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Michael Murphy’s Approach to Transformation

Rhea A. White
pub: EHE Network, Inc.
Copyright©2001 EHE Network, Inc.


Based on his book The Future of the Body (Tarcher, 1992), this 1997 flyer describes how Michael Murphy deals with what we call exceptional human experiences and contrasts it with the Network’s approach. In a sense, he takes an extraverted sensory-based approach to universal consciousness, whereas we take an introverted feeling approach. He emphasizes exceptional human performance, the Network exceptional human experience. For him body includes spirit; for the Network, spirit includes body. Rather than clashing, the two approaches are complementary and end up at the same place. Also compared is his classification of metanormal capacities with exceptional human experiences. Finally, his emphasis is intentional transformative practices and ours is on spontaneous transformative experiences.

I have followed Michael Murphy's thinking since his first book, Golf in the Kingdom (Viking, 1972). We have had many conversations over the years, and we have written a book together (In the Zone, Penguin/Arkana, 1995). I have always felt we were impelled by the same aim, and although we take complementary routes, we are always within calling distance. I refer here only to his magnum opus, The Future of the Body (Tarcher, 1992). For my review of it, see Exceptional Human Experience (Vol. 10, No. 2, 05382.


The purpose of this flyer is to describe how Murphy, who is cofounder of Esalen Institute, deals with what I call exceptional human experiences and to contrast it with the EHE Network’s viewpoint. Murphy takes an extraverted, thinking, and sensation-based approach that includes the fullest intuitive intimations of what it is to be human with the aim of enabling everyone to reach his/her fullest bodily transformation. (Murphy told Keith Harary in an interview in Magical Blend, Issue 36, 1992, p. 58 that for him, "body...includes mind and heart and soul.) He builds on extraordinary embodiments and transformative modalities and practices. His emphasis is on what I would call exceptional human performance, which often is associated with exceptional human experiences, including the ultimate sense of oneness with All.

I, on the other hand, use subjective experiences as my base. I take an introverted, intuitive, feeling approach to exceptional human experiences (EHEs) that includes intimations of sensing the universe as body and rationally resonates with some of the best thinking from Western, Eastern, and indigenous cultures. This approach emphasizes spontaneity, process, and flow. The process, which I call the EHE process, includes the full range of extraordinary feats and abilities Murphy so ably delineates. And it leads to one or more long-term projects of transcendence (in many respects similar to Murphy’s transformative modalities).

We both attempt to present a much larger range of metanormal/exceptional capacities/experiences than others have attempted. My list of potential EHEs is similar to his list of metanormal abilities. However, he has developed a unique classification within a developmental framework that emphasizes the continuities between animal, "normal" human, and extraordinary human development. It consists of 12 developmental domains. In each of these he gives example products of animal evolution, ordinary psychosocial development, and metanormal development. The middle or second group is comparable to our "enhanced experience" category. His metanormal products correspond to what we call the other four classes of exceptional experiences: mystical, psychical, death-related, and encounter experiences. We note over 100 types of exceptional experiences in our five groups—Murphy lists his types under the 12 domains, including exceptional forms of animal functioning, although the plant and mineral kingdoms are not considered. These domains are I. Perception of External Events; II. Somatic Awareness and Self-Regulation; III. Communication Abilities; IV. Vitality; V. Movement Abilities; VI. Abilities to Alter the Environment Directly; VII. Pain and Pleasure; VIII. Cognition; IX. Volition; X. Individuation and Sense of Self; XI. Love; and XII. Bodily Structures, States, and Processes.

On pp. 52-61 he lists the "Metanormalities of Daily Life," which correspond largely to our list of exceptional experiences, which are spontaneous anomalous experiences that if developed (i.e., potentiated) can become full-fledged exceptional human experiences. Murphy calls them "nascent expressions of fully developed extraordinary attributes" (p. 53). He says they "are first versions of metanormal capacities available to all of us" (p. 53). (Although anyone could have an exceptional experience in our sense of the term, the ones that "are available to everyone" would only be those in our enhanced experiences category, which is composed of experiences that are at the limit of what is are still considered "ordinary" within our culture.) Murphy’s unique list, based on published surveys and his own informal survey, is the most complete listing I know of our enhanced category. He lists them under his 12 developmental classes.

Murphy emphasizes the deliberate use of meditation and exercises (i.e., transformative practice) to potentiate given human abilities. At the EHE Network we advocate a more personal approach to building on the experiences life gives an individual until that person enters the EHE process, in the course of which transformative practices are taken up—spontaneously, as by-products of the flow or process of transformation in which one is engaged, or perhaps it is better to say, which engages one.

Under Transformative Practice, Murphy includes new virtues, graces, exceptional, or metanormal capacities that can occur as a by-product of a discipline not directly aimed at inducing such experiences or phenomena. Such disciplines can be "religious, yogic, shamanic, athletic, somatic, therapeutic, or martial-arts related," or they can be professional activities associated with arts, crafts, or other vocations, or they may be related to "common activities such as parenting or marriage" or other interpersonal relationships. Our term for these activities is Project of Transcendence. A person can engage in one or more projects, which involve many opportunities for exceptional human experiences, and a major component of the process involves working on, amplifying--and even performing them. Integral practice, on the other hand, is a disciplined activity that is deliberately aimed at cultivating exceptional and/or metanormal functioning.

Ultimately we are engaged in a cosmic evolutionary process in which energy is transformed into life and life undergoes many transformations, including human beings and other primates. Humans have the capacity for becoming more conscious. This is a developmental process in which different levels or perhaps even stages of consciousness are characterized by forms of knowledge that are inconceivable at earlier levels. At the highest stage I can conceive (thus far), humans have the potential for being conscious of the universe as who they are. Humans also have the potential of becoming more conscious—and the ability to learn from other species how to become more conscious in different ways (through experience, not experiment). And, as Murphy has so ably documented, humans are capable of cellular consciousness. I believe we are also capable of both botanical and mineral consciousness. Human potential, in short, includes the capacity to know everything in creation, not simply objectively, from the outside, but subjectively, from the inside. Both kinds of knowledge are necessary to evolve consciousness.

This is the promise of both working with exceptional human experience and integral practice.


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