Stephen Larsen, fully H. Stephen Larsen

Larsen, fully H. Stephen Larsen

American Psychologist and Author, Founding Board of Advisors of the Joseph Campbell Foundation

Author Quotes

The criterion of bringing the vision into relationship with the world of common sense seems to me at the highest level of responsible relationship to the inner world. What Hegel called "dialectical process" and what Jung called "the transcendent function" both involve this give and take, a dialogue which I have elsewhere described as the fifth and highest stage of relationship with the mythic imagination. 'This procedure has seemed to me the essence of sanity, while insanity lies at stage 1, Mythic Identity, total absorption in the psychic world of images and desires. It is not the presence of unconscious materials that determine insanity, but how the ego relates to them.

The new age visionary should embody the salient themes of human growth for the current age. He/She should partake of both mythic and sociocultural symbols of the time.

The same quest that can vitalize the psyche and bestow a translucent meaning upon and within it, can also lead to fanaticism and blind destructive action. It is foolish to avoid or disbelieve the two-edged, ambivalent nature of spiritual power. Because of this, it seems to me crucial to have an interface of psychology and religion. And in psychology's scientific study of the visionary individual who is at the core of all religious process, biography must play a most important role. Partisans of one religious doctrine or another may harangue each other to exhaustion without proving whether there is one God or three, nor even considering whether the issue is worth debating. But in the details of an individual's life, and in his/her relationships to the immediate physical, social and historical factors surrounding, we have a story any human of sensibility can understand. This story, or "life myth" of an individual should function as a context for understanding his or her revelation. We can understand mysteries, doctrines, and dogmas better in the context of human life. For instance the ethical principles included in most religious systems are enlivened by example in the life of the visionary-founder. Contrarily, we feel uncomfortable when someone "preaches one thing and practices another.

These three dimensions will be found as areas of special importance in the understanding of a visionary (or any individual): (1) The personal formula which includes, (a) genetic heritage and (b) learning history. This forms the total pattern of the "personality" (or all those factors some psychologists try to exclude as "individual differences"). (2) The socio-cultural formula consists of a collective sharing of symbols: language, belief systems, folklore. This composite is introjected to greater or lesser extent by the partiopant. (3)The transpersonal level contains patterns that are transcultural as well: death and rebirth, the hero journey, the "feminine," the "masculine," God, or "the Sacred." These patterns not only are encountered by all human beings, but proliferate into human mythologies all with a similar basic or archetypal substructure. The mystic, as he or she seeks God, or ultimate meaning, penetrates toward the core, but never without personal and cultural expectations,8 The vision itself is the core's reply, never really predictable, because "other," but ultimately to be formulated in the same vocabulary of symbols as the question was asked. This includes a shaping by both personal and sociocultural formulae.

Yet it might be observed that in the temper of our times, the latter quest holds more meaning. The psychologically and culturally sophisticated pilgrim of today is seeking no new doctrine or dogma so much as experience. Experience is the key concept of the entire "human potentials movement," and the lure that beguiles many contemporary Christians from their proper intellectual worship to experience of the fiery tongues of the Pentecostal movement, or to involvement in totally other traditions. In the midst of perhaps the most extroverted society in human history, contemporary America, the inward quest in its various forms has in the last decade peopled the land with lamas, yogis, sannyasins, mysterious Zens and Korean Messiahs. The Inward Quest is at least a major national pastime and shows no signs of diminishing.

A study of altered states of consciousness leads us to different descriptions of "reality." One of these recurring descriptions portrays the world as "sacred." The phenomenology of this description is basically what constitutes "transpersonal psychology." Included within its purview are the "technologies of the sacred": spiritual disciplines such as yoga, meditation, philosophy; but also the study of ecstatic states, visionary narratives, mythology, ritual, archetypal elements in dreams, healing, ESP.

I have personally spent considerable time with those strange wounded modern visionaries called "paranoid schizophrenics." At best they are filled with a burning intensity of purpose and belief. At worst, and far more often, they are boring and exasperating. They harangue one with their mono-myth to exhaustion. They ignore the satisfying give and take of human communication; often, in fact, belaboring the mythic and ignoring the human. Most often there is a "blaming" aspect, in which the world and its deficiencies are responsible for their own shortcomings. There is an emphasis on others' evil and a literally projected "devil."

It seems to me that the highest form this ethic may take is in a spontaneous feeling response which need not even mentally debate the ethical issues concerned. The other is spiritually felt to be equal to oneself.

Man is able to know, think and understand many things; but when he is left to himself he rejects these things which are not in agreement with his love; and he also rejects them after the life of the body, when he is in his spirit; for that only remains in the spirit of a man which has entered into his love. That which anyone does from love remains inscribed on his heart; for love is the fire of life, and thus is the life of everyone. Hence such as the love is, such is the life; and such as the life is -- thus such as the love is such is the whole man as to the soul and as to the body

The alchemists also depict the transformative process as an awakening of the androgynous, bisexual nature of the initiate. He must encounter the feminine within. We are not surprised then to find Swedenborg's other inner guide is feminine. The women that appear in his dreams and visions seldom are identified. They resemble the "unidentified woman" Carl Jung describes as the anima. For the male visionary she represents his own soul, and the principle of the creative unconscious that leads him to his gnosis.

Say yes to life, even though you know it may devour you.

Inevitably we learn through changing our perspectives. Consideration of life against the background of death brings its wonder and mystery to the surface.

Our imaging and personifying of death affects life values.

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Larsen, fully H. Stephen Larsen
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American Psychologist and Author, Founding Board of Advisors of the Joseph Campbell Foundation