What is the transpersonal?
The term transpersonal is generally used to refer to experiences, usually occuring during altered states of consciousness, that shift the focus of attention "beyond the boundaries of ordinary ego-consciousness" (Laughlin) and in so doing expose the experient to realities that had hitherto remained hidden.
Grof & Grof (1989) write:
"The word transpersonal refers to transcendence of the ordinary boundaries of personality and includes many experiences that have been called spiritual, mystical, religious, occult, magical or paranormal... In non-ordinary states of consciousnss, these limitations [of everyday reality] do not seem to apply. When w enter the transpersonal arena, we can experience historically or geographically remote events as vividly as if they were happening here and now. We can participate in sequences that involve our ancestors, animal predecessors, or even people in other centuries and other cultures who have no ancestral relationship to us... But the content of transpersonal experiences is not limited to the world of things that exist in our everyday reality. It includes elementsthat western culture does not accept as objectively real: we can encounter deities, demons, spirit guides, inhabitants of other universes, or mythological figures... Thus, in the transpersonal state, we do not differentiate between the world of "consensus reality", or the conventional everyday world, and the mythological realm of archetypal forms." (1989,10-11)
Tanspersonal experiences are, therefore, significant factors in the development of personal self-conception and broader cosmological perspective. They may take the form of religious, spiritual or paranormal experiences on the one hand; unity experiences, entity encounters, out-of-body and near-death experiences etc; or more subtle experiences associated with internal feelings, intuition and dreams on the other.
Transpersonal research is explicitly concerned with these transformative subjective experiences. Transpersonal anthropology deals with the way such experiences influence the cultural and social life of the individual experient and wider social group, moreover the approach attempts to do so from a cross-cultural perspective thus aiming to achieve an understanding of the role such experiences have played in the development of humanity as a whole.