Transpersonal Gerontology

Transpersonal gerontology sees the process of human development in middle and old age as part of the evolutionary potential of humanity, which leads the individual consciousness of a human being from a pre-personal through a personal consciousness - the mature manifestation of which Carl Rogers calls "the fully functioning person" - to a trans-personal consciousness of human being. All dimensions of consciousness can be differentiated into further stages of consciousness development. 

Transpersonal consciousness thus goes beyond personal identity; it develops e.g. from intrinsically arising questions about the whence and whither of one's own existence, about the deeper or higher meaning of life, about the placement of one's own life as well as the development of humanity in cosmic contexts - questions emerge from which Abraham Maslow formulated a sixth level of his pyramid of needs at the end of his life: The need for self-transcendence, the need to overcome the limits of one's own finite self in its bondage to history, culture, family and environment, and to open oneself to that which lies beyond the individual being. This is a need that has arisen in varying degrees in people at all times - and in what we perceive as "our time," it arises in more and more people, especially when they leave behind the task fields of family care and occupation and ask themselves "what may yet come" beyond the tension between the deserved enjoyment of the material and personal returns of life to date and the waiting for death.

Not only Lars Tornstam's concept of gerotrancendence, which identifies a growing awareness of the cosmic dimension of being and increasing self-transcendence as constitutive components of the ability to transcend one's own existence in ageing, but in particular also the special issue Transpersonal Gerontology (2011) of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology are evidence that an understanding of ego transcendence in ageing is not a new invention, but is merely brought back into the light of consciousness in the understanding of transpersonal gerontology outlined here, which is certainly not exhaustively substantiated. Robert C. Atchley herein defines transpersonal gerontology as follows: "Transpersonal gerontology focuses on factors associated with growth in (a) ability to perceive the spiritual elements of all types of human experiences, (b) capacity to perceive from a vantage point in higher levels of consciousness, and (c) openness to experiences of connection with all of being." 

Compared to Lars Tornstam's work as well as to Joan Erikson's late additions of a ninth stage of development in Erik Erikson's "The Life Cycle Completed," the understanding of a transpersonal gerontology outlined here explicitly sees an immanent potential of a transpersonal dimension of consciousness in aging that transcends and includes personal identity and can open up to a unitarian consciousness, the unity consciousness or the consciousness of nonduality. This consciousness can be intentionally unfolded, or at least an attempt can be made not to stand in the way of its self-unfolding - a developmental process that usually results in a break with values, roles, views of self and the world that have evolved over decades, and which does not have much in common with the conventional notion of "retirement." Sources for this understanding can be found in the various models of adult or consciousness development; personally, as a compiler of these thoughts, I am influenced by the developmental models of Susanne Cook-Greuter, Terri O'Fallon, resp. Roman Angerer - and all of this is held together by an awareness of the work of Sri Aurobindo as well as Rudolf Steiner, among others. 


The understanding of a transpersonal gerontology presented here is thus understood as a further development of gerotranscendence that "transcends and includes" it - a phrase that goes back to Ken Wilber. 


Transpersonal gerontology can also be seen as a synthesis of transpersonal psychology and gerontology, transpersonal medicine and geriatrics, neurosciences and religious studies, wisdom research and mystic, incorporating insights from spiritual and mystical traditions, the everyday transcendence of countless generations of aging people in human history as well as the documented and published transpersonal, unitary and nondual experiences of many sages, saints, scholars, who often transcended the personal ego only in old age and from these experiences left important signposts for the people following them - and all this against the background of an Integral Methodological Pluralism. And this enumeration is certainly not complete; it is only meant to show the transdisciplinarity as well as the complexity of this concept. 

Transpersonal gerontology integrates - following the work of Ken Wilber - an integral understanding of the aging process and uses for this the knowledge from the different fields of science, knowledge and practice in the different dimensions of aging, in order to provide an orientation framework for people and communities who want to understand and live life in aging as a process of "transcending and including" the previous life and the deepened discovery of the spiritual, higher self. It should be noted, however, that the following model relates almost entirely to the personal aspects of human existence and thus provides only a basis for transpersonal reflection - a basis that should not, however, be neglected for a healthy embodiment at the current center of gravity of collective human consciousness.


Transpersonal state experiences, intended through spiritual, holotropic or psychedelic practices or also unintended and thus seemingly surprisingly experienced, are initially assigned to the upper quadrants in this model, but they subsequently have an impact on all areas of life and change them over time, especially when the state experience becomes an embodiment, i.e. when the single or repeated experience results in a subtle (and later manifest) change in consciousness, thinking, behavior and finally the concrete body.

Transpersonal gerontology, in addition to this cognitive knowledge of a transdisciplinary and integral spectrum of knowledge and the experiential knowledge of lifelong aging, is based on transpersonal state experiences and, respectively, the embodied knowledge of transpersonal levels of consciousness and includes the knowledge of the spectrum of a temporary or permanent transcendence of the ego up to a "matured" ego dissolution as genuinely human areas of experience. This goes along with an awareness of the importance of transcendence experiences for a conscious and creative aging and at the same time with the knowledge that such experiences can profoundly shake the previous, mostly seemingly consolidated life structure in the personal reality and initiate a process, the challenges of which are hardly known, especially in Western culture, and require new ways and structures in intrapersonal as well as interpersonal integration. 


Transpersonal gerontology sees in the conscious dissolution of the ego

one of the most important growth tasks of aging.


The apparent regression of people in the aging process to prepersonal stages of development as well as states of consciousness, on the other hand, is seen as a possible consequence of unconscious and repressed transcendental experiences up to the experience of emptiness or nothingness, which in the further course of life can lead to a prepersonal rather than a transpersonal ego dissolution. These possible connections between the unconscious, non-integrated experience of ego dissolution and increasing disorientation of the self to the manifestation of the condition known as dementia make the inner work of conscious ego dissolution not a "spiritual luxury" but possibly a necessity for maintaining mental and spiritual health into old age.  In this context, a growing collective awareness of the transpersonal dimension of being human in general and in aging in particular, as well as the fostering of groups and communities where this knowledge is shared as a matter of course and people are supported in this process, is also a concern of transpersonal gerontology.


Also apparently paradoxical developments of individual humans with far advanced spiritual condition experiences and/or consciousness accesses due to decades of spiritual practice, whose personal identity and thus also the everyday life consciousness - with at first preserved spiritual transmission - seems to decrease continuously, and with which in the consequence an ego development diametrically opposite to the ego transcendence seems to take place, which is called dementia in the classical orthodox medical and psychiatric understanding, can be comprehensibly classified from the perspective of a transpersonal gerontology. 


One of the tasks of transpersonal gerontology can be to further explore such connections and to develop new perspectives for coping with these experiences.


To invite and let the transpersonal - the superpersonal - into one's own life and into the understanding of one's own being in the experience of aging, and to increasingly transcend the personal - the personal, the earth-bound ego - inwardly, in order to be ready in the end to transcend one's own ego completely and to let go entirely as the drop, which again surrenders itself completely to the ocean, is for Transpersonal Gerontology an immanent part of the conscious transition out of what we call life into the reality beyond this bodily experience of existence as a human being - the experience of dying, which is anticipated in this way: "Die before you die. "





Die before you die. 

Transpersonal gerontology at the same time recognizes the importance of maintaining the personal ego identity even in advanced transpersonal processes in old age and supports the maintenance of a healthy personal ego in a healthy, living body as an expression of the embodiment of the transpersonal self in the relative world, without negating the physical changes in aging. 


Transpersonal gerontology can likewise support accompanying a development of aging that seems to lead into prepersonal rather than transpersonal consciousness, as may be the case for people with seemingly declining cognitive capacities. Here a space opens up for people who notice cognitive changes in themselves and have received or fear a so-called dementia diagnosis. Especially by consciously dealing with what is folded in oneself as involutionary potential (for more on this see InvolutionEvolution), i.e. what wanted to be lived by oneself and still wants to be lived, it can be possible to at least mitigate such a development in interaction with classical prevention and intervention measures.


Also, perspectives open up to make preparations for the later path with possible companions, which can enable a positive integration of the ego dissolution, whether it will take a pre- or a transpersonal path. 


Transpersonal references in the accompaniment of people with apparently declining cognitive capacities are possible where the environment is open and ready for it. The mere accompaniment of personal or pre-personal issues is not a task of Transpersonal Gerontology; transpersonal references must be desired, understood and integrated either by the aging person him/herself or by possible companions (e.g., caring relatives, professional caregivers). Thus, this also opens a way of support for companions of people in whom - as already outlined above - spiritually very high condition experiences and an increasing degradation of everyday consciousness come together, where, however, the classical definition of dementia appears neither appropriate nor helpful for those involved due to the spiritual transmission. 


Transpersonal gerontology recognizes the moment as the event point of all human experience and accompanies people in the increasing awareness of the only moment they can perceive and from which they can always let the new moment arise - up to the moment of death, which is understood as a further transformation process and as a possible moment of full awakening to the true nature of one's being, of the I am, of the human experience of existence.  


The thoughts presented here on a Transpersonal Gerontology are, like all theories, constructs and models, provisional and incomplete, and serve primarily my intellectual, conceptual, at the same time experiential consideration of an increasing transcendence of being in aging as a path of conscious completion of the personal experience of existence.





You are not a drop in the ocean.

You are the entire ocean in a drop.



  • Atchley, Robert C. (2011) How spiritual experiene and development interact with aging. In: The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Special Issue: Transpersonal Gerontology. 156-165
  • Erikson, Erik H. (1997) The Life Cycle Completed, Extended Version with New Chapters on the Ninth Stage of Development by Joan M. Erikson, New York
  • Grof, Stanislav (2022) Der Weg des Psychonauten. Enzyklopädie für Reisen in innere Welten, Bd. 1 + 2, Solothurn
  • Journal of Transpersonal Psychology (2011) Special Issue: Transpersonal Gerontology
  • Maslow, Abraham (1971) The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, New York
  • Rogers, Carl R. (1995) On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy, Boston
  • Tornstam, Lars (2005) Gerotranscendence. A Developmental Theory of Positive Aging, New York