The Great Chain of Being: A Map for Human Development


The pre-personal world = Baby and mother are one

The egoic world = The experience of egoic self as separate

The transpersonal world = Self and Spirit are one

Awareness of these stages supports personal, professional and Spiritual growth

Deepening the Healing Relationship, Part 3

The World of the Spirit

By Deborah Allen, Scott Bader, Dan Buffo and Timothy Marshall

Sarah has been coming to see her massage therapist for several years. She has a difficult personal history, filled with unspeakable grief. Last year, after many sessions of safety and silence, Sarah began to experience emotions in the massage room. Her therapist was able to stay grounded, holding her in a space of wholeness as Sarah spoke about dilemmas with her husband and family. As he listened and gently directed her back to soothing her own body, she began to relax in a new way. Unexpectedly, and occasionally, a new kind of energy filled the massage room. Both Sarah and the massage therapist experienced a peaceful stillness of a new kind. A sense of profound well being permeated both of them.

In our last articles (Deepening the Healing Relationship: Part 1 and Part 2), we described a powerful map of human development referred to as The Great Chain of Being, as set out in depth by visionary philosopher Ken Wilber. This map, central to the perennial philosophies, describes three major stages that we ascend and descend throughout our lifetimes. The first, the pre-personal (or pre-egoic), includes the early experiential world present before language: the infant world and its early nervous system, merging with mother, and the constant flow of emotional integration and disintegration. The next stage, the personal (or egoic), covers the development of a conceptual and symbolic world, language, conscious relationship, the ability to act on our own behalf, to navigate in the adult world, and the formation and development of a "self". The third stage, the transpersonal (or trans-egoic), brings us into contact with our deepest spiritual nature. In this last of three articles, we are looking at the third link of the Great Chain of Being: the transpersonal world.

The transpersonal can be defined as the ground of all being: everything that is, was, and will ever be. Nothing is outside of it. Wilber calls it "One Taste". The transpersonal world is always there, just as the wider world exists outside the small part we personally can see, feel and taste. Most of us touch transpersonal experience in radiant magical moments throughout our lives. With maturity and practice, awareness of the movement of spirit grows within the mundane activities of daily life. As we develop transpersonal awareness, however, we are still spiraling through earlier stages of development many times a day. Our infant needs, our adult responsibilities and choices, and the world of spiritual connectedness demand our attention throughout our lifetimes.
The transpersonal world includes and incorporates all the work we have done to heal our earlier life experiences. As we dive deeply into our humanity and make peace with its requisite paradoxes and contradictions, we discover an opening to a mature and grounded life in the presence of spiritual strength.

In the healing room, it is important to recognize when the transpersonal opportunity arises. If we, as practitioners, are able to rest in a sense of wholeness that includes everything (even that which is paradoxical, unpleasant, or incomplete), there is a priceless sense of safety and relaxation available to our clients and to ourselves. There can be a felt sense of comfort and opening in the body, heart, and mind. During these moments of awareness, we recognize body, Self, soul, and universe as one with Spirit. All the things we felt as babies are felt and known again: the energy flowing freely in our bodies; the sense of connectedness with Mother; and through her, the sense of continuity with all life. Only this time, we experience these things as individuated beings. We no longer experience them as an ego-less soul, merged with Mother.

Each of us has our own language to point towards this experience beyond language. In the healing room, it often feels like a shift in focus, from single pointed or distracted attention to a field of perception that includes everything. In a true transpersonal experience, there is a strong presence of a witnessing Self, the part of us that watches the emotions of our hearts, the thoughts of our minds, and the actions of the ego self. Emotions, thoughts, and actions come and go, but we are not identified with them. We have opened to the greater spiritual wholeness of the moment. And as we surrender to how much greater this actually is, we become aware of a fuller range of healing possibilities available to our clients and ourselves.

The transpersonal also shows up in the dreams, images and archetypes that arise during or around healing sessions. Sometimes clients will speak of their inner life as a series of symbols that are deeply meaningful to them. Sometimes it feels as though an experience between healer and client contains the seeds of something much larger. Suddenly it seems you are not just with the client, you are with a universal quality that is found in every person. It may feel as though an ancient sage has entered the room, or the spirit of the warrior, or a God or Goddess. While these moments may be difficult to describe, the felt sense of them is unmistakable. These are experiences of the transpersonal.

And while we all long to experience the transpersonal, there are no short cuts to its "hard-work miracle." Wilber describes one of the most common roadblocks to grounded, mature spiritual presence as the "pre-trans fallacy." In this dilemma, the individual confuses pre-personal infant experience (the sensations, needs and emotions of longing and attachment to the primary caregiver) with transpersonal experience (the sensations, needs and emotions of our longing for God). It is the world of fantasy, omnipotence, and magical thinking, of hoping for a quick fix or what is sometimes referred to as a "spiritual by-pass."

Two days after her husband left her and cleaned out the bank account, Sarah tells her massage therapist that her husband is really a good man but he is called to follow his spiritual longing in Sedona. The fact that she has no job or job skills to provide for herself, or her two pre-school children, does not enter into the telling of the tale. Sarah is confident that it is all for the best. Her husband should not stay anywhere where his spirit is not happy. She is sure he will send them some money as soon as he gets his new life together. Oh, and this will also be her last massage, as she and the children are moving into her car.

While this example may seem extreme, we have seen the pre-trans fallacy in many forms in our healing practices. Sarah's ego has found a way to defend her from the feelings of anger, violation, betrayal, fear, and disappointment that she is holding in her body. She has distracted herself from her personal situation by looking past it at what the ideal outcome could be. She is looking at a fantasy future as a way of coping with what is actually happening. Psychologists call this denial, an often useful but definitively short-term defense against trauma. It is more than likely that Sarah's husband is also involved in his own version of a pre-trans fallacy, leaving his family without resources in the name of Spirit.

A widely known spiritual aphorism encourages us to, "Trust in God, and tie your camel." In other words, while we must surrender our deepest inner life to Spirit in order to know Spirit, at the same time we must take care of the business of daily life. Sarah's inability to stand up for her own rights or ask for child support is in stark contrast to her "see only light" philosophy about her husband's choices. In her helplessness, she has regressed, looking to an outside other (mother) to fix things. Sarah has unconsciously elevated her infant needs to the status of transpersonal oneness and light. Sarah is experiencing a pre-trans fallacy.

We all cycle through this backward longing to be comforted and held by the mother's unconditional love, without wanting to take responsibility for finding it in ourselves. It takes the development of a mature self to recognize that spiritual love is always available, and to choose a responsible adult life.

A body-worker, in the face of a client's pre-trans fallacy, can feel fairly helpless. There is not a "quick fix," magically healed by sternly educating the client about "how things are." Instead, it is up to the massage therapist to stay in a place of non-judgmental curiosity. The therapist can hold a place in his heart for Sarah and her family. His job is not to play psychotherapist, but rather to understand the dilemma Sarah finds herself in, and its developmental roots. His work is to let this understanding help him support Sarah's body to relax into wholeness. As her body becomes less defended, and through the acknowledgement of what is actually happening, there is an opportunity for an authentic response to emerge. With the integration of infant needs, adult responsibilities and spiritual support, there is a chance for good choice making.

Ultimately, the transpersonal reconciles the needs of the infant and the adult. A true transpersonal experience includes right relationship with the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual worlds. The sense of well-being that comes from the experience of good self-care extends to the care and integration of all levels including the emotional wound, and the care of the physical body in terms of a home, food, and security. To help recognize if we are truly in the transpersonal, it is useful to ask if our communication and actions are supporting not only ourselves but the larger group as well. This is in contrast to being in service to a personal or infant need only. Viewing our lives through the lens of the Great Chain of Being is an extremely useful way of providing a meaningful context in which the mystery of our lives may be held, nurtured, expressed, and made whole.

Deborah Allen, Scott Bader, Dan Buffo, and Timothy Marshall are energy work practitioners. They are the founding members of The Healers' Forum, an organization supporting healing and healership located in Santa Cruz, CA.

Copyright 2002 by Deborah Allen, Scott Bader, Dan Buffo, and Timothy Marshall

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