Difference between Descending Depth-Psychological vs. Relational-Participatory Extending Aprroach to Spirituality

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* Paper: Perspectives and vectors in transpersonal development. Michael Daniels. Transpersonal Psychology Review, Vol 13, No. 1, 87-99. (April, 2009)


Michael Daniels:

There are "fundamentally distinct theoretical positions. These may be characterised as:

1. The depth psychological perspective

2. The relational, participatory perspective

The depth psychological approach essentially argues that transpersonal development involves the exploration and integration of unconscious material (of a spiritual kind). As such, this approach is exemplified by the theories of Jung, Hillman, Washburn, Grof, Huston Smith, and Firman & Gila (op. cit.), and in the practices and interpretations of some neopagans (Adler, 2006).

In contrast, the relational, participatory approach argues that transpersonal development involves promoting a spiritual connection to others and the world. Fundamental to this approach is the implied need to move beyond an egocentric concern with one’s own individuation or personal spiritual development towards full participation with, commitment to, and responsibility for, other people, other species, and the world at large. Such relational, participatory thinking is exemplified in indigenous spiritualities, feminist spirituality (e.g., the connected self), transpersonal ecology (ecocentrism), relational spiritualities, and Ferrer’s (e.g., 2002) participatory vision (emancipation from self-centredness, cocreative participation).

Because of the clear differences between the depth psychological and relational, participatory perspectives, it seems inappropriate to continue characterising both as ‘descending’ approaches. Instead, I propose that the term ‘descending’ should, in Transpersonal Psychology Review, Vol 13, No. 1, 87-99. (April, 2009) [Preprint Version] future, be restricted to the depth psychological approach (since this unequivocally implies descent into the ‘depths’ of the unconscious). To contrast with this, I suggest that the relational, participatory, approach is more appropriately characterised by the metaphor of ‘extending’ (since it implies expansion of the boundaries of moral and spiritual concern outwards, from a purely self-referential stance to one that encompasses other people and the larger political, economic and ecological systems).

The implication of the distinction just drawn is that we may now identify three distinct transpersonal approaches or currents, i.e., the ascending, descending, and extending.

Although (after Wilber) these approaches may be termed ‘currents’, a more integral approach may be to view them as dynamic vectors in transpersonal development, rather than as separate and discrete streams. In this way the possibility of combining and integrating these directional forces becomes more apparent (as opposed to implying that people can swim in only one stream). Before an integration becomes possible, however, it is important to clearly differentiate between the essential qualities and characteristics of the three vectors.

As can be seen from Table 5, each of these vectors advocates a different soteriological direction for the path of ego-transcendence (itself often considered to be the hallmark of transpersonal development). In this respect, the three vectors express the various directions in which we may move beyond egocentrism.

The assumption made in drawing these distinctions is that a truly integral transpersonal perspective needs to recognise and incorporate all three vectors. Furthermore, this vectoral model can be used to assess the degree to which particular transpersonal approaches approximate such an integral perspective."

Author Details

Michael Daniels PhD

School of Natural Sciences & Psychology,
Liverpool John Moores University,
Henry Cotton Building,
15-21 Webster Street,
L3 2ET.

Email: [email protected]