It seems to me that one of the most basic human experiences, one that is genuinely universal and unites — or, more precisely, could unite — all of humanity,
is the experience of transcendence in the broadest sense of the word. Václav Havel, President, Czech Republic
Excerpt from A Transpersonal Perspective by Stanislav Grof. M. D.
Humanity as a whole possesses enormous resources in the form of financial means, technological know-how, manpower, and womanpower. Modern science has developed effective means that could solve most of the urgent problems in today’s world – combat the majority of diseases, eliminate hunger and poverty, reduce the amount of industrial waste, and replace destructive fossil fuels by renewable sources of clean energy. The problems that stand in the way are not of economical or technological nature; their deepest sources lie inside the human personality.
Because of them, unimaginable resources have been wasted in the absurdity of the arms race, power struggle, and pursuit of “unlimited growth.” They also prevent a more appropriate distribution of wealth among individuals and nations, as well as a reorientation from purely economic and political concerns to ecological priorities that are critical for survival of life on this planet.
Diplomatic negotiations, administrative and legal measures, economic and social sanctions, military interventions, and other similar efforts have had very little success; as a matter of fact, they have often produced more problems than they solved. It is becoming increasingly clear why they had to fail. The strategies used to alleviate this crisis are rooted in the same ideology that created it in the first place. In the last analysis, the current global crisis is basically a psychospiritual crisis; it reflects the level of consciousness evolution of the human species. It is, therefore, hard to imagine that it could be resolved without a radical inner transformation of humanity on a large scale and its rise to a higher level of emotional maturity and spiritual awareness.
The task of imbuing humanity with an entirely different set of values and goals might appear too unrealistic and utopian to offer any real hope. Considering the paramount role of violence and greed in human history, the possibility of transforming modern humanity into a species of individuals capable of peaceful coexistence with their fellow men and women regardless of race, color, and religious or political conviction, let alone with other species, certainly does not seem very plausible. We are facing the necessity to instill humanity with profound ethical values, sensitivity to the needs of others, acceptance of voluntary simplicity, and a sharp awareness of ecological imperatives. At first glance, such a task appears too fantastic even for a science-fiction movie.
However, although serious and critical, the situation might not be as hopeless as it appears. After more than half a century of intensive study of holotropic states of consciousness, I have come to the conclusion that the theoretical concepts and practical approaches developed by transpersonal psychology, a discipline that is trying to integrate spirituality with the new paradigm emerging in Western science, could help alleviate the crisis we are all facing. These observations suggest that radical psychospiritual transformation of humanity is not only possible, but is already underway. The question is only whether it can be sufficiently fast and extensive to reverse the current self-destructive trend of modern humanity.
Old Paradigm World View, Myth, and Vision Underlying the Global Crisis.
The old vision driving the Western technological civilization received powerful support and justification from science based on the Newtonian- Cartesian paradigm and monistic materialism. This world view is based on the metaphysical assumption that the universe is a mechanical system that is strictly deterministic and in which matter is primary. Life, consciousness, and intelligence are seen as more or less accidental side-products of matter, essentially flukes that happened in an insignificant section of a giant universe after billions of years of evolution of inert and reactive inorganic materials.
In the old paradigm, the universe and nature have no guiding intelligence or creative blueprint. All the incredible complexity of forms revealed by various scientific disciplines from astronomy through biology to quantum-relativistic physics has been attributed to meaningless play of material particles. Particles of inorganic matter just happened to generate organic compounds and these just happened to organize themselves into cells. The entire Darwinian evolution from unicellular organisms to humans is seen as having been guided by accidental genetic mutations and natural selection. According to this world view, the principal mechanism of evolution in nature is survival of the fittest and the militant strategy of the selfish gene. This seems to explain and justify pursuit of individual interest in competition with and at the expense of others from personal life to collective economic, political, and military pursuits.
This was further reinforced by the findings of depth psychology pioneered by Sigmund Freud and his followers, which purported that all our behavior is, in the last analysis, driven by basic instincts. From this perspective, feelings of love are nothing but reaction formation to our innate hostility or desexualized interest in our parents, ethical behavior is based on fear of punishment, esthetic interest is psychological defense against powerful anal impulses, and so on. Without societal restrictions, penal institutions, and superegos created by parental prohibitions and injunctions, we would indulge in indiscriminate promiscuous sexual acting out, killing, and stealing (Freud: Civilization and its Discontent). Religious beliefs and spiritual interests of any kind are essentially attributed to superstition, gullibility, primitive magical thinking, primary process, obsessive- compulsive behavior resulting from suppression of anal impulses, and unresolved Oedipal or Electra complex, or result of serious psychopathology (Freud: Totem and Taboo, Future of An Illusion).
Our current scientific world view provides implicit or explicit support for our ethics and life strategy. In Western capitalist society, personal success at the expense of others has been glorified. It appears perfectly natural to create a better future for one’s own group at the expense of others (e.g. plundering non-renewable resources of fossil fuels and turning them into pollution in pursuit of our own living standard, seeing killing of innocent civilians in other countries as “collateral damage” in the pursuit of our own security, etc). We are unable to see and appreciate the critical importance of cooperation, synergy, and peaceful coexistence for planetary survival. We are also brainwashed into believing that our well-being is directly proportionate to and depends critically on material means – personal income and possessions, growth of the gross national product, and so on.