Motivation and emotion/Textbook/Motivation/Spiritual

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Spiritual Motivation[edit]

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Mainstream psychology concerns itself with the ego and is written from that viewpoint, and inevitably to some extent by the ego. The present topic falls into the relatively new area of transpersonal psychology (i.e., above or outside the ego) which has emerged out of humanistic psychology. It includes the work of C. G. Jung; Kurt Goldstein, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Stanislav Grof, Viktor Frankl, and Roberto Assagioli. It touches on the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza, Aldous Huxley, and others, and includes the reported experience of a number of psychics and mystics over the centuries, notably that of the polymath and scientist, Emanuel Swedenborg.

Controlled experiments are probably impossible to arrange, and a bias against this area has been commented on by some authors (e.g. Grof, 2008). The ego, in particular the inflated ego, logically defends itself against any knowledge which might undermine its nominal primacy.

Given that the mystics of whatever religious tradition are apparently few in number, and that few have put pen to paper, not much is presently known in this area. Thus much that is presently written by academics and others is speculative. It has also to be admitted that psychopathology, intoxication, self-delusion or pretentiousness may account for some reported experience in this area. My own experience and consequent personal knowledge is mentioned wherever it may be helpful to compare or contrast with theory or other evidence. There can be no absolute certainty, but direct experience provides data that is inarguably empirical.

The following remarks on the scientific method from Jung (1960, p.35) are apposite:

This grasping of the whole is obviously the aim of science as well, but it is a goal that necessarily lies very far off because science, whenever possible, proceeds experimentally and in all cases statistically. Experiment, however, consists in asking a definite question which excludes as far as possible anything disturbing and irrelevant. It makes conditions, imposes them on Nature, and in this way forces her to give an answer to a question devised by man. She is prevented from answering out of the fullness of her possibilities since these possibilities are restricted as far as practicable. For this purpose there is created in the laboratory a situation which is artificially restricted to the question which compels Nature to give an unequivocal answer. The workings of Nature in her unrestricted wholeness are completely excluded. If we want to know what these workings are, we need a method of inquiry which imposes the fewest possible conditions, or if possible no conditions at all, and then leave Nature to answer out of her fullness.

William James wrote of a necessary ‘radical empiricism’ (Rathunde, 2001) in this area of enquiry, an acceptance of all evidence including phenomenological data. This chapter follows his advice.

Two aspects of spiritual motivation[edit]

Two aspects of this topic are evident: the first is the motivation to engage to any extent in the general area of spirituality; the second is the special motivation which can result from knowledge acquired through such spiritual engagement. It is to be understood that this is an artificial division which enables a linear or temporal description and thus facilitates an understanding; in reality things tend to be continuous and holistic. For example, human motivation is inextricably intertwined with human growth and development.

Initial motivation can be partly explained by simple curiosity; but admission of growth and development as fundamental characteristics of living organisms, including human beings, is necessary to provide a more complete explanation. The concept of intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985) includes simple intellectual interest and an innate striving for growth.

In the human case such development notably includes psychological and psycho-spiritual development throughout the life-span (e.g. Schaie, 2005); it is probable that the most intelligent animal species also continue to develop psychologically. The philosophical or spiritual distinction between animals and human beings is presumably that we are aware of being aware, and now have sufficient neurological and neurochemical complexity to begin to understand God.

The philosophers[edit]

Our inquiry in this area necessarily begins with the organismic ideas of some philosophers. The idea that an organism has a developmental potential goes back at least to Aristotle’s Metaphysics and is echoed in Whitehead’s metaphysical process philosophy.


Aristotle (384-322 BCE) wrote of dynamis (potentiality) and entelecheia (actuality) as fundamental characteristics of all things, including living things. For example, the acorn contains within it the potential of the oak tree. This is an evolutionary and teleological idea (Russell, 1961). Even before him, Heraclitus (535-475 BCE) apparently taught that ‘nothing ever is, everything is becoming’ (Russell).


Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) believed in an infinite God in all things, namely pantheism. Hence individual souls and material things are all aspects of God. He regarded self-seeking as a fundamental human motivation: in its highest form this was a search for the knowledge of God (Russell). We can see in this a motivation towards self-realisation.

In accord with Aristotle’s developmental perspective, Schopenhauer (1819) postulated a Will to Live in Mankind. This is a metaphysical principle rather than an individual attribute, beyond personal desires, and it found agreement in the philosophy of Santayana (Santayana, 1955). It may be understood as a fundamental organismic or evolutionary imperative. Henri Bergson’s élan vital (life force) pushing evolution in all directions (Russell, 1961) is a more general idea, echoed in the Big Bang theory of astronomy. Hans Driesch (1867-1941) was a biologist and philosopher who also adopted an Aristotelian teleological perspective in his theory of entelechy (Driesch, 1894). Prigogine (1980) has applied the organismic concept to both the biological and physical sciences, that is to physical matter. Crystallisation would be an example of this process.

This concept and process was also, according to Tong (undated), understood by the Confucian philosopher Mencius (372-289 BCE). The following remarks attributed to Mencius suggest that it can focus on an individual:

When Heaven is about to confer an important office upon a man, it first embitters his heart in its purpose; it causes him to exert his bones and sinews; it makes his body suffer hunger; it inflicts upon him want and poverty and confounds his undertakings. In this way it stimulates his will, steels his nature and thus makes him capable of accomplishing what he would otherwise be incapable of accomplishing.

According to Whitehead’s theory this experience could occur in response to a free will choice. Freidrich Neitzsche’s ‘Overman’ and George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Superman’ may be understood in this context as one who has, with such assistance, transcended himself: more accurately his or her ego and self-limiting beliefs.

Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) developed a process-philosophy in which occasions of experience are fundamental elements in the universe; free will is inherent, and God both exists and participates (Whitehead, 1929). Opportunities for learning are clearly present in such a universe; in turn a process of becoming more. Riffert (1999) points out the parallels with the developmental theory of Jean Piaget, and suggests that a process-psychology can be built on an empirical Piagetian foundation. Buchanan (2005) regards Whitehead’s process thought as the best philosophical foundation for transpersonal psychological research.

Rudolf Steiner

Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) regarded Christ as central in human evolution, following what he described as an inner meeting in 1899 with this being (McDermott, 1992). Christ, or rather the concept of ‘Christ-consciousness’ (taken to mean knowledge of a direct relationship with God), as a centripetal evolutionary principle or imperative would easily fit into the philosophic ideas already mentioned.

The core of Joshua ben Joseph’s teaching is now understood as advice that all human beings are directly related to God, and have the potential to realise it experientially. This is in effect Spinoza’s Weltanshauung, or credo; a more extensive experiential realisation of this credo as fact would obviously radically change collective human motivation. Gidley (2007) has written a comprehensive account of the voluminous work of Steiner, Gebser, and Wilber on the evolution of consciousness, along similar lines.

At this point we recall the occasional introspective methodology of Wilhelm Wundt, taken up by his student Edward Tichener and employed in a more general or philosophic context by William James.

William James

William James (1842-1910) collected, lectured on, and described in a seminal text (James, 1902) the religious experiences of a number of people, including how their experiences changed their attitude and motivation. James suggested that spiritual needs were important (Huitt, 2007) and he proposed a theological cosmology on which Whitehead later based his own theory (Buchanan, 2005). He also thought that transcendendent experiences could be transformative, and should be studied by psychologists (Rathunde, 2001).

Teilhard de Chardin

The Jesuit palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) proposed a teleological theory of biological and human evolution in which a higher form of consciousness, the Omega Point, draws lesser forms to itself (de Chardin, 1959). This can be understood as a centripetal force or unconscious motivation towards oneness, yet insufficient to negate individual free will.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) mentions Man’s inherent motivation to self-transcend in the preface to his book ‘The Devils of Loudon’ (Huxley, 1952). His Perennial Philosophy (Huxley, 1945) is in my view a correct statement of the fact that oneness with God is possible and has been experienced by mystics over the centuries. But his later endorsement of psychedelic substances as an aid to such experience (Huxley, 1954) is an evident mistake, indicated by there being no claim to this eventual experience in his writing.

That this was a mistake is also supported by the view put forward in Adams (2002) that there is a necessary moral component to spiritual development, with which Kohlberg (1984) would no doubt agree. There are in this context no shortcuts. Adams also points out that the contemporary writer Ken Wilber’s integral theory of transpersonal psychology is deficient in this respect. It is surely an illogical proposition that the immoral can realise oneness with the Divine. Charles Darwin would also disagree with such a proposition, as we shall see shortly.

Darwin and the humanistic psychologists[edit]

Transpersonal psychology is regarded as the fourth force in psychology, the first being a focus on pathology, the second on behaviourism, the third force being humanistic psychology. It thus comes out of the work of Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and Rollo May. Carl Jung was also a humanist. But before we summarise their work, we need to consider a pivotal reassessment of Darwinian evolution by David Loye, Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi, and others (Loye, 2000, 2004).

David Loye, now in his 80’s, is a psychologist, sociologist and evolutionary moral theorist, and co-founder of the multinational General Evolution Research Group. His research included a detailed reading of Charles Darwin’s later and more difficult book ‘The Descent of Man’, long ignored by science.

In this later work Darwin saw a considerable difference between evolution in Man and in other species, to the extent that he regarded love, morality and conscience as the most important factors or drivers in human evolution, which includes sociological elements and is thus on a different level to that of other species. Darwin admits in ‘The Descent’ that he may have given too much importance to natural selection and the survival of the fittest in his earlier work (Loye, 2000).

Loye (2004) goes on to suggest that Darwin has been conveniently (e.g., in terms of the Victorian ‘survival of the fittest’ rationale for colonising much of the world) misrepresented by science, and that a more comprehensive evolutionary theory is urgently needed which might include ideas from humanistic and transpersonal psychology, and systems science. This would be a much-needed antidote to the nihilism of neo-Darwinism, of which ‘selfish genes’ are but one example. He further mentions the identification of Agape (altruistic love) by Pierce (1893) as one of three major principles in human evolution, and the concern of Dabrowski (1964) with moral and spiritual evolution. Dabrowski’s theory included considerations of developmental potential, an individual’s essence, and a drive (i.e., motive) towards autonomy.

Viktor Frankl (1905-1984) was an existential psychotherapist whose philosophy was formed while a prisoner facing death in a WWII concentration camp. His book ‘Man’s search for meaning’ (Frankl, 1984) describes this experience and how different men reacted to it. He proposed that human beings have an existential need (i.e., motivation) to find a purpose or meaning in life. In his theory Man does not invent himself but discovers what is already within. He also believed in a built-in ability and purpose to transcend the self (Frankl, 1966, 1984). One day in the camp he had the insight ‘The salvation of Man is through love and in love’ (Frankl, 1984, p.105). This is consistent with the therapeutic experience or ideas of Rogers, Pierce, Steiner, Darwin and others.

Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers (1902-1987) is well known as a humanistic psychotherapist who coined the term ‘unconditional positive regard’ (Rogers, 1967). His theory of the self included the proposition that the human organism has an innate tendency to self-actualise (Rogers, 1951). He regarded this tendency as ‘the most profound truth about Man’ (Pescitelli, 1996). His life was, incidentally, a demonstration of the fact that psychologists are concerned with their own developmental issues like everyone else, and that each person can help the human race in this way, directly or indirectly (Cohen, 1997).

Rollo May (1909-1994) was an existential and humanistic psychotherapist whose theory focused on the inner potential or reality of an individual’s being. In his book ‘The Discovery of Being’ he used the acorn growing into an oak tree metaphor (Kiser, 2007). There is an implication in his theory, given the difficulties in overcoming internal resistances, that few people get to be who they really are. This is consistent with Maslow’s conclusion that only 1 percent of people self-actualise, although he later changed this view in his Theory Z (Maslow, 1971) to the effect that this figure referred to those self-actualisers who self-transcend. Thus more than 1 percent meet his later less strict self-actualisation criteria (i.e., criteria not conflated with those of self-transcendence). In his book ‘Man’s Search for Himself’, May (1953) writes of ‘the long development towards self-realisation’.

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) is a central figure in both humanistic and transpersonal psychology. His work on self-actualisation is described in this chapter, whilst the current chapter focuses on the transpersonal developmental stage. His personal goal was to find a theory of humanity which would contribute towards world peace. This was incidentally a purpose beyond himself, and in my view he succeeded in it. His last work addressed transpersonal development.

The complete diagram of a Maslowian hierarchy of needs thus includes a capstone of self-transcendence above the level of self-actualisation, and this self-transcendent aspect of human nature gives rise to the possibility of a mystical greater realisation (Koltko-Rivera, 2006). This open-ended model of human personality and development represents a major change in our understanding of human psychology, and of the origins of altruism, wisdom and consequent social progress (Koltko-Rivera).

Maslow characterised self-actualising people as ‘the most altruistic and social and loving of all human beings’ (Rathunde, 2001, p. 145). He described the transpersonal state as the being (‘B’) realm in which individuals operate from a higher state of motivation derived from a ‘unitive perception’. According to him these are the ‘awakened’, the ‘illuminated’ and ‘high-plateau’ people (Koltko-Rivera, 2006). Such people have metaneeds for their own space reflective of their own being, in which truth and beauty are B-values (Maslow, 1971).

C. G. Jung

Maslow’s B-motivation is typified by a selfless greater purpose, consistent with the wisdom perspective in Sternberg’s theory (Koltko-Rivera, 2006). It is interesting that even without himself (so far as is known) having the highest peak experience, not highlighted in his theory, Maslow was able to accurately describe a level of resultant being and B-motivation.

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was a psychiatrist with a distinctly mystical inclination. His theory of individuation is a little vague. In brief the psyche is motivated towards individual wholeness in a long and difficult process which includes sorting through archetypal elements. The individuated person has moved beyond egocentricity, and the whole person is invariably a better person.

In my experience ego-defences built up in childhood have to be dismantled in order that a more authentic self can emerge. This is consistent with the theory of Positive Disintegration (Dabrowski, 1964). Also, mythic elements are encountered and dealt with in lucid dreams, or in particular life-events. This is the journey inwards in search of the Self, the monomyth found in all cultures by Joseph Campbell (Campbell, 1949). In this respect a properly designed and managed intensive personal development course can enable progress in months which would otherwise take a lifetime. Such work can be cathartic and is safely done only with experienced and informed support.

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) also deserves a mention. In his 1955 book ‘The Sane Society’ he identified five human needs, notably including for transcendence, and for an object of devotion (Funk, 1982). The path of devotion is called ‘Bhakti’ in Hindu yogic philosophy: the goal of yoga practice is to become ‘yoked’ to God (i.e., on an experiential basis to ‘Realise’ yoga or oneness with God).

The psychics and mystics[edit]

A mystic greater realisation (Koltko-Rivera, 2006) is apparently confirmed in the reported experience of Christian, Hindu, Sufi and other mystics, and more recently phenomenologically confirmed in the author’s case, in whose resultant perspective Maslow’s ‘self-actualisation’ is a generalisation that includes a ‘crystallisation’ of the egoic personality as a necessary element in an idiosyncratic evolutionary developmental process which results in its eventual transcendence. Maslow recognised that self-actualisation is a paradoxical transitional goal (Koltko-Rivera, 2006). But transcendence of something does not mean it is no longer available, instead it means that one is no longer limited to it or by it (even though it may not yet be perfected); there is an added option beyond it rather than a lock, stock and barrel move away from it.

Development is in practice individual and idiosyncratic. More strenuous effort was in my case required in the personal self-becoming or individuation stage than in later work so it is regarded as the more difficult state to attain, at least in contemporary society. It is all uphill after that!

The remarkable psychic Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) is recorded as saying from his trademark trance state, in answer to the specific question, that the purpose of human life is both to develop individuality and to realise oneness with God (Carter & Cayce, 1990). This is entirely consistent with the developmental theories of mainstream psychology and with the ‘unitive perception’ and ‘selfless greater purpose’ etcetera identified in Maslow’s later work, also with the mystical experience reported by several individuals.

In this general context William James carried out experiments with a contemporary psychic and concluded ‘In the trances of this medium, I cannot resist the conviction that knowledge appears which she has never gained by the ordinary waking use of her eyes and ears and wits.’ (James, 1896).

The Indian civil servant Gopi Krishna (1902-1984) was apparently one in whom yoga occurred, following some problems resulting from forced kundalini arousal. His description of this final event is worth noting: ‘The true mystical experience, even for one brief duration, shakes the individual to the roots, and lives in the memory as a Beacon of Light, Immortality and Peace to the end’ (Krishna, 1980). He subsequently wrote a number of books on his experience, recommending scientific investigation. He was critical of modern self-styled spiritual teachers.

C.G. Jung gave four lectures on kundalini in 1932 following a visit to India (Shamdasani, 1999). This energy was very apparent in my case (it seems to be a prerequisite), and it might indeed be investigated with advantage. Motoyama (1981) reports on some scientific work in this area.

The true experience is indeed a most powerful illumination. It is beyond the analytical mind, primarily conative and only subsequently cognitive, and more than a little paradoxical. It is also a considerable energetic and psychic shock, not to be underestimated. Therefore, it is not to be contemplated without considerable preparatory work, itself paradoxical and beyond the remit of this chapter.

This event is hard to describe in ordinary language. The Sufi mystic Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi (1207-1273) resorted to poetry; others were probably mute. It was in my case an experience of total bliss; apparently outside time and space, literally overwhelmed (and temporarily obliterated as a person) by unconditional love, with an additional awareness of immense creative potential.

The Christian mystic St. Catherine of Genoa (1207-1273) reportedly said ‘My me is God, and I accept no other save my God Himself’. There is no argument with this interpretation, but in practice it is necessary to continue to live a normal life as an individual human being.

This event does change a person, and motivation changes in accord with Maslow’s view. The utility for human society of this event, from the B-motivation which results, is obvious. Given the power of this event, subsequent singular motivation is unremarkable. Much more remarkable is the motivation demonstrated in suicide bombers and the like, not covered in this chapter.


The Varieties of Religious Experience (James, 1902) has been mentioned.

The scientist and polymath Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) is a case in point. As a scientist he might be expected to provide an accurate account. He reported a number of experiences which are also proposed as able to provide a species of ‘B’ motivation. He is regarded as a Christian mystic, although he did not report at-one-ment. Instead he said he had messages from angels (as is held by Muslims in respect of Muhammad) and visions of the spiritual hierarchy. Some of his precognitions and visions were apparently confirmed by subsequent events or other observers; the fact that he continued to hold important official positions mediates against a naive explanation of psychopathology.

He was motivated to write a number of books out of these reported experiences. Similar experiences of visions, messages, telepathy etcetera have occurred in my case, most of them subsequently confirmed in physical reality or otherwise coherent. They mostly occur in a deeply relaxed state and are quite distinct from even lucid dreams. However, some perceptual distortion can occur, probably related to pre-existing beliefs, desires or neurological programmes. This may account for apparent idiosyncrasies in Swedenborg’s subsequent writings on the Christian religion, and it implies that no religious text is unadulterated. Of course, perceptual distortion occurs in nominally healthy individuals: dyslexia is one example. An inability to perceive metaphysical domains of reality or beings therein may itself be counted as a major perceptual distortion.

The transpersonal psychologists[edit]

The central work of Abraham Maslow has already been discussed.

Kurt Goldstein (1878-1965) was a sometime colleague whose ideas contributed towards Maslow’s motivational theory. He worked as a neurologist and psychiatrist with patients who had suffered brain injury in World War I. He concluded from this work that there is an inherent tendency for growth and development in human beings, irrespective of bodily injury. This self-actualising tendency is ‘the only drive by which the life of an organism is determined’ (Goldstein, 1939).

Roberto Assagioli (1888-1974) is notable for incorporating in his theory of psychosynthesis (Assagioli, 1965) both the influence of the Self or soul and the individual will as essential elements in human development. This is reminiscent of Jung’s conclusion from anecdotal evidence that the Self has the ability to end an individual’s life if its purpose is not being met. Both Self-realisation and the synthesis of an individual are central in Assagioli’s theory, which predates many later theories (Assagioli). His ideas did not change over his lifetime. They are entirely consistent with Cayce’s later enunciation of the purpose of life, previously mentioned under the Psychics and Mystics section, and his work is being carried on by many psychotherapists around the world.

Stanislav Grof (1931-) qualifies as a transpersonal psychologist in that he helped to formally establish the field. He can also be regarded as a speculative philosopher. He initially worked with LSD (Cf. Huxley, 1954) but now specialises in ‘holotropic’ (i.e., non-ordinary) states of consciousness obtained through certain breathing techniques, which can also be psychotherapeutic. Through similar bodywork I confirm both outcomes as possibilities.

He suggests that psycho-spiritual death and rebirth is a common theme in his workshops, centred on memories of the physical birth process (Grof, 2010, p.17). I believe his conflation of these psychodynamic or psychophysiological experiences with religious concepts is unjustified. The peak religious experience appears to require a system that is already clear of major resistances or blockages, and it appears to be given to very few, perhaps for this reason. He has no formal theory of transpersonal motivation, but notes ‘spontaneous emergence and development of deep humanitarian concerns’ following transpersonal experiences (Grof, 2010, p.25).

James Hillman (1926-?) was trained as a Jungian analyst but has developed his own interpretation, archetypal psychology (Hillman, 1975), which focuses on the psyche (i.e., soul) and the archai (i.e., fundamental fantasies). His book ‘The Souls’s code: On Character and Calling’ (Hillman, 1997) is perhaps prescient in terms of future psychological science. In it he uses the familiar acorn metaphor of an inherent blueprint for a life’s work and calling. It is entirely logical that each of us is suited to a life-task for which we are uniquely (i.e., genetically and hence neurologically and personally) qualified. However, he posits an additional metaphysical influence on character, aspiration and achievement.


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Further reading:

Dobzhansky, T. (1967). The biology of ultimate concern. In Ruth Nanda Anshen (Ed.) Perspectives in Humanism, volume 2. New York: The New American Library.

Emmons, R. A. (1999). The psychology of ultimate concerns: Motivation and spirituality in personality. New York & London: The Guilford Press.

Umen, S. (1988). The world of the mystic. New York: Philosophical Library, Inc. 05:52, 9 December 2010 (UTC)