BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

A mixed bag ...

Pretty much every year we go to the Newberry Library Book Fair, a neighborhood tradition (nice to have the Newberry in the neighborhood!) that's been running for 25 years now. Recently, we've been just doing Sunday, which is the half-price day, and by then they're pretty picked over. I do seem to get some good finds … this year including Beyond Ego: Transpersonal Dimensions in Psychology, a wide-ranging anthology edited by Roger N. Walsh, M.D., Ph.D, and Frances Vaughan, Ph.D.

I probably picked this up on the strength of the list of 16 contributors noted on the back cover, several of which, Fritjof Capra, Ken Wilber, Stanislav Grof, Charles Tart, Abraham Maslow, Ram Dass, and Jack Kornfield, I was reasonably familiar with. The book is, however, sort of one of those that tries to be two things at once, it is in parts very academic, while in others fairly “popular”, swinging between extremes in the nature of the sections. The cause of this is in the fairly wide reach of the book, which looks at everything from traditional psychology to Eastern meditation practices, and from LSD research into how the “transpersonal” could come to effect fields such as Education and Social Sciences. It's divided into six main sections, “Wider Vision: New Paradigms For Old”, “The Nature of Consciousness”, “Psychological Well-Being: East and West”, “Meditation: Doorway to the Transpersonal”, “Transpersonal Psychotherapy”, and “Ripples of Change: Implications for Other Disciplines”, with 2-8 papers contributing to the discussion in each.

It would appear that, except for the editors' own contributions, the majority of the other pieces were reprinted or excerpted from previous publications. There were some interesting notes, however, which referred to papers within the volume, but that might simply be an editorial decision to point to the material at hand rather than to its source. Needless to say, an accumulation of diverse voices in widely divergent contexts leads to a highly uneven tone, and the “reading experience” was likewise a bit of a rollercoaster, shifting between analytical and experiential tones.

Over-all, this collection is “interesting”, but I suspect that it will be more or less interesting depending on what the reader brings to the table. Here are a couple of samples from the book which illustrate how variable the text gets:
          Simple forgetting and lack of threshold response constitutes the subliminal submergent-unconscious. Dynamic or forceful forgetting, however, is repression proper, Freud's great discovery. The repressed submergent-unconscious is that aspect of the ground-unconscious which, upon emerging and picking up the surface structures, is then forcefully repressed or returned to unconsciousness due to an incompatibility with conscious structures.

- - -

          The path to freedom is through detachment from your old habits of ego. Slowly you will arrive at a new and more profound integration of your experiences in a more evolved structure of the universe. That is, you will flow beyond the boundaries of your ego until ultimately you merge into the universe. At that point you have gone beyond ego. Until then you must break through old structures, develop broader structures, break through those, and develop still broader structures.
While the over-all book is fascinating, it's not exactly a great read. There is a whole lot of information and perspective in here, so is valuable as something (to echo Truman Capote on writing) "to have read", but it's unlikely to show up on anybody's top-10 favorite books! Beyond Ego is out of print (it came out in 1980) but is still available used. The Amazon guys have it for as little as 14¢ for a "good" copy, and under five bucks for "like new" (with, of course, the $3.99 shipping charge on top of that). If this is something that is in your "intellectual sweet spot", I'd certainly recommend it ... but if various sorts of psychology (traditional, Eastern, meditative, LSD, etc.) doesn't do much for you, I'd say skip it without much regrets. Again, it's got fascinating material in it, but it's a bit of a slog in parts.

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Tags: book review
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