New Age Movement with an emphasis on the Human Potential Movement. The New Age Movement really blossomed in the 1970s, when followers began attempting to take charge of their lives and grow to their full potential. However, the actual New Age Movement began in the early 1800s, with several writers discussing various spiritual and holistic beliefs that would grow into the New Age Movement. The term gained widespread use in the early 1970s, and the Movement spread from there. Followers of the New Age Movement may participate in meditation, simple living, holistic living, channeling, and they may believe in extraterrestrial life, and other alternative beliefs. Two authors state, "The ultimate ideal of the New Age vision is for the human being to be completely in unison with the cosmos, and through reincarnation, to develop his soul to perfect divinity" (Lewis and Melton 1992, 257). The Human Potential Movement is an offshoot of the New Age Movement, and it is often called humanist psychology, because it uses many theories of psychology in its beliefs and practices.
The Human Potential Movement grew out of a group of psychologists who objected to Freud's view of the world and psychology. They called themselves neo-Freudians, and they helped give rise to the idea that people were in charge of their own potential and growth. One writer notes, "The Human Potential Movement (also called humanist psychology) took the neo-Freudians' ideas even further: not only society but also other individuals were seen as obstructions to personal growth" (Spencer 1996, 24). Author Anita Spencer believes that the Human Potential Movement has been extremely influential in society in the last few decades, and has created a shift in how people think about themselves. She continues, "Though it originally cast itself as radical and alternative, the Human Potential Movement dovetails nicely with America's other sacred cow, consumerism. People who focus so intensely on the self inevitably want to 'gift' themselves with more goods and services" (Spencer 1996, 24). In fact, this self-interest could ultimately point to America's obsession with possessions, something that has led to rampant consumerism, and had a hand in the economic downfall that is affecting the country today. Americans spent more than they made, and now it is catching up with them on many different economic levels.
The Movement actually came about in the 1940s, and related to the writings of psychologist Abraham Maslow, who is considered the "father" of the Movement. Author Spencer states, "Maslow believed that the goal in life was to become fully self-directed and independent and that the therapist's role was to facilitate growth without actually directing it" (Spencer 1996, 25). While Maslow advocated it as early as the 1940s, it did not really become popular until decades later. Another author notes, "The term was first used for humanistic psychotherapies that became popular in the 1960s and early 1970s in the United States" (Editors 2009, 1). The movement celebrates the potential of humans and their ability to find happiness. The editors continue, "Basic to the movement is the view that through the development of 'human potential,' humans can experience an exceptional quality of life filled with happiness, creativity, and fulfillment" (Editors 2009, 1). Maslow also believed that humans were inherently good, and when given choices, would choose the right or moral path. The editors state, "A common thread running through new therapies spawned by the HPM is that the individual human will is a powerful force that can be unleashed and that can determine the state and outcome of one's whole life" (Editors 2009, 2). The Movement sparked many other self-help movements, such as EST, Transactional Analysis, Silva Mind Control, and many other groups and movements that sprang up in the 1960s and 70s.
However, Maslow, and HPM did not acknowledge the "dark side" of human nature that seems to exist in so many, and this is why many people have a problem with the Movement. Most religious organizations denounce the Movement as self-centered and lacking in any spiritual message. They feel practitioners are only interested in themselves and cannot relate to people around them, and that they feel they are their own "gods" or masters of their universe, so they do not believe in God or his importance. Author Spencer says, "The movement never recognized that some of our most profound suffering -- loneliness, alienation, depression -- is brought on by our failure to connect with other people. That kind of suffering can't be eased by looking ever more deeply inward" (Spencer 1996, 28). Many other groups and organizations feel the entire self-help movement, as well as HPM, has been damaging to the individuals that participate in it, and to society as a whole, because it creates self-adsorbed individuals that no longer try to participate with others or for the good of the community. The official Lutheran stance on HPM shows the problems many religions have with the movement and others like it. The editors note, However, Lutherans also teach on the basis of the unanimous witness of the Bible, that when it comes to spirituality, or spiritual matters, human beings cannot know the truth about themselves, nor determine the ultimate purpose and meaning of human life" (Editors 2009, 3). Thus, they denounce these movements and do not support them for their church members.
Most of the critics of HPM are critical because of their own religious beliefs. However, some critics also believe that parents who raise their children to these HPM standards may not raise emotionally developed and caring children. Author Spencer states, "Contrary to what the Human Potential Movement would have us believe, children don't automatically grow up to be compassionate, caring adults" (Spencer 1996, 178). These are some of the same critics that believe the New Age Movement as a whole threatens society and goes against the teachings about God and the Bible. While the New Age Movement is based on peaceful coexistence, it is an alternative form of religion to others.
One of the most famous "growth centers" for training in the movement is the Esalen Center, located in Big Sur, California. Michael Murphy and Richard Price founded it in the 1960s, and it is still in existence today. A reporter notes, "Esalen began as a place to study and develop human potential on both the individual and social level" (Borutta 2009, 2). Today, Esalen offers over 400 courses in everything from massage therapy to the arts and business training. As Esalen grew more popular, HPM growth centers began to spread around the country. Two other writers note, "Growth centers on the model of Esalen began to spring up elsewhere, either in remote and naturally beautiful areas or in urban centers of population" (Lewis and Melton 1992, 42). Other forms of New Age thought developed too, and an interest in Eastern thought and practice, such as Zen and yoga developed as part of the larger New Age Movement. The two writers state, "A religious-mystical emphasis was further encouraged in the New Age movement through participation of members in such groups as the San Francisco Zen Center, Sufi groups, and Catholic monks in contemplative centers" (Lewis and Melton 1992, 46). The Human Potential Movement sprang from New Age and psychological thought, and became one of the most popular and important of the New Age Movement outgrowths.
At the heart of Human Potential Movement is an inner awakening or transformation. Almost all of the New Age Movements include this element. The two authors continue, "A harmonious inner awakening is characterized by the sense of joy and mental illumination that brings with it insight into the meaning and purpose of life; it dispels many doubts, offers the solution to many problems, and gives one a sense of security" (Lewis and Melton 1992, 43). This is what attracts many members to HPM; they hope to experience that transformational moment and change their lives forever.
While the Human Potential Movement is by no means past its prime (the continuance of the Esalen Institute illustrates this), many people believe that it must change to continue to appeal to people in the future, and that participants need to be less self-centered and more community oriented. Another writer notes the lack of a social perspective in HPM. He notes, "Thus the human potential movement and the 'holistic health' movement often lack a social perspective, while spiritual movements tend to lack ecological awareness" (Capra 1993, 70). This lack of perspective leads to self-adsorption and a lack of community. Another writer states, "Rather, one's excellence was recognized only insofar as it contributed to the pool of excellences comprising some shared vision of the common good" (Hutch 1991, 200). Thus, a person's excellence contributes something to others, rather than just transforming their own experience in this new way of viewing HPM.
In conclusion, the Human Potential Movement began as a psychological movement in the 1940s, and spread out to gain popularity beginning in the 1960s. It is a movement based on self-help techniques that can lead to…