We all would really like to ‘make sense of it all’, wouldn’t we? So many religions, each attempting to explain, and guide, life and the world and human behavior; so many philosophies; so many psychological theories. There’s ‘unified field theory’ in physics — an attempt to explain all the workings of the universe in one neat package — except that there are many such ‘unified’ theories, hundreds of them during the 20th century, all claiming to be the ‘theory of everything’. Integral theory in psychology attempts the same unification, a singular, all-encompassing theory of consciousness.
On the surface, this approach seems simplistic. But is it possible? Who am I to say? We’ve yet to sort this out, and there are countless scientists, philosophers, and theologians attempting to do so.
This need to simplify, to find the One Answer, to put the fragments back together into a new whole — this need is entirely human. And to say that our world, our civilizations, have become fragmented, especially in the post-industrial, technological / information era, would be an understatement. It’s not only human to want one explanation, one Truth — it’s also quite human to want to put all of the pieces back together.
From fragmentation to wholeness.
In Asian cultures, less — or perhaps merely different — fragmentation has taken place over time. Cognition is predominantly wholistic, not categorical; abstract, not analytical; cyclic, not linear. With the interaction among global cultures, however, today at an astonishing rate, this too is changing. Western medicine with all of its specialties and sub-specialties is widely used; the disease model is increasingly prevalent; globalization brings categorization and specialization into the business realm. Cultures are increasingly less distinct from one another.
Behavioral psychology focused on human action and how that might be affected by conditioning. Analytical schools of psychology — first Freud and his ground-breaking conceptualization of the unconscious, followed by Jung and his theories of archetypes and the collective unconscious — greatly furthered our understanding of the human experience. Cognitive psychology used the computer as a model for the human brain, and information-processing as a metaphor for the mind’s activity. Humanistic psychology moved the focus more intently on the whole person, the human experience in total, not limited to behavior and cognition. All of these schools of thought have unquestionably evolved further today.
Transpersonal psychology has considered these earlier approaches to understanding the nature of being human, and reintroduced the spiritual aspect, metaphysical possibilities, Eastern philosophies, and the many and varied states of consciousness. In so doing, it has taken the best of what went before, and enhanced it.
We humans have attempted to understand ourselves and our world since the beginning of time. Great systems of belief and thought have been developed to provide answers. At our core, we strive not only to perceive meaning, but also to create it. In the stories that we tell, in our interpretations, in the cultures and societies that we build, we are constantly striving both to understand and to be co-creators of our existence. For the opposite — the possibility that there is no meaning, that there is no purpose, that understanding is beyond our capability — or that we have no say in the matter — is unacceptable.
We’re all in the business of meaning-making: individuals, couples, families, groups, societies, cultures, the human species. And psychotherapy can be a means of facilitating this process, both in the the understanding and creation of meaning.