“When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”
~ Joseph Campbell
Epilogue (August 22 2020):
As I approach another career evolution at 60 (Transpersonal Wellness & Psychedelic Integration Coach), I thought I would share a paper I wrote at the end of my first year with Sophia University back in 2013. The topic of the paper was basically a reflection on the first year in the program, but I also ended up covering a good deal of personal background. These personal background details not only show the many pathways that aligned to bring me into the field of transpersonal psychology, psychedelics, spirituality and wellness coaching, but also the personal, psychological and emotional struggles I faced and overcame along the way. Of all the varied ways in which one can define transpersonal psychology, transformation figures prominently. Therefore this paper also speaks to the many ways in which I have transformed both before and after beginning this journey. A journey in which I have chosen to soar beyond the impact of childhood abuse, beyond the mental-health challenges I face, beyond the years of substance abuse, beyond my failures as a partner and father, and hopefully soon, beyond my crippling fears of failure, inadequacy and imposter syndrome.
7 years later with two graduate programs in transpersonal psychology and coaching certificate completed, a 14 year relationship ended and a move to the Sunshine Coast, the time has come for me to try and transform the lessons of my own life and education into something of value to the world. A career change at any point in life is hard. At 60 it is scary as hell, especially now that I have started to experience first-hand the deflating experience of ageism. I have no idea if I will succeed. I have no idea if I will be any good at trying to support others in their own personal journeys of healing, spiritual growth or transformation. I have no idea if my personal experiences and research into the positive potential of social-media technologies can help others along their own digital wellness paths. I have no idea if my own personal explorations and studies into psychedelics, consciousness and transpersonal psychology will be useful in guiding others along their own spiritual, wellness and consciousness journeys. What I do know for certain is the strength of my belief that ANYONE can tap into the deepest and most meaningful aspects of their life and consciousness to heal from, transform and ultimately flourish in life. A life filled with gratitude, love, connection and pervasive joy. If I can help even just one person to move beyond personal obstacles and to “follow their bliss“, then I will transform out of this plane of existence a happy and fulfilled man.
“When you follow your bliss…doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors, and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.” ~ Joseph Campbell
Following One’s Bliss: Planting The Seeds of a Transpersonal Journey (2013)
When I began thinking about how to approach this first-year integration paper I realized that focusing only on the past year without considering what brought me here both circumstantially and psychologically, would not have painted a complete picture as to how I have developed and grown, or how significant this past year has been to me personally, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. During the past year, I have written extensively about the many childhood and early experiences or circumstances which collectively played a role in the evolution and shaping of my psyche. Some of those experiences include child-hood abuse; leaving home at 16; assuming custody of my own brother; early introduction to the works of Carlos Castaneda (Stork, 2012a); early practice with meditation and mindfulness; reckless and irresponsible behavior (Stork, 2012d); a near-death and out-of-body experience as well as psychedelic drug use (Stork, 2012d). However, there is also a fundamental evolution which has taken place with regards to my formal academic study of psychology. I began my studies in college at the start of 1986 which progressed to an undergraduate program in university in the fall of that same year culminating with a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology specializing in neuropsychology and statistics in 1991. I returned to university in 1998 entering a graduate program also in psychology and statistics, but ended up leaving the part-time program in 2001 without completing the thesis. In total I spent around 8 years studying developmental psychology, neuropsychology, research design and applied statistics along with various courses in philosophy and consciousness. Throughout those 8 years of academic or “scientific” psychological study and research, I was also reading extensively across a wide range of spiritual, philosophical, mythological, shamanistic, Eastern religion and other “non-scientific” areas of psychology and consciousness studies. Although both approaches – academic/scientific psychological study and personal/spiritual/metaphysical studies – are undeniably relevant and involved in human psychology and consciousness, it was not until I stumbled across the web site for the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology that I realized a field of formal study existed which combined the two. Therefore, I have chosen to briefly summarize this intellectual and academic journey towards my own holistic and integral pursuit of an academic, transpersonal and spiritual life.
Building an Integral Psychology
When I was an undergrad in neuropsychology and statistics at Simon Fraser University in the 1980’s, it was as if I lived two different lives. On the one hand I was studying and even working as a research assistant in the traditional “scientific” field of psychology carrying out “normal” research with observable and measurable phenomenon. During those same years while supposedly studying and learning about psychology, I was also reading books on comparative religion, shamanism, spirituality and Buddhism. In fact, I had been reading books in these areas long before starting university and had been captivated by the deep, rich and illuminating descriptions of self-discovery, expansion of consciousness, metaphysical, mystical and transcendent experiences which profoundly impacted the psychology and life-perspectives of those who had such experiences. However, I was confused. Here I was supposedly studying human “psychology”, yet there was no mention, let alone formal study, into any of these clearly and unmistakably psychological topics of self-awareness, self-exploration, altered states of consciousness, meditation or mystical traditions! In fact, many of these spiritual, mystical and meditative traditions have histories that far exceeded the 200 year history of “modern” psychology. Yet, in 5 years of part-time undergraduate study, I don’t recall one single course or even one mention from any PhD psychology faculty member on these rich, profoundly meaningful and illuminating areas of psychological exploration and development which had been going on for thousands of years and on every continent on the planet. I was never able to reconcile these two fundamentally related categories of formal and informal study in the areas of “academic” psychology and “spiritual” or metaphysical psychology. I suppose I simply accepted this as the way of the world, the way of “science” and the way of “non-science”.
During the next seven or eight years I worked as a statistical consultant (among other careers), helped develop and run BC’s first treatment program for adolescent sexual offenders while continuing to self-study in the areas of spirituality, philosophy, comparative religion and mythology. Although I was now working in a more “applied” area of clinical psychology dealing directly with violent and sexually offending youth, my personal interest in the metaphysical, transcendent or transpersonal aspects of human psychology persisted. Yet, there still did not appear to be any overlap or integration of the academic, experimental or clinical fields of psychology with the rich history and vast body of knowledge into human psychology developed and practiced in the many spiritual and contemplative fields – at least not through my previous experience with one university or the clinical practitioners I knew and worked with at the time. I know now that the field of transpersonal psychology was alive and well during those early years of my formal education. I just can’t explain how I had not learned of it through 5 years of university study and many years of working in a clinical area of psychology.
In 1998 I entered my first graduate program in psychology where I carried on with my previous focus on consciousness, experimental design and statistics. I also continued working as a research assistant where I implemented and managed an emotions and cardiovascular research project funded by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. During this time I also put together a team of fellow graduate students who also had experience working with young offenders and soon we were drafting proposals for sexual and violent offenders programs in the community where we lived. Shortly after the Columbine tragedy in 1999, we put on a large-scale presentation and summary of some of the research into young violent offenders which had been carried out through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in the U.S.. This presentation was attended by justice workers, social workers, psychologists, youth-care workers and representatives from the RCMP who came from all areas of the province. While working on my graduate studies in applied statistics I also took on a few additional graduate courses on consciousness, an area of psychology which had always interested me. However, by this time in my life I was beginning to become somewhat more vocal and outspoken on what I felt was a reckless and intellectually irresponsible oversight in the academic field of psychology. There seemed to be a massive body of spiritual, metaphysical, transpersonal and first-person knowledge of profound meaning and direct relevance to the study of human psychology and consciousness which was being ignored. One of the required readings for the course in consciousness was Daniel Dennett’s “Consciousness Explained”. I had spent the past two decades or more self-learning many different areas of consciousness-expanding practices, meditation, mysticism, shamanism, spirituality and Buddhism, along with following many other (but far more open-minded) scholars on consciousness such as David Chalmers, Roger Penrose, John Searle and others. Therefore Dennett’s attempts at “explaining” consciousness through an entirely third-person process which he called “heterophenomenology” (Dennett, 1992) just seemed misguided at best; intellectually dishonest at worst. Ever since reading Dennett’s book I have pejoratively referred to it as “Consciousness UN-Explained”.
After 2 years in the part-time psychology graduate program I had lost interest, lost motivation, lost confidence in the field and to top it all off, I lost my advisor who was the only faculty member knowledgeable in the area of my thesis (structural equation modelling). I was also disappointed and disillusioned in the academic field of psychology in general. I could not reconcile how so much relevant and psychologically rich knowledge into human consciousness and self-development could go have been ignored for so long. A wide range of spiritual practices, meditation, altered states of consciousness, near-death and out-of-body experiences, body-psychology, shamanism, mysticism and many other first-person categories of psychology and consciousness were being ignored. In many cases, these metaphysical and transpersonal approaches to psychology and consciousness were not only being ignored, they were dismissed outright as being irrelevant to the study of psychology. Therefore, I left my first graduate program in psychology before completing an alternative thesis in measurement feeling like I had chosen the wrong field and had wasted 7 years of my life.
Having pursued an education and working in a very traditional “academic” world of psychology, brain sciences, brain imaging and other “empirical” research fields, I came in contact with many hard-core and fundamental materialists. In fact, one of my first academic advisors or mentors was a founding member of the BC Skeptics Society and so dismissing or debunking the mystical, paranormal, parapsychological or “spiritual woo-woo” of the world was very much part of his career and passion. Although I very much respected and admired this wonderful man (he passed away a few years ago), and even took his son out with my own on various outdoor and skiing adventures, I knew which topics I had to avoid with him. For many years my experience with trying to reconcile traditional “science” and “spirituality” with the academic community, felt very similar to what Lesser (2000) described as those for whom “…the word spiritual is connected to their mistrust of religion…..the word spiritual means anti-scientific…or it conjures up the occult, UFO’s and bogus misinformation“. Therefore, at least among the academic circles I associated with at the time, I simply kept my interest in spiritual, mystical, metaphysical and transpersonal aspects of psychology and consciousness to myself.
For the next decade I changed careers and worked not only as a statistical, computer and business consultant, but also pursued a variety of technical interests and training in database development, web design, networking and began to follow the growing interest in something called open-source software. Open-source software is a software development model or philosophy, and is literally what powers the entire Internet, most web sites, email and even Google. Although open-source software is one of the most pervasive and disruptive technologies behind the Internet and most of the major technological, communications, mobile and social-media developments in the past 15 or more years, at the heart of open-source software is a philosophical foundation based on an idea surprisingly simple to grasp – the sharing of knowledge with a community who then build upon, expand and improve that knowledge before returning it back to the community. I will return to this concept of knowledge-sharing through a community, and how it relates to my current studies in transpersonal psychology.
Around the beginning of 2012, I stumbled across the web site for the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. I nearly fell out of my chair at the realization that there WAS INDEED a field of psychology which integrated the traditional “scientific” path of psychology with the metaphysical, spiritual and transpersonal approaches. I was simply blown-away not only to have finally found a formal field of study which combined most of the areas which had interested me for decades, but also for not having learned of this holistic and integral field of psychology sooner. After a few weeks of contemplation and discussing options with my partner of 12 years, I made the decision to apply to the Masters of Transpersonal Psychology program with the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.
“I am now walking an educational and spiritual path where the stones under my feet were first laid down when I stole, and then read that first book, Journey to Ixtlan, over 37/38 years ago. The subsequent books [by Castaneda] I stole from the library changed my life. What was first a criminal and unethical act by a misguided young man, became not only a psychological escape and distraction for a troubled young boy, but planted the psychological seeds of mystical, spiritual and metaphysical curiosity which exist to this day.” (Stork, 2012a)
Transpersonal and Spiritual Living: The First Year
Entering the graduate program in transpersonal psychology in 2012 was the high-point of at least the past decade of my life, if not one of the most significant personal transition of my entire life. Starting with my early interest in First Nations spiritual practices and a love of the wilderness, early meditation practices, introduction to Carlos Castaneda, personal experiences with altered states of consciousness, decades of self-study and readings in philosophy, comparative religion and mythology and then years of studying and working in the field of psychology and research, it appeared that I was following my destiny by pursuing transpersonal psychology – a discipline that combines and represents all of the personal, spiritual and academic interests I had pursued formally, and informally, since 1986. However, other than a few technology, database, technical writing and photography courses over the years, it had been more than ten years since I had taken any graduate-level courses and so along with excitement and anticipation, there was also a hint of trepidation, uncertainty and fear. But at the same time I was confident, certain actually, that since I was now more fully and actively “following my bliss”, that doors would open for me along this path.
“When you follow your bliss…doors will open where you would not have thought there would be doors, and where there wouldn’t be a door for anyone else.” (Joseph Campbell)
The first year of the program can best be described as a combination of extraordinary intellectual, spiritual and personal development combined with frustration and disappointment in how poorly the actual online program is managed and presented to online students. After a year of trying to raise awareness of the many shortcomings in program delivery, even making suggestions and offering to assist, I have now decided that the first thing I need to do before starting the second year, is to avoid all of the frustrations and struggles I faced in the first year trying to improve the delivery of educational resources to students, and to simply focus on the content and my studies.
Since I have been reading and self-learning for over 30 years in most of the areas touched on by our first year courses, as well as having read material from many of the leading figures in positive psychology, humanistic psychology, comparative religion, Buddhism and Eastern philosophy, there was little material which was completely new to me. For the most part, the content simply expanded on the many areas of psychology and spirituality which I was already familiar with, but with two exceptions, the role of the body in spiritual practice and the role of creative expression in spiritual practice. But before I try to expand on how my understanding and practice of living a transpersonal and spiritual life has changed in those two areas, I would like to try and summarize some of the changes that have occurred within me personally during the first year of the program in the areas of emotional and spiritual development.
At different times in my life, particularly during my 20’s and early 30’s, I struggled with an unfortunate tendency towards emotional and psychological mood swings, as well as anxiety. A tendency to react to stress or frustration with anger or aggression during those years was likely rooted in the years of childhood abuse I experienced within a very violent household. Combined with undiagnosed (relatively mild) bipolar disorder as well as obsessive compulsive personality disorder, my psychological states would often swing from deep depression, overwhelming anxiety to profound states of elation, joy and excitement. For the most part I have very effectively curtailed these emotional and psychological swings through careful management of my environment and regular physical activity combined with ever-increasing skills in self-control and of course the calming and stabilizing effects of semi-regular meditation and mindfulness practice. During the four years leading up to entering the graduate program with Sofia, I had experienced a significant change in my overall emotional state whereby I was becoming increasingly less likely to develop obsessive thinking patterns or frustrations over events in my life, or the crippling anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors when my environment was changed or became disorganized. Of course I still required an organized, clean and consistent physical environment with cupboard items or labels all facing front and ordered, items in the fridge or elsewhere in their “proper” place and everything aligned and at right angles to each other, but my reaction to disruptions to my environment have been significantly muted. During this past year, the increased knowledge of various ways to introduce mindfulness in my day-to-day life, along with a corresponding increase in personal meditation practice, have combined to create one of the most emotionally stable, and consistently happy and joyful years of my entire life.
I have always had a strong introspective side, as well as a wide-variety of contemplative, mindful and meditative practices which have kept me “grounded” to the realities of life, death and compassionate living. The principle environment where I find the greatest peace, the strongest connection to the sacred as well as my own inner Source, is the wilderness. There is no doubt that my respect and affinity for the wilderness as a Sacred Place began in my childhood when I would escape into the mountains behind the family home in order to avoid the violence, anxiety and abuse within the household. All through my life, every single meaningful, often revealing or illuminating spiritual experience where I was awakened to a sense of awe, beauty, reverence and a fundamental interconnectedness with all life, has occurred in a wilderness or mountain setting (Stork, 2012c). The prerequisites for my own spiritual retreats into the wilderness have changed little over the years:
- I am either alone, or with someone who is comfortable with silence for extended periods of time.
- There can be no other people, no sounds of the man-made world, no traffic or industrial sounds and as much as possible, no major signs of human development such as buildings, industry, paved roads etc.
- Usually a body of water and a kayak, canoe or inflatable raft or..
- Elevated location or mountain-top with sweeping panoramic views.
It is within these wilderness environments where I truly feel at peace and connected to the world in a fundamental and meaningful way. My thoughts and “monkey mind” chatter simply shut down and I quietly listen, observe, smell and sense the living world around me. I have always been comfortable around all animals. On many occasions, including as a young boy, after walking or hiking into an area and settling down to some quiet introspection and deliberate observation, many of the wild animals that might have scattered during my noisy arrival, will begin to return to their regular foraging, hunting or exploring activities. I have even had full-grown bears or deer walk right past me and simply give a quick sniff as they carried on as if I were not even there. I have come to call these my “Sanity Maintenance Activities” and they have played a crucial role in my life by allowing me a space for quiet, contemplative reflection and connection.
Although these activities in the wilderness are clearly meditative and mindful in nature, I never really referred to them as a “spiritual” practice, nor had I ever considered or referred to myself as “spiritual”, until this past year. This first year in the Sofia program has created a radical shift in how I view myself – my self-identity has changed. Actually it may not be so much that my identity has changed in any radical way, but I now regularly and consistently refer to, and view myself, as a profoundly spiritual being and most deeply identify with the Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who said that “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience”.
In a blog post a few months back I defined “spirituality” as simply being “responsible” (Stork, 2013). Once you accept (or believe) that we are all fundamentally connected physically at the quantum level (our separation is an illusion); fundamentally connected at the psychological and emotional level through our interactions with others; fundamentally connected at the spiritual or metaphysical level through a single Source – such as Jung’s Collective Unconscious or Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy which describes a single universal truth as the foundation to all of the world’s religious knowledge – combined with the fact we are literally in the same boat together on the planet existentially speaking, then there is one inescapable conclusion if you accept all of these propositions. There is no YOU or ME, there is only US! And if each of us doesn’t pull our own weight in this global, connected and interdependent community, if most of us focus only on our own selfish or ego-driven needs and desires, then we ALL suffer in the end.
Once you realize and accept this reality of Unity, your individual welfare, happiness and personal development becomes fundamentally connected to the welfare, happiness and personal development of ALL people and ALL life. This realization creates a shift in consciousness whereby you become as concerned for the welfare of others, as you previously were for yourself. You can then make a choice to show love, respect, justice and compassion towards all creatures, all people. Like the Dalai Lama once said “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness” and “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”.
This has been the single most difficult challenge for me to meet with any success during the first year of the program. For much of my earlier life I was VERY active with running, weightlifting, hiking and serious rock climbing. With all the school, full-time work, family and other responsibilities, physical activity has taken the biggest hit and my physical conditioning (and weight) has suffered greatly.
Besides the struggle with maintaining regular physical activity, I did have something of a revelation during the first year with regards to how emotional or traumatic events in our lives can have long-lasting and physical repercussions. In other words, I learned that the body “remembers” many of the emotional or traumatic events we experience, particularly when the instinctive fight-or-flight responses to fear have been inhibited or suppressed in some way (Knaster, 2012)
“Any trauma—accident, injury, surgery, sexual, physical or emotional abuse, war, difficult birth—may surface spontaneously as a memory years, even decades, later during a bodyways session. This phenomenon of memories seeming to reside in the body rather than purely in the brain is variously called body memory, tissue memory, cell or cellular memory, or somatic memory.” (Knaster, 2012)
For most of my adult life I have avoided having alcohol in my own home, rarely drinking at home and other than a few beers at the bar once in a while, alcohol has not been a frequent activity or interest for me. This preference for avoiding alcohol in the house, and I suspect avoidance of women who regularly drink, changed somewhat with my partner of 14 years. She likes her wine and enjoys a glass or two after work or in the evenings. Although I always felt a little twinge of discomfort when she would drink at home, it was not until her drinking began to increase, and being drunk at home or coming home drunk from the bar began to occur more frequently, that I learned how powerfully my body seemed to have “remembered” the abuse I suffered as child.
The abuse I experienced as child was driven by alcohol. When my mother would drink it was like a Jekyll and Hyde situation where she would be transformed into a cruel, vicious, violent and profoundly abusive person physically, sexually and worst of all, psychologically. It got to the point that I would cower in my basement room on Friday and Saturday evenings when I heard the sound of the car pulling up in the driveway. My heart would pound inside my chest, my thoughts would race and I am sure I had fantasies of defending myself against my mother’s rage, or more likely, running away from home. The pattern on Friday night’s was always the same. My mother would come home with my stepfather after they had spent most of the evening in the bar and usually they would be silent as they came into the house. This was always an indication that they had been fighting. After a short while I would hear conversation starting, but muted almost as if they had just had some sort of embarrassing or violent episode, maybe at the bar, and so both were reluctant to say anything to the other. But then I would hear the cackle of my mother’s voice which always took on a sort of “witchy” sound – high pitched and raspy. Even more unusual than the pitch of her voice, was the change in intonation, a condescending tone, an insulting tone, a holier-than-thou tone. The “conversations” between my mother and stepfather on these evenings would rarely last long, often they would escalate into violence and since my room was right under the kitchen, I had a front-row seat to the sounds and emotions erupting above my head. At some point my stepfather would lose interest and simply leave the house. This would be followed by silence, and then the inevitable sound of the basement door at the top of the stairs opening, and the sounds, smells and psychotic energy of my drunken mother coming down to carry on with her violent and crazed attacks with someone less likely, or capable, of walking away.
For most of my life since those early years of abuse, I have always felt that I had done a pretty good job of moving beyond these painful and unfortunate experiences. I certainly had my struggles with aggression or substance use over the years, but for the most part I have done exceptionally well avoiding most of the psychological, emotional or behavioral effects of childhood abuse. However, when my partner’s drinking began to increase, most noticeably in the home, I found my body reacting on its own whenever she would walk past me noticeably drunk and smelling of alcohol. I found my body getting tense, my heart pounding, on one occasion I found myself retracting into an almost fetal-position as she walked past me with the unstable swagger that I recall so vividly from my mother. My body “remembered” the abuse, my body remembered the fear, my body remembered the violence and pain.
Photography has been a part-time hobby of mine for the past five or six years. When I started the program with Sofia I told myself that I would work at spending more time with my photography and try to come up with some way to integrate it with my spiritual and educational journey. What I came up with is a series of photographs, quotes and short themed comments about something inspiring, contemplative or thought-provoking in some way. I call this series “”Photo Aspirations” and the first one I posted was titled “Choose to Soar” since I felt it reflected my decision to return to graduate school and continue following my bliss – education, psychology and spiritual development.
Every single day presents numerous opportunities to make a choice between feeling like a victim of the fickle hand of fate, or an empowered master of your own destiny. If you believe you possess free will, the power to make your own decisions, why not choose to be happy? Why not choose to be empowered? Why not choose to turn a crisis into an opportunity to grow, to learn and most importantly to soar past your own previous limitations?
“Refuse to be average. Let your heart soar as high as it will.” (Aiden Wilson Tozer)
“If we insist on being as sure as is conceivable… we must be content to creep along the ground, and never soar.” (John Henry Newman)
Transpersonal and Spiritual Living: The Second Year
As I look forward to the next year of the program, I anticipate a significantly increased workload which will be a challenge while working fulltime. However, I am hoping to switch to a 4-day work-week which would significantly increase the time available for course-work, readings, spiritual practice and a return to more physical activity and exercise. I have also been finding it easier to bring my spiritual practices with me to the workplace in the form of mindfulness, lunch-time meditation and being asked to provide suggestions on how to improve the company’s existing wellness program, specifically where it involves recognizing and providing resources for, employees dealing with high levels of workplace stress. I have also been running the 8 flights of stairs at work during lunch as a way to squeeze in some level of daily exercise and so long as I can keep this up, along with increasing my efforts to be mindful and aware throughout my day and meditating as often as possible, I am confident that I can make it through the next year of the graduate program with Sofia.
In each of the categories below I have tried to anticipate not only any possible challenges, but of course additional opportunities for intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, creative and community/relational development.
The first year in the program felt like it covered a very broad range of transpersonal topics and so in the second year I anticipate a bit more focus in the area of my chosen specialization (Spiritual Psychology). I also intend to try and focus my own reading and writing interests into those areas in which I hope to write, practice, teach and possibly even counsel. I have also had a wide range of interests on a wide range of topics and so narrowing this down is going to be a challenge, but one with significant benefits in that I can focus on some core areas of transpersonal psychology and spiritual development. Over the past 6 months or so I have also developed a strong interest in the role educational and social technologies will play in expanding options for community-based and participatory approaches (Ferrer, 2011) to education and knowledge in general, but also more specifically in the area of transpersonal psychology.
Coming from a violent home environment, I have had issues (struggles) around emotions and anger in the past. I am also mildly bipolar and OCPD so mood-swings and anxiety have also been a regular issue throughout my life. Over the past 15 years or so, as I have spent more time with meditation and personal spiritual studies and practices, my moods and anxiety-based disorders have abated significantly. Even in situations where anyone would be quick to anger, I continue to find it easy (natural now) to remain calm, think critically and to evaluate the options available for a resolution which meets everyone’s best interests. Over the next year I intend to continue focusing on the many mindful, psychological and cognitive tools I have used to basically keep things in perspective. Basic attitude? Don’ sweat the little shit, and EVERYTHING is little shit!
As I mentioned previously, finding the time to return to a regular exercise regime is a major struggle. However, since I am expecting to be able to start four-day work-weeks later in the year, then there will be a corresponding change in scheduling so that the gym becomes my friend once again.
Although this past year has been exceptional for me as far as spiritual and emotional development goes, I certainly expect to carry on with my exploration of, and participation in, a broader range of different spiritual practices. High on my list is to find more time to volunteer in my community, spending more time with my ailing mother-in-law, trying my hand at participating in a local drumming circle and to possibly try to start up a weekend hiking and meditation group.
“Group trance drumming is most powerful and captivating when each person surrenders any attempt to figure it out or make it work. Rather, everyone submits to the unique rhythm evoked in them by the particular blending of human souls in that circle. All participants become totally themselves and yet totally with all the others. In this way, group trance drumming becomes a living metaphor of the search for soul: we each seek our individual truth that, when embodied, enriches the song of the world.” (Plotkin, 2003)
The other area I hope to explore in the next year is to contact some of the local religious groups and organizations and see what sorts of events or ceremonies that might be open to the public. I would like to get a better understanding not only of my own local religious or spiritual groups, but also first-hand knowledge of some of their practices and rituals. My own meditation practice continues to improve. By “improve” I mean that it is easier and easier to take the time to meditate and on a more frequent basis. I am even finding that I anticipate meditating and over the next year, actually for the rest of my life, I hope to learn new techniques, new approaches and simply more ways to explore the depths of my inner-calm and blissful contemplative states.
My photographic work will certainly continue and I have also started to consider ways in which I might be able to try my hand at video. Although I have some rough ideas as to where I would like to start, these still need more time to develop followed by taking that first plunge and actually trying to produce something. My writing will certainly continue and overall I have been enormously pleased with how much I have written during this past year. Since writing figures prominently in my future plans, I hope not only to increase the frequency of my writing, but as always, to significantly improve the quality of my writing and maybe even try to find some focus. I have been writing on a very broad range of topics from technology, sex, child-care, psychology, philosophy and of course spirituality and transpersonal psychology, so narrowing this list down should also allow me to improve my writing skills in those areas.
Although I have been blessed with the good fortune of a good relationship with my partner, this past year also demonstrated that there was still more work which could be done in order to ensure a long-term, stable and healthy relationship. My partner endured many years of struggle during my period of substance. Although I was able to move past these personal and financial issues, there is still more work which can be done in order to ensure that both of us is getting the most out of our relationship and we are both growing in the direction which supports not only our individual growth and harmony, but also the growth and harmony of the relationship itself.
Along with the relationship issues with my partner, I suspect that I will also need to revisit the sorry state of my relationship with my 31 year old son. At this time there is little communication between us in spite of years of effort to improve the situation. Recently I expressed doubts as to his desire or interest level in maintaining a relationship, even going so far as to imply I have failed after many years of trying and there is no longer any point to trying. I plan to revisit that choice/perception in the near future.
Transpersonal and Spiritual Living: The Remaining Years
In less than one year, I will have (hopefully) completed the Masters of Transpersonal Psychology program with Sofia University – then what? I anticipate that I will have acquired a great deal more knowledge and understanding of the field, as well as progress on my own personal, spiritual and emotional development. Although I did make the decision not to apply to the PhD program with Sofia since I wish to consider other programs, possibly even a second Master’s degree in Religious or Buddhist Studies elsewhere, I am still not certain as to which direction I may lean in the future. What is also not clear (yet) is exactly how I might be able to combine my broad interests in psychology, spirituality, comparative religion, psychedelics, technology and social-media. However, during this past year I have also had something of a revelation. Back in 2000 when I left my first graduate program, I abandoned the academic life almost completely and spent the next decade or more pursuing business and technology interests. When I was initially accepted into the graduate program with Sofia, at first I figured I would make a similar shift by dropping my interest in technology and re-focusing on a career where technology was relegated back to simply being a tool for those academic and educational pursuits. However, after working on a few papers where I explored the potential role of our technology-driven and social-media connected global community, and the spreading acceptance of “knowledge sharing” paradigms, I am now convinced that there a very real and fundamental role for these technologies in my own academic and spiritual future beyond just being “tools”. I believe that on a global-scale, collaborative, social and community-building technologies not only have the potential to fundamentally change and improve the delivery of educational resources through a new pedagogy, but these technologies and new global definitions of “community” may also have the potential to build upon and spread spiritual knowledge as well as reinforcing our fundamental interconnectedness with each other. Although I plan to write in depth on this topic in the future, I will try to summarize some of these ideas in the following sections.
Spiritual Development and Social-Media
In a previous paper I defined one aspect of spiritual development as “…the life-long human journey to transcend an ego-driven and material-focused consciousness towards a more socially-conscious and globally-focused awareness…” (Stork, 2012b). Social-media and other communications technologies have allowed people from different countries, backgrounds, social, political and spiritual viewpoints to become part of our definition of “community”. By allowing us to engage, share, collaborate and build relationships with a wider-range of people, we have the potential to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and how our own world-views and spiritual beliefs fit with the rest of the world and other cultures. Social-media has significantly expanded our options for creating meaningful connections with people and communities from around the world. This has likely, or at least potentially, made us a more social and globally conscious people – certainly important aspects of spiritual development.
We are not only building larger social and global communities, but we are also expanding our sense of self and identity. An identity now freed from the physical, cultural and other “external” definitions, which can now be expressed and developed from more “internal” and authentic sources. These increased social connections and expanded global communities are also having an impact on our consciousness. Although “… technological advances can be viewed as the means to spark the evolution of mankind towards higher levels of collective consciousness” (Bauwens, 1996), social-media and our increased awareness of our interdependence may also be contributing to a shift towards a global form of human consciousness.
I believe that we may even be experiencing the early stages of an evolution, maybe even a paradigm shift, in the way we define “self”, “community”, “knowledge” and even human consciousness. What are social networks? They are extensions of our minds. Right now, you and I are influencing each other’s neural networks because of this virtual/written conversation, through the flow of information, ideas and even emotional energy. And when this info is put on a social network, it influences the minds, and therefore the neural networks of everyone participating. So unbeknownst to us, “…society is moving in the direction of a planetary mind through the social networks” (Chopra, 2012)
Through a process of interacting with virtual and social-media environments and expanded global communities where the physical, cultural, geographical and socioeconomic influences on our sense of self may be reduced if not eliminated, we may also find an opportunity to develop and present a more authentic and less artificial identity. “With social networks, there is no ethnic, racial or geographical boundary. We can bring people into humanity by transcending those boundaries” (Chopra, 2012). Once we have transcended these ethnic, racial or geographic boundaries and extended our identities to a much larger and global “community”, we may begin to find it more difficult to dismiss our interconnectedness with one another and the Cosmos. One of the fundamental aims of spiritual practice has been to expand, even transcend, human consciousness to overcome feelings of separateness with the rest of mankind, nature, and the Cosmos. This cooperation between technology and spirituality may even work the other way as well. Some of the techniques of spiritual practice could even be used to arrive at a more holistic view of technology. In that sense, the merging of man with technology could be seen as part of larger mystical task within the context of the universe (Bauwens, 1996).
The Internet has expanded not only our definition of “community” through global connections and social-media, but our definition of “identity” and larger “self” are redefined by the characters we create in virtual worlds and the new communities we build. When you consider how, unlike television, we now become active participants, producers and navigators through an entire universe of images, sounds, conversations and knowledge, where even our sense of “self” is being expanded, we are in fact using technology to “…extend our senses” (McLuhan, 1967). Since identity and “self” play a key role in our spiritual development, it is not hard to image a role for these technologies and expanding definitions of “community” and self” to also have an impact on our individual spiritual development, as well as the potential co-creation of entirely new forms of global-spirituality in the future (Ferrer, 2011).
Another potential role for technology and social-media in expanding, redefining or exploring consciousness and spirituality comes from the notion of a “participatory approach” to transpersonal (spiritual) development. According to Jorge Ferrer (2011) much of the past work in the areas of transpersonal and spiritual psychology have focused on inner spiritual states (experientialism) or an underlying and common transpersonal influence (perennialism). What has been missing in transpersonal studies according to Ferrer, is the role of person-to-person relationships which create opportunities for spiritual self-disclosure as well as participation in, and co-creation of, reciprocal and plural spiritual understanding (Ferrer, 2011). In other words, a view of transpersonal development as a social, collaborative and interpersonal spiritual practice where relationships with others are seen as part of a “process” of spiritual development rather than an “experience”. The P2P Foundation (“P2P Foundation”, n.p.) offers a good overview of the various perspectives on the “participatory approach” and offers the following definition:
“Participatory spirituality involves a co-creative, enactive, transformative relation between persons and the divine, a relation which transcends and includes: the relations between multiple ways of knowing within the person, centrally the relations between persons and other persons, and the relations between persons and their worlds.”
If the field of transpersonal psychology continues to recognize and support the role of a more collaborative and co-created form of spirituality, then it would also seem that there may be a significant role for social-media to facilitate even greater collaboration, and relationships, among those on a spiritual and transpersonal development path. Social-media in combination with the “…participatory approach [may provide] … helpful understandings and practical tools to facilitate a more fertile interreligious interaction, empower individuals in the cocreation of their spiritual path, and, perhaps most fundamentally, participate more fully in the mystery out of which everything arises” (Ferrer, 2011).
Spiritual and transpersonal development are inescapably tied to social and community factors. As I described earlier, there are even new models of transpersonal psychology and spirituality which are being defined through these interpersonal and social interactions. We have even seen the potential for human consciousness expanding to a global scale with the possibility of influencing the material world around us. If we begin to use social-media to build larger global-communities of culturally-neutral and globally-conscious citizens, and we begin to spread universal messages of peace, harmony, cooperation and compassion, maybe we can co-create a world where more people are living a rich spiritual life on a path towards self-actualization and universal harmony.
There is no doubt that the rest of my physical days on this planet will be spent in the education, writing, (hopefully) teaching and nurturing of a spiritual life for myself and those around me. I admit to occasionally “falling off the wagon” spiritually speaking and getting frustrated, impatient, judgemental and even a bit indifferent towards others who have challenged my usually unflappable spiritual and joyful self. But each time I am faced with a challenge or a decision, I find myself stopping, re-thinking, re-evaluating and applying mindful and critical-thinking techniques to choices I am faced with every day. Even if I am unable to change a current situation, I will strive to ensure that I approach a similar situation in the future, with a renewed commitment to compassion, respect and awareness of how best to ensure that everyone around me benefits in some way. I know that I will remain on this spiritual path of self-discovery where there is no tangible destination or end. No certificate, no degree, no new-found status of suddenly becoming a “spiritual being”. Only a commitment, a leaning into, an intention to carry on down this path and accept every new challenge as an opportunity to experience more of what this life offers and wherever possible, give back more than what I have taken.
My (Current) Favorite Definition of Transpersonal Psychology
“Transpersonal Psychology addresses the spiritual nature of humankind. Unlike religion and theology, its interest centres on the mind and behaviour; hence it is a branch of Psychology. All the major spiritual and mystical traditions of the world incorporate teachings about the nature of mind and promote behavioural practices intended – amongst other goals – to bring about psychological transformations. Transpersonal psychology addresses these teachings and practices, researching their value and evaluating their relationships to ideas promulgated in Psychology. In essence Transpersonal Psychology seeks to integrate non-scientific spiritual insights with observations and models associated with the rigorous methodological approach of psychological science.” (“Transpersonal Psychology Section”, n.d.)
Bauwens, M. (1996, November). Spirituality & Technology: Exploring the Relationship [online exclusive]. First Monday, 1(5-4). Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org
Chopra, D. (2012, September). Spirituality in The Age of Social Media. In Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2012/09/17/deepak-chopra-spirituality-social-media.
Dennett, D. (1992). Consciousness Explained. New York: Back Bay Books.
Ferrer, J.N. (2011). Participatory Spirituality and Transpersonal Theory: A Ten-Year Retrospective. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. 43 (1). Retrieved from http://atpweb.org/jtparchive/trps-43-11-01-001.pdf
James, W. (1902). The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from Amazon.ca.
Knaster, M. (2012). Discovering the Body’s Wisdom. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from Amazon.ca
Lesser, E (2000). The Seekers Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure. to New York: Villard.
McLuhan, M., Fiore, Q., & Agel, J. (1967). The medium is the massage. New York: Bantam Books.
Participatory Spirituality. (n.d). In P2P Foundation. Retrieved November 24, 2012, from http://p2pfoundation.net/Participatory_Spirituality
Plotkin, B. (2003). Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from Amazon.ca.
Richardson, G. (2009, April 17). Spirituality and Social Media: Discovering Your Virtual ‘Self”. [Web log message]. Retrieved November 21, 2012, from http://www.lifewithoutpants.com/spirituality-and-social-media-discovering-your-virtual-self/
Stork, J. (2012a, 15th December). Journey of Three Books and One Life. Johnny Stork’s Blog, [web log] Retrieved from: https://www.mysticdude.ca/a-journey-of-three-books-and-one-life/ [Accessed: 1st August 2013].
Stork, J. (2012b, 13th September). A Metaphor for Transformation. Johnny Stork’s Blog, [web log] Retrieved from: https://www.mysticdude.ca/a-metaphor-for-transformation/ [Accessed: 1st August 2013].
Stork, J. (2012c, 13th September). A Night on “Sprit Rock” – The Stawamus Chief. Johnny Stork’s Blog, [web log] Retrieved from: https://www.mysticdude.ca/spirit-rock-stawamus-chief/ [Accessed: 1st August 2013].
Stork, J [Johnny Stork]. (2012d, April 12). A Story of Compassion and Forgiveness. [Video file]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/Tqy7JMczmr0
Stork, J. (2013, May 11). What does it mean to be “Spiritual”. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.mysticdude.ca/what-does-it-mean-to-be-spiritual-2/ [Accessed: 8th August 2013].
Transpersonal Psychology Section. (n.d.). In The British Psychological Society. Retreived from http://tps.bps.org.uk/.