“Research with soul in mind is re-search, a searching again, for something that has already made its claim upon us, something we have already known, however dimly, but have forgotten.” (Romanyshyn, 2013, P4)
A while ago I realised that there is no such thing as “Psychology”; that we are the authors of our own psychologies. Yet, are we the ones who write the books or are we the books upon which our psychologies are written? John Weir Perry wrote, “The conclusion that finally becomes unavoidable is that each psychology, each school, is an expression of the personal makeup and standpoint of its originator,” (Perry, 1999, P16). Therefore, whatever I write here is unavoidably a manifestation of my own individual, collective, and transpersonal, psychology. It is a personal reflection on why I am undertaking my PhD work.
The Method of Science, The Aim of Religion
For all of the approbation heaped (not undeservedly) upon him, I believe the infamous 19th century occultist Aleister Crowley did provide us with some valuable insights. It is interesting to compare his maxim of “The Method of Science, The Aim of Religion”, from the frontispiece of his journal The Equinox (1909), with the overall aims of the transpersonal enterprise. In particular, he defined Magick as, “…the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will,” (Crowley, 1929, PXII). Dion Fortune later inserted the words “in consciousness” after “occur”, thereby further psychologising the definition. It is important to understand that in this context “Will” does not mean whatever one desires at any particular time but rather something more akin to fate, destiny, purpose, or my personal preference, Wyrd. Jorge Ferrer (2002, P126) has argued that, “…transpersonal studies should not be dissociated from the spiritual quest, but rather be in the service of the spiritual transformation of self, relationships, and world.” Therefore, I make no apology for referring to the magical tradition for my PhD in Applied Psychology. To paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, in my view, “Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from psychology.”
Any reflection necessarily implies a focus on the self, “…if an academician cannot situate himself within his discourse, cannot situate himself in the story he tells, then we know that he has left something crucial out,” (Bhaskar, 2017, P12). My reflective approach here is to understand my PhD work not as an end in itself but as yet one more step along a continuing journey. I may be criticised for focusing on myself by those whose spiritual perspective tends toward ego-negation, but perhaps this simply means that the magic I practice is black? Indeed, my own spirituality is dark and elemental; it abjures the superficial light and its method is applied in daily life. I aim not to practice my form of spirituality but to enact it. I sometimes describe myself as an aspiring eccentric, striving to become an accomplished fool. There is certainly more of the earthy and pragmatic Anglo-Saxon mind in me than the airy and refined Renaissance thinker. A temperament that sometimes leaves me feeling like a metaphorical bull in a spiritual China shop! Perhaps, that is why I am drawn to the experience of spiritual crisis although I have never experienced such a crisis myself. I enjoy the company of those who have journeyed there because when I am with them, I feel amongst like-minds and kindred spirits. On the other hand, perhaps transpersonal research into spiritual crisis necessitates cultivating a certain madness in its method? As Watson said, “We need to become aware of our own madnesses to be in the presence of others’ spiritual emergencies with some depth of equanimity,” (Watson, 1994, P36).
That Which Became
By looking back over my life, I can begin to discern, albeit darkly, a direction in which I have been led, or in the words of David Smale, “The only way one can really be clear about what one wants is to look at what one does,” (Smail, 2001, P98). Therefore, as part of my own transpersonal journey, my own peculiar Wyrd, I dedicate my PhD work to whatever It is that has led me here. Sir Alister Hardy, a marine biologist and founder of the Religious Experience Research Centre (RERC), suggested that researchers undertake an experiential approach to religious experience, which he termed an “experimental faith” (Hardy, 1979). Viewed in retrospect, my whole life seems like an exercise in “experimental faith.”
I have had a few anomalous or spiritual experiences, such as dreams with a numinous quality, one precognitive experience, a visionary-type experience, and multiple synchronicities that have led me to where I am now. I also experience a constantly fluxing gender fluidity that has given me deep and personal insight into the development and meaning of subpersonalities, their associations with archetypes, and spiritual influences beyond. This also makes me something of an outsider, as so well described by Colin Wilson (1956). I’ve always struggled to mix with muggles, feeling much more at home at Hogwarts. The Outsider is often a figure who moves through a transliminal space via the fractures in experience and the cracks in society. I have to thank one of my friends, who experienced his own spiritual crisis, for this evocative metaphor. This situation is a source of connection and empathy for me with other edgewalkers who are navigating their own way through similar off-the-beaten-track places and spaces. It seems that, despite the suffering we experience, such situations can create liminal places within our individual psyches and our collective cultures, providing us with the opportunity to transgress the boundaries and enter these sacred spaces. Here, rather than mollifying our fears with an illusory “God of the Gaps”, we may find the opportunity to rediscover the forgotten gods within the gaps. As Romanyshyn says, “A poetics of the research process is an archaeology of that process, an anamnesis of the soul’s ways of knowing, in which knowing is a backward glance, a way of moving forward with the regard for what has fallen in the gap, for what has been left behind, disregarded, neglected, or otherwise forgotten,” (Romanyshyn, 2013, pp13-14).
That Which Is Happening
I am motivated to undertake this PhD by two questions that are key to understanding where I will go from here or That Which Should Become. Both of these pertain to my work around spiritual crisis. Although I have a life-long fascination with spirituality I have never experienced a spiritual crisis myself. Therefore, my first key question is: how do I know that the advice I give, either in private practice or on behalf of the voluntary organisations I am involved with, is effective? This is a question about evidence-based practice, by therapists and support organisations, within the alternative or complementary sphere of spiritual crisis. My literature review and first research study set out to answer this question of efficacy.
Last year I completed “An Evaluation of the UK Spiritual Crisis Network (SCN)”, and I am now working on an article for publication in an academic journal. I am also assisting with the organisation of an SCN online conference on the 2nd April 2022, where I and others will present our research. For details of the conference and other SCN training and awareness events, please visit https://spiritualcrisisnetwork.uk/events After that, I will take the next step on my journey, by beginning my second PhD research study, in order to discover That Which Should Become…
“Where did you go to, if I may ask?’ said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along.
To look ahead,’ said he.
And what brought you back in the nick of time?’
Looking behind,’ said he.”
Bhaskar, R. (2017). The order of natural necessity: A kind of introduction to Critical Realism.
Crowley, A. (1909). The Equinox. York Beach, Samuel Weiser.
Crowley, A. (1929). Magick in theory and practice. New York: Castle Books.
Hardy, A. (1979). The Spiritual nature of man: A study of contemporary religious experience. Oxford, RERC.
Ferrer, J. (2002). Revisioning transpersonal theory: a participatory vision of human spirituality. Albany: SUNY.
Romanyshyn, R.D. (2013). The wounded researcher: Research with soul in mind. New Orleans: Spring
Perry, J.W. (1999). Trials of the visionary mind: spiritual emergency and the renewal process. Albany: SUNY.
Smail, D. (2001). Why therapy doesn’t work and what we should do about it. London: Robinson.
Watson, K. (1994). Spiritual Emergency – Concepts & Implications for Psychotherapy, Journal of Humanistic
Psychology, 34, 2, 22-45.
Colin Wilson (1956). The Outsider; the classic study of alienation, creativity, and the modern mind. London: