The 4 dimensions of Walsh & Vaughan’s Transpersonal Model of the Person – by Paul F. Cunningham, Ph.D. |

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March 20 by The Running Son

Walsh & Vaughan’s Transpersonal Model of the Person

by Paul F. Cunningham, Ph.D.


The classic transpersonality theory of Walsh and Vaughan (1980) ….represents “the basic tenets of a Transpersonal model” of the person (p. 54). Walsh and Vaughan’s model identifies four important dimensions essential to understanding the transpersonal nature of the human personality:


(a) consciousness
(b) conditioning
(c) personality
(d) identity


We will look at these one at a time.

(a) Consciousness

Consciousness is not a self, the ego-self, identity, or some brain product.

Consciousness is not a self, not the ego-self, not our identity, nor is it the neural product of some random concatenation of chemical elements spontaneously formed by a material brain. Psychologically speaking, consciousness is a state of focus that can be defined as “the direction in which the self looks at any given time” (Roberts, 1998a, p.42). When the self looks outward toward physical reality, we say “This is my conscious self.” When the self turns the focus of awareness inward in sleep toward dream reality, we say “This is my dreaming self.” When the self turns the focus of awareness again inward toward transcendental reality, we say “This is my mystical self.” The state of consciousness (e.g., waking, dreaming, mystical) and realities of which it is aware (i.e., physical, imaginal, transcendental) are interconnected and define one another. Conscious awareness is not a thing but an action that changes and is changed by that which it attends to, is aware of, and perceives. Consciousness is a flickering flashlight that varies in its intensity and bandwidth that can turn in many directions to illumine other paths, disclose other doors, flow through other channels. It is away of perceiving the various dimensions of reality.

[‘(a)Consciousness’ adapted from: CHAPTER 4: Transpersonal States of Consciousness, sec. E-5]

(b) Conditioning

Conditioning and de-conditioning: Can we “wake up” in time?

Conditioning is regarded as a fundamental process of learning that is defined as any relatively permanent change in behavior as a result of experience. Conditioning is based upon spontaneous associative processes whereby two stimuli or astimulus and a response become joined together in experience. Classical or Pavlovian respondent conditioning is regarded as an nonconscious, involuntary, automatic form of associating two stimulitogether whereas Skinnerian operant conditioning is viewed as a conscious, voluntary, deliberative form of associating a response with its consequence such that the behavior tends to be repeated (reinforced) or diminished in frequency (punished). Habits are a common example of conditioning at work. Walsh and Vaughan (1980) state that the transpersonal perspective holds that people are more vastly ensnared and trapped in their conditioning than they appreciate, but. . . freedom from this conditioning is possible. The aim of transpersonal psychotherapy is essentially the extraction of awareness from this conditioned tyranny of the mind. (p. 55)

Transpersonal psychologist Charles Tart (1987, p.xi) refers to this de-conditioning process as “waking up” from the “consensus trance” induced in us by our culture. Therapist Stephen Wolinski (1991, p. 1) writes about “trances people live by” and the task of de-hypnotizing individuals out of their self-induced trance states which result in the self-created problems of everyday life. Transpersonal scholar Ralph Metzner (1986, p. ix) calls the process of extracting waking consciousness from this conditioning as “opening to inner light.” Psychiatrist Roger Walsh (1984, p. xvi) states that freedom from “tranquilization by the trivial” fostered by the psychological and social forces that keep us “unconscious” to the problems of overpopulation, poverty, malnutrition, pollution, and disease is not only possible but essential to “staying alive” and human survival. Transpersonal writer Peter Russell (1998, p. 87) argues that “waking up in time” will depend on a spiritual renaissance and finding inner peace in times of accelerating change.

Transpersonal author Willis Harman (1984, p. xvii; 1998, p. xxiii) states that a “global mind change” and “liberating the unconscious for breakthrough insights” are required to re-program the unconscious and leap beyond our previous habitual ways of resolving our difficulties. The Eastern personality theory of Abhidhamma discussed in this chapter identifies numerous unhealthy mental factors that contribute to various forms that conditioning may take (e.g., attachment to objects, people, self-image, habits, psychological processes, social roles, personal problems, ideas and beliefs). Two main forms of meditation practice — concentration and mindfulness — have demonstrated usefulness in de-conditioning the individual from the consensus trance of the human cultural world and in helping the person let go of attachment to unhealthy mental factors that result in pain and cause suffering for the person.

(c) Personality

Traditional approaches to human personality.

One popular mainstream introductory psychology textbook defines personality as “the distinctive and characteristic patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior that make up an individual’s personal style of interacting with the physical and social environment” (Smith, Nolen-Hoeksema, Fredrickson, & Loftus, 2003, p. 454). This traditional definition of “personality” is useful because it captures what is a common observation about how people think, feel and behave; namely, in the same situation, the behavior of different individuals tends to be different (uniqueness) and in different situations, the behavior of the same individual tends to be similar (consistency). One task of traditionally-oriented personality psychologists is to identify what those consistencies are that are not determined by situation contexts, and to identify what situational contexts alter or influence behavioral consistencies. Whatever is consistent and unique about the person is traditionally accorded a central place of honor in most mainstream theories of personality.

Whatever terms is used to refer to personality– ego, persona, identity, or personal “I” — it seems that we have a need to think, feel, and act ways that are both consistent and yet unique, and to develop a sense of identity (or self-sense) will guide our thoughts, emotions, and behavior in ways that serve to establish and maintain that sense of individuality and consistency.

Personality psychologists have identified several factors that shape one’s sense of consistency and uniqueness over time, including biological influences (e.g., physical characteristics, body physiology, heredity), common socio-cultural experiences (e.g., beliefs, values, norms, customs, roles of culture and society), and unique “special circumstances” of our birth and environmental history (e.g., rewards and punishments, type of role models we been exposed to).

Traditionally, any comprehensive theory of personality must account for three things: the structure of personality, the dynamics of personality, and the development of personality. The structure of personality identifies what the personality is made of, its building blocks, its constituent elements and how they are put together. The dynamics of personality identifies what sets the personality in motion, why people do what they do, what motivates them, and what is the fuel, the energy sources that makes them go. The development of personality identifies how the personality grows and changes with the passage of time, whether there are critical periods in personality development, how permanently damaging are developmental defects and whether they are reversible.

Personality as traditionally defined is something to be transcended in transpersonal psychology.

In Walsh and Vaughan’s (1980) transpersonal model, personality does not have the central place of honor that mainstream psychology accords to it. From a transpersonal perspective. . . personality is accorded relatively less importance. Rather, it is seen as only one aspect of being with which the individual may, but does not have to, identify.

Health is seen as primarily involving a shift from exclusive identification with personality rather than a modification of it. (p. 56)

The transpersonal perspective assumes that we make a mistake when we put all our identity into one basket, so to speak, whether we call that basket “personality,” “ego,” “persona,” “self” or “me,” myself,” and “I.” Personality as traditionally defined, understood, and measured in mainstream psychology is only the surface portion of our overall identity which has deeper and more mysterious aspects to it that are “beyond” ego, personality, persona, self, and I. It is deeper because it includes those more intuitive, creative “unknown” portions of ourselves that we frequently deny exist, ignore, and overlook. It is mysterious because the quality of identity is far more than we can presently comprehend within the framework of concepts and theories currently available to us in mainstream psychology. Transpersonality refers to the “unknown” zone of the self.

The Johari window of social psychology (Luft, 1970) provides one metaphor for understanding the transpersonal dimension of personality. In this framework, there are four quadrants of personality id entified by a 2 (self and others) X 2 (known and unknown) matrix that yields four aspects of personality action (known to self, known to others, unknown to self, unknown to others). That portion of our personality that is known to self and known to others is our open, public personality. This is the “you” that others observe and listen to; it is the view of yourself that you present to the world as revealed through your speech patterns, mannerisms, the way you carry yourself, whether you are usually cheerful or grumpy, the way you react to threatening situations. That portion of our personality that is known to self but unknown to others is our hidden, private personality; those fantasies, thoughts, feelings, and experiences that we do not share with others and have never told anyone about. This is the “you” that contains wishes that seem too childish to reveal to others, dreams and memories and reflections than remain yours alone. That portion of our personality that is unknown to self but known to others is that aspect of ourselves to which we are blind and that others have the choice to reveal to us or not. Finally, there is that portion of the personality that is unknown to self and unknown to others – the unknown zone – that contains latent abilities. It is this aspect of personality with which transpersonal psychology most appropriately deals.

Transpersonal personality theory, in other words, addresses the “unknown” reality of personality functioning. That this unknown zone of personality action exists there can be no doubt. As Jung once said: “The totality of the psyche can never be grasped by the intellect alone.” Certain portions of each individual’s reality are consciously unknowable. “You may not know all of yourself, but that’s a process of self-discovery, of becoming…The more you discover of yourself, the more you are” (Roberts, 1995, p.68). “You are not even aware of many portions of the self that you know intellectually do exist. So it is not so strange to imagine other portions of the self with which you are not at all familiar in any conscious way… The unknown portions are as much a part of you as any cell within your physical body. It simply deals with a different kind of reality and so does the cell” (Roberts, 1999a, p. 270). Generally, the transpersonal approach to human personality taken in this book proposes that hidden within the person, sublimated yet active beneath ordinary waking awareness, is a nonphysical inner Transpersonal Self or soul that provides inner direction to the life of the personality. Where old, accepted ideas of selfhood fail to do justice to the multitudinous creativity of personality action, transpersonal psychology dares to conceptualize previously unknown elements of the self and to propose new ways to explore its greater reality.

Transpersonality gives expression to exceptional experiences and transformative behaviors.

Conventional personality theories in mainstream psychology never mention words such as “soul” or “paranormal abilities,” and rarely discusses notions such as “creativity” or “heroism” or the other exceptional capabilities of living consciousness. Transpersonal psychology, in contrast to conventional perspectives, does give expression to these notions and gives voice to humanity’s experience of other overriding abilities and exceptional human experiences characteristic of our species that point to an alternate version of human personality for psychological science to explore. These abilities and experiences include the perception of events not dependent upon the five physical senses or other physical mechanisms alone. They include the study of those heroic characteristics of human creativity that point to its extra-dimensional aspects. Although the possibility of individual survival of physical death, with all memories and experiences surviving intact, is a logical and empirical impossibility as far as official orthodox psychology is concerned, transpersonal psychology regards it as a fruitful hypothesis worth of further investigation. Clinical observations from deep experiential self-exploration (e.g., sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, biofeedback for voluntary control of internal states, hypnosis) and transpersonal psychotherapy (e.g., bioenergetics, primal therapy, rebirthing, guided imagery with music, holotropic breathwork, psychedelic sessions with LSD, episodes of psychospiritual crises) all seem to indicate that the human personality possesses a ultidimensional nature in addition to its three-dimensional characteristics, traits, and attributes that mainstream psychology traditionally accords to it. Jane Roberts’ Aspect Psychology discussed in this chapter presents a multidimensional model of human personality that is capable of surviving the biological death of the physical body, for example. Research into such “transpersonal” dimensions of human personality has the potential of revising conventional psychology’s highly limited ideas about the nature of the self by introducing original concepts and theories into discussions regarding the nature of the human psyche’s private and collective reality, and by proposing research agendas that promise to give us a greater understanding of human potential and exceptional well-being beyond the norm (Braud & Anderson, 1998).

(d) Identity

The concept of self is a problematic but useful notion in mainstream psychology.

The notion of the self and self-identity has been a problematic concept in mainstream psychology because of the dominance of the hidden assumptions of positivism (i.e., only objects that can be experienced should be objects of scientific inquiry), empiricism (i.e., sensory experience of the physical senses is the only source of certain knowledge), and naturalism (i.e., all experience can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws) in the methodological framework used to study human personality (Baumeister, 1987; Polkinghorne, 1983).

The concept is used in different ways by different theorists and there is a virtual infinite number of measures of the self with little agreement among them all. The concept of the self, like the concept of personality, makes sense to continue using because its matches our phenomenological experience and facilitates everyday interpersonal communication, is an important part of our conceptual and representational systems of our lived world, and has heuristic value in uniting and making sense of a variety of empirical investigations regarding human beings. Whether we are talking about the phenomenal self (self-as-experienced), the cognitive self (self-as-thought), or the presentational self (self-as-acted), the notion of self continues to prove a useful hypothetical construct in mainstream psychology. From a transpersonal perspective, the self that we are is ever changing and never static. The selves that we are is created in each moment with every impulse acted upon, every thought conceived, every emotion expressed, every decision or mistake made. Yet that self remains ever secure in its own identity. When we were a child, our sense of identity did not include old age, and yet our sense of identity changes physically through the years, such that it seems that we constantly add on to our self through experience, becoming “more than we were before.” Yet throughout all our physical, intellectual, and social changes through the years, our sense of identity remains secure. We move in an out of different selves while at the same time our identity of our self is maintained.

Personal identity as a function of self-identifications.

The nature of self-identity in Walsh and Vaughan’s (1980) transpersonal model is determined by what you identify yourself with. We may identify with external objects, other people, even thoughts and beliefs. For instance, when someone criticizes an idea that we hold or express, we may feel as if we ourselves have been criticized. If someone says, “That’s a stupid idea,” we may feel that we are stupid. Instead of realizing that we are not our ideas or beliefs, but that we have ideas and beliefs, that we can change our ideas and beliefs while remaining the same person, we mistakenly identify with the ideas or other contents of consciousness. This identification sets into motion psychological processes that can constrict who we believe ourselves to be. Many of the beliefs and ideas with which we identify originate from our parents, religious figures, teachers, peers, and authority figures and agents of society and our culture. A woman who has identified herself with her role as a mother for so many years and suddenly finds herself in menopause may find herself in the midst of an identity crisis in later middle age. Ken Wilber’s (1979) transpersonal model of personality discussed in this chapter lists five levels of identity in the development of consciousness (or awareness)– the shadow level, the ego level, the existential level, the transpersonal level, and the Mind level — with each level representing an increasingly expansive sphere of identity as you move from one level of identification to another.

The Running Father Blog

[ Selection adapted from: Cunningham, P. F., Textbook of Transpersonal Psychology. Unpublished manuscript. Psychology Department. Rivier University, Nashua, NH. ]

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RunningSon aka Jim Aldrich, Joshua Tree CA 2013 | This site is dedicated with the deepest gratitude to Dr. Cláudio Naranjo, whose writings gave me life.

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