Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Beyond the Pre/trans Fallacy: The Validity of Pre-Egoic Spiritual Experience

Academic journal article Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

Beyond the Pre/trans Fallacy: The Validity of Pre-Egoic Spiritual Experience

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The validity of the pre/trans fallacy in relation to childhood spirituality is questioned, suggesting that 'pre-egoic' spirituality is as valid as 'trans-egoic,' and stems from the same source, although different in some important respects. Sources of spiritual experiences and states in general are examined, and childhood is proposed as a state with ready access to these, although mainly to lower intensity spiritual states. The childhood state is innately more 'spiritual' than the adult in two senses: firstly, children have fundamentally 'spiritual' characteristics as a stable structure of being (albeit of a lower intensity), and secondly, they appear to have easier access to higher intensity spiritual experiences (that is, higher than their normal stable structure of being). A framework of spiritual experiences and spiritual development is offered that includes the consideration of childhood spirituality. Mature spirituality means integrating the natural spirituality of childhood with the great intellectual and practical benefits conferred by the adult ego.

Like the notion that tribal indigenous peoples are more 'spiritual' than post-enlightenment western peoples, there is a romantic belief - put forward by figures such as Wordsworth, Blake and Rousseau - that childhood is a period of heightened spiritual sensibility, which is lost as we enter adulthood (e.g. Wordsworth, 1950; Rousseau, 1979). According to this view, children are more connected to nature, experience a natural sense of well-being, and have an intense vision of the world which enables them to see the world - as Wordsworth (1950) described the infant's vision in his poem Intimations of Immortality - 'apparelled in celestial light, the glory and freshness of a dream' (Poems, p. 71.) Or as Ernest Becker put it, children are awake to the 'raw experience' of the world. They experience a 'vision of the primary miraculousness of creation,' and their perceptions of the world are 'suffused...in emotion and wonder' (1973, p. 50).

However, Wilber (2000/2002/2005) has disputed that children can have this ready access to the transpersonal realms. As he sees it, the transpersonal levels are not easily accessible until the ego becomes fully formed as a structure, when formal-operative cognition develops. From Wilber's hierarchical perspective, to say that children are somehow spiritually more advanced than adults is like saying that it is possible to reach the higher ranges of the Himalayas without ascending through the lower ranges first.

Wilber agrees that spiritual experiences may be possible during childhood - particularly of the 'trailing clouds of glory' type, as a lingering sense of the bliss and radiance and pure awareness of the pre-birth realms (e.g. Wilber, 2000; see also Armstrong, 1984). He also makes it clear that transpersonal experiences are accessible irrespective of the individual's level of development. As he has written, "A person at any level can have a state experience of gross, subtle, or causal realms, because those natural states are freely available at every stage" (2002, p. 52). Or more specifically in the same text, "an infant wakes, dreams, and sleeps - it therefore has fully available the three great states (and the three great realms - gross, subtle, causal)" (2002, p. 5).

Nevertheless, Wilber sees the 'spiritual' view of childhood as a form of retro-romanticism, and an example of the pre/trans fallacy. The infant's state of being may have some parallels with that of the mystic - for example, a lack of a strong ego-boundary which means that there is de-differentation between self and the environment. But, according to Wilber, this is emphatically not equivalent to the state of unification with the cosmos experienced by mystics. For him, childhood spiritual experiences are anomalous and infrequent rather than natural and regular.

A long history of research exists, however, vouching for the frequency of spiritual experience during childhood, which is difficult to account for in terms of Wilber's model. …

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