Copyright (C) 1997 by William Mistele. All rights reserved.

                    Methods in Transpersonal Psychology

In the fables written about magicians, the mage who knows the magical name
of a dragon or spirit has power over that creature or being.  He can bind
it by his will to serve his purposes.  In the fantasy story, Wizard of
Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin, the wizard Ged, as a young mage, inadvertently
allows an unknown entity to enter our world due to an ill-conceived
magical experiment.  
    This entity had no name and it seeks to strip Ged of his will--that
is, to disrupt the integrity and reduce the power of his mind and
self-awareness.  In the end, Ged confronts this being and discovers it is
not alien to his own nature but part of him.  During his journey, however,
in a typical manner, Ged demonstrates his authority over dragons by
speaking their magical names.  Basically, what he is doing in using this
form of magick is saying to the dragon,  "I understand and am one with
what is at the core of your being--you can not act against me without
destroying yourself in the process." 
    But one dragon had no fear of Earthsea magicians.  He quite willingly
allowed his magical name to be widely known.  The reason was that the
sources of inspiration and energy which animated his spirit were beyond
the wisdom and magical arts of that civilization.  The power of the spoken
word requires that, more than a mystic, we be one with the mystery we seek
to comprehend.  At times, this requires that we put aside your human
perspectives and perceive what we are dealing with from within a cosmic
      This story from fantasy plays upon a theme at the core of Western
magical tradition: the power of the spoken word and the magical act of
naming.  Yet in occult lore this power of naming is often expressed in the
most obscure esoteric terminology and symbolism.  I would like, therefore,
to give an illustration of a method which demonstrates the power of naming
from within humanistic or transpersonal psychology.  This method, however,
can easily be upgraded so it is useful to anyone pursuing a spiritual


 In 1979, Dr.  Eugene Gendlin published a book called Focusing from Bantam
Press.  Gendlin noticed that clients who were succeeding most in therapy
already possessed specific skills.  After studying these individuals, he
summarized these skills in a teachable, six step method.  
     Any tradition, spiritual or psychological, which tries to work with
the psyche must somehow come to grips with correlating the inner and outer
worlds of human experience.  In my experience, Gendlin's method has an
immense advantage in this area.  His six steps  begin with the feelings
and experiences present in our everyday life.  From there, we are able to
turn within and explore these as far as we may wish to go.  But what we
discover  is not lost to us as we return to our normal consciousness and
personality.  We are able to bring back with us the insights we have
     Like a mage entering a magic circle to confront directly and to name
the nature of an unknown or mysterious presence shaping  his life or his
future, we are invited to give voice in our own terms, to name through our
own experience, the subtle movement of energy flowing through us.  To
accomplish this, we must go beyond normal consciousness with all its
familiar associations.  We must enter the domain and perceive directly
that part of our psyche which is waiting to be embraced, and in some
cases, assigned a purpose by the conscious mind.  
     Once we discover what was hidden and find a word for it which is in
accord with its own nature,  we can consider in what way the insight
generated has a part to play in our outer world activities.  Everyone who
processes their feelings in this way is already acting as a magician.
Through the power of focused attention and a spiritual will, they are
channeling and shaping the awesome energies of the psyche so these may
enter and transform  the world.   
     The six steps in Gendlin's method are called: Clearing a space, felt
sense, handle, resonating, asking, and receiving. 
     1.  Clearing a space.  In the first step, we take notice of what is
going on inside of us.  We can focus our attention, for example, on a
problem we may be having.  The goal in this step is to set off to the side
all other concerns so that we clear an open space within us.  In a sense,
we take an inventory of the various tensions and things disturbing us at
this moment in time.   The idea is that the body can be used as a highly
sensitive device for registering and observing the energies which are
active within us.  By focusing on what we feel and what our bodily
sensations are, we enter into direct contact with these energies. 
    2.  Felt Sense.  In the second step, we pick one "stuck" feeling and
seek to get a bodily sense of what it is like.  We can begin, for example,
by asking the question, "What is keeping me from feeling happy today?"  
    We could just as easily ask any number of questions arising from
personal, universal, or cosmic dimensions:  What do I feel about that
person?  Why am I unable to trust?  What is the energy in that stone
circle?  What is needed to be a poet or for me to be successful in my
business venture?  Or even, if you are very ambitious, What is the nature
of the spirit Metatron?  And why not the question also, What is God's or
the Goddess' will for my life?
    Now consider the feeling that appears in your body in all its aspects
when you ask your question--its shape, color, sensation, qualities,
movement, intensity, location--whatever qualities you can observe.  If the
topic is something you care about, you will have a feeling.  And because
the process we are pursuing arises from our body, this sense is at first
without precise definition.  We do not yet have a name for it.                
     For example, whenever we use words like stuck, miserable, unhappy,
anxious, worried, etc. we are using a generalized word to label a specific
and unique energy configuration within us.  The generalized word steals
from us our understanding and experience with what is actually there.  If
someone tells us she is happy, we may know what being "happy" is for us
but not necessarily what it is for this other person.  Similarly, if you
say to yourself, "I am feeling sad today," the sadness you are
experiencing has its own life and does not necessarily replicate anything
you have felt before.  
     Imagine the difficulty, then, when it comes to communicating our
experiences with spiritual beings.  I have a friend who not only talks to
the undine Istiphul but she knows when I have been meditating with
Istiphul.  Yet her experiences with this undine are completely different
than mine.  Istiphul asks her what it is like to eat chocolate and they
joke and laugh together like teenage girls at a pajama party.  They
discuss things women talk about when men are not present. 
     Part of Gendlin's method, then, involves treating our subjective
sensations and feelings as something completely unknown and waiting to be
discovered.   What we do is enter a state of internal silence and observe
what is occurring without any preconceptions--without the anxiety which is
compelled to leap quickly to a conclusion and without the piety which
presumes to already know the answers to all questions.  
     Magick,  Peter Beagle said, involves a lot of listening and a little
technique.   Some people visit Stonehenge in England and take pictures.
Other people walk through Muir Woods near San Francisco to experience the
pleasure of being among trees and in a natural setting.  But a druid, for
example, will sit with his hand on the stone or the tree for an hour
without moving so he can sense the vibration and the spirit hidden
within--same stone or tree, but the amount of attention and respect
extended is much greater and the five senses are allowed to perceive
without mental distractions. 
      3.  Handle.  The task now is to continue scanning the energy
configuration/sensations within your body.  But now we are going to
represent to our conscious mind a word, image, or phrase for what we
sense.  The word "handle" relates to the sense of touch.  It is a
kinesthetic word.  
     For many individuals, visual and auditory sensory modes of perception
are more dominant rather than tactile ones.   But you can use whatever
form of language or image works for you including taste or smell.
Examples of kinesthetic words are: heavy, dense, feathery, hot, cold,
pulsating, hard, etc.  You may also prefer emotional words like fearful,
sorrowful, irritable, yucky, etc.  
     You can, in fact, free associate to whatever extent or in whatever
way works for you.  You can use whatever form of sorting, processing or
naming procedure you wish in order to discover the appropriate handle.
The advantage of engaging internal states in this way is that it is then
much easier to focus on them and notice the way in which they are
changing.  For a magician, a sigil (a magical diagram) and the name of the
spirit as expressed in the cosmic language are handles for connecting to a
spirit's presence and consciousness.    
     4.  Resonating.  Now we check a number of times the extent to which
our image or word "resonates" with the felt sense or the sensation we are
perceiving within our body.  In other words, carefully check to see how
well your thought "fits" the perception.  Even in the moment when we
directly sense what is going on within us, we may in the next moment be
unable to recall what we have just experienced unless the conscious mind
employs some sort of tool to expand its awareness.  Resonating in this way
also focuses more energy and awareness into the area we are working on
which may then begin to change as a result.
     5.  Asking.  Now we can ask questions such as, What is this?  What
would make this OK?  What is behind or underneath it?  What is the worst
of it?  And then, having asked this question, we allow an answer to come
to us not from our conscious mind or from the stuck area but from our
total body and being. 
      Buddhists, for example, are very good as just sitting in a state of
without having to use thoughts as  reference points.  There is simply a
silence one can enter, a stillness as big as the heart and as vast as they
    The point is that a stuck feeling is, in a sense, in a cage--the bars
are created by fear, anxiety, desire, craving, need, hated, self-loathing,
whatever--the feeling is stuck because it is attached or  defending its
own nature. Take away the need to cling, to attach, to flee, to hang on to
anything and the cage is  gone.  The stuck feelings, now having access to
the whole  body and all the chakras, can then simply transform.  Instead
of  being held tight and unable to interact with our other feelings and
thoughts, it joins in and flows with all that  we are.  In this moment, we
gain an insight into what we want to do or, through simple acceptance of
the new energies, we are ready to move on.         
    In meditation, there is a method out of Harvard which asks what the
best option to a negotiated settlement is.  When you see clearly your
alternatives, you gain a perspective on what you need to do.  In working
with individuals with suicidal tendencies, it sometimes helps to ask what
their worst feeling or fear is.  If they look directly at what is
bothering them and can name it themselves, they have already stepped
beyond it--they have found their own best response.                       
   Sometimes, of course, what is stuck is simply an unknown energy/feeling
which does not release because it is waiting for us to give it
definition--to assign it a purpose to fulfill. In this case, as with a
little piece of chaos, you simply need to find the right resource which
illuminates its nature.  
    We know what it is like to be around certain individuals who inspire
or light us up inside.  Even in the darkest places within ourselves we
feel safe, at peace, and full of life in their presence  Sometimes we need
such an image, a spiritual person, a teacher, or being which allows us to
feel safe in dealing with the unknown content within us.  Then we can let
go.  There was a path waiting for us to find it but it was on the other
side of the darkness through which we were unable to pass.  Another serves
as our guide,  not to tell us what to do, but to light up our situation so
we see where our path continues. 
    Some problems can be put on the shelf so we can get on with our lives.
But they in fact do not go away until we find the actual solution to them.
Some personal problems, of course, have no resolution other than becoming
enlightened.   The magician, however, is quite familiar with meditating
within an akashic state of timeless and spaceless awareness.  After all,
the idea of developing a spiritual will means we seek to be able to track
a problem back to the source from which it arises wherever that may be on
a personal, universal, global, or cosmic level. 
         6. The final step is to take a few moments to be with this new
feeling.  Whatever insight arises or change in  feeling occurs, note it,
and then carefully consider if this insight has a place in our lives. Can
we enlarge our awareness of who we are by incorporating this new level or
kind of energy into our personality?   Our particular experience in a
focusing session may then serve as a steppingstone a trail marker for the
path we are following. 
     The hero's quest as outlined by Joseph Campbell often refers to a
similar process.  In the previous steps we may in fact discover a
"treasure," a new insight with possible rewarding results if we can figure
out how to bring it back to our everyday life.  But in mythology, the hero
who finds a treasure is not done with his journey or his quest.  Unless
what he finds is brought back and shared somehow with others, that is,
allowed to impact upon his life, the treasure is lost--it is reclaimed by
the unconsciousness or spiritual world.  
   Namkai Norbu Rinpoche, as a child, once dreamed of being given a sacred
scroll.  When he woke up from the dream he found that the scroll was
actually in his hands.  He took it to his uncle who was a wise man.  But
the uncle determined that the world was not yet ready for this wisdom and
so the scroll was given back to the realm from which it came.  Part of
receiving new insights is being able to live in such a way that they have
a place where they can take hold and flourish in our lives.  It is up to
us to regard them in such a way that their power does not fade away. 
     For years I used to do focusing to process personal experiences.
Often, however, I noticed that when I pursued a feeling, I would take more
than a few moments or minutes which is typical of the focusing
practitioner's approach.  I would enter focusing the way I did any kind of
meditation.  I would stay with it for as long as it took to track down
what I was after.  It is possible to return another day and  continue on
from where you were working before. 
      In evocation, the "felt sense" I use is often the presence of the
spirit I am working with.  As I have mentioned earlier, I may ask the
spirit questions--What is the essence of your being? and so forth and then
wait for an answer as in the "asking" step of focusing.   What I bring
back with me from using focusing as part of evocation is an increased
awareness of the spirit's way of perceiving, how it thinks, and the wisdom
it is a part of.  
      In the story I share about the undine Istiphul, the connection I
have with her involves a continual process of moving from the familiar
into the unknown and then assimilating that new energy into my own
awareness.  Again, this is not unlike the mythic image of the hero's
journey--of crossing over boundaries and leaving behind the familiar world
of everyday life.  Entering into an unknown realm, we encounter new
companions discovering and developing new abilities along the way.  After
measuring ourselves and exerting our full  spiritual will, we discover one
or more of the four great treasures of life.  We then return as a new
person to the world to share what we have found. 
     There are a number of  methods in transpersonal or humanistic
psychology which I believe are useful to those who travel between the
worlds.  As in the practice with cosmic letters, one of the great tasks of
any spiritual work is to develop a continuum between ordinary awareness,
everyday life, and the mystical, mythic, and magical dimensions we enter.
If one or two rungs are missing on the ladder we use to ascend and descend
from elevated states of awareness, then our ability to apply our insights
in our lives is diminished.  
    Kierkegaard complained about Hegel that Hegel had such beautiful
concepts in his philosophy--such a marvelous intellectual edifice he had
constructed to tame history.  But, for Kierkegaard,  Hegel himself lived
in a little shack.  Nothing of Hegel's philosophy has any bearing upon the
actual decisions we made in life.  Magick, by contrast, is a study of how
to made the best choices in life.  And it masters the power necessary to
follow a path filled with awe, wonder, and profound beauty. 
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