The Shadow Knows…

Discussion post I submitted for my Atlantic University TP5020 Course – October 30, 2019

Michael Daniels provides an excellent overview of the shadows that transpersonal psychology currently possesses. For example, he points to several “dangerous partial truths’ that make-up the personality of the field, which includes the belief that enlightenment “makes you happy,” and a tendency of transpersonal psychology to ignore evil in hopes that “It will go away” (2005, pp. 75-76). In Table 6, Daniels then contrasts a number of transpersonal psychology’s Dominant Zeitgeist with its Neglected Shadow. While I found the list comprehensive and all worthy of consideration, the one “Neglected Shadow” that jumped out at me was “Suffering,” which he compares with the “Dominant Zeitgeist” of “Ecstasy” (2005, p. 78).

There were a number of reasons for my departure from the Catholic Church in 2015, but one area I believe Catholics get it right – at least theologically – is the unbroken chain of teachings from Jesus to St. Teresa of Calcutta regarding the role suffering plays in our lives. The faith itself is built upon the crucifixion of a “God-man,” one of the most horrific forms of capital punishment ever invented. And unlike most of the Protestant faiths, the crucified body of Christ still adorns the cross.

The Blessed Virgin Mary has always held a special place among the faithful for her ability to endure suffering and to transform it for those who seek recourse in her. Michelangelo’s The Pietà is a beautiful rendition of the depth of Mary’s suffering as she holds the crucified body of her Son in her lap. St. Paul wrote extensively about the need to suffer to achieve redemption and salvation. He says, for example, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:17).

St. John of the Cross, probably the most attuned to suffering and oft-quoted by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, writes, “And I saw the river over which every soul must pass to reach the Kingdom of Heaven, and the name of the River was suffering… and I saw the boat which carries souls across the River, and the name of that Boat was…love.” So he clearly links love and suffering, which any woman who has ever bore and raised a child understands profoundly.

Transpersonal psychology in large part grew out of San Francisco and the hippy culture of the late 1960s. This was the Age of Aquarius, “free love,” and a great deal of experimenting with ideas of human consciousness, Eastern spiritualities, and drugs. They pushed the envelope and we are all blessed since they had to fight against an entrenched culture that wasn’t very accepting of new approaches. It’s not surprising then that the field emerged as a new paradigm that is “wonderful, joyful, entertaining, illuminating, [and] ‘happy-clappy,'” as Daniels notes (2005, p. 75). However, Daniels also quotes Michael Marien who believes that “humanistic and transpersonal movements” must “grow up” from this child-like “sandbox syndrome,” as Marien labels it, “personally, socially and politically” (2005, p. 77).

The late ’60s is now 50 years behind us, believe it or not, and one way for transpersonal psychology to “grow up” is to embrace its shadow of suffering. Not all transformations are happy and ectatic. Sometimes they can even be mundane and quite “prosaic,” as Daniels describes his own experiences (2005, p 82). Suffering is universal, and even if one doesn’t believe in the Catholic’s interpretation, it is highly transformational. Daniels points to Wilbur’s experience with his wife who was dying of cancer, and quotes Wilber from his book, Grace and Grit (1991): “I had absolutely no regrets [in helping her until she died]; I had only gratitude for her presence, and for the extraordinary grace of serving her.” (2005, p. 84).

I am amazed and humbled by the stories of my classmates regarding the suffering they’ve endured and how they’re turning their experiences into a source for helping others. Many of us can relate to Jung’s archetype of the “wounded healer,” and if this is an indication of the types of people who are now attracted to this field, transpersonal psychology will ultimately embrace its suffering shadow and thereby mature.


Daniels, M. (2005), Shadow, self, spirit: essays in transpersonal psychology, Imprint Academic: Exeter, UK (2012, February 12). River of suffering – St. John Of The Cross. Retrieved from

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *