“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” (Buddha)

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.” (Joseph Campbell)

In preparation for the opening seminar of the Masters in Transpersonal Psychology program through Sofia University in Palo Alto California, students have been asked to provide answers to various “self-reflection” questions. Since I am convinced of the value, the utility of openness, transparency and collaboration as a business, educational, social and personal development model/practice, I am continuing with my commitment to ensuring my educational, spiritual and personal life are presented publicly. I will have much more to write about this topic at some point in the future, but for now I think I can describe part of the motivation, and value I see in using social media as a form of “crowd therapy“, with a quote from the movie “Crocodile Dundee II”.

Sue: People go to a psychiatrist to talk about their problems. She just needed to unload them. You know, bring them out in the open.

Dundee: Hasn’t she got any mates?

Sue: You’re right. I guess we could all use more mates. I suppose you don’t have any shrinks at Walkabout Creek.

Dundee: No back there if you got a problem you tell Wally. And he tells everyone in town, brings it out in the open, no more problem.

Self Reflection Questionnaire

(1) Generally, where am I in my life right now? What feelings, impulses, desires, or thoughts seem to be coming to consciousness at this time of my life? What seems to be emerging in my life right now?

I have a history of post-secondary education starting back in 1991 when I completed a Bachelors degree in psychology with an emphasis in neuropsychology and statistics. After a few years of working as a statistical consultant and youth-worker where I helped to develop and operate a treatment center for adolescent sexual offenders, I started to feel anxious for a return to school and a different lifestyle. So with one month’s rent paid on a lake shore cabin, and no employment prospects, I loaded up a five-ton moving truck and drove north from Vancouver to Prince George. It truly was “heaven on Earth” as I was living on a secluded lake with few neighbours and surrounded by a wilderness paradise. Within two weeks I was working as a painter, and within a few more weeks I was working for the newly opened University of Northern BC as a research assistant and was accepted into the Masters of Science program in psychology. I soon bought a house on a different lake just north of town. I had no visible neighbours and seven acres of pristine wilderness with around 200’ of lakeshore which offered up fishing, canoeing and even cross-country skiing in the winter. Graduate school, my first home on a lake with no visible neighbours, two wolf-hybrids and my ultimate Monster Truck. This was truly a life-style dream come true for me in every way.

Unfortunately, losing my advisor to another university combined with the pressures of work and my personal life, along with a growing tension in the department following my formal complaints to the Canadian Psychological Association which led to the removal of two faculty members, all contributed to not completing the thesis portion of the MSc program. Around 2001 I made the decision to change directions, leave the MSc program and focus on a business and technology career. Although it was extremely difficult to accept that after three+ years of work and classes I would have to leave the program, I had hoped to return to graduate school one day. The shift towards a technology career was also more than just a pragmatic or economic decision. The choice was actually more philosophical, ideological since I had been following the open-source community for some time and believed strongly in the power, the utility of the “open-knowledge” paradigm, a meritocratic model of you will, behind the open-source development process. I was confident that this model of “knowledge-sharing” or “collaborative-wisdom” could be useful in many areas beyond software development. Over the past decade I have been very pleased to see the expansion of this model of “knowledge-sharing” and “openness” spread to science, publications, education and even government.

All through my academic or professional life, both in psychology and technology, I have always had a passionate interest in the spiritual, philosophical and religious aspects of human life, as well the psychological and social. Ever since I was first introduced to the mystical and spiritual life of the shaman through the writing of Carlos Castaneda around 1975, I have had a strong interest in these “illuminating” and “revealing” meta-aspects of the human psyche and consciousness. Sure I had spent a decade or more formally studying the “empirical” and Western models of psychology and had learned a great deal about what the current model of “science” had to say about human consciousness and psychology. However, given that I had also been educating myself on the more Eastern, spiritual, philosophical and even metaphysical wisdom traditions, many of which outdated the modern “scientific” models of psychology by thousands of years, I often felt a sort of psychological or spiritual dissonance. I could not reconcile in my own mind, the stated and written claims of the Western models of human consciousness and psychology, with those of the written and historical records of psychology, spirituality and consciousness which I had been reading for the past three or more decades. How could I possibly have any respect for a discipline which claimed to provide “scientific explanations” of human psychology and consciousness when thousands of years of consciousness studies, spirituality and various “wisdom traditions” were ignored or dismissed? I could not help but feel somewhat disillusioned in my own academic career choice and concluded that the Western and “scientific” model of human psychology and consciousness was, at the very least, incomplete.

Therefore, after a decade of a (mostly) successful business and technology career, I started to reconsider a return to graduate school. I had heard of Transpersonal Psychology and was familiar with how much more broadly defined this growing discipline was when compared to the narrow and more rigidly defined models of psychology and consciousness found in traditional post-secondary institutions. Early in 2012 I started the application process for the Master’s in Transpersonal Psychology with the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (now Sofia University) and within a few months was accepted into the program starting in August of 2012.

At this time in my life I am struggling with the simultaneous feelings of profound certainty, clarity and conviction that I am on the “right” path – a path which began in 1975 after reading Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Castaneda – with feelings of anxiety and self-doubt since it has been more than 10 years since I have had to focus on an academic career. My single greatest concern is re-learning how to direct my focus and efforts in far fewer directions than the broad and scattered manner I have been approaching things lately. However, since I know my own history, my own record of successes and the passionate and singular focus with which I can apply to goals and interests, I am confident that I will succeed and demonstrate that I still have what it takes to successfully participate in, and hopefully contribute to, the field of transpersonal psychology. The combination of a return to graduate school in areas which I have been personally and spiritually interested nearly my entire life, along with my increased meditation practice, changes in diet and fitness, and an ever-growing concern for global issues and expanded understanding of human consciousness, I feel that the person I have always been is beginning to emerge. I intend to “feed” this growth and personal evolution with every bit of physical, psychological, emotional, educational and spiritual “food” that I can collect along the way, along the path. Since I also have the good fortune of being loved and supported by a goddess who is also on her own path of personal, physical and spiritual development, I will not be alone on my journey. This is a very comforting realization.

(2) How do my Sofia/ITP Global Program studies fit into my life’s vision?

For as long as I can remember I have had an interest in human behaviour, the different ways in which we “think” about things, our internal experience of consciousness and our sense of self or “identity”. When I first began reading about the mystical, spiritual and psychedelic experiences of the shaman when I was 15, I was absolutely amazed at this “other” aspect of human consciousness which could be experienced through various plants, drugs or ritual. Later, during my own experimentation’s with hallucinogens, I learned first-hand how these these experiences and insights into one’s own altered states of consciousness can impress upon how one views the world and their experience of the self. Once I entered university in 1986 to study psychology, a whole new world of understanding human behaviour and consciousness was introduced to me. However, all through my early academic education in psychology, I was also continuing to read and learn about Eastern philosophy’s, Buddhism, various spiritual practices and of course comparative religion. I soon found it hard to reconcile my current academic pursuits and interests with my growing understanding of these other areas of human psychology and consciousness which seemed to be completely ignored in the academic world. I don’t recall ever hearing the term “Transpersonal Psychology” until around 5 years ago and when I learned about it’s lengthy history, I had trouble answering the question “why was this field of psychology never brought to my attention during 6-7 years of formal study in 2 colleges and 2 universities”?

The academic study of psychology, psychological research, comparative religion, Eastern philosophy’s, meditation practices and the personal pursuit of self and spiritual development have now been formally united for me as a result of entering the graduate program in Transpersonal Psychology with Sofia University. Although I still have a long ways to go before I know if I can make a meaningful contribution to the field, or the community, the journey itself is the most personally satisfying life-transition I have ever made and aligns perfectly with my own life vision of better understanding these important aspects of human psychology and the role of spiritual development. As a long-term goal, I would like to be able to carry out research, teach, write and provide some sort of public or community service once I better understand how, or what I might be able to offer in this field.

(3) What are my expectations for this first year? What are my fears?

For the most part my expectations for the first year is to be introduced to a broad range of topics in the field of transpersonal psychology. Since I already have an extensive background in research and statistics, and love writing, I will also be looking for opportunities to contribute to, or participate in, research or writing in transpersonal psychology. I also hope or expect to begin creating new friendships and associations with other students, academics and professionals in the field. I don’t know if I have any “fears” although I am apprehensive about getting back “into the swing of things” as far is focused study is concerned, but I am sure this will pass once I put my nose back to the grindstone.

(4) How do I hope this year at Sofia/ITP will change me personally?

Over the past 10 years or so I have pursued many different interests in many different fields and have unfortunately allowed my physical condition to deteriorate. Now that I am starting down a formal path of educational, spiritual and personal development, I am hoping that I will also begin to acquire a renewed interest, and effort, towards physical as well as psychological health. Ultimately I would also like to return to rock climbing which has actually played more of a “spiritual” role in my life than just a simple physical sport.

(5) How do I hope this year at Sofia/ITP will change my professional life?

Currently I am still employed in the business and technology fields, and likely for the next few years at least. However, as I work through the program with Sofia, I will be looking for opportunities where my broad experience in business management, technology, communications, information management, collaboration, analytics/statistics and “open” learning models can be combined with my academic pursuits in transpersonal psychology. As I mentioned previously, at this point my long-term goals are to carry out research, teach, write and provide some sort of public or community service once I better understand how, or what I might be able to offer in the field of transpersonal psychology.

(6) What attitudes or qualities do I need in order to make this year a truly satisfying one for me?

Not knowing (yet) what sorts of new or unexpected challenges I may face along this journey, I believe the “qualities” or “attitudes” that might be the most valuable, are resilience and persistence. I am certain that I will face many new challenges or obstacles during this first year with Sofia University. Therefore, I will need to ensure I expect the unexpected, anticipate overwhelming challenges which may chip away at my motivation and allow for a flexibility in my thinking and expectations. And most of all, never stop trying – never give up!

(7) What else comes to mind?

Although I have taken many “distance” courses and programs over the years, I have some concerns about how well a distance graduate program will function. There are so many more challenges in graduate school that having one-to-one relationships with, and direct access to, faculty and advisors is always helpful for developing a rapport with one’s mentors.

Intention (Setting Goals)

The goals of the Sofia/ITP curriculum are intended to affirm student growth and development in a variety of ways including: (a) personal transformation; (b) understanding of the field of transpersonal psychology; (c) understanding through a variety of ways of knowing, such a stories, creative expression and, scholarship; (d) openness to a diversity of worldviews and ecological concerns; and (e) application of the material into the larger community of partnership, community and world. You may be wondering where this journey will take you and you also probably have some distinct goals for your learning. Write goals for each of the eight areas emphasized in the ITP program.

(1) Intellectual/ Theoretical (this might include learning, information, special areas of interest)

  • Develop a comprehensive understanding of the history of, and influences on, the field of transpersonal psychology.
  • Understand the evolution and development of transpersonal psychology as well as the current “academic” status/standing/recognition of the field compared to the more established areas such as cognitive, developmental and evolutionary psychology etc.
  • Understand the various psychological attributes or other factors which influence not only why certain spiritual beliefs are followed, but the particular forms or interpretations of these beliefs which develop across people and cultures.
  • Learn and understand the role of transpersonal psychology, meditation and other “spiritual” activities in both the younger and older members of the population. I have a background in youthcare and have been trying to follow the increasing evidence for, and value in, empathy/compassion training for youth. I am also very interested in the potential role for transpersonal psychology/methods in dealing with terminal illness and end-of-life psychology – the role of spirituality in reconciling with one’s mortality for instance.
  • It also goes without saying that I have a strong interest in understanding the role of transpersonal psychology, spirituality, meditation and other studies as they relate to human consciousness.
  • I am also interested in the potential role for social-media and the globalization of societies as a tool or catalyst for new “crowd-sourced” approaches to psychological and spiritual counselling and support.

(2) Physical (this area might include health, balance, well-being, recovery from illness, the body-mind connection, body consciousness, body work, etc.)

  • Drop 40lbs by the end of 2012
  • Return to rock climbing in the Spring of 2013
  • Register for one of the summer 2013 mountain bike races in Squamish
  • Improve my diet, less processed foods, more organic produce

(3) Emotional (personal growth, empowerment, expanding emotional feeling and range, expanding intuition, reconnecting with your authentic self, healing old wounds)

  • Continued reduction and minimization of ego
  • Improved/expanded capacity for universal compassion
  • Increased capacity for tolerance/acceptance/respect for all people

(4) Spiritual (deep connection to nature, awareness of the numinous or divine, relationship with Spirit, higher power, or God, etc.)

  • I would like to personally experience one or more of the spiritual rituals associated with psychotropic plants such as ayahuasca.
  • Significantly increase and expand my own meditation practice.
  • Supplement my education in transpersonal psychology with courses/programs in Buddhist philosophy, comparative religion etc.

(5) Creative expression (this might include risk taking, developing ability to express, exploring the arts, becoming more in touch with your intuition, following impulses)

  • First and foremost I plan to return to rock climbing. Some of my most meaningful, personal and spiritually illuminating experiences came about from climbing. At no time in my life have I ever felt more connected to my self, or the True Nature of the universe and human consciousness, than when I was climbing in good form.
  • I would also like to pursue more creative avenues such as writing, photography and music. Currently I have been a “ practising” writer and a “practising” photographer but have not (yet) delved into music. I hope to purchase a keyboard and begin taking piano lessons within my first year of the graduate program with Sofia.

(6) Community/relational (this might include finding meaningful ways to connect with your family, your friends, community, or the Earth)

  • I plan to try and participate more in local community groups, charities, addiction support services, youth and elderly care as well as local government.
  • This may also be related to the “Diversity” question below but I would like to find some way to connect and engage with the local Squamish religious and spiritual communities which for the most part, seem to act somewhat independent of each other. I believe a great deal could be achieved in the way of better understanding each other’s belief systems, philosophies and practices through improved communications and collaboration between these groups.

(7) Diversity (this might include any ways that you wish to be inclusive of a variety of world views)

  • I have always been an extremely open-minded person when it comes to different philosophical, religious or spiritual views. Having spent many years reading material on comparative religion has introduced me to many of the world’s different religious and spiritual systems. However, I also hope to one day travel to different parts of the world and immerse myself in different cultures and belief systems in order to better understand the many ways in which people view, experience and relate to the world around them, as well as how they integrate religion or spiritual beliefs/practices into their lives.

(8) Environment (this might include any goals that foster ecological awareness)

  • I live in a wilderness and outdoor recreation paradise, Squamish BC (which is actually nicknamed the “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada). We have world-class rock climbing, mountain biking, wind surfing, kite boarding and of course world-class skiing up the road in Whistler BC. The intersection between outdoor recreational use and environmental stewardship of these areas is frequent topic in the community and municipality. One of my goals is to join the local mountain biking group (Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association) and volunteer time on their weekly trail building/maintenance outings and to better understand how best to manage our environmental responsibilities while providing responsible use by the outdoor community.