I was 30 years old when I completed my Bachelor’s Degree, 45 when I finally completed my Doctorate. Along the way I ended up enrolling in and dropping out of almost a dozen different colleges. The schools I stayed the longest in offered classes like Innovative Studies, Book Building and Production, Alternative Housing Design and Construction, The Psychology of the Courtroom…. I mostly enrolled in schools offering subjects I thought I might actually want to show up and learn about, things that could actually be useful in the world outside the classroom. In the end, for my doctoral studies, I enrolled in a small startup school that specialized in championing “transient hypofrontality.”
Farther Is As Farther Founds
The founders of The California Institute of Transpersonal Psychology had two of America’s most prized pedigrees: Bob Frager received his doctorate from Harvard; Jim Fadiman received his from Stanford. Together they realized that their schooling had heavily emphasized what are traditionally thought of as “left brain” learning (STEM curricula do likewise). But they asked a question along the lines of “What would an education look like that helped students ascend his pyramid and attain Abraham Maslow’s Farther Reaches of Human Nature?”
While they didn’t realize it at the time – because the possibilities for funding neuroscience research with massive capital investment wasn’t even a gleam in any university presidents’ eye – the answer they came up with was “transient hypofrontality.”
Here’s how On Being host, Krista Tippett describes the transient hypofrontality experience:
(Transient hypofrontality) is a daunting name for an experience many of us will recognize. Simply put, (neuroscience of creativity expert) Rex Jung says that intelligence works like a “superhighway,” with massive numbers of connections being made between the different parts of the brain with speed and directness. When we become more creative, our powerful, organizing frontal lobes down-regulate a bit. The creative brain is a “meandering” brain. The superhighways give way to “side roads and dirt roads,” making possible the new and unexpected connections we associate with artistry, discovery, and humor.
When it was founded, The California Institute of Transpersonal Psycholo- gy was indeed all about side roads and dirt roads and the unexpected connections of artistry, discovery and humor. It was also about experiential learning. If you wanted to learn about death, you went and spent time with dying people. For learning to extract meaning from dreams – which are themselves transient hypofront- ality experiences – we gathered together in small groups and took turns sharing and working with our own and each other’s. If you wanted to learn about Buddhism, you went and spent two weeks living with Buddhist monks at Shasta Abbey on Mt. Shasta. If you wanted to learn about Native American Vision Quests, you signed up to go and spend 10 days together and solo out in Death Valley, California.
At the end of our two-year time in residence at CITP, there wasn’t a single student who didn’t have DOUBLE the number of credits required for graduation. This is what it looks like when transient hypo- frontality drives learning.
Preparing for the End Game
My time with CITP has prepared me as well as anything could, I think, for growing old. Part of my clinical internships were spent at the bedsides of dying and grieving people, seeing what aging and death actually look like up close. It also creatively inspired me and a few friends to begin a program to introduce death and grief directly to children who were thrust into the midst of it by the untimely death of a parent or sibling.
It also introduced me to Sufism, Taoism and Buddhism, all of which encourage me to have a direct and honest relationship with reality in all its many forms. One form reality is taking is that along with my body aging, my brain is changing. Brains and bodies tend to do that all throughout the lifespan, and one of the ways mine is changing (and very likely yours as well) is that it’s unraveling and downsizing parts of my prefrontal cortex. In other words, on its own the brain is organically orchestrating its own transient hypofrontality. This is surely something to be celebrated. If you’re looking for a role model to demonstrate just how you might go about that, look no further than HERE.