Ontopoiesis and Spiritual Emergence | March 2009

FMBR Editorial: March, 2009

Ontopoiesis and Spiritual Emergence

Olga Louchakova MD, PhD

The concept of ontopoiesis, as developed in the phenomenology of life of Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, defines the self-creative activity of consciousness. As abstractly philosophical as the topic may see, it has distinct psychological and spiritual implications. As the notions of enlightenment, spiritual awakening and non-duality enter the mainstream consciousness, the possibility of spiritual realization is less and less the prerogative of separate mystics. More and more people report the changes in their minds resulting from the experience of spiritual awakening, from the eternal “now” recognizable in their own practice of living. Transpersonal psychology with its focus on human spiritual development studies the processes which happen after the experience of spiritual awakening, or self-realization. Ontopoiesis, or the self-induced development of consciousness, “kicks in” after the adult person experiences the non-dual insight.

Viewed as a “mechanism” of consciousness operating within the individual psyche, ontopoiesis underlies the human development, and serves not only as the foundation for development after the deep spiritual experience, but also as the basis for life transitions, transformations of meaning, and reconstruction of the human self affected by trauma. Insofar as transpersonal psychology is concerned, ontopoiesis brings out the higher stages of human development beyond the ego, functions in the exceptional human experiences such as near-death experiences, and underlies characterological transformation. Ontopoietic expressions in the individual psyche appear in connection with the so called spiritual emergence, i.e. the spontaneous opening of spiritual consciousness in people living in basically secularized post-postmodern western culture.

Early works of transpersonal psychologists Perry and Sanella interpreted spiritual emergence as a one-time non-ordinary event. In 1986, Grof and Grof mention that spiritual emergence is a developmental condition. Spiritual emergence was mistreated and pathologized by psychology and medicine until in 1998, Lukoff, Lu and Turner legitimized it as the healthy condition of the mind by introducing it as a non-pathologic diagnostic category. Currently, Louchakova suggests that the spontaneous opening of spiritual experience in contemporary westerners signifies a special, “fast” track in overall life-span development. Spontaneous spiritual experiences are both the manifestation of, and catalysts to individuation/ego-development. They serve to open the sense of identity beyond the ego, change the emotional structure and ethical position of the person, change the attitude towards death etc. Spiritual experiences of particular classes can be used as stage-markers in the stage-based model of psychospiritual development through the life span, defining the alternative clinical strategies for healing and guidance.

Examination of the self-development of consciousness as it is reflected in live accounts of adults after spiritual experiences shows that this inner developmental activity of consciousness is an important ongoing component of their lives. People having spontaneous spiritual experiences with the gestalt of pure consciousness stand out in their awareness of the interior of their consciousness, and in the awareness of their own development. It is as if their whole mind gets “illumined” by the sudden opening of blazing pure consciousness, and it’s deepest content, including dynamic processes related to development, becomes available to awareness and pre-reflective and reflective verbalization.

Phenomenological analysis shows how these experiences are catalytically connected to ego-development. Analysis allows to identify phenomenological foundations for several ontopoiesis-related processes, such birth of the new archetypal and meaningful contents, structure-building, and archetypal transformation. The psyche reformulates itself from the primordial chaos to the order, and acquires a “flexibility”, “liquidity”, and “drive towards integrity of the self”, which makes it into a field of conscious ontopoietic expression. The phenomenon of wholeness of the self, as opposite to neurotic split-edness, self-envy and other afflictions of the self, is looked upon as a result of specific process in the psyche, identified as ontopoietic restoration, which will be different from the known in therapy restoration of the self after trauma or psychotic episode. Ontopoietic restoration not only restores the wholeness, but establishes the higher and specific forms of self-organization (as shown in the analysis of the particular account of B.G.), i.e. individuation beyond the limits of individual identity.