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Spiritual Psychology: An evolving paradigm

by Victoria LePage

Copyright Victoria LePage 2008

When the great psychiatric pioneer, Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), opened the doors of his clinic in Zurich it was in order to deal with cases of behavioural pathology, many of them from the mental asylums. It was tacitly assumed at that time that the ultimate goal of treatment would be reached when his patients were no longer cultural misfits, but were able to fit in comfortably with the worldview, values, customs and ideals of their society. But it was not long before his brilliant pupil, Carl G. Jung, asked the heretical sixty four thousand dollar question: what if society itself were sick? What if it were the world that needed healing rather than the patient? And then came the corollary. What if indeed the goal should be the realization of the patient’s inner potential for rich and creative living on his own terms, rather than those of the external environment? And what if, in defiance of the modern materialistic worldview, the full potential of each human being embraced spiritual as well as material and social realities?

From then on, the potential for what amounted to a polarisation between the respective worldviews of Freud and Jung has been realized in a distinct and ever-growing fracture within the discipline as a whole. While the Freudian worldview remains in general conservative, a shoot has branched out – not without difficulty and yet with increasing strength - from the main body of the Western psychotherapeutic profession bearing the formula for a psychology that will honour the spiritual as well as the social needs of clients. On the basis of a metaphysics that embraces the inseparability of spirit and matter as aspects of one greater reality, the new paradigm is fast establishing a secure niche for itself in a deeply opposed post-modern environment.

Addressing this deep rift in the psychotherapeutic profession, Ken Wilber, one of the most forward-thinking philosophers of our time, asks: what does the word psychology actually mean? Turning to the most ancient metaphysical sources, he says:

The word psychology means the study of the psyche, and the word psyche means mind or soul. In the Microsoft Thesaurus, for psyche we find: “self: atman, soul, spirit; subjectivity; higher self, spiritual self, spirit.” One is reminded… that the roots of psychology lie deep within the human soul and spirit.i

This had not been Sigmund Freud’s understanding. Freud saw his psychotherapeutic discipline as a social science to be made as exact as possible within the narrow parameters of the modern physical sciences, and was scathing, indeed outraged, at the threat of an intrusion of “psychism” into a field he saw as demanding the utmost intellectual rigour. To this day modern spirituality traditions, religious paths and the vagaries and confusions of occultism are strongly disfavoured among those practitioners who, like Freud, look to follow an exact psychological science: the specialist in this field who meditates is still a rarity. The implicit attitude is that clients who come for help need down-to-earth solutions to their problems, sickness and social dilemmas, not pie-in-the-sky phantasies or at best unproven theories.

Nevertheless, the initial powerful insight of a few pioneers like Jung, Maslow, Grof, Habermas, Assagioli and Wilber among others has encouraged within the last few decades an entirely new field of psychotherapeutic specialization. A galaxy of clinical trailblazers who have brought spirituality and socio-religious concepts back into the discipline are achieving its transition from an exact post-modern science into a new, undreamed-of dimension of soul work. Their aim has been to bring to life the full psycho-spiritual potential of those who seek their help, not only as a cure for neuroses but as deep training in the art of living.

To this end, a new definition of the individual is evolving as a closed, self-governing system, a holon or quantum unit rather than as a dependent part of the greater collective whole, thus introducing a revolution in our traditional concept of the human being.

We are not used to thinking of the Self as an autonomous system, a bipolar, self-organising entity whose conscious processes are self-originating and self-determining; yet that in effect is what the new school of psychology is proposing. The timeliness and importance of the development cannot be overstated, occurring as it does in a period in which humanity is undergoing a critical global transformation of consciousness. At no time has the human condition been more in need of a new vocabulary of transcendence. This period of crisis, says Wilber, ”is the dawning of the age of vision-logic, the rise of the network society,” and the beginning of more imaginative, self-reflective and spiritual ways of thinking. ii

. Many of the spiritual teachers of the New Age tell us that this prevailing sense of crisis is occasioned by the fact that collective humanity is now standing at the threshold of the spiritual world, facing some unknown, unimaginable dénouement. Some interpret it in terms of the Mayan prophecy of 2012 CE, which seems to have reference to cosmic/stellar events involving the planet and its inhabitants as a whole. But the threshold crisis can also be seen as of an individual psychological nature that invites a narrower perspective. What does 2012 CE mean in the consciousness of the single individual? Can it be translated into visual terms that are more directly and personally comprehensible? If so, can they be factored into a meaningful psychological graph?

Up until recently, most structural definitions of the human being have relied on the formula known as the Great Chain of Being taught by the ancient temple brotherhoods: that is, the idea that a human being is a hierarchy of states composed of body, mind, soul and spirit – or more simply, body, soul and spirit. Another system that offers a comparable perspective is the Hindu yogic concept of the ascension of consciousness up seven energy centres or kundalini chakras in the human spine, which together articulate a person’s overall hierarchy of functions.

But there are in-built deficiencies in this traditional model. Being little more than a static list of inner states, it fails to show their complex relationships and inherent polarities, nor the threshold at which the resolution of these polarities begins. In other words, there is no known traditional mechanism for showing the cyclic passage of consciousness through these states – a passage that permits an evolutionary transition from polarisation to unity.

Furthermore, such traditional models as the Great Chain of Being are implicitly tied to linear time: they expose the presumption that the upper spiritual reaches may only be reached in the course of the individual’s further development. Until then he is, so to speak, a Freudian construct, an incomplete, virtually truncated creature cut off from the spiritual realm and confined to the lower dimensions of the persona and the exigencies of his social setting. The very idea of a spiritual threshold loses its meaning in such a view, for the upper states remain future potentials rather than present realities in the beingness of the individual.iii

Consequently, none of the known traditional models provide an adequate picture of the existential pattern of the human system in all its holistic dynamism: to the contrary, the linear nature implied in all of them, linking them with past, present and future time, has perpetuated in our modern culture an extremely limited view of ourselves – one which recent evidence suggests was not held by the inner brotherhoods themselves.

Embedded in a work called the The Zelator, David Ovason’s study of the first grade in the Rosicrucian initiatory system, we find hints of the secret knowledge held by the spiritual schools of antiquity on this very arcane subject.iv The old temple brotherhoods knew that truth, like art, is never literal and so expressed the human constitution in a non-linear mandalic form. They believed that spiritual energies pour continuously into physical manifestation, and that the human being is in truth a holon, a magnetically polarized instrument whose beautifully balanced, self-governing elements, spiritual as well as physical, are all instantaneously present and interacting. Thus to leave spirituality out of the healing situation is to invite a band-aid solution at best – and at worst is destructive.

The principles of a truly spiritual psychology are found well expressed in the teachings of both Rudolph Steiner (1861 – 1925) and those of the Greek-Armenian magus George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866 – 1949) who defined man as “an apparatus for the transformation of energies.”v Neither Steiner nor Gurdjieff to my knowledge systematized their anthropological ideas in the visual form suggested in The Zelator, but those ideas are implicit nevertheless in the logo which I submit below.

I cannot pretend my logo or mandala is more than a loose approximation of the original sacred knowledge implied in Ovason’s book, which draws on the sevenfold chakra system of the spiritual tradition in its oldest and most esoteric form. But the diagram below, by short circuiting the elaborate verbalisations of the intellect, may serve to flesh out pictorially a more creative approach to the living Self and its threshold crisis than has circulated in our culture up to date.

As can be seen, in the above mandala the soul occupies the centre. It is the Command Centre of the whole, lying athwart the median line representing the threshold that divides the upper dimension of spirit from the lower dimension of matter. The three “material” or natural principles below the median line together represent the persona and are traditionally regarded as reflections of the three spiritual principles above it. They comprise the physical body, the etheric or life body and the astral or desire body, the latter of which includes the lower emotions and the lower mind. The cycle of developing consciousness (represented by a dotted line) begins in the physical body, gradually incorporates the life body and the desire body and then enters the soul field, circling it before transiting the soul into manas.

Above the median line and across the threshold are the three spiritual principles. These comprise manas - that is, the higher emotions and higher mind; buddhi or intuitive wisdom; and atman or spiritual will. Contrary to the popular viewpoint, in the model of the Self presented here the spiritual principles above cannot by any means whatever be divorced from their natural reflections below or be regarded as mere future potentials. Continually transiting the soul, they stream down into the persona as an activating and integral part of the Self, whether the persona is aware of it or not.

As already noted, in the very core of the diagram, astride the median line that separates the two levels, lies the unifying power or Command Centre traditionally called the soul. The soul is also known as the causal body, the psyche, I-consciousness, the Ego, the Spiritual Heart, and sometimes as the Christ Child. It is the magnetic field in which the mutual transformation of spiritual and natural energies takes place, and is the primal seat of love, the self-organizing and unifying principle active in the whole.

This unfamiliar, un-western idea of the soul as the human being’s central principle and as the seat of love finds confirmation, however, in the ancient Hindu doctrine of Tantric yoga, which speaks of love as amrita, the “deathless” ambrosial nectar associated with the Shiva principle that lies deep in the centre of the Love, says Julius Evola, the well known Tantric author and mystic, “is characterized by ‘centrality,’ stability and immutability… Thus Love may look scary and even terrifying to an ephemeral and transient being, precisely because of its centrality and transcendence.”vii

Surrounding the entire logo is a circle that represents the All. This is the formless, infinite field of potentiality that subtends the whole, the so-called Void in which all forms arise and die. It therefore represents the logo’s implicit background, an invisible medium permeating its every structural and functional aspect. The postmodern sciences now refer to this medium as the quantum vacuum field. The Void is of course not literally a vacuum but a field of probabilities, energies not yet manifesting in particularized form. The creative, organizational nature of this background quantum field, this invisible Entirety, underlies the logo as a whole and expresses itself at a higher arc in the transformative functioning of the soul.

The soul, one might say, is the representative of the Void in the form world and bears something of its terrifying lack of fixed referents. Consciousness, in its passage through the vortex of soul energies, is as though in a labyrinth or a state of chaos from which it seeks exit, until released at last into the formal spaciousness of manas. After passing through the experiences of manas, buddhi and atman, it once again enters the soul field, circumambulating it in its quest for an exit before reentering physicality. But now it bears with it the seeds of divinity and awakens in the physical body many psychic powers formerly dormant.

This archetypal passage of consciousness is undoubtedly the origin of the treading of the labyrinth ritualized in the ancient initiatory traditions; and indeed it evokes many related concepts of antiquity: the omphalos as the sacred centre of the land, the sacred circular enclosures of the neolithic age as entrances to the divine and the circular troy towns like Plato’s Atlantis as inhabited by gods. For this pivotal rite of passage there is a wonderfully illustrative biblical metaphor: the Israelites’ flight from Egypt, followed by forty years’ wandering in the wilderness and then the crossing of Jordan into the promised land. (We know the forty years’ wandering has symbolic significance because the wilderness can actually be traversed in a few days).

The soul is indeed well-named the Command Centre. Situated between the Self’s spiritual and material realms, it mediates between the two, being in effect a two-way transmitting station – Gurdjieff’s “apparatus for the transformation of energies.” In one direction it steps down the high spiritual energies of the individuality in order to express them at the lower levels, and in the other direction spiritualizes the natural energies of the personality for entrance into the spiritual realm. Thus, for consciousness to cross the threshold in either direction – that is, to transit the soul – it must submit to change and transformation: in no other way is a crossing possible. This evolution of consciousness is built into the Self’s being and follows its one-way direction.

The transformation of consciousness is always towards unification, towards the manifestation of wholeness from its initial state of polarity.

For the soul is the seat of something very mysterious, the sense of self-identity unique to each person, which that person calls I or Myself. This I-awareness or Ego or Self-sense is the organizing, controlling principle within a human being that may be thought of as developing gradually from infancy to maturity. The person is not aware of the Ego’s overall authority for many years, though in fact it is operating sub rosa in the soul from the beginning of life. Instead, at first there is no sense of internal unity. Each of the three separate bodies under the median line has its own little version of the self-identity principle; each has its small ego, its small I-awareness, and organises its own patch accordingly, without reference to the others.

At first each of these separate little centres of self-identity admits to no common authority above its own, as we know full well from any study of the chaotic egoistic energies that war in children and immature adults. As Gurdjieff stresses, each of these sub-principles conceives itself to be free and its own monarch; each little I-centre vies with the others for dominance in a general state of conflict. In an adult personality this state, if it continues, will eventually result in mental illness.

Only as maturity advances does the soul, through constant activity in the face of opposition, acquire the strength to take on its true role as the Command Centre of the whole. It is then able to overpower all the different component I-centres and organize them into one harmoniously functioning unit, thus reconciling the polarized conflict between nature and spirit. According to the new psychotherapeutic paradigm, this harmonious state of integration is the only condition in which a human being can claim possession of full psychological health. It is not enough to passively adapt to the norms and values of society.

“A full-spectrum therapist,” says Ken Wilber, “is an archaeologist of the Self.”

[He] works with the body, the shadow, the persona, the ego, the existential self, the soul and spirit, attempting to bring awareness to all of them, so that all of them may join consciousness in the extraordinary return voyage to the Self and Spirit that grounds and moves the entire display. viii

From our diagram it can readily be seen that the evolution of consciousness plays a critical role in the above scenario. Its development begins in the persona, in the physical body, from whence consciousness proceeds to explore its natural territory more and more deeply. It becomes aware of the vital forces underlying physicality, and then of the emotions and thoughts entangled in its desires, until eventually it reaches the threshold and a dawning awareness of the soul life. Up until this point, consciousness functions in a dreamlike dualistic state into which it has been cast by the sleep of matter - and indeed which it takes to be normal reality. In such a state an unbridgeable gulf seems to exist between subject and object, matter and spirit. “The dualist,” says Wilber, “acknowledges as real both consciousness and matter, but generally despairs of finding any way to relate them.”ix

All states of being suffer from this polarization until the threshold is reached, and that limitation applies to consciousness. At the lower material level consciousness is shadowy, dreamlike, unawakened. It remains in this self-divided condition, dominated by the collective mind which is a form of dreaming sleep, until it reaches the threshold. At that point, the light of the soul falls upon it and it awakens.

Awakening brings with it a major crisis. Faced with the possibility of full spiritual autonomy, consciousness must wrestle with freedom of choice, either to cross the threshold into manas or not – either to achieve a new state of integration or not, a new freedom from the sleeping collective mind or not, a new health and a new spirituality or not. The magnetic power of the soul is very great – but so is the fear of death suffered by the personality at such a moment, when it realizes its little I-consciousness must dissolve into the Command Centre of the greater whole. Indeed at this point fear may bring on a temporary sickening of the entire personal system.

Evola expresses this crisis well in his quotations from the famous work of the Italian mystic Dante Alighieri, The New Life, in which the author speaks of the birth of “the knowledge of the heart.” Dante says that suddenly Love appeared to him, “the memory of whose being makes me shudder… [He appeared] in the figure of a lord of fearful aspect, which is the inner ruler, and said: “I am thy Lord.”

At that point I verily declare that the vital spirit which dwelleth in the most secret chamber of the heart began to tremble so mightily that it was horribly apparent in the least of my pulses, and trembling, it said these words: ‘Behold a god stronger than I, who coming shall rule over me.’ x

Then, says Dante, “From thenceforth I say that Love held lordship over my soul, which was early bounden unto him.”xi This meeting with the lord of the soul, this inner ruler, notes Evola, marks the beginning of a radical transformation of the human being.

In many respects what I have described is the initiatory path of the Sufi dervish or of the shaman, the eventual spiritual destiny of us all. And so, as I have already suggested, the crisis of growth that confronts every person who arrives at the threshold of the soul is essentially the same crisis which is now confronting humanity as a whole in the new millennium. There is the same fascination before the Unknown, the same yearning for transcendence – and the same terrible anxiety in the face of change.

In response to this collective moment of truth, several important new psychological movements are spreading worldwide and are challenging the mainstream materialist ideology and worldview. One such movement is Wilber’s Integral Psychology, another is Arnold Mindell’s Process work. Jennifer Gidley, an Educational Psychologist and Research Fellow at the Global Dialogue Institute, Haverford College, Philadelphia, argues for the education of children and young people based on the integral visions of Rudolph Steiner and Ken Wilber. In the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia, the Metavision Institute founded by Christina Nielsen provides Counselling and Therapeutic training based on Mindell’s Process Work and the Steiner spiritual philosophy, and incorporating the wisdom of traditional Chinese medicine..

Nielsen believes that Spiritual Psychology is a modern day path of initiation, forming a foundation for a further exploration of transcendence, and sees this explicit emphasis on spiritual and metaphysical thought as properly an integral part of therapeutic training and practice. To varying degrees, the same perspective distinguishes all the new holistic schools of psychotherapy. These indeed regard themselves as the vanguard of a dawning new civilization, one centred in a new level of self-awareness and self-transcendence.

What then is the essence of the holistic approach? According to Neilsen, it requires seeing the human condition in its fullness

as an integration of body, soul and spirit, energy and matter, within a pulsating changing web of relationships that is not only non-linear but also non-local. This transforms the lifeless Newtonian based Psychology taught in universities to a Spiritual Psychology in which the Psyche, or Soul, is restored to its rightful place as mediator between Spirit on one side and the body on the other. Soul is an activity that lives in tension, receiving impressions from both the body and its conscious emotions and thoughts and from the so-called Unconscious. It is through Soul awareness that our evolutionary path is revealed.xii

Esoteric tradition regards matter as an extreme condensation of spirit - its reflection in fact in a severely compressed form. And so it is precisely in the threshold crisis, when consciousness has gathered up into itself every facet of the life of the personality in preparation for the great transit into the spiritual realm, that this identification of the physical body with its spiritual template becomes apparent. At the door of the spiritual world it can no longer be denied that the body is a faithful reflection of the individual’s psychospiritual condition, either of health or of disease, and therefore a necessary partner with the psyche in any healing process. As psychotherapists like Nielsen insist, it is no coincidence that at this time the “alternative” healing modalities with their traditional psychosomatic/spiritual basis are increasingly being regarded by the public as more often than not of greater benefit than mainstream medicine, based as the latter is on the postmodern materialist worldview.

At the same time we find the specialized vocation of the spiritual healer becoming increasingly popular as the pressure of the spiritual world on human consciousness becomes more palpable with every passing decade. The majority of students in the Metavision Institute are aiming for qualifications that will fit them for professional counselling and psychotherapy; but at any one time there are also among them professional social workers, physiotherapists, hypnotists, psychics, tarot readers, spiritual healers and others, some from as far away as Singapore and New Zealand, who believe that new measures are needed to meet the new world age.

These are an incoming breed, specialists in older more occult professions who enroll in the Metavision Institute because they wish to understand the human psychology in ways that will contribute to the consciousness revolution now underway. Such a school is still a rare and greatly prized opportunity, but it is on the increase.

For our culture is already coming to terms with the new dispensation. We are beginning to reflect its principles in our higher thought processes. In the sciences we are learning to manipulate the abstract geometries of hyperspace governed by manas; in our postmodern philosophy the working of intellectual intuition, governed by buddhi, is ever more apparent; and even the exalted power of the atman, of the spiritual will, is becoming manifest in the evolutionary changes we can see all about us. Globally meanwhile, the ferment of the great transit is already implicit in the sociopolitical chaos and economic turmoil that is everywhere undermining the materialistic western ideology. Under the surface, the basic premises of civilization are being radically reframed. We are beginning to make the crossing.

It follows, then, that major readjustments are required of those entering the soul field; new responses in the healing modalities are demanded in the face of ever more challenging conditions. In order to inform, stabilize and cleanse the subtle dimensions of the psyche being opened up in millions of people at this time, energies of a spiritual nature must flow more strongly into the natural order. And for this, as I have said, the spiritual healer in particular – the shaman, the great advocate of Selfhood - is coming to the fore. Or perhaps one should say, is returning, but armed now with a new understanding of the intermediate world of the psyche and a new acceptance of the psychological forces revealed. It’s a far cry indeed from the birth of Freudian psychoanalysis only a century ago.


i Ken Wilber, Integral Psychology, Shambhala, Boston & London, 2000, vii.

ii Ibid, 193 – 4.

iii Ibid, 107.

iv David Ovason, The Zelator:The Secret Journals of Mark Hedsel, Arrow Books, London, 1999.

v J.G. Bennett. Gurdjieff: Making a New World, Turnstone Books, London, 1973, 239.

vi Julius Evola. The Yoga of Power: Tantra, Shakti and the Secret Way, Inner Traditions International, 1992, 207.

vii Ibid., 207.

viii Wilber, op. cit., 109.

ix Ibid., 180.

x Dante Alighieri, The New Life, tr. T. Okey, Dent, London, 1906, 2. 13 – 17.

xi Ibid., 2. 13 - 17.

xii Christina Nielsen. The Intelligent Heart, Spiritual Psychology and Movement, Website: and


Copyright Victoria LePage 2008