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Face Your Heart: Transpersonal Aspects of Teaching/Working in Multi-Cultural Settings Dr. Donald Ellis Rothenberg, Transpersonal Psychology
Presenter: INST/The Unifying Aspects of Culture Conference, Vienna , ’03
Intercultural Pedagogy/Eduction Section
Rosenhang 11
1140 Vienna, Austria


The Mission Statement of Vienna Bilingual Schooling (European School Network), a special educational program in which I have been teaching for nine years, states: “There will be a commitment to a holistic view of bilingual education with the special emphasis on the personal development of life skills for an effective meaningful participation in and contribution to a modern multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society.”

The need to inculcate a cross cultural acceptance of one another in educational settings has to be done with a certain broad frame of reference and life experience on the part of the educator. It should be steeped in proactivity, creativity and innovation, flexibility and humility. Nationalism, fundamentalist religions, weapons of mass destruction and global capitalism, which is often centered around greed and ethnocentrism, at the expense of the poor and underveloped, and the environmental havoc they help create, are what we are all facing in this world.

What can a teacher/educator model for his/her students that contains practices/experience of a transpersonal and holistic nature? The direct teaching of and about cultures and their differences as well as inclusion, is what should be happening in educational settings. What are the transpersonal and holistic realms beyond only words, the intellect? What constitutes an integrative approach to living which the educator can pass on to students? There is required, hands-on activities and experiences for self actualizing ones own life and thus, in turn, for ones students. The inclusion of the teaching of self esteem, conflict resolution, stress reduction and meditation, leading to real tolerance, are among those areas needed to be both taught and demonstrated.

Transpersonal Experience

I would first like to describe what are transpersonal experiences, sometimes spoken about including peak as well as plateau experiences, and its suggested three main components, from my perspective. Transpersonal experience might be regarded as consequent to a state of personal development connected to self actualization (Maslow, 1967). It involves the development of self beyond the narrow confines of a social personality that is highly connected to a particular social niche and constrained by the weight of internalized conventions. Such internalized conventions include, in particular, some of the ways in which we view ourselves and how we view others and the world about us that are determined particularly by processes of socialization. The growth of self, connected to transpersonal experience, involves a movement outside of these conventional orientations and involves what has been called a “transformation of consciousness” (Wilber, 1986) so that we learn to construct our notions of, and relate to the world and ourselves in a distincively different mannner. A consequence of this transformaton of consciousness might be a transpersonal experience: witness consciousness, or the ability to perceive oneself as if from some detached exteriorized perspective: an altered sense of time and space: and a holistic orientation (Walsh and Vaughan, 1980b, Boucouvalis, l980).

Holistic Orientation

The transformation of consciousness supportive of transpersonal experience involves an extension of cognitive awareness outside of its typical mode of operation, which we might characterize as being verbal, rational, differentiating, and interpretive (e.g. Ornstein, 1977; Tart, l975). In its place is developed a preference for cognition to be effected within an alternate mode which is connected with the visual and the senses of the body. This alternate mode of consciousness is described as connected with intuition, that is, awareness is connected directly through the senses to the world about us, which is then experienced more directly and integratively, as opposed to indirectly relating to the world through analytic interpretation, rationalistically (Ornstein, 1977).

This holistic orientation we might connect with an attempt to extend consciousness, both internally, in an exploration of the normally unconscious and the operations of the body, and externally, into a more sensitive awareness of the world about us, including the world of nature, the social world, and the spiritual realms. Connected with this expansion of what it is that we are conscious of, is the desire to become one with those things that are around us, without which the self would feel somehow incomplete. It is the motivation to become complete or whole, what has alternately been referred to as moving “beyond ego” (Vaughan &Walsh, 1980a): this ego, or what I am referring to as the social personality, is now viewed as restrictive and limiting, if not actually distorted by our conceptions of self and reality.

Walsh & Vaughan (1980a.), for example, describe an altered state of consciousness as a state in which there is a heightened sense of clarity and understanding, a state in which a person has an appreciation of a holistic, or unitive and integrated view of the universe, and a state where a positive and intense sense of the perfection of the universe is experienced. The holistic perspective is connected to a movement towards an extended interaction and appreciation for one’s unconscious and the functioning and use of the body as a tool of experience. Externally, the targets of this expansion move from the material object world and can be referred to as “ecological consciousness” (Fergusion, 1980: Spretnak and Capra, 1986), to the social where there is frequently the rediscovery of a sense of community with others which is referred to as “planetary consciousness” (Russell, 1983), to the psychic and then the spiritual, and the desire for mystical transcendence, to the cosmic order, which we might here describe as a “cosmic consciousness” (Bucke, 1923). Each of these terms, ecological, planetary and cosmic consciousness, is evident in the common language shared by people in the transpersonal field. They all denote an expansion of awareness, combined with an effort at a reintegration of the self into some larger order or system: an effort that also most frequently necessitates an alteration in the nature of the construction of self. Consequent to this expansion of awareness, the self then needs to be redefined in a way that allows it to have a place in these larger realms. This requires an act of creativeness, in this case, in educational settings.

I am working on the premise that there is a strong connection between the development of this holistic orientation and the phenomenon of witness consciousness, and also to alterations in the perception of time and space. Together these seem to me to be descriptive of some of the main components of the transformation of consciousness associated with transpersonal experiences.

In considering planetary consciousness, we see that the holistic perspective has a strong manifestation in an orientation to others and the well being of society generally. A person living on such a plateau typically has a sense of social responsibility and desire to contribute to society and to serve others (Walsh & Vaughan, 1980a). Harman (1980) calls this the principle of “ecological ethics”.

Witness Consciousness

As awareness is extended and the form of cognition shifts from analytical modes of cognition, into modes that are characterized as being more holistic and allow the processing of greater amounts of information at greater speeds (Tart, 1975: Freides, 1974), new complexities in the perception of self are then possible .In part, these complexities develop from new elements that are added to the notions of self, and in part due to the developing ability to construct an alternative awareness that allows the individual to imagine and explore himself as if he were viewing from some exteriorized perspective. To describe this phenomena, I choose to borrow the “witness consciousness” from Fadiman (1980) The term “witness consiousness” is used by Fadiman to describe the ability of an individual to examine their own self processes as if they were observing themselves from the outside; noting their personal idiosyncracies of thought, emotion, habit and self presentation somewhat as others might observe them. Wilber (1977) alludes to this phenomena when he discusses the “transpersonal witness”, and elsewhere, withiin traditional fields of psychology, this ability is probably evident in the writings of George Herbert Mead (1934), in his discussion of “taking the role of the other”, Du Val and Wickland’s “objective self-awareness” (1972), and Cohen and Farley’s notion of “decentering” (1973). Witness consciousness enables one to move beyond habitual behavior patterns and belief systems, which are limiting, so that these can be changed, and new possibilities for the self and one’s perception of and interaction with the larger environment is allowed.

In the process of personal development, we reach a stage where we can begin to move away from a limited ego-centric or self-centered point of view in our characterization of ourselves, the world and our place within it, and begin to regard ourselves from an alternative point of view. This other point of view has been described in terms of looking at ourselves as if from the outside, as some other “witness” of ourselves. From such a perspective we can reexamine our feelings and emotions, the state of our ordinary awareness, our beliefs and sentiments, and such a reexamination may lead to their reconsideration or transformation. This process of witness consciousness would seem to be, from my perspective, an integral part of the holistic orientation: critical in the transformation of consciousness connected to transpersonal experience.

Altered Sense of Time and Space

The transformation of consciousness touches more than simply the way that we view ourselves and the environment about us. It also affects our orientation to that of time and space. An altered sense of time and space occurs when consciousness is freed from the limitations imposed by the normal sense of time (Goldstein, 1976: Bentov, 1977). In this normal sense of time, memories are called the past, and planning and imagining are called the future. As a consequence, all there is is in the present, because the past and the future are happening now (Ram Dass, 1971; Sartre 1968).There are varying degrees to which one’s perception of time and space might be altered. I am working on the premise that our construction of self and environment, our image of reality, tend to be tied into a fairly rigid and linear sense of time and space which is, nonetheless, a very localised sense bound by our experience (Sarte 1968: Casteneda, 1971: Ornstein, 1977). Time and space, I am speculating, are taken for granted, as being the basic foundation of our sense of what is materially real and of that world within which we have defined ourselves as a part. As the sense of time and space are manipulated or even shattered, through various experiences, I propose that the construction of self and the environment are destabilized: a state which I believe is conducive to the construction of alternative perceptions of that which is real, and the development of transpersonal experience.

The Electronic Media

Throughout his writing, Marshall Mc Luhan described the electronic media as extensions of the human central nervous system, simulating consciousness and creating new environments. Electricity itself, he asserted (1964) is information that illuminates all it touches, and the new electronic environments affect our senses and create new perceptions beyond our immediate space (McLuhan & Fiore, 1968). In this electronic age, we are able to translate ourselves (ibid.). In other words, electronic media---are capable of altering our sense of time and space and of transforming and elevating our consciousness both of ourselves and of the universe at large (Schramm; 1972, Toffler; 1980; Schwartz, 1981).

Relevant Ideas for Teaching/Working in Multi-Cultural Settings

In actualizing and bringing this awareness of the transpersonal realm, as just explained, into educational settings, for instance, there are several areas that can now be briefly described and integrated into this discussion. This perspective can be brought into the normal framework of what are often traditional educational institutions stuck in the framework of the staus quo, often conservative oriented, and in the fast lane to so-called ‘success’. Much of worlds concerns are often connected to consumerism and consumption and thus to the geopolitics of the availability of the worlds limited resources. The ecnomics of these resources are often based on the ego-centric needs of the corporate world, globalisaton and the priviliged class and at the expense of the environment.

In educational settings, schools/higher education,etc, we must learn we are really living in a ‘global village’, that must encourage cross cultural/multi-cultural and multi-ethnic acceptance, and open-mindedness.The teaching and learning about cultures includes getting along with others and accepting differences as well as uniqueness, thereby hopefully facilitates real tolerance. Discussions, literature, research, films and plays, can be included to bring in a wide spectrum of topics. Role playing, using the arts with language, music, video, and dance can be integrated to include the body-mind-spirit integration in order to raise awareness. The holidays, experiential learning and practicing of customs with cross disciplinary learning can be explored. The therapeutic exploration of the teacher/facilitators own deficiencies and self improvement can be modeled into being a more aware and conscious educator and can then lead to more authentic teaching and learning. The aspect of ‘unconditional positive regard’, widely practiced in psychotherapeutic settings, should be transferred into these multi-cultural spaces to create a climate of acceptance as modeled by teachers and students alike.

Proactivity, creativity, innovation, flexibility and humility are some of the current apptitudes, characteristics and skills in educational work settings that are needed. Conflict management, working especially with media arts-video, film, photography, computers, and including environmental education, can be used to channel learning into excitement and thus help create positive motivation which leads to successful experiences. This can pay off in the immediate present and help in focusing on the explorations of future careers for those involved. Social action, social service, and community work can be included as part of the curriculum. Examples of peacemakers (Ghandhi, King, Theresa, etc.) and their lives can be studied for positive examples of social action and positive values that can be extrapolated. Conflict managing and conflict resolution, getting along with one another other, can be directly learned by techniques that are available and that are seldom taught in todays modern curriculum. Studying history and its lessons of the past for todays many faceted and stressful world, should lead to critical evaluation and new ways of evaluating the present. This can lead to encourage a paradigm shift which leads to real positive change in the world and not necessairly a continuation of the status quo.

Global realities of, for instance; the fundamentalist religions and terrorism, wars, conflicts, weapons of mass destruction, global capitalism, imperialism, diseases(Aids), intolerance, xenophobia, racism, anti-semitism, immigration, refugees, womens rights, homosexuality, asylum seekers, and hunger, among others, are all topics to be directly studied and met head on without limits due to aspects of controversy, misunderstanding, prejudice and stereotyping. Political reports of the news, along with debates and discussions and having experts from different fields invited into these learning environments, can lead to new ways of thinking. Recycling, dealing with pollution, issues around water, ecology, the holocaust, business and corporate interests, the haves and the have nots, along with human rights and systems of politics/governments, etc., can be explored.

The transpersonal, holistic, integrative approaches to ones own life experience, as shared by the teachers own practicies in these areas, can be modeled so as to help create survival skills that are imparted by teachers and students. Spiritual practicies along with physical and emotional mastering techniques (Leonard & Murphy, 1995; Wilber, 2000), can be taught and demonstrated to become more normally accepted in traditional institutions. Documentation as to their benefits for learning and positive benefits for all can be studied and evaluated (Kwee,ed., Shapiro, 1990). Meditation, affirmations, visualisation, aerobic exercise and the marshal arts, can be introduced along with psychological openness and therapy, if needed, for individual and group growth and development.

The education field, teaching, pedagogics, should include the realities of todays world which encompasses hands-on ideas, self acutalization, stress reduction, stress management, and self esteem exercises. Visiting and learning about those groups, organizations and agencies that are doing good, making a difference in the world, should be studied and projects directly connected with them, then initiated and actualized.

People that come to mind just now, like a list anyone can make, although with different names reflecting ones own models and teachers, such as; Martin Buber, Ken Wilber, George Leonard, Michael Murphy, Noam Chomsky, Mahatma Ghandhi, Martin Luther King, Marshall Mc Luhan, Albert Einstein, Stephn Hawking, Roberto Assagioli, Michael Moore, Rosa Parks, The Dali Lama, Angie Arrien and Francis Vaughan, as well as those hundreds and thousands of doers and shakers of the past and present, should be studied and learned from. The major positive tenets and teachings of the major religions as well as their practices, can be demonstrated and learned about. Spirituality, connected to various populations such as; Native Americans and other of the indigenous peoples of the world, have something to teach the industrialized world in the context of the ‘perennial philosophy’ that has been around for thousands of years. There are many legitimate and now accepted studies and places of higher learning that are including many of the topics mentioned in this discussion.

The intellectual, academic world, which encourages and sponsors research, grants, seminars, workshops and interactive discussions and symposiums, keeps on trying to keep pace with what seems like a never ending plethora of crisis and problems waiting to be solved and studied. What we teach and how, weather we are acting as self-actualized role models to students of all ages is of the utmost importance. The vision we present and instill has to take hold and manifest in students who are active listeners and performers in the holistic concepts of a transpersonal perspective and not just on the fast track of coveting things in a materialistic world bent towards an insatiable need to consume. It is partially up to us. Educators, peer groups, parents, media and technology, politicians and business, all compete for influence on what is deemed important to learn and live for in the unsettled environment we live in. How can we deliver the message that is integrated in mind, body and spirit? Some of the answers and resources can be explored and evaluated, from the references listed, for example the practical models of integrated life experiences and practices from Kwee, Leonard, Murphy and Wilber. This discussion has raised some possibilities and it is up to us to use our insight to build bridges and a better world for our children.


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