Program Benefits Study 2Cam Danielson, MA
MESA Research Group
A summary of Phase 1 of this study was published in The Journal of The Monroe Institute and may be seen HERE.
Cam is a partner at MESA Research Group. His work focuses on assisting leaders and management teams to revision future direction and opportunity amid the turbulence of personal, organizational, and societal change. His research has appeared in the Academy of Management Executive, Human Resource Development Quarterly, Business Horizons, and the American Benedictine Review. He has designed or conducted executive development programs for companies such as 3M, AT&T, BP, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Crédit Agricole, Dow Chemical, EDS, ExxonMobil, Ingersoll-Rand, Lucent Technologies, Mahindra & Mahindra, Manitowoc, NASA, The Nature Conservancy, Philips Electronics, Prudential (London), Rolls-Royce, Saudi Aramco, Shell International (London), Sara Lee, SUEZ, Whirlpool, and Xerox.
Cam’s background includes twenty years of leading the office of executive education at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University. He also was a speechwriter for the president of Indiana University and a member of the faculty at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Cam received a BA in classical studies from the University of Kansas and a medieval studies certificate and an MA in English literature from Indiana University. He is an alumnus of The Monroe Institute’s GATEWAY VOYAGE®, GUIDELINES®, LIFELINE™, and EXPLORATION 27® programs (1994 through 2006). Cam attended both the VOYAGE and GUIDELINES twice. He also participated in the American Center for International Leadership U.S.-USSR Exchange Program (1985).
Report of Findings:
Phase II of a Study on the Effects of Long-Term Participation in The Monroe Institute Programs
This study was undertaken as a follow-up to my initial investigation into the effects of long-term participation in TMI programs. There I found individuals who attended 3 or more programs had some distinctive characteristics compared with those who had only attended the Gateway Voyage. Specifically, multiple program participants have a higher degree of life satisfaction and self-efficacy, and in terms of their motives for attending TMI, were more curious and interested in self-development. In addition, I found the language used by multiple program participants to describe their most memorable experiences at TMI was more personal in relating not only the experience but what it meant to them, whereas those who only attended the Gateway Voyage were more focused on a description of the experience and less on their own response. As I pondered the data looking for insights into the differences between the group and conclusions I could draw about those differences, I knew two things. First, I could not attribute the differences I was seeing to the role of TMI. The study was limited in its ability to draw causal relationships between their state of development as individuals and the influence of TMI. What I could say was that TMI was a “strange attractor” in the collection of individuals whom comprised the multiple program set. Second, I found myself curious to know about the individual lives behind the data. Who were these people? What made them tick? And if some (or more) of them are in fact operating from a state of development that allows them to be more effective with greater levels of complexity, then what does that look like? How do they “show up” in their interactions with others? How would they show up with me? In this study, I have profiled the lives of a representative set of the multiple program participants. The objectives are:
- Defining a set of characteristics which distinguish this group as a whole in terms of their stage of development
- Understanding the variables influential to their personal development, and more specifically, the role of TMI in that development
- Understanding how others who interacted with them at home, in the workplace, or in their communities perceived them and how that compares with my own assessment through the interviews
Some of the variables I wanted to understand included the nature and quality of their family experience, the function of school and the role of mentors or teachers, the function and quality of friends and intimate relationships, life-changing events (whatever that meant to them), the degree of social acceptance at different stages of their life, and other personal development activities in addition to participation in TMI programs.
Methodology & Process
The initial goal was to identify a representative group from those who had participated in the first phase of the study. While I was limited to those who had indicated they were willing to participate in a follow-up interview, fortunately more than 200 were open to such an idea by sharing their email address on the survey used in the phase one study. From this subset I sorted based on the following demographic dimensions:
- Civil Status
- Household Income
A group of 35 was identified and a letter of invitation prepared and distributed under the signature of the president of the Monroe Institute, Skip Atwater, explaining the purpose of the study and introducing me as the principal investigator. I then sent a more detailed outline of the specific steps in the interview process including the following list of questions I referenced as the interview guide:
1) Where did you grow up? List the various locations and dates, as appropriate.
2) Who were the most important members of your family to you (including your extended family)? Describe them and frequency of contact.
3) What were some of your favorite memories of family life? Least favorite memories?
4) What did school mean for you – how did it affect your life? What did you enjoy the most about school (both through high school and after high school)? What did you not enjoy about school (both through high school and after high school)?
5) What would you describe as the most important experiences in your life before you left home and began to live on your own?
6) Who have been the most influential people in your life after you left home? Why?
7) When someone would ask you “what do you do?” how would you have answered that in the early part of your adult life, in the mid-part, etc.?
8) What jobs have you held? What was the most rewarding aspect of your work?
9) What amount of time have you spent living alone and/or with someone else in an intimate relationship? How important is it to you to have a life partner? If appropriate, what is the most significant thing you have learned about yourself and others as a result of having a life partner?
10) How many people do you count among your friends? How would you describe them (qualities, characteristics, why you count them among your friends, etc.)?
11) What events or ongoing activities have been or continue to be instrumental to your growth and development?
12) How would you describe your perfect day?
Those who were interested emailed me with a phone number and I made contact to schedule an interview. This accounted for the initial 8 interviews conducted over the first 3 months of the study. While I did get 5 individuals declining to participate, far more simply did not respond either due to changes in their email address or uncertainty about the time commitment. Consequently, I spent several months in follow-up mode securing another 9 interviews. The result was a nine-month process for completing the 17 interviews. To the degree possible, I sought to do each interview in person and was successful in 8 out of the 17. On average, each interview lasted 3 hours even though I had asked for only 90 minutes. Attachment A provides a demographic profile of the group. At the conclusion of each interview, I asked for a commitment to participate in a multi-rater assessment using an online psychometric instrument (the description of the instrument was included in my initial letter to everyone). The objective was to understand how others familiar with the participants in the study had observed them on a set of dimensions indicative of their interpersonal effectiveness. Two individuals declined due to personal reasons. Of the 15 who agreed, 14 completed the process which added another two months on average for each participant since they were now responsible not only for completing the survey themselves but for identifying others who knew them well enough to also complete the online survey. In the end, data collection, comprised of 17 interviews (52 hours of tape recorded conversations and 300 hundred pages of notes) and 14 multi-rater assessments (210 pages of summary results), took one year to complete. While my intention was to demonstrate the efficacy of TMI program participation in their growth as individuals, I discovered my reasons for conducting this study were more involved than I knew. I was privileged to have been granted unfiltered access to the personal stories, dreams, and reflections of these individuals. The consequence for me is I have felt more like an interlocutor due to the unexpected level of disclosure rather than an investigator who has to work around the fringes of the conversation to tease out information. The relevance of this to the report that follows is that I have been both an observer and participant who has not been unaffected by these engagements. As a result, I cannot remove myself from the observations of my encounters. Rather than a mere report of findings, what follows is a picture of what I heard and experienced combined with my own dreams, reflections, and insights. Any conclusions I have reached are mine alone but I invite you to make up your own mind about the lives I have depicted.
How it Began
A week before my first interview I had the following dream:
As I walk along a road through a forest which is densely enclosed with thick foliage, I am surprised by the sudden appearance of a mythic figure that emerges out of the jungle of vines, trees, and shrubs. I have known of its existence, but had never seen one or ever believed I would. Much like the snow leopard, it is more legend than real because of the rarity of sightings.
It was a small, human-shaped being mounted on an odd animal that seemed to jump like a kangaroo through the undergrowth. The figure was enclosed in a garment that made me think of a Kachina doll. Its face set was inside a highly decorated hood that appeared carved out of wood. My astonishment was matched by hers whereby she immediately returned to the cover of the forest.
As I proceeded down the road in an amazed state of mind, I lost track of time until I came upon men along the road who were using long, tentacle-like whips to search the forest. The impression I got was an alien invasion in a deliberate effort to find these mythic creatures.
At the time of this dream I was uncertain of its portent. I had been traveling for a few weeks and had many things on my mind. So I wrote down the details in my journal without further reflection. It wasn’t until after my first interview that I came back to it. I had included on my travel schedule several interviews for this study. The morning of my first interview I found myself noticeably quiet, as if conserving energy. I arrived at my destination on a beautiful day full of promise. The woman I met (Participant A as she will be referred to in the future) was light as air, yet in the story she related, she was suffering a deep pain over a recent loss. Once seated in her living room, I began with an overview of the project and a review of the questions sent out in advance. With little pomp, we were launched:
Tell me about your parents?
My mother was of Italian origins from New York. My father was a mutt with Midwestern roots. He was recruited by the FBI out of high school. He wanted to become a writer. My parents met at work, fell in love, got married. There were three kids, all girls. I was the oldest one. Mom suffered from postpartum depression for several years. She would put us to bed by 5:00 each evening and Dad would come home and come up to see us and we would tell stories. By my 3rd Christmas, I was acting odd in front of the camera.
And just like that, I was quickly pulled into a life story that would take me ever deeper and wider. I could see the little girl playing on her magic carpet with a neighbor boy and hear her describe how much she liked to read, how she knew all the planets, and loved to play with her chemistry set. Then came the big day of change at the age of 11 when she had to grow up much too fast with the birth of her 4th sister Linda, who had a serious congenital heart defect, and with the emotional withdrawal of her parents due to her mother’s nervous compulsions and her father’s alcoholism. She now became the caretaker of her little sister whom she played with through an imaginative world they created together. The strain of those years shows in her face as she recounts how she dreamed of running away from home. By high school she was out of touch with her parents to such a degree she was basically living on her own with all the likely consequences that followed – sex, drugs, and depression. How she managed to keep her grades up is anyone’s guess, but she gave testimony to the importance of her friends filling a vacuum in her life. The maturing process of college laid the foundation for a successful career in business or so it seemed on the surface. Not far below a darkness continued to haunt her resulting in failed relationships, an abortion, the death of close friends, depression and unemployment. But once again, remarkably, she lands on her feet in a new organization with a new career beckoning. It is a cycle that repeats itself over the first half of her life. When she arrives at TMI for the first time she feels she has been through several incarnations in the same body. TMI is another demarcation in her life, a period during which she recounts a series of “road trips.” A modern day version of the ritual undertaking of pilgrimages, she spent time at various centers of healing and self-exploration – Esalen, TMI, the Barbara Brennen School of Healing. She was developing and honing her extrasensory capacity even as she struggled against those aspects of her self. The journey includes helping her youngest sister make her transition – “it was a beautiful death, we sang to her as she died.” She is coming to acceptance of herself in a much larger view of what that means – “we are creating all the time with our thought patterns, by forgiving, by remembering.” When I left I felt an incredible gift had been granted me. Her energetic presence was much larger than the life story I heard. The raw honesty about herself and her life, spoken with laughter and tears, surprised me. It was as if I had glimpsed a rare sighting in my own encounters with others, one who is living in the presence of their Higher Self. And then I remembered my dream of a week prior and felt the sacredness of what I was embarking upon. I had been given something I knew I had to protect even as I wanted to share it. The project, unbeknown to me until that moment, was to tell the story of a group of people whose lives are richly varied, filled with joy and sorrow, and yet are consciously present to a spectrum of being that continues infinitely beyond the limitations of this time, space, and individual personality.
The Work of Telling Their Story
Each interview after that continued to reveal something new, something unexpected. I was searching for a pattern, an organizing structure to make sense of these encounters, and was growing increasingly frustrated. Then in one of my final interviews, to the question of the value of TMI, he noted:
TMI got me outside of my box; got me outside of various traps, constructs, and concepts that had bogged me down. I simply got to a bigger stage, a larger perspective. Some people need to have the Out-of-Body Experience (OBE), but for me that isn't my expectation nor has it been my experience at TMI. In fact, TMI for me is really about the unexpected. That is why I go back, for the unexpected.
This struck a cord with me so I probed a little deeper and asked what he meant:
I am more conscious now. I get these little epiphanies such as ‘having a higher consciousness isn't about possessing yogic powers, but about being conscious on multiple levels, multiple dimensions and making conscious choices [. . .] It is being more aware, being more awake.’
And like that I had my own little epiphany. I realized I was experiencing my interviewees the way they experienced TMI. I was learning to be in the presence of individuals who are striving to be conscious on multiple levels and in order to do that, they were not merely open to the unexpected they expected the unexpected. Alive within an infinite universe that is also alive, they are yet distinctive in their abilities to give voice to what they experience. The interchange of the two – the life around them and the life within them – is an ongoing process of creation, change, and growth. “Formation, Transformation/Eternal Mind’s eternal recreation,” is how Goethe captured it (79). It closely parallels what I understand Kegan and Lahey to mean when they use the term “self-transforming mind” (19). Kegan and Lahey’s model of human development is built upon the Aristotelian precept that by nature we desire knowledge. Call it the other half of Goethe’s vision of the eternal mind where our ego-based mind desires to know, to understand, and make meaning of our experience. It is the human function we are given to develop upon our birth. Within this context, knowledge is a dynamic relationship between the knower and the known; the more awareness we have of the spectrum of our consciousness, the less unconscious we are of self-limiting concepts and beliefs (fears) and their reflexive conditioning of our responses to situations we encounter. It is an interactive process of widening perspective that views people “as active organizers of their experience [. . .] and psychological growth as the unself-conscious development of successively more complex principles for organizing experience” (Kegan 29). Major shifts in perspective leading to more nuanced understanding of self and the world around us can be delineated in stages. Each stage is a shift in the level of consciousness in which a wider interest appears on one’s life horizon. This emergent interest gives rise to new personal objectives, an urgency to the acquisition of relevant competencies, and an appropriate sense of satisfaction in goal completion. But for what purpose or end is this quest for meaning, which I am framing as a desire to live less unconsciously? Karen Horney, an early pioneer in developmental psychology, defined the relationship between the knower and the known as a striving for self-realization. Arising out of what she refers to as a morality of evolution, the creative act that constitutes the dance of life is a process of growth and change:
This belief does not mean that man is essentially good - which would presuppose a given knowledge of what is good or bad. It means that man, by his very nature and of his own accord, strives toward self-realization, and that his set of values evolves from such striving. Apparently he cannot, for example, develop his full human potential unless he is truthful to himself; unless he is active and productive; unless he relates himself to others in the spirit of mutuality. Apparently he cannot grow if he indulges in a ‘dark idolatry of self’ (Shelley) and consistently attributes all his own shortcomings to the deficiencies of others [. . .] We arrive thus at a morality of evolution, in which the criterion for what we cultivate or reject in ourselves lies in the question: is a particular attitude or drive inducive [sic] or obstructive to my human growth. (Horney 15)
But no journey is a straight line and no stage of development is permanent. We can sustain our place on the rung of our evolutionary ladder to some degree by accommodating the changing landscape of our life with coping skills, but if we are curious enough or put ourselves in new situations, places, or jobs we increase the likelihood that we will eventually face the time when our world becomes too complex for our current frame of reference. In other words, incorporation of what is conducive or elimination of what is obstructive to our growth entails periods of transition, or more figuratively, periods of exile in some unfamiliar land. During these times we are restless, disoriented, anxious and rudderless. We become unformed (without identity) when the boundaries of an older way of life dissolve to give way to another orientation that is not yet clear. It is a trying time, but also one of opportunity as the limits that have defined us can now be leapt over in a transformation of self. Transformational growth entails a degree of uncertainty associated with our own completion or destiny. The eternal questions become more pressing at this time: Who am I? Why am I here? How do I live a successful life? When we don’t feel compelled to raise these questions we are under the spell of a current orientation, until the time arises when we are not. Then, once again, the questions we felt we had put to rest come back to haunt us. For example, our teenage years are memorable because of the great angst that underlies the change underway in our lives. In childhood, we were known for our narcissistic tendencies which gave us our endearing capacity to act unself-consciously (spontaneously break out in song or dance in public) and our requirement for supervision to insure our impulsiveness did not harm others or us. Yet at some moment we know we are no longer children, but are we yet adults? We certainly know more about how to behave in public than we did as a child, but is that all there is to being an adult? This middle ground is fraught with ambiguity because no one quite knows how to treat us even as we express a desire to make our own decisions. If we are honest, we want to explore more widely the world and ourselves within it. But no matter how we try to explain what is changing in us, we find ourselves harangued, curtailed, overruled by our parents. As we try to sneak around the rules we only bring upon ourselves condemnation and more rules that make life unpleasant. If only our parents trusted us! But then, that is the point. As a teenager, we struggle with a crisis of identity that erupts out of our quest for autonomy. We want to take charge of our lives, but in order to have more independence we have to demonstrate responsibility to the needs of others. To come home from a party when we said we would, even if we were having a good time, means we can follow through on our commitments and acknowledge the support and help others have provided us. Without clear understanding of when the shift occurs (call it the day our parents seemed to have gotten smarter), we all managed to achieve greater degrees of autonomy. The trajectory of our life after we enter adulthood continues to be marked by shifts in how we experience the life around us and within us. It is a process of mental development that only recently has grown in acceptance among neurologists who had traditionally assumed that the brain did not undergo any significant change in capacity after late adolescence. “On the basis of thirty years of longitudinal research,” according to Kegan and Lahey, [Figure #1 – Age and Mental Complexity] the data would show that “mental complexity tends to increase with age, throughout adulthood [. . . and] there is considerable variation within any age” (13-14). Figure #1 – Age and Mental Complexity: The Revised View Today
The upward sloping cluster indicates mental complexity increasing with age. The solid black dots illustrate different levels of mental complexity for 6 different individuals all close to 30 years of age. “While there is an upward trend in the general development of mental capacity with age there is still great variety among individuals. Some people may be operating at higher levels of mental complexity well before others reach those same levels, if they ever do” (Kegan and Lahey 14). Illustrated below in Figure # 2 is the result of quantitative analysis of hundreds of transcripts of individuals interviewed and re-interviewed at several-year intervals by Kegan and Lahey and their colleagues. The graph demonstrates:
- Qualitatively different, discernibly distinct levels which are not arbitrary, but represent different ways of knowing the world,
- Development does not unfold continuously, but swing between periods of stability and periods of change,
- The intervals between transformations to new levels gets longer and longer
- There are fewer and fewer people at the higher plateaus (15)
Figure #2 – The Trajectory of Mental Development in Adulthood The three plateaus or stages that emerge out of the data are indicative of different relationships between the knower and the known (call them worldviews), each with a logic that provides a framework for extracting meaning from our experiences. At the earlier end of the spectrum, we are more concerned with how others see us - to be perceived as competent, capable, and dependable - what Kegan and Lahey calls “socialized mind” (17). Here societal norms form the boundaries of self and determine what is important to pay attention to. At the later end of the spectrum, it is more about perspective building beyond the limits of an ego-based personality, in other words, self-transforming mind. Here the transpersonal gives rise to a multi-dimensional view of life which shapes the experience of self. For the participants in this study, they clearly are influenced by their transpersonal experiences. How they attempt to gather perspective is the focus of their meaning making efforts, as a brief flavor of the language used by different individuals indicates:
Obviously the beliefs I hold do matter, but at what layer of consciousness do I hold these beliefs? How did I come to be here in this reality? Obviously my little self didn't choose this for my little self. That belief must have been held at the Higher Self level for this reality to be in the first place and for me to be here. It becomes difficult to sort through at what level I am holding the beliefs I use to create the reality I am experiencing - some would seem quite conscious like taking the first steps toward the sink.
I do not hold other people responsible for my happiness or fulfillment. I find that focusing on anger usually gets me stuck, so I experience it and move on. My guidance continues to remind me not to take everything so seriously.
I am feeling restless again. It is a periodic thing, and it tells me that there is something else I need at the stage I am in. This is the clearest sense of restlessness I have experienced, much less noise around it than in the past. In the past, I worked through my stages of restlessness by just sitting with it. The question now is not what's next, but what I want to make next.
I see my life as full of possibility. The question for me is can I open up to the possibilities? Can I see things in a different way? I am now walking my journey in a way I once only intellectually understood - staying in the moment. I can recognize when I have stepped out of the moment, but I know I have a choice of moving back into the moment.
I am much more aware of what is current around me, but it is like being in an open time book: touching past, present, future all at once. I can be present to others in this time and present to all time simultaneously. It is as if I am both a witness and a participant in the events around me. I can be in a doing mode and a meditative mode simultaneously.
When I get into a state where fear enters, I can now let go. I am conscious of a quiet or a peace that is almost always present behind my ego.
I now vibrate at a higher level, and I can feel it, when I am in service to others.
I am beyond the curiosity or interest in exploring the role of our minds in our experience of ourselves and others, to now having a firm conviction that we create the world around us with our thoughts. My work is like a prayer for me, whenever I face a new project and I don't know how to approach it I reach inside and wait for a visual to come to me. I am much more at peace with myself.
We operate across a spectrum of consciousness where every level has its work and we each have our purpose. You move to the work of the next level when the questions become nagging.
The me-ness that is inside is looking out of the eyes of my body. I have gotten most of my lessons through my body. Pain is no stranger to me. The way I can receive those messages now are very different. I once was very ambivalent about being here, in this body, but now I feel very complete
In musing upon these different perspectives, three questions emerge for me that become the lenses or frames of reference for telling their stories:
1) What is their orientation for which the label “self-transforming” is but a threshold to a more expansive state of being?
2) How are their life journeys emblematic of their orientation, particularly as it relates to the role of TMI?
3) How do others see them compared with my analysis
The first question is an exploration into a way of functioning that distinguishes who they are now. The outcome is a group profile based on the core tenets of their worldview or internal operating logic (their stage of development). The second question looks more closely at a comparison of life experiences to explore similarities and differences and possible linkages to their current state of being. One constant in all their lives is the role of TMI, and therefore, becomes a critical part of this evaluation. Finally, with the introduction of a psychometric assessment instrument, the third question is a comparison between how the participants see themselves in terms of their effectiveness in interaction with others and how others who know them see them on the same dimensions. It is an opportunity to compare them, individually and collectively, to a database of thousands of other people assessed with this instrument and to make some specific comparisons with norm groups at different stages of development.
Question #1 or What is on the Other Side of the Rainbow?
There is an ancient tale of a young man who meets a famous relative in a dream where he is given a view of life on earth from the far reaches of the heavens. The comprehension of the interconnections or relationships to the order underlying the world upward through the heavens left the dreamer amazed (which continued upon awakening even without recall of the insights he had received). He had never envisioned the universe by looking back on the planet earth. It shifted everything for him in terms of how he thought of himself and where he came from. No longer was his horizon limited to the boundaries of his world and the small community of friends and family he lived with. There was more to explore and discover than he ever felt possible, and his sense of self now included not only all that he had witnessed but the source of guidance as well. This centuries old story was a constant backdrop in my interviews. Each participant struck me as a modern day astronaut who metaphorically was sharing experiences of looking back on the world. On more than one occasion I was reminded of a sonnet Shakespeare wrote on the nature of love, which he describes as “the star to every wandering bark,/Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken” (116.7-8). Like ships upon the sea, the participants in this study navigate their lives on the basis of a reality that lies beyond the physical limits of this world. Rather than orienting themselves in terms of identity and purpose on the expectations of others, generally or specifically, they find their location - their sense of place and direction - in relationship to the unfathomable depth and infinite dimensions of love. There are a number of implications to be drawn from a self-orientation based on a transpersonal perspective. From my interviews I can capture the following elements:
1) Engagement of Multiple Intelligences - development of multiple forms of expression including music, art, and physical movement (dance, athletics, body work) to supplement abstract reasoning as a way of knowing
2) Anticipation of Liminal States – being in transition on a more frequent basis and the increased interest in the white space or the unformed dimension of possibility that exists between two or more existential planes
3) Relationship with Inner Guidance – being present to an interior silence or transpersonal awareness while simultaneously interacting in the world
4) Playfulness towards Life – being open to the dynamic forces of change without succumbing to socially accepted beliefs, biases, or assumptions regarding their meaning
5) Compassion for Oneself and Others – the essence behind the instinctual needs of human existence which shows up in a qualitative shift in regard to self and others
Let’s take each one of these and examine them more carefully.
Engagement of Multiple Intelligences
What constitutes intelligence is often debated, however, the importance placed upon intelligence as an indicator of human distinction vis-à-vis other life forms is not. Of course, there is always the possibility of life forms beyond the range of normal human sensory experience which could challenge this assumption, but clearly the value of intelligence to the human experience goes without saying. The usual testimony to the distinctive quality of the human species is the development of language, technology, art, and architecture evident in the rise of civilization around the world. Yet the question remains, what is the essence of intelligence that makes these changes possible; that “imparts truth to the known and the power of knowing to the knower” (Plato 201)? What Socrates goes on to note in making the link between the knower and the known is the role of insight – quite literally an inner light which makes knowledge possible. While definitions of intelligence vary, the root meaning of the word is “to understand.” But understanding begins with acceptance of what is not yet known. To revel in the question rather than possess an answer is to proceed from the known into the unknown with the realization, according to Werner Heisenberg, a Noble Prize physicist, that "we may have to learn at the same time a new meaning of the word understanding" (201). What Heisenberg came to realize in the course of developing a scientific principle based on relationships of uncertainty is that the wider one’s embrace of the objects of knowledge the more the results challenge underlying assumptions. Such a paradox is particularly relevant to the experience of our participants in attempting to understand their transpersonal identities. Heisenberg was a classically trained physicist who, along with several other scientists in the early half of the 20th-century, encountered very disturbing evidence that seemed to indicate an irrationality operating at the smallest levels of nature. What he discovered was that subatomic particles, e.g. electrons, exhibit contradictory behaviors depending on the type of experiment conducted. Heisenberg describes his personal challenge:
Can nature possibly be as absurd as it seemed to us in these atomic experiments? [. . .] The assumption that this was actually true led to limitations in the use of those concepts that had been the basis of classical physics since Newton [. . .] One had learned that the old concepts fit nature only inaccurately. (42-43)
He had come to an epistemological shift with regard to the nature of knowledge. Rather than the operating assumption that objectivity is possible in the observation of natural phenomena, the implication is that objectivity can be attained only for that part of nature that allows for it. There is apparently a limit to what can be discovered by use of the principles of classical science, and the limiting factor is the unique role each observer plays in interaction with what is observed. “In this way quantum theory reminds us, as [Niels] Bohr has put it, of the old wisdom that when searching for harmony in life one must never forget that in the drama of existence we are ourselves both players and spectators” (Heisenberg 58). The search for meaning may be the driving force of human existence, but as Heisenberg notes, our role in that journey is more instrumental than the answers we receive. Often the questions we have are a matter of survival; an attempt to deal with pain and suffering through an inquiry into why things happen the way they do. In these situations there is real urgency to the effort. But the passion or energy associated with this search for answers is not enough to comprehend what is meant by intelligence. Passion is necessary, but it is not sufficient. There is a further quality that when coupled with passion creates the conditions for insight. It is a quality that shows up among the participants in this study as the most prominent reason for attending TMI – curiosity. For those gifted with the irreverent quality of exploration for its own sake, questions are merely the means for taking the next step into the unknown. For the participants in this study, curiosity was nurtured early. One of the first things I noticed was the number of individuals who spoke to their early memories of reading, which was a subset of their more general comments regarding the importance of reading in their lives. Reading, as they described it, was like stepping into a transporter room that beamed them into other worlds. So it would come as no surprise that behind the value of reading was a rich imaginative life which took root in many different activities:
My best memories [. . .] lots of make believe. I played on a magic carpet that took my friends and me into new worlds where we had many adventures. I remember telling one my friends that he was so lucky because he could grow up to be an astronaut [. . .] But I was just curious about a number of things. I loved stories of dinosaurs. I remember getting a chemistry set as a child and “mixing potions.”
I was really good at daydreaming. I liked to role play [. . .] Because of my father’s work [a historian who recreated live representations of American pioneer life], I lived in a fantasy world. Life was all about going out to have adventures.
I have been spiritually oriented since a child. When I was 4 years old I jumped on a pile of sawdust only to find I was out-of-body. Some years later, I remember running around the edge of the lake in the trees. It was easy to get into a meditative state while running.
As a child I could fly and communicate well with trees and other living things. I had lots of imaginary friends.
I was always active, always exploring. I played cowboys and Indians with the neighbors. I had a very active imagination [. . .] created places in our yard for building forts and pathways. I imagined the world of King Arthur and the intrigues that took place at court.
As a child I could see things out of the corner of my eye and believed I was seeing into other dimensions.
I liked climbing trees – it was quiet and it was in nature. I stuffed a lot of things inside of me and then I would read books and go climb trees to deal with it [. . .] If I ever got bored, I could always daydream.
As a child I was fascinated with the idea of God and salvation. Going to Sunday school was an important early experience.
I spent a lot of time alone. I liked to read and draw. My earliest memory was drawing rockets to Pluto. I was reading mostly non-fiction as a child. I liked books on airplanes and astronomy. I also played cops and robbers/cowboys and Indians with the kids in the neighborhood. We didn’t have many toys so we had to be pretty imaginative. I would just play anything that was make-believe.
I usually played games with adults. I began playing chess at 3 or 4. I spent a lot of time alone. I liked to read, to spend time in nature sitting still and watching wildlife. Animals are very open and people put up screens.
Comic book reading was my favorite pastime, but I also read books – reading was an important part of my life. I also played board games or imaginary games with my friends. I particularly remember playing cowboys and Indians. I also loved riding bikes into the country to explore. I always had an affinity with nature.
I played a lot of games with my sister. I remember playing Operator. I also remember a boy in Russia who I climbed trees with. I didn’t have many friends so I would spend time alone – mentally, not physically. I lived in a city and would spend time observing others. While I didn’t have imaginary friends or fantasies, I do remember thinking “Here I am 4 years old and it is the right age.” I had more philosophical thoughts about things.
I grew up playing cowboys and Indians with my friends, climbing trees, and exploring the foothills nearby. I was often accused of having an overactive imagination. I had an imaginary friend for 3 years who was a very vivid presence in my life.
I lived in a fantasy world. I was a fairy-like child. I had my spirit friends. People would tell me their stories when I was young rather than the other way around. I tended to be rather quiet. I was a listener.
It could be argued that imagination is another sensory organ, a means for exploring beyond the limits of the known or current reality. Clearly for the participants in this study it was an active element early in their lives. What is also clear is how the function of imagination, as the agent of curiosity, continued to evolve in the course of their lives. The development of multiple aptitudes or, to use Howard Gardner’s term, multiple intelligences, beyond the early interest in playing “make believe” is indicative of this evolution as Attachment B illustrates (6-18). While some of these interests proved to have an economic by-product at various times in their lives, the more instrumental goal they served was to widen the range and deepen the nature of their explorations. To refer to their interests and abilities as evidence of multiple intelligences makes this point more clearly. To be clear, however, I am not proclaiming a theoretical link between Gardner’s research and the aptitudes of the participants in this study. I am noting that the idea of understanding as a definition of intelligence is more than an ability to solve problems. There is a capacity for learning that has as its goal new vistas, new worlds, and wider perspective. In his clinical studies, Carl Jung observed how his patients overcame dysfunctional patterns of behavior and self-defeating routines when they “brought something new into being,” i.e., a new perspective:
All the greatest and most important problems in life are fundamentally Insoluble [. . .] They can never be solved, but only outgrown [. . .] This “outgrowing,” as I formerly called it, proved on further investigation to be a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest appeared on the patient’s horizon, and through this broadening on his or her outlook the insoluble problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms but faded out when confronted with a new and stronger life urge. (CW 13: 17)
To define learning as leading to a new level of consciousness is to see it as a process of discovering “a new and stronger life urge.” What is it that moves people from one state of existence to another? Is it an awakening much like a door opening onto a New World? Is it a remembering of something we always knew and are now amazed we had forgotten? Is it a glimpse of the fullness of life operating outside our frame of reference? Regardless of how we describe the experience, a change in orientation is the result of an altered picture of reality. For the participants in this study a principle objective of their learning agenda has been an exploration into the void behind the apparent reality of the universe and the change in perspective that ensues. Their development of multiple intelligences is merely an expression of different ways of conducting that exploration. For self-transforming individuals, a journey of possibilities is more relevant than having a fixed destination. Requisite to this journey is imagination and curiosity, tools for probing beyond the safety of known boundaries.
Anticipation of Liminal States
Liminality is a description of the transitional phase between different existential planes. The definition can extend to a number of categories from ritual practices, to time (twilight or changes of season), to physical location (the edge of a forest or other points of spatial change), to identity (mixed ethnicity or transgender sexuality). Within ritualistic practices of modern culture a classic example is the state of being engaged. This is a liminal state for those who are neither single nor yet married. It is also a state whose boundaries have a powerful effect on others. In my own case, I remember the confusion and embarrassment I felt in college when attempting to ask a girl for a date only to learn she was recently engaged (sans ring because her fiancé was in another city and had yet given it to her). My clumsy reaction, due to feeling I had committed a terrible taboo, was really quite amusing to her now that her search for the “right person” was seemingly resolved. The liminal state of engagement can result in a unique perspective on courtship (the past), which may have accounted for her reaction. At the same time, with their objective close at hand but not yet attained, the engaged have time to reflect on the marriage that is yet to occur (the future). Engagement is a period of new awareness resulting from an in-between state and it is this temporal boundedness which gives it a magical quality. When describing the participants in this study as being well acquainted with liminal states, it applies not merely to the typical categories listed above but also to states of consciousness. In the use of the audio-guidance technology at TMI, exposure to the threshold between waking consciousness and the different focus levels associated with changes in brain wave activity is a liminal state whose frequency of experience is a differentiating aspect of their lives. As mentioned above, the idea of expecting the unexpected when attending a TMI program is learned through exposure to multiple programs. It is a state of mind they become familiar with; the unbounded state between the past and the future, where something is going to change even though it isn’t entirely clear what. How that translates into the more mundane dimensions of their lives can be seen in the way they explore their hopes and fears. Wherever a boundary shows up, whether in terms of vocation, relationships, or personal interests, it merely becomes an invitation for further inquiry, which sometimes means testing the nature of the boundary. As Participant F noted about his array of personal pursuits, “I am trying to address my fears.” In his case, he has learned to skydive, to sail, and to ride motorcycles. But it isn’t limited to physical activities. He also has what he calls “a conservative Christian friend” with whom he has “an ongoing conversation about death and the afterlife.” Whatever he might have experienced for himself regarding the nature of death, he is ready to evaluate it in the light of another perspective, especially one that may be opposed to his own. Anxiety is a natural response to whatever disturbs the boundaries of our comfort zone, i.e., our current way of being. Liminality is an appropriate description of those times when we are aware of a moment of choice between what has been and what can yet be, between who we think we are and a blinding insight into what we are. It is a point of demarcation that can be mere seconds in length or a no-man’s land where we can wander for years. It is a transitional state when the boundaries of our world no longer seem solid and our past is no longer a predictor of what is going to happen next. It is a troubling time, but not an unusual state of being, as Nietzsche’s insight attests:
Those thinkers in whom all stars move in cyclic orbits are not the most profound: whoever looks into himself as into vast space and carries galaxies in himself also know how irregular all galaxies are; they lead into the chaos and labyrinth of existence. (175)
Participants in this study have learned to consciously spend time in the white space, the unformed potential or prima material of our lives. They actually seem to enjoy it as if it is part of a practice in the artistry of their own lives. They use phrases, in talking about their lives, such as:
Stepping more fully into life (into possibility) rather than walking around the edges
Wanting to trust a journey I do not understand
Seeking those moments when you can witness the manifestation of spiritual forces
Becoming unsettled is important to learning
Watching my inner resistance
Making a conscious decision to live in this world
Learning what being more awake means
From certainty, to uncertainty, to certainty is what defines me [a reference to a continual loop between polarities]
An experience shared by Participant C characterizes the liminal state taken to its transcendent conclusion. He was explaining what happened to him one day while he was driving. Suddenly,
everything just vanished and I am in an eternal moment as a point of consciousness that can see in all directions. There are lines of light going away from me; my possible and probable futures [. . .] And between every moment Here, I am in a moment There, and I am holding different memories of the future and the past, every moment. It kind of reminded me of the white frames in between the movie pictures.
When I asked him what was different for him now, he replied, “in a way nothing and in a way everything.” To navigate one’s life unconsciously based on assumptions derived from past experience is like having a hammer and seeing every problem as a nail. It is a logical orientation only to the degree past experience is applicable to the present or current context. And current context is to a large degree a result of what we are capable of seeing or envisioning as Richard Tarnas notes:
Although there exists many defining structures in the world and in the mind that resist or compel human thought and activity in various ways, on a fundamental level the world tends to ratify, and open up according to, the character of the vision directed towards it. (406)
Such is the function of self-transforming individuals. They are more likely to question their existing assumptions in the light of what more there is to learn (or unlearn). They are more likely to suspend judgment, which as Jung wrote, “is always based on experience, i.e., on what is already known [and] as a rule it is never based on what is new, what is still unknown, and what under certain conditions might considerably enrich [consciousness]” (The Portable Jung 275). In other words, one of the principles I have learned from the participants in this study is the value of liminal states as a means for building greater capacity for openness to “what is still unknown.”
Relationship with Inner Guidance
When referencing transpersonal experiences, which TMI alumni do in a variety of ways (often without using the term transpersonal), it begs the question of what is similar or different among their experiences. The idea of the transpersonal emerged in the last century among psychologists who view the ego-based personality and its centralizing function of consciousness within individuals as but one part of a totality defined as the Self. Within this totality is a spectrum of consciousness that is not limited to classic notions of physics (time-space continuum) or autonomy (I in relation to my thoughts). Boundary violation on either dimension (physical or mental) is often grounds to speak of a mystical experience. The variety of experiences cast as mystical has been well documented by Michael Murphy in his book The Future of the Body (the title alluding to the fact, in Murphy’s thesis, that what we call mystical is a form of meta-normal human functioning or human potential yet unrealized within a normal range of functioning). Robert Forman, in his book Mysticism, Mind, Consciousness, makes a further distinction regarding mystical experience by distinguishing between “intentional consciousness” and “awareness per se” (112, 131). The former is what we use in crafting our worldviews. It is indicative of our stage of development and, some would say, our reason for becoming human – to learn how to expand our consciousness. The latter has always existed autonomously. From where it stems is no place and it is every place. It has many names and they are all symbols of the ineffable principle of existence - Yahweh, Tao, Godhead, “a being beyond being and a nothingness beyond being” (Meister Eckhart, 178). To explain the distinction Forman is making, I want to share a dream I had some years back.
It is late at night and I am standing outside a large, limestone building of classic Victorian construction. Around me are a number of dwarfish, shadowy individuals who are breaking into the building (they are ill defined because I cannot make out their features or the details of their actions, but I know what they are doing). In my arms I am carrying a small child who radiates with a serenity that beguiles its infant state. I exhibit a level of excitement about what is happening that seems to go unnoticed by the child. Somehow I know that the child has had a vision, as the child often does, and I am actively pursuing clues to uncover the nature of this vision. I am seeking artifacts, text, and pictures I can hold before the child to see if a glimmer of recognition appears in its eyes. My diminutive friends are breaking into the building because I believe within are a number of promising clues.
Once inside the building I move rapidly down long corridors extracting one artifact after another from the shelves along the walls to hold before the child. For a period of time the child shows no interest in what I am doing, remaining quietly content and unperturbed. Finally, I notice the child's eyes focus on one particular fragment. As I turn to look at it I begin to awake from my dream and in that instant I recognize it as a tablet from the ancient Mesopotamian text The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Putting aside the personal significance of the imagery, the dream illustrates several dimensions of a larger Self. My dream "I" was an accurate depiction of the interests, motivations, and behaviors of my waking "I" - my sense-making role or intentional consciousness. What "I" am seeking are answers to extraordinary events, visions, and dreams - epiphanies - channeled through a dimension of the Self represented by the child (who is present to my dream “I” but slightly out-of-phase with my waking consciousness). The dream acknowledges this dimension of the Self by providing it with physical representation, though interestingly, I cannot tell if the child is male or female. In my dream, the child is without desire, that is to say, it has no need to make meaning from its existence or experiences. As such, it is a representative of “awareness per se”, what Forman also refers to as a pure consciousness event (6). As the child exists non-physically, one could say it knows "spiritually" (all things all at once across existence – it is non-distinct from the object of its knowledge). On the other hand, "I" know by means of contrast and comparison with something already known (sequentially over time within the plane of my physical existence – I am distinct from the object of my knowledge). Forman calls the two orientations and their epistemological structures “the dualistic mystical state” (150-151). In his definition, the pure consciousness event represented by the child is no longer a temporary state (a peak experience), but co-exists simultaneously with engagement in the world. It is the phenomenon of intentionally knowing (knowledge by direct sensory contact or through conceptualization) combined with non-intentional knowing (the pure consciousness event or awareness per se). In other words, the dualistic mystical state knows the self reflectively simultaneous with seeing, acting, thinking, etc. The result is a permanent presence of awareness which can be characterized as an unchanging silence within. The way that shows up for most of the participants in this study is through an ever-present sense of guidance. For more than a decade, I have been consciously following the guidance of my “wider self” (I prefer this term to higher self). I use discernment, but there is a clear sense of what is true.
The feeling of the higher self being present never leaves.
I always had a strong presence of guidance [which has been experienced as] a
BROWSE RESEARCH ARTICLES
Contact The Monroe Institute