“Whitehead, LSD, and Transpersonal Psychology” by Leonard Gibson

This is a truly fascinating piece written by Leonard Gibson bringing Whitehead into conversation with Stan Grof. Gibson uses Whitehead’s account of experience to undertake a rhetorical explication of the LSD experience. A few samples:

Every event prehends the entire universe, with gradations of relevance. In our ordinary perception of events we take into account only those aspects with high grades of relevance, but as our attention deepens the lower grades come into notice. In attending to these lower grades we discover the endless patterns of relationships that bind that event to the rest of the universe. Not only do we make this discovery in regard to the occasions of the world, but also the same deepening takes place in ourselves. That is to say, the enhancement of physical feeling not only brings into attention our relationship with the external world; it also reveals the internal world of the “unconscious.” If we interpret the unconscious in terms of Whitehead’s doctrine of physical feeling, it is easy to understand why amplification of mental processes elicits strong feelings of relationship to the world around us as well as it reveals elements of the unconscious: Both are elements of our physical inheritance.

The same analysis I offered for the LSD experience applies to Holotropic Breathwork: development of intensity under contrast. The absence of any substance use in Holotropic Breathwork emphasizes the fact that experience is the fundamental actuality. Physiology is of no more consequence regarding the fundamental details of experience than is the television set to the content of the programs it displays. As experience deepens, it becomes more apparent that prehension renders the whole of time, the extent of the universe, and the entire array of eternal possibilities internally available to the self-creative moment of the actual occasion. The concresence of each actual occasion is the moment of mystical fullness.

Transpersonal Intersubjectivity

I’ve just been reading Christopher Bache’s book “Dark Night, Early Dawn,” and he, not unlike Christian de Quincey in his book “Radical Nature,” argues that the interpersonal and collective dimensions of spiritual experience have been paid too little attention. Taking intersubjectivity into consideration requires a return to our embodied experience as beings embedded in a world among others.

They both recognize the tendency for New Age thinkers to reject the atomistic/mechanistic model of nature and in the very next breath operate within the same Cartesian paradigm to explain how the individual soul exists apart from and survives the death of the material body. Bache describes the transpersonal experiences generated by his psychdelic practice (and the collective testimony of thousands of other practitioners) to argue for an understanding of the soul not as a private and distinct personality whose essence might change bodies like clothing, operating independently of some form of energetic embeddedness in an environment (ie, a body), but as that inner aspect shared by all embodied forms that is itself formless. Ultimately, there is one body, one organism: the cosmos itself.

Bache does not deny reincarnation, however. He just points out that it has both temporal and spatial dimensions. Temporal reincarnation involves the continuous passing on of some form of experience from lifetime to lifetime. Spatial reincarnation involves the simultaneous sharing of a transpersonal level of experience between still living organisms.

For there to be a truly post-modern transpersonal theory (ie, a transpersonal reformulation of the Modern ontology separating mind from matter as two entirely distinct substances), we need to develop a system of thought and means of lingusitic expression that recognizes the inherent interpenetration of spirit with matter. We are not ghosts in machines, but conscious organisms arising out of and returning to a single formless field of potential.

On a practical level, a post-atomistic transpersonal theory (or spiritual worldview) requires recognizing the co-arising nature of one’s identity. Enlightenment is not a solitary, but a collective achievement–in the same way that your consciousness is not an immaterial ghost in possession of a physical body, but the cooperative unification of trillions of cells. An individual person may realize their essential oneness with all that is in a moment of private revery, but to participate with the rest of the species in the continual unfolding of time, they must acquiesce to the general drift of the group movement, even if they attempt to persuade it toward peace and beauty. Otherwise they risk cruxification, which may be an option for some. The point remains that karma is collective. Transcending it is a social as much as an individual task.