“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
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.
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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, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqQzsMz_hD4
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Wright, S. Personal communication between November 2013 and February 2014. http://www.sacredspace.org.uk/whodoesthework.html