There is a widespread yearning for spiritual transformation. Psychologist and leader in body-mind medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn describes it well: "(There is) a huge and rising hunger on the part of just about everybody for authentic experience and reconnecting with what's deepest and best in ourselves in an ever accelerating and complex world."
Living Deeply reports on the focused inquiry into the art and science of transformation over 35 years of consciousness research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Marilyn Schlitz, Cassandra Vieten, and Tina Amorok present the findings of a decade-long study of the transformative process from analysis of hundreds of stories, teacher focus groups, and almost 900 surveys with people engaged in their own transformative journeys.
The book also contains material from:
• Fifty interviews with teachers and masters of transformative practices including Angeles Arrien, Sylvia Boorstein, Ram Dass, George Leonard, Rachel Naomi Remen, Huston Smith, Starhawk, and others.
• Direct wisdom from a wide crosscut of religious, spiritual, and transformative practices (such as the common elements of the practices of a Himalayan Yogi swami, a transpersonal psychologist, and a Methodist minister).
• Scientific evidence from cognitive neuroscience, physics, psychoneuroimmunology, and social psychology.
• Leading theories of transformation
• Experiential practices for living deeply.
At the core of Living Deeply is a commitment to a shift in consciousness that enables a person to see the world and themselves in richer and deeper ways. Buddhist Sharon Salzberg puts it this way:
"A transformation in consciousness is something that opens the door for us. It's almost as though we are in a small, enclosed, dark room. We feel constrained, we feel limited in some way, and then the door swings open and suddenly there's a sense of possibility where there might have been none before. There's a sense of having options where we didn't perceive any before. And there's a change in perception, especially in terms of scope."
The types of consciousness transformations can be sudden or gradual, mystical or mundane. They can be triggered by many different things including pain, hitting bottom, noetic insights (sudden revelations, moments of incredible synthesis, etc.), non-ordinary states of consciousness, psychedelics, meeting a teacher, finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, and time in nature. Consciousness transformation can be nurtured by fostering curiosity, creativity, and introspection.
The authors sought out individuals and teachers who have used traditional forms of practice as well as emergent forms. Some adhere to one religion while others prefer a more eclectic approach, such as Sufi James Fadiman who says:
"Maybe taking different paths is a little like taking a multivitamin the reason they say 'take a multivitamin' is that one individual supplement isn't appropriate for a complicated physiological being. It seems to me, given the opportunities that we have, a single spiritual path isn't appropriate for the contemporary American experience."
The authors posit four essential elements of transformative practices: holding intention, cultivating attention, repeating life-enhancing actions, and seeking both internal and external guidance. These are not just new habits or skills but offer "the best conditions for the natural processes of growth and awakening to take place." Among the benefits of practice are insight, putting ego in its place, purification, living in the moment, surrendering to mystery, and getting out of the way. Great meaning and satisfaction comes in integrating life and practice finding a like-minded community, making the most of simple reminders, scheduling time-outs, putting transformative experiences into action, making meanings, seeing life as service, and embodying changes in our lives.
We were glad to see that the spiritual practice of transformation leads to an emphasis on unity, connections, love, and compassion. This altruistic perspective or prosocial behavior is an expression of transpersonal development. We move from "I to we." Transformative practices whether ceremonies, rituals, contemplative reflections, altered state inductions, or martial arts also serve as a portal to the sacred where we embrace both sorrow and joy and see glimmers of grace everywhere.
We salute this rounded and realistic mapping of the spiritual practice of transformation, particularly its accent on the importance and life-altering aspects of regular spiritual practices. It is also gratifying to see the mix of mysticism and science and the coverage of formal religious rituals along with informal spiritual practices. There are also plenty of wonderful quotations here from teachers and seers from all the wisdom traditions.