On the trail of humanistic transpersonal psychology

by Claudio Naranjo

• In my first English book, The One Quest (1972) – translated from the Spanish La Unica Busqueda – I delved into the subject of the Human Potential Movement. Later, at the Stanford Research Institute, I was a consultant for the Study of Educational Politics Institute and I was entrusted to explore this movement, which had its roots in Esalen, the most practical and experiential component of humanistic transpersonal psychology. It later emerged as an academic translation of that phenomenon. At Stanford, I was tasked with discovering the possible application of the Human Potential Movement in education.

Only later did I realize the person who entrusted me with this task, Willis Harman, was a pioneer, as until then, mainstream education had not been interested in such matters. Even today, education insists on being the most obsolete and antiquated of our institutions. We are still taught, in the style of the 18th century, to produce repeaters and to give information, instead of helping develop penetrating minds.

Curiously, many stimuli have inspired me from the world of education, to the point that I have become passionate about the topic. Our education system is responsible for the consciousness we have and the world we create. As of yet, we have not had an overall education system that works towards affectivity or enables students to become more virtuous, conscious and authentic people. This is missing from our current education system.

It is said that consciousness is intentional – consciousness of things, consciousness and object. However, the process of being conscious of consciousness is difficult, since what one looks for in meditation is a consciousness without object. This is a self-consciousness that does not go through reflection. It is a mysterious phenomenon. That is satori, contact with the nature of the mind or whatever you may call it. It is as if one were slowly acquiring, little by little, a bit more of a cosmic perspective – a perspective in which things are observed from afar, without attachment.

I have a lot of faith in meditation, not just in therapy, but also in the therapist as a transformative agent. My ‘60s writing, The Healing Journey, explained the potential of certain novel pharmacologic agents of that time as enhancers to psychotherapy such as MDMA, MDA, ayahuasca and ibogaine. It was a slightly magical moment in my life due to the density of synchronicities. And I found myself with what are now called empathogens or entactogens.

I describe that there are substances that are not hallucinogens, but more like microphones and microscopes, which help one see the emotional life with more comprehension. And I called them feeling enhancers, optimizers of feeling. I discovered a substance that was extremely useful for therapy, different from LSD.

Later on, I became interested in harmaline. It is a long story, but something attracted me to the study of that plant. So I began to experiment with it and it wasn’t long before I realized it had very similar properties to ayahuasca. Now, it constitutes a huge psychedelic business; there are many centres in the world that thrive from the use of ibogaine to curb addictions. It has that special effect. It is used a great deal in the treatment of addictions, as it is legally allowed in many parts of the world. My experience is that these things fell into my hands, one after another, at a moment where I was perhaps in the right place at the right time.

Of course, the shaman is the original therapist, but he is also the archaic, original mystic. And at one time, meditation and therapy or spirituality and therapy were not separate. We are now returning to a neo-shamanic culture, one could say, because of this interest, this recognition that both belong to the same meta-discipline. One difference between shamanism and psychotherapy is the frequent use of the so-called magic plants. Another difference is that shamans do not have an ideology; they do not have theories about psychotherapy. They figure it out however they can. By “figure out,” I mean, their presence has an effect. They are a bit like healers. Even if they do not explicitly act as healers, their presence has a healing influence. They may do this or that, but it is their presence that has an effect. Therefore, their training is not like that of the therapist, who has learned therapeutic theory.

My LSD experience was very important and it coincided with my already being on the yage trail, which is now called ayahuasca, but in Colombia it was called yage. I had had a conversation with Richard Schultes, the famous botanist who had identified the plants in yage and he gave me the information to get in touch with his plant gatherers among the indigenous Cofan people in Colombia. When I finished my Fulbright scholarship in the US, I went on an expedition to Putumayo, by way of Chile, and there I started to investigate.

It was an interesting experience for me – not just because of what I learned through foreign experiences about the archetypal world, but also because it inspired me to play a role I did not intend on playing: the therapist role. And it turned out to be my deep reconnection with therapy.

Meditation retreat June 5 -11, for information www.claudionaranjo.com

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