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  Transformations Banner  

A Psychosynthesis 12-Step Program
for Transforming Consciousness:
Creative Explorations of Inner Space

Journal of Counseling and Values,
Vol. 45 (2), January, 2001.

CEIS Front


    This article examines processes that expand and transform consciousness. The field of Transpersonal Psychology is presented with its investigations into rituals, spiritual disciplines and techniques that provoke them.  A model for understanding how such experiences occur is outlined, called Psychosynthesis, and an inner source of guidance, called the Higher Self, is discussed at length. A 12-step program that can facilitate expansions and transformations of consciousness is presented called Creative Explorations of Inner Space.  


Transforming consciousness is a difficult and complex process. The term "transformation" conveys a wide spectrum of meanings.  At the low end, it implies a simple change in form or energetic state.  For instance, when water is heated to 212 degrees it transforms into steam, but when the temperature falls below this, water quickly condenses back into its liquid state.  Conventional, rationally oriented counseling, or talk therapy, helps clients confront and gain understanding and insight about their dysfunctional patterns of thinking.  An increase in awareness of such patterns, and their effects, is an important first step in a path toward taking responsibility for and improving them (Dobson, 1996; Ellis & Harper, 1999).   At the mid range, transformation can imply new growth, as when birds molt and grow new feathers or crabs sluff and grow new shells. Behaviorally oriented counseling helps clients better manage such dynamics as aggression, anxiety, pain and stress (Spiegler, 1997). At the high end, however, transformation implies metamorphosis, "a marked or complete change of character, appearance or condition" (Guralnik, p. 893). A seed transforms into a living, growing plant. A caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.

High-end transformations of consciousness result from unusually powerful life experiences or from the persistent and disciplined use of inspiring methods and techniques that facilitate them. Transformation is a delicate and fragile process not easy to achieve, and specific principles seem to underlie it.  In the world of nature, the metamorphosis of a caterpillar seems to result from at least three interlocking factors:  right timing, the safety of a chrysalis, and the successful completion of an internally driven process. When complete, the caterpillar's basic form has restructured and a butterfly emerges. Right timing, safety, and the direction of an inner guiding principle seem also to be necessary for the restructuring or transformation of basic patterns within the human psyche.

Watzlawick (1993) suggests that much of counseling and psychotherapy, however, inappropriately tries to help people transform consciousness with a too cognitive approach, with "the digital language of explanation, argument, analysis, confrontation, interpretation and so forth."  Working with what he terms right hemisphere language--image, symbol, metaphor and myth--seems to be the best path to therapeutic change because "in it the world image is conceived and expressed, and it is, therefore, the key to our being in, and our suffering in relation to, the world"(p. 47).   How have people in the past tried to transform their internalized world images and the behaviors that express them? Where can be found a deeper understanding of processes that underlie high-end transformations of consciousness?

Transpersonal Psychology

Transformations of consciousness have been widely researched in the field of Transpersonal Psychology (Assagioli, 1993; Walsh & Vaughan, 1993; Wilber, 1999; Wilber, Engler & Brown, 1986).  The Latin prefix trans means "on the other side of" as implied by the word "transatlantic", or "above and beyond" as implied by the verb "transcend". Persona, in Latin, means "mask", and the word "personality" derives from it. Efforts within transpersonal psychology are intended to understand how to help people explore nonordinary levels of awareness or altered states of consciousness--on the other side of or beyond their personality masks.

Abraham Maslow (1968), the man who introduced the concept of self-actualization , also coined the term 'transpersonal'. In a letter to a colleague, Anthony Sutich, Maslow said, "The main reason I'm writing is that, in the course of our conversations, we thought of using the word "transpersonal" instead of the clumsier word "transhumanistic" or "transhuman."  The more I think of it, the more this word says what we are all trying to say, that is, beyond individuality, beyond development of the individual person into something that is more inclusive than the individual person or which is bigger than he is"(Sutich, 1976, p. 16).

The need and search for transpersonal experience is as old as human kind.  But what is this "something" that is more inclusive or "bigger"than the individual? Special ceremonies, rituals, disciplines, and powerful techniques have been used throughout time to provoke the regenerative effects of the transformative process.  A few examples might be helpful. 

For centuries, in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, people have gone to caves, mountain tops and other remote places to practice yoga, meditation and other disciplines directed toward an experience of the "Self" (Gyasto, 1998; Yogananda, 1981).  More will be said about the Self in a moment. In Hatha and Integral Yoga traditions, a rapid breathing technique called pranayama is employed to facilitate unusual states of awareness (Satchidananda, 1998). This technique became widely known as Rebirthing in the late 1960's (Begg, 1999), and is now also known as Holotropic breathwork (Grof, 1992; Taylor, 1998). Within various Moslem Dervish orders,  members practice howling, whirling and trance dancing (Garnett, 000). Christian hermits, mystics, monks and saints have striven through prayer, fasting, solitude, austere discipline and self-denial, to reach spiritual or transpersonal states of awareness (Bobin, 1999; Frohlich, 1994; Romano, 1996).

For generations, Native Americans have purified themselves in the heat of the sweat lodge in search of transcendent experiences (Bucko,1999).  Some  undergo rituals of severe physical stress, body piercing and intense pain such as the Sun Dance to provoke trance states (Walker, 000).  Plains Indians go on vision quests to make contact with what they call the spirit world, to find and symbolically identify with animals or totems from nature from which they derive power, direction and meaning (Dugan, 1985; Mann, 1972).  Adaptations of the vision quest  practice are growing in popularity in the United States (Brown, 1989; Foster, 1989; Kendz, 1999).  A Native American ritual called the Bone Game requires members of opposing teams to make hundreds of decisions on the basis of consensus out of which comes for the players a state of awareness that might be called group or tribal consciousness (Brown, 1990).

The Huichol Indians in Mexico use the hallucinogenic peyote cactus in night-long drumming and chanting ceremonies then symbolize their visions in beautiful yarn paintings (Berrin, 1978; de la Cruz & Lumholz, 1998). Merkur (1998) states that "the desire for religious experiences may be held responsible for the large proportion of Peyotists' self-reports that pertain to unitive experiences"and that "among the Highland Chinantecs of Mexico, psilocybin mushrooms are employed for internal dialogues with the divine in a reverential manner"(pp. 168-171).

Brown (1999) reports having had such a unitive experience in 1975 at the peak of a night-long Peyote circle ritual that was guided by a Huichol Indian Shaman.  

    "It was a very different world to which I returned when I lifted off the sleeping bag and looked around.  The fire was alive!  The stars were alive!  The Shaman and the people in the circle were alive, connected--everything connected like the cells, muscles, organs of my body.  A great secret had been experienced and revealed.  I was separate and unique, and yet all of this was part of me, and I, a part of it.

    "Shortly, Don Caterino instructed us to stand up and stretch.  We could walk around the meadow for a few moments and experience the environment.  I stood up, left the circle and wandered into the moon drenched meadow.  The crickets and tree frogs continued the music of the rattles everywhere.  The field was alive. I was alive.  I began to do a slow, spontaneous dance to life and, as I did, I felt powerful cascades of energy flow through me.

CEIS Peyote

"Suddenly, as I danced, a woman was beside me, dancing just like me.  We came together, began to mirror one another's movements.  She and I embraced and began to do a dance of unity. I lifted her off the ground, she lifted me. We pulled against one another with equal force, two bodies of equal strength, two souls sharing a common vision, locked in one harmonious dance of life.

"I lifted her onto my back, back to back, and held her there.  It was as if she were a slain deer and I was the hunter. It was as if the hunter and the hunted had become one. It seemed as if I had taken the life of this deer so that I might live, yet in the full knowledge that my life, too, would someday be sacrificed so that Life would continue on, forever. Life and death were one. Male and female, one.  The stars and the sparks of fire were one. The moon shadows of the giant redwood trees and the darkness of the night, one.  One. ONE!!!"(pp.133-4; Halifax, 1981, p.71).

Native practices have always been rigorous and demanding on every level. They have always been approached with reverence and have been conducted and supervised by wise elders of the community with long experience in using the methodologies.  They have always been carried out in a sacred way and have been carefully interpreted.

About the western, clinical use of LSD and other psychedelic substances, Grof (1976) compares their "potential significance for psychiatry and psychology to that of the microscope for medicine or the telescope for astronomy"(p. 32-3). Beautifully abstract and aesthetic experiences, the reliving and resolution of childhood trauma, emotional release, and experiences of a transpersonal or spiritual nature are but a few of the positive effects that can result from the wise and careful use of these powerful agents ( pp. 34-214).  MDMA, or "ecstasy" as it is popularly known, is increasingly being used by high school students, and others, for its empathy enhancing effects.  Metzner calls this drug an empathogen because it generates "a profound state of empathy for self and other in the most general and profound terms.  A state of empathy where the feeling is that the self, the other, and the world is basically good, is all right.  This state can be referred to as the ground of being, the core of our being, a still point of our being "(Eisner, 1989, p. 33-34). "In a 1998 survey, 8% of high school seniors said they had tried e, up from 5.8% the year before.  In New York City, according to another survey, 1 in 4 adolescents have tried ecstasy"(Cloud, 000). 

To understand the dynamics of transformation, then, those who do research in Transpersonal Psychology investigate such rituals, rites-of-passage, methods and techniques in an attempt to distill from them an understanding of principles that underlie  transformations of consciousness. Practitioners attempt the careful, appropriate, and adapted use of such practices to help clients awaken and develop human resources such as creativity, imagination, intuition, illumination, and revelation (Ferrucci, 1982; Grof, 1988; Vaughan, 1989; Scotten, Clinen & Battista, 1996).

Campbell (1968), however, cautions that three steps need to be carefully followed to ensure that, like the metamorphosis of a caterpillar, such explorations result in positive outcomes: "separation--initiation--return...A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man"(p.30).

In counseling, these three steps might be called preparation, exploration, and integration. By separating or disidentifying from ordinary life activities, preparation is made to enter unusual or alternate states of consciousness. Exploration occurs through the use of explicit and often unusual methods and techniques that drive awareness either more deeply inward or more expansively outward. And integration comes when the resulting inspiration and energy is grounded through specific action in daily life.


An increasing number of mental health practitioners are searching for models to understand transpersonal experience and methods to facilitate it in safe and effective ways for clients who seek them.  Psychosynthesis is such a model. It is a  psychological and educational approach to human development first articulated by the student of Freud and colleague of Jung, Italian psychoanalyst Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974). The term Psychosynthesis has, at its root, two Greek words: syn, which means "together", and thesis,  which means "a placing". The concept of synthesis implies a placing together of parts so as to form an integrated whole, and Psychosynthesis refers to a process directed toward the integration and harmonious expression of the totality of human nature--physical, emotional, mental and spiritual (Gerard, 1964).

Psychosynthesis theory asserts there is a principle of growth within the human psyche, an inner guide--the Higher Self, that can provide the inspiration, energy and wisdom necessary to understand more deeply, work more creatively, love more authentically, and successfully meet the challenges of each stage in life.  Throughout time people have had the intuition that such an inner guide existed.  "The Greeks called it man's inner daimon; in Egypt it was expressed by the concept of the Ba-soul; and the Romans worshiped of it as the "genius" native to each individual. In more primitive societies, it was often thought of as a protective spirit within an animal or a fetish. (Jung, 1972, p. 161). 

Assagioli (1965) says this Self is beyond or above the personality and is "unaffected by the flow of the mind-stream or by bodily conditions; and the personal conscious self should be considered merely as its reflection, it's "projection" in the field of personality"(p. 19). He further differentiates between the little self and the higher, spiritual Self by saying that "the little self is acutely aware of itself as a distinct separate individual, and a sense of solitude or of separation sometimes comes in the existential experience.  In contrast, the experience of the spiritual Self is a sense of freedom, of expansion, of communication with other Selves and with reality, and there is a sense of Universality. It feels itself at the same time individual and universal"(p 87).

Wilber (1996) echos this and says that when individuals move into transpersonal levels of awareness, and transpersonal development, there emerges in consciousness what he calls an observing self.  "This observing self is usually called the Self with a capital S, or the Witness, or pure Presence, or pure awareness, or consciousness as such, and this Self as transparent Witness is a direct ray of the living Divine...In each case consciousness or the observing Self sheds an exclusive identity with a lesser and shallower dimension, and opens up to deeper and higher and wider occasions, until it opens up to its own ultimate ground in Spirit itself"(pp. 197-199).

This higher, spiritual Self, however, is as difficult to define as it is to experience.  "To all who are religious we can say that it is the neutral psychological term used for the soul; for those who are agnostic we can say...there is a higher center in man"(Assagioli, 1965, p. 86).  Symbols can point toward or lead to an experience of the spiritual Self, and there seem to be two distinct kinds. "The first group is composed of abstract or geometrical and nature symbols....the second group...is of a more or less personified type. In this group we find the Angel, the Inner Christ–in the mystical sense, the Inner Warrior, the Old Sage, and the Inner Master or Teacher,,, A technique which is very important and fruitful in establishing a relationship between the personal self and the Spiritual Self...is the Technique of Inner Dialogue"(p. 203).

Brown (1990) gives testimony to the fascinating if not transforming effect on awareness of contacting the Higher Self. In 1975, faced with an unwanted but impending divorce, he went into the wilderness of Quebec for six weeks of solitude.  On the third day of his retreat he had this dream.  In the dream I found myself in a simple hut with an old man, a medicine man or Shaman. I told the old man that I sought to be a healer. He told me it was possible, but that I would have to undergo many things as preparation and as training.

    "The old man told me, "This face only knows one life.  Consciousness is much broader than one life. In order to be a healer, it is necessary to know consciousness in its fullness. This face is tied to a personal history." Then he killed me by taking off my face."I began to go on an incredible inner journey. I asked the old man for permission to descend into the depths, which he granted, and he wished me well. I felt his protection as I began my descent.


    CEIS Shaman

      I came to realize, over and over, how narrow were my beliefs, my knowledge, the limits of the world in which

    I lived. I began to realize that, to be a healer, one has to have "True Vision", for that which affects people originates in many places and on many different levels--never solely in the consensual world we so narrowly share with others, and not just from the dynamics of the present moment.

"I came to a place of fear inside myself.  It was the fear of letting go of the personal expression of life that I had come to know myself to be--my personal identity.  I was also

afraid to lose the love contacts I had developed in my life--family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances.  I was afraid to be totally alone. Then I realized I would even have to let go of my contact with the old man to continue. Which I did.

    "I felt a complete, wonderful aloneness. I was completely with my Self, and my fear disappeared entirely. I realized that the center of myself, my Self, was enough to cling to. I felt peaceful, calm.  Soon I was ready to descend further, centered on this Self awareness.

    "I sensed incredible music.  I drew protection, strength and energy from it. I understood that all levels of consciousness--the dead, the living, the not-yet-born--exist at once, in one great symphony of Being.  

    "I was purified many times: each purification allowed me to see another vision, provided new knowledge with which to heal. Never had I known the depths of this vocation, the trials that were necessary, and always deeper and more inclusive purification.  I felt I had to resolve many conflicts from the past, and from past lives, to be clear in this one. 

    "I entered a higher state of consciousness somehow, and merged with my Self. From this point of view I could see, understand, and dialogue with my own ego.  I came to realize this ego needed to develop a sense of transparency, needed to let go of the blocks which prevented the flowing of power and energy through it. The blocks involved concerns about relatedness, the need for personal love, and patterns around getting needs met. My ego wondered how to validate its needs, how to be fulfilled personally.  My ego knew so much depth, was aware of so many levels already, that its own needs were seldom getting met.

    "I dialogued with my ego.  I told him he needed to live like others do. He needed to understand his patterns, share that understanding with others, and strive to get his needs met.  I told him to relate to other people in this light and teach them new ways of meeting their needs with deeper awareness.  He said this perspective helped him let go of the illusion that he should be self-less and need-less. It was an illusion that he had to live above others, with a false sense of purity, pretending he had no needs, or simply being out of touch with them.  The ego part of me needed to receive as deeply as he gave and, when he felt frustrated, disappointed or rejected, I would be with him.  He said if that were so, then he could do anything.

    "At one point, I received the power to speak with the dead.  These entities told me they often held the key to problems in the present. I thanked them for coming to me and for teaching me. I told them I would be open to further communication with them whenever it was necessary.

    "After many lessons, I was completely cleansed.  The life energy, love energy, Christ energy could pass through me into the instant we call the present. To be a healer meant to be able to help people resolve the conflicts or the stuck elements of Mind manifest in them with this energy. 

    "At every level I was amazed by what it meant to be a healer, and at every level I was worthy, able to do that which was necessary. I felt energy flow very strongly in my being.  I began my ascent. I passed again the place of my fear.  It no longer had control of me. Never had I known the depths of this vocation, the trials there were necessary, and always the deeper and more inclusive purifications. All of my channels of awareness were open and I felt in touch with a kind of pure energy that could flow from me into others.   

    "I remember in the dream being ready to return to my body. I realized the process was about complete--the initiation--and I was ready to return to the time-and-space continuum once again. I became deeply aware of the narrowness of what I thought I had known before.  The world is, and each one of us is, so infinitely much more than we allow ourselves to know.

    "I felt a great sense of humor as I waited for my new face.  I felt excitement and joy, which let the old man know that I was ready. He knew well what it meant to be a healer.  He knew that I did not know, and now he knew that I did know.  The old man laughed, and we shared quite an expansive sense of humor, as he put my new face on and brought me back into the world" (pp. 51-2).

Fischer (1972) attempts to explain what is going on here.  "Communication between the program of the 'Self' and its gradually learned projection, the worldly 'I', seems possible only during the hallucinatory or dream state where the 'I' and the 'Self' meet...We interpret the communication during these states as a striving for consistency between the 'I' and the 'Self'...who is speaking and to whom?  The 'Self' and the 'I' are speaking–and to each other.  The creative act is a luxurious bi-product of this dialogue and is the very source of art, science, literature and religion"(p. 171). 

Psychosynthesis provides a theoretical framework and a wide range of practical methods with which to connect to and align with this principle of inner growth (Weiser & Yeomans, 1984, 1985; Harmon, Roselli, Achterberg & Crampton, 1997).  In blending the perspectives and methods of Eastern and Western philosophy, psychology, and religion, Psychosynthesis theory offers a comprehensive view of mankind that reflects a positive, hopeful, and productive attitude toward life. It stresses the development of authentic individuality and asserts that this development is fundamental to the evolution of a better society.

Continued in Part 2




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