Emergence of the Field of Transpersonal Psychology
Amongst the earliest pioneers who are commonly considered to have laid the cornerstone for the field of transpersonal psychology are: 1) William James, 2) Carl Jung, 3) Roberto Assagioli, and 4) Abraham Maslow. Maslow is often credited with having named the “fourth force” in psychology “transpersonal” to distinguish it from psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and humanistic psychologies. However, it was Jung who was the first to distinguish his school of analytical psychology from Freudian psychoanalysis in 1912, and his demarcation was drawn clearly over the issue of the personal and collective (or transpersonal) unconscious. Jung made use of the word “transpersonal” in Two Essays on Analytical Psychology where he used the term synonymously with the concept of the collective unconscious (Jung, 1953b, p. 64). But the earliest usage of the term “transpersonal” is located in lecture notes that William James prepared for lectures at Harvard University in 1905-1906.
The Wonderful Stream of our Consciousness and Automatic Writing
In early 1883, William James began to speak about “the wonderful stream of our consciousness” (Richardson, 2006, p. 234). How to tap into the wonderful stream of our consciousness was the main question James set out to answer. Later, James would write in Principles of Psychology that “The state of our consciousness is peculiar. There is a gap therein; but no mere gap. It is a gap that is intensively active” (Richardson, 2006, p. 235). This “gap” is an opening in ego consciousness to the sea of the transpersonal Self. James wanted to operate as a scientific researcher through an opening in the doorway to this mother-sea. One method James experimented with early on in his explorations of the “gap” into the subconscious Self was automatic writing. Automatic writing is thinking and suspending our critical faculties and writing down our feelings, ideas and fantasies in the now, the rush of the moment. When you take out a pad of paper and a pen or pencil or a laptop computer and begin writing, whatever comes to your mind is what you put down, without any interruption and without any conscious judgment. Then you are in the stream. Then you are open to the “gap” that is intensely active. This is automatic writing. In his 1896 Lowell Lectures on “Exceptional Mental States,” James began his teaching by asking each person in the audience to experiment first with automatic writing. This was revolutionary in American psychology because it shows how experimental and experiential James was from the start (Taylor, 2010). James noted in an October 1909 essay “The Confidences of a ‘Psychical Researcher’”: “The first automatic writing I ever saw was forty years ago… Since then I have come to see in automatic writing one example of a department of human activity as vast as it is enigmatic,” and he added that it can at times record “the presence” of “really supernormal knowledge” (James, 1987, pp. 1263, 1264). What was new was the scientific attitude James brought to study the question of how to stimulate dynamisms and vocalisms in others through writing. What James was interested in exploring through writing was the entrance of consciousness through a doorway into the extra-marginal fields.
The Subliminal Door
Let me see if I can help explain what he means by extra-marginal fields. The way energies or powers in the extra-marginal field can get into us, James said, is through “the subliminal door” (James, 1987, p. 224). Research into the fields of extra-marginal consciousness gave James empirical confidence that: “We have the beginnings of a ‘Science of Religions,’ so-called” (James, 1987, p. 189). If psychology could make the objects of trans-marginal vision the subject of its empirical investigations through experiential openings in the subliminal door, James believed, we might be able to transform the study of religion into a universally convincing science: “I do not see why a critical Science of Religion of this sort might not eventually command as general a public adhesion as is commanded by a physical science” (James, 1987, p. 409). Thus, for James the way in to the study of the subliminal self was through a doorway that opens up into the mystery of one’s deepest destiny-pattern and from which our actions, practice, and practical considerations come into being. “The doorway into the subject,” James continued, in Varieties, “seems to me to be the best one for a science of religions, for it mediates between a number of different points of view. Yet it is only a doorway, and difficulties present themselves as soon as we step through it, and ask how far our transmarginal consciousness carries us if we follow it on its remoter side.” (James, 1987, p. 458). James did not take the narrow view of religions. Rather, he adopted the empirical view, as Jung would after him. Yet “To give up one’s concept of being good,” James added, in his paper “Reason and Faith,” “is the only door to the Universe’s deeper reaches” (Richardson, 2006, p. 469). As I say in my paper “William James & C. G. Jung: The Emergence of the Field of Transpersonal Psychology": research into the mother-sea (James) or collective psyche (Jung) through experiential openings in the subliminal door is a way of transpersonal psychology’s future. (For further reading see my Publications Page).
Herrmann, S. (2016). “William James & C. G. Jung: The Emergence of the Field of Transpersonal Psychology.” In Integral Transpersonal Journal of Arts, Sciences and Technologies, No. 8, June 2016, pp. 22-57. H
James, W. (1987). William James: Writings 1902-1910. New York: The Library of America.
Richardson, R. (2006). William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism. New York: Mariner Book, Houghton Mifflin Company.
Doorways at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, by Steven Herrmann.
"The Future of Transpersonal Psychology": A Talk Given at the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Berkeley, CA, on September 17, 2017.