and sound advice! Do you have any other tips or suggestions for the students of transpersonal psychology who are enrolled in your course now?

My suggestion would be to study beyond transpersonal psychology, because transpersonal psychology doesn’t give explanations, on the contrary, it sets up puzzles.

Which studies would you recommend?

So many different things! I’d say medicine is very useful, it teaches you anatomy and the biological foundations of the human being. Philosophy too, such as phenomenology, analytic and continental philosophy, is extremely useful for transpersonal psychology. It helps to know a little of theology and understand how people conceive spiritual ideas in themselves. These would be the main three. All disciplines which explain the mind and human being in general outside transpersonal psychology are useful. Languages and history are very useful for transpersonal psychology as we (in transpersonal psychology) take many things for granted. We have a huge basket of phenomena in transpersonal psychology which need to be digested and researched, and we are like activists, record keepers on those phenomena, but we hardly have any means to understand them deeply, and for this I think we have to go out of the field.

What are you reading and especially enjoying at the moment?

Two wonderful books. One is written by the Norwegian philosopher Espen Dahl, called Phenomenology and the Holy after Husserl. Dahl bridges several phenomenological frameworks to see, explain, understand and describe how people come up with their ideas of the Holy. The second book, on religion and humour as emancipating provinces of meaning, is also a philosophical book, by Michael Barber, who will be a keynote at our Sophere Phenomenology Conference at the end of January. He studies social processes from the standpoint of the phenomenology of consciousness. Spirituality and religion are emancipatory provinces of meaning which advance us as human beings, and Barber studies this systematically and scientifically. One can have opinions about consciousness and the social world, or one can study them rigorously – so Barber is a rigorous researcher. They’re both “slow reading” books. I put them aside and then come back to them. It’s not a simple set of concepts. With Dahl it usually takes me three readings until I feel I’m getting it somewhat!

It certainly sounds like you enjoy being challenged!

Oh yes, it makes me feel more alive! Another thing I’m reading is a corpus of ancient poetry from around 1500 BCE. There was a poet priest called Zarathustra who was credited with starting Zoroastrianism, the most ancient extant religion in the world. He wrote 17 poems called the Gathas, in which he put forward what seems to be a very original concept of the deity, and a very interesting original concept of the human being. Schwartz’s translation really deciphers those compositions and it’s now possible to get an idea of what is really going on in Zarathustra’s poetry. The poet was very different from Nietzsche’s fictional character; real Zarathustra was very moral and even a self conscious person. I’m trying to tease out what’s going on with his spiritual experience, with all my transpersonal knowledge. With transpersonal psychology we become so flexible with our consciousness and get to know human experience so well that we can read ancient texts differently and notice things that others miss. For example, in old texts, human experience often loses its marker of being an experience. Coming from transpersonal psychology, it’s possible to reconstruct those dimensions of experience and embodiment.

Not just through the language…

Yes. And there are other examples, like Patanjali’s yoga sutras, which everybody thinks is a description of experience. I don’t know, nobody has done an analysis of where those concepts could have come from.

What else could they be if they’re not an account of experience? Do you mean metaphors for other worlds or subtle realms?

They can be pure ideas; or, they can be poetic exercises, stylistic moments. Or, they can be experiences that happened to somebody else rather than the author. For example, it could have happened several centuries earlier in another location, and then become a story which was passed on orally. Then somebody recorded it, without even really understanding it. Oral cultures had an exceptional capacity for memorising things. Concepts were borrowed and plagiarism was completely ok in ancient times. I don’t think it’s possible to take it for granted that the exact author had that exact experience. An experience has structures, so what also happens is that if somebody doesn’t understand exactly what was going on they transmit it incorrectly, etc.

On a personal level, have you found that your own understanding of the spiritual and mystical transpersonal experiences you’ve had has changed since the experience, and that you’d describe them differently now to how you would at the time?

No, that’s an interesting observation, but I don’t think so, I find it stays pretty much the same. The freshness gets erased. However, I think it’s possible to discipline the mind so it doesn’t go into unbounded interpretations, even though I understand what you mean, that something you experienced in life acquires new meaning as you age. But I think certain structures of introspective experience, at least in my case, stay the same.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not studying and involved in academia? How do you like to relax?

I love hiking and swimming in the ocean. My husband and I go north to Point Reyes National Park. The ocean is cold in winter, but I remember my yoga tummo days and dive right in. There are harbour seals, and seeing a nose of a seal sticking out of the water three yards away from me was a new experience! I used to be afraid of them, but now I can discern what they’re doing and whether I should get out of their way or not. Getting to know the animal world outside standard descriptions is absolutely marvellous! I also enjoy communicating with quails. They are very social birds, so if they’re in their native habitat they start communicating with you, showing off, trying to speak, and I can’t help wondering if this is something they picked up from all the people who visit, or if it’s a part of their social behaviour we know nothing about.

So never mind transpersonal, this is trans-species now…

Oh completely! Coyotes try to engage people; elk measure their movement against humans who are walking on the trail. I find it absolutely breathtaking. If it were possible I would have just lived there. It’s… I don’t know. That’s where I just don’t have the words. It’s not God but it’s something else.

We live on an amazing planet which we share with so many other living being.

Exactly. Science fiction is my other hobby. I am obsessed with Alastair Reynolds; I’ve just been re-reading Revelation Space. Reading and trying to interpret Zarathustra’s text is like communicating with the alien in Revelation Space!

Have you ever tried writing science fiction or any other kinds of writing yourself?

I wrote some poetry when I was younger, but no science fiction. I’m just consuming the knowledge of mythologised astrophysics which comes through these books! My task is more to write about human experience, to uncover the aspects of experience which bring out new philosophies and paradigms. I think phenomenology gives a language to transpersonal insight and makes it legitimate and understandable to others who might have not experienced it. I think it’s important to revitalise in this manner the areas of science where subjectivity is absent.

It certainly sounds as if you are navigating an interesting path! Thank you Olga for sharing these insights with us, we look forward to continuing to learn with you during the transpersonal psychology course.

Upcoming Courses/Programmes:

Along with our core PhD and Master’s programmes in Transpersonal Psychology starting in September of 2018, Alef Trust also offers 15 Open Learning Courses and 1 year Postgraduate Certificate/Diploma programmes starting this April!

Open Learning Courses & Postgraduate Certificate Programmes Starting April 2018

Coaching Psychology

The Evolution of Coaching Psychology

The practice of Life Coaching arose out of athletic coaching in sports and is broadly defined as a collaborative process of helping someone improve performance or satisfaction in some aspect of their lives. In contrast with psychological counselling or therapy which is often focused on pathology rooted in past experiences or flawed thinking processes (cognition), Life Coaching is focused more on the hear and now by working towards improving the present as well providing guidance and tools for achieving future goals in a client’s professional, relationship, creative or even spiritual aspects of life. Although distinct from the field of counselling psychology or psychiatry, Life Coaching is still fundamentally grounded in models and approaches from psychology and so the evolution of Life Coaching is closely tied to the evolution of the science’s behind human psychology and flourishing.

When we consider how the field of psychology has evolved since it was formally recognized as a distinct science in the late 19th century, we can recognize four major milestones or what are called “Forces” which reflect new or expanded understanding of human psychology and behaviour. These Four Forces mirror the growth of scientific, neurological and psychological knowledge as it relates to our evolving understanding of mind, consciousness, wellness and human flourishing. These Four Forces of psychology (broadly defined) have evolved through the following stages:

1) Psychoanalytic
2) Behavioral
3) Humanistic
4) Transpersonal

Although this is a very broad categorisation with a great deal of overlap, one can still see an expanding view of human psychology and wellness evolving first through a focus mainly on pathology and materialistic models of mind (Psychoanalytic and Behavioral), followed by happiness and wellness (Humanistic) and now integrating the holistic, spiritual and transcendent aspects of the human experience (Transpersonal). This relatively new (since around the 60’s) Fourth Force of psychology called the transpersonal, integrates aspects of the mind, body and spirit into a broader and more holistic view of human wellness and flourishing. What makes this latest evolution of psychology so unique, is that alongside the traditional neurological, cognitive and other approaches to understanding mind and consciousness, transpersonal psychology embraces science, research and approaches to wellness common to Eastern wisdom traditions as well as peak, mystical, near death and awakening experiences which include altered states of consciousness and self-transcendent states.

At least as far back as the beginning of recorded history and described in religious or spiritual texts from many traditions – particularly in the East – we find evidence that human’s have long had the capacity for powerful altered states of consciousness which break through the restricted boundaries of ego and produce profound alterations in our relationships to self, other and the cosmos. These self-transcendentawakening” experiences have typically been identified with religious, mystical or shamanic contexts. However, as a result of various studies in transpersonal psychology, we now know these profound states of psychological transformation are far more common than we first thought and tend to occur most often outside of a religious or spiritual context 2. Hence the term “awakening experience” (as opposed to religious or mystical experience) is now preferred and more accurately represents the secular (non-religious) and far more common expression of these profound transformational and psychological experiences.

A person’s psychology, perspectives on life and sense of self all tend to change irrevocably following such awakening experiences. Individuals who experience these transpersonal awakening experiences tend to become aware of their fundamental interconnectedness with all life which often leads to shifts of perception and changes in behavior where they become more compassionate, altruistic and often re-evaluate their goals, careers or personal values. Perceptions of self and ego expand to include other people, all life, and even the cosmos. Some have even speculated that these awakening experiences are not only far more common than previously thought, but universal to all human’s and the capacity is simply dormant, awaiting the right situation or experience to be revealed and one day along our evolutionary path, may become the way we all experience the world all the time.

… awakened people may be prematurely experiencing a state that is latent in many other people — and in the whole human race collectively — and that will become more common as time goes by, and will one day become the norm.3

No doubt these powerful and transformational self-transcendent experiences shed light on the higher functions and potential of human consciousness. Therefore, the practice of Life Coaching would be remiss and incomplete, to ignore the transpersonal aspects of human psychology. Fortunately, the practice of Transpersonal Coaching has grown in recent years and Alef Trust is pleased to have one of the leaders in the field, Jevon Dangeli, as part of our esteemed faculty.

In support of the evolution of Life Coaching to embrace transpersonal methods, Alef Trust is pleased to announce a new Transpersonal Coaching Psychology programme starting in March of 2018 and taught by one of our newest faculty members, Jevon Dangeli. An overview of what you will learn in our new post graduate programme in Transpersonal Coaching Psychology includes:

  • Explore the basis and value of a transpersonal approach in coaching.
  • Discover how coaching processes can trigger and support both transformation and spiritual awakening.
  • Investigate what this type of coaching involves, as well as examine the implications of TCP processes concerning both coach and client, and their coaching relationship.
  • Experience, first hand, the effects of transpersonal coaching processes through direct training and supervision with the course tutor and peers through live webinars and interactive forums – supported by a comprehensive range of audio, video and text-based training resources.
  • Develop coaching skills through a small applied project.

Transpersonal Coaching empowers people to transcend the ego states, mindsets and behaviours that inhibit their personal, professional and spiritual growth.” 1

For more information on our new post graduate certificate programme or to register for the March 2018 intake, please click on the link below.


Enrol in Transpersonal Coaching Psychology for March 2019!



(1) Dangeli, Jevon (2017). Transpersonal Coaching: An Introduction. Retrieved from

(2) Taylor, Steve (2012). Spontaneous Awakening Experiences: Beyond Religion and Spiritual Practice. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. 44(1).

(3) Taylor, Steve (2017). The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.



Parapsychological (PSI) Phenomena – Interview With Etzel Cardeña, PhD

Following Alef Trust’s participation in the 2017 International Transpersonal Conference in Prague, we are excited to offer 3 NEW Open Learning Courses which begin December 2017 (please enrol by October 31st, 2017 to ensure your seat). These new courses are being offered by conference presenters David Lukoff, Paul Grof/Mary Pearson & Etzel Cardeña who will be exploring cutting edge topics in transpersonal psychology:

NEW Open Learning Courses (Enrol before Oct 31/17):

  1. Spiritual Emergencies
  2. The Genius of Intuition
  3. PSI Phenomena

Etzel Cardena

Our new Open Learning Course in Parapsychological (PSI) Phenomena is being taught by Etzel Cardeña, PhD, who holds the endowed Thorsen Chair in psychology, which has parapsychology in its remit, at Lund University in Sweden, where he directs the Center for Research on Consciousness and Anomalous Psychology (CERCAP).  For a great background in the topic of parapsychology and the work of Dr. Cardeña, please see the interview below with Carlos Alvarado, PhD. For more information, and to register for this new (online) course in Parapsychological (PSI) Phenomena, please follow the links above, or click HERE.


How did you get interested in parapsychology?

Etzel Cardeña: I still remember vividly listening to my parents discuss J. B. Rhine’s research when I was a child in México. My father was a psychoanalyst with a great interest in parapsychology who held courses on the topic and discussed it with my also very well-read mother and us. He conducted informal exercises with family and friends trying to develop ostensible telepathy and clairvoyance and published with my brother a serial on parapsychology for the layperson. Although he did not use experimental controls I was still very impressed at times, particularly by a friend of the family who had an uncanny ability to diagnose precisely someone whose name had just been given to her. Growing up I took psi phenomena as a given and read some parapsychology research books besides the wild speculations in books like Childhood’s End and More than Human.

Some years later, while doing a Ph. D. under Charley Tart on hypnosis, he encouraged me to attend an intensive parapsychology summer institute at the FRNM (currently the Rhine Center), around 1984. It was an unforgettable experience in so many different ways. The unsystematic knowledge about parapsychology I possessed became more solid and broad as I read a great amount of studies and attended the various lectures at the institute. I also participated in the research being conducted and got a book as a prize for scoring higher than other institute students in a PK experiment with a computer game (Poink) that Richard Broughton was conducting. In a ganzfeld study that Nancy Zingrone, and perhaps John Palmer and Carlos Alvarado were carrying out, I stumbled onto an indication of the complexities of the phenomena. I recall that I had a very clear and unusual image that I even drew (and I do not like to draw at all) before receiving feedback. When I was shown the target and the three decoys, I said about one of them that that was the exact image I had seen (and had the drawing as corroboration) whether that one was the target or not. As it turned out, the target was the image I ranked second. Other than parapsychology, during the institute I attended some extraordinary modern dance performances at the American Dance Festival at Duke University, and went on a boat trip through the Eno River with the other institute students, full of ominous signs and reminiscent in scary ways of James Dickey’s Deliverance. No one died or got injured but it was an unforgettable and eerie experience.

After my stay at the FRNM, I got a scholarship from the Parapsychology Foundation to conduct field research in Haiti on spirit possession, subscribed to the main parapsychology journals, and kept myself informed of the field through reading them and presenting at and attending the PA and Parapsychology Research Group meetings. Then, about 12 years ago, the Chair I now hold at Lund University in Sweden was advertised and I was offered the position, which has a remit on parapsychology and hypnosis, and which I thought (and continue to think) was a wonderful fit and professional opportunity.

What are your main interests in the field and how have you contributed to its development?

Etzel Cardeña: I include my interest in psi phenomena within the field of alterations of consciousness and anomalous experiences. Plato/Socrates and a number of earlier and later thinkers have considered our ordinary state of consciousness as limiting and other modes of being as potentially able to reveal aspects of reality veiled to the ordinary state. Whether this is the case or not (and there are good reasons to believe it is), I think that alterations of consciousness need to be accounted for in any theory of consciousness and its relation to reality. From this perspective, I think that my main contributions to the field so far have been:

1) Contributing to normalize anomalous experiences (including psi-related ones) within psychology through the two editions of Varieties of Anomalous Experience, published by a mainstream press (APA), and through other peer-reviewed books, papers and presentations. I have also tried to give some “cover,” to those who want to work in the field by co-organizing a published Call for an informed and open study of psi, signed by 100 current or past academics and published in a mainstream journal, as well as developing a very impressive list of eminent people from the past who were interested in psi, about to make its debut in the SPR psi webpages. My hope is that these publications will make it easier for faculty who are given the spiel that parapsychology is pseudoscience and that no “real” scientists take it seriously to argue that “real” and very eminent current scientists from Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, Cambridge and other universities, besides figures from the past of the stature of Einstein, Planck, and Curie have supported research on the field.

2) The editing (see below) of an updated Handbook of Parapsychology, as well as upgrading the previous PA newsletter into the bulletin Mindfield, which I have now edited for 7 years.

3) Ongoing programmatic research on the relations between hypnosis, dissociation, alterations of consciousness, and performance in controlled psi experiments.

4) Linking psi phenomena to other disciplines (art and literature in a published paper, classical philosophy in a forthcoming paper).

5) Last but definitely not least, supervising doctoral students who will continue to work in the field.

Why do you think that parapsychology is important?

Etzel Cardeña: This question can be either answered fairly in a book or succinctly in a couple of sentences. First, it strongly suggests (along with other phenomena discussed by Ed Kelly) that the current limitations to consciousness assumed by most materialist-reductionist models are fallacious. Second, and in agreement with a number of interpretations of quantum mechanics by such people as d’Espagnat and Stapp, it agrees with a model of a unified continuous aspect of reality. Finally, the link between alterations of consciousness and psi gives rise to the speculation, already considered by some classical Greek and Indian philosophers, that the filter of the ordinary state of consciousness might not be as restrictive of certain valid phenomena as other states of consciousness.

In your view, what are the main problems in parapsychology today as a scientific field?

Etzel Cardeña: Where do I start? I have the advantage of also researching other areas that are more accepted and so I can bring an external perspective as well. One of the largest problems is the wrathful and prejudiced intolerance that characterizes so much of the anti-psi movement. You find the phobia that presumes that accepting parapsychology will bring about the end of science (I have never been able to follow that argument very well), and the petulance that just because some critics have not experienced these phenomena or they do not fit their ongoing schemas then those wanting to research them have to be cretins, spiritual fanatics, or worse. Related to this attitude is a more general arrogance in which some scientists assume that their current account of reality is final or close to final, and that any deviations from it are of course deluded, notwithstanding the history of science showing how “final” accounts of reality have been superseded by considerably different ones, and how much our capacity to know is limited by the nature of our receptors, our evolved limited rationality, and the nature of nature of nature itself. The anti-parapsychology movement has been very effective so far in marginalizing the field and exerted a very high cost on those who want to work in the field, with the main exception of Great Britain. The result is that there are preciously few researchers and theoreticians working in the area. As a comparison, a subfield of a subfield of a subfield, for instance the study of the P300 event related potential (ERP), attracts far more researchers, labs, and financial opportunities than all of parapsychology combined.
But there is also self-inflicted damage, in my view:

1) In agreement with at least one critic, there is a tendency among some (of the very few) researchers to go from method or question to another, rather than to persevere with a promising question and conduct programmatic to get a better comprehension, as is done by most successful mainstream researchers. For instance, at a recent PA I heard about a study that did not turn out as expected and the presenter explained why that might have occurred, but instead of testing that hypothesis in later studies, s/he declared that s/he would move to another question.

2) Considering parapsychology as an independent “discipline” is unrealistic. It is rather a cross-disciplinary topic of interest to psychologists, physicists, biologists, and so on. This has two consequences. The first is that it implies that psi research should be better integrated into larger disciplines (as researchers like Bem or theoreticians like Carpenter are doing), rather than remaining within a very small community. For instance, studies having both a psi and non-psi component are likely to make greater inroads than those just evaluating possible psi. The second is that, as with other topics, the greater the impact of the researcher in the larger discipline overall, the greater the likelihood that s/he will be heard by people not already committed to psi. For example, statisticians pay attention to Jessica Utts’s pronouncements about psi because of her general reputation as a statistician, not because of psi itself. Similarly, I have been able to publish papers on psi in mainstream journals probably because I am well-known for my work in other areas.

3) Considering the very meager resources in the psi field (and thanks to Bial, there are some rather than almost none), there should be far more inter-laboratory collaborations than is the case. For instance, I think that it is imperative to develop and test with a large number of participants a potential battery of task-related (as Rex Stanford has suggested) tests, psychological measures, and other indicators to determine who is likely to succeed in a psi experiment, and that this should be done as a collaborative enterprise. Even though I do not expect that we will find a strong indicator, even a moderate indicator would be of great help to increase our chances of evaluating phenomena more reliable.

4) Finally, I think that both extremes of granting unjustifiably too much to critics instead of responding assertively to them, or claiming greater certainties about the nature of psi phenomena than are warranted does disservice to the field. In the first case it allows critics to get away with demonstrable falsehoods, does not require them to produce actual research to support their points, and does not discuss (the very real) limitations of psi research within the greater context of the limitations of empirical research in general. As for claims that we clearly understand psi phenomena, they crash against the reality of the field’s limited success in establishing the conditions under which results can be robustly replicated.

One final point is a problem that I have seen all too often in listservs and other specialized forums in which honest researchers who express doubt as to the evidence of some types of psi and/or point to contradictory evidence are personally attacked or assumed to be cognitively deficient. I know of at least one person who left the field because of this. Despite what I think is an idealization of people working on parapsychology as generally open and selfless, I have found the same dogmatism, egocentricity, and outright nastiness that I have observed in other groups. I am particularly aware of this since some members of the parapsychology community in Sweden started attacking me personally even before I arrived to Sweden, and they have continued their attacks now for more than 10 years, the longest and most malicious temper-tantrum I have ever observed.

Can you mention some of your current projects?

Etzel Cardeña: We (co-editors Etzel Cardeña, John Palmer and David Marcusson-Clavertz, with contributions from many of the most important workers in the field) just finished a major enterprise, an update of the 1977 Handbook of Parapsychology (Parapsychology: A Handbook for the 21st Century) that provides both a state-of-the-science account of psi research along with information on how to design experiments and analyze them statistically. The book is intended for both beginning and experienced researchers.

One of my doctoral students and I finished recently the preliminary analyses and report of a study on ganzfeld, hypnosis, and the Model of Pragmatic Information (MPI), which we will submit to a journal within the next few months. Although we did not replicate a previous strong correlation between psi z-scores and experiencing an altered state of consciousness, we did replicate moderate correlations between psi scores and low arousal and more focused attention that Chris Roe and collaborators have found in their research. Our results were also consistent with the MPI. We have transcribed the sessions from this and a previous telepathy experiment and at some point will see if quantitative and qualitative content analyses can evidence a relation to psi scoring or missing.

I finished a paper that presents the case for considering anomalous experiences (and potential anomalous events including psi) as essential for any model of consciousness, to be published in a mainstream encyclopedia on consciousness. We (past or current doctoral students and I) have many papers recently accepted or under revision on such related topics as the influence of hypnotizability and dissociation on the stream of consciousness, mind-wandering: and dissociation, trauma, and attachment style among teenage immigrants to Sweden previously exposed to traumatic events. Collaborators from other universities and I are working on papers on spirit possession in the Dominican Republic and posttraumatic symptoms among breast cancer survivors. And if I am unable to control my masochistic tendencies, I might also accept invitations to write two books on alterations of consciousness, psi phenomena and their ontological and epistemological implications.

Other than that, I am planning to direct the extraordinary play Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett in the fall as Artistic Director of the International Theatre of Malmö, and of course enjoy all of life with the spark of my life Sophie and our little ones.

Charney Manor

Summer Residential 2017 – Approaching New Paradigms

Approaching New Paradigms
By Francesca Hector

The fourth Alef Trust residential retreat from the 26th – 30th August 2017 was attended by alumni, students and faculty of the Master’s in Professional Development: Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology, who ventured to explore the theme of “New paradigms in psychology and spiritual practice”.

2017 Residential RetreatA circular oil lamp sits on a triangular base as the group gathers in the Solar Room of Quaker retreat centre Charney Manor in rural Oxfordshire. It is late summer and the sunshine streams in through the windows. Names, faces and voices of colleagues and faculty leap beyond the online infrastructure of webinars and forums, including Shamanistic Psychology tutor Steven Schmitz from California and Course Directors Jessica Bockler and Les Lancaster. Les lights the lamp and the first sacred space is created.

Facilitating this residential is both challenging and extremely interesting, Jessica shares.  There are so many elements to bring together and balance; expectations and possibilities woven along threads of shared intention. As an online learning community, the opportunity for face-to-face connection is deeply appreciated, as is the chance to play together with embodied games and rituals, share practices and socialise through informal chats and walks in nature. The presence and participation of Jessica and Les’ brilliant seven year old daughter Amelia also adds to the warmth, joy and sense of community. The venue itself is a charming English country house with well-kept gardens, comfortable rooms and delicious vegetarian meals.

Each day begins by coming together for a meditation. This includs a non-dual Advaita experience guided by John, a Shamanic prayer circle under the morning sky with Steven and a video of spiritual teacher Mooji’s satsang, sharing dialogue on male-female relationship dynamics followed by silent reflection facilitated by Ruth.

A key aspect of the new paradigm which lies at the core of our collective inquiry during these days is the relevance and impact of embodied work. Yoga stretches the body, focuses the mind and touches the spirit through gentle and profoundly moving sessions with Lorraine, who facilitates yoga for inmates in Mexican prisons, and Kundalini yoga with Francesca. We move on to Ensemble work with Jessica, who draws on her vast experience of theatre, combined with martial arts, to awaken our collective consciousness through activities involving spatial awareness, training with wooden sticks and movement games. Concentration, group awareness and flexibility prove essential for the laido inspired kata exercises, a Japanese martial arts tradition originally practiced with swords. Moving individually through the studio space whilst balancing our group’s distribution gives a powerful sense of self and other, of freedom and discipline, two themes that weave their way into our discussions.   However, we also recognise that there are moments when it becomes difficult to articulate the sensations evoked through experiential work, which are perhaps glimpses of the sacred.

Our afternoon sessions with more academic discussion pick up on the question of approaching the sacred mystery of the unknown. “I don’t know if I can articulate it accurately – I know it when I feel it,” observes Les, adding that it instils a sense of awe or reverence in relation to something larger than oneself.  New research methods of transpersonal psychology, such as intuitive inquiry developed by Rosemarie Anderson, allow us to approach recognised qualities of human experience that can’t be seen, touched and measured, which conventional science tends not to acknowledge.  This paradigm shift also embraces research as an encounter with the sacred, engaging all of the being (including emotional, intuitive and other non-rational dimensions of self), and a conscious awareness of the involvement of the unconscious (or not conscious). Transpersonal research can be transformational for both the researcher and participants. It has been suggested that this in itself gives validity to the method, as well as the rigour and discipline applied during the process.

There is sometimes a paradox between the sacred history and literal history of wisdom traditions which grow and develop using the knowledge, language and cultural metaphors of their day. Les gives fascinating insights into the connection between the Hebrew alphabet and the meaning and purpose of the Kabbalah. He explains the sacred history of Moses who understood how to align with the forces of creation. This hidden reality was originally contained in temples which expressed their inner truth in ways such as its proportions. However, temples can be destroyed and so the sacred was put into language; into these 22 letters which cannot be destroyed. Each letter contains a constellation of meanings and Kabbalistic scholars throughout the ages have reached towards increasingly more subtle levels of understanding.

Les and his colleagues are bringing this heavily intellectual work into the new paradigm through active embodiment. During the retreat he shares the movements and some meanings associated with each letter which we also practice. The alef, first letter; silence behind creation, seed of reflexivity, a state of balanced potential. Its movement begins with a focus on the breath as it passes through a figure of eight, bringing the breath back to the heart as the left hand is cupped at the heart centre and the right arm is raised. Bet, second letter. We turn away from the nothing, feeling this behind us as the hands expand to the edge of our peripheral vision and suddenly move forward in an act of directed conscious manifestation. Each letter is expressed through a language of movement and sensation, giving us a taste of the repertoire of spiritual faculties that flow through this powerful work.

Shamanic journeying is another ancient and powerful technique which we explore with Steven Schmitz, Faculty for Transpersonal Psychology at Sofia University and Shamanic Practitioner with more than 40 years experience. His approach of translating core traditions from indigenous shamanism into a culturally relevant practice is deeply attuned to the spirit of our times. It begins with an awareness of our participation in an interconnected cosmos where everything is alive. Shamanic technology is a precise method for interacting and communicating with the spirit world. This shift in consciousness is framed by ritual, honouring and asking guidance from the natural world, our spirit teachers and power animals. Our first journey begins with setting an intention to connect with our animal guide.  We visualise stepping through a crack in the earth and going down to reach the Lower World, accompanied by a steady drum beat. The crack opens out into the light and the journeys unfold…

Discussion sessions follow and allow an interesting exchange of experiences and inquiry. Steven’s guideline of not taking ordinary consciousness into non-ordinary reality presents its challenges. Were we really journeying into a spirit realm or ‘just’ engaging with active imagination? What is the imagination? What is this border realm between psyche, soma and spirit? If useful and potentially transformative information is received, does its ontological status even matter? A sense of transpersonal psychology’s significance in bringing psychology to the discussion about the sacred and learning from wisdom traditions is powerfully felt.

Further discussion contrasts Shamanism and the contemporary non-dualism of Advaita, with graduate students Ruth and John reflecting on the liberation from suffering caused by seeking. The nature of mind is to ask, but when the mind drops and accepts that “this is all there is” there is an experience of oneness, they explain. Marielle shares its correlations with teachings from the school of Spiritism which she first encountered in her native Brazil, and other participants offer different points of view.

As the residential draws to a close, there is a sense that a collective ritual would be a useful way to integrate and celebrate the experiences. A brainstorming session brings together many of the elements: Kabbalah and Shamanism, drumming and active movement through the space, embodied exploration of the masculine and feminine, vocal soaring and silence. We end standing in a circle around the oil lamp, holding hands. Once the last person had turned away, facing outwards towards the wider world, the lamp is extinguished and the sacred space is closed.  At our back, the silence behind creation, seed of reflexivity, a state of balanced potential.

“I loved the movement and dance, however it was done, with sticks and letters,” shares Sue as we close. “The discussions about the new paradigm were great and have confirmed what I recognise as a shift, which I see as a wave. I find it hard to see the bigger picture of this shift in our society when there are so many negative things going on. But there are many eddies and currents underneath which interfere with how this wave lands.”

“It was a fantastic time of deep transpersonal connection – I feel so grateful to everyone who made it possible. It’s amazing to have an academic home that is also a spiritual home” affirms Lorraine.

On behalf of all the participants we would like to extend a massive thank you to Les and Jessica, and to everyone involved with the Alef Trust for making this annual retreat possible. May we continue to connect, create and share our transpersonal journeys with each other, our communities and the world.

Congratulations to Professor Emerita Rosemarie Anderson!

We at the Alef Trust would like to congratulation Rosemarie Anderson on her wonderful achievement in being awarded the Abraham Maslow Heritage Award! Rosemarie’s work in opening significant new methodological approaches has benefited not only those wishing to research transpersonal phenomena but also many in other branches of psychology. She has generously provided profound guidance to our students in their journeys into research in transpersonal psychology. Students frequently comment on the liberating value of the techniques that Rosemarie’s work has introduced—as if a window had been opened to allow fresh air in! Together with her esteemed colleague, William Braud, she has shown us the ways to bring a transpersonal perspective not only to the topics being researched but also to the ways in which we engage with the whole process of inquiry.

On a personal note, I would like to take this opportunity to express my sense of privilege in being able to accompany Rosemarie on her most recent challenge, that of setting up The Sacred Science Circle. Rosemarie’s acute awareness of the sacred is palpable, and has been an inspiration to many. I view the challenge of recognising the ways in which our science can honour the sacred as one of the most pressing in our day. It is to Rosemarie’s credit that she has identified and formulated the need, and is continually finding ways to meet it. The Circle offers a valuable forum and resource for the growing number of scholars who similarly seek a relationship to the sacred through their research. The Circle is yet young, but I believe it will grow to fill this important niche, becoming a vibrant bridge connecting contemporary research with major strands in the great wisdom traditions.

Thanks for your valued contributions, Rosemarie!

Les Lancaster

Psychology of Spirituality

The Psychology of Spirituality

Some people define “spirituality” as going to church and believing in a monotheistic God. Others may define spirituality along the lines of one of the Eastern non-theistic traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism or Hinduism. Others still, may define spirituality simply as becoming a better person, quiet reflection, meditating or going for a walk in the woods. However you define “spirituality”, the vast majority of people in the world either believe there is something more which goes beyond our immediate experience of the world, or at the very least are seeking some way to grow as a person and to become the “best”, and the happiest, they can become in their careers, hobbies or relationships. Studies have also shown that higher levels or spirituality or religiosity are strongly associated with a greater sense of meaning in life as well as higher levels of psychological and emotional well-being. In other words, people who hold a belief in some form of “higher power”, something “bigger” than who and what we are, whether defined as “God”, “Energy”, “Source”, “Collective Consciousness” or “Spirit”, tend to be happier, healthier and even live longer.

Although overall belief in God, church attendance and traditional religious affiliations have been declining steadily for years, there has been a corresponding increase in people seeking out  non-traditional, “New Age” or alternative paths to personal and spiritual growth. Some of these include yoga, Tai Chi, Shamanic practices, meditation and mindfulness, energy practices, dance, music, art and even the use of entheogens (ayahuasca retreats etc). What all of these practices share in common from a psychological standpoint is that people are motivated to seek meaning and value in their lives and to transform themselves into the person they wish to become and to attain their highest potential as a human being.

With this growing global interest in seeking personal growth and spiritual development, a field of psychology began to develop over 50 years ago which grew out of the works of Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow and Stanislav Grof and is called Transpersonal Psychology, which can be succinctly defined as the “psychology of spirituality” or “spiritual psychology”. Transpersonal psychology concerns itself with three primary areas of study (Hartelius, 2007):

(1) Beyond (trans) Ego Psychology
Expansion of self, development of compassion and altruism and our highest potential

(2) Wholistic/Integrative Psychology
Wellbeing and health requires a balance of nurturing the body, mind, heart and spirit

(3) Psychology of Transformation
Personal and spiritual growth is about transformation of the self, the person, towards higher and more optimal ways of experiencing, perceiving and living in, the world

Transpersonal psychology is about the pursuit and cultivation of our highest personal or human values which often lead to profound psychological transformations, higher or expanded states of consciousness and expansion of the self which encompasses all persons, all life and the entire planet. Transpersonal psychology is the study of spiritual or psychological transformation and awakening to these expanded states of self and consciousness.

Spiritual or Psychological Awakening:

Whether we follow a traditional religious practice or a contemporary spiritual path, personal transformation often involves states of “awakening” which can occur spontaneously or gradually over time. These states of awakening are characterized by a psychological shift in the person’s consciousness, values and perception of themselves and the world. Some of the core features of awakening include:

  • Decreased concern for material possessions, fame or financial wealth
  • Decreased sense of ethnic, national or group identity
  • Decreased sense of separateness from all persons, all life, all matter (non-duality)
  • Decreased psychological chatter, noise or turbulent emotional reactivity
  • Decreased fear of death
  • Increased concern for global or universal values
  • Increased sense of union or interconnectedness with all persons, all life, all matter
  • Increased compassion and altruism towards others
  • Increased states of inner stillness, calm and well-being
  • Increased appreciation, gratitude, for all life

In his book “The Leap – The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening”, Steve Taylor (2017) defines awakening as follows:

In many ways, awakened individuals experience a higher-functioning state that makes life more fulfilling, exhilarating, and meaningful than it may appear in a normal state of being. As a result of this internal shift, they often make major changes to their lives. They begin new careers, hobbies, and relationships. They feel a strong impulse to make positive contributions to the world, to live in meaningful and purposeful ways, rather than simply trying to satisfy their own desires, enjoy themselves, or pass the time” (Taylor, 2017. Introduction, The Structure of This Book, para. 4).

Careers and Degrees in Transpersonal (Spiritual) Psychology:

Given the broad and human-growth-centered focus of transpersonal psychology, a degree or certificate in transpersonal psychology opens many doors to different careers in counselling, coaching, spiritual guidance, shamanic practitioner, energy healer, business leadership, health and wellness and many others. A degree or certificate in transpersonal psychology is also much more than a career, it is a transformational learning experience where you not only develop the academic and practical skills for a new career or to supplement an existing one, but you are also intimately involved with the learning process through your own personal and spiritual development and transformation.

Register Now for the September 2017 Intake!

The Alef Trust offers online PhD, Master’s as well as postgraduate certificates and diploma’s in Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology. The courses are offered in partnership with the Professional Development Foundation and accredited by Middlesex University, UK. Alongside the graduate programs Alef Trust also offers individual courses through the Open Learning program which cover the following speciality areas:


Barber, N (2013). Do Religious People Really Live Longer? Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Diamond, S. (2013). The Psychology of Spirituality. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Hartelius, G., Caplan, M., & Rardin, M. A. (2007). Transpersonal psychology: Defining the past, divining the future. The Humanistic Psychologist, 35(2), 135-160.

Routledge, C. (2016). Are Americans Really Becoming Less Religious? Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Taylor, S. (2017). The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening. Novato, CA: New World Library.

Taylor, S. (2015). Transpersonal Psychology: Exploring the Farther Reaches of Human Nature. Psychology Today. Retrieved from


Transformative Learning

Transformative Learning

When you think of “learning” or “education” you may think of acquiring practical skills, scientific knowledge or simply factual or historical information about the world. How to build a house; how to fix a car engine; mathematics; human psychology; history of ancient Greece etc. But what if you could obtain an education which is not only professionally, scientifically or practically useful – like helping to create a new career – but also personally and spiritually expansive in that your life is transformed in some meaningful and permanent way. This is a type of education known as “transformative learning”. We can think of transformative learning as the acquisition of knowledge which can alter or transform our usual frames of reference, even the “meaning” we place in our own lives. A transformational learning process can fundamentally alter our self-image, consciousness, values and meaning as well as how we perceive the world and others around us. Wikipedia defines transformative learning this way;

Transformative learning is the expansion of consciousness through the transformation of basic worldview and specific capacities of the self; transformative learning is facilitated through consciously directed processes such as appreciatively accessing and receiving the symbolic contents of the unconscious and critically analyzing underlying premises” (“Transformative Learning”, 2017)

And so we can view “transformative learning” not only as a cognitive or intellectual process, but a process which provides an opportunity for personal, emotional or spiritual transformation of the self and consciousness. In order to define what a transformational learning process might look like, let’s consider the Transformational Learning Theory developed by Mezirow (1991)

According to Mezirow, Transformative Learning Theory is based on the idea that personal experience is a critical component in a learning process intended to bring about transformation. The theory suggests that it is this experiential component of the learning process, which encourages interpretation and evaluation which leads to reflections on meaning, and ultimately changes in behavior, mindset or even beliefs. In other words, a personal or “perspective transformation” resulting from the learning experience can occur within a transformational learning paradigm (Mezirow, 1991). Rather than simply reading or viewing new information and attempting to memorize facts or figures, the content of the material is both a form of new knowledge that relates to one’s personal, psychological or spiritual views and is presented in such a manner that the student is expected to “practice” or “implement” the knowledge into their own lives. Given this emphasis on actually applying the knowledge to one’s own life through the learning process, it is not hard to recognize the critical role the educator also plays in the delivery of a transformative learning process or program.

Educator’s Role

According to Taylor (2000), one of the core ingredients of a transformational learning process is found within the context of relationships, particularly between the students and the educators. Rather than simply passing on knowledge to students to be memorised, the educator becomes something of a facilitator of transformative learning through encouragement of critical reflection on that information, as well as acting on that new knowledge and applying it to their own lives (Mezirow, 1997). This aspect of acting upon the new knowledge and “living in the new perspective” (Baumgartner, 2001. p. 17) is thought to be absolutely critical to the transformative learning process. The role of the transformative learning educator is to create a supportive learning environment and an encouraging and facilitating structure which can lead to a deeper understanding of one’s self and then to facilitate behavioural change which may lead to personal transformation. It is through this supportive and trusting social context encouraging participatory dialog between student and educator, that critical reflection comes to the fore with methods to implement any shifts in perspectives, beliefs or self-image into the student’s life (Mezirow, 2000).

Critical Reflection & Meaning Structures

The content of a transformative learning process tends to be of a deeply personal, emotional, psychological, creative, spiritual or philosophical nature. Topics might include the expansion or alteration of consciousness; explorations into creativity; energy-healing; movement therapy; dreaming; shamanism; meditation and spirituality of many forms. All of which can touch on deeply held personal values and meaning. Given the deeply personal, spiritual, religious or psychological content of a transformative learning process, a common experience which can occur is one of a “disorientating dilemma” where a discrepancy is realised between what a person has always assumed or understood about the world or themselves, and something recently experienced, heard or learned (Cranton, 2002). This “disorienting dilemma” is similar to cognitive dissonance where one struggles to maintain two contradictory bits of knowledge such as “it is important to save the environment” yet “I drive a car that pollutes the environment”. Although it is often fairly easy for us to maintain or even justify these contradictory bits of information, when they touch on deeper aspects of meaning, values, self or assumptions about the world, they can become triggers for personal transformation. When we are confronted with these discrepancies between what we have always assumed about ourselves or the world, the resulting “disorienting dilemma” can lead to a process of “critical reflection” in order to work through existing beliefs or assumptions in light of the new knowledge and possibly re-evaluating those beliefs or assumptions and allowing them, allowing YOU, to transform accordingly (Cranton, 2002. Taylor, 2000).

The heart of the transformational learning process, the deep-seated aspects of our selves which become triggered, reflected upon and ultimately transformed, are our “meaning structures”. These “meaning structures” in our lives are defined as “broad sets of predispositions resulting from psychocultural assumptions which determine the horizons of our expectations” (Mezirow, 1991). These are the social, psychological and epistemic (knowledge) based components which collectively shape our perspectives, worldviews, self-image and our deeply held values and meaning systems. The types of questions we may ask ourselves and the “meaning structures” which may be considered in a transformative learning process or program might include:

  • What does it mean to be a “good person”?
  • Am I happy in my life?
  • Am I on the “right” path in my career, family or spiritual direction?
  • Am I serving my deepest emotional or spiritual needs?
  • Will earning more money make me happy?
  • Can I accept that I will die one day?

Ultimately it is how we reflect upon these sorts of questions and the effect they have on our “meaning structures” that form the foundations for the deep and reflective changes and personal growth which can occur during a transformative learning process or program (Pappas, 2016).

Transformative Learning with Alef Trust

The Alef Trust has been delivering online learning programs in consciousness studies and transpersonal psychology since 2012. Yet, our faculty’s experience in delivering transpersonal graduate education goes back decades, including 20 years of teaching online variants of transpersonal psychology programs at Liverpool John Moores University in the UK. Our director Professor Les Lancaster is President of the International Transpersonal Association (ITA), and our international faculty is deeply involved in many professional networks and organisations, promoting spiritual and transpersonal approaches to personal development and professional practice.

At the Alef Trust, as we pursue transpersonal studies within the online learning context, we continually examine our approach to teaching, asking what it means to be holistic and experiential educators working at a distance. Transpersonal online learning presents many unique challenges and opportunities. We approach these with a wide-angle lens, continuously evolving our ways through which the multi-facetted pedagogic processes that underpin the study of transpersonal ideas can be realised within online learning environments.

Entering into the world of research and scholarship in the study of consciousness and spirituality is, we believe, intrinsically transformational. There have been major inroads into the science of consciousness over recent years, with many recognising dynamic synergies between, for example, neuroscientific research, quantum mechanics, and traditions associated with mysticism. Academic study can open new vistas on the human mystery and the place of consciousness within the broad sweep of our understanding of the cosmos. Many scholars are coming to recognise that in some complex way, consciousness is a fundamental presence in the universe as a whole, and that a reductionistic perspective will not enhance our understanding of what it is to be human. It is this enriching view that lies at the core of our teaching with the Alef Trust.

A transpersonal pedagogy embraces a whole-person approach to learning. The curriculum of the Alef Trust’s online graduate programs in Professional Development (Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology) features experiential, embodied, creative and relational components alongside academic tuition, drawing on spiritual traditions, contemplative arts, and creative arts, seeking to balance intellectual with intuitive modes of knowing. Our overarching hope and aim is that our programs may, as Rowe and Netzer (2012) put it, “contribute to whole-person transformation and lead to social applications for a more sustainable world” (p. 1).

As transpersonal teachers working at a distance with students who are sometimes thousands of miles away, we have identified four key principles which we apply to facilitate whole-person learning online. These are: presence, embodiment, community and relevance.


On mundane levels, we achieve presence through consistent and quick communication with our students, giving them a sense of being heard and seen. We endeavour to nurture one-to-one contact throughout a student’s learning journey, e.g. through a personal tutor team who accompany students during their time on the degree programs. We also endeavour to depict clearly what students can expect from our online programs and how they can make the most of our online learning offer and tools. We also continuously consider issues of netiquette and cultural diversity, aiming to create a safe and inclusive environment, sensitive towards people from all walks of life. Ultimately, the notion of presence runs deep, involving congruency, the embodiment of the values we cherish, walking the talk. As we work online, we work with intention … co-creating online spaces as sacred vessels, within which our students’ journeys can unfold and flourish.


As transpersonal educators we traverse the borderlands between academia, personal growth and spiritual praxis. It is relatively straight-forward to give a lecture online, but enabling experiential, embodied immersion requires the courage to experiment, testing the limits of the virtual environments. The Alef Trust utilises Sakai, a Collaborative Learning Environment (CLE) featuring a range of standard tools for online education: amongst them forums for asynchronous discussions and a webinar facility for live events. Experiential work may be facilitated via written instructions or podcast (where students work independently and report back on their experience), or via live webinars. Holding a live space online can be particularly challenging, as well as exhilarating. We share a virtual space with people from around the world, often involving participants from several continents. Here we may be able to see and hear each other, yet we are challenged to read the subtleties of non-verbal, embodied communication through webcam images and microphone sounds. The connection can be fragile, voices and faces can be distorted. Furthermore, we cannot determine learning context for the student who may be at home or at work or on the move! We have had students joining us live from their car, on busses and from Internet cafés in exotic places, like the Australian outback and the Amazon rainforest! Yet online webinars can be intimate, offering glimpses into people’s private spaces and family life – family members or friends appearing in the background or looking curiously into the camera, smiling and waving. Pets can make casual appearances. Bringing the learning space into one’s home can engender feelings of close connection.

And despite the distance between us, we find ways to engage with each other through the body, integrating meditation and contemplative practices into live sessions, offering gentle movement work in front of the screen, and enriching lectures and discussions with creative and expressive arts exercises, utilising forums and live chat facilities. It is through these embodied components that we deepen the learning experience, utilising somatic, intuitive and creative ways of knowing which pave the way for (trans)personal growth.


Throughout the Alef Trust we nurture a sense of community, bringing students from across all programs together, not only by creating spaces for extra-curricular activity and exchange, but by putting the community at the heart of our learning offer. Alongside community forums and regular live get-togethers, we encourage students to come together in groups, to explore shared interests and to offer peer-support. Graduates of our courses stay on in mentoring roles, supporting newcomers to the community. Monthly ‘Soul Space’ sessions offer live meeting spaces informed by expressive arts principles, which deepen connections and relationships. The diversity of our international and professionally mature constituency affords our students and teachers a unique exposure to a broad range of perspectives which can be eye-opening, inviting revaluation of assumptions and expansion of one’s point of view. As Lowe (2010) suggests, “The importance of peer relationships in an online community cannot be underestimated. […] The community of learners is also the vehicle by which formation is nurtured” (p. 7).


The Alef Trust’s academic programs are framed by a focus on Professional Development, which means that we place particular emphasis in many of our course modules on encouraging students to apply their learning, helping them identify ways to integrate transpersonal values and approaches into their professional and private lives. Like other transpersonal educators, such as Braud (2006) and Netzer & Rowe (2010), we believe that spiritual ideas and principles can be understood only if they are lived and made relevant in one’s daily life. In year 2 of the Master’s program, for example, students undertake a 3-month period of Integral Practice (e.g. Wilber, Patten, Leonard & Morelli, 2008), designing and implementing a schedule of practices to exercise bodily, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and interpersonal aspects of the self to facilitate a deeper attunement to, and unfolding of, their unique individual potential within our deeply interconnected world.

To conclude, we give one of our graduates the last word:

This Master’s course has changed my life more than I could possibly have imagined in the beginning. In my experience it is not a study to be undertaken by the faint of heart. For it requires self-searching. It was a long time since I had ventured into the waters of academia and that took quite a lot of getting used to. But it was the combination with the ‘soulfulness’ that appealed to me. What happened was that I learned to articulate more clearly what I think and why I think it. I also learned to bring in my creativity. It has brought together seemingly disparate areas of long standing interest for me such as ecology, consciousness studies and therapy and allowed me to discover what it is that connects them all and to experience that connection in myself. What I hoped at the beginning was to find others who share my vision and my interest in the development of a new paradigm in science. Although the study is mostly online, and that can be difficult at times, it also creates a real sense of there being a world-wide network of like-minded individuals. This sustains me at a time when we are experiencing tremendous upheaval and uncertainty in the world.” ~ Online Master’s program graduate.

Authors: Johnny Stork & Jessica Bockler

Alef Trust


Baumgartner, L.M. (2001). An update on transformational learning. In S.B. Merriam (Ed.), New directions for adult and continuing education: No. 89. The new update on adult learning theory (pp. 15-24). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Braud, W. (2006). Educating the” more” in holistic transpersonal higher education: a 30+ year perspective on the approach of the institute of transpersonal psychology. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 38 (2), 133.

Cranton, P. (2002, Spring). Teaching for transformation. In J.M. Ross-Gordon (Ed.), New directions for adult and continuing education: No. 93. Contemporary viewpoints on teaching adults effectively (pp. 63-71). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Lowe, M. (2010). A summary of the findings of the study: Assessing the impact of online courses on the spiritual formation of adult students. Christian Perspectives in Education, 4 (1), 3.

Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning to think like an adult: Core concepts of transformation theory. In J. Mezirow & Associates (Eds.), Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress (pp. 3-34). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (1997, Summer). Transformative learning: Theory to practice. In P. Cranton (Ed.), New directions for adult and continuing education: No. 74. Transformative learning in action: Insights from practice (pp. 5-12). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Netzer, D., & Mangano Rowe, N. (2010). Inquiry into creative and innovative processes: An experiential, whole-person approach to teaching creativity. Journal of Transformative Education, 8 (2), 124-145.

Pappas, C. (2016). The Transformative Learning Theory: What eLearning Professionals Should Know. eLearning Industry. Retrieved April 14, 2017, from

Rowe, N., & Netzer, D. (2012). Designing structures for transformation: Facilitating transformative learning through transpersonal ways of knowing. In Proceedings from the 10th International Conference on Transformative Learning, A future for Earth: Re-imagining learning for a transforming world. San Francisco, CA.

Taylor, E.W. (2000). Analyzing research on transformative learning theory. In J. Mezirow & Associates (Eds.), Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress (pp. 29-310). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Transformative Learning. (2017, February 2). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 15, 2017, from

Wilber, K., Patten, T., Leonard, A., & Morelli, M. (2008). Integral life practice: A 21st-century blueprint for physical health, emotional balance, mental clarity, and spiritual awakening. Shambhala Publications.

Transformation in Transpersonal Coaching

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Albert Einstein

This article outlines how transformation occurs in transpersonal coaching – a specialised form of psychological coaching that involves a dialogical relationship between a coach and client with the intention to resolve issues in the client’s life, by engaging in processes that serve to transcend the client’s self constructs and limiting beliefs.

Transformation in Transpersonal Coaching:

Consciousness researchers interviewed by National Geographic in 2009 provided compelling evidence in support of what wisdom traditions across cultures have claimed for ages: that certain transpersonal states of consciousness can have healing, transformative and heuristic value (Fadiman, Grob, Griffiths, Nichols, C., Nichols, D., et al.). Stanislav Grof coined the term holotropic (meaning “oriented toward wholeness”) to describe the category of transpersonal states of consciousness in which individuals may gain personally meaningful insights as well as experience healing and transformation (Grof, 1992). As a psychiatrist having studied holotropic states for over half a century, Grof’s findings (2000) precede yet support more recent research (Fadiman et al., 2009) which suggests that human beings can experience a deep sense of interconnectivity with each other, as well as with other living beings, including dimensions of reality that are not normally in the individual’s conscious awareness. Grof’s extensive research (Ibid) suggests that experiencing these types of transpersonal states in appropriate contexts can heal and transform psychological and psychosomatic issues.

In terms of the validity of transpersonal states, Walsh and Vaughn (1980) suggest that each state of consciousness reveals its own picture of reality, which in turn makes one’s perception of reality only relatively real, therefore one’s perception of reality is a reflection of one’s state of consciousness. What one identifies depends largely on the state of consciousness in which the mind or self are observed. This echoes the overarching idea in quantum theory that reality is observer created, or as it was stated by Anaïs Nin, we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are (1961). Another concept in alignment with this is one of the presuppositions upon which the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming is based, namely that each individual is the co-creator of their personal map of reality (Bandler & Grinder, 1976). In the context of transpersonal coaching, one of the primary roles of the coach is to recognise the meaningfulness and usefulness of the client’s current perception, and then implement an appropriate means of intervening in order to help the client expand their self-concept and map of reality until a more meaningful and useful location has been established.

Each individual’s personal reality (how one experiences and interacts with the events of one’s life) demonstrates that there seems to be no solid or consistent boundary separating one’s subjective and objective experience. If one was to transcend the metaphysical assumption that subject and object are separate (which holotropic states of consciousness may facilitate) then what might one experience? Jung’s description of the collective unconscious infers that various aspects of the mind or self can be ‘seen’ as part of one interconnected whole manifesting on different levels. This supports the proposition that the separateness of subject and object is a kind of optical delusion of consciousness (Einstein, 1977) resulting from looking at reality through a Cartesian lens. Einstein apparently understood the value of establishing new levels of awareness in order for the world to overcome its problems associated with this dualism. Even if one was to argue that the unavoidable process of internalising experiences creates the perceptions through which one continues perceiving others and the world as separate, then it would stand to reason that any such perception is constantly changing according to one’s experiences. This would mean that a valid perception is only valid within its own situatedness, or to the extent that one is involved in the context of the perception and thereby co-creating the experience. The point here is that the intimate interplay between object and subject can be so interwoven that disregarding it would be undermining the scope of our existence.

Holotropic states are commonly experienced in different contexts, for example,- being in the flow, moments of creative inspiration, the “runners high”, during meditation, hypnosis, sexual intercourse, as a potential result of the after-effect of intense suffering or near death experiences, as well as being induced by means of psychedelic substances, rituals and other examples. In such states the way in which one perceives themself, the situation, or life as a whole is usually significantly changed. Such changes in perception may bring with them a sense of connection with subtle levels of reality, which lay beyond our normal ways of perceiving and which may be meaningful as well as useful to the individual who experiences them. Experiences in holotropic states are usually remembered. They are either disregarded or applied, meaning that their effect can range from very little to significant and permanent shifts in perception. People who feel stuck in stressful situations are often unable to find a satisfying solution until they employ a means of shifting their mode of perception, or put metaphorically – open the aperture of their awareness in order for relevant ideas or insights to arise in consciousness and reveal a satisfying solution. The technique of “open awareness” induces a holotropic state and has been reported by Rick Hanson (2011) and John Overdurf (2013) to facilitate awareness of the more subtle realms of consciousness, where the boundaries between object and subject seem to dissolve and where a sense of unity and interconnectedness arises. Open awareness serves as a transpersonal coaching intervention to help clients transcend the perceptions that inhibit them from experiencing and integrating more resourceful states. The important point here is that even meaningful transpersonal states might not necessarily bring about permanent transformation unless the insights or solutions to problems that emerge from those states are integrated into the individual’s consciousness, or embodied.

Stephen Wright (2013) declares that “we cannot not be involved in something”. How we participate in the events of life depends largely on what we’ve embodied (integrated into our personal unconscious). This is distinctly noticeable when observing one’s reflexive reactions in threatening or stressful situations where one’s behaviours are clearly determined by the unconscious mind’s programming. Therefore, in order to bring about sustainable change in behaviour and/or mental/emotional responsiveness, those changes need to take affect in the unconscious mind. The work of a transpersonal coach is to help clients identify and transform the unconscious patterns that control their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. When it comes to the practices that result in holotropic states, Wright (Ibid) suggests that for the practise to be truly healing it must in some way expand our awareness and transform our way of being in the world, making us more whole, more at-one with ourselves, more loving, and more willing to be of service. From what Wright has emphasized, for holotropic states to have heuristic, transformative and healing value, they should lead us from self to Self – a process that includes active participation in the transformation of others.

Through embodying the insights derived from holotropic states, or being the change, they become so fully integrated and automated that the necessity for conscious intention to apply them eventually becomes obsolete. Similarly, regular practice of open awareness can lead to this holistic perspective of oneself and one’s life becoming one’s default way of being in the world. The individual is changed through having embodied the shift in their awareness. The spiritual teacher Sri Aurobingo described it as the conscious awakening of the very cells of the organism (Satprem, 1982). This embodied awakening can be more accurately articulated in terms of bodyfulness – where the psychosomatic organism becomes calmly alert without the intentionality of the conscious mind. According to Ferrer (2008) bodyfulness reintegrates in the human being a lost somatic capability that is present in panthers, tigers, and other big cats of the jungle, who can be extraordinarily aware without intentionally attempting to be so. Embodiment of the awareness that arises from holotropic states through participation and service can be seen amongst a vast amount of individuals in various cultures world-wide. They are not only the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, they are also the many people who through their own extraordinary life experiences have learnt and understood the value of what it means to be fully human. These people are walking and talking examples of how holotropic states can be heuristic as well as lead to healing and transformation.

Holotropic states may offer the opportunity to transcend one’s standard modes of perception – dissolving the boundary between self and the divine. The experience of feeling interconnected with the whole, to which everyone and everything seems to be part of, has the potential to be transformative, especially when that experience is participated in, put to service and embodied. In Grof’s own words:

Inner transformation can be achieved only through individual determination, focused effort, and personal responsibility. Any plans to change the situation in the world are of problematic value, unless they include a systematic effort to change the human condition that has created the crisis. To the extent to which evolutionary change in consciousness is a vital prerequisite for the future of the world, the outcome of this process depends on the initiative of each of us.
(Grof, 1985 p. 432)

The transpersonal approach to coaching may be of particular value when it comes to identifying holotropic states and how these can be leveraged for sustainable change in the context of everyday life. This coaching methodology can also be useful when it comes to detecting and dealing with psycho-spiritual crises that can arise at any stage in our development. In general, this specialised type of coaching can be of value for the purpose of transforming a crisis into a spiritual awakening, which in turn enables us to deal with the challenges of life more resourcefully.

Jevon Dangeli is the Course Leader for our Transpersonal Coaching Psychology Open Learning course.


Anaïs, N. (1961). Seduction of the Minotaur. The Swallow Press, Chicago, Illinois, p. 124.

Bandler, R. and Grinder, J. (1976). The Structure of Magic, Vol. 1. Science and Behaviour Books, Palo Alto.

Einstein, A. (1977). Quoted in H Eves Mathematical Circles Adieu, Boston.

Fadiman, J., Grob, C., Griffiths, R., Nichols, C., Nichols, D., Passie, T., Presti, D., Vollenweider, F. (2009). National Geographic Explorer. Inside LSD. Washington D.C. National Geographic Society. Retrieved from The World Wide Web, June 5 2014,

Ferrer, J. (2008). The Participatory Turn, Spirituality, Mysticism, Religious Studies. Sate University of New York Press.

Grof, S. (1985). Beyond the Brain: Birth, Death, and Transcendence in Psychotherapy, State University of New York, Albany, p. 432.

Grof, S. (1992). The Holotropic Mind. San Francisco: Haper.

Grof, S. (2000). Psychology of the future, New York: State University of New York Press.

Hanson, R. (2011). Buddha’s Brain, Lighting up the Neural Circuits of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. Retrieved from The World Wide Web, June, 27 2013,

Hartelius, G. and Ferrer, J. (2013). Transpersonal Philosophy, In The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Transpersonal Psychology, Friedman H.L. and Hartelius G. Eds. (First Edition p. 196). West Sussex, UK.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living. New York, NY: Delta Publishing.

Overdurf, J. Personal communication, June 20, 2013.

Satprem (1982). The Mind of the Cells Institute for Evolutionary Research, New York, NY.

Walsh, R and Vaughan, F. (1980). Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 20, pp. 5-31.

Wright, S. Personal communication between November 2013 and February 2014.

Sacred Science Circle

Sacred Science Circle

Alef Trust is pleased to announce the public launch of its latest collaborative project: Sacred Science Circle. The Sacred Science Circle gathers a sacred circle of individuals and groups that honor the “fires” of transformation implicit in all scientific, scholarly, and artistic endeavors.

Its mission is to further that profound route to knowing, wisdom and enrichment of being that the confluence of science and the Sacred can bring to us and to our modern world. In pursuing sacred science, the Sacred Science Circle and its partner institution, the Alef Trust aspire to transform both ourselves and our cultural worlds.

The Sacred Science Circle E-Archive – the primary activity of the Sacred Science Circle for 2017 – celebrates ways of knowing as acknowledged by transpersonal researchers, consciousness studies scholars, and spiritual teachers throughout the ages. Emphasis is given to methods that acknowledge the sacred and facilitate transformation. Materials gathered in the archive include published papers and theses, which are available to the general public for use. Over time, new resources and archives related to research methods and ways of knowing relevant to empirical research will be added.

In addition to the E-Archive the website includes a Media section, which houses video lectures and presentations, and a News and Events page, intended to keep you informed of upcoming conferences and seminars in transpersonal research and psychology.

Connect with the Sacred Science Circle and join the mailing list to receive the latest news and updates.


Explore Alef Trust’s accredited online MSc programme in Professional Development: Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology

At the Alef Trust we draw on the insights of wisdom traditions alongside cutting-edge research in such areas as cognitive neuroscience, medical humanities, anthropology and psychology to enhance individual and collective well-being, motivation and performance.

Alef Trust partners with Professional Development International which delivers and assesses programmes in ‘Professional Development.’ These are quality assured and awarded by Middlesex University, United Kingdom.

Meditation & Mindfulness

3 Facts About Mindfulness

“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” ~Sylvia Boorstein

What exactly is mindfulness and where did this simple psychological and spiritual practice get its start? Why is everyone doing it and why are so many doctors recommending it for their patients? The first part of this question – what exactly is mindfulness? – has a surprisingly simple answer.

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